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In this explosive final book of the action-packed Nova Vita Protocol trilogy, The Kaisers are on the run from the planetary leaders who seek to bury the knowledge of the alien artifacts that could save the star system—or destroy it.
“Merbeth’s engrossing final book of the trilogy is filled with disaster, family moments, and high-stakes action.”―Library Journal
Scorpia is finally back among the stars, far away from the memories of the war she and her family started—and ended—on Nibiru. Her first order as captain of the Memoria is to keep her crew safe, and she is all too happy not to get involved in dangerous political games for once.
Corvus is haunted by what he experienced at the hands of the Titan attack, and he's just as eager for a new beginning. He knows that not all Titans are built for war, and that the system can find peace, even as Deva and Pax begin to rattle their sabers.
Though the Kaisers may be responsible for diverting a multi-planet war, the planetary leaders are wary of the knowledge they hold. Better to lock them up and keep their dark secrets hidden. But the Kaisers are the only ones who know the truth about the threat of the ancient world-ending alien weapons rooted in each planet—and they may be the only ones who can save the system from total annihilation.
"Merbeth is a voice to watch in space opera!" —K. B. Wagers
The Nova Vita Protocol:
A Motley Crew
Music thumps through Memoria’s halls, and I hum along with the beat as I walk. My boots trace the now-familiar path from the captain’s quarters to the mess hall. The music isn’t loud enough to drown out the steady hum of the ship’s engine, but the noise has become a comforting constant. And beyond them both, I hear the voices of my crew bouncing out from other rooms—the continuous, easy chatter that always fills the space between these walls.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this ship belonged to an enemy crew not so long ago. Every night I sleep in the huge bed of the captain’s quarters, with a window to the stars above my head. Mine. This whole, clunky, ugly old mess of a ship, down to the name Memoria scrawled crookedly in my own hand—mine. Ours. My family’s and my crew’s. We’re building a life here, all of us outlaws with nowhere else to call a home.
We’re fast approaching Gaia for another scavenging run on its stormy surface. It’s been a few months since we lifted off from a freshly peaceful Nibiru. Now, we’re well on our way to establishing a foothold for our new business on Deva as an importer of Gaian goods. The recent turmoil in the system means that most planets are currently off-limits even to us, with Pax’s borders closed, Titan still too hotly contested for us to risk, and Nibiru likely eager to arrest us if we land. But we’ve survived worse.
Things aren’t perfect in the system. They probably never will be. We humans are constantly finding new ways to screw ourselves up, after all. Deva and Pax are still squabbling like particularly entitled children over the resources of Titan even now that they’ve found out some of its people have survived, and I doubt the three peoples intermingling on Nibiru are going to have smooth sailing, with all of the messy history and cultural differences to trip them up. But because of me and my crew, they’ve got a chance. The rest is in their hands.
And in the little world of my ship, at least, everything is better than ever. I’ve never been so glad to have nowhere important to go and nothing pressing to do, and I suspect most, if not all, of the others feel the same. Boring is a relief right now, even for me, despite the fact it feels like I left a chunk of my heart back on Nibiru.
I follow the smell of something spicy and delicious into the kitchen, and pop my head in to peek at whatever Corvus is cooking up. He frowns down at the pot, but it’s a thoughtful kind of frown rather than a genuinely upset one. I think. He’s still impossible to read, sometimes. He looks better lately, his dark hair and beard kept neatly trimmed, his eyes less haunted than they were when he first returned from the war. But he still wears the marks of his time on Titan: the thick scar slashing across the left side of his face, the black tattoo of a war-brand on his right wrist.
“What’s for dinner?” The moment I draw close, he jabs at me with a ladle. I stagger back, throwing my hands up dramatically. “Whoa! That’s no way to greet your captain. Blatant insubordination!”
“I know you’re just trying to steal a taste,” he says, a small smile cracking through his stern expression. “Out of my kitchen.”
“No respect around here,” I grumble, retreating to the doorway. “Just a heads-up, I’ve got an announcement to make during dinner.”
His frown returns immediately. “An announcement about what?”
“Gotta wait and see,” I say, and leave with a bounce in my step.
I find Lyre and Apollo in the engine room next. He’s balancing her on his shoulders while she fiddles with an air vent in one corner of the room. I fight back a laugh at their matching looks of intense concentration, an expression far more at home on our little engineer’s face than Pol’s. There’s no way this is the most effective way to handle the situation, so I have a suspicion she enlisted him just to give him something to do. He’s been making progress lately, recovering physically and mentally from the lingering aftereffects of an alien bio-weapon and the toll it took on his once-strong body, but I know being back on the ship has made it hard for him again. Being raised on Momma’s ship, where she only doled out love according to our usefulness, made it hard to be all right with not having a part to play. Now that I’m the one in charge, I hope he understands that he has plenty of time to figure out who he wants to be.
Lyre taps him on the shoulder as she finishes changing out the air filter, and he lowers her carefully to the floor. He’s sweaty with exertion despite our sister’s diminutive size, and has to immediately sit down to catch his breath. He’s looking more himself lately—his dark hair starting to grow out again and his body still thin but less sickly—but I’m not sure he’ll ever be the wall of muscle he once was. Yet when Lyre gives him an approving nod, he breaks into a gap-toothed grin nonetheless. My heart twinges. They’ve never been very close, but ever since the two of them landed—well, half landed, half crashed—the ship onto Nibiru in my absence, they’ve been spending more time together.
I knock on the doorway to get their attention. “Make sure to take your dinners in the mess today. Got an announcement.”
Pol nods without seeming to think twice about it. Lyre pushes a stray curl out of her face and folds her arms over her chest, scrutinizing me. “It’s not anything bad, is it?”
“Nah,” Pol says. “She looks way too pleased with herself.”
“You’re right.” Lyre taps her chin with one finger, leaving behind a smear of dust. “What could it be…?”
“No spoilers!” I say, wagging a finger at her before leaving them to find the others.
Dull thuds of impact lead me to the training room. Izra and Andromeda are engaged in what I like to refer to as a therapy session, and what others might refer to as punching the shit out of each other in padded clothing. After enlisting in the war on Nibiru, Drom came back to us quiet and distant. She spent a full week in bed, refusing to talk to anyone. Pol delivered meals to her door, but not even her twin could get her out of her room. When Corvus tried to talk to her, she threw a bowl of stew into his face. That got him sulking and blaming himself, so finally Izra marched into her room, dragged Drom out of bed, and brought her to the training room. Ever since, they’ve been doing this every day. They don’t talk, as far as I can tell, and Drom mostly seems to do her damnedest to break Izra’s face, but every day she gets out of bed, comes here, and suits up to do it again.
It’s odd to compare them side by side: Drom bulky and dark-haired, Izra lean and very fair. Drom is half Izra’s age, but she seems much older than her scarce twenty years after she fought for Nibiru in the war. And the top of Izra’s head is just above Drom’s shoulders, but I know better than to underestimate the fierce ex-pirate. A scar cuts across the skin surrounding one of Drom’s eyes; the empty crater left in one of Izra’s eye sockets is a warning of what could’ve happened if it had cut a little closer.
If nothing else, they share a spectacular talent for violence. For a few seconds I just watch them dance around each other, feeling very aware of the fact that either one of them could lay me out in a second flat. One of Izra’s arms is half-useless, with the black, rib cage–like Primus gun attached to it no longer operational, but it doesn’t seem to slow her down.
“Hey,” I say, and they pause their sparring and turn to me. Izra looks annoyed by the interruption, while Drom just looks… flat. “Uh, I’ve got something to tell everyone at dinner, so stick around in the mess if you want to hear it.”
They both glare at me wordlessly. I hold up my hands, back out of the room, and flee to the cockpit.
Orion, at least, is always happy to see me. It may just be because long hours at the wheel are far from exciting when we’re drifting aimlessly out in open space between Nibiru and Gaia, but the broad grin he flashes when I enter seems genuine. He’s been through a lot lately, from his stint in Ca Sineh, to risking his life by abandoning us for the Titans, so I’m glad he’s on his way back to being his usual cheery self. His buzz cut is starting to grow out into his usual brown curls, and his smile is as frequent and charming as always. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing him with a Titan war-brand on his wrist, and our friendship still isn’t what it used to be. I’ve forgiven him for choosing the Titans and leaving me, and I trust him as the pilot of my ship, but that doesn’t mean everything can just go back to the way it was. I hope it can, someday.
Well, minus the whole “hooking up in supply closets” part. That we can leave in the past.
“What’s up, Cap?” he asks, giving me a mock-serious salute.
“Hey, hey.” I sink into the copilot’s chair, allowing myself a wistful look around the cockpit. Handing my former role as pilot to Orion was clearly the right move, but I can’t deny that I miss the sense of freedom behind the wheel. I keep finding excuses to come spend time in here, even with nothing to do. “How’s my ship? Looking good for the landing?”
“Sure,” Orion says. “Running like a dream, as always.”
I have to laugh. This ship is my pride and joy, but we both know it’s far from a dream. Memoria has been torn apart and put back together so many times I doubt there’s anything left of the original, and most of those repairs were the cheap and dirty type. She’s a patchy old thing, even worse than ol’ Fortuna was. Not that I’d ever let anyone aside from me speak that way about either of my ships.
“Wanted to give you a heads-up, I’ve got an announcement to make after dinner.”
“Announcing your announcement, eh?” he asks, and then waits for me to say more, but I only grin. He slumps down in his seat and presses his hand to his forehead, feigning despair. “You’re a tease.”
“You should know that better than anyone.” I smirk at him and rise from my seat. “Anyway. Dinner’s almost ready. Be patient.”
On the way back toward the mess hall, I pause outside the room of our final crew member. I know he’s inside; he pretty much always is. Daniil… Daniil I still haven’t figured out yet. I was happy to invite him aboard the ship at Corvus’s request, knowing that my brother never would’ve suggested it if he had any doubt that he was trustworthy. But I still know hardly anything about him, even after months on board together. Granted, he did spend the first few weeks being horribly space-sick as he adjusted to life on a ship, but even after that he’s barely interacted with the rest of the crew. All I’ve gathered is that he knew Corvus on Titan, fought on their home-planet’s side in the recent war, and committed treason against his own people in a risky play for peace.
The last bit is all I need to know to welcome him with open arms, no matter who he was beforehand. It’s not like I’m a stranger to making terrible mistakes. Some might call me an expert, in fact. And it’s obvious he’s trying just as hard as I have to make up for them.
I rap my knuckles on the door, and it opens so fast he must have rushed to answer. His jumpsuit—borrowed from Corvus, so it’s a little baggy and short on his lanky build—is rumpled like he was lying on the bed.
“Yes, Captain?” he asks, standing with a soldier’s attention. His slim body and olive complexion may not be the norm for his home-planet, but it’d still be hard to mistake him for anything other than a Titan, even at a glance.
I bite back a laugh. He’s the only one who always calls me by my title rather than my name, and never making a joke out of it like the others sometimes do. I’ve told him he doesn’t have to, but, well… if I’m being honest, I do kind of like the sound of it. Daniil is the only person on board who didn’t know me during my messy years. It feels good to be looked at with genuine respect.
Still, as much as it strokes my ego, it’s more important to me that he’s comfortable here. “You don’t have to be so formal,” I say, flashing him a smile. “Scorpia’s fine. And I just wanted to let you know that I’m making an announcement at dinner. Do you mind eating in the mess hall with the rest of us?”
So far, he’s been taking all his meals to his room to eat alone. But he says, “Of course, Captain.” His fingers twitch, and he hastily folds his hands behind his back to hide that he was about to shoot me a Titan salute.
“I’m just asking, not ordering,” I say. “If you want to eat by yourself and then come back for the announcement, that’s fine, too.” As badly as I want to pull him into the rest of the crew, I have to be careful. I don’t want to make the mistakes I made with Corvus—pushing too hard, too fast, not letting him take the alone time he needed when he came back from the war. And I know all of this must be especially strange for Daniil, who has never known a life outside of Titan. He must be lonely here, but I know it’s not a simple thing to forge new bonds to replace old ones.
“I’ll be there, Captain,” he says, very seriously, in a way that shows he is definitely taking it as an order.
I suppress a sigh. I could push it further, but really, I do want him to be there. “Appreciate it,” I say, and head out.
I take a long bath before dinner, both because I’ll never tire of the luxury and because I need some time to calm my nerves. No matter how excited I am about my announcement, the anxiety is always there, too. And the desire for a drink. That always rears its head at moments like these. But tonight’s not gonna be the night that it wins. Not with my whole crew counting on me, and not when everything is finally going right for us.
For the first time in a long time, everything is good in our corner of the universe. We solved the mystery of Gaia’s decline at the hands of its alien Planetary Defense System, stopped the war between the Titans, Nibirans, and Gaians before the PDS on Nibiru could trigger the same fate there, and got our asses out of there before we could all be arrested for the various forms of treason that most of us committed along the way.
But I still can’t shake the belief that it’s only a matter of time before something from our past catches up with us and everything goes wrong again. Maybe it’s just because I’ve felt hunted my whole life, and never known a system that wasn’t on the brink of war… but somehow, I don’t think so. We’ve been involved in too much, and know too much, to be allowed to walk away from it all. There will be a reckoning eventually.
I submerge my head under the warm water and let those thoughts float away. They can wait. Tonight is about good news.
I toss on a dress shirt and nice pants for the occasion, rather than the standard-issue jumpsuits most of us wear around the ship. The prosthetic fingers of my right hand fumble with the buttons, but I manage it and then drag a comb through the unruly tumble of my hair. It’s growing out long and wild lately, but I’m kind of digging the look.
By the time I’m ready for dinner, everyone is waiting for me. I step into the room and pause, briefly overtaken by the sight of everyone gathered in the mess hall. I still remember the immense pressure I felt leading a crew that wasn’t just my family for the first time. Hell, even taking charge of my family was a huge challenge not so very long ago. But it feels right, standing up here now, looking over my crew. A couple of ex-pirates, a Titan deserter, and of course, my siblings, raised on the smuggling ship Fortuna—may she rest in peace. Born all over the system, most of us in trouble with one planetary government or another, many without a single place to call a legal home aside from the one we’ve created on this former pirate vessel. Altogether, they’re probably the motliest crew of criminals all over the system.
I’m so damn proud.
“Hey, everyone,” I say, moving to the head of the table and remaining on my feet. The chatter quiets, and their eyes follow me. I don’t have to work to gain their attention like I once did. “As you all know, we’ve all been through a lot over the last several months,” I say, looking from face to face. “We’ve seen planets end.” I think of the bio-weapon spreading over Titan; and Gaia, plagued by unnatural storms stemming from the Primus statues. “And many of us fought in a horrible war.” Kitaya still burns in my memory. I suspect it always will. “And… perhaps worst of all… we’ve had to work for fucking politicians.” That one earns me a smattering of chuckles and wry grins, along with an exasperated look from Corvus. I smile at him before continuing. “I know we’ve all got our scars, whether visible or not.” Now I can’t help but look down at my prosthetic hand, flexing my new fingers. Admittedly, now that I’ve gotten used to them, I barely even think about the fact it’s not my real hand… but that moment of pain and loss and terror is still sharp in my memory. “But in the end, we fought for peace, and we got it. Each and every one of you helped make that possible, and I’m damn proud to have you all on my ship.” I take a deep breath, letting my hand drop to my side again.
“But I’ve been promising for a while that I’d find a way to make it so that this isn’t your only option, and I think I’ve finally figured out how to pull through on that. I’m working with Eri and Halon for a way to get to Pax.” Most of them look surprised. Some—like Lyre—are openly disappointed. Pax is a dangerous little desert world, and nobody’s first choice, but it’s the only choice for most of us. It doesn’t have as much government oversight as the other planets, with its lack of a formal leader, and it’s also the only planet without an alien Planetary Defense System. “They say it’s easier to disappear there, if that’s what you want. Get a new identity. A fresh start. We can head to meet them once we finish up on Gaia.” I pause, letting that sink in, before continuing.
“But before that, I’m going to ask you all to stay on board for one last mission. When this is over, should you choose to, you’re free to go your own separate ways. You’ll always have a home on Memoria, but if you’ve had your fair share of adventure, I’m not gonna hold it against you. Before that, though, I need you all at my side this one last time. This is important. Maybe the most important thing we’ve ever done.” I pause and let the silence stretch out till it’s ready to snap. Even Corvus is looking at me with his brow furrowed, uncertain of what I’m about to say.
“And that very important mission is…” I bite the inside of my cheek to hold back a grin, maintaining the somber facade for as long as I can manage. “… We’re going on vacation in the Golden City! We’ll spend a full week there before heading onward to Pax.”
There’s a moment of silence. Corvus shuts his eyes and sighs loud enough to be audible in the quiet room. Then Orion lets out a bright peal of laughter, and the room erupts in excited conversation.
“All of us can go?” Orion asks eagerly.
“All of us,” I confirm. On our past trips, almost everyone has stayed on board while we sold our wares in the city, to lower our chances of being recognized. But we haven’t run into trouble yet, and I feel confident enough to take a risk for the sake of one last hurrah together.
“Finally,” Pol says. “I’m sick of sitting on the ship while you get to go have fun.” He grimaces. “And getting knocked out whenever we go to Gaia.”
“Never been to Zi Vi,” Daniil is saying to Corvus. “Is it really all they say?”
“It’s more than they say,” Orion says, reaching over to clap him on the shoulder. “The Golden City is the jewel of the system. You’ll see.”
“Yes, it’s great, so long as you’re a fan of drugs and nudity,” Izra drawls.
“Scorpia, I hope you haven’t forgotten our deal,” Lyre calls out, and I try not to wince as I remember my expensive promise to pay for an education on Deva for her.
“Right, right, right,” I say, clapping my hands to regain everyone’s attention. “Now, we have some business to attend to as well. Sell whatever we grab on this trip to Gaia, hopefully solidify some business connections we can use in the future. But for the most part, I just want the lot of you to have some fun. I think we all deserve it after everything.” I look around the room, at the genuine excitement on everyone’s faces. Even Izra has a hint of a smile, though it shifts into a scowl the moment I look at her.
It feels good to see them happy. To know that I have the power to make them happy. Once, I would’ve thought the best thing I could do was give them safety, and leave it at that. But right now, the future seems brighter than I’ve ever hoped for.
History of the Lost
The ship shudders as it fights through Gaia’s atmosphere, and the straps of my launch chair dig into my chest. The winds scream and claw at us. Every time I tell myself that Memoria will endure, and Scorpia and Orion will guide us safely through the unnatural storms again—yet it never feels certain. Gaia does not want us here; the Planetary Defense System will do all it can to rip us apart to prevent us from reaching the surface.
Yet, like every other time, we survive. The ship settles and the engine fades down to a low rumble. Outside, the winds still howl, but they failed once more to keep us at bay.
Even the bumpy landing isn’t enough to dampen everyone’s spirits. Scorpia’s announcement that we’re heading to Zi Vi isn’t as exciting for me as it is for many of the others, and I’m not sure how I feel about the potential for some of our crew members to leave us for a life on Pax, but at least I can look forward to a few weeks without any trips to this desolate world. Still, as Drom, Izra, and I prepare for another venture out onto the storm-torn surface for loot, I try to keep in mind that we have one more obstacle before our little vacation.
“Focus up,” I say, zipping closed my orange surface suit, a remnant from our council-funded first trip here on Memoria. “We have work to do.”
“Oh, shut it,” Drom says. “It’s not like Gaia’s gonna be any different than last time. Still as dead as before.”
Irritation bubbles up in me, but I push it back down. Drom is always itching for a fight, lately, but I’m not going to be the one to give it to her. “If you don’t want to come, I can find someone else,” I tell her, as mildly as I can manage.
She bristles. “Yeah? Who? The Titan deserter? Not even you trust him.”
Before I can respond to that, Izra smacks Drom’s helmet. “I don’t trust you to watch my back if you’re not going to take it seriously,” she says. “Gaia’s still dangerous. You know how many people I watched die to storms and landslides on Titan?”
Drom rolls her eyes, but bites her tongue and finishes suiting up. I’m fairly certain Izra is the only one who could get away with talking to her like that. I shoot her a grateful look, but she either doesn’t notice or ignores it.
Lyre, Scorpia, and Daniil are all out on the ramp already, bathing in the red-tinged light of Nova Vita, since the weather is calm enough for them to get some fresh air. Daniil sits apart from the others, huddled with his knees to his chest, likely recovering from the rough landing. Orion must still be in the cockpit, holding his post in case we need an emergency liftoff, and Pol is knocked out by the sleeping pills we give him whenever we land here to prevent another adverse reaction. Whenever he’s conscious on Gaia, he complains about an earsplitting noise the rest of us can’t hear—something related to his sickness, we’ve gathered.
“Remember,” Scorpia says, “the more you find, the more credits we have to blow in Zi Vi. I’ve got some rich lady on Deva who’s eager to buy—get us some pretty shit to sell.” She pauses, and then adds, “Oh yeah, and be careful, and all.”
“Yeah, yeah, we know the drill,” Drom grumbles.
“Don’t forget to check on Pol in about an hour,” I tell Scorpia. I head for the ramp and pause beside Daniil—wondering, as always, if I should try to reach out to him, to say something. He always wanted to leave Titan for Pax, and soon he’ll have his chance to start a new life there. I’m running out of time to try to repair our damaged relationship. But as usual, I find myself at a loss. I clear my throat, click on my helmet, and carry onward to Gaia’s surface. I wait for Izra and Drom to do the same and turn on their comms, and then say, “Let’s hustle. This weather won’t last forever.”
No matter how many times we’ve been here before, the extent of the devastation in Levian still strikes me anew every time I see it. Once a shining testament to humanity’s resilience, one of the first cities established in Nova Vita—now, nothing but rubble. As we push deeper into the city, I spot a fallen billboard half-hidden in the mess: Talulah Leonis’s face flickers up at us, half of it reduced to dead pixels. I shake my head and carry on, but Drom pauses to stomp on it, killing the image for good.
The Gaians paid heavily for the hubris of their former leader. In her push to make her proud civilization less dependent on the others in the system, she instead turned their own world against them by placing too much trust in alien technology. When faced with the consequences, she then wiped out Titan and tried to do the same to Nibiru. It still makes me sick with anger to think of all the things that Leonis did. At least she, too, paid the price in the end, thanks to my sister. My only regret is that I couldn’t do it myself.
- "Vivid commentary on surviving war, family dynamics, and the cost of freedom … Merbeth’s engrossing final book of the trilogy is filled with disaster, family moments, and high-stakes action.—Library Journal
- "This satisfying sequel has more of what made Fortuna (2019) such an excellent read: emotional weight, thrilling action, empathetic characters, and a complex plot that raises the stakes both for the five-planet system and the Kaiser family."—Booklist on Memoria
- "Kristyn Merbeth has created a desperate, gritty world in her newest book Fortuna, an epic space opera about the lengths a family will go to survive not only each other, but a world out to kill them . . . . Merbeth is a voice to watch in space opera!"—K. B. Wagers, author of There Before the Chaos, on Fortuna
- "The narrative is powered by a cast of deeply developed characters. Scorpia, in particular, is impressively multidimensional . . . . The nonstop action and varying levels of tension make this an unarguable page-turner."—Kirkus on Fortuna
- "Merbeth's multiple narrators and plotlines converge beautifully into a suspenseful tale of family. The characters are distinct and grounded, and each interaction is filled with purpose and emotion that brings all of them, regardless of differences, into the fray together. SF fans who have been waiting for a crime family spin on space opera will find nothing but joy in this whirlwind story."—Publishers Weekly on Fortuna
- "High energy, high stakes, and lots of high notes."—Library Journal on Fortuna
- "Merbeth's world building is fascinating-five human-settled planets, each distinct and littered with alien technology-but her multifaceted characters and their troubled relationships give this action-packed family drama its heart. A good readalike for Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books, John Scalzi's Collapsing Empire (2017), and for those who want a grittier version of Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series."—Booklist on Fortuna
- "This is an engaging start to a series that blends crime family drama with the sort of character-focused sci-fi that made Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series an award-winning favorite."—B&N Reads on Fortuna
- "It's everything you could ask for in a space opera."—The Arcanist on Fortuna
- On Sale
- Dec 7, 2021
- Page Count
- 464 pages