Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Leckie — You may download my writing for your own reading pleasure; however, you may not place my writing on a web site or reproduce stories for distribution without my permission.
WARNING: My short story fiction deals with very mature subjects and with explicit language, some of which is of a sexual nature. If viewing such material is illegal where you live or if viewing such material would be offensive to you, please click on the “BACK” button of your browser NOW to return to other sections of my site.

From Part One:

As they entered the sacristy after the the service, Tom fell to his knees sobbing uncontrollably. Toby rushed to him, taking him into his arms. Father Benton quickly dismissed Joseph and the other acolyte. When they were alone, Tom looked up at Benton with pleading eyes. "I can't do it anymore Father. I just can't."

Benton knelt next to them and wiped away their tears, since Toby was crying too by this time. "I know you can't Tom. Both of you please get dressed and come into my study and we will talk."

Minutes later, they nervously entered the study, hand in hand. Benton bid them sit in comfortable chairs in front of his desk. He leaned forward and regarded them with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. "I'm pleased to see that you have developed a good relationship. Are you a couple?"

They glanced at each other, then nodded. Tom asked, "Are we in trouble Father?"

"Not in the least. Do you love each other, unconditionally?"

Tom piped up. "Oh yes! He's my best friend, my companion, and my lover."

"And Toby, do you feel the same way?"

"Yes Father, with all my heart."

"Then, so be it." He sat back and took in both boys with his gaze. "Now, I want you to go back to your apartment and pack all of your belongings. Tomorrow at sunrise someone will be there to move you." At their shocked look, the smile on Benton's face broadened. "I'm transferring you to another parish."

Tom stammered, "But Father, I've already told you I can't do it ..."

Benton stopped him with a hand. "I know you can't Tom, and you won't have to. Both of you will have to trust me for the time being. The less you know about what's going to happen, the better."

As he walked them to the door, he said, "It is sufficient to say that the salvation of the human race does not reside in the sacrament of Holy Conception. God has another plan."




At eight o'clock the next morning the boys and all their worldly possessions were riding east in a white van bearing the mark of the church. Joseph was driving and hadn't said anything about the nature of their journey. Not that he needed to, at present, because Tom and Toby had never been out of the city. Consequently, their noses were plastered to the windows, observing the passing landscape with big eyes. However, Tom stole glances at Toby periodically, remembering the parting words of Father Benton. As the boys left his study the day before, the priest held Tom back for a moment and whispered, "You said you loved him unconditionally. Remember that. Protect each other at all costs. If you need me, give me a call, any hour, day or night."

By eleven o'clock, the van entered the outskirts of a small town. Joseph parked in front of a modest looking restaurant and opened the engine compartment. After removing a small part, he pressed a control and the engine refused to start. At their incredulous expressions, he declared, "We are broken down, as you can see. Now, each of you make up a back pack with your toilet articles and one change of clothing. While I secure the services of a towing company, go into that restaurant and eat lunch. In precisely forty-five minutes, leave the restaurant by the side door. Walk up to the next street and another van--a blue one--will be waiting for you. The driver's name is Daniel. Get in and he will continue your journey."

"But, but what about you?" Tom began.

Joseph granted a rare smile. "While I am scouting this small town for a tow truck, you will be out of my sight and will have disappeared, don't you see? Now go, or you will use up your time for a much needed meal. God go with you."

After an uninspired but filling lunch, they stepped up to the appointed street corner just as a blue van--without church markings--arrived. The window opened, revealing a cute youthful face. "Hi guys. I'm Dan. Get in." With no real alternative at hand, they complied.

Dan headed out of town, then turned west on a main highway. He tossed an envelope over his shoulder. "Here's your new identification. You're now Joel and Ray. There's some contact lenses in there too, to change the color of your eyes. The authorities are gonna be looking for two guys with gray eyes.  There's another change of clothes for you in the back. Wear the caps to cover your light hair."

"Dan, can you tell us anything about what's going on or where we're going?" Toby asked.

"Don't really know where you're going to wind up. Right now, I'm just carrying you west." He chuckled. "I'm just one of the middle men, here to help make you disappear. But, rest assured you will be in good hands all the way."

"But, what about our belongings we just left behind?"

"Don't worry about them. You won't need 'em anymore."  Otherwise, he was a talkative sort who seemed to know all about them, but revealed nothing about himself. To compensate, he talked about the scenery, the weather and the towns they passed through, until he discovered that he had put them to sleep. He harrumphed to himself and drove on - silently.

Two hundred miles later, Dan deposited them at the door of a small hotel in another small town. "Check in guys for the night and don't leave the hotel. Sleep well. Have breakfast early tomorrow and be ready to leave at eight. A driver named Vic will pick you up in a green van."

That night, after another unremarkable meal, they returned to their room and stripped for their nightly ablutions. Washing each other in the bath had become one of their favorite pastimes. As they languished in the shower, Tom slowly stroked every inch of Toby's body. In response, the boy leaned back against the tile, eyes closed, mouth slack, sucking in quick breaths when his lover's fingers touched a particularly sensitive spot.

Tom raked his tongue across Toby's lips and remarked, "Do you realize you're loosing your body hair?"

Without opening his eyes, Toby responded, "Probably because I quit taking the hormone injections. Um, yeah. Stroke there again. I only have to shave every few days now too. Ah, yeah. Do that again."

Tom encircled Toby's penis with a thumb and forefinger. "With less pubic hair, your penis is easier to get to," he crooned with a wicked smile.

Rising to the tease, Toby captured Tom's ear with his lips and whispered, "Anything for my lover."

Later, they lay in each other's arms sharing lazy kisses and caresses. "You're inspiring me," Toby volunteered quietly.

"To what?" Tom breathed into his ear.

"To do something really great with these erections of ours," he responded, snaking his tongue between Tom's lips. "We seem to have worked ourselves up into a state."

"Give it your best shot Love. I haven't ejaculated all day."

"Me neither. This could be very enjoyable, and take a long, long time," Toby responded in a husky voice.

"Let's go for it," Tom barked, suddenly unable to wait another minute and Toby quickly turned around in the bed. They lay on their sides, each powerfully aroused. The boys' heads bobbed frantically for a few minutes until they groaned in orgasm and fed their seed to each other.

Neither moved for many minutes, heads resting contentedly on his partner's thigh, holding the hard object of his desire in his mouth, inhaling the scent of his lover. Finally, as one, they began to nurse again, swirling their tongues around the most sensitive parts, licking the shafts and sucking the testicles, hands roaming freely, stroking here and there, propelling them into another inevitable round of ultimate pleasure.

In tandem, each raised his partner's leg, exposing his anus. They massaged there for a long time, producing quiet moans of pleasure. When they could stand the stimulation no longer, each boy inserted a finger into his partner and gently massaged his prostate. Electrified by the contact, they began to nurse in earnest. Mouths milking and bobbing rapidly, their blood coursed faster; breaths came short; perspiration appeared; nerves neared overload. With muffled groans, their bodies tensed in orgasmic pleasure and poured forth their rewards.

Much later, after more rounds of love making, they lay awake in the dark. Toby's head rested on his lover's shoulder. Tom's arm encircled him protectively. "Wonder how much further we have to go?" Toby asked quietly.

"Don't have a clue Baby, and I don't have one about what we're going to find when we get there," Tom ventured and kissed him on the forehead. "I trust Father Benton. And, as long as I can spend the rest of my life holding you, and loving you and making love to you, I don't care where we go, as long as we don't have to see the inside of another Church of the Holy Conception."

Toby smiled up at him. "Amen and well-said Love of My Life. I'm content then to go anywhere with you." They kissed to seal the bargain.


And so their journey progressed. They were handed off two more times in as many days, each to another van and driver. Civilization thinned as they rode along. They passed miles of fields where automated farming machinery toiled. The van sped on unimpeded except to slow enough to move safely around automated machines reparing the highway. They stopped only long enough to relieve themselves and to replace fuel cells in the van.

Gradually, the fertile fields disappeared and the road began to climb into a range of mountains. Abandoned towns appeared occasionally where weeds choked the streets. They questioned this and were told that since all new births took place in propagation centers in the cities, rural life was literally dying out.

At the end of the third day, darkness found them in a tiny town, a grubby crossroads, half abandoned, in the foothills of the mountains. The van stopped in front of a small inn. The driver turned and handed them two laser pistols.

"Why do we need these?" Toby asked, shrinking back from the offered items.

The driver pressed the pistols into their hands. "Like I said, civilization is dying out here, so times are dangerous. This part of the country is becoming lawless. After you check in, don't leave the inn. Carry these when you leave the room. They are set to penetrate an inch of steel. And always wear your caps and contact lenses. The authorities won't be looking for you out here, but folk legends are spreading in these parts that people with gray eyes and light hair are somehow different and to be feared. So keep a low profile."

Toby had been particularly affectionate that day and required constant physical contact with Tom. Inside the hotel room, after their evening meal, he hugged himself to Tom, burying his face under his lover's chin. "Tom, undress me and take me to bed. Make love to me for a long time. Please," he cooed in a low seductive voice.

Tom had been excited by the contact with Toby and needed no further invitation. He slowly undressed his lover, kissing each portion of Toby's skin as it was revealed, making the boy writhe with each touch of his lips. At last, when Tom could finally look at his totally nude beauty, he picked the object of his desire up and laid him on the bed. Toby immediately held out his arms and begged Tom to join him. Tom threw off his clothes and slid onto the bed.

Toby was needful and crawled into Tom's arms whimpering, "Hold me Love. Please don't let go. Make love to me slowly tonight."

Tom kissed him briefly, then studied his handsome face, trying to understand this uncharacteristic behavior. Normally, Toby took the lead in their love making as quickly and confidently as did he. But, his thoughts were interrupted, as Toby responded wantonly, capturing his mouth for a deep, long kiss while one of his hands roamed over Tom's body and the other stroked his penis.

Tom smoothed his hair and kissed his eyes. He licked Toby's sweet lips and planted another kiss. He continued to leave small kisses in a trail leading from Toby's mouth, to the soft tissue of his throat, to the muscular plains of his chest, down to his nipples, nursing there gently until they were erect and swollen.

"Um, yes Love! Make love to me! My body is on fire tonight!"

Tom's tongue found that wonder of nature, Toby's navel, and cleaned it, sending the boy into a fit of expletives. His fingers knotted in Tom's hair. "Yes! Yes!" Toby said frantically. "Lower. Kiss lower," motivating Tom to move his ministrations to a point just above Toby's pubic hair.

"There! Stroke me there Love!" He was shaking with desire.

Tom opened his eyes and looked at the place he was kissing. "Toby! There's a red mark, a line, about three inches long just above your pubic hair! Did you burn yourself?"

With a quivering voice, "I don't remember burning myself. It feels so good when you touch me there. Do it again!"

"What's happening Toby? You're behaving strangely, and now this. Are you all right?" The thoughts running through his mind unmanned him.

"I'm fine Love. I feel great. Please make love to me."

"Not until I find out what's going on." He left Toby curled into a ball on the bed to find his mobile phone. Breathing heavily, he savagely punched numbers on the key pad and waited for the connection to the satellite. Father Benton answered almost immediately.

"Father, something's happening to Toby," Tom shouted. "I'm scared. A red mark has appeared just above his pubic hair and he's behaving as if he's delirious," Tom said in one breath. And, as an afterthought, "And, he's lost most of his body hair." He took a deep breath, tears filling his eyes. "You said I should call you if I needed you. Well, I don't know how to handle this."

"When did Toby begin to change?"

"He's been acting a little strange all day, but the red mark just appeared tonight."

"Now, listen carefully. Take a deep breath and calm down. Are you with me?"

"Yes Father."

"Good. Now, believe what I say. Toby is perfectly all right. Nothing, absolutely nothing is wrong. You must go to him, and comfort him. And, above all, you must trust him. Do exactly what he says. Do you understand me Tom?"

"Yes sir," Tom responded in a contrite voice.

In the kindest voice Tom had ever heard, Benton said, "Son, you were perfectly right to call me. I know you were frightened. I would have been in your place. Now, go to your beloved and pour out all the love you have in your soul to him."

"I will Father."

"Good. Call me in the morning." Benton broke the connection.

Tom quickly moved back to the bed and looked down at the huddled form there. He crawled in and touched Toby tentatively. "I'm so sorry I left you Sweetheart. I was scared, but I'm okay now."

Toby uncurled himself and smiled up at Tom. "That's okay My Love. I'm all right. In fact, I've never felt so good. Just make love to me Tom."

"I will Sweetheart, but please tell me what you want. I'm kinda at a loss here as to what's going on."

Toby pulled him down for a long kiss, then murmured instructions and their ardor rekindled, more powerful than before. As Tom stroked the red mark, Toby writhed and began a running account of his feelings.

"Oh God, it's so good. Yes Baby, yes! It feels wonderful. I've never felt anything this good." He unconsciously reached out and began to stroke Tom's penis.

As Tom kissed and stroked the place that gave his lover so much pleasure, he noticed with slight alarm that Toby's testicle sack had drawn up into his body and his penis had done the same. But, these thoughts were diverted when the red mark on Toby's abdomen began to recede slowly. As it did so the flesh began to open. The breath stuck in Tom's throat and he began to panic once more.

Toby quickly pulled him into another kiss, then cupped his face with his hands. "Tom, look at me." They stared intently, eyes inches apart. "Look at me Tom." Toby sucked Tom's soul into those colorless eyes. "I love you so much. It's you I want to mate with me. Touch me there." Tom's fingers caressed the slit in Toby's body. "Yesss, Love. More. Yes." He slowly spread his legs, their eyes still locked in the stare. Toby said, "Tom climb on top of me." As he did so, Toby guided Tom's penis into the slit, and both boys sighed with pleasure. Toby clenched his abdominal muscles around the hard shaft.

"Oh Love, it feels so wonderful. You're mating with me. Deeper Love, deeper. All the way." Toby placed his hands on Tom's buttocks, urging him on until Tom's penis was completely engulfed.

"Ahhhhhh," Tom breathed, closing his eyes to savor the exquisite feeling.  Tom began to tremble, both with desire and trepidation.

"It's okay Love. You're doing fine. Everything's okay. Relax. Rest your body on mine." Tom collapsed, relaxing completely, and Toby placed his arms around him. "Oh Love, now we are truly one," Toby whispered into his ear. "Now, it begins," he soothed, stroking Tom's back.

With those words, something began to tickle the tip of Tom's penis, causing him to inhale sharply. The tickling became a tingling, slowly making its way up his urethra. Both boys tensed. Tom's penis swelled and hardened as blood rushed into it.

"Ahhhhhh," they exclaimed at the same time. Toby's arms tightened about his lover.

"We're both feeling the same thing, the pleasure," Toby gasped. Tom couldn't speak he was so caught up in the sensations coursing through his body.

Suddenly, the tingling reached Tom's prostate, and what felt like orgasms delivered on the tips of lightening bolts hit them as Toby began to draw the semen out in a steady stream.

They cried aloud; their muscles clenched; they held on to one another convulsively; tears flowed; breaths stuck in their throats; sweat poured - for long minutes. Then, the tingling slowly receded and the sensations stopped. Toby relaxed his abdominal muscles, and the boys collapsed into a spent heap, gasping.

When their breathing returned to something resembling normal, Tom raised up and they stared at each other in wonder, mouths agape. Toby whispered, "Love, it is not finished yet. You must remove yourself from me."

It was only then that Tom realized that his penis was still buried in Toby. He carefully extracted himself, staring in wonder at the place of their coupling. He reached out to touch it and Toby gently stilled his hand.

"Please don't touch it until it is finished." They watched with astonishment as the flesh closed itself, leaving something faintly resembling a scar.

Tom lay down and took Toby into his arms. Their emotions were running high; the air fairly crackled with them. Something was needed to break the tension.

Tom sniffed and puckered his nose. The air was redolent with the scent of the sex storm. A snicker escaped his throat and escalated into a full belly laugh. "Man, this place smells like sex education class on intercourse day." Toby joined in the laughter. "The sheets are clammy with sweat and we smell like yaks in heat." He looked over at the second bed in the room. "Are you as whipped as I am?" Toby nodded. "Then, showers can wait until morning. Let's move over there."

They climbed into the other bed and were asleep instantly. Questions and speculations about what had happened this night could wait.


Toby roused from a dreamless sleep. He opened his eyes to find Tom staring at him with a smile. "Wow," Tom said in a low voice.

Toby smiled back. "What?"

"This is what you really look like."

"What do you mean?"

"Come on." Tom took his hand and ushered him into the bath, positioning them before the mirror.

"Wow," Toby exclaimed.

Tom snickered. "I said that already. Babe, if I thought you were drop-dead gorgeous before, I don't know how to describe you now."

The night had transformed Toby somehow. The curl had disappeared from his hair, leaving it straight and silky, with silver highlights, falling casually over his forehead. His facial features had softened somewhat around his almond shaped eyes. Tom stroked the soft skin of his cheek. No beard would dare appear there again. In fact, Toby was hairless except for his head, brows and a thin line of pubic hair. His skin, stretched over the angular planes of muscle, was blemish free and now radiated a golden tan. His penis and testicles had returned to their former state, but the pseudo-scar just above the pubic hair remained.

Still staring at the mirror, Tom shook his head in wonder. "Does this scare you?"

Toby shook his head, smiling at their reflection. "I don't know why, but no. In fact, I've never felt so alive before. I guess this is the real me."

Tom kissed the back of his ear. "If you're content with the changes, then so am I. There must be some explanation for them and I suppose we'll find out what they are when we get to where we're going." Tom jerked out of his contemplation and exclaimed, "Oh shit!" and ran back into the bedroom to check his watch. "It's almost eight o'clock Babe. Our ride will be here any minute."

They took a hurried shower, mourning the lack of time to touch each other. Tom brushed his teeth while Toby muttered quietly, trying to manage the new texture of his hair with a brush and comb.

Minutes later, Tom stood in the bedroom, in clean underwear, shoving dirty clothes into his back pack when a knock sounded at the door. He fished the laser pistol out of his back pack and slid it under a pillow on the corner of the bed.

Opening the door slowly, he saw two smiling young men wearing battered caps and rough, worn clothing. They entered and greeted him. "You must be Tom. I'm Nick and this is John," the taller of the two stated. Before Tom could respond, Toby strolled in from the bath naked. Nick frowned and consulted a folder in his hand, checking a photograph there. He looked up, apparently in shock. "Toby?" he asked in an unsure voice.

"Yes, I'm Toby," he answered, with a hint of fear in his voice, having seen Nick's reaction to his appearance.

Nick's eyes narrowed as he perused the boy critically. "It's happened," he stated to no one in particular.

"Yes, he's changed," Tom said, wrapping his arms around Toby protectively.

Nick continued to stare at first one of the boys, then the other. Finally, his gaze settled on the pseudo-scar on Toby's abdomen. "Did you mate?" he asked in an awe-inspired voice.

"Yeah. What of it?" Tom responded, his words dripping with warning. He inched closer to the pistol on the bed.

Nick, whooped and poked John in the ribs. "It's really happened!" he shouted. Both men laughed with joy as Tom and Toby stood there in confusion. "You really mated?" They nodded. "Oh man, this is fantastic!" Nick pulled them into an embrace. "Take care of each other, because you are really, really special," he whispered.

Seeing that they were completely bewildered, Nick became all business. He explained that they were about to embark on the last leg of their journey, and that they would be traveling through land that had been abandoned by the law. For self protection, he gave them changes of clothes, just as rough and worn as his own, the better to blend in with the few natives left in the region. He reminded them to wear their caps and contact lenses and to bring along their laser pistols.

Still totally confused, they loaded their gear into a disreputable looking van with dents and peeling paint. But inside, the vehicle was a model of the latest comforts and technology. John reported that the van was armored and had a range of a thousand miles.

As they left town, Nick turned on to a narrow highway with pavement obviously left to the mercy of the elements. The roadway soon lifted sharply into the mountains, making many blind curves. Progress was slow.

Just outside of town, John donned a communications headset and reported in to someone. >From his half of the conversation, Tom and Toby gathered that the other party was overjoyed with the news of Toby's changes. Just before he signed off, John gave a mischievous look at Tom and Toby, then stated that a blessed event might possibly be forthcoming. The reaction of the other party required John to move the headset away from his ear.

With a grin, he looked back at the boys and said, "Uh guys, they're really happy for you." Toby and Tom dissolved into embarrassed giggles. They didn't know what to make of these two guys.

Tom suddenly exclaimed, "Damn, I forgot to call Father Benton!" and reached for his mobile phone.

John said, "Don't bother. No doubt he's being notified at this moment, along with the rest of the network."

With a determined sigh, Toby said, "Look guys, we've been kept in the dark for nearly a week. Can you tell us where we're going and why we've had to go through all of this?"

John nodded. "I'll leave the major details to the people we work for, but I can tell you that we're headed for what used to be an abandoned mining town. About forty years ago, a group, mostly scientists, settled there, primarily because they didn't go along with the government programs of propagation. Initially, they were laughed out of the then current scientific and political communities because of their differing theories, but eventually, they had to move for their own safety. That's why we had to bring you here as we did. Times are getting dangerous. The government here and everywhere else is seeing all of their efforts to save mankind from extinction fail. Unfortunately, the more they fail, the tighter they feel they have to control things. In their panic, they refuse to look at any alternative path." He gave Toby and Tom a serious glance. "If the authorities had known that you two wanted to leave the Church of the Holy Conception, they would have literally chained you to your beds at night to keep you there."

Tom and Toby shuddered, then Tom asked, "Will Father Benton be in trouble over this?"

"No, as you've no doubt suspected, he's a covert operative, along with hundreds of other people, mostly priests, all over the world. As long as women keep getting bred every day, the priests pretty much run their own show, and Father Benton has made a practice of transferring people around." John grinned wickedly. "And, some of the people get lost every once in a while. The government makes a half hearted effort to recover them, but they never do."

Toby frowned in thought. "What is it exactly that Father Benton does for you?"

John replied succinctly, "He looks for signs of the Epicene Effect."

"The what?"

John teased, "Figured I'd have to explain that to ya." Then, seriously, "The Epicene Effect is what the scientists call it, and I'll let them give you a technical explanation. Considering that all men are now doped up with hormones, it's hard to spot. About the best that Father Benton, and all the other operatives, can do is look for (1) homosexuals, (2) with prime sperm tests, (3) with light gray eyes, and (4) light-colored hair. The characteristics are the same for all races. Not that different races mean much anymore. But, as you can imagine, that has caused some raised eyebrows at the propagation centers, like when a black baby is born with light hair and gray eyes. But they are just happy that a baby was born. Also, the one's who are likely to experience the Epicene Effect are under fifteen years of age. You have all the characteristics, so that made you two prime candidates."

They rode along in silence for a few minutes. Toby was trying to sort out all that happened to him in the last twelve hours. Finally, he said, "I guess we are. And it surprises me a little that I'm not frightened about it."

John said seriously, "Probably because it feels natural to you, even though it goes against everything you believe about the human species."

He searched the boy's face for a reaction and got it. The corner of Toby's mouth twitched up into a serene smile. "You're right. All of this seems natural to me." He leaned over and gave Tom a kiss. "Father Benton said that God had another plan. I wonder if I'm part of it."

Suddenly, Nick rounded one of the blind curves and braked the van hard, throwing everyone forward. A large boulder about six feet across rested in the middle of the highway. A steep slope up the mountain on the left and a steep drop on the right made going around the obstruction impossible.

"Something's rotten in these here parts," Nick muttered. "That wasn't here two hours ago. Shit!" They surveyed the landscape on either side of the van. The road was cut out of a mountainside dotted with a forest of huge boulders, both upslope and downslope. "Those rocks could hide a fucking army."


A hail of large stones rained down from the mountainside and bounced off the van. John quickly activated a control panel in front of him. He twisted a dial as he watched images appear on the screen. "Look Nick. There's four of them hidden up in the rocks." Toby and Tom saw four green images on the screen, then looked up at the mountainside, but didn't see anyone.

"Who are they?" Tom asked.

"They're just poor devils, mostly older guys that got left behind when everyone else moved closer to a city. Now, civilization has left them and they're returning to the wild."

"Will they attack us?" Toby asked, fingering his laser pistol.

John fished around under his seat and extracted a laser rifle. "Yeah, if we sit here long enough. They're just looking for food or stuff to trade with other guys like them." Then, to Nick, "Thank God there's only four of them. We gotta scare 'em off before we deal with that big rock in the middle of the road."

"Yeah, go ahead," Nick said, uneasily. "I'll watch the screen for you." John got out on the right side of the van, keeping it between him and the mountainside. Nick tweaked the controls. "You're on John."

John aimed the rifle up at the mountainside and fired. A red lightening bolt splintered rock and kicked up dust. "A little higher up," Nick instructed.

Before John could fire again, a blast of small stones hit the right side of the van, making a deafening noise. Spiderweb cracks appeared in the windows, and John fell to the ground. "John!" Nick bellowed as he jumped out of the van.

"Nick, watch out!" Toby cried as he saw dozens of rough looking men advancing toward them from the rocks below. They wielded slingshots, swinging them above their heads, ready to loosen another volley of stones. Toby grabbed his laser pistol and kicked open the van door. He fired into the mob, watching a burst of red light sever the arm of the man closest to the van. He fired blindly, again and again. Tom joined him, firing shot after shot, gradually driving the men back to cover.

"Nick, how is John?" Toby yelled.

"Just knocked out. Help me get him inside." Tom scampered out, grabbed John's shoulders and dragged him the back of the van.

Another rain of large stones thundered down on the van from the mountainside above. On the right, heads began to reappear from the rocks. "Keep firing down the slope!" Tom shouted to Toby. "Keep 'em pinned behind the rocks!" Meanwhile, Tom opened the drivers door and fired up the mountainside. Nick grabbed the laser rifle and joined him, firing burst after burst of deadly red light. Pebbles skittered down and bushes erupted in flames. Tom spotted at lest two heads bob up and then disappear. "They're on the run. Aim just a little higher," he yelled to Nick. Another shot. And Tom saw four figures scampering up the mountainside and over a ridge.

"They're gone," Nick said, "but keep your pistol trained up there." He motioned to Toby and they fired several more times down the slope. As they crept closer to the rocks, they saw what was left of the mob scrambling away five hundred feet below. In their wake were the charred bodies of perhaps a dozen of their fellows. The stench of burned flesh made Toby's stomach heave. He knelt and vomited. Nick retrieved a canteen of water, and Toby rinsed his mouth.

Returning to the van, the three stood there for several heartbeats, trembling, sweating and breathing heavily.

At length, Nick said, "Let's get inside guys. This place is too vulnerable. We need to get to a safer stretch of road so I can look after John." They covered John with a blanket and took their seats.

Looking forward, through the windshield, Toby asked, "What about the boulder?"

"Watch this," Nick said with an evil grin. He flipped open a panel and pressed a button. A red beam shot out of the nose of the van and the top of the boulder evaporated into dust. Another dozen blasts and the obstruction was reduced to gravel. "Laser cannon," Nick explained. He started the engine and cautiously drove on. Opening the windows, he bid Tom and Toby to keep watch with their pistols.

Several miles later, they came to a small valley devoid of trees. Surveying the landscape, Nick parked beside the road. "If anyone is out there, at least we can see them coming. You guys keep a lookout. Shoot anything that moves." He crawled to the back of the van and knelt over John. Patting his face, he crooned, "Come on John Boy. This is Nick. Come back to me Baby. I love you."

John opened his eyes and winked. "I'm awake. I just wanted to hear you say that," he said with a smile.

Nick laughed. "You shit. You scared me. How long have you been awake?" He gave his lover a long, sweet kiss before he could answer.

"The van was moving again when I woke up. I tried to sit up, but my head hurt too bad. So I just laid here."

Nick examined the left side of his head. "The skin's not broken, but you've got a knot there." He opened a medical kit, fished out a cannister and sprayed medication on the bump, immediately taking away the pain. Then, he opened a bottle and extracted a capsule. He put the pill in John's mouth, lifted his head and held the canteen to his lips. "We need to get going. You want to ride back here or up front?"

"I feel better already. I'll ride with you." He sat up and saw Tom and Toby staring at him. Suddenly, his eyes filled with tears. He drew them into his arms, hugged them tightly and kissed their cheeks. "I'm so sorry," he whispered.

"What for?" Tom asked.

John looked sheepish. "We were here to protect you, and we almost blew it. I should have expected that gang to blindside us."

Toby kissed John's cheek and smiled at him. "We're safe now, aren't we?"

Nick laughed. "Yeah, thanks mostly to you guys and your quick thinking. Where did you learn to shoot like that?"

Tom and Toby looked at each other and shrugged. "We've never fired weapons before. We were just scared shitless," Tom quipped.

"Then that's what I call learning under fire," John retorted. And, they all had a good laugh as they drove on.

Further conversation in the van was sporadic until Nick turned off the highway onto a gravel road that led into a thick pine forest. "We're almost there," he said as the van picked up speed. The road leveled off but twisted and turned for a few more miles through the trees until the forest gave way to a mountain meadow bisected by a wide, shallow stream. There, the road ended.

Without pause, Nick drove into the water and headed upstream toward its outflow from a fracture in a towering slab of granite outcropping five hundred feet high and just as wide. As they approached the fracture, the stream curved around a large boulder. From this point of view, it was easy to see that the split in the rock was about thirty feet wide.

"We're home guys," John said with pride as the van drove into the towering fissure.

To be continued.

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