by Ronald Lebeck on 2017-10-12
In 2513, six months after the Sol Federation ships Nightwing, Shadow Storm, and Darkfire made their historic voyage to Mûr Zhæn--the homeworld of the Mûr Tua'ansa Star Empire--the Terran embassy was established in the capital city of Zhæn'ana. The human husband and wife Diplomatic Corps team of William and Cassandra Nicolini were excited when they learned of their assignment to the new Terran embassy on Mûr Zhæn, where they would be in charge of Cultural Exchange. The Nicolinis would be bringing their twenty-year-old son, Craig, with them to Mûr Zhæn with the idea that it would at least benefit his interest in Xeno Art and Music--and perhaps help his social skills.
Craig Nicolini was, by all accounts, a kind-hearted, generous, and helpful--though inept--young man. His well-meaning actions seemed to go astray more often than not, and his social skills were such that he tended to be a "wall flower" at parties and other functions. Craig was fairly intelligent, and was--once he opened up--rather conversant on popular art and music from several worlds in the Sol Federation. He had a growing collection of exotic musical instruments, some were difficult--if not impossible--for most humanoids to play. His favorite instrument was the ha'nurideen, a traditional nine-stringed instrument favored by current Élendorian pop music bands. When Craig's parents told him that they were going to Mûr Zhæn and would be spending the next five Standard Terran Years in the new embassy, he wasn't particularly thrilled at the idea of leaving home. The thought of being on a world with an ancient civilization whose people were tall, nocturnal, possessed incredible psi abilities, and were decidedly scary looking, made him nervous.
For a young Mûr Tua'ansa woman, Ilen-Saa'an, Fourth Daughter of the House of Ilen, a lower house of Mûr Zhæn's Third Circle, life was about to be turned upside-down. Ilen-Saa'an knew her place in society--almost no chance of being paired with a mate from a house with higher status. She worked as the Second Assistant to the owner of a small eatery, a job that allowed her to purchase the one thing in her life she could enjoy--her Tal'esna Je-mah, a type of speeder bike. Although Ilen-Saa'an could simply teleport to work from her home, she preferred riding her bike for the thrill it gave her. Life for Ilen-Saa'an was predictable, and that was enough for her, but one evening a chance encounter with a strange alien male changed everything.