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Child of the Earth

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             Dan had been very happy.  Happy didn’t begin to describe how he had felt in most recent years.  Potentially, they were in the running for the happiest years of his life.  He had Ross to thank the most, he decided.  Without Ross introducing Arin to his and Brian’s music, Arin never would have emailed him and they wouldn't have been reunited.  Dan never would’ve gotten back to the people whom he loved most.  For all of Dan’s suspicions surrounding Ross, he had become a greater ally and friend than he had ever anticipated possible.  While Dan hadn’t informed the legal bodies responsible for his “naturalization” of Ross, he had felt it particularly illogical to erase the memory of another non-human living on the surface of the planet.  Ross remembered all the turmoil of those years passed, but none of his other friends did.
             At first, Dan’s reintroduction to the group--post council with legal bodies--had been a shaky one.  He didn’t know his boundaries with any of them anymore.  Not even speaking on the fact that he had to sit through endless amounts of personal exposition he already knew.  Least of all, however, he didn’t know how to handle Arin.  His insides literally quivered in his presence, drawing him closer, begging him to touch, to kiss, to hold him in his arms again.  He couldn’t let that happen…  He couldn’t afford to feed his already rampant emotions just to be hurt again and he certainly couldn’t afford to have Arin fall in love with him again.
              “Can’t wait to hang out!”  Dan had texted in those early days.
             “Can’t wait to put my dick in your butt!”  Arin had responded much to the humor and equal befuddlement of Dan.  Arin had been forward during their initial friendship, but he hadn’t quite experienced that…  Arin, also, had stated many times that before his prior relationship with Dan, he hadn’t considered whether or not he was interested in men.  Considering Arin had been returned to the state pre -relationship, it made no sense to Dan for Arin to be acting this way unless it was only for comedic intent.  There was only one easy way to deflect this, “Hey, uh, that’s cool and all, but, not gay.”  Dan made sure to “remind” Arin upon getting to their engagement.  Of course, eventually, after much dialog from a fandom-following and umpteen-million gay jokes, Dan, eventually, gave up.
             “What if we just fucked one day?”
             “What?” Arin had responded during that playthrough.
             “You know, what if we just fucked?”
             “Dude, you are so weird today!”  There was much laughter and reveling in friendship and so on, but really what was involved was Dan’s energy waning.  After all this time he still loved him.  Loved him long and achingly.  Though he had taken on girlfriends and flights of fancy, nothing stood up to his love for Arin.  This was somewhat to be expected as Dan had a physical totem in the shape of a hardened pearl filled with Arin’s nucleic DNA inside of him, but there was another facet to this frustration.  It wasn’t natural for a zilbyrgh to love one and only one.  Two--at least--were needed in his society to fulfill the Person.  Traditionally it was two anyway, less traditionally three or four or sometimes, rarely, five!  Just one was…  Dan didn’t ever think he’d fall in love with anyone really, not with one, nor would he settle with two.  Arin though…  If he could love one, why not two?  Each time he tried, it seemed like his previous sexcapades.  The loud wailing of the Miriodian, the low rumble of a Torbian, the most of all his female--and very rarely other male--Terran partners were all the same.
             He longed for Arin’s gasps and lewd words, lusted for the Fulfillment only he could give him.  Dan wanted to drag his hands down his hot, bare skin once more…  Why only Arin?  While Dan did not mope, it was, at times, hard not to obsess over his inability to bring another into the graces of his love and devotion.  He spent three times the amount of time with some girls that he had with Arin without even the vaguest stirrings of feelings that compared.  It both puzzled and saddened him.
             His lack of romantic affection for any others than Arin had hurt many people that he never wanted to.  People he loved as his personal friends and deeply-trusted confidants had been hurt by something he desperately wished to have control over.  This incessant living as a human was just as rewarding as it was agonizing and exhausting.  Ross had been very right to say that living with humans resulted in making a person want to be one.  All the same, Dan felt small vestiges of his sanity crumbling.
             “You’re not born here, get clearance and go on vacation.”  Ross suggested, chewing a large chunk of apple, “You might even go home.  I’m sure someone on your home planet could explain to you what’s ‘wrong,’ if anything actually is…  Which I doubt.”  He shifted his teeth around in his mouth to better grind the fruit.  Dan felt Ross’s casual playing with his morphable anatomy in his presence both heartening and disgusting simultaneously.  The shape-shifting abilities of the Kriranrk--a species native to a planet called Irapraxiis in the Milky-Way galaxy--worked differently than Dan’s own race.  Dan’s body was fluid, much like liquid silicone, allowing him to take on any shape or color that he desired, Ross’s own abilities relied much more on the shifting of internal, grinding, carapace plates.  Needless to say, it produced some rather unpleasant noises on top of whatever else it was he was doing.  Anyway, Ross trusted him enough to test his long-ignored abilities, but at the same time, a lot of what he did with those abilities was gross.
             Ross had, long ago, vowed to never look like his species of origin again.  He was of an extraterrestrial race of “space centipede” as Arin had put it years ago--before the memory wipe.  A space centipede that was more similar to plants by Earth standards, really.  Natural shape-shifters, depending upon their environment, Ross had run into issues of being unable to resume anything close to his birth form.  In recent years, Ross had divulged that this worried his “parents,” or, as the Kriranrk referred to them his “caregivers.”  His caregivers were Irapraxiis-born--unlike himself, and so, naturally, took issue with this.  Obviously, Ross didn’t care, he was an Earthling--or Terran depending upon who one spoke to--and as an Earth-born non-human, had full rights extended to him that were extended to humans.  However, this meant that he could never leave Earth by extraterrestrial intervention.  Which he was also fine with.
             “Brian’s cooperation would be needed.”  Dan reminded him, sipping his coffee as he stared at his computer screen.  He and Brian were fixing to put out a new album soon.  Oh…  And a lot had taken place in Brian’s personal life over the past three years.  Most of which, Dan had never seen coming in a million years.  “I don’t know anyone else that has a ship to get off planet.”
             “Yeah, I guess.  He does have a lot going on.”  Ross accepted, “I can’t imagine that--”
             “You’d be surprised.”  Dan wrinkled his brow, listening to Ross chew his food, “Look, you want to be human, can you not sound like a living garbage disposal?!”
             Ross sealed-up his lips until he had no mouth at all…  Disgusting to look at on a human shape, really.  Dan had no talking rights, however, his natural form didn’t have a mouth either.
             “That’s not going to help.”  Danny nonetheless grumped as the grinding noises continued, albeit, slightly muffled.
             Ross, as he had no mouth, did not speak, did not smile, did not smirk.  He did stare, however, doing his best impression of Brian.  Largely, he did succeed as Dan thought it a very accurate depiction of the man while wearing his ninja hoodie.
             “You’re doing just great on looking human.  A+ for your.  You could go for all ten eyes too if you really want.  Why not a rusty-brown carapace too?  Pincers--Goddammit Ross.”  Dan grumbled as a pair of sectioned, pointed antennae grew from his head, and his eyes disappeared.  The only real problem in Ross fussing with his body was that it split his skin and caused bleeding where new things grew from.  This was going to be a spectacular mess to clean up.  “How’s the thermal vision?”
             Ross nodded and accordingly fixed his anatomy to normal as the sounds of Suzy and Barry’s arrival echoed about the space.  Yep, that was a mess.  Ross’s face looked like a bad rendition of the Saw films as he corrected himself to human proportions again.  Danny threw a roll of paper towels across the space between their desks, Ross feverishly cleaning himself off as Dan stood to intercept Barry and Suz.
             He smiled to both humans and put his arms out for hugs, “Good morning!” He declared, happier than he normally was at ten AM.
             “Gooood morning!” Suzy declared, a bag clutched in one hand as she threw her arms around Danny.  Barry tried to scoot past Dan, another bag in hand, but found himself thwarted by the introduction of Dan’s hip between him and the door.  “Come on, Barry, group morning hug.”
             “Nooo,” Barry refused in a tired tone, “Rooooss!” He yelled into the hall of desks, “Roooooooooooooss!”
             “What?”  Ross questioned, Danny accordingly moving so Barry could stumble into the room and Dan could go back to working at his desk.
             “We got breakfast!”  Suzy declared as Dan plopped back down.
             “What about me?” Danny whined at the news.
             “Yes, I remembered you.”  Suzy passed out usual breakfast orders as Barry went straight to Ross, poking him.
             “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey,”
             Ross chewed the first bite of his breakfast.  Like a regular human being of course, fellow humans.
             “Hey, Ross, hey, Ross, Ross, Ross, Ross, Ross, Ross,”

             Ross continued eating.  Ignoring Barry as he begged for attention.  Danny watched with a smile as Barry began to slap Ross’s arm playfully, adding to his annoying overtures.  God, he loved these assholes.
             Then Arin showed up…  Well, it wasn’t a dramatic intro or anything.  Arin shuffled in, looking half dead.  His hair was a mess, bags drooped from under his eyes.  Danny hadn’t seen him look so haggard in quite sometime.
             “You look like Mochi beat you six ways to Sunday.”  Dan commented, searching within his Bond with Arin for some kind of clue.  As was common when Arin was not incredibly distressed by something, he found absolutely nothing helpful.
             “Had some weird dreams.”  Arin mumbled, taking the offer of a coffee from Suzy.  This announcement caught Dan’s attention in particular.  The prior night had mysterious lights in the sky and suddenly Dan was up in arms about this.  However, he couldn’t show just how much this upset him.  All the same, what were the chances that the lights in the sky were actual alien crafts that were abducting Arin?  Come on, he had already fulfilled that role of the abducting, anal-probing alien.  That was his job!
             “What kind?” Dan chuckled, “Were you getting harassed by dolphins again?”
             “No, it was a lot of green light and…”  Arin paused, seeming to debate whether or not do divulge something, “I just need my coffee.”
             Dan drew his brows together in befuddlement, “Green light?”
             “Yeah, and…”  Arin’s body shivered, “I don’t want to talk about it.”  Dan had seen a shiver like that before.  This was hardly the proper context for it.
             “Was it more of a nightmare?” Suzy asked, watching Arin sip his coffee.
             Arin shrugged before looking between Dan and Suzy, “Guys, it was just a dream.  Not a big deal!”
             “Right, yeah.” Dan chuckled as if easily passing off the happening, but looked to Ross nonetheless for any inkling that he felt something was amiss.  Dan, of course, didn’t dream during his periods of sleep, human dreams were, therefore, still beyond the scope of his understand.  He had sat in on a few and watched them play out awhile ago in Arin’s head, but he was incapable of truly understanding the feeling.  Even Brian had the chance to experience dreaming…  Instead, the closest thing that Dan could do was choose a specific day of his life to review in his sleep, but, he usually found those instances doing nothing but causing heartache.
             All the same, Ross didn’t appear to be concerned in the least.  He was contending with Barry who wanted to play more of “Undertale” today.  Dan wondered if Ross dreamed.  Dreaming, so far, was unique to humans, and if the Kriranrk dreamed, it was a very closely-guarded secret.  Nonetheless, the Kriranrk did have cycles of sleep and wakefulness, but what happened during their sleep, no one was willing to speak on.
             Dan had to turn off the analytical side of himself, that wasn’t his goal anymore.  His goal was to live and make the world a less douchy place.  It didn’t matter if Ross dreamed or not, Ross was human, wanted to be human more than anything.  Dan would never ask him and disturb the delicate understanding that Ross had of himself.  Why be an asshole to one of his best friends?
             “Dan?”
             “Uh, what?”  Dan looked up to Arin, “What’s up?”
             “You were just staring into space, buddy…”
             Dan chuckled, “You know me, caught up in dumb ideas again.”
             “Ah, right,” Arin patted his shoulder, gripping it and jostling him, “C’mon Sexbang, we got work to do.”

             Work was fine, nothing unexpected.  Home was…  Not fine…  And very unexpected.  Dan stared at the summons in his hand.  It wasn’t on paper, no, it was an intergalactic summons on his long-unused warp-pad.  Unfortunately, the summons he was reading had been sent two weeks ago and he had a second holocard to assess.  Uh-oh…
             “As you have been unresponsive, we have no choice but to assume you have either not received our missive, or you are willfully refusing to respond.  Officers of the Unified Industrial Cluster of Sector Seven will be sent promptly to collect you.”  This was more or less the equivalent translation of the pair of letters.  Which also meant that this translated to “Very fucking bad.”  Dan felt himself shiver.
             He had little contact with anyone offworld for some time.  He conversed with his parents and sibling once in the past three years.  Other than that, he had willfully kept himself isolated from the rest of the galactic community.  He was once a very respected xenologist--bordering on an ambassador!--on his home planet of Vysvaa, but he had willingly abdicated all of that to live here on Earth and become a musician.  Out of his love for the planet, its people and, most importantly, his love for Arin.  His best friend whom he may or may not have been carrying a torch for since the untimely, government-mandated termination of their relationship.  An order that had also made him wipe all of Arin’s memories of him and thus, necessitated him introducing himself to Arin and his friends all over again.
             His hard work of seeming like a regular human aside, this was not just something he could ignore.  He needed his caseworker here, now.  His caseworker was a lovely human being that gave him almost everything during his transition from Vysvian to Terran--or Earthling.
             It was very clear that Dan, and probably Brian, were going to have a pressing need to leave the surface.  Considering Brian was something similar to an inter-dimensional, Vysvian race of star whale and was Dan’s ship when going between planets or galaxies, it was imperative that he receive clearance to do as well.  Unfortunately, as Dan and Brian were not recognized partners in any other way than friends or business associates, they had separate caseworkers.  So, before he called his case-worker, he called Brian.
             “What?”  Brian questioned, a crying noise in the background.  Oh, yeah, by the way,  Brian was married…  And had a baby…  Well, he didn’t have the baby as would’ve been standard for a Ydyrn having offspring, his human wife did…  About that…

              “Dan…  Dan…”
             “Brian, do not make me strangle your new body.  You just found one that fits.”  Danny grumbled, rolling over in the bed he and Brian shared at the naval base.  “Go the fuck to sleep.”
              “I can’t stop…”
              “Thinking of that human again?”  Danny assumed, propping his head up on the pillow as he realized he was not going to reach stasis any time soon.  What right did he have to dismiss Brian’s feelings anyway?  He too was pining over a human.
             “Rachel… His wife’s name is Rachel…”  Brian muttered.
             “Yeah, but you’re not Harold.  It’ll be different.”
             “Does she even know his body is gone from the hospital?”  Brian wondered aloud.
             “I like to believe that the only bodies you get are ones that the humans have opted to dispose of.”
             “It’s bothering me… I can’t stop thinking about her.  I need to find her.”
             Danny sat up, “Whoa, no, no you don’t.”  He put a hand on Brian’s side, “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but--”
             “It’s like I’m drawn to her… This body wants… Her?”  Brian stared blankly up at the ceiling of the dorm.  “It’s…  Not unpleasant.”
             “Brian, I know you’re all ‘do first and talk later,’ but that’s a bad idea.  As you would tell me, ‘don’t be a fucking idiot.’”  Danny logically tried to dissuade.
             “You don’t understand, Lyrda… I…”  Brian rolled over, “No… No, you’re right, it’s…  Very unwise.  Stupid…”
             “You told me you’re okay, but I really am starting to doubt that, Brian…  Maybe you should petition for a new body again.  Talk to Gerald.”
             Brian sat up too, pushing Dan’s hand off his side, “This is the only one I want!” he shouted, immediately seeing the hurt on Dan’s face.  “I’m…  I’m sorry, I don’t…”
             “Bryrrna…”  Dan leaned away as Brian reached to touch him, “I really don’t like this…”
             “I don’t know why I did that.”  Brian looked down to his hands against the bedclothes, “It’s…  Sometimes like I’m not me.  Harold isn’t here, but…  I know everything about him.”  He looked up to Dan, a pleading light in his blue eyes, “When he was in school, there was this girl who tried to flirt with him all the time, but I was too oblivious to notice it…  Eventually we started hating each other and it just became us trying to outdo each other in every nerdy science class and I--”
             “Bryrrna, you’re doing that again.”
             “Doing what?”
             “Saying ‘I’ when talking about him…  I’m really worried.”
             Brian was silent, looking away again, “Me too, but…  When I think of…  Of leaving this body, there is something that tells me to stay.  I don’t know if it’s me, or if it’s something about this body.”
             Dan sighed and shook his head, running his fingers through his hair, “Well, I did once say that you Ydyrn are very close to humans.  Perhaps you’re even closer than I gave you credit for.”  Dan hummed when he saw that didn’t lift his friend’s mood at all.  “Do you think they,” he motioned towards the door to the rest of the compound they still lived upon, “will let you pursue her?”
             “I don’t know… But why do I have to tell them?  We’re both moving out of this place soon.  I can find her then…  I remember where he lived.”
             “Bryrrna, I’m going to be honest, this new attitude of yours is scaring me.”
             “Me too…”

              That was three years ago all the same and much had happened.  Very much that had lead to the human daughter Brian was tending to on the other end of the line.  The body that helped create the little life might not have originally been Brian’s body, but the small human, nonetheless, was the Vysvian star whale’s child.  The man leaned away from his phone to soothe the child’s crying, “Shhh, what do you want, Dan?” he asked again, quietly.
             “I hate to tell you this…  But I’m being summoned offplanet.” Dan solemnly informed.
             Brian was silent at first, the only sound being the child’s crying for awhile.
             “I know, man…”
             “Can someone else transport you?”  Brian asked in an even quieter voice, the crying finally having been soothed.  “I can’t…  I’ve not been offplanet--hell, I’ve not been out of my damn holding zone since we gained citizenship.”
             Dan was taken aback, not by Brian’s refusal, he had expected that, but the news that he hadn’t been taking care of his proper body astounded Dan.  Then again…  It had been almost six months since the last time Dan had asked for clearance to give Brian’s mechanical interior a tune-up.  That was worse than negligent, however, many problems came when a living creature’s interior fell under disrepair.
             “Are you saying you haven’t flown at all ?”  Dan fretted.
             “No, I’ve flown, everything works, but…  It’s been so long.  I’m flabby!  Out of shape!  I have a daughter…  A human daughter.  If I leave planet my body will need to be hospitalized…  I can’t do that to Rachel.  She’s already lost Harold, I won’t let her think she’s lost me too.”  All of these things were perfectly reasonable excuses, but Dan needed to be clear.
             “I’m being called as a witness to the beginning of an intergalactic calamity, if I witnessed it, so did you.  They will eventually come for you too and you have a life it can seriously fuck up, Brian.”
              Again, his best friend was silent at first, “Are you calling your caseworker today?” he eventually asked after his careful examination, probably going to his desk to pull out numbers.
             “Yeah, after I hang up.”  Dan sighed, “I wanted you to know first.”
             “They’re probably going to want more info on this… ‘Intergalactic calamity’ you mentioned.”
             “I know, I only know what the summons says.”
             “When do you think it was?”
             “You know…”  Dan ran his tongue over his lips.
             “No…  We didn’t see anything.” Brian quickly asserted, “We were barely in orbit for five minutes!”  The crying returned as Brian’s frustration subsided to soothe the upset toddler in his arms.
             “I know…  What’s even worse, Brian, is that Arin was with us.”
             Brian was slow to respond again, “You erased all his memories.  He’s useless in this case.”
             “Yes, duh, but if they find that out--the courts?--I’ll be charged with destruction of evidence!”  Dan threaded his fingers into his hair.
             “Shit.”  Brian sighed. “Do they have proof that Arin was with us?”
             “When I requested landing privileges, I said there were three lifeforms on board.  I’m one, you’re two…  You know we’re going to be expected to collect Arin.”
             “Lying isn’t an option either.” Brian grumbled, “We can’t just take Arin with us…  That’s abduction.  Even if we could get Arin to believe us and somehow get it cleared with the folks back on base…  It would cause further problems.”
             “I am in control of my emotions, Brian,” Dan huffed, “I have been for three years , I’m fine .” Dan couldn’t deny that he was…  Excited for the possibility of Arin being allowed to really know him again.  Maybe…  If Dan could…   Return his memory…  Could they…?
             “Dan, don’t pretend that you’re not thinking about it.” Brian began again with a more soothing tone, “He’s your Bonded, it’s natural.  I’m not against anything…  But there’s a bigger picture to consider.  You’ll have to erase his memory again.”
             Dan frowned, feeling his whole body grow heavy as lead.  “I can’t go through that again…”  He muttered.
             “I don’t want you to…  You’re still…”  Brian took a deep breath, “I’ve not said it in awhile, but you’re my Captain, Dan, I love you.  I don’t want to see you hurt like that again.”
             Dan let his mother tongue slip as he answered the heart-felt words, “I treasure you beyond expression as my life-long Ydyrn-partner as well, Bryrrna.”  He had to be quiet, his singing home language could get loud very easily.  He wasn’t sure if Barry was in his room or not.
             “You still have a way with words.  I wish I could answer.”
             “Maybe we could go home sometime…  I was talking to Ross about it.  I miss your real voice.” Dan commented sadly, “Even the annoying voice in my head.  We could actually sing together again.”
             “I’ve not thought of going back, but…  If only for that, I would love to.”
             “We could take Audrey with us.”  Dan supposed with a smile.
             “No.  I don’t want her in any kind of danger.  You know humans are too fragile…  She would have to stay inside me.”  Brian rushed to answer, his ever-present anxiety of her safety raising its head.
             “I understand.  Nothing would happen to her, I promise.”
             “We need to call our caseworkers.” Brian redirected, “I’ll call mine now, you should do the same.”
             “Ah, yeah.  Good luck.”
             “Goodbye, Dan.”  Brian hung up, Dan sighing afterward and working to get Jackson on the phone.

               “Brian, I can’t feel you anymore, you need to talk to me…”  Dan reached out to rub the man’s back.  “Or let me in…”
             “I’m sorry…” Brian murmured, “I don’t like this…”  he reached back and gripped Dan’s wrist, “I’ve never felt like this before.  I don’t know what it is, I can’t…”  Brian groaned, his face contorting as he felt moisture coming to his eyes, “What’s happening?”
             “You’re crying…” Dan tried to pull him closer, but was disappointed when Brian pushed him away instead, “I don’t like this either.”  He settled where he was, realizing Brian needed space…  He had never needed space from Dan before.  Maybe it was a human thing.  The disturbing thing about that, however, was that Brian wasn’t human.  “Are you okay?”
             “I don’t know…  It’s like I’m--how to say it?  Like I’ve realized I’ve lost something and my life is over and I can’t stop thinking of Rachel, and I’m not sure what to do?”  He looked to Dan helplessly.
             “Brian… Is Harold still in there?”  Dan tipped his head curiously to the side.
             “I can’t feel him…  There’s not the filter of another consciousness, but I’ve--you’ve heard me talk, it’s very different from other people not being present.”
            “I can’t experience what you are, I’m…  I-I wish I wasn’t so powerless to help.”
            “It’s not your fault.” Brian wiped the tears out of his eyes, pushing back the urge to sniffle as he felt his nose clogging with that mucusy stuff that humans seemed to constantly produce--and occasionally spray everywhere in an attempt to clear airways.  “I talked to Gerald about pursuing Rachel…”
             “You did?  How did that go?”
             “I would have to take on Harold’s life if I did.”
             “Okay…” Dan wrinkled his brow, “What was he like?”
             “He has a PhD,” Brian shrugged, “just we’ll have to change what it’s in and do some, eh…  Resume re-writing.  Though…  They tell me that Rachel’s prior knowledge of Harold’s skillset will present a problem in such endeavors.  So…  There will need to be some lying on my part.”
             “What will you be telling her when you find her?” Dan blinked, “Her husband’s body just up and vanished from a hospital--or she opted to dispose of it!”
             Brian then growled, “That’s the thing, she doesn’t know it’s gone.  She hasn’t visited the hospital in a few days.”  Both men remained quiet for a few seconds as the implications of that set in.
             “And they had asked if I understood moral consequences of you taking on bodies.”
             Brian nodded and moved to stand from the couch they were sitting on, “I’m supposed to wake up in the hospital tomorrow, I thought you should know that I’m leaving…  And all my things go to you for now.”
             “Oh…”  Dan’s hair deflated even flatter against his shoulders, “I see… And… Will…  I’ve not been without you in,” he began to panic a little, “almost twenty years, Bryrrna!  I…”
             “I know, I know.  It’s only temporary.” He reached out to touch Dan’s face, but that didn’t seem to be all he wanted to do, “This body inhibits me as much as it delights me.” Brian muttered, “I want to kiss you, but something tells me to not.”
             “I should have figured as much…”  Dan lifted his hand to lay it over Brian’s, leaning into the contact from his friend, “I feel so distant from you.”
             “The same…  It’s very unsettling.  You know that.”  Brian shook his head, “This isn’t natural for our kind, I know.”  As if growing uncomfortable, he removed his hand out from under Danny’s, “Will you meld with me next time you go for repairs?”
             “Yes, of course.” Danny nodded vigorously, likewise feeling that inexplicable pain of loss.  His friend was right here, but separate and different; his insides scrambled for the connection that they had held for so long, but, as he had somewhat grown used to the past few months, there was just the thin, barely-perceptible bond.
             As if he didn’t even notice, Brian checked his watch, “I have to go for briefing and paperwork in about twenty minutes, is there anything you need from me?”
             Dan blinked and reached up to him, “Can you…  Ehm, cuddle with me?”  Never before had Dan felt so self-conscious about such a request, but Brian’s behavior as of the past three days was anything but predictable.
             “I…  Suppose I can, yes.”  Brian moved to sit down next to him again, body tense as Dan moved to put his arms around him.  “I’m sorry… I don’t know why I’m like this.”
             “I know, it’s not your fault.”

              “This…  Interplanetary dispute…”  Jackson began after listening to Danny’s request.  This meeting had been labeled an “emergency,” so Jackson was in his pajamas, in his office, on base at one in the morning.  Meeting at his apartment with Barry living there was absolutely out of the question and due to the nature of this visit, nothing public was allowed.
             “I believe it’s bigger than interplanetary, the urgency of this summons tells me it’s more of an intergalactic issue.”  Dan corrected.
             “Does it pose any kind of threat to Earth?”  Jackson turned his attention for just a second as he heard voices out in the hall as well as a door opening and closing.
             “I cannot know that from here.  This dispute is taking place in a system--or five systems--a few light years away.”  A “few” light years, even then, was a very relative term, “The systems together are called an Industrial Cluster.”
             “Yes, I’ve had previous clients that have mentioned it.   Does this relate to Earth?” Jackson continued to push, needing all the information he could get on how much of a threat this could potentially be.
             “Intergalactic…  As in, a dispute between galaxies.  Earth is in the same galaxy as this Industrial Cluster.  You are out in the middle of nowhere, however…  You’re classified as an underdeveloped--”
             “In your opinion.”
             “By most alliance opinions, you are underdeveloped.” Dan firmly asserted, geez, humans really had a problem accepting that they just weren’t on par with the rest of their galaxy yet.  Boy, that sure would’ve been fixed in a fucking hurry if they just chose to talk to absolutely anyone !  “Most will see you as too insignificant to bother with.  However, this means that possible fugitives will come to this planet to hide.”  As Dan was already well-aware of was actually happening…  In retrospect, given how humans were horrible at handling situations like this…  He probably shouldn’t have said that.  “Force is only ever a last resort.  However, I’m being summoned and force will remove both myself and Bryrrna if it is necessary.”
             “Are you seeking protection from these forces?”
             “No, I’m asking for clearance to appear before this…  Court of sorts.”  Dan tapped his fingers on the table.  “It is my duty to this galaxy as well as my home galaxy.”
             “Will you be appearing on Earth’s behalf?”
             “No, my own.  Shortly before coming to live here, I was out with my travel partner--Bryrrna--and while asking for clearance to land we witnessed a group of ships leaving planet.  That was three years ago.”
             “And they’re just now contacting you about this…?”
             “Ah…  Travelers like myself are hard to find and send messages to.  The universe is huge, after all.  I suspect they’ve been searching for us for at least a year.”  Then Dan hummed, “Or, it’s only just now that things have escalated to the point of needing my account.”  He did a little more thinking before shaking his head and shrugging, “I don’t know, I’ve not been in contact with anyone off this planet in a very long time.”
             “As per your agreement, yes.”  Dan watched Jackson sift through some instructionals, apparently this wasn’t a very common circumstance.  “I’ll put in a request immediately.  I’ll also advise that whomever is in charge of Brian’s file likewise grant clearance.”
             “Thank you.”
             “Are you excited?”  Jackson then asked with a smile.
             “Hah, a little…  But this is basically the equivalent of being called to testify in court.”  Dan thought for a second more on things he’d need to bring with him.  Oh…  And Arin…  However, that was a worst-case scenario.  HOpefully, all of this could get resolved without needing to involve him.  Dan knew, inside, somewhere, that wasn’t going to be easy.  He could aspire though.  He sure could.
***
             “I met with Gerald, who got a message from Jackson during our meeting.” Brian sat with Dan at the Grump Space the next day.  They both had opted to arrive early to beat everyone else.  “Did you respond to the summons?”
             “Not yet, I can’t get the damned warp-pad to work.” Dan grumped, “All the organisms in it must be dying.”
             “You haven’t been feeding your things?”
             “Hey, everything onboard you still works, so my hand-held things are less important.”  Dan was not ordinarily snippy, but yesterday’s events upset him greatly.
             “I’m testing my engines and wings today.”  Brian informed, not seeming incredibly pleased with it.  “You’ll have to take care of my body.”
             “What are you going to tell Rachel?  Are you going into a coma, or…  Or are you just bringing this with you?” Dan tapped Brian’s bare forearm.
             “I haven’t decided yet…  Do you want me to send a response to the summons?  Chances are I have it in my systems on backlog, somewhere.”
             “No, I’ll do it.  I’ll get something to work.  The warp-pad probably just needs sunlight.”
             “Don’t wait too long.  They might send a crew after us.”
             “Right, yeah…”  Dan stood as he heard the door to the space open and close, but relaxed when he saw Ross shuffling in, making his usual morning face.  “Hey man…  Brian and I got some shit to lay down.”

             “Could I come with you to fulfill that whole third life form thing?” Ross offered after the situation had been “laid down” before him.  “I am from Earth and I look mostly human, and I’m sure this… Council, or whatever, has seen a kriranrk before.”
             “The problem is, they will know we’re lying if we do that.” Brian presented, “It also doesn’t help the ‘abduction’ problem.  You are classified as a natural Earth citizen.”
             “Well, you can’t take Arin with you.  That’s too much bullshit for you both to go through again.”  Ross basically parrotted back everything that Dan and Brian had to say on that situation.
             “Short of a worst-case scenario, it’s not happening either way and we’re just going to have to find something to say that’s not a lie--”  Dan said, but Brian cut in at the last moment with, “And won’t get you arrested.”
             “You’re in a pickle, aren’t you.” Ross observed, leaning his face into his hand.
             “And not the sexy kind of pickle either.” Dan complained, spinning around in his chair with aggravation.
             “What’s the worst-case scenario here?”  Ross questioned, “Just humor me.”
             “That the Industrial Cluster invades Earth to find us…” Dan flatly answered, still staring at the beams of the ceiling.  “Which would present more than just problems for the humans…”  He thought back to the Elder gekur that was still roaming free in the naval base…  His studies concerning the Gekur on Earth were not entirely promising.  So far he had been able to locate around fifteen of them in the system for America, but how many there were worldwide, he could not say.
             “That seems extreme…”
             “They take their justice really seriously.  The grand councilman is a Lodorian.” Dan mumbled, “If you ever need rules recited to a T, you just ask one of them.”  He then sat up straight to see the confused expression on Ross’s face, “Oh, right, you don’t know who that is.”  Dan then grumbled, going into explanation mode, “The nearest Industrial Cluster is made up of five united planets.  They all speak a standardized language, however, each planet, naturally, has its own languages and dialects thereof.”  Dan cleared his voice as Brian sat down and nestled his fingers together, silent.  “Those five planets are Taeotquin, Cazty, Irapraxiis, Solgir and Lodora.  Thankfully, I have extensive experience with most of these planets…”  Irapraxiis was the problem one, given how unwelcoming the Kriranrk tended to be, “While every planet has a say in this council, the head councilman for the past century has always been from Lodora.  They only have stirrings of emotion once every…” Dan did some converting, “Equivalent to five and a half Earth years.  They, otherwise, operate on a logical level and cannot connect to, or understand the emotions of others outside of this frame of time that lasts for about nine months.”
             Ross stared, dumbfounded, “That’s…  A problem.”
             “Not to them and it keeps the councilman’s decisions fair and makes it nearly impossible for them to be swayed if adequate logical evidence can’t be presented.”  Dan looked to Brian, “If this problem is as big as we believe, however, I suspect we will find more than those five planets present at the court.  Our own planetary ambassadors might be there.”
             “Is that a problem?” Ross raised an eyebrow.
             “Ah… Well…” Dan looked to Brian again before back to Ross, “There’s a matter that… Ah…  We sort of, or I sort of…  Reported an Elder gekur living here to my planet…  It’s been three years since and--”
             “Am I supposed to know what that is?” Ross inserted before Dan could go much farther into that explanation.  This lead to Dan being silent for a few seconds and just deciding, “You know what, never mind.  It’s not that important, moving along.”
             “Okay…”  Ross shifted, a little uncomfortable at Dan’s uncharacteristically harsh tone.  Dan only got this way when under extreme duress--or after Ross had just hit him in the face with a dodgeball without explanation--”When are you telling Arin about leaving?  He’s not in today, but I know that’s a stupid reason to not tell him.”
             “No, it can wait until tomorrow.”
             “Dan…” Brian cautioned, “Waiting is not advised.”
             “Fine, fuck, whatever, I’ll tell him when I tell him.  Okay?”
             “Do you want me to tell him?” Brian then offered.
             “No!  I’ll do it, lay off.” Dan’s usual methods of self-soothing weren’t working, this whole mess was beyond his control and beyond any of his training.  “Barry is going to be here soon, just get that all set-up, I have to go do repairs on Brian’s body anyway.” Danny stood, Ross watching him with an unreadable expression.
             “I’ll go with you…”  Brian decided, “We can kill two birds with one stone that way.”
             Dan didn’t answer, grabbing his things and exiting the Grump Space.

             “ Lyrda, you can try to be calmer about this…”  Brian reached out to Dan as he ran a structural inspection of the ydyrn’s insides.  This was the feeling they both waited long weeks for.  This feeling of wholeness again.  Dan supposed that he really needed the prolonged separation from his partner to really respect how comforting the connection was when he had it.  Even with his separation from Arin, he still had Brian, no matter how far apart they sometimes seemed.
             “How can I be calm when this is fucking everything up?” Dan crudely responded, noting where an incongruity was on Brian’s lowest deck.  “Not just for me, but you too?  And this involves Arin, I can’t just…”  He grumbled, stepping down off his platform and passing the exam table that held Brian’s human body in stasis.
              “I am largely indifferent past a certain point.”  Brian explained, “Apart from that body, human affairs concern me very little.”
             “Except for very specific things.” Dan lit up his body as he stepped into the long, dark hallway to find the chutes that lead to the lower decks.
              “As always, you are my priority.”
             “Well, not always.  You know I’m fine with that.”  Dan hopped into the deep hole in the floor, attaching several of his glowing arms to the rungs about the inside of it to lower himself down slowly.
              “It is a difficult situation for me to be in.  Everything was black and white before.”
             “For me too, I have Arin.”
              “I understand why it is best that my augmentations do not allow for brooding.”
             Dan laughed as he dropped to the lowest deck, “Other than you would be popping out little whales every two cycles?”
              “There is that as well.”  Brian admitted with two great pulses of humor.   “Do you suppose the Far Depths are empty these days?”
              “I don’t know.  Maybe we’ll get the chance to see if anyone moved in.”
              “Perhaps.  If time is allowing.  I would not object to seeing your progenitors again.”
***
             The next day started bright and early, “Arin, I’m going to be, em, going away for awhile with Brian.”
             “Kay, how long?” Arin questioned, still in his bright pink Hello Kitty pajama pants.
             “No idea…  I can’t really explain it either.”
             “Uhm, okay dude.  You do you, whatever it is…  You’re coming back though, right?”
             “Yes!  For sure!  I just…  Don’t know when.  There are a lot of, uh, variables here.”  Like whether or not Dan was going to try to visit his parents after all of this courtly nonsense was over and done with.  Then again, how long was the “courtly nonsense” going to take?  He could very well end up imprisoned upon some asteroid in the kuiper belt of another star system.
             “That’s okay.  Just, you know, keep us updated and stuff.  Ross and Barry can keep on with Steam Train and I can do stuff with them too while you’re gone.  It’ll be like practice for a full Ninja Sex Party tour, right?”  Arin grinned, being as optimistic as possible.
             “Awesomesauce!” Danny likewise grinned.
             “When do you and Bri leave?” Arin continued on with making his breakfast, putting a cup of oatmeal in the microwave.
             “A couple days.” Dan informed hopefully, “we have to get where we’re going sooner than later…  He has, uh, more stuff to sort through first, though.”  This was far less painful than Dan had anticipated.  Arin made things so…  Dan could sigh wistfully over Arin for decades and his affections remain undiminished.  Arin just was…  “You’re awesome, man.”
             “Yeah, I know.” Arin chuckled.
             “I could, like, kiss you.” Dan prodded, not really lying.
             “Ooooh, I wouldn’t say ‘no.’” Arin playfully giggled.
             “No one would say ‘no’ to these luscious pillows.” Dan puckered his lips and winked at Arin before both men laughed.  The microwave then dinged and Dan pressed a kiss to Arin’s cheek.
             “Oh, you.” Arin batted him away, still playing along.  His heart was set on his food, however.  As it so often was, and Dan found it all the more adorable with time.  Even as he shoveled cereal, sticky deliciousness into his mouth, he was the most captivating creature in all the universe.
             Mmm…  Dan looked at his lips and remembered the things he had said.  He remembered what Arin had done to him with those lips…  All the sexual moans and just…  It had been years, but for a being with an eidetic memory, it was still like it was yesterday.
              “You okay, man?” Arin interrupted with a mouthful of hot, cinnamon oatmeal.
              “Oh, psssh, yeah.  Just hungry.”
              “I’m sure we got, uh…  Leftovers in the fridge, or macaroni.”  Arin stuffed more into his mouth and walked to the fridge.  As the two men stood around the appliance, trying to find the proper sustenance for Dan, they both heard stumbling noises…
             “Geez, what’s Ross doing in there?” Arin wondered, looking to the door to the offices on the other side of the room.  He got his answer as the door flung open, blood trickling down Ross’s forehead from his hairline.
             “Dan!  Get in here, now!” Ross shouted as Arin gasped.
             “Dude!  What happened?!”  Arin scrambled for the first aid kit underneath the sink.  Thank fuck Suzy had remembered to restock the damn thing.
             “Not important, Arin!” Ross declared, Dan heading for the office without question.  Arin stumbled after him with alcohol wipes, gauze, Band-Aids, gloves and burn salve instead of ointment.  “Put those down.”
              “You’re bleeding from your fucking head!” Arin pushed Ross back into the offices as Dan stood, dumbfounded, before the television.
             “It doesn’t hurt, don’t worry about it.”  Ross bumped back onto one of the many desks.  When Arin went to swab his forehead clean, Ross caught his arm.  Dan was still having his moment, eyes bulging out of his fabricated skull.
             “Ross,” Dan squeaked, “Ross…”
             “Yeah!  I know!” Ross shouted back, still staving off Arin’s rabid attempts to clean his face.
             “What are we going to do…?”  Dan’s puff of hair was deflated, flat around his shoulders.
             “I don’t know…”  Ross had since given up and let Arin clean off the blood from his face.
             “What are you two even talking about?”  Arin questioned, finally turning to look at the television.  “What movie is this?   Independance Day ?”
             “Independance Day mostly takes place in DC, Arin.” Dan pointed out, voice stoic.
             “But weren’t there scenes shot in LA?”  Arin shrugged and moved on, “Or is this Battle: Los Angeles ?”  Arin watched on the television as a series of evident, non-Earth crafts hovered above the LA skyline…  “I don’t remember it being a found footage film.”
             “Dude, this is the news…”  Ross informed, “This isn’t a movie, those are real .”
             “What?”  Arin blew a raspberry, “No, that’s impossible.  This is some kind of War of the Worlds , H.G. Wells shit.”  Arin went stiff as he heard the air raid sirens start up outside…  “Dude, let’s get to the roof.”
             Dan didn’t register that Arin had said anything at all until Ross shouted, “No!  Arin!  Wait!”  With a surge of energy, Dan took off after Arin, his phone ringing in his pocket.  As he skid out of the Grump Space, into the hallway of the building he was in, he answered it, “What?!“
             “Whose ships are these?”  Brian’s voice came over the line.
             “I don’t know, I don’t know ship models!  That’s your expertise, man!  Professional spaceship!”
             “Did something happen?”
             “Everything is happening.  I’ll get back to you in a second.  I have to deal with this!”  Dan hung up the phone and stood before the stairwell of the building.  Damn, Arin’s trips to the gym were really paying off!  He was up a few flights of stairs with Ross panting after him.  Taking a risk, and his phone beginning to ring again, Dan expanded his body proportions like rubber to pull himself up a few flights at a time to catch up with Arin.  He made it to the top just as Arin exited to the rooftop, the door closing after him.
             “Shit,” Dan shook his head and took the call again, “Brian, I already told you--”
             ”You didn’t answer the fucking summons did you!?” Brian shouted over the line before Dan could hang up again “I can’t believe you fucking--”
             “Yell at me later!  I have to catch Arin!”  Dan ended the call again, Ross finally catching up and looking like he was about to die.
             “I’m okay!” Ross declared as Dan dismissed him and exited the building after Arin.
             “Arin, wait!” Dan bolted after his friend, the shadow of a conical and sandy-colored ship cast over their building.
             “Whoa....”  Arin’s mouth hung open, staring up at the massive ship.  Dan had seen that face before, the face of realizing everything he had ever known had now changed.  Goddammit, alien invaders, stealing his fucking thunder!  He was supposed to make that face for Dan!  Not you!  Oh, hell, whatever, back to business.
             “Arin, you can’t stay out here.”  More importantly he couldn’t stay out here.  “Come on!” He grabbed Arin’s arm and tugged, not wanting to hurt him.
             “Dan!”  Arin turned his head to his friend, blubbering for a second in excited fear, “Aliens!” WIth a dramatic finger, he stabbed it up at the sky.  “They’re real!” He shouted over the loud hum of the rotating inner column above them.
             “Yea, Arin, that’s cool, we have to go !” Dan pulled him again, still hesitant to use his full strength.  Arin continued to fight him, however, staring up into the glowing, blue structure that gave off the hum.  In general, they were making quite a scene.  “Arin!  We are fucking going inside now !”  Dan’s efforts proved fruitless, and, in the end, both turned their faces skyward as two other ships joined the one, “Oh, shit.”
             “Dan…  I think we have to go…”  Arin finally realized a little too late with a swallow.  He began to step away, but paused as one ship put out a loud, garbled series of noises. “Dan, come on!”  Arin now tried to drag Dan away as the noises came again.
             Dan sighed, shaking his head as he easily identified the language as standard Solgirian.  This ship was definitely here for him.  Roughly, the sounds being expelled from all three ships simultaneously meant “Are you Lyrdaanaavydaa~ly~Bixyaalaan of Vysvaa?  Respond!”  Arin tried to pull Dan one more time before both men levitated beneath the blue cone.  Dan pulled Arin close to his body, pressing his face into him and squeezing as they were overtaken by bright, white lights.