Posted Posted February 1, 2012

From the Ashes

A sequel to The Binary Planet

by Altimexis

Hiroshema after the Atomic Bomb
Hiroshima after The Atomic Bomb

Part 4 - Politics

“That was so noble of you, taking in children like that, especially with you both being men,” the Chinese ambassador told us in halting English. Lansley and I were hobnobbing with the political elite while waiting for the meeting itself to get underway.

“You must keep in mind, Mr. Ambassador,” Lansley replied, “that where I come from, there are no ‘men’ or ‘women’. Parents share equally in child rearing.”

“Yes, of course,” the ambassador replied. “With your appearance, it’s very easy to forget.”

“And there are plenty of gay couples all over the world raising children,” I added.

“Still,” the ambassador responded, “You’re not a typical household. In fact, you’re probably the least typical household on the planet, and here you are raising two earth children on your own.”

“You’re right about us being atypical,” Lansley agreed, “but we probably share more with ordinary households that you would think. We’re still two parents doing the best we can.”

The decision to take in foster children after the invasion was an easy one. Sure, Lansley and I would have preferred to have solidified our relationship as a couple before taking in children, but there were so many of them displaced by the war. With so much devastation, the relief agencies and the governments of Earth were ill equipped to handle them. A desperate call went out to all who could help and we could hardly say no.

We were really kids ourselves, just starting adulthood, and we were totally unprepared for life as parents. We took in two children initially and another three in the following years, all of whom were now fully grown. Of course all of the children born before the invasion were now adults. We did the best we could without any experience, learning as we went along. Sadly, a number of people who never should have been allowed took in children a well with dastardly results. There were reports of molestation, rape, outright slavery and even murder that surfaced.

Thankfully no one gave us a hard time about being gay and, all in all, Lansley and I did a very good job of parenting under the circumstances. As most of our children were older, the youngest being nine years old at the time of the invasion, we found ourselves with an empty household just twelve years later. By then we’d grown tired of Atlanta, which had only become even more congested than it was before the invasion, and so we decided it was time for a change.

Moving back to the Bay Area was tough on me - although this was where I grew up, it was also where my parents had died. San Francisco is not Livermore, however, and I really did miss the mountains, the ocean and the California weather. San Francisco offered an opportunity to start over and to help rebuild what was once one of the world’s great cities. Further, we could have much more house than we could ever have afforded in Atlanta, and in a prime location too. Finally, UCSF was rebuilding and it was a real opportunity for Lansley and me to get in on the ground floor of a great teaching institution. Little did we know we would not be alone for long.

Scarcely a week after we’d moved into our new house, we thought we heard some sounds behind the house, late at night. Our fears were confirmed when there was the sound of something falling over. Lansley and I ran outside to find our dumpster overturned and to see the retreating form of a boy heading down the hill. We hated to see anyone resorting to scavenging to survive, much less a child, but he was way too fast for us and he was long gone before we could even set out. Two nights later, however, we again heard the noise and this time we sneaked out and grabbed him before he could get away.

The look on his face was one I would never forget. He looked utterly terrified. “You don’t have to raid our dumpster,” I said softly. “We will feed you.” However, the boy looked no less terrified.

“¿Tienes hambre?” Lansley asked. I didn’t even know Lansley knew Spanish.

“Sé, me muero de hambre!” the boy replied.

“No hay necesidad de tener miedo. Déjanos alimentarte,” I told him. And that was how we came to acquire our sixth child, our wonderful Miguel. That he’d managed to walk all the way north from Mexico City at the age of nine, still boggled the mind. Born shortly after the invasion to a woman who eventually succumbed to the widespread diseases that plagued much of the world afterwards, especially in the third world, he was left to beg and forage on his own. Hearing of a land of great wealth to the north, he set out to find a better life for himself, which he ultimately did.

When we were approached about taking in yet another child, Lansley and I did not even hesitate. Theresa’s parents were killed by one of the gangs of marauders that plagued San Francisco. Theresa was such a beautiful child but, oh what a terror she could be! Lansley and I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world.

“If I could have your attention please,” the President’s Chief of Staff called out, “you all need to take your seats so we can get started.” Thank God! The wait had been interminable, but a necessary evil as world leaders schmoozed with scientists and experts on Cerenean technology. I never did understand politics all that well, but I’d learned to slip into the role of a politician when necessary, much as my dad had. Lansley and I nursed our drinks as slowly as we could, not wishing to become loose-tongued when it really counted. We also filled up on finger foods, as lunch would not be served until much later.

We all made our way to the enormous horseshoe-shaped table that dominated the conference room. Cardboard placards located at each place alerted us to where we were expected to sit. Plopping down into one of the plush leather chairs that seemed to have been designed for people several times larger than any human I’d ever met, Lansley did so in the seat next to mine. I couldn’t help but smile that we were seated together. We were the only couple in the room, but then we were both experts in our work - me in Cerenean technology and Lansley in Cerenean and Loran physiology.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the Chief of Staff announced, which made me chuckle since my boyfriend was neither, “the President of the United States!” There was a moment of shocked silence before we all began clapping. It was highly unusual for the President herself to be involved with one of these meetings. Her presence here significantly underscored the importance of what was happening.

“Good afternoon,” the President began, “and welcome to the Interim Capitol in St. Louis. I want to thank all of you for rearranging your busy schedules and in many cases for dropping everything to be here on just a moment’s notice. To get right to the point, a few days ago, we began receiving Cerenean distress signals not unlike those received after our countermeasures against the Cerenean Occupation Force. These distress calls used standard Cerenean protocols and included not only data, but video and audio as well.”

Pausing to drink some water, she went on, “Perhaps the best way to describe what we’re dealing with is to show you the video portions of some of the signals received. General Tau, could you please narrate this portion of the program?”

“Certainly, Madam President,” the general responded as he made his way to the podium. General Tau was the U.S. Army’s commander in charge of Cerenean affairs, a post that had been largely ceremonial since the conclusion of hostilities more than a decade ago but, nevertheless, essential as was being demonstrated today. As the General took his place behind the podium, the lights in the room dimmed and a holographic projection materialized behind him.

“The images you are about to see are graphic. This video is typical of many that were received and that continue to be received from radio tracking stations around the earth. These all use Cerenean conventions for split spectrum communications using Cerenean digital transmission protocols.”

Behind the general could be seen a room of some sort. There were several Cereneans in the room, some of them decorated with clothing and insignias that I knew signified high rank. Also present were a number of Lorans and the Cereneans were constantly barking orders to the Lorans, who seemed to be at a loss to do anything as several of the Cereneans expelled viscous fluids from their orifices. There was a Cerenean directly in front of what must have been the camera, attempting to talk as best he could as he too vomited fluids.

“I think we’ve seen enough,” the General said as the scene faded and the room lights returned to full brightness. “Although difficult to understand,” the General continued, “the messages in all of these videos is pretty much the same… that a terrible plague has befallen the Cerenean outpost of Loran and they have been unable to stop it, that mortality is nearly complete and that the outpost is doomed. They don’t ask for assistance, but warn all Cereneans to stay away and vow revenge on anyone who might be responsible if the pandemic turns out to be artificial.

“What is particularly chilling is that the transmissions also contain data. The data stream includes the complete formula for the Cerenean virus designed right here on earth. Not the one that was deliberately sent to Loran, but the one that was used to neutralize the occupation force.

“But how is that possible?” one of the non-scientists asked. “The virus that we used to defeat the occupation force was sent after the Loran version was sent, and that one wasn’t supposed to arrive on Loran for five more years.”

“Correct on both accounts, Mr. Ambassador,” the general replied.

“So how did it get there ahead of schedule?” someone else asked. “How is that even possible?”

“It’s not,” the general answered. When he didn’t elaborate further, a buzz started to fill the room. The buzz ended abruptly and was replaced by gasps when a door opened and a lone Cerenean was brought into the room in shackles. It was evident he’d been roughed up quite a bit as several large, white-ish bruises covered what in Cereneans functioned as a face. Even from a distance I could smell the fetid stench that emanated from him.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the general continued, “I bring you B’Laie Hfargch Kourlz, lieutenant commander of the third infantry of the Cerenean Invasion Force.”

The Cerenean spoke in surprisingly good English as he began. “General and honored guests, firstly I’d like to apologize for my appearance. Believe me, it looks a lot worse than it feels, and it is nothing compared to what one of you would have received if the roles had been reversed.

“I also apologize for withholding information that was of critical importance. The information is top secret, even among the Cereneans and I feared that you might use it to annihilate us. Sadly the opposite is true. By withholding information, I may well have doomed my people when you could have saved us. Now it may well be too late.

“For centuries our scientists have secretly been working on technology for instantaneous travel through space…”

“But how is that possible?” one of the scientists asked. “The speed of light is infinite - nothing can ever reach it, let alone exceed it.”

“Yes, that is true,” the Cerenean acknowledged, “and we have yet to succeed in transporting ourselves or even objects through space instantaneously, but we have succeeded in establishing instant communications between two points in space. For nearly a half of one of your centuries we have had a functioning link between Cerenea and Loran.”

Again there were gasps around the room. The potential ramifications of instantaneous communications between the Cerenean home world and Loran were enough to make one shudder.

“What about Earth?” the Russian ambassador asked.

“The technology wasn’t ready in time for the first wave of the invasion,” the Cerenean answered, “but we’d hoped to have it ready in time for the arrival of the occupation force.

“Our scientists were also working on a scheme for instantaneous transmission in transit,” the Cerenean continued. “Apparently a prototype of that technology was in use at the time your virus struck.”

“So it was transmitted straight to Cerenea!” the Russian ambassador exclaimed.

“Unfortunately so,” the Cerenean replied. “believe me, had I known such a thing were possible, I would have warned you in advance. The Trojan horse you designed to carry the virus was designed to prevent its spread… otherwise I would have never helped you. I just never foresaw the possibility of it spreading right to Loran.”

“So how did the distress calls reach Earth at this time?” I asked. “If they were transmitted right back to the occupation fleet, they should have reached us the same time as did those sent by the fleet itself. If not, traveling at the speed of light, they shouldn’t have reached us for a few years yet.”

“I suspect that’s a reflection of the compromises made in getting instantaneous communications to work with a fleet in transit,” the Cerenean answered. “But before I can explain, you need to understand the basics of instantaneous communication.”

At that point, the room lights again dimmed and one of our own scientists made his way to the podium. “Good afternoon,” the scientist began, “for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Dr. Alan Weinstein, Director at Sandia National Laboratory.” Unlike Livermore, The Sandia Labs in New Mexico escaped being nuked by the Cereneans and were quickly restored after the invasion was over.

“The concept of instantaneous communication isn’t really all that difficult once you understand the basics,” Dr. Weinstein began. “Indeed, we at Sandia Labs explored many of the concepts long before we’d even heard of the Cereneans or the Lorans. Of course our abilities were limited by our lack of understanding of the physics behind the concepts, but the concepts were still sound.

“We have long known of the existence in Quantum Mechanics of paired quantum states. There are many examples in what we used to call particle physics of particle interactions where two particles are ejected, each traveling in opposite directions at the speed of light, but linked in their quantum states. Of course there really are no actual particles involved but, for the purposes of this introduction, the analogy is still helpful, especially with a lay audience.

“Now as these ‘particles’ travel through space, they remain indeterminate. Their quantum states are not just unknown, but undefined until and unless we measure them. However the moment we do measure the quantum state of one, the quantum state of the second particle is immediately known, no matter how far apart they may be. Without going into a lot of detail, it is the removal of uncertainty that is of use to us. By encoding a coded signal within a known sequence of certainty versus uncertainty, information can be sent instantaneously from one point in space to the other.” As he spoke, an illustration played behind him, demonstrating his points.

“But don’t the particles still have to travel through space at the speed of light?” someone asked.

“Yes, but by sending a stream of particles, there will always be linked, paired particles at both ends of the data stream. It’s like having a hose filled with water. When you first turn on the faucet, you don’t have to wait for the water to get there. Water comes out of the hose immediately.

“Another useful analogy relates to when the telegraph was first invented,” he went on. “Before the telegraph, messages had to be carried across the continent by stagecoach or on horseback, or later by rail. It took time to build the infrastructure for the telegraph but, once in place, messages could be sent instantaneously.”

“But this isn’t exactly like the telegraph,” someone else countered, “and it’s not a water hose. We’re talking light years of separation through space, and the particles are flowing out in both directions at once… not from one end to the other. To use your analogy, it’d kinda be like making water flow through your hose by using a pump in the middle.”

“That’s a very good way of putting it,” the director answered.

“But there aren’t really any actual particles involved, are there?”

“In the old parlance of particle physics,” Dr. Weinstein replied, the Cereneans made use of neutrinos and anti-neutrinos. Because these particles don’t interact with ordinary matter, they can travel through planets and even stars and still remain intact. The reality, however, is that they used the cataclysmic collapse of a discontinuity in space to create a propagating quantum tunnel. The technology is not unlike that used for space ship propulsion.

“In a space ship, an artificial singularity, what we would refer to as a black hole, is created to serve as a spatial funnel. As the ship moves through space, the curvature of space created by the singularity funnels spatial quanta… what we would refer to as matter… into a focused beam. The quanta collapse at the point of focus, generating energy in the form of a gravitational vector that accelerates the ship forward.

“The process is very efficient. Once the ship reaches critical velocity, which is accomplished using a standard fusion or antimatter reactor, the reaction becomes self-sustaining, fueled by the conversion of the quantum states of space itself… in other words, from the conversion of matter to energy. The only energy lost is that required to establish and maintain the singularity.

“For instantaneous communication, it is a spinning anti-singularity that is established. As ordinary spatial quanta, or matter, accrete onto the spinning black hole, the reaction between the quanta and their anti-counterparts in the singularity results in the generation of a propagating, bi-directional gravity-antigravity displacement, which is equivalent to the aforementioned neutrino-antineutrino particle streams.

“What is required, then, is a quantum displacement generator located halfway between the two points in space, and at each of those points, which could be considered the transmitter and receiver nodes, a de-randomizer and a random signal detector.”

“But that still doesn’t explain why we received the distress call now,” I pointed out.

This time it was the Cerenean who answered. “Establishing and maintaining an instantaneous communication channel with a moving fleet of spacecraft creates special challenges. Ideally one would simply launch a ship containing the quantum displacement generator… that is the rotating anti-singularity and accelerate it at half the rate of the fleet. It would therefore always be located halfway between the point of origin, Loran in this case, and the fleet itself.

“The problem in doing so is that at relativistic speeds, the perception of time would be different at all three locations… Loran, the quantum displacement generator and the fleet. This would result in significant differences in quantization, leading to erroneous decoding. There are probably more elegant ways around it,” he continued, “but the method we chose, which was perhaps the simplest and certainly the fastest to implement, was simply to establish a chain of quantum displacement generators along the path taken, with transponder nodes in between.”

“It makes perfect sense,” Lansley added, speaking for the first time. “We designed the Trojan horse that carried the virus to do two major tasks. Firstly, it was supposed to infect the occupation fleet’s replicators, reprogramming them to synthesize the Cerenean virus. The second was to infect the communications arrays, redirecting all the ship’s communications back to earth.

“Obviously, we didn’t know about the instant communication channel back to Loran,” he continued, “or we would have done something to prevent the virus from spreading any further. As a precaution we did make the code self-destructive. It was designed to infect but not replicate beyond local systems and to inactivate itself after some time, but there was nothing to prevent the original transmission from entering an instantaneous communication channel and infecting systems back on Loran. Once the virus entered the atmosphere on Loran, there would have been no stopping it. The version sent via the Trojan horse lacked the encoded sequence for an antidote that was present in the version we sent to Loran. There was no need nor was there a desire for an antidote as far as the occupation force was concerned.”

“So how is it that we are only just now getting the distress signal?” someone else asked.

“I was just getting to that,” Lansley answered. “Assuming that the Trojan horse infected each of the transponders in the chain of communication, it would have ultimately disrupted their normal function, redirecting all communications back to Earth using conventional radio waves. When the Cereneans on Loran sent their distress signals, they would have undoubtedly traveled to the first node in the chain, at which point they would have then been sent to Earth at the speed of light, arriving a few years ahead of when they might have if they’d traveled all the way from Loran using conventional communications, but well behind when they would have if the instant communication pathway had remained fully functional.”

“I’m curious,” the President herself asked, “why did we even bother with the virus in the first place? Why didn’t we simply use the Trojan Horse to disrupt ship navigation, or life support?”

Smiling, Lansley answered, “Because we needed to infect the ships’ systems without detection. A direct attack on a critical system such as navigation or life support would have been detected immediately, risking the possibility the Cereneans could have repaired the damage and resumed their course toward Earth. The replicators, on the other hand, were considered a non-critical system and the Trojan horse was easily able to co-opt them, infecting the entire fleet with the Cerenean virus without their even being aware of it. By the time they became symptomatic, it was far too late.

“It was only after the virus had been given sufficient time to incubate that the communications subsystems were infected. By then, even if they realized what was happening, it was too late for them to do anything about it.”

“So presumably the Trojan horse entered the instantaneous communication channel and was carried back to Loran,” the President confirmed, “and from there it spread to systems all over the planet, taking over replicators and causing them to manufacture the Cerenean virus.”

“It would have taken over virtually any chemical synthesizing facility,” Lansley elaborated, “spreading the virus far and wide.”

“And if the Trojan horse then entered the instantaneous communication stream to Cerenea?” the President asked.

“It would have undoubtedly infected the Cerenean home world, leading to cataclysmic genocide and, given the nature of the virus, perhaps even the total collapse of the Cerenean ecosystem. Cerenea would have been rendered habitable only by non-Cereneans.”

“Given the distance between Cerenea and its other subservient planets, and the earth, that is not our immediate concern,” the general interjected. “The immediate threat is that some Cerenean elements on or near Loran may have survived and taken it upon themselves to avenge themselves on Earth. To that end, we need to proceed with utmost speed to check out the situation on Loran and to establish a communications channel with the Loran people.”

Suddenly it dawned on me why Lansley and I were at this meeting. We were going to lead a delegation to Lansley’s home planet!

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.