Posted Posted February 12, 2012

From the Ashes

A sequel to The Binary Planet

by Altimexis

Hiroshema after the Atomic Bomb
Hiroshima after The Atomic Bomb

Part 5 - Journey

“I’m not going, and that’s final!” our son shouted at us as he stormed out of the living room, acting more like a four-year-old than a fourteen-year-old. Lansley and I just sat there looking at each other, dumbfounded by Miguel’s tantrum. He’d always been the one who was adventurous - who liked to explore new things and visit new places.

Surprisingly, it was Theresa, our shy little girl, who seemed eager to go. She had no qualms about leaving everything and everyone behind that she’d ever known and embarking on a journey that would take five years of our lives, but during which 26 years would pass on earth. We thought she might be too young to understand that, were we to make the complete round trip, more than fifty years would pass on Earth before we would return. Theresa demonstrated surprising comprehension. “By the time we return, everyone I know will be very old, or dead,” she acknowledged, “but think of all the friends I’ll make on Loran! And think of all the things I’ll see and do!”

“But it’s a very long journey,” Lansley explained. “For more than five years we’ll be alone out there. Yes, we’ll be part of an armada, but there will only be some fifty people on our ship and you’ll be the only one your age. You’ll be sharing a room with a fifteen-year-old girl. You’ll be the youngest child on board.”

“But you said there’ll be other kids my age on some of the other ships,” Theresa replied.

“And getting to any of those other ships will require a four-to-nine-hour shuttle ride, and you’ll be stuck on the other ship for up to a week before the next shuttle run back to our ship,” I responded.

“Daddy, Poppy, it’s all cool. Really, it is,” Theresa stated calmly. “Besides, you guys have to go, don’t you? I love you, you know. If it’s a choice between going with you on a long, dangerous journey or staying behind and starting my life over again, there really is no choice. I’ll take my chances. I’ll spend the rest of my life with you.”

Wow! Lansley and I both had tears in our eyes after our daughter said that. Yeah, Lorans cry, just like humans do.

But now we had to deal with our son, who was beside himself with anger and grief. Lansley and I just looked at each other and with a subtle nod from my lover, I got up off the sofa and headed to our son’s room to talk to him. Lansley and I both had discussed this before and we were pretty certain we knew what was eating at our son at the moment. After all, we were not so old that we didn’t remember what it was like to be in love. It was only logical that it be I that confronted young Miguel. After all, I knew just what it was like to be in the closet.

Knocking on his door and finding it unlocked, I entered his room and said, “Hey, Miguel. You know your Poppy and I want you to be happy more than anything.”

“Then don’t go!” our son shouted back at me.

“You know we have to go, and we’d really like it if you would come with us,” I responded. “We love you more than the universe, but the future of humanity could well depend on this trip. We have no choice.

“You, on the other hand, do have a choice,” I continued in my softest, gentlest voice. “You can come with us and leave behind everything and everyone you have ever known, or you can stay here and make a new life for yourself with new parents. For a boy who made his way all the way from Mexico City to San Francisco, and at the age of nine, you’re capable of doing anything you want to. You’ll survive this, either way.”

“I left Mexico City because I had to,” Miguel replied in tears. “And things were different back then. I’d already lost everyone I cared about. I was truly on my own. Now it’s . . . different.”

“Would it make a difference if I told you the Wallaces are going, too?” I asked.

“Bobby’s going?” Miguel practically shouted. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You didn’t exactly give us a chance,” I replied with a chuckle. “I have to warn you that we may not be in the same ship, so what we told Theresa would hold true for you, too. However, I think I can pull some strings to make sure you and Bobby share quarters. It may not be on our ship and it may be in a dormitory with other young men but you’ll be together.”

“You’d let me stay on a different ship, just so I can room with Bobby?” Miguel asked in awe.

“Poppy and I know how close the two of you are and we wouldn’t want to see you separated if we could help it.”

Coloring up furiously, Miguel said, “Dad, as wonderful as this sounds, I don’t think you’ll let us share quarters once you know just how close Bobby and I are.”

“We already know how close you are, and we’re OK with it,” I replied, to a shocked expression on our son’s face. “After all, Poppy and I were exaclty your age when we became boyfriends. We’ve been together ever since.”

Coloring up even more, Miguel replied, “But if Bobby and I share a room, you know we’re prolly gonna . . .”

“When Poppy and I spent our time together in Escalente Canyon, we did a lot more to stay warm on the frigid desert nights than just crawling into our respective sleeping bags.”

“Eww, Dad!” Miguel exclaimed in seeming revulsion. “I don’t wanna hear about it.”

“The most important thing Poppy and I need to know is that you’ll come to us if things don't work out between you and Bobby. Everyone needs a little space and it’s critical that you know you can always spend time apart from each other if you need to. Sometimes two people have to have some time away from each other in order to be together.”

Getting up off his bed, Miguel crossed the room and threw his arms around me, hugging me tightly as he said, “Thanks, Dad. You’re the best.”

Preparations for our journey took the better part of three years, which was far longer than I’d expected or felt was prudent. In reality, three years was an amazingly short time for all that was accomplished. When we started the initial planning phases for the journey, we had in service small, military vehicles and we had large freighters that regularly made the run to the asteroid belt, where we mined the materials to help rebuild Earth, and to Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where we’d established outposts. Neither of these were suitable for longer journeys and certainly not for travel outside the solar system.

In the Cerenean databases that we inherited from the invasion there were numerous ship designs, ready to be adapted for our needs. Unfortunately, building a fleet of large ships would involve starting from scratch and a lot of time.

The biggest challenge, however, was establishing a leadership structure. That Lansley should be in charge of the mission was never in doubt, but anyone and everyone wanted their say. There was spirited debate on how much of a military component there should be on the mission. Everyone recognized the threat of encountering residual Cerenean forces, but we wanted this to be a mission of peace. In the end it was Lansley who prevailed with the right theme - a peaceful armada of civilian vessels, conveyed by military spacecraft capable of defending the armada and nothing more. Still, it was decided that everyone on the mission, including the civilians, would log time in military training vehicles, just in case.

From a factory built on Mars and using raw materials mined on the Martian surface and from the Asteroid Belt, an armada of forty civilian vessels, each capable of carrying fifty passengers, and twenty military escort vessels was constructed. By choosing a modular design, the vessels could be fabricated quickly in the Martian factory and then assembled in space. Each vessel had its own hydroponics bay, capable of providing an indefinite supply of food to the occupants while processing and recycling their wastes.

Just prior to our departure, Miguel and Bobby were married in a beautiful, double ceremony with Lansley and me. After all these years of being boyfriends, it took our son to talk us into making it legal. For their part, Miguel and Bobby made a beautiful couple and as married partners, they were entitled to their own private quarters.

Finally the day of departure arrived and with much fanfare the three thousand of us making the journey departed on a series of shuttles for the short trip to Martian orbit, where we boarded the vehicles that would serve as our home for the next five years of our lives and the next 26 earth years, the difference owing to the relativistic effects of traveling near the speed of light.

Before departing the Solar System, we spent more than another month familiarizing ourselves with ship’s systems and in verifying that everything was working properly. There would be no one to turn to on our journey if anything broke down. If that happened, we would all need to work together to fix the problem using available parts and materials on board.

Finally the day of departure arrived and we began our slow, steady acceleration toward Loran. Accelerating at just slightly more than Earth’s normal gravitational acceleration, we would approach the speed of light in a matter of months and continue our acceleration until we reached the half-way point in our journey, at which point we would reverse the process and decelerate all the way to Loran.

Although humans could have tolerated a somewhat faster rate of acceleration, Lansley could not and his presence was critical to the mission. Over the years, he had accommodated well to Earth’s gravity, which was 40% greater than that on Loran. Earth’s gravity was near the limit of what his physiology could tolerate, so going any faster would have been fatal to him.

In order to prevent the propulsion systems on the ships from interfering with each other, we needed to maintain a distance of at least three million kilometers between vessels. That was roughly eight times the distance between the earth and the moon and, although still close enough for real-time radio communications between adjacent vehicles, the ten-second lag time was more than frustrating. It took hours by shuttle to travel between spacecraft and because each shuttle had to have its own propulsion system to keep up with the fleet, they were fairly large and limited in number. The shuttles therefore operated on set routes and a set schedule, taking weeks to make a full circuit. Therefore it could take days to travel between any two spaceships.

It took very little time for the novelty of space travel to wear off and for the routine of daily operations to become, well, routine. We all had our assigned responsibilities - even Lansley took his turn on clean-up duty. Much of our time, for both children and adults alike, was spent on our education. We learned how to speak Bornlick, which was the closest thing the Lorans had to a universal language. Most Lorans could speak Bornlick, much as most humans could speak either English or Spanish in a pinch. We also learned the Cerenean language. Whether the Cereneans evolved with only one language or a single language was imposed on them, much as the Chinese tried to force the entire population to speak Mandarin, Lansley didn’t know, but it certainly made things easier on us.

We also learned a lot about Loran culture and history - things that would be helpful when we met with our Loran counterparts. We learned about Cerenean culture, too, as we didn’t know what we would face when we arrived. Our coursework proceeded at a comfortable pace, as we had five years to become experts.

Our living quarters were extremely cramped as was to be expected, consisting of nothing more than a double bed inside a rectangular tube. We were basically there only for sleep and for intimacy. We all worked in shifts and slept in shifts. To save space, Lansley and I shared our quarters with two other couples. That essentially restricted us to only having sex during the eight hours per day allotted to sleep. At least the quarters were ours alone during our sleep shift. The unattached crew slept in small, open dorm rooms that offered no privacy. If they wished to become intimate with another crew member, they had to sign up for one of two unassigned double compartements on the ship.

Shower facilities and restrooms were communal and cramped. Clothing was kept in individual lockers and laundered automatically, minimizing the need for changes of clothing. The one area that was surprisingly spacious was the ship’s gym, which was well-furnished with exercise equipment. Exercise was critical to our well-being on a long space flight and we were all expected to adhere to a rigorous routine. Likewise, sports were a critical element, both in terms of the exercise provided and in terms of relieving boredom. We had basketball, racket sports and simulated golf, all with organized teams and regular competitions. The inter-ship competitions were particularly fierce.

In spite of everything done to keep us busy and to stimulate our minds and our bodies, it was hard to get beyond the isolation. There were just fifty of us on each ship and travel between the ships was infrequent. Tempers often flared and it occasionally became necessary to rotate supporting crew members to another ship to deal with conflicts that arose. The separation from our friends and families back home on Earth was palpable and, at times, oppressive. We’d considered the possibility of implementing an instantaneous communications link throughout our journey, but dismissed it as impractical until the technology was better perfected.

The problem was that the central quantum displacement generator in an instantaneous communications link needed to be at the midpoint between transmitter and receiver at all times. To do so, it would have had to travel at exactly half the speed of the fleet. Someday we might develop fully automated modules, but for now they had to be manned. As the module would never reach relativistic speeds, it couldn’t make use of the singularity funnel that is central to space ship propulsion. It would have to carry all its fuel with it and, for the crew, the passage of time would be slowed only negligibly, so a 26 earth-year journey would seem to take the entire 26 years. Further, gravity would be halved for the crew.

It was an easy decision - an instantaneous communications module would be launched from Mars once we’d reached the half-way point in our journey to Loran. If all went according to plan, then, a fully functional communications link would be in place and ready for our use by the time we arrived on Loran, and not a moment before.

The half-way point, other than being the time at which the communications module was launched back home, was interesting in other ways, too. It was the point at which we reversed thrust and transitioned from accelerating toward Loran to decelerating. This did not involve simply turning our ships around and using the same thrusters to slow us down. Although that would have been far simpler, it wouldn’t have worked.

The artificial singularity that funneled spatial quanta into the engines was permanently ensconced in the front of the ship. Turning the ship around would have placed it behind us, where it would have done precious little good. The ship therefore had to remain in the same orientation, with the engine polarity reversed so as to create drag rather than thrust. Changing the polarity of the engines was not a matter of flipping a switch, either. All of the engines had to be shut down and allowed to cool for at least 48 hours, and then a space walk was required to manually turn and realign the injectors.

Of course that meant that for 48 hours we were without gravity. Before we even reached the point of shut-down, everything that could possibly float in weightlessness had to be secured. Conventional toilets, which used water, just like any toilet on Earth, had to be fully shut off and drained. The hydroponics bays had to be sealed and secured. Even our clothing had to be strapped down.

Once we shut down the engines and began our period of weightlessness, we had to take precautions to ensure we did not spray our urine or fecal matter into the environment. Special self-sealing vacuum siphons were used to collect our wastes and dispose of them properly while washing the area with water. Other than that we couldn’t shower and felt pretty disgusting by the time we fired our engines back up and began the deceleration phase of the journey. And then we had to get used to everything being upside down. What had been the ceilings, were now the floors, and vice versa.

The second half of the voyage seemed to pass more quickly as we got back into the routines that had become so familiar to us. I had expected the opposite - that we’d all become increasingly bored as the journey progressed, but that never happened. The other thing that changed with time was our modesty, or rather our loss of it. Given the tight quarters, it was just too difficult to maintain privacy. By the time we reached Loran, we’d pretty much seen all there was to see of each other, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

“Something’s very wrong,” Lansley said as he peered into the telescope at Loran for the first time on our Journey. We were still a few days away from our arrival there and finally close enough to see his native planet. “That’s not Loran.”

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.