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Pacing the tarmac near his ship, Thor checked his watch, then swung his gaze toward the hangar. His passenger's luggage and crates had been loaded into the craft shortly after his arrival, yet there was still no sign of her. He eyed his watch again and hoped she hadn't met up with any trouble. He was anxious to get going to Jupiter's moon, Europa. The fate of too many rested on the success of this mission.
He flipped open his holoviewer to report to Ganymede when the man door to the hangar burst open. A woman appeared, accompanied by a spaceport official.
Thor stood at attention as the two approached. The breeze lifted her hair from her face. Her cheeks were flushed. When she stopped before him, his eyes were drawn to the way her soft, layered waves of brunette hair, just reaching chin length, settled around her face.
The man with her nodded. "Captain, this is Doctor Helena OM781e7, your shipmate for the next two months."
"Sorry I'm late." She held out her hand. "I had things to finish up at the lab."
"That's understandable," Thor said. "Ganymede didn't give us much notice." He extended his hand. Her grip was firm, but it was her eyes that held his attention-blue as a summer lake. He caught himself lingering on them and cleared his throat. "We can make up for lost time during flight." He gave a nod to the spaceport official, who turned to head back to the hangar. "I wasn't told you were a doctor."
"Doctor of pharmacology, specializing in plant medicines. Did the cattleya orchids arrive?"
"They're on the bridge." He gestured his hand toward the ship. "Ready for the official tour?"
Herface tilted up. She scanned the height and length of the shiny gray spacecraft, UMO, their company's logo, painted in red.
"You're not nervous," he said.
"Does it show that much? This will be my first space flight."
"I promise to be gentle."
She gave him a sidelong glance, but her lips turned up in an amused smirk. "I'm sure you will."
Directing her to the first step of the ship's escalator, Thor had a feeling the flight to Europa might go more quickly than he'd first thought.
• • •
A sense of wonder filled Helena as she stepped onto the escalator that carried her from the Nebraska ground to the craft's airlock chamber and, she thought, into a fascinating new dimension of space-time. At thirty-two, not only would she be carrying out an assignment vital to Universal Mining's workforce on Europa-bringing rare Cattleya hyperlimbia medicine to the technetium ore miners afflicted with deadly Attila Disease-but it would be her first venture away from the Earth-Moon system.
With Captain Thor as her guide, she absorbed every detail he brought to her attention during the required safety tour designed for civilian passengers who'd be traveling beyond Earth's atmosphere aboard government transport. Aboard the interplanetary ship that was to become her home for the next two months!
She'd only read about space science in the popular holojournals and was eager to experience some of their reported facts firsthand. While acquainting her with the external features of the craft, the captain spoke with the fluency of an expert in space flight, yet in terms a layman could understand.
Normally, Helena scorned Delegation government soldiers. She had witnessed their callous disregard for fellow orphilions. But this one seemed different. He had the manners of a gentleman, acquiescing his physical strength and military ranking in deference to her civilian status.
She sensed from him the promise of a memorable adventure.
According to Thor, the spacecraft issued for his sole use while carrying out official duties for Universal Mining Operations was a smaller, more streamlined model compared to the bulky cargo and commuter transport ships he'd often been asked to fly. At thirty-five meters long, Helena thought it was enormous!
Copyright © 2005 Jeanne Allen