When Unit Commander Anya Baker visits an alien planet in search of a missing crewmember, she finds herself caught in a dream she thought only existed in her favorite childhood fairytales. Colin, king of the wee folk, hardly belongs in children’s stories, though. He’s a true ruler in bed.
Colin teaches Anya to love herself. He also helps her connect with her long lost sister. When the time comes to return to her ship, Anya knows she can’t take Colin with her, but how cam she leave him behind? Then again, maybe Troy has a bit of Colin’s magic in him. Somehow this world has a way of giving people exactly what they need -- even if it’s not that they thought they wanted.
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Anya (Leisure Planet 6)
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2018 Alice Gaines
Anya scanned her surroundings. “Zara Thomas. Deckhand Third Class Zara Thomas. If you can hear this, I’m ordering you to appear.”
No response came, only the murmur of breezes through the grass.
“The planet brought you here,” she called. “No charges of desertion if you come back now.”
Hopeless. Zara wasn’t here. Her disappearance had mirrored the captain’s. One moment she’d been on board the Wanderer, and the next she’d been gone. Unlike the captain, though, she hadn’t returned. There’d been a moment when the ship’s instruments had picked her up in this location, but then her presence had bleeped out. She’d simply gone… somewhere.
Anya studied the uniform again. No evidence of any sort of violence. No tears to the fabric or any spots that might be blood. In fact, it appeared as if she’d simply taken it off and left it behind. A bit more inspection turned up Zara’s boots and instrument belt. Zara’s communications device didn’t work, either.
Great. Now what?
Zara would have looked for water, food, and shelter. According to the captain, the fruits here were edible and delicious, the water safe. More difficult to credit, he and his wife claimed that whatever they’d needed had materialized. It all sounded like a fairy tale. Those only existed in people’s imaginations and books.
Books. An image flashed through her consciousness. Old and with enough emotional impact to send her reeling back a step. Then it was gone again, but it had hit her with enough of a wallop that she had to make herself breathe.
She found a rock flat enough to sit on, closed her eyes, and rubbed them. It would appear that the planet was already messing with her head. Still, she couldn’t fail to examine what had just come to her or the tightness in the pit of her stomach wouldn’t leave.
For a split second, she’d seen a book she’d had as a child -- the battered cover and the drawings inside. The only item left from her home with her mother and sister, she’d taken it to bed with her on so many nights in hopes of reuniting with her family if only in dreams.
The book told fairy tales, each illustrated with sketches. One in particular had always spoken to her. It told of wee people living in the forest. Each had red hair like her own. She’d loved them because she could blend in with them instead of always being the odd one -- the other.
Tears welled at the back of her eyes. Just like the feeling in her gut, this was nothing more than another emotional reaction to a memory. As a Unit Commander, she should have better control over herself. Still, she couldn’t simply shove the feelings down.
“Do you think I’ll fall apart because of a book from my childhood?” she asked whatever force or entity controlled this place. Or really, she was asking no one. Of course, she got no answer.
What a pointless exercise. She took a few even breaths. Then the sound of strange music registered in the back of her mind. Perhaps real and coming from… somewhere far off. Perhaps created by her own brain to reinforce the illusion of the fairy tale forest in the story she’d loved so much.
She got up and walked into the forest. Here, the air was cool but not unpleasantly so. It smelled of earth, if that was possible. Did dirt have a scent, or were her senses becoming mixed up? Nothing moved except for the swaying of a fern beside the trail. Not so much as a bird or insect appeared. The scene around her grew to resemble the pictures in her book more and more as she went deeper among the trees. The branches reached out to meet overhead, creating a cathedral ceiling of sorts.
The music became more pronounced. Flutes and drums in a driving rhythm. It still had no location. Whichever way she turned her head, it remained behind her. Impossible unless she was truly creating the illusion herself and keeping what she wanted out of her reach. Frustrating. If she’d understood the captain’s description of the powers of this planet correctly, she ought to be able to encounter the mythic creatures, the wee people, for real. Or at least seeming real.
She continued along the side of the stream. With no other guidance, what could she do? The music grew louder and more distinct as she went, so maybe her destination lay ahead. More details of the book came back to her. Wee people dressed in jerkins and tights with pointed hats, all of them pale with red hair like her own. At the time, they’d seemed to be her tribe. Certainly no one else had wanted her -- such an odd little girl. Shy to the point of silent but with riotous curls the color of copper. She’d held that book against her heart, opening the pages from time to time to study the images of what must truly be her home.
And the dreams… oh, the dreams… of finding welcome and acceptance. How many cold mornings had she tried to huddle back under the covers to call back those images. But someone had always found her and put her to work.
The music moved, or rather it swelled to surround her. No longer only existing in her mind, now her ears detected it as it would any normal sound. Up ahead, a glow appeared in the depths of the forest. Her destination.
She picked up her pace to a jog, dropping the uniform. She had to get there in case the illusion disappeared before she’d had a close look at it. It was only a hope, but she might find her tribe. After all this time, they could actually exist.
She arrived at a small clearing and came to a dead stop. The scene that greeted her could have come exactly from the pages of her beloved book. A fire blazed at the center of the space, a cauldron hung over it. And all around small people in ancient dress with flaming hair danced. Others sat on tree stumps, beating on animal skin drums. Still others played flutes made of antlers.
One flute player looked up and spotted her. When he stopped playing, the rest looked in her direction, and the entire party came to a halt.
For a long moment, they all stared at each other. When her sister had given her the book, Anya hadn’t been much taller than these people. If she’d had the right clothing, she could have been one of them. Now, she towered over them. Would they fear her? Would they run away or disappear into whatever mist had created them? Not immediately, in any case. Not a one of them moved.
Finally, one rose on stiff legs, set aside his drum, and approached her. He held out his hand. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she answered. Probably for twenty years after that drizzly day at the transport station when one pair of adult arms had tugged her sister away while another grown-up had held Anya back to prevent her from following. Alisa had only had time to pass Anya the book before they were separated.
For a second or two, that scene from Anya’s past flashed before her exactly as it had happened, right down to the pressure of the hands that grasped her shoulders. Then those images faded as the wee person wrapped his fingers around hers.
“Come and eat something,” he said. “You’ve had a long journey.”