|Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is purely coincidental and unintentional. Some characters may be gay and underage, and at times engage in homosexual acts. Obviously anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. The implication that Malaysia may execute homosexuals at some time in the future is based on current events in Uganda and is not meant in any way to be a slight against the current citizens of Malaysia. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of the story in any form.|
|About this Story: Great care has been taken to portray only that which is theoretically possible. Loran is a fictitious planet with a year that is 161.6 Earth days in length, or 44% as long as an Earth Year. A Martian year is 687 Earth days long, or 88% longer than an Earth year, and 4.25 times longer than a Loran year. A day on Loran is 23 hours, 47 minutes and thirteen seconds long, and on Mars it is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds in length. Gravity on Loran is 67% of that on Earth and on Mars it is 38% that on Earth, which is 57% of that on Loran. Atmospheric pressure on Loran is 36% that of Earth, but the oxygen concentration is nearly three times greater, yielding a nearly identical partial pressure of oxygen. On Mars the atmospheric pressure is just 1% that on Earth, which is 2.8% of that on Loran, and the Martian atmosphere is virtually devoid of oxygen.|
Over the course of the next few weeks, I went into the lab every day, helping to develop and design defensive weapons that could be manufactured using existing assmbly plants, and helping a team of virologists to design a Cerenean virus. I spent every night with Steve, making out with him, as he put it and trying just about every variation of human-Loran sex we could think of. Often I would end up spending the night in his bed. I had a feeling that Steve's parents knew what we were up to, but I dared not tell that to Steve. He would have freaked out.
By the time I had been on Earth for two months, we were well underway with the manufacturer of defensive weapons systems and were gearing up for large-scale synthesis of the Cerenean virus. By then I was also hopelessly in love with Steve. There was no way I could deny it anymore. I loved him with all my heart as humans liked to say, and could not imagine my life without him. We spent all our free time together and were as intimate as any two individuals could be.
As the weather became warmer, the effects of devoting the entire manufacturing output of the planet were becoming apparent. Shortages of common goods arose constantly, from clothing, to spare parts for motorized vehicles, to all but the most basic of foodstuffs. Meat in particular became a luxury the planet couldn't afford and people were reduced to subsisting on grains. Of course to me, eating meat was repulsive in the first place, but Steve kept talking about how he would have killed to have had just one cheeseburger. For him I'd have gone to Pluto, just to get him one if there were one to be had.
In the meantime, we were monitoring the progress of the Cerenean advance with rapt attention. By now they were visible with ordinary telescopes - anyone could track them from their own back yard. At their current rate of deceleration, they would arrive in just over a month.
Of course we weren't going to wait until the last minute to deploy our defensive forces, although we did want to hide from them as much as possible our true defensive capabilities. We hoped to catch them off-guard with overwhelming force before they reached Earth. To that end, we were quietly deploying a huge armada of small one-person spacecraft into low Earth orbit. Too small and too close to the Earth, they were virtually undetectable from deep space.
Soon we would launch several large shuttlecraft with more than fifty thousand pilots to man the spacecraft. Like a swarm of locust, they would meet the Cereneans outside the solar system and, with luck, eliminate half their fleet. We would also use hull-piercing projectiles that carried the Cerenean virus. Nearly microscopic and designed to vaporize on contact with oxygen, they would deliver small quantities of the virus inside the Cerenean spacecraft without leaving any physical evidence of their incursion.
The particular variety of the virus that would be dispersed among the fleet was designed to infect and spread rapidly but silently, without causing any symptoms for weeks. That meant they would not be incapacitated until the invasion of Earth was well underway, but we couldn't risk discovery until the entire fleet was infected. As a backup, we would disperse a rapidly acting encapsulated form of the virus into the atmosphere as soon as the invasion began.
The weak link in our plan was the risk of early discovery. It was highly likely the Cereneans would send scout ships ahead of the rest of the fleet. These small, hard-to-detect spacecraft might already on their way and could arrive at any time. If the scout ships were able to discover what we were doing, even if only in part, they could warn the Cerenean fleet in time for them to take defensive measures, greatly reducing the effectiveness of our initial attack. If they were to discover our plans to deploy a biological weapon, they could protect themselves with environmental suits, making the virus useless.
As a counter, we set up an early warning system, deploying a vast network of radio telescopes into space to serve as a sensor array. It was likely we wouldn't have much warning of their arrival, but hopefully it would be enough to take them out before they had a chance to warn the fleet. Fortunately for us, the scout ships never arrived. Perhaps the Cereneans did not expect Earth to mount an effective defense and so they didn't even bother to send scout ships.
In late June, when we were on the eve of launching our attack force, Albert called Steve and me into his study for a serious discussion. "Lansley, Steve," he began, "tomorrow we will launch the largest space operation in our planet's history. The launch of so many ships will be visible for light years and evidence of the launch will reach the Cerenean fleet in a matter of days. Their behavior after that will be unpredictable. They may try to evade our force, or they may continue on their current course. They may use some of their spacecraft as artificial meteors, slamming them into the Earth and causing an environmental catastrophe. We just don't know.
"In any case, it's too dangerous for you to stay here. Our large cities are the first places they will target and, Lansley, we can be sure they will scour the planet until they find you. You're far too valuable to take a chance on losing you. Besides, Steve would never forgive me if I let anything happen to you. I know you have become close friends, and much, much more."
Steve got a look of shock on his face, but Albert's admission was something I'd long suspected anyway.
Albert continued with a laugh, "Steve, I had an inkling you were gay even before our first contact with Lansley, but I must admit, the last thing I expected was for you to fall in love with an extraterrestrial. I guess this just goes to show that the old adage about love knowing no bounds is true. I know there are some serious issues that may need to be worked out if this continues, but you're both great kids and you have my full support.
"We face very tough times ahead and I need to be sure Lansley is safe. Just as important to me is that my only son not be in danger. I know the two of you can protect and take care of each other.
"I would send you to an underground bunker, but I doubt that would be much of a deterrent to the Cereneans. I've therefore decided to send you to a remote area in Utah - Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, to be precise. This is a desolate, largely undeveloped region with numerous canyons and even small caves where you can hide out, and it's not an area where the Cereneans are likely to look. There's ample water and sufficient plant and animal life for you to subsist until winter sets in. I will send you with some basic equipment and instructions that will ease your isolation."
"But what about my hydroponics bay?" I asked. There may be food in the desert for Steve, but what about me?"
"Our scientists have completed an analysis of your nutritional requirements, Lansley, and with the exception of a pair of amino acids you won't be able to digest and the lack of Loran vitamins, you should have no problem surviving on a diet of Earth food. There are a few plants that Steve will be able to eat that would be poisonous to you, and vice versa. We'll identify all of these for you and, of course, we'll send a supply of vitamins with you.
"Actually, we've been introducing human food into your diet for some time as a final test of our findings and when you tolerated this, we increased the percentage of your diet derived from human food to the point that you're already living on a purely human diet."
"You tricked me?" I asked incredulously.
"I'm sorry, Lans, but it was something that had to be done."
"I understand that," I replied, "but you could have told me. I would have agreed to it you know."
"Actually I figured as much, but there were too many risks if you'd refused. There's a strong possibility the hydroponics bay will be destroyed in the initial Cerenean invasion. It would have been far worse to have waited until that happened to introduce you to human food."
"I agree with you completely," I said. "I just wish you'd have trusted me enough to talk to me about it."
"I know, Lans, and I argued this on your behalf, but there are those in the government who still don't fully trust you and I was overruled on this."
"After all I've done," I countered, "how could anyone not trust me? However, if the situation were reversed, I might well have reacted similarly. At least you stood up for me. You're like a parent to me, Albert . . . not just a colleague, and I guess I love you."
"I love you, too, Lansley, and I would hate to see anything happen to you. That's one reason I argued strongly that you and Steve be moved away from any major cities."
"As much as I hate to be removed from the action, I agree that it's better that I not be here . . . it's the first place the Cereneans will look . . . and I'd hate to think of anything happening to Steve. I love him with all my heart and I couldn't stand it if anything happened to him."
"You won't be completely cut off from the action in any case," Albert explained. "We'll send you with a satellite phone you can use to contact us in an emergency . . . at least until the Cereneans take out our satellites."
It was a tearful goodbye the next day when Steve and I left for Utah. We flew into Nells Air Force Base in Las Vegas and then were driven in a military Humvie up Interstate 15 north until we reached Utah Highway 20, which we took west and south until it ended at a place called Bear Valley Junction. We then took US 89 south until we reached Utah Highway 12, which meandered eastward through some of the most spectacular scenery I'd ever seen, anywhere.
As we drove along, the iridescent plumes of launching shuttlecraft streaked across the sky as far as the eye could see. I knew that the shuttles would be taking off for days, day and night, from all over Earth. Once all the pilots were on board their spacecraft, they would all launch en mass. I expected that it would be a particularly spectacular sight, but we'd witness it firsthand soon enough.
It was dusk by the time we arrived in Escalante and settled into a motel for the night. Obviously I couldn't go out in public and had to be snuck into the motel room. I knew it was for our protection, but glindotknee - a word we used on Loran that roughly translates as 'crap'.
Our escort went out and got us what would be some of the last civilized food we'd have in quite some time. Although the food was devoid of meat, which I wouldn't have eaten in any case, it was quite different than the mere substance food I was used to. Although it still consisted of mostly grains with a few vegetables, it was spicy! I'd never tasted anything like it in my life. It took a while to get used to the bite but, once I adapted, it was delicious. Steve laughed at my initial reaction and then explained that we were eating something called enchiladas, a food that was originally from Mexico. The next morning we had something called burritos, which were equally delicious.
Setting off in the Humvie, we followed the course of the Escalante River through incredibly rugged terrain for many hours, until we were nowhere near any signs of civilization. With two large packs on our backs and a warning to be on the alert for flash floods, Steve and I then set out into the wilderness while our escort returned to Escalante on his way back to Las Vegas. We were now truly on our own.
As Albert had said, water was no problem so long as we stayed near the river. Even without the river, we had a small atmospheric condenser that could extract water from the air in an emergency. We also had a basic medical kit, a small two-person portable tent, a satellite phone, a multi-band television/radio and some basic cooking gear. We each had two weeks worth of dried food rations, a sleeping bag, a switchblade, raingear, outerwear, several changes of clothes and a gun and ammunition. We both had digital tablets that were loaded with information on basic survival, as well as a slew of games with which we could occupy our time. Finally we each had a portable, lightweight photovoltaic array with which to power the equipment.
We discovered right away that although our reception of analog radio was satisfactory, our reception of local digital TV was crap. Our equipment did include the necessary decoding algorithms for satellite-based video transmissions, however, so we could pick up all the cable networks including HBO and Showtime, not that we had the time for watching movies. Our first order of business was to learn basic survival skills so we could feed ourselves over the long haul.
Working together, Steve and I synchronized our tablets and started in on the 'Quickstart Guide to Survival'. This would at least allow us to identify common edible plants. The guide was fully cross-referenced to more in-depth material, such as how to prepare various foods to make them more palatable. There was also a substantial section on basic medical treatment of common forms of illness and injury. I was surprised that it included information on both human and Loran physiology. Apparently our friends in the military had been studying a lot more in the data banks on my spaceship than just weaponry.
Although there was still a heavy snowpack in the higher elevations, the weather was quite warm and Steve and I both stripped down to our shorts. We applied a specially formulated sun block to each other that was designed to work with both our physiologies, so as to protect ourselves against thermal injury. In time our skin would adapt and we would no longer need the sun block.
Sitting together on a rocky outcrop, side-by-side eating a meal of fried prickly pear cactus, I felt at peace for the first time since Sankar died in spite of the perilous times that lay ahead. Steve meant the universe to me and at least for now, everything was perfect.
As the sun sank low in the sky and the moon rose in the opposite direction, I couldn't help but be struck by the beauty of our surroundings. The temperature was dropping and rather than don our shirts, we simply huddled together, wrapping an arm around each other. Human body temperature is a few degrees warmer than in Lorans, so Steve felt really good to snuggle against on a chilly evening.
"It's so beautiful here," Steve said aloud as if he were reading my mind. "I've been to the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks, but this is the equal of them all."
Then turning to me so that our faces were just inches apart, he asked, "Is there anything like this where you're from, Lans?"
"I don't know about any of those places you mentioned," I answered "but this is definitely the most beautiful place I've ever been. Don't get me wrong . . . Loran has it's own beauty and it's different from here, but not as stark. I don't think Loran was ever as geologically active as Earth is. We have tectonic plates as you do, but without the force of tides, plate motion is much slower and more benign."
"You don't have tides?" Steve asked as if he couldn't quite wrap his mind around it.
Laughing, I said, "Strong tides are unique to binary planets, which aren't very common. Your tides are so strong, even the continents themselves move up and down a matter of meters. Loran has three tiny moons. We get more of a tide from the gravitational pull of our star than we do from our moons."
"What do you mean by, 'binary planet'?" Steve asked.
"I suppose it's only natural to think of what you call 'The Moon' as a satellite of Earth. The fact is that 'The Moon' is a planet . . . a very small planet . . . but a planet nonetheless. The Loran names for Earth and your moon are 'Arkenza 3a and 3b'. Earth and the Moon comprise a planetary pair."
"Oooh-kay," Steve responded. "But what about the moons of Jupiter or Saturn? Certainly some of them are big enough to be planets, but they're tiny in comparison to the planets they orbit."
"Actually, they are planets in their own right," I explained. "It's Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune that aren't"
"Huh?" Steve asked in bafflement.
"What you call the gaseous giants are actually proto-stars. They don't have enough mass to have achieved nuclear ignition, but in every other way, they are the stuff stars are made of. Had your sun been larger, it might have accumulated a large enough accretion disc for one or more proto-stars to have become fully-fledged stars, in which case you would have had a binary or ternary star system."
"Fascinating," Steve said.
As we continued to gaze into the sky, watching the moon, the planets and the stars as they became visible, I hugged my boyfriend closer and said, "You know, life is so precious and rare. I cannot fathom why the Cereneans feel they have to dominate it. The galaxy contains more than enough raw materials for all of us. Why must they control it all?"
"Obviously, they have their insecurities," Steve suggested.
"I suppose your right," I answered. "Perhaps their longevity gives them a different perspective, too. I mean, their lifespan is hundreds of your years long. Maybe they feel threatened by the ultimate demise of their star system."
"But that's billions of years away!" Steve proclaimed.
"For you it is, but not for the Lorans, and probably not for the Cereneans," I explained. "Earth is a very young planet by our standards. Sankar and I speculated that your tidal basins served as incubators for life, accelerating a process that takes far longer on other planets. Our experience has been that life does not develop until late in the lifecycle of a star. That's why intelligent life is such a rarity . . . it's a race between evolution and the exhaustion of the hydrogen that fuels the star that harbors it. Loran has at most a half-billion Earth years before it becomes uninhabitable. The Cereneans may have even less time and, given their longevity, they may feel threatened by the end of their world, even though it's still thousands of generations away."
"That's very interesting . . ." Steve observed, and then continued, "So we're lucky on Earth, 'cause we still have billions of years before the Sun goes nova."
"Yes," I agreed, "but you're doing a good enough job on your own to destroy your species. Between what you're doing to the environment and your incessant wars, it's anyone's guess as to which of our civilizations will last longer."
"But you've changed all that, Lans," Steve replied. "You gave us your technology, so we won't need to defile the environment to produce energy, and we can't afford to go back to warring with each other. Tell me if I'm wrong, but the Cereneans are not gonna give up so easily. They'll be back, and in larger numbers. Even assuming we win this battle, we're gonna have to start preparing for the next."
Sighing, I said, "I should have learned by now not to underestimate you. I didn't want to worry you about the future, but you're absolutely right . . . the Cereneans won't give up. They may very well already have reinforcements on the way to help consolidate their powerbase on Earth. Even defeating the first wave may not be enough. We can never let our guard down.
"You have no idea just how tenacious they are. They're patient, too. Assuming we succeed in destroying their invasion fleet, they'll do whatever it takes to find out why they failed. They'll send probes and maybe even scout ships. The next time they attack, they'll make sure they have a large enough and a powerful enough force to succeed.
"So the only way to counter the threat is to take the fight to them," Steve challenged. "We have to go on the offensive, or they'll keep coming back.
"It's like I told Dad . . . once we repel the Cereneans here, we should help you liberate Loran. It's the least we could do for all the help you've given us, and it would be a way of taking the fight to the Cereneans. Once we liberate Loran, then together we can push the attack to Cerenean soil."
Laughing, I said, "A large-scale military operation to defend the Earth is one thing, but an offensive operation to Loran would require more resources than Earth can provide. For one thing, think of the distance! Loran is twenty-five light-years away! Even with Cerenean technology, it would take your ships nearly thirty years just to get there. Even for those on board the ships, accounting for the relativistic effects of near the speed of light, it would seem to take just under nine years - well, with your habituation to higher gravitational forces, maybe five years. Besides which, the Cereneans are entrenched on Loran. They were entrenched when I left, and they've had more than thirty years since then to dig in.
"Even if by some miracle, you succeeded in retaking Loran, Cerenea is nearly another 150 light-years beyond that. You'd be committing nine generations at least to fighting the Cereneans."
"It may well come to that anyway," Steve countered. "Like you said, the Cereneans will never give up. The only way we can ultimately be safe from them is to defeat them."
Sighing, I realized I didn't have a decent counterargument to what Steve was saying. Perhaps he was right, but humans would have to build on the technology I'd brought them and develop capabilities far beyond what the Cereneans had three decades ago. They would have to exploit the resources in their solar system and build up a manufacturing capacity orders of magnitude beyond anything they had now.
The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope in editing this story this story and Alastair in proofreading it, as well as the support of Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting it. This story was written as part of the 2010 Gay Authors Summer Anthology.