Ava stared as the other priestesses came towards her out of the darkened room. Their bare tattooed feet padded over the dark black stone of the temple.
She felt a flutter of fear chase through her heart.
They began chanting. The sonorous hum of their voices filled the high-ceilinged chamber, vibrating through the floor and up into her naked form.
A crackle of energy escaped over her hands, flecks of electric blue lightning that sunk back into her flesh.
Her nerves were getting the better of her for the first time in years.
“Control yourself.” The head priestess appeared out of the shadows, her luminescent purple eyes flashing in the dark.
Ava took a breath and did as she was told, forcing her nerves to settle as a spark of exhilaration took their place.
This was it.
“You have chosen the path of the stars,” the priestesses chanted as one in the old tongue of the Avixan people.
“I have,” Ava responded.
“You wish to leave the clan to continue our work beyond this planet.”
Ava hesitated. The others would believe she was pausing for effect.
Ava wasn’t doing this to continue the work of the priestess Clan of Avixa.
She was doing this to get away.
To live the kind of life she’d always wanted. A simple one devoid of responsibility.
Voice a word of that, and the Chief Priestess would lock her away. So she took a breath and nodded, her vibrant red hair slicing over her bare shoulders. “I vow to continue our work amongst the stars.”
“You will watch the Rest?”
“I will watch them.”
“If they do the forbidden—”
“I will stop them.”
“If they turn against the Others—”
“I will stop them.”
“And if you hear the call?”
She paused again. Once more she forced herself to give a nod, her red locks sliding over her shoulders and forming a veil over her face. It blocked her eyes as she squeezed them shut and lied: “I will come.”
“Then you are ready. Your locks have been completed.” The Chief Priestess drew her hands forward, her long fingernails suddenly crackling with energy.
A charge of power exploded over them, wisps of smoke curling around her crooked upturned fingers.
With a deep reverberating breath, the priestess wrought space, and something appeared right in her hands.
Two enormous golden armlets.
All priestesses wore locks. It was part of the pact – the sole agreement that had protected her people for thousands of years.
Ava’s current locks were little more than slim golden bracelets around both wrists.
They sapped her energy, kept her powers in check.
She shuddered to think what the enormous armlets in the priestess’ hands would do.
They’d been made specially. Though the Chief Priestess had transported them here with her abilities, she hadn’t crafted them out of thin air. The Clan’s best scientists had been working on them for two years.
Only now they’d perfected them could Ava leave Avixa.
A nervous knot formed in her stomach as she stared at them, the gold glinting under the light of the Chief Priestess’ power.
“These locks will keep you in check—” the Chief Priestess proclaimed.
“As we must all be kept in check,” the other priestesses continued the refrain.
“Even over the great distance that separates you from this, our home world, you will remain connected. If you hear the call—”
“I will respond.”
The call would unlock her armlets. A call that would never come.
For all the pomp and circumstance of the priestess Clan, they were never used.
Their sole purpose was to keep the rest of the Avixa devils under check. Though devils was a pejorative term, at times, it was accurate.
Ava’s people had natural power, far greater than most other races in the Milky Way.
In the past, they used that power to enslave and steal – to rule over other races.
The priestess Clan consisted of the most powerful in Avixa society. They existed to keep the others in check. And they in turn were kept in check by the locks they wore.
“You are ready,” the Chief Priestess proclaimed. It wasn’t a question – it was a statement. “Kneel.”
Ava knelt, soft knees pressing into the cold floor.
“These locks will cost you greatly. You will be weak, all your powers kept in check. But if you hear the call—”
“I will respond,” Ava replied softly.
“You will respond,” they all repeated, their strident voices echoing through the room.
“You will be the first among the priestesses to walk amongst the stars with the Rest and the Others. You will continue our ways.”
The Rest referred to the rest of Avixan society. Those Ava had to watch and keep in check. The Others referred to every other being in the galaxy.
“I will continue your ways.” Ava held her wrists up, her hair fanning in front of her face, a few loose strands straying over her wrists and her upheld forearms.
“You will continue our ways,” the Chief Priestess corrected immediately.
Ava’s stomach kicked as she realized what she’d said. “I will continue our ways.”
“You will watch over the Rest. Be their shepherd.”
“I will watch. I will guide.” Though the words slipped from Ava’s mouth, they meant nothing.
The priestess Clan wasn’t called upon anymore. Tight control was held on Avixan society by the ruling government. Democracy was now doing what the priestess Clan had done for thousands of years – keep its people on a peaceful path.
The priestesses, for all their self-importance, just weren’t important anymore.
That’s why Ava needed to get away so desperately – she knew that out there in space none of this would matter.
She wouldn’t be a sacred Avixan priestess – she’d just be another recruit at the Galactic Coalition Academy.
It would be quiet, it would be simple, and there’d be no more responsibility.
For once, she’d be normal.
So she kept her arms held up.
The Chief Priestess loomed above her as the others began to chant.
Nerves mixed with excitement and darted hard through her gut and up into her chest making it hard to breathe.
Suddenly the chanting cut out.
In total silence, the Chief Priestess held the open armlets under Ava’s wrists.
The chanting started up again, growing louder and louder until it felt like it would cause the hall to crumble, let alone tear through her bones.
The priestesses hit a certain pitch, and Ava’s existing bands fell off, falling onto the floor with a clang.
For just a second – a split second – Ava felt her natural power.
It poured through her, so much energy she felt as if she could rival a sun.
It didn’t last.
As the priestesses fell into silence, there was a click, and the armlets snapped around Ava’s arms.
At first she felt nothing.
Then she screamed. She pitched backwards, hair fanning over her naked body as she thrashed over the cold black stone.
She felt the armlets lock her in. They slammed around her like the thickest most impenetrable walls.
A part of her screamed as she was shut away from her true power.
But gradually it grew silent.
Then she stilled.
She lay there breathing.
“Stand.” The Chief Priestess beckoned her up with a sweep of her hand.
Ava stumbled to her feet.
Despite the numbing pain, she smiled.
Though it was truly painful to be blocked from her true powers, it was a pain she would gladly endure for the promise of freedom.
She forced herself to take a step forward, then another, until finally she walked out of the temple and out into the light.
Five years later, Coalition Academy, Earth
Ava walked up the steps, heavy data pads in her arms.
They banged against her armlets.
Most of the hurrying cadets around her paid her and her armlets no attention. They never did. Ava had been at the Academy five years now. Today she would graduate.
She doubted more than a handful of people knew her name.
Sighing to herself as the heavy weight of the data pads started to get to her, she mounted the last step and turned briefly to catch the view.
And what a view it was. Whole sections of the Academy main grounds had been rebuilt after the Axira incident several years back. Now the primary command building had a grand sweeping set of steps that led up to it. Even without climbing all 100 floors of the megalithic building, you still got a great view of the bay beyond.
She stood and waited for her breath to return as the ships sailed in and out of the horizon, darting like silver minnows in a crystal clear pool.
A few young first-year cadets sprang up the steps past her, none out of breath, even though they were carrying heavy equipment just like she was.
Ava would never be fit like them, no matter how much training she underwent.
Unless and until her armlets were removed. But they could not be removed by her, or by the entire combined engineering expertise of the Academy.
They could only be removed by official decree from Avixa – or the call, as the priestesses put it.
“Stop slacking off,” someone growled from behind her.
She turned to see Commander Sharpe.
Around the Academy he had a reputation for being harder than a chunk of diamond. He would gleefully gruel incoming cadets until they shaped up to the Academy's exacting demands.
Sharpe had never left her alone, even though she was graduating this very day.
And yet, despite his constant attention, she'd never begrudged him.
He was doing his job.
She nodded, repositioned the data pads in her arms, and continued on, a slight sweat prickling her brow.
Her stomach didn't even sink when she heard Sharpe's determined steps pound the polished floor behind her. “Haven't you learnt anything, Cadet Ava?”
She glanced around as he reached her, a grimace cast over his leathery skin.
“I've learnt everything I can,” she said politely.
Some students became nervous wrecks around Sharpe, especially when he went into bulldozer mode.
Sharpe didn’t honestly bother her.
Not much did.
She liked the silence and peace of the Academy. It was a luxury to be given simple orders.
“You'll never be more than a middling ensign unless you shape up,” he growled,
Great. She didn't want to be more than a middling ensign. She had no intention whatsoever to climb the ranks. She recoiled at the very idea of making life and death decisions.
It wasn't in her anymore.
These past five years had proved to her she could be normal, and she would never give that up again.
Sharpe maintained his sneer for a few more seconds before deflating. He stared at her with narrowed eyes, then oddly let out a punch of a laugh. “I'll grant you one thing, Ava, you may be the weakest cadet I've taught in a long time, but nothing much fazes you.”
She shifted her shoulders up in a small shrug. “I'm sorry, sir, but you're not particularly scary.”
A few younger cadets overheard and stood bolt upright, eyes locked on Sharpe, ready to see how ballistic he’d become at that comment.
His lip twitched, then he let out another laugh. “You can't run, you can barely do physical labor, and you sure as hell can't fight.”
She twitched. Stiff fingers brushing over her armlets.
“ – But you're brave, cadet. Or maybe just stupid. Up there,” he pointed a stiff finger at the ceiling, clearly indicating space beyond, “You'll find out.”
She stared at him impassively. “I think I'm both,” she pointed out evenly.
Again his lip twitched, then once more he burst out into low laughter. “Good luck, ensign.” He looked her right in the eye as he said ensign in a direct, strong tone.
She returned the gesture and bowed low. “Thank you.”
“When do you leave? I heard you got a position on the Mandalay?”
“Yes. This afternoon.”
“Good luck. I know her captain. You're going to need it.”
With that baffling statement, Sharpe turned hard on his boot and strode off.
Ava stood there watching him before turning and continuing her thankless task of lugging her data pads through the Academy.
She caught sight of the few cadets who'd stopped to watch the show.
They began chattering amongst themselves.
She may have caught their attention by standing up to Sharpe, but they'd forget her in an instant.
Ava blended into the background around her, despite her enormous gold armlets.
She was a wallflower.
Some may care about that.
She'd chosen this life.
It was better than the one she'd led before.
As she strode through the halls, she let her head tilt to the left as she stared through the plate glass windows to the sky above.
She marveled at the view for as long as she could.
The priestesses were primarily confined to the training halls and temples of the Avixan high mountains. She’d stared at nothing but black carved walls for half her life.
So she’d never stop marveling at the view.
Before she could pause at the glass and get truly lost in the sight, her wrist device beeped.
She knew what it meant.
It wasn’t a message from the Academy, or the Mandalay, for that matter. Nor was it from her best friend Nema.
It was a reminder.
Time to train.
Though it had been hard, Ava had kept her true identity mostly hidden over her five years at the Academy.
It was easy considering Avixan society was largely a mystery to Others. It was an offense within Avixan society to share too much with outsiders.
No one would have the faintest clue what a priestess was, or, more importantly, what she could do.
She didn’t know if the Academy higher ups knew what she was. She wasn’t privy to the information her people shared with the Coalition. She doubted it was much. Everything in Avixan society was couched in opaque tradition that wouldn’t make sense to an outsider.
There were, however, others within the Academy and the Coalition who knew exactly who she was and what she could do.
Other Avixans. The Rest, as the priestesses called them.
And right now, as Ava made her way down the corridor, she saw one. Lieutenant Commander Shera. Statuesque, startling, and one of the most powerful Avixans in the Coalition.
She wasn’t a priestess, and didn’t have anything near the level of power Ava did when she was free from her locks. Still, to the rest of the Academy, Shera was like a god. Stronger than ten men put together, faster than a cheetah, and agile like a cat. She’d climbed the ranks as fast as a cruiser speeding into BLS.
With her luminescent white hair and shocking bright blue eyes, she was stunning too.
Ava was a mismatch. Though she too possessed the bright vibrant hair and eyes of her people, the burning red of her hair didn’t match the royal purple of her eyes. She looked – as she’d heard one unkind cadet point out in first year – like a paint accident run through a luminosity filter.
None of that mattered.
Ava didn’t care what Lieutenant Commander Shera looked like. The only relevant factor was how the lieutenant commander treated her.
As soon as Shera saw Ava, she deliberately stopped, turned, and walked in the other direction.
It was the same with most of the other Avixans on Academy grounds. There were no other priestesses like Ava – only the Rest. And the Rest avoided her like the plague.
They knew exactly what she was, even if the rest of the Academy was ignorant.
In Avixan society priestesses were revered, and yet feared at the same time. Amongst certain sects, they were also derided. A minority of Avixans didn’t understand why they needed the priestesses anymore – an empty threat that reminded them of a past they were all too ready to forget.
There were approximately ten Avixans in the entire active Coalition army, as far as Ava could tell, and of the five or so she’d met, they all treated her the same.
As a pariah.
She didn’t care.
Ava barely gave Shera a fleeting glance as she continued quickly to the second storage facility. There she dumped her data pads before returning quickly to her room.
Her personal wrist device kept beeping, reminding her she was overdue for a training session.
Though these days Ava had a fraction of the strength and speed she’d once possessed, she still had to train every day.
Every priestess did.
As soon as she pushed into her empty apartment, Ava let out a sigh, undid her collar, and marched to her room.
Her roommate – a thankfully quiet and unobtrusive Samarate female – had already graduated the day before, and had left.
Ava wasted no time in striding into her room, closing and locking the door, and collapsing onto her bed.
She pulled her legs into a cross-seated position as she grabbed a device from her bedside table.
It was a neural interlink.
Some students used them to record their dreams, some even used them to cut out distractions while they studied.
She used them to train.
She pushed her red locks from her face, thumbed the neuro link on with a practiced, easy move, then positioned it an inch above the centerline of her brows.
The neuro link exuded a self-adhesive and stuck to her skin immediately.
She settled back, propping her back against the cool wall, and she waited.
She closed her eyes, a growing energy building behind them.
There were a few disconcerting seconds as solid familiar objects formed out of the haze of blackness.
She lost awareness of her body propped against the wall.
Almost immediately the training dream began.
She looked down to see she was no longer dressed in the trim uniform of the Academy, but rather the official outfit of the priestesses. Though the priestess clan technically had many ceremonial outfits, there was only one they used to fight in.
Ava was a powerful priestess, though she would have to fight and train for many years to come if she wanted to rival the Chief Priestesses of the clan. Still, Ava was strong enough that she was considered an advanced fighter, and she wore the corresponding colors of the code.
While chief priestesses wore blue and white, Ava’s tunic was cast in vibrant red and white. It always made her hair all the more startling accentuating her red locks like bright bursts of flame licking around her face.
The tunic was sleeveless, and crossed along her front, tying at her right hip. It had two slits up her legs to give her maximum maneuverability. A ceremonial belt with gold insignia was fixed around her waist, a range of weapons housed within.
She wore thigh-length leg armor, with thick carved plates that ran the length of her shins.
Her hair was clasped behind her head with six needles. And finally, her face and arms were adorned with inch-wide tattoos that ran down her neck all the way to her fingertips.
As soon as the vision formed, the fight began.
She was in the black belly of a priestess temple. It was dark, with only her glowing tattoos as illumination and a few fire torches dotted through the expansive hall.
She heard the soft patter of feet. Slow at first, it pushed into a violent shuddering sprint.
She twisted to the side, the flaps of her tunic flaring around her legs. She snatched the two ceremonial knives from her belt and spun them around, sending an electric charge blistering through them just as a shadow sprang towards her.
In the darkness all she could see were the whites of its seven eyes.
Her boots skidded backwards as she pivoted and leapt into the air with a powerful kick.
The creature – possibly a Bosian Cave Dweller, considering the eyes – flapped towards her with its megalithic wings.
They sent bursts of air whipping past her face, catching a few loose hairs and slicing them across her neck and cheeks.
The Bosian shifted sharply to the side, but Ava was too quick. She twisted in midair, and her kick slammed into one of its many appendages.
It shrieked, whipping towards her with its spiked tail.
Its tail was covered with poisonous spines. One touch from those, and the training session would end prematurely. Then Ava would be penalized, and she would have to repeat the session three more times.
She pushed backwards, landed on her hand, flipped, and lay on the ground as the Bosian’s tail sliced in front of her face.
Just as it passed her, she snagged it with her knife, plunging the electrified blade right through the tip of its tail.
She used it as traction as she flipped up, landed on the tail with her armored boots, and sprang towards the creature’s face.
It opened its gaping wide mouth, and within she could see its eighth eye – a red gelatinous glob that could send out a burst of light so strong it could blind a man.
She threw her remaining knife right at it as she twisted to the side and protected her head.
Then she jerked up, flipped, landed a hand on the top of its head, and pushed off.
Her strength was sufficient to shove the Bosian down, despite its madly flapping wings.
She vaulted off its head and kicked it in the back on the way down.
Just as she landed, the scene changed.
More enemies arrived. Mancor pirates this time.
20 of them.
They circled around her, pulled out their pulsers as one, and started firing. Blistering hot blaster bullets spun around her as she flipped and leapt out of the way.
Their growls and curses filled the black room, bouncing off the far walls and echoing like an earthquake.
She leapt at one, twisted in the air, landed with her legs wrapped around its head, and pulled it to the ground, grabbing its blaster and taking down two more as they lurched towards her.
In like manner, she dispatched all 20 pirates without picking up a sweat.
Then the true test manifested.
In a spike of blue light that illuminated the room like a flare, a chief priestess appeared in the center of the room, her blue tunic lit up by spikes of power.
The priestess considered Ava for a single moment, then attacked, pushing forward so quickly she crossed the room in half a second.
While Ava had used knives and hand-to-hand combat to take down her other tests, this was different.
She couldn’t win this fight.
The entire point was to see how long she lasted.
It was less of a test, too. If she was defeated too easily or – heaven forbid – gave up, she would be injured.
So she backed off as the priestess rammed towards her.
The priestess had no weapons. Instead she brought her hand around and a pulse of energy formed right into a vibrant blue shaft of light.
It had taken Ava years of training until she’d been able to form her own sacred sword, but now, as she staggered back, she formed one with ease. With nothing but a thought, a purple shaft of light formed right out of her palm.
Just in time.
The priestess flipped, somehow changed direction in midair, and sliced towards Ava’s face.
Ava grunted as she brought up her sword and parried the blow. She skidded back a full meter as the priestess pushed forward with all her might.
Ava looked up into the priestess’ emotionless gaze.
Then the priestess let go of her sacred sword and dropped to the side, creating another sword in her other hand and swiping towards Ava’s head.
Ava had just enough time to shove backwards, the blade sizzling so close to the side of her face she could see the arcing hot tip of light.
The priestess thrust forward again, but this time Ava was ready. She deliberately fell to one knee, rolled, and kicked out with both her feet, collecting the priestess on the kneecap.
The woman jolted backwards, and Ava responded by rolling to the side, vaulting to her feet, and aiming a kick at the priestess’ back.
The kick landed, but didn’t do much. The priestess twisted, jerked around an arm, and grabbed Ava’s ankle.
Ava screamed as the priestess viciously jerked her leg to the side. Pain exploded up Ava’s leg, eating deep into her hip.
She tried to jerk out of the priestess’ grip, but couldn’t.
In a split second, the priestess formed another sword.
Ava formed one of her own and tried to defend. Just when it looked as if she’d be split in half by the blistering beam of light, she managed to wriggle her ankle free from the priestess’ claw-like grip.
She fell to her back just as the priestess’ sword sliced into the black stone beside her wide open eyes.
Ava shoved up and retreated.
“You must learn to fight while you are injured,” the priestess suddenly said.
In the blink of an eye, Ava’s leg broke. It snapped out from underneath her as if it were nothing more than a toothpick.
She screamed as she slammed into the ground, sweaty fingers scrabbling for purchase as she tried to pull her crippled body up.
The priestess paused. “You must learn to fight in all conditions.” With that, she thrust forward again.
It felt like every bone in Ava’s leg had shattered. So much pain filled her awareness it was like the rest of the world had ceased to exist.
Yet a scrap of awareness remained.
As sweat soaked her brow and her now-messy hair stuck to her face and neck, she pushed backwards with her good leg and rolled over her back. She stumbled to her feet, incapable of putting any weight on her broken leg.
She formed another sword as the priestess flew towards her.
The priestess brought her blade up high and struck toward Ava’s face.
Again Ava just managed to parry the blow in time. As she did, she looked right into the priestess’ emotionless stare once more.
It was cold, direct, uncaring. It was the kind of stare that belonged to someone who knew exactly what they had to do and had no qualms about it.
And that there was the part Ava had never been able to accept.
Though she’d been one of the most promising priestesses of her time, her skills couldn’t make up for her emotional deficiencies.
She couldn’t be used as a tool.
Maybe the priestess could somehow tell what Ava was really thinking, because with a vicious burst of speed, she cut right through Ava’s sword and sliced her through the chest.
Ava screamed and the test ended.
Her eyes slammed open and she returned to the real world.
For a few seconds she did nothing as she pushed away the memories of the test. Finally she rose, shook out her arms and legs, smoothed an even expression over her face, and got back to her real life.
Over the past five years she’d learnt to masterfully compartmentalize her training and responsibility. Daily training was the one concession she made to her past – the one price she had to pay for her new freedom.
She let out a deep sigh and walked from her room. Glancing at the time displayed on her personal wrist device, she realized she had to hurry.
Soon she would graduate, and then she would begin work as an ensign aboard the Mandalay.
While most of the other eager graduates joining that ship and countless others were thrilled at the prospect of serving their people and exploring the galaxy, all Ava wanted to do was keep her head down.
She wouldn’t get that opportunity.
Captain Harvey McClane
Captain McClane sat in his private office aboard the newly commissioned Mandalay. She was a beautiful ship, top of the line, with every bell and whistle the Coalition had come up with in the past few tumultuous years.
She was armed to the teeth, massive, and as fast as they came.
And she was all his.
For now, at least. His commission wouldn’t last. He knew he was here just to put the Mandalay through its paces in its first mission out of space dock. He was here to iron out the inevitable creases, shape the crew up, and get this ship running at optimum before she was handed to another commander.
Captain McClane had a habit of finding problems on ships, and in crew too. He had a well-deserved reputation for making things work.
He liked to handpick every member of his team and obsess over every detail.
And that’s why he now frowned as he stared at the hologram hovering an inch above his desk.
She wasn’t top of her class. Her academic grades were fine, but her physical grades were abysmal.
She was definitely not the kind of ensign he’d pick for this ship’s first mission out of space dock.
And yet she’d be coming aboard anyway. He wouldn’t get a say in this.
Ava had been assigned by the higher ups.
For what reason? Why would the Academy’s top brass possibly want a middling ensign on the Mandalay?
The government of her world had specifically asked for her to be assigned. And by asked, they’d probably demanded.
She was Avixan, and the Avixans were about as subtle as a blow upside your head.
Captain McClane pushed his crooked fingers into his creased brow as he tried to make sense of this.
Why the hell would the Avixans want Ensign Ava on board? She was low-powered, pretty ordinary even by human standards. Even though Avixan society was a mystery to most in the Coalition, he’d learnt enough to know most Avixans had incredible powers of strength and speed. Some didn’t.
Ava was one of those – she’d barely scraped past minimal combat training. She was slow, physically weak, and became easily tired.
If he’d been in charge of the Academy, he would have cut her from the draft in her first year.
And, heck, knowing Commander Sharpe, maybe he’d tried. But maybe he’d come up with the same problem Harvey now had. Diplomatic Concessions.
The Avixans were an extremely important new asset for the Coalition. For most of the Coalition’s existence, the Avixans had largely kept to themselves. Now, with the ever growing tensions in the Milky Way, the Coalition had convinced the Avixans to join forces. Not only did the Avixans have a wealth of resources, but some of their people were the greatest warriors in the Milky Way.
So when the Avixans wanted something, the Coalition gave it. Making the odd diplomatic concession here and there was worth it if the Avixans stayed with the Coalition.
As such, Harvey knew there was no way he was going to fight this.
That didn’t stop the burning curiosity.
A curiosity he knew would never be satiated. The higher ups weren’t going to tell him why Ensign Ava of all people had been assigned, essentially by her own government, to the Mandalay.
Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t keep an eye on her. All diplomatic concessions aside, if she proved to be a spanner in his finely tuned machine, she’d be out on her ear.
Lieutenant Hunter McClane
He stood in the middle of the room trying not to look too ecstatic. “Are you serious? You've been stationed aboard the Mandalay?”
Meva sashayed across the carpet, a seductive smile pressed over her perfect lips. She didn't come to a stop until she stood in front of him. She looked right up into his eyes as she hooked her arms around his neck. “Yes,” she finally said.
He let out a whoop of a laugh as he wrapped his arms around her middle. “I can't believe our luck.”
“Luck?” she smiled around her words, and goddamn if it didn't send the same tingles racing through his gut that he'd experienced when he'd first met her. “This doesn't have anything to do with luck,” she purred.
When Meva had first joined the academy two years his junior, she'd been an instant sensation. A member of the Avixan race, she looked humanoid, save for her vibrant, luminescent eyes and hair, and paler skin.
She was startling from head to toe.
She also had power that rivaled even most sets of sophisticated armor. She was an incredible security officer, and though she’d only been out of the Academy two years now, she’d already climbed the ranks to lieutenant.
She kept her arms locked around his neck as she stared up at him, her lips parting gently and curling into a hands-down fantastic smile.
It made him giddy just to see it.
“How did you get assigned?” He unhooked an arm from around her back and brushed away a few strands of her luminescent hair.
She looked as if she’d keep playing with him – possibly for his whole life – then she caved with a seriously pleasant laugh. “Shera.”
For a second confusion crumpled his brow. “Ha?”
“She requested my presence aboard the Mandalay, and you know she has the ear of your big brother.”
Hunter let out an uncomfortable laugh. “Technically a captain’s decision on recruiting shouldn’t be influenced by junior officers.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell anyone but you,” she purred. “Plus, it doesn’t matter how it happened. All that matters is that you, Lieutenant Hunter McClane, and me,” she said in a soft sultry voice as she pressed her forehead against his, “Are going to be on the same ship.”
He didn’t need any more encouragement to kiss her.
Hunter’s life hadn’t always been easy. He’d always fallen into his brother’s shadow.
Harvey McClane was an exception leader, a renowned soldier, and had climbed the ranks to captain quicker than anyone in years.
Hunter was a good leader, a good soldier, and a competent career man.
But he wasn’t as good as his brother. He wasn’t as smart, as strong, or as capable. Maybe Hunter beat his brother in the looks department, but that was it.
In every other way Harvey would always outshine him.
So when Harvey had requested Hunter be assigned to the Mandalay, Hunter had tried to get out of it. He’d joined the Academy to forge a life away from Harvey, not to come under the direct command of his brother.
If Hunter did have to endure his brother’s command, at least having Meva by his side would soften the blow and distract him.
So he locked a hand on the small of her back and leaned in as she ran her lips along his jaw.
Her distraction – though intense – wouldn’t last.
The rest of The Lost Star Episode One is available from most ebook retailers.