The path to haven is paved with thorns and shrimps, while the path to hell is paved with delightful temptations (words from a wise man).
For over 50 Earth years, Betelgeuse VII has been a paradise for transgender people and rare sexual minorities. More and more people came and settled there, making children, which took cross-dressing and body transformations to a level beyond anything that was seen before. But now, everything seems endangered by a violent incident, the death of a star. Betelgeuse is getting old and might soon explode in a supernova, destroying everything that exists. In an attempt to save something, the ruling dictator, Caligula XIII, sent her brother, Delta, to seek help in the Pleiades Empire. This powerful state, owing over a hundred terraformed planets, is able to provide the technology to look inside a star and seek for a new planet elsewhere, to terraform. This might be the only chance.
Caligula XIII was born as a woman and Delta as a man, but once they reached the age required, they opted for body transformations, to become hermaphrodites, like many other teens in Betelgeuse. In their world, this is something natural and normal, but in the Pleiades, this is forbidden.
Delta knows this well. In the Pleiades, homosexual people face imprisonment or public execution, while transgender people face similar punishments. So, since he was a man, he decided to get dressed as one, hiding his small breasts. The fast dictatorial spaceship takes him in seven days to Pleiodium, the imperial planet, which orbits the star Merope.
Once on the surface, he looks at the sky. The star appears small, blue-white and very bright. It hardly can be seen as a small disk on the sky, but its light is so bright that hurts the eyes. The strong ultraviolet radiation makes him feel dizzy almost immediately. The luxurious spaceport, used for diplomats, clearly shows the richness of the empire. The main building has all its interior walls covered with gold, silver and gem stones. Robots come and serve everyone with exotic drinks and food. Well, he doesn't want this. He looks at the people around, carried in luxurious floating chairs covered with platinum foil and diamonds. He is the only one walking. And he wants to smoke a cigarette. Smoking is something so natural on Betelgeuse. He started this at a very young age with his sister, probably when they were 3. Too young to remember. Well, here, things are different. Smoking is forbidden in many public places.
People seem disgusted to see him, walking like this, with a suitcase and without a servant. But, there is no time to left. The star might have less time left then he expects.
So, he goes to the first information point and tells an officer why is he here. It doesn't take much until he is escorted to the Diplomatic Center, a division of the Foreign Ministry. A flying car comes and takes him.
On the way, Delta is amazed by the luxury these people live in the capital. There are huge palaces, higher then a kilometer, covered with glass and gold, that make you look at them the whole day. Streets are made of glass and beneath them you can see colorful fish swimming. In other parts, beneath the streets, there is a jungle, with trees, monkeys and other wild animals. Trees are also growing even on the highest buildings. Statues are everywhere, made of a white or purple rock.
The car lands at the Diplomatic Center. There, he has to wait for an audience, that will take place soon. Someone will come and pick him. He feels so desperate the need to smoke, so he looks around and finds a shop, then lights a cigarette. It doesn't pass ten seconds and a small flying robot comes, takes the cigarette and says:
"According to article 41524, smoking in public is forbidden. The fee is 150 PC".
The robot instantly takes money from his card. 150 Pleiades credits. Surprisingly, their currency is equal with the Betelgeuse credits. Well, someone advices him to go and smoke in a certain place, in a room. Then, Delta returns to wait. Well, finally, someone comes and invites him to talk with an official.
Delta looks at the luxurious room, with a desk made of rare wood, with chairs made of sculpted rock and with the walls covered with gold and silver foil. At the desk, there is a man in black costume, that asks shortly:
"Who are you?"
"I am Delta Edc, brother of Caligula XIII, the ruling emperor of Betelgeuse VII".
The man looks on a screen, for additional data, then says:
"Betelgeuse? Let me see..."
"I came to hire an expert in stellar physics", answers Delta.
Suddenly, the man is repulsed, almost like wanting to throw-up. He looks at the screen, then at Delta, trying to move away.
"Can you move closer to the door? Are you gay?"
"No, I am not", answers Delta.
"A paradise for transgender people and rare sexual minorities", mumbles the man. "People like that should burn in the flares of a star!"
Delta twitches but manages to hide his gesture. First, he is people like that. Second, this is what will happen, Betelgeuse will explode sooner or later.
"So, tell me, what do you want from us?"
"I want to hire an expert in stellar physics and to purchase a neutrino telescope".
"That would be easy, but I doubt that anyone would like to go to such a shithole like the one you came from".
Delta is disgusted by these words. This man just called Betelgeuse VII a shithole? Is this how people treat us? What is this? Is that the way to treat a diplomat, after all?
"Tell me where I could find what I need and I will see", answers Delta short.
"No problem, just wait outside, I will send you an answer".
Well, time passes, but Delta receives no answer. People come and go, including to the same office. Delta waits for hours, then comes and listens close to the door. The official gives advices to many people, which came here from their planets for many reasons: loans, weapons, technology, terraforming, anything. At some point, Delta hears this:
"Would you believe? A castrated gay came to my office today asking for a... I forgot what. What a fuck do they think is here? I took him out, it made me throw-up".
Well, for Delta, this is enough. He enters and says directly:
"I am no gay and no castrato. I am here for a request. All the money is here. I am not begging for help and I am not doing anything illegal. Do you want to make money for your state or should I look somewhere else?"
The official looks again disgusted, like ready to throw-up. Then, he thinks a bit and says:
"If you give me 50 thousand PC, I give you want you want".
"You took no money from anyone else".
"Listen this, jerk-ass! It is simple. Gay people are sentenced to death here. The same works for men with tits. You pay me and you get what you want. If you insist, I will require your head to be cut down so that you can lick your pussy with your own tongue".
Delta looks like ready to take a knife and kill him, but remembers. He thinks about all those who are at home, not knowing that the star will explode soon.
"If you don't make your mind fast, I will call the guards", the official says.
"Fifty thousand PC? Here you are", says Delta.
"Here you are, sir, you should say", he answers, accepting the money.
It takes only a few seconds and the official gives Delta a sheet of paper, with contact details of a professor at the Space Physics University, also calling a flying taxi for him. So, Delta is again flying through the city, in an automated car, towards the University, without knowing what to find there.
"Is this how people treat us outside Betelgeuse?" whispers Delta. He wears a men costume, but still the small breasts are a bit visible. Was it better to dress as a woman?
At the University, he goes directly to the professor, not looking at the huge buildings and expensive paintings on the walls. He is on a mission. The professor is not here and he needs to wait two hours. But once he comes, things go like this:
"What do you want?" asks him.
"I am Delta Edc, brother of Caligula XIII, ruling dictator of Betelgeuse VII. I came here for an expert in stellar physics and to buy a neutrino telescope".
"Betelgeuse?" asks the professor. "That star would explode soon. Who was so numb to build a colony there?"
"That is the problem", says Delta. "We think the sun is going to die soon".
"Well, I can give you what you want. I have the link to a producer of neutrino telescopes, it is a close friend of mine. And if you want an expert, I give you Annette, one of my best students. She is writing her PhD in red supergiant stars. She will be more then happy to go".
Things here look incredibly well. The next day, Delta got the telescope for 180 thousand PC and the expert, a blonde, fat girl. They go to Betelgeuse immediately.
Once they arrive, they go to the small moon orbiting Betelgeuse VII, which is not spherical and made of silicate. There, under the rule of Caligula XIII, the former dictator, Caligula XII, built a small base for space exploration. As the ship prepares to land there, Annette starts talking about what she knows:
"Betelgeuse was probably a star just like Merope, only a bit brighter. However, such stars don't last long. They hardly make it to ten million years, while Earth's Sun has a lifetime of ten billions. By comparison, red dwarfs, the dimmest stars, can live for trillion years. Large stars exhaust their fuel very fast. As long as they are fusing hydrogen, they are considered on the main sequence. When hydrogen in the core is exhausted, they leave the main sequence and become giants".
She looks at the star carefully.
"I always wanted to see Betelgeuse close. Looking at it, I know how Merope will look in the future, because it has only two million years left. But Betelgeuse has lived its life".
It is possible that Betelgeuse had a planetary system similar to other stars. But, when it ran out of hydrogen and increased its size, it swallowed its inner planets. More then this, since it rotates very fast, many scientists suggest that Betelgeuse had a stellar companion, probably a star as bright as Sirius, that it engulfed. When this happens, a huge explosion occurs, known as red nova. This explosion blew the atmospheres of large gas giants and made rocky planets and moons to disintegrate.
There are two planets orbiting Betelgeuse closer. One is made entirely of iron and other metals. It was the core of a gas giant that somehow survived. Further away, there are many asteroids, rich in metals, which are supposed to be remnants of other planets. Then comes a gas giant. Its former atmosphere was blown away by the explosion, but somehow it managed to feed itself with the solar wind and grew back. Then, Betelgeuse has nine planets orbiting much further away. They are remnants of the former Kuiper belt. When the star was still on the main sequence, these planets were frozen and covered with solidified gasses. Now, they are in the habitable zone. Some of them are ocean worlds, some are deserts, but one of them, Betelgeuse VII, has just the right amount of water. Much further away, there is another planet, Betelgeuse XII, the last one, still covered with ice. However, there are indications that the explosion made it an ocean world for some time. Then, not far after the explosion, humans came here.
Once they land on the base, Annette takes the telescope and assembles it. First data starts to appear.
"Wait", she says, "there are far too many neutrinos here. I can hardly understand what is going on".
"Easy", says Delta, lighting a cigarette. "Take your time!"
Annette also enjoys a cigarette, happy that she doesn't have to go to a smoking room. She changes the settings, to see more clearly what is going on in the star. It takes an hour, until all is ready. She then carefully moves the telescope towards Betelgeuse, gathering data.
"Oh mine!" she whispers. "It is fusing carbon!"
Delta looks a bit scared. "You mean carbon fusion has started?"
"No, it doesn't look like this", says Annette. "I think carbon fusion is going to an end. I see high-energy neutrinos that don't look like usual carbon fusion. It rather looks like carbon is getting exhausted. Remaining carbon atoms are fusing with oxygen or neon".
"What does that mean?" asks Delta, nervous.
Annette takes a deep drag, looks at the data and says:
"It means that carbon fusion is coming to an end. Very soon, the star will start fusing neon. Just let me a few more minutes, to analyze direction of each detected neutrino, so that we can see what is going on here".
Delta looks at all the data: lots of columns, numbers and symbols. This machinery is detecting an alarming number of neutrinos and of various types. Annette takes another drag, blows the smoke towards the machinery and says:
"I can see now clear. Betelgeuse looks red and cold, compared to Merope, but not deep below its outer mantle, it is fusing hydrogen. The core has increased its energy output and is pushing fusion layers outwards. If things go like this for a few millennia, the solar wind will expel the cold outer layers and expose the hot place where hydrogen fusion occurs. Betelgeuse will become bright-blue and will scourge this planet to temperatures above 2000 degrees".
"How is it possible?" asks Delta.
"As a star is fusing heavier elements", answers Annette, taking a new drag, "the core needs higher temperatures to keep on fusion. This implies that more heat is produces and this heats the star more and more. Luckily, carbon fusion doesn't last long enough. The star will be long gone before this extra heat reaches the surface".
"That is not good", answers Delta.
"I clearly see a shell hydrogen fusion close to the surface, that extends deep through the mantle. It is heated by a shell fusing helium, that is deeper. And this shell is heated and forced to burn faster by a third shell, which is fusing carbon. Only that this final shell is almost exhausted. Beneath it, there is a large inert core. By comparing the neutrino - antineutrino ratio, I can approximate temperature in each part of the star. Now, everything is clear. Betelgeuse seems to have an inert core of neon, oxygen and magnesium. The core is large and hot, ready for neon fusion to ignite. There is not much time left until this. In fact, neon fusion should had started already. The reason it didn't start is that the star is rotating very fast. Centrifugal force opposes gravity and decreases the contraction".
"How much time do we have left?"
"I don't know what to say", answers Annette, taking the last inhale. "Once neon fusion starts, it cannot last for more then 15 Earth years to supernova. However, I think there will be some time until neon ignition. Overall, 24 to 27 Earth years".
Delta looks scared, up to the point where it starts sweating.
"But there is another thing", adds Annette. "There is something strange with the core. It simply is too large and I cannot understand why it did not start fusing neon already. There is a chance that the core will contract too fast. In that case, neon, oxygen, magnesium and silicon fusion processes might not delay the contraction. With other words, supernova might occur much faster then this".
After this, Delta asks Annette to come to the planet, where she could explain to the dictator itself everything. Everything works well, until she lands. There, it only takes less then a minute to realize how different people behave and dress. She instantly wants to return. Only realizing that Delta itself might be a cross-dresser or anything else, makes her want to come faster back to the Pleiades. So, Delta has to go alone to the dictator, taking the telescope to the forbidden building, together with a few explanations from Annette. At least now they can see what is going on inside the star.
The next day, Delta takes Annette back to the Pleiades. She seems scared and disgusted to see who lives on Betelgeuse VII. However, back at the University, the professor asks Delta to come to his office and stay a bit.
"I also made a little research about your star planet", he says. "I am not to judge or to understand you. People like you are killed in public executions throughout the Pleiades just as we speak. I don't. I think you are people and deserve to live, even if I will never understand you. The most important thing for me and you is that your sun will soon explode. There is nothing that can be done to save it".
"Is there no way to prevent a supernova from happening?" asks Delta, almost crying.
"In theory, it should be possible to inject hydrogen to the core of a star. However, in practice, given the size of a red supergiant and the huge pressures and temperatures in the core, it really is impossible. And even if it would be possible, now, nearly all the energy in the core is lost as neutrinos, not as light or heat. You will only increase the lifetime with a few years, nothing else".
"You have to go to another planet and fast. Find one near you and terraform it. And I have just the person for this. I had a very good student. He was caught secretly wearing women clothes. I hardly managed to save his life, but he had to abandon the University. Take him. He was very good in many things. And with anything you need for terraforming, contact me. I will help you find all what's needed".
"Thank you! I strongly appreciate you!" says Delta.
Well, Delta got all what it wanted. But just as he walks on the alleys of the University, people start to look at him and make stupid jokes.
"Hey, butt face!"
"Dumb ass, get the fuck away from this planet!"
Well, he doesn't care any longer. He takes Edmond, the student caught with women clothes, then they both go to Betelgeuse. From the day Edmond steps foot on the planet, he officially decides to wear women clothes and to be named Etna.
Back on the planet, in the forbidden building, Delta, the ruling dictator, the former dictator and Etna have a secret meeting. Delta is still frustrated by the way people looked at him. The dictator is only thinking about what can be done to save the population. Is there any way to do this? Do they stand a chance in front of a star that will soon explode?
TO BE CONTINUED
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