Recruiting Lessons


By Brantley Thompson Elkins

The gunman smirked as he suddenly raised his weapon and fired it at the woman. The burst was right on target – her magnificent breasts. It was truly a sight to behold as she her proudly showed off her invulnerability – and soon millions would behold it.

It was all caught on video – the staccato sound of the automatic, the hail of bullets bouncing off Larissa’s chest as she stood on the roof of Marchalcy Royale headquarters, her hands on her hips and a slight grin on her face, with a view of the sky and the capital cityscape of Toulouse behind her.

It was purely for spectacle, and Sous-Officier Daniel Valgraive’s part in it came only by chance – he’d won that part in a drawing. Prince Gerin had thought it would be a great idea to have the promotional video for the new Velorian Legion shot atop the police building, with one of the police doing the honors. The whole video crew came straight from the Palace – Gerin considered the campaign a Matter of State.

Nobody but Larissa and the videographers and the designated shooter were to be there for the shoot. It would have been a madhouse if other officers had been allowed. But Mareschal Serge LeGrand couldn’t let the others think he was playing favorites, so it had come down to the drawing. And so it had come down to Daniel, who considered it a dubious honor, and who would have nothing to do with how the footage was used. 

The production would be really slick, with an unseen narrator explaining about the Legion as a military arm of the Velorian Enlightenment in the war against the Aurean Empire, helping the Protectors defend member worlds – like his own Clodovie. There’d be stills of the Golden Planet itself, and clips from newscasts of the Battle of Klasten and the liberation of Binkley’s World as the narrator gave an overview of ancient and recent history.

Then would come Daniel’s own part, as Larissa assumed her pose. The narrator would alert viewers to what they were about to see, and even count down to the moment when he smirked on cue, and raised his gun to blast away – actually from a safe distance to protect him from ricochets, but the editing would make it seem otherwise. In a close-up, again according to plan, Larissa would brush her hands across her chest to remove the residue from the explosive bullets – then resume her pose. A closing narration would lay it on really thick, urging viewers to submit applications.

You too may qualify! Find adventure, find romance with the Velorian Legion!”

Daniel wondered how Larissa could manage to keep a straight face, knowing her performance was nothing but a tease. It paid to advertise, he knew, and the Legion was looking for new women – and men. Larissa conveyed just the right appeal to women who wanted to be her and men who wanted to have her. A lot of those men would be coming in their pants; even some of the women might be getting wet between their legs. Only she had to know as well as he did that the video would leave out a lot.

Like, hardly anybody responding to the appeal had any chance of “winning” a place in the Legion, and there was nothing they could do to improve their luck, as they could in buying a raft of tickets in the planetary lottery. Like, they wouldn’t be getting sexy Vitamax uniforms that could stand up to the same punishment as the Legionnaires themselves – Larissa’s was an exception, just to make an impression in her recruiting tour, on which Clodovie was only one of the stops. And the applicants who turned out to be Latents and underwent Enhancement would have to give up lovers who didn’t qualify – which would be a virtual certainty. Perhaps it was just as well that nearly all of them would be shipped offworld before they had time to impress their friends and neighbors. Some might never return if they found new relationships among the Legionnaires.

None of that would matter to Larissa. She was just stopping off here to do a job. She and Daniel had hardly spoken a word before the shoot. Jovan Sauveterre, director of the video crew, had rehearsed them on their roles. That was it as far as conversation went. So he was startled when Larissa opened up to him after the shoot wrapped.

“You were perfect,” she told him. “I was afraid you might be rattled.”

That stunned him. But he managed a quick comeback.

“I’m a gent d’arme. Shooting straight comes with the territory.”

“I should have thought of that,” she said softly, after a moment. 

She must have known about the drawing. She had to have been briefed. She had to know why he was here. If she had looked closely with her Velorian eyes, she even had to know – to his embarrassment – that he had a hard-on. Those pheromones… It must be the same with the video crew, but they weren’t about to mention it, and neither was he. He was wondering what to say now, if anything, when Jovan approached.

“We’re ready to return to the Palace,” he told Larissa, ignoring Daniel – who was stunned again by her response.

“Go ahead,” she said. “I can make my own way. See the sights.”

Jovan seemed displeased, but apparently didn’t want to make an issue of it. He and his crew, who had already packed the equipment, boarded their flitter and took off.

* * *

And so they were alone together.

Daniel looked at Larissa – and Larissa looked at him.

“I don’t think you were crazy about this whole thing,” she said.

“I can’t complain,” he said with a shrug.

“I wasn’t crazy about it either.”

“That’s the third time this afternoon you have me at a loss.”

“How do you feel about it, as an officer?”

Underofficer. I do routine guard duty and patrols, but I don’t get involved in investigative operations. Yet.”

“I’m on an operation myself. But your prince doesn’t seem to appreciate that.”

“Really? After all the planning he put into it?”

“He expected me to put on gold and put out for him, and he wasn’t at all happy when I turned him down. He seemed to think I owed it to him, because he couldn’t get any action with Ragna.”

“The Protector? But doesn’t she—?”

“Arvid’s official status here is only as Velorian ambassador, but he and Ragna are a couple. He could have made Gerin’s overtures to her a diplomatic incident, but chose not to – given the importance of maintaining good relations between Velor and such a strategically important world as yours.”

Larissa paused for a moment.

“Anyway, this whole video shoot was as much to embarrass me as to promote the Legion – on other worlds before I came here, the recruiting campaign was handled in a sober manner. All of the facts, including the risks – none of the tease. As things stand, some of those who qualify for enhancement may have the wrong expectations; they may not realize how essential it is for me to control my reactions, to avoid orgasm in order to spare them serious injury or even death.” 

“We were briefed on that. Just in case any of us qualified.”

“We’ve already checked the lifecypher records the Marchalcy submitted. None of you have.”

“I don’t think they’ll want to talk about that, when they find out. Some of them must have had their hopes up, even if they’d never admit it. But they’ll want to kid me about today. As if…” 

“As if you’d gotten off on it.”

“Now I’m the one embarrassed.”

“I can’t help being what I am. How that affects men. But my private life is my private life. While I’m here, there are other men on the diplomatic staff… I’ll say no more... I will say that I don’t like being made a public spectacle. I hate Prince Gerin for exploiting me.”

“Well, I’m not going to talk about that. Saying anything against the prince isn’t exactly a path to career advancement. I’ll still be here when you’re long gone.”

“Maybe you could show me around before I have to leave. There must be a lot of history here.”

“Better not to even be seen with you, I’d think. But on your own, you might want to check out the sites where a people called the Cathars once lived and worshipped. They were most of the early settlers, but they’re all gone now.”

“How did that happen?”

“They were a heretical sect against the dominant church where they lived back on Earth. The church ordered them exterminated, and sent its cavallers to see to it. Only a lot of their friends and neighbors came their defense, including the cavalry of a regional monarch. They too would all have been slaughtered if the Seeders hadn’t shown up.”

“So what happened?’

“When they found themselves here, the friends and neighbors lost their faith in the Church of Ihesu. But the Cathars kept theirs – they thought this world was a creation of some sort of demon, just like the physical reality of the Earth they had left behind. They thought everything physical was evil, including physical love.”

“I see.”

“And so the descendants of the friends and neighbors prevailed. One of them, Clovis by name, had been the son of a count back on Earth, but that wasn’t enough for him; he proclaimed himself prince of a world to which he gave a variant of his own name. And he and his armed men lorded it over the peasants. It’s changed a lot since we were discovered by the Enlightenment  – we have our own industry, not unlike what you must have seen elsewhere. And there aren’t any cavallers in the old sense – nobody to fight here, and you Velorians defend us against any threats from the Empire. But we still have the Marchalcy.”

It was at that moment that Roland Bouchard, officer of the watch, stepped onto the roof from the stairwell. He looked at Larissa, then at Daniel.

“Hey, you’re missing the party!” he said. “How come you’re still up here? And why is she? She was supposed to leave with the crew.”

“Just asking about places to visit,” Daniel said. “She’s a stranger in town.”

“He was telling me about the Cathars,” Larissa interjected, trying to look every bit like an ordinary tourist instead of a superheroine.

Roland appeared to be satisfied, for the moment; but Daniel wasn’t about to make himself look suspicious by hanging around here.

“It was nice meeting you,” he told Larissa, and followed Roland to the stairwell as she took to the air.

* * *

He’d expected a lot of ribbing from his fellow officers, and they lived up – well, down – to his expectations. No drinking allowed on duty, but some of them might as well have been stinking drunk. Their remarks were sneering as well as obscene, but he knew he had to bear up under them – including one from Roland himself.

“Bet you’d love to be a real insider with her. Like our Prince.” 

Daniel chose not to correct him about Gerin and Larissa. 

“You should know better than to speak so lightly of our lord’s affairs,” was all he said.

That was enough to shut Roland up, but not the others. Relief came only with the end of the party. He headed home to his apartment – where he fantasized about Larissa, and got off on his fantasy… and hated himself for it. 

He was due some time off, and decided to spend it with the family. 

Chabertz and Corteza Valgraive had a small farm 20 leagues west of Toulouse, where they raised rye, wheat, beans and other crops brought from Earth by the Seeders. Unlike the region from which their ancestors had been taken, the land was fertile and the weather clement. That was also good for root tubers native to Clodovie, and there were fruit and nut trees native to the world. There weren’t any large meat animals like cattle or hogs or sheep, but there were smaller native animals that bred like Terran rabbits and were therefore called conils, even though they didn’t look anything like their Earthly counterparts. 

The Valgraives made a good enough living from sale of their grain and produce and meat in the capital. But it was hard work, made the harder because the native draft animals called orelles on account of their large floppy ears were a poor substitute for the horses or oxen their ancestors had known on Earth – and the family hadn’t managed to save up enough for a good mechanical ox. 

That was the immediate reason Daniel had left the farm. He was a good shot as a hunter, and he had occasionally served on patrols of the rural Marchalcy. But, truth be told, he had never been happy with life on the farm, and longed to see what he thought of as the “real” world – when Chabertz had inherited the place, his younger siblings had gone off to seek their fortunes elsewhere. But it was only when his own brothers Tibout and Martis were old enough to take on his share of the work that it had occurred to Daniel to sign up with the Marchalcy in the capital – the pay would be good, and he could send some of it home. 

Still, he had to start at the bottom, and it would take time to become an officier who actually investigated crimes and/or pursued and arrested criminals. And he didn’t think the episode with Larissa would improve his chances of promotion, even though he’d worked hard to prove himself. It had been a while since he’d seen the family, and he’d felt bad about that. 

Only, before he could clear the time off with the Marchalcy command, the video hit the telescreens. Paré and Maré and his brothers and sister Rixenda would recognize him from the shot of his smirking face, however brief, and the thought made him cringe. Yet he couldn’t avoid facing his family… So he bit the bullet and made the call.

“I was hoping to hear from you,” Chabertz said when he answered the com. “We saw your face today.”

“Then you know all about it.”

“You’ll be famous, as soon as anyone recognizes you. How did you get into it?”

“It wasn’t my idea. They just picked my name out of a hat, so to speak. And it was the Palace that set up the whole thing in the first place.”

“We’d already guessed that much. Well, maybe things will calm down after a while. Notoriety can be fleeting.” 

“Too bad I can’t wear a mask riding on the camin.”

“You’re only on screen for a second, after all. Chances are people who don’t know you won’t make the connection.”

That was how it went the next day. A few people sharing his vago glanced at him curiously, but couldn’t make a connection, then turned away. If they watched the video again, they might recognize him. Fortunately, there wasn’t any onboard screen. Still, just to be on the safe side, Daniel made a point of looking out the window, ignoring the other passengers. About halfway home, the camin de ferré’s rails passed below a castle once inhabited by Cathars. He wondered idly if Larissa had flown there.

But he really shouldn’t be thinking about the Velorian. He should be thinking of the family, and how he’d relate to them now, and in the future. And at journey’s end, his father greeted him at the station if everything were still perfectly normal. Only, he knew everything wasn’t. As they began to walk together to the farmhouse, Daniel gave voice to his qualms.

“I’m sorry if I’m going to be bringing you any trouble. It’s the last thing I ever wanted. I wouldn’t blame you if…” 

“You’ll always be welcome here,” his father assured him. “As long as we live, as long as you remain on—”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Daniel interrupted. “They tested us before they made the video. I didn’t pass. Neither did anyone else in the Marchalcy. But nobody besides us and the Palace is supposed to know that.”

Chabertz stopped there, taking in what he had just heard.

“I guess it will have to come out sooner or later,” he ventured after a moment. “But I admit don’t understand the whole thing about lifecyphers.” 

“It’s about how living things are designed. Like you and me and the orelles and the conils. Like everything here.”

He gestured at the fields where the rye and wheat were nearly ready to harvest, glowing golden in the late summer afternoon sun. Beyond them the blaufrut and rognatz trees would be bearing. 

“But the thing is, there isn’t any designer. It all has to do with accidental design changes over time – some of the changes work out and some don’t, and only life forms with changes that work survive and reproduce. Except that the Velorians were designed, by a higher power.”

“The Evil God, as the Cathars would have had it. The same Evil God who created Earth and this world and every other world and all material things. They’d think our very farm is evil, I suppose. It is our fortune that they their brains were too poorly designed to let them reproduce.”

Daniel smiled at that, but then turned serious again.

“Only, somehow, a few – very few – true men have lifecyphers that allow for a Velorian woman to alter them with her own through intimate contact. But only the kind that are already there; that’s why the altered men can’t fly, even though they become nearly as powerful and invulnerable as Velorians. If they don’t have the right kind of lifecyphers to begin with, though, the attempted enrichment is fatal.”

“I hope the testing is always accurate, then. In any case, the process is nothing like selective breeding.”

“No, nothing like.”

 There was nothing more to say about that, and they started for the house again, with Chabertz going on to talk about the here-and-now – the state of the farm and crops and the market. 

“We’re looking into marketing Corteza’s casseroles and stews and other dishes –Rixenda could work on that. It would be more profitable than selling just raw meat and produce, or even bread – the kind we’ve always baked some for our own use, but… well, I’ll let her show you.”

Tibout and Martis were still busy at the orchard when father and son arrived at the modest home of the Valgraives, but Corteza and Rixenda were busy fixing dinner.

“It’s a good thing you called when you did,” she said. “We were worried about you. It must be terrible, what you’re going through in the capital. With you coming here now, we can at least have some quiet time together before people in the neighborhood catch on.” 

“It won’t help me with my career, that’s for sure,” Daniel lamented. “Lord knows when or if I’ll be able to afford to get you that buomaquina.”

“We’ll manage,” said Chabertz. “You don’t have to bear us on your shoulders, let alone the whole world. What happened, what’s happening, is not your fault.”

Daniel suddenly felt ashamed. He had cause to resent how he’d been exploited… but not just to feel sorry for himself.

“All right,” he protested.

“Anyway, there might be other alternatives. Through the granjacion.”

That was an association of small farmers in the area that sponsored dances and other social activities, but had a more serious side, helping members find the best deals for their products and pool their resources to buy supplies like animal feed, fencing, pesticides, small tools, plow blades and the like. It also operated the community ice locker.

“We could go shares on that buomaquina, and other equipment too,” Chabertz continued. “Work out scheduling so that we’d each have time to use it during plowing and harvesting seasons. I could call for a meeting next month to take it up.”

But before they could discuss that further, Tibout and Martis arrived home, with some bounty for dinner – and thereafter.

“More work for mother, making preserves,” Corteza quipped, looking at the blue fruits in the basket. But she said it with a smile. 

It hadn’t occurred to Daniel when he was growing up that there was anything out of the ordinary about fruits the color of the sky, but when he took to reading about other worlds after moving to the capital he’d learned that they might be unique to Clodovie – along with a lot of other things he’d never given thought to. It all had to do with those Seeders – what they brought to each world with the settlers and what was already there. Nobody seemed to see the logic of it, if there were any.

Whatever. They’d have some of first pickings fresh tonight, and for the next week or so – by which time more would have ripened. The red nuts, also unique to this world, would keep indefinitely, of course. There’d be plenty for the winter larder, and for sale to grocers in the capital. Soon there’d be the harvest of the main crops, with the promise it brought for greater income. And they’d be able to keep meat and other perishables in the granjacion locker, from which some of that too could be sold.

It was a good time of year to be here. Yet he wouldn’t want to stay over for the harvest, certainly not to take part. The scything and threshing and winnowing were hard work, often backbreaking – he knew from experience, and he didn’t envy his brothers. In any case, he was due back on the job in a week. Where he’d be in a month, or a year, he didn’t have any idea.

Dinner that evening was a Conil Cassoulet, which combined rabbit meat with pork, white beans and a spicy sauce. It brought fond memories of his childhood and, yes, he told his family, he thought that dish and Corteza’s other recipes might catch on in the capital. But he couldn’t offer any advice on how to promote them. Nobody was going to produce a video about country cooking like the one for Larissa’s recruiting.

* * *

The first few days back in Toulouse, it was guard duty at the World Bank, which was usually as quiet a place as anyone could imagine – there hadn’t been an attempted robbery in ages. But then came LeGrand’s revelation that tests of civilians would begin soon at the Hospital Clodovien. 

On the day testing was to start, it was a mob scene at the hospital. People had lined up for blocks, and more were arriving by vago from the countryside. It was going to take weeks, maybe months, to process all of them – and that meant Larissa would have to remain longer, Daniel figured, than Velor had bargained for. There might be some testy diplomatic message traffic about that, but it wasn’t any of his concern.

He was, however, one of hundreds of officers detailed to keep order outside the hospital and as far as the line stretched. Tempers were high, with people pushing and shoving – a lot of them, to judge from their dress, were from the lower classes: grunt workers who had little hope of advancing themselves. The gendarmes had been issued loudspeakers as well as long guns; these were handed on to new officers from shift to shift; this was all-day and all-night ordeal.

Daniel hated the assignment. It kept him in the city when he’d have rather taken time to visit his family again. Maybe he could find a country girl to marry; he hadn’t had any luck in the capital.

His fellow gendarmes took it for granted that he should socialize with them; some were married to other officers, and those who were single often preferred women of the evening to women they could love. Thus far, the kind of women who appealed to him had held his job against him. Still, maybe one of these days…

Things came to a head at the hospital on the seventh day, when an angry-looking man showed up in from of the entrance with his own loudspeaker, complaining that he’d been cheated in the test because he was just a working stiff like most of the rest of them. But he didn’t stop there.

“Look at these men with guns!” he shouted. “They don’t have to worry about being rejected. They’re on the inside track!’

There was grumbling in the crowd, then a shaking of fists. Daniel was closest to the scene, and could sense there was a full-scale riot brewing. He had to stop it, and he could think of only one way. He fired into the air to get the crowd’s attention, then took off his helmet so that anyone who turned his way could recognize him as he shouted into his loudspeaker.

“I’m Daniel Valgraive. You may have seen me on your homeboxes. I’m here to tell you that there isn’t any inside track. I’m not on it, and neither are any of my fellow officers. That’s just the breaks, and the breaks are the same for all of you, rich or poor, man or woman. Your lifecyphers will tell you whether you’re a Latent; there’s nothing you can do about it, there’s nothing anybody can do about it. You can’t change it any more than you can change the natural color of your eyes or your hair – and Latency is many, many times rarer than either of those. I appeared in a video that may have made it seem otherwise. I’m now ashamed of my part in it, and apologize to one and all of you. But there’s nothing you can accomplish here through violence, and I appeal to all of you to be patient. It doesn’t matter what order you’re tested in. If any of you are among the rare individuals who qualify for enhancement, the medical people here will tell you. If you aren’t, they will tell you. It’s all a matter of luck. That’s all.”

People in line seemed to be getting the message. They quieted down, and the angry-looking man slunk off. But what about the rest of the crowd, still stretched way back out of earshot?

Daniel hadn’t thought of it then, but there was a security camera at the hospital entrance that had caught it all; before long it was being shown on capitol news feeds and appeared on screens in the neighborhood. Before his shift ended, he was the talk of the town, and invited to appear on news shows. Within a few days, he was deluged with mail, mostly from well-wishers, some of whom found his apartment and expressed support for him when he was on his way in or out.

That led to an interview on an independent news channel. He didn’t say a word against the Palace, or even directly criticize the way in which the Velorian Legion had been publicized, only taking himself to task for his part in the video – excerpts of which were now being replayed as part of the news story, even though it had been withdrawn as an advertisement for the enrichment program. 

Would he ever be able to live it down?

LeGrand gave him holy hell, but stopped short of imposing any discipline. Nor was there any discouraging word from the Palace or any government office. Prince Gerin must have wanted to distance himself from the whole affair.

* * *

After a several weeks, the mail had tapered off considerably. He usually gave it little notice, but one day there came an envelope with the Flamebird emblem of Velor. It had to be from Larissa; he couldn’t imagine Ragna or the diplomats reaching out to him – like Prince Gerin, they would surely distance themselves from the whole video affair.

But there wasn’t a return address, or even a message; only directions to a location in a forest 50 leagues from Toulouse reserved for hunters and campers in season. But the season had just closed, to let ordinary people have a chance for a walk in the woods while the weather was still warm enough. 

Daniel couldn’t imagine why Larissa would want such a private meeting, or have anything to say that couldn’t be said by mail – nobody was searching it. So he rented a groundcar and headed out. As he approached the end of the road next to a lake, he saw another groundcar parked there. But the directions told him to continue on a path that took him through the trees and into a clearing.

And there was Larissa, seated on a swing decorated with leaves, swaying gently. 

She was wearing a white shift, rather than her uniform. She smiled gently. Then she stepped to the ground, and pulled the shift over her head. She was wearing nothing under it but a gold band around her waist.

Daniel was speechless. She switched the band to her neck, taking in a few notches to get the fit right. There was no mistaking her intent. 

“You’re a good man, Daniel Valgraive,” she said. “I want you on me and in me. I want you because you’re a good man.”

Her erect nipples and the dampness between her legs spoke for the truth of that, even as his cock grew rock-hard in response.

“Time to get naked,” she told him, and stared at him hungrily as he complied. In a few moments, he stood there rampantly.

She knelt before him and took him in her mouth. He came immediately, but she continued to suck, and he remained hard – just not as desperately hard.

“That’s just for starters,” she said when she released his cock, then stood before him and took him in her arms. As she hugged and deep kissed him, he could feel her steel-hard nipples against his chest, and caught the heady scent of honey and wildflowers wafting from her nether parts.

 “They’re like little bullets, aren’t they?” Larissa teased. “But bullets don’t feel anything when you bite them.”

It was a cue as well as a tease. Daniel kissed his way down to her chest, then took her breasts in his hands, squeezing them, then biting them as hard as he could – knowing that these breasts, these nipples were invulnerable to any weapon known to man. – but that his hands and mouth could bring them pleasure. His reward was her screams.

“Eat me,” she invited him then; from her engorged clit as well as her pheromones he knew how eager she was.

Daniel buried his face between her legs and began licking, then biting her with wild abandon. Within moments, she was shuddering with delight, then screaming again with pleasure.

Larissa was coming. And he was making her come, making this superwoman come. Her fragrant juices were flowing, and he was lapping them up.

“Larissa!” he cried when he came up for air. “Larissa, Larissa, Larissa!”

“Fuck me, Daniel!” she exclaimed. “Fuck me as hard as you can. Let me feel your cock slamming into my cunt.”

“Your wish is my command,” he contrived to say – before plunging into her. It was heavenly to feel himself surrounded, then teased unmercifully by her contractions – to which he responded by pounding her unmercifully.

“Shoot!” she screamed, as if they were making another video. “Shoot!” But his was a living gun that exploded inside her, and he didn’t have to stop to reload; he shot again and again and she came again and again until he was totally exhausted.

 But now Larissa took him tenderly in her arms, and whispered endearments as they basked in the afterglow. It turned out that she had a picnic lunch in her car and, after they shared a meal, Daniel had recovered enough for another round. It was a day he knew he would never forget.

“But it has to be our secret,” she told him at the end of the day. “I’m not really supposed to give freebies. It could get me in trouble. You wouldn’t tell anyone, would you?”

“It’s too good to tell,” he assured her. And he felt all good inside.

“As you must have guessed, my mission here is over,” she said. “The official announcement of the enhancees will be tomorrow. I’ve taken care of all two dozen of them.”

“So few?” Daniel asked. He was genuinely startled.

“There were ten times that many who tested as Latents. But the rest turned out to be unsuitable on grounds of character. The Legion can’t afford to have recruits who are liable to misuse their newfound power. We learned that to our cost – there have been mistakes on other worlds. I’ll say no more about that, and you’ll say no more about any of it.”


“For me, it’s on to Agrabah.”

Wherever that is, Daniel mused.

“For you, a long and happy life, I hope,” Larissa added. "And... you’ll do.”

Daniel wished he could more than hope, but that last bit puzzled him.

“One more thing: we had to bring the technology for detecting Latents. But it’s a technology that can be adapted to further ends, including the modification of lifecyphers in other living organisms – such as those you have known as a farmer. We have shared the technology, and the science behind, it with the Universitat de Toulouse. And it was there that I met the woman who actually carried out the tests. She’s eager to take on other projects – projects that will benefit your world. She knew about you, of course, but she’ll know better about you before I depart.”

They kissed each other goodbye, then headed for their ground cars.

* * *

Daniel had a surprise visitor a few weeks later.

“Loïsa Boussenard,” she introduced herself. “From the Life Sciences school of the Universitat. You’ve been informed of our work.”

“By a mutual acquaintance, it would seem.”

“Indeed. And she took a real interest in sharing what she knew about lifecypher technology. Not what I’d have expected.”

“Nor I, from the way we met.”

“That hardly matters now, does it? What matters to me is the technology. They do this sort of thing on other planets, including Earth. But it’s never been tried here. So we want to set up an experimental farm, and she said yours would be an ideal location – not too far away from here to inconvenience our staff. A short flitter hop. And not beholden to... vested interests. She mentioned the granjacion, too; we could work with them.”

“Did she say anything else?”

At that, the seemingly deadly-serious scientist broke into a smile.

“She said you’ll do.”