Earth Emerges -
Telepathy changed everything. Men and women had been falling in and out of love for millennia, but never with the capacity to know each other completely, to be so exposed that nothing was hidden. Like being naked in a million different ways without ever undressing. Out of seven billion people, fate had chosen Steve and Sara for this gift.
Learning to be open about each new thing had been at once exhilarating and terrifying. They had continually dared themselves and each other, taking baby steps, yet they’d resisted, knowing they were opening doors that could never again be closed. They took care to maintain limits, private spaces that weren’t shared.
Sex was a subject they had avoided assiduously. They’d never even kissed. Not really, not the way a man and a woman who felt the way they did kissed. Sexual feelings, enhanced by knowing each other’s thoughts and the two-way empathy that was an integral part of telepathy, could be an incredible high or an unprecedented disaster. They’d had to be sure they could handle the second before reaching for the first.
It might have been easier if they’d been different people. Successful, middle-aged professionals focused on their work, neither of them was especially worldly in the ways of courtship. They were like teenagers caught up in an intense mutual attraction they didn’t know how to handle, so they’d resorted to avoidance, the only social skill at which they were both adept. The idea that being apart most of the time was for the best had almost become a mantra, but the holidays had created breaks in both their schedules. They couldn’t hide any longer.
The nearest cabin was a quarter mile down the lakeshore. Insulated from the outside world by fresh December snow, they sat before a crackling fire in fleecy sweats. Happier than he’d been in years, Steve refilled their glasses and reached for another log, but a silent suggestion from Sara stilled his hand. They climbed the stairs to the loft and approached the bed from either side, then lay facing each other like bookends.
A full moon might have been more romantic, but the stars above the skylight provided enough illumination to see by even if they’d been limited to using only their eyes. The soft radiance flickered like a candle in the wind, as the swaying treetops turned the sky into a firefly ballet. Heads propped on elbows, coupling with their eyes, they seemed to glimmer in the constantly moving light show. They didn’t touch, and not needing words, they didn’t speak.
Steve felt hypnotized by Sara’s eyes. He swam in their depth, losing himself, knowing she felt the same thing, her unspoken response driving him deeper still. They drifted, awash in an unprecedented feedback loop of emotion. Eyes truly are windows into the soul, he thought, suddenly afraid, as if he might drown in them if he let himself go. He felt the same apprehension from her.
They withdrew reluctantly, just enough for their feelings to settle. They shed their self-consciousness, trusting each other with vulnerabilities no couple had ever known, merging with nearly perfect empathy. Hearts pounding, feverish from sexual tension unimaginable until now, they rose, spiraling ever higher, floating, leaving their bodies behind in a flight of pure sensation, a virtuoso duet whose perfectly reinforcing harmonics shook the rafters.
The fire died. The loft grew chill. Time stopped. They shared a single kiss, soft and gentle, bespeaking how happy they were to be together. Their open minds exposed fantasies of making love to each other, each feeling the thrill of the other’s anticipation as the last remnants of their reservation evaporated.
Now, they held each other, fitting together so perfectly they almost sensed the whoosh of air as it rushed to vacate the space between them. They stayed that way, not moving, for how long they couldn’t have said. The physical contact eliminated the static from their communion, increasing its intensity a hundredfold. Only the anticipation of what was to come enabled them to break apart long enough to discard their clothes. They reached out once again with gentle strokes and caresses, savoring every touch.
Minds and bodies joined, they struggled briefly, searching for the right rhythm, sharing one final brief pang of fear. Was it possible to be too intimate for such a basically physical act? Then something clicked. With each knowing what the other felt, what motion was desired, what begged to be touched, how fast to move, how hard to press, they rode a crescendoing sensation, cresting perfectly in sync, with no discernable boundary between them.
The climax, when it came, overwhelmed their senses. Steve felt his own, merged with something new and unanticipated that took over his body, wracking it with spasms of indescribable pleasure. A thought percolated: so that’s what a woman experiences! Exhausted, they dreamed together, drifting up through the skylight into the frigid night, riding the stars, not knowing when they passed from wakefulness into sleep.
* * *
Doreen knew that when Jason got into one of his pre-occupied moods, her options were limited. He’d been so absorbed in his work lately, she’d had to up the ante. She’d been holding the realistic looking, spring-loaded rattlesnake in reserve for just such a moment ever since one of her second graders pranked her with it early in the school year.
Like many people who grew up in the benign Northwest, Jason’s dislike of the critters bordered on pathological. When the fake snake suddenly skittered across his work table, he didn’t study it long enough to be sure it was real. He leapt out of his chair. Off balance and staggering, he was the perfect foil for his real predator, who leaped on his back, removing any doubt about whether he could retain his footing.
He hated to be tickled, hated being tricked even more, but Doreen had him pinned, straddling him, struggling to keep from being thrown, both of them giggling like children.
“I’ll get you for this,” Jason gasped between fits of laughter.
“Oh yeah, well what do you think about this?” she said between clenched teeth, as she fought to stay on top. As she spoke, she began to grind her hips suggestively, her rear end perfectly positioned on Jason’s muscular frame to have the maximum effect. He might be stronger, but she knew how to win in the clinches.
Jason settled into matching her movements and their breathlessness soon took on a different tone. “I’ll tell you what I think,” he said, a seductive twinkle in his eye. “I’ll bet my boss and my dad are doing the same thing right now up in Tahoe.”
“Oh! You’re really awful, Jason,” she said, feigning modesty, as she jumped to her feet. “How can you talk about them that way? They’re so innocent! Are you sure he’s really your biological father?”
She broke up with laughter again as Jason seized the upper hand, tangling her legs with an old wrestling move. Before she could react, it was she who was pinned. She kissed him sweetly. The phone rang and they looked at each other miming whether they ought to answer it until they heard the machine pick up, followed by Jack’s voice: “Jason, call me. We need to talk about tomorrow.”
“You’ll have to wait,” Jason crooned in the direction of the answering machine. “I’m busy now.” He looked down, matching Doreen’s grin. “Have I told you how much I love you today?”
Later, they sat cross-legged on the floor facing each other, knees touching, fingers entwined. It was raining. Again. Doreen had become the quintessential southern Californian. The sun was supposed to shine every day, but rain reminded Jason of the green environment he’d grown up in. It mellowed him, lightening his serious moods.
“C’mon, Doreen. We’ve been over this before. If the world had stayed normal, I could have been patient. But everything’s changing so fast. I want us to get married.” Seeing her pained expression, he went on, more intensely. “I mean it Doreen. It’s more important to me than everything else I’m doing.”
“I know, Jason. It’s just as important to me. You know it is.”
“Then what’s all this about? Why can’t you just say yes?”
They’d had this conversation a lot lately. Doreen always demurred but had never found the words to say why. She hadn’t been sure herself, but Jason’s innocent need clarified things.
Releasing the deep breath she’d taken, she said, “Let me try to explain – no, don’t interrupt me. I’m having enough trouble figuring it out myself. You see the world changing faster than we can keep up with it, and it makes you want something stable in your life, something unshakable that will be there, no matter what else happens. Getting married satisfies that need for you. For me it’s something else.”
She placed a finger over his lips to keep him from responding. “Shush! It’s my turn to talk. How can I make you understand without hurting you? This isn’t about how much I love you or whether there’s anyone I’d rather spend my life with. It’s about the same uncertainty that makes you want our relationship to be official and permanent. It has the opposite effect on me. What if...”
Her voice trailed off and she couldn’t keep tears from streaming down her face. Jason sat quietly as she regained her composure. Suddenly, she was angry.
“What if you go flying off in that damn toy of yours and one day you don’t come back?” she shouted. “I couldn’t bear it, Jason. How can I marry someone who thinks about nothing as much as how many different ways he can risk his life? I know,” she held up her hand, warding off his need to answer one last time.
“We’re in this together. I’m as committed to what we’re doing as anyone. But this is different, Jason. This is really hard for me.” Her voice had softened at the end, and he reached out to wipe away her tears.
“This is about your mom,” he said, gently, “isn’t it. It’s about you reliving what happened to her. But I don’t see how not getting married solves anything. If you wanted me to alter the course I’m on it would be different. But you’ve never once asked me to change direction. I don’t get it, Doreen. I know what it meant to your mom when some damn sniper took the man she loved from her, but would she have felt better if she hadn’t married him before he shipped out? Besides, this isn’t some political war. This is about defending our planet. We can’t bury our heads and pretend.”
Her mother had suffered terribly, but she'd met someone else, and she’d made Doreen with him. Jason knew all about losing someone he loved, that time healed and people recovered. The fact that everything could be lost in the blink of an eye made the people he loved even more precious. But he wouldn’t say that to her. She had to see it herself.
* * *
Jason didn’t feel like he was risking his life. It was true he intended to fly the prototype they were building based on what they’d learned from the landing vehicle Brock left behind. But it would use the same technology that had safely traversed interstellar space and flown his father from the orbit of the Moon to a soft landing in the Cascades. The risks for Jason were far less than what tests pilots had faced since the dawn of aviation.
The amazing thing was how much had been accomplished in just a few months, albeit with substantial help from the Guardians. Earth had a bold five-year plan to complete the first phase of a planetary defensive shield. Jason had badly wanted to be part of that effort. Aside from the obvious reasons, it was a fast-track opportunity he might never have again. Five years was only a dues-paying apprenticeship in the aerospace industry, or about as long as most people took to complete a doctorate.
Six months earlier, it wouldn’t have occurred to Jason to plan anything five years into the future. To a twenty-three-old, there’s always plenty of time for everything, but now, he had a choice to make. He turned to Sara for advice.
Any other time, Sara would have urged him to stay in school and complete his PhD. But she more than anyone, had grasped the implications of the gifts left behind by the aliens, especially the accelerated learning technology Steve used on the Guardian starship.
“Our ideas about advanced education are about to shift very quickly,” she said. “The contents of the data block your father brought back will revolutionize our understanding of science and technology. With Guardian teaching methods, in just a few months you can be an expert in engineering disciplines that weren’t even known to us a year ago. I wouldn’t worry about getting another degree right now. Success is its own credential.”
Sara’s words had freed him. He had a chance to be at the forefront of a new age. Not bad for someone whose resume included a University of Washington Engineering degree, a year as a beach bum, and six months of relevant work experience.