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 comes from GIB AND THE TIBBAR, the third book in my Galactic Defenders sci-fi romance series. It was originally released as part of the USA Today bestselling anthology, EMBRACE THE ROMANCE: PETS IN SPACE 2. When the anthology was no longer available, I released this story on its own.
Enjoy the first chapter of GIB AND THE TIBBAR:
Fire crackled, breaking up the eerie silence surrounding the Defenders on watch. Gib read the sky scan on his wrist com. Nothing. The same as every other reading he’d taken since arriving on Hemera. He snapped a twig then tossed it into the fire pit. “I can’t believe our squad is stationed here. I mean, Alpha, Bravo, Delta, and Echo always get the exciting missions where they actually kill Erebus.”
“And we’re stuck on Hemera,” his squad mate Zair interrupted, finally talking after Gib had assumed he’d fallen asleep. “On some backward planet for some fornax ceremony so the king can show off how much wealth he has to the lowly commoners. It’s ridiculous!”
“Yes, but there’s nothing we can do.” Gib said back, stretching out his aching legs. Like every other Mingot, Gib had a thin layer of skin over his bones, leaving them visible on the surface. Though on his hands and head, he had thicker skin over those bones, the parts of him generally not covered by his Defender uniform. Being stuck on a planet that consisted of mostly water with only one land mass reminded him of how much he’d aged compared to when he first joined the Defenders. Every joint ached at some point during the day, and others teamed up to slow him even more. He couldn’t wait to leave Hemera, and hopefully his squad would never be sent there again.
“Why does the Alliance send us here anyway?” Running his boots through the loose dirt around the pit, Zair stared into the fire they’d started at the watch site to keep warm. “It’s not as if Hemera contributes anything to—”
A small, furry white creature scampered between the Defenders and the fire. Gib yanked his feet back and gasped. He tried to follow the path the animal took, and when it disappeared into the grassy field, he relaxed a little. Not that he was afraid, only startled by the sudden appearance of the critter.
But his watch partner reacted differently. The cowardly Defender stood on his bench, reaching for a low branch on the ropral tree as if to lift himself farther off the ground. “What in Gaspra was that? No one told me about any deadly creatures on this planet.”
Gib laughed and slapped his hand on his lap. “I wouldn’t call the fluffy little thing that raced by us a deadly creature.”
“Okay, Hemera is infested with vermin, then.” Zair examined the area around him before he dared put a foot on the ground.
A high-pitched squeak sounded, and Gib’s surveillance partner returned to reaching for the branches. The little creature stood on its hind legs below Zair’s bench, peeping as if telling him off.
Gib couldn’t hold in his laughter. Not just at the other Defender’s reaction, but also the thoughts running through Zair’s mind, thoughts he’d failed to block in his fear.
“It’s not going to eat you.” Gib shook his head, wondering how his squad mate could see the creature as dangerous. “Would you please get down from there? Defenders are supposed to be brave and fierce. Right now, you’re neither.”
“Go to Gaspra, Mingot. And stay out of my head.” He yanked his plazer from his hip holster and aimed it at the critter. “If I don’t destroy it, it will bring death to everyone on this planet.”
Stepping into the line of fire, Gib yanked the weapon from his squad mate, thankful the safety remained on. “You’re being ridiculous. Besides, if you fire your weapon, you’ll cause a panic. The Hemera will think Erebus have arrived.”
The frightened Defender shook a foot at the creature. “Fine, then. Kick it into the fire. Or you could stomp on it.”
“Don’t you dare!” A Hemera woman burst from the bushes, storming toward Zair like a mother rehn protecting her young. She shoved him off his bench and shouldered past Gib before scooping the noisy creature into her hand. “This is my tibbar, not some kind of vermin.”
“Tibbar? Try nasty rodent that tried to eat me.” Zair smoothed out his uniform but kept his distance from the creature now perched on the woman’s shoulder.
“You’re both on nehbred.” She kicked dirt at them, her pink lips pursed and her dark eyes set in a deadly stare. “You don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to my pet or my planet.”
“So, you were eavesdropping.” Gib caught the admission and refused to back down to the angry Hemera. Not when she was so appealing to look at, even if mad. She intrigued him even more with her ability to keep her thoughts to herself. He’d never been mind blocked by anyone except the Yarwin on a first meeting, but he couldn’t catch a hint of what she thought except by observing her body language. Unusual for races who didn’t interact with Mingot on a regular basis.
“So what if I was.” She slammed her hand on her hips, her nostrils flaring. “I used to admire the Defenders, but now I know you’re all just as arrogant as our king. You know nothing about how the rest of us live.”
Maybe Gib didn’t, but, from what the woman said, neither did the leaders of the planet. “Then tell me.” Anything to make him understand why the Alliance sent the Defenders to Hemera each Galactic year for the Alorama ceremony. And to keep her in his presence for as long as possible. She intrigued him more than any woman he’d met.
“No, you’re not worth my time.” She spun away and darted into the woods as fast as she’d appeared.
If he wasn’t still on shift, Gib would consider following her. He yearned to learn more about her people, or specifically her. He’d never been blocked in reading someone’s initial judgment of him. No being seemed to remember to conceal their thoughts until moments after they met a Mingot. He wanted to find out how she hid her thoughts, how he couldn’t even detect her when she’d been watching them. And her darker features were so enticingly exotic compared to his paleness. She’d left him curious and yearning. How long had it been since he’d satisfied his sexual desire?
“Universe to Gib.” Zair waved a hand in front of his face. “You asleep or just still mad at that Hemera woman?”
“Mad?” He wrinkled his forehead. “Why would I be mad?”
“Because she told her pet to attack me then yelled ’cause you were going to kick it into the fire.”
Gib shook his head. “I was never going to kick the tibbar into the fire. And you deserved her scorn for acting like a fool.”
“Oh, I see.” Zair plunked onto his bench with a harrumph. “You’re attracted to her, so you’re going to take her side.”
Had the ignorance of members of his squad kept them from being sent on major missions? Some members simply didn’t get along with the natives, always assumed they were out to get them. Or him. He glared at Zair, confident any argument would be a waste of time.
“Doesn’t matter.” Zair kicked dirt toward the pit. “But I still don’t get why we’re here. This planet is the last place the Erebus are going to travel. They haven’t been here since the former king and queen were killed.”
And the princess, once rumored to be involved with Bryce, the new leader of Echo squad. Gib now understood the Defender’s attraction to the women of Hemera. But he didn’t stand a chance with the one he’d just met. Unless he found some way to see her again, make her understand he wasn’t at all like Zair. Cosmos, he yearned for a glance into her mind, and if luck came his way, an opportunity to get to know her on a very personal level. He nodded with determination. “You’re right, it doesn’t matter. We’re here, and I’m going to make the best of it.”
Jessica E. Subject is a USA Today bestselling author of Sci-Fi and Paranormal Romance.
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