The warmth of the rising sun pouring through her bedroom window woke Dr. Molly Reynaud a few minutes before her alarm went off. Her large brown eyes fluttered open, unblinking despite the brilliance of the sunbeams bathing her face. Though she could appreciate the sun’s warmth, she couldn’t see it, so the brightness didn’t bother her.
Molly was completely blind and had been from the age of sixteen.
She frowned as the warmth bathed her face. She’d been having a dream…such a strange dream but now she could hardly remember any of it. Something about a man with golden eyes…
Molly dismissed it with a shrug. She’d probably had the dream because she’d gone to bed with the Kindred and the rest of her upcoming project on her mind. And speaking of her project…
Today’s the big day. Her heart fluttered with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. Today she would take a huge leap for someone in her profession. As a Cultural Anthropologist, she had studied many different societies and subcultures within those societies. But today, for the first time, she would be studying not just a whole new society but a whole new race who weren’t even human.
She had been chosen for an exclusive grant, co-funded by the Kindred, to go and study the people of Tal’os Trenta—a small world on the other side of the Milky Way.
The Kindred, Molly thought. Now there’s a group of people I’d like to study. A culture of mostly males who revered females surely had to be a rarity—at least it was on Earth. But though the big aliens who had come to save Earth during the Scourge crisis some years ago were making an effort to be more accessible, they still hadn’t agreed to allow any kind of anthropological or cultural observer to study them.
Well at least they’re making my latest project possible, Molly thought philosophically. Let someone else study them—I get first crack at the Tal’ossi.
She felt another surge of anticipation. Being chosen as the first anthropologist to go off planet and study a new and completely alien race was an exclusive and prestigious honor but that wasn’t why Molly was so excited. She genuinely loved learning about new people—their ways and customs, their religious beliefs and social mores. Differences fascinated her—she couldn’t wait to get going.
“Six forty-five. Time to get up,” said the mechanical voice of her alarm clock.
Molly felt for it automatically and hit the off switch.
If you’re so eager to get going, what are you doing still lying in bed? Get up, lazybones! she told herself.
Getting out of bed on the right side, as always, she picked up her phone and disconnected it from the charger. Holding it in one hand, she walked exactly five steps from the edge of the mattress and felt with her toes for her yoga mat. A quick kick unrolled it and Molly settled herself in the center and spoke to her phone.
“Open Down-Dog ap.”
“Opening Down-Dog,” answered a mechanical female voice. Soothing flute music began to play and, at another touch of her finger to the screen, the voiceover feature of her phone began to list the various workouts she could chose from.
Molly picked a fifteen minute session with hip opening sequences—her hips were always tight—and the workout began. This was her usual morning routine and as she flowed through the poses that the unseen instructor described, she tried to focus her mind and steady her thoughts.
Everything she needed was already packed. Her MacBook Pro with enough battery packs to keep it recharged for three months, which was how long she was going to be gone… her clothes and toiletries were all neatly arranged in her suitcase in the specific order Molly had devised for travel… an extra supply of hair bands to contain her wild caramel colored locks… her recorder, likewise supplied with backup power sources for taking field notes…
She ticked them all off in her head and concentrated on her breathing at the same time. By the time her workout was complete, she felt more centered and relaxed. After rolling up her yoga mat, she made her way to the shower and turned it on.
Two fresh towels were hanging on hooks on the wall beside her shower stall, put there the night before by Molly herself. She placed her phone on the small table especially for that purpose and stripped out of her sleep clothes, placing them in the laundry hamper right beside it. She pulled the band out of her long, wavy hair and put it beside her phone, making sure it was in the right spot so she could find it later.
One way she dealt with her blindness was by being always one step ahead of the game and part of that was being meticulously organized. Everything in her life was labeled and in its proper place. Not that Molly didn’t enjoy being spontaneous sometimes—she did—but being a little bit anal about organization helped her life run more smoothly.
After feeling the water and adjusting the temperature, she stepped in and gave a little sigh of pure contentment as the warm flow pulsed over her. She felt for her shampoo bottle. It was the exact size and shape as the conditioner—not ideal—so she felt for the small sticky label she’d placed on the bottom. A pattern of bumps—Brail for the letter S—told her she had the right bottle and she proceeded to wash her hair with confidence.
After stepping out of the shower, she reached for the fresh towels and wrapped one around her body and the other around her long, wet mass of freshly washed hair. She touched a button on her phone and the voiceover function told her the time and that she had no new calls.
Molly frowned to herself. It was almost seven-thirty—where was Denise?
Denise Richardson was her best friend and research assistant. The two women had met when Molly was in her first year teaching at USF and Denise was an undergrad. Sensing a kindred spirit, Molly had quickly taken the other woman under her wing and hired her as a TA. Now Denise went with her everywhere and acted as her “eyes” during case studies and field work.
Not that Molly couldn’t take care of herself, but though there was much she could learn about a new culture from her other senses, having someone with sight describe the new environment, people’s facial expressions and body language, and a hundred other little new things she might otherwise miss, was invaluable.
She should have called by now—Hell, she should already be over here, Molly thought with a touch of worry. She’s as excited about this as I am.
Denise had the same thirst for knowledge that was Molly’s own defining characteristic. She had been bubbling over with eagerness to get to Tal’os Trenta and begin their field work. So where was she?
Molly almost told her phone to call her assistant…but hesitated at the last minute. Possibly Denise was simply saying an extended “good-bye” to her fiancée, Scott. Three months, though not nearly long enough for a really good field study in Molly’s opinion, was still a long time to be apart, especially for a couple who were so desperately in love.
“Must be nice,” Molly murmured, a bit wistfully, as she felt in the drawer which held her hair dryer and plugged it in by feeling for the outlet on the wall. She herself had long ago stopped looking for love.
She had dated quite a bit in her twenties but now, in her thirties, she was an established professional who traveled all the time for her work. It made keeping up a long-term relationship difficult. Besides, she was extremely independent, having been on her own since the age of sixteen when a car crash had taken her parents and her sight all in one fell swoop.
Her fierce self-reliance and independence weren’t easy for sighted guys to deal with. They tended to think of her as a “little lost blind girl” in need of their manly guidance and help. When Molly proved capable of fending for herself, many of these guys, who wanted to see themselves as white knights riding to her rescue, lost interest.
Of course she could have dated a blind man—and had once or twice in the past—but none of those relationships seemed to stick. Molly loved the blind community but she always seemed to be too busy with her work to spend much time in it. She mostly met sighted guys and hadn’t found one yet who didn’t seem to think he was doing her a favor by stooping to date a girl with a disability.
When she’d hit her thirties she decided to forget about romance and concentrate on her work. After all, the intellectual stimulation it provided was more than enough to fill up her days. And if she felt lonely in bed all by herself sometimes at night, well…that was just the way things were. Being alone was part of her–like her blindness. It was her personal status quo and Molly had made up her mind to get used to it.
After blow drying her hair and carefully replacing the dryer, she went three steps to her left and entered her walk in closet to pick out clothes. Her closet was strictly organized with business and professional outfits together on the left and more casual clothing on the right.
Carefully counting the hangers, Molly chose the fourth one on the left which she knew held her best business skirt and jacket combination. It was a deep fawn brown with a white silk shell top and Denise had told her it “brought out her eyes.” Though Molly couldn’t see the effect, she trusted her best friend’s judgment and felt confident in putting on the suit.
After dressing, she went back to her bathroom counter and pulled out her makeup drawer. Someone had once asked her why she bothered with makeup since she couldn’t see how she looked herself.
“I like to look beautiful and feel confident, just like you do,” Molly had told her. “Just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s there.”
Working quickly and entirely by touch, she laid out her makeup, most of which was Brailed for quick identification, and began to apply it. Foundation, powder, blush, eye shadow, mascara…even lipstick, Molly applied it all by touch, though she decided to forego eyeliner since Denise wasn’t here yet to give her a quick once over. Eyeliner was tricky even for the sighted, she knew from talking to friends. It helped to have a good pair of eyes to look her over for mistakes, especially on such an important day.
Molly packed away her make-up, hoping she looked her best. Not only was she going to meet with Commander Sylvan, the head of the Kindred High Council, she was also going to fold space and end her day on Tal’os Trenta, meeting with the Wise One, who was apparently the head of the religious order on the distant planet.
She started to put her hair back in a sedate bun but just then the doorbell rang.
Molly felt a surge of relief—finally, Denise was here! They were supposed to wait at Molly’s house for the Kindred warrior who would take them to the HKR building in downtown Tampa. Knowing her assistant and best friend was as eager to get started as she was, Molly hurried to the door and threw it open.
“Denise!” she exclaimed. “I—” But her words broke off abruptly.
It wasn’t Denise standing in her doorway.
Years of being blind had sharpened Molly’s other senses to a razor’s edge. Her sensitive nose didn’t detect her assistant’s Happy by Clinique perfume. Instead, a rich, wild, somehow indefinably masculine aroma filled her senses. And rather than Denise’s high, feminine voice, her ears were suddenly filled with a deep, base growl as her visitor spoke.
“Are you Doctor Reynaud? My name is Commander Braxx of the Kindred Scout Division. I am here to escort you to the Mothership.”