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5.

Clay and Rachel set down on a piece of windswept rock under a brilliant sky. Bars and wings of cloud stretched up the sky, colored red and purple and orange in the permanent sunset or sunrise of the north polar highland. Beyond the zenith, the night side of the heavens showed a few stars. Low over the day horizon, two very bright stars shone close together: Gliese 667 A and B. Just into the night sky, another star shone brighter than the rest: the distant yellow dwarf companion, invisible from Earth, that might be called Gliese 667 D.

The ground was likewise painted in oranges and reds, though the shadows of rocks were black. The rock itself was some sort of anorthosite, grey to nearly black and coarse-grained, with scattered small crystals showing white or grey or a sky blue. A thin grey sand played over it in the breeze, which was primarily nitrogen and carbon dioxide with oxygen in third place and argon and neon vying for fourth and fifth. Gravity was a bit strong: Clay had a false start climbing out of his Ghost. It was hot, around seventy degrees centigrade, and quite breezy: they kept their visors shut.

Rachel and Clay looked around, and then started walking toward the structure, which really was barely distinguishable from native rock outcrops and had looked like the other Primoid structures they had seen mostly by accident. It consisted of two huge slabs laid against each other in a sort of A frame, with the front covered by an assemblage of unfinished rock and some sort of cement. The pilots didn’t say anything; Clay’s soundscape was primarily composed of the wind on the outside of his suit and his heart pounding on the inside.

They could see where the entrance to the structure was: an oval hatch of steel set in the shadow of an overhanging flat piece of rock. They could also see, outside it as if taking five for a smoke, a pair of blobby aliens on multiple stick-like legs, their stick-like arms unmoving, the tentacle-like sensory appendages on top of their trunks trying to remain still.

Clay and Rachel advanced to within twenty meters. They could see the Primoids clearly now. It was much, much closer than they had ever been. The two creatures were wearing some sort of close-fitting suit, but all their appendages stuck through holes in their suits, apparently uncovered. The tentacles, nine each, were aiming eyes or whatever straight at the two Earthlings. They were not, however, aiming anything like a weapon.

The door opened and out came three more figures: one Primoid and two humans in vac suits. The two humans, both female and both a good deal taller than Clay or Rachel, took one look and started hurrying over to meet the pilots. One, halfway there, broke into a dash and in a moment was hugging Clay, then Rachel, then both.

“I can’t believe it,” she was crying out, in their helmets, even before she got to them, and she kept on crying it out, even when she was done hugging them and was just standing in front of them. “I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”

“Well, ah,” was basically what Clay and Rachel said, looking at the other woman.

“Welcome,” came her voice, a little older and a little more melodious, in their helmets. “May we invite you in? Our hosts are a little unusual, but they are your hosts as well and they will definitely do you no harm.”

Clay looked at Rachel, despite his instant strong feeling that they had no choice but to accept and that the woman was correct. Rachel, after all, had been shot at by them, not out in space in a fighter battle (as pretty much everyone in the three wings had) but personally, in air, from a hidden ground base on Candy One’s fourth planet.

“Of course,” said Rachel. “We accept.” She smiled sweetly at Clay. “Ready to make some new friends, Hunk-a-licious?”

They followed the two women inside. The base was not obviously human or Primoid. Its entry corridor ran straight back through a large airlock and onward, six meters wide and four meters tall, and presently came to a large chamber which had clearly once been a sort of welcome center. It had what looked like ticket counters and kiosks, and a variety of doors ran out of it back and to the right and left, some of them evidently for use by vehicles or conveyor belts. The one conveyor belt still in evidence looked like it had been still a long time.

Old computing and power systems had been replaced by new, entirely different ones, which were odd in design and composition but clearly set up long after the base had been built. There were screens, but they were all hexagonal, and many of them fit together in an irregular arrangement. They showed the outside in several views, space in several views and data in several views. Four more Primoids watched the screens. Their data representation, anyway,. seemed familiar: they favored the stacked bar graph, in bright oranges and greens and purples. The four all had a look at the newcomers, without turning: their sensory stalks did the looking.

The two women both doffed their helmets, as did Clay and Rachel. The older one was a greying blonde, and the younger was a redhead, perhaps fifteen. They both had quite long hair, braided; they looked pretty healthy.

“Okay,” said the older woman, “so we need to do some explaining.” She turned to one of the Primoids who had been outside with them: the other two had remained. The Primoid was just a little taller than her: its blobby body ended about at the top of her head, and the tentacles rose another ten centimeters. “Can we get them some refreshment?” she said, but she also made gestures over her head in view of its tentacles.

The Primoid responded with some tentacle waving and some odd bowing, bending and wrinkling its blobbiness as it bent.

“It says yes,” said the younger woman.

“I’m sorry,” said the older woman. “I’ll explain everything. I need some coffee and I bet you do too. Um, my name is Karen, Karen Zane. This is my daughter Angelica.”

“Hi,” said Angelica.

The Primoid bumped Karen with one of its stick-like arms, its four-pronged claw clenched in a fist of sorts. She looked and it waved tentacles some more and made an odd farting noise.

“It wants you to move your fighters inside,” said Angelica.

“Oh kay,” said Clay. He looked at the Primoid. It looked at him. “Shall we?”

It waved its tentacles and farted again. “It says you have some time still,” said Angelica. “I think you can have that coffee first. I know Mom will need it.”

“I know I will need it,” said Rachel.

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