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500 Member Celebration stories > Story Prompts! Third Story is in! Heart of the Sun by Victoria Zagar!

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message 1: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
Hello all!

This time we have Victoria Zagar, filling BlueSky39's prompt!

A story written for the Goodreads Gay Science Fiction Group's 500 Member Challenge, based on the following prompt from user Bluesky39:

"I would like to read about a future human race at war with an alien race. Two soldiers, one from each side, are the only survivors left on an alien planet and have to work together to survive. They should fall in love and have an HEA but the conflict between the races doesn't have to be resolved. Maybe our heroes escape to another galaxy or find asylum on a neutral planet. The military aspect and the clash between the differing races and cultures are key to the story."

A war based on cultural misunderstandings with the alien Karalian race has plagued Humans for over two hundred years. Thrust into this war is Alan Karvakian, average fighter pilot and dedicated soldier. His worldview is black and white and he believes with all his heart that he’s defending Earth from a wicked alien race hellbent on its destruction.

Everything’s about to change for Alan. When his ship crash-lands on contested planet Rinax One, he meets Karalian Vash Zor’Vina, who saves his life. Vash has some secrets of his own, though, and Alan stands to become caught in complex Karalian social issues. He’ll have to re-evaluate his views if he wants to save Vash, and come to the understanding that not everything he’s been told by his government is the truth.

Add the fact that Vash is attractive and stirring in a way that Alan hasn’t felt in years, and the stage is set for an internal struggle that will take both of them past differences, politics and personal doubts into a romance that will change their lives forever.

message 2: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
Heart of the Sun
By Victoria Zagar

Chapter One
Falls To Earth

Day One
Above Rinax One

I’m hit. Alan feels his fighter break into a spin as a laser blasts through his wing. The stars blur as he struggles to find a focal point, some fixed object to remind him which way is up and down in the vastness of space. A sleek Karalian fighter swoops past him in a victory dance, mocking him by leaving him for dead. He flips his middle finger at the Karalian. It’s a crude gesture straight out of the mess hall, flippantly delivered as if he is only cursing a bad driver and not the Karalian that might kill him. It helps to alleviate the panic that tears through his gut as his cockpit explodes into a disco of flashing lights and buzzers that Alan knows can only mean one thing.

Death is on its way.

Desperation coils through his bowel like a snake as he realizes that it’s all over for him. The Humans will go on fighting and the war effort will continue, but he’s out for the count. Only the count is forever.

He remembers the emergency handle in a flash of inspiration. Lord knows if it will still work, but I have nothing to lose, he realizes, and with a shaky hand he pulls on the cord. His ship falls away around him like so many pieces of a child’s construction set, leaving only an egg, a capsule designed to preserve a life until rescue can be found. It spins through the darkness, propelled by the last gasp of his fighter pushing him away.

Only somehow he’s getting pulled into the gravity of Rinax One. That’s not good. I could burn up on re-entry. Perhaps this is the end after all, he realizes with a heavy heart, his bright hopes suddenly dashed. His emergency beacon pulses with light, but his signal falls on deaf ears in the heat of the battle. It’s too late. They’ll never find me. By the time the battle is over, I’ll be a charcoal briquette down on Rinax. He closes his eyes, trying to force away the sudden rush of sentimentality as he thinks of his family, his mom, his dad, his little brother Chester who’s attending medical school back on Earth. There’s a photo back on the ship of them all standing together, beaming pride on his parents’ faces. They’ll cry. They’ll be proud, but they’ll cry. Keep Chester safe, okay Mom?

Not that any of you can hear me.

He feels suddenly alone as he drifts away from the battle, the space war behind him seeming like a distant memory from another life as he’s pulled closer to Rinax. The capsule is a tight shell around him, suddenly claustrophobic and he puts his hands up against the glass as if he can will it away from the planet, or maybe just to take one last good look at the stars. The capsule is being pulled into the corona of Rinax now, and he can see more of what’s beneath the atmosphere than up above. Rinax is purple, the purple of amethysts that grow on its surface like plants. It would be beautiful if not for its harsh climate, swirling storms that tear the planet to pieces, leaving only rocks and crystal dust in their wake.

It’s getting warm in the capsule, a slow heat rising by the second as he is pulled into the atmosphere and the capsule begins to burn. He prays to the Gods to be knocked unconscious so he can miss the part where he’s fried alive, but this far out in space, none are listening and he’s acutely aware of the heat and the sensation of falling. If the heat doesn’t kill me, the landing surely will. He closes his eyes, feeling suddenly sick to his stomach as the acrid smell of melting wires meets his nose and the gravity generator starts to fail. Outside the world is spinning, his capsule out of control, protesting against the re-entry it was not designed for. He’s falling, swirling, spinning, closing his eyes against the amount of stimuli that’s competing for his mind’s real estate.

The Gods finally hear him, and he blacks out.

* * *

There’s a low buzzing sound at the edge of his consciousness. He swats at it like a fly in the darkness, but it only grows louder and louder. The comforting darkness slips away like his mother’s arms and he opens his eyes to a blurry jumble of information that prompts him to close them again until he can figure it all out. Blood, there’s definitely blood, he can both see it and smell it. There’s broken glass, too and more of that burnt wiring. The occasional spark flies out of what’s left of the dying control console. That’s not the source of the low buzzing, though. The thrumming is coming from outside.

The capsule lurches and he realizes with terror that he’s not on solid ground. Opening his eyes in a hurry, he breaks through the dozen visual stimuli demanding his attention (that wound is bad, Alan...) and looks through the broken glass of the capsule to see it is in fact, floating. He tries to stand and realizes he is still buckled in. He pulls off the seatbelt and feels a stab of pain. A rather large shard of glass is jutting out from his leg, surrounded by warm blood. The ship lurches again and Alan fights the urge to throw up his breakfast. I don’t want to revisit what could be my last meal.

The ship seems to move suddenly, as if acted on by some outside force. It starts to sink calmly like a doomed cruise ship being slowly eaten by the waves. It makes a gentle sound as it hits the ground, almost like a vehicle being parked. Then he sees the face peering in at him, the green glow emanating from the being’s hands, and scrambles to get out of his seat. A Gods-damn Karalian! I’ve got to get out of here! He fumbles with the door controls as he feels warm blood pouring down his leg. I’ll never get away like this. He’ll kill me for sure. I only hope it isn’t painful. A piece of his mind saw fit to argue back at him. If he wants to kill you, why did he park your ship? He could have dropped it from the cliff and watched you become a red stain on the purple sand.

The door opens with a whoosh, silencing all of Alan’s mental arguments. The stranger stands outside, curiously looking at Alan. The Karalian appears to be male, with long black hair over a layer of white, his face covered with the warpaint birthmarks that are standard of his race’s warrior caste. He’s tall, over seven feet, and Alan feels tiny and insignificant. Which is exactly how they want us to feel. He is quite attractive, but let’s not forget, a cold blooded killer. Every Karalian warrior washes his hands in blood and magic.

“Mahatoa, saf’roa it vorhan!” The Karalian speaks a sentence in his native tongue, and then lets out what seemed to be an almost human sigh as Alan gives him a look of total confusion. He unclasps a blue crystal from around his neck and gives it a flick with his fingernail before putting it back.

“You almost landed your ship on me.” The Karalian’s voice, now translated, has a sarcastic edge to it, and Alan’s hand moves to draw his gun. He points it at the Karalian, but the alien man just smiles. “Put your peashooter away. It will do you no use here.” As if to illustrate his point, he flicks his thumb and forefinger together and the weapon clatters helplessly away down a ravine. It fires into the rock, the shot echoing below them.

“Didn’t your mother teach you how to handle a firearm?” Alan asks, with some sarcasm of his own. Two can play at that game.

“Didn’t your doctor tell you how fragile humans are?” The Karalian asks, gesturing to the wound on Alan’s leg. “You do know about your ridiculously short lifespan, I hope?”

“Don’t play games with me,” Alan says. “If you’re going to kill me, just do it. I just ask that you make it quick and as painless as possible.”

“Who said I was going to kill you?”

“You’re a Karalian. I’m a Human. This can only end one way.” Alan sits down, perching on the edge of the capsule. He’s lost the will to remain standing as he debates his death with the stranger.

“You lack the intelligence to see that I am stranded too, I see.” The Karalian shakes his head, his mane dancing with it.

“It never occurred to me, no. I’ve been a little busy bleeding out.” Alan tears a strip off of his flight suit and goes to pull on the glass. It comes out with a sickening slick sound that even seems to put the Karalian off balance. There’s more blood pooling in the wound than Alan’s ever seen, and he can barely stand to look at it.

“Put aside your primitive medicine and let me have a look.” The Karalian moves closer and inspects his wound. Alan realizes that the Karalian has decided he’s not a threat. I’m not sure if I should be insulted by that. I could still deliver him a nasty gut punch if I wanted. Hell, I could probably knock him into the ravine. He dismisses the prospect. Enemy or not, he’s done nothing to harm me yet. Let’s wait and see what he does first.

To his surprise, the Karalian puts a gentle hand over his injury and closes his eyes. Green light emanates from his hands and Alan can feel the wound closing, albeit painfully as the tissue knits together. He grits his teeth until the Karalian removes his hand, and then he can see his leg is scarred, but whole. It’s not the first time he’s seen Karalian magic, but it is the first time he’s ever seen a Karalian heal somebody.

“I had no idea you could mend flesh,” Alan says with unrestrained awe in his voice.

“It can be done, but it is costly. Still, it was necessary so that you may walk. There is a storm coming, Human. I can feel it on the winds. We must find shelter.” The Karalian stands, wasting no time. Alan stands up, his leg feeling strange, but no longer in pain. He follows the Karalian in silence, too tired to argue or fight back. For now, I am alive, and he seems to need me that way for now. Best to save my strength for later, when he chooses to show his true nature.

The sands give way to a strange, twisted forest, home to plants and trees that look dead, yet seem alive. The trees grow no leaves, yet their branches seem to block out the harsh sun which even now is being overshadowed by thick, black clouds. The Karalian looks at a map, a crude piece of parchment that looks like a poor man’s copy of a blueprint.

“There.” They enter a clearing to see some kind of facility, if it could be called that. It is more of a series of huts than anything, clearly abandoned. Vines are growing on it, thick black tendrils that look like they might swallow a person sooner than feed on the mulch below them.

“A colony seed setup. When did we ever try to colonize Rinax?” Alan asks. The Karalian laughs heartily.

“Every second since you discovered this pretty little rock,” he says. “No colony ever takes off, though. Between the storms and the raids by my people, every colony is a failure. As it should be. To us, this pink rock is fuel. To you, it is the stuff of worthless little trinkets. Yet you would fight and die to have it, just to be a thorn in our side.”

“You started the war,” Alan says. “You came to invade Earth. You threatened our home world.”

“Two hundred years ago,” the Karalian says. “To you, that is ancient history.”

“To you, that is just yesterday,” Alan retorts. “The same men still rule your world and threaten our very existence.”

“You would not understand,” the Karalian says. “You are ignorant people, savages.” He shakes his head. “Enough. I tire of this discussion.” He fights through the vines and cuts them away with a knife. Alan follows his lead until they have made a path into the building.

Once inside, they see many rooms, though all but one open out into the sky, their contents ruined. One is still sealed, however, and they find a bounty of supplies and two comfortable looking beds to sleep in. Alan looks at the bed with weary eyes, but it still wary of the Karalian in the room with him.

“Go to sleep,” the Karalian says. “I will not kill a sleeping man.”

message 3: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
Alan feels relief wash over him, and his exhausted mind doesn’t even question the veracity of the Karalian’s claims. He pulls the blankets over him, and as soon as his head hits the pillow, he falls asleep.

Chapter Two
True Colors

Day Two
Rinax One

Alan wakes, half expecting to sit up and hit his head on the rack as usual. Instead he finds himself in the colonists’ facility, coldness seeping through every vein. He pulls the blankets closer as the memories of the previous day come flooding back and his stomach growls. He looks around for the Karalian but he is nowhere to be found.

Has he abandoned me here? Alan isn’t sure whether to be happy or frightened by the prospect. The Karalian is his enemy, certainly, but an alien planet is a bigger threat than a single alien to face alone. He pulls himself from his bed reluctantly, wishing for the usual half-warm shower he could have expected on the Heart Of The Sun, the human ship where he’s stationed. Where I was stationed. Now I’m MIA, presumed dead. Nobody will ever expect to see my face again. I’m not sure I expect to see theirs either, as soon as my Karalian friend shows his true colors.

As if on cue, the Karalian appears at the door, his hands covered in blood. Alan recoils at the sight, wondering what being the Karalian has slaughtered in the night. There’s no chance there could be colonists still living here, is there? The Karalian sees his fright and lets out a cold, thin laugh that makes Alan’s skin crawl. It’s then that Alan looks behind him and sees the animal lying dead on the ground, a deer-like creature that the Karalian has obviously hunted and dragged back here.

“I’m sorry,” Alan says sheepishly, “I...”

“You thought me to be a savage killer,” the Karalian says. “Is that what you teach your children about our people? That we are merciless killers?”

“Aren’t you?” Alan feels resentment building up in him. “Your people have killed millions of mine in this war. You don’t even have the decency to return the bodies.”

“We don’t subscribe to your rituals and superstitions,” the Karalian says. “A body without a mind is just a shell. We cannot waste precious resources returning every body to you.”

“You have no compassion. Without that, we will never see eye to eye.”

There’s silence in the room for a second, and then the Karalian scoffs, shaking his head. “I should have simply eaten this beast raw where I found it. Instead I brought it back for you. Why did I even bother?” He turns and walks out of the room. Alan follows him quickly, racing to catch up with his long strides.

“I didn’t mean... I mean thank you,” Alan says. “You’re not like any other Karalians I’ve met. That’s all.” He shakes his head, searching for the right words. “Look, maybe we should just start over. “I’m Alan. Lieutenant Alan Watson. Fifteenth Battle Fleet.” he offers out his hand, but the Karalian stares at it as if unsure of the gesture, and Alan withdraws.

“Vash Zor'Vina,” the Karalian says. “Warden of the...” He trails off, shaking his head. “That’s not important. What matters is that we find a way to survive on this rock until help arrives. Perhaps we are bitter enemies, perhaps all your hatred for me is deserved, but we need to form a truce if we’re going to make it off this planet alive.”

He’s being the adult one here, Alan realizes. All I’ve brought to the table so far have been accusations and stereotypes. He’s saved my life and brought me food. Perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt for now. “Agreed.”

“Then we shall not discuss the war further at this time.”


They break down an old table and throw it in the hearth. Vash whispers something and green fire burns the wood down slowly. They dangle the meat over the fire. Vash eats his portion mostly raw, the blood dripping down his chin as he tears into the supple flesh. Alan waits until it is mostly cooked and eats it carefully, savoring the taste.

“I wanted to apologize. For before.” Alan says. “I didn’t mean to spout stereotypes about your people.”

“They’re true, aren’t they?” Vash sighs. “My people do become ever more mercenary as time goes by. Once we had codes of honor, but war and blood have stolen even those from us. We have put aside research and learning to pursue the art of war and the way to victory at any cost.”

“I never thought I would hear a Karalian say that.” Alan wonders if he’s made a misstep again, but remains quiet.

“No race is only one voice,” Vash says. “You have cruel men within your ranks as well. Men who would see us wiped out than come to any kind of agreement.”

“True enough.” Alan concedes the point. “The war’s a million miles away right now, though. What do you think we should do while we wait for rescue?”

“Eat. Sleep. Learn what we can from these colonists about this planet.” Vash wipes the blood from his mouth. “Find warm water. I need to wash.”

Alan smiles, letting his guard down. “You and me both, Vash.”

* * *

They spend the day looking over worn books, tearing out maps and anything else that might be of use. They descend and hurry inside the building, shuttering the doors of their room against the coming storm. It beats on the roof and howls around the building as they cower in the dark.

Vash finds some candles and with a flick of his fingers, lights them and places them around the room. The warm glow seems to set them both at ease and they sit in their beds, huddling tightly in their blankets.

“What’s it like... having magic?” Alan asks, his curiosity getting the better of him.

“What’s it like not having magic?” Vash asks in response. “I can’t imagine a life without it. How do Humans cope?”

“Technology, I guess,” Alan guesses. “We’ve never had magic, so I doubt we’d know what to do with it if we did.”

“I suppose not,” Vash says. “Do you have family at home?”

“Yeah,” Alan says. “My parents, and my little brother, Chester.”

“No mate?”

Alan smiles a little at the translation. “No. No... mate.”

“I see.”


“No mate either. Or family.” Vash looks pensive as he says it, as if speaking of something he once had and lost. Best not to probe him about it, Alan realizes.

At some point the conversation dies out, and with it the storm raging outside. They both settle into a quiet slumber. Alan wakes first, hearing a noise at the very edge of his hearing. Staying still, he opens one eye a fraction to see Vash sitting on the edge of his bed, naked. The candlelight dances off his features, almost human in nature except for the red patterns that cover his whole body except for his prick. Which, Alan realizes, is hard as a rock. He bites his lip as he realizes what the gasping noise is and sure enough, he sees Vash grasp his cock in a tight hand, stroking it gently.

Alan knows he should look away, but he can’t. He’s entranced by Vash’s closed eyes, the way he concentrates on a body that deserves to be concentrated on. Alan bites his lip as he contemplates the Karalian’s massive cock. He realizes it’s been a long time since he thought about anything sexual, his pilot days filled with fighting for his life and catching sleep when he could. Now he’s faced with an attractive man, he can’t help but feel himself grow hard under the covers. You’d have to be made of ice not to. Look at him, it’s as if the Gods sculpted a perfect man. He hears another gasp and concentrates, knowing that if he moves, Vash will hear him and know he’s been watching. His prick aches, but he stays as still as a statue as Vash’s pace quickens.

Vash stifles a cry as he comes, seed spilling onto his chest as he utters an alien word. It’s a beautiful whisper, foreign and exotic, adding spice to an already hot scene. Alan can’t hold back anymore as Vash turns away. He slips his hand down, silently and slowly snaking under his blankets until he grasps his cock in his hand. A couple of strokes and he’s coming, biting his lip and spasming silently in the candlelight.

Perhaps it is an involuntary whimper, or maybe the slightest rustle of sheets and blankets as Alan comes, but Vash’s ears prick up and he turns around before Alan can close his eyes. He bolts them shut too late, just in time to see Vash’s angry expression directed at him as he stalks across the room and rips off Alan’s blankets, exposing his unzipped pants and the evidence of his guilt.

“I’m sorry, I... It’s been a long time... I...” Knowing he can’t hide, Alan’s eyes are open now and a thousand excuses start pouring from his mouth. “I didn’t mean to watch, I just...” His voice sticks in his throat as even now his eyes are enraptured by Vash’s naked body, pouring over his features nervously as he tries to turn away.

“Did you like what you saw?” Vash’s eyes have a threatening gleam to them.

The wrong move could mean my death. He could snap my neck like a twig and think nothing of it. “I told you, it’s been a long time since I saw anything sexual. I didn’t mean to invade your privacy.”

“Are you kast’ka?” The alien word does not translate and it hangs in the air between them, each breath they take heavy, their hearts pounding like drums.

“I don’t know what that means,” Alan admits.

“A male who likes other males. I know your species has them.” Alan isn’t sure if Vash’s words are a judgement or simply a statement of fact. I can’t lie to him. He’s already seen the evidence. He already knows. Lying now would just give him an excuse to kill me.

“I am.” For the first time in my life, he makes me ashamed to say that I am.

“You should have told me. We should not be sharing a room.” Vash gathers his blankets, hiding his nakedness behind them and stalks out into the hallway.

There’s a spark in his eyes that looks less like anger and more like fear, but I can’t be sure of anything right now that isn’t my own shame. He’s an alien, a Karalian, the worst enemy of Humankind and I just watched him rub one out. I wanted him. No matter what excuses I made, if he had come to me and asked, I would have done anything he asked me to. I may have sealed my own fate with my foolish desires. The Karalians are not Human. They do not share our standards when it comes to acceptable behavior. I’m a poor ambassador to my people in a situation that could have led to co-operation between enemies. He bows his head, acutely aware of the sticky seed running down his stomach. He wipes it away angrily and lies back down, staring at the ceiling until he falls asleep.

Chapter Three

Day Three
Rinax One

Alan is hungry when he awakens, his stomach growling and complaining. He reluctantly gets up and leaves his room, going outside the bunker to make water. Of Vash there is no sign and so he tucks himself back in, about to go and apologize to the alien when he sees movement at the corner of his vision. A deer-like creature, one of the beings that Vash had killed before, runs through the underbrush and then stops in a clearing.

This is a chance for a meal, Alan thinks. Perhaps I can show Vash that I am a hunter too, in my own way. That I’m not so different to him. He draws his gun from its holster and sneaks closer, being careful not to step on any loose branches underfoot. He lines up his shot perfectly and is about to fire when he hears the sound of engines in the distance. A million black birds scatter up in the trees and the ears of the deer prick up. It races away into the trees, running from its unseen predator.

message 4: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
That sounded like some kind of engine. Have they come to find me? Or perhaps it is the Karalians, coming for Vash. Alan forgets about the hunt and sneaks through the trees, drawing closer to the sound until he spies the markings of a Karalian ship. A dozen Karalians hustle off of the ship and it floats away, back up into the atmosphere. Alan can’t help but notice how heavily armed the Karalians are; in addition to their usual staves and charms, each man carries a gun of Human design. Stolen from the dead, no doubt.

The Karalians form up in front of their leader, who barks at them in their own language. Without Vash’s translation jewel, I can’t understand a word. Still, the way they’re armed, the way they’re standing... They don’t look like soldiers on a rescue and recovery mission. They look like... like exterminators. Alan’s fears are confirmed when the leader draws a line across his throat. Have they come for me? Do they even know Vash is here? I have to get back to him. He’ll know what to do. Maybe he can talk them down. They are his own people, after all. Uneasiness rolls in his stomach along with the hunger. Maybe, after what happened yesterday, he’ll hand me right over to them. I wouldn’t blame him. Still, I have no other options. I can’t face a dozen heavily armed men alone and expect to win. I have to trust that Vash can get over his distaste of me.

He starts off through the trees, getting a head start while the soldiers are still talking and the drop-ship’s engines cover the sound of breaking twigs. He finds the facility’s door and lets himself in.

“Vash! Vash! Come quickly!” His yells echo off the walls of the empty facility, but there’s no response. Perhaps he left last night. What if I’m all alone now? He rushes down the hallway, checking each door in earnest and coming up empty, his fear growing as he starts to run out of corridor.

“What’s the matter?” Alan turns to see Vash emerging from the last door, clad in his light battle armor. He’s never been so relieved to see anybody and clutches at Vash’s arms as he recounts the story of the soldiers in the forest.

Vash seems to pale considerably. “You need to run,” he says. “You need to get as far away from here as you can. We cannot hold off Karalian commandos.”

“We? Vash, these are your people! Haven’t they come to take you home?” Vash’s face only seems to pale more at Alan’s question, the red birthmarks standing out against his white skin.

“They’ve come for me,” Vash explains, “but not to take me home. They’ve come to execute me.”

“What?” Alan’s eyes widen. “You’re on the run from your own people? Why?”

“Why?” Vash laughs dryly and shakes his head. “I thought you would have figured that out, human. I am kast’ka. He looks down at the floor as he says it. “On Karalia that is nothing less than a crime punishable by death. Our birthrate is so low that we lose ten people for every one that is born. There’s a high percentage of kast’ka on Karalia, almost thirty percent. We make an effective scapegoat for those looking to blame the death of Karalia on someone.”

“The commandos are near,” Alan says, pulling Vash from his reverie. “We need to act now.”

Vash shakes his head. “There are no actions we can take,” he says. “The game is up. I have run as far as I could go, and gotten much further than I ever expected. It was foolishness to dream that I could ever reach a place of safety.”

“You were going to defect?”

“It is of no concern now. You must run. If they find you here, they will execute us both.”

“I’m not going.” Alan draws his gun and reloads it. “You saved my life. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for your kindness. Besides, I owe you an apology. For yesterday.”

“None is required,” Vash says. “I’m not used to the way Humans see sexuality. That is all.”

You were ashamed of your actions. That’s why you despised being caught. That’s why you were so angry, why you wanted me to feel ashamed, isn’t it?

“I don’t want you to die with me,” Vash says. “This is not your war. Karalian internal politics do not concern you.”

“They do when they threaten a friend of mine,” Alan says. “Back on Earth, we hear a lot of stuff about the Karalians. I always thought it was just propaganda. Karalia’s so far away from Earth that most people will never see it, so I thought all the stories of oppression were just fabricated to increase war spirit.”

“Shh.” Vash hushed Alan and grabbed his arm, leading him into his room where he shuts the door. He leans in so close to Alan that Alan can feel Vash’s hot breath tickling his ear. “We’ll take them by surprise when they come through this door. Maybe we can take a couple of them out before they get us.” He closes his eyes. “Alan, if they take me, please shoot me. The Karalian execution method for kast’ka is not pleasant.”

Alan’s hand trembles and he swallows, his mouth suddenly dry. “I don’t want to shoot you.”

“It would be a mercy. Please do this for me.” Vash summons green light, readying himself for the commandos’ assault. Alan steadies his gun hand and moves to the other side of the door.

“Okay,” Alan whispers. “If it comes to that.”

They can hear the commandos’ footsteps outside the door before long, can imagine them getting into position on either side and then imagination turns to reality as the door is kicked in with a loud crash. The first one moves in and is taken out by Vash, burning in some kind of light that Vash set forth from his hands. The soldier claws at his face as another sprays the room with automatic weapons fire. A bullet ricochets and hits Alan in the side. He falls to his knees, clutching the bleeding wound and shooting the Karalian. The commando crumples and falls like a sack of potatoes to be instantly replaced by the third one.

There’s footsteps and yelling in the corridor as the other commandos hear the noise and come running. Vash sends a commando flying into a wall, where the sickening crack of his bones can be heard. He slumps as Vash takes out another one.

A commando bends Alan’s gun into a mess of metal and shoots a fireball at Alan’s head. He drops the remains of the gun and dodges the flames just in time, landing on the floor and rolling. He sees a grenade roll in.

“Vash, get down!” Alan hears himself scream before the world turns white and blue, the stun grenade exploding in his face and dazing him. He sees commandos pull Vash to his feet. One tears the clothes off of his dazed body while another pulls down his pants. He reaches for a needle and injects his own balls with some kind of substance as Vash is bent over before him.

The Karalian execution method for kast’ka is not pleasant. Alan feels desperation fill him as he struggles to regain his focus. Alan, if they take me, please shoot me.

Alan scrambles for a laser rifle dropped by one of the dead commandos. He pulls it towards him slowly as the commandos laugh, the one with the needle playing with himself now to gain an erection as the others watch, thrilled by their sexual punishment. Vash’s eyes are closed, his expression one of pure fear. Only the first shot will count. His hands tremble as the crosshair lingers over Vash. He’s just like me, only cursed in a world where he can’t be himself. This isn’t right. I can’t let it end this way. Even if they kill me for it. I have to try. He moves the gun, hovering it over the commando leader and firing. The commando’s brains splatter the wall and Alan fires off two more shots, downing two more commandos before the others react. Vash opens his eyes in surprise and stands up, gathering energy and firing it at the remaining commandos. They go down in a wave, knocked over like so many bowling pins. Alan shoots them as they go down and it becomes a wave of red, splattering the wall. Alan rushes to Vash’s side as he falls to his knees, shaking.

“Don’t worry... about me,” Vash says. “Finish them off. Make sure there are no others.” He lies down on the floor and Alan is reluctant to leave his side. He’s right, I must do this. I can take care of Vash later on.

He checks each of the corpses in turn and finishes off the remaining commandos. He spends the rest of the day dragging the corpses out to the forest, burying them in shallow graves and destroying radios and other equipment that could be used to track them. They will send others. It’s only a matter of time. We’re not safe here. His job finished, he heads back to the facility and finds Vash in the same spot where he left him. He kneels down and checks the Karalian’s pulse, and feels a typical Karalian fluttering heartbeat under his fingers. Thank the Gods.

He gently picks up Vash’s naked form and carries him down the hallway to his room. The Karalian feels feverish as Alan lays him down on his bed, covering him with his own blankets and lighting candles, sitting at his side. He looks at his own blood-stained hands and longs for a shower to wash away his day’s sins, just like during his days as a pilot. No blood back then. Space war is a clinical affair. This is different. I killed them with my own hands, and I don’t regret it. They were going to rape Vash. What kind of civilized society rapes and murders its citizens just for being themselves? He shakes his head. I guess we humans have had our moments too. Every race’s history is filled with blood and persecution.

He looks down at Vash. I was so busy seeing the Karalians as an enemy that I never saw them as more than a single unit. It never occurred to me that they would have politics as complex as ours, or that individuals would end up fighting against their own kind. It’s so easy to think of war as simple, two sides against each other, but there are so many different voices. When I see Karalians like those commandos, it’s impossible to reconcile that with a person like Vash, who saved my life even though I could have killed him. Yet nothing about me has changed. The Karalian government is still my enemy, perhaps even more so now that I know they’re oppressing their own people. But the Karalians... there are others like Vash out there, I know it. Other people who want to build a better world. People who have common ground with humans and could build a peace with us, perhaps.

Vash stirs on the bed and Alan grasps his hand. “Vash, are you okay?”

“Overused... my power...” Vash mumbles. “Must rest... Alan... Keep guard. They won’t... stop hunting... for me.”

“What are we going to do?” Alan asks, but Vash is already sleeping again. He gets up, restless, and paces the halls. We have to get out of here. Vash is right, they’ll be back, and soon. He’s not fit enough to travel right now, though. His hand is on the gun he looted from the dead commando. I’m exhausted, but there’s no way I can sleep. Vash needs me to keep him safe. He returns to Vash’s room and sits down by the wall, covering himself with a blanket. He leaves the gun at the floor by his side and sleeps with one eye on the door. I must keep Vash safe. I must... I must...

Chapter Four
Biological Warfare

Three Months Previously.
The Heart Of The Sun, Crew Deck

“Hi, Alan. I mean, sir.” It’s Martin, standing outside the mess hall on the Heart Of The Sun, his usual smile plastered all over his face.

That man would be happy even in Hell, Alan thinks, but he high-fives the man. Somehow, his happiness is contagious even in these dark times and they walk together down the hallway, making small talk as they go.

“So, you doing anything tonight?” Martin asks, trying to sound casual but seeming oddly shy and out-of-character. His blonde bangs are falling into his eyes and he lets them, as if to hide.

“Are you asking me out on a date?” Alan breaks into a confident smile. “You are, aren’t you?” They pass some young ensigns and Martin seems to redden a little.

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Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
“Keep it down, I’ll get a reputation.” He’s smiling, but there’s a certain sadness in his eyes too, telling of all the men he’s dated who never made it home.

He’s not easy, he’s just unlucky. Maybe I can fill the void in his life. I’m not planning on dying any time soon. Alan doesn’t skip a beat. “Okay, you’re on. Observation deck, tonight?”

“You got it.” Martin walks away, a certain spring in his step and he goes to attend to his duties and get a little rack time.

Night time comes and Alan waits for his date to arrive. Martin is late as always and so Alan looks out at the stars. They always make me feel so small. Like the universe stretches on forever and I’m just a drop in the ocean. Hell, this whole war is just a skirmish in a tiny stretch of space. Perhaps galactic history won’t even remember our fateful first contact with another species or our two-hundred-year war. He puts his hand on the glass just as the door swishes open and Martin walks in.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Martin says. He looks a little ruffled, more than a little sad. His shields are down and Alan realizes for the first time that his usual happiness is just a front, a mask to hide a deep internal pain.

“What’s the matter?” Alan asks, real concern building inside him.

“I didn’t... I didn’t really ask you here... for a date,” Martin says.

“Whoops. Well that was a blunder on my part.” Alan awkwardly scratches his neck.

“I needed you to show up. I need somebody to talk to. Before I shove a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger.” That gets Alan’s attention. He guides Martin to a chair as though he might break and bids him to sit before sitting down beside him.

“What happened?” Alan asks. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve never had a life placed in my hands before. I mean, I have, out on the field, just never like this. I can make decisions, but this...

“I know... you don’t have clearance,” Martin says, “but I can trust you. Earth has no more loyal pilot than you.” He shakes his head. “Down on Rinax One. There’s a base in the Purple Sands Desert. A Human base. It’s well hidden in a cliff. I used to be stationed there. Before here, I mean.” His nervous words come out in short stops and starts. “It’s a listening station. We listen to Karalian transmissions and decode them.”

Alan nods. “Go on.”

“About a year ago, a young Karalian wandered into the base. He was arrested, but he put up no struggle. He was in a terrible state. He said he was a fighter pilot who had crashed, but something didn’t add up. He seemed constantly terrified, as if he had been traumatized by something. He constantly cried out for a doctor, saying he was in pain. We had all our best doctors examine him, but apart from scratches and scrapes, he seemed perfectly well as far as we could tell. Then the next day, he started screaming, like he was in the most profuse agony. The doctors sedated him...” He broke off, suddenly looking pale. “Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you.”

“Please, tell me, you’ll feel better,” Alan says. “Whatever it is, I can take it.”

“I was guarding the medbay at the time, when they sedated him. When it happened. He just... split open, like he was being torn apart from inside. Inside there were all these worms, but the Karalian was still alive, begging to die. The doctors even threw up, and the commander signed a euthanasia order right then and there. It was a mercy, Alan. Those things... they were eating him inside. As he fell to sleep, he whispered that he was sorry. I don’t even know what for.” Tears were welling in his eyes.

“That’s awful,” Alan says, fighting nausea. “What a terrible sickness. Did it come from Rinax’s desert?”

“That’s the thing,” Martin says, a haunted expression on his face. “The doctors examined him after he died. They say the parasites don’t normally feed on mammals; that they were introduced somehow into the system. Intentionally. The way they targeted his vital organs in the most painful way possible made the doctors think that it was some kind of chemical weapon.” He reached for Alan, squeezing his shoulders. “I can’t believe we would do something like this, Alan! The government is always talking about how moral Humans are now, that we’ve left our bloody past behind us, that the only reason for this war is self-defense. That it’s the Karalians that are cruel and merciless. Then what the hell was that?”

“Are you sure we did it?” Alan asks, thinking hard. “It could be some kind of Karalian weapon, accidentally released or even intentionally tested. They must have bases on Rinax too; he easily could have come from one of them.”

“If it was theirs, why did all the files become classified right away?” Martin asks. “I tried to find information and every time I asked I was told that the incident never happened, that we never had a Karalian at the base. I know what I saw, Alan! A few months later, I was transferred here, put into the fighter pilot program. The program with the highest fatality rate. They want me dead, Alan! They want the last person to know about this to be space dust!”

“That’s crazy talk and you know it,” Alan says. “It’s far more likely that they classified it to avoid panic. What do you think the people back home would say if they heard about a weapon like that? It would cause widespread fear. Earth has already survived a dozen attacks, some nuclear. Adding a biological threat for people to worry about is only going to make the situation worse.”

“You know we’re not just sitting back and letting Karalia destroy Earth, Alan. I saw a lot of plans while I worked at the base. Plans to maybe nuke Karalia if this whole thing goes south. You think we won’t do whatever it takes to survive? You still think we’ve evolved past that?”

“I have to believe that,” Alan says. “If I don’t, then this is just another pointless war, like all the ones throughout Earth history, born of a failure to communicate. No. They attacked us. They tried to invade Earth. We tried to help them with their problems, and they responded by nuking us. There’s a giant piece of our world that’s now uninhabitable, and why? Because it turns out one of our generals gave the wrong salute and offended the Karalian High Commander. Well, fuck that, and fuck you too, Martin. I know you’ve seen some terrible things, Hell, we all have. I have more blood on my hands than I care to admit. I’ve killed more Karalians and lost more friends than I can count. If there’s a Heaven than my soul’s been damned thrice over for the things I’ve done. That’s why I have to believe we’re on the right side of all this, and it’s going to take more than a few wishy washy claims backed up with conjecture to convince me otherwise.”

“You don’t believe me?” Martin’s taken aback, Alan can see it in his eyes. He shrivels back in his seat, expression filled with regret. “I thought you of all people would understand, maybe look into it for me so I could get a good night’s sleep. You know what? Never mind. Never fucking mind. I’ll look into it myself. But I’ll tell you right now, if I get blown up out there, it’ll be your fault. Yours, and theirs. I don’t know why you want to all cover this up so badly. You could nuke Karalia into a wasteland and nobody would give a fuck after what they did to Earth.” He stands up and marches out, the door sliding shut behind him.

Alan sits in the same spot, looking out at the stars. He’s crazy, right? We wouldn’t do such a thing. We’re long past the age where biological warfare was ever deemed acceptable. Right?


He goes back to his room and rolls into bed, eventually settling into a restless slumber. The doorbell chimes and he wakes, rolling over to see it’s four-thirty. Pulling on his pants, he staggers to the door and opens it.

“Sir?” A mechanic stands at the door and salutes him.

“At ease. What do you want at this hour?”

“You’re the crew officer on duty yes? It’s Lieutenant Martin Avin, sir. He’s had an accident. He was working on his fighter when the jack came loose. The fighter fell and... it crushed him, sir. By the time we could get the thing off him, he was already dead. Medbay called it just a few minutes ago.”

“Th... Thank you, Ensign. Dismissed.” Alan shuts the door again and walks back to his bed, slumping down on the edge of it. He lets his head sink into his hands.

“So, you doing anything tonight?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

Foolish games, as if we were up here to play around and fall in love. Death stalks us every day. Only he knew it was stalking him. Alan shakes his head. I should have listened to him. Everything he said sounded crazy, but I still could have kept him safe, even if that meant keeping him in medbay for a psych evaluation. Instead I let him walk away. Let him walk to his death.

An accident. It could be a coincidence, but those things have dozens of safety features built in. No, he was killed, but whether he did it himself or whether he was murdered is another matter. Still, who gets themselves squashed? Not exactly a nice way to go.

But that means I’m entertaining what he told me. That we’ve really developed some kind of chemical weapon and there’s a cover-up going on. That he was murdered by somebody on this ship in order to keep a secret.

Maybe there is. But he told the wrong man. I’ve long since sold my soul to this war. I’m not the man to start a revolution. I’m a warrior of my people, guardian of Earth. I’m here to fight for my home, my parents, and Chester. I have no desire to rock the boat. If it could be rocked. Martin was right about that, too. Few would care if we did use such a weapon. They only want the war to be over, and Earth to win. Survival is such a cowardly affair.

And I’m a coward.

So it was that Alan lie back down to sleep, filing away what Martin had told him. When he woke the next morning, he returned to his duties as if nothing had ever happened, and it was as if Death’s shadowy assassin had never even visited the Heart Of The Sun.

Chapter Five
On The Run

Rinax One
Day Four

Alan awakens from his dream to the sound of a distant drop-ship. He reaches for his gun at once, and scrambles across the floor on his knees to where Vash is sleeping, shaking the Karalian awake.

“Vash, come on! Wake up!”

Vash remains unresponsive. I have to think fast, Alan realizes. They’ll be here soon. We need to be gone by then. If he’s not going to wake up, I’ll need to carry him.

Alan tests Vash’s weight. Vash is surprisingly light to carry and Alan is grateful as he sets him down again. Supplies. We’ll need supplies. Can’t risk coming back here. He quickly grabs a bag and starts stuffing the cans and dried foods they had into it, along with blankets. He ties the gun around his waist. It’s big and unwieldy, but Alan knows he doesn’t want to travel across the desert unarmed. I remember Martin mentioning a Human facility in the desert. If we could somehow reach it, I could get treatment for Vash and perhaps go home. Back to the Heart Of The Sun. Vash could apply for asylum. It’s our best chance of survival. If we linger here, sooner or later we’ll be picked off by a commando team. I don’t want to face whatever fate they have lined up for us. He tries to push the memory of Vash’s near-rape away. I won’t let that happen. We have to get out of here. He looks up the Purple Sands Desert in the pile of maps they had ripped from the colonists’ books. This dot must be where we are now. It’s a day’s trip at most. It has to be worth a try.

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Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
Satisfied that he has all he can carry, he slings the pack over his shoulders and picks Vash up. He leaves the facility and heads out into the forest, the rain pattering down on the trees and the ground around them. He can hear a drop-ship almost overhead and starts to hurry. Once we’re out in the desert, they’ll be able to see us from overhead. We need to stick to the trees as much as possible. He cuts through vines as he makes his way forward, resting every now and then to relieve himself of Vash’s weight. I can’t stop. I need to keep pushing on. If we’re going to cross the desert, we need to do it at night or we’ll be sitting ducks from the air.

The day wears on and still he sees no end to the forest. Vines threaten to choke him from every angle and he slashes at them in desperation. He’s covered in cuts and gashes from a multitude of thorns, and he offers a silent prayer to the Gods that none of them are poisonous. Vash seems to feel heavier with every step, and the warmth of him only makes Alan sweat harder.

He trips, going down hard. Vash falls from his arms and rolls into a pit of mulch and vines. Alan recovers and starts to crawl towards Vash when the vines begin to move, pulling Vash in like a fresh meal. That’s exactly what he is! Alan reaches for Vash and grabs his shirt, pulling on him desperately. He feels the material tear and moves to his arm instead, tugging with all his might.

Vash stirs in the grip of the vines. Realizing his predicament, he reaches for his knife with his other hand and manages to free it. He hacks at the vines and they recoil, only for others to snake around him. He concentrates, channeling green light and setting the vines on fire. There’s a loud, piercing shriek as the vines let go and retreat into the ground. Alan rushes to Vash’s side as he staggers, reaching out for something to hang onto. Alan catches him as he falls.

“Easy now,” Alan says. “I’ve got you. He touches Vash’s head to feel intense heat radiating from him. The fever’s getting worse. I’m guessing he shouldn’t have used his power again like that. He feels his own heart racing in his chest. I need to rest myself, but we can’t stop here. That thing could come back at any time, and the sound it made must have been heard for miles.

He moves the pack around to the front of his body and picks Vash up on his back. It’s a little awkward at first since Vash is taller, but Alan soon finds it easier to make progress. By nightfall, he breaks through the vines and sees the open sky and purple sand before him.

“We made it, Vash. To the desert at least.” He sets Vash down and opens the water bottle, lifting it to Vash’s lips and pouring it into his mouth.

“I’m... sorry...” Vash says, half conscious. “Leave me... go on ahead...”

“I can’t do that. I’m not going to leave you for the commandos. You saved my life.”

“You saved... mine in return. The debt is... paid. No reason... for us to both die.”

“It’s not about debt,” Alan says. “I want to help you. Besides, I don’t want to do this alone.”

“Thanks.” Vash closes his eyes, and soon falls into a restful sleep. Alan feels his eyes closing against his will as he rests up against a tree, and soon he’s catnapping as well, one hand on his gun, one hand on his knife.

He wakes three hours later. The Rinax night is still young, the rotation of the planet taking thirty-six hours instead of Earth’s twenty-four, and he’s grateful for that as he stretches out his aching limbs and lights his flashlight. He looks across at Vash in the low light. He seems to be sweating less now. Hopefully the fever’s going down and it’s not just the cold. There has to be a better way to get him across the desert.

He looks around the the vines, and the loose branches of the leafless trees. Maybe if I lash some branches together with vines, I can make some kind of sled to pull him across the sand. It has to be worth a try.

It took him another two hours to gather the vines and branches and put together the sled, but when he’s done he has a steady enough looking platform to lay Vash down on. He covers him with a blanket and ties two vines to the front, using them to pull the sled. It seems to glide easily over the purple sand and Alan soon puts the backpack on it too. He’s able to make much more headway through the night, even as he shivers from the intense cold. Occasionally he sees drop-ships swooping overhead. I bet they’ve found the bodies of the last commando team by now. They know Vash is here, and by morning they’ll be ready to launch a full scale search and destroy mission. We have to find the base tonight. When the sun comes up it’ll be too late.

He’s hungry, but too tired to want food at the same time. He propels himself onward by thinking about the sleep he’ll get once they reach the base. There’ll be a hot shower waiting, and clean sheets, and the cafeteria food will taste like it’s fit for a king...

Vash lets out a small moan, but Alan ignores him. The cliffs are close now, and he sees no sign of the base. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It’s probably well hidden. They won’t want the Karalians to know they have a listening post here.

Vash lets out another moan. Alan looks behind him to see a group of figures following them at a distance. Tall figures. Karalian figures, Alan realizes. He pulls his gun from his belt, readying himself for a fight. We’ll lose, of course. There’s too many of them. How did they find us? They must have tracked my sled marks through the desert. Damn it. How long have they been tracking us? Perhaps they wanted to see where we would go. Perhaps it’s a good thing we never found the base. At least the listening post hasn’t been compromised.

Vash pulls himself to unsteady feet, anxious not to die without some kind of a fight. He draws his knife from its sheath, but it’s simply a ritual at this point, since Vash is finding it hard even to stay standing.

The commandos, knowing they have been spotted, abandon stealth and swarm into view. Alan and Vash find themselves surrounded, and take up position guarding each others’ backs. Our last stand, Alan realizes. They’ve seen what we did to their men. They will take no prisoners.

“I thank you, Alan,” Vash says quietly. “You have shown me that Humans can be creatures of honor. I go to the Beyond richer for that knowledge.”

“You’ve taught me the same about Karalians,” Alan responds. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get you to the base.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Vash’s voice is quiet, laced with emotion. He steps forward and Alan feels his departure.

“I will not be dishonored by you... or anyone else,” Vash yells to the commandos, his breathless voice filled with pride. Sweat is dripping from his face and his eyes are bloodshot. “I was born kast’ka. I will die as such, a free man.” He raises his knife. It glimmers in the flashlights of the commandos and he draws it to his throat.

“Vash!” Alan cries out, but Vash turns away. Alan sees red and knows Vash’s blood is spilled by his own hand before the man even crumples. The knife falls into the sand. The commandos race in as Alan rushes to Vash’s side, tearing off a piece of his uniform and trying to stem the wound. It looks like he collapsed before he could slash his windpipe and artery. He might make it if he can get medical treatment.

The commandos are all around them now, pointing guns at Alan’s head as he tries to save the fading life beneath him.

“Please,” he says. “Vash needs medical treatment. Come on, he’s one of your own!”

Sala?” One of the commandos says, and Alan can see the translation jewel around Vash’s neck is broken. That’s what stopped the knife. I’ll bet on it. Only now I can’t negotiate for his life.

The commandos burst out laughing, and Alan is roughly dragged to his feet and thrust down onto his knees. He feels the butt of a gun pressing into the back of his head.

Kast’ka?” One of the men asks the commando. The commando nods. “Kast’ka shamala. Vorshaya!” The others laugh as the soldier rushes for some kind of medkit. Alan doesn’t need to see the needle or understand the language to know what’s coming up. They’re going to execute me as a kast’ka. They must think I’m Vash’s lover, or perhaps they intend to punish me in his place. Either way, this battle is over. There’s only one way out now. I wish I had a cyanide pill, but I’m no spy. Just a soldier.
He looks for his gun, but it’s abandoned ten feet away in the sand and he knows he’ll never reach it. He sees a glimmer beneath him and eyes Vash’s knife. He makes a quick dive for it, and pushes it into the abdomen of the commando leader. It feels strange, like cutting into a hunk of soft meat. I’m not used to hand-to-hand combat. The clinical coldness of space warfare is nothing like this. His blood sings in his veins, an ancient instinctive song of human ancestors who fought and died as soldiers and he pulls the knife out as the commando’s expression changes to one of shock. There’s blood everywhere, and time seems to run slower for Alan as he dives to the ground to avoid a shot. He slashes at the knee of a commando and he falls into the sand. Alan claws up him and slashes his throat, blood spraying up from a severed artery.

Asana! Asana! Vaka ne!” Another commando starts barking orders and the unit seems to recover. Alan dives for his gun and reaches it, firing off shots wildly as the commandos close on him. A burst of laser whistles past his ear and he can feel the heat of it burning, stinging. Another one hits him in the stomach and he can feel it searing him as he falls back. The purple sand catches him like a soft cloud as the commandos close in for the kill. I’ll die as a soldier with a gun in my hand. I’ll fight to the last.

He closes his eyes, the burning pain tearing through his gut as he waits for the final execution shot from the figures above him. Instead he hears a roaring sound and the sound of heavy laser fire. He opens his eyes to see a Planetary Utility Vehicle equipped with a laser cannon rolling towards him. The commandos dive behind a crystal formation and radio for backup. The cannon fires again, shattering the amethyst pillar. It crumbles into a million pieces of sparkling sand that float down as Alan watches. He places a hand on his wound and comes back with warm, sticky blood. That’s not good. It may already be too late. He looks across at Vash and sees the man lying prone and motionless. Don’t die on me. If we’re going to get through this, we’ve got to do it together. The laser cannon fires again, taking out the last of the commandos. The purple sand is stained with the commandos’ blood and the smell of burning flesh mars the air, but still the twinkling sand floats down from the air and so he concentrates on that as soldiers rush to his side.

“He’s badly hurt. We need to get him to a medbay right now.” A medic leans over him, taking his vital signs.

Vash. I have to save him. They’ll think he’s one of them. Alan moves his arm. “My friend. Save my friend. Save... Save Vash. Please.”

“Your friend? I don’t see anyone else over there,” the medic says.

“The Karalian. With the throat injury. Please. He saved my life...” Alan feels the world swimming away, but he fights to remain conscious. “Help him...” The medic stands up and walks over to where Vash is lying in the sand.

“This guy?” He leans down and checks Vash’s vital signs. “I don’t know if we can save him. He’s lost a lot of blood. Scott, get me the clotter right now!”

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Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
I’ve done all I can. He feels a speck of dust tickle his face and he can see it sparkle on the tip of his nose. His eyes are lidding and he knows he can’t fight it any longer. It’s in the hands of the Gods now, Vash. He closes his eyes and lets himself drift away as the medics and soldiers buzz around them.

Chapter Six
Switching Sides

Day Thirteen
Earth Base, Rinax Mountains

When Alan comes to, his eyes are stuck together. He rubs at them until they open, brushing away the sleepy sand that has amassed there. He’s aware of a dim burning pain in his abdomen as he looks around his new surroundings. For a moment he thinks he’s back on the Heart Of The Sun as he sees the modern hospital room and equipment, but then he realizes that he can’t hear the thrum of the engines or the slightly heavy feeling that comes with artificial gravity. We must have made it close enough to the base that they were alerted to what was going on. They rescued us and brought us here.

Vash. I have to find out if he’s okay. He moves his legs, stiff as they are, until they’re hanging off the edge of the bed. He’s dressed only in a thin hospital shift and feels oddly naked as he pulls himself to his feet. He can feel the sticky tape holding the bandages to his chest pulling on his body hair and he winces a little as he moves.

The doors slide open and the doctor seems taken aback as he sees Alan on his feet. He ushers him back to the bed with the kind of force that suggests it’s not an option.

“You should be in bed,” the doctor says. He’s a balding middle-aged man who looks like he’s seen better days, and Alan wonders if his post here is somewhat of a demotion from a former position.

“My friend. Vash. Did he live?” I have to know if I need to mourn a friend. Right now I care about that more than any of my injuries.

“The Karalian? He’s stable for now, but he hasn’t regained consciousness yet. He’s very lucky that I used to work with Karalian refugees. Most doctors wouldn’t know where to begin with Karalian physiology.”

Alan seemed to relax, letting out a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

“It’s my job. Better than treating the aches, pains and complaints of the soldiers, at any rate. May I ask how you ended up on Rinax One and how you became friends with a Karalian?”

Of course. Questions. This is a listening post, after all. Spies are suspicious folks at the best of times. “My ship was hit. I ejected, but my life-support pod was pulled into Rinax One’s gravity. I thought it was all over. I woke to find I had a serious injury in my leg. I thought I would bleed out. Imagine my surprise to find a Karalian outside my ship! I thought he would shoot me, but instead he healed my wounds with his powers. He’s not like other Karalians. He’s a decent man with a sense of honor. He’s defended me on multiple occasions, even at the cost of his own health.”

“Do you know what he was doing on Rinax One?”

“Running from the Karalians. They want him dead. He wants to apply for asylum.”

“Asylum?” The doctor raises his eyebrows. “On what grounds?”

“On the grounds that he’s being persecuted on his home planet for being gay.” Sorry to spill your secret, Vash, but I need to get you out from under the cloud of suspicion.

“Ah.” The doctor falls silent. “A kast’ka, hm? Not the first I’ve met trying to get away from Karalian persecution. They say the punishment is worse than death.” He shakes his head. “Your story checks out. We’ve been monitoring the Karalian for a while. He’s quite an important person on Karalia, you see. The Zor’Vina family is powerful indeed and has quite an influence on Karalian politics. The youngest son’s kast’ka status must be quite embarrassing for the family. I’ll wager they want it covered up before he can defect and go public. The commander will be happy to finally have the missing piece of the puzzle.”

“I had no idea,” Alan says. “I want to see him. Can I?”

“Perhaps later,” the doctor says. “Right now we need to focus on you. That’s a nasty laser burn you have there, but we were able to seal it promptly, which means the chance of infection is low. Still, it will be delicate and sore until new skin grows. You won’t be cleared for duty for some time.”

“I should contact the Heart Of The Sun,” Alan says. “They need to know I’m alive.”

“Already taken care of,” the doctor says. “As soon as we saw your dog tags, we made the call. Admiral Halen was quite happy to receive some good news for once.”

Alan smirks a little. “Yeah, I guess so. He’s probably wondering how I pulled it off again. I’m just too stubborn to die.”

“Stubborn or not, you’re still mortal. I’ll see about getting you a visit with the Karalian, but for now you need to rest.”

“Okay, doc. I’ll do as you say.” Alan rested his head back on the pillows and closed his eyes.

* * *

The skylight is showing darkness outside again by the time Alan is awakened by the commander. He stirs and salutes, still feeling drowsy.

“Thanks for the rescue, sir,” Alan says. “You came just in time.”

“We would have intercepted the commandos sooner, but we didn’t want to advertise our presence here,” the commander said. He held out a hand. “I’m Commander Macey.”

“Alan Karvakian.” Alan takes the hand and shakes firmly.

“Quite a story you have,” Macey says. “Not every day you hear of Humans making Karalian friends. He’s not exactly your average Karalian though, is he? I had to admit I was surprised myself when I spoke to him.”

“He’s awake? Wait, you can speak his language? The translation jewel... it broke.”

“Yes, he’s awake, and we have translators here on the base. Wouldn’t be much of a listening post if we couldn’t understand the messages we intercepted. Doctor Norgen told me you were asking to see him as well. I’m sure we can set up a little meeting. Come with me.”

Alan stands up shakily and follows Macey out of the room. He feels like he should be wearing clothes as he walks through the hallways of the base, his legs growing cold as soldiers watch him pass by. They eventually reach a room under guard. Macey and Alan are waved through into a small hospital room where Vash is lying on a bed. There is a metal bracelet on each of his wrists, and they look tight and uncomfortable.

“What are the bands for?” Alan asks. They look like cuffs. He’s not a prisoner here, is he?

“Anti-magic bracelets,” Macey explains, half-apologetically. “We can’t afford to take any chances until we completely verify his story and complete his asylum application.”

Vafora,” Vash says. “Asora vaendra.”

“He says it’s okay.” The translator steps forward, a young woman somewhere in her twenties. “He doesn’t want you to worry about it.”

“I’ll leave you alone,” Macey says. “Tell the guards when you’re done.” He exits the room, leaving Alan and Vash alone with the translator.

“Are you feeling okay?” Alan asks. The translator converts it into Karalian and Vash nods, saying something back to the translator.

“He says he’s as well as can be expected. He thanks you for saving his life.”

“It wasn’t really me,” Alan says. “It was the soldiers who saved us.”

“You still dragged me across the desert. I owe you a debt.”

“You healed me. You helped me defeat those commandos. I think we’re more than even,” Alan says. He looks at the bandages around Vash’s neck and knows that underneath is a wound that will scar him for life. You almost made the final cut. Thank the Gods help came in time. Feeling an upswell of tenderness, he places his hand over Vash’s, squeezing the large, thin hand and saying everything with that simple touch that he couldn’t bring himself to filter through the translator. I’m glad you’re alive. I’m glad we made it here together.

“They’ve offered me a chance at asylum,” Vash says. “If I accept, the commander says I will be able to travel to Earth on the Heart Of The Sun, which is scheduled to return for leave.”

“That would be perfect.” Yet Alan feels a hint of reluctance in the other man’s tone. There’s something holding him back. What is it?

Vash closes his eyes and mutters something. “I’m tired,” the translator says. “Thank you for your concern, Alan. I would not be here if it wasn’t for you.”

“I’ll let you rest,” Alan says. He makes his way to the door and it slides open. The guards nod. One leads him back through the maze of corridors while the other stays outside Vash’s room. Of course they’re going to guard him. It’s just to make them feel safe. Still, he must feel like a prisoner in there, prevented from using his magic, unable to directly communicate. I guess his reluctance isn’t so surprising. Still, did he expect to be welcomed with open arms? The Karalians haven’t been kind to us as a people.

The door to his room opens and Alan slips inside, the guard walking back to his post. Feeling suddenly exhausted, he lies down on the bed and promptly falls asleep.

* * *

Alan doesn’t stir in the dead of night when his door slides open and Vash slips in. The Karalian just stands over Alan for a moment, listening to the slow rhythm of his breathing and watching the rising and falling of his chest. He rubs the sore rings on his wrists where he broke the anti-magic cuffs with brute force. Alan’s lips part for a breath and Vash is overwhelmed with the sudden desire to kiss those lips, to say goodbye one last time. He knows the guards he’s knocked out in the hall won’t stay down for long, but he can’t resist one last look at the Human who brought him so far.

He turns to leave, then turns again. He knows it will be the last time he ever sees Alan, and so he stalks back to the bedside, summoning his courage as he goes. He leans over the bed and brushes Alan’s lips in a feather light kiss, then races out of the room before Alan can wake. He hurries down the hallway to the exit and is gone before the guards can wake up from their magical slumber.

Alan stirs and opens his eyes. Was someone just here? I could have sworn I felt someone kiss me. He smiles. Just a dream, Alan. Go back to sleep. Drowsy and somehow contented, he slips back into his peaceful slumber completely unaware of the guards sleeping outside in the hallway.

Chapter Eight
True Believer

Day Fourteen
Earth Base, Rinax Mountains

It’s before dawn when Alan is rudely awakened by Commander Macey storming into his room.

“Wake up,” he says. He grabs the doctor, who’s just arrived for his shift. “Wake him up. I need to talk to him now.”

Alan’s eyes open. “I’m already awake,” he says. “What’s the meaning of all this?”

“Your Karalian friend skipped out on us last night. Gone to inform his superiors about the location of this base, no doubt.” Macey grabs the front of Alan’s robe and pulls him upright. “If you know anything about this, you’d better speak now or face trial as a traitor!”

“There’s no way,” Alan says. “Vash isn’t a spy. The Karalians are trying to kill him!”

“Or so he claimed. Could be a good cover story to get him in here. Or perhaps he’s trying to get back in with them by throwing them a bone. Either way, we’re fucked unless we do some damage control.” He shakes his head. “I’ve got my best men tracking him across the desert. They know his location and report to me hourly. I won’t make the same mistake twice, Karvakian. Unless you can give me a good reason why I should spare his life, he’ll never make that report.”

“He’s not a spy!” Alan shoved Macey’s hands off him. “There has to be a good reason he went out into the desert!”

“With all those commandos looking for him? He’s either a spy or insane. I can’t take the chance that he’s spying on us and will undo two years of work. Do you hear me?”

“You have to let me go after him!” Alan was on his feet. “He’s not a spy! He’s just scared! Let me convince him to come back.”

“He broke off his anti-magic cuffs and put twenty of my men to sleep with his magical powers. What chance do you have against that?”

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Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
“If he was a spy, he would have killed those men,” Alan says. “Please, you can’t afford to lose a vital intelligence asset like Vash.”

“How do you even plan to communicate with him? I can’t afford to lend you a translator.” The fire in Macey’s eyes simmers down and Alan inwardly sighs with relief.

“He has a jewel that can translate. It’s broken right now, but I’m sure he can repair it. Besides, there’s always magic. I know I can find a way if you just let me go after him!”

“If he is a spy, sending you will let him know we’re successfully tracking him,” Macey says. “I can’t let you endanger the only chance we have of taking him out.”

“Look, he was here last night,” Alan says. “I thought I was dreaming at the time, but I think it was real. I think he came to say goodbye. He won’t think it’s strange if I follow him. He’ll think I was awake last night and I followed him hoping to stop him. You don’t have to reveal anything.” He reaches for his freshly washed uniform and starts to dress, wincing as the movements pull on his burns.

“You’re in no fit state to travel across the desert,” the doctor intercedes, but Alan waves a hand and cuts him off.

“I’m going,” Alan says. “It’s not up for debate. Vash is a friend and if he has betrayed us, I need to know why. Otherwise everything he’s taught me about Karalians is a lie. He made me believe, Macey, and if he’s turned on me and twisted that belief, I’ll kill him myself.”

“My latest reports suggest he’s made camp at the top of a cliff to the west. I’ll lend you a dune buggy to drive out there. I’ll warn you though; my men are watching. You even think about switching sides and my snipers will kill you both. Understood?”

“Loud and clear, sir,” Alan says.

Macey turns and walks through the door while Alan finishes getting dressed.

“You truly see something in that Karalian, don’t you?” the doctor says. “Do you trust him enough to risk your life for him? Macey will do as he must, even if that means killing you both. He is a man of his word, that one.”

“I trust Vash,” Alan says. “I know he didn’t betray us. He deserves a chance to explain his actions.”

“Even if he does return, his future may not be bright. Earth is no place for Karalians. Many asylum seekers live in hovels, and live out their lives as subjects of racism and abuse. It is not easy to live among one’s enemies. I used to treat the Exiles in a free clinic. Some say the punishment Karalia had lined up for them would have been better; at least it would have been a swift death, as opposed to the slow death of living among an underclass that is feared and hated.”

“I didn’t know,” Alan says. “I’ve never seen a Karalian on Earth. I don’t get back there much; all I have are the vids.”

“The vids would never show the conditions the Exiles are living in. It is a great shame on all of us that we treat all Karalians as if they were of one mind, when the opposite is in fact true. The vids talk of the persecution the Karalians lay down upon their people but say nothing of the persecution that awaits them in exile.”

“I had no idea,” Alan admits, bowing his head.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” the doctor says. “Nice middle-class guy like you has probably never seen a day of hardship. Bet you have a nice family waiting at home with a white picket fence. You’re in this war to keep them all safe. Blah blah, I’ve heard it before. The more sheltered the soldiers, the more blind they are. You must have seen a millionaire’s son or two - they think war is all romance. They usually die real quick if Command doesn’t put them behind a desk.”

“I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot, but Vash is opening my eyes. That’s why I can’t let him go.” Alan packs a bag hurriedly, throwing in bottled water, ration packs and bandages. “It’s true I’ve been unaware of a lot of things. That I’ve believed in things blindly, like the vids. Perhaps my trust in Vash is just another foolish belief that will be broken. But if we can’t believe in friendship, in loyalty, in people - then why are we still alive?”

“Go get him,” the doctor says. “I’ll be waiting for you both to come back.”

* * *

The heat bears down on Alan as he drives his dune buggy across the purple sand. He wipes his brow and keeps driving, even as the mirage makes the purple desert seem to move like quicksand. His supplies of water soon run low, but he presses on, stopping only for a brief moment to watch the setting sun as it shimmers golden on the horizon. Rinax’s moon hangs low in the sky and Alan take a moment to appreciate the alien sunset, how the purple sand appears black and shimmering against the dying golden sun, how the massive crystals focus and refract the light, creating small rainbows and illusions in the sand. It’s a beautiful thing, this alien world. If only it was not at the heart of a hotly contested zone, I bet tourists would flock to see something like this. Colonists would be signing up in droves to live in a paradise with amethyst sand. Instead it’s a war zone, the crystals painted with the blood of Karalians and Humans alike, the desert littered with a thousand wrecked ships just like mine.

Alan follows the dot on the mapping device as it takes him to the co-ordinates. As it grows dark, he sees a bright light on the horizon. A camp fire? Or a signal fire?

He jumps off the buggy and pulls climbing equipment from the back. He throws a rope over a tree branch in case he falls, fastening the other end around his waist and begins to climb. In some places the rock is sheer and he fires massive staples from a gun to serve as footholds. The rope around his waist slips and chafes his injury, and he almost lets go as the pain burns into him. He grabs the next handhold and takes a breather, resting his face against the rock. He looks down and instantly regrets it, vertigo making his head spin and his stomach lurch. I’m built to be a fighter pilot, where I’m in control. I can’t do this. I can’t. He closes his eyes and hangs on, willing the panic away. Vash will die if I can’t pull myself together and climb this rock. He saved my life. I owe it to him to find out the truth of all this and see if I can’t help him somehow.

Feeling better, he reaches for another handhold. Almost there. Just a little further. The flashlight on his helmet flickers and he curses under his breath. One more step and he puts his hands over the top edge of the cliff, pulling himself up. He unties the rope and leaves it at his feet as he surveys his surroundings. A large bonfire is lit, and he can see Vash crouched in shadow at the foot of it. He suddenly remembers the gentle brush of lips against his, the ever-so-slight taste of honey and nectar. No, it was just a dream. Vash didn’t kiss me. Why would he?

He slowly walks along the cliff top, gravel crunching under his feet. Vash doesn’t move from his spot by the fire, he just sits contemplating the hot, crackling flames as they dance in his eyes. He’s mesmerized by their dance as they consume the wood and he doesn’t even seem to notice as Alan sits down beside him.

“Vash.” Alan breaks the silence. “Vash, they’re looking for you. They think you’re a spy. Why did you run? What do you hope to achieve out here?”

Vash is quiet for a few moments, then he speaks softly in heavily-accented English. “I had not thought I would see you again.”

He can speak our language? This is no magic; such an accent could only come from his real voice. But what Karalian would learn English, if not a spy? “You speak English? Then why the jewel? Why the translator? Why the deception?”

“A misunderstanding could have been fatal. The jewel makes it... easier to communicate. The translator made Macey feel he was in control. I am sorry for any deception.”

I must have faith. Vash would not betray me. “I had to come after you. Commander Macey thinks you will tell the Karalians about the base. He’s ready to kill you.”

“I know,” Vash says simply. “He is mistaken, but it does not matter. He only believes what I want him to believe.”

“What do you mean? Vash, you’re not making any sense.”

“I cannot go back to Earth with you, Alan. Not at the price Macey asks. He wants complete betrayal of my people; plans, weapons, tactics, even the location of my family’s vault. It is one thing to go into exile with another people, but a different thing completely to betray your own.” Vash pulls his knees up and rests his head on them.

“You killed Karalian commandos, same as I did.”

“Commandos, yes. Soldiers, doing their job. In survival it is kill or be killed, yes? You either hunt or become the hunted. That is something we warriors all agree to. But the old ones, the women and children do not. I will not collude with your people to stage an attack on my planet and kill the innocent.” He struggles to find words in English to express what he is feeling, but Alan sees it in the slight tremble of his hands and the pallor in his face.

“You came out here to die.” Alan’s revelation is instant, spoken at the same time it is realized and it shocks him to the core. “Vash, you can’t...”

“I can... and I must. My selfish desires as a kast’ka are not worth spilling the blood of innocents for. Let them come for me. I shall kill as many of them as I can and walk into the fire. One final act of rebellion is all I have.” Vash closes his eyes, perhaps fighting back tears or perhaps simply searching for his next words.

“I won’t let you do that.” Alan’s words are passionate and forceful, revealing the torrent of emotions running through him. “We came all this way. We’ve been through so much together. I didn’t drag you through the desert so you could throw your life away!” He’s on his feet, hands pulling at his hair, pacing back and forth. “Why do you have to be so Gods-damn selfless? Why can’t you just think of yourself for once? What do you want to do?”

Vash shakes his head, a slight smile forming on his lips. Alan wants to shake his shoulders, shake that smile right off his face.

“What’s so damn funny?”

“I was thinking that you and I are... alike.”

The anger seemed to fall away all at once and Alan walked over to the cliff edge. “Yeah. I guess we are. I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory too. In your situation, I would probably do the same thing.” He walked back over to Vash and slumped down in front of the fire. “I couldn’t betray my people either.” They sat in silence together, watching the flames eat away at the wood.

“Vash, can I ask you something?”


“What is the Karalian punishment for being a kast’ka?”

“You would not... want to know.” Vash bowed his head.

“Perhaps, but I feel like I should know. What was so terrible you wanted me to shoot you rather than endure it? I want to know what I’m fighting against. I want to know why you would burn alive and die alone in the sand sooner than face it. I want to know what’s in that needle the commandos had.”

“A biological weapon. A parasite.” Vash closes his eyes against the horror of it. “My people... acquired it a generation ago. When delivered inside the host’s body, the parasite eats away at the vital organs, causing immense pain and eventually, death. The Karalians have an antidote, which they give to their commando leaders to make them immune... so they can inject themselves with the parasite and deliver it by raping the victim. It is the ultimate humiliation, the destruction of the spirit and the end of all rebellion which they seek.”

“He just... split open, like he was being torn apart from inside. Inside there were all these worms, but the Karalian was still alive, begging to die...The way they targeted his vital organs in the most painful way possible made the doctors think that it was some kind of chemical weapon... I can’t believe we would do something like this, Alan!”

No. No way. That can’t be possible. Alan feels himself turn pale as the memories of Martin’s last night pour into his mind.

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Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
We’re long past the age where biological warfare was ever deemed acceptable. Right?

“Vash?” Alan’s voice is a shadow of its former self, barely a whisper against the roaring flames. “Where did this weapon come from?”

Vash turns his face away from the fire. “Humans,” he says simply. “A spy stole it from them while they were debating its use. Even my kind considered it too cruel for warfare, but not for social cleansing. Nothing is considered taboo in the war against the kast’ka.” He shakes his head. “That is why I cannot give the commander what he wants, Alan. Even at the cost of my own life. I have seen the darkest depths of the Human spirit and it may perhaps be even crueler than ours.”

“That’s not possible,” Alan says. “Our people are improving. Humans are past the age where we would create such weapons! We’ve evolved beyond such cruelty!”

“You have,” Vash says, his tone sympathetic. “Not all have. Every race has its animals, those who would go to any lengths to win. It is the nature of all of us, after all. Those who win, go on to reproduce and create the next generation. Those of us who cannot create... will never spread our genes. Even without persecution, we will die out. The animals, the cruelest, most brutal of us all... will win in the end. I believe you Humans refer to it as “natural selection.” We refer to it as what roughly translates to ‘life’.”

“That’s not true,” Alan says. “Science has solutions. On my planet, our kast’ka, we can have children. They’re grown in a lab and brought to term inside a woman who volunteers. A surrogate.”

“Then you are lucky,” Vash says, his eyes filled with sadness. “Haven’t you wondered why you never see Karalian women in fighters? Why the birth rate is so low on my planet?”

“That’s because Karalians don’t allow their women to work, right? I saw a vid about how Karalian women are rarely free to pursue education.”

“It would be pointless, unless she was to become a brood mother,” Vash says.

“I never expected to hear you say such a thing. I guess we do disagree on some things,” Alan sighs. “Culture shock, I guess.”

“I don’t know what you mean by that,” Vash says. “Alan, I have nothing against our women. In fact I refused to lie and take a mate under false pretenses for a good reason. I could have hidden my kast’ka status and lived a normal life, but for the cruel hand of fate. Alan, our women die after giving birth. Not occasionally, like yours, but always. A one hundred percent chance. It is a brutal way to come into a world, born of blood and death. I could not deceive a woman into believing I wanted her when I would be the one to kill her.” He paused, staring into the fire. “That is why the kast’ka are hated, Alan. To have a mate that will not die in the circle of life, a companion that life can actually be spent with is a blessing, one more and more secretly yearned for by Karalians who are sick of death, loneliness and grief. There are those who are waiting longer and longer to have a life with their mate before procreation, or abstaining from it completely, but every race wants to reproduce, Alan. It is in our nature. And that’s why we came to your planet. We wanted what you had; science instead of worthless magic, bodies that could create without destruction, a world filled with hope instead of darkness.”

“Why didn’t I know any of this? Why don’t they tell us?” Alan is aghast, his head spinning with the new information.

“I suspect your authorities would frown upon your feeling sorry for us, which you would. We could spread the word, perhaps ask for help, but we are a proud people and do not want our dirty laundry to become public knowledge.”

“But taking our planet won’t solve anything for the Karalians,” Alan says. “So why bother?”

“Of course it won’t. It’s just a two-hundred year old case of jealousy. And the kast’ka are caught right in the middle of it. If the ruling class cannot have what they want, Alan, then nobody shall. So they will continue the war until both races are dead.”

“That’s why you have to come with us,” Alan says. “I won’t let you become another footnote in this tragic death spiral. Neither do you have to betray your people; what you’ve told me is more than enough to fill in the gaps left to the commander by our government’s secrecy. He’ll be happy to have some new material by which he can make sense of Karalian transmissions. Children won’t die at your hand. I swear it.”

“If it were you making the decision, I would trust you in a heartbeat,” Vash says. “You have a noble spirit. But I fear other Humans are not the same. I cannot be sure my words will not be used against my people.”

“We can never be sure of anything,” Alan says. “I thought I was sure about everything I believed in. I thought Humans were the good guys in a war of good versus evil, fighting off the vicious Karalians. Then I met you, and suddenly things were no longer as clear. The Karalians are no longer my enemy as a whole. Inside the heart of darkness I have found the most gentle, noble spirit in you and where you tread, others must surely follow.” He looks at Vash’s face, lifts his hand to move a lock of white hair that’s tumbled into his eyes and brushes it behind his ear in a tender motion.

“The truth is, you and I are a little different. I’m more selfish, and the truth is, even if people on your planet do suffer for it, I want you to come with me. I want to present you to the people of Earth and show them what you have shown me, muddy their black and white worldview as you have muddied mine. I want them to question the vids, question the government, question why they are fighting. But it’s more selfish than even that. I want you to be at my side every day. I want to wake up in the morning knowing I’ll see you, knowing you’re not trapped on this distant planet, waiting to die alone.” Alan takes Vash’s hands in his own, squeezing them tightly, his motions well ahead of his words. His cheeks are red, kissed by the heat of the campfire and yet it is nothing compared to the fire that is raging inside, the desire to hold and protect Vash against a wicked universe. Damn Karalia, damn Earth, damn the whole war and everything to do with it.

Vash is looking down into his lap with an expression of shame. Alan releases one of Vash’s hands and draws a line over Vash’s armor with his finger, draws it up his throat and under his chin, lifting Vash’s chin until their eyes meet. Their breathing grows ragged as they bathe in the growing tension between them. Alan’s mind wanders to the memory of that second day, when he watched Vash play with himself and he feels himself growing hard now just imagining himself touching that body so close to him, those lips that yes, smell like honey, those lips that had to be the ones that brushed his last night. He finds his body moving of its own accord, his mouth moving to brush Vash’s lips with his own. As if to say; I know what you did last night. I know. And this is my response. This is what I had to ask you more than anything else; were you the giver of that stolen, fleeting kiss?

The answer is most certainly yes.

The gentle whisper of their kiss grows deeper and more needy as each grants the other silent permission to go further. They only part to slip off Vash’s lightweight armor and undershirt and then Alan is kissing down Vash’s neck, kissing down his patterned chest as he works on Vash’s belt with skilled hands. It comes unclasped and they part again to get Alan’s uniform shirt off. It joins the pile with the other abandoned clothes on the cliff top. Alan feels a slight chill on one side but is warmed by the heat of the fire and the even hotter sensation of Vash’s hands as they explore him. He pulls Vash’s pants off to reveal tight underwear that teases the shape of his cock and balls. His breathing is labored as he fondles Vash’s cock through the underpants, cupping his balls. Vash lies back on the ground, moaning heavily. Alan can’t take it any more and strips his own pants and underwear, revealing his own raging erection. Vash sits up and strokes it experimentally, seeming curious about the lack of foreskin but saying nothing. Without warning, he ducks his head down and takes Alan’s shaft in his mouth. Alan gasps at the hot warmth surrounding his cock, at the hair pooling in his lap as Vash’s pretty face takes a mouthful of him. He wants to stop him, to give Vash some pleasure but he can’t, he’s too wrapped up in it now, the vision before him of this beautiful alien sucking on him is driving him over the edge and before he can form a coherent warning he’s coming in Vash’s mouth with a cry that echoes off the mountains. Vash swallows and lets the cock slip from his mouth. He looks up at Alan with an expression of lust that makes Alan’s spent cock twitch.

Vash’s cock is leaking and Alan takes it in his hand, the thing he’s wanted to do since that day he caught Vash touching himself. He turns Vash around in his arms so he’s facing outwards, his limp cock pressing into Vash’s back as he strokes him with practiced ease. Vash throws his head back and utters alien words. Alan finds himself growing half-hard again despite the fact that he’s spent as Vash writhes in his arms, grinding his ass against his prick until it’s all the way hard again. He’s hot, hotter than he’s ever been, like he’s in the heart of a burning sun with Vash--

A gunshot echoes and Alan pushes them both to the ground. Vash is torn between need and survival as Alan lets go. He reluctantly lets go of desire and his mind clears letting instincts take over as he crawls across the ground and reaches his clothes, putting them on awkwardly. A gunship hovers over the cliff top, trapping them in and Alan curses the fact that he only has a hand laser in his belt, more a tool for cutting rocks than men. Vash sees his predicament and nods, crawling up beside his new lover and summoning magical energy to his fingertips. He whispers a word in Karalian and the heavens open, a bolt of lightning hitting the gunship. It loses control and crashes into the side of the cliff.

Still, there are seven commandos against the two of them, and Alan looks at his hand laser helplessly.

“Get out of here,” Vash whispers into his ear. “Be safe, havi.” Alan didn’t need to ask what the foreign word meant; the tenderness with which Vash said it meant it could only be a term of endearment, a beautiful word to describe what they had just become: lovers, born from fire.

“No. I’m not going anywhere.” Vash smiled at Alan’s words as the commandos encroached on them, and pushed him off the cliff.

Chapter Nine

Day Fifteen
Rinax Cliffs

Alan is falling at a rate too fast for his mind to comprehend. He’s betrayed you after all, the cynical part of his mind suggests; the optimist in him silences it with a firm never. Still, he falls, and he wonders what on Earth Vash’s plan might be or even if he’s screwed up this time. If one of the commandos got to him before he can catch me--

He’s suddenly stopped by an invisible force that feels like it might tear his body apart, then let go the last foot to the ground, where he lands on his feet at the bottom of the cliff.

“Vash!” His voice is filled with the panic that’s bubbling inside him, the terror that fills his mind with the thought of Vash dying up there alone. “Vash, jump!”

Maybe Vash doesn’t hear him or perhaps he’s a little busy, because Alan doesn’t see a shadow fall, he only hears gunshots echoing through the valley. Looking up, he can see flashing lights on top of the cliff and a green glow that suggests the use of magic.

Alan sees the dune buggy not ten yards away and runs toward it, feeling an idea coming to him. He grabs the radio and nearly tears it out in his haste.

“Come in, base, come in. Hurry it up...”

message 10: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
“This is base. Lieutenant, is that you?” Macey’s voice is crackling on the radio and Alan’s never been so happy to hear it. “Macey, do you have snipers in position? You know, to shoot Vash in case anything went wrong?”

“Yeah. What about it? Has Vash gone rogue?”

“No! Karalian commandos are all over us. Order them to fire!”

There’s a scramble as the radio is put down on the other end, and then the sounds of sniper fire boom off the cliffs. There’s a strangled cry and a figure falls from the cliff. Alan watches in horror as a Karalian falls off the cliff and all he can do is utter a two word prayer to the Gods that it’s not Vash. The figure hits the bottom of the cliffs with a sickening crack and Alan looks away as blood splatters ten feet in every direction. He looks back, needing to know if the bloody mess is Vash, but he sees the heavy armor and breathes a sick sigh of relief. The snipers keep firing for what seems to be forever until the last commando goes down. Alan finds himself rushing to the cliff, climbing the cliff face as fast as he can manage. His hands bleed from chafing against the bare rock without gloves, but he pulls himself up anyway, gasping and panting as he reaches the top. He sees Vash standing and runs to him, grabbing him in a tight hug and kissing his face, his hair, his eyes, his ears, anything he can reach as he strains for air.

“You should not have climbed. It is too risky.” Alan can feel Vash shaking a little in his arms though, and doesn’t regret his risky ascent one bit. They calm down, then, aware of all the eyes on them, slowly descend the cliff face.

“Karvakian, do you read me?” The radio is full of excited chatter. “Report!” Alan picks the radio up.

“We’re coming home, Commander,” Alan says. “Vash and I will explain everything, and you can start asylum proceedings for Vash. He’s coming back to Earth with me as originally planned.”

“I will expect a good explanation for Vash’s behavior,” Macey barks down the transmitter.

“You shall have it,” Vash says in his accented English. “All in good time.”

“He speaks English?” Macey is aghast. “You understood everything we were saying?”

“Indeed,” Vash says, his face dark. “I will help you, Macey, but I won’t put the women and children on my planet at risk. I would rather die. Do you hear me?”

“Understood.” Macey sounds resigned. “I’ll expect a full debriefing from you both on your return.” The radio fizzles to static, and Alan can’t help but chuckle as Vash stands there looking at him curiously.

“What’s so funny?” Vash asks.

“I plan to debrief you myself afterwards,” Alan says.

“You do understand he’s referring to a different type of...”

“Yeah, that’s why it’s so funny, see. We’ve got to work on that sense of humor of yours.” Alan smiles, more relief than anything and climbs into the dune buggy.

“Come on, let’s get back to the base. They’ll be waiting.”

They sit in companionable silence as they drive through the desert, sharing what little water they have left between them. Eventually the cliff that holds the listening post appears on the horizon and Alan pulls the dune buggy to a halt.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Alan asks, scared of the answer but knowing he has to ask.

“The alternative is death, and I have have decided I most certainly do not want to die.” Vash takes Alan’s smaller hand in his and squeezes. “Perhaps my actions will have unintended consequences, but I do not wish to return to a people who want to kill me for who I am and what I want.”

“Good.” The knot in Alan’s stomach loosens a bit and he lets go of Vash’s hand, driving the last few miles to the base. The sheer cliff-face opens up before them as they arrive and they are hustled out of the vehicle by a team of guards.

“Commander Macey will see you in his office at once.” A soldier barks at them, then marches them to the elevator. Soon they are standing in Macey’s office.

“Alan. Vash. You have returned.” Macey bids them to sit and they awkwardly do so. Macey questions them for hours and Vash tells the story of why he went to the desert and the story of his dying race.

“I had no idea,” Macey says. “This is valuable information. I’m sure the High Command already knows this, but they share very little information with us lesser mortals, leaving us to decode messages without context.”

“So you’ll support his asylum claim?” Alan asks.

“Yes. Alan, you will be his official sponsor. If anything goes wrong, you will be responsible for his behavior in his stead should he flee.”

“Understood,” Alan says. Vash shoots him a look of concern.

“Now, Vash, you are dismissed. Alan, I would like to talk with you for a few minutes, if I may.”

“Yes, sir,” Alan says. Vash lets himself out. Macey waits until the two of them are alone before he speaks.

“I had men watching the whole exchange,” Macey says. “They sent me some interesting video footage.” He waved his hand and a computer screen flickered into existence. The shadows of he and Vash making love were silhouetted against the fire and Alan felt his cheeks growing hot.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Macey says, his eyes grim. “Letting your emotions cloud your judgement could lead to devastating consequences for both of you. Earth won’t be easy for an Exile; it never is, and more taboo still is the thought of having a relationship with the enemy, no matter how similar to us they are in body. You will be in danger both on the Heart Of The Sun and at home from those who believe Vash would be better off in a coffin.

“I know that,” Alan says. “I’ll take care of him.”

“Will you? You can’t just resign your military commission out of the blue; you’re in for two more years whether you like it or not. Standard regs don’t allow for alien partners to travel with the ship for security reasons. You’re lucky they’re taking him back to Earth on a military ship; after that it’s only going to get harder.”

“You can’t talk me out of it, Commander. We share a bond that nobody can break.”

“The Admiral said you were somewhat of a true believer. I say it’s foolishness that bends logic into madness, but do as you will; I can’t stop you. The shuttle will take you and Vash to the Heart Of The Sun tomorrow morning; be ready at oh-six-hundred-hours on the dot.”

“Yes sir,” Alan says.

“You are dismissed. Good luck with your mission, Lieutenant Karvakian, and with Vash. I pray to the Gods that you will not need it.”

“Thank you sir. May the Gods be with you as well.” He walks to the door and closes it with a sigh of relief and more than a little resentment. Who is he to think he can watch us like that? What we did up there was private, sacred. When we really needed help, his men had to be contacted to respond to the situation. I sense he’s not really on our side at all; he would have sooner killed Vash than saved him.

He walks to Vash’s room and notes with relief that it is no longer guarded. He knocks and Vash opens the door, beckoning him in. They stand in the middle of the room just looking at one another for a long moment, and then they let their shields drop. Vash seizes Alan, kissing him and disrobing him faster than he can think. He goes with the flow and watches as his clothes make a puddle around his feet before he starts to work on Vash’s.

“I want a shower,” Alan says. “I think I have purple sand in every crevice.”

“Let us find out,” Vash says enticingly, and his accent only makes it seem more alluring, more forbidden. They’re both hard before they even make it to the shower, filled with anticipation about what’s to come as they stand underneath the hot water and lather each other up. Alan takes the liquid soap and rubs it up and down the length of Vash’s shaft, massaging it into his balls with his other hand.

“I can’t take much more,” Vash gasps, pressed up against the shower wall. “Please. I need release.”

“I’m just getting started,” Alan says with a wicked glimmer in his eyes. He pours some soap on his finger and penetrates Vash with it. His cock twitches, but as he goes to stroke it, Alan bats his hand away. Vash lets out a low moan and Alan rewards him by removing his finger and thrusting up against him. Their wet cocks are slick against one another and Alan holds them together, stroking them both at the same time. Vash throws his head back, his wet hair sticking to his back. Alan pulls away and Vash moans a complaint in his own language. Vash takes control and thrusts Alan up against the shower wall.

Alan chuckles, “Okay, okay. I’ll stop before you go all crazy hunter Karalian on me.” In a sobering moment, he recalls Vash slitting his throat and suddenly he’s kissing the white scar that runs along Vash’s neck, silently thanking the Gods that they can be here like this now.

Vash thrusts into him, reminding Alan of his need and he returns to the moment, washing the soap off of Vash and dropping to his knees. He coats another finger and probes Vash with two fingers as he takes his cock in his mouth. It tastes like soap and spice, an odd, but not overly unpleasant combination. He takes as much of it in his mouth as he can manage, running his tongue along the Karalian’s shaft, his own dick finding friction against Vash’s leg. Vash claws at the soapy shower wall, muttering in Karalian and Alan drives him closer and closer to the edge.

Havi!” It’s both an endearment and a warning as Vash comes, his hot seed spilling into Alan’s mouth. There’s more than he can swallow and he withdraws, the rest of Vash’s load spilling onto his face.

“Gods.” Alan whispers as he leans into the water and washes his face.

“I am sorry,” Vash whispers.

“Sorry? Why on Earth are you sorry?” Alan stands up, turns off the water and pulls Vash into a gentle kiss. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I fear that my being here at all will be something we may both be sorry for someday.” Vash looked down at his feet. “I want you so much that it makes me feel ashamed.”

“Ashamed? Why? Because your people don’t accept it?”

“Perhaps,” Vash says.

“If I’m pushing you too hard, tell me to slow down,” Alan says. “I only do what’s natural to me. I don’t know what Karalians do, so if I ever do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, you’ve got to let me know.”

“No. You haven’t done anything wrong. I just... There’s something I want, but it’s an act considered vile in Karalian culture.” He looks almost shy and embarrassed as he wraps the towel around him and leaves the bathroom. “No, never mind. Forget I asked.”

“Seriously, ask,” Alan says. “If I don’t want to do it, I won’t agree to it. Simple as that. It won’t change the way I feel about you.”

“Are all Humans as open as you?” Vash asks.

“Some are, some aren’t. Depends on the person, really. Come on, quit stalling. You are making me nervous now. Just tell me what you want already.”

Vash leans down and whispers in Alan’s ear. Alan starts to laugh.

“I am sorry. I have shamed myself. I will leave now.”

Alan grabs Vash’s arm as he makes a beeline for his clothes and the door. “No. You misunderstand. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing because it’s what we’ve been working towards all along, only apparently you didn’t know that. Your shameful act, well, it’s par for the course for male kast’ka on our world.”

Vash gives him a questioning look. “Par for the...?”

“It’s normal,” Alan says. “It’s what we do.”

“Oh.” Vash looks so young as he stands there looking embarrassed.

“You mean to say you’ve never done it?” Alan scratches his head. “How old are you, anyway? I need to know I’m not robbing the Karalian cradle here.”

“I’m eighteen Karalian years old. Which is a hundred of your Earth years.”

“Oh, man. I’m only thirty-four Earth years old. Way to make me feel young. I know you guys are long-lived and all, but wow. A hundred years and you’ve never...?”

“We only reach adulthood on our seventeenth Karalian year. That is why I did not know about my kast’ka status before.”

message 11: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
“Oh. I understand. Now I feel old.” Alan sits on the side of the bed, naked. Vash sits beside Alan and leans in, slowly kissing down his chest. Alan starts to grow hard again, growing as Vash gently strokes him. “So you don’t mind doing something that’s taboo in your culture?”

“Everything we’ve done so far has been,” Vash says. “There’s a piece of me that wants it so badly it hurts. And another piece of me that knows once I’ve had what I want, I will never be able to go back to Karalia.”

“Isn’t that already impossible?” Alan asks. “They’re trying to kill you.”

“They think I cannot be fixed. If I go to them and say I have been misled, they will take me back. They will watch me for the rest of my life and I would have to keep my desires to myself, but they would not kill me so long as I did not break their laws.”

“Don’t ever go back,” Alan whispers. “There’s nothing worse than hiding who you are and what you need.”

“What if the thing I need is home?” Vash asks, looking away. “What if it turns out I need that more than I need... this?”

I can’t answer that question for you, Vash,” Alan says. “That’s something you need to find out for yourself. In the meantime, you should do everything you want to do. You can’t make decisions without experience.” He looks a world away from the man who stood outside my escape pod. Have I made him this small and vulnerable? Or does he just feel comfortable enough with me to show me his other side? His erection wilted away. There’ll be other times for that. Right now Vash needs my love and support. He’s about to defect from everything he’s ever known into a world that may not be any kinder than his own.

“I guess I can only hope these things work themselves out with time,” Vash says. “I am sorry I am filled with uncertainty. It is a great time of change for me. Many among the kast’ka dream of becoming Exiles, but few ever make it to Earth. Those who do are excommunicated on our planet, their records wiped from existence. It will be as if I was never born. If I ever see any of my family again, they will not even acknowledge me.”

“I’m sorry,” Alan says, his hands in his lap.

“No. I made the choices that brought me here. I left Karalia before they could draft me to the war effort. I announced that I was a kast’ka at a prestigious family dinner.” He smiled at the memory. Even though it must be painful, he still smiles. “I suppose that even if I did return, my family would view me only with suspicion, no matter what I said. I burned all my bridges, and I don’t regret it. I only fear that I might regret the rash moves I made in my youth along the line.”

I’ll die. The thought hit Alan like a thunderbolt. Karalians can live to be five hundred years old. That much I do know. I’m just a drop in the ocean of his life, no matter how much I mean to him. I’ll grow old, while he remains in his youth. It’s not only tomorrow and the day after he fears, but all the years that are to come. The thought sobered him and he reached for his clothes, dressing in his uniform and standing up.

“The shuttle leaves at six hundred hours tomorrow. We should get some rest, Vash.” Alan made his way to the door and let himself out. I was going to ask if I could stay, Alan thought, but it’s too late now.

Alan hurried along the hallway to his room, head down. Last night everything felt so right. I felt like I belonged by his side. Now I just feel like an alien. I have a short lifespan, and our culture is so different from Karalia’s it could come between us. Last night I thought what we built here could last forever, but now... Now I don’t know.

He lie on his bed and looked up at the ceiling, sleeplessly reliving the last fifteen days in his mind. It felt like this was a world just for two. If only the commandos hadn’t come, we could have stayed here for a long time, him and I, learning and discovering new things about each other. Without the war to drive a wedge between us. Now duty calls me home, and I’m not sure I’m the same man I was when I fell to Rinax.

Chapter Ten
Homeward Bound

Day Sixteen
Rinax Listening Post, Launch Pad

The sun is beating down by the time Alan and Vash are escorted outside to a nondescript patch of sand. Macey hits a button on a controller in his hand and the sand shifts as a platform rises up from the ground. The purple dust is blown from the surface by machines, revealing a landing pad.

“Inform the shuttle it can land.” Macey says into his earpiece. A shuttle emerges from the clouds, setting down on the pad and shutting down its engines. A bay door opens to reveal a group of soldiers sitting in the back. They unload supplies for the base as Alan and Vash watch.

“I guess it’s time to say goodbye to Rinax,” Alan says, squeezing Vash’s arm. Vash turns and looked out over the crystalline sands with a look of longing.

“Perhaps we will return someday.” Vash’s voice is soft, quiet as he says it. “Maybe it is an odd place to call home, but this is the first world to give me freedom. I hope it is not the last.” He evades Alan’s grip and walks towards the shuttle, passing the soldiers’ suspicious glances and climbing onboard. He finds a seat and sits down, strapping himself in as Alan follows and sits beside him.

“It’s going to be okay, Vash. You’ll see. Earth is a good place.”

“I do not expect your people to love one of my kind. It is simply the nature of war that one must suspect the enemy.”

“If we could stay here, perhaps we would,” Alan says, “but we can’t. The commandos won’t stop hunting you. Besides, we would run out of food eventually. My people are waiting for me, too. My family probably thought I was dead.”

“Do you plan to continue serving in the military once we reach Earth?” Vash asks.

“I don’t know,” Alan says, looking away. “It’ll take us three months just to reach Earth. Let’s just take one day at a time, okay?”


They sit silently as the shuttle bay doors close and the pilot announces takeoff. The shuttle pulls up with a sickening lurch that makes Alan hold his stomach. Vash is looking through the window, watching Rinax below them as the shuttle builds up speed to break through the atmosphere. They pierce the clouds and Rinax can no longer be seen, the purple sands just a memory.

“Are you scared?” Alan asks.


“Of going to Earth,” Alan says.

“I do not know what it is that I feel,” Vash says. “It is... complicated.”

You’ve got that right, Alan thinks, but bites his tongue. “How so?”

“I am going to the land of my enemies.” Vash says. “I do not expect to make many friends there, or on your ship. My people killed your soldiers and pilots. I don’t expect them to show me much warmth.”

“Has to be better than Rinax. You were completely alone there.”

“I do not mind being alone. And then I met you.” Vash’s hand meets Alan’s and holds it in a firm grip, their fingers entwining.

“You still have me,” Alan says, smiling. “I won’t let anybody give you grief.”

The uneasy silence between them dissipates and Alan rests his head back against the seat, bracing himself for the ship to break through the atmosphere. Vash looks across and sees his eyes close. He closes his own momentarily, letting out a long, barely audible sigh before summoning green light to his fingertips.

The shuttle rocks. The green light is gone before Alan opens his eyes.

“What’s going on?” Alan yells. “Are we under attack?”

“We didn’t even break out of the atmosphere yet,” Vash soothes him. “It must be some kind of technical problem.” They hear ruckus up front as the pilots scramble to get the ship under control.

“Prepare for a crash landing!” One of them yells back into the passenger section. “This bird is going down!” The ship rocks again and Alan grabs his stomach as it lurches violently, threatening to bring back his breakfast.

“Are you strapped in?” Vash fusses over him, checking his belt is secure. “Close your eyes. It will be okay.”

“We’re going to crash! It’s not going to be okay!” Alan yells. He grabs a paper bag and vomits into it, his stomach giving up the fight.

Vash puts his head between his knees. “Brace yourself!” Alan copies him, an the next thing he knows the world is spinning and spinning until his brain finally gives up trying to keep up with it all and he blacks out.

* * *

The first thing Alan feels is the cold. It penetrates his clothing and tickles his limbs until they are numb. He opens his eyes to see frost on the inside of the broken windows. His breath is so cold it freezes. A frozen branch is sticking through the window, right where Vash had been sitting when they crashed.

Vash! Alan moves his stiff neck and feels a stinging pain in his forehead. He reaches up and his fingers come back coated with blood but he ignores his concern for himself as he shakes the still figure beside him.

“Vash! Wake up!” Vash’s face is so cold that Alan can’t tell for a second if the Karalian is dead or alive, and fear jolts through his veins as he processes the possibility that his only friend on Rinax might be lost to him forever.

Vash opens his eyes, and Alan closes his eyes, letting out a long, relieved breath that freezes instantaneously, the water vapor hanging in the air between them.

“Alan...” Vash reaches for him, feels his warm pulse, and relaxes against him. Alan brushes through his long hair with cold fingers.

“Vash, we have to stay awake,” Alan says. “I get the feeling that if we fall asleep again, we won’t wake up. Where the hell are we, anyway? I thought Rinax was mostly desert.”

“In the continent we were on, yes,” Vash says. “That’s the one we fight over; all of Rinax’s resources are held there. But there is another continent too, one filled with frozen forests and icy tundra. We must have landed there.”

Alan frees himself from the broken harness and forces his freezing legs to move. “Are you hurt, Vash?”

“Not that I can tell,” Vash says. “Just a few scratches.”

Alan climbs across the seats and offers his hand to Vash, who accepts, climbing over to stand with him. Vash moves his hand up to Alan’s forehead, gently touching the gouge there.

“It’s okay,” Alan says. “I’ve had worse.” He makes his way to the cockpit, which is bent upright, and pulls the door down. One of the pilots falls out and Vash catches him, but his head dangles down uselessly from a broken neck and lifeless eyes stare widely at them. Alan pulls his eyes away and looks inside the cockpit. The other pilot has been skewered by a tree branch through the chest, eternally pinned to his seat.

“They’re both dead,” Alan says sadly. “We’re on our own, Vash.”

“That is unfortunate.” Vash’s eyes hold a look of regret as he places the pilot’s body on the passenger seats and works on the exit door. It refuses to move at first, but then budges and opens. Vash looks down, and seeing he can make the jump, hops down. Alan follows, jumping from the shuttle. Vash catches him as he lands awkwardly, then takes stock of his surroundings.

They are surrounded by forest, except all the trees are frozen, glimmering like crystal. Thin rays of sunlight permeate the canopy. Small pieces of ice fall as they stand there, bouncing off the frozen leaves underfoot.

“It is said that Rinax’s winter comes so suddenly that the trees don’t even know it,” Vash says. “They are frozen with their leaves still intact, preserved until the spring thaw. Then they shed all their material and start over at the same time, leaves falling all around as new greenery sprouts.”

“How do you know all this?” Alan asks.

“The Karalians have many legends about Rinax. It is not just a place to harvest energy. It is our promised land, the haven that our people will ascend to when we are ready.” He closes his eyes. “But we are far from ready as long as we kill our own people, and yours. The history of this world is written in blood.”

message 12: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
“I had no idea it meant so much to the Karalians,” Alan says. “Whenever we flew missions, we were always told it was an important strategic point, but I have to admit, I wasn’t a good study. I just did what I was told in those days. If it was for Earth, I didn’t care about the reasons.”

“And now?” Vash asks.

“Now I don’t know,” Alan says. “Things have become complicated. The war is no longer black and white.” He shakes his head. “I guess it doesn’t matter now. We were so close to going back, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” He climbs back aboard the shuttle and goes back into the cockpit, looking at the broken communications equipment. Vash follows.

“We can’t even signal for help,” Alan says. “We’re going to freeze to death out here, and nobody will even see the shuttle from the air.”

“We will not freeze,” Vash says. “I can create a fire using magic. Take any supplies you can and we can get moving.”

“Get moving? Where to? We should stay the hell here and see if we can fix the radio. If you’re right, the whole continent is frozen. I have no desire to die in the middle of a frozen wasteland. We have to signal for rescue.”

“You saw how that worked out last time. We brought the commandos down on us. No signals. You cannot fix this equipment anyway. Look at it. It is nothing more than a tangled mess of wires now.”

“We’re going to die,” Alan says, despairingly leaning on the broken control console. He lifts his hand and punches down hard on it. His cold hand stings. He goes to do it again and Vash grabs his arm, holding it in his tight grip.

“Despair will not help us,” Vash says. “Strip these men of their clothes and wear them over your own. An extra layer will help you with the cold.”

“I can’t do that!”

“They don’t need them any more. You do.”

“What about you?”

“Karalians do not feel the cold like Humans. Many of us live on the poles, as the equator of our planet is too hot to support life in the summer months. However, the winter months can be brutal. We have learned to tolerate a chill like this.”

Alan leaned down and reluctantly stripped the pilot of his clothes. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to the corpses. “When we get rescued, I’ll make sure you get a proper, dignified burial.” He put the clothes on and climbed inside the cockpit. “I can’t get this one free. The tree branch goes right through the seat. I’m leaving him alone.”

“Do as you wish. I have found supplies in the overhead compartments. We should get moving.”

They climbed back down from the shuttle, out into the frozen forest. The extra layer of clothing did provide some protection, but Alan could still feel the chill right down to his bones. He folded his arms as they walked, his breath coming out in clouds of frozen vapor.

They walked all day like that, saying little to each other. Their previous intimacy seemed forgotten in the cold as Alan mused on his broken hopes. We were going to go home. To Earth. I could have seen Chester again. Now that seems more and more unlikely. Vash is happy, I can feel it. He never wanted to go to Earth, did he? That shuttle crashing was the best thing that could have happened to him.

His feet hurt from walking and his cut itched, the dry blood irritating him, but Alan didn’t want to stop when Vash called.

“We should rest,” Vash says as they reach a clearing. “Grab some firewood and I’ll create a fire.”

“You get it. It was your idea to come along.”

“Why so bitter? I only seek our best chance at survival, Alan. I want to get home safe as well.”

“Only your home isn’t Earth, is it?” Alan turns on Vash. “You never wanted to go to Earth really, did you? This is the best thing that could have happened to you!”

“That is untrue. I regret the death of the two pilots. Yes, I am hesitant about leaving behind everything I know, but I already made that choice long ago when I left Karalia.”

Alan seemed to deflate. “Okay, whatever. I’ll go get firewood. Just get us warm. I can’t feel most of my body any more.”

They sat in silence, eating ration packs that had been left in the emergency kit on the shuttle. Vash tenderly saw to Alan’s wound, cleaning it and stitching it with the utmost care. “I am sorry you cannot go home,” he says softly, but Alan says nothing in response. Vash throws him a blanket and they sleep apart despite the cold, each of them suddenly needing their own personal space.

Alan can’t sleep. He shivers underneath his blanket, looking up at the stars where the trees open up to the sky. I was almost home. I was so close. He looks over at Vash, who is sleeping soundly. What’s with him? One moment he was loving and fierce, and now he seems as frosty as this place. I don’t get it.

Lights overhead catch his eye suddenly and he gets to his feet, frozen limbs fighting him. He waved his arms and yells. “Hey! Down here!” He rushes to Vash and awakens him, shaking him awake with the force of a hurricane.

“Up there! Help’s coming! We have to get back to the shuttle!” Alan starts to run, the frozen leaves crackling underfoot as he races through the forest. Vash follows, catching up the Alan. To Alan’s surprise, Vash jumps him and they go down together into the cold leaves. Alan finds himself fighting Vash to get free, but Vash is stronger and holds him down.

“What the hell? Let go of me!” Alan yells, but Vash holds him down until the sound of the ship fades away.

“It could have been a commando drop-ship,” Vash says quietly, as if the ship might hear them even now. “They might have heard the distress call from our shuttle and decided to check it out. Think before you act.”

Alan stopped fighting and lies his head back in the cold leaves. “And what if it wasn’t? What if it was one of ours? What if we’ve missed the only opportunity to get out of here alive?”

Vash stands up, holding his rib. He bends over, as if in excruciating pain for a second, then stands back up.

“Are you okay?” Alan asks. “Did I hit you?”

“It is nothing. Come on. We must keep moving.”

“Now? It’s the middle of the night!” Alan’s anger is back again and he’s on his feet. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on!”

“What do you mean?”

“You know damn well what I mean! You’ve been different ever since we crash landed here. Cold and frosty, like this place. I know you well enough to know that you’re hiding something!”

“I cannot tell you,” Vash says simply.

The ship makes another pass and Alan runs after it. Vash grabs onto his arm but Alan slips from his grip, racing through the trees faster than Vash can keep up. The frozen trees are thinning but Alan keeps up his pace, darting through the trees until they thin away completely. A hill of frozen mud leads down to a sheet of ice, a former lake of some kind that sparkles blue and purple in the moonlight. Alan stops for a second, judging the slope. He looks behind to see that Vash is still following and tentatively puts a foot on the icy slope. He slips, falling downwards, spiraling out of control as he tries to grab a handhold but there is none on the slick surface and he slides until he hits the covered lake, losing momentum until he slows down to nothing. Vash follows him down, keeping his footing while sliding in a controlled fashion. Alan is still lying prone on the ice. He looks around to see Vash and scrambles to get up, his hands and feet sliding on the slick surface before he can pull himself up. The gash on his head has split open again and is now weeping blood into his eyes. Vash catches up and grabs Alan, but Alan fights in his grip, pushing him away.

“Get away from me!” Alan yells. “I should have known you were a Karalian spy!” He fights to get away, his feet scrambling on the ice. Vash grabs him again and they both slip over. Alan is on top and he punches Vash. “I can’t believe I trusted you!” he screams. He’s warm now, sweating underneath his clothes As Vash fights back and gains the upper hand, rolling on top of Alan and pinning his hands down to the ice. The ship turns around and swoops back over the lake, rushing over their heads as they wrestle on the ice.

“I... am not... a spy!” Vash gasps. “You have to... trust me!”

The ship spots them and stops, hovering above the ice before slowly descending. Alan stops struggling against Vash and watches it set down gently on the ice.

“That’s not a Human ship,” Alan says, despair in his voice. “But it’s not a commando drop-ship, either.”

A cargo bay door opens with a whirring sound and then a platform descends with several Karalians on board. They are heavily armed, but look far more disorganized than the rigid commandos. Alan tries to get up, but Vash holds him down.

“Vash?” Alan asks helplessly. The Karalians march up them, pointing their guns at Vash and saying something in Karalian. Vash stands up, saluting them and they lower their guns.

Sensing an opportunity, Alan pulls himself up, scrambling for purchase on the ice and starts to run. The Karalians raise their weapons but Vash raises an arm and they lower them.

“Alan, you have nothing to be afraid of!” Vash yells, but Alan isn’t listening.

There’s a cracking sound, like bones snapping and the Karalians rush to safety. Vash sees the ice cracking beneath Alan’s feet and he falls, plunging into the water.

“ALAN!” Vash yells. He looks behind him to see the Karalians beckoning, then forward again to see Alan flailing in the water. He puts one foot forward carefully, testing the ice and then another, moving slowly to Alan’s position. Alan grabs for the ice but it breaks away in his grip and he’s struggling to remain afloat as the bitter cold water slows his reaction speed.

I could just go to sleep, he thinks. Just close my eyes and I can forget that Vash has betrayed me. Better to die here than as a Karalian prisoner.

Vash finally reaches the hole in the ice and reaches a hand out to grab Alan as he slips beneath the water. He pulls him up with all his strength. The ice crackles nervously beneath him, threatening to plunge both of them back into the icy water. He closes his eyes and summons green light. Ice shoots from his fingers, filling the hole and the cracks in the ice. Alan is unconscious, cold to the touch and he resists the urge to run across the ice to the Karalian ship, instead taking his time and making the trip with care so that the ice doesn’t fracture again.

The Karalians shoot Vash an odd expression and mutter as he brings Alan to the elevator. Alan comes around momentarily to find himself slung over Vash’s back. The upside-down view of the Karalians makes his head spin and he passes out again.

Chapter Eleven

Day Seventeen
Rinax, Karalian ship “Val’tala”

Alan wakes to find himself in a dimly-lit room, covered in blankets. He can tell he’s on a ship from the steady hum of the engines. He’s hooked up to an intravenous drip which he eyes with suspicion, sitting up. The text on the bag is written in Karalian and he can’t understand it. If they’re keeping me drugged, they’re not doing a very good job of it, he realizes. He moves to pull out the needle when the door slides open and Vash appears.

“Do not remove that,” Vash says. “You were dehydrated as well as hypothermic. You need to rest.”

“Are you finally going to tell me what’s going on?” Alan asks. “Am I a prisoner? Where are we going?”

“No, you’re not a prisoner,” Vash says. He walks over to a panel and hits a button, and the whole wall moves across to reveal the stars through a floor-to-ceiling glass window. “Alan, what I was searching for on Rinax was the Karalian Resistance. Their location is a closely guarded secret, their base so private even we are not even allowed to go there. That’s why... That’s why I crashed the shuttle. I wanted to go back to Earth with you, but I cannot. Not while my people still need me.”

message 13: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
Alan sits in silence for a few seconds, processing Vash’s revalation. He jumps to his feet suddenly, grabbing Vash by the throat and pinning him up against the wall. “Two innocent soldiers died in that shuttle crash!”

“That was regrettable,” Vash says. “I never wanted to kill anybody.”

Alan lets go, stepping back and taking a deep breath. He shakes his head. “You could have just told me what was going on. We could have found the Resistance together. Why all the bullshit? Why the angst about a potential Earth life you never planned on living?”

“The Humans at the base did not need to know about the Resistance,” Vash says. “and be aware that they were listening in our every word. Your people have the worst information network I have ever seen, compromised by over a dozen Karalian spies. If the Resistance base on Rinax is found by Humans, the entire universe will know of its location. I could not risk alerting Macey to its existence.”

“People died for your secret,” Alan yells. “Are you happy now?”

Vash bows his head. “I must help my people, Alan. I must stop their suffering. I’m sorry that I didn’t trust you, but I can’t risk the Resistance being discovered. This tiny movement may be the only hope Karalia has left.”

“Why did you have to get me involved?” Alan says. “All I wanted to do was go home and see my family. My shipmates. Earth. I never asked to be a part of any resistance movement!”

“You are kast’ka too, are you not?” Vash asks. “I thought you would help us in our struggle, so that our oppression might end.”

“So that your oppression might end,” Alan says. “My planet is perfectly accepting of us. You could have built a life there and we could have lived in peace.”

“How can I have peace knowing that my brothers and sisters are being infected with this vile weapon, Alan? How do you expect me to sleep at night?”

Alan walks to the window, dragging along the drip and holding onto the roomy white robe he was dressed in. “How do you think I can sleep knowing my squad-mates are fighting for Earth without me? I never asked to join your war, Vash.”

“Then we will take you home.” Vash’s voice is filled with disappointment as he turns and walks away. Alan almost asks him to stop but he can’t let go of his anger and bitterness at Vash’s actions enough to say the words. He simply watches as Vash leaves and the door slides shut behind him.

Alan walks back to the bed and slumps down onto the side of it. Perhaps it’s best if I just go home. What I said was right. This isn’t my war. Mom, Dad and Chester need me on Earth. Vash is special to me, but we have different goals. It’s time to let him go. There’s a pang in his heart as he thinks that, but he pushes it down. Seeing little else he can do in the room, he lies back down on the bed and falls back to sleep.

* * *

It’s late ship’s time when Alan awakens again, indicated by a clock on the wall that shows both Human and Karalian time, presumably for tactical reasons. He stands up, his head pounding and he realizes he’s hungry. Alan pulls out the needle in his hand and holds his robe against the small hole in his hand until it stops bleeding. There’s a small red stain on the robe now but he doesn’t care. He walks to the door and it slides open for him. Vash is heading up the corridor towards him with a plate of food. He hands it over wordlessly.

“Thanks,” Alan mutters, but Vash hands him the plate and moves to leave. “Wait!” Alan says, not wanting to be alone again. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t talk to anyone on this ship.”

Vash turns and heads back towards him, his expression softening. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the translation jewel, still attached to its strap. “I repaired this a few nights ago,” he says, attaching it around Alan’s throat with tender hands. “Consider it a gift. Now you should be able to understand Karalians, and they will be able to understand you. It is a treasure of my people, so do not lose it. Our magic does not work nearly as well at tasks such as translation.”

“Th-Thanks,” Alan says. Vash bids him goodnight and walks away. Alan takes his meal back to his room and enjoys it. It’s some kind of synthesized steak but it’s been cooked to perfection and he downs it hungrily, barely even pausing to chew. Looking around his room afterwards, he notices a basic outfit left inside the wardrobe, a grey t-shirt and pants. It fits him well enough after he rolls up the pant legs and he heads towards the door, feeling more daring about exploring the ship now that he doesn’t look like a medbay escapee. The door isn’t locked, and I can understand the Karalians now. Perhaps I’ll learn something. Beats staying here, anyway.

He walks down the hallway to the elevator, looking at the floor map and wishing he could read Karalian. He presses his hand to it in despair and it speaks to him, making him jump with a startled “oh”.

“Please state the facility you are looking for.”

“Um. Observation Deck. If there is one.”

There was a pause. “Observation Lounge is on Deck Three. Would you like the elevator to take you there?”

“Yes,” Alan said, stepping into the elevator. It started to descend with a whirring sound and stopped gently, the doors sliding open with ease.

“Go forward, take a turn left, and it is the last door on your right,” the voice says. “Happy Nivelsa!”

“What’s Nivelsa?” Alan asks, but the computer remains silent. Shrugging, he goes on his way, stopping when the doors to the observation lounge slide open. Whatever he was expecting, he realizes this isn’t it.

The room is glass all over, even the floor and ceiling. Alan takes a deep breath before he allows himself a tentative step onto the glass and vertigo overwhelms him at once. He falls to his knees and tries again, slowly getting to his feet.

“You get used to it.” The female voice startled him and he turned around too quickly, intensifying his vertigo. The woman was clearly Karalian and quite a beauty; red hair on top of white with startling green eyes and red marks across her face like Vash. He saw her swollen belly and realized she must be pregnant with a tiny “oh”.

“I’m sorry I startled you. You must be Alan. I don’t get to see Humans very much. My name is Valeria.” She offered out her hand and took his, leading him across the floor and over to the window. Alan rediscovered his manners and pulled a chair over for the woman. She smiled and sat down. She clicked her fingers and a chair moved by itself, coming to sit next to hers. Alan sat down, looking out at the stars, wondering what he should say.

“You keep looking at me oddly. I assume it’s the pregnancy?” Valeria asks, catching Alan off-guard again.

“Yeah,” he says. There’s no keeping secrets from this lady.

“I heard that on your world, women do not die in childbirth,” Valeria says. “It must be nice.” There was no bitterness in her voice, only sadness. “Worse is that I did not choose this fate. I am a kast’ka. The commandos caught me, only the worm did not take. They left a different kind of parasite inside me instead.” She looks down at the invisible floor.

“I am truly sorry,” Alan says, not knowing what to say.

“You don’t have to apologize. War is a terrible thing, with terrible consequences. Of which I am just one.”

“There are other solutions, you know,” Alan says. “You don’t have to die.”

“That is not my way,” Valeria says. “I have made my choice and accepted that any day may be the end. Fate is a cruel thing, but it is what it is.” She shakes her head. “You and Vash... both kast’ka, yes?” Alan nods. “Tell me, is it true that the Humans accept kast’ka?”

“Yeah,” Alan says proudly. “Yeah, we do. On our ships, too. Which is good, because I haven’t been home in seven years.”

“Seven years. It must be a long time to be away, especially in a short Human life. Vash says you plan to return. A shame. We could use one like you, but I understand.”

“I want to see my family,” Alan says. “I wish that I could stay and help, but it’s not my war.”

“It is okay. You do not have to explain.” Valeria stands, then clutches her stomach. “It is time,” she says sadly. She pulls a communication device from her pocket and pushes a red button. “Go,” she urges Alan. “I do not wish for you to see this. They will be here in moments. Do not fear for me.”

“I can’t just leave you,” Alan says. He takes her hand and holds it tightly. “Let me help you.”

Medics show up at the door and pull Alan away. He sees Vash at the door wearing a grave expression and walks over to him. “Vash, there has to be something we can do!”

“There is nothing,” Vash says. “This is the way of our world. We are born of blood, death creating new life. I would not have you see this, Alan. Please come with me.” he puts his hands on Alan’s shoulders, gentle and reassuring.

“No,” Alan decides. “No, I can’t. I have to see for myself. I have to know.” He walks across the room. Vash follows, but makes no attempt to stop him, simply follows in his footsteps as he approaches the medics. They move aside, and Alan kneels down beside Valeria, whispering something in her ear.

“Okay,” Valeria says. “Forgive me for the nightmares... oh!”

Alan squeezes her hand as she splits open like a rotting fruit. She screams and Alan squeezes her hand, but he’s no longer sure who he’s reassuring. The medics pull at what’s left of her, trying to extricate the child within.

“Give her some pain relief or something, by the Gods!” Alan yells at the medics, but they shake their heads.

“It is not possible, Alan,” Vash says. “Our bodies are not like yours. Any magic or medicine will kill the child. Surgery does not work, either. It seems our lives are based on magic, and that magic must be taken from the mother or the child shall die. See, she does not die just from the brutality of the birth, but from the passing on of her magic, her life essence. The shell only splits because it is no longer needed.”

Alan sees green light in the air, coming from Valeria and swarming into the squalling, bloody child that the medics hold up. Valeria’s hand is still in his, but he’s no longer conscious and he thanks the Gods silently. He checks her pulse and feels it slowing until it comes to a stop. He reaches across and closes her eyes. His whole body shakes as he struggles to stand, Vash supporting him. He turns into Vash’s arms, his whole body shaking with rage at Valeria’s cruel fate and the universe that brought her to this. Vash holds him in a tight embrace, holding him up as his shaky knees buckle.

“We should go,” Vash says softly. “There is nothing more to be done.” He lets go of Alan, taking his hand and carefully guiding him away. Alan stops about midway down the hallway, turning and hitting the wall.

“It shouldn’t have happened!” Alan yells. “She was a kast’ka! The commandos raped her! She didn’t even get a choice in the matter!”

“Now you understand why I had to come here,” Vash says. His eyes are filled with tears as well, his voice tight. Why I brought you with me. Karalia can have no peace with the Humans until this barbarism against my people ends. It won’t be over until the High Council is unseated. Most of them are my family members. I am responsible for this injustice, and I will bring it down.” He stalked to his room, pressed a button to open the door and stepped inside.

“Vash, were you... born the same way?” Alan followed.

message 14: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
“I was. I did kill my mother, as every Karalian does. The Humans had an answer to our problem, but that answer has been sealed by the High Council. Only a few know that the High Council is not only responsible for the persecution of the kast’ka, but the persecution of every woman on Karalia as well. Before I defected, I learned what that secret was. The Humans had an answer to our birth problem, Alan. A half-Human, half-Karalian child that could be grown in a tank. Their prototype survived to adulthood, and was normal in all other ways but one; the child had no magical power. The High Council deemed the project an insult to our culture and sealed the records. That’s what started this war, Alan. That’s why, when they knew I was kast’ka, they hunted me down ruthlessly. They couldn’t let somebody who knew their darkest secrets defect. That’s why I had to find the Resistance, to pass along my secret. To put an end to this. But that’s only the beginning, Alan. We have to get the Karalian people to know about the injustices perpetrated against their own, and believe it.”

“This is my war, isn’t it?” Alan says, sitting down on a chair. His tears were drying, his mind coming out of shock and back to him. “The end of this government will save my world as well.”

“Perhaps,” Vash says. “It is possible that any new government installed will not be receptive to peace with the Humans, however.”

“I can’t stop thinking about Valeria,” Alan says. “So much has happened. There’s so much cruelty on your world. You’re right. I can’t leave. I am kast’ka too. What they did to her, they did to me and you as well.” He closes his eyes, finding Vash’s arms and taking comfort in them. “Vash, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”

“You had reason to doubt,” Vash says. “I killed two of your people, and did not explain my reasons to you.”

“Now I know,” Alan says. “I know why you had to keep this a secret.”

“Soon, it will be a secret no more,” Vash says. “The worm, the children, the rapes, the persecution of kast’ka and women... We will blow Karalia’s secrets wide open. Together.”

* * *

Vash takes Alan back to his cabin and they settle down to sleep, Vash falling to sleep almost instantly. Alan stares up at the ceiling, unable to find any rest.

“Are you okay?” Vash stirs and whispers in his lover’s ear.

“I need you,” Alan whispers, and Vash understands, tracing a line down Alan’s chest as he leans in for a gentle kiss. Vash’s hand stirs his cock into action and Alan moves to pull Vash’s leggings down, exposing his cock to the air. They move together in the dark, their cocks held together by Vash’s hand, rubbing against each other until the friction is too much to bear and they come, gasping for breath. Alan gets out of bed and walks to the window. A dot catches his eye out in the stars, a ship dropping out of light speed.

“Vash, something’s coming in.” Just as he says it, an alarm sounds and the ship’s shields rise.

“Get dressed. Let’s go to the bridge,” Vash says, cleaning himself up and pulling on his leggings.

“You’re allowed on the bridge?” Alan asks.

“I’m the son of a high ranking Council member. I could run the Resistance if I wanted,” Vash says. “In time, that may come to pass, but first I must earn their trust and respect.”

They dash from the room and into the elevator, where Vash barks a command and the elevator rises. It opens to a scene of chaos. A Human ship is onscreen, firing several shots. The Val’tala rocks as the laser blasts connect. A Karalian yells out a damage report and the commander turns in his seat to greet the new arrivals.

“Zor’Vina, now is not a good time,” the commander yells.

“Let Alan talk to them,” Vash says. “He may be able to negotiate.”

“Me?” Alan says. “I’m not sure they’ll listen, but I’ll try.”

“Open a channel!” The commander yells. Alan’s mouth falls open as he sees a familiar face on the screen.

“Martin? That’s not possible, you’re...”

“Dead? No, not exactly,” Martin says. “It’s been quite entertaining, watching you grow.”

“Grow? What do you mean?”

“At first I thought the World Government was losing their minds, having me leak you information about the worm. A more loyal soldier you won’t find, I told them. Apparently I knew little - because just a few months later, there you were at my base, with Karalian in tow. I had a little facial modification done and called myself Macey so I could learn that he’d told you all you needed to know, connected the missing pieces that linked the Karalian punishment worm back to the Human biological weapon. Now you had sympathy with him. Truth is, we could care less if the biological weapon story gets out. Like I said back then, Humans don’t care. We could nuke Karalia and nobody would give a damn.”

“Then what was the point?” Alan asks.

“We knew Zor’Vina was looking for the Resistance and we knew you would lead us right to them, one way or another. We had no idea the Resistance had their base on Rinax, but now it’s just a matter of time before we find and crush it, thanks to you. How sweet your little story has been, Alan. Crash landing on Rinax and falling in love with the enemy! You’ve played your part perfectly.”

“Why do you care about finding the Resistance?” Alan said. “Karalian internal politics are none of your concern!”

“Ah, but they are,” Martin said. “You see, the High Council and the World Government have made a deal. Under the table, of course. You see, war keeps both Humans and Karalians conservative, afraid of change, reluctant to mix and crossbreed. Not to mention all the lucrative weapons contracts that come out of it. A state of war benefits all of us, Alan. Well, except for the women and the kast’ka, but really, who gives a fuck?”

“You son of a bitch.” Alan watches a dozen more ships appear on the radar. “Kill the connection!” Alan yells and the screen goes black. He turns to Vash. “This is bad. Really bad.”

“I’m assuming command,” Vash says. The Commander doesn’t even object, just gives up the chair. Vash strides to it. “Prepare for battle,” he says. “Ready laser cannons.”

“We can’t fight all of those ships!” Alan yells.

“I know,” Vash says, turning to Alan. “That’s where you come in. I need you to go down to the escape pods and take one. One pod falling to Rinax won’t even be noticed in the heat of the battle. Once there, find the Resistance base and tell them everything I told you. Take Valeria’s child with you.”

“What are you going to do?” Alan asks.

“I’m going to stay and fight for my people,” Vash says. “Alan, this is goodbye.”

“You can’t do that!” Alan yells. “Someone, stop him!”

To Alan’s surprise, the Commander steps forward and pulls a needle from his pocket, thrusting it into Vash’s neck. Vash slumps forward in the chair as the Commander turns to Alan. “Take him with you. Zor’Vina is the future of the Resistance. I cannot allow him to die here.” He helps Alan pick up Vash’s prone body and he walks to the exit with Vash slung over his shoulder as another blast rocks the ship.

“Fire at will!” The Commander yells, taking his seat. He nods to Alan who tears himself away from the view-screen and leaves the bridge.

Alan hurries through the ship, heading to the medbay where he retrieves Valeria’s son and supplies for their journey. He holds the boy in a sling on his back and Vash in his arms as he staggers to the escape pods, guided by civilian members of the Resistance who are waiting for him at every turn.

“Keep them safe,” one old Karalian woman said. “Our future rests with you.”

How bravely you face the future, Alan thought. You are all sacrificing your lives for this information. I swear to deliver it, and keep Vash and this child safe. He straps himself in and the escape pod launches. He watches with sadness as the Val’tala puts up a valiant fight and eventually succumbs, sinking as fires reach the main engines and exploding in a blaze of glory. All those souls, gone. Dead for this information, which in the end may mean nothing. If my people have sold us out, the research may already be dust. There may be no hybrid beings to create, no answers to be had. Regardless, the High Council and the World Government must be brought down.

Vash stirs as they enter Rinax’s atmosphere. The baby squalls at the change of gravity and Alan soothes him.

“Where... What... Alan, what is happening?” Vash sits up sharply. “Alan, what have you done?”

“Saved your life,” Alan says. “The Resistance needs you, Vash. The Commander knew that as well. That’s why he drugged you. We’re all that’s left of the Val’tala now. We must find the Resistance base on Rinax and deliver the information. Those people died so that we could do this.”

Vash looks up at the wreckage floating around them. Rinax’s atmosphere grows thicker and it fades from view. Alan holds onto the child as the escape pod makes a rough landing.

* * *

Opening the door, they climb out of the pod to see ice all around them. Alan holds the baby close to him as they start to walk in silence. He thinks about making a joke about the number of crash landings they’ve lived through, but the Val’tala’s loss leaves a heaviness on his chest that makes joking feel inappropriate.

Soon they’re so cold that even the baby grows quiet. Vash builds a fire and they sit around it, warming the Karalian child until he cries again. Alan feeds him formula from the supply pack as Vash wanders away. Alan rocks the child to sleep and carries him over to where Vash is standing.

“We may never find the base,” Vash says. “We may well freeze to death out here, and all their sacrifices will be for nothing.”

“I know,” Alan says. “We have to at least try. The base is here somewhere, I know it.”

Vash pulls Alan into his embrace. “Thank you for saving me,” he says. “Truth is, I do not wish to die, but I felt like it was my responsibility to stay.”

“Your responsibility is to get us through this so we can deliver the intel,” Alan says. He leads Vash back towards the fire and pulls a blanket over them. “Rest for now.”

Chapter Twelve
Shooting Stars

Day Eighteen
Rinax Forest Clearing

Night is drawing in when Nina decides to take a walk. There are times when the Resistance base could feel far too cooped up.

She stops walking when she sees a dot fall into the forest nearby. She pulls her furs around her and runs back to the base, screaming in Karalian. “A shooting star falls!” Within the hour, a dozen Karalians are ready to go on an expedition into the forest. They trudge through the dark and the ice, ready to put down any enemies that might have found them.

It was later that night when the first Karalians reached the campsite. Tiptoeing into the camp, the one beckons the others to come over. Lying on the ground, huddled under blankets was a Human and a Karalian, holding a baby between them. Ice has formed in their hair and their faces are blue from the cold. The head of the expedition thinks they are all dead until the baby lets out a cry and the Human opens his eyes and starts to shiver violently. He gasps and shakes his Karalian companion who rises at once.

“It’s okay,” Alan says though chattering teeth. “We mean no harm.”

“State your business,” the expedition leader says.

“We have information,” Vash says. “Take us to the Resistance leader. Please, Valil.”

“How do you know me? Wait. Zor’Vina, son of Vandash? Is that you?” The Karalian looks at him oddly. “I had heard rumors of you going into exile, but...”

I am kast’ka,” Vash says proudly. I’ve come to fight for my people with my mate, Alan. Now take us back to the base. We have much important news to discuss with your leader.”

message 15: by Ravon, 500 celebration able assistant (new)

Ravon Silvius | 85 comments Mod
* * *

The Resistance gave them furs, which made the trip much easier. They were led to a normal looking patch of ice out on the snowy plains, which slid open to reveal an elevator. They stepped in and were taken down into a series of passageways. A doctor took the baby from them and away to the medbay and Alan was relieved that his tiny burden was safe at last.

They seemed to walk forever until they reached the center of the facility and were finally led to a small office where they were frisked for weapons and ordered to sit. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Vash moved his hand across to Alan’s knee and Alan squeezed it.

Finally the door opened and a figure strode in wearing a black cloak. The hood was up and Alan couldn’t see the person’s face. The figure was short for a Karalian; about five-six and skinny. The figure sat down in the chair.

“I am the leader of the Resistance base here,” the man said, and the voice seemed familiar to Alan. “We will listen to your information now.”

“No way...” Alan said. “Chester?”

Alan’s younger brother let his hood down and smiled. “Damn, I’m busted. I was hoping I could keep you in suspense a little longer.”

“Chester, what the hell are you doing all the way out here? I thought you were at home with Mom and Dad? I thought you were going to med school?”

“I was. Until I stumbled upon some information a year ago that I shouldn’t have. I was researching Karalian reproduction for my thesis. I found old research dating back two hundred years that detailed the method for creating hybrid beings that would not kill the mother. But I didn’t even get to present my thesis before agents showed up at my house, destroyed everything I had learned and got me kicked out of the university.” He shook his head. “I had it, Alan. The Holy Grail. I couldn’t forget that they took it from me. I was visiting London, still sore about what had happened when I met an agent of the Resistance at my college. When I learned about what the Karalian High Council was doing to the kast’ka... I signed up. My knowledge of Humans has made me a valuable asset to the Resistance.”

“The World Government is collaborating with the Karalian High Council to extend this war,” Alan says.

“We know,” Chester says. “We were able to intercept your transmission with Martin. It was very enlightening. We had no idea the parasite used for the murder of the kast’ka was in fact developed as a Human biological weapon. You’ll be interested to know we have scientists working around the clock to find an antidote. Let me show you.” He opens the door and ushers them out.

They march through hallways, trying to keep up with Chester’s youthful speed. He rushes into the crowded lab and up to a containment tube, pressing buttons on a computer in front of it. A tiny sample is inside, hooked up to a microscope. The parasite displays on the screen, wiggling about in the dish.

“All this time I thought it was some kind of Karalian worm, somehow modified to kill Karalians,” Chester says. “It never occurred to me that its origin might be Human. Computer, scan against all known Human worm types.”

“No matches found,” the computer says.

“We tried that already,” one scientist interjected. “If it was that easy, we’d already have an answer.”

“If only we knew what it was, we could create some kind of counter-measure for it,” Chester says.

Alan looks at the worm-like parasite. “Could it be that it’s some kind of hybrid? I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time now, would it?”

“Huh,” Chester says. “That’s brilliantly simple, yet I never thought about it. Computer, create a model for possible hybrid worms from both planets and scan.”

“Possible match found,” the computer says. “Displaying on screen now.”

The worm appeared on the computer screen and Chester studied in intently as other scientists gathered around. “Huh. It’s a tapeworm mixed with the Karalian zarinworm.”

“The zarinworm?” Vash says. “That is nothing but a simple parasite.”

“Indeed, same with the tapeworm,” Chester says. “Could be that when their genes come together, they acquire a taste for flesh, or they’ve been genetically modified in some way. I’ll have to do further research, but it’s a start.” He starts typing away on the keyboard frantically. “I’m sorry,” he says, realizing he’s ignoring them. “I’ll have someone show you to your rooms.”

* * *

“I can’t believe it,” Alan says later, sitting in his room with Vash after a hot shower and a good meal. “I can’t believe Chester’s here. I can’t believe we have a lead on that horrendous parasite. If he can find a cure, we can rip the fangs out of the commandos.”

“It will mean traveling to Karalia undercover,” Vash says, “to distribute the cure amongst the kast’ka still living there. It won’t be easy. Karalia is under a state of martial law. Then there’s the question of bringing down the High Council, which will not be an easy task.”

“Somehow, I know that won’t stop you,” Alan says. Vash looks away and Alan puts a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m coming too. I’ll need a little facial surgery first, but I’m not letting you go alone.”

“Are you sure?” Vash asks. “You may never see your parents again.”

“There’s always that risk,” Alan says, “but I know Mom and Dad would want me to look out for Chester, too. Karalia and Earth need our help. I won’t stop until both worlds are free.”

Vash puts his hand on Alan’s face, stroking the stubble he feels there. He leans in for a kiss, pulling Alan down on top of him. Alan gasps as he feels Vash’s erection through his pants. He reaches down and strokes him through the tight fabric, feeling his own fires rise up inside. He strips Vash, throwing his fresh clothes on the floor as Vash gets tangled up in his. Soon they are naked and Alan wastes no time planting kisses on Vash’s body and tracing the red lines that cover him. His mouth finally reached Vash’s cock, but Vash pushes him away.

“No,” he whispers. “You know what I want.”

“Now?” Alan asks.

“Tomorrow and the day after that are uncertain. We may not get another chance. I want what I have been denied my whole life, Alan. I want you.”

“Okay.” Alan gets up from the bed and goes to the dispenser in the wall, pressing a button and catching the small bottle of lube that comes out. He spreads it on his fingers as he walks back to the bed. He gently eases Vash’s legs apart and slides one finger inside, enjoying Vash’s gasps. He eases another one in, making sure Vash is well-prepared for what is to come. He slicks his own cock with the lube and presses inside, stifling a cry at the heat and tightness of Vash. He lets Vash adjust to him before moving slowly out and back in. Vash plays with himself as Alan fucks him, his face twisted into a pattern of desire with his cheeks flushed and eyes lidding. Alan leans in and kisses him as he feels the momentum building. He comes with a moan, Vash following soon after. Alan slips out and lies next to Vash, curling up contentedly.

“I could never have imagined this eighteen days ago,” Alan says, tracing his finger through the puddle of Vash’s seed that was pooling on his stomach. If anybody had told me I would fall for a Karalian, I probably would have punched them.”

“That first day, I did consider shooting you,” Vash admits.

“What made you change your mind?”

“I don’t know. I just sensed... something in you. A kindred spirit.”

“I’m glad you didn’t shoot me,” Alan says. “Or I would have died thinking that Karalians were evil.” He nestled his head on Vash’s chest, listening to his heartbeat. “I guess we should get up, see if Chester needs anything. I’m sure Martin is combing Rinax for this base.” He sits up.

“We will have time for that later, but I don’t think we’re finished yet.” Vash pulls Alan back down, and Alan feels Vash’s hard prick pressing against him as he rolls on top. His own cock twitches in response, and he pushes thoughts of their uncertain future aside as Vash’s lips meet his. His doubts and fears disappear into dust as Vash presses their cocks together and he is carried away on the flames of desire, right into the heart of the sun.

message 16: by Victoria (last edited Dec 18, 2012 03:23PM) (new)

Victoria Zagar (victoriazagar) | 13 comments If you would rather read Heart Of The Sun on your e-reader, I have an .epub version available at the Goodreads page (Heart Of The Sun) and on All Romance E-Books

Thank you for reading!

message 17: by Bluesky39 (new)

Bluesky39 | 7 comments Ravon wrote: "Hello all!

This time we have Victoria Zagar, filling BlueSky39's prompt!

A story written for the Goodreads Gay Science Fiction Group's 500 Member Challenge, based on the following prompt from u..."

I can't wait to read this as soon as I get a chance to sit down. The end of the holiday hustle and bustle can't come soon enough. Thanks so much for choosing my prompt.

message 18: by KimE (new)

KimE (kimwhaley) | 33 comments I, of course, read it before I saw Victoria's post that she has an .epub version...I may just read it again.

Read it in between the holiday hustle and bustle. It was very good. I'm glad it will start a series, my favorite. :)

I can't wait to find out more...

message 19: by Bluesky39 (new)

Bluesky39 | 7 comments I really enjoyed this. I worry sometimes that our world will become like Vash's. As a lesbian in the Deep South, I can see how fundamental extremists could favor such a law. The story was easy to read, easy to follow and had good world building. The surprise ending is great too! I hope the author expands this into a novel.

message 20: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Zagar (victoriazagar) | 13 comments Bluesky39 wrote: "I really enjoyed this. I worry sometimes that our world will become like Vash's. As a lesbian in the Deep South, I can see how fundamental extremists could favor such a law. The story was easy t..."

I'm glad you liked it! There is another part to come, but I have to get some other big projects out of the way first so I can concentrate on it. If worst comes to the worst, it will become my NaNoWriMo 2013.

message 21: by Bluesky39 (new)

Bluesky39 | 7 comments Great! I can't wait to read it.

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