Happy Read an Ebook Week, O readers! From now through Saturday, March 7, all Anne B. Walsh original ebooks are FREE on Smashwords.com! Which anyone who follows my Facebook page, or who's read the latest chapter of my latest fanfic (yes, another one... I can't help myself), will already know, but now the rest of you know too.
I've chosen to take this unprecedented step for many reasons, not least of which is that I know that you, O readers, like me, are often on pretty tight budgets. It would be lovely to always be able to make the full royalty from my books, just as it would be lovely for all of you to have the money to spend on them. But we do not live in a perfect world, so for this one week, at Smashwords only, I'll take readership over royalties. All I ask is that if you like what you read, you tell your friends about it.
For anyone who has just discovered Anne's Randomness through one of those aforementioned free books: Welcome! This blog is exactly what it says on the header. Posts may at times be silly, whiny, depressive, manic, plentiful, scanty, or any combination thereof. You have been warned.
However, one tradition I try to keep pretty strictly is that of Fiction Friday, where I provide a flash fiction (usually 1000 words or less) for your reading pleasure, absolutely free. All of 2014's Fiction Friday posts, at least all of those which were original and not fan-based, have been collected in a little volume called Week in Review, which is indeed part of the free promotion at Smashwords. So if you like what you read here, you can give that bit of work a try.
Today's story is also a follow-up to the one piece of writing I've published that is not, in fact, mine. It was written by a friend of mine who uses the name Elizabeth Conall, and it is contained in my second holiday collection, In The Bleak Midwinter. That story, "Nor Earth Sustain", is a prequel work to my world of Trycanta, on which my novel Homecomingis set, and which mingles fantasy and sci-fi in what I hope is a pleasing fashion.
So, with babbling from me all finished, here is today's Fiction Friday post. A reminder that comments on this blog are moderated, so they will seem to disappear when you hit the go button, but they have not vanished into oblivion, I promise! I will put them up as soon as I'm sure you're not trying to sell me cheap sunglasses in German!
Well, okay. Maybe babbling wasn't all finished. But it is now. As always, thanks for reading, and please enjoy story!
Victor Freeman tightened his hand around the butt of his gun and scanned the wooded clearing carefully. Nothing unusual was visible, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he wasn't alone. Someone, somewhere, was watching him.
Since the landing of the refugee ship Skywalker (or rather one-third of it, as the ship's modular design had started to fail in atmosphere and each section had blasted loose to take its own chances) on this temperate segment of a luck-discovered Earth-type world six months before, a fair number of the colonists had reported experiencing "creepy" feelings. "Like someone's staring at me", was the most common descriptive phrase, along with varyingly profane versions of "I don't like it, make it stop".
Victor ordinarily would have laughed off such things, but he had access to a piece of information most of the colonists didn't. His friend Jetta Molina, the Skywalker's crimson-haired astronavigator, had been reacting to a similar feeling of being watched when she'd picked out from her charts the star around which this planet orbited.
Deliberately, Victor sucked in a breath, then exhaled slowly. "Except I don't," he said on the end of it. "For good or for bad, we're here. On...whatever we end up calling it." He tapped his foot against the ground. "Since we haven't managed to come to a consensus in the last six months. We've got one faction fighting for 'New Earth' and one for 'Nova Terra', and they keep talking about consolidating, but neither one wants to give up their preferred language. And then there's the folks who want to call it 'Pern', which I think is tempting fate, considering that whole thing about Thread—"
He broke off, grimacing, as the prickling hair on the back of his neck became too pronounced to ignore. "All right, who's there?" he demanded, stepping into the center of the clearing and turning from side to side. "This isn't funny anymore. Come on, show yourself!"
Behind him, a twig snapped. He spun, hand dropping to his weapon.
The erect biped standing in a shaft of sunlight raised open hands and regarded him calmly from a pair of soft silver eyes. Their color matched that of the feather-edged scales which covered the top and sides of the broad-skulled head, contrasting strikingly with the copper tone of the blunt-snouted face and the ivory white of the wrapped garment which covered the slender torso. A slim tail switched restlessly from side to side, and arching behind and up and out from the narrow shoulders, scaled in a mix of copper and silver—
But about one thing Victor was entirely clear. The hands still raised in what he hoped was a peaceful gesture had fully opposable thumbs, the eyes still sizing him up were focused and purposeful—
And animals don't wear clothes.
Slowly, he moved his own hand away from his gun and showed the—dragon, dammit, I'm not going to be able to avoid it, that's a dragon—his open palms. "Um, hi," he said, and swallowed a grimace at the inadequacy of the words. "I'm Victor. I'm a human. We...come in peace?" And now I sound like a bad B movie, though that's probably redundant, but it's the truth. We do come in peace. War's what we ran away from, the reason why we were willing to risk our lives on an untested propulsion system. Worst that could happen to the Skywalker was either we died in a fiery boom or we starved and froze to death, and the way things were blowing up on Earth, that might've happened anyway...
"Victor," he repeated, risking a touch of hand to chest. "Victor. That's me. You got a name?"
The scaled hands rose to chest height, one closing around the other, then springing free and returning to neutral. The mouth opened, exposing mirrored rows of surprisingly blunt-edged teeth. "Lisi," the dragon enunciated in a clear alto, with a trifle of a whistle on the sibilant. "Bik-tah?" Impatient, she shook her head, and ran her tongue along her top teeth. "Vvvik-tah," she tried again, and exhaled in what Victor thought was satisfaction. "Viktah."
She. Victor blinked at the emendation in his thoughts. Okay then. Suppose Lisi could always be a he, or maybe dragons do things some other way, but the voice sounds roughly female and 'she' is better than 'it' so I'll run with that for now.
"Lisi," the dragon of that name repeated, performing again her gesture of hands-held, hands-apart. "Viktah." The waggle of her fingers seemed somehow shapeless, as though she were asking him a question, or waiting for him to do something.
And then the perfect thing hit him, and he smiled.
"Victor," he said, holding up two fingers in the V-for-victory symbol from one of the war eras he'd always loved to study.
Which got borrowed, about thirty years later, to mean something entirely different.
What we came here looking for.
"Viktah," said Lisi again, with an expression Victor could only think was a draconic smile, and held up two fingers of her own in the historic sign of peace.