"Amazing." Preejhna Chiyuub stood with grayish-white fingers pressed against the panel beneath the viewing screen.
"Shall we pull away now, commander?"
Chiyuub drew a breath and sighed. "Not just yet. I enjoy these spectral variations."
The shuttle helmsman was gentle in his reproach. "It is well past dawn, commander. The risk of staying this low..."
"Yes, I know." The Preejhna continued to gaze out over the landscape.
"The Terrans call this autumn. Isn't it splendid?"
A tall figured entered through the bubble hatchway and stopped as his eyes fell on the Preejhna.
"Serassan is here, commander," announced the helmsman.
Turning, the Preejhna flashed official greetings to the unusually lofty Estronian. His head, like her own, was large and bald. The skin on his body was grayish-white. He wore the one-piece uniform of an astronaut with its Earth-Star insignia that identified his mission. His eyes were a particularly deep color of blue, sloping widely toward the sides of his scalp. The two nostril holes opened and closed in regular breaths. The lipless mouth line moved at the corners as he regarded her.
"You summoned me, commander?" he asked.
Preejhna Chiyuub beckoned him to the viewing screen. Daylight had broken over the horizon and the ship hovered steadily over a dense, colorful forest of rolling hills. "Isn't it amazing?" she said.
Serassan noticed the shrug of the helmsman. "Terrans do not appreciate it as you do," he replied. "Uh... if the Preejhna will excuse me for being so bold... isn't it rather risky of us to be this close during daylight?"
The Preejhna signaled to the helmsman. In a moment the shuttle lifted away as if it had been sucked into a vacuum. The next thing the viewing screen showed was the bright arc of the planet's skirting as they pulled away from the atmosphere.
"Please sit down," the commander told Serassan. They took seats across from each other. "What are your feelings about this mission?"
The tall Estronian clasped his grayish fingers and looked his commander in the eye. "The Terrans need our help." He looked past her, toward Earth's sloping rim. "They are on the brink of major disaster, as we and others have known for quite some time." He looked back at her. "It is also true that we need Terrans. Through our mutual need of each other, we can help a few of them, and perhaps fulfill Estron's dream as well."
The Preejhna grimaced. "You speak of need." She stood up and paced the floor. "It has come to my attention, Serassan, that there are those among the crew who would take advantage of our role as saviors in order to fulfill their own selfish needs." She stopped pacing to stare at him. "I am not accusing you, of course. I've always trusted and respected you, Serassan. Some of your fellow guides, however..."
The tall Estronian stroked the patch of grayish skin that connected his colossal head to the narrow shoulders. "Are you expressing doubts that we can carry out our mission, commander?"
"I have no doubt of that, Serassan. I just wonder if we are doing the right thing."
"But we have come so far."
The Preejhna stood with her thin back to him as she stared out the screen. "You have already made contact with some of your Terrans," she commented. "The stage is being set. Physiological and biochemical transition has already begun. Yet it is not too late to turn back."
"Our mission is an ethical one," Serassan insisted, "a merciful one. There are those who would directly interfere with Earth's politics. We and other members in the Federation have been fighting to keep the perpetrators from meeting their goals. It is not as though we are changing anything."
"This entire situation is so volatile." The Preejhna shook her head sadly. "I suppose you are right. We must do our part to help, even though we risk so much."
"What do we risk?" demanded Serassan.
"Eventually we will have their trust, commander."
"Then, to be sure we have it, none of us must show weakness." The Preejhna's voice became harsh. "If the Terrans suspect that our intentions are dishonorable..."
Serassan jumped up from his seat. "How can you say that? We are giving a chosen number of otherwise damned..."
"That is all," interrupted the Preejhna. "I did not intend to start an argument. Leave with this advice. Any guide who uses this mission as a vent for his sexual frustrations must answer to the high command."
Without further comment, the tall Estronian departed. Preejhna Chiyuub watched the hatch close behind him. She suspected the helmsman of harboring an amused reaction, but as she probed for his thoughts she found he had instinctively blocked his mind.
What happens when a beautiful concert pianist is abducted out of the restroom of the coliseum --
and the memory is completely wiped from her memory -- and implanted with a triggering device that will affect her within 12 hours?
To order INTIMATE ABDUCTION contact the author, Ann Carol Ulrich or...
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