The Preacher's Daughter


"Oh, we were so close. Yeah. Should I have asked your permission Commander?"

"No, I didn't mean it like that. Great job Basel!"


"What are you doing with the power now?"

"Well, except for the lights here, I'm sending everything into environmental heating. We should be adding enough energy to raise the air temperature of the station 1C every ten seconds or so. It'll take a bit longer to heat everything else of course."

"Basel, what's your suit's charge?"

"It's drained Commander."

"Plug in and recharge."

"Not a bad idea." A few seconds after he hooked up, he asked, "How's your own charge Commander?"

"Uh," Eliana glanced at a display within her hood. "I'm okay, still at 69%."

"Hand me your leads. I'll top you off."

"Okay, thanks..." Eliana breathed a big sigh of relief as she felt the extra surge of power warming the heating elements in her suit. They still had a huge amount of work to do to certify the station, including energizing the larger but not self-starting secondary fusion packs. But it seemed the hard part was over. Eliana felt her body wobbling a bit as their success and the extra heat helped her relax.

"Basel, mind if I sit down?"

"No, not at all. The chairs are still super cold, but with you plugged into main power like this you should be okay."

"Yeah, thanks."

"When was the last time you slept?"

"Days ago."

"That's what I thought. The Cairo Guild is crazy sometimes. They do that to their new members. Why don't we start a sleep rotation, you first?"

"Really? You don't know how good that sounds." Eliana gave a deep yawn. Basel wheeled over a command chair and pushed it almost into a full recline position. Eliana collapsed into it gratefully.

"You don't mind?" she said sleepily.

"Oh, I'll be okay. I'll do the first four hours of the startup procedures. Then we'll change places."

Eliana yawned peacefully and nodded, unable to keep her eyes open. "Wake me if you need help with anything."

"Of course Commander." Basel stood there wondering if she had heard him. She was rapidly drifting off. He watched her sleep for several minutes before getting back to work. It was six hours later that Eliana woke and traded places with him.

Chapter 4. First Touch

Two days later...

Time January 9, 9570 8 PM UCT

Eliana woke refreshed in her cozy bedroom on Level-1. The space was small and the large bed took up almost half the room. Eliana knew the conventions. This was her only private space in the station, just as an identical room on the opposite side of Level-1 was Basel's only private space. The two had a plan to have breakfast at 9 PM, and Eliana had a free hour till then.

Eliana knew the specs of modern Ranger stations, but she thought she didn't appreciate how spacious they were until now. Level-1 was the circular living area with an interior radius over six meters, an intentionally spacious contrast to the five-meter interior radii of the other three Levels. As with Level-2 station control, the living area had generous three-meter ceilings. The ground-floor Level-3 had a five-meter ceiling and the observation dome Level-4 was even more impressive, three-meter vertical walls topped by a hemisphere, providing a majestic eight-meters of head room at the center of the dome. In Eliana's opinion, the best feature of Level-4 was the ability to turn all or any part of the dome and vertical walls opaque or crystal transparent. There was also a well-equipped exercise area there, and earlier before bed she had a wonderful time working out in just leotards under a dome of cold winter stars.

Except for the exercise area in the observation dome, Level-1 was their principal living area. Besides the two bedrooms, there were compact but fully-equipped bathroom and galley-kitchen, a dining / recreation area, two small desk areas, a two-person sofa and two very plush lounge chairs near a state-of-the-art multi-media center. As part of their satellite communications certification, they had verified their links to the world's commercial holographic channels.

Below the living area was Level-0, a self-contained plant recycling air and 64 cubic meters of drinkable water. The technology for Level-0 had been adapted from the era of lunar bases. It was extremely tough and long-lasting, and Basel and Eliana had no expectation of ever having to service the machinery.

Eliana turned on a light in her bedroom as she woke and smiled. She was dressed in just her thermal pajamas and thinking how easy it would be to live a decadent life here. By common agreement, she and Basel had decided to keep the station between 16C and 17C, and as she wiggled her bare feet under her single blanket, she found the mild coolness delightful.

They had the power to keep the station at whatever temperature they liked. It was superbly insulated, and they had one megawatt of power at their disposal, 100 kW from their prime fusion pack, 600 kW from twin secondary packs, and 300 kW from the CAT, a versatile two-person rover with a self contained fusion engine that was currently plugged into central power.

The Ranger station was extremely well constructed, meeting full lunar standards. Normal operating mode was to run completely sealed with the Level-0 machinery purifying the air. The outside could magically turn into a hard vacuum, and Eliana and Basel would still be fine anywhere in the station, including the adjacent CAT garage that connected to Level-3.

There was no particular need to keep watches. Local solar noon would occur around 6 AM UCT at their station's longitude, and they both decided to center their sleep periods at the opposite side of the day, from 4 PM to 8 PM.

Eliana's thoughts turned to Basel. They had had a very busy in the past two days bringing the station up to full functionality. Eliana thought she couldn't be happier how she and Basel were coming together as a team. Over the last few days, they had developed an enormous respect for each other's abilities, and Eliana was touched by how many small offers of kindness he had extended to her. He would log all his certification work but leave it to Eliana to transmit the reports, giving her the opportunity to take the primary credit. In actuality, she was doing exactly the opposite, being truthful and grading him as exemplary in his accomplishments.

"I shouldn't be surprised," Eliana thought. "Zaafir make a comment of Basel being a high achiever, didn't he?" She took her laptop from the nightstand and began typing a simple UGW query, lying prone with her legs bent and her bare feet held loosely in the air above her thighs. A few moments later she had the following information on her screen.

Age 34: CL2=76953 CL3=30941 CL4=5742 CL5=651 CL6=50 CL7=3

Age 35: CL2=74538 CL3=32275 CL4=6488 CL5=803 CL6=68 CL7=4 Age 36: CL2=72200 CL3=33495 CL4=7252 CL5=972 CL6=90 CL7=6

"There's Basel," she thought. "In 9568, he made CL6 when he turned 34. One of fifty in what, a population well over a hundred thousand. He really is your peer Eliana, a high-end achiever. Don't go snooty on him just because he's CL6 and you're CL8." Eliana couldn't stop herself though. She probed the data and found that after herself, the next youngest Commander was 38 years old.

There was a polite knock on her door. "Commander?"

"Oh, hi Basel! I'm decent. Come on in." Eliana turned her head to smile at him.

The door opened and Basel stood in the archway, returning her smile but then looking a little sheepish. Eliana suddenly realized why. She was dressed in close-hugging thermal pajamas and presenting her very clearly defined rump to Basel, lying with her legs raised up in a position commonly understood to be a female request for rear-mounted coitus. Eliana coughed and blushed deeply and turned to sit on the side of bed. "Oops, sorry," she whispered, and then in a clear voice, "Hi! Good morning. What's up?"

"That's okay," he whispered back, and then in a normal voice. "I saw network traffic on the monitor upstairs. I knew you were up Commander. I was wondering if you'd like to review my suggestions for today's duty roster." He gestured to his laptop was under his arm.

"Sure, that would be fine." There was no place else to sit in the room, so Eliana patted the bed by her side. Basel quickly sat down next to her on her left, and then stiffened a bit as their bodies touched, wondering if he was sitting too close.

"No, this is fine," Eliana mumbled as she took his laptop and opened it, supporting it on both her left thigh and his right. "What's our plan?"

Eliana could feel Basel trembling a bit, and thought he was both enjoying the experience and shy about having their bodies touch like this. As a Priestess she was a well-trained councilor, with years of medical training in reading emotional states. Underneath the nervousness Eliana could sense Basel's deep pleasure at having her pajama-clad body against his, and Eliana had to stop herself from putting her arm around him in an expression of returned affection.

After a moment he took a deep breath and pointed to his display. "Well, the station itself is now completely set up. I thought the highlight for today might be to start taking the CAT out for its certification runs. I thought we could make a short run starting around 5 AM. See here? Predawn twilight will run from 3:21 AM tomorrow with the sun's azimuth at 143 degrees, to 8:43 AM with the sun's azimuth at 217 degrees. That's our time window when the sun will be six degrees or less below the horizon."

Eliana laughed. "Yes, I'm familiar with the concept of twilight."

"Oh, sorry Commander! I didn't mean to condescend."

"Huh? Oh Basel, no. I wasn't complaining, just being playful."

"Really, I apologize. Sometimes when I'm nervous, I start run my words and talk too much."

"I haven't noticed, not at all." Eliana decided to take a chance and butted her head gently against his shoulder, and then looked up and smiled at him. She could feel her own shyness within her being overwhelmed by a fierce and unexpected desire to be playful.

Basel shyly smiled back. "You're very... Uh, you're very kind Commander."

"Hah! What was your first word?"

"Uh, I'd rather not say." He was giving her a big grin back.

"Perfect!" thought Eliana. "Now's the time to bring this up!"

"Basel," she said out loud, "before we get into planning, can we talk about our command structure?"

"Huh? Uh, yeah sure. What's on your mind Commander?"

"Well, for one thing, the title Commander. I know the world is holding me in charge here, but between us, can we be equals?"

Basel sat still for a moment, and then his eyes went wide. "You're serious, aren't you? You don't want me to report to you?"

"Actually, I'd rather we treated each other as peers."

"What about an emergency situation?"

"Oh, good point! You're way ahead of me. If the emergency is of a military nature, and I can't imagine us having one of those, let me command. My training there is vast. But if it's an engineering emergency, and that one I can imagine us having, Basel, take control. I'll obey your instructions. And for everything else, let's just plan together."

Basel stared at her. "Commander, that sounds... that sounds wonderful! Thank you! I don't know what else to say!"

Eliana butted his shoulder again and laughed. "I do! Will you call me Eliana?"

Basel gave her a very shy smile back and then nodded his head vigorously. They returned to planning their day. Eliana found herself working to keep a lid on how happy she was feeling. A short while later she was in their common shower washing up before breakfast.

"I can't believe how much I've changed," she thought as she lathered the soap across herself in the hot sprays. "Was I worrying just a few days ago at Judah, whether I would be upset if he thought I was pretty? He does think I'm pretty! His body responses are so classic, maybe even a bit of an erection as we sat this morning. He does think I'm pretty! And my heart is singing with the joy of it!" Eliana dried off and dressed and went to find what Basel had prepared for breakfast.

Chapter 5. First Date

Three days later...

Time: January 12, 9570 1 PM UCT

Eliana had a few minutes to go in her forty-minute run on the ellipse trainer when she saw Basel climb the ladder and join her in the Level-4 exercise area. He was dressed in workout clothing, thin and tight. His outfit was similar to Eliana's leotards but with bare legs and arms, and Eliana caught her breath as she admired his masculine form. "Excellent physical shape," she thought. "He's so handsome! Why didn't I see this the first time we met?"

"Hi Basel!" she called out loud.

"Hi Eliana!" Basel looked around the domed room in wonder. The entire dome and vertical-wall area was covered by a super-realistic hologram. It looked as if they were standing in the middle of a wild noontime forest. "I saw the sunlight in the ladder-well and couldn't understand what was going on. This is fabulous!"

"Yes! A beautiful surprise, isn't it?"

Basel nodded and walked over to a control console. After a moment he called out, "It's programmable! Wow! I could have a lot of fun playing with this, maybe even add some animation!"

Eliana laughed back. "Yes! We could be at Aleppo eating lobster by the docks and meet the giant octopus!" She was puzzled to see Basel stiffen for a moment, and then he relaxed.

"Uh, yeah, if you want... I see you like the ellipse trainer too!"

"Yep, it's my favorite." Her timed period ended. She jumped off and said, "Here! It's all yours."

"Hey, don't do that."

"Do what?"

"Get off just because I want it."

"What? I'm not. My run just ended." She smiled playfully. "I have proof! You can check the exercise log!"

"Hey, I..." A worried looking Basel suddenly realized Eliana was grinning at him and he smiled back.

"You were saying?" she teased.

"Yeah. I think I was going to say, Hey, I have to remember how playful you are sometimes."

"Uh huh."

"Maybe we should complain to the Guild, complain their hologram present was not enough, demand they put two ellipse trainers in every station."

"Oh, absolutely! There's no reason we should have to share. Uh, Basel, want some company while you work out?"

"Sure, that'd be great! Just remember who's cooking dinner tonight."

"Oh, I haven't forgotten."

There was a mat area near the center of the dome. Eliana did some splits and deep stretching and then a number of basic martial arts moves, practicing slow-motion block-kick-block-counterpunch combinations, a few judo rolls, and then finishing with her favorite Tai Chi. Near the end she heard Basel sighing deeply on the trainer.

She turned to him. "You okay?"

"Your form..." whispered Basel. "It's so beautiful."

Eliana sighed back. It was Basel's first direct comment about her appearance and she felt quite touched by it. She thought for a moment, and realized she didn't know if he meant her martial arts form or the feminine shape of her body in the tight leotards. Eliana wasn't too sure what men thought of her face, but she thought she had an attractive figure, pleasantly proportioned, very fit and a bit curvier than most. "Thank you," she whispered back, and then more loudly, "Uh, time to get dinner going!" She headed for the ladder.

"What's on the menu?" Basel called out.

"A surprise! You like hot and spicy?"

"Oh, my favorite!"

She laughed. "Great!"

"Uh, Eliana?" Basel called out after she was partway down the ladder, only her head and shoulders above floor level.


"After dinner, you want to... oh, play a board game or listen to music or something?"

"Sure! Both sound nice. Let's just see if you survive my cooking first!" And so saying, her head disappeared from view.

Eliana was surprised how excited she was during dinner. Her stomach felt tied in knots and she barely noticed the taste of her own cooking, though she was very happy that Basel obviously enjoyed her efforts. After cleanup, they both drifted to the game table in the small recreation area. Basel made a gesture, and Eliana opened the computer log and looked at the game menu.

"There's a huge selection here. What's your pleasure, pure strategy, mostly chance, or something combination like backgammon? Feeling lucky tonight?"

Eliana gulped. Her last question also had a vulgar slang meaning. She had just asked Basel if he thought he was going to have sex with her tonight. She looked timidly in his eyes. He was shaking his head slowly no, but his eyes were full of kindness.

"Sorry." she whispered. "Basel?"

"You are so amazing."

"Oh? How so?"

"You remind me of The Preacher Man."

"Huh? What? I do?"

"Yeah, the First Tower. Ilias made this wonderful observation when he first met Abigail, about how can a woman be so soft and so strong at the same time. His comment reminds me of you."

"It does?"

"Yeah. Your accomplishments, your dedication, your competitive spirit, you are so sharp, and all your abilities orbit such a gentle core. Eli, you amaze me."

"Eli?" Eliana whispered. "I haven't been Eli since my twelfth year. Only my grandmother calls me Eli now."

"Ah. Do you mind?"

"No... I don't think I mind at all..." Eliana gulped and felt herself trembling. "Wow. I didn't think I'd be this nervous."

Basel nodded. "Yeah. I'm feeling shy too, shy with a whole bunch of other stuff trying to burst through."

Eliana nodded back. "I know, I feel it too, and it frightens me a bit in this set-up. I don't want to move too fast. Ranger history is filled with stories of teams becoming their own worst enemies... Murderous enemies..."

"Oh, I know it. That's what these tests are all about. Maybe we should stick with strategy for tonight, leave luck for a later day."

Eliana nodded. "A good idea." She took a deep breath. "So! Strategy it is. Let's see... There's a huge selection here, thousands of games, everything from primary-school up to Jamgo."

"Oh, I love Jamgo!" Basel replied. "Do you play?"

"I'm a ranked player," Eliana batted her eyes sweetly.

"Yikes, really?! Well, let's give it a try anyway!"


Eliana brought up the image of the Jamgo board. A distant cousin of the ancient game of Go, Jamgo was played in a 13 x 13 x 13 holographic cube, and the object was to encapsulate 3-D regions of space. As a move, a player could insert an offensive stone, insert a defensive stone, or flip the status of an owned stone from one mode to the other. Opposing stones could also be captured with rules vaguely similar to the ancient Go game.

Eliana let Basel go first. After the first twenty moves, she decided his play looked weird, and in kindness she held back on her play a bit so the score wouldn't be too lopsided. At move 48, she suddenly gasped as she realized her whole position had been underpinned and was about to fall apart. And then Basel shocked her by offering a draw.

"A draw?! You can't be serious!"

"Sure I can. You were just being sweet Eli, trying to keep the game interesting, and I suckered you into letting your guard down. I don't want to win a game this way. Let's start over."

Eliana sighed as she studied her position. "Having this mess disappear does have a certain appeal to it. Okay! To the death on the next one Basel!"

"Okay! No mercy!"

Eliana pushed the reset button and the next game started out along conventional lines. On move 53, the pattern was set for classic gambit called the poisoned helix and Eliana offered it. She was somewhat surprised when Basel made a completely unexpected move. She shook her head in disbelief. The whole right flank of his primary sector was about to crumble.

"Basel, I know we said no mercy, but do you want to take your move back?"

"Nope. This is my secret recipe."

"Huh?" Eliana studied the board closely for several minutes. "My Holy! It's a counter gambit to the poisoned helix! Where did this come from?!"

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