Note: This story depicts, among other things, sexual and romantic attraction and actions between men. Those readers uncomfortable with any mention of homosexuality should not read it. And those readers who, opposite but similar, want to see nothing but sex should likewise find entertainment elsewhere. All others are sincerely welcome.
Aside from The Nifty Erotic Stories Archive, my stories are also posted at AwesomeDude and at It's Only Me from Across the Sea.
© 2002-2005 by William P. Coleman. All rights reserved. May not publicly be distributed, printed, reproduced, reposted on the Web, or linked to without prior written permission.
If you enjoy this story or have constructive comments about it, I'd be delighted to hear from you at wpc (at) wpcmath (dot) com.
. . . there are twelve gods and they each want different things . . .
Our eyes see beta Lyrae as a single star, the second brightest, after Vega, of those that appear together as the constellation Lyra.
A telescope resolves it into a binary: a blue star and a cream-colored one that varies in brightness because it too is really a pair of stars, almost touching. One of these two, a large, light star, pours out a stream of matter that spirals into the small, heavy one next to it and can be seen on its way as a dark, thick band of dust.
The planet of beta Lyrae (its people call it "Earth") orbits all three stars. Sometimes they see the blue one more prominent in their sky, and at other times they're nearer the two cream-colored ones. The length of each day is determined by the planet's rotation about its axis and by its travel through the three stars' irregular gravitational field that changes shape as they move relative to one another.
On our Earth, scientists know that the Sun is halfway through its time as a main sequence star and it will take another five billion years before it expands, destroying our planet and becoming a red giant. This event is improbably far in the future compared to current historical time.
But for people on the Earth of beta Lyrae the ring of dust obscuring the small, heavy star is a visible clock. The larger star's mass flows strongly out of it into the smaller one. Their relative gravitation changes and so does their orbit around each other. The orbit shortens, by two seconds now each year. Eventually, the system will destabilize and everything will end.
Their scientists don't know how long this will take: the equations are too complex. It seemingly couldn't be in the lifetime of anyone now alive, or of their children. Still, the idea does affect people's thinking--which, since their history is separate, wouldn't be exactly like ours anyway.
S'mith sat in the house he had designed. He couldn't form any definite ideas about the letter he held in his hand. Instead, avoiding thinking about the letter or about anything, he felt the breeze from the ocean through the open windows.
In daytime the masonry of his house soaked up warmth from the air flowing through, and it also stored energy from the light radiating on it. When darkness came the walls and roof gave the warmth back to the now cold inside air that communicated through the windows to the outside. The walls cooled so that the next day they could absorb heat again.
The house was open but still naturally differentiated from the outside's changes in temperature: cool when it was warm out and warm when it was cool. It was only occasionally--at the very worst, when the weather became too cold in winter--that S'mith needed to make the house warm by closing windows and burning driftwood in the fireplace.
His fellow engineers regarded this system, and all S'mith's ideas, as silly, needless, illogical. He should force the house with heating to be warm in winter and cooling to be cool in summer, rather than designing it to let it be itself. Even now, although they had called him back because he was the only one able to build the TidePower Project they couldn't complete, they knew his methods were unimportant in the real world.
Simply staring at the letter wasn't making him any wiser, so he wanted to go talk to his young friend, Torn, the priest.
He went out into the hot afternoon and walked on the sandy, dusty asphalt road. The two cream-colored suns were overhead, and the blue one below them hadn't yet reached the horizon.
The temple was outside on a sand dune overlooking the bay, three miles behind S'mith's house on the ocean, a round floor of stone with an open circle of pillars, joined at the top, and an altar for each of the twelve gods. The priest didn't expect S'mith and was happy to see him.
S'mith said, "Let's sacrifice to the gods before we talk." They stopped at each altar, placing grains of wheat and stretching their hands in prayer.
They went next door into Torn's house, the concrete one S'mith had designed for him and helped him build. S'mith handed him the letter: "What would the gods think?"
Torn read it, smiled, and then turned serious. "I don't know what the gods think, but I know what your doctors think. They notice your sigmoid endoscopy shows polyps, which are a predictor of cancer, and they'd like you back for a full colonoscopy."
"Yes. I can read."
"It's simple. If you don't go and you've got cancer, it'll progress. They won't be able to treat it then, and you'll die."
Torn had to think for a minute, surprised that this idea didn't seem to bother S'mith.
"You mean maybe you want to die?"
S'mith just looked at him.
"So instead of killing yourself, you've got this indirect, convoluted way of doing it without doing it: just quietly--and painfully, I might add--let your cancer eat you up. Assuming, of course, that you do have it."
"And why am I being involved in this idiocy?" Torn asked. "Oh, right. I'm supposed to know what the gods think. Well, it's bad news. They don't know. A split decision: five for, six against, and one abstention." Torn went to his filing cabinet and opened a drawer. "Er, wait, let me double-check. No, it's seven for and five against. How do you spell your name again?"
S'mith laughed. "Thanks."
"Is my sarcasm unkind? Under the circumstances? I mean, you're not necessarily dying of cancer yet; you're dying of idiocy. And you expect the gods--and me--to assist you in being an idiot."
"My question is unreasonable?"
"Well, usually, people pray to ask the gods for help. How would you phrase your particular request? 'Dear Wayfinder, please help me not go for my colonoscopy because then I could be dead and then my life would be nicer.'"
"I just wondered what they would think."
"You mean you want their advice? The gods don't give advice."
"All right. OK,--"
"You wonder if some of them are perhaps curious to see pictures of the inside of your colon? . . . Or, maybe they might miss you when you were gone?"
"I should have expressed myself better--"
"S'mith, if you mean would I, Torn, personally miss you if you were gone, the answer is yes. I'd miss you very much. I would."
"Thank you," S'mith said, feeling somehow better.
"Problems with the TidePower Project?"
"No, not at all. My design works--like I said. I hoped that success would help but, oddly, it makes my desperation greater." S'mith stopped, looked at Torn, and held up his hand: "Don't get funny again."
But the priest replied gently, "I think I understand. Before, you thought the designs other engineers wanted were wrong but you weren't sure. Now you're seeing your design actually work where theirs didn't. But, still, they'll never accept your ideas anyway. The stupid, miserable, shit-eating sons of bitches."
"Why help them? If they'd asked me when I was young and eager, I'd have built them anything. Now I'm used to being different, alone. Whatever I've learned can die with me."
"And the putative cancer is the perfect opportunity. You wouldn't make an overt gesture of killing yourself, but if you happened to die naturally . . . "
"I could get out in a way that has nothing to do with them, for or against. My private choice."
"So, no colonoscopy. Hmmm. Devious thinking. Nice try, really. Impressive. But I still think you're fooling yourself."
After S'mith left, before walking back, he stopped on the beach outside the temple.
Gulls milled around on the sand, bored but patient. The tide was soon to go out and perhaps they waited for some signal that dinner was ready. More landed every minute, enthusiastic and bright-eyed, but then, mute and obedient, they drifted aimlessly with the others.
S'mith said, "Stupid, miserable, shit-eating sons of bitches."
By the time he reached home it was dark. Inside, the air was warm, just as it had been cool during the heat of the day.
He telephoned the priest: "I'm going to make an appointment for the colonoscopy."
Linda was eighteen and beautiful, but so disdainful that few young men had nerve to try for her and those who did came away humiliated. They left her alone and made up for it with sarcasm about how disgusting it must be to have to screw her.
They wanted her generically and hated her generically. She felt this was good reason to hate them specifically.
Although many treated her like that, there were exceptions.
She came up from the beach, crossed through the temple, and walked into Torn's study unannounced. As usual, she didn't kiss him or say hello. She sulked and undressed.
They might have gone into his bedroom, which would have ensured privacy and been more comfortable, but she liked it on the couch. She lay down on her back. Seeming indifferent, she watched Torn at the end by her feet. She lifted her legs to remove her underwear, drawing her knees forward to reach, and letting him look, fascinated, between her thighs.
Torn could never imagine at first what would please her. The sunlight came through the window, but he reached out in darkness, not knowing what to try with her other than what he himself wanted and hoped she might like. He needed her to be happy, and he let that guide him. To his amazement, she always responded, joined in. They made love together.
They lay in the late afternoon peace, her head on his shoulder.
She left later, still without speaking, but she caressed his cheek tenderly and kissed him before putting her clothes on.
As she went out the door, she met Kene coming in. He smiled to her.
"Stay away," she spat. "You even followed me here?"
He reached for her. She slapped away his hand and walked into the temple.
Kene went in to Torn. Kene said, "I'm planning to marry Linda."
"Does she agree?"
"You think you can keep her for yourself because you're a priest?"
"She comes to me when she likes."
"Why don't you marry her?"
"We're happy with what we have."
"Happy? That's not enough."
"What more would there necessarily be?"
Outside, Linda sacrificed grain on the Wayfinder's altar. "Wayfinder, I've always prayed to you. Protect me from Kene."
The Wayfinder heard her. Linda walked from the temple and down the beach, and an osprey flew in from the sea and passed over her shoulder. It landed on the sand next to Torn's door. It flapped its wings for a moment and then transformed into the shape of a handsome young man.
Inside, Kene said to Torn, "You're unnatural. When someone wants a woman, he takes her and has children with her. That's what the gods want."
"The gods' wants are not as one-directional as you think."
"What's right is right and what's wrong is wrong."
"Think as you like, but there are twelve gods and they each want different things. Linda and I live our own lives, honoring them."
"I'm not giving her any choice."
Kene turned to go. As he went out the door, he saw the young man standing there. The Wayfinder turned to him and waved a hand crosswise in dismissal, and Kene fell dead.
Aleks, an old man, and T'sindi, a young woman, got out of her car, holding hands, still laughing, and walked up to Stevano's hut: thatch-roofed, surrounded by grass and trees and shaded from the sun.
The nurse opened the door and they turned serious.
"Is he any better?"
She shook her head.
They went in. Stevano brightened and sat up higher in bed. "It's good seeing the two of you. Makes me well again."
T'sindi hugged him.
Aleks sat by Stevano on the palm-leaf mattress, holding Stevano's hand, listening to him talk as T'sindi joked with him. Aleks remembered how Stevano and he had lived together in this hut as young men.
"A waste," he thought. It bothered Aleks that Stevano, who had saved himself up all his life, never found someone to spend himself on. Stevano aged nonetheless, and now he dies. Someone generous, good, happy because his friends are. What a waste for him to die!
T'sindi got up and said, "I need to speak to the nurse."
Stevano looked puzzled.
"I'll be just a minute," she said on her way out.
Aleks kissed Stevano, slipping his tongue inside his mouth. He sat back up and smiled. Stevano protested, "Don't make fun of me. You can't pretend you find an old man still attractive."
But Aleks folded back the white bed sheet. He put his hand on the thin cloth of the hospital gown, at Stevano's groin. "I do find you attractive. I remember what you looked like back in 8074," Aleks said, gently kneading the penis.
"You can't pretend you're not responding." He lifted the gown and bent over to suck him.
Aleks knew from his own body how what he did felt for another man. This was unlike Torn who, with women, reached out into the unknown. Aleks and Torn were different. Each wanted what he wanted.
Stevano moaned. Aleks whispered, "You're getting there."
"I should reciprocate." Stevano tried to move out from under Aleks.
"Later," Aleks laughed, holding him back down. "First things first. Like we always did."
Aleks and Stevano often didn't try to come simultaneously, finding such a requirement distracting. One would attend the other. He would submerse himself in feeling the other's exact emotions, more and more, until their mutual identification was total. They were built to be able, as the first one came, to store that feeling: fresh, intact in the imagination, until they exchanged roles and completed it together.
"I love you."
Later, T'sindi came back, and she and Aleks said goodbye to Stevano. As they walked to the car, she kissed Aleks's cheek. "Did I give you enough time with him?"
She drove and he sat next to her. They held hands again, quiet. T'sindi had come to him late in life. He was touched that she wanted his shriveled body, and grateful for her warmth.
"Are you sure about what you're planning?" she asked.
"Yes. I'm old now--and so I'm just doing the next thing."
"You couldn't wait and let it happen by itself?"
"It might not be good then."
At the beach, Aleks kissed T'sindi, got out of the car, and watched her drive off.
The blue sun had already gone down. The larger of the two cream-colored suns, Sheliak, was a great disk just above the horizon. Over its shoulder, its companion was part hidden in the gray dust that banded it. Their light refracted red-orange through the atmosphere and bathed the Earth.
Aleks took off his shoes and crossed the warm asphalt to the temple barefoot. He went around the circle and stopped at each of the twelve altars, placing grains of wheat and stretching his hands in prayer to the gods.
He walked through the small crowd that watched the suns set over the water. A hawk-faced man, S'mith, turned with momentary curiosity to Aleks. Unlike S'mith who felt himself differ irreconcilably from others, Aleks felt himself draw into everyone and everything. Aleks smiled to S'mith, took off the rest of his clothes, and went naked across the dry sand to the wet sea bottom the outgoing tide was leaving. As he stepped onto it, he still tasted Stevano's semen in his mouth.
The bay was shallow so that the water's receding tidal drop of a few vertical feet left its edge now several hundred yards from shore. A few flat streams drained quietly to it over the sand. Aleks wanted to be at the water when it turned to come back.
The gulls were released from their suspension. Aleks walked toward the water's distant, outgoing edge, and they fluttered endlessly around him, screaming as they hunted shellfish.
Aleks came to the water. He stepped into a small wave reaching to meet him. He took another step. When it was deep enough, he dove strongly and swam. With luck, before he tired he would pass through the bay and find the ocean, and his feet would no longer be able to touch the ground.
Stevano was dying and Aleks came up again in his own way to meet him. In the act of death too, they stored their emotion in imagination, perfect and fresh. They exchanged and completed together.