When the Two Suns TouchbyNigel Debonnaire©
A soft breeze wandered up from the ocean to the mountainside to caress Lydia's cheek as relaxed laying back on her elbows. "Well, it's a lovely daybreak, Harry. Beta is coming up just before Alpha; they're so close, it's like they're holding hands. Today they part; by nightfall they'll be two distinct orbs again. What a lovely transit it's been the past five days." Despite five days with only catnaps to keep her going, Lydia was still invigorated by the celebrations. The passage of the small blue sun across the big red disk of its companion had poetic value for her in addition its scientific interest. "Your people started the party the night after the suns first touched, and you've been at it all night every night since. Last night was the finale, wasn't it?"
Harry was lost in his exhaustion, laying flat on his back and hardly moving except for the rise and fall of his great chest. Lydia watched the mingled light play across his form wistfully. "A couple of days ago it was like Beta was sitting on Alpha's lap; a blue pearl on red velvet. I don't understand why your adults sleep through it and your children are the only ones who get to look at it in wonder. That's probably part of the deeper cultural study, isn't it? Maybe you get so little true night here you have to celebrate it, or it makes you all run bit wild." Lydia shook her long, dark hair out and combed it roughly with her fingers. She was silhouetted in light of the linked suns rising, a lean form in a worn silver flight suit sitting on the ground with her legs spread wide apart and dangling over the edge of a cliff.
She took a luxurious, deep breath. "I can't get over how beautiful this place is. There are hundreds of thousands of stories around the galaxy of travelers marooned in primitive paradises; but I never thought I'd end up in one. Isn't that funny, Harry?" Harry snorted in his sleep and resumed the low rumble of deep slumber. Lydia regarded the purple tinged dawn as she sat on the ledge in front of their mountain cave: "I never knew that beauty could be so overwhelming. It's like I've never lived anyplace else that mattered; never lived my life fully before now. I wonder if I can ever be happy anyplace else in the universe again."
Lydia wondered about the chain of events that stranded her. It seemed an innocent expedition: visit Redella, an unexplored terrestrial planet circling a binary system, with the full resources of an intergalactic corporation at behind her, a well equipped ship and an experienced crew. She had done it many times before on many planets, working in extraterrestrial biology, sociology and climatology, building a reputation as a groundbreaking researcher. If only they hadn't been surprised by a Proctorian Imperial vessel that shot first and asked questions later: she was the only survivor of the attack and it was a miracle her escape pod had landed on the planet of her goal. She had to disable the locator beacon and vaporize escape pod herself, or else the paranoid Proctorians would have found her and ended her research forever.
All the technology she had left was a portable recorder on a 75 year battery safely hidden in an old fashioned lead lined pouch: it had enough space for a planet full of data, complete with video and audio, but its electronic signature would locate it to a hostile ship or satellite passing by. She had to use it just before and after Alpha's rising when the radio burst from that star would cover its electronic signature, and her sessions had to be no longer than ten minutes. Given her near brush with death, she would have to assume that any visitors from the sky to this planet were hostile until proven otherwise. Her friends were far, far away and her enemies were close and vigilant.
It was a beautiful planet, lush with greenery and beautiful fauna in the equatorial region she landed. Redella was a desirable world: free of biting insects, a large zones of tropical and temperate climates with small poles, vegetation that humans could live on without dietary supplements, and unpolluted by contact with the industrial refuse of human habitation. It revolved with four small moons around the double suns and a large gas giant many times larger than Jupiter in an intricate dance that took five earth years. The light of the heavenly bodies once the suns were gone from the sky was thrilling: the yellow gas giant she named Kong shone brightly enough to cast shadows, and the moons were white, rough diamonds. No wonder the natives stayed up all night to revel in the view that only happened twice a decade.
She sighed to herself as she continued to watch the suns rise. "In the month and a half I've spent hiding from the Proctorians here, I'm almost glad my employers don't know about this place. They would set up a resort here at least, and that would spoil everything." Biting her lip for moment as she looked out over the seascape, she combed her hair with her fingers. "I almost wish they'll never come," she whispered.
There were predators on this world that could harm her, but Lydia had made an arrangement. The humanoids of Redella had grown to gargantuan size, thirty feet tall on average, with bone structure and body hair that resembled the Neanderthals of Earth. She had kept away from their society for the most part, not wanting to spoil their culture with her presence and a little afraid of what a careless native could do to one of her size, but she befriended a solitary male who lived apart from the rest of the group shortly after her arrival. He had protected her from the rat-tigers and the zee-badgers that threatened her, and his cave had been a hiding place when the Proctorians did their visual survey of the planet. As a lover of bad puns, she called him Harry, even though he wasn't the hairiest humanoid she had ever encountered.
Lydia was still figuring out how he fit into the culture: he obviously had no mate, he was one of the older males in the area, and once every eleven days he would go to the village to lead a day of frantic dancing, hooting and yelping that bordered on the erotic but never resulted in any direct sexual encounters she could see or infer. As far as she could tell he was a shaman or spiritual leader of some sort. No one came to look after him between his visits to the village, and Harry had exhibited no signs of sexual stimulation or other activity that could be viewed as sublimation in her presence so far. The week's observation of the festival had given her a chance to see that Harry's race procreated the same way humanoids around the galaxy did, with a strong preference for long periods of manual and oral stimulation of the genitalia before coitus. His genitalia was proportionate for his frame, without defects, and was average among the other males she had seen from a distance. Perhaps he had a low sex drive, or none at all.
She wasn't able to communicate with the Harry other than by means than looks, signs and body language, but she had developed a warm spot for her protector, and Harry had obviously grown very possessive of her. "I hope nobody finds us and hauls you back home with me," she murmured, "otherwise I could find myself watching you fight biplanes from the top of a skyscraper back home, Harry."
The weather was uniformly balmy in this equatorial locality, with frequent rain, and the natives went naked all the time as some of the Amazonian peoples, with occasional necklaces, waist adornments, wrist and ankle bracelets. Harry wore a huge necklace of several colored stones, with wrist and ankle bracelets woven from local fibers that seemed to have some symbolic meaning. Lydia's clothing was unsuited to this climate: the flight suit she escaped in was made for a cooler climate, was torn in several places, and wearing very thin after a month and half's hard usage. Survival training had taught her how to fashion clothes out of native materials, but she was beginning to think that perhaps she do without clothing as well after slowly acclimate her skin to the daylight. The only thing that deterred her from going unclad was the reaction Harry might have: although he never seemed to notice female nakedness of his own people, seeing her naked up close could provoke reactions she might not be able to cope with.
The combination of light from red and blue stars of the double conjoined sunrise gave a different tone to the colors of daybreak and lent an odd purple sheen to the sky. The day was cloudless for once, with light zephyrs playing aimlessly, and her Redellan protector was slow to rise. It was like this every morning after Harry returned from leading the dance, and today seemed to be worse after the five day festival: perhaps his age was slowing him down "It's hell getting older, isn't it Harry?" she said as he obviously struggled toward consciousness.
He raised his head and snorted at her. "Guess there isn't anybody else who can lead this dance, is there? You were probably chosen for this job when the old High Priest died, and you'll keep it until it's your turn to pass it on at the end of your life. Let me guess your age: you're about thirty seven earth years, aren't you? No, I know it doesn't matter to men, but I'm a scientist and I notice things others don't. You are getting a little white in your beard and your movements aren't as supple as some of the younger ones are."
The artifacts in his cave indicated previous occupants and his necklace looked very old. Lydia noticed that he spent time during the morning and evening in what seemed to be meditation for about an hour or so. "You could last another thirty years by my planet's time, about six of your years. There seem to be two or three grandfathers down in the village and given that you aren't doing heavy work you'll probably last that long unless you've got a defect I don't know about. This is probably your job for life; pity you have to live up here by yourself."
She reached out and patted his cheek; he closed and opened his eyes muzzily. "I'm only one earth year younger than you are, and you could say my life has been pretty much like yours in some ways. The only difference is the milage." Harry faded back into a snooze for a while.
Lydia went down to the village; the youngsters had gone to the beach with their elders to spend the morning playing in the surf, and the adults were still fast asleep after the festival. She prodded the campfire and measured the proportions of the dance areas with her strides. The shields that still hung from the poles around the village she scrutinized closely for similarities and differences; the windows gave her glimpses of the inner life of this people that she hadn't gotten before in broad daylight. Nothing was stirring, and she was able to get in an hour and a half observation before her nerves told her to go back to Harry. It would be dusk before she could use the recorder again, so she used the Memory House technique from Mediaeval Earth to catagorize the data. Lydia had a good memory with an excellent imagination, and there was nothing else on the planet to occupy her attention, so she figured her notes would be accurate enough for someone coming to use.
It was three hours after the double sunrise when Harry finally roused himself, just as Lydia climbed back over the ledge to their roost. He stretched and yawned, scratching himself, and lumbered down to the jungle to harvest a few fruits that seemed a cross between bananas and tangerines. Lydia always looked forward to their taste: she tasted them in Harry's cave the first day she spent there, savoring their nectar with enthusiasm, he had made a point to pluck some for her every day on rising. One sufficed until midday for her, he usually ate four or five, and they sat cross legged apart from each other munching in silence as they had at breakfast for weeks.
When they finished eating breakfast, he started sniffing and wrinkled his brow. She looked at him concerned: "What's up, Harry? Do you smell something dangerous?" He stood up and took a couple of steps to her left and then to her right, triangulating the aroma. Then he grunted, pointed at her and sniffed dramatically. Lydia gasped, then chuckled. "Oh, it's me, you're smelling. I guess I hadn't noticed; I've been so busy making observations and notes at your village the past week I haven't been bathing as I should. I've seen your lot down by the beach daily, washing in the surf, but I guess you have a special place for that out of sight of the others, don't you, Harry? No, I'm too shy to let you see me washing in the cave from our drinking water while you're out shopping. You never seem to take too long doing that; do the others gather food for you? I bet they do; most villages treat their local holy man like a king. Or maybe the food supply is so plentiful here that you don't have to work too hard for it." He snuffled again, pointed at her and grunted. "One track mind, like most men. All right, I promise you, Harry, when you take your afternoon nap in the daylight, I'll get cleaned up and smell sweet again."
Harry wrinkled his brow and snorted several times. Pointing down the hill a direction she hadn't gone, he grunted twice. She gave him a puzzled look, and he repeated the action. Finally, he scooped her gently from the ground to perch on his shoulder and began lumbering down the mountainside of their cave. "Great, I stink so much you're going to give me a good scrubbing yourself. All right, just be gentle." As they went down the path, she was glad she hadn't gone that way before: the scissor-foxlet dens were all down this direction, and would have made mince meat of her had she wandered this way alone. The Redellan had nothing to fear from the little pests, batting them off the path easily as he passed.
At last, they reached a clear pool by a water fall: a fifty foot fall fed the pool from above and it discharged into a series of rapids downstream before turning into a lazy creek. The pool was small by Redellan standards: seventy five feet across and ten feet deep in the center. For Harry, it was a natural bathtub; for Lydia, it was a swimming pool. It was next to a rocky cliff and many stones that framed a gritty beach of greenish yellow sand. "It's lovely, Harry, simply lovely. I guess there aren't any needle snake nests around, are there?" Harry looked around at her blankly, and snuffled. "No, I don't see any indications of that. The water is pretty clear and I don't see any fish, so I guess this is a safe place. You probably wouldn't come up here if it wasn't safe, would you? Those needle snakes could probably make your bath uncomfortable, too."
He put her gently on the sandy beach and took off his necklace, armbands and ankle bands. Splashing dramatically, he waded out into the pool and ducked under to get himself completely wet. They he came out, sat on the beach, and began rubbing the sand on his wet body. She felt the texture of the sand: "I see what you're doing, Harry, you're using this as a scrubbing power. It is fine enough for that, and it should rinse away all right. Ingenious, Harry, ingenious. We should make a fortune on this as a bath product back home." He stopped, pointed at her and then pointed at the pool. She shrugged her shoulders. "All right, you don't have to tell me twice."
At first, she thought of going into the pool clothed, but then she thought the problems of bathing in her torn space suit, with sand becoming lodged in a thousand uncomfortable places; the suit also grew extremely heavy when it was waterlogged and the rest of the day might not be long enough to dry it out completely before cool evening set in. "I don't know, Harry, it's not like I'm a very shy girl. You've been a perfect gentleman since we met on every occasion, and you probably won't even notice that I'm naked. Maybe I shouldn't be so hung up about this, but I'm still not sure how you'll react when you see the real me." She thought for a moment or two, then shrugged her shoulders again. "Oh Lydia, don't be such a prude. Get on with it."
Preoccupied with his own cleansing ritual, he paid no attention as she unzipped her torn flight suit and left it on the beach. She was five foot five with light brown hair: thin but not anemic, long of limb, light brown skin, subtle hips and medium breasts with large nipples and areolae. "I'm no beauty contest winner, but I'm in pretty good shape for a thirty five year old egghead. Some of men have found me pretty, even those who haven't just come back from long expeditions who haven't seen a woman for years," she said over her shoulder with her back turned to him. Diving into the pool, she swam a couple of laps with enthusiasm and relished the feel of the refreshing water on her skin before she turned to discover him staring at her transfixed as she treaded water.
Lydia gulped and took on her most soothing tone of voice. "It's all right, Harry, this is what I really look like. You've seen women like this, naked, down at the village, just a bit smaller. Actually, six times smaller. It's all right, don't worry, I won't hurt you." After a few moments of staring, he grunted and beckoned her to come up out of the pool. "All right, Harry. Just don't get overheated. We'll go slow, just like we did in the beginning and everything will be all right." Tentatively she swam toward the beach.
Coming up slowly out of the pool, she tried to cover herself with her hands momentarily, then remembered that he wouldn't understand that action and it could spoil their relationship, so she kept her hands at her sides. "I'm not as hairy as you are, but I have a little bit here and here." She lifted her arms to show him her underarm hair and shook her now shoulder length hair out behind her. He was transfixed for several moments as he watched her closely.
Lydia was nervous: she didn't know what this reaction meant. His fascination could mean many things; the best thing to do was to stop and let him digest what was happening before making another move, so she did that. After a few moments, he shrugged, got up and went into the pool to rinse himself off mechanically, staring rudely at her the entire time. She moved a little further away from the pool and stood on the beach facing him. "It's all right, this is what I really look like underneath. The flight suit is like a second skin, it protects us against extremes. We take it off, we put it on. I should have shown you sooner, I'm sorry. Didn't know how you'd take it. Don't be afraid, I'm just like you in many ways."
After rinsing off, he came up out of the pool and sat on the beach next to where she stood. It was like the first moment they met, when they had to convince each other of their sentience and humanity gradually before they could begin to be comfortable with each other. The tropical air had dried her hair and skin out quickly. First, he touched her cheek with his forefinger as he had done before. She reached out and touched his hand. The finger traced the outline of her body, running down her left side and up her right side. Lydia bit her lip, but traced the outline of his legs as he sat before her: this wasn't only nerve racking, but after six weeks with no human contact and six years of incidental celibacy, this contact was generating reactions beyond her control. "Be careful, my vibrator was vaporized six weeks ago and I haven't had a chance to get a new one yet. Don't start anything you can't finish." Something clicked in, and he kept up his tracery seeing her trembling thrill at his touch, with a look of wonder and a slight soft smile on his face. His left hand came down, palm up, for her to sit in. "Now, I've done it," she said as he lifted her up for closer inspection. "Promise me that you'll still respect me in the morning."
He held her close to her eyes to look her over inch by inch. Probably getting nearsighted, she thought. The right forefinger traced her outline again, gently, then moved down and up her front. Her breasts wobbled as his finger passed, and seeing this he moved them around with his finger for a few moments out of curiosity, playing with them innocently. It shouldn't have affected scientist in her at all, but the lack of human touch for such a long time and her fondness for Harry turned on her hormones, and Lydia's breathing became more rapid, "Goodness gracious, big boy, you don't mess around, do you?" Humor was the only way she could hold onto her consciousness: losing control in the presence of an alien that she really didn't know well and whose reactions were still a bit unpredictable was incredibly dangerous, and she knew how vulnerable she was in more ways that sexual. The problem was that her intellect was getting swamped by her emotions and sensations: she had forgotten how powerful skin to skin touch was.