Planet Woman

By Judith Rook

Sci-Fi

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662
34 mins

Chapter 1

“When the envoy arrives, you will simply have to be here! You’ll have to let the others get on with the job for a little while. It’s not much to ask. You can’t not meet him. You’re a Claibrook-Merjolaine, for Circe’s sake! Do you think he’ll take us seriously if he thinks that the younger generation isn’t involving itself in diplomacy? Just for one or two weeks you can get out of those unisuits and put on some frocks. I won’t even ask you to go shopping. Thank goodness that we’re a match in size and I know what’s being worn, even if you’ve forgotten what taste and style mean.”
Tethyn’s mother was in full voice.
“He wants to see Pengethlyn, and you know that as the young female of the family it’s your job to do the showing. Goodness knows, I’ve done it often enough myself, but only for other Circeans. I suppose it’s time for an off-planet person to visit an allocation, but I hope this envoy is better than that very unpleasant man from Sappho who put in a request two years ago and got turned down. Circe knew what she was doing in his case.
“Things were very different in my day and in your grandmother’s too. Envoys from First Home used to come here on holiday. They only pretended to see that we were still keeping the Rule, but it’s different this time. Your father and Borto say that it’s serious. Well, maybe something’s serious but not as serious as you not being here to meet him and do the official rounds with all the others.”
Tethyn could see her mother’s point. She knew that she wasn’t the only person in their survey group who was being pulled home to take on the duties for which they were all trained, duties which involved keeping happy whatever visitors honoured the planet with their attention, but Tethyn hated the thought of leaving her work, even for the short duration of a diplomatic visit.
They were still not a large population – only forty millions scattered on one of three continents – but, thanks to the parthobots which had made an extremely surprising appearance early on in the planet-forming days, they had a communication system which was almost instantaneous over whatever distance you chose, and it was only a matter of a few seconds and very little effort to be in touch with whoever you wanted to be in touch with.
She’d call Rayanna as soon as her mother finished, but meanwhile she had to stay and listen and make promises. Then she might be able to leave again for the camp, even if it was only to close it down for two weeks, although it looked as though it might be longer, the way her mother was going on.
“The reports say that the envoy is bringing a female companion, but it can’t be his wife because he’s not married, so perhaps she’s just the latest sex interest. They say he’s incredibly exacting and knows the Rule from beginning to end and won’t compromise on a single provision. Your father and Borto are not looking forward to being in the Council for days at a time, showing his people the records, but it lets me and others off that particular hook, so I’m not grumbling.”
“But why won’t you be in the Council, and what about Aunt Mallie, and Cousin Bettine?”
“The reports say he’s a traditional; you know, men for councils, women for decoration and all types of stimulation . . . that sort of rubbish.”
Tethyn wrinkled her nose in distaste. Traditionals were not unknown on Circe, but they tended to live their lives somewhat apart and didn’t take on important tasks. If the envoy was like the home-grown model, he might be good looking, he would probably be wealthy, he would definitely be indolent, and altogether he would be a person to spend the absolute minimum of time around. But she would have to spend at least some time with him; it was required. How she wished that she didn’t belong to a foundation house. All she wanted to do was to spend her time with her friends, expanding her work, finding the new surprises which the planet constantly produced.
“Well, I don’t suppose I can get out of it,” she declared, pulling herself to her feet. “So I’ll go back to camp and arrange things for a half close. That’ll give me three to four weeks here, but not a moment longer than four weeks. You and the Council will have to organise his timetable to get the most action out of the least amount of days.”
Her mother looked pleased. Organising things was her hobby. She did it well, very well, but on a planet of such small population, her scope was limited. Visitors from other places were meat and drink to her, and she often dipped into family finances to amuse and entertain the people she grew to like. Artona tended to like most people, and her husband, Mordallen, grumbled sometimes, but big entertainment projects were not many, and one of the Rules said that you couldn’t simply send a spacer to pick up a theatre troupe and bring them to Circe for a month. Everything that happened on the planet had to be agreed to and mainly provided by the planet. That was what the Rule was about, and Tethyn liked the Rule. She approved of it. They all did; even if her mother sighed for exhibitions from First Home.
An envoy sent with such high level formality by First Home wasn’t usual, and Tethyn had discussed the arrival with her brother, whom she liked and respected. Bortrand was two years older, tall, dark haired with brown eyes but fair complexioned. Although he was quite hard of body with a naturally strong build, he was also lithe and energetic. He was also nice to be around, dependable, and attractive in a comfortable, solid sort of way; at least that’s what his sister’s best friend had told him. Borto was very clever at agricultural planning, which was his job, and as a side-line he knew a great deal about the planetary system they belonged to and a certain amount about the one they had come from as colonists, long ago.
Physically, Tethyn wasn’t very like any of her immediate family, but on her first visit to Pengethlyn, the Claibrook-Merjolaine house allocation, her mother had shown her a two-dimensional image of a young woman of perhaps eight hundred years ago; a portrait painted by a human artist, not one drawn from the planet’s memory. It had been an older Tethyn, but still Tethyn, almost down to the last detail. Not over-tall but not short either, rather wide shoulders for a woman, a figure that curved in the accepted places, and a face which called for attention. From eyes looking down to a flower that she held rather than outwards to an observer, the girl sent a challenge to the world: ‘Think what you will. I am this, and I like it.’
The features seemed to spring away from the straight nose rather than clustering round it. The mouth was full and only slightly curved, but the planes of the cheeks, just hovering on pink, reflected the soft rise and fall of the narrow eyebrows. The eyes held finely blended shades of blue and green and were long-lashed and widely placed. The maker of the image must have been greatly skilled because the subtleties of the hair were complex and difficult to follow. He had wound a green fillet into the short curls, a type of blonde in colour and looking, as did Tethyn’s own curls, as though they might not need frequent trimming.
“Champagne,” said her mother, “but with highlights.” She peered closely at the image. “I’ve been coming here ever since I turned fifteen and the hair seems to change every time I see it. I swear that I’ve never noticed that curl before.” She pointed, then stepped back. “One simply has to marvel about genes. They keep popping up, and these have certainly popped up in you.”
This particular collection of genes listened to her brother with attention.
“I know Circe wants more contact with First Home,” he said, “and she asked the Council to arrange this diplomatic visit, but it could mean an increase of First Home interest, even interference. We don’t need outsiders thinking that they understand the Rule better than we do, although we gave them the right to run periodic checks because they helped us in the early years. The trouble now is that they look at our uninhabited continents and they get hungry.”
“They wouldn’t even try!” said Tethyn. “They learned a lesson fifty years ago when those commercial interests tried to take over on Sappho. The planet simply kicked them off. They couldn’t eat the food, they could only drink water; those two cities they started building came down quickly in earthquakes, with nobody hurt, they couldn’t get their machines to operate. No! No one can take over a mind planet. It just won’t happen.”
“Wait and see,” said Borto darkly, “and be ready for a change.”
On her way out of the home compound, Tethyn called in at her apartment and opened a contact to Rayanna. She was pleased when her friend answered. She must have got through her particular family conference quickly.
“I’m going back to camp. It’ll have to go into half close. Can you come and help?”
“Oh, yes, please! I’ve got to get out of here. Do you know what they’ve got planned? No you don’t, how could you? You won’t believe this, but they’re going to send me back with the envoy when he returns. I’m going there for a few weeks to see if I might be happy breeding with someone from First Home for First Home. If I say yes, and if my partner insists on a full breeding contract, I could be staying there until after the second child.”
“What? No way! What about your training? You’re not completely through yet. What about our projects? And a stranger? What if you can’t stand him? Your family can’t do this! Anyway, the planet won’t let them.”
“It’s already agreed. Father put the idea through the Council and there’s been no negative feedback from Circe. She obviously agrees with it. I’ll have a few choices, apparently, so I’ll probably not be utterly miserable, and all being well, I’ll be back in four years.
“Mother told me that transferring the genes off-planet will be a good thing for everyone. Actually, I’m surprised that you’re not involved. I’ve been checking with the team, and three others will be sent to First Home with me. Oh, it’s all too much. I just don’t want to think about it. Let’s go back to camp, at least for a little while. I’ll meet you at the base station in . . . about an hour?”
“An hour’s fine,” replied Tethyn numbly, breaking the contact. She looked round the familiar room where she had spent so many hours, over so many years, with her friend. What was happening? What was this visit by an unknown envoy going to do to her life?

Three days later Tethyn was back. The survey camp had been carefully mothballed; all the records had been brought up to date, the equipment sterilised and packed away and the parthobots had been sent back into their wild state. She’d dropped Rayanna off at her home, much larger than the one belonging to Tethyn’s family, each promising that they would make an effort to meet for some personal time together during the envoy’s visit, but suspecting that their contact probably would be restricted to functions, outings of various descriptions and the sport and cultural arenas.
“On top of everything else, I’ll have to get ready to leave,” groaned Rayanna. “And I’ll tell you what, Tethyn, I will see you on my last evening, no matter what the family has arranged. In fact, I’m going to tell them that right now, as soon as I get in. I’m not going without saying a proper goodbye to my best friend, and they can like it or lump it!”
“A sister promise,” said Tethyn solemnly. “Breakable only by death!” declared her friend, completing their favourite adolescent ritual.
Climbing out of the transport, battered and dusty from the camp, Rayanna passed through the huge gates which swung open at her approach and entered a luxury vehicle, from which she gave Tethyn a despondent wave as it swung off towards the great house in the near distance.
Well, that really settled it for Borto, thought Tethyn. At one time her brother had half hoped for Rayanna as his wife one day, but she was just that little bit out of his reach. Tethyn’s father liked the simple life and hadn’t bothered too much about gathering large amounts of wealth which, while not very important on Circe itself, nevertheless had big power elsewhere among the planetary communities.
She sighed as she ran the transport into a corner of the large hangar, concealed within the hillside behind the compound, and sighed again as she passed towards the door leading to her apartment.
On the other side of her three rooms lay her garden, beautiful with flowers, trees and great ferns, all planet bred and all planted and tended by Tethyn ever since she was moved out of her parents’ domain at the age of seventeen. That had been twelve years ago and now, with the help of the family gardeners, she had produced a peaceful place in which there were paths and moving water, benches carefully set and relaxing shade.
She’d heard the first dinner bell as she went through her door, but she had no intention of dressing for the family meal. She hadn’t been warned of any guests, and there would be enough of formality in the days to come. She would just allow herself a brief moment of relaxation in the soothing calm of the garden, then a quick wash and brush, and that would be enough for the first night home.
A short time later, lying on her favourite cushioned bench, listening to the sounds of water playing all around her, eyes half closed against the quietly setting sun, Tethyn could see the shapes of the larger plants. Lovely plants, familiar plants, plants which moved . . .!
Her eyes snapped open but her body remained still, shocked into immobility by the sight of a dark figure standing only a few paces away, against the sun, features obscured. But nothing could obscure the power which spilled from this intruder. It was male, it was tall, it was elegant and it commanded. It stood with legs slightly apart, arms folded in complete control, head tilted slightly back as it assessed the person on the seat before it. Then, with a half bow the figure moved on but turned to look back, features still unseen, projecting an attention which Tethyn found almost unbearable.
All through the few brief moments she had been incapable of movement. The encounter had left her breathless, heart beating violently, trembling. It was as though she’d been confronted by a jailer, her fate decided, all personal control removed. It had been horrible! Who was the figure? What was he doing in her garden?
Quickly, she rose from the bench, almost running to her rooms. She closed the long glassed doors behind her, drew the curtains across, and sat down to gather herself together. The encounter had disturbed her deeply, but her mind was already offering explanations; basically, that she was upset by her three days spent with Rayanna, closing down the camp and facing the prospect that her friend was leaving. She was old enough to know that nothing goes on forever, but she and Rayanna had been friends from their earliest childhood and had planned to be matrons together. They’d even picked each other’s husbands from time to time, and never thought that they might one day be separated.
She had already been unsettled, and this stranger had been an intrusion, another disturbance of her pleasant, secure world. He had found his way into her garden, into her special, private place, where even her father and Borto wouldn’t venture without invitation, although her mother wandered in and out whenever she felt like it; he had looked at her as though he owned her.
The question was; whoever he might be, how had he got in? Father needed to know. Quickly making herself sufficiently clean and neat she entered the ante-room just as the fifteen minute bell sounded. Strange that father wasn’t already waiting. He usually liked to go in well before the meal and read the evening summaries. Mother too would often join him while Tethyn and Borto would usually dash in just before the dining room opened.
But this evening, she was the first. If Father didn’t come in soon, she’d have to wait until after the meal to talk to him. She wandered across to the summary screen. She might as well see if anything had been heard about the envoy’s formal arrival, which was expected to be in two days’ time. He was in fact already here, his ship having entered orbit three days ago, since when very little had been heard, and nothing had been seen of him. Activating the screen, her eyes on the headlines which said something about ‘An Unknown Quantity’ she heard someone come into the room. Father, probably, or Borto. She would have heard her mother from outside.
“Look,” she said in an amused voice, “it looks as though they’ve got the envoy’s number all right.” Then, turning away from the screen, “Well, the sooner he arrives the sooner he’ll . . .”
Tethyn had been trained not to reveal surprise or register shock.
“Nothing must show,” said her mother, “nothing but the very faintest of questions. It’s a very good thing about your eyebrows.”
In that terrible moment when she realised that the other person in the room was neither her father, mother nor brother but the stranger from the garden, no indication of emotion escaped Tethyn, apart from a slight lifting of her right eyebrow below a hardly detectable wrinkling of her smooth forehead.
The man standing before her appeared in the same clothes he had worn in the garden, a wide-sleeved black jacket cut to mid-thigh over a simple, understated but clearly hand-made shirt of the finest white linen, and black, precision tailored trousers. The shirt had a high collar, embroidered in cream silk, with symbols which, Tethyn had learned at school, depicted status in the complex community of First Home. As though one needed to advertise, she had thought with scorn.
Well, what was to be done? Protocol insisted that she be presented formally to any male stranger by a member of her immediate family. But no one was here. She should leave the room and return with a relative in tow but the stranger annoyed her, and she decided not to move.
He stood, completely at ease, with a small smile playing around his straight, firm mouth. His face was long, oval in shape with sharp cheek bones, strong, slightly curved nose, deeply set dark eyes and a faintly olive skin. The forehead was wide and high, and his black hair, cut short and smooth, rounded off the effect of elegance and wealth. The man must have been in his late thirties, perhaps eight years older than Tethyn, but in manner and self-possession he was practiced and experienced, and he made her feel gauche.
No, not gauche, she told herself crossly, natural. This person, this intruder, was as artificial, as affected as anyone could be. But my, he was good to look at, very good indeed, better than anyone she had seen or partnered before, and he was not a Circean; that was more than clear. Who was he?
A dreadful thought entered her mind. It must have caused her expression to change because the stranger laughed outright, stepped forward, took her right hand firmly into his, raised it to his lips, breathed on it once, his eyes fixed on hers, then released it again into her possession.
Stepping back, he executed the same small bow he had given her in the garden.
“Lewis Ardien Brock of the High Forest, at your service Demazel, Envoy Extraordinary of First Home to the planet Circe.” He raised his dark eyebrows in question.
“Tethyn Claibrook-Merjolaine at your command respected Envoy.” Tethyn’s answering curtsy was a graceful, elegant movement, giving away nothing but formal deference. The man’s eyebrows rose again in appreciation and the small, slightly sardonic smile returned to his lips.
“I have always thought that curtsies, when made by the young female, are best performed in a full gown. It is not necessary then to perceive the placement of the legs, but I believe that your execution leaves nothing at all to be concealed, rather the opposite. It would be a pleasure to see the movement repeated. Perhaps I may give you cause?” He stepped forward, taking her hand again.
Tethyn, suddenly and unaccountably furious with him for his casual presumption, tried to pull free, but she was surprised by his strength and found herself helpless. He began to draw her to him. Thankfully, remembering her mother’s early lessons about men and their sudden impulses, she simply relaxed, turning her hand and arm into a resistance-less jelly. As a put-off it was up there with the demurely turned cheek. It had worked very well on more than one occasion in the past, and it didn’t fail her now.
He stopped smiling; his eyebrows became level again, and he looked at her sharply from beneath them, giving her hand a rather painful squeeze before releasing it.
“I see that my politeness is unwelcome. I apologise. Shall we perhaps be seated and read what your editors have to say about my visit?”
He indicated a double settee then watched the screen in silence for a few moments while Tethyn sat stiffly beside him.
“It is not to eat little children, you know.”
“Eat little . . .?” Tethyn stared at him then broke into laughter just as her mother came into the room, closely followed by her father and Borto.
“Tethyn! Why did you not come for me? I fear the envoy must think we are very badly mannered.”
“Madame,” declared the man, rising to his feet, “I can assure you that my entertainment by your daughter has been delightful. We must both apologise for ignoring the protocols and introducing ourselves, but since we are informal this evening, perhaps we may be excused.”
“All the same,” said Mordallen, raising his daughter from where she had been seated next to the envoy, and removing her to a single chair, “Tethyn knows she is at fault. She knows that one of us should have presented her to you.”
“Sir,” said the envoy, bowing more deeply, “the fault can only be mine. You must forgive the ignorance of a person who wishes only to be at ease with those whom he meets on this beautiful and very strange planet. I have rarely seen anything so lovely as Circe appears from high orbit.”
“From your ship?” asked Borto. “I heard that you’ve brought your own spacer. Will you bring it down?”
“It will remain in orbit and be the home of myself and my entourage while we are here. Shuttles will carry us between the ship and the planet.”
He was clever, thought Tethyn, and so was Borto. Together they had deflected her father’s annoyance, but underneath the envoy’s smooth diplomacy she felt watchfulness and caution. And he was strong in body. She remembered the second grasp of her hand and how she had suddenly wanted to be weak. She also remembered the feeling of being powerless as he looked at her in the garden.

Chapter 2

At the end of the evening, alone again and in her bedroom, Tethyn thought about the dinner and what she had learned about the envoy. Clearly, for some reason, he had sought out her father, and that troubled her because Mordallen was a retiring man; pleasant, intelligent, able to be assertive when necessary, but essentially quiet. He took his place periodically on the Council as was expected, but he never sought a follow on, whereas his sister, Tethyn’s Aunt Malinda, relished all her memberships and always tried to run to a second two-year term.
So why had the envoy selected Mordallen Claibrook-Merjolaine as his first informal contact? Over dinner he had subtly suggested that this personal visit should not be mentioned widely among their friends, and her father had nodded in agreement. He had said something clever about having heard about the excellence of his host’s Circean fermentations, but there was more to it than that, much more, and the way he was treating two intelligent women was despicable.
Tethyn decided that a word of concern to her father might not be out of order, and she made a mental note to seek him out early tomorrow and invite him to spend half an hour with her in the garden. After tomorrow no one would have time for any close talks until the envoy left. Goodness knew how many people he might have brought with him. Apparently his spacer was massive, ran on the latest meta-light drive and could carry six discovery teams, with all their equipment.
However, she had decided that she wouldn’t be very deeply involved in the activities after all. His traditionalist attitudes, coming out ever more strongly as the dinner progressed, had repelled her and although the citizens of Circe in general might be able to put up with them for a few days, Tethyn had resolved to side-step the envoy and his people to the absolute possible limit.
For Circe’s sake! He’d almost simpered when he told them that women were delightful creatures, far too precious to be wasted in executive meetings, making decisions about infra-structure, when they would be far more effective, and happier, keeping the social network running smoothly. When she had asked him, carefully and politely under her father’s gaze, why that should be, he had answered that men weren’t as clever as women at personalities and tact. After that observation, Tethyn had not troubled to conceal her dislike of his opinions, to such an extent that her mother had delivered a swift kick to her ankle, well hidden by the long table cover.
But then, Tethyn noticed that when Borto asked about manufacturing in one of the countries on First Home, the envoy did his own bit of side-stepping and avoided giving any exact information, leaving her unsure if that particular country existed at all.
There was more to this envoy than met the eye, but after an evening spent in his company, in Tethyn’s opinion, he couldn’t leave soon enough. The only problem was that in four days’ time she was scheduled to take him to view the Claibrook-Merjolaine allocation, and that would mean an excursion of three days, with two overnight camps, possibly a third. Why couldn’t another house have been chosen? Perhaps mother would take on the responsibility; but she didn’t think that would happen.
Ah well, time for sleep. Tomorrow would be the last quiet day before all the fuss started. She’d go to the survey base and do necessary repairs to some of the equipment.

Tomorrow didn’t work out exactly as Tethyn had planned. Immediately following breakfast she looked for her father, but he had gone off early. Instead, mother pounced, insisting on organising Tethyn’s wardrobe for every day of the visit.
“Mother! I really don’t mind if you do it; I really don’t. Just arrange everything and leave me a list. Your taste is much better than mine. There’s absolutely no need for me to be here.”
Apparently there was a need, and Tethyn saw almost the whole morning pass before her mother closed the last of the cupboard doors with a triumphant: “There you are! Complete clothes for a month, except for the Pengethlyn trip, with weather variables, and a cleaning schedule. Make the most of it, and I hope you’ve learned something this morning. You’ll thank me for it one day.”
Stimulated by the thought of a job so well done, the older woman walked briskly out of the room, while Tethyn sagged on the bed, exhausted.
Her contact opened in the next room, her dayroom. “Call for Demazel Tethyn Claibrook-Merjolaine from the envoy visiting from First Home,” followed by a short passage of unrecognised but not unpleasant music.
Unbelievable! Couldn’t the man take a hint? She heard the introduction repeat before she could make herself move. She should have left the contact in the ‘not at home’ mode, but she’d forgotten. She activated the screen but what appeared was not the patrician face of the envoy but of a slightly younger, cheerful-looking man with a generous mouth, straight nose, brown eyes and long and wavy auburn hair.
“Greetings to Demazel Claibrook-Merjolaine!”
“I am here. What can I do for you?”
“The envoy wishes to know what are your planned activities for this afternoon and early evening.”
“What are my . . .?” Only training restrained her from downright rudeness. “Please tell the envoy that I am committed to essential maintenance activity associated with my work, which will extend well into the evening.”
“Oh.” The face looked blank. “Oh, I see. Well, could you let me know where you’ll be? I think the envoy would like to see you. You’re taking him on a special trip in four days, aren’t you, and I think he has some questions.”
“I’m sure the envoy could give you a list of the questions, or send it through on the communication beam. I’ll be pleased to answer them. Is there anything else?”
The face still looked blank. “I’m supposed to suggest an early dinner somewhere quiet, so that Lew . . . the envoy won’t be recognised, although he hasn’t really arrived yet. I brought him down early this morning, but he’ll be back at the shuttle base mid-afternoon and then he’ll have time to see you. Can’t I tell him where you’ll be?”
“I’m sorry, Mr . . . ?”
“Oh, I’m Carter Brock, his cousin, another one of the High Forests.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Brock, but there’s no point telling the envoy where I’ll be, because I have a lot to do and I’ll probably not have time for dinner. But please thank the envoy for his kind invitation. Now, perhaps you’ll excuse me, but please do send the questions across.”
She broke the contact with a certain feeling of satisfaction. Deportment practice paid off sometimes. She hoped that Carter would remember everything she’d said. He seemed a nice sort of person.
Leaving the compound a short time later she encouraged the camp transport out of the hangar and climbed into it, wearing one of her unisuits; comfortable, durable, the best of all garments when work meant frequent use of often dirty machinery of different sizes and types.
The survey base was in the middle of Bygard, Circe’s main city, and the drive there was long enough for her annoyance with the envoy to fade completely and her mind turn to the things important to her, important to the planet. Letting herself into the large but deserted workshop she felt the familiar sense of excitement and anticipation, even though she was nowhere near her current survey area. She wouldn’t find any new emergences in this city installation; no novel forms of human artefacts reproduced by the planet, and no parthobots would dance for her in the evening light, but she would do valuable work, work needed for when she returned to the survey camp.
Her thoughts turned to Rayanna. Although Tethyn could imagine doing nothing else in her life but survey, Rayanna had become a locator more to be with her friend than for reasons of genuine self-fulfilment. Of course, Rayanna was successful in her work. Any member of one of the foundation houses, those families which had first encountered the independent life of the planet and had been accepted and infected by it, would be a locator of the first rank, the planet itself would see to that.
But Rayanna had always held a wider perspective than Tethyn and was fascinated by other planets and their peoples. She would read scholarly articles and view steamy holovids with the same enthusiastic appetite. It all spilled over towards Tethyn, who as a result was not as ignorant as she might have been regarding the other settled planets within their solar system.
Also, she was not ignorant of the breeding and rearing responsibility which was expected of young Circeans between their twenty-third and thirty-fifth years, although those limits were flexible. The point was that at some time in their healthy hey-day, the young women and men of Circe were obliged to produce at least one child each as a replacement, and possibly a second for expansion.
Apart from that cold statistical fact, the field was wide open, and relationships between the sexes were as varied and as fascinating as they had ever been since the keeping of the first planet records. It was true that if Rayanna had to interrupt her work in order to produce, she would not be as devastated about it as Tethyn would be. But people with a recognised and vital vocation could put off the responsibility until the last moment, and Tethyn was looking for at least another five years as a locator before child-bearing and infant rearing.
Meanwhile, the dusty old transport itself needed her first attention. It had lost some plates and antennas, the power transmission wasn’t working as well as it should, and it had picked up a fungus that might or might not be a problem. The planet wasn’t perfect, and bio-analysis was an essential part of a locator’s skill. So, she had plenty to do, beginning with a good hose down with a slightly caustic solution.
She covered the unisuit with a larger, more protective garment, and a full-head mask hid her face. Setting the correct liquid proportions, and holding the heavy nozzle firmly in her grasp she began the careful spraying process, singing to herself in contentment as she moved around the long vehicle. The job took time because the transport was large, but patiently she cleaned it until all that was left were the tail fins. This was the easiest part, the fun part.
She disconnected the tap carrying the caustic solution then, standing at a good distance to the rear of the vehicle, with legs set firmly apart for stability, she turned up the water pressure. Woo-hoo!! The hose took on a life of its own. It tried to worm itself out of her hands, it tried to drench her with spray, but she was in control and the water gushed over the tail fins with a satisfying roar. It was mesmerising and enjoyable, her favourite moment in the whole process.
The arms which came around her, the hands which seized the nozzle, wrenching it from her grasp, closing the flow valve, shocked her out of her half-dream. She found herself pulled back against a hard body, one arm across her shoulders, the other around her waist, a deep voice was saying something that she couldn’t hear, but it sounded as though it might be angry. She struggled to free herself from the strong clasp but was unable to move. For one moment, she felt enclosed, controlled, helpless.
“. . . such stupidity! I had thought you to be more intelligent.”
Immediately she knew who held her, and with an energetic spasm she kicked backward, not connecting with his legs, but shifting her balance so that her weight pulled her out of the envoy’s arms. Swiftly springing away towards the transport she swung to face the intruder.
The voice had sounded angry, but the face that confronted her was almost bland, showing only the slightest of frowns, but she saw him straightening his clothes and brushing off water. At least she’d put him off balance, and that pleased her in a silly, childish way. At a safe distance, near the exit door, she saw her brother.
She tore off her mask. “Borto!” she shouted. “What do you mean by this? Did you bring him here?”
This was Tethyn’s place; here she was in charge, and Borto knew it. Approaching the transport cautiously he began to apologise, but not to her, the idiot, to the envoy!
“I’m incredibly sorry, sir. I should have warned you. Tethyn always . . .”
“Borto, you incomprehensible clot, shut up, and take him away!”
Here, she could be rude. Here, no one came in unless they played by her rules. Here, she could kick out anyone she didn’t like.
“The door’s over there. Close it behind you.” She began walking to the front of the transport, unfastening her outer protective clothing.
“Teth . . .” Borto’s voice held something strange – a warning? “Teth, father said that I should bring the envoy here. He needs to speak to you, and since you wouldn’t say where you’d gone, well – I knew where you’d be – and here we are.”
Kicking off the over-boots, Tethyn breathed heavily. “For goodness’ sake! All right! I’ll speak to the envoy.”
She placed the wet clothing on a drying rack then turning round, she saw her brother making for the exit door.
“Where do you think you’re going? You’ll have to take him back.”
“As for my return,” the envoy’s voice was smooth now, suave and self-possessed, “I hope that I may depend upon your good nature.”
“My good nature?” Tethyn’s eyes widened in disbelief. Then she thought; then she grinned.
“All right, Borto,” she called. “I’ll see that the envoy gets back in one piece.”
As her brother left, Tethyn led the way into a large area, separated from the rest of the workshop by half-glassed partitions. Inside was a large table on which stood relief models of survey camps, and small devices, some whole, some taken apart. On the walls were charts and maps, all carefully placed, obviously treated with respect; along one wall a set of container shelves held recording cubes and monitors of various sizes, and opposite there was a laboratory bench supporting a wide range of equipment.
“Planning and Testing,” said Tethyn briefly. “There are chairs.”
She indicated a chair on one side of the table then took her place on the opposite side. The seats were at the very end, and Tethyn frowned as the envoy calmly moved his chair so that he could sit more closely to her, across the corner of the table.
“I see you had to ask for my father’s help.” Tethyn took the offensive, but the envoy countered with his own attack.
“Do you think I would have pursued the matter if it had not been important? After your rebuff I could have withdrawn any interest in you completely and finally.” There was silence while Tethyn registered this. “In fact,” the deep voice continued, “I may even have forgotten to request a formal dance with you at your mother’s ball.”
Tethyn stared at him in amazement. Was that a put-down, or did the man have a sense of humour? If he did, it wasn’t one that she understood.
“However, there is a matter which must be clarified if our visit to your family’s allocation is to be successful, and there is something which I would much prefer to present to you in person, rather than as an item on a list.”
“Please.” She wasn’t about to make things easy for him, but he seemed undisturbed and settled himself more comfortably.
“I regret that at dinner yesterday evening I gave offence over some matters. It was not intentional, but neither was it avoidable. The ways of our two planets are very different, and my thoughts and reflexes are conditioned by First Home attitudes. And I make no apology for what happened just now. You were foolish. A limb could easily have been broken. I have no wish for my . . .” he broke off and looked carefully into her face.
“Your what, Envoy?” Tethyn’s voice was cold.
He laughed, leaning back in his chair, “. . . my excursion into your strange world to be in the hands of a person whom I may not know.”
“But I’m afraid you don’t know me. You don’t know me at all.”
“No, I don’t, do I?” the envoy replied in a thoughtful voice. “And I believe I ought to do something about that. I should know more of a person who tells a planetary envoy to leave her workshop and shouts insults at her brother. I really should. What did you call him? An incomprehensible clot?” The firm but full lips twitched slightly.
“I was annoyed.” She was still annoyed, but this time with herself. He was playing some sort of game, and she was following.
“Well, shall we both try to set aside our differences for a time and draw some lines which we can both follow on our expedition?”
Tethyn thought, then nodded slowly. This was better. This was practical.
“The first thing must be names. Between us, and among friends, I would like you to use my familiar name, Lewis, and if I may, I would be honoured to be allowed the use of your familiar name. I would very much like to say ‘Tethyn’ instead of ‘Demazel’.”
His charm was irresistible, and that’s all that it was – charm. Charm she could handle and she allowed herself to smile at him.
“The honour would be mine, Envoy.” He frowned, but if he could play games, so could she. “I agree that we should appear to be at ease with each other. The way into my family’s allocation is not always easy and tensions between people can emerge quickly, and over the slightest matter. The catering team is highly experienced, though, and Borto and I have no difficulty with each other.”
“Ah, then your aide will be your brother. That is good. I find him an interesting and likeable person. But will you not take with you a female companion?”
“Whatever for? There are two women on the catering team. I’ve worked with them many times.”
“But you should have a selected companion, to meet the proprieties. I wondered . . . possibly your colleague and friend, Demazel Hardwick-Bering. Her father has agreed to release her from other activities for the period of the excursion.”
“Just a minute! I don’t care what you’ve agreed with Rayanna’s father. I decide about the excursion, and you should realise by now that your proprieties and ours are not exactly the same. It will be completely proper, in Circe’s opinion, for Borto to be my only companion, as you put it.”
“But not in the eyes of First Home; and my every move will be scrutinised carefully and reported there in remarkable detail. I am afraid that a female companion will be an absolute necessity . . . Tethyn.” He smiled at her in his turn.
For a moment Tethyn studied him in silence. What the man called ‘proprieties’ were clearly important in his society, and after all, he was only here on a diplomatic mission which would be over in a month. Surely she could relax on some things.
“All right; it’ll be nice to have Rayanna along. I’d better let the catering team know as quickly as possible. We’ll need more supplies.” She pulled a loose piece of paper towards her, found a pen stuck between two small circulators and began writing.
“Perhaps you will also let them know there will be two more persons joining us, from my side, as well as my official aide, who will be the cousin whom you have already met, Carter.”
“Two more . . .?”
“There is a lady, a connection of mine. She desires to be with me on this trip into your beautiful country, and she too must bring a female companion.”
Delicately, Tethyn replaced the pen on the table. If she was careful, she could hold herself in check, if she was careful.
“Envoy . . .” the dark man frowned, “I’m sorry . . . Lewis, I’ve just got to say this. On an excursion there is only one leader, and on an excursion to my house allocation, that leader has to be me. It can’t be Borto, although he is the older sibling. It has to be me because I’m the female. It’s the way the planet likes things.”
The envoy bowed slightly, looking interested.
“That means that I make all the decisions, not only while we’re on the way but also all the decisions involved in the preparation. Four of us – you and your aide, Borto and me – are what I have planned for, and what the caterers are preparing for. You have added Rayanna, who at least is experienced, but now you want to bring in two extra, inexperienced people. Don’t you see what this means? And with only three more days before we set off?”
“I am sure that your resourcefulness will be sufficient to meet the added demands. The two ladies will accompany me.” There was finality in his voice.
All right; he’d closed the matter and the caterers would cope with the extra numbers, although there would be five vehicles now instead of three, but his arrogance was sickening.
“There, then,” the envoy said, leaning back, relaxing, “that has been well settled, and if anything should go seriously amiss, you will be able to consult your father and your brother.”
Arrogance? Why not include acute sexism as well? She looked at him and a smile, a slow smile of enjoyment to come, began to play around her lips.
Lewis sat up. “What is behind that smile?”
“Oh nothing, Env . . . Lewis, nothing at all. I’m just looking forward to the excursion.”
He sat back again, regarding her with narrowed eyes, but saying nothing.
Tethyn rose to her feet, tucking her notes into a pocket. “If there’s nothing else, we should probably be thinking of getting back. But you’ll have to give me just a few moments to collect some samples and get them started before the next shift comes on tomorrow. You can stay here; I won’t be long.”
But the envoy didn’t stay where he was. Following Tethyn into the workshop he watched as she climbed onto the rear platform of the transport before jumping up easily to join her. She looked at him in annoyance, but silently opened the door into the cab and ducked through. The fungus had not stuck to the outside of the vehicle. It had been discovered in the fabric of the control seats, meaning that someone had carried it in on their unisuit. Its origin had to be traced, and the place to begin was with an identifying sample. She bent over one of the seats, found a fungus patch and straightened, digging into her pocket for sample bottles.
From behind, the arms came round her again, hard and steady. The envoy had followed her into the cab and, unbelievably, seemed to be making a sex approach to her. His breath on her cheek, close to the corner of her mouth, was a caress.
“Be careful, Tethyn, my dear, we wouldn’t want you to be falling into my arms, would we?” His hands moved gently to her shoulders and neck and she shivered.
Then, furious once again, she wrenched herself away.
“I think that the Envoy is mistaken.” Was that her voice, shaking? Now she was furious with herself. “I was merely looking for my sample bottles.”
She held out a hand to show the bottles and swabs, held together in a sterile packet. Gently he took her hand in both of his, bottles included, raised it to his mouth and kissed the tips of her fingers, one by one. Then, moving an arm, he took her around the waist, drawing her to him so that their bodies met.
“No!” she gasped, appalled. “You mustn’t . . . !”
His mouth came down on hers, warm, insistent, searching; weakness overcame her and for one single moment she lost control and responded to him. But almost immediately the remembrance of duty returned, and she stiffened. Reacting to her clear signal, Lewis slowly broke his close embrace but kept a firm hold on her, looking deeply into her eyes.
With a light touch he laid his hand on her chest until he could feel her heart beating then, smiling quietly, he released her.
“Samples then.” He stepped back towards the door and watched as she turned, blindly at first, towards the control seats. Thank goodness it was an automatic process for her, and she was able to collect three satisfactory samples before she turned to face him.
“Please do not assault me in that way again.” Her voice was ice. “We will soon be forced into close proximity and I wish to be able to trust to your sense of decency and not always to be on my guard.”
Leaning with his back against the closed door and with arms folded, he looked at her, almost as he had studied her in the garden. Finally, he nodded, pushing himself upright.
“I may not deny myself the pleasure of a further embrace at some time before I leave, but I give you my word now that during our excursion you may trust me completely.” He opened the door for her.
“Would Borto challenge me if I forgot myself?” he added in an interested voice as she passed through. Tethyn closed her eyes in exasperation, but something told her that the envoy’s word was unbreakable, and that he didn’t give it lightly.
It was only because she was holding the samples in one hand that she allowed him to help her from the platform to the workshop floor, and she lost no time in returning to the test room and setting the samples to grow in petri dishes. She left a note for someone on the next shift, explaining what she’d done and how she probably wouldn’t be around for some days, then turned to the envoy.
“Now I must return you.”
“Return me?” with raised eyebrows.
“Take you back to wherever you came from, take you back to your cousin, I suppose.”
“Not to dinner?”
“Certainly not to dinner, although . . .” a thought struck her. “I am rather hungry, but unfortunately I’m unwashed.” She indicated her unisuit, which showed signs of her afternoon’s work. “However, there’s a place we could walk to, where we can get a sandwich – probably the best sandwich in the city – even in work clothes. But I imagine you’ll want to get back . . .”
“I have one question. How do you propose to return me?”
“Glad you asked.” Tethyn took him to just outside the main door where she pulled open the door of a rickety shed, revealing the transport which she used around the city when she wasn’t in a family vehicle. It was egg-shaped, basically moss green, painted all over with planetary leaves and flowers, and small.
“It carries four people, if you don’t mind knees,” she said.
Lewis regarded the egg solemnly then nodded.
“Will you excuse me for one moment?” He took out a communicator. “Where are we going?”
“It’s called the ‘Warrior Woman’.” The envoy blinked.
Tethyn closed the workshop down while the envoy spoke with someone, probably Carter. “. . . ‘Warrior Woman’ – an odd name,” she heard then: “half an hour, I should think.”
Tethyn smiled wickedly. He wouldn’t last ten minutes if Eva was in one of her manic moods.

Chapter 3

Crossing the small paved area outside the workshop, Tethyn led the envoy into a narrow street, bordered on both sides by the walls of other workshops, small and large.
“Just along here. It’s a converted factory. It used to make metal rivets until they weren’t needed any more and the factory closed down. Now Eva runs it as a café bar. You come in here, and you get to know what’s really happening on the planet, and Eva’s sandwiches are to die for, so long as you buy the ale or one of her coffee creations.” Tethyn giggled and stopped.
“Sorry, I ought to tell you that the name ‘Eva’ actually does mean ‘warrior woman’, and this Eva thinks it suits her, and it’s best not to make comments about what her place is called.”
“What could you mean,” said the envoy, “that metal rivets were not needed any more? I saw rivets holding together parts of the machine you were so dangerously cleaning.”
The man was observant. Tethyn was already suspecting a high level of intelligence. She’d have to be careful.
“We found another material, that’s all. My father or someone else on the Council will be able to tell you the full story; perhaps my mother or my aunt Malinda.”
She couldn’t resist that little tweak of his traditionalist attitudes, and he knew what she was doing. The quick, amused glance that he gave her betrayed him.
They had come abreast of a pair of wide wooden doors, studded with what appeared to be iron nails, six inches across at the head. One of the doors stood open, and from inside a warm yellow light spilled out and the sound of music, based on one of the ancient modes.
“Quiet mood day,” commented Tethyn as they entered. “Pity!” The envoy gave her a questioning look, but followed her in silence.
Inside the large room a crowd of people stood at a long bar or sat at tables. On a slightly raised platform at one end a man played a harp standing on a low bench before him, accompanied by a woman playing pipes with bellows buckled to her arm, and the conversations were courteously subdued. There was a savoury smell in the air, and a general feeling of good fellowship. Lewis looked around in appreciation.
“This seems a pleasant place.”
“It is. Let’s sit and listen to the set. They’re never very long.”
Tethyn steered her companion to an empty table, quietly greeting the people she knew, and waving to others standing at the bar. She sank into a wooden chair with arms while the envoy took its partner then paid complete attention to the haunting music. As she said, it wasn’t long before the pipes died away and the harp grew softer until it faded into silence. The company heaved a collective sigh of appreciation, didn’t applaud, and resumed their conversations at a normal level.
“Teth-een, my maid! You’ve been away too long! You tell this planet to return you here more often or my heart will break. And whom have we here?” The voice was loud, husky, heavily accented, and it got Lewis to his feet. “My, my, but he’s a pretty one. Where did you find him? Chair!”
Another seat materialised at the table, produced by an attendant male, but before the speaker could take it, Lewis sprang into action. Tethyn was overcome with amused admiration. No wonder he had been appointed envoy.
“Madame, in only a few short but intensely memorable moments, my senses have been completely charmed by your establishment; now that I see its proprietor, I know where its presiding spirit resides. Dare I greet you in the manner you command?”
Holding out his hand he waited with eyebrows raised in hope, sighed deeply as Eva’s large hand slapped heartily into his palm, then raised her hand to his lips, giving it a robust kiss on the back.
Eva laughed loudly, shaking her large head so that a few more of her mass of red curls flew out from the heavy golden combs which tried to hold them in place. “A charmer, Teth-een. You’ve got yourself a charmer, my lucky lass. Has he got a name?”
“Some people call me Ardien Wood, Madame, and others . . . something else.” Eva nodded as she settled her large bulk in the chair.
“Sandwiches and . . . ale, coffee?”
“Coffee,” said Tethyn.
“Ale” said Lewis.
Eva waved a hand and the attendant, a man of some fifty years with a notable scar running across one cheek, disappeared.
For the first few minutes the conversation turned to the music. Tethyn had been glad to hear the harpist. He was well known and sought after everywhere on the continent. The envoy seemed to know of him, although his ignorance of the great man’s current performance schedule caused Eva to look at him sharply.
“Well, then, Teth-een, and what are you up to these dark days? The First Home is sending us a man to take us apart, so I have heard. What does Mordallen Cymbar think about it all?” Eva used her father’s pre-married name, before he took on the name of the foundation house which he entered.
“I’m not quite sure, Eva. I don’t see him much,” which was true, “and Mother complains about him being busy all the time. But on the whole I think that both he and Borto are happy about the visit. Perhaps the envoy’s come just to give us a friendly look over and see that the Rule is still being followed.”
“Teth-een, Teth-een, you cause me such sorrow! If you believe that, you’ll believe that fairies have pretty wings, and we all know that they have sharp and nasty teeth.”
The deep voice of the envoy interrupted. “My dear Madame, please excuse my deplorable manners, but I understand that for the moment this lady’s father is obliged to be discreet in the matter of the envoy’s visit. I believe, however, that certain young women may have been invited to spend time on First Home.”
There was a silence. “Wood, is it? I knew a Wood. He was a low Wood, he was, and thought he could cheat me. I let him think, and I took the money he offered, but one day I sent him on his way with a kick that blackened his backside forever.”
The envoy put his head back, laughing heartily. “Madame, I assure you that I am not a low Wood; quite the opposite. To even think of cheating you does unbelievable violence to my tender feelings.”
The large woman began to struggle to her feet. “I don’t know why you brought him here this night, Teth-een my maid, but you can bring him back, and welcome he will be. Or,” addressing herself directly to the envoy, “he can come himself and we will retire, we two, behind a closed door to speak in the way of a man and a woman.”
Tethyn looked at her hostess in amazement. “Eva!”
“Here now is the food coming to you. Eat it and be happy. Be sure that Teth-een tells you about my moods.” With a hearty slap to Lewis’s shoulder and a pinch of Tethyn’s cheek, the imposing woman set off for another table, leaving her chair to be collected by the scar-faced man.
“Lewis, I’m sorry! I don’t know what to say. Eva didn’t mean it . . . she couldn’t mean it. She’s not usually so . . .”Red-faced with embarrassment, Tethyn tried to apologise as the food was set on the table, accompanied by a small note in the shape of a leprechaun mending a shoe and bearing the words: “With the dearest compliments of the Management.”
Lewis was leaning back in his chair, looking thoughtful. “Oh, I think Madame Eva meant it.” He sat up and leaned forward, dropping his voice. “She meant every carefully chosen word. And I must also ask you. Why did you bring me here tonight? Had you planned to do so?”
“Planned . . .? No, it just seemed to be a good idea, and I really was hungry.”
He gazed at her steadily, searchingly then relaxed, smiling at her. “Then eat, Tethyn, my maiden. You do not understand yet what you may have set in motion this evening, but the warrior woman and I will meet again.” Taking his glass of ale, he looked up and shook his head briefly.
Glancing back over her shoulder Tethyn saw what might have been a man with auburn hair disappearing through the main door.
“Your cousin! You didn’t trust me! I might have known! Well, just for that, I insist on driving you in the chicken, and I’m sure that you are far too diplomatic to refuse a lady when she insists.”
Again leaning forward and speaking quietly, but this time in a voice which had thickened, the envoy replied: “I have refused many women in their desires; but you, Tethyn, I would find it almost impossible to refuse. Try not to put me to the test.”
Tethyn’s heart beat violently, and she almost moved away from his intensity. Instead, she carefully drank some coffee, but smiled at the envoy as she put her cup down.
“You’re a very strange man. Well, will you come with me or not?”
“With you, I think.” He seized a sandwich and began to eat. Between them they cleared the large platter, sharing the last one fairly.
Eva had called him a charmer, and she herself had called him affected in the first moments of their first meeting, but now Tethyn was detecting an attractive and natural enthusiasm about the envoy which appealed to her. If he hadn’t been what he was, and if she’d been able to meet him as an ordinary man, she could easily have taken him as a partner. She had a feeling that they might have fit very well together, although her work as a locator usually saw the end of partnerships within a month or so. But even so, a few weeks with this man would have been very pleasant and probably highly stimulating.
What puzzled her was his behaviour, such a short time ago, in the cab of the transport. There he had been insistent and determined. There he had forced upon her a situation he desired. There he had been masterful, and having a master was not part of Tethyn’s personal plan. No, she decided, no master. So, no envoy, no Lewis. Only pretence, and toleration of his strangeness until the time came for him to return to First Home. And she would certainly not be among those young women who would be going along with him.
The decision made, she was able to return his enquiring gaze with a smile. “I think the chicken may be growing impatient. Shall we go?”
She stood, looking around for Eva. Across the other side of the room a substantial arm rose from a close group of people. Returning the wave then blowing a kiss, Tethyn led the envoy into the street. The darkness of full night had arrived as they had sat in the bar and the street lighting was subdued, but further along Tethyn thought she saw the outline of a strange-looking vehicle. “Carter?” she asked, nodding in the car’s direction.
“Probably; if it is, he will follow us. He is my official aide on this mission and has been trained.”
For a moment or two they walked in silence, enjoying the warm air of the night, which, although stirring in the middle of the city, carried scents of the countryside around. A hand, moving on finger-tips down Tethyn’s arm, found her hand and linked its fingers with hers but her mood had become mellow, and she allowed the slight liberty. It seemed impossible to pin the envoy down to predictable behaviour, but he had promised to keep his distance on the trip to the allocation, and that was all that she needed. Anything else she would handle as it happened.
The workshop was quiet and dark, but the small shed had its own light and Tethyn brought out the small vehicle. In height it came to the middle of the envoy’s chest and the lower edge of the panel-work just cleared the boots he was wearing. Tethyn, well used to the car, jumped out easily to close the door to the shed then, returning to her seat at the control panel, she activated the door on the passenger side.
She hadn’t really realised how tall Lewis was. She was not short, but the car was like a second skin to her and she fit into it neatly. For the envoy, though, entry into the vehicle was a matter of twisting and bending. Tethyn became aware of an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps she shouldn’t have insisted on the chicken, but she hadn’t been able to resist the impulse to shake his dignity just a little. But it was too late now, and she set off at her usual just above the over-fast speed.
“I think,” said a voice at her side, “I think that I may have resolved the difficulty. It will mean only that I turn towards you a little and place my arm across the back of your seat – so, and I will be perfectly comfortable in this interesting small vehicle.”
The trouble was that his fingers came to rest very lightly on the nape of her neck, and stayed there.
“Why chicken?” the voice continued curiously.
“Because of the egg,” she answered shortly.
“Ah! A joke. Do you know, Tethyn, I particularly like ladies who make jokes. They amuse me the most of all my female friends.”
She slammed on the brakes.
“Is something wrong?”
Tethyn clenched her jaw and breathed deeply. “No, Lewis, nothing is wrong, nothing at all.” She started the car again, but in the darkness she felt him smile.
They had travelled along two of the quiet streets when she asked, “Well, where to?” Bygard, the city, wasn’t large, but she wanted at least to be going in the right direction. “Where is your – base? I know we don’t have an official embassy or consulate for First Home, but there must be somewhere I should take you.”
“Ah well, if you insist, the spaceport would appear to be a sensible destination. Yes. Let it be the spaceport.” His fingers moved slowly, seductively across her neck.
“Lewis!”
“Hm?”
“You promised!”
“But our excursion is three days away. What am I to do in the meantime?”
“Flirt with someone else!”
“Flirt? I am not flirting with you, I am thanking you. It is a custom on First Home to show a lady gratitude for her enjoyable companionship, and sometimes the gratitude leads to an even more enjoyable interlude.”
“No, Lewis, no enjoyable interludes. No interludes at all, in fact. Tomorrow you become the property of the city and you’ll not have a moment to call your own. You’ll probably forget that I even exist until the start of the excursion.”
She drove in silence for some distance until the lights of the spaceport emerged from the darkness, and Lewis began to direct her along small side-roads. As she drove through an undistinguished gate, the envoy remarked:
“I think you will find that you and I will meet every day, or evening, or both. I find that your company pleases me, and I believe that Carter has made certain arrangements . . . and there is our destination.”
Suddenly speechless with anger, Tethyn brought the chicken to a screeching halt below the sponsons of a large space shuttle, squat and solid. She registered movement as a low-slung, sleek cylinder passed behind them, coming to rest on the other side of the shuttle. Without turning, she opened the door from the control panel.
“I really would like you to go now, and perhaps you will be able to ask your aide to cancel any arrangements which he may have made on my behalf. Good evening, Envoy.”
Staring with unseeing eyes through the front window, Tethyn waited for him to go. She heard his voice, amused, but very sure.
“Resist all you will, Tethyn my maiden. In the end you will come to me.”
He climbed out in complete control of his body then bent down to look in at her again.
“Unfortunately, Carter has a fault which I seem unable to change. He refuses to undo something which, in his opinion, has already been well done. A family failing, perhaps.”
He smiled warmly at her, and was gone.



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