Fold Space 2 - Settling
Chapter 1

Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, Romantic, Heterosexual, Science Fiction, Oral Sex, Cream Pie, Slow, Science fiction adult story, sci-fi adult story, science-fiction sex story, sci-fi sex story, science-fiction romantic story

Desc: Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Hex Finch is now the Governor of Andromeda. He faces decisions for the planet and for himself, and meets opposition.

I woke ... reluctantly.

Reluctantly, not because of the sweet voice nagging me to do so, or the pressure of a shapely body against me – either would normally be well worth waking up for.

A year after my first landing I was still every bit as enamoured of Romy, avatar of Andromeda, the self-aware computer which managed the planet we also called Andromeda. Romy, constructed specifically to please me, to interface between me and Andromeda, the computer. Constructed initially to keep me there. Constructed so effectively ... I fell in love with her ... it.

No. I was reluctant to wake partly because she ... Okay, I know I'm talking about a construct, not an organic person, but bear with me; I just can't think of her as an 'it' ... tired me out very effectively the previous night. Actually, it was more like early this morning when I finally dropped into an exhausted slumber. I mean, think of your personal ideal partner brought to life – physically, intellectually and emotionally a perfect match – if not actually human, then so perfect an imitation and so fully functional as to be indistinguishable from the real thing.

I was also reluctant because as the Governor representing Old Earth here on Andromeda, I was due for a meeting to discuss the planet ecology and the possibility of introducing Earth species, as well as further immigration. To date, the growing number of humans on the planet were all professionals from the 'Exploration' part of 'Exploration and Colonisation' who would probably, for the most part, move on to other projects in time.

It would be my first such serious meeting since my formal appointment a couple of months previous and I still wasn't at all sure about it. I was a pilot for God's sake, not a politician. The only reason I was still there and accepting the post at all was laying in bed beside me. I rolled toward her and stroked my hand up her thigh, over her hip to her shoulder. "I don't want to go," I said, petulantly.

She rubbed noses with me and brushed my lips with hers, in the process, pressing her taut breasts and erect nipples against my chest. "But you will, Hex ... won't you? For me?" Said in honey-sweet tones.

I rolled her onto her back and loomed over her. Her legs spread beneath me, but even were there time (and, by God, I was the Governor ... they couldn't start without me) there was no way after the previous night I had any chance of managing a serious erection, even for Romy. There was a definite stirring, to be sure. "You know me, Romy. I would anyway, even if there were any way I could refuse you anything."

"Let's shower, then."

Showering with Romy ... always a delight. The Planetary Governor ... Me! ... accompanied by his personal assistant, who happened to be the Planetary Representative ... arrived at the conference room in one of the buildings at the spaceport. I wasn't formally dressed; I didn't see any point in getting high-falutin' – if anything formal was needed, there was always uniform. So I was in soft khaki denim and Romy in one of the robes or gowns I thought of as 'Grecian'.

"Good morning, sir." A youngish couple stood as we entered; it was the man who spoke. I'd met them briefly when they first arrived, months before.

"Simon, is it? Peggy?"

"Yes sir," they chorused. "Sir ... I'm told you can interface with AV equipment here?"

"Romy?" I turned to my ... mate? PA? Lover?"

"Done," she smiled, as an area in the centre of the table shimmered and displayed a representation of the E. & C. logo hovering a foot or so above the table.

"Wow!" The girl, Peggy, sighed. "What technology! Captain Finch ... sir ... Ma'am ... shall we begin?"

"I think we'd better wait a few moments for Colonel Abercromby, don't you? There's no hurry, I think, and we are a little early."

The Colonel entered the room on the dot of nine, followed by his most junior (and most attractive) assistant, Sergeant Katsinski. Anya. When I'd returned to Andromeda and met the good Colonel for the first time, Anya was the only one of his team who appeared to have any human tendencies. Then, and since, she'd always had a smile for me. If it hadn't been for Romy I'd have been very tempted to make a pass at her. Tall at five foot ten, long dark brown hair usually gathered into some sort of bun at the back of her head revealing her shapely neck, medium, athletic build, sculptured features, curved lips suggesting sensuality...

"Governor..." the Colonel inclined his head. "I hope we haven't kept you waiting?"

"Moments only," I reassured him, then smiled. "I think we might get along more expeditiously with a little less formality ... James."

He sighed, then smiled too. "Very well, Hex. Ma'am..." as he acknowledged Romy.

Romy smiled ... those dimples... "Colonel. Romy will do well, Colonel."

"Very well, Ma'am ... Romy. Given names all round, then, for now." But he then grinned at the two ecologists and his assistant, "or whatever is most comfortable..."

The smiles on the faces of the two ecologists were a little sickly.

"So..." the Colonel looked round expectantly.

"Sirs, Ma'am..." the man spoke first, "I'm Simon Pendle, and my colleague is Peggy ... that is, Margaret ... Smith. I need to start by saying that, no matter what we'd like to think, we do not have an absolute understanding of xeno-ecology. Also, our report must be considered preliminary; it would take decades and a much bigger team to compile anything comprehensive."

"I think we can take that as read, Simon," I interjected, "but it will go in the record."

"Thank you, sir. Peggy?"

"This is an impoverished ecology," the woman said. "Also, I believe, a fragile one, with, for the most part, only one species for each niche, and no large fauna at all, as you've noticed." She paused and looked round. "What's interesting is that the chemistry and biology of the planet appears to be completely compatible with that of Earth. We could almost certainly grow food crops here that would be fully nutritious. That is good from one perspective. However, it is likely that anything we import would become invasive and out compete the native species. It might be the other way round, but I don't think so. Similarly with fauna. We cannot import animals without also importing micro-organisms than would interfere with the existing ecology. That, Sirs, Ma'am, is the substance of our report, though we've dressed it up in enough jargon to satisfy the bureaucrats at home."

There was a pregnant silence. Some sporadic clearing of throats never quite turned into speech. Romy's hand found mine. She was the first to speak.

"As I understand it ... introducing Terran flora and fauna will either fail or, most likely, out compete the native species?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"And that ... Romy ... would contravene our colonisation rules. Destroying a native ecology on a planet with a sentient presence is a big no-no," the Colonel inserted gravely.

"But if the ... ruling sentient ... made it a request? Not to destroy, but to take a chance?"

"Might work. But might require a personal representation on Old Earth. It would be your decision."

"No, it would be Hex's."

"Law says, native sentience, not Governor."

"Our law says property owner. That would be Hex. Not 'the Governor', Hex."

He frowned. I turned to Romy.

"You're going to lay this on me?"

Her expression was sombre. "I have to. It's how I'm programmed."

Oh, my ... I hated to be reminded of the nature of Romy's existence.

There was a further silence. One might even say, a pregnant pause.

"Romy ... you wanted your planet repopulated..."

"Yes, Hex. That's why I brought you here. Not you, specifically, of course..."

"But you wanted a functioning society..." She nodded, and I went on. "So if I ... as the 'Owner', decided to request colonisation, despite the risk to the native ecology, you could ... you would... do what was necessary." It wasn't a question, and Romy knew that. "Only one problem, Beloved. How do you get off planet?"

"I don't, Hex. My Representative does."

I returned to Earth in my little Sprinter (Alpha Ten) courier ship. Romy's ... Andromeda's... 'Representative' residing in a small device mounted on a belt. I had an identical backup for my own waist.

I'd suppose it was strange for the reception committee to be meeting a tiny, one-man courier ship with full diplomatic honours at the John F. Kennedy space-port. (Some day I really ought to find out who the place was named after.)

I wore a Captain's dress uniform, about the most formal thing I could think of, and actuated Andromeda's avatar just before undogging the hatch. She formed, or materialised, or whatever, perfectly presented in one of those flowing gowns. That one had a deep hood and it was a little hard to tell what colours it was; shimmering greens, browns, reds and yellows that baffled the eye.

Romy and I had discussed this part. The avatar was the default, not 'Romy'. A little over six feet tall and hairless, though with the hood over her head that couldn't be seen. Her voice was a rich contralto, deeper than Romy's. My feeling was that she'd be accepted as the representative of an alien species much better if she appeared alien, and that it would be better all round if we ... that is I, really ... could set aside our, my, feelings for the duration.

I followed her out, down the short ramp to the ground, a pace behind. Our reasoning, arrived at after lengthy study of diplomatic protocols and precedent, was that the elected representative of the Federation Council was 'first among equals', so I, as a planetary Governor should defer to him, but that Andromeda, as a guest, should take precedence over all of us. She took some convincing of that, but played her part to perfection. I saluted. She accepted his bow with a graceful incline of her head and a stream of liquid syllables, followed by, "That is, Mister President, I gratefully accept your welcome and hope that we can arrive expeditiously at a mutually acceptable agreement."

"Thank you, Madam..."

"I am best addressed as 'Andromeda', sir. No further honorific is necessary."

We were conducted to a VIP suite – a highly secure and very swish suite – at the New York Hilton. I'd never moved in such circles, but I did know the place had only recently been completely rebuilt to out-luxury one of the other famous hotels. Andromeda had, I'm sure, upset most of the officials by insisting on sharing the suite with me. It did, after all, have two independent rooms, each with its own facilities, which merely shared a large lounge area.

"But Hex, I would not be at all happy to be separated from you," she'd insisted. "I trust you. Sadly, I don't really trust your bureaucrats."

I grimaced. "I'm sorry, but I know what you mean. Anyhow, I'm here for you. You ... we ... have a press conference tomorrow morning. Then in the afternoon, your introduction to the representatives of the United Planets. A lot of diplomatic hoo-ha and at some point there will be committees which will need your testimony. It could take weeks."

"And all the time, you'll be stuck with me."

I smiled. "I wouldn't put it like that."

Her smooth face was not as expressive as a human one, but I thought I could read her scepticism there. "Well," she said, "there's no need for me to continue to function until tomorrow morning. Let's go and ruffle the sheets in my room and you can shut me down ... then if you lock the door, a knock and a call 'Andromeda', will wake me up."

That's what we did and I went back to the other room. I stood in the middle of it for some time before undressing, showering and getting ready for bed myself. I lay there, wide awake, and groaned. "Oh, Romy."

"Yes, Hex?"

Oh, great. Now I'm hallucinating.

A warm, naked, female body slipped into bed behind me.

Well, if this is a hallucination, it's a very solid one.

"You didn't think I'd let you be lonely, did you?"

I hesitated.

"You did?"

"I thought we'd agreed we had to present a ... polite façade to the world?"

"Yes, but it was easy enough to separate two personae. Shut up, Hex, and make love to me."

So I did. Happily. In the morning, after a joint shower ... for fun, not because she needed one ... she de-materialised. I hated to let her go, but took comfort that she was, in fact, with me in the little unit strapped to my waist.

I knocked on the door of the other room and called, "Andromeda!" The other avatar appeared, wearing an almost imperceptible satisfied expression.

The press-conference was almost vanilla. Andromeda was pressed on the issue of the native ecology of her planet.

"The culture which created me," she said, "effectively made our ecology moribund. I made the decision to try to find a species to colonise my planet rather than have it degenerate into a desert. We will initially restrict the colonisation to the larger of the two continents and involve none of the islands. There will be no need to interfere with the seas. Yes, there are risks, but they are risks I am willing ... that I wish ... to take. I..." she paused, and looked down. It might have been theatrical. It may well have been seen as theatrical ... but I was sure it wasn't. She went on, "I was alone, and lonely. That is no longer true."

If the questions about the ecology were challenging, the next question was intrusive.

"What is your relationship to the Governor ... to Captain Finch?"

"We are colleagues, and we are friends."

"Very good friends?"

Andromeda stared at the questioner for several seconds until she (the questioner) dropped her eyes. "In my culture, such a question would be seen as an unforgivable invasion of privacy. You would be excluded from my circle and as word got round, you would find yourself unacceptable in society. However, I understand that such is not the case here, so I will, just once, answer it. I like, trust and respect Captain Finch. However, I am not capable of having an intimate relationship with him or any other human. Not that it is any of your business, but I lack the ... equipment to do so."

That, effectively, ended the press-conference, not that the journalists recognised the fact and they kept niggling on for a further twenty minutes. Having seen what they could do to others in the spotlight, I was not happy, but there wasn't much I could do about it except murmur in her ear, "Andromeda, I don't think there's anything more constructive that is going to be asked, or that you want to answer. Shall I call a halt?"

"Yes, please," she answered with a smile, and stepped back.

"Ladies ... gentlemen..." I addressed the representatives of the mass media, "Andromeda has nothing further to add today. If you will excuse us, we need to prepare for her appearance before the UP Federation Council." I stepped back and offered my arm in as courtly a manner as I could manage. She took it and I escorted her out of the room.

To be truthful, Andromeda didn't need any time to 'prepare' for her appearance, which even if she did become ruffled, could be amended in moments by the circuits in her projector. The same could not be said of me. A shower to rinse away the sour sweat of my anxiety about the press conference and cool me down, a change of dress from my normal uniform to my full-dress one ... you'd think a modern uniform could be lighter and more comfortable than something from the eighteenth century. The braid alone seemed to weigh a tonne.

Although we were only a few blocks from the UP building, it was apparently necessary for us to go by ground-car – large, black, with tinted, reflective windows. To go with the limo, archaic, two-wheeled outriders ahead and behind. Wheels, on a modern vehicle...

Having become accustomed to travelling at speed, at ground level on Andromeda, at least I wasn't bothered by that. In fact, it seemed we were crawling along at little more than walking speed. But we arrived, nonetheless, and a gaudily uniformed functionary opened the door for Andromeda, who stepped out and greeted the welcoming committee. One of them offered her an arm, but she looked round for me and took mine. That might not have been the most diplomatic move in the universe.

She was introduced to the assembly and stepped to the podium; cool, self-possessed and confident.

"Good afternoon," she said, then repeated the words or their equivalent in fifty different languages and dialects. It was easy to sense the warming of the delegates just from that.

"I hope you will forgive me for continuing in English. I am sure you don't want to be here for several days. I would be happy in the future to communicate with anyone, one-on-one, in their native language." That caused a stir – the implication that she was fully fluent in fifty or more languages, none of which were native to her. I hadn't given a thought to her potential abilities in that area, but I can't say I was surprised once I thought about it.

She spoke for perhaps half an hour, outlining her hopes for a mutually satisfactory co-operation between her and Earth, ending with words about the environment.

"I understand there are concerns about preserving the native ecology of my planet. While I do not wish to destroy for the sake of destruction, and intend to preserve as much as possible, I do see that as secondary to my main aim of restoring a viable society on my planet. I hope we can reach an agreement quite soon, but my remit is to return with an agreement if at all possible, rather than to rush into one without proper consultation. I can say with confidence that I do in fact have the authority to negotiate without reference home. I thank you for your attention and am happy to respond to any general questions that we have time for."

I don't think that was intended by the 'management', but it went down well, especially as she responded to each in the questioner's native tongue, even when the question was placed in English ... she spoke in Mandarin, Russian, Pashtu, Farsi, Japanese ... and several others I had never heard of ... before the President closed the meeting and announced that we would, of course, all meet again that evening at the customary banquet. Then it was back to the car and return to the hotel to freshen up.

Diplomatic socialising. Rubber food. Conversation that varied between inane, intrusive, bland and clearly ignorant. Andromeda shone; elegant in a variation of her flowing gown, articulate, straightforward, sometimes penetrating. I thought no one would underestimate her in the future. I just hoped whoever was involved in the negotiations would approach them with the same attitude...

When, much later, we were back at our suite, Andromeda told me she would not switch to stand-by, but rather audit some of our mass media.

"Okay, but approach it all with a healthy scepticism," I smiled.

"I will. I think I can discern the difference between supposed factual reporting and dramatic fiction."

In my room, I got naked with Romy for shower and bed. I was tired ... but not too tired.

Romy woke me barely an hour after I got to sleep. "We have an intruder," she whispered.

"What?" I was louder than I should have been.

"Hush, Hex. He won't ... can't ... do any harm. But come..."

I opened the door to the lounge quietly, in time to see a figure at Andromeda's door, doing something with the lock; the door swung open silently and he stepped through it.

I crossed the room and got to the other room in time to see the intruder lay a hand on Andromeda's arm. There was a faint buzz, he convulsed and dropped unconscious to the floor.

"He is alive," Andromeda said. "You probably would like to get dressed before you call security."

"Oh," I responded. "Yeah ... of course."

Romy, naked, was standing behind me. "And I had better not be here when they get here," she said, and disappeared.

There should have been an agent outside our door; he was found somewhat later, trussed up like a turkey ready for roasting, and stuffed in an equipment store a few yards away. The team leader was very apologetic.

"As you now know, I have my own protective resources," Andromeda said.

"Would you like to tell me what others you have?"

"I don't think so."

In the morning, we had to run the gauntlet of a demonstration by the ecology campaign group 'Apocalypse'. Supposedly the name expresses their aim of a restoration of every world to its 'natural, original, pristine', condition ... by violence, if necessary. Both when leaving the hotel and arriving at the UP building, one or two demonstrators managed to get a hand through the cordon of security to touch Andromeda. In each case, there was a slight buzz, again, and the hand jerked back. However, neither individual dropped. Later on, Andromeda explained that it was unnecessary to knock them out, merely necessary to discourage them.

I have never enjoyed meetings. I have never been a diplomat, or a negotiator; all I ever wanted to be was a starship pilot. I have a science background and like things black and white. Stellar navigation requires precision; repeatable precision. Unfortunately, politics are not like that. I would never have believed the convoluted arguments, the twisted logic the delegates came up with...

"No," Andromeda said at one point, "I don't think quotas would work. We need couples who possess skills to build a viable society, in food production, in renewable energy, communication. I want the society to be independent of my technology as far as possible. While I have ample power for the present situation, it is not infinite."


"No, I am not interested in your racial divisions. Cross-fertilization makes for a healthier breed."


"I am not interested in gender alignments. All colonists must be willing to contribute to the gene pool. Some modern medicine may be permitted, I suppose, but the society should be as independent of that as possible."

You might gather the discussions were not straightforward.

We had to insist on no work-related subjects at lunch to minimise indigestion, but such could not be avoided at the frequent meet and greet evenings. However, Andromeda continued to assimilate knowledge about Earth, its history, culture and science base while I curled up with Romy whenever possible.

We'd been on Earth for a couple of weeks when, having arrived back at the hotel, I was informed I had a visitor...

I just looked at the receptionist with blank incomprehension. "If it's media, tell them I have nothing to say."

"She says personal business..." pause, clicking... "yes. A Ms. Sutherland..."

It took a noticeable period of time before I processed that. Katy? Katy, here?"

Katy it was. Slim, perfectly groomed, gorgeous as ever. Memories ... old warmth. Despite the way we'd parted. But nothing more. A friend, perhaps; certainly still a beautiful and desirable woman, but nothing more. "Katy," I greeted her, warmly enough, I thought.

"Hex ... hi." I made no move to close the three or four feet that separated us as we regarded each other. The silence grew. Before it became uncomfortable, she went on, "Were you going to get in touch?"

"I've been a little preoccupied," I prevaricated.

"I can imagine. But that isn't what I was asking."

"No. It's ... complicated, Katy..."

"So I gather..." she stepped towards me and peered into my eyes. "You've found someone else," she said, flatly, suddenly.

"In a manner of speaking, yes, I have."

"In a manner of speaking? Come on, Hex. You either have, or you haven't. Is it that Andromeda? I saw that interview where she said she was incapable of having an intimate relationship with any human."

"And she's correct. It's ... well, someone back on Andromeda. I can't say more than that at the moment."

She grunted. "Oh, well. I suppose I have only myself to blame..." she sighed. "What's she like? Andromeda, I mean. Not the complicated girlfriend."

"Wanna meet her?"

"Can I?"

"Don't see why not. If we can get you past Cerberus at the portal."

She laughed, "Seriously?"

"Yeah. They take the protection of visiting dignitaries seriously." I didn't mention the intruder.

I don't know why, but the sentry did not challenge my companion. Katy's eyes widened when Andromeda walked into the room and greeted her in that velvety contralto voice.

"Ah, Miss Sutherland. I am so pleased to meet you at last."

"You ... you know me?"

"To be sure! That data-chip you gave Hex enabled us to create a ... likeness ... with which we were able to open communication with him."


"Hex..." Andromeda turned her attention to me, "could you leave Miss Sutherland with me? I think there are things we need to discuss in private?"

"Well..." I hesitated, but in the end, what could I do? "Okay. There's no dinner engagement this evening, so I'll leave you to it..."

"Hex..." Katy's voice carried a freight of emotion. "Could we have dinner together later?"

In for a penny, in for a pound. "Why not?"

Her expression was clearly one of disappointment at my lack of enthusiasm.

I didn't know how long they'd be and was reluctant to summon Romy, so I settled down to browse the news-casts. They seemed to fall (in respect to Andromeda) into two groups; the 'Opportunity to Settle a New World' group and the 'We Must Not Defile Another World' group. The dichotomy was worrying and I wondered what they could do; I could see hazards both ways. The problem, as I saw it, was that both sides had a valid point, but that neither was really willing to acknowledge it.

Katy and Andromeda emerged some forty minutes later.

"Katy wishes to meet Romy," Andromeda said. I raised an eyebrow. "I think it will be okay, and it is necessary," she went on.

I shrugged. "Romy?"

There was a shimmering, a sparkling column of light (if you're a Trekkie you'll know what I'm describing and I couldn't think why Romy/Andromeda thought it necessary to make such a performance) and Romy stood beside me. Her eyes met Katy's.

"I am pleased to meet you, Miss Sutherland," Romy offered.

Katy nodded and a wry smile curled her lip. "I'm not sure I can say the same, Romy, I'm afraid, but having talked to Andromeda, I don't think I have a prayer of competing ... even if I were prepared to emigrate." She turned to me. "Hex ... you won't be returning to Earth any time soon, will you?"

I met her eyes steadily. "It's unlikely, Katy. I think I've found ... purpose, I suppose. Something that has a greater priority than piloting a fold-space ship, anyway."

"Then I won't hold you to that dinner, Hex. I think I'll take myself home." She turned back to Romy. "Look after him, won't you?"

"Of course," Romy responded. "That's my purpose, after all."

The discussions got to a point where various delegates needed to consult their respective governing bodies, which meant a hiatus. That was good, because it gave us an opportunity to see more than the hotel and the United Planets building. Andromeda absorbed information in whatever form like a sponge, of course. I don't, but I was very pleased to have the opportunity to sample the scientific, historical and cultural offerings of one of Earth's principal cities. I'd never happened to have the chance before. I suppose the Smithsonian was the highlight for me; I can't say which of the many attractions we sampled appealed most to Andromeda. Talk about a poker face ... It made me think, though. Was she actually 'inscrutable', or was it merely a characteristic of her creator's race? Or was it that the emotions Romy expressed ... seemed to express ... were merely programmed responses? That niggled at me, though barely at a conscious level.

It took time, even using fold-space, before they all returned prepared for constructive discussion. I'm told that, in terms of diplomatic exchange, the proceedings were actually extremely fast. All I can say is ... I was never cut out to be a diplomat.

The day of the treaty signing dawned some eight weeks after our arrival. Andromeda stood at the podium, about to speak; she was dressed in another of those gowns, spring colours that time ... she looked good. But then the lights flickered and went out; all the displays blanked. There was light from the windows and I saw Andromeda flicker and disappear, her personal projector thumped to the floor. The subsequent chaos was quite predictable; a few moments of stunned silence followed immediately by screams and scrambling for the exits. Myself, I didn't see the point of panicking. I made my way counter to the general mêlée, to where Andromeda had been standing. The projector unit lay, with its belt, on the ground and I moved to pick it up only to come face to face with a tough-looking woman. She was dressed to fit in with the crowd, but I had the feeling she'd be more comfortable in military fatigues. She beat me to the unit.

"So ... you're a traitor to your race and your planet, as well as working to despoil another planet."

"The hell you say?"

"I think a little publicity about this..." she held up the unit, "will be most effective in turning the world against you and your plans. I must say, it was a most effective scam."

"No scam," I said evenly, "and I'd strongly recommend you put that down before you get hurt."

"I don't think so. Our EMP weapon has been more effective than we even hoped. We hadn't suspected what you were doing. I think we've thoroughly spoilt your plans."

"Not my plans, lady." I was unsure of where to go. I was sure I couldn't convince her of the truth of the situation and I didn't know if what they'd done had permanently damaged the unit, or the one I was wearing, for that matter. I decided on a gamble. "Andromeda!"

It worked. Andromeda appeared, or materialised, or whatever, in a column of sparkling light, reached out and took hold of the device, though the woman didn't immediately release it.

"Return my property, if you please." Polite to a turn.

"And if I don't please?"

"I may have to hurt you, which would cause some conflicts in my programming."

"The way you treated Declan?"

"That was difficult, but I needed to defend myself and I did no lasting damage."

Their eyes were locked together and there appeared to be a battle of wills, though I suspect it was more a case of the stubborn woman trying to affect one who was constitutionally programmed to be oblivious to such tactics. There was a quiet 'zzzip', the woman jerked and released the projector. "I apologise," Andromeda said, "but I did warn you."

The woman stepped back, her mouth an O of surprise, which was intensified when Andromeda shimmered and her robe disappeared, leaving her naked; slim, tall, hairless and androgynous. She fastened the device around her waist, there was a shimmer, and she was once more demurely draped in her robe. She reached out to the woman, who backed away.

"I will not hurt you," Andromeda said gently. "But you need to know why I am doing ... what I'm doing. I think you have never been alone. You, and your friends, are welcome to visit my home and see what I intend."

"I ... I ... I don't know..." the woman stammered. I suspected she was unused to 'not knowing' and was uncomfortable.

"If you wish to take us up on the offer, we can be contacted at the Hilton," I said. "It might not go down too well, but we do have some say on who can visit. Oh, and if you leave now, you'll probably avoid the security team which will doubtless be on their way."

She looked at me, then Andromeda, before nodding and turning away. Andromeda looked at me. "Why did you let her go, Hex? Surely we should have kept her here for your authorities?"

"I should, yes. However, she did no harm and might be convertible. Perhaps not, but putting her through the justice system would only ratchet up the tension, I think. If I'm wrong, then I'm sorry."

When security arrived a few minutes later ... and where had they been during the upset? ... we were talking about other things. They escorted us back to the hotel. The EMP weapon had disabled electronic equipment in about a one kilometre radius. The demonstrators were mingled outside with those who had left the building, and we had to wait for a functioning vehicle to be brought up. I suppose it was too much to expect that we be allowed to walk back to the hotel...

The Vid-cast news was, as usual, full of speculation. Wild speculation. However, one crumb of probably accurate data was that the problem was caused by a low-powered and relatively clean nuclear device. Who had used it and why was unknown, though as I say, speculation was rife. I was puzzled, and unable to offer Andromeda an explanation. Surely, a 'green' pressure group would not resort to a nuclear weapon? Would they?

The Treaty signing was rearranged a week on in the midst of heightened security, and a week later Andromeda and I were ready to return to her home. The Powers That Be were unhappy about my using my little old Sprinter to transport a Planetary Representative, or even, for that matter, a Governor. That being me. They assigned me a Gamma Ten transport. It was elderly, but had been refurbished, and was almost luxurious. They agreed ... reluctantly ... to let me keep my old Sprinter, and Betty, but insisted it ... she ... make the flight unmanned. The Gamma Ten had its own pilot, a Commander, somewhat older than myself. I hoped that wouldn't raise any issues; he seemed friendly enough.

We had space for several ecologists, who were coming to further evaluate Andromeda (the planet, that is). We also had space for Cassandra Wright, the eco-freak who had wanted to abduct (should that be steal?) Andromeda, and Petrus Jackson, of whose status I was unsure. I left Andromeda to talk to them when the pilot invited me to the flight-deck, sure that she would monitor them to ensure they didn't get up to anything unfortunate.

Two days. At least some of that time could be spent with the pilot; not to mention Romy, of course. But Romy couldn't be wandering around outside my cabin...

As it turned out, I could tell that the pilot didn't really want me cluttering up his control-deck and our two eco-freaks, unused to space-travel of any sort, decided it was better to grill Andromeda and me, than sit around brooding and being bored, so I was in fact occupied when not sleeping, until we landed back at the space-port. While we'd been away, an area of the port had been cleared of vegetation. Not a large area, but big enough for the two craft we had, plus one or two more the size of the Gamma ten. Commander Whitfield, the pilot of the latter, found himself sent off back to Earth with communications from the E and C and Ecology teams.

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