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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