In the three weeks it took the Orolandria to travel from Union to Corrina, Tyrel Uvieras wasn't able to see nearly as much of the diplomat from Hesper as he would like. He hadn't seen much of the other five souls aboard, either. Journeys from Base to wherever Union had assigned its people were famous for their last-minute crush: research, supplies, and training all packed in before it was time to really get to work. But of everyone Union had sent here, it was with Verithe Jerrith that Tyrel was most concerned. The man would be his complete responsibility once they were on the surface of the planet. He liked to know exactly who he was responsible for.
The chance for a meeting finally came the day of landfall.
Corrina's gray-swept sphere loomed large in the faux-window screens along the corridor, a blind eye watching him pass. Watching all of them. Tyrel didn't believe planets could be cursed, but this one seemed undeniably eerie. It was the least world-like of any inhabited globe he'd ever encountered. The difference, he thought, was like that between a skull and a human face. Better for everyone if Corrina had just been barren rock.
Tyrel rang the electronic chime at Jerrith's suite and gave his name through the speaker. At once, the reply came in a pleasant Hesperian lilt.
"Just a moment." The speakers picked up fingers forcefully hitting the security keypad. "That's Honored Marshall Uvieras—the security officer, right?"
"My title isn't important. Though I appreciate you looking it up."
The door rolled open, and Jerrith's voice came through, rich without any mechanical filtration. "Mere courtesy. I figured I should be polite to the man holding my life in his hands."
Jerrith stood in the suite anteroom, a white-skinned man almost as tall as Tyrel, though slighter. His eyes were a clear brown, and his long hair couldn't seem to decide on a color, as sometimes happened with paler people. It curled a little at the ends and spilled over from where Jerrith had tried to confine it behind his ears. Bronze, Tyrel decided at last, and then realized he was half-consciously filling out an identification slip in his mind—as if in preparation for doing the real thing one day in the corner of the ship's surgery that served as a morgue.
"I'll do my best," Tyrel said. "This mission is... frankly, it's one of the most precarious I've ever been assigned to."