Hello! As I’m sure you know, JAGER releases March 27. That’s in four days! I’ve been sharing snippets from the story as part of Weekend Writing Warriors, but they’ve only been small excerpts.
Today, I’m sharing the entire Prologue for the story, which reveals the first time Katrina meets Jager. Yes, this is their story. The prologue occurs right after the end of BRYCE, the first Galactic Defenders story which is on sale for 99¢ until April 19, 2017.
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© 2017 Jessica E. Subject
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
Katrina tossed the duffle bag of her few belongings to the young Defender on the waiting shuttle. “Yes, Mom. We’ve been through this a million times. I want to be a Defender.”
“But you can wait a couple of years.” Her mother, the queen of Hemera, paced between her and the ten-passenger Alliance ship ready to take Katrina to Kalara where she would train to fight the Erebus. “Get used to living away from Earth, here, where you know people.”
“What better way to get to know all the races of the universe than to train alongside them. It’s like French immersion, which you thought a good idea when I started school on Earth.”
“Yes, but you were only gone for a few hours each day. Now, you’ll be on a completely different planet. I don’t know when I’ll see you again.”
Katrina had hoped leaving the day after her mother’s wedding to her father would make her departure easier, with her mom occupied in wedded bliss. But the plan had backfired, with both her parents, dressed in their royal attire, there to see her off. “Different city, different planet, what difference does it make? I’d be going away to university this year anyway.”
She caught the two-fingered wave between the Defender and Bryce, her father. He nodded in response then rested a callused hand on her mother’s bare shoulder. “It’s time to say goodbye, Lalia.”
Thank goodness for his support. Even though Bryce had his own hesitation about her leaving for Defender training, it had nothing to do with not allowing her to grow up. He simply wanted more time to get to know her. Though, from the stories she’d overheard from other Defenders, she was just like him.
Katrina hugged her mother and kissed her pale cheek. “I will try to contact you every day. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
“Yes, you will.” Bryce squeezed Katrina’s shoulder, his way of showing affection. She didn’t know if it was the Kalaren version of a hug, or a result of years of not knowing he had a child. Either way, she wouldn’t hold it against him. She still had to get used to the idea, too.
“Thanks, Dad.” She loved the look of shock then pride elicited from calling him that even after several times.
He smiled and squeezed again. “If you have any questions, problems, or need anything, let me know.”
She nodded before turning her attention to her last farewell. Her little sister. Even though not technically related, Gwenodyn filled the longing she’d always had for a sibling. And she was a smart girl, too. Being half-Mingot, she possessed the ability to read minds and could influence others to get what she wanted. In fact, she had succeeded many times in convincing Katrina to sneak her food or play when they were both supposed to be studying Hemera culture. Until a Mingot Defender who had served in Bryce’s former squad had caught on and decided she needed to be taught not to read others’ thoughts without permission. After Jace’s scolding, Katrina tried not to broadcast her thoughts so loud.
Cosmos, she would miss Gwenodyn the most, her big brown, curious eyes and bouncy ringlets of hair. “Hey, sister, you keep an eye on my parents for me. Don’t let them get into too much trouble.”
“I won’t.” Gwenodyn clasped her hands together and shook her body side to side as if ready to pop. “And you stay focused on your studies instead of all those cute Defenders.”
Katrina’s cheeks warmed even before she noticed the gaze of everyone around them on her, including the guy waiting for her on the shuttle. He was cute but by no means the best-looking Defender she’d met since she’d left Earth.
Leaning down, she gave Gwenodyn a big hug. “You need to stay out of my head.”
The little girl giggled. “I couldn’t resist one more peek.”
With a deep breath, Katrina stepped away from her family. She waved and, before she could chicken out, headed into the shuttle.
“All set,” she called as soon as she had buckled her harness. She didn’t need the Defender to check. After Gwenodyn’s comment, having to make eye contact with him would embarrass her more.
It didn’t take long—a few hours rather than several days like previous trips—for them to reach the monstrous five-level carrier. Kimba, the leader of the Galactic Alliance, waited for her in the shuttle bay. “Welcome to your first day as a trainee.” She gestured for Katrina to walk along with her.
Pack slung over her shoulder, she followed the woman through already-familiar halls. “I’m ready to officially become a Defender.”
“Perfect.” Kimba followed her into the lift. “Today, I will take you to your quarters where you will become familiar with the rules and routines of our Defenders.”
The lift opened into a large, circular hall, and through the throng of beings, she spotted small doors around half of it. The cacophony of noise greeting them ended in silence. Everyone saluted the leader—two fingers touching the forehead then brought down in front of the face. Crap, she’d forgotten to do that. Yet, after their previous argument over saving the Defenders on Niesgoo, she didn’t feel like saluting the woman.
Kimba gave a curt nod, and the noise returned. “You’re the first door over there, your father’s old room. It has been reprogrammed to unlock with your thumbprint. Captain Jager is your squad leader, and he will be by later to introduce himself.”
Jager. She knew the name but couldn’t remember how.
“Training starts tomorrow,” Kimba continued, her short tentacles straight behind as if she was just as anxious to leave as Katrina was to see her go. “And will take place on the carrier until we reach Kalara’s orbit.”
“Thank you.” She saluted the leader. “And sorry for not saluting earlier.”
“It’s quite all right—once. You’ve had a lot to learn in a short span of time.” She ducked back onto the lift. “If you have any problems, my office door is always open to you. Otherwise, I’ll see you again at your first inspection.”
And with those words, the woman left, the tension between them disappearing along with her. Katrina stood against the wall of the space filled with Defenders from all over the universe. Jace and Oflan, the only two Defenders on board she knew well, were nowhere in sight. While her mother would have encouraged her to go up to some of the others and introduce herself, she preferred to settle into her new quarters. She didn’t imagine she’d have much free time once her training started. Making her way through the crowd, she gave a brief smile to those she passed.
“Look at the princess,” a Gersonian Defender said from twenty feet away, his thick wattle shaking with every word. “Can’t socialize with anyone. Thinks she’s better than everyone else.”
“I heard she got Bryce’s old room,” his female companion said. “High-ranking quarters for a newbie.”
Katrina let the comments slide. Though neither of them had said a word to her during her previous stays on the carrier, they now seemed to resent her. Nothing she said would change their mind. No different than on Earth.
“Out of my way, Terran filth.” A Kalaren Defender shoved past her.
“My name is Katrina, and I’m part Kalaren, like you.”
The leggy woman spun to face her. “You’re nothing like me. And we all know who you are. Your father may be one of the greatest Defenders ever, but your mother comes from the most backward planet in the Alliance, and you were raised on Terra. Or, I guess, Earth is what you call it. You are the lowest of the low here, and no matter how much training you go through, you always will be. I doubt you’ll make it through the first day.”
Katrina had reached the door of her quarters, but she couldn’t resist a response. She’d already proved herself to those who mattered. “You know, we have people like you on Earth. We call them bitches. Look it up.” She entered her quarters, imagining a stunned look on the woman’s birdlike face.
Training as a Defender already reminded her of her years in high school. Yet, she did long to see her friends again. She’d graduated, had received her final marks but missed the ceremony and the after-party. And any chance she’d ever had for a date with Jeff Bennett, the hottest smart guy at her school. On her eighteenth birthday, he’d asked her out to dinner the week after, but she’d stood him up, unable to get back to earth for the date. She could never return to that life now. The planet she grew up on was several galaxies and portal jumps away. Plus, she could never fit in there again after all she’d learned about the universe. Not much, but far more than any of her friends on Earth.
As Katrina placed her few belongings on the small desk in the cramped space, she scratched the spot behind her ear where the translator had been implanted. Would it be easier to go without it, actually learn the languages of the other races? Didn’t matter. Speaking their native tongues rather than having her Terran translated wouldn’t make anyone respect her more. She’d simply have to prove herself time and time again in training and then out on the field. Until tomorrow, she planned to rest. She stripped to her bra and panties and flopped onto the bed. Though she wasn’t allowed a com tablet during training, she had a com screen in her room and had found a way to hack into her ebook account on Earth, giving her access to all the fiction she’d bought. Nothing helped forget a bad day better than a good book. As she scrolled through the titles, the space adventures she used to read no longer held the same appeal. She settled for a college romance instead, set on Earth, a fantasy world for her now.
Katrina leaped from the bed, smacking the top of her head on the overhead compartment.
Crap! She rubbed the sore spot as she tried to figure out which of the twenty colored buttons to press to open the door. Finally, she found the right one and stared at the man on the other side.
With a barely healed scar across his cheek and part of his nose, she couldn’t tell his exact age, but he couldn’t be much older than her, and was hot as hell. “Hi,” she squeaked out, admiring the tight fit of his shirt across a broad chest and around bulky arms, a tattoo trailing down from under his right sleeve. She noticed his Kalaren ridge and intense blue eyes before she realized he’d caught her staring.
She clasped her hands behind her and waited for him to say something. Instead, he shifted his gaze around, as if he’d forgotten what he’d come to say.
“Can I help you with something?” Did he plan to pull some sort of prank on her, initiate the new Defender?
He cleared his throat. “I’m Jager, leader of Delta squad, and your trainer.”
“Oh.” She saluted him. Shit, one of these times she’d get in trouble for forgetting to do that. “Come in.”
His gaze slid all the way to the floor and back up her body. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Crap, she had barely any clothes on and had invited her captain into her room. Way to make people hate you more.
He rested a hand on the doorframe, keeping his focus on everything but her. “Do you have any questions?”
“No.” She’d been reading fiction rather than the manuals she should have perused.
“Okay, training begins at oh-four-hundred Galactic time. Make sure your alarm is set accordingly.”
She nodded, though he likely didn’t see, the space above her head more interesting.
“Oh, and watch what you say to other Defenders.”
“Why, was she your girlfriend?” Just her luck to start a fight with the woman dating the leader of her squad.
“No.” He scowled. “But I don’t like to have to defend my squad members.”
Her stomach sank. He gave her shit already, and for standing up for herself. “Fine. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“And make sure you have more clothes on.” He ran his hand across his face and groaned. A faint blush softened his chiseled features. “That is, wear your full uniform.”
Katrina couldn’t help but smile, cheered up by making her captain uncomfortable.
He handed her a package resembling the wrapped granola bar Jace had given her before their departure to Niesgoo. “Eat this Darobar before your first training session. It will give you sustainable energy, which you’re going to need. There’s more in the dining hall for mornings after tomorrow.”
“Thank you.” She didn’t know how to take the gesture. Was he looking out for her or promising a grueling first training session? Either way, she expected plenty of Defenders would be watching and expecting her to fail.
He left her standing in the doorway, several pairs of eyes on her in her skivvies as her door slid closed, the staring Defenders surely thinking some rude comment. At least Jager hadn’t mocked her family and upbringing. Not to her face, anyway.
When her door finally shut, she remembered where she’d heard Jager’s name. He was the Defender Bryce had told her about, the sole surviving member of Delta squad, and the guy who’d been tortured by the Erebus after going kamikaze on them.
Brave, or stupid? She wouldn’t know until training started, but she was glad to have him on her team.
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