Today's First Chapter Friday is from JAGER, the second book in my Galactic Defenders series. Some might call the series Space Opera or Space Adventure. And each story in the series focuses on a different couple. JAGER features the relationship between Jager and Katrina. Katrina is the daughter of Bryce and Lalia from the first book in the series. Usually I don't include prologues in my stories, but I did with this one. So, I'm skipping past the prologue to bring you the first chapter, which has more action, and gives hints into the other three books in the series.
Enjoy the first chapter of JAGER...
“Three, two, one, go!” The gate buzzed open, and Jager led his squad into the Malarken forest on Kalara. Katrina, the most recent Defender graduate, took the lead, with Aram to the right, and Dhranash to the left. Silus, his Kalaren second, held center point, ready to down any Erebus the others missed. Bringing up the rear, Jager covered all their asses, prepared to save the members of his squad from every single holographic creature used to test their skills. After two Galactic years of training, fighting side-by-side, he expected them to work as a team. Yet, they didn’t. Princess Katrina was more interested in besting everyone, trying to prove she was just as skilled as her father who had recently retired from service. Only, she forgot about the rest of the squad, leaving them to fend for themselves. If he was honest, she was the least of his worries. The other members of the squad always wound up tangled in an Erebus’s tentacles or with one of the creatures over top of them, close to being killed by its poisonous saliva. And they’d served as Defenders for much longer.
Kimba, the former Galactic Alliance leader, must have hated him to assign him to the misfit group. But, no matter how much he’d argued, she refused to change her mind. The new Alliance leader, Granil, agreed with her predecessor. He was stuck with them and had to mold them into a cohesive squad. An impossible challenge.
As he weaved his way through the massive prickly trees whose canopy blocked out most of Kalara’s orange sun, Jager listened for his team. Not quiet at all. Erebus, with their lumbering bulky bodies, moved through the area with more grace. Dhranash squeaked with every step. If he stayed low enough, he wouldn’t feel the trees poking into him. And Aram sounded like a herd of rehn stampeding through the area. Jager covered his face with his hand. How many times would they have to run this drill before these lightweights learned how to cover the area properly?
A twig snapped behind him. Jager twisted around and raised his plazer, ready to shoot. Instead of their enemy ready to attack, he found Katrina, who had already downed the Erebus with just her blade.
She gave him a weak smile. “Sorry. It snapped the branch when it fell.”
Sorry? He yearned for the rest of his squad to be able to take the creatures down so quietly. And for them all to work together. He rolled his eyes and released a heavy breath. “How many?”
“This one makes five.” She took off before he could respond, the sound of her dark ponytail flapping in the air the only noise she made.
Five. That meant two or three more before the drill was over and he’d have to face Major O’Shaunessy for their score.
Ahead of him, Silus froze. A drop of black goop plopped onto his head, and the Defender screamed. Great, he’d reacted exactly as he was trained—if he wanted the Erebus to rush him. Jager pointed his plazer at the tree, aimed through the scope at the big blob perched in the branches, and fired.
A buzzer went off. They’d killed all the Erebus in this drill. Or, rather, Katrina had downed all but one, and he’d been lucky enough to find the other.
After holstering his plazer on his hip, he headed out of the forest, ready for more bad news. Maybe they’d take his squad from him. Maybe they’d punish him by assigning him to guard duty on the prison colony. He’d go mad within four Galactic years, but that had to be less stressful than trying to train the members of his squad. He’d forget all about them by the time he returned to Kalara.
When he reached the edge of the trees, he found his squad resting on a rock, panting, and looking as if they’d just survived an attack. Well, everyone except Katrina.
“How many?” he asked the group.
Dhranash shook his head.
“Didn’t see any, sir.” Aram shrugged her thick shoulders.
Silus put his head down. “None.”
“Cosmos.” He sighed and glanced around for Katrina. She never stuck with her squad during drills. Why would she now?
He spotted her leaning against the fence surrounding the forest, chatting with Jace, a Mingot, and a seventh-year Defender like him. His competition. They both had new squads and had to prove to the Alliance they were ready to go on missions. The new Zulu squad had already aided Echo on a humanitarian mission in the Tuey system. Probably because Katrina shared information about the drills with Jace so his team would perform better. Each drill was supposed to be different, but Jager couldn’t be sure. Katrina would do anything for the Defender who had helped saved her father when the Alliance had turned their back on him. How he wished he’d been sent instead.
No. He didn’t like Katrina. He didn’t like her fraternizing with Jace, the only Mingot he knew with hair. Perfect hair some Defenders swooned over. And he definitely didn’t like what the guy did with Katrina behind closed doors. Naf and Oflan could shove it up their asses if they believed him to be jealous of the other Defender. Because he wasn’t. Jace belonged to a different squad, and Jager wanted to keep his own squad focused without having to deal with the drama of relationships. Maybe if Katrina hung around with her own squad, they could work well together for a change. Some of her skill could rub off on the rest. Who was he kidding? The other three were hopeless.
Major O’Shaunessay motioned him over. “Your squad eliminated the enemy in record time.”
Jager did a double take. How had that happened? “Yes, sir.”
“I think you are ready for your first mission.” He handed Jager a com tab. “You’re going to Terra.”
Jager returned the screen. He couldn’t accept the mission, regardless of how much he looked forward to leaving the training facilities. “Based on what happened today, I don’t think that’s advisable. You know Katrina took down most of those Erebus. The rest of the squad is nowhere close to being ready.”
“I do not care what you think, young Kalaren.” The major crossed both sets of arms. “You will lead your squad on this mission.”
“Yes, sir.” And three of them likely wouldn’t survive. Even if it was an easy mission. Maybe he could leave them all there.
“Oh, and you will be missing one of your team members for the mission,” O’Shaunessy added. “Katrina will travel to Hemera before the carrier makes the jump to get to Terra.”
Great, his best squad member wouldn’t be a part of their first mission. He’d be lucky if he survived. “Yes, sir. When do we leave?”
“The shuttles will leave for the carrier in the morning. Until then, read the doc on your com tab and prepare your squad. The Terrans are still not aware of life beyond their own planet. No plazers. We have to be very careful.”
“Yes, sir.” Jager saluted the major, two fingers to the forehead then brought down in front of his face.
He headed back to the rock where his squad still looked as though they’d taken on an entire colony of Erebus. “Attention! I have some news.”
“Did you hear?” Katrina raced up and slapped him on the back. “We’ve got our first mission. We’re getting sent to Earth with Zulu and Echo squad.”
Jager clenched his fists. “Yes, we are.” He turned and glared at her. “But, you’re not. Your Royal Highness is required to attend a ball on Hemera.”
Her nostrils flared. “You lie. There is no way in Gaspra I’m going to miss out on our first mission.”
“Not my orders.” Jager raised his hands, hoping she took the challenge elsewhere. “That came straight from the top.”
“Well, get them changed. You can’t handle a mission without me. You know that.” She shifted her head to the rest of the squad. “These three are useless.”
“Hey!” Aram stood, fist raised. But Katrina had the Gersonian’s arm behind her before she had the chance to swing.
Katrina released her. “Admit it. You sound like an elephant barreling through the bush.”
Aram stared at the ground. “I don’t know what an elephant is.”
“Exactly. Which is why I need to be going to Earth. I mean, Terra.” Katrina grasped Jager’s lapels in her fists, yanking him forward. “I grew up there. I know the planet far better than any of you. I need to go on this mission.”
Jager clenched her wrists and tore her grip from him. “Don’t you ever do that again. I am your commanding officer, and you need to show respect.” A vein pulsed in his forehead. “And I will not change the orders. You need to reevaluate what you want away from the Defenders. You work on your own, without your team. And that’s not how a squad works.”
“Maybe if we had a better—”
“Enough, Princess. You will do as you’re told.” He’d had enough of her for one day. She could go cry to her boyfriend, but Jager wasn’t going to be the one to question Granil’s orders or Bryce’s demands. He would never deny that man anything, not after he’d saved his life.
Katrina marched off the shuttle, through the docking bay, and straight to Granil’s office. She refused to be taken away from her squad. She was a Defender, not a princess. And if they kept making her return to Hemera for stupid ceremonies, no one would ever show her any respect. Every single day, she had to prove herself, prove she could take down the Erebus just as well as the best Defenders. Yet, behind her back, she only heard the sneers at her royal lineage. No one was ever impressed by how many Erebus she eliminated, or how fast. And regardless what Jager said, she did work well with her squad. She took out their enemy while their leader kept the rest of the squad alive.
Why wasn’t he on her side? Did he really want to be stuck babysitting the other three? Couldn’t he see the danger he’d be in without her? If Katrina couldn’t change someone’s mind, she’d end up assigned to a new squad when she returned from Hemera, her current one having died on Earth. While the idea held some appeal, she actually preferred to be grouped with the misfits.
“Excuse me? Granil?” No matter how outraged she was, she didn’t dare speak to the leader of the Galactic Alliance the way she did Jager. Not if she wanted to remain a Defender. With all the special provisions her mother had demanded, the Alliance would just as soon be rid of her. She knew they only put up with her at Bryce’s request. He had served the Alliance longer than any other Defender, and they were still trying to make up for Kimba’s mistake in leaving his squad and others on Niesgoo to die.
“Come in.” The leader’s short tentacles waved before changing color from mauve to blue. She was calm, a promising start.
Katrina saluted as she entered the room. “I would like to talk to you regarding my absence from my squad’s mission to Terra.”
Granil pursed her lips. Her tentacles switched to orange and stood straight up, not a good time to confront a Yarwin. But, Katrina had no choice. “Proceed.” Though the woman’s lips kept moving. Had Katrina’s translation chip malfunctioned, or were there no English words for what she’d said?
Katrina leaned forward, her hands behind her. She didn’t dare sit in one of the seven empty seats around the leader unless offered. Those were reserved for planetary leaders. Not lowly Defenders. “I ask that you allow me to join them on the mission. I have proven myself time-and-time again. Plus, Terra was my home for many years. I can be an asset to the entire platoon.”
“While I don’t disagree with you, Katrina...” She stretched her jaw. “I am standing firm on your absence for this mission. Your presence has been requested on Hemera, and I must grant that request.”
“But shouldn’t it be up to me?” She wanted to pound something as she’d done when Kimba had been leader. Though, that time, she’d been fighting for her father’s life, rather than upset they were making her visit her parents.
“If people did what they wanted, the universe would be chaos. Sometimes we must do things we don’t agree with. That’s part of life.” Granil picked up a com tab from her desk. “You will go to Hemera, enjoy your graduation ceremony and whatever other celebrations they have planned for you. And then you will return to the carrier, train, and go on the next mission with your squad.”
When the leader’s attention turned to the tablet, Katrina knew she’d been dismissed. Fornax! Didn’t anyone understand the danger they were putting Delta squad in? They were already cursed by the squad’s name, Jager having been the only survivor after a mission to Hoggins where Bryce had saved his ass. And she was just starting to like that ass, too. Even though the person attached could be a pigheaded asshole sometimes.
Shuffling down the hall, she pounded the wall a few times. Nope, it did nothing to squash her anger. She wanted to beat on someone. Maybe her squad leader would be in the sparring room.
She spun around to find her best friend, only friend, Jace, holding her hand wraps out to her. “No. You’ve got to promise me you’ll protect them. Or just him, that’s okay.”
Jace grinned, the smile lighting up the sparkle in his eyes. “When are you going to scratch that itch? You’ve been craving a piece of him since you first arrived for training.”
“Never.” She grabbed the wraps from him. “Though if he calls me princess one more time, I’m going to shove one of these down his throat.”
“I’m sure you’d like to shove your tongue down his throat if given the option.”
She smacked her arm against Jace’s chest, knocking him back a step. “Keep it up and you’ll be first.”
He raised his hands in front of his face. “Okay, okay. Take it out on the simulation. I’ve programmed one for you. It’s all set.”
“Nah.” She frowned. “If I’m really heading to Hemera, I have to leave in an hour. I should call my sister and find out what’s happened since I was last there.”
“Not your parents?” He strolled alongside her toward the lift to Defender quarters.
“Are you kidding? They still haven’t accepted I actually want to be here. Or at least my mom hasn’t.” Katrina sighed, remembering her last conversation with the queen of Hemera. “I’ll get enough of her loving concern when I get there.”
“Well, come here.” Jace held his arms open, and she went into them, his hugs always able to relieve some of her tension. He kissed the top of her head. “I’ll see you when we all return. And I’ll guard that ass you like so much.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Thank you.”
In her room, Katrina dialed up her sister’s private line at the royal palace on Hemera. After the screen flickered, a young woman appeared, sitting on the bed that had once belonged to a precious little girl who’d lost both her parents in separate Erebus attacks. Queen Lalia had adopted her after ensuring the planet was safe from further attack, and Katrina had the sister she’d always dreamed of when growing up on Earth. But, the little girl was gone, a young woman with some obvious teenage angst in her place. “Gwenie, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Gwen.” She huffed and tilted her head to the side. “And I’ll give you one guess as to why.”
“Mom’s making you dress up again?” Something she hated, too; part of the reason she dreaded returning home.
Her sister picked up a bunch of material and threw it toward the screen. “It’s hideous. And all because you’re coming home. Because you’re officially a Defender now.”
“I hate to see what she has for me, then.” Probably something that covered every inch of her body, unlike the dress she’d worn at the coronation when her mother hadn’t had the time or opportunity to plan for anything.
“Take me with you, please!” Gwenodyn stuck out her bottom lip. “Scrym has less than a year before he’s eligible to enlist for Defender training. After that, I don’t know how I’m going to keep my sanity. They’ll smother me.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Katrina knew the feeling, had experienced her mother’s overbearing love when they’d still lived on Earth, and it had only been the two of them. Before she knew of the Defenders, her real father, and life on a multitude of other planets.
“Sneak me onto a ship. I don’t care. I’ll be quiet, stay squished in a cupboard somewhere.”
That’s it! Katrina could sneak off the ship to Hemera and sneak onto one going to Earth. Though not the one with her own squad. That would be too obvious. “We’ll see. I’ve gotta go.”
She switched off the screen. Her sister would have to wait. Katrina had to visit her real home first.
Today's First Chapter Friday is from one of my favourite stories I wrote, MADE FOR HER. This MF Futuristic Sci-Fi Romance is about clones, the military, aliens, space travel, and an undeniable romance.
One reviewer said, "This was like a Top Gun story set in the future where cloning is real and space exploration is growing and alien contact is a reality for which the government has been preparing for years." Other reviewers didn't like how much sex was in the story.
It's only 99¢ USD and available wide, so I hope you'll check it out!
Enjoy the first chapter of MADE FOR HER...
Captain Mikayla Jones opened the door and gazed up at the Skymaster II rocketing another group of pilots toward SFTC, the Space Flight Training Center. She’d been the instructor of most of the men and women on that flight and would come face to face with a new class on Monday morning. But she hadn’t rushed to the door to bid the squad farewell. No, instead she stared at the four men in uniform standing before her. She recognized three of them from the base, knew they hadn’t come with good news—they would never have arrived at her door together other than to inform her of a tragedy—but it was the fourth man dressed in black, his hands drumming a beat on his utility belt, who worried her the most. He wasn’t military.
“May we come in?”
Lieutenant Colonel Madison’s question yanked her back from her thoughts. “What is it? Tell me what happened.”
The chaplain from the base stepped forward with a heavy nod. “Captain, it’s best if we go in and sit down. Detective Krug of the Northwest Police Department has something to tell you.”
She braced her hands on the door frame, afraid if she let them in, their bad news would be true.
“C’mon, Mikayla.” Lieutenant Colonel Madison draped an arm across her shoulder and guided her into her home. He would be the only one to call her by her given name here, the only one who knew her well enough. “You need to sit down. It’s about Daniel.”
She stopped in her tracks, dread pooling in her stomach, but the chaplain, the detective, and his military police escort continued into her living room.
“This isn’t funny. It’s our anniversary. We’re supposed to go out for dinner. He promised he’d be home. Whatever this surprise is that you’re all involved in, I’m not impressed.” Her voice hitched. “Go over to the lab and tell Daniel to come home.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Detective Krug said.
Her knees threatened to give out. “Why? He works just over there.” She pointed in the direction of the military labs where her husband conducted experiments for the government, ones so top secret, Daniel couldn’t even mention them in her presence.
“No, Mikayla,” the colonel said. “He was contracted out to Onatria Labs.”
She gasped. Her chest tightened. Had she misheard him? “The lab rumored to be involved in cloning? But that lab was blown up this morning.”
She waited for one of them to tell her that her assumptions were wrong, that Daniel was okay, but they all stared at her, their eyes solemn. No, it can’t be true.
“The Natural Lifes have already claimed responsibility for the bombing,” Detective Krug said.
Drawing in a deep breath, she willed her body to stop shaking. Captain Jones could not break down, not when cadets depended on her every day to train them for flight. “Where is my husband? Which hospital is he at?” She couldn’t stand still. She had to get to Daniel, to take care of him. Their anniversary dinner no longer mattered, but she had to be with her husband.
“Mikayla, I’m so sorry.” The colonel rested a hand on her shoulder. “But Daniel didn’t survive.”
She stepped back, grasping for something to hang on to. A tear slid down her cheek, but she wiped it away. Her husband had to come home. Yet, her heart had already broken, processed the news before her mind. Grasping the back of a chair, she turned to the detective. “You have to be wrong. He can’t be dead. He can’t. It’s our anniversary. How do you know it was him, huh?”
“We read his military ID chip. I’m sorry, but there’s no mistaking his identity.”
“No!” She was no longer Captain Jones. She melted back to Mikayla, wife to Daniel Jones. And she let go, falling to the floor. Terrorists had stolen her husband from her. She was alone. Forever. All of their hopes and dreams, gone. Her chance at having a family, no more. She had nothing to live for.
Madison knelt beside her and rubbed her back. “I’m very sorry.”
But she turned away from him. “Leave me, please.” She wrapped her arms around her knees and wept for her husband.
Ten years later
Colonel Jones grabbed the remote before focusing on the three-dimensional holographic picture beside her. Another presentation for the general public, but she doubted it would work to recruit anyone. The audience was always more curious than willing to enlist.
“In 2084, as you know, Earth made first contact with the Rafkels, a peaceful species living on the planet Raf, located twenty light-years from Earth.” She pressed the button to show her spectators an image of the still-foreign planet. “While meeting this species remains years away, their message warned us of other intelligent life forms in our own galaxy.”
Mikayla rolled her eyes. The actual message had not been a warning, rather a fact, but the government insisted on changing the wording to garner more recruits and support for cloning. “Since then, world governments have combined efforts to develop a spacecraft that will take us faster and farther into space.
“If you join the military today, you will learn how to fly these vessels and train the clones for future wars. Science fiction has now become our reality.” Yeah, like that would work to recruit people. Who wrote the speech, anyway? Very few, if any, would ever make it to the SFTC, Space Flight Training Center. “It will never be your life on the line, but that of men and women created only for that purpose. Serving your country is no longer about sacrifice, but about honor.”
She cringed at the bullshit words. People still died all the time. Terrorists, like the ones who’d killed Daniel, still objected to cloning, causing destruction and death. Just last month, a popular off-base nightclub, known to be a military hang-out, had been turned to rubble in a matter of seconds after a suicide bomber with known allegiance to the Al-Tidoa group blew himself up inside the building. Many, both clone and human-born, had died.
When Mikayla switched the display to the live feed from Onatria’s main lab in Geneva, she sighed at the collective gasp. Robotic arms transferred material between Petri dishes at various stations while other, more complex equipment dissected strands of DNA. Human-born and clones alike wore white lab coats and watched new life grow under their microscopes. And in a glass-walled clean room, casket-like clear chambers held young clones attached to a multitude of tubes. Except for the military and Onatria staff, this was the first time anyone had seen the labs. The government had grown desperate for people to enlist.
Clones, fully incubated at one year, resembled a teenaged human-born and lived better than most of the people there to watch the presentation. That was, until the clones left the labs four years later. Then they became nothing more than a possession of the military, a weapon trained for combat. And none, as of yet, had developed long enough to resemble an officer her age. They were killed in battle or by terror attacks before they had the chance to live a long life.
At the end of her presentation, she slipped out of the hall, unwilling to answer questions from the audience. The junior officers could handle them. She refused to listen to the public refer to the clones as slugs. Daniel had died bringing them to life and she couldn’t have his work, his creations, insulted in front of her. Sure, they weren’t born the same way as her, but they were still people, and she had a new squadron of clones waiting for her on the tarmac.
They wouldn’t fly today. Instead, they’d head to the classroom for theory. With their basic training already completed, they were sent to her to become pilots. But her job involved more than training. She had to weed out the clone cadets who were better suited to a civilian position, and keep those who took their assignment seriously.
As she approached them, they stood at attention and saluted her, but all wore the same cocky smile. She gave them her infamous glare to wipe away their grins, even though she knew every one of them deserved to be arrogant. They were, after all, created and genetically modified to be the best.
Colonel Jones eyed each one of her new cadets, examining the neatness of their uniforms, while inspecting for signs of stress or over-anxiousness. She’d never seen the telltale muscle twitches or sweats in any previous clones, only in human-borns, but she had to look for them anyway.
The first generation of clones didn’t live long enough to become cadets. Their hearts had given out within a year after incubation. But the scientists at Onatria had plowed on, utilizing more of Daniel’s research, speeding up the aging process with hormones to create the perfect generation she saw before her.
She’d had female clones in previous squadrons, but the government filled the one in front of her with testosterone-driven masculinity. If she’d been younger, she’d have a hard time concentrating. But her days of crushes and fantasies were long over. She was devoted to serving her country and planet, and nothing else.
That didn’t stop her from going out on the town for a stress-relieving fuck from time to time. But these young men in front of her appeared so virile, sure to last longer than any of her previous sexual partners.
No. As junior officers, and more importantly, as clones, they were off limits.
Inspecting them gave her the opportunity to check out more than their fatigues and tics, but if they knew her thoughts, they’d walk all over her. She’d be done.
They were of varying nationalities, builds, and heights, all fit to serve the planet. None of the cadets revealed any indication he would put the lives of others in jeopardy. It would be an easy squadron, every one of them ready to fly in a matter of weeks.
She reached the last cadet and froze. Her stomach clenched. No, they couldn’t have!
She pivoted on her heel and rushed off the tarmac, leaving the squad without an instructor.
“How dare you!” She shouldn’t have barged into General Madison’s office, but Mikayla didn’t care. The military had crossed a very personal line. One she could never forgive.
Her commanding officer rose from his desk, his hands raised in the air. “I beg your pardon, Colonel. Remember who you are speaking to.”
She slammed the door. “I can’t believe you let them clone Daniel and then send him to me to train. I had no problem training them when I didn’t know who they were made from, but this is just…wrong. Daniel never gave permission.”
He stepped out from behind his desk, lowering his arms. “I can see how intimate this situation is to you.”
She glared at him. “Oh, really?” The only way to get more personal was if they’d created a clone of herself, and she would never allow that.
“Sit down. You need to be quiet and listen, or I will have you escorted out of my office.”
Mikayla plopped into one of the leather chairs in front of the general’s desk. She gripped the arms, holding in her anger, though she still had so much of her mind to tell him.
The general sat back down. “Just so you know, Daniel did grant permission to be cloned when he was first contracted to Onatria.”
She shook her head, unable to believe the man’s words. Daniel would have told her if he’d agreed to something so significant.
“He actually created D1, before cloning became legalized. He used his own DNA.”
“No.” Was everything she knew about Daniel a complete lie?
“Yes. He didn’t want you to know because the survival rate of the clones in the beginning was less than one percent. Now, ninety-nine percent will go on to serve our government.”
“But Daniel’s been dead for years. Why did you suddenly decide to clone him again?”
General Madison wiped a hand across his face. “Mikayla, the clone in your squadron is the thirty-second clone made with Daniel’s DNA. He’s D32.”
“And you’ve kept them from me all along?” She dug her fingers into the leather. How had she never found out? “What happened to the rest?”
“The early ones didn’t survive. Those that lived stayed in the labs to help Onatria create better and better clones.”
The information left her mind spinning, and she struggled to breathe. “So why is this one out of the lab and in my squadron? Why couldn’t he be trained by someone else, somewhere else?”
General Madison smiled, and she had a feeling she wasn’t going to like his answer. “Because he wanted to be trained by the best. You are our best instructor and have turned out our best pilots. Why would we send him anywhere else?”
Oh, he thought he’d sweet-talk her into compliance, like he always did when he wanted something. But not this time. Mikayla had her own agenda now that she knew the truth. She stood up, resting her hands on his desk. “I’m going to the labs in Geneva to see the rest of Daniel’s kids...brothers...uh, whatever they are.”
“Colonel Jones, you will do no such thing.” His tone grew sharp. “You have a squadron depending on you.”
She couldn’t hide her rebellious grin. She’d been kept in the dark too long. “I am going and I’ll hijack a plane if I have to.” Although she’d always turned down the opportunities to tour the labs, Daniel’s research now affected her directly. She had to find out more, needed to see the labs for herself.
He sprang to his feet, his chair scraping the floor behind him. “I will be leaving for Geneva in two days. You can wait until then.”
His nostrils flared, and she didn’t consider defying him.
Marching from the office, she returned to her quarters to pack for her upcoming trip.
He’d expected a reaction from her, but he didn’t think she’d walk away when she saw him. What came as a complete surprise, however, was his body’s reaction to her. He’d seen pictures of his donor’s wife, but hadn’t expected the urge to jump her bones right there on the tarmac.
D32, or Dare, as the other clones called him, was the first “Daniel” clone to be released from the labs and survive basic training. But he’d felt different from the others he’d interacted with on a daily basis. Always had. He yearned to get out and see the world he’d been created to protect, rather than be cooped up in the labs. And as soon as he’d proved mature enough, he’d asked to enlist in basic training. Some of his squadron hadn’t been strong enough and were sent back for reassignment. But for Dare, it had come too easily. He’d pushed his body to its limits time and time again. And after completing basic, he wanted to fly. That’s why they’d all been created in the first place: to protect the space tourists and fight for the planet if the need ever presented itself. He answered the call.
He’d been told his instructor, Colonel Jones, was the wife of the man whose DNA had been used to create him. At first, he thought training under her was a bad idea, but so many pilots told him she was the best. She would teach him everything he needed to know, thus making him the best. And who didn’t want that designation? Even clones needed to prove themselves.
“Oh look, fresh meat.”
Every one of them turned toward the gruff, condescending voice.
“I am Major Thompson, but you can call me “sir,” as in “yes, sir.” I will be your flight instructor now.”
Bile rose from Dare’s stomach, burning his throat. Where had he come from? Colonel Jones hadn’t left more than ten minutes ago.
“I know you slugs have all completed basic training, but that was a walk in the park compared to what I’m going to put you through.” The major’s chiseled face revealed a slight grin, mocking them. “When I’m done with you, you’ll wish those bastards at Onatria had smashed your Petri dishes before your cells began to divide.”
If Colonel Jones was the best, this man wasn’t. He was Dare’s worst nightmare. With clenched fists, he vowed to find a way to get Colonel Jones back. I have to be the best.
Today's First Chapter Friday is from my super sweet romance, PIKA OMEGA PLUS ONE. It's the third book in my Shifter Towers series, and includes dates at the park and the children's museum.
Enjoy the first chapter of PIKA OMEGA PLUS ONE (Shifter Towers #3)
“I’m going to miss you so much.” The kiss I placed on Odega’s fuzzy head didn’t seem like enough, but it would have to do. I had to leave him behind and catch the bus or I would be late for my first day back to work. “I’ll only be a few hours. Until I get back, Uncle Malone and the girls will take good care of you.”
I kissed my son’s head again then rushed out the door, waving goodbye to him, my brother, and my nieces. My stomach churned all the way to the bus stop, guilt consuming me for leaving Odega behind. It was the first time I’d gone anywhere without him. But I couldn’t bear to be apart from him. Not ever. Not with how I’d lost his father.
At the same time, I couldn’t expect my brother’s husband, Thadeus, to financially support me and my son forever. Thadeus and Malone had been kind enough to take me in after I found out I was pregnant. Widowed and a single parent at the age of twenty-three. But Thadeus wasn’t my alpha, my mate. I needed to repay him somehow.
When the bus pulled up to the stop a couple houses down from my brother’s, I trailed on behind the other passengers using the same mode of transportation. They were mostly young omegas who hadn’t been claimed yet, and a few claimed ones as well. On the bus, a couple young alphas sniffed around like they were selecting their choice of delectables from the dessert cart. Yet not one omega gave them the attention they wanted.
I turned my back to them, hoping I still smelled of Daniel’s claim even though it had been over a year since he was killed in a car accident. I didn’t want any alpha sniffing around me. I had a young child to take care of and didn’t have time to date. Plus, I never wanted to go through the pain of losing someone I loved ever again.
When the bus reached the transfer station, I piled off with the rest of the passengers then rushed to catch the light rail transit. A route I was familiar with, but one I hadn’t taken since going on paternity leave. The train would take me right to the center of town, the stop in the courtyard immediately behind Shifter Towers. I’d made it, and no longer had to worry about being late for work.
Yet other issues plagued my mind. I didn’t think I would ever stop worrying about Odega. I’d never left the house without him since his birth, and those outings were rare. I was a homebody, had a couple acquaintances who were also busy as new fathers, but spent most of my time with my family.
Then there was work itself. I hadn’t exactly left there on the best of terms with some of my coworkers. Didn’t help that the manager we had was known to play favorites and often pitted all of us against each other when it came to who worked the most and best hours, and who got the best positions. I’d worked hard, more concerned about making money than friends, so I’d secured a favorable status. But after taking my six month leave, I could only hope the manager remembered my work ethic.
Walking in between the back two skyscrapers, I headed to Tower One of Shifter Towers. NJ Fresh Foods was on the main floor, with the head office for the chain on the thirtieth floor. Apparently those who were promoted in the company, even at store level, got the chance to visit that office. Though I hadn’t yet. Not even for my original interview. So, that was my goal. I wanted my hard work to be recognized. I would visit the head office one day. I would be promoted so that I could one day afford an apartment for just Odega and I.
Walking into the store, I glanced around for the manager, Hayley. When I called two weeks ago, she’d given me my schedule and then emailed me the paperwork I had to fill out and send to head office to indicate I wanted to come back before my full paternity leave ended. But she wasn’t around. Instead I saw someone else wearing a manager uniform.
No, not him. My stomach twisted and I felt my skin itch, my body wanting to shift.
My nemesis, Randall Bickell, turned around then sneered. “Milo. I heard you decided to come back early.” I’d have believed he’d stolen the uniform if he didn’t have a nametag with his name engraved into it with the words Shift Manager underneath.
With clenched fists, I struggled to remain in my human form. I’d be fired right away if I let myself shift. I wanted to back away and spin around before running out of the store. This wasn’t how my first day back was supposed to go. Instead, my feet refused to move. I was stuck there under his scrutinous gaze. “Hi. Yes, I’m back.”
“Lucky me,” he mumbled, though definitely loud enough for me to hear. “Well, since it’s been a long time since you’ve worked here, and I don’t have time to retrain you, you can be responsible for restocking and cleaning.”
I rolled my eyes. He knew damn well I knew what I was doing and didn’t need to be retrained. It wasn’t as if we had a new or complicated checkout system. He just wanted to punish me for all the times I’d proven I was better at the job than him, rub it in my face that he had been promoted during the time I’d become a father. “Fine. But I can still do the job better than you.”
“I am a manager.” Randall tightened his jaw as his face reddened. “And you will not talk to me like that. You got your first warning. And your work period hasn’t even started yet.”
“Whatever.” I darted past him toward the staff room to drop off my stuff in a locker. I’d get through today and hope most of my time at work had anyone else as the manager.
The first hour started out fairly slow. The morning crowd trickled in over a couple hours, so there was no rush for anything. I stocked as I got the chance, and cleaned up the occasional spill as needed. No one really sat at the tables or used the washroom as most customers picked up their order to take to work with them. Nothing I couldn’t handle. At the same time, I knew what to expect at lunch. I had everything stocked and made sure overstock was easily accessible to keep up with the upcoming demand. The first group hit NJ Foods at 11:30 a.m. During that time, those in the food prep stations kept their own area stockpiled with various offerings. I focused on keeping drink refrigerators and snack food racks filled. And when an occupied table became free, I quickly cleaned it for the next patron. When I had a chance, I also checked the bathrooms to make sure the stalls had toilet paper and no one had left a big mess.
The rush at noon was much bigger and lasted longer. Customers were in more of a rush making them much more careless. The lines at cash were long, and everyone was in the way of someone else. I spent more time cleaning up during that hour than anything else. So, by the time the last lunch crowd arrived at 1 p.m., I was still on the floor, trying to fill shelves as fast as possible.
Randall had been too busy trying to speed up the cashiers to bother with me, but at the sound of his cackly laugh, I cringed. He was over at the pizza booth, flirting with one of the employees there. Whatever. As long as he stayed away from me.
I squatted down to fill a half empty chip rack with various flavors. An easy task, and out of the way. Or so I thought until burning liquid slid down my back. “Fuck!” I jumped up and untucked my shirt as fast as possible to get the material away from my skin.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry,” I heard someone say. But his words didn’t matter. My clothes were ruined, and I had another mess to clean up. What a great first day back.
I sat at my desk, watching as the anchor, meteorologist, and head of sports and entertainment signed off for the noon news. My quick two minute report about the car that drove through the front window of La Sandwich Shoppe at West First Avenue went well. In that short amount of time, I’d shown the accident site and interviewed the officer sent to the scene, the owner of the shop, and even a mouse shifter named Herbie, who was a witness. Everything had been pre recorded earlier in the day and I’d even had a quick chance to edit the footage before submitting it for the noon hour program. My first on screen story.
“Nice work!” The producer patted my back on his way past my desk. “Got a special interest story for you next. You’ll have the information after lunch.”
“Thank you,” I called after her. I’d been at Saramto Shifter News Network for several months already, hoping my paid internship position would turn into a fulltime job. Or even part time. Just something more permanent. Until this week, I wasn’t sure that was possible considering I’d never been assigned my own stories. I simply shadowed another news correspondent to gain an understanding of how the equipment worked and what was expected in a report. But when Dannie went on vacation, the station trusted me to tackle some stories on my own. A nice change, but I didn’t know how long this opportunity would last, whether I’d go back to being a shadow when my mentor returned, or whether this was the beginning of me working on my own. Time to shine and prove myself, I guess.
When I’d originally come to Saramto after graduating from Highland University with a Bachelor of Communications Studies, I’d expected to easily find a job. Especially being an alpha. But, it turns out, in this city shifter alphas are given even more priority over regular human ones. And even though I’ve never seen anyone shift in public, the residents of Saramto all seemed to know who was a shifter and who was not. Namely me.
Trying not to feel sorry for myself, considering the new opportunity in front of me, I headed down to NJ Fresh Foods on the first floor to get a bowl of soup and a sandwich for lunch. I might as well be prepared for when my next assignment was given. Dannie had taught me to always eat when I had the chance because I might not get another break for several hours when covering a story. And I wasn’t exactly one to make my own food. I could burn a pot of water. And had many times. So, I simply bought my meals from the various food shops around Shifter Towers. La Sandwich Shoppe, the place I went to for the accident, was absolutely delicious. I first learned about them when they’d catered a network lunch. But most of the time, I went to NJ Foods. They had meals that were prepped daily, and a great selection of choices from various cultures around the world. I never grew tired of eating food from there.
When the elevator doors opened on the first floor, I darted through the crowd now finished their lunch break, and heading back up to work. Though I was hungry, I actually preferred to have a later lunch. Without the crowd, I could take my time selecting exactly what I wanted to eat, and most of the time didn’t have to wait in line to pay for my food.
At the soup station, there were always six to choose from along with the basic chicken noodle and chili. Today they had Kusksu, a traditional Maltese soup, which looked and smelled delicious. Food I never would have had a chance to enjoy back in Malton. Everything there was so traditionally greasy, tasting of fat and salt. I scooped some of the Kusksu into my reusable bowl then slid over to see what they had for sandwiches.
I hadn’t watched where I was going, my eyes too focused on the food. And I tripped over someone. My soup fell out of my hand, and when the container hit the person I tripped over, the lid opened and the soup spilled down his back. I gasped as he jumped up, cursing under his breath. I grabbed a handful of napkins to wipe it off him, but he spun away from me, untucking his shirt in the process.
“Sorry!” I grabbed his arm, trying to get him to hold still so I could help. I felt horrible. “I’m so sorry.”
He shook me off. “Whatever. I need to clean up this mess now.”
“Let me.” It was all my fault. He shouldn’t have to clean up after me because I wasn’t paying attention. I just hoped he was okay, that he wasn’t badly burned.
Wiping up as much as I could off the floor with the napkins, I tossed them in the closest trash container. The guy returned with a mop, the back of his shirt untucked. Though he’d managed to wipe the soup off, the material was still wet from my clumsiness. I reached for the mop. “I’ll do it. It’s my fault.”
“No.” The guy, Milo according to his nametag, sighed at me. “Just get more soup and go. This is my job. Don’t worry about it.”
Easier said than done. I’d hurt him and made a mess. It was my fault, and yet he’d suffered for it. “Your shirt. Is it ruined? How much does another one cost?”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Enjoy your lunch, sir.”
How was I supposed to respond to that? I hadn’t fixed anything and only felt worse. Releasing a heavy breath, I heard my dad’s words in my head. You’ll never find a mate if you don’t start acting like an alpha.
I’d heard that advice over and over since puberty. The moment my results had come back. That had been a surprise to me, and an even bigger one to my parents. So much so, they’d had me tested again. Same thing. When I announced I had an internship in Saramto, my surviving father had been overjoyed. He’d believed I would learn to be a proper alpha in a big city. His only restriction was that I stay away from shifters. Kind of hard to do in this metropolis. I definitely felt like an outsider here. And my mentor was a non-binary beta black panther shifter. Great at their job, but not exactly what my dad had in mind.
I didn’t care. I’d always been this way, and I didn’t plan on changing. So what if I was too sweet or not dominant enough for some. When I found the right person or shifter, that wouldn’t matter.
Glancing around, I realized Milo had finished cleaning my mess and had rushed off somewhere. Probably away from me. I refilled my bowl, found a sandwich—though my appetite had dwindled since my spill—and headed for the checkout.
When I sat down at my desk to eat my lunch, I found a new message from the producer. My next assignment. I spooned soup into my mouth as I read. Nothing like any of the stories I’d covered with Dannie. This one involved preparing a five minute piece about the upcoming Children’s Festival on Sunday. the event was a fundraiser for the local children’s hospital, and I had to interview the organizer, some of the participants, and even the children it would be benefitting. The segment was supposed to promote the festival, of which our station was a major sponsor, and encourage those who didn’t have children to donate as well. Not only that, but I was expected to volunteer at one of the booths the day of. Not a problem since I didn’t have any plans anyway. My dad would recommend I go to a local church to meet a “nice omega,” but the Children’s Festival sounded far less torturous.
After I finished my lunch, I made various phone calls to arrange interview times for tomorrow. They all ended up being spread throughout the afternoon at the Children’s Hospital. Good because it meant I didn’t have to travel back and forth throughout the day, but it would lead to a late night tomorrow since the piece needed to be ready to be approved the following morning, and then aired on Thursday’s lunch, evening, and late night news.
Since there wasn’t much else I could do at the station, I decided to go home. I would do more research on past events there, and come up with my own interview questions. Something different than what had been done in past years.
I had just stepped away from my desk when my phone rang. My dad. What part of “Don’t phone me while at work” did he not understand? Though sometimes my hours varied, I was always working this time of day.
I rushed to the bathroom and answered the call. Talking to him at my desk would only distract the other correspondents who were busy with their own stories.
“Hi Dad? Are you okay?” I wanted to somehow make sure he understood not to call unless it was an emergency.
“Fine, Yoni. Why wouldn’t I be?” He sounded confused, having no idea why I would ask that. I wasn’t going to win this argument.
I guess I simply had to stop answering when I was working. “I’m at work. What do you want?”
“No need to take such a harsh tone with me. But at least you’re sounding more like an alpha.”
I rolled my eyes. Why were conversations with him so painful? I know things had been difficult when my alpha father had passed away, but he’d seemed fine before I left, encouraged me to go. He’d said his younger sisters would be his company. Maybe they’d all pissed each other off and weren’t talking. Wouldn’t be the first time. “How are you, Dad? And what is the purpose of your call?”
“Now you’re just being silly.” He chuckled a little. “Anyway, I called to see if you’re coming home this weekend. It’s a long weekend, so I assumed you’d have some extra time off.”
Oops, I’d forgotten all about the holiday on Monday. But, that didn’t matter. I already had plans. “Sorry, I have an assignment on Sunday. I can’t make it.”
“How dare they make you work on a holiday weekend! And a Sunday at that!”
I had to hold the phone away from my ear at the sudden change in his tone. I preferred not to be deaf.
“You’re supposed to come home, go to church with me, and meet a nice omega I’ve been talking about you with. He’s very interested, and very cute.”
My stomach churned. My father’s taste in guys and my taste never seemed to mesh. And no matter how many times I’d told him, he wouldn’t accept the fact. “Well, it’s too bad I have other plans. I’m actually volunteering at the Children’s Festival, a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital here in Saramto. It’s part of my current assignment, and I just couldn’t say no.” And neither could he. Not when it involved charity work.
“Oh, well then. I guess that’s okay.”
I could hear the disappointment in his voice, but I really didn’t feel bad.
“Hopefully he’s still single the next time you come home then.”
Hopefully not. For his sake and mine. Because I was sure we wouldn’t work out. “Maybe. But, I’ve got to go, Dad. I’m just starting this assignment, and I have a lot to do.”
“Oh, sorry. I’ll let you go then.” He acted as if I hadn’t already told him I was at work. “Make sure you do well on this assignment. I’m proud of you.”
“I love you, too, Dad.” I hung up the phone and shook my head. When would he stop? Being an only child had been nice while growing up, but now I wished I’d had a sibling simply to take some of his attention off me.
Even more anxious to leave the station, I loaded my laptop and phone into my messenger bag, and then headed to the equipment room to sign out what I would need for the interviews tomorrow. I was still too new to get a station vehicle to use, but my daily travel costs were paid for, and the hospital was easily accessible by public transportation between both my apartment and the station. Plus, it wasn’t as if I had to travel anywhere near Jackson Street. That’s one neighborhood Dannie had warned me to avoid, no matter how big the story seemed. So, I usually left my car at home, unless I drove back to Bolton.
Before catching the light rail transit to the stop near my apartment, I returned to NJ Foods. I wanted to grab something for dinner, and try to apologize again to Milo. I searched the entire store, even tried to listen beyond the customer areas for his voice. But, I think he had already left. I’d have to keep coming back until I had a chance to see him once again. For some reason, I couldn’t let what had happened rest, couldn’t stop thinking about him. Even when on the phone with my dad, I’d pictured Milo when my father talked about finding an omega for me. I don’t know why. I was sure the guy hated me. But I had to make it up to Milo somehow. I just needed to figure out a way.
Jessica E. Subject is a USA Today bestselling author of Sci-Fi and Paranormal Romance.
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