The Quibell Abduction

by Lillian Shepherd.

Extract 1

The xeno-gardens spilled their exotic scents into the warm breeze blowing from the dark, rippling lake. The leaves, branches, stalks, plumes, fronds, tendrils and flowers, imported from a score of worlds, rustled together in whispers even softer than the lapping of the water on the shore. The breeze had, no doubt, been bribed from Weather Control, Security Captain Drew Patel thought cynically, as had the clear sky, so brilliant with stars. Even so, that bribe would have been insignificant compared to the cost of the coloured glo-globes, drifting in their programmed patterns about the garden, and a fraction of the price of the double shell of Len Boler's beach house, shining softly with pink light, perched on the cliff above him.

Drew pulled impatiently at the collar of his dress uniform. He decided that he hated these parties of Boler's. Boler was one of the most powerful businessmen on Ararat, and Ararat was rich, the biggest manufacturing world in this Sector and a trading centre for half the known worlds. Drew suspected that Boler himself was no longer sure how many companies he owned, but all of them were profitable. One of the reasons why they remained profitable was Boler's monotonously regular party giving. These were business affairs, with his managers as regular guests and his customers, potential customers, and anyone else who might do him any good as floating ones. Drew was none of these, but protocol - and political expediency - required that Boler invite the head of Federation Security Forces on Ararat, who was Drew's boss, who was Katrin Shaw, who was a woman and therefore, because of Ararat's vestigial customs, needed an escort, and whose escort normally turned out to be Drew. As Drew himself came from a society whose restrictions on women were considered barbarous by the rest of the Federation, he rather approved of this minimal display of feminine decency. It was one of the few good things about Ararat. At home on Indus now...

He sighed. Katrin said that these parties were a good way of discovering what was going on behind the scenes on Ararat, but he thought that she just liked gossiping, getting out of uniform and eating Boler's superb food. Which he had to admit was the best that he had ever tasted. And that was another thing. Katrin could get out of uniform; why couldn't he? Regulations stated that they both had to wear uniform but for her to have done so would have been an insult to Araratian sensibilities and so she had an excuse to bend the rules. As usual, she did not bend the rules for her subordinates.

Drew sighed again. Maybe he should have tried for the Space Service after all. That branch of the Federation armed forces at least saw action. All he and Katrin did lately was act as glorified customs police...

His attention was suddenly caught by a figure outlined in light on a terrace above; a woman, dressed in firesilk. Not many women could afford that incredible fabric, shimmering with the metamorphic colours of flame, and even fewer could both afford it and be flattered by it. This woman was. The long dress hugged tightly to her slim, flawless figure, but flowed out behind her, as if constantly caught in a high wind. Her hair was a million bronze and copper strands woven into a dazzling net, like a living reflection of the firesilk. She had a fragile beauty that glowed outward across the whole garden. Vulnerable. Warm yet distant. Almost without realising what he was doing, Drew began to make his way towards her.

A small group of men and women had joined her on the terrace and now a baton drum took up a soft, accelerating beat, the signal for the gern-dancers to take up their positions on the floodlit lawn below. Gerns were carnivores native to the eastern flood plains. Long, sinuous and russet-furred, they rippled along on their pseudo-limbs, twisting in and out of the legs of the naked men and women as they undulated across the sea-moss, winding their snaking bodies about their human partners in strangely erotic movements. The people of Ararat considered gern-dancing one of the highest art-forms; Drew thought it was obscene. He hoped that the woman in firesilk thought that it was obscene, too, but she was smiling a little as she watched, her arm through that of her male companion

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Last updated on 17th of November 1999.