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Ashley V stepped off the plane at Cape Canaveral a transformed woman. She'd started the flight from Stockholm as a world-famous actress and ended the flight as a world-class scientist.
Dr. Astrid Jonsson came complete with invented history, an engineered internet presence and papers credited to her name, full of borrowed theories. Fooling aliens into believing she was one of the experts they'd requested on their list should be a walk in the park.
Six months ago, humans had learned they were not alone when aliens made first contact with an invitation to participate in a groundbreaking summit between the two species. The entire world looked to ten scientists, hand-selected by a United Nations sanctioned counsel, to bring home answers to universal questions long pondered by humankind.
As Dr. Jonsson, Ashley intended to represent her planet to the absolute best of her abilities.
And get her acting career back on track.
Even she was impressed with her new persona, though it had taken the better part of three months and forty-seven gallons of motivational martinis to cram the contents of a PhD's brain into her own. It was totally worth it. Nothing made her happier than disappearing into a role, and it had been forever since she'd had the opportunity.
The third arrest had clinched her statusunemployable. No one in Hollywood seemed impressed by her efforts to clean up her act. Only something bold would get everyone's attention.
Florida humidity wilted Ashley's tidy bun within seconds of exiting the plane, heightening the frump factor. Perfect. Nothing like natural character enhancement to go along with excruciating preparation.
A wig concealed the famous red hair synonymous with Ashley V, and she'd hidden her often-photographed green eyes behind mud-colored contacts. The external disguise was a necessary part of the role, but the internal transformation sold it. She wasn't Ashley V and wouldn't be for six weeks.
The shuttle bus passed the gargantuan gray building housing the guts of the defunct U.S. space program. The driver pulled around back to park by a smaller building behind it. Helicopters thwacked overhead in an aerial media circus, stirring up dust as they zoomed in to capture one of the ten scientists selected for the first universal consortium. As the driver helped her out of the bus, she automatically stopped and turned to her best side.
Cameras, she understood.
A frazzled woman in an orange tent dress approached and stuck out her hand for Ashley to shake. "Dr. Jonsson, thank you for your prompt arrival."
Ashley straightened her dowdy, off-the-rack skirt before taking the woman's hand. Three months of prep was about to pay off. Her career, maybe her entire future in Hollywood, hinged on a faultless performance. David Renner had promised her the lead in Vertigo Society, a role every actress in L.A. would kill for, and one she'd never be offered any other way.
All she had to do was be a scientist, return home from the alien planet to reveal how well she'd played the role and soak up the publicity. Free publicity, the stuff Hollywood worshiped. Vertigo Society had Oscar-winner written all over it, and she intended to be on that stage at the Academy Awards. Getting back into the swing of regular roles would be great too. She just wanted this chance to prove she was ready to be serious about her career again.