Niobe’s mother Linda was one of the chief marine biologists on Cels. She and her team were responsible for monitoring the stability of the bioformed oceans around Western Cels. Indeed when Amanpreet and her crew arrived at Niobe’s family home – a large single story whitewashed house of lovely naturalistic curves and no hard edges which stood on the tropical coast several miles from the nearest city – her mother and two assistants were just making their way up the beach dressed in wetsuits and carrying boxes of samples.
“Mum!” Niobe ran down the beach to greet her and Linda immediately put down the samples she was carrying and swept her into a hug. Niobe seemed completely unfazed by the fact her clothes were getting soaked as she hugged her back. “Let me help you with this.” She reached for the samples.
“Nonsense.” Linda picked them up before she could. “You and your colleagues are guests.” She lead them back the beach and into the porch where she stripped off the wetsuit and shrugged on a robe without a hint of self-consciousness before letting them into the rest of house. “Welcome, dear friends. You’re a bit earlier than I expected but make yourselves at home, most of you know where everything is. I need a shower so I’ll join you soon.” She disappeared into the bathroom.
Amanpreet flopped onto one of the comfortable sofas in the main living area. “I wonder how long Kayla will be.”
“Not too long I imagine,” Niobe said. “It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to fill the forms and get her papers.”
â€œI hope your mother doesn’t mind you bringing us as well,â€ Oni said.
â€œNah,â€ Niobe said. â€œWhen I told her you and your colleagues were aboard she insisted I bring you as well. She enjoys entertaining especially since Dad is away at Tinia station so much.â€ She saw Oni’s puzzled look and grinned. â€œHe’s a linguist like me and was part of the first contact team who contacted the Mez when they appeared in system and started bioforming Tinia. Now he’s our chief ambassador to them. I spent a lot of my childhood on Tinia station with him. It’s why I know so much about the Mez.â€
â€œI heard that the Mez did that when we first met them,â€ one of the other scientists said. â€œA bit rude starting to bioform a planet without asking the people who already live in a system first.â€
Niobe shrugged. â€œThey didn’t realise we were here. Admittedly they hadn’t looked. They knew warmer planets could support life but they’d decided it would never be complex life much the same way we thought of life on colder worlds until we met them.â€ She chuckled. â€œDad says they were mortified when they realised but they’ve been pretty good neighbours since.â€
â€œThe Mez are alright.â€ Linda returned to the room and sat down beside her daughter. There could be no doubt the two women were related, with the same dark brown skin and high cheekbones though Linda kept her hair cropped close to her head unlike her daughter. â€œAnd I hear you have a lot to do with them recently.â€
â€œYes,â€ Niobe said. â€œUmi and Storm are from Tinia, and Am helped them out so much they’ve declared her family.â€
â€œOh, that’s an honour!â€ Linda said. â€œMez don’t declare you family without cause. What happened?â€
â€œIt’s quite a story,â€ Niobe said. â€œYou heard about Promise, I guess?â€
â€œThe sophont Fish? Yes, the news has been full of it. This has something to do with that?â€
Niobe nodded and began to tell her mother the whole story. When she finished Linda smiled at Amanpreet.
â€œWow, what you did was really amazing,â€ she said. â€œ I can see why they claimed you as kin.â€
â€œIt wasn’t that amazing,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œAnyone would have helped.â€
â€œDon’t be so sure,â€ Linda said. â€œPeople can be pretty selfish and even though it turned out not to be dangerous you had no way to know that.â€ She stood up and stretched but I had better get to work preparing dinner.â€
â€œExcuse me, Doct-â€ Oni began.
â€œCall me Linda, please,â€ she said,
â€œLinda,â€ he said. â€œWould you mind if I use your terminal? I could do with checking my messages.â€
â€œOf course you may,â€ she said. â€œAnd over dinner you must tell me more about your work. Studying the development of sophont species must be fascinating.â€
â€œIt is,â€ he agreed as he headed over to the terminal. â€œAnd I will.â€ He logged into the terminal and began paging through his messages. â€œAh! We have news from Talis. They’ve managed to simulate stellar positions from the time of the disasters and ask the computer about Corona.â€
â€œOh?â€ Amanpreet said. â€œWhat did it say?â€
â€œIt’s not a coincidence,â€ he said. â€œCorona was attacked as well. The Talis people had some contact with them and they were developing hyperspace travel but hadn’t even managed a working prototype. They were doing pretty well in the war but the enemy managed to poison their biosphere triggering a mass extinction event and to stop them escaping.â€
â€œI wonder if that’s it.â€ Amanpreet narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.
â€œHmm?â€ He tilted his head at her curiously. â€œWhat?â€
â€œTalis had a prototype hyperspace ship and Corona was developing one,â€ she said. â€œThe enemy apparently can’t tolerate hyperspace. I wonder if that’s why they attacked them.â€
â€œIt’s a viable theory,â€ he said. â€œThey might find hyperspace travel threatening.â€
â€œYes,â€ she said. â€œAnd means we may all be in danger if the Talis computer is right about them still being out there.â€
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