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.
Raven's a thief who just swallowed a dragon. DRAGON EATER, a new release from author J. Scott Coatsworth
Today is the release day for J. Scott Coatsworth's new book, THE DRAGON EATER. It's a YA Sci-Fantasy story with an MM romance subplot. The Dragon Eater is the first book in The Tharassas Cycle series. Read on for more information about the book, an excerpt, a GIVEAWAY, and an opportunity to get the prequel story FREE!
Enjoy an excerpt from THE DRAGON EATER...
Spin’s voice echoed in his ear. “This is a bad idea, boss.”
“Shush,” Raven whispered to his familiar.
He needed to concentrate. Cheek and jowl against the smooth cobblestones, he held his breath and prayed to the gods that no one had seen him duck under the sea master’s ornate carriage. The setting sun cast long shadows from a pair of boots so close to his face that the dust and leather made him want to sneeze. Their owner was deep in conversation with the sea master, the hem of her fine mur silk trousers barely visible. The two women’s voices were hushed, and he could only make out the occasional word.
Raven rubbed the old burn scar on his cheek absently, wishing they would go away.
“Seriously, boss. I’m not from this world, and even I know it’s a bad idea to steal from the sea master.”
Though only he could hear Spin’s voice, Raven wished the little silver ay-eye would just shut up.
The hencha cloth-wrapped package in the carriage above was calling to him. He’d wanted it since he’d first seen it through the open door. No, needed it. Like he needed air, even though he had no idea what was inside. He scratched the back of his hand hard to distract himself from its disturbing pull.
An inthym popped its head out of the sewer grate in front of him, sniffing the air. Raven glared at the little white rodent, willing it to go away. Instead, the cursed thing nibbled at his nose.
Raven sneezed, then covered his mouth. He held his breath, staring at the boots. Don’t let them hear me.
A shiny silver feeler poked out of his shirt pocket, emitting a golden glow that illuminated the cobblestones underneath him. “Boss, you all right?” Spin’s whisper had that sarcastic edge he often used when he was annoyed. “Your heart rate is elevated.”
“Be. Quiet.” Raven gritted his teeth. Spin had the worst sense of timing.
The woman — one of the guard, maybe? — and the sea master stepped away, their voices fading into the distance.
Raven said a quick prayer of thanks to Jor’Oss, the goddess of wild luck, and flicked the inthym back into the sewer. “Shoo!”
He popped his head out from under the carriage to take a quick look around. There was no one between him and the squat gray Sea Guild headquarters. It was time. Grab it and go.
He reached into the luxurious carriage — a host of mur beetles must have spent years spinning all the red silk that lined the interior — and snagged the package. He hoped it was the treasury payment for the week. If so, it should hold enough coin to feed an orphanage for a month, and he knew just the one. “Got it.”
“Good. Now get us out of here.”
A strange tingling surged through his hand. Raven frowned.
Must have pinched a nerve or something.
Ignoring it, he stuck the package under his arm, slipped around the carriage, and set off down Gullton’s main thoroughfare. He walked as casually as he could, hoping no one would notice the missing package until he was long gone.
Spin’s feeler blinked red. “No. Run! They’ve seen you.”
About the author:
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.
Jessica E. Subject is a USA Today bestselling author of Sci-Fi and Paranormal Romance.
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