They floated above her, translucent white shapes which undulated at the edges; they floated and they moved closer to her. Seos felt that the orange spot at the bottom of their forms could sense her; they seemed curious. For a long moment, she and the creatures who inhabited this planet, regarded each other.
"I come in peace," Seos whispered, trying to fill her mind with love. She could sense that they understood her, and the colors on their surface changed. She wanted to go with them.
"Go away!" Jasot yelled, running towards her. The shapes rose, like balloons and a moment later, they had disappeared beyond the forest of purple trees.
Jasot panted as he grabbed Seos's hand. "Are you all right?" She nodded, still staring in the direction the creatures had gone. Not creatures; they seemed very spiritual. They were Priests, she decided.
Jasot swore. "I bet they're sentient. There goes our commission." He shook her arm. "Did you hear me?"
She turned to face him. "Yes. They were beautiful." She felt embarrassed that the Priests had seen Jasot. They must think that she lied to them.
He turned and kicked out at a piece of metal scrap. Seos left him alone. They had been exploring this planet for six months and it was obviously too long for their relationship.
They avoided each other for the next few weeks. Jasot only informed her of power and food usage; they had only a limited time to make their fortune. And that did not look like it was going to happen. Benda was a beautiful world, a near Earth environment which could only be exploited if it were proved that no intelligent life lived on it.
The Priests had made their lives more complicated; she wanted to find them so she could explain.
When Seos returned from her latest exploration trip, Jasot was in a good mood. That immediately made her suspicious.
"Let me show you something." He reached for her hand but she moved away. "It's OK. We'll make our money back."
"What?" She gasped, feeling afraid. She could imagine that he had trapped one of the Priests and there would be no way she could apologize to them. Jasot led her into the cargo hold of the ship. A few weeks ago, it had been nearly empty and held only a few last cases of nutrient powder.
Now, a shape filled it. It looked organic, as if it had grown into this twisted shape on its own, but as Seos looked at it longer, she realized that three terrifying forms had been carved into the surface. Though they seemed to have wings, hands and faces, the combination was made by an alien mind.
"What have you done?" She turned on Jasot, raising her hands to strike his face but he pushed her away. She fell against the shape; the surface felt smooth and warm, like skin. She got to her feet slowly, staring at Jasot.
"What's wrong now? It's only a statue." He smiled; she imagined that he was calculating his profit.
"I think it was… is an icon, of religious significance to the natives on this world."
He laughed. "I've been thinking of those creatures we saw. How could they build anything like this? They haven't tried to communicate with us; I don't think they can be that smart."
"A court will have to determine that."
"That would take up precious time, and in the meantime, we could sell this, keep us going until we have our claim here." He wrapped his arms around her. "It will be all right. I know what I'm doing."
She couldn't find the words to express herself, so she stayed silent. Maybe once they returned to their world, she would be able to speak up against him, but now. They had only each other.
The time to leave crept up on her slowly and on the final day, everything went too fast. They were sitting in their couches going through the systems check when Jasot started flipping switches.
"What's going on?" He yelled at the monitor, then slammed it. Seos moved the cover off the observation port and saw them.
The Priests swirled around the ship, moving closer and closer. Seos felt thrilled to see them, but suddenly felt a deep despair. They were grieving over something.
"Strap up again," Jasot said. "I'm going to take off through them, if they're not going to get out of the way."
"No." She surprised herself. "They are probably more intelligent than we are. Hurt them and you could get tried for murder."
Jasot leaned back. "So what are we going to do?"
"Return the icon." Jasot started to take a breath then nodded. Seos jumped up to open the hatch again, and return the icon. She thought that Jasot had probably done the calculations and realized that theft and murder were not cost-effective.
As she attached the antigrav lifters to the statue, Jasot followed her. She was about to engaged the lift mode when he shoved her out of the way. "It's not attached right," he said. "Might have fallen on you."
They returned to the edge of the forest and stood it upright as it had rested for thousands of years. As they returned to the ship, the Priests drifted around them. Seos felt they had finally done the right thing.