The International Writers
looked up at the cliffside where Elin had died. Rocks and scree
were tumbling down again. She backed off to a safe distance.
"Nia? You okay?"
She turned at the sound of Abirs voice. "Yeah, Im
okay," she said.
He came up beside her and put a hand on her shoulder. He knew
what it meant to lose a sister.
She looked back
towards the cliff. A small black head rose out of the tumbled rocks.
It was one of those equines, a youngster. It wrenched its arms free
of the rubble and started digging around it. She heard its cry, a cry
"Im going to help," she said.
"Nia, no! Its dangerous there. You know what Killian will
say if you get involved."
"Why should I listen to him? The bastard killed my sister!"
She started towards the creature. It gave one last push at a rock and
scrambled up onto its feet. One hind leg collapsed, sending it sprawling
onto the earth. "Come on," she said.
She ignored his protest and strode over to the alien. The creatures
head raised as she got close and she slowed her pace. "Easy, guy.
Let me help." She saw that the hoof had been twisted sideways,
and she knew the leg was broken.
The creature struggled to its feet again. She held it up. Abir supported
the other side. It didnt seem to be afraid of them. "Were
going to take it into the med center," she said in a voice that
refused any challenge.
"Killian can burn in hell! Im not gonna let him kill this
Killian Laverne was furious. Despite his express orders that stupid
medic had brought in an injured alien. He didnt need this kind
of complication. It was bad enough losing that geologist. That had made
HQ notice him more than he liked. But if the damned woman got that equine
established as a Class One sentience hed lose the whole Project.
No, not now. Not when Im so close to retiring. He ran his hand
through what was left of his greying hair and sighed.
Stevven came into his office. "Nia says that creature has a broken
leg. Shes going to try to set it."
"I said no contact with any of the fauna here!"
Stevven stared at him, then his eyes narrowed. "Were charged
with evaluating this planet, Kil. This might be the dominant lifeform.
We cant ignore it."
"There are no Class One intelligences here!"
"We dont know that yet. Nia thinks this creature might be."
He scowled at his deputy. "Ill give her two days to get rid
of it, then Ill dump it myself. There are no Class One sentiences
on Lorena! Understand?"
Nia had expected the alien to panic when she brought it into the med
centre, but its dark eyes had looked around calmly, assessing the scene.
She wondered how intelligent they were.
She finished dressing its leg and Abir lifted it down off the operating
table. It was still groggy, but seemed to be coming round okay.
"Now we find out whether alien biology can cope with our medicines,"
"Yes, I know it was a risk, but I couldnt set the leg without
At least the creature was standing on the splinted leg. She hoped the
splint would stay in place long enough for it to heal.
"What now?" Abir asked.
" She gasped. A clear picture of the equine
appeared in her mind, along with a sound.
"What the hell!" Abir said.
"You getting an image too?"
"Yeah. Its a telepath
This time the sound was almost a word. "R
The creature repeated the sound. "Ry
iss?" She asked.
"Ryiriss, I think," Abir said. The equine nodded its head
vigorously up and down.
"Do we presume thats yes?" she asked.
"We cant assume anything."
"No, we cant. But these creatures are definitely a high level
intelligence. We need more time to study them," she said.
Caring for the alien took Nias mind away from her sister for a
while. They found out that it was a male, and that his species were
the Naquarra. He was an orphan, not expected to survive, but somehow
"Abi, whatre we going to do about him?" Nia asked as
they reviewed their notes late that evening.
"You dont think Killian will accept their status, do you?
I want to get word out to HQ. We have to find someone to send an ansible
tightbeam for us."
"Mmm. Tricky. Ill work on it," he said.
Once Ryiriss was back on his feet Nia resumed her daily visits to her
sisters grave. She always visited at sunset. At first her numbness
had reduced her to tears and the technicolor skies merged into a blur
of abstract colours. Now the pain had moved deep into her heart, an
ache that dulled her senses.
Tonight someone was there before her. She broke into a run. "Hey!
Leave her alone! Get away from her!" she yelled.
The figure turned towards her. Stevven. "I need to talk to you,"
"I dont want to listen to anything that bastard has to say!"
"He doesnt know Im here. I came on my own behalf."
"Who do you think sent your message? I did. We received an answer
this morning. I was on com watch, so I downloaded it."
"So he doesnt know theyve replied?"
"No. Xeno are sending a team to us, ETA four days. We need to hold
him off that long."
"Ill hold the bastard off for ever," she said.
Nia woke to the beep of the coms alarm. She reached over and switched
on the channel. "Yeah?"
"Nia, the Xeno team are on final approach."
She squinted at the chrono. Four-thirty. "Whyd they have
to get here this early?" she grumbled.
Stevven chuckled. "Because I asked em to."
"Oh. Okay. Where do I meet them?"
There was a pause, then he said "How about your sisters grave?
Theyll be landing about dawn. If you just happened to be there
"Thanks, Stev. I appreciate this."
The sun had just risen when Nia met the Xeno team. A tall grey-haired
woman strode towards her, hand outstretched. "Nia, I presume? Im
Julinn, team Head. I understand you may have a Class One intelligence
Nia shook the proffered hand. "Yes. Theyre an equine species
called the Naquarra. Am I glad youre here."
"I gather weve got a fight on our hands."
"You could say that. Killians determined to close down the
evaluation project today."
"Not if I have anything to do with it." Julinns eyes
slid past Nia to the small mound with its headstone. "Did somebody
Nia turned from her, the sudden rage unexpected. She felt Julinns
hand on her shoulder. "It was someone close to you?" she asked.
"My sister. Killed in a landslide. She was ordered in before the
stability survey was complete." The words felt like knives dragging
across her throat.
Julinn stiffened. "Then this time weve got him."
"What do you mean?"
"Killian has a history of ignoring inconvenient facts. Come on,
lets get this showdown started."
Nia arrived back at camp an hour after Julinn. Stevven met her in the
compound. "Killians blaming you for bringing the Xeno team
here. Hes demanding your presence right now."
"Are they with him?"
"Come with me, Stev. I need your support."
"Nia, I intend to tell him everything."
She stared at him. "But your career
"Some things are more important than one individuals career.
Telling the truth here is. Your sister died because of his stupidity.
I cant let that go."
Tears sprang to her eyes, and she rubbed at them with the back of her
hand. "Thanks. Is Abi there too?"
"Yes. Your troops are in place. Lets go do battle."
"There are no Class One sentiences on Lorena!" Killian thundered.
"Oh, yes there are," Nia said. "Theyre called the
"An equine species cannot be Class One!"
"One thing working in Xeno has taught me is that there are no absolutes,"
Julinn said. "Class One intelligence can take any form."
"This project is finished! The shuttles on its way down to
pick us up."
"Then it will have to delay. I have the authority to overrule you,
and Im doing it," Julinn said. She turned to Nia. "Where
can we meet your alien?"
"Hes probably hanging around the compound."
"With pleasure," Nia said.
Nia watched the Xeno Head run through the standard first contact script.
Ryiriss dealt easily with every test. Julinn straightened up from talking
to him and said "Yes, they are Class One. We take over here now.
You did a good job. Id be happy to find you a place on my team."
Nia stared at her. She hadnt expected this. Shed almost
come to terms with having to abandon Elin here, on this beautiful but
dangerous world. But now
Juliins offer changed everything.
Somewhere, deep in her heart, a little chink of light pierced her darkness.
For a brief moment she felt at peace, for the first time since Elins
"Yes. Ill stay," she said, and knew that she meant for
the rest of her life.
© Wendy Metcalfe Jan 2007
Author and Writing Tutor
wendy_metcalfe at btinternet.com
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