Ashlesha - Part I of Awaken the Stars by Jer Keene Rex Tjin’s life has never been normal. It just took him a while to notice the difference. Not every kid spent their summer vacations learning survival tactics on paintball fields in rural Pennsylvania, could fieldstrip a .9mm and slap it back together at military-accepted speed, or had really good instincts for just knowing things—including when to get out of the line of fire. (Most of the time.) When Rex finally realized his family was different from his friends and neighbors in Kutztown, he didn’t care. He’s the third of eight kids who are all crazy, and they drive each other nuts, but they love each other. To every single one of them, that’s the most important part. Four of them go into the military, thinking long-term careers. Then Rex’s younger brother dies in Iraq in 2005. It’s a disaster that isn’t his fault, but a loss he can’t stop blaming himself for. He bows out after only eight years instead of the planned twenty. Rex spends the next decade trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He attends a college he can’t remember graduating from. He doesn’t even know if he collected a diploma. Rex didn’t care; school was something to fill the empty spaces in his life left behind by a lost sibling and the mental inertia of leaving the intensity of Special Forces. Picking up available contracting work through the Department of Defense starts to fill those empty spaces nicely. Rex has a conscience and the ability to say “No thanks” if he doesn’t like the job; he gets to shoot things again (or turn them into craters); and the pay is great. Awesome. On his thirty-sixth birthday, Rex goes to a bar looking for nothing more than brandy and a chance to mourn another loss in peace. Instead, he meets a fascinating redhead who also works for the DoD. Rex wasn’t planning to get involved with anyone, but sometimes you just fit with someone, and he fits with Euan Ambrus very well. Rex’s new favorite redhead is also the reason why 2016 decides to push the envelope on what’s normal, even for him. If he’s going to make an enemy out of an organization within the federal government, it might as well be one that’s been up to sci-fi levels of weird since 1951…the same organization that’s ultimately responsible for Rex’s eerily precise instincts.
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