Immediately I knew something was wrong as I looked around. For a start I shouldn't have been standing alone; I should have been with the rest of the ten man landing party. Actually, there weren't ten men in it, but rather six males – including me – three females and a robot. However, there was no sign of any of them. The other give away was that I should have appeared in the middle of a city, but instead I was standing in the middle of a field.
Something had evidently gone wrong with the landing program that was meant to transport us from our inter-galactic space craft onto the surface of this planet. I guessed someone had input the wrong co-ordinates and we'd just been landed in a wrong place. But then it dawned on me, had that been the error then all ten of us would be standing here, not just me. So, I decided, they must have been landed in the intended place and somehow I'd been landed elsewhere.
Such things were known to happen – very occasionally it had to be said, and never on our craft. But as the old earth saying went, 'there is a first time for everything'. Easy to fix though as I tapped the communication device on my chest to open up a channel to the bridge.
"Hello, 'Intrepid'. Specialist Pike here. There seems to have been some sort of screw up with the landing program. I'm in the middle of a field of some sort of crop, not in the city, and there's no sign of the rest of the party."
That should have produced an instant response, but no reply came. I wasn't unduly worried as communications could sometimes be difficult. Plus, this was a new planet, one that hadn't been visited before and occasionally there might be some special feature on a planet that made communication difficult.
I took the device off my chest in order to check it was correctly switched on. Everything appeared to be in order and all the lights that should be showing were visible. I decided to try again.
"Hello, 'Intrepid'. Specialist Pike here. Come in please."
Once again there was no response. I decided maybe I was just in a communications black spot. If so there was nothing to be achieved by standing here. I looked around trying to decide in which direction to go. As far as the eye could see though the ground was almost flat and covered in growth that seemed similar to where I was. There were some hills, or maybe mountains in the distance, but it was impossible to tell exactly how far away they were, although definitely further than a short walk.
At least our experts had been right about the planet being suitable for human life. I checked on my comms device which showed the air to be composed virtually identical to what would be found on Earth. The temperature was quite pleasant too, rather like what I'd find back home on a late Spring day. There had been a worry that the precipitation on the planet was different to our own and could contain harmful elements, but we'd been told the prospect for the time we were likely to be there was for fine weather only.
The only other potential problem with the weather was that it did get cold when the sun set. In fact our scientists were puzzled at the ability of the plants here to survive freezing temperatures at night without it harming their growth – something a couple of our specialists were meant to investigate. That was provided our meeting with the rulers went well and we were given permission for such an investigation. Which was why we were supposed to have been landed in the main square of their capital city. The aim was to make a grand entrance and impress the inhabitants who we could tell from our observations were fairly primitive – at least compared to our technological might.
I noticed that in the time since I'd landed my shadow on the ground was beginning to lengthen. Night could not be more than a couple of hours away and although my clothes had an inbuilt warming system, using it would drain my battery power at least until I could spend several hours recharging it from their sun. So, finding some shelter seemed a sensible thing to do. I thought I could see in the distance a structure that was almost certainly a building and decided to head that way.
It proved to be further away than I thought and night was almost falling by the time I reached it. It appeared to be something similar to an old farmhouse on Earth with a collection of outbuildings around it. I suppose I should simply have gone to the door and introduced myself to whoever opened it, but putting myself in their situation it occurred to me whoever lived there would very probably be wary of opening a door in the dark to an unexpected caller. Plus which this place did appear to be very isolated so I doubted they had many callers even during the day.
I decided to try the outbuildings and see if any of those offered somewhere I could spend the night. I tried a couple of the smaller ones first. One gave off a smell that was utterly repulsive to my senses. On opening the door to the second I could hear some very strange rustling and whispering sounds. I switched on my illuminator and discovered the room was inhabited by things that resembled large snakes. We'd been told there were no deadly animals on this planet, but experts had been known to be wrong in the past – and anyway I didn't like snakes.
So I decided to try one of the larger buildings. On entering the first one I came to there was both a smell and some noise, but neither were unpleasant. I switched on the illuminator and saw several rows of an animal that was somewhat similar to a cow. However, these were nearly all either blue or yellow in colour with some of them being a mixture of both, and just a couple that were green. They were rather larger than a cow being more like a bison in size, but they were all shut into individual pens so were not going to cause me any harm. A few of them did make a noise which really didn't fit with their size being more like the 'baa' of a sheep.
The floor was basically earth, but scattered over it were what looked to be dried stalks of whatever the plant was that appeared to be the main crop in this region. Indeed there were bundles of it tied into the stalls of each animal.
I quickly flashed my illuminator round the building and spotted in the corner a stair that apparently led to an upper level. I made my way to it and climbed up. Switching on the illuminator again I saw bales of these stalks and decided this was where I'd spend my night. Using the light I manoeuvred a few to form a sort of bed – the stalks were surprisingly soft even when dry, unlike hay. I then took one of my stock of emergency dehydrated food capsules and mixed it into one of my small water containers. I had enough of these to last several days, although our experts had told us that the liquid on the planet was probably safe to drink in small quantities – apparently the harmful chemicals in the rain quickly evaporated after landing on the surface. That done I settled myself down on my makeshift bed and soon fell into a deep sleep.
Suddenly I jolted awake – or at least semi awake – blinking my eyes and trying to work out where I was as my brain was telling me I wasn't in my bed on our space craft. It was light, that much I could tell as I tried to get my eyes to focus. The events of yesterday flooded back. Although I couldn't see that much it was evident that my thoughts of last night had been correct and this was some sort of upper storage level.
But what had jolted me awake? I checked my communicator but it wasn't showing any messages had been received while I was asleep. Then I heard a noise from below which I quickly identified as being two voices. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but until I switched on my universal translator, that was almost certain to be the case. I considered moving and making myself known to the owners of those voices as the inhabitants of this planet were supposed to be friendly, but some sixth sense stopped me from doing so.
The conversation stopped and shortly afterwards I heard the door of the building close. After that I could just hear one voice seemingly talking to itself, but then the baaing noise from the animals started and grew in intensity. It seemed a happy noise and every now and again I could hear the sole voice which almost appeared to be talking to them. The animal noise died down and then I heard the noise of someone climbing the stair to the upper level.
I decided there was no point in trying to conceal myself. We'd been told that the natives of this planet were both similar to ourselves – and more importantly friendly – so there was no need for concern. When I stood up and moved into the open we saw each other and I'm not sure who was the more surprised. 'It' had every right to be surprised as it had no reason to expect anyone to be there. I was surprised because what stood before me was nothing like I was expecting to see. It was no human, but resembled pictures I had seen of the gorillas that used to be on earth before our predecessors killed all of them for reasons I had never been able to understand. It stood about the same height as me -just under two metres. It probably weighed about half as much again as I did though and looked fearsome. What took my breath away though was the fact that its body was covered in what appeared to be black hair or fur, which was why I was thinking of a gorilla.
I stepped forward and it stepped back to maintain the distance between us. I made the universal sign of friendship, first crossing my arms across my chest and then extending my arms forward, palms upwards. This was intended to show one meant no harm and had no weapons to hand. It did not reciprocate the gesture. Perhaps it did not know it or perhaps it didn't want to be friendly. It spoke, but the words meant nothing to me so I moved my right hand to switch on the universal translator. It did not respond well to my movement, a look like a snarl appearing on its face. Having switched on the translator I made the friendship sign again and asked it to repeat what it had said. Because the translator had not been switched on when it first spoke the words to it were delivered in my own language, but luckily it did speak again.
"Who are you? Where you come from? What you want?"
"I am Specialist Pike from the space craft 'Intrepid'. I mean you no harm. Where is this place?"
It looked puzzled. I wasn't sure if the translator wasn't working properly or if it was simply trying to make sense of what I'd said. While I was waiting for a reply I glanced at my translator and on doing so got my second big shock of the day. It showed the language being used was Rillian, but Rillian was not spoken on the planet where I should have been landed. Rillian was the language of Rill which was many parsecs from Qill where I should have been landed. It also explained why whoever I was talking to was not human in form as Qill inhabitants were known to be. Indeed Rill was a planet that we were not supposed to land on because of some historical event that was shrouded in mystery.
I recalled there had been a trainee operating the landing program on the craft yesterday, so had the equipment malfunctioned or had the idiot simply entered an 'R' into the program instead of a 'Q'? The system was supposed to be foolproof, but perhaps it was not idiot proof? Luckily for me both planets apparently had similar atmospheres!
"This is Tagor – my home. You invaded us once before my senior said. We knew you intended to kill us or make us slaves, but we killed you all. Now you come again and I kill you."
It started to lope towards me while I tried to back away. It was obviously stronger than me so I needed to keep us apart. I began to think my life was destined to end at the early age of twenty five on a planet where my body would never be found.
"I'm here because of a mistake. Our systems made an error. I should have landed on another planet. I mean you no harm. Please don't kill me. My mate will miss me.
I was babbling and I knew it. I'd not been trained for this sort of encounter. I was supposed to investigate rock formations not get engaged in conversations with hostile natives. I continued to back away until disaster struck and I fell over one of the bales of this stuff they were feeding to the animals. I expected it to jump on me as apparently it had no weapon that I could see, but instead it stopped and looked down at me.
"You have mate?"
Could it seriously be interested in the fact that I had a mate I wondered? But, anything to delay the inevitable.
"Yes, back on my home planet. We live together; have done for a few years. You want to see?"
It stood there looking sort of puzzled – I think. Perhaps it didn't understand the concept of seeing. I reached for my communicator; it backed away probably thinking it was some sort of weapon. I pushed the relevant buttons and a picture of Justin appeared. I started to turn the picture towards him when it dawned on me that I had no idea how he might react to finding out that my mate was of the same sex. I knew same sex relations were frowned on in many worlds and totally unacceptable in others. But having gone this far, there was no turning back, so I showed him the picture.
To my surprise, it smiled. Well, it was quite hard to decipher its facial expressions, but whether it was a smile or not it certainly didn't seem as angry as it had been a few minutes before.
"You both same sex?" I nodded.
"And that is allowed where you come from?"
"Yes, for long, long time now."
"You lucky. Not so easy here."
So, it seemed that 'it' was actually a he, and apparently also gay.
"How do you mean 'not so easy'?"
He made a noise that was remarkable like a sigh and sat down on the floor in front of me.
"Here we have special place where all such couples are sent. It not nice, hard work, bad food, punishment until you change."
"That's awful!" I exclaimed. Now it was his turn to nod.
"I know, but is only place me and Drubbo can be together. Have to decide soon if we go there or live separate."
We sat in silence – each contemplating the predicament. To me it was unimaginable, although I had heard that aeons ago similar treatment had been handed out to gay couples on my own planet. He was evidently torn as to what he should do.
"What those?" he suddenly asked pointing to my blue sneakers.
"They're called 'sneakers' - a sort of shoe to protect the feet from the ground."
He looked puzzled, so I lent forward, untied the laces on the left one, took it off and handed it to him. He peered inside it and I swear I saw his nose wrinkle at the smell. I wasn't surprised at that because they'd been on for over a day and I thought I could smell the aroma myself. Having done that he lifted up his foot and went to put the sneaker on. I'd expected because of his size that his feet would also be large, but surprisingly they were comparatively small and about the same size as mine. I was also surprised to see as he lifted the sole of his foot towards me that it wasn't covered in fur and actually looked quite sore. He put the sneaker on and held out his hand asking for the other one. I was rather reluctant to give him both as I didn't fancy walking around shoeless, but decided I had little option. So, I took the other one off, handed it to him and he put it on. When he'd done so he stood up and walked a few steps, just as one did when buying shoes from one of those specialist shops, although now most purchases were made remotely and delivered to you by drone. After doing his little test walk he came back, sat down, took them off and handed them back to me.
"They nice. You lucky. We have no such thing here - unless you are elite class."
He curled up his face and actually spat onto the ground after saying that; a clear expression of disgust.
Suddenly we heard a loud voice from below. Luckily my translator was in silent mode, but I read,
'Bungo, where are you, you lazy worthless lump of no good.'
So, his name was Bungo – I had wondered. He placed a finger over his lips indicating I should keep quiet before jumping to his feet and rapidly moving towards the stairs, lifting up four of the bales of the hay on his way.
'Coming, senior. Just getting feed for the coeps.'
'I wonder. You don't seem to have done much here this morning. Get to work. I've got to go and join the hunt for the invaders. It seems one got away. You've not seen anything unusual around here?'
'No, senior – everything normal.'
At least I'd found out what the animals were called, although I had no idea what use that information might be!
I was left alone for a while. I thought about using my communicator again to try and contact the 'Intrepid', but didn't want to take the risk if anyone was around. I had another of both my food and water tablets while I sat and worried. After a while I heard Bungo come back up the stairs, calling out to let me know it was him as he did so.
"It not safe for you here. Can't you get back to where you came from?"
"I couldn't contact my ship yesterday. If there is nobody around I could try again now."
"Senior gone for now, so safe."
I got out the communicator.
"Hello, 'Intrepid', Specialist Pike here. Come in please."
There was a lot of crackling noises and I thought I was not going to get a response and then I heard a voice,
"Hello, Specialist Pike. Where the hell are you? We thought we'd lost you."
"It seems I'm on Rill, not Qill."
"What! That's impossible!"
"It isn't, I assure you. And I'm afraid that the rest of the party have been killed."
There was a short silence.
"If that is where you are, then you are lucky to be alive. But, we are not currently in range to bring you back as we are on the far side of Qill. It will be several hours before we can get to you. Can you stay safe until then?"
That was a pretty daft question I thought. I didn't have much choice but to wait for them and hope I wasn't discovered before they got here.
"I'll see what I can do. Send me a silent message when you are in position to bring me back on board."
"Will do. Take care. Stay lucky."
I closed the device. Bungo had sat through all this looking puzzled as he couldn't understand a word. I switched the translator back on.
"Bungo, it will be some time before I can go; probably not until tonight. Can I stay here until then?"
"You must stay here to be safe. I go work now, but can I bring Drubbo to meet you later?"
"Of course, I'd like to meet him."
Time passed slowly with nothing to do. I could have played some games on my device, but as it was solar powered and I was indoors, I didn't want to risk running down the battery.
Instead, I sort of semi dozed and ended up thinking about how lucky I'd been until now. Alright, both my parents had been killed in a spaceship disaster when I was five years old, but I had been taken in by a couple who had always wanted children but had never been able to do so. They had loved and cared for me and not raised the slightest objection when I told them some years later that I was gay. They told me it made not an iota of difference as I was still the same person, adding that because they could not have children of their own they had long go accepted the fact they would never have grandchildren. Then, when I was in college, I was lucky enough to meet and fall in love with Justin. We had married as soon as we had graduated and were living happily together – even contemplating when we should foster or adopt a child of our own. I decided that if I got safely off Rill and then back to our planet I would try and persuade him we should do it as soon as possible.
I'd not long finished that train of thought when I heard feet coming up the stairs. Bungo appeared holding hands with what had to be Drubbo. I couldn't really tell them apart, although Drubbo seemed to be both slightly shorter and less strong than Bungo.
The pair sat down and we talked. They wanted to know all about the planet I came from, where I lived and my partner. I decided to take a chance on the communicator battery and showed them many pictures of my partner, my real and adoptive parents and areas I had visited. I thought that Bungo in particular deserved some sort of reward for helping me, but both were very taken with what they saw.
When I explained about losing my parents and being adopted, Bungo started to weep. I was alarmed and hastened to reiterate that it had all turned out well for me.
"No, I not weep for you, but for me," he said. "I too lose my creators, but I end up here." He waved his hand around the building. "I am virtual slave. I get no love."
Now I started to worry at the situation I had created by telling him how great my life was, but Drubbo began to hug him and shortly the tears stopped. They started to kiss, and apparently unconcerned that I was there, hands began to stroke each other – the back, the chest, the stomach and finally down into the groin. Two penises emerged from the mass of hair, bright red and almost a foot long and about three inches in diameter, I swear. And then in front of me and with no concerns, they sucked each other to orgasm. Slowly they came down from their high and realised I was there.
"We sorry," said Drubbo, "but I had to show Bungo I truly love him. I have my creators, but they not love me since I found Bungo. I love Bungo and with what you just witnessed we are now pledged to each other for life. I will tell my creators and Bungo will tell his senior and we will be sent to special place. We know life will be hard for us there, but we will be others of our type and we can be together. That is most important thing. Maybe one day things here change and for future generations it will be like where you come from."
He stood up and helped Bungo to his feet.
"I must go, but can we have hug to remember you by?"
A hug? I would have given these two anything if I could. I stood up and we wrapped our arms around each other. Well, I could only get each of my arms part way round their bodies, but one of each of their arms went round me and then back to their partner. They were so gentle and it all felt so special. The specialist had seen something no human had ever witnessed, nor I suspected would ever see again. We pulled apart and I suddenly thought,
"Can I take pictures of you?"
They both nodded happily, although I wondered if they understood what I meant, but I proceeded to take a couple of each of them individually and some more of them standing together and finally hugging. Both of them were overjoyed with what they saw and I realised that pictures might well indeed not exist here. Unfortunately, I had nothing on which to print copies for them.
Drubbo said goodbye and went off back to wherever he lived. Bungo went back downstairs and fed the coeps again.
That left me alone and with little to do but reflect on what had happened to me since I had left 'Intrepid'. Somehow we had been landed on the wrong planet. It was admittedly the next one to the one we should have landed on, but it was not one to be visited. The reasons for that were obvious because of the deaths of the other members of my landing party, but by some strange quirk of fate I had been landed somewhere else and had been fortunate to survive. I would certainly have a story to tell when I got back on the 'Intrepid', let alone when we returned to earth. Some of it might be unbelievable were it not for the pictures I had taken.
I also reached a conclusion. When I did get back to earth it would mark the end of my space voyaging. I'd realised Justin meant more to me that the lure of space travel and undiscovered planets. We'd settle down together and then adopt some children. At least whether or not they turned out to be gay the could be certain of a happy adult life, unlike Bungo and Drubbo. I would not see those two again, but they'd never be far from my heart.
Darkness quickly came. And then my communicator throbbed.
'We will be in position to bring you back on board in five minutes. Be sure no other living being is in the area.'
Bungo had come back upstairs so I told him it was time for me to go. He looked as downcast as I felt. We hugged again and he made to come downstairs with me, but I told him it would not be safe for him and he must stay where he was until he had seen a bright flash of light. He reluctantly agreed and we exchanged a final wave as I reached the bottom of the stairs.
I looked outside the building. Nobody was around and it had evidently been raining as the ground was all black and shiny. Fortunately the precipitation had stopped in view of the possibility of it being harmful to us. I stepped outside, took off my sneakers and made a print of Bungo into the insole of one and of Drubbo to the inside of the other. I was sure Bungo would come out when he saw the flash of light and find them. Hopefully they would serve as a long time reminder of a chance meeting.
I placed the sneakers to the side of me and the light started to grow brighter and brighter. I looked down as I was lifted up - the pair of blue sneakers were still there and there almost appeared to be a reverse image of me underneath them. Impossible, I said to myself, but after what I'd experienced since leaving 'Intrepid' perhaps anything was possible...........
This story is part of the 2018 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Empty Shoes". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 24 August to 14 September 2018 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.
The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:
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