After their exodus from Earth, the last humans settled a remote planet, Nova Prime. When an alien force known as the Skrel descended from the skies, the United Ranger Corps, an elite defense unit, valiantly resisted. Centuries passed without an attack, and many colonists believed that, with other security measures in place, the resources devoted to maintaining their military strength would be better spent elsewhere. Little did they know that trouble was coming to Nova Prime—and it had a taste for blood.
The latest in a long line of decorated warriors, Conner Raige is one of the Rangers’ most promising young cadets, although his brash confidence and tendency to act on instinct have earned him as many skeptics as admirers. Conner’s ancestors were on the front lines of humanity’s victory against the Skrel. But when a deadly ground war breaks out, Conner’s up against an entirely different beast—because, this time, the Skrel have brought a secret weapon: ferocious killing machines designed to eliminate humanity from Nova Prime . . . and the universe.
BONUS: Includes the first three novellas of Ghost Stories, the thrilling eBook original prequel series!
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About the Author
Robert Greenberger is a veteran writer and editor. His freelance writing career spans fiction and nonfiction. Previously for Random House, he has written The Essential Batman Encyclopedia and Iron Man: Femme Fatales. He makes his home in Connecticut.
Peter David’s novels include the fantasies Tigerheart, Sir Apropos of Nothing, The Woad to Wuin, Knight Life, and the quirky werewolf story Howling Mad. He is famous for writing some of the most popular original Star Trek: The Next Generation novels, including Imzadi and A Rock and a Hard Place. He collaborated with J. Michael Straczynski on the Babylon 5 novels and comic book series, and with Bill Mumy he created the Nickelodeon television series Space Cases.
Read an Excerpt
“Think they’re getting tired of eating dirt?” asked Meredith Wilkins, Prime Commander of the United Ranger Corps of the planet Nova Prime.
“It builds character,” said Commander Elias H¯aturi, her right-hand man. He took a noisy bite of his Nova Prime apple, which had been grown from the seeds humankind had brought with it from Earth.
“The grit’s good for their digestion,” added Commander Bonita Raige, a short woman with close-cropped blond hair except for a white patch in the back from a field injury. She had been advising the Prime Commander for years but had joined Wilkins’s staff only recently.
On several screens before them, three color-coded squads of armed Ranger cadets were scrambling across a craggy red stretch of desert, each one trying to obtain a strategic advantage without being seen by its opponents. The squads had started out with a dozen cadets apiece in this mock battle, but they all had felt the toll of one skirmish after another.
There were no real injuries, of course. Just a color change in a light-sensitive disk worn on the back when it was hit by an adversary’s laser beam. Anyone so tagged had been forced to leave the game.
Blue Squad had taken the worst of it. Led by Erdmann, the most experienced of the cadets, the squad nonetheless had gotten caught in a most costly ambush. Erdmann had only two subordinates left.
Green Squad hadn’t fared much better. It had sustained seven casualties, including Cheng, its mission leader. Earlier in the day, Cheng had made a heroic sacrifice that allowed her squad mates to escape. Wilkins didn’t hold out much hope for the five remaining Reds. In her experience, squads didn’t last long once they lost their leader.
Red Squad, at this point, had to be the odds-on favorite to win the exercise. It still had nine cadets to its name thanks to the canny leadership of Lucas Kincaid, a lean, strong kid with aquiline features. Wilkins had had her eye on Kincaid ever since he’d signed on. The kid had a knack for getting others to follow him and buy into his strategies, which were always calculated to eliminate his opponents.
So far Kincaid had done just that. With Blue on the run, victims of his most recent assault, Kincaid was turning his attention back to Green. Unfortunately for its chances, Green had retreated into a deep, high-walled valley.
As Wilkins watched, Kincaid took advantage of Green’s error by following them in. First he fanned his cadets out on either side of him, filling the narrow confines of the valley. Then he marched them in pursuit of Green on the double. At this rate, they would catch up with the Green Squad in no time, and Red’s nine-wide formation would prevent any of the enemy from escaping their net.
“What do you think?” she asked her commanders.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Raige said.
“Has all along,” observed H¯aturi, who was big and barrel-chested. He tossed his apple core into a waste aperture in the wall. “Then again, he’s a Kincaid. He didn’t exactly come from nowhere.”
The name Kincaid, Wilkins reflected, had been an important one in the four-hundred-year history of humankind on Nova Prime. Kincaids had been key figures in the Rangers, in the science corps led by the Savant, and even in the religious order led by the Primus. It was good to see that young Lucas had inherited the best of his family’s genes.
Wilkins turned to Raige. “You have a nephew in the games, don’t you, Bonita?”
Raige shot a look at the Prime Commander. “You know I do.”
His name was Conner. Unfortunately, he hadn’t distinguished himself the way the Kincaid boy had—far from it. But he hadn’t been eliminated from the game, either.
“Maybe he has a little promise after all,” Wilkins allowed.
That would be good, considering the Raiges had been around since the exodus from Earth as well. In fact, the very first Prime Commander had been a member of the Raige clan, and the family was still well represented in the Rangers—not only by Bonita but also by her husband, Torrance, and her brother, Frank, Conner’s father.
Some of the colony’s best times had taken place when the Raiges and the Kincaids were acknowledged rivals, vying to see who could contribute the most to the Rangers. Not that Wilkins expected that sort of thing to happen on her watch. To that point, Lucas Kincaid had demonstrated pretty clearly that he had no rivals.
“Red’s going to win this,” H¯aturi concluded.
“Let’s see if Green has any idea of what’s going on,” Wilkins said, bringing up a view of the valley that seemed likely to include the Green Squad.
Unfortunately, Wilkins’s video feed was blocked by some of the projections on the valley walls. She manipulated the controls on the panel in front of her, trying to get a better angle. Finally, she found one that wasn’t obscured.
“There they are,” H¯aturi said, pointing to what was left of Green Squad.
Wilkins nodded. “And they have no inkling that Red is narrowing the gap.” It was disappointing. These were supposed to be seasoned cadets. They were supposed to know what they were doing at that point.
Then Raige said, “I only count four of them.”
The Prime Commander counted. “Four,” she echoed. “Who’s missing?”
It only took her a moment to figure it out. “Your nephew, Bonita.” Conner Raige was nowhere to be seen.
“Where is he?” asked H¯aturi. He turned to Wilkins. “With your permission?”
“Go ahead,” she said.
H¯aturi ran through every view they had of the valley. Conner Raige wasn’t on any of them.
“Want me to check his transponder?” Bonita Raige asked, her fingers hovering over a control panel. A tap would trace the emergency beacon woven into Conner’s uniform.
“You worried?” asked Wilkins.
Raige shook her head. “No.” Though she might have been, just a little.
“Then,” said the Prime Commander, sitting back in her chair, “let’s see how this plays out.”
The more Wilkins watched, the more she wondered. Then she saw Conner appear as if by magic, and she stopped wondering. The cadet had come out of the ground behind Red Squad, where nobody—including Red, apparently—had expected him, and he began picking off the Red cadets one by one.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” H¯aturi said.
Wilkins was watching Conner execute what might have been the cleverest and most audacious maneuver she had ever seen in a war game. Before it was over, Kincaid and all the rest of his Red Squad cadets had been hit with beams from Green Squad’s practice pulsers. A screen to the Prime Commander’s right flashed nine names, one after the other, denoting that the Reds were no longer live participants in the exercise.
When the show was over, Wilkins smiled and said, “That was pretty damn impressive. And he wasn’t even the leader of record.”
“It’s in the blood,” Bonita Raige said, keeping a straight face though her heart was bursting with pride.
The Prime Commander nodded approvingly. “Apparently so. Quite a nephew you’ve got there.”
Conner Raige hadn’t had such a good day in a long time.
He acknowledged that fact, if only to himself, as he led his team between two of the metal spires that supported the rust-colored fabric structure of his cadet barracks. Once under the smart fabric roof, he felt the temperature drop and was grateful. It was a relief to get out of the fiery suns of Nova Prime, which he had been forced to endure for the last several hours.
Conner wasn’t just hot. He was tired, bone-tired, as tired as he had ever been before. But it was a good tired. His headgear, tucked securely under one arm, usually felt like a burden to him. But today it was a tangible reminder of what he and his Green team had accomplished.
He could still see the looks on the faces of the Reds as they whirled about, having come to the realization—too late—that there was someone lurking behind them. Looks of surprise. Looks of embarrassment. Looks that said it wasn’t fair for them to lose the competition at the last moment when they had been winning it all along.
Conner would hang on to that memory for a while. That much was certain. After all, it wasn’t often he did something he could be proud of.
That was one of the problems of being born into a family of legends. Everything he did was measured against what other Raiges had done, all the way back hundreds of years to the time of the Exodus from Earth. No one in the colony ever came out and told him that, but they didn’t have to. He could see it in their eyes.
That’s pretty good, they would be thinking, but not as good as what your great-great-grandfather did. Or your grandmother on your dad’s side.
Or your father.
Conner’s bunk was at the far end of the barracks, one of several dozen beds arranged in perfectly neat, uncluttered rows and columns. When he reached it, he hung his headgear on a hook protruding from his bedpost. Then he swung himself around the post and plopped himself down on the mattress.
All around him, he could hear members of his Green team doing the same. It felt good to lie down as he watched the barracks roof undulate under the press of an afternoon wind. He closed his eyes, and again he saw the faces of the Red team.
And he found himself smiling.