A hundred years ago, the last people of Earth landed on planet AR617b. It was their only hopeafter being forced to flee the dead planet that was once their ancestral home.
The native inhabitants of AR617b, known as gerons, are sentient creatures that resemble a cross between dragons and griffins of old Earth lore. When they initially tried to destroy the settlers, a deal was made to ensure both species' survival. It was decided that each year, every five-year-old human child must take The Walk across a hundred meter field. If they don't stop or run, they will arrive safely on the other side, and be allowed to grow up and have families of their own. But if they break the rule, the gerons will kill them. Unless, by a strange quirk of fate, a geron decides to Pair with the child, taking and raising the human as its own.
Emmala took The Walk, and found herself adopted by one of the older gerons, an immense silvery-white creature named Zonaton. For the next fifteen years, he cared for her, protected her, and loved her. But now Emmala's real family wants her back, and they will do everything they can to have her returned, even if it means killing Zonaton, and starting an all-out war with the gerons.
What neither the settlers nor gerons realize is that there is another alien species watching and waiting for the two combatants to go into battle. Because when they do, that will be the aliens’ cue to destroy everyone and claim AR617b for their own.
Warning! Contains green fire, arrogant assholes, plunderberries, child abuse, rectangular spaceships, a near rape, shadows on the wall, and a love so great, it defies death.
She saw the geron pause in his grooming to look at her, giving her his whole attention. It was one of many reasons that endeared him to her. He was willing to focus solely on her, rather than give her a portion of his time while he did something else.
"Why didn't you ever take a mate? Or have children of your own?"
I never encountered a female I cared to keep.
Emmala knew there were female gerons, but they normally kept to the mountains and tended to the young. Only the males interacted with the settlers.
"Would you have Paired with me if you'd had a mate?"
Only the unattached are allowed to guard the settlers.
She worked her fingers through her tangled wet hair. It was an annoyance after cleaning it, but if she waited until it was dry, her hair would be impossible to comb. "Bet you were lonely a lot."
There were times, he admitted. Cocking his head, he peered at her. Why are you asking?
Emmala paused from trying to remove a particularly troublesome knot. Zonaton took a step toward her. He was concerned, and it emanated from him like a visible wall.
Are you lonely, Emmala? Do you wish for other companionship?
He was asking her if she wanted to be with someone who was more like her. Someone human. Someone who could give her what he couldn't. He had broached the topic before, but as she had in the past, she shook her head, lowering her eyes.
"You're all the companionship I want."
Something flashed in his eyes. She couldn't read the expression, but she got the feeling he was relieved by what she said. He continued to watch her, waiting for her to continue. When she didn't, he assumed their conversation was over and went back to preening his wings. She watched his meticulous movements.
"Sometimes I wish I was a geron."
Her remarked surprised him.
Because then I could love you the way gerons love. The answer remained unspoken and unheard, kept locked inside her heart and mind where he couldn't hear it. Instead, she gave a little shrug of her shoulders. "Because I would love to fly."
I take you flying every day.
"It's not the same thing." She gave him an impish grin. "You know what I mean."
Yes, I do. But having wings and being able to fly is serious. It is not always meant for fun.
"Really? You're telling me you've never flown just for the pure enjoyment of it?" she teased. Her remark was on target. There had been many instances in the past where they had traversed mountain tops and skimmed plateaus or low-lying areas on the planet simply to sightsee.
"And I wish I had scales like you."
She sighed dramatically. "Clothes can be a hindrance. You're always having to repair or replace them. But scales grow naturally. They overlap so the rain doesn't make your skin wet and cold. And if you lose one, another grows in its place. Plus, they cover your secret places." Holding out a lock of her long hair, she arranged it so it covered the tip of one round breast. "Maybe I can use my hair instead of wearing clothes, and save them for when I need to go into the village."
Hair is not effective when the wind blows. Nor will it protect you from the cold and wet.
She flipped the long strands over one shoulder. "Yeah. You're right. But you have to admit that there is one thing about being a geron that is the best part."
"It's when you make fire come out of your mouth."
More correctly, it comes from the back of my throat. And before it gets to my throat, I must belch it up from my stomach.
"Plus, don't forget you're strong."
As are our females.
She cocked her head at him. "So male and female gerons are the same?"
To a point. They cannot make the fire.
That part she didn't know. "But other than that, you're alike?"
Zonaton mentally smiled at her. They bear children. Our males cannot do that.
He had her there, and Emmala laughed. The score was even.
She saw him lift his wings, and knew what was coming next. She didn't have enough time to seek cover when the geron shook himself, sending droplets of water flying everywhere. Emmala shrieked as the cold liquid came in contact with her bare skin. "You did that on purpose!" she accused with a grin, wiping droplets from her face.
Yes, I did. What do you intend on doing about it?
Laughing joyfully, she jumped up and ran over to him to throw her arms around his damp neck. Squeezing hard, she planted kisses all over the side of his beak.
"I'm going to hold on to you until you beg for me to release you."
She wasn't prepared for the solemn gaze he gave her, or his reply.
Then you will never let me go, because I will never want you to.
It was a moment she would always remember.