She emerged first, simultaneously anxious and aroused, with a humming in her ears, a saltiness in her mouth and a tingling in her secret parts. The temporospatial coordinates displayed on her scope reassured her. The ship was right on course. The stasis mechanisms had functioned perfectly, awakening her just two hours from the destination.
Lyrene stretched luxuriously, enjoying the gentle pressure of the cushioning foam that lined the chamber. She fumbled a bit with the release latch. Finally the port swung wide so that she could clamber out into the cylindrical control room that formed the heart of their ship.
The viewing dome embedded in the floor glowed golden from the fires of the star G-79. She flicked a switch, executing a turn of 180 degrees. Now the dome revealed a field of deep blue punctuated by silver stars, with a greenish egg shape hanging near the edge. Lyrene surveyed the goal of their long journey, and possibly the last hope of their race - planet G79-3, habitable and possibly inhabited by intelligent beings.
Her world had long since reached the limits of growth. Hordes of people swarmed together in huge cities that spread fifteen stories below ground and five times that number above. These hives were separated by mega-acres of wasteland, flat, arid, treacherous, pocked with abandoned mine shafts, radioactive craters and toxic pools.
Scientists had been at work for three generations now, trying to repair the damage caused by overpopulation, exploitation, and nuclear skirmishes between the former great powers. Production and consumption were strictly controlled by the World Tribunal. Reproduction had become a cherished privilege granted only to the genetically fit - and there were few enough of those left after years of exposure to radiation and pollutants.
Lyrene was one of the fortunate ones. She and her fellow ambassador Romar had been chosen for the mission partially because no lethals had been detected in their genomes. The colony that the Tribunal hoped to establish on G79-3 must represent the best and the brightest of the billions smothering the old world.
Just as Romar came to mind, Lyrene heard a click behind her, and turned to see the hatch of his stasis chamber opening. He stumbled out into the control room, dazed. Lyrene reached out her arms to steady him, and read glad recognition in his gaze.
They did not speak; they rarely needed speech now, after the sensitivity training that had prepared them for the ambassadorship. They had spent three months at the Institute, a hidden retreat on the northwest coast, learning to read expressions, interpret emotions and exploit intuitions. Such training, reasoned the Tribunal, should provide a sounder basis for communication with the inhabitants of G79-3, however alien, than any kind of linguistic instruction. Emotion was a far more universal medium than language. As a side effect, however, Lyrene and Romar now shared an almost telepathic awareness of one another.
Romar caught his balance and stood erect. How magnificent he was, thought Lyrene, so beautiful and strong, with his muscled limbs, his bronzed skin and his violet eyes that gleamed with reflections of the luminous display panels. She gazed at his sleek body, then realized that he, too, was showing evidence of the arousal induced by stasis withdrawal. Lyrene felt desire reawaken in her own body at the sight.
Although they were close, they had never been lovers. The strict discipline of their training and the constant congestion of their earth prohibited that. Privacy, intimacy, these were words which had only historical meaning. The relatively cramped control room where they now stood facing each other provided more personal space than either of them had enjoyed in their lifetimes.
"Lyrene!" Romar almost moaned as he articulated her name. Delicately he brushed his fingers over her face, then extended that touch down the length of her body. She writhed with delight and reached out to touch him in turn, but he withdrew. "Work now. We'll have a whole world to ourselves later."
Lyrene suppressed her lust as they took their places at the ship's controls. The mission was of course more important than their personal pleasure. Land and explore the new planet; contact its intelligent inhabitants if possible; negotiate a settlement that would allow colonization.
Unmanned probes sent before this mission had suggested that G79-3 had large areas of undeveloped wilderness, as well as vast oceans. The huge telescopes in Tribunal labs had detected broadcasts indicating intelligent life, but they appeared to emanate from relatively few locations on the globe's surface. The signals gave no clue as to the nature of the planet's inhabitants. The Tribunal had sent out answering signals, but there was never a response. Finally, it was decided that personal contact with the aliens would be most effective.
So Romar and Lyrene were chosen, out of hundreds of applicants eager to get off the planet. Both had been graduate students, she in medecine, he in psychological genetics and anthropology. They trained for two years, developing their specialties and acquiring additional expertise. Only during the initial phases of the selection process and during the sensitivity training were they together. The Tribunal intended them to complement rather than duplicate each other's skills and knowledge.
And how well they did complement each other, thought Lyrene, as they smoothly reprogrammed the ship for the final leg of its flight. His fairness contrasted with her dark pigments, his gentle patience with her fiery quickness. Their minds melded, interlocked, supported each other in a glorious division of responsibility. Despite herself, she could not help wondering how their bodies would mesh.
They were much closer to the planet now. It looked a white-flecked blue rather than green. They had chosen to approach over water, from the night side, so that the bright spark of their ship in the sky would not alarm any of the natives.
Once the course was set, Lyrene and Romar swivelled to face the viewing dome. Side by side they watched as miles of wrinkled blue velvet flew by beneath the ship, which was now skimming just a few miles above the planet's surface.
Only an occasional beep from the ship's computer and their own breathing disturbed the perfect silence. Lyrene could feel her own exultation mirrored in Romar. Just as they detected the gleam of dawn ahead, one of his arms crept softly around her waist. Shyly, she mimicked his gesture, and thus, connected in body and mind, they watched the sun rise on the first day in their strange new world.
The ship sped eastward. A craggy coastline loomed. Geysers of spray flew up from the red rocks, brilliant white against the lush fields and forests carpeting the tops of the cliffs. How different from the oily seas of home! Yet according to pre-Tribunal histories, their earth's oceans had sparkled as clear and deep only a few centuries ago.
The autopilot guided them inland, and they both gasped, clasping each other even tighter. On the far horizon rose a range of magnificent mountains, their snow-capped peaks blinding in the newborn sun. To Lyrene and Romar, such beauty as this was only a legend. Miners had gutted the mountains of their world long ago, leaving only heaps of rubble and pits of sludge.
But nowhere were there signs signs of intelligent life: no buildings, no vehicles, no roads (though primitive paths would have been concealed by the trees). Where were the owners of this rich land? Where were the origins of the signals received by the Tribunal?
Sensing her tacit agreement, Romar loosed his hold on Lyrene and turned to the controls. But he let his touch linger a moment, just below her waist, before he consulted the computer and entered new coordinates.
As the ship turned southward toward one of the calculated signal sources, their eyes met. A breathless gaze passed between them. Looking down Lyrene saw that once again Romar was powerfully aroused.
He rose from his seat, leaned over her, and slowly ran his tongue along the midline of her body, from her neck, down across her abdomen, ending with a delicate flick to her secret spot. She shivered, yet she was on fire. More atuned to him than ever before, she sensed the passionate images that had seized his usually gentle soul. She lay back in the chair with her eyes half-shut and her legs spread wide as his velvety tongue licked and teased. Then she felt something harder tracing the curve of her belly. She opened her eyes to see him poised above her, wielding the dagger of his sex, ready to plunge it deep into her center.
She rose to meet his first thrust, encircling him with her limbs and holding him inside her. His maleness was a torch that seared her flesh but did not consume her. She gasped and groaned as he moved, fast then slow, deep then shallow, knowing when the pleasure/pain was too much for her and pulling away, then sensing her growing craving and sinking himself to her roots.
He pulled himself away to gaze at her. In his eyes she saw a mingling of fierce desire and brotherly concern. She dragged him back into her embrace. A thousand fingers touched, stroked, and caressed her.
The walls of her secret cavern throbbed around him as they lay intertwined, breathing in synchrony, minds locked in a single focus. He swelled inside her, throbbing in time with her own spasms. In her mind she heard him singing, saw him dancing, felt them melting into a single blazing sun of unbearable intensity. The sun flamed from red to blinding white, billowing outward, fusing their bodies, vaporizing their flesh, and finally, exploding into blue sparks that showered down around them.
The Chronicle devoted a whole section to the story, although many of the facts were quickly hushed up by the authorities. After all, practically everyone in the city (everyone, at least, who had been awake at 7:03 on that Sunday morning) had seen the fireball hit the top of Twin Peaks, and many more were awakened by the shockwave that followed. Army trucks swiftly whisked the debris away, but the crippled microwave tower was there for all to see. And one woman, who had been up on the heights photographing the city at dawn, had been quick enough to get a few shots of the fireball and its contents while they were still smoking.
The paper published her photos on the front page. She immediately received offers from three of the city's top galleries.
The first showed a silvery oval half-buried among the brush and the beer cans. Bulging from the top was a smaller hemisphere of some glassy, transparent material. Although the force of the explosion had been enough to flatten the grass for fifty meters around, the "glass" was uncracked, only a bit smudged and smokey.
It was the second picture, however, that tripled the newspaper's circulation, embarrassed the authorities and sent the photographer's fortunes into orbit. That photo was dim and fuzzy, taken as it was through the domelike window. It was sufficiently clear, though, to show a cylindrical chamber lined with weird dials and instruments, unlike any Earthly manufacture.
Meanwhile, lying on the floor (or rather, the ceiling, for upon looking closer, one could discern that the chamber was upside down), tangled together, were the bodies of two four-foot long ants.
At least,that was the closest one could come to describing them. They each had six or eight appendages (several "arms" were scattered around the chamber, apparently torn off by the explosion), three faceted eyes arranged in a triangle on their foreheads, and a long proboscis or tongue coiled beneath their "chins". They both had a smooth, glossy carapace and a three-sectioned body, thorax joined to abdomen at a tiny waist. One of the creatures was shiny black, the other, a reddish gold.
The authorities officially announced the next day that the photographs were a hoax and arrested the photographer for questioning. By the time she was released, the city had found other amusements. The Chronicle printed a retraction, denying responsibility for the photos. The announcement appeared on page nine, right next to an article about the granting of new oil leases off the California coast.