Posted Posted January 18, 2012

From the Ashes

A sequel to The Binary Planet

by Altimexis

Hiroshema after the Atomic Bomb
Hiroshima after The Atomic Bomb

Part 2 - The Flight

The sound of the alarm clock going off was enough to unnerve anyone. It was only four fuckin’ o’clock in the morning. Dragging ourselves out of bed, Lansley and I managed to shower, eat and in my case, shave. Having packed the night before, we were ready when the shuttle arrived in front of our townhouse promptly at 5AM. Powered by antimatter and emitting anti-gravity waves rather than sporting propellers or wings, it looked more like a minivan than a flying machine, which was probably why shuttles are ‘driven’ rather than flown.

With sleep still strong in our eyes in spite of three cups of coffee for me and quart of tomato juice for Lansley, which had much the same effect as caffeine on his physiology, we boarded the shuttle and prepared for the trip ahead. The sun was just coming up as we got ready for our flight. The view from our home was spectacular as the entire city, such as it was, and much of the San Francisco Bay could be seen from our vantage point near the summit of Twin Peaks. In the distance, the form of the nearly complete, rebuilt Golden Gate Bridge could be seen just poking through the dense layer of fog that enshrouded the ocean and the nearby areas of the city.

The city itself was much less impressive, with only a few tall buildings completed and the ugly forms of cranes just about everywhere else. It would take generations to rebuild the city to its former glory and it would be just as long before vegetation could truly take hold. It was amazing how barren the city appeared without any greenery at all. Ironically, although it was Cerenean technology that was being used to de-vitrify the ground, which had turned to glass under the intense heat yielded by the antimatter bomb, it was human genetic engineering that developed the microbes to convert the resulting sand back to soil.

Climbing into the air, our shuttle turned east and headed out across the bay. The East Bay, which was where the actual epicenter of the bomb had been, was not nearly as far along in its reclamation as was San Francisco itself. There was a small cluster of buildings in Oakland and there were a handful of housing developments up in the hills, but everything else was still completely barren. I knew that their time would come, as we were rebuilding at a feverish pace.

Lansley reached for my hand as we passed over what was once Livermore, my home. It was in Livermore that Lansley and I met, but it was in Livermore than my parents died. Dr. Albert Johnston had been a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It was because of my dad that Lansley was brought to Livermore in the first place - to work on developing weapons with which the Cerenean attack could be repelled. I was just Dr. Johnston’s son but it was with me that young Lansley fell in love.

The whole story of how Lansley came to Earth was one that boggled the mind, even today. Fleeing Cerenean tyranny, his parents joined the resistance movement and volunteered to search for a potential base from which to mount a counter-attack. Unfortunately, one of Lansley's parents was killed during their escape from Loran. Fleeing in a badly damaged Cerenean ship, they lacked the range needed to reach their original goal. With little choice, they set their sights on what they hoped was an uninhabited binary planet circling the star they called Arkenza.

As they approached Arkenza, however, they discovered to their dismay that Arkenza 3a, the oxygen-rich planet they’d hoped to use as their base, was anything but uninhabited. With no where else to go and wishing to avoid contaminating our development, Lansley and his remaining parent established an underground base on Arkenza 4, the planet we Earthlings call Mars.

I cannot fathom what it must have been like for the two of them living in such a stark environment, fabricating solar arrays and mining Mars for the raw materials to use as fuel to escape our sun's gravity. Then tragedy struck - a sandstorm destroyed most of their solar array and, with it, the power needed for their hydroponics bay. With insufficient resources to sustain both of them, Lansley’s sole remaining parent took his own life.

For one year - one fucking year - Lansley lived alone on Mars. He was only thirteen earth years of age and an orphan struggling to survive in an alien environment. With no other choice, he worked to rebuild the solar array, to mine the necessary raw materials and to plan for his eventual escape from our solar system. His plan was to try to complete his parents’ mission - to find an uninhabited world that could serve as a base for the Loran resistance, but then something happened that changed everything. The Cerenean invasion of Earth began.

“Driver?” Lansley’s voice boomed out, bringing me out of my reverie. “Will we pass over Salt Lake City and Denver?”

“Not directly,” the driver answered, “but near to both. We could easily divert if you’d like to take a look at them.”

“That would be excellent,” Lansley answered, “and while you’re at it, could you fly over Escalante Canyon?”

“I’m not sure why, but it’s not too far out of the way,” the driver answered.

Smiling at my boyfriend, I reached for his hand and squeezed it tightly. I knew very well why Lansley wanted to visit Escalante Canyon. He and I spent many steamy nights there hiding out during the Cerenean invasion - until we were captured.

When Lansley first detected evidence of a large Cerenean fleet headed Earth’s way from his hidden base on Mars, he faced a dilemma. If he failed to act, the Earth would be conquered by the Cereneans and the human population would be subjugated. On the other hand, if he intervened, he would be giving the humans advanced technology that they probably weren’t ready to handle. Earth’s societies were primitive, engaged in countless wars with each other, overpowering billions in ways that would have shocked even the Cereneans, and destroying their environment beyond repair. Having had ample time to study human civilization through its transmissions, however, young Lansley had developed an affinity for humanity and he could not sit idly by.

Lansley came to Earth with a simple message - put aside your differences and work together and I will help you. Fail to do so and you will be enslaved. It should have been an easy sell, but Earth’s leaders were reluctant to cede their power. However, in the face of the overwhelming evidence Lansley presented to them, they ultimately made the only choice they could have made.

Unfortunately, there was precious little time to prepare for the attack. Because the invasion fleet was traveling at nearly the speed of light, they were literally right behind the ‘signature’ Lansley had detected using his radio telescope. The one thing in Earth’s favor was that it takes time to slow down from relativistic speeds. The Cereneans couldn’t slow down any faster than the maximum G-forces that their physiology could tolerate. This bought us a matter of months with which to devote the entire productive capacity of the Earth to building and deploying defensive weapons.

Even with our dedicated effort, however, it still wasn’t enough. We managed to decimate the invasion fleet, but enough ships still got through to devastate the Earth. In desperation and perhaps to teach us a lesson, the Cereneans nuked more than fifty of Earth’s most populous and strategic cities using a series of antimatter cluster bombs. These bombs literally vaporized everything on the surface within a 50-mile radius, melting the surface and leaving behind a glassy, rocky, lifeless void.

This, according to Lansley, was not their usual style. Although the Cereneans did not care about life, they generally liked to salvage the infrastructure of the civilizations they conquered so they could put it to their own use. However, we’d mounted such an effective defense and they apparently did what they felt they could do and had to do to destroy Earth’s civilization in advance of the next wave of the attack, which was already on its way.

Little did they know we had a surprise waiting for them when they arrived.

“Would you look at that?” Lansley exclaimed, once again bringing me back to the present. Our shuttle had slowed and was descending into what used to be Salt Lake City. As far as the eye could see, the ground was nothing more than a sea of glassy rock. Where the Great Salt Lake had been was only dry land and the city itself was equally barren. What used to be an expanse of tall buildings, the state capitol, a great university and, of course, Temple Square, was nothing but an endless empty landscape. Not even a tiny speck of green was visible - anywhere.

“I can’t say I’m saddened by the demise of the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints,” I said. “Not that I wished this on anyone, but the Mormons were among the most intolerant people on Earth when it came to gays.”

“The Mormons?” Lansley asked and so I filled him in on Mormon beliefs and on their extensive missionary work, which involved liberal doses of proselytizing.

“Where they as bad as the Muslims?” Lansley asked, recalling the time I spent in Malaysian prisons after the invasion, simply because I was gay. Why the Cereneans took me to Malaysia in the first place was beyond our comprehension. Still, even though homosexuality was a crime punishable by death in Malaysia, I was well-treated overall and ended up helping the Malaysians make use of the Cerenean technology left behind.

“I know you’re still bitter about how you were led to believe I was dead,” I answered, “but the officials you met with couldn’t have known I was alive. No one could have known, even if it had been in America,” I went on to say. “Everything was chaos after the Cereneans were defeated. Yes, it was wrong to hold me in prison just because I’m gay, but I was never ill-treated and, once I was released, everyone bent over backwards to be nice to me.”

By now our shuttle was headed south and in no time at all we were skimming over the Grand Staircase and Escalante Canyon. The landscape was no less rugged in appearance than that we’d left behind in what used to be Salt Lake City, but here there was life. Even in the desert, there was an abundance of plants. The last time we’d been here was sixteen years ago, when our love was still new. I remembered how the landscape seemed so bleak to me the first time I saw it but now, even compared to San Francisco, it was alive.

As we passed through the rugged terrain, I slipped my hand into Lansley’s and we looked at each other and smiled. Sixteen years had passed since those dark times. Sent here by my dad in the hope that we could evade capture, we were only fourteen and I was on my own for the first time in my life. Desperately trying to survive and armed with little more than an e-book survival guide, we learned to forage for ourselves while we pondered the future and made love every night.

It was here that Lansley explained why his parents thought the earth uninhabited - from all they knew, the Solar System was too young to harbor intelligent life. It was thought that advanced civilizations develop late in the life cycle of a star - that it was generally a race between the evolution of life and the death of the star that supported it.

Earth was different. As a part of a binary planetary pair along with the moon, the oceans of Earth were subject to strong tidal forces - tides that allowed organic molecules to interact in ways not possible on other planets. Tides accelerated the evolution of life on earth. Elsewhere in the Universe advanced life forms were a rarity, so why did the Cereneans feel the need to dominate them?

It was also here that I learned of the secret weapon we had developed to fight the Cereneans. Even with all their technology, the concept of biological weapons was entirely foreign to the Cereneans. Human, Loran and Cerenean biology used completely different base pairs in their DNA to code for different amino acids. Although we could ingest most of the same foods, our DNA was incompatible and, hence, a retrovirus that was lethal to Cereneans was absolutely harmless to Lorans and to all life forms on Earth.

By the time the Cereneans arrived, we had a retrovirus ready that incubated within them over a period of days without evidence of infection, spread among them like wildfire and then killed them all in a matter of hours. Barely a week after the invasion of Earth began, the only Cereneans left alive on the planet were those who’d agreed to cooperate in exchange for a cure, and a tiny handful who were naturally immune for reasons unclear to us.

We were hardly in a position to revel in our success, however. The decimation of Earth’s cities was the least of our problems. There was still the second wave of the invasion, the Cerenean occupation fleet, that was already on its way and Loran, our potential ally, was still under Cerenean occupation. Fortunately, Lansley had in his possession secret encryption codes provided to his parents by the Loran resistance movement. Originally, these were to be used to send back the coordinates of the location of a suitable planet to be used as a base of operation.

“Why not use those codes to send the formula for the virus instead?” I suggested to Lansley during one of our nights in Escalante Canyon. Why not indeed? Fifteen years ago the formula along with complete instructions for its manufacture, dissemination and activation were sent to Loran. Traveling at the speed of light, these instructions would arrive on Loran in another five years. We could only hope that the resistance movement was still active and would be able make use of the information.

Still reeling from the first invasion fleet, the Earth, however, was in no shape to mount a counteroffensive of its own against the second one, or so we thought. Even if they failed to discover our secret, biological weapon, they would likely annihilate Earth’s remaining cities before they landed. It was Lansley and one of our colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, however, that came up with a simple solution. It turns out that the Cereneans have on-board replicators on their space ships that manufacture nutrients otherwise lacking from the foods they grow in space.

As was the case with biologic weapons, the Cereneans were completely unaware of the concept of malicious computer code. They’d simply never encountered it, nor had they even conceived of its existence any more than the Lorans had. Our intelligence community, on the other hand, had decades of experience in developing viruses and worms designed to infect specific enemy systems and co-opt or incapacitate them.

With the aide of the Cerenean Heroes and a team of more than fifty of our best computer scientists and cryptographers, we were able to develop an elaborate Trojan horse that the replicators on board the Cerenean fleet recognized as an ordinary software upgrade. Once infected, the replicators then manufactured the Cerenean virus, wiping out the entire fleet in a matter of hours.

It took two years for the first images of the destruction to return to Earth. By then the Cerenean Occupation force was long gone, their ships destined to pass harmlessly through and ultimately leave the galaxy, traveling at close to the speed of light.

“Denver sure didn’t fare any better than Salt Lake City,” Lansley exclaimed, bringing me back to the present. Again, everywhere I looked I saw devastation. There was only a barren, glassy rock surface visible for nearly a hundred miles. There was no plant life anywhere - not a single speck of green.

I believe the epicenter was near the town of Castle Rock,” Lansley stated, “resulting in a blast radius that encompassed most of Denver and Colorado Springs.”

“And with it, the nearby Air Force Academy,” I added. Although not vaporized, NORAD, America’s primary base for missile defense systems, was located underground and essentially baked by the intense heat of the surrounding rock. There were no survivors. The landscape looked more like that of a volcanic wasteland or the moon than that of the vibrant city that had once thrived there. As with Salt Lake City, reclamation of the land had not yet begun.

“Seen enough?” the driver asked.

“There’s not much to see,” I responded, and Lansley nodded his head in agreement.

“Exactly,” the driver replied as we ascended and sped up, “and we need to make tracks if we’re going to get to the capital in time for your meeting.”

“I can hardly wait,” I replied with a feeling of dread.

About this Story: Nearly a century before this story begins, a race known as the Cereneans conquered and subjugated the people of Loran. Seeking to expand their empire, they set their sights on Earth, unaware that a refugee from Loran was already there. Although young Lansley was unable to prevent the attack, the knowledge he brought with him allowed the humans to fight back and ultimately rebuild. Little did he and his boyfriend, Steve, realize they were about to play an even bigger role.

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope in editing this story this story and Low Flyer in proofreading it, as well as the support of Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting it. This story was written as part of the 2011 Gay Authors Winter Anthology.

Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is purely coincidental and unintentional. Some characters may be gay and underage. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story. Although every effort has been made to present a story based on sound scientific principles, some of the theoretical physics used, while plausable, is pure science fiction. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of the story in any form.