After decades of finding only worlds barren of life human space explorers finally came on a planet so teeming with it that they named it Eden. There even appeared to be intelligent inhabitants in an early stage of agricultural civilization. But when the first landing party reached the surface they were immediately attacked by the natives, and only two of the party escaped alive.

Many years later a second expedition was dispatched to Eden, led jointly by sociologist Amanda Meiersdottir and military Col. Carlos Igwanda. This time the Edenites seemed friendly, but that was soon unveiled as a mere ruse when they mounted a surprise attack on the landing party. Igwanda, who alone had remained suspicious of the aliens' motives, rebuffed the assault by deducing that they were telepathically conjoined in a "hive mind" and interrupting their mental link.

He and Meiersdottir remained on the planet to further explore the Edenites' mentality and motivation, and began to forge the beginnings of a relationship with the alien collective. They learned that the Edenites were both afraid of the human incursions and covetous of their weapons and other artifacts, and offered to teach the rudiments of technology in exchange for the natives' reciprocation about, especially, their unique mind connection.

When they returned to the mothership for consultation, however, two members of Igwanda's military task force—in fact military intelligence operatives—sought to destroy the native community with nuclear weapons they'd smuggled on board. The colonel, though, had previously uncovered the weapons and disarmed them, and the two operatives chose to commit suicide rather than face punishment after their effort failed.

Over time a friendship came into tenuous being between the humans and Edenites, only to be rudely cut short when a freak storm caused a second interruption of the aliens' mental link. Forewarned by the human defense against their first attack the collective mind had put in place a directive that every Edenite should seek to kill all humans if their mental connection again failed. Igwanda saved the party this time by leading the humans into the Edenites' subterranean nest where the females, who were at the heart of the mental collective, were sequestered.

Both humans and Edenites were initially reluctant to resume their relationship, but Meiersdottir and the chief Edenite female negotiated a more solid foundation for the interspecies friendship. So greatly did the relationship ripen that when Igwanda and Meiersdottir—who'd become lovers during their sojourn on the planet—married the colonel chose an Edenite to serve as his best man; and when Meiersdottir later gave birth to their son a native female attended her, using a contact form of the natives' mental powers to suppress all sensation of pain.

Because the Edenites' mind link worked by a low-frequency electromagnetic signal they'd been geographically restricted to a single small colony; across longer distances the linking signal became too attenuated and time-lagged to work effectively. When the humans showed them how to use alternative frequencies, however, they decided to split into two colonies and send out an exploratory vanguard in search of additional deposits of metal ores.

But the humans couldn't stay to see the results of this brave experiment. Because of fundamental differences in the ecologies of the two worlds Eden food sources wouldn't nourish them, and the great mothership was running low on supplies. The explorers were compelled to return home before the remote Eden settlement took hold.

After a mixed set of experiences on Earth, Igwanda and Meiersdottir and their baby, Meier, joined a new crew aboard the reprovisioned ship for a return voyage to Eden. Igwanda had by now resigned his commission and would travel as a civilian while a younger commander, Maj. Siegfried Miller, took over military support of the expedition.

Although the Edenites appeared to welcome the human return, and over Igwanda's disagreement, Miller remained darkly suspicious of the aliens. His fears were soon realized as the humans became enmired in hostilities that were breaking out between the two separated native communities. Unable to consummate their accustomed mental linkage with each other, they had grown quickly apart to the point that actual warfare between them seemed imminent.

In an effort to defuse the situation Meiersdottir took her family to visit the newly established settlement. She and her son were taken hostage there, and Igwanda was sent back with a message that the humans must support the rebels in the expected war or the hostages would be killed.

Accompanied by Igwanda, Miller took his troops to the surface with the intent of using superior human weaponry to destroy the advance parties of both factions. Igwanda, certain this would mean the death of his wife and child, offered a more peaceful alternative. Before he could even complete his thought Miller, outraged that his authority might be challenged, attacked the former colonel and was roundly defeated and severely injured in a brief scuffle.

With none to object Igwanda then arranged to again disrupt the natives' mental link, leaving open but a single narrow waveband. Left without any choice but to intercommunicate, the Edenites quickly resolved their differences and the hostages were freed. Miller was confined to quarters for the remainder of their stay and Igwanda assumed command of his troops while the humans and Edenites resumed their friendship.

During their visit to the planet one of Igwanda's original troopers, now promoted to sergeant, fell in love with one of the scientists in the new crew. The two planned to emulate the colonel and his wife in marrying on Eden. Miller, however, escaped his confinement, stole a weapon and threatened the wedding party with mayhem. When his weapon (by design) malfunctioned he was subdued and the wedding proceeded—all of it witnessed by the Edenites.

Shortly afterwards, though, the alien female with whom Meiersdottir had first made peace summoned the sociologist and her husband and asked them to take all of the humans away and not to return. The humans, said the Edenite, were too contentious, too individualistic, and too materialistic, and too much of that had rubbed off on the natives; they could no longer abide this "sickness," she told them.

Sadly the humans packed up to depart. At the end only Meiersdottir, Igwanda and little Meier were left on the planet awaiting their shuttle back to the great mothership in orbit above, when the two Edenite males with whom they'd had the greatest contact, including the one Igwanda had named as best man, came to say farewell to them. For both it was yet another revelation of the degree of individuality that the aliens' collective mind allowed and respected. And with that the last humans left Eden, seemingly forever.

It was now more than sixty years later...

Chapter 1 »

Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Heterosexual / Science Fiction / Slow /