Authors: Linda Mooney
Tags: #other worlds, #Science Fiction, #aliens, #dragons, #Romance, #sensuous, #erotic
Table of Contents
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER
Copyright © 2014 by
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Edited by: Diana Castilleja
Cover Art: Lex Valentine
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
Emmala was frightened. But watching and listening as her parents talked about the upcoming event left her more terrified.
"I can't, Ferrus. I can't let her go. Not my baby." Her mother continued to sob, her shoulders shaking as her father tried to comfort the woman.
"We have to, Kell. We can't keep her away from The Walk. You know the Law. If we try to hide her, the enforcers will take her away and incarcerate us, and we won't learn what happened to her. If she survives, we won't be there waiting to take her home. Is that what you want? To spend the rest of your life wondering what happened if she doesn't come back? If she walks through, she'll be able to come home with us, and our lives will go back to the way they were before! Just like it was for us and our parents! But if we prevent her from going, and she survives, we will lose everything. Are you willing to risk that?"
Her mother shook her head. Her black hair came loose from its knot at the back of her head, and thick tresses slid over her shoulders. She turned to bury her face in her husband's chest.
From where she was peering around the doorway, Emmala glanced up to see pain on her father's face. Although she was nearly five and a half seasons old, she realized the man was hurting as much as her mother, and was fighting back his own tears.
"But what if she doesn't survive, Ferrus? What if one of those things kills and eats her?"
Emmala felt icy chills begin to wrack her body. She had heard the stories of the gerons attacking and killing some of the children. But that was not the worst fate she could face. No, the worst one was the possibility of being adopted by one of the dominant species of this world, even though those pairings were considered blessed by many who looked upon the aliens as their benefactors.
Her father kissed her mother's hair and held her closer. "Have you spoken to Emmala? Told her what she needs to do?"
Again, her mother shook her head. "I couldn't. I started to, but I couldn't." Lifting her wet face, she implored her husband, "Would you? Please?"
Heaving a deep sigh, her father slowly nodded. "Very well."
Emmala ran to her room, jumping onto the bed and pulling the small, thin quilt someone had given her mother when she was born up around her for warmth. It wasn't long until she heard her father's footsteps come down the hall and pause in front of her door. Knocking softly, he asked, "Em, are you in there?"
"I'm here, Papa." Her voice was shaking as hard as she was.
The portal slid silently to the side, but her father remained outside. Holding out a hand, he gestured to her. "Come with me, little one."
She slid out of bed and joined him, and together they left their small house to stroll around the compound like they sometimes did after supper. They passed the nearly identical chain of stone cottages that sat in neat rows on both sides of the street. There were twelve streets running vertically and horizontally on the flat plain where they lived. The plain officially designated as D-322, but which the first settlers had named Genesis. As she expected, they turned right at the first corner. It was then that her father spoke.
"Em, do you know what's going to happen today?"
"I got to take The Walk."
"Do you know why?"
"Yeah. Miss Dofield told us about it. She said that back when we first landed here a long, long time ago, the gerons wouldn't let us stay until Maxx Joel made a pact with them to let us live here."
"That's right. Our own world had been destroyed, and we had no place to live until we found this world."
"AR617b!" Emmala announced proudly. She was one of the few in her class who remembered the planet's original coordinates.
Her father chuckled, but she could tell he remained sad. So sad. It made everything around him appear like he was surrounded by a dense mist. A dark, sad mist. "That's right, little one. And do you know why Maxx Joel made that pact?"
"Because we had no choice. Because we were out of fuel. Because this was the only planet we found where we could live."
"Correct again, Em. We couldn't go any further. Our ships were nearly out of fuel and food and water, and this was the only planet with the resources we needed where we could survive."
"But the gerons didn't want us here."
"No, they didn't. They fought us and nearly killed all of us until Maxx Joel managed to speak to one of them and get it to understand why we were here. He's the one who convinced them not to kill us, and promised we would not spread over the planet, but keep within the parameters they set for us. That's why there's only five villages."
"And why we all got to do The Walk."
"That's correct, little one."
They walked to the end of the block and turned right again. Eventually, they would make a complete square to arrive back at their home. Emmala glanced at the small buildings as they passed by. She loved the way some of them were pale pink or blue or gray or green, depending on what strata of rock the builders chose to use. The roofs were also rock, a very thin, very lightweight, shiny black stone called pitchite.
She also loved how the fences of piled rock between the houses were high enough to separate the yards, but low enough to where neighbors could keep a watchful eye on each other, in case there was any danger.
The yards were mostly dirt. A few had coveted gardens filled with ashlight and mutter's mums. This was the season where the ashlight vines curled skyward in big looping blue spirals, reminding her of a fairy tale her mother would sometimes read to her, about a boy who climbed a tall plant until he reached the home of a giant. Only, the giants here were the gerons.
They passed one pale blue house where a little black-haired boy named Hawse sat in his front yard and played with a rocket ship. Taking advantage of the last little bit of sunlight before needing to go inside for the night. He was one of her classmates and friends. He waved as she walked by, and Emmala waved back. He looked as worried as she felt. She would see him soon at the field.
They came to the next corner, and Papa turned right once more. If they'd kept going, they would end up in the center of the Square where the shops were located.
Her father didn't speak again until she asked the one question that had been bothering her ever since she'd reached her fifth birthday. "Papa, what are Pairs?"
He frowned at her. "Didn't your teacher explain that?"
"She said it was when a geron chose one of us to keep. Like a pet."
"Well, it's something like that, I suppose. We don't know everything. Just that the Pairs live together for the rest of their lives, or until the human half dies."
"Why the human?"
"Because our life span is much less than a geron's. We can only live about a hundred years, but a geron can live for up to two hundred years."
"When the human does, does the geron pair with another human?"
"As far as we know, no, they don't."
"What if the geron dies first? Does the human pair with another one?"
"I don't know, little one. No one knows the answer to that question."
"Because of all the Pairs that have been made since we've been here, the human has always died first."
"How many Pairs are there, Papa?"
"Right now? Four, I think."
"Where do they live? In the mountains?" She pointed toward the tall, scraggly range hundreds of miles away. At this distance, they looked like jagged teeth in the lower half of a geron's jaw. No one had ever gone to the mountains because that would mean they would have to leave the perimeters set by the gerons, and breaking that Law meant death. The gerons fiercely guarded their domain, and the creatures had no problem with killing any human breaking the Laws.
"I guess so," her father replied.
"If I get Paired, can I come visit you?"
Her father squeezed her hand as he sniffed and wiped his nose with the sleeve of his other arm. "I don't know, Emmala."
"You lived through The Walk. Maybe I'll live, too, and we can stay together." It was what she prayed for every single night before she went to sleep. To stay with her father, to be able to grow up, find a man who would love her the way people loved each other, and to have her own little girl baby. Or a boy baby. She'd be happy with a boy, too.
She felt the pressure on her hand again as her father gave her another squeeze. "Let's hope so, little one."
They finally turned the last corner, and she could see their house in the distance.
"Em, are you afraid of taking The Walk?"
"Yes, Papa." Yes, she was afraid. Truthfully, she was petrified beyond anything she had ever encountered before in her short life. Not so much because of the possibility she could die, or be taken away, but because she dreaded the thought of never seeing her father again. Of never taking the block like this with him, or helping him outside in the yard. She feared losing everything she'd ever had. Of going to school and playing with her friends, although many of them would be at the field tomorrow to take The Walk themselves.
Worse, whenever she let herself think too long about it, her stomach tightened into a hard, hurting knot. Sometimes she threw up. Recently, she'd been having nightmares of those big creatures swooping down and grabbing her, and she would wake up trembling and crying, and unable to go back to sleep.
"It's all right to be afraid," he reassured her. "It's going to turn out all right."