“This is amazing.” She gestured to the room. “I’m... Wow, just...wow.”
His smile brightened. He seemed thoroughly pleased with her reaction. “I’m glad you like it. It’s my favorite place on the ship.”
“I can see why. Are we still inside the ship? It feels like we’re just floating.”
“No, we’re still inside. The ceiling above you is metal, but it’s a metal that becomes transparent when heated. It’s called cromin. That blue star behind you is giving off enough heat to make the metal disappear. That’s why the councilman confiscated this space for growing plants, since it’s often engulfed in light. On most ships this would just be dead space.”
Anna nodded as she wandered over to a bank of plants with waxy, green leaves the size of her arm. The bright-orange flowers puckered like clamshells, but they rippled beneath the petals as if something were inside. She reached out to touch it, but Varick was at her elbow. He closed his hand over hers and drew her away.
“I wouldn’t, Your Majesty. Their petals are poisonous to the touch. It would kill you within hours. We wouldn’t even grow them onboard, but boiling down their roots makes a powerful antibiotic.”
“Really? Poisonous petals?”
He imparted a gentle squeeze and let her go. “Probably best not to touch any of the plants. I don’t even know half of them myself.”
“I would like to learn about them. Do you think Councilman Meroca would teach me?” She strolled down an aisle of the labyrinth. Varick followed, watching her as she bent down for a closer look at a flower growing near the floor.
“I’m sure he would love to show you. He’s spent years trying to interest at least one person onboard, but he hasn’t had anyone take him up on his offer.”
“I will. Plants have always fascinated me. Each one is so different, but they all need sunlight, water, soil. If you happen to find the right amount, they take on a whole new life of their own.”
He guided her down another aisle. His hand was gentle, but firm. After the frenetic morning on the bridge, the atrium made for a quiet haven
“Your family has always had a way with plants.”
“Your mother’s house. They started the royal greenhouses centuries ago. Your ancestors are
some of the most knowledgeable plant experts in history.”
She paused for a minute, staring at the spiny, brown octagonal plant on the floor in front of
her. “I didn’t know that. My mother taught me about plants. There is so much about my parents I don’t even know.”
“They had to protect you. You were a refugee from a different planet. It wasn’t even legal for them to land there in the first place, let alone live there. What would the Earth-dwellers have done if you or your brother had told someone?”
She smoothed down her dress. Sparta. The mountains. The frosty townspeople. All the dirty looks and fearful glances. “We probably would’ve been taken by the government, or lynched, or worse. The rest of the people in town already disliked us because they don’t really like anyone from out of town. No, I know you’re right. I just feel like I don’t know anything about them now. How can I know nothing about my own parents?”
She peered out over the plants into the black expanse of space. Her past was just as blank. She used to know who she was and where she came from. Now she wasn’t so sure. Varick took a step closer, the warmth of his presence a comfort to her
“We’ll teach you. The councilman and I. We’ll teach you everything they couldn’t. I promise.” She took a deep breath. “Thank you. Thank you for being so kind to me.”
“Of course. I would do anything for you.”
Anna fixed her eyes on Varick’s, but there was nothing she could say in reply. No man had ever
said that to her. She trembled. Her lips parted, and her vision narrowed in on him as he leaned in closer to her. Her pulse jangled in her veins.
He withdrew a step, his green eyes wide. Letting out a breath of air in a low hiss, she flushed and spun away, trying to pretend she was lost in thought. She needed to calm her racing heart. She groped for the handrail that ran around the top of the atrium, separating the ship’s occupants from the transparent metal just beyond. Anna searched for a topic, a safe topic, anything to get her mind off the delicious moment that just passed and the terrible realization about her parents.
Genre: Science Fiction / Romance
Anna keeps to herself in rural North Carolina, raising her younger brother and never dreaming she might not be human. A ship descends from the sky and the handsome alien, Varick, proclaims that she is the long-lost ruler of his planet, forced to flee from their world by an experiment gone wrong. Determined to discover her heritage, she journeys with Varick to their abandoned planet. Along the way, Varick strengthens her belief in herself as she struggles to be the leader her people need. Anna discovers that as soon as they return, the Council will force her to marry a man she’s never met, even while her heart is drawn towards Varick. A romance between the Vadana and her Protector is forbidden above all, and can only end in Varick’s death. A prophet warns Anna and Varick that they can heal their solar system, but they can’t let anything stand in their way. Their growing love for each other will either save their world, or bring about destruction.
Rachel Mannino is a passionate writer who creates characters and settings that allow readers to explore power dynamics in relationships, the empowerment of women, and the ethical and moral dilemmas love can create in our lives. Rachel also uses her writing skills to raise thousands of dollars for entities that enrich our lives and create community change around the world. She has worked for the Peace Corps; the Humanities Council of Washington, DC; Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; and the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events in Boston, MA. Her first novel, Love or Justice, was published by Limitless Press in November 2015. Her second novel, Fractal, will be published by eTreasures publishing in September of 2016. Rachel has a BA in theatre studies and writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College, and she has used it every day since graduation. She lives with her husband, author Christopher Mannino (http://www.christophermannino.com/); their son, Gavin; and their adorable dog and cat in College Park, Maryland.
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