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The contents of this story are fictional. Any resemblance of characters to living or lived persons is strictly coincidental. Certain characters engage in sexual acts which may or may not be legal in the state or country in which a reader may reside. Any reader with objections to graphic descriptions of sexual encounters between males who may not have reached the legal age of consent, or whose local, regional, state or national jurisprudence prohibits such descriptions, should not read further.
Chapter X - Suspect
While Graham locked the doors to the Shop, I got into the Jeep, watching Rob and Cary head for their place. In a way I envied that they were already living together, but I knew that would come for us eventually. I felt badly for Cary that Rob was so insecure, despite having more than half the brains of the family, as well as half the looks, charm, muscle and sex appeal. I wondered if they could compensate for each other's Achilles Heel. I hoped so.
Graham jumped into his seat and we took off, the night sky so dark every star was lit, as the moon was just past quarter, and had long followed the sun into the West. It was a perfect night - crickets still buzzin' and the air just slightly cool, the smell of the fresh-tilled soil full of promise.
I put my hand on Graham's thigh and squeezed a little, just to let him know I was close.
"Tired, B.B?" he asked.
"What B.B. you talking at?" I said lazily. He'd only slipped once since I told everyone I was Bill.
"Big Bill, Bubblebutt Bill, Babe Bill, whichever," he said in an exaggerated drawl. "The guy I love."
"Sweet talker," I said, looking over at him through squinted eyes, making the starlight streak over him.
"Hold that thought," he said, jumping out to lock the front gate. I just lazed back in the seat, staring at the firmament, completely relaxed.
I felt him get back in the seat, but I didn't move, just said "I love you, Graham. Really do."
"I know, Bill. Let's get home and get in bed before you fall fast asleep."
"Sounds good," I said, my hand back on his thigh. "Don't know a soul on earth I'd rather curl up with."
I somehow manged to sleep all the way to the third rut before his porch, then woke with a start. It hit me - Graham and I were going to sleep together in the same bed that night. Even if it was only for four hours, it would be the first time I'd slept with a man in my life. I wondered if I snored. If he snored. I've farted in my sleep before - I hoped I wouldn't do it again, not with Graham there. I wondered what his farts smelled like. T. J.'s are awful - like stale vomit. Would I be able to sleep with a warm body right next to me like that? I mean . . . I dozed off last night at my place, and we were more than just close, he was inside me for Christmas sake!
"Mmmmpff?" I managed to get out as his lips covered mine in a kiss a millisecond after we stopped. My arms went around him instinctively, holding him to me, and my mouth opened to his.
"I need a shave," he said, pulling his tongue out for a minute. "Shower and a shave."
"Me, too," I said. "And a toothbrush. How come the Optimizer doesn't give us a shave? Brush our teeth?"
"Hey!" he said with a chuckle. "You're lucky you don't get oiled and lubed!"
I laughed despite myself, and we got down from the Jeep, went up the steps to the porch. The timers had outened the lights, so Graham had a little trouble finding the keyhole. I probably didn't help much, squeezed up behind him, massaging his chest in the front, my cock already half-hard in my jeans.
"You waking up?" he said as the door finally opened. There was still a slight smell of the roast coffee beans in the air.
"More'n that," I said, turning him in my arms and pulling him to me. He was AWAKE all right. Roger was like a brick against my thigh. "That hurt?"
"Roger all bent down like that?"
"Yeah, Doc. Think you can make it better?"
He was already breathing deep, and we hadn't even got started yet.
"I do that to you?" I whispered in his ear, his head on my shoulder. My hand reached down and felt him, so big. I had had that in me last night, filling me with his love and his semen. I wanted that again, but not tonight. Not tonight.
"All I have to do is see you across a room, and you do that to me," he said, licking my neck. "It'll turn to stone pretty quick, if you don't do something about it, Doc."
"Let's go, Tiger," I said. "Lead the way."
We went upstairs to the main bedroom, just like the others on nearby farms (except mine, which was built after the others, when the first one got blown to smithereens by a tornado or something). It was a man's room, with simple polished wood floors, thin carpets by the sides of the high bed, with four posters but no side curtain rails, just at the ends, and no curtains. There was a highboy chest of drawers, a commode with an old thunder mug and water pitcher, and a blanket chest, dark wood, nothing else. No blinds or shades to block the view, but those real thick curtains that blocked out the light of early June mornings, pulled aside. Pictures in frames, mostly black and white, all of farm scenes.
I turned him around to face me just as we got near the bed, and held him gently in my arms, nuzzling his chest like a horse, smelling him, his odor unique perfume just for me. He pulled my shirt up out of my jeans, just as I unbuckled his belt and popped the buttons of the loose denim.
We each toed off our boots, and in a few seconds he stood before me, naked but for his socks, just like me, and I had no idea how we got undressed, whether it was him or me that took off my shirt and T-shirt. I just stood there for a second, looking at his beautiful body, Roger on the verge of drooling, aimed at my heart. I ran my fingers over his chest, feeling the soft hairs, the smooth skin of his shoulders, his neck. I shivered under his light touch on my stomach, his forearm briefly grazing my cock.
"I want you," he whispered as he pulled me to him, as we fell the few inches to the bed, cold beneath us. We wriggled under the covers, somehow never losing full-body contact, his body pressed to mine, showing his readiness for me, Roger drooling, my cock too.
I wanted to make it last forever, make love to him until the sun came up, try to give him the ecstasy he brought me the night before, but that was just a dream. Before I realized where things stood, I was at his door, trying to get in, his legs over my shoulders, his hand guiding my cock, smearing my clear stuff all over the hole. It took a minute to get the head of me into him, and we stopped for a minute to catch breath, let him get used to me.
"I love you," I said, reaching down to kiss him, trying not to move inside him, trying not to come yet. "You're why God made me."
"Come inside me, Bill," he said on my lips. "Come into me and come inside me, make me come with your lovin."
Slowly, using the expression in his eyes as a gauge of his reaction of me inside him, I fucked into him, a little bit with each stroke, kissing his wonderful lips softly, whispering to him how it felt, the tight ring moving down on my cock, the warmth of him inside, the love I felt for him.
Roger went a little soft, and I took him in hand, getting some of Graham's juices from a puddle on his belly, and stroked him to hardness again, just as I hit bottom, as far in as there was to go.
"You're the only man's ever been there," he said to me. "Proud I am that it's you. That I love you."
He shifted his legs a little, wrapping them around my middle, like we had learned to do the night before, a pillow under his butt from somewhere, me hunching into him slow, long. I reached back to Roger, and stroked him gently in our rhythm. Somehow, I knew that Graham wasn't going to be able to come without my hand, that that was something only I was able to achieve under him, only he could bring out in me. No matter - we were as close to being one person as any two ever can be, and my heart was beating at a gallop for him, for this thing we were building towards.
I found that by hunching 'just so,' I struck a cord in him that must have been like when he was fucking me last night, sending a huge shiver through me on each in and out stroke, and I moved over that spot again and again, a little faster, desperately trying not to come before he did, counting the hairs on his eyebrow, breathing mostly his air, letting him pull fresh air through my nose, and too soon, just in time, I was rewarded.
"Bill, I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go!"
His muscles around my cock squeezed down, and I felt Roger's head expand in my hand, my man's entire body shudder underneath me, and it set me off, the liquid steel pouring through my cock, sending waves of overload through me, pushing my cock as deeply into him as it would ever get, firing my semen into him in spasm after spasm, just as his seed was roaring out the head of his cock, shooting right under his chin, collecting there until I lapped it up, even as I was shooting into him. He shouted his release, and I moved my head down, just a little further, and I had his cock in my mouth, or at least the head, and felt a weak jet of his seed on my palate, another, then no more, just a slight flow as I continued hunching into him, still spewing.
His hands were on my shoulders, caressing, as I swallowed his semen, then tried to suck more of his seed out - but no more came. He started to go soft a little in my mouth, even as I took more of his cock into me, and as I began to cool down a little, my breath catching up. I let him out of my mouth and kissed my way up his belly, kissing up the seed I found there, licking him clean and almost dry, finally reaching his lips, just as I came out of him, grabbing at a T-shirt to wipe myself, just in case, throwing it over the side of the bed after I wiped him as well.
"I love you, Bill," he said over and over, like waves on a beach. I curled up with him, kissing his face, his ears, his temples. I never felt more peaceful than when I was with him like that, making love after making love, saying the sweet things you feel for each other. The inhibitions are gone, you can say mushy things without fear of looking foolish.
We slept in each other's arms most of the night. I think I was more in his than he in mine, but that's all right. I think we're both natural alpha males, it's just that he's a little more alpha than me, and that suits me right down to the roots. He didn't fart once all night, which left another mystery unsolved. But his body smelled so good, it was all I could do to keep from licking at it all night.
His damned rooster, Chester, woke us up at the ungodly hour of four fifteen. My first words after "I love you" were "we're having rooster for Sunday Dinner."
I don't think I said another word until we hollered in each other's mouths as he forced me to come again just by moving inside me, my legs squeezing him to me, my hands pulling his hips into me. He licked up my semen from my chest, just like I did. He was tentatve at first - Graham never tasted anybody's come, not even his own, before he tasted mine. I can't say quite the same, seeing as how I tasted my own a couple of times, and I tasted T. J.'s once after he came in my hand when I was corn-holing him. But that was an accident, so we agreed that Graham's was the first that I'd ever tasted and swallowed.
We both knew that it was not only good, but it was good for us.
Then the usual Keystone Cops stuff - we took the Jeep back to my place, did the chores, grabbed some clean clothes and the milk and eggs, dashed back to Graham's for me to shower and dress while he did his chores, then I gathered the eggs for Mom and candled them while Graham was in the shower. I don't know how we did it, but we got to the cafe right on time, a minute after Pete got there, just before Ralph Dreeson plowed through the door.
We were already considered the regular occupants of the booth. Ralph had moved to Graham's customary seat, Gary was now at the end of the counter, and Andy was now the occupant of the one-place "L" at the end of the counter. I figure that suited him about down to the water table, because he could see Mom most of the time while he was enjoying his breakfast. Everybody knew Andy was sleeping at my Mom's house now, of course. I figure everybody was a little relieved to see Mom gettin' into a relationship with someone that wasn't nobody's husband. That kind of stuff can ruin a whole town, tear people apart worse than a tornado. Nothing as dangerous as a single man or woman in a town full of married couples, especially one as good-lookin' as my Mom. Far as I know, though, she never had no man at all after my Dad died, at least not before Andy.
Dan poured two mugs for us just as we got in, Graham put the eggs in the basket for Mom, we said our greetings to all, then sat to sip the fresh coffee while Mom cooked us up the usual, with a side of flaps for me. Except that morning it wasn't quite exactly the same.
I looked up, and it was Andy, standing there with a sort of serious look on his face. I moved over, and Andy sat down beside me.
"S'up, Andy!" said Graham. He was in good spirits, open and friendly, but I felt his tenseness underneath.
"Thought I ought to let you know. Just between friends and all." He spoke in a real quiet, low voice, like he didn't want anbody at the counter to hear what he was saying.
I got this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. Somebody suspected Graham and me was . . . queers. Somebody had turned us in, spread the word.
"What's that?" said Graham, calm as a warm rattler. Coiled, but not yet warning.
"The inspectors are hassling about Pete's Pump agin." he said. "Asked him where was his business licence on the telephone. County asked about Pete, too - yesterday afternoon down at the Clerk's office where my Aunt Liz is the recorder. Then they asked her about you - whether you had a permit from the county. To operate a garage or a airport. Wanted to know about the Hangar. Said it was confidential, they didn't want nobody to know they was askin' about you."
I started breathing again, but only until Andy said they were coming into the Hangar.
"I got a county business licence. Permit, too," said Graham. "Only fer a garage, though. Ain't planning on learnin' ta fly."
He was laying back on his accent. Funny - he had lost it somewhere over the past couple or four days. He almost sounded like a Californian, no acccent at all.
"Funny other thing, too," Andy said. "The district office of KP&L, where my Bess's brother Bart is the straw boss, got a visit yesterday from some mucky-muck from the County. Asking about how much power your place was using. Bart said there's not that much being drawn at all, about what you'd expect from a small machine shop. Guy asked him to recheck, run a power monitor on your place for a few days, then get back to him, give him an hour-by-hour breakdown of power use."
"Why you think they're doin' that?" Graham asked without so much as a blink.
"I figure they's worried about drugs or sommat," Andy said real quietly. "They busted a operation up in Michigan or sommeres what was growing weed in a warehouse big as the Hangar. Fitted out with grow-lights and everything. Caught the sucker 'cause he didn't have a big enough deposit for the juice he was using, and the power people came a-calling. Guy offed 'em both, got away. Ain't caught him yet."
"Nothin' like that goin' on in my Hangar," said Graham with a broad grin. "I only use the maintenance shop. You can come look any time you want, if'n it'll put your mind to rest. Probably oughtta come look it over anyway, more to put Charlene's mind at rest."
"You're right," said Andy. "I don't want Char to get no more bad news."
He was looking right at me. I stared right back at him.
"I'm fixing to ask for her hand, Bill. I ain't gonna ask you, because you ain't her paw or nothing, but I figure you oughta know first off. I want her to be happy fer as long as He's gonna give us."
"I got nothin' but good news fer my maw," I said, consciously adopting his old Kansas drawl, the one our teachers had worked a lifetime to get out of our heads. "An' I cain't think of nobody would make Mom a better husband in these parts than you."
"That so?" said Andy. "That's real good news to get from the source."
Then he says to Graham, "I pray you're not up to nothin' bad, the two of you."
"Nothin' illegal," Graham said. "Everything all above board. Come by after breakfast. Show you around."
"We gotta make sure the inspectors believe that," said Andy. "I'll be there soon's you eat."
Then, in a big voice, Andy said "Well, I'm darned pleased it's going so well fer ya, Graham! You tell me for what if you need any help. You boys be good, now, hear?"
He got up, waved at my Mom and said "see you tonight, Hon," and went through the corridor by the toilet to the back door, out to his cruiser.
"We got trouble?" I asked softly.
"Not if I can help it," said Graham. "Gimme a sec." When he got up, I looked in the mirror behind him - he was the same old Graham everybody in town knew. I wondered how long the disguise would work. What would happen when the Ship left.
He went to the phonebox in the corridor and made a call to somebody, and I just sat there thinking about what might happen if the inspectors came into the Hangar. See nothin' but the jackhammer, the concrete box, the pallet jack. Nothing to give the ship away. No marijuana plants, no light.
"Groth?" I thought. "You hear?"
"How much energy?"
"Several hundred megawatts until you installed the Probe. A score or fewer kilowatts of imbalance in the fields now. A thousand megawatts when the Funnel is in operation. Hundreds of thousands when the Ship slows and enters, but only for a minute or so. The Hangar is not on the power grid at all - all power is taken from the Ship surplus."
"Detectable from a sattelite? One of those defense department things? Radar? Radio antenna?"
"Regrettably, yes. Only notable when the Ships move outside the full Cloak."
"How many more times the ships going to have to use the funnel?"
"Tonight, Ship Five brings more units. Half of the rest of them. In a day or so, if there's a late night thunderstorm, it will sneak out using the funnel, float a few miles away, then leave. Ship Seven will enter at precisely the same time, with the remaining units. As soon as the units are installed and tested, Ship Seven and the Ship will leave, probably in four days, now that we have help from Rob and Cary."
"What about the Ship here now?"
"Ship Two left this morning before dawn. Incomplete remaining units were first transferred to the Ship for completion of the growth cycle. The Funnel was in operation for twelve seconds. It was not practicable to bring Ship Five in simltaneously."
Will the Drive be down all the time?"
"It will be down for three and a half more days, at the least. We have no way to speed the process. There are . . . physical limitations."
"A, the four of you can not work any faster."
"We could find more help, maybe."
"It would be of little help. Because B, some of the units will not be fully grown for 62 hours."
"Do you do concurrent testing?"
"Yes - all the units connected last night are optimally configured and fully operational."
"Can the Drive operate without some of the units being fully grown?"
"Units can not mature if installed in the Drive before they are ripened."
"The Drive will not operate at full power. We must have full power when we leave, or the Mission will fail."
"Why fail? If the Earth will be here for at least another umpty-thousands of years, what's the rush?"
"As I told you yesterday. The calculations will not be complete for another four days from tonight. I will not be able to answer the question until they are complete."
Mom came over with our platters, and I got up for a hug and a kiss.
"I swear, Bill, you're losing weight around your middle and moving it up to your shoulders," she laughed. "That man's done you a power of good."
"Uh, Mom, I gotta tell you something, I guess." I spoke in as soft a voice as I could.
"No you don't, Bill. I'm your mother, remember?" she whispered, making like she was wiping the table. " Mommas know their cubs. I known you was gonna be a man's man from the time you was six."
I must have looked like I got hit by a two-by-four across the forehead.
"Now, don't you fret, you hear? I'm a little sorry you couldn't find you a decent one round about your own age, but it ain't my choice. It's yours. I been worrying about Graham near twenty years, too, so it takes away two worries ay one."
"You don't have to worry about Graham at all, Mom," I said softly. "He's changed some. He's not as old as he might look to some."
"I noticed him changin' some," Mom said, about to turn back, as Gary Boyce was coming up the steps. "Growin' in new hair and all, least in back and front, heavy beard and no redneck no more. Then all of a sudden, he's the old Graham again. I know somethin's goin' on. I know, son. Don't worry me none."
She gave me a kiss on the cheek then whispered "your birthmark stayed off, but the scar is back. I know." Then she went back behind the counter, leaving me completely bewildered. What birthmark?
"You had a small red birthmark on the back of your right ear." Groth said. "I did not include it in the personal Cloak you wear, as it seemed inconsequential. Your mother was right when she said that females know their young."
Graham came back from the telephone.
"We got bad news coming, I think," said Graham.
"From all sides," I said. "Mom just told me she knows. About you and me."
"You'd already figured that."
"She's known since I was six. That I was a man's man."
"Yer Mom's a good woman. She'd never do nothin' to harm you."
"Yeah, I know. It's just . . . "
"Goin' too fast for you?"
"No!" I said a little too loud. Ralph looked over his shoulder at me, winked and turned back. "I just have to get used to it for a few minutes. What's the bad news coming?"
We piled into the food, while Graham told me what his friend said. The one up at the Power and Light. It wasn't just the County people that was asking questions. The FAA had asked about unusual sightings of aircraft or any known major power surges in the past ten days that might explain large radar anomalies in the Katy/Salina area. The FBI was rumored to be bringing a passel of people into Salina, where they only have a sub-office, and appeared to be behind a series of questions being raised on whether there had been any strangers or odd-looking people nosing around the area.
"Groth moved the second Ship out last night. Moved all the units in incubators into our Ship, moving half the rest in tonight."
"Figures. I thought about that last night, Groth must have thought it wasn't too bad an idea."
"It was previously considered and rejected as a tactic, as there would be too much power required for the incubators. The Probe simplifies that." Groth was apparently now speaking to both of us.
We finished shovelling down the food, then got up and left, saying 'so long' to everyone, that we had a mess of tractors in line for service that had to get done by dusk. I paid, 'cause I was a little irritated that Graham just felt he had to pay for most everything, just because I was a sharecropper, just because I was younger.
We sorted that out on the way to the Hangar - the money thing, I mean. It was our first spat, I guess. Not a bad one. He just didn't realize I wanted to pull my own 50.000000%, more if I could get away with it.
When we got to the Garage, Andy was already there. So were Rob and Cary. They were all smiling and laughing a little, Rob braying at something or other just as we got out of Jeep.
"Hey, Boss!" Rob yelled out. "Morning!"
Cary said the same, then he kinda moseyed over to us, not rushed at all, but he woulda won hands down in a three-legged race.
"Got here a few minutes ago, just when we was unlockin," Cary reported. "Said you said it was okay for him to take a look around, but he'd wait until you got here, as long as we wasn't comfortable with lettin' him in."
"You done exactly right, Son." Graham said clapping him on the back. "Exactly right!"
We walked over to the others, giving Rob a big grin behind Andy's back, who was obviously in the middle of some tall tale. Rob winked at me, then gave a look at Cory that said the night had been good to them.
" . . . and the guy says 'Ma'am, we done established that as a fact a while ago. Now we's jus' haggling over the price!" Andy said. Rob bust out laughing, so it must have been a pretty good one.
"You been tellin' that same tired joke for near ten years, Andy. Can't believe Rob, here, ain't never heard on it," Graham said as Rob opened the door, following Graham's nod that it was all right.
"I heard something like it once," said Rob. "Cept the hooker was a judge and the john was a lawyer dealing a bribe."
"You boys ate quick," Andy said, ignoring Graham's remark, meaning it must have been so.
"Didn't want to keep you waiting," Graham said quickly.
"Got a ton of business, I see," Andy said, looking at the four tractors ready for pick-up, two in the bays and one waiting.
"Early days," Graham said. "I'm hopeful."
"Looks good in here," said the cop. "Can I see inside the Hangar a minute? Never saw inside one a them before."
"Sure, Andy." Graham said, and walked to the doors. "See these here doors? Got a counter-weight system like I never seen afore." I thought he was laying it on a little thick, but Groth said I was not to worry, Graham was doing just fine. Rob and Cary looked like they were about to bust from the need to tell me something. Something I figured Andy definitely did not want to overhear.
Graham finally opened the doors, and "switched on" the low-level lights, which of course were powered by the Ship now.
The Hangar was empty! Even the concrete blocks, the Drive, the pallet jack - all of it wasn't there. Just dusty floor, barely letting the yellow centerline show through, except at the rear door, where the wind had scoured the dust away. The old tug was still in the far corner. I almost cracked a laugh, it was so good. There were even a few footprints in the dust, showing how little use the Hangar got.
"Thank you," said Groth.
"What the hell you want all this space for, anyway?" Andy says at my man.
"Comes as part of the Garage, Andy. Gary can't rent the place out to nobody what wants Hangar-type space. I just rent the Shop. Pays his property tax plus a little, what he ain't had in rent since his Pa died, and I gets Garage space what I couldn't rent cheaper nowhere else. Win-Win."
Andy strolled out into the Hangar a little, looked all around, then walked back. His steps reverberated through the Hangar, loudly.
"Well, I tell ya something, Graham," he said. "I'm real glad you showed me this. I can tell they ain't no illegal stuff going on in there. I was powerful . . . curious, worried, I guess."
"I 'preciate you taking the time to come through, Andy. I really do. Most cops wouldn't bother trying to protect a little fish like me from the bureaucrats."
"No problem, Graham, no problem," Andy said. "Yer practically part of the family." He was pulling a cigar out of his pocket.
Clay looked at the cigar like it was a King Cobra. I just about crapped my trousers. Jeesus! Did Andy know about us, too?
"Uh, gotta ask you not to smoke inside, Sherrif!" Rob called out from behind me. "State regulations!"
Since when was Rob a stickler on regulations? I laughed a little inside as I stood by the Hangar doors, and Cary and Rob moved up on either side of me.
"Cary was suffering from Athsma," Groth murmured. "I have not yet informed him that his condition has been corrected."
Andy gave me a half grin and a wave, then he and Graham walked quickly to the door and out. Andy's not allowed to smoke in the cruiser any more, so he's hard pressed to get in his five a day.
"You guys are okay," I said, mock-punching Rob in the gut, when the door closed behind them. "What's with the Hangar. Where's the Drive?"
I got blank stares and hunched shoulders. I went back to the doors to the Hangar, opening them part way. The equipment was all back where it was supposed to be.
"Groth?" I said. "What did you do?"
"Just a low-level hypnotic," Groth said aloud. "The human mind is quite suggestible."
"Tell me," I said.
"Tell you what?" Groth said.
"Just an expression, I said, a little irritated. "It means I concur, but in a slightly sarcastic manner."
"You are irritable."
"We've got to get going. I don't like this."
"I concur. The probability of . . . discovery is increasing."
"Has Trothwell's car left yet?"
"He is getting inside it."
"How many control units are ready?"
"Twenty-six are available now. Approximately eight per hour for twelve hours thereafter, then four per hour. A total of 144 between now and midnight, the time Ship Five will dock. There will be three hundred units - fullly matured - on Ship Five when it arrives, and 42 mature units on other ships, with 226 still incubating."
"We'd better get started," I said to Rob and Cary. "One of you with me in the Hangar, the other with Graham in the Shop. We'll swap after Dinner."
"I'll take first shift with you," said Cary. He looked at Rob as he said it, and they must have agreed it was okay, somehow.
"The policeman has left," said Groth, just as the Shop door opened.
Graham gave me a thumbs-up, and we plunged into the work of the day. Rob met Graham to explain to him what we were doing, and Cory and I went into the Hangar.
While we worked, we were mostly just hauling units and positioning them in the slots as Groth directed. It only took me a minute or so per unit to make the neural connections to the unit next to it. The tools Groth provided worked exactly as I had learned at the LC.
We didn't spend much time in talk, as it was mostly just passing each other, or him dropping a unit off and heading back for another while I was doing the connections. We were pretty well-suited as a team, him getting units to me almost as fast as I could slide them into position and do the connections. We actually got a little ahead of the production maturing at one point, so we took a quick break and sat on the Probe housing. Groth said we would be more efficient that way. Somewhere around nine, I guess.
"You and Rob okay now?" I asked as we drank the iced tea I'd fetched from the fridgidaire. They'd kind of sorted themselves out the night before at the supper table, Rob saying (apparently for the first time) to Cary that he was in love with him, wanted to make things work for them long-term, was scared of losing him. That's why they looked so bubbly.
"We're a lot better," Cary said, looking between his feet at the floor. "He told me he didn't want to live without me. Asked me to marry him."
"I know, it ain't legal. But we've been going to my church, pretty regular, and there's a minister in Kansas City what blesses unions between guys, if they show him that they 're serious. Girls, too." Cary was a little more animated. "Rob says if he, if we . . . get married, maybe we'll think a little harder about what he means to me, what I mean to him, before we do anything stupid like break up, walk out, whatever."
Graham had told me what Groth had said about Rob's mom. "He's afraid you'll leave him."
"I could never do that," Cary said. "I love him too much. He never'd do nothing to hurt me, neither. He told me about . . . about the Men's bathroom thing with you. Swore me he'd never do nothing like that again, as long as we were together."
"How do you feel about that?" I asked, not quite sure of what he meant. His voice was steady - he only glanced at me when he said it, then looked at the floor again.
"It would hurt me to think he was unhappy with me enough to go to one of those places, take all them chances, be with a guy he didn't love just to taste some come what wasn't mine. But . . . but if that's what he wanted, what he needed, I could live with it, I guess, as long as he don't stop loving me. Long as I don't know, I guess. No, I don't know about that. I think I'd hafta know. I couldn't . . . couldn't take it if he wasn't honest with me. I think I'd know he wasn't, if . . . I don't think he could hide that from me."
"That what he wants?" I felt a chill on my back. God, why can't people never be happy with what they have?
"He says not. Says he . . . only did it because he was so lonely he cried sometimes. Said he felt dirty after."
"You guys get tested?"
"What . . . ?" he looked at me sharply. "Yeah. I got tested at the hospital when they thought I was maybe diabetic, last December. I ain't gone with nobody but Rob. Except my best friend in High School, and we never done it with nobody else, just him and me, and we never did it . . . all the way. Cornhole, I mean. Rob got tested before he would do it with me without a rubber. Last summer."
"That's another reason," I said.
"Either of you ever have sex with another guy, you'll never be able to have sex without a rubber again."
"Yeah. I hate them. Rob uses them sometimes to keep from coming too fast, but I make him cut off the end."
"I want it . . . to stay in me. Just like I want mine to stay in him when we do it that way."
"Can I ask you a question?" I said. Now I was looking down at the ground.
Cary just sat and waited for me to ask.
"Are you mad at me?"
"Me? At you? Why?"
"For what happened?"
"You mean with Rob? In the bathroom?"
"No, why should I be?"
"I don't know. It's just that . . . I told Graham."
"He wan't mad either."
"What's wrong, then?"
"I wanted him to be . . . I wanted him to tell me he'd never stand for that from me. I wanted him to yell to me for doing something that stupid, that dangerous. I guess I wanted him to be jealous."
"I don't know." I suddenly felt the fool. "Let's get back to work."
I chewed over what I'd said as I hauled the units, slipped them into the slots Groth indicated, pushed them home, felt the circuits connnect, made the neural links when needed, went for more when Cary didn't already have two more moved up to me. Why did I want Graham to be jealous of me? Cave man instinct? Possess and be possessed? Raise my self-esteem? My social standing? If a hunk like Graham fought for me, did that make me better?
"Your race is still young," said Groth once as I walked back to the stairway for the umpteenth time, in the midst of these thoughts. "Too close to the period when your intelligence had not ripened enough to suppress individual mating instincts urging natural selection of the strongest, using factors of strength and power and cunning more than intelligence and beauty and sensitivity."
I said something utterly rude, then he let me alone. I knew he was right, I just didn't want it rubbed in my face.
Cary and I managed to get fourteen inner ring and 57 outer ring units into their slots by the time we knocked off when Graham asked what we wanted him to order up for Dinner. Mom had a special of meatloaf with olives and pimentos and tomato gravy for the meat and potatoes, and we all chose that.
Cary and Rob went to fetch Dinner, while Graham did all the soldering on the inner ring units we'd just installed. He kept at it a while while I put a few more units into the outer ring. A couple of times, I had to wait at the bottom of the stairway for units to come down.
"We have replaced most of the cards which are rapid in growth," Groth told us while we were eating. "There are more arriving at midnight, but the rest are slow to mature, and a few will not be ready to place in their cradles for three days."
"Are we on schedule?" Graham asked.
Groth said we were doing fine, that we had caught up with production.
"When we finish, can we . . . " Rob started to ask.
"I would be honored if you would allow me to take you all on a demonstration ride," Groth cut his question off.
"Really?" I almost shouted. I think we all did. "Really?"
I think Groth was using psychology on us. We finished Dinner in half the allotted time, and Graham and I went back into the Hangar. I'd have thought Graham would have wanted Rob to go in, but he reminded me that I knew nothing at all about tractor maintenance, and that he was the only one who knew the soldering routines. He also had a business to run - there were still two tractors to be done by the morning, and four being picked up that night.
The soldering was going well, because when five o'clock rolled around, and I had installed the last of the pairs of units that came ot the bottom of the steps, Graham moved right to them as soon as they clicked into place, I watched his concentration, his calm, his hands deftly moving over the soldering device, following some plan of which I had no concept. He flexes his jaw muscles when he concentrates, and I watched as they alternately grew and contracted.
Rob and Cary came in at about the same time, saying the tractors were finished, but they wanted to watch, find out what time we were coming back that night.
"How are we doing, Groth?" Graham asked as he stood up from the last unit. His back was stiff, I could see it. I wondered if it would be more practical to raise the Drive Donut higher, so that the soldering unit was at a more comforable position for Graham's work.
"You have now installed 190 units. There will be 34 more ready from the Ship tonight, and when the Fifth Ship arrives just after midnight, there will be 300 more ready for installation. At current rate of progress, the Ship will be ready for service in three days and one hour. The limitation is not your assistance. It is the rate of maturation of the control units, the last of which will not ripen until three hours before the Drive can be fully operational."
Three days. Groth would leave, the adventure would be over. I wondered if going back to the farm would be enough, now. It seemed to pale a little in comparison to what we were accomplishing here.
"There is a vehicle carrying five men turning into the Hangar driveway."
We all ran out of the Hangar, closing the doors behind us, as Groth continued. "It is the same men who brought the tractors earlier. They have no suspicions of your activity. They will drive the tractors away. You have left an ignition wire loose on the second Deere unit from the front."
"I got it!" Cary said, already headed towards the tractor. He didn't question Groth's statement at all.
By the time Star Fleet left, it was almost half-five. (I had to suppress a giggle as I watched them - there was a strong resemblance, I had to admit. None of the guys looked like Ahura, though.)
"What time do we need to be back?" asked Rob. His arm was around Cary's waist, and they both had bulges in their jeans that told us what their current priority woud be.
"If you please, it would be best if you arrived somewhat before the arrival of the ship. Midnight would be the most appropriate, as the ship will be at the Hangar door at 17 minutes, 6 seconds after 12 O'clock. You will need the Optimizer for three minutes now, and for two minutes when you return at midnight."
"Let's go, then." said Graham, looking at my crotch.. "I think we all have some things to take care of before we get back."
He had no reason at all to talk - Jolly Old Roger was definitely not fast asleep.
We all went through the Optimizer for a couple of minutes, then closed the Shop doors and drove home.
None of us took any note of the Red and White soda pop truck sitting by the side of Katy Road across from Gary Boyce's place. Graham and I went over on Post Road, so we didn't pass it, and I doubt Rob bothered to look in his rear view mirror all that much as he and Cory turned North, towards the Interstate.
Groth saw it, though.
While Graham and I did the chores, Groth was analyzing all wave lengths that came from it, whether sound, heat, light, ultraviolet, whatever.
While we were fixing supper at Graham's, Groth was bringing another Ship overhead, just to confirm the readings coming from the truck.
While we were making love to each other for the first time in a new way, Groth neutralized the problem. But after we were apart, and Graham had swung around to hold me, and we were just kissing little pecks in between saying sweet, Groth did his throat-clearing imitation and got our attention.
"I am afraid your security services may have strong suspicions of the origins of local energy broadcasts. I have taken defensive steps."
"What kind of steps?" I said lazily. I felt like dozing after the pleasure I'd had in taking Graham's semen into my mouth, just as he was getting mine in his. It's nowhere near as good as taking it in my butt, but it's streets ahead of what I was used to.
"The cloak has been upgraded from visual to all observable wavelengths in the direction of any vehicle monitoring the Hangar."
I failed to see how this would solve the problem. There would be still more excess energy that couldn't be dissapated through the probe.
"The cloak upgrade is a temporary fix. A more urgent need is the decommissioning of the monitoring vehicle."
"What vehicle?" Graham said, sitting up.
"An electronics monitoring vehicle has been parked near the Hangar for some hours. It can detect the heat and energy anomalies, as well as monitor sound and electric power consumption, telephone communications, and broadcast the information to a sattelite overhead."
"What do we do next?" Graham said. He got out of bed, pulled me to my feet, nuzzled my neck.
"There is going to be a rather major storm," Groth said. "Lightning, thunder, several inches of rain, a few small tornados, all localized, quite tightly defined. It's forming to the West of Gove, right this moment. I want you in the Hangar."
I groaned a little as Graham kissed me hard on my left nipple.
I wanted him.