It was a firm kiss, soft but passionate. His hands at her elbows were not confining but relaxed. It would have been simple to translate his laxness as overconfidence, but there was something in his expression that warned Li otherwise. And she couldn’t help it—not when his glance was lost to her, not when she saw how tired he was—not when he looked as if he had read her thoughts and his heart was close to breaking.
A headline. A mystery. Here is the outline, the sketch of a story that is and cannot be solved. Secured for the private use of our elite, a Model-X spacecraft is stolen. The location was classified. But people talk. Others listen. I listened for years, a menial with secrets of my own. At last, it is done.
His cabin was like himself, bare and austere, except for a single photograph on the starboard wall that stood a glaring, stark discrepancy amid the otherwise Spartan setting. The lieutenant drew closer to this, looking on it as the one item aboard-ship as out of place as herself. The frame was cast metal, common and unromantic, but the image preserved in liquid plasma was the living converse.
It was a quiet scene. Tall grass profuse in a mountain valley, the waving green-grey a sea of plant life. Thin-limbed trees lined the incline leading to a still, brown lake. The trees’ bark was a striking marble hue and their leaves a full olive, but their trunks were twisted and bent, almost twining in on themselves.
The effect was alien but beautiful and Ella, who dearly missed land after months spent in space, could not suppress a quiet,
She was looking at the sky. It was a wide open sky, clear and blue. It had that color and brightness that can make your eyes water. But Annie stared straight up, watching the white lines of cloud pass like light gossamer threads in wind.
Somewhere behind all that blue were other worlds. Annie knew this was true. It was a simple scientific fact that stars shine even during the day. You can’t see them, but they are there, millions upon millions of lights.
Well, Wallie and I couldn’t think of anything more extravagant than a warm welcome aboard an alien spaceship. So, as prompted–
‘Welcome, and all aboard! Welcome to the first ever inter-planetary light-speed multidimensional transcendental comprehensive anti-matter spacecraft available for lease! Posi-matter can be used on demand if preferred, but there is more of a smell to it, though the mileage is vastly improved. Accommodations are modest but comfortable, guaranteed with—’
‘Shut it,’ said the commander. ‘You’re the alien?’