Icy winds curled about Mist’s transformed body as he stared down at the tiny speck that was the last shuttle, far below in the valley. Mist prayed desperately that his friends would find him soon. The expedition was due to leave at sunset, local time, and the planet’s sun was already halfway toward the horizon. He knew perfectly well that the deadline could not be extended.
If they gave him up for dead he might remain trapped in this place forever, with no hope of rescue. The thought of never seeing another human face again was almost unbearable.
Only a few hours earlier, the mission had seemed routine, even boring....
Snug in Tide’s embrace, Mist sighed. It was early in the morning by the ship’s clock, but they couldn’t sleep for anticipation of their next survey mission. Instead, they were watching the holovid, floating above the bunk. It was displaying a montage of images taken by the survey teams and remote probes, depicting scenes from every corner of the new planet.
The planet had been given the unglamorous designation Prospective Colony Seven; PC-7 for short. It might not have been paradise, but it was the closest thing any of the crew expected to see while they were alive.
The pictures had been edited by Rainbow, who had always had an excellent eye and a superb sense of timing. Each image lasted just long enough to whet the appetite for more, before being replaced by a dramatically contrasting scene.
A view of a lush forest stretching to the horizon was replaced by a picture of a snow-capped mountain reflected in a crystalline lake.
“It’s so frustrating, Tide” said Mist. “This is such an incredible place, but we’re not even allowed to breathe the air.”
A vast herd of grazing animals ambled past the camera, followed by a troop of eight-legged insectoids with formidable jaws, and a flock of multi-coloured birds.
“I know,” said Tide, stroking him intimately, “but you know the regulations. Captain Cloud says that until the planet has been completely cleared for colonisation, decontamination procedures must be followed strictly.”
An ocean raged against a tree-lined shore, a big copper moon hung in a starry sky, and snow fell gently upon the bare branches of a seasonal forest.
Mist sighed. “Twenty days, and the only way we’ve been able to experience the place is via these holoprojections, or from inside those bulky suits. They could at least have given the suits virtual sensors.”
“I guess they thought it’d be too expensive.”
“Oh, right,” laughed Mist. “So travelling hundreds of light years to a new star system on the basis of a probe’s report isn’t too expensive, but fitting a few touch and smell sensors to our environment suits is?”
“Hey, don’t ask me to figure out how the accountants think,” said Tide. “They live in a different world already.”
Flying mammals poured like smoke from their cave at dusk, a blizzard raged over an icy plain, and grey leviathans breached majestically from the sea.
Mist sighed again and sank deeper into Tide’s embrace. Mist was eighteen standard-years old, and full of the vigour and curiosity of youth.
(In relative terms, that made him either two hundred years or three years old - he could never remember which way time dilation worked in hyperspace.)
To be denied the opportunity to experience this new world more intimately - to touch and smell and even taste it - was too frustrating for words.
Mist’s own world was in trouble. The original colonisation reports had turned out to be falsified; the planet was not capable of supporting the projected human population without suffering serious environmental damage. By the time this had been realised, centuries later, the damage was already irreversible. The colonists could not return to their original overpopulated homeworld, which meant they had only two options: either build permanent space habitats, or seek new and more viable colony worlds.
By the time the first survey ships set out it had become traditional to give children the names of natural features and phenomena, such as Sand, Sleet, River, or Aurora; names that reflected the pristine environment that their people had lost, and which they hoped someday to regain.
“You know what I wish?” said Mist. “I wish I could stay here forever. I wish I could just strip off the environment suit and stand naked on the planet’s surface.”
While he was speaking, the holovid reached the end and started again.
“Naked, eh?” chuckled Tide. “Even in the snow?”
“Yes, why not?” said Mist. “According to some legends there were primitive tribes that could survive quite happily, stark naked in arctic conditions. And there were others that could survive equally naked in baking salt deserts, in heat that would have killed most humans. They actually made a living by harvesting the salt and selling it to tribes that couldn’t survive in the saltpans. It’s all a question of adaptation.
“On the whole, though, I’d prefer some tropical beach where I could just strip off and bask in the sun. Or an untamed jungle, where I could pretend to be Mowgli in that ancient story.”
“What, the kid with the loincloth in that holovid?” said Tide.
“What loincloth? What holovid?” said Mist. “In the original version Mowgli is permanently naked. His name has two letters in common with mine as well. ‘The boy stood all naked, his long black hair tossing over his shoulders.’ I’d just love to do that.”
“Instead of which, you can only be naked here in the ship, with me,” said Tide. “How tragic that you can’t explore the paradise out there.”
“Well, then,” muttered Mist, slowly curling his fingers about Tide’s rocky erection, “We’ll just have to try and create a paradise of our own in here....”
They made love for an hour or so, sensuously exploring each other’s masculinity.
“Maybe I should call myself Bay,” sighed Mist, languidly.
“Why?” said Tide.
“Because the Tide comes into me twice a day.”
And then the holovid was replaced by Captain Cloud’s face.
“This is your captain speaking,” she said. “The time is now 0830. All survey teams report to your shuttles for surface reconnaissance missions. Stop sucking each other’s dicks and clits and get into your working kits. That is all.”
“Got such a way with words, hasn’t she?” muttered Tide, languidly stroking Mist’s scrotum.
“Yeah, when she hasn’t got her own mouth full,” Mist chuckled. “You know what they say about her bunkmate Mountain - he didn’t get called that for nothing.”
“Is that true?” said Tide.
“I don’t know, but I’d sure like to find out.”
“Well, maybe one day we can both...invite him in,” laughed Tide. “Anyway, come on, ‘Bay’ We’d better not be late again. I still have nightmares about what she did to us last time.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Mist, reluctantly removing Tide’s hand from his crotch and sitting up.
Within half an hour the crew assembled before Cloud, who issued them with their assignments.
“As you know,” she informed them, “this will be our last survey mission on PC-7. It is now 0900 hours Wednesday, ship time. We are scheduled to leave orbit at 2100 hours Friday. That’s just sixty hours from now, which gives us forty-eight hours for our survey mission and twelve for pre-departure checks.
“Dew and Waterfall - you’ll be surveying the southern polar ocean. Mesa and Tornado will take the northern temperate forest. Tide and Mist will explore the mountains of the south-western continent. Rainbow and Glacier will be studying the volcanic island chain in the eastern ocean. Chine and Iceberg will survey the equatorial forest region. Finally Mountain and I will take the desert plateau of the north-east continent. That leaves Spa and Canyon to man the ship, just in case it gets attacked by the aliens that nobody’s ever encountered in all these centuries. The coordinates of your landing sites have been loaded into your shuttles, so let’s get to work. Good hunting, crew.”
The phrase “good hunting” reminded Mist once more of Mowgli, and he sighed wistfully as he followed Tide into the shuttle.
“Nervous?” said Tide as the shuttle entered the planet’s atmosphere.
“Nervous? What’s there to be nervous about?” muttered Mist. But even as he said it, he did feel a twinge of anticipation. Something was different about this mission, he was almost certain of it. He felt as if something strange was about to happen, something that would change his life, but he couldn’t guess what.
Tide set the shuttle down in a lush alpine meadow that occupied a U-shaped hanging valley. The valley was several kilometres square and almost a thousand metres above sea level, bisected by a sparkling mountain-fed stream. A herd of startled ruminants trotted away from the strange metal bird and stood eyeing it warily from a distance.
A few moments later Tide and Mist, shrouded from head to foot in bulky environment suits and carrying heavy scanning devices, stepped out onto the grass - or at least, the local equivalent, which was sufficiently like grass that it might as well be dignified with the name.
Through the lens of his holocamera, Mist took in his surroundings. The day was bright and breezy. By concidence, the local time corresponded almost exactly to ship time - early morning, a few hours after sunrise. The temperature according to the scanners was a cool 15 degrees Celsius, and for the thousandth time Mist wished he could doff his confining environment suit and feel the breeze all over him.
At one end of the valley rose a sheer cliff, above which climbed the foothills of a snowy mountain chain whose tallest peaks stood almost six thousand metres high. At the other end the land dropped away sharply to an alluvial plain where broad rivers could be seen meandering into the hazy distance.
Millions of small flowers (or what might as well be called flowers) poked their multicoloured heads through the “grass”. Nearby the grazing herd continued to feed quietly, keeping a wary eye upon the strange two-legged chicks that the metal bird had hatched.
“All right,” said Tide. “I’ll check out the lower half of the valley and you take the top half.”
And so began the tedious work of cataloguing soil, air and plant samples. This did not involve physically collecting samples, but rather scanning them and sending the data back to the ship. Mist also managed to trap and scan several insectoids, and for good measure he also scanned some of the grazers’ droppings. All of his findings would go into the computer’s extensive database and be carefully catalogued for the benefit of the Colonisation Board back home.
Of course it would have been impossible to survey the entire planet thoroughly, even with an army of researchers, but Cloud’s crew hoped to get a representative view of the planet’s environment by surveying as many different climatic and geological regions as possible in the limited time available.
From time to time Mist glanced up from the soil and took a look at the craggy mountains, and imagined himself climbing them. The view from the top was bound to be spectacular.
Mist sighed and chuckled. It would be a long time before any human ever climbed these mountains. But the idea was strangely compelling.
Then he seemed to see something out of the corner of his eye, something shimmering high above....
When he looked again it was gone. It was probably nothing. Just sunlight reflecting off a streamlet or quartz deposit. And yet for a brief instant he had been convinced there was someone there, a person. But that was impossible. Tide was down here in the valley with him, and the rest of the crew were surveying different parts of the planet. And there were no other intelligent beings on the planet. There couldn’t be.
Mist’s reverie was broken by Tide’s voice on the suit radio.
“Routine check, Mist. It’s now 1300 hours ship time. How are you getting on?”
“How time flies,” yawned Mist, looking back down the valley to where Tide’s suited figure could just be made out in the distance. “Just routine so far, no problems to report. One of the grazers came to get a closer look at me, but it didn’t make any threatening moves, and when I didn’t either it just wandered away after a couple of minutes. Apart from that I’ve been scanning about three samples a minute, so that’s what, four or five hundred so far. The ship’s computer will have the exact figure, of course. How about you?”
“Pretty much the same. I’m down near the stream fall at the foot of the valley. I guess you must be getting near the cliff at the top by now.”
Mist looked up at the featureless cliff wall. “Yeah, I hadn’t realised how close I was getting,” he muttered. “There’ll probably be some lichens and mosses on the cliff face. If I’m really lucky maybe I’ll find some fossils in the rock.”
“Well, good hunting, ‘Mowgli’. I’ll call in again at 1600.”
Mist continued with his routine sampling activities for about an hour. Then he paused and looked up, to see the cliff looming above him only a few tens of metres away.
At the base of the cliff was a narrow cave entrance, just big enough to admit a man wearing an environment suit. Mist was certain he had not seen the cave before, yet there it was, right in front of him.
Peering into the cave, Mist thought he could make out a faint bluish glow within. It was almost as if it had been excavated there and then in order to arouse his curiosity.
Procedure dictated that before exploring any potentially hazardous environment he should inform his partner and have him standing by to offer assistance. But Tide was at the other end of the meadow, almost four kilometres away. There didn’t seem to be any point in bothering him.
After all, Mist thought, what harm could there be in exploring the cave? It was about time he had a break from his tedious routine, and anyway the cave might contain a wealth of new biological and geological samples. And if any harmful animals should be lurking inside, his suit’s stun field would protect him.
And so, having satisfactorily rationalised what might turn out to be a very bad decision, he entered the cave mouth.
As the cave swallowed him up, its entrance once more became invisible from the outside.
He was right about the cave’s biological wealth: its wall was covered in a green mossy substance, and lots of small insectoids buzzed and crawled in the beam of his suit’s light. He had only been collecting data for a few minutes, however, when his suit’s visor display warned him that his uplink to the ship’s computer had been lost.
He wasn’t worried. He was only going to be in the cave for a few minutes, after all, and he could always transmit the data he had recorded as soon as he got back outside.
“Tide! Tide, can you hear me? This is Acting Steward Canyon calling from the ship.”
“I hear you, Canyon,” said Tide. “What’s up?”
“It’s Mist,” said Canyon, unable to disguise the apprehension in his voice. “Computer reports that his uplink went dead a couple of minutes ago, and we can’t contact him by voice either. Can you see him?”
“No, we’ve been walking in opposite directions for hours. Last time I heard from him he was about four kays away. Let me try calling him.”
Tide switched to his short-range antenna.
“Mist, this is Tide. Can you hear me? Come in, please, Mist.”
But there was no reply. Tide tried altering frequencies and increasing the gain, but without success.
“Shit,” muttered Tide, switching back to his ship uplink. “No response, Canyon. In his last report, Mist said he was near the cliff. I just hope to God he wasn’t buried by a rock fall or something. I’m going to go look for him, but it’ll take some time. His last known position is four thousand metres from me, and about fifty metres up. In this suit it’s going to be a bit of a hike. I’ll let you know when there’s anything to report.”
“OK, Tide,” said Canyon. “We’ll let the captain know, and we’ll keep listening in on both of your frequencies. Guess we’ll pray a little as well. Ship out.”
Oblivious to the nightmare he was putting his friends through, Mist continued to explore the cave, finding new species of moss, lichen, insectoids, fossilised shells and unusual rock formations. As he penetrated deeper and deeper into the cave he kept telling himself he’d be through in another minute or so...then another...then another...then another....
In this way two hours passed before he knew it. It was only when his suit chronometer chimed the hour a second time that he realised it was already 1600 and he was supposed to contact Tide.
He was just about to start back toward the cave entrance when something caught his eye.
Only a few metres further along the cave, something was glowing. Curiosity once more got the better of him, and he started walking toward the light.
After about ten metres the cave gave out into a huge dome-shaped chamber with glowing walls. The glow seemed to be caused by some kind of bioluminescent organism growing on the walls and ceiling. That might have been naturally occurring, but the chamber itself was so perfectly circular it could only have been man-made.
No...not man-made! No human had ever set foot upon this planet before. Mist could barely contain his excitement at the significance of what he had discovered.
The chamber was fifteen metres across and almost ten metres high, and at its centre was a circular platform just one metre across and less than half a metre in height. There was nothing on the platform, but as Mist watched, a brighter glow began to form in the air above it.
The glow was almost hypnotic, and Mist found himself compelled to walk toward it. As he approached, he seemed to see a figure dancing within the light. The dancing figure looked like a man, and its dance was erotic and inviting. Come to me, it seemed to say. Come to me and we will share ecstasy beyond human experience.
“Tide?” said Mist, blinking in the light. “Tide, is that you? What’s going on? How did you get here before me?”
But the figure merely continued to dance. Mist could see now that it was naked, masculine and gorgeous, but the glow obscured its face.
Was it Tide? He couldn’t be sure. Yet, whoever it was, Mist was more than ready to accept his erotic invitation.
And so, fumbling in his haste, he began to unfasten the seals of his environment suit.
As soon as he broke the first seal, Mist was almost deafened by the cacophony of alarm bleeps and buzzers that sounded within the confines of his helmet. Ignoring their warnings he tore off the helmet and flung it aside. For the first time in the history of PC-7 a human breathed its air and found it sweet and fresh.
But just breathing the air wasn’t enough. He had to feel it, just as he had told Tide.
So he peeled away the suit from his body, then slipped out of his underclothes and stood naked in the atmosphere of the cavern. He might not be outside in the jungle, but this was the next best thing as far as he was concerned.
And the figure upon the platform continued to writhe and gyrate, sensuously, erotically, and above all, irresistibly.
Hugely aroused, Mist stepped forward onto the platform and into the mysterious figure’s embrace. Immediately it began to caress him, to hug him, and to perform such incredible acts upon his unresisting body that he thought he would explode with orgasms...but somehow it was managing to delay his climax while his pleasure only grew and grew.
It seemed to Mist that his name was coming true, that he and his newfound partner were becoming insubstantial like fog, slowly mingling their essences while their ecstasy continued to rise. And then Mist realised that they were rising, like smoke in a chimney: higher and higher, until the cavern, its pedestal, and his discarded suit and equipment, were all left far below with the cares of the mortal world....
“Goddammit, where did that idiot go?” growled Cloud.
As soon as she heard of Mist’s disappearance, Cloud had immediately recalled Mesa, Tornado, Chine and Iceberg from their respective scouting missions to form a search party together with herself, Mountain and Tide. For hours they had searched the valley from top to bottom. They had scanned the plain below the foot of the valley in case Mist had decided to double back and fallen. Then they had widened the search until they had covered every piece of ground within hundreds of kilometres of the valley. But the searchers had found nothing. There was no trace of Mist’s suit, nor of Mist’s DNA. Wherever they looked, there was no sign of human life.
Cloud’s attitude made Tide wince, even though he knew that deep down the captain was just as concerned for Mist’s safety as the rest of them.
“He wouldn’t just go wandering off without telling me,” Tide insisted. “Something must have happened to him. I just pray he’s all right.”
Cloud muttered, “Well, no matter what’s happened, if we haven’t found him within twelve hours we’ll just have to leave without him.”
Tide was shocked. “But captain, we can’t do that! He could be lying somewhere, wounded or dying. It might take days to find him. Can’t you extend the deadline?”
Cloud sighed. Her tone became softer, but no more comforting for that.
“Look, Tide,” she said, “we’ve scanned every square centimetre of ground for tens of kilometres in every direction using the most sophisticated equipment at our disposal. I can’t explain why our instruments can’t find him, but I think we’re just going to have to face the facts: no matter how long we search, we’re not going to find him.”
“But captain -” Tide began, but Cloud ignored his interruption.
“If he was lying wounded somewhere,” she continued, “he’d surely have heard the shuttles flying overhead and found some way to contact them. Even if he’d just waved or shouted, their instruments would have picked him up. I’m sorry, Tide. Whatever happened to him, I think we must accept that he’s dead.”
I’m alive, thought Mist. I have never been so alive! I don’t ever want it to end!
Mist and his shadowy lover were swirling like dust in a whirlwind of orgasmic delight, their helical dance gradually carrying them higher and higher up what seemed to be a natural chimney of rock.
It never occurred to Mist to wonder what power was elevating them, still less what might happen when they reached the top. He could think only of the moment, of the pleasure he was giving and receiving.
(Far below, the cave and the dome-shaped chamber, having served their purpose, ceased to exist.)
Sometimes Mist felt as if he was made of air, sometimes fire, and sometimes solid flesh. The one thing that remained constant was his ever-intensifying ecstasy, the climaxes that were coming ever faster and stronger as he and his partner rose higher and higher.
Eventually he entered a kind of orgasmic trance, in which he could think of nothing but the pleasure he was feeling. He wanted it to last forever.
But it did not.
Suddenly his ecstasy ended, far more abruptly than it had begun. His instant sexual interruption and reawakening to reality were almost painful.
Mist’s body was solid once more. He was no longer in the caves. He was standing with his arms by his side, looking out at the valley and the plains beyond. To the left could be seen an arm of the snow-capped mountains.
His shadowy lover was gone, and only Mist’s rock-hard erection bore witness to his recent sexual experience.
Now that he was able to think clearly at last, Mist was confused. What had just happened to him? And for that matter, where was he?
It seemed that his sensations of ascent had not been false: he was looking down into the valley from what seemed to be a ledge several thousand metres up in the mountains. He could just make out the toy-like features of several shuttles far below.
For a moment he was confused as to why his and Tide’s shuttle had been joined by the others. Then he realised with a guilty shock that they were there because of him. He had defied regulations, entered the cave, failed to report in, spent God-only-knew how much time with...with somebody, or something, that had seemingly put him in a trance and used him for sex.
And now here he was, stark naked, with no radio or equipment, half way up a mountain.
He didn’t know how many violations he was guilty of, but he knew one thing: Cloud was going to kill him when he got back.
Always assuming he could get back. It was a long way down, and he wasn’t sure if he could make it, especially without climbing equipment.
At least he didn’t feel cold. Or rather, he could feel the cold, and he could tell that it was almost freezing, yet for some unknown reason it didn’t feel uncomfortable.
Maybe that was an encouraging sign, he thought. If he wasn’t incapacitated by the cold, perhaps he could climb down. He decided to scout out the rest of the ledge and see if it led to an easy descent. At least the cold wouldn’t stop him.
It was only when he tried to walk that he realised something was stopping him.
Something was stopping him completely.
He was paralysed where he stood.
The last of the shuttles was preparing to depart. Tide looked around the valley for the last time and sighed. The valley looked so pretty in the sunset, yet now he could scarcely bear to look at it.
“Goodbye, Mist,” he said. “I pray that whatever happened to you, you didn’t suffer.” He would have wiped a tear from his eye, if he had not been wearing his suit.
“Maybe they’ll name this planet after you once it’s colonised. ‘Planet Mist’. I’ve already recommended it to the captain and she seems to like the idea. The good news is that all the biological reports came back positive. With a little biochemical modification, humans will be able to digest the local proteins. That means that in a couple of centuries, when the fleet arrives, this will be the human race’s new home.”
A buzzer sounded in Tide’s helmet, reminding him that it was time to go. With another sigh, Tide entered the hatchway and gave one last backward glance at the valley and the mountain ridge above.
For a moment he looked directly toward Mist without realising it. Mist’s paralysed body was simply too far away to make out.
“Goodbye, Mist,” he whispered. “I hope you won’t be lonely, sleeping so far from the rest of humanity. Watch over this planet, my beloved. We’ll be back someday, I promise.”
And with that, he entered the shuttle, which presently ascended into the evening sky.
Night had fallen. As Mist watched helplessly, a new star glowed in the sky, slowly gaining brightness until it rivalled the planet’s single red moon. The star slowly elongated into a brilliant blue-white streak. Mist knew what it was, though he had never seen it before. It was the ship’s ion exhaust, stretching for thousands of kilometres behind it.
All hope was lost. The ship was leaving orbit. His friends, his lover, were abandoning him, giving him up for dead. He would never see them again. He would never see anybody again. He was alone and profoundly helpless, trapped by forces he could not begin to comprehend.
He couldn’t move. His body had turned to stone, or something very much like it. His stony erection was now permanent. He wasn’t breathing, his heart was no longer beating, yet he wasn’t dead. He had no idea how he could still be alive and aware. Awareness had become a curse. He was a statue, completely rigid, completely inanimate. He couldn’t move. Oh, he couldn’t move!
Perhaps he was immortal in this state, in which case he was doomed to remain helpless forever. The name Mist had become cruelly ironic. Perhaps he should call himself Stone from now on. But it hardly mattered anymore. He could not speak his name, and nobody would ever speak it to him again.
How had this happened to him? And why? There was no way he could ever find out.
Mist wished he could fall asleep, to escape from the grim reality of his helpless fate for a few hours each night, but he could no more sleep than he could move. As the hours passed, Mist watched the ship’s ion trail slowly growing smaller and fainter until the planet’s rotation carried it below the horizon.
By the time night fell again the ship would have entered hyperspace. He had truly seen the last of his friends. He would have screamed and wept if he could, but his face remained an impassive mask, his hands remained at his sides, and his penis remained solidly erect.
Eventually the moon set and the sun rose behind the mountains. Mist watched as the mountains’ shadows on the valley slowly shortened toward noon and the grazer herds, transformed by distance into slow-moving swarms of mosquitoes, ambled slowly across the valley floor. The sun shimmered on the rivers far below in the flood plain.
At one point a large bird decided to perch on Mist’s head. A little later it departed with a loud screech, depositing guano on him as it flew away.
This is all there is, thought Mist. This is all there ever will be.
I’m eighteen years old. My whole life was ahead of me. All I ever wanted was fun and excitement. I wanted to explore the universe. I wanted to see things that no one had ever seen before. I wanted to help find a new home for my people and save the human race from extinction.
I wanted to fuck Tide until neither of us could take any more. And after that...I wanted to settle down with him somewhere and live comfortably off the profits from selling my stories of exploration. I always imagined Tide and me growing old disgracefully together.
And now...now there’s only this. The mountains and the valley and the plains, the grazers and the birds and the freezing winds and snow.
A rigid statue, with a permanent erection that I can’t even masturbate, able to do nothing but stand here and watch and get crapped on by birds.
The sun had passed its zenith and the valley was no longer in shadow. Mist, still wallowing in self-pity (which Tide had always described as the only sincere variety), had watched the grazers move from the east end of the valley to the west end over the course of several hours. Now they were moving eastward again.
Fascinating, thought Mist. I don’t know how much more of this excitement I can take.
And then he became aware that he was being watched, and not by a bird.
He had the impression that some being...some intelligence...was studying and contemplating him.
The hairs on the back of his neck would have stood up if they could.
Out of the corner of his eye he could just make out a vaguely humanoid shape standing beside him. Naturally he could not turn his head to get a better look at it, and unless it could float in mid-air there was no way it could stand in front of him where he could see it clearly.
The being - whatever it was - placed what felt like a hand on his arm. He thought he could feel three fingers. Unhurriedly, the alien hand slid down his stony arm until it encountered his own hand. Then it languidly slid its fingers down his back, across his buttocks and down his legs to his feet. Finally it stood up again and placed one hand upon his buttocks while curling the other about his erection.
It was bizarre, and yet it felt wonderful. The last thing Mist had ever expected was to have his penis stroked by an alien!
As the being continued to stroke his bottom and penis, Mist began to experience strange feelings and impressions, and not just sexual ones. Vague images were beginning to form in his head.
He realised that the being must be telepathic. It was attempting to communicate with him, but was having difficulties because his mind was alien to it. Perhaps the sexual stimulation was intended to make him more receptive.
It might be too much to expect that it could free him, but it might at least be able to tell him why this had happened to him, and so he tried to make his mind as open as possible.
It took a long time for Mist to understand the being’s thoughts, but it was patient and did its best to explain everything in a way that one of inferior intelligence could understand.
As best he could make out, the being had for centuries been hunted down as a criminal and political dissident - or at least, those were the nearest equivalents in human terms. The being itself claimed that it was innocent, but had embarrassed certain influential members of its race, who had decided to make an example of it.
The being had always managed to avoid their traps in the past, but now they had devised one so cunning that it could not possibly fail. Here on this isolated little planet they had placed a device that would lure it irresistibly with the promise of the ultimate sexual experience, and then trap it in stone for eternity.
The being had indeed been lured to the planet by their trap. It had seen through the trap at once, but that did not mean that it could escape it. The lure was so strong that it could not bring itself to leave the planet, even knowing what awaited it.
The struggle was agonising, especially since it knew that it was only a matter of time before it succumbed. It didn’t want to become a statue, but eventually it knew that it would walk into the trap with its eyes wide open.
The only way it could have escaped would have been for a fellow being to have physically restrained it and flown it far away from the planet, and there was no chance of that happening. Its enemies had succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.
And then, to the being’s astonishment, an alien spaceship had arrived, bringing strange bipedal beings to study the planet. The being had scanned the ship from afar and learned that its inhabitants, these ‘humans’, were curious, reasonably intelligent and had a strong sex drive. Just the kind of qualities the trap was designed to exploit....
And then the germ of a plan began to form in its mind. These strangers might just be the key to its freedom.
It was not too difficult to reprogram one of the ship’s probes so that it would fly over the valley near to where the trap was located. Sure enough, the humans’ leader had sent two of the most sexually active humans to the valley. All the being had to do was watch and make sure one of them entered the cave instead of itself.
Sure enough, the younger of the two humans had been taken in and petrified. The human’s fate was sealed, and the being’s fate was no longer set in stone.
Mist was outraged. You used me! he thought. Knowing what would happen to me, you deliberately let me, a fellow intelligent being, walk straight into the trap just so you could save your own skin, or whatever it is you have!
The being made no reply.
You let my friends think I was dead and you let me get turned into a statue, and now I’m going to spend eternity alone and helpless. Don’t you have the slightest bit of compassion or remorse?
The being (which had not left off stroking his penis) considered this for a moment. If anyone should feel remorse, it told him, it was the beings that set the trap in the first place. And feel remorse they would, just as soon as it had decided upon a suitable punishment for them.
The trap would inevitably have captured somebody sooner or later, and if it had captured the being, its enemies would never have faced their just punishment. The being did feel somewhat sorry for Mist, but its own freedom was far more important than that of an inferior being.
However, since it was grateful to Mist for taking his place, it decided to give him a gift. From its hands an extraordinary heat began to spread through Mist’s stone body.
This, the being told him, is what sex is like for us.
It was the most sensuous, erotic and emotional experience that Mist could ever have imagined. The ersatz orgasms the trap had given him before turning him to stone seemed insignificant by comparison.
It was incredible. It was like having male and female orgasms at once. It was like having every orgasm he had ever had, and every orgasm he had ever given, simultaneously. It was as if every bit of love he had ever felt had been transformed into physical ecstasy.
The being departed, leaving Mist to his everlasting pleasure.
Mist looked down into the valley, at the sunlit grass, the grazers, the shining rivers and the snowy peaks. His body was on fire with ecstasy, and he was in love with everything he could see and hear and feel.
I love this place, he thought. It’s so beautiful. It’s paradise.
This is my valley now, my world, my planet.
This is my home.
STORY CONCLUDES BELOW
When Cloud’s ship arrived home, she wasted no time contacting the Colonisation Board.
Cloud recommended to the Board that, in the light of the positive biological reports, and in spite of the tragic loss of their crewman Mist, planet PC-7 should immediately be cleared for colonisation.
She further recommended that the planet should officially be renamed Planet Mist in honour of their fallen companion.
And that was when the Board dropped its bombshell.
“They said what?” yelled Tide. “I don’t believe this!”
“I’m sorry, Tide, but it’s true,” Cloud told him. “Planet PC-4 tested positive as well, and it’s only half the distance. The first colony ships are already on their way.”
“But can’t you get them to reconsider?”
“Tide, you know I can’t. Their minds are made up.”
“But...but that means there’ll never be a memorial for Mist on the planet where he fell. I can’t bear to think of him lying there all alone on a planet that will never hear a human voice again.”
“I’m truly sorry, Tide. We all miss him. But there’s nothing we can do. All of the survey ships have been recommissioned as colony vessels. Within ten years the entire human race will be en route to PC-4.”
In the end, there was nothing Tide could do but accept the situation. The human race relocated to PC-4, which proved to be just as much of a paradise as PC-7...or as Tide still insisted on calling it, Planet Mist...had been.
Cloud made a new life for himself on the new planet, but to the end of his days he never forgot his first love Mist.
Centuries passed. Civilisations came and went on the planet that had once been designated PC-4. Eventually the planet became crowded, and humanity once more began to look beyond its horizons.
One fine day a survey ship arrived at the planet once known as PC-7. Those who carried out the survey could never have known that they were following in the footsteps of Cloud’s crew so many millennia before, but their conclusions were the same. The planet was an unspoilt paradise. Inevitably, it was soon approved for colonisation.
More than a century after the first human colonists arrived - five thousand years after Mist had first arrived on PC-7 - a surveyor trained his camera upon a rocky ledge in an unexplored mountain range and was astonished to see the perfectly formed statue of a naked man standing there, where supposedly no human being had ever set foot.
The surveyor’s report was met with scepticism at first, but eventually a team was sent to investigate, and they were forced to admit that the statue was real despite its apparent impossibility.
For a long while they merely stood upon Mist’s mountain ledge, staring at his naked, heavily aroused body, scratching their heads and arguing about where he might have come from.
Meanwhile, Mist, bathing in a sea of sensuous climaxes, was thinking:
Oh, you’ve arrived, then. What took you so long?
Author’s Note (2)
Wow...my first piece of fan art! And more or less in time for the Pygmalion Syndrome's 5th anniversary too! :-D