The Mechanic

This story is posted for the exclusive enjoyment of readers of the Nifty Archive. While you are free to make a personal copy, no copy of this manuscript may be published, copied, posted to another web site, or otherwise disseminated without express permission from the author, who retains copyright.

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 XII - Invasion

We watched, fascinated by the inexorable progress of the center of the storm, the oval red outline that was the Seventh Ship. Several of the screens showed the views above the Hangar, making the storm look ominous, full of dark fury, heavy strokes of rain below towering, boiling steam above, great flashes of lightning within the clouds as well as to the ground, blue-white and angry. The Seventh Ship was outlined in red, perhaps five hundred feet up, above the "floor" or whatever it is that makes the bottom of the clouds flat.

Another screen showed the front of the Hangar, and I was shocked to see that Graham was already down there at the switch, opening the doors. I hadn't even seen him leave my side.

Just as the front edge of the storms reached the Hangar, sheets of rain splashing from the surface, the Fifth Ship winked out, under the cover of the Funnel. There was a pale blue line connecting it to the front of the Ship which suddenly became much brighter and stretched as the funnel extended out the front of the Hangar. Then the blue line as well as the Funnel tilted up, the line getting longer, the end connected to the smaller Ship well outside the Hangar. Suddenly, the blue fire disappeared and the Fifth Ship became briefly visible, no more than a half second, then it was just another hole in the clouds, floating slowly up into the thunderhead.

Before the Fifth was out of "sight," the Seventh appeared, directly over the Hangar, another hole in the rain. It drifted to the mouth of the Funnel, tilted, and was swallowed by the almost-invisible throat of tthe Funnel, the blue line quickly appearing.

It all took no more than a minute or two, from open to close of the Hangar doors. The Seventh Ship "clicked" on, looking just like the Second Ship, maybe just a little larger in cross-section, definitely longer, as there was not a foot to spare.

In five minutes, we were back at it, first taking directly from the new arrival, then from the Ship, as units were transferred forward from the Seventh Ship to ours, using a tube between the Ships, just under the power cable. The transfer saved us a few seconds on each trip. The rain kept on for a couple of hours, always welcome in farm country once the planting is done. Within reason, of course.

We worked straight through until six o'clock, when Groth told us to refresh ourselves in the Optimizer, then go home for Supper and a few hours sleep, he would waken us a little early for chores and breakfast, and we'd resume.

"Why not come back after chores and supper?" I asked. Cory and Rob both nodded that they agreed - at least with the question.

"There are only 206 units which will be ready tomorrow, and another 54 on Sunday afternoon. The last three units will not be ready until very late in the afternoon."

"Yeehaw!" yelled Rob, and he picked Cary up like he weighed no more than a kid, and spun him around. "Let's party!"

Cary didn't object at all, just leaned down and collected his kiss, his hands on Rob's shoulders.

Graham grabbed me and pulled me to him, and we tried to swallow each other all over again. Somehow, we managed to follow Rob and Cary to the Stairs, Optimize, then go down to the pickups. Graham got the job of locking up after us, and we honked our good-bye at them as they rounded the corner, headed north on Katy.

We drove to Graham's, did his chores, then to my place and did mine. Graham did the milking while I got supper started - a mess of oven-barbecue ribs with chops. They came from the small pig I butchered in April, after Gil's dumb sow decided nine was too many to nurse after six weeks, and after I decided a few weeks later that slopping hogs - or even one hog - was not for what I was put here.

We ate on the screened porch, getting barbecue sauce all over our faces and hands, not caring a whit. The sunset promised to be pretty spectacular, so we washed up and sat on the swing, sipping more iced tea and holding hands, talking softly of all sorts of things, mostly not very interesting to others. How we saw our life together for the next few days, but not what it would be like after the Ships left. Not yet.

At one point, though, we speculated on what the Mission was:

"I figure they're maybe working on a big museum at the Core," I said.

"Why would there be such a rush, though? It's not as if they can get back home in a few days - it would take a lot of thousands of years to get back."

"End of the Human Race? Maybe the Sun is going to go nova?"

"No, he said we had many tens of thousands of years, remember?"

"They have to meet up with another survey team?" I grasped at straws.

"He said they were on the way to another system, looking for a sentient race. Diverted here along the way. Doesn't have room for more data than what they have. Doesn't fit."

"I know what would fit right now," I said. I put my hand on his Roger.

"Fits me, too," Graham whispered as he pulled me to him. He smelled of Graham, salt and vinegar, curry and sugar, musk and oil. I felt my body start the process of love-making, my cock rising inside its blue denim prison.

I don't remember cleaning up after ourselves, or going upstairs, or getting undressed, or clambering into bed. I remember only feeling him all over me, his kisses driving me into a sweat of passion. I got a rush as his cock slid into me, stealthily, almost painlessly, moved over my prostate, sent shivers potent as earthquakes through me.

I remember his every kiss as he stroked within me, his words of endearment, his hands caressing me, loving me. I remember the suddenness of my climax, just as he opened his mouth and shouted his release of his seed into me, shouting his love for me, filling me with pride as well as his semen. I can't remember if either of us was touching my cock or not. Probably not - it would have sent me to the moon far too quickly.

He licked me clean, even taking my cock in his mouth and sucking out the last vestiges of my semen. We made love for a while longer as the black butterflies of sleep flew around us, eventually shifting around so that Graham was behind me, holding me in his arms lightly, Roger still deep inside me. I can't imagine a nicer way to go to sleep than in the arms of the man you love, connected like that.

I woke while it was still dark, not even a glimmer of the dawn, so it must not yet have been four o'clock or maybe just a little past. Somehow, we had become separated in the night, and I had turned around and moved into the crook of his arm, my head on his shoulder. I found out that his farts are light, almost . . . well, actually  - this sounds really weird, but it's true - pleasant under the covers. I couldn't see him, not really, but I could make out his profile, the long forehead, the strong and straight nose, the thick but trim eyebrows. All I could think was how lucky I was to have found him. Some people go their whole life without meeting the one, the special one. I said a quick prayer asking forgiveness of my pride, then another for my lack of sincerity in asking, then dozed a little.

"It is almost time," Groth said in a soft voice.

I didn't even have a chance to open my eyes before Graham kissed my forehead softly.

"I love you, B.B.," he whispered through his kiss.

I kept my eyes shut tight, just feeling him, all around me, his smell, his blood thumping under my ear. "Love you, Graham."

"Ready to get started?"

I just latched on to Roger with my left hand and squeezed, murmuring a little. My head tilted up to meet his lips with mine, and our tongues sought each other, quickly banishing night-breath staleness. Before he was completely hard, I swung over him and wedged Roger's head into me, just in case he didn't quite know exactly what my mood was. It hurt a little, because I pushed too quickly, but no matter.

"I am now," I said into his mouth,

"Me, too."

Before the rooster crowed, before the dawn broke, after we rolled so I was on my back, I felt him pumping his semen into me, shouting his lust before he aimed my cock into his mouth, sucked out my seed, as I screamed the love I felt for him, our circle complete. My legs trapped around his waist, holding him as deep as his cock would go, but he still had the flexibility to take almost half my cock in his mouth. My hands felt his balls, his pulsing root as it fired into me. His hands milked me, tickled me, played with my nuts. He kept taking more and more of me, sucking the straw of my cock right through to my prostate, emptying it to make space for more.

When I was truly empty, I reared up and met Graham's kiss, sitting on his haunches, our arms so tightly wrapped around one another, we must have disappeared into a mass of shoulders and elbows and hands.

We whispered to each other wrapped up like that for the better part of ten minutes, when Groth imitated a clearing throat and said it was time to start the chores if we wanted to get to breakfast on time.

We quickly pulled apart, smiling as everyone does with their mate after a particularly good love-making, and quickly shit, showered, shaved, and did the chores at my place. Except I didn't sit on the toilet - it would take a while to first absorb Graham's semen. I made some coffee while Graham cleaned up the milking teats, and handed him "his" thermos mug as he came in with a few eggs to take to Mom after we candled them at his place. We got in a clock-stopper, then piled into the Ram and headed down the drive.

There was a black sedan slowly passing the drive on Gove Road, headed towards Katy.

"Spooks!" I spat.

Graham grabbed my arm and shook his head. I stopped at the bottom of the drive, and he gestured first to me, then him, then to his mouth, pretending to speak, then pointed at the sedan and pantomimed listening, his hand behind his ear. They were listening to us.

I got the message.

"I hate black cars," I said with a grin, "Just like black cats."

"You hate anywhat that ain't a pickup, redneck."

"Piss off, you old fart," I laughed, getting into the game. "I ain't the one got so drunk he couldn't a drove a nail if Marilyn Monroe opened up to his little weenie!"

Graham grinned at me. "Nah. You're the one what got so drunk you peed all over your boots instead of over the bannister!"

"That was some good 'shine, warn't it?" I really hoked on the accent, as I pulled out the drive. The sedan was about half-way to Graham's drive.

"You hide the jug?"

"No need," I said. "We done emptied it stone dry."

"Thought my mouth was a little dry tomorning."

"I ain't all together yet, neither."

"Want a nip at the house afore we go to breakfast? Hair a the dog?"

"Nah," I said "Makes my stomach roll, jus' thinkin' on it." That was the first true thing I said since we saw the car.

"I gotta feed the birds, get the eggs candled. Guess that'll be just enough for a nip or two."

"Old drunk," I said, squeezing Roger. "Yer gonna kill yerself one a these days."

"Hell, it's Saturday, I gotta right to party some."

We bantered like that all the way through the chores, larding up the accents to ridiculous levels, still managing to get in a kiss or two. It was almost exciting to steal kisses from under their noses. The hens must have eaten all their vitamins - there were more than two dozen eggs, and a clutch of eggs had hatched, so peepers were running all over the hen coop.

Graham made a sound like a fart when we got back in the Ram, which was enough to keep a raunchy nasty farm-yokel conversation going all the way to Mom's. I got tired of the game pretty quick, mind. I hate the way TV shows and movies always show farmers as being ignorant yokels.

When we got into Charlene's, the crowd was a little thin, it being Saturday and all. Some of the guys didn't start as early on Saturdays - Pete and Dan, for instance. I got a hug and kiss from Mom, then Graham got one, too. We all had a little laugh about all the anonymous black cars running all over town. Graham even joked that it all started since he opened up his Garage, maybe the FBI was thinking about having him service their tractors. Mom went back to the grill, after we just shrugged our order for the usual.

"I figure they's looking to bust somebody for growing mary poppins," Frank said laughing at something Dan said when he came in, about black sedans invading town. "They oughtta go look to the Collins place over to Totteville. I hear he's got a field a poppies redder'n my neck!"

We all laughed. Old man Collins had tried growing poppy seed one year, and cussed every one of them for the next ten, because they're nought but weeds, and tenacious as hell when you change crops.

"You figure they're trying to put Pete out of business?" Mom asked from the grill.

"Hey, Mom!" I called to her. "No flaps today!"

"And what's wrong with my flaps all of a sudden?"

"Nothing! Can I have french toast instead?"

"Got 'em," she said.

Graham and I finally sat in the booth, carrying mugs of coffee. I suddenly noticed I was missing another tooth. No - three more! I was gap-toothed all the way between my eyeteeth. I wondered where the old teeth had got. I got Graham's attention - not hard to do - and pointed to my gap.

"Yep," he said with a grin. "Noticed this morning. New ones already poking out."

I felt around with my tongue, and he was right. They were already budded through. All my other teeth felt loose. The bottom teeth wiggled around pretty bad. I wondered if it was safe to eat.

"None will fall out until after you eat this morning. Eat well - they will all be gone by tonight."

I jumped when he spoke, half afraid he'd spoke out loud.

"Graham, you were right about them listening. They are using directional microphones to pick up sounds, running them through small, slow computers to filter out noise."

Graham didn't say anything, but got a questioning look on his face.

"Yes, you will be able to speak freely anywhere within the Hangar, including the Shop. I will synthesize a conversation among the four of you and broadcast it as if it came from the Shop while you are working."

Andy came from the back - I figure he came out the back door of our house, that he'd stayed with Mom last night.

He didn't pause but to say howdy to the guys, then came and sat next to me, bringing his mug of coffee.

"Mornin' Graham," he said quietly, but not out of the normal. "See anything strange goin' on at all the last day or so?" He lifted his cup with his left hand, with just the fingers in the handle, his thumb sticking out and away, right at me.

I looked over my left shoulder almost automatically, following the direction of the thumb. There was a black sedan right on the corner, next to Pete's. Two suits were inside. Talk about incognito! They at least took off their jackets, but the ties were still there. Geez!

Graham winked at me and said "Nope, not a thing, Andy. Except maybe all these damn blackfly. Early this year. Gotta spray now instead of June."

I gulped down a belly laugh. Andy had a blank look on his face, but his neck turned red, with the effort not to bust his gut.

"I'm glad you showed me the inside of the Hangar, though," Andy managed to get out.

He pointed at his ear with his right hand - I saw it in the mirror - then at the car. Graham nodded back.

"I was afraid maybe you had some things besides all that junk in there," Andy continued. "Whatcha going to do with that old crop duster?"

"Don't need the Hangar for nought," Graham said. "The machine shop is big enough for me and as many as ten bays - don't figure I'll ever get that big. The duster is just a shell - all the wiring and stuff has been tore out."

We talked a little about the storms of the past couple of days, how they was a little early this year, but not as bad as year before last, how at least none of the tornados had touched ground.

Mom came with our platters, and Andy stayed with us, just talking. I got the impression he was off work for the day. Then he took a pen out of his pocket and wrote on a napkin he took out of the holder.

"You in trouble?" he wrote, while Graham was rambling on about 'how he was gonna hafta find him another good mechanic.'

Graham kept on rambling, but shook his head 'no' while he started writing on his own, "I should worry?"

Andy shrugged his shoulders and wrote, 'FAA coming tomorrow.'

Graham managed to prolong the monologue somehow, almost intelligently, and shrugged.

"Well, nice talking to you guys," Andy said, cutting Graham a little short. "Gotta get my breakfast." He got up and went to his usual stool, just as Mom got his plate there.

"Guess we oughtta mosey," Graham drawled shamelessly. He would have looked right at home on Mr. Ed's farm.

We got up, I left money on the dish, and we swaggered out the door. I felt like a dumb shit, rolling all around like that, but it had to be done 'for the good of the Mission,' so I put my all into looking like a hick.

"I appreciate the sacrifice," Groth said dryly.

"Y'all's weyalcum," I thought in parody.

I swear, I heard him chuckle. I did!

We piled into the Ram and talked bullshit all the way to the Hangar. The sedan by Pete's didn't budge, but there was another black sedan (except it was light green) parked in front of the old feed store just north of the Hangar drive. I paid no attention to it, but pointed it out to Graham under the dash, and he nodded that he'd seen it. The gate was open, as always. The door to the Shop was open as well, and I could make out the shadow of Rob's old F-150.

Rob closed the door the instant the rear bumper of the Ram was clear, and Cory opened the doors to the Hangar.

"Just got here!" called Rob after us.

Before we all went in, Graham told them about how the Feds had microphones that could pick up our conversations while we were outside the Hangar. Even in the trucks or in our own bedrooms.

"That is not the case if you will allow me to install a personal cloak," Groth said, appearing next to us. "The cloak is undetectable, completely invisible, and auto-dissolves if there is any attempt made to remove it."

"I thought . . . " I started to ask.

"Your cloaks were strictly visual. I will upgrade them to audio-visual wavelengths while you are in the Optimizer. The lifespan of the cloak is thus reduced to fourteen years."

"Sure!" said Cary and Rob, almost at the same time.

"There is an added risk of discovery, however. The cloaks will generate additional heat. It will be detectable as a heat aura around you, approximately one degree centigrade above normal."

"What is the probability of detection?" Graham asked.

"In current circumstances, approximately one in twenty-three point two seven."

"And without the upgrade?"

"Virtual certainty. You talk in your sleep occasionally. Rob gives a nightly dissertation of the day's events, his subconscious reactions."

"Let's do it," I said. We could worry about the longevity of the batteries - or whatever they were - later.

"The cloaks for Rob and Cary will reveal Graham and Bill as if they were not wearing a cloak," Groth said. Aloud. "It is important to understand that there have been substantial changes in their physical appearance."

"Bill told me," Cory said. "Graham is a lot younger than he looks."

I said that? Never!

"Cory is not of the same intellectual conceptualization as most. He "reads" people more than listens to them. When you were telling him that Graham was not as old as he appeared, you emitted pheromones which indicated sexual desire, your eyes contracted in the pupil, your heart rate increased, your body temperature rose almost half a degree. This is immediately indicative of love and sexual desire/attraction almost never associated with an individual not of youthful reproductive age."

"Cory can tell all those things?"

"Not consciously. But they register with him, create impressions."

We went up the stairs to the Optimizer. One of the benches - the one I usually used - had a red cloth on it.

"Bill, put the cloth in your mouth when you lay on the Optimizer."

"My teeth?"

"They will all be released this session, excepting the bottom front teeth, which will be released tonight."

"What's with your teeth?" asked Rob.

"They're being replaced," I said. "I didn't do a good enough job of brushing them when I was a kid."

"Yours will be replaced, as well," said Groth. "It is the least I can do to show our appreciation for your help."

"I don't want false teeth!" Cary said, stepping back from the platform.

"They will not be false. You are growing a new set of teeth. They are not subject to decay."

"Sounds more'n fair," said Rob. "Lay down, Cary."

He did. I think he'd jump into a vat of flaming oil if Rob told him to.

"No. His sense of self preservation is very strong."

"Groth, I was using that as an hyperbole. I mean Cary will do as Rob asks most of the time, because he . . . trusts him. Totally."

"I see."

We woke an instant later, ready for a full day of labor, and there were no interruptions, no problems. My teeth were in the cloth. They looked ugly, the silver fillings more black than silver, the surfaces more yellow than white. My tongue found the edges of teeth all across the top, but only barely poking from the gum. Nothing at all on the bottom. I was surprised there was no blood.

Cary and Rob stared at the real Graham a little to start off, but once the novelty was over, it seemed to be forgotten. We broke for Dinner as usual, except Cary and I made the run to Mom's. We just shot shit on the way there, loaded up the food, and headed back.

"He's real handsome, isn't he?" Cary said out of the blue. "I never woulda knowed."

"He's a lot more beautiful inside than he is outside," I said. "I'm the luckiest guy."

"Me, too," said Cary. "Rob can look a little scary to people what don't know him - but he's the most loving man underneath it you could 'magine. He's just scared of being alone."

We talked a little about our men, nothing too deep, just the good points. I felt all fuzzy and warm by the time we got to the Shop. Nice people like Cary do that to me.

I had a little trouble eating my fill. Couldn't chew for shit, so I was glad of the meat loaf and mashed potatoes, which I could at least gum a little. After Dinner, we worked straight through to almost six, when there were no more Units coming down the stairs.

"You have caught up completely with production," said Graham. "There are 785 units installed, including the 176 done today. Of the remaining 57, all but three will be ready for installation by mid-day tomorrow. The remaining three will be ready at four o'clock. If you begin after Dinner, the Ship will be functional again any time after 7 pm."

"Then what?" Graham asked.

"I will give you the results of the calculations."

"When will we . . . " Rob started to ask.

"When the Ship leaves the Hangar, I will take you to a point several hundred thousand miles from Earth, and show you the beauty of your home world and its moon, so rare in the known galaxy."

"And bring us back?" Cory asked, but quietly.

"And bring you back, of course,"

"When are you leaving?" I asked. We were all on the Stairway to the Optimizer.

"The Departure will take place as soon as the Ships have completed their gathering, which is expected for Wednesday. We will assemble into the necessary formation on the other side of your moon and depart no more than two hours later, but no later than six pm GMT, Thursday."

"GMT?" Rob didn't know.

"Greenwich Mean Time. Eleven am Kansas time. Bill, please use the red cloth again."

"Will you - will anybody ever come back to visit us?" Cary said.

"There is no one who can come visit," Groth said. "The Mission will either succeed or it will not."

"No one?" asked Graham.

"All will be explained when the Calculations have been completed. There is no point in telling only half the story."

We lay down on the slabs, after Groth said he would only be doing minor musculature and structural repairs. When I woke, the red cloth contained the last of my teeth. Still no blood.

As we got up to go down the Stairway, I had a thought nagging me.

"Groth, you said something that's got me intrigued. What did you mean, when you said 'Earth and moon so rare?'"

"I will show you on a projection."


"Now. When you get to the bottom, lay on the floor with your feet towards the front doors, about thirty meters from the end of the Ship. The screens in the Ship are not adequate to portray events."

When we went to the front of the Ship, the space Groth had indicated was outlined by lasers from the front of the Ship. The concrete wasn't cold, but comfortably warm, felt resilient, like a firm mattress. The seventh Ship was cloaked. The lights in the Hangar went out, and the details of the Hangar seemed to fade out, the light from the outside seeming to go through evening, then sunset, then black as the midnight of a new moon, the Ships no longer there. We were in total blackness, then somehow the floor fell away from me. I was floating, but I could move freely. I took Graham's hand in mine, and we moved towards each other.

Gradually, a giant pin-wheel took shape in front of us, made up of thousands of millions of tiny points of light, that in some places - especially in the very center - merged into a single mass of impossibly bright light. Groth told us that we would now look inside the image, be surrounded by it. The image expanded, so that I had the impression of falling into the image, until it was around us, and one small sub-arm of the pinwheel was in front of us. There were too many pinpoints to count. I knew this was supposed to represent the galaxy, and that we were now looking at a small part of it, about two thirds of the distance from the center to the edge.

Groth began a soft narrative, explaining what we were observing. In the midst of a small branch of stars, a faint cloud of gas contracted in on itself, spiraling towards its center, which started to glow, weakly. The gas was heating up from the pressure of contracting. Then we saw the Beginning, as surely it must have looked. A massive bright point of explosion, in the center of the cloud, a shell rapidly expanding, a nebulae of hot light gasses, roiling like summer thunderheads, expanding at the outer edges, rotating rapidly, less so as the sphere grew larger, flattened. The expansion slowed, then seemed to stop, begin to contract.

The magnification continued, and the opaque gasses coagulated in rings around a single yellowish white star, in the center of the rings of gas and dust. The rings coalesced into clumps, then great balls of matter, which almost suddenly collapsed upon themselves into planets. Still in constant magnification, we saw three gas giant planets pass by us, which Groth named as Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter - largest and closest to the star. None had rings, at least not that I could see, but there was a cloud of gas around each.. Then came a smaller rocky world, brown and red, and the speed of magnification slowed down. From the right another rocky gray planet appeared, much smaller, perhaps one third the size of the brown planet. Gray planet quickly approached, then smashed into, the first planet, and both exploded into hundreds, thousands of white-hot fragments, which quickly cooled to muddy brown-gray.

A huge fragment, probably a quarter of the size of the brown planet, then was spotlighted as it hurtled inwards towards the central star, past a small planet with the blue and white of water, but no moon (Mars) and into another planet, much larger, shrouded in white. This latest victim, instead of exploding, instantly turned into a molten mass of white-hot matter, spinning incredibly rapidly, chunks of white-hot rock blasted away. The clouds had totally evaporated, and you could see the surface of molten rock. The planet wasn't a sphere, but a pulsing, spinning and wobbling red-white mass, quickly separating into a short barbell-like amoeba, two distinct globes forming, stretching then separating from one another, the smaller whizzing round the larger at rapid speed, what seemed like a few minutes per revolution. The color went from orange red to dull gray-maroon as the pieces cooled.

The larger body was at first without clouds, but there was the shimmer of gasses, especially at the poles. Gasses that had been around the smaller body or moon pulled away from it, back to the Earth, spiraling down like a drainspout, visible only in the space between the two bodies, where they cooled enough to coalesce into cloud, until close to the Earth's semi-molten surface. There was a noticeable bulge on the planet, which rotated at almost - but not quite - the same speed as the Moon, then gradually became indiscernible. The Moon was bare, gray and featureless. Pieces of rock crashed into both, the crust revealed as a thin skin, great splashes of molten rock marking the strikes. The Moon gradually slowed in its speed of revolving, but as it did it seemed to draw away from the Earth, a cold, gray world pockmarked as it is today, only very occasional and very large strikes producing any molten lava flows. The visible Earth was nothing but cloud and mist. The whole system, all the planets passed through clouds of ice balls, comets, debris and flotsam of every description, the impacts leaving huge craters on some, swallowed up in the gas of others. The Earth became and remained swathed in white, but here and there it coagulated, and after a time I could see the blue of a sea.

The motion stopped. Earth wasn't like it is now, but there was the blue of water, the brown of land. Some green. Already.

"The probability of this sequence of events taking place in the galaxy is approximately one in nine hundred fifty-three million. The probability that this is actually the sequence of events which took place is seven in twenty-three."

"It's beautiful," said Cory. He was crying, and I felt the wet of tears on my face, too. It was scarifyingly, mesmerizingly, overwhelmingly beautiful.

The image faded, and we were again sitting - laying - on the hangar floor.

"Groth, how many stars are there in the galaxy?" Graham asked softly.

"There are now two point seven three billion functioning stars. Ranging from very small gray dwarfs to blue-white giants."

"Does that mean that there are only three systems like ours? The earth and a large moon?"

"No. There are - there were, have been  - several hundred such known systems. This is the only known system this distant from the Core. Most of the others were destroyed when their stars went nova or were absorbed into the black hole at the center of the galaxy."

"Why so many, if the probability is so small?."

"Probability is higher, the closer the star is to the Core, where there is proportionately more of the heavy elements needed to form planetary systems."

"Is this type of system a . . . prerequisite for life?"

"Not for life as such, but no evidence has ever been found of complex life where there is not a combination of a single main sequence star, a rocky planet of a size large enough and warm enough to retain the lighter elements, but not so large that they become liquids rather than gasses, and water in abundance, in liquid form, with tides created by a large moon, which gives rise to a division of earth and water."

"Wow!" said Rob.

"How many . . . planets have intelligent life, then?" Graham pursued.

"There are ninety-one systems in the Galaxy known to have produced sentient races."

"That's all?"

"Yes. It is time for you to leave. I will answer more questions for you when the Calculations are complete, but not now. It is too soon."

End of session. I had about a million questions, give or take three, but Groth answered not one of them I posed after that. The other end of the line was dead, every time I asked.

We just looked at each other for a minute, then someone said something about having to get the chores done, and we moved - a little woodenly - to the trucks. It was only six-thirty. We had watched the Creation in less than a half hour. Groth had obviously speeded things up - I felt like three or four hours had passed.

"You are correct. Time is subjective to sentient beings. By suppressing all extraneous sensations, learning activities can be compressed by significant factors. The presentation speed was limited only by the . . . lowest average mental concentrative ability."


"No - Graham's and yours. You have significantly enhanced sensory abilities, and are thus more easily distracted by internally generated thoughts. It will take some considerable effort to learn to concentrate more completely on any single topic so as to increase efficient use of time."

We left the Hangar for our respective homes, Graham locking up as we went, since we'd taken the Ram.

Graham said nothing until we were on Katy, headed down to town, as he wanted me to meet Elva, his sister. They live on the South Road, and you have to take Katy to get to it.

"You thinking what I'm thinking?" he said softly.

"The Mission has something to do with a rescue effort," I said. "We're guinea pigs."

"Monkeys, I think."

"An experiment?"

"More important. Even for them, this must be a major undertaking. We're a long way from their home."

"We'll have to wait. Think there's any . . . danger?"

"Not from them," he mused. "I think maybe from our own kind."

He pointed at a rental car, his hand under the window level so they couldn't see.

"Are you sure we can . . . talk all right?" I asked Groth.

"Your personal cloaks do not allow sound to carry more than five feet from your body," Groth answered. "The vehicle you see does not have the sophisticated listening devices contained in several others."

"Are they tracking us?"

"They are focusing on the man Gary Boyce, and on you, Graham."


"He owns the land where we first landed. You are known to have seen something on the day we met."

"The Ahmandsen place?" Graham asked. "Gary owns it? I never heard anything about him buying it."

"It was left to his wife in the will of the previous owner."

"I never knew my aunt Diane was related to the Ahmandsens," I said. Diane is my mom's sister.

"Her first husband would have been Drew Ahmandsen," Graham said. "He was killed in Vietnam a few weeks before he was coming home, a month before they was to be married."

"We have kinda a small world, haven't we?" I said, thinking on how big was the galaxy we'd just seen in comparison to our little town.

"Yep. Groth, why are they interested in the land?"

"They have found the depression made by the Ship, when it rested on the soil without the benefit of more than half power of the Plastri, and concluded it to be of recent origin, after analyzing prior photographic data. There is a team of scientific people coming to evaluate it. They will arrive tomorrow morning."

The Plastri is the gravity drive of the ship, I recalled from somewhere.


"They know we have been here, they suspect we have been back, that we are being hidden somewhere near Katy."

"Have they searched the Hangar?"

"They are considering it, although the Highway Patrolman's testimony that he saw the empty Hangar has been an impediment. A warrant has been requested to search it as a contingency, but not approved by a judge, as there is no evidence of any laws having been broken. An effort to fabricate evidence of drugs being processed in the Katy area is to be made tomorrow. It will succeed. A warrant will be issued as a cover immediately thereafter."

"How do you . . . "

"I have access to all telephone conversations. There is no written evidence allowed by the case manager."

"That's illegal!" I said, irrationally.

"It is common practice."

"Will we have time?" Graham asked aloud.

"We have no choice," said Groth. "The Mission must not fail."

"What's going to happen?"

"We will be discovered. It will be too late."

"I suppose I should be relieved at that," said Graham. "But I suspect there will be hell to pay."

"You are concerned that Katy . . . rather, that the community will be injured?"

"Yes. But you can see that in my thoughts."

"I am not able to read a significant number of your private thoughts. Normally, I would not try, as the privacy of the individual is protected by our laws, and to know private thoughts is seldom beneficial in advanced societies. Yours is not an advanced culture, yet you have developed a barrier to thought communication as strong as - no, stronger than any recorded experience. Further, this has been developed in a period of days, not generations, as your thoughts were totally transparent at our first meeting. How have you learned to keep your innermost thoughts and desires so discrete?"

"I have no idea," I said. But I did. I kept my private thoughts in a little strongbox now, knowing that if I didn't Groth would know them. I . . . thought about it out loud. I don't know how else to say it.

"I see," Groth said in an almost whisper. "It pleases me. That you have made such progress. I trust you not to hide from me anything that might jeopardize my Mission."

"I would never do that," I said. I opened my little lockbox.

"I do not want to know these," Groth said, and closed it. Inside my head. I could feel it. "I said that I trust you."

We drove through town, seeing another spook wagon parked conspicuously near Charlie's garage, just down a piece from Pete's pump. Nobody was around, as it was supper time.

"This car has the surveillance equipment," said Groth. "You are being closely monitored. Do not speak within visual range. They will monitor sound within the car, and if you can be seen to be talking, but they hear no voices on their equipment, they will raise an alarm."

We went silently past the two spooks. One woman, one man, looking at a map as if they were lost or something. Fake as a ten dollar silver certificate.

The evening was quiet, peaceful. We stopped and visited Elva and Jerry, and Elva wouldn't let us leave without full bellies. She's as sweet as can be, cooks a storm, and is devoted to Jerry. He's good company, even though you can tell he's sick. You can tell she adores Graham, as well. Told me good tales about him when he and Jerry were looking at the furnace in the basement.

My bottom teeth were gone, and I couldn't eat too good, but I got down small chunks okay after pretending to chew. It was chicken and dumplings, slightly overcooked vegetables like is the custom around here, lots of herbs and spices. We left early, as Jerry was getting tired. Elva was especially nice to me. At one point somewhere during Supper, she said she was glad Graham had finally found a mate to pal around with. She had no idea. Or then again, maybe she did.

We got to my place a little while before dark, and the cows were in a bad way. (They hurt something awful if they don't get milked proper, on time.) While I tended to them and did my chores, Graham took the pickup to his place to feed the chickens and cat, get a change of clothes for the morrow, his Bible for church. He was back before I was done, and I got a quick peck before we finished up the sterilizer loading and mucking.

It was dark by the time we sat on the porch, each with a sipping glass of bourbon, just listening to the crickets and owls, a distant train whistle. Once in a while, you got a whiff of the interstate noise, a bare whisper. There were no jets overhead. Usually, there's a few every hour, but they'd moved the traffic far enough that we had blessed silence.

"What do you suppose will happen, after?" I said to Graham, as I leaned into him, my head on his shoulder.

"Things will go on, like normal," Graham said softly. "We'll work the farms, make love, do some traveling together."

"What happens when the cloaks . . . go dry?"

"We'll have to move, I guess," Graham said. "No way folk would be able to understand that we didn't get older. That I got all of a sudden younger."

"We're going to lose this, aren't we?"


"The peace of the farm, the people we love."


"Graham, I'm not sure if . . ."

"You can handle it?"

"No, I mean, I'm not sure that I don't think it's not a bad thing, going away from here."

"What do you mean?"

I thought it through as best I could. I love farming, growing, farm folk, my parents and brothers and sisters - even if I didn't spend half my life - for that matter, any of it lately - with them any more. But I wanted to see more. See the world, new places, new sensations, new people. But not alone. With Graham. I needed to know he wanted that. Wanted me with him. I thought maybe he did, but I didn't . . . I wasn't sure.

"I mean, it would be exciting to see more, experience . . . different places."

"I'd like that, long as we can share it together."

"Graham, do you think we'll . . . I mean, I want to be with you."

"We're gonna be together a long time, Bill," he said to me, setting my spirits alight.

"Til death do us part," I said without hesitation.

"Longer, my love," he said to me. "I want you to be at my side forever."

We left our clothes in a pile on the porch when we went up to bed.

He took me, forcefully, lovingly, patiently, his semen sealing his vow deep in my intestines as I wailed my climax into his mouth. After an hour or so of dozing, whispering, caressing, I took him in turn, and we slept the night through joined, me behind him, holding him to me in a spoon.

When his rooster crowed, I had slipped out of him, and he had turned onto his back. I was in the crook of his shoulder, his arm wrapped around me, and my hand was on Roger. I think I woke just a second after he did, because he got the first words in. I murmured into his shoulder that I love him, hated Chester. (Never did get around to having that rooster for Sunday Dinner.) He kissed me on the forehead, just as Groth told us it was time to get moving if we wanted to get to church before we got started.

It was the last time we slept a full night in my bed.
© 2000 Jonas Kichda