Posted Posted February 15, 2012

From the Ashes

A sequel to The Binary Planet

by Altimexis

Hiroshema after the Atomic Bomb
Hiroshima after The Atomic Bomb

Part 6 - Arrival

“What do you mean by, ‘That’s not Loran’?” I asked my boyfriend as he pulled away from the telescope he’d been peering into. “It’s exactly where you said it should be.”

Pulling further away from the telescope, Lansley simply said, “Take a look,” as he moved aside to let me peer into the telescope.

When I did, what I saw was a complete shock. Loran appeared to be the most perfect sphere I’d ever seen in space. It almost looked like a giant marble, with glassy swirls of orange and yellow across its surface. There was even a specular reflection of its sun off the perfectly smooth surface. Not a single mountain or ocean was visible, anywhere. There was no haze around the margins and there were no clouds. There was nothing to suggest the presence of an atmosphere.

As I continued to peer into the telescope in disbelief, Lansley said flatly, “The Loran I left behind looked much like your Earth with deep blue oceans and swirling clouds in the sky. There were mountains and valleys, and there was the greenery of life.

“Now it’s nothing more than a billiard ball. There’s nothing to it. There’s no life . . . there’s no Loran.”

Pulling my husband into me, I let him cry his eyes out on my shoulder as I comforted him the best I could.

“It would have taken a lot more than antimatter cluster bombs to do this kind of damage,” Lansley went on. “Even if they blanketed the entire surface with cluster bombs, it wouldn’t have done this. Even the mountains are gone. Even the atmosphere is gone.”

“They must have used some sort of doomsday device,” I answered. “Perhaps some sort of antimatter mist dispersed into high orbit that then settled into the atmosphere, reacting with the atmosphere as it drifted down, vaporizing all in its path and melting the surface.”

“What a sick thing to do!” Lansley growled.

“Not that I can defend it but, as far as the Cereneans are concerned, it was we who started it. To their way of thinking, their conquest of Earth was legitimate, but our response was nothing short of genocide. If our Trojan horse reached the Cerenean home world via their instantaneous communication link, the result would have been nothing short of total annihilation. They would have felt justified in destroying Loran with their last, dying gasp. Lord knows, the same fate may already have befallen Earth while we were in transit.”

“God, Earth is all we have left,” Lansley wailed. “I hope you’re wrong about that.”

“We’ll know soon enough,” I stated matter-of-factly. The horror of what I’d seen not fully sinking in as of yet.

The remainder of the journey seemed to take weeks rather than mere days as the reality of the situation slowly sank in. There was always the hope that there might be survivors living below ground on Loran or on ships in orbit, or perhaps in outposts throughout the surrounding region of space but, regardless, Loran as a living planet was no more. The possibility that the same thing had happened to Earth was one I didn’t even want to think about.

Of more immediate concern was the possibility that surviving Cerenean forces might still be in the area and pose a serious threat. We now knew that some Cereneans are naturally immune to the virus and on a scale the size of their population on Loran, there would likely be enough survivors to outnumber us by a factor of one hundred to one.

At last the day of our arrival came as we slowed and entered orbit around what was left of Loran. There was no point in landing on the surface, as there was nothing down there for us to find. Hence we once again experienced weightlessness, but this time it would be indefinite until we decided to leave for elsewhere.

For days we scoured the surface of Loran and the surrounding region of space for any kind of signal at all, be it radio, microwave, light or even x-ray. We found nothing - not a trace of anything that could be construed as a form of communication.

Likewise, we trained our equipment on the region of space from which we expected to hear from Earth but found nothing. Not a trace. Slowly it dawned on us all that we were almost certainly all that remained of humanity, and that Lansley was the sole surviving Loran.

But then we received a communication from an unexpected source - Cerenea! The instant communications link between Loran and Cerenea was still operational. Although the link should have been disrupted by the Trojan horse, much as had been the secret link to Earth, the surviving Cereneans on board the central quantum displacement generator had worked to repair the damage and bring it back on line. On Cerenea itself, Lorans, surviving Cereneans and two other species they’d previously subjugated had worked to rebuild Cerenea, working together as equals. They’d long since dissected the code in our Trojan horse and realized that we’d never intended for the virus to spread so extensively and wipe out Cerenean civilizations everywhere. It was the Cereneans in their secrecy that had made it possible for the virus to spread where it was never intended to go.

The surviving Cereneans from Loran had long ago departed, choosing to return to Cerenea and begin life anew in a federation that included Lorans, Qxinglu and Faronians. They regretted having destroyed the Loran home world, but the thinking behind that action was from another time and another place - one that would hopefully never return.

There was, however, hope that additional pockets of Lorans had survived throughout the quadrant. The Loran Resistance Movement had sent thousands of small ships out over the years in search of suitable places on which to build outposts. Some of them were known to have succeeded and outposts had been established, the locations of which were secret even then.

There was certainly no reason for us to stay in orbit around Loran and living in a weightless environment was taking its toll on us all. Reasoning that there was nothing left for us back home on Earth either, it seemed the only reasonable course of action was to undertake a long, hundred-year journey to Cerenea. Thanks to relativistic effects, the journey would only take a little more than ten years of our lives, but a lot could change on Cerenea in a hundred years. Would we even be welcome a hundred years from now?

But before we could undertake such a journey, we needed to re-provision our ships, perform routine maintenance and refine fuel for the time it would take to reach relativistic speeds. With such a long trip, there’d be an even greater need for redundancy, as there would be no way to recover from a serious malfunction in the deep reaches of space.

Months passed as we mined Loran’s tiny moons and refined the minerals we needed to retrofit our ships’ systems with rebuilt components. It was as we were nearing the completion of our preparations for the journey ahead that we picked up a signal - a signal from Earth!

Lansley and I were having dinner with some of the other senior staff and military brass, discussing the final preparations for the trip ahead when one of our ship’s communications officers burst into the room with a look of pure excitement on his face.

“We’ve received a communication from Earth!” he shouted, and then he repeated, “We’ve received a communication from Earth!”

“Are you sure?” Lansley asked as he took the tablet the young man was carrying from him and started to read.

“It’s properly formatted, coded and encrypted,” the communications officer assured us.

Rather than waiting on my husband to read what was on the tablet, I pulled up my own display and quickly searched for recent communications, readily identifying the one from Earth. I started to read.

Dear members of the Loran mission. A lot has happened since you left on your journey so many years ago. We hope that you arrived at your destination safely and trust that you have established peaceful relations with the liberated citizens of Loran. We hope that you did not encounter Cerenean forces, and that all has proceeded according to plan.

You must certainly be wondering why you have not heard from Earth for so many months after your planned arrival date. The situation has been complicated, but is finally stabilizing.

Not long after you left the Solar System, one of the Cerenean Heroes broke down and told us of the existence of a Cerenean doomsday weapon - a weapon of such destructive potential that it can vaporize a planet’s atmosphere and melt its surface, leaving nothing more behind than a giant glass marble. Fearing that the Cereneans might use this weapon on Earth, the Cerenean worked with us to help us develop defenses against it. In time, other Cereneans joined us in the project, allowing us to complete a defensive infrastructure far more quickly than we otherwise might have. Had we not acted quickly, the Earth would not be here today.

Even with our preparations, our defensive strategy was not perfect and when we were attacked some fifteen years ago, a small patch of the atmosphere over what was once northwestern China was sprayed with antimatter. The result was a fireball that ignited an area roughly six hundred kilometers in diameter. The land directly under the fireball was melted and turned to glass and the shockwave that propagated around the Earth laid waste to much of the infrastructure that had survived the initial Cerenean invasion.

Worse still, a ‘nuclear winter’ arose, the effects of which linger to this day. Much of North America and Europe lies under a thick sheet of ice. The disruption to humanity has been massive, but our civilization has once again survived.

The revelation of what had happened to Earth left the members of the armada divided on what we should do. Many now wished to return to Earth to help to rebuild human civilization up from the ashes, so to speak. Others felt we should forge ahead, continuing our journey to Cerenea, establishing relations and building new lives for us there. Still others recognized the need for an ongoing presence on what was left of Loran, serving as a communications node between the citizens of Earth and the citizens of Cerenea.

In the end we decided on a compromise, allowing some to return to Earth while at the same time forming a delegation to travel on to Cerenea and establish diplomatic relations. After conducting a straw poll to determine how many people wished to do what and after debating what kind of critical mass would be required to keep an outpost at Loran versus to make a successful journey to Cerenea, we decided we could accommodate most people’s wishes.

The result was that a delegation of eight hundred of us on non-military ships would proceed on to Cerenea, twelve hundred would return to Earth and just over a thousand would remain on Loran, making a life for themselves on a lifeless glass marble. Although it would be tough, the same technology that had been used on Earth to reclaim the soil in the cities the Cereneans nuked could be used to revitalize the surface of Loran. In time the atmosphere could be reconstructed and the oceans reconstituted in a process that could well take thousands of years. Some thought it an exercise in futility, but those who wished to stay were determined to try.

The split-up of the mission into three separate groups meant the splitting of some families, ours included. As the leader of the mission and the sole remaining Loran, Lansley had a responsibility to continue on to Cerenea. As his husband, so did I, but I also wanted to. I could hardly think of anything more exciting than exploring a new world once again - it was what we came to do in the first place.

Miguel and Bobby, however, wished to stay on Loran. They were both grown men now, being 22 years of age, and were looking forward to the challenge of terraforming a new world. They also saw their role in establishing and maintaining a communications node as being key to the survival of all the species that had come under the Cerenean sphere of influence, including the Cereneans themselves.

Finally, Theresa was now a young woman of eighteen. Although she was tempted to follow her parents or to stay and work with her brother and brother-in-law, she was in love with a young man who desperately wished to return to Earth. We ourselves loved Charlie and we certainly didn’t begrudge him the chance to return to help Earth survive and rebuild yet again. Earth would be lucky to have Charlie and Theresa, but we would miss our daughter terribly.

And so it was that we exchanged tearful goodbyes as Lansley and I prepared to depart for Cerenea and Theresa and Charlie for Earth, while Miguel and Bobby stayed on Loran. We knew we would never see each other again, but we were steadfast in our desire to contribute to rebuilding from the ashes, each of us in our own way.

Hiroshima Today
Hiroshima Today

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.