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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 XIV - Mission
"An Ark?" I asked. "Like in the Bible?"
"Yes. But the contents of the Ark are not just pairs of beings. They would never have survived the long voyage. They selected adequate numbers of each adaptable species to place in what you would most closely term suspended animation, to be reanimated and thence to reproduce when they reached our destination. Because the Grez can not survive suspended animation, and there was no question of them boarding the Ark in the several tens of thousands needed to permit a functioning sentient civilization, to arrive intact at the Destination, they sent only the seeds of their evolution to their new Home."
"Which is . . . ?" Graham asked. I had moved closer to him during the 'show' Groth had given us, and held his arm with my left hand, his right hand with my right.
"The galaxy you call Andromeda. It is relatively young, has achieved stability, and should have by now a good number of main sequence stars with planets which can be made habitable, assuming that the galaxy has gone through a significant number of cycles. The Black Hole Core of Andromeda should not recycle for at least another hundred billion years."
"How do you know all this?" Cary asked. "If Hrub was destroyed, a thousand years ago, but a hundred thousand light-years away, how do you know?"
"I can communicate using gravitic wells, in a way that permits instant reception of digitized data, because all gravitic wells are connected in another - a sixth - dimension which has no time."
"Should I be able to understand that?" I asked.
"No. It is a highly difficult concept to penetrate. The gravitic wells are like leaks of time, but not matter, which vary in intensity with the size of the black hole at its source. Every main sequence or larger star has a black hole at its center, as does every Drive, and all black holes have a zero-time gravitic well core, which can be used for broadcast communication using gravitic pulses."
"What are they?"
"A type of variant in a gravitic wave which has the capability of carrying packets of data as wave variations induced with cross firing of asynchronized gravitic waves. The wave can be injected into a black hole, which immediately ejects the vibration into the next dimension. The vibration is absorbed harmonically by all other gravitic wells tuned to that particular frequency, and spewed out as a detectable variation in gravitic attraction of those black holes."
"So you're in contact with the . . . Ark?" Rob asked.
"Yes. It is a conglomerate fleet of ships, similar to this one, but much larger. It was also loaded with all records and genetic data available, from all surveyed planets, and launched from the Hrub system almost three thousand years ago."
"I see the problem," said Graham. "The Event will catch up to the Ark and destroy it."
"Yes," said Groth. "The radiation blast shell of the Event is traveling at the speed of light, and will not dissipate in lethality for neural circuitry - even protected by the double hull of excitable and unexcitable neutrons, for at least a hundred thousand years. The Ark has not yet reached its design speed of point seven five light; it continues to accelerate, but it can not outrun the shell, even though we now project its maximum speed at point eight four light. It can not accelerate fast enough to reach a safe distance, and will be caught in less than seven hundred years. My counterpart has verified the calculations, and is attempting to devise a defense, but the probability of success is almost null. The Ark Fleet will degrade to a singularity when the neural controls are killed by the radiation of the first wave."
"What about . . . you?" I asked.
"I am the Ark for Gaia."
What's Gaia?" I asked.
"It's us," Cary said. "Gaia is our planet's life system."
"Yes. I have gathered into the fleet all genetic material and samples necessary to recreate your ecosystem, assuming a suitable sterile water-carbon environment can be found. Or any water-carbon environment which I determine can be sterilized without endangering the development of sentient life. There are adequate numbers of each of Earth's species placed into cryonic suspense to ensure reproduction. All subjects are female, as male sperm are easily preserved in a fertile state for hundreds of thousands of years. I have backup procedures to grow specimens from start to finish in vitro, but those born of non-maternal methods are always sub-standard, and it takes several generations of maternal birth to correct."
"Yes. Thirty-two women are in the Third Ship. All volunteers. Sperm from several thousand men, to guarantee the gene pool."
"But won't you be caught by the Event as well?" Rob said.
"As long as the Fleet departs by Friday, my calculations indicate that by the time the light-speed energy-wave "soup" catches up to the Gaia Fleet, although it will still be lethal to cellular life - including neural circuitry - it will be attenuated by ninety-six percent at the point where I project the Fleet will have reached. I may be able to devise a defense."
"In approximately one hundred forty-two thousand four hundred twelve subjective years."
"How can you protect the Ships?"
"The probability is almost ten percent that I will be able to devise a protective shield, If I can not, Gaia will be destroyed when the Drive Singularizes upon my cessation."
"Now, that's stress!" Cary said, lightening the atmosphere a little.
"It is the last remaining option," said Groth. "All other hypotheses have been eliminated. The Galaxy must be abandoned, and the sole remaining sentient ecosystem transplanted to Andromeda."
"Do you have the capability of making it?" Graham. "It must be a long trip."
"Approximately two hundred fourteen million years, in objective terms, at design speed," Groth said. "But the speed of which I believe we will be capable is greater than specified. I believe there is enough matter in intergalactic space to power the fleet to a speed of point nine nine eight light, before we must begin deceleration. That would reduce the objective transit time to less than one hundred forty-three million years, and the subjective time to no more than twelve thousand years. I am designed to serve without failure for another hundred thousand years, and with appropriate maintenance, until I am powered down."
"But that was with mobility units."
"Can you rebuild them?"
"Yes, but it will take several hundred subjective years."
"Why so long?"
"I will not be able to achieve the independent fabrication of parts until I have the ability to manipulate parts. I can fabricate things, such as the food you ate earlier, with little problem. I can move things using conveyors and levers and sub molecular motors, but I can not make major manipulations until I have built up to it, using simple manipulators to build more complex manipulators, which will in turn build even more complex manipulators, eventually resulting in mobility units that can make repairs to the Drive."
"What you need is a good Mechan . . ." I started to say, without thinking, and immediately knew what I had just said.
Graham's grip on my hand increased only very slightly, but enough. He knew as well. Rob looked directly at me, the expression on his face impossible to interpret. Cary, I couldn't read either. He had a look of peace on his face, and I didn't know if it was because he didn't understand what I'd said, or because he didn't think it had any bearing.
I felt like a pariah.
For the next hour or so, we chatted about the Event and the Mission, just gathering information. About how the Grez learned of the Event only because they had a series of monitoring stations at various points around the Core Hole, watching them disappear as the Event devoured star after star, small black holes, everything. Only because they had the gravitic wave communications were they able to understand what was happening, realize that their civilization was condemned, and attempt to save what they could of their genetic heritage and that of the rest of the galaxy.
They hadn't known the force of the explosion, the fact that it was traveling in two waves, one composed of the x-ray and light and other radiation, all expanding at the speed of light, and actual physical matter, in the form of the hyper-elemental particles, which was just behind the first wave, originally at the speed of light less almost nothing, but slowing, if only very gradually. Every time a star went nova, just as the matter shock wave touched it, it boosted the outward momentum of the leading edge of the shell, even as it slowed the outward momentum of heavier matter within it.
The Grez had never seen the second shell, because the first wave destroyed all their remote equipment. They assumed that the first shell would attenuate to almost nothing out of the plane of the ecliptic, and they were almost right. But they never saw the plasma of matter that followed, which remained totally devastating, and which added to its power as it went, making it almost as powerful as at the Core, even when attenuated by twenty thousand light years of expansion. Soon, their Ark would be devoured by the serpent - it hadn't even got out of the disk of the Galaxy.
"All Ships will complete their gathering of information on Wednesday," Groth had said. That meant in four days they would depart, not on Friday.
"Groth, is there . . . is there anything we can do to short circuit the time it will take you to build your mobility units?" Graham was looking at me as he spoke.
A chill went through me.
"I do not believe so," he responded to Graham's question. "Even if I had total access to your best industrial robotic equipment, it would save little time."
"And yet we were able to repair the Drive in a few days," Rob said. "Major repairs."
"Yes," said Groth. "But you are more adept and inventive than mobility units, and therefore far faster."
"You are completely vulnerable for a long time."
Graham said that. I thought that. I could see that Rob - and Cary - thought that. Several hundred years.
"What are the odds, Groth."
"There is only a ten percent probability of need for mobility units at all in the first five hundred years. They were not used at all, on any of the ships, for the last nine thousand years."
"And how long before you can re-fabricate your mobility units?" Graham spoke very softly.
"Four hundred eighty years, in the most probable case."
"I see," Graham said.
"We are approaching Kansas," Groth said, changing the subject. "It would be best if we did not stop in front of the Hangar, but in another position that will be less . . . observed."
"What about the old Quarry," I said. "It's well south of Katy, nobody for miles, because it's mostly mega farms down there."
"Probably the best, at least close to home," Graham said. "Or way north of Grainfield, near the badlands."
"How do we get home?" said Cary.
"Your vehicles are on board," Groth said.
"You're kidding!" Rob piped in.
"I do not make jokes," Groth said dryly. "At least not about important matters."
"I should have known," Rob said with a grin.
"What do you think?" I asked Groth.
"The Quarry is acceptable. Roads are adequate for exit, inadequate for rapid assault. Surveillance is heavier to the north of Katy than to the south. Please proceed to the Optimizer. It would be inhospitable of me not to refresh you."
I grabbed a shrimp from the buffet on the way out. First time I had fresh real shrimp instead of the frozen ones. Graham took one too, and Cary grabbed a chunk of lobster. Rob demurred. He watched Cary enjoying the food, and that seemed enough.
"This will be a slightly longer session than usual," Groth said. "I have to set in motion several complex processes in your bodies that will auto-execute over the next thirty days. They will not be at all painful."
We lay on the pallets, and were out. I couldn't tell how long, but it seemed like only a few seconds, like always. When I came out of it, I sat for a second on the pallet, then stood, Graham taking my hand, putting it in the crook of his right arm. The door to the outside was open. Groth stood near it.
"We are just above the ground, eight hundred feet East of the South Katy Road, eight miles south of Katy," he said. "The Ship is fully cloaked, and unobserved."
He was my old Groth gain, dressed like Graham. I got a little pang - it would be like saying good-bye to someone you loved - and I realized how attached I had become to this, a machine, but more.
"I will now say good bye," said Groth aloud, to all of us. "I thank you deeply for the generosity and devotion you showed to me, a stranger, in my hour of greatest need."
"Wrong not to," Rob said. "Help, I mean."
None of us said anything else out loud. I had a little one-on-one with him, just to say thanks for letting me be a part of it all, even though I was no mechanic, contributed nothing but a little good will.
"You gave me your love, your energy and the time of your mate," Groth said to me. "I could not have received greater gifts."
We assembled at the top of the Stairway, the cool of early morning on our faces.
Graham looked back at Groth, and there was extra water in his eyes. He felt it, too. Loss. Danger. "Good-bye, my friend," he said. "Go with our love."
"I shall not forget," Groth said in our heads, as we reached the bottom of the Staircase.
Our trucks were parked under the Ship, its edges barely visible to us through the full cloak, some twenty or thirty feet above us. The stairway was dissolved back up into the Ship, and it moved a little away from us, to the South, tilting up. Then it was gone. Up so fast we couldn't even see it move. Not a sound, not even a clap of thunder where the air moved into the space where the Ship had been, or where it must have broken the sound barrier. The adventure was over, and I felt an empty spot. I moved into Graham, and we kissed deeply, tears from somewhere streaming even as we did.
I don't know how long we stood there, looking at each other, then up into the sky.
The sky was starting to get barely a little light in the Northeast, that first sign that Summer dawn was only a few hours away, and it was Monday. Rob and Cary were walking towards their truck, the battered F-150 looking right at home in the middle of the barren land alongside the gravel diggings.
"The cows haven't been milked," I said softly.
"Yes," Graham said, and we separated, and walked hand-in-hand to the Ram.
When we got in, the clock said it was only 2:15 am. The gas tank was full. I remember when we last used it, I was below a quarter. Our Bibles were on the seat where we'd left them. One was open. Psalm twenty-three. A shiver went through me.
"He filled up the gas tank," I said. "He even thought about that!"
"Good man," Graham said. "Gonna miss him." His voice was husky.
"Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death," he whispered. "We had no idea."
It took me a minute to gather my wits and start the engine. I drove Northwest a few hundred feet until we hit the dirt track of the old Quarry Road, then followed it West towards South Katy, Rob right behind me. Rob flashed his lights at me and lightly honked his horn just as we got to the main road. I slowed to a stop.
"Hey, Guys!" Rob hollered through his open window, pulled up alongside us on Graham's side.
"I got a full tank of gas!"
"How can he do that without mobility units?" I asked Graham.
"No idea," he said. "But if he can do that without them, imagine what he could have done with them."
We sat there for maybe a minute, saying nothing, just looking at each other.
"See you at Charlene's, 6:30. On me," Graham said loudly enough at Rob and Cary to be heard over Rob's noisy old engine.
"Sure, Boss," Cary said, as Rob nodded.
We put the trucks in gear and sped off, headed North. Graham put his hand on my thigh, and I felt a little better.
We turned left on Gove, and Rob flashed his lights as he headed on home.
We didn't say much. It wasn't time yet. We drove to my place, by unspoken agreement, and left our boots on the porch, our shirts on the stairs, our jeans and boxers on the floor by the bed.
"I love you," he said as our mouths became attached. I never got the chance to respond, not before I raised my arms and legs around him, not before he scooped some hand lotion from the pump on the night stand, not before he moved inside me, slowly penetrating me to my soul. I had no chance to say it while he pumped under and under my prostate without pause, sending bolts of lightning through me, scrambling my brains with passion. And when he roared his climax into my mouth, as he pumped me full of his semen, I was moaning my pleasure as I exploded between us, my first gob of semen hitting me in the chin.
It was only when he pulled his mouth from mine to lap up my seed, to whisper of his love, that I could cry it out to every corner of the room, that I loved him with every pore of my body, every hair on my head, every drop of my blood. When I finally calmed down, when we relaxed into gentle snuggles and feathery kisses, I was a little more comprehensible.
We dozed for a very little, Roger still inside me. I love it when he stays there, keeping his semen plugged deep in my body, letting me absorb it into me. I know I can't have a baby or anything, I know it's irrational to want it to stay there, but I would want it that way even if my body didn't need his seed, and he knows it, and humors me. Just as I humor him, and refuse to pull out of him until nature forces me.
I felt his erection return, felt his breathing pick up, his lips brushing my shoulder, and we rolled back onto the pillow, making slow loving progress towards our orgasms, lightly tickling his back with my fingertips, pulling him into me with my legs, holding him inside with my butt muscles as he withdrew, opening to him as he entered, breathing in from his lungs some of my air, feeling all my nerve ends jangling.
It wasn't one of those overwhelming, mind boggling "best orgasm of my life" events. It was a warming, moving, loving and flowing coming, and he bent to take my semen in his mouth just as I came, his semen soon spurting into me, my fingers under him, feeling the contractions, kneading his nuts, holding him to me, moaning my love to him.
Roger deflated quickly, just as I did, and we soon had to go to the toilet and pee. But I kept his seed inside me, clamping myself tightly shut. We held each other over the bowl as the urine streamed, and showered together, washing one another, licking one another like cats, saying little, savoring the moments, occasionally exchanging a kiss.
I grabbed him a pair of my boxers and a JC Penny T-shirt, my favorite, heavy and sturdy, and we dressed in the same shirts and jeans, since the Optimizer had cleaned them for us.
I couldn't get the Ship - Groth - out of my mind, not when we milked the suffering cows, not when I was making the coffee, not when we drove over to Graham's to do his chores, not until we got to Mom's. We were actually early, and stood jawing with Dan and Andy, sucking on mugs of coffee. The spooks weren't to be seen anywhere anybody knew, not the Coke trucks, not the rental-looking cars, not the suits. Mom came out and gave me a hug and a kiss, then the same for Graham. We talked a little about the spooks in the Hangar, nothing special.
We sat in the booth and waited on Rob and Cary, but they didn't show until twenty to seven.
"Hey guys, what's up!" I called as they came in, looking a little flustered.
"Hey, Boss! Hey, Bill!," Rob said. "Spooks is out at the Hangar."
"They stop you?" Graham asked.
"Nope. We stopped and watched for a few minutes, but they was just standing around, jawin.' I figure they's waitin' on ya."
"When we've et, boys. When we've done et."
Mom called out if we was ready to order, and Graham ordered two of each, with a side of each, which got Cary and Rob quizzical-looking until I interpreted for them.
We talked about I can't remember what until the food came, then Rob dropped his little bombshell.
"We're gonna get hitched," he said quietly a second before he shoved a forkful of french toast into his mouth.
Cary just beamed like a jack o'lantern.
"Here or in KC?" Graham said, not missing a beat.
"Here," Cary said. "In the house. If Reverend Anderson can do it."
"Want you to sign the book for us, if you will," said Rob. "Both of you. As witnesses."
"What book?" I asked.
"We . . . we're buying a family Bible," Cary answered.
"Be proud," Graham said. "Right proud. When?"
"Haven't talked to him yet. Do it this morning, if'n you'll let me use the telephone."
We talked about the Garage, what was due in that week, who was going to do what. I was going to go home and till a little, make sure the weeds didn't get too good a hold, and they would drop Graham at his place after work, so he could get Jeep and come to my place. It sounded a little dull after all the excitement of the last week. I had to remind myself that it was all just a little part of our lives, that nobody would ever believe it anyhow, that we would be long dead before the Event reached us, even with the supercharged bodies we were getting..
We finished breakfast, and Graham paid, then we all drove over to the Hangar. The Ram ran good. Smoother than ever, even when it was brand new. "I bet Groth tinkered it," I thought. But how could he accomplish what he's done on the trucks without his robots or mobility units or whatever they were called?
When we pulled into the Hangar Drive, there were five cars, a Coke truck and maybe twenty people milling about in front of the Garage. We'd not locked the gate - never went through it, so I guess they figured they could just wander right in.
The O'Donnell guy was obviously in charge. It was he who walked up to us as we pulled in, carrying a manila envelope.
"What time you boys leave last night?" he asked without so much as a 'good morning.'
"Right after you left," Graham said without a hitch. "Opened the Hangar doors as a trial for today, but they got stuck open when the pump overheated, so we left 'em open for the combine coming in today. Don't usually get varmints 'round here what try to get in."
O'Donnell didn't seem to take note of the insinuation.
"Got some strange readings from your Hangar last night," he said. "Huge amounts of heat, right in front of it. Got a picture of something or other."
"Maybe you can tell me," the FBI guy said, reaching into the envelope.
He pulled out a photograph, pretty sharp, with a head-on view of the Hangar, barely discernible except for the feeble light of the inside. There was a bright blue blob in front. Couldn't make out any form of the beam, just a foggy blob.
"What in tarnation's that thing in front of my Hangar?" Graham exclaimed, looking at the photo. "Lightning?"
"Ain't never seen St. Elmo's fire?" I said. "Looks just like the top of our water tank when we had it a few years back."
"There's no St. Elmo's fire that ever generated that much heat," said O'Donnell. "Ground was fifteen degrees hotter five minutes after that photo was took. Stayed hot all night. Still feels warm - five degrees hotter even now."
"What you think it is?" asked Graham. "I don't want to lose any business on account of this."
"What would you say if we said we thought there was a UFO hanging around these parts?"
"I'd say you was being funny, Mr. O'Donnell," Graham said. "They's nothing hereabouts they could possibly be interested in. What would they want, a thousand bushels of corn? Wrong time of year. No crops to harvest until at least September."
The FBI man looked up at Graham with a flat expression on his face.
"You're pulling our legs, ain't ya?" I said. "You think we ain't smart enough to figure you guys is trying to screw Pete because he lets us have some gas now and then."
"Who the Hell's Pete?"
"Pete Pulaski," I said. "His is the pump across from my maw's Breakfast and Dinner place. Charlene's."
"Hell, son! I'm not here to fuck anybody over! I'm just trying to find out what the hell has been going on here in Katy. We found a big depression in the ground to the Northwest, no more than a half mile from here, more than a hundred feet in diameter. Must have been one big lead balloon that made a hole in the ground like that."
"Corn Circles," said Graham.
"Over to England, they's been finding all kinds a flattened circles in the middle of wheat fields. English call wheat 'corn,' instead of wheat. Lots a people reckoned they was left by UFO landings. Turns out they's a hoax by some guys with big rakes, smashing the stalks down in the middle a the night."
"Look, O'Donnell, we got a lot of earth moving equipment in these parts, and a lot of kids what have farm licenses. All it'd take was a couple a kids a couple a hours to dig a hole a heck of a lot deeper and wider than what I hear they did up to the flats after I seen that damned balloon. And I ain't gonna be surprised when you comes back at me and says that the blue fire was grain alcohol or some such what they copped in order to make a fire in front of my place."
"You saying these photos are a hoax?"
"Hell, Officer, or Agent, whatever your title is. We ain't got time fer your games. I got work ta do, and so have my lads. You just let us get to work. You want to chase after goblins and fairies, you just go right ahead, but you keep outta our way, hear?"
I have no idea why, but O'Donnell just turned around and went back to his people, said something, and they all got into the cars and the truck, and drove back up Hangar Drive. Another Coke truck came around the end of the Hangar and sped past us, catching up with the others right at the end. They all went straight on Post Road, probably to take another look at the Ahmandsen Bowl, as we started calling it.
They never came back. Least, as far as I know. At least until after Thursday morning.
So, I left Graham, after I got a good ten-dollar, and went back to till all damned day in the hot sun. On the way, I stopped at Mom's and got a half chicken with mashed and gravy and some greens and salad that I ate after eleven thirty sometime. I pulled a piece of beef out of the freezer to barbecue for Supper, throwing it in a warming pot with sauce and stock and letting it defrost that way. Spent the rest of the day tilling. Damned weeds! At least I didn't have to irrigate, after all the rain we'd had.
I thought. A lot.
Graham called me around six, just after I put the tractor away.
"You free Thursday night?"
"Minister's comin' from KC to marry Rob and Cary. We're gonna stand for them at my place."
I heard Rob and Cary in the background, hooting.
"Be there in twenty minutes, BB."
I got the charcoal into the Barbecue out back and lay the paper and kindling under the grate, then set it alight. Graham sounded a little different. I wonder if he thought all day on Groth traveling millions of years, unable to repair the Ship for lack of mobility units, going on forever, alone.
Like I did. Like I found myself in tears a couple of times right in the middle of a pass, when you're sort of on autopilot as you guide the tractor straight along the rows.
Graham's Jeep roared up the drive as I was pulling pole beans off the plants. I didn't have anything for salad. No ripe tomatoes yet. Have to go to market on Saturday in Gove to stock up the frigidaire. Couldn't afford to eat Mom's Dinners too often, neither.
"Bill!" he called out. "Come look!"
I walked around the end of the house, and Graham's Jeep was there. Repainted, shiny and new looking.
"Holy shit," I said, as Graham jumped out and down, and planted one on me.
"Isn't that the most fantastic?" he bubbled. "I love it!"
"Hey!" I jabbed him with my elbow. "Me first!"
He stopped and turned to me, and got all serious-looking.
"You'll always be first, Bill. I swear it."
"I know. I was teasing," I said.
"Look what else," he said, turning back to Jeep and lifting up the top of one of the storage boxes that was where the ammo was kept for Jeep when it was new.
"What?" I said, taking the two steps and looking down. There were . . . hundreds of coins of some sort in it. Yellow.
"Twenty dollar pieces," Graham said. "Both boxes. Full. Must be worth millions."
"Jesus!" I said.
"Half of it's yours, Bill. Want to give some to the lads as well, you don't mind."
Something was wrong. He wasn't reacting like a man what just struck it rich. Me either.
"You been thinking on Groth," I said.
"Me, too. All day."
"Lads are worried, too."
"What can we do?"
"You want to go?" I asked softly.
Graham looked at me.
"I'd never go anywhere you didn't. No matter what."
"Where you go, I go," I said back.
"I can't . . . I can't ask that."
"Let's ask Groth."
"Don't know how. There's more."
"The lads . . . the lads want to . . . go, too."
"What about the farm?"
"They want Groth to get through. That's the most important."
I thought about what I had here. Graham. Mom. My friends at school . . . no, I already dealt with that. My farm. But it isn't mine. Graham. Always Graham.
And I thought more on Groth. Good . . . man. Alone. All that responsibility. No help. No . . . Mechanics.
We cooked and ate, each absorbed in our thoughts. Touching, always touching, caressing, legs pressed against legs. Kisses and caresses, but silent for the most part.
"Call them," I said.
Graham knew what I meant. He called Rob and Cary, come spend the night at Graham's, talk things over, spare bedroom, need to think things through.
We drove over to Graham's after loading up the dishwasher. Had to make up their bed, that sort of stuff. Graham hadn't had an overnight guest - except me, of course - in more than ten years.
They got there at nine thirty, and we talked. What if we . . . went along for the ride? How would we handle being on our own? Just the four of us and Groth. How to handle disputes, keep jealousies out, not let things fester. What we'd need from Groth. What we'd miss. What we'd enjoy. Whether we could avoid . . . entanglements.
But we had no idea how to let Groth know. How to ask. How, even, to contact him.
We all went to bed around midnight, so tired we only made love, didn't have any sex. That's all right, too. When we hold each other like we do, there's a satisfaction almost as deep as when I feel him coming inside me or when I fill him with my seed.
Tuesday I was like an automaton. Rob helped Graham with his chores, and Cary went with me to do mine, then we all met for breakfast at Mom's place. Then I was back on the tractor, this time doing a little fertilizing up to the northeast corner, where the crop was looking a little less robust than it ought have.
I did the evening chores and showered, then went over to Graham's. Cory wanted to cook dinner for us, and we all wanted to talk over the problems we faced.
Then the hardest part of all was solved for us: how to contact Groth.
He came to us. Last night - Tuesday night. We'd all gathered around the table for Supper. Graham said the Blessing, and we echoed his prayer for Groth and the Mission. Cary had cooked a great sit-down meal for us. We were just having coffee, talking about the Garage, the weather, everything, trying not to think on Groth - completely unsuccessfully, at least on my part.
"You called," Groth said. He was standing in the corner.
"You know our thoughts," Graham said evenly.
"Are you sure?" he asked, at least a dozen times. "You can not come back."
"How long can we function - how long will we be able to help?" Graham asked.
"The entire voyage."
"How? We will die before you are out of the Galaxy," I said.
"I told you before, Bill, but you did not believe."
I remembered what he had said, what I had dismissed as foolish. "Really? Forever?"
"How . . . how is it possible that our lives could be extended . . . indefinitely?" Graham asked.
"Your species - as well a some species within your ecosystem - have lifespan determinant "loose ends" on the DNA sequence. As cells replicate, they lose a part of those determinants, until the last are lost, and the cell will no longer replicate itself. The organism thus dies."
"And that is not the way of other life forms?"
"No. All other recorded life forms have lifespan determinant factors within the main genetic structure sequence which can not be altered without destroying the cell. Other species do not have the genetic structure of your ecosystem, which at its highest level is the double helix DNA format - to my knowledge the only such example in the galaxy. Most other ecosystems have a ribbon format with a closed loop - what you would call a Mobius strip. Scientists have spent thousands of lifetimes searching for a way to change the limits imposed by the loop format, all to no avail. Yours has been there, all along, but was dismissed as a biological dead end."
He explained to us, patiently, how the little ends of the strings can so easily replaced in the body, allowing cells to divide and reproduce for as long as we willed to live, the source of those strings infinitely renewable in our gonads.
I thought of being by Graham's side, not just for a hundred years. Not a thousand. Forever. It would be interesting to see if we could last that long. Forever.
I looked at Rob and Cary, confident in their decision, eyes glittering at the prospect. Would . . . one of them want to take Graham from me one day? Nasty thought, have to get rid of it.
Rob and Cory looked at Graham, and Graham and I looked deeply into our eyes. We knew. We were going.
"We're sure," I said.
"So are we," said Cory.
And so the decision was made. So many things to do.
"There is something you should know," Groth said. "It will . . . surprise you."
"Shoot," Rob said. I think - the two of them were so wrapped up in each other, I couldn't see who was talking.
"You will remember the calculations I did on the combined probability of recent Events."
"Something like one chance in a billion?" I said off the top of my head.
"It was more like one in a million times a billion, or something," Graham said.
"The chances of all events occurring as they did, when they did, was one in one times ten to the thousand millionth power."
"The addition of certain events has changed the odds. One is finding a race that has, for all practical purposes, immortality within its grasp, previously unknown in the Galaxy. Second is the discovery that that same race has the ability to evolve and adapt mentally to higher levels without intervening generations, merely by the opening of certain synaptic pathways in the brain which have all along been there but unused. Third is the innate altruism of this race, the finding of numerous individuals whose altruism is such that they will voluntarily segregate themselves from their companions in order to improve the odds of survival of their ecosystems. No other sentient race has demonstrated that type of willingness to self-sacrifice for the common weal. Fourth is the absolute belief of a large segment of the population in the reality of a divine Creator, non existentialist, dispassionate or not, to whom all creatures are dear, and to Whom all must eventually answer. This creates an emotional rather than merely an intellectual foundation for basic civilized morality, and thus impasssions the Race's civilization."
Groth paused and looked at each of us in a way that I can't quite express. It wasn't awe or anything, but it was . . . a little wary, maybe even apprehensive.
"These factors, when weighed in with the probability odds previously calculated, lead to a significant conclusion."
"What is the conclusion?"
"There may be no possibility whatever that all these events were purely the result of chance. I am in the process of a new series of calculations, and can not be certain of the hypotheses until the current calculations are complete."
We tried repeatedly to get him to tell us, but he would say no more on the subject, only that he would reveal all before we embarked.
Groth is marrying us all on Thursday morning. Not the four of us. Me and Graham, Rob and Cary. He's the captain of the Ship, he's allowed. But he said we could invite no one, that the departure of the Ship and its contents - including us - could in no way be put at risk, even if the probability was nil that the government would drop a hundred thermonuclear warheads on us at once, thus overwhelming the ships defenses, with no use of interceptible telecommunications for advance warning, the warheads almost in position already.
I told Mom this morning. That Graham and I are leaving town. Together. That I'm leaving her almost everything. I thought I was going to have a really hard time of it, but she cut me off. Told me she knew I would have to be with Graham. That she had Andy now, and I shouldn't feel guilty going off. Said she knew I had important things to see and do. We didn't even shed a tear between us.
I sold the cattle to Gil. Cheap. He thinks I'm quitting to go to Kansas City to find a job and a woman. He took the cats and chickens, too - him and his family can use the help. Graham is leaving almost everything financial and all his personal possessions to Elva and Jerry. It's stuff. Not important. He signed the farms over to Gil, as soon as his will gets probated, or whatever they call it. We spent all afternoon today in drawing up documents, listing things and accounts and stuff. I had no idea Graham was so rich, but it figured. When we signed the papers in Gove, Elva and Jerry would get almost a million dollars. After taxes.
The gold coins we didn't legacy. They're all to be given to charity, except a roll of fifty I'll give her - Mom - with this PC, and the rolls Cary and Rob will give to their families. Rob wasn't going to leave any for his mother, but Cary talked him into it.
I'm making two copies of our disks of Graham's and my writings, one for us to keep, the other for Scientific American, but without the intimacy of Graham's and my relationship. Have to give it to somebody. I want them to know, but after we leave. Groth says it's important, too. That it may affect how things turn out. He's impenetrable at times - I asked him what difference it could possibly make in the outcome, and he just told me to wait and see.
Tonight and tomorrow night, we're staying here at Graham's.
Cory was going to tell his folks, but decided not to. He told me what he went through while we were on the way back from Gove, where he and I picked up some food after Graham and I finished with our dealings. Cory had gone to his folks' house for Dinner, saying something about having the day off because he'd worked the weekend.
I just let him talk it out.
" I was gonna tell them everything," he said. "About how I'd met Rob, how much I loved him, how I was going away with him. But I couldn't tell them, after all."
"Why not?" I asked, even though I was pretty sure I knew the answer.
"What would be the point in telling them I'm gay, then running off anyway? Who I am is only important to people who love me, and for them, who I am sexually isn't important at all. Mom and Dad either already know and don't care, already know but don't want to know, or already know but think I don't yet know and don't want to rush me. Big deal. I think they love me, in their own way, but we don't have anything like an intimate relationship."
I didn't say anything back. No need.
"The only people really important to me are Rob, you and Graham, and Groth," he said. "I like my family, but . . . I don't love them. Not like . . . you all."
"I'm . . . honored," I said. I really was. "I feel mostly like that, but I love my Mom, too."
"You're lucky in that," said Cory.
"Yeah," I said. "But it hurts more to leave that behind. It'll hurt to get married and not have her there, standing for me."
We rode the rest of the way either in silence or talking about how well the crops were doing after all the rain.
Cory's down in Graham's kitchen fixing us another meal tonight, which promises to be a humdinger. If noise and piles of pots and pans is any indicator. Graham is making barbecue. Chester will not be on the menu - I just wouldn't have the heart.
Graham and I heard Cary and Rob making love last night, loud and lusty. Just like I figure they heard us. I'm happy for them. Happier for us.
Have to wrap this up. Tomorrow's a busy day, so I guess I won't have time to enter any more. Rob's bringing us a bottle of real Champagne tonight - and caviar, too, which I've never tasted. Graham's going to be sore in the morning. So am I. Can't wait. I pray to God I'll never lose the lust I feel for the man I love.
Mom, I hope you understand why we had to do this. Sorry if my writing about the sex stuff bothers you, but it's so important to what Graham means to me, what I mean to him, not to tell you about it is like hiding some of the truth from you.
© 2000 Jonas Kichda