When a soldier gets separated from his squad on an unfamiliar planet, an accidental meeting with a local civilian turns violent—and leads to a surprising, life-changing turn of events involving a local animal.

“On My Side” was written for A Quiet Shelter There, edited by Gerri Leen. A percentage of the profits from the anthology goes to the Friends of Homeless Animals no-kill rescue shelter in Virginia. Stories for the speculative anthology had to involve service animals, and when Gerri mentioned to me that the genre elements of most submissions were a bit subtle, I took it as a challenge to really turn the sci-fi up to eleven in “On My Side.” The excerpt below is from the opening scene of the story.

On My Side

I attempted a phrase in one of the major Garinthian languages, roughly meaning “No problem here,” then switched back to Standard. I took a cautious step forward. His all-gray unblinking eyes and striated multicolored skin made it difficult to read his expression. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to get my gear and find my squad.”
       I pointed at the drop tube behind me and then in the general direction of where I thought the squad had landed. As my eyes adjusted to the moonlight, I noticed he was deformed. At the base of his long neck, on his right side, was a growth about the size and shape of an old deflated American football. His shirt didn’t fit over the lump, leaving it half exposed. I didn’t know if it was a birth defect or a tumor, but it didn’t seem to bother him as he craned his neck from side to side to examine me and the tube. He waved his front arms slowly in a nonthreatening mirror of my own gestures.
       Distracted by the deformity and the movements of his front arms, I didn’t notice his back arms had reached behind him until he swung a large weapon into view and fired from the hip. The gunshot felt like a dozen spinning hot blades punching into my left side. I cried out as the impact sent me spinning to the ground, face first into the mud. Luckily I landed by my rifle. Training and instinct took over as I grabbed my weapon and rolled onto my back to defend myself. . . .

Cover copyright Hadley Rille Books. All text copyright Scott Pearson.
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