The cobblestone streets in the quarter they passed reminded Reina of ancient Earth's and provided rough going. Strange smells of cooking and other things less pleasant wafted from the buildings. Tortured fountains and odd sculptures reminded Reina she was the alien here. Vague whispers wound around her. Fragments of thoughts and emotions bled through her shields from unseen people in nearby houses.
Reina slid a look at the others, who seemed unaffected. She grimaced and tried without success to tighten her shields. Perhaps since strong espers were the norm on Magoria, they had learned to shut out the constant psychic babble. But Reina wanted to shriek out her need for quiet. When she flinched at a particularly loud transmission, Colos realized her condition. A comforting blanket of silence surrounded her. He merely smiled at her questioning look and continued on.
The path they took wound through various districts, up and down through squares and greens and alleys until Reina felt she would never find her way out of the maze. Her dependence on these people was complete. She wasn't sure she liked it at all. After what seemed an eternity of traveling, they halted before a massive carved door. Without any apparent effort, the two women pushed it aside to reveal a narrow, winding staircase.
With an inward groan, Reina followed them as they began to ascend it. Her exhaustion was such she felt near her breaking point and wondered if she looked as bad as she felt. Colos supported her to the top, where another elaborately worked door stood. The group stopped. Colos turned toward Reina with an intent look. She closed her eyes against the intensity of his broadcast.
*Little one, we expected you. We feel your destiny joins ours. You have nothing to fear and much to learn. We want you to experience our closeness here. Please help us in our own mission.*
He gentled his voice in her head and sent only comfort. The last of her defensive shields melted away. Her hopes and fears poured out into Colos' receptive mind. Waves of love and acceptance flowed over her. She wanted to make this place her home. Yet, a nagging fear kept her anxious and wary. How could she accept their offer? She knew nothing of them. And with what she did know of the Corps, the ramifications of leaving it turned her cold.
The three companions wore enigmatic smiles as they turned to the door. Colos gave a hand signal. The huge door swung inward without visible assistance. He ushered Reina in first, then the others followed. Behind them, the door thudded closed. Reina couldn't help her gasp at the magnificent room before her. The decor brought to mind the Moorish rule of Spain in ancient Terran history.
Around a small central fountain and pool, large cushions lay on the patterned tiled floor. A few scattered chairs clung to the walls. Heavy draperies hung from ceiling to floor, tied aside to show low tables and works of art. The representations obviously came from many worlds.
In one corner, a statue of an Ardorian Gor ape glared out at the room. A low table sported a plastiform preserved Markonian sand-snake, poised to strike. A finely spun native Magorian trimian-dust tapestry hung on a far wall. Below it, on a pedestal, stood an ancient Terran Kachina doll. Faerie's soft voice interrupted Reina's study.
"Come, you must be hungry." At Reina's nod, the tiny woman led her to another room where another low rectangular table had dishes and candles laid out.
Diaphanous curtains hung from this room's ceiling and the windows curved in gentle arches, screened with intricate latticework. Reina sat on the plump cushion Faerie indicated. The events of the last few hours overwhelmed her. Around her, others moved to the table, speaking in subdued voices.
They placed a feast of exotic and unnamed foods before her. Experienced enough to know better than ask and lose her appetite, she began eating. Everything tasted exquisite, bursting in on her taste buds with pleasure. The meal relaxed her and she made little noises of enjoyment with each new dish. When she realized what she was doing, her face flamed in embarrassment. The others smiled and nodded, but didn't laugh at her.
She pushed away from her plate with a stomach uncomfortably full. Rhael and Faerie cleared the dishes, then the group moved back to the main room. Colos sat in a large wooden chair, carved to resemble an extinct Magorian reptilian-like creature. With the subdued lighting and alien setting, he looked like some pagan god from ancient Earth's varied mythology. He waited for everyone to seat themselves, then turned to Reina.
"You have satisfied at least your hunger for food. Meet the rest of our family." Colos gestured to the others seated around the room.
"You already know Rhael, from Magoria, and Faerie." He beckoned to a dark-haired man in the shadows. "Come and meet
The slender man moved forward and sat beside Reina. She sat rigidly, her palms sweating. Dwinl took her hands and placed them on his temples. When she did not remove them, he laid his above her ears. Immediately, a flow of pictures crossed Reina's mind. A welcome came first. After that, she watched him change from man to animal, back again, and then into something to which she could put no name.
A thrill of excitement raced through her. A metamorph! Earth would give a great deal for such a talent, since no Terran known possessed the ability. The thought seemed to provide amusement to Dwinl, but in the next moment Reina felt anything but amused. He painted an exhilarating, yet frightening scene. Reina and he wrestled in a passionate embrace.
She nearly pulled away until he replaced the image with another. Reina watched his early life on Magoria. Through the years, she saw his parents turn from his unusual talent with fear. She still wasn't certain she could trust him, but she understood his pain at the rejections.
Immersed in his memories, she regretted his gradual withdrawal from her mind. He moved away without a word. Reina almost reached out to him, but another man took his place.
Again the same process happened. This time a gigantic blond man named Ahric sat beside her. Ahric came from Markon-3, a heavy gravity planet with a somewhat primitive lifestyle, which explained his heavily muscled body. Although their population developed telekinesis, they still treated their women as property.
Because of his gentleness and belief all people should have equal rights and opportunities, Ahric's people shunned him. He made his way to Magoria. Colos and his group found him. They gave him the best life he had experienced. No longer did Ahric consider himself a freak or a weakling. Reina smiled at him. She had known those feelings on Earth. Ahric and she exchanged reassurance and kindness, then broke the link.
Faerie and the last man of the group, Gaelon, came from Ardos-2. Together, they led Reina into their world, a planet hostile to those who settled there many centuries before. The colonists encapsulated themselves in biospheres against the world's poisonous gases and dangerous life forms. The only safe methods of travel became a network of short underground tunnels for those without teleport talent.
Ardos-2 boasted the sole source of Zarcon. This precious organic substance produced an immunization against Rigellan dust fever. Transportation had proved a problem since the mines lay several hundred kilometers from the cities. Over several hundred years, the Ardosian government solved this problem with the use of talents. A separate class of miners, made up of those with teleportation powers, worked outside the domes in the surface caverns.
The extremely long life span of Ardosians often meant years of toiling in the noxious atmosphere, battling hostile beasts and the native semi-intelligent hominids. Consequently, the population remained level due to accidental death and the occasional escape.
Faerie had fled with Gaelon. Neither regretted leaving their world, nor the fact Ardos-2 outlawed them. Reina empathized with their situation. Their compassion for her struggles on Earth surprised her. With that, they broke the tie and Reina's world became a visual and aural one again.
Colos moved next to her. An anxious knot wrenched her stomach. She couldn't hide her mission from him and she worried how he would react. He hadn't probed her, but she feared when they shared memories any vestige of hiding would become impossible. He smiled at her reaction.
"You shall see our purpose."
Colos showed her how he gathered his people from worlds that did not accept or value their talents. Together, they worked to free those whose rulers subjugated them. Occasionally the group would seek out ancient artifacts using their unique talents. Reina wondered where Colos came from, for it was obvious Magoria didn't claim him.
"Ah, but you don't know do you, Reina Estes?"
His voice jerked her from their mental communion.
"Huh? What don't I know?"
"I'm from Earth, Terra, whatever you wish to call it. I too, am a dissatisfied member of Esper Corps. Twenty years ago I left their tyranny for Magoria's freedom." He laughed at her shocked expression. "Come now, who do you think your 'contact' was on Magoria?"
"But what about Ramses request for help in routing out this group?"
"Ha! That creature will fall from his perch soon. His people strain against his cruel grip. I merely suggested he seek help from the Esper Corps so we might end his reign before he entirely ruins his world."
"Ramses knows me as an expert on archeological artifacts. In fact, I feel responsible for that monster's discovery of the psychic amplifier. It's why I'm determined to bring him down."
Reina digested this latest information, then frowned.
"What about Farnsworth? Didn't he remember your name?"
"How could he? When I left the Corps he knew me as Jaime Farnsworth, his older brother."
Reina sat numbly, unable to reconcile the man before her as the brother of her dour chief. Truly she had fallen into a tangled spider's web.
"So you know why I came here."
"Of course, but even more I know why he chose you for this mission."
She looked at him expectantly.
"He hopes you'll ferret me out. That I am indeed the Colos who has plagued him these past twenty years by helping his unhappy talents to liberation."
Reina stared at him. What was she to do now? She didn't really want to return to Earth, yet she did have loyalties there, too. What of Niall, her teammates, her family? Could she ever give them up completely?
"Don't worry for now, my dear. You're exhausted from traveling and the data dump we've given you. Take time to think it over. You'll make the right choice."
Reina rose stiffly from the cushioned floor and followed Faerie to the room she would call her own. The lushness and size of the place surprised her. So different from a spaceship's cramped berths or the impersonal cubicles assigned to espers on Earth.
Everywhere she looked, softly curved windows invited; draperies flowed, and potted plants grew. It seemed strange for an otherwise built-up, technocrat planet with few wild places to allow such opulence and luxury in personal quarters. On Earth, people generally furnished their homes with a sparing hand. An inbred caution against the destructive indulgence that characterized the Terran population for so long. This richness almost had an obscene flavor. Perhaps it was perfectly normal for people with no open wilderness for escape to bask in extravagance.
Reina rubbed her aching neck muscles, too tired to debate the right and wrong of all she had seen. She undressed wearily, feeling every sore spot, and climbed into the soft bed beside the window. In spite of her exhaustion, she lay staring out into the darkened sky. Magoria's three sister moons glowed softly through the lattice. Warm and drowsy, she began to slip into the comfortable haze of sleep.
The door's click awoke her with pounding heart. She didn't sense any threat, merely another's presence. She reached out with her talent and found a familiar essence. His velvet soft voice didn't surprise her.
"We are one. You have nothing to fear. Let me warm you. Take care of you." From the shadows, Dwinl emerged to stand beside her bed. "If you desire, I will leave. If you fear hurt, we will merge only our minds."
An inexplicable surge of sexual desire rippled through her and left her heated and tingling. Immediate shame rushed behind it. A little over two weeks had passed since she and Niall had made love. Yet she slavered over this stranger. She must control herself better.
Dwinl reached down and touched her face. Like someone drowning, she clung to his feather-light caress. Somehow it seemed almost fated they join. Once more the picture of their bodies locked in passion flooded her mind. The picture blurred. Another Dwinl and Reina, different in body yet the same souls, had lived and loved on Magoria. Her fatigue and worries fled, replaced with the warmth of sunlight. She turned to Dwinl like a flower to the sun.
"A thousand years have passed since then. I have waited for your return so long. Colos knew of my longing when he brought you here. Your alienation on Earth came from the many lifetimes you have lived here on Magoria."
What he said seemed right and true, despite the bizarre situation. She could not deny this slim dark stranger's pull on her body and mind.
"I thought Rhael..." She faltered, afraid to put it into words.
"Rhael is my teammate. You are my soul mate. If you join us, Ahric will work with you. But you are mine for loving."
His possessive note bothered her independent self, but soothed the lonely, loving Reina. She reached out to Dwinl and opened her heart and soul to him. Her offer extended solace of mind and body. As if the ancient Dwinl and Reina merged with the present, fires ran through their bodies. Their physical and psychic beings charged with new energy.
Dwinl stretched out beside her, pressed to her flesh so closely she became uncertain where he began and she ended. His hands stroked and caressed her back, loins and breasts until she thought she would die. She ached to feel him within her. Reina pleaded with him until at last he rose above her and settled into his home. Even Niall's loving had never filled her with such ecstasy. Dwinl waited for her to climax, then allowed himself release.
She expected him to roll away and leave her. Instead he remained within her until he hardened again, then began his loving anew. Later, Dwinl pulled her close and rested her head on his shoulder. She felt more sated physically and mentally than she thought possible. In the dim light of the setting moon, she made her decision. Earth would lose another Esper to Magoria's seduction.