EXCERPT

Excerpt from The Chiral Protocol, "Liberty":






Ever wonder what the warriors of the Unit and Shadow Recon do on their days off?

If your team leader happens to be a big, badass Marine named Thaddeus Severance the Third, you might just find yourself fighting wildfires on a small terraformed planet named Ceriba, orbiting Procyon's white dwarf, Myr....



   "Forty-five minutes later, Micah brought the Firestrike to a rest, wheels gently kissing the tarmac at Mount Huntington Aviation. On-staff medics were standing by to receive the two smokejumpers, both of whom Nina had triaged on the way back.  

Micah hopped out and began to shrug out of his fire-retardant flight suit. He let the arms flap behind him as he joined Nina at the vessel’s side entrance and began restocking the medical supplies the medics had brought along with them.
Movement behind the medics caught his eye and he saw the sleek form of a large cat emerge from the tree line. It came streaking toward them across the clearing.
A piercing whistle split the air moments later, a heads-up from the tower. The cat’s ears flattened in annoyance but he didn’t break his loping stride. Thad pivoted at the sound, and then erupted in a string of low curses when he saw the animal arrowing toward them.
Micah smothered a laugh at the Marine’s reaction.
“Let me guess,” he said, stepping up beside Thad and clapping him on the shoulder. “You still owe him some steaks and he’s here to collect.”
“Damn extortionist,” Thad muttered. The black panther slowed to a prowl, chuffing as he drew to a stop in front of them.
{Deal’s a deal,} Micah heard over his wire as the cat lifted baleful green eyes and pinned them on Thad. {Fifty steaks. I’ve had three.}
Thad’s eyes narrowed and he jabbed a finger toward the large animal. “You’ve had six, you mangy bastard.”
{Too small. Had to double up,} the cat replied, batting away Thad’s finger with a massive paw.
A snort erupted from Nina, causing Thad to pivot and pin her with the kind of glare only a Marine captain could dish out.
“You have something to say, chief?” he demanded.
Micah cupped a hand over his mouth and turned to the side as Nina smirked.
“Sir, yes sir,” she said. “Just wondering if the captain bothered to negotiate the size of those steaks before he entered into the agreement, sir.”
One of the medics paused on her way past. “Chief’s got you there, Thad,” the woman said. Nodding to the black cat, she added, “Pascal’s a pretty savvy negotiator. He’s already conned cook out of ten kilos of bison jerky and two bags of catnip.”
“Catnip?” Micah’s brows rose. He turned to face Pascal. “I didn’t know panthers liked catnip.”
{Not a panther,} Pascal responded.
Micah’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What?”
The medic tilted her head to indicate the ranger station. “A Huntington park ranger dropped by while you guys were rescuing the smokejumpers. Took one look and recognized Pascal’s build and markings.”
{Ceriban hunting cat,} the cat under scrutiny supplied, and then slitted his eyes at Thad once more. {Require lots of fresh meat. More than panthers. Deal’s now for seventy-five steaks.}
“Whoa, hoss, hold on there just a godda—”
Micah coughed.
“—goshdarned minute,” Thad amended, without breaking stride. He crossed his arms and stared down at the big animal. “Ain’t nobody ever told you? You can’t renegotiate a contract after the fact?”
{Was negotiated based on panther intake.} Pascal gave the big Marine the feline equivalent of a smirk. {Ceriban hunting cats require more calories.}
“Why you…I oughtta….” Thad sputtered. He glowered at Pascal for another few seconds, and then turned on his heel and marched toward the ranger’s building.