999,999

by Christopher Jackson-Ash

Illustrated by Linda Laaksonen

This story is set in the FirstWorld multiverse. For further information please visit www.FirstWorld.info or www.christopherjackson-ash.com

 

99999

He awoke with a start, but all was dim and quiet. He felt refreshed. He must have had a good night’s sleep for once. That was unusual in his job. He felt stiff. In fact, he wasn’t able to move. Where was he? He travelled widely and often woke up alone and disoriented in strange hotel rooms. His eyes were sticky, and he struggled to open them and focus. This wasn’t a hotel room?

Pins and needles began to prick at all of his extremities. He almost cried out in pain, but remembered his position. It would be unseemly for a man of his power and authority to whimper like a child. As the first elected President of the Republic of Australasia and Oceania in the new global order post World War III, he was one of the most powerful people in the world. His mouth felt unusually dry, and he found it difficult to swallow. His eyes were adapting to the dim light.

His pyjamas seemed unusual. He was dressed in a simple white coverall. There were no bedclothes or even a proper bed. From what he could make out, he was lying on some sort of conveyor belt. The thing he had first taken for an entertainment screen now looked like a blank medical monitor just above his head. A range of other dials and displays was also visible. He felt a surge of fear that must have triggered an adrenaline response because he could begin to move his fingers and toes. He was living his worst nightmare. The aliens had taken him. Any minute he would receive their anal probe. He realised that he had been feeling cold, but was now starting to sweat. In his panic, he tried to sit up, but didn’t have the strength. He fell back and prepared for his fate worse than death.

The thought of death triggered his memory. He remembered the contract.

I, Julius Auxelles, being of sound mind but unsound body do hereby agree to be placed in suspended animation until one of the following events occurs: (1) The funding provided for my maintenance and care is depleted; (2) A cure to my illness is found; or (3) The facility ceases to be operational for any reason. I enter the facility entirely at my own risk and understand that I may never wake up again.

 

The feeling of panic was replaced by one of smugness. He had survived. All of the other billionaires who had bid for a place in the facility had waited until they died to be frozen. They all expected to be able to return from the dead. He had been the only one to take the plunge soon after his diagnosis while he was still in good physical condition. He remembered the conveyor belt now. Originally, it had carried his prepared body into his personal care facility. He preferred to think of it as a shining stainless steel sarcophagus. Now it had discharged him. Which of the three reasons had triggered his awakening?

When he had entered his PCF, the facility had been bright and humming with the sound of operating equipment. There had been people everywhere, and he had been promised ’round-the-clock one-on-one monitoring of his vital signs, his account balance, and medical developments. They had explained how they were self-sufficient in energy supplies, with solar panels, a small nuclear reactor, and extensive battery backup. As well as the most advanced computer control and monitoring, hard-wired backups provided the ultimate security. It was a totally fail-safe system, which would be upgraded, at a cost to his account, when future new technologies emerged. It was and would remain state of the art.

It looked much the same as he remembered, except that it was quiet, almost dark, and none of the equipment was functioning. The thought hit him like a boxer’s punch on his jaw. The place has been abandoned and has run out of power. How long have I been here? He struggled to keep calm and remember what they had told him. In the event of total loss of power, the batteries have enough energy to perform all of the awakening functions. If the computer screens are blank, the numerical dial will show the year. It has been provided with six digits so that it will never run out and has a lock so that it cannot be reset or tampered with. He had enough energy now to raise himself onto his elbows. He could just make out the dial. He gasped with incredulity as he picked out the numbers. The dial showed 999999.

He forced himself to breathe deeply and regularly, and gingerly sat up. After a few minutes he was able to stand, and within half an hour he was walking around freely. They had called them the Magnificent Seven. They didn’t look so magnificent now. The other six had entered their PCFs dead, and the shining sarcophagi had regurgitated them in the same form. He was alone. He touched his chin in thought and felt just a light growth. Clearly, his biological functions were kicking back in. He felt intense hunger and thirst and had a hard-on that took him back to his teenage years. The little power left in the batteries was barely providing enough light to see, but he found his way into an adjoining suite. He had stayed there overnight during his preparation for entry. A full-length mirror on the wall brought him to an abrupt halt. A tall slim man with short greying hair, green eyes, a pale complexion, and a handsome face stared back at him. Not bad for a fifty-five-year-old going on a million.

He searched the cupboards and found an emergency pack containing a torch, candles, matches, bottled water, and some sort of energy bars wrapped in plastic. The torch didn’t work, and he held back on using the candles while he still had some light. He drank greedily and then tried the energy bars. They were still edible, not particularly pleasant but fulfilled a function. He discarded the torch but took the rest of the stuff with him. It was time to get out of there. His stomach was churning and gurgling as it began to digest the food. He wished his erection would go away. Suddenly he needed to urinate desperately, and he got his wish. The wash-handbasin in the corner provided relief. His urine was bright orange and smelled foul. He drank some more water before leaving.

The facility had been built in the caverns below the old city of Melbourne that had once contained some sort of public transport system. He knew he had entered by high-speed lift but there would have to be a staircase too. The climb nearly killed him. He had to stop frequently for rest breaks, and his candles barely lasted until he reached the top. He collapsed, breathless, on a cold concrete floor. There was no door. He snuffed his last candle and rested for a while. Perhaps he slept. Whatever was outside, he knew it would be nothing like his past. His position of power would be long gone. He contemplated throwing himself back down the long staircase and ending it all. The irony of doing that amused him, but his strong desire for life won the day again.

He fumbled with a match and lit his candle. He crawled around until he found a thick protruding wall parallel to the main wall. He found the instructions there and followed them. Despite the cover, the blast must have concussed him. When he came to, the dust had already settled, and a stream of light from the hole in the wall burned his eyes. He seemed to be in one piece. He stood up, dusted himself down, and strode out bravely into an unknown new world.

****

When he had entered his living tomb, it had been in the middle of a city. He now exited a cave onto a rocky beach. The water was absolutely still and oily looking. The air was thin, and he had trouble catching his breath. It was chilly, though there was no breeze. The air smelled faintly of rotten eggs. He must have been facing west because the sun was setting in front of him. It was like no sunset he had ever witnessed. The sun seemed to be at least twice its normal size and dark red. The sky was a clear, pale purple. The orb sank quickly into the dark water, and a blackness descended the like of which he had only experienced in a deep cave. There was no moon, and even though the sky was clear, there were no visible stars. He sat at the edge of the cave, chin in his hands. He could do nothing until morning. An hour after sunset, a faint light rose in the sky. He judged that it must be Venus. He followed the evening star across the sky until it vanished. After that he may have slept a little, cold and uncomfortable and feeling very lost.

Around dawn, he stumbled onto the beach. The water seemed the same. There were no waves and apparently no tide. In the eerie stillness, the huge sun rose behind him, illuminating him in a pale red glow. Aimlessly, he wandered close to the water’s edge. He picked up a handful of rocks and tried to skim them over the surface. He had never been very good at it, and most of them just plopped into the oily black water and sank without trace.

It was almost upon him before he noticed it. His rocks must have alerted the creature to his presence, and now it sensed that it had found its breakfast. The smell hit him first, like intense rotten fish, then the sound, like someone wringing out a mop. He looked up and was frozen in fear. It was like a grey garden slug, except as big as an elephant, and it was sliding towards him with its gaping maw dripping a foul green liquid. His muscles thawed and he tried to run. He couldn’t get traction on the pebbles. It was like his childhood worst nightmare when he fell in the middle of a railway crossing. The train was approaching. Every time he struggled to his feet, he only managed one step before he fell over again. He scrambled on his hands and knees, scraping away all of his skin. His heart palpitating, the train would miss him by half an inch and he would wake up in a cold sweat. He wanted to wake up now, but he was beyond that, beyond any help. He fell, gasping for breath, and lay still. He looked up into the monster’s dripping maw and, resigned to his end, closed his eyes and prepared to die.

Even through his eyelids, the flash almost blinded him, and bits of scorched, gooey flesh rained down, stinging his face. The slug creature emitted a high-pitched yowl, turned tail, and fled back into the oily black sea. He used his arm to remove some of the noisome mess from his face and sat up to see his saviour. The man was on horseback, and he carried a metallic-looking lance, decorated with unreadable symbols in bright colours. One end rested on his shoulder, and he struggled to hold and point the other end. It was only a couple of inches in diameter but perhaps six feet long. It was emitting black smoke from the end pointed at him. Presumably, this was the weapon, cumbersome as it looked, that had just saved his life. The horse was like nothing he had seen before. It was more pony than horse and pure white in colour. In the centre of its forehead grew a long horn that looked to be razor sharp. It pawed at the sparse vegetation at the edge of the beach with its golden hooves and shook its head disdainfully from side to side. For all his disbelief, he knew he was looking at a unicorn.

The man lowered his weapon and struggled to stow it on a carrier on his mount’s back. He dismounted. He was short, no more than five feet if that, and very slim. He was wearing what appeared to be animal skins, including a fur hat from which cascaded a torrent of jet black hair. His skin was brown and his face clean shaven, though showing a five o’clock shadow. His eyes were brown, and they sparkled with curiosity.

Julius Auxelles, first elected President of the Republic of Australasia and Oceania, sat up on a beach somewhere near the end of time and cleared his throat. He forgot all about his long-held political protocols. “Thank you for your timely intervention. I don’t suppose you could tell me where I am and what year this is?”

The man looked at him quizzically and spoke in a voice that dripped with honey but was totally meaningless. Julius shrugged and raised both hands in a gesture of incomprehension. He struggled to his feet. The effect astounded him. The man dropped to his knees and averted his eyes. He stayed there, unmoving. Realising that verbal communication was not possible, Julius touched him lightly on the shoulder, and he stood up. He still would not make eye contact and kept his gaze firmly fixed on the ground.

****

The second dwelling looked similar to the first as they approached. Julius had become comfortable sitting behind his new friend. Their mount had no saddle, no reins, and rider and beast seemed to communicate telepathically. He still hung on tightly, though, fearing that any jolt would dislodge him. He realised he was physically closer to a man than he had ever been. Indeed, he had spent his entire life avoiding such situations, afraid that his latent tendencies might get the better of him. He knew his history. The rise of gay equality in the latter part of the twentieth century and the early decades of the twenty-first had been well documented. Many scholars attributed the rise of fundamentalism in part to the decadence that had been unleashed. Whether it was true or not, homosexuals were the scapegoats for much of what came next. After the war, they were well and truly back in the closet. He could never have risen to his position had anyone had even an inkling of his true sexuality. So he had married and had children and only let his fantasies enter his head while he was making love to his wife. It had made the act bearable. He shifted on the unicorn’s back to ease his buttock muscles and hoped that his erection was not too noticeable in his new friend’s back.

They had ridden from the beach for about an hour. They had communicated with gestures to get him on the unicorn. The man still refused to make eye contact. The land was gently undulating, and they travelled at walking speed. There was nothing to see. The sky was purple, and the huge sun dominated it. There were no clouds, but the temperature remained cool. The land was a dirty grey colour, and they followed sandy tracks that intersected at regular intervals. There were no buildings and no trees. The ground, when it wasn’t bare rocky earth, was covered with pale green mosses and lichens. Once they crossed a dry creek bed, and there was a stand of dead-looking, spindly bushes. They saw no animals and heard no bird life. The silence was broken only by the clip-clop of the animal’s hooves, the slow, steady breathing of its rider, and the asthmatic wheezing of its passenger.

The sudden appearance of the building had been a surprise. It was no more than a shack, built with a multifarious collection of scrap materials. Clearly, the shack was the man’s home. It had a ripped once-blue tarpaulin for a roof, held in place by lumps of rock. The walls were a mixture of rusty corrugated iron and wooden planks. A doorway without a door provided the only entrance for people or light. They dismounted and the man gestured he should enter. The inside was spartan and Julius could barely stand upright. In one corner, a rocky hearth had a primitive cooking pot suspended from twisted pieces of metal. A roughly hewn table and two chairs were the only furniture. On the wall, furthest away from the fire, a pile of skins seemed to be a bed. Along the other wall, a row of cupboards that could have come from a luxury fitted kitchen provided storage. Julius wondered where the man washed and what his toilet arrangements were.

Julius had sat on one of the hard chairs while the man pottered around. He presented Julius with food and water in ceramic bowls. The food was like curdled acidic yoghurt and the water was brackish, but he consumed them as if they were the nectar of the gods. The man was visibly pleased, and for one moment their eyes met. Julius wasn’t quite sure what the flash of understanding meant. The man quickly lowered his eyes again.

As they came close, Julius realised that this shack was much bigger than the first and even had a couple of windows. They dismounted, and the man called out in his strange tongue. Another man appeared at the doorway almost immediately. He looked very similar to his travelling companion. On reflection, he looked the same. They must have been identical twins. The two of them ushered him inside. It looked like a cross between a junkyard and a museum. Every available space was crammed with items of old technology. Julius couldn’t recognise most of them, but the dials, wires, and screens gave the game away. The second man rushed around, ferreting through piles of junk on several tables before he emitted a grunt of satisfaction and pulled a small device from the pile.

He pressed a switch, and amazingly the device came to life, a small screen presenting a menu of symbols. The man touched the symbols and then offered the device to Julius. He took it and looked at them, not knowing what to do. Neither of the men made eye contact but gestured to him with both hands as if to urge him to do something. They both made mouth movements without speaking. They wanted him to speak. Julius talked. He pictured himself giving a political speech and talked a load of rubbish. Eventually, a red light flashed on the display, and one of the men touched him on the arm to stop.

The one who had brought him here spoke, and by the miracle of the box Julius could understand him. His voice was still silky smooth with a strange accent, but the words and the grammar were almost perfect. “My name is The One Who Rides and Hunts. This is The Custodian of the Technology.” The second man bowed and kept his eyes averted. “Welcome, Lord, to our humble home. How can we serve you?”

Julius was taken aback. “Thank you for your welcome and your hospitality. My name is Julius…” He was still in political mode and was about to give his full title, but he stopped himself. “Thank you for saving my life. Who do you think I am?”

“He tests us,” one said to the other.

“It was written so,” the other replied.

“We must take you to see The Keeper of the History. He will know all of the answers.”

They travelled for another hour. Julius rode, and the two men who seemed to be twins walked. Julius was relieved, as his throbbing erection, when pressed close to the strange man, had become unbearable. His fantasy about meeting gay twins, though, coupled with the rocking motion of his mount threatened to undo the benefit. He tried to think of something else and looked around for inspiration. The countryside stayed the same. He tried conversation. “What year is it?”

The two walkers stopped momentarily and looked at each other. Some sort of telepathy seemed to be taking place. Eventually, one spoke. “Time no longer has meaning. It is written that once there was change. It is rumoured that there were even different seasons. I find it hard to believe. Every day is identical. It is fitting for our society. I cannot say more. The Keeper of the History will explain better.”

They went on. Julius pondered the man’s words. What sort of place could have no change? The enormous red sun was overhead and filled the sky by the time they arrived at the third shack.

Julius was prepared for surprises but was still shocked. The Keeper of the History seemed to be identical to the others. His house was stacked with books and parchments. Julius had never touched a book. He had seen them in museums of course, but they had become obsolete two generations before he was born.

This house also had some armchairs. They were threadbare and had seen much better days, but they still looked comfortable. Julius and the three men sat down. Apart from his one attempt at conversation, they had all been silent for the entire journey, and there had been no small talk in the library. Julius sensed that this was going to be a moment of critical importance. He took a deep breath. “Who do you think I am?”

****

The next few hours seemed to pass in an instant. Julius felt like he was listening to a fantasy novel, although he realised that the history of the planet from any period would almost certainly sound like that. At some point, he remembered eating – unleavened bread, some strips of almost inedible dried meat of uncertain origin, and some stewed greens that looked remarkably like the vegetation they had ridden through. Now, as he tried to sleep on a pile of skins in a small room at the back of The Keeper of the History’s library, he ran through the information in his head and tried to make sense of it.

He knew much of the ancient history, of course. Better than The Keeper of the History, he thought. The Earth had been shaped by four world wars, conflicts over fallacious religious beliefs, and battles for natural resources. The first three wars had done little to reduce the ever-increasing human population that stripped the planet of its resources faster than a plague of locusts in a cornfield. Climate change did a better job than war, until WW4 finally completed the work. Julius felt glad he’d entered the freezer when he had, and now he felt privileged to learn something of the strange history of the planet after biological warfare had practically eliminated the entire population.

Few parts of the world remained liveable, and there must have been a Garden of Eden feeling for the few who survived in Australia, until the thugs and the bullies took over. It didn’t take long for segregation to begin. Women were a prized commodity. Gay men were seen as useless to the human race at best and useful slaves at worst. There were four male castes. Alpha males were white-skinned, tall, strong, and the leaders of the new civilisation. They took what they wanted. Beta males were really Alphas, but they failed to make the grade in one key criterion, usually their skin colour. They were allowed to breed, but only with women of their own racial group. Gamma males were the weak heterosexuals, the fair-minded and ethical. They were never allowed to breed. The meek did not inherit the Earth. All religion was banned. Officially, God did not exist. It was believed that some Gammas may have worshipped secretly. If they were found out, they forfeited their lives. The Delta males, who accounted for about twenty per cent of the male population, were the gays or those perceived to have gay leanings. They formed a subculture on the edge of the new society, and although gay sex was supposedly banned on peril of death, they at least had access to sexual partners.

It took five thousand years to reestablish a technological civilisation. But civilisation was probably the wrong word. Julius had been taught about Adolf Hitler. It seemed that his ideals had finally found an environment in which to flourish. The plan had been that the Deltas and the Gammas would soon die out. The Betas were tolerated because, when the others had gone, they would become the workers. The genetic supremacists had forgotten basic genetics. It quickly became evident that the Earth remained biologically contaminated. Immunity was not passed on to the children, and the survival rate was barely ten percent. Despite the best breeding, the male survivors often turned out to be Gammas or Deltas, so the four groups remained intact.

The leading Alphas, for there was soon a new subcategory of Alpha Plus, invested heavily in science. A great deal of work was done on genetics and in the search for a cure to the “illness.” Gammas and Deltas were viewed as illnesses too, and research continued in those areas as well. They had few wins, and the ruling elite began to think outside of the planet.

Julius tried to make himself comfortable on the hard, bumpy bed. He wondered how he would have behaved in such a society. He was an Alpha Plus, after all. Then he remembered the unicorn ride, and a small voice whispered in his head: You are a Delta.

Genetics failed to find a cure for the illness. Neither could they identify the complexity of genes that caused homosexuality. But they had success in other areas, and gradually the population of Gammas declined and disappeared. At the same time, they put the Betas to work. It took four generations, but eventually the fleet of ships was assembled. The Keeper of the History had called it D Day. For the Alphas it was Departure Day. Every surviving Alpha male and every female boarded those ships and left Earth forever. They sought a new life in the stars. For the Betas it was Death Day. They tried to fight for their women and were annihilated by the very weapons they had assembled. Julius supposed that it amused the Alphas to leave the Deltas behind to fornicate and die. But they had one last joke to play, it seemed. They left behind, carved in tablets of stone, a prophecy. All three of the men had spoken the words in unison. They knew the words by heart.

He will come out of the East, dressed in shrouds of white.

He will be there in the dawn, pale against the night.

The Alpha shall return, and with him he shall bring

the chance again for children and for Earth a final spring.

The first part of the verse fitted Julius Auxelles like a fine tailored suit. No wonder The One Who Rides and Hunts had behaved so strangely. His eyes grew heavy, and he felt sleep approaching. He hoped this sleep would not be as long as his last one. He tried to reckon it in his head. By his best estimate, the Alphas had been gone for two million years, give or take a few thousand.

****

Julius slept remarkably well. If he dreamed at all, it was of Sleeping Beauty and the Handsome Prince that kissed him – he meant her. He awoke feeling very hungry, very thirsty, and extremely horny. It was unsurprising, he mused, since he hadn’t had sex for well over two million years. He also hadn’t had a crap for the same period, and his bowels were now fully functioning again. With some embarrassment, he sought guidance on the future, no, he supposed current, state of plumbing.

Relieved, washed, refreshed, and with the first and second of his three cravings sated by breakfast, Julius continued his discussions with the three men who looked like identical triplets. “I’m still processing all of the information you gave me yesterday,” he told them, “and I have so many questions.”

“We have been waiting a very long time,” The One Who Rides and Hunts said. “Take as much time as you need. We will try to answer all of your questions.”

Julius didn’t know where to start. There was probably so much he’d missed last night. He didn’t want to appear stupid. Nevertheless, he decided to jump straight in. “It was so long ago that the Alphas left. They took all of the women. They left only the gay men behind. I don’t understand. How have you survived?”

The Custodian of the Technology spoke. Julius realised that, although they were identical, there was something about them that allowed him to recognise them. He couldn’t put his finger on it, though. “The Alphas could have sentenced us to death by destroying their research facilities, but for some reason they didn’t.”

“It would have negated the prophecy,” The Keeper of the History said.

It would have ruined their joke, Julius thought.

Not to be left out, The One Who Rides and Hunts spoke. “We continued their research. They had been considering cloning. The ruling elite were not satisfied with having children who might turn out to be Gammas or Deltas. They wanted to create carbon copies of themselves. They had made great progress but always came upon a great stumbling block. The Keeper of the History knows much more about this.”

If Julius hadn’t been watching them intently, he would not have noticed that the storytelling baton had been passed.

“The problem was with the X chromosome. The cloning process always caused genetic damage and the clones rarely survived and even if they did, they were sickly or disabled. Not what the ruling elite were after at all. It turns out that the key to successful cloning was anathema to the Alphas. Stable clones are only effective if they are XYY, and only then if the two Y chromosomes come from different males. Our ancestors solved the problem and saved Deltakind.”

“So you are all clones, presumably all from the same father?” he asked rhetorically. The reply was unexpected.

“The same fathers. The breakthrough was made by our ancestors at the very last minute. They almost failed. We came within a hair’s breadth of extinction. By the time the technology was perfected, only two men were left. They were the last two children born while the Alphas were still on the planet.”

The One Who Rides and Hunts interjected, “It amused us for many generations to call them Adam and Steve.” He laughed.

The Custodian of the Technology responded, “That has not been funny for more than a million years.”

“So, where do I fit in?” Julius asked.

The Keeper of the History continued, “The cloning process took a while to be perfected. To work effectively, it needs the XY chromosomes from one man and the Y chromosome from a second man. The first man, effectively the mother, has stem cells harvested from bone marrow and processed to remove one of the Y chromosomes and become essentially eggs. The second man, the father, simply donates his sperm, which has to be separated to remove X cells. In the early days, this process was not always effective, and many XXY males were created. They were short lived and suffered from developmental and learning difficulties.”

It seemed hard to believe, but Julius was looking at the evidence right before his eyes. He scratched his head. “But how, I mean where? You had no women to carry the children.”

“That was the other part of the technology. The Alphas had not needed it, because they always implanted the fertilised eggs they created in women. Our ancestors developed the external womb, powered by solar cells and batteries, that nurtures a child for the first twenty months of its development.”

“Surely you mean nine months?”

“The original human gestation period was governed by the size of the foetus, especially its head, to pass through the birth canal. There are many benefits in extending this period, not the least of which is enhanced longevity.”

“I still don’t understand where I fit in.”

The Keeper of the History smiled. “You are our Saviour. The gene pool has been very limited. The X chromosome in all of us came from the mother of the man who donated his stem cells for the first successful cloning. For a long time, she was worshipped as our Mother God. Those days are now past, except for a few misguided souls who still attempt to become women. Because all of us carry the same X chromosome, there have been attempts to create a woman by bringing the two Xs together. No female child has lived for more than a few days outside of the external womb. In one experiment, a female child lived for almost three years in a specially adapted womb. Initially, the Y chromosomes from sperm seemed to give us some genetic versatility, but over time we have become almost carbon copies of each other. And like copies, we are getting weaker and thinner. Without an injection of new genetic material, we will be extinct within a few more generations. We have almost made it to the end of the Earth, and we would like to see it through to the end.”

“Are there no other human survivors on other continents?”

“The Alphas explored the entire planet. The biological agent worked beyond its inventors’ dreams or nightmares. Cloned humans always carry immunity; it’s linked somehow to the double Y chromosome. You have brought us a second X chromosome. You are going to be the new mother of our children.”

It took a few moments for the enormity of the statement to sink in. How could it be? He was an Alpha male. It didn’t make any sense. “How could the Alphas have predicted this in their prophecy? It’s not possible.”

The Keeper of the History looked at his two companions and sighed before continuing. “The prophecy was not specific; prophecies rarely are. Over the years, scholars have interpreted it in many ways. The general consensus was that they meant an Alpha would return to rule them again. It was a sort of ‘We’ll be watching you’ threat. More recently, in the last few hundred thousand years, it has been interpreted to mean that a new source of genetic material would arrive. We still ascribe honour to a superior Alpha, of course. I trust we have treated you with appropriate respect?”

Julius was still flustered. He did not want his bone marrow extracted. “But I’m an Alpha. Aren’t you worried that I’ll reintroduce heterosexuality?”

The One Who Rides and Hunts laughed. “You may look like an Alpha, but I know you are really a Delta!”

Was it so obvious? Julius had never experienced sex with another man, though his heart and soul had ached as he had yearned for it with a longing that surpassed even his lust for power. Perhaps at the end of time he would finally be able to satisfy all of his lusts. He would save Deltakind and would become revered almost as a God. He would take power and rule them like a kindly mother should. He would take many of them as his lovers. He made his decision, although he suddenly felt very tired. “Very well, where do we go to get this show on the road?”

The Custodian of the Technology looked him in the eye for the first time. There was a great weariness there, mixed with sadness and yet a spark of hope. Julius felt he would like to spend a lifetime looking into those eyes, getting to know the man better at all levels, including the ancient biblical meaning. “I’m afraid that you won’t be going anywhere. The creators of the bioweapon were at least compassionate. The disease does not cause much pain and is mercifully quick to kill. It must have given them some comfort, as they too succumbed to it. You already have the symptoms. Your eyes are yellow, there’s a red rash appearing on your face and body, and your sweat glands are producing a distinctive odour.”

Julius took a deep breath, and he could indeed make out a strange smell not unlike acetone. Panic hit him, and in the adrenaline rush he tried to jump up. His legs buckled under him, and he fell to the floor.

“The next symptom is muscular weakness, rapidly followed by severe tiredness, and finally sleep leading to death.”

Despite the situation, Julius yawned.

“Don’t worry! We will take your thigh bones to be harvested. The DNA will not be lost with your death.”

Julius felt like a heavy weight was pressing down on him. His eyelids felt like they were made of lead. His head throbbed. His lungs could barely scavenge enough oxygen. He had to sleep. He barely heard the words that someone was speaking.

“All resources must be maximised on a dying planet. Your body will not be wasted either. It is a long time since we have tasted real meat. Your sacrifice will save the world. You are the Messiah. We will eat of your flesh, drink of your blood, and worship you.”

As the blackness rapidly enshrouded him, too weak to speak, Julius Auxelles had his last coherent thought. I’m on a planet with a population made up entirely of gay men, and I’m going to die a m/m virgin.

****

Julius Auxelles dreamed. Men were eating his flesh. It wasn’t an unusual dream, except this time it was literal. He knew he was going to die.

Julius Auxelles dreamed. Men in white masks were prodding him and extracting samples of all of his bodily fluids. He overheard them talking. His genetics were special. He was one in ten to the power one hundred. They prodded him again. He thought he was going to die.

Julius Auxelles dreamed. He saw a black sword. It had a red ruby embedded in its hilt that glowed, seeming to be almost alive. The sword spoke to him. It whispered in his mind. It told him he was special. He had the correct genetic makeup. He was a person of great power. If he just picked up the sword and claimed his birthright he could never be killed. The sword would protect him. He wasn’t going to die.

When Julius Auxelles experienced his second reawakening, he was no longer surprised by anything that happened. On the contrary, it was the white-masked group of clones who registered their surprise by jumping back as he sat up. He felt great, better in fact than he ever remembered. He was in some sort of high-tech medical centre equipped with weird machines. “What happened?”

A man he hadn’t noticed was sitting in a chair next to the bed. He held a small electronic box. “You have amazed them all. They cannot explain it fully, but to the best of their knowledge, a combination of your special genetics and your prior disease combined to defeat the bio-disease. In the process, your own disease has been cured as well. You are passed as one hundred percent fit.”

“Sorry to spoil your barbecue plans!”

“It is a minor disappointment compared to the joy of finding you cured,” The man who Julius recognised as The One Who Rides and Hunts said. Julius noticed how the man’s eyes lit up when he smiled.

“So what happens now?”

“First they must extract your genetic material to begin the cloning process. You will need to come back once every ten suns until they have taken enough. Other than that, you are free to learn about our Earth and work out how you are going to live.”

“Will you help me?”

“I will do whatever you want.”

“Perhaps you could start by sending those clowns away. Then pull the curtains round this bed and help me to give my first sample.”

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