Enjoy the first chapter of Jaxar, coming February 2020.
Warning: Unedited, full of typos and contents subject to change.
Pre Order Now Available! https://books2read.com/Jaxar
Van rushed to the front door, shrugging on her hoodie. Whoever was knocking on the door at–she glanced at the clock–nine in the morning had better have a damn good excuse. She had thirty minutes to get to class and couldn’t afford to be late again.
A man smiled brightly when she answered. “Miss Vanessa Acosta?”
“Van Acosta, actually,” she replied.
The man’s smile faltered. “I’m Chaz Gable with the Federal Bureau of Intergalactic Affairs.” A badge quickly flashed.
“You don’t look old enough to be a Fed,” she said bluntly. Mr. Too-damn-peppy-in-the-morning didn’t look old enough to have his driver’s license, honestly.
“I’m more of a contractor.”
“Uh-huh. Is there a reason you’re knocking on my door at this unholy hour?”
“It’s after nine.” He scanned her from head to toe, taking in her worn-out pink hoody and falling-apart sneakers.
“Can this wait? I need to get to class.” After guzzling a gallon of coffee. Her stomach rumbled. “And grab some breakfast.”
“Ah, right. Women in your situation don’t normally–”
She gave him a flat stare, tired of strangers who thought they knew her and her situation. “Do go on. I’m dying to know.”
He visibly gulped. “I sent you information about volunteering for the Madhfel Brides Program. Did you receive it?” He rummaged through the messenger bag and produced a flyer. He held it out to Van but she did not move. “Can we speak inside?”
There was a lot to unpack in that statement and Van’s response depended entirely on how cranky she felt.
“What do you mean women in my situation?”
Super cranky. That was how Van felt.
“Women who have been matched are highly likely to be matched again,” Chaz said. “We wanted you to be aware of all the benefits of volunteering for a match again. The financial compensation is not insignificant.”
“Not interested.” Van knew she was likely to be matched again, if she so chose, and she chose not to go through that again.
“Many consider it your duty to volunteer again, to help create a new generation of Mahdfel to protect Earth.”
“But it’s still voluntary.”
“As of today, yes.” He glanced over his shoulder in a completely obvious move. “That could change. Of course, volunteringing willingly has more benefits than being mandated to volunteer.”
“That’s not what voluntary means.” At all.
“Look, it sucks. I know that. You know that. If you volunteer, you save another girl from going, one who still has her entire life ahead of her. Your neighbors are talking, after all, about how selfish you’re being by staying.”
Oh no, gossip.
She rolled her eyes. Her neighbors were college students, like her. Well, not as old as her, but students nonetheless. Not a single one of them gave her a second thought, unless they needed her to buy booze for them.
“You’re right, it sucks,” Van said. Chaz relaxed and a smarmy smile spread across his face. “It sucks the way you think that you can intimidate me by implying that the law may change and force me to volunteer or shame me with gossiping neighbors.”
His smile vanished and that made Van grin. “You accepted a large sum of money when you were initially matched.”
The bride price. Compensation, the government called it. Usually the money went to the family, as if credit in the bank could compensate for snatching a daughter away and sending her across the universe to points unknown.
To an unknown alien.
The money probably did help lots of family to pay bills, pay for educations, get medical care or just get a decent house. The Invasion may have been sixteen-ish years ago, but most areas were still rebuilding and recovering, not to mention all the people who lived with their injuries. Millions of lives ended, but millions more had been forever changed.
Not that Van’s father used the money for a noble purpose. He gambled away the majority of his windfall and spent the rest on booze.
“Right now the policy is that money does not have to be reclaimed. Some members of the bureau feel that money should be repaid, as you did not fulfill the terms of the contract you signed,” he said, pausing for effect. “Policy can change.”
For a brief moment, her chest tightened and her heart raced, then the burning irritation of annoyance.
Shame did work. Now he tried to outright threaten her. That little twerp. She took a deep breath and said in her most calm, most level voice, “I suppose that those presky rules and regulations don’t apply to you, Chaz, being a contractor, and you’re hoping I don’t know my rights.”
“Look, I was given a list of names who are eligible to be tested. No one cares how I get you in the door.”
“I have a medical exemption,” Van said.
“Oh. I have irreconcilable differences listed.” He looked down at the tablet, like that was some sort of authority.
Van clenched her teeth. “Yeah. Havik and I were irreconcilable over the fact that if I have another baby, I could die and I don’t want to die.”
“But you are fertile? You can get pregnant?” he asked, like he didn’t just hear her say she’d die if she tried to have another baby.
All her patience evaporated. “Let me see that.” Van snatched the tabled. In one swift move, she bashed it against the door frame, cracking the tablet down the middle. “Oops.”
“That’s government property.”
“No it’s not and my uterus isn’t either, so how about you fuck off.” She slammed the door shut and threw the lockbolt with more force than necessary.
With her back pressed against the door, Van slid to the floor. She pressed a hand over her chest, her heart thudding loud enough to be audible. Was it beating too fast? Too frantic? No breakfast and no meds– She couldn’t remember the last time she checked her blood pressure or her heart rate as she had been fine with no symptoms for so long.
Van closed her eyes and focused on breathing. Just breathing.
Was Chaz a petty and spiteful kind of guy? After the shock wore off her breaking his tablet, he looked pretty angry. Furious. Yeah, he was probably the kind of guy who got off on abusing power.
And he had significant power over her.
Van’s hands shook. Holding her breath, she it out slowly and counted backwards. She wasn’t being paranoid, not when the planet’s government sold out all the women. One jerk with a chip on his shoulder could cause her serious problems.
Her brief marriage to Havik took little more than a year from her life but it continued to overshadow every day after. She had been twenty-two when she was matched, yanked out of her botany program at university just a few credits shy of graduating, and sent across the universe to make a baby with an alien.
It hadn’t been all bad. Havik had treated her well enough. They didn’t have much in common but the sex had been amazing. Then she got pregnant–because duh, sex was easier than talking to each other–and it had been a difficult pregnancy from the beginning. She had been nauseous all the time and lost too much weight. Her blood pressure was dangerously high. At the end, her body couldn’t keep her and the baby alive. The medics forbade another pregnancy. She was not strong enough.
So Havik sent her back to Earth, like a wrong-sized sweater, like she was defective. Van lost her baby, her husband and her health all in one go.
And now some government contractor was sniffing around, trying to convince her to do it again.
It was voluntary. That’s what the FBIA agent told her when she returned to Earth.
Repeating the word did not ease her panic. She should call someone and a little voice in her head suggested that she call her father.
Van would have laughed if she wasn’t hyperventilating. She’d spoken to her father once–once— since returning to Earth and he said, “So you’re back. I hope you’re not looking for a handout.” No questions about what she was doing divorced from aliens that mated for life, not a query to her health or even where she planned on staying until she got back on her feet. Nope. Ricky Acosta just want her to know that he didn’t do charity, not even for his own flesh and blood.
Not that she expected anything different from him. Van had been on her own for a long time.
Class wasn’t happening, she decided, and searched her desk for a business card. She remembered it clearly because who gave out paper business cards nowadays?
Agent P. Novak.
Her hand trembled as she contemplated contacting the agent and… She drew a blank. Do what, exactly? Report that a contractor lied and hurt her feelings? Tried to intimidate her to volunteering again?
And then what? Chaz might lose his job, but he was a contractor which basically meant he had no oversight and didn’t have to abide by the rules; at least that’s what it felt like as he lied to her.
One over zealous contractor showed up at her door today with inaccurate information. How much longer before the military police knocked on her door, convinced she skipped her mandatory testing and dragged her in, all because of a computer glitch.
Her information was always going to be on some list and one day, either intentionally or accidentally, her status would change from “voluntary” to “mandatory.”
Van could only see one way forward. She couldn’t stay on Earth.
Stanelle plopped down on the ground next to Jaxar, he handed him a bottle of cold beer, and panted from the climb up the hill. His metabolism burned the alcohol too quickly to achieve a buzz and he did not enjoy the sour, malted flavor, but he drank to appease Stanelle.
“You just had to show off and climb the hill, didn’t ya?” Stanelle leaned back against the tree and stretched out his legs, rubbing his knee. It was a subtle reminder that while they were the same age, Jaxar was in the prime of his life and his cousin was well into his middle years.
“My knees, my hips, my entire being.” He rubbed a knee. “You know when you’re young and dumb and hurt yourself, they say you’ll feel it when you get older. They weren’t fucking kidding.”
Jaxar grunted a response but had nothing to add. Only a few years separated him from his Sangrin cousin, but they had reached the point in their lifespans when Stanelle would ge rapidly and Jaxar would remain the same.
Happy noises from the wedding party drifted up. His niece, still a child in his mind, was a married female now.
His entire family was aging faster than him. At times the longevity of the Mahdfel felt more like a curse than a gift.
“I can not believe Dania is old enough to be mated,” Jaxar said.
“And has a young one on the way.” Stanelle gave his stomach an exaggerated pat.
The males sat in companionable silence. Music and laughter filled the night.
Jaxar felt as if his family slipped away from him. He had fuzzy memories of his Mahdfel father and Sangrin mother. Fortunately, more good than bad and very little of the events that took his parents’ lives. He knew the facts, of course, having read the reports of how the Judgment’s hull had been compromised, allowing a breach. The Suhlik boarded the ship, invaded the clan’s stronghold and violated homes.
His mother stuffed him into the cramped space behind a wall panel. She had a blaster in hand and faced the door to their quarters.This he remembered with clarity. If the Suhlik came, she would take as many with her as possible. Pride at the memory of his mother’s courage filled him, made bittersweet because a targeted blast ripped through the hull. The tear was barely bigger than his hand but it was enough to vent her into space.
The massive decompression pulled at him, knocking him into the paneling but the wall held, rattling and straining. Time and his memories grew fuzzy from the lack of oxygen and the extreme cold. His heart rate slowed and he survived long enough inside the wall for the shielding to kick in and sealed the breach. At some point he had been retrieved but both his parents were gone.
The universe could be cold and fickle. He survived only through luck.
The thought chilled him.
“Dania is still dancing?” he asked, herding his thoughts in a more pleasant direction.
“Youth. I can’t keep up with her,” Stanelle answered.
After his parents’ death, his mother’s sister took him in. Growing up a Mahdfel youth in a Sangrin household had challenges. Jaxar was always bigger than the other children. He never fit in and the size difference was only one manifestation of those differences. He had more energy and limitless curiosity but no focus. Disassembling the engine to the family’s vehicle to see how it worked or climbing the tallest structure and jumping, just to see what would happen when he fell, were equally likely to happen. He was prone to fits of anger. His body needed to move, constantly.
He knew he tried the patience of his aunt and uncle but they never threatened to send him away to his father’s clan. As odd and mismatched as he was to his family, he belonged to them.
Only a few years younger than Jaxar, Stanelle had been his constant companion. For every terrible idea Jaxar had, Stanelle was right by his side, usually with a bruise or a broken bone.
Jaxar frowned. His Mahdfel genes allowed him to heal quickly. Stanelle was Sangrin, just an ordinary male, and healed at a depressingly slow rate. He didn’t understand that difference when they were youths but now he felt ashamed at how often he lead his cousin into calamity.
How Stanelle rubbed his right leg did not go amiss. “Does your arm still leg still pain you?” Jaxar asked.
“Not much. I was on my feet too long, that’s all. What about you?” He jabbed Jaxar in the side with his elbow. “Tell me your bones are creaky in the morning, too.”
“I find that I require a…” Jaxar paused, searching for the correct word. “A ritual in order to fall asleep.” He used to be able to close his eyes anywhere–sitting upright, leaning against a wall, on a cold floor–grab a few minutes of sleep, and wake up refreshed. Now if he did not follow a precise set of steps, his mind refused to slow enough to sleep. He would lay in bed feeling incomplete as he mind ran on a loop. “It is frustrating.”
Stanelle nodded, taking a swig of his beer. Perspiration covered the bottle. “So Dania wanted to know why her favorite uncle is hiding at her wedding?”
“I’m enjoying the view.” Jaxar finished his beer. The oppressive heat of the summer faded to a comfortable warmth. Night blooming flowers perfumed the air, creating a heady mix.
“You’re distancing yourself and being a moody bastard because you feel like you’re not part of the family anymore,” Stanelle said with far too much accuracy.
“You can piss off right out of an air lock,” he replied.
Stanelle laughed softly. “I always thought Dania would be matched to one of your kind.”
He did, too. Compatibility often ran in families. “I’m glad she’s not.” He was rather morose that evening.
Stanelle plucked the empty bottle from Jaxar’s hand. “How many of these did you drink?”
“Just the one. My moroseness has nothing to do with alcohol consumption.” His family was down there, dancing and celebrating, and slipping away from him.
“Come on.” Stanelle stiffly rose to his feet. “My daughter is mated and the celebration is not the same without her favorite uncle.”
Once bitten, twice shy.
Vanessa knows what aliens want–babies– and she’s not having it. She’ll change her name, changer her ID information, and hunker down on a miserable moon on the far side of the galaxy before she gets matched to another Mahdfel brute. Again.
Coming February 28, 2020
Pre Order Now! https://books2read.com/Jaxar