RUTH AWOKE ON SOMETHING SOFT-SOOTHING BLUE-gray light. She felt around her: a bed, silky warm covers. She realized she was nude on the bed ... but warm ... warm. Above her there was an oval shape full of glittering crystal facets. They changed colors as she watched --green, silver, yellow, blue ... They were soothing.

Somewhere she knew there was something urgently demanding her attention, but it was a paradox. Her whole being told her the urgent thing could wait.

She turned her head to the right. There was light from somewhere, but she couldn't determine its source --a light suddenly full of yellows like remembered sunlight It illuminated an odd room --a wall lined with what appeared to be books, a low oval table cluttered with strange golden shapes: cubes, rectangular containers, a domed half-egg. There was a window with night's blue blackness pushing against it. As she watched, the window became metallic white and a face appeared there to look in at her. It was a big face, odd silvery skin with harsh angles and planes, the eyes sunken, penetrating.

Ruth felt she should be frightened by that face, but she couldn't find the emotional response.

The face disappeared and the window became a view looking down onto a seashore, surf- battered cliffs, dripping rocks, sunlight. Again, there was night's darkness in the scene and she realized that the framed shape could not be a window.

In front of it stood a wheeled stand holding an unevenly stacked, multibanked shape like a surrealistic typewriter.

A draft touched the left side of her body. It was the first cold thing she had experienced since awakening. She turned toward it, saw an oval door. It stood open, but his leaves were sinking inward to seal it. Just inside the door stood a squat figure in green leotards --the face that had peered in at her. Somewhere within her there was a reaction which said: "This is a loathsome, bowlegged little man." The reaction refused to surface.

The creature's wide, thick-lipped mouth opened. He said: "I am Kelexel." The voice was smooth. It went through her with a tingling sensation.

His eyes traversed her body and she recognized the intense maleness of the look, was surprised to find herself not repelled by it. This room was so warmly soothing, the crystal facets above her moved with such gentle beauty.

"I find you very attractive," Kelexel said. "I do not remember ever being attracted thus, with such magnetism."

He walked around the place where she lay.

Ruth followed him with her eyes, watched him manipulate keys on the machine atop the wheeled stand. A delicious tremor ran through her and she began to wonder what it would be like to have this strange creature, this Kelexel, as a lover.

Distantly within her, she sensed a voice screaming: "No! No! No!" Slowly, the voice dimmed, grew silent.

Kelexel came to stand over her.

"I am of the Chem," he said. "Does this mean anything to you?"

She shook her head. "No." Her voice was faint.

"You have not seen a person such as myself before?" Kelexel asked.

"The ... " She remembered her last few minutes with Nev, the creatures in the doorway. And Andy. She knew there was something she should feel about Andy Thurlow, a deep and abiding emotion, but there was only a sisterly affection. Dear Andy ... such a sweet, dear person.

"You must answer me," Kelexel said. There was a deep feeling of power in his voice.

"I saw ... three ... at my house ... three who ... "

"Ah, the three who brought you here," Kelexel said. "But before that, had you seen any of us before that?"

She thought then of the grove, Andy's description (kind, pleasant Andy) but she hadn't really seen such creatures there.

"No," she said.

Kelexel hesitated, glanced at the telltales of the manipulator which controlled the native female's emotions. She was telling the truth. Still, it paid to be cautious.

"Then it means nothing to you that I am of the Chem?" he asked.

"What ... are the Chem?" she asked. A part of her was aroused now to intense curiosity. The curiosity struggled up through muddy waves of distraction to sit in her awareness and stare at Kelexel. What a gnome of a creature! What a sweet little gnome.

"It shall mean something," Kelexel said. "You are very attractive to me. We Chem are kind to those who please us. You cannot go back to your friends, of course, not ever. There are compensations, however. It's considered an honor to serve the Chem."

Where is Andy? Ruth wondered. Dear, sweet Andy.

"Very attractive," Kelexel murmured.

Wondering at the force which moved him, Kelexel extended a knob-knuckled finger, touched her right breast. How resilient and lovely her skin. The finger moved gently up to the nipple, to her neck, her chin, her lips, her hair.

"Your eyes are green," Kelexel said. "We Chem are very fond of green."

Ruth swallowed. The caressing movement of Kelexel's finger filled her with excitement. His face dominated her vision. She reached up, touched his hand. How hard and virile the hand felt. She met the penetrating stare of his brown eyes.

The manipulator's instruments told Kelexel that the female was now completely subjugated to his will. The realization stirred him. He smiled, exposing square silvery teeth. "I will have many questions for you," he said. "Later."

Ruth felt herself sinking into a golden daze. Her attention was locked onto the crystal facets glittering above the bed. Kelexel's head momentarily obscured the kaleidoscopic movement, then she felt his face pressed between her breasts. The golden daze overwhelmed her with ripples and waves of terrifying ecstasy.

"Oh, God," she whispered. "Oh, God. Oh, God." How pleasant to be worshiped at such a moment, Kelexel thought. It was the most pleasure he had ever experienced from a female.