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the older man.
"Lors! Let me look at you! It's been eons since Thista! Jela's fair
dying to get her hands on you again." He winked at Lors. "And I imagine
you are, too."
"She's here?" A ray of panic touched him and he hoped that it didn't
"Not that I know of, unless a ship came in. The last I heard, she was
waiting for a ship to take her off the base on Mars. She swears she'll
get you this time, or she's going back home to find an old mushshell
Lors laughed with Zark, who released him to pull a flask of wine from
his desk. As he poured two tumblers of the milk-white wine, he winked at
the young spacer.
"From the home planet," he grinned. "Mallowine. I'll wager you haven't
tasted it in a long time."
"Not since Thista," Lors assured him, accepting the tumbler. He held up
the glass for a toast. "To you, sir, and your daughter. May she be saved
from marrying a mushshell gatherer."
Commander Zark chuckled and they drank, the soft, mellow taste of the
wine lingering fondly in their mouths long after the drink had found its
way into their stomachs.
"Now then, Lors. Tell me what that fool of an Imry did to you."
He told the Commander everything, watching the older man nod his head
from time to time, the stubby fingers of his hands forming a pyramid
before his lips as he slumped in his chair. Lors left nothing out,
except his love for Beth Danson. He couldn't bring himself to tell about
that. When he had finished, Commander Zark's eyes were hot with angry
"I'll see that Imry cannot get a command on a planet with a pure ammonia
atmosphere for this trick! I'll see him tortured by Thistians!" The old
man stopped his tirade as quickly as he had begun it. "You know what
this means, Lors?"
"I'm afraid to guess."
"The wrecked scout ship can be covered up easily enough because of the
Terran politics; they always arrange it so that one branch of government
has no idea of what the other branches are doing. We'll have some of our
men in Washington mumble in their beards about experimental aircraft
until everyone is taken from the scene except our people. Then we'll
have the ship taken somewhere, ostensibly to be studied, and they'll all
"But these Terrans are another matter. If they can get their people to
listen to them, we're in trouble..."
"Perhaps," Lors said softly, "if they were believed, it would speed up
our relations with the Terran governments."
Zark shook his grey head. "No. They aren't ready yet. They're still in
such a fluctuating state that half the population believes in witchcraft
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