* * * * *
The Ivroy smiled. Her teeth were as even as matched pearls, Dan thought, and as white as--
"I am a girl, Dan. We are cousins, you and I--separated by the long mystery of time."
"Blote--and Dzhackoon and Snithian, too--seemed to think the Ivroy ran the Universe. But--"
The Ivroy put her hand on Dan's. It was as soft as a flower petal.
"Don't trouble yourself over this just now, Dan. Would you like to become my agent? I need a trustworthy friend to help me in my work here."
"Doing what?" Dan heard himself say.
"Watching over the race which will one day become the Ivroy."
"I don't understand all this--but I'm willing to try."
"There will be much to learn, Dan. The full use of the mind, control of aging and disease.... Our work will require many centuries."
"I'll teach you, Dan."
"It sounds great," Dan said. "Too good to be true. But how do you know I'm the man for the job? Don't I have to take some kind of test?"
She looked up at him, smiling, her lips slightly parted. On impulse, Dan put a hand under her chin, drew her face close and kissed her on the mouth....
A full minute later, the Ivroy, nestled in Dan's arms, looked up at him again.
"You passed the test," she said.