ALIEN EXCHANGE

Prolog

"Is that the last of them?" A deep gruff voice boomed.

"Yes sir. All twenty are on board now." The reedy voice replied.

"Hurmph. The last one isn't much to look at." Very large feet shifted as the burly being turned slightly to look down at the rail thin alien beside him.

"I do not think any of them are appealing, sir, but She insists these females meet her criteria." The thinner alien looked up, way up to meet the eight foot tall Beartian's narrowed brown eyed stare. It wasn't easy because of the thick, long strands of dark hair mostly obscured them.

Another rumbling grunt slipped out from the brown, thick lips peeking out of more hair. The Nigalius nearly remarked about the Beartian's need for another hair removal treatment, but thought better of it. The alien was naturally surly on a good day, but this evening he was even more so. The Nigalius, peaceful by nature, did not wish to stir him up even further by reminding him of his facial hair. It was never wise to upset the Chief of Security, especially when he has twenty human women to look after. Instead, the Nigalius looked down at the electronic pad, scanning the data rolling on it.

The Beartians were a huge race, the smallest of them stood at 6'7. Hairy, and built for combat, they made excellent soldiers. Any who came in contact with them believed they were strong but simple minded because of their ability to follow orders without question. The Nigalius knew far different. The Beartians were as smart as they were strong. They were remarkable tacticians, and outstanding leaders despite their propensity to be surly most of the time. Their females were equal in every way. Their loyalty and honor were their bond, once pledged was never broken. The difficulty was getting it. They tend to be stubborn and rooted in their own traditions. They needed proof before they would side with someone. Thankfully, the ship's leader demonstrated enough to garner the entire race to follow without question.

Chief Surin glanced down again, noting his head intelligence officer was monitoring it's ever present pad. T'Din (pronounced TaDin) barely reached his uniform button near his waist. Small, delicate and fragile looking, the Nigalius wore it's light brown hair in a bowl cut, as all of it's kind did. In fact, they were identical in every way except their eyes. Large, long lashed, and vivid in what ever color, it was the only remarkable attribute the androgynous species had. It was even difficult to tell what sex one was from another. That's why Surin preferred to have Nigalius in security. They could blend any where once their eyes have been disguised. Experts at gathering intel, and adaptability were admirable traits in Surin's considerable opinion. The Nigalius were an invaluable part of the security team. Surin respected the species, despite their refusal to fight. They were able to decipher a course of action quickly and act accordingly. Their honor was unquestioning as was their own brand of loyalty. Surin and his people believed the Nigalius shared, in part, the soul of Beartians.

"I still don't like this, T'Din." Surin groused as he looked back at the screen.

"I can assure you, Chief Surin, you are not alone. The humans have not impressed many with their suspicious tendencies, violent ways, and lack of ability to think before responding." T'Din looked back up, it's lids sliding over impossibly green eyes as it blinked. "But all on board respect and honor L'Era (LaEra). If this is what she desires, we are beholden to see that it is done." Another blink, this one slower. "Regardless of our opinion of her chosen race."

Another grunt vibrated his huge chest. The rumble indicating growing frustration "I've attempted to talk her out of it many times, but she stands firm." He shook his shaggy head. "Even after all she has sacrificed to bring them to their new home, having destroyed their own, they do not show proper respect or honor towards her." The Chief of Security gnashed his teeth together to keep his temper in check. The sound of it reminded T'Din of grinding bones. "They are not worthy to even be on her ship, T'Din, let alone in her presence."

Even though T'Din agreed with most of what the Chief growled, it had to remind him that not all humans were as disreputable as those in power on the old world.

"That is not entirely correct, sir." T'Din murmured. It did not flinch when narrowed eyes met the larger ones. "The humans were thankful, and made excellent progress on establishing their new home. It is their nature to try and control everything around them." It paused, it's thoughts recalling a time where humans and aliens alike fought side by side when solidarity was needed most. The Chief's stiff posture indicated he too was remembering that time.

It softened it's tone, "We may have lost people in the beginning, Chief Surin, but the humans lost far more. L'Era was properly appreciated during that difficult time. They are aware that if not for her unerring determination to help them through it, all would the sacrifices we all suffered would have been for naught."

The small viewing room was silent save for the gnashing teeth as the Chief pondered. T'Din took comfort in it. At least gnashing his teeth was the only thing the Beartian was doing. It could be a lot worst.

"I know that." He boomed in irritation after a few more ticks of silence. "It was when we arrived in their previous galaxy, I was referring to. They attacked us instead if listened." The Chief's guttural voice rose in temper and T'Din braced for what was certain to come next. One big paw went to the hairy face and scrubbed furiously at it. The sigh that followed was an explosion of air, the sound filled with frustration. That was it.

"I just don't like them. As a hole, they are not honorable. Individually, perhaps when it suits them, but not as a species." Chief Surin muttered. "Nothing good will come of this."

Pleased the large being did not pummel the screen or anything else in the room, T'Din spoke calmly, "She believes different, sir." Another long blink. "She has not been incorrect thus far, regardless of her detractors and our own beliefs." It faced the screen watching the last female be sealed into a cryo-pod. "L'Era is all that matters, sir."

A harsh blow of air swirled the hair on the Chief's face as he too watched.

"You're right, T'Din. She is the only thing that matters. We would not be here if it weren't for her warnings. Her own people did not listen and look where it got them. She is the last, and if she believes the humans are the one species who can help her, then, we will bend to her will."

"It is never her will, Chief Surin." T'Din said quietly. "L'Era always requests our faith in her, not orders or commands it. It was our choice to give it."

Surin didn't reply for a moment then ordered, "Commence return trip. Being on this planet longer than necessary is making me itchy."

"Starting lift off now." T'Din shot the large beast a thin half smile. "And you are always itchy, sir."

"Quiet, or I'll use you as scratching post." He barked out a short laugh. "I'll be irritating P'Tin (PaTin) to insure nothing drastic happens before we arrive on Sisarina." The Chief turned gracefully for someone so huge, and stomped off, metal beneath his booted feet vibrating with each step.

T'Din's thin lips curved into a semblance of a smile. It did not envy P'Tin. The Chief was irritable most of the time, but in his current frame of mind, the tension in the cockpit of the shuttle would be insufferable. T'Din opted to remain where it was, monitoring the sleep induced humans for then next ten hours of human time rather endure the Chief.

It's smile fell away as it's eyes scanned the cryo-pods, noting all vitals were green. T'Din tapped the Epad, bringing one pod in particular for a better view.

What makes this one so special, it mused as it's long, thin fingers brought up the file containing the human's salient data. It scanned it. Nothing remarkable. All the other human females who were selected were far more appropriate, but this one was whom L'Era insisted was the one. Why?

T'Din closed it's eyes a moment, putting all of it's faith in it's leader. L'Era's chosen had to be as she claimed. Otherwise, it feared all who sacrificed much to follow her would lose her. She was the being who held everything together. If the human female was not as L'Era wished, it would be disastrous for all involved. T'Din stared, it's expression cold now. It would keep watch on the human, closely. If, indeed, disaster struck, and affected L'Era, it would insure all humans be destroyed, starting with this one. It's finger tapped the image as it grinned, baring many tiny sharp teeth. It would enjoy it too.

Chapter One

I woke up with the familiar, nasty, metallic taste in my mouth. I swore when I woke the last time from cryo-sleep, I wouldn't be subjected to it again. 22 years later, here I was, waking up from it again. Granted I was ten the first time, but still, never say never.

I sat up, frowning at the dull throb behind my eyes announce itself. My stomach churned too. Yep, I really hate cryo-sleep. Gritting my teeth, I swung my legs over the side of the bunk, gripping the edges in a knuckle white grip as dizziness made an appearance as well. I closed my eyes against the soft lighting and waited until it passed. I counted to ten slowly, until the rolling acid in my belly stopped threatening to climb up my throat.

"Time and date." I winced at how raw my voice sounded.

"0900 hrs. 0140, Earth 2 turns A.P.F." A pleasant female computer voice promptly answered.

I was down ten hours. That's a relief. I was more than a little worried when I settled in the pod. A part of me believed I was going to wake up another 800 years later.

My stomach stopped trying revolt now that I was assured of how much time had passed. Opening my eyes again, I blinked a couple of times then focused on the small white table near by. On it was a large white mug and from the scent of it, tea. I reached for it eagerly, wrapping both hands around it and brought it to my lips. One sip told me it was Chi tea, rich, dark, and just a little sweet. Nice. Someone paid attention to what I prefer. Two sips later, my belly settled more, and the dizziness gone, thanks to the caffeine infusion. All that remained was the hideous metallic residue. A couple of sips more and it disappeared too.

More my self now, I looked around. The room was the size of a small closet, with only the bed, table, and about two feet from the door. The walls were white, the carpet dark blue, nothing fancy and standard for a cryo-recovery room.

According to the instructions accompanying the invitation I received, I was to wait for someone to escort me once I was awake. I didn't mind. The tea was good, the drab grey sleep suit comfortable, and nothing pressing was ahead. I settled back, sipping slowly, my thoughts reflective.

I was ten when aliens came to collect me, my brother, 13, and parents. I barely understood was happening on Earth, only just things were not going well and no one was safe from all the fighting going on. My parents were frightened, arguing and worried as they tried to decide to leave our current hovel. My brother, Xander, and I weren't talking because of the tension. It didn't help we were all hungry, having not eaten since the day before. The night we were taken, a sickly green light beamed down into our living space. My ten year old mind thought we were going to die. It got worse when none of us were able to move. If I could have cried, I would have, but that light froze everything. Minutes or hours later, the four of us found ourselves in a black tiled room. The moment I could move, I ran to my mom who hugged me so tight I was unable to breath. I didn't care, I was just glad she held me.

Most of what happened after that was a blur, though some was crystal clear. My parents had talked of reports about aliens trying to help or hinder, depending on who was reporting. I thought my parents were trying to scare us so we'd be extra quiet. Not just stories after all.

One was big, with a fierce, hairy face; I nearly wet on myself. I buried my face against my mother, weeping. The other one was smaller, thinner, with huge eyes of bright blue. My parents demanded to know what happened, and the thin one just handed my father a pad, then pointed to it. More talking, arguing, and discussions between my parents. The aliens remained quiet. Again most of what my parents said I didn't understand other than Earth was dying. My brother asked a lot of questions too. All I wanted was something to eat and the fighting to stop. I started crying louder.

Then, what had to be the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, pushed through the silent aliens and squatted down to my eye level. Her skin was a silvery grey that glittered in the light. Her hair was a lighter shade, wavy and long, falling nearly to the floor as she stared at me with eyes of gun metal grey. She had pointy ears, the tips going just past her head, and her smile, soft, warm was welcoming. Her appearance made my parents stop talking and my crying cease. She had that affect.

With one long delicate finger she tapped her chest covered in a dark grey skin suit. "I am called Teshera." She moved her finger to me and waited. Her voice was like the rest of her, melodious and warm.

I didn't respond just buried my head tighter to my mother's waist.

"Zeela, honey." Mom encouraged voice soft. She didn't sound herself. There was no worry in her tone. She always worried.

"Zeela, is it? Pretty name."

"Zee." I mumbled and the alien laughed. What a sound too. So pure, and so gentle. It immediately relaxed me.

"You are safe now, Zeela." She told me.

Even now I can't explain why I did what I did. Just hearing her telling me we were safe, made me trust her. I broke way from mom and ran to her, wrapping my body and arms around her, crying. I kept telling her thank you over and over. Being in her arms, I felt was something I couldn't comprehend, it just felt right. It was a long time before she released me. Reluctantly I returned to mom.

She straightened and began talking to my parents. I hadn't heard a word, to fascinated with her to let what they said sink in. After a hot meal of some soup, a bath and a silvery suit like the pretty alien wore we were lead to what the alien called, the cryo center and were told we would be put in cryo-sleep. More arguing, mostly from my father as mom seemed to accept what was happening to us now. Eventually, I found myself looking at a tube. It was to be my bed. It took some doing before my mom convinced me to climb in and settle down. Once I did, she bent a little and gave my fore head a kiss.

"Just think, Zeela, the next time you open your eyes, things will be different." Her gaze was soft as she brushed the hair off my face. "See you soon." A few seconds later, my eyes closed.

800 years passed before I opened them again. Just like mom said things were different. Way different.

Earth 2 had been established before I was awakened, the terra forming mostly done on a planet that was to be my new home. The first time I set foot on the weirdly colored world, I immediately wanted to go back to my old home. The pink skies, and odd blue grass was not something I understood at ten. It took a while for many of us to let go of our blue and green planet and accept this new one as home. My family was one of the last to be awakened due to lack of need for my father's specialty. He was a lawyer. My mom was a botanist but not anything of renown. We were simple people, just trying to get by when we were on Earth. My entire family had to be re-educated once we woke up before we went planet side. Relearning things might have been difficult for my parents if it weren't for the aliens and their advanced technology. What would have taken years took only a couple of months. Apparently while they slept, they were hooked up to a cerebral system that fed them information as they lay there.

Xander and I learned the old fashion way through school programs. My father went from being a lawyer to meteorologist and my mother's botany improved. We found ourselves in a settlement near mountains, called Mt. Haven with inconsistent seasons that were hard to track. My dad's new job was to help with the tracking. Our home was a prefab four bedroom single story dwelling, similar to all the others in the place, its color a variation of the opaque colored mountains.

I may not have known much when I went to sleep but within five years I knew more than I wanted too. School was set up similarly to what had been on Earth in classrooms and grades, with the usual subjects, but with more focused on trade and benefit to the needs of the new world as opposed to standard fair. The only class that was considered fluff but important was history. I learned what we humans did to our former world and what we were currently trying to avoid on our new one.

News of the dire straits our old world had been in was devastating, and how we refused help from the aliens in order to rectify it. These very same aliens were attacked and ordered off planet with the threat of destruction. They left but only to move to another planet while they built a ship large enough to cart those humans they eventually took in order to save our species from self-destruction. It took them nearly 60 years to complete it and another twenty before they were able to fill the pods. They ran out of time to collect more before Earth became too unstable in many areas. So with nearly 300 hundred thousand of us tucked away, they whisked us another 800 hundreds years to a planet they felt was suitable for us to live once they perfected the terraforming process for us to use.

It was never clear why they wanted to help us, they just stated it was necessary. The pretty alien I met when I was ten was their leader, though her species was never listed. She was the one who insisted we needed to be saved and all the other species who followed her did her bidding. That was it. I never saw her again after my first look at her, though during the first few years after planet fall she interacted with the humans who were awakened first. She helped establish several settlements, fought along side us when some of the indigenous life proved to be too dangerous to all who lived there. She led a species called Beartians in several hunting parties to clear the way and teach others how to survive. Other species helped as well, but once things settled down and more settlements were established and maintained she was seen less and less until no one remembered her face. The other aliens opted to do the same, with only a small band of them coming every few months or so to speak with the elected leaders of each settlement. This remains a practice to this day.

Technology and ingenuity turned the settlements into functioning towns and by the time I was awakened there were a few cities too. Nothing like old Earth, but given a few more years, they would be. Shuttles, air crafts, and land runners were frequent use of transportation. Money no longer existed but trade and other currency became the norm. Time was very similar to old Earth and as were the months, though the seasons never reflected them.

Just as we had to adjust to the world, it had to adjust to us as well, being a young planet. We lost many lives over the first hundred years due to natural disasters, not so natural disasters and new diseases. If those weren't rough enough, we fought among ourselves as we are prone to do. The alien's stepped in again during those times and settled those disputes quickly, offering another place for those who didn't like how things were done. The planet they went to was smaller and about 10 thousand left us. There wasn't much else on the reason for the move in the history I read, and those who knew were long dead. I got the feeling there was more to it than what was recorded. We humans had a nasty habit of minimizing something ugly especially if we were at fault. That, apparently hadn't changed since we left old Earth.

Life settled into a new norm for the rest of us, adapting as needed and learning more as we went along. We populated, with careful monitor of the numbers, the new world and discovered new places, settling everywhere that could sustain human life. Gone was pollution, most violence and the need to overwhelm our world.

A government was established with elected officials with deeper backgrounds done on them before they were even qualified to run. Rules and laws were created, and yes, justice too. The difference was everyone was as equal as we could make it. No more outlawing same sex, different ethnic backgrounds or much else. Prejudice remained but nothing severe as it had been. My father occasionally practiced law though he preferred his rocks to it now. My brother took the lawyer mantel. Mom died when I was twenty due to a rare poison that wasn't listed until her death.

Her death marked the beginning for my restlessness. She was my rock, keeping me grounded and away from my brother and father's eternal disappointment in me. Schooling had the required testing and I found I was talented in a great deal of things but none were to the extreme. I was listed as above average in pretty much everything, and an expert at none. It was a bone of contention to the males and I was harped on to find something that would contribute to our new world in some way. Mom had smoothed the ruffled feathers, until she died. My father still looks at me as if it were my fault even after I moved to a small single dwelling outside town, right after we laid her to rest. Another thing that hadn't changed, expectations from parents.

I ended up working in a trading center where I discovered I was good with people, could barter with the best of them, able to settle minor disputes. Other than my family, I was well liked among those I worked and associated with, and settled down to a simple life.

But the restlessness began to gnaw at me as the years went by. I found myself reverting back to a childhood pass time of staring up at the stars, wondering what else was out there. I often thought of Teshera, wondering what she was doing. Was she still around? Did she die? Is she out saving another impulsive species like us?

The alien ship was a bright star above us, but space travel wasn't offered as a job. There didn't seem to be much call for it even though we were over flowing with scientists. Everyone seemed to be focused on what this new world had to offer instead of finding what else was out lurking in the stars.

Each night as the pink sky bled to the purple of night I would sit on my roof and gaze up there, asking myself if this was what I had to look forward to until I died? Relationships came and went for me. My chosen partners didn't like that I wasn't ambitious enough to excel at what Earth 2 had to offer. To them, I was a dreamer with no real contribution and they left after a few months. I was ambitious just not where they wanted me to be. I wanted to travel, explore, but not on this planet. It wasn't home, no matter how advanced we became. Where I wanted to go simply wasn't available, until a notice found its way into my mail.

"Zeela Wilcox, due to several test results, you have been selected to participate in the final selection for a position of great importance. If you chose to accept this invitation, please arrive at your tram dock at twelve hundred your time in three turns of your moon. There will be no need to bring anything other what you will be wearing; everything thing else will be provided for you. Please expect to be off planet for up to three months, and make arrangements accordingly.

The Foundation"

It didn't offer a lot of information, but it was enough to get me motivated. Anything was better than where I found myself. If nothing came of it, at least I will get to spend it in space. Maybe then I would figure out what to do with myself.

I gave notice to my job, left an email for my family and three days later I found myself on the dock at the appointed time with 19 other women from different parts of the planet. We weren't give anytime to chat as the transport turned out to be a huge alien shuttle. We were hustled inside by a Nigalius with amazing crystal blue/green eyes instructed to change into the sleep suits and settle in the pod. I nearly balked at it but reminded myself if I wanted to travel in space I needed to get used to cryo-sleep. So I laid down, watched the tube slide closed, and seconds later I was out.

Now I woke up in a small room, sipping Chi tea and waiting for whomever to escort me to the next faze in my life.

I just finished off my tea when the door across from me opened, revealing yet another Nigalius, one hand holding a pad while the other at it's side. It's large impossibly green eyes met my amber ones, it's grey lips curving slightly. It wore the typical soft grey dress all Nigalius wore, shapeless and drab save this one's gold piping along it's seams.

I flashed it a smile as I scooted to the edge of the bunk and set the empty cup aside.

"Please be at ease, Ms. Wilcox. I am called T'Din and I will be your escort."

I hopped up, grinning foolishly. "Hi T'Din, call me Zee."

It blinked at me as if it didn't understand something, then dipped it's narrow head.

"Shall we?" T'Din asked.

"Oh yes." I giggled. With three steps I was out the door, my legs eagerly eating up the floor as I headed to my future for the next three months.