In the not too distant future, the world is a far different place. Human rights are non-existent. For those who disobey the many laws, the punishments are severe. Especially for those who practice manlove -- the crime of desiring another of the same sex.
In a desperate attempt to flee the guards pursuing him, Taar runs into the slums of New Melbourne. As the voices of his pursuers grow louder in his ears, he is suddenly pulled into a disused service entrance. A homeless man guides him to the back of the darkened space, shushing him, and Taar couldn't be more grateful. Yet his relief is short-lived as the man begins shouting to attract the guards' attention.
When Taar is finally captured, the homeless man asks about the reward. As Taar is escorted to an awaiting police vehicle, the homeless man is told there will be no reward, though that brings Taar no satisfaction at all. He knows the penalty for his crime is exile. Never again will he see his mother nor his lover to explain to them, to say sorry or goodbye.
He will be a member of the first prison group to be abandoned on the newly discovered planet, Tansa. Even if he survives the space shuttle journey, what will become of him in the unexplored wilderness of Tansa? How will he survive? More importantly, will the handsome Bror, a fellow exile, be there for him the way he would like him to be?
What have I done?
As he was scanning the area to ensure his indiscretion had gone unwitnessed, he noticed something lying in the long grass by the trunk of one of the banana trees.
"Hello," he called nervously.
He took a couple of steps closer until he was better able to see what it was and gasped when he realised that it was a man, the facial features of whom were barely recognisable, though there were just enough remaining to identify him.
The man, a recent arrival on the planet, was no more than a withered corpse. Taar furrowed his brow. He'd only been talking to Tang the night before. They'd been drinking beer and discussing the latest arrivals. Yet the corpse in front of him looked as though it had been dead an age longer. The skin was wrinkled and dry; the hair dull and the skin of his feet and palms was split and cracked.
Taar sped back to the village.
* * * *
Everything about Tang's death was a mystery and the news of the discovery swept through the village like wildfire. Even after his body had been retrieved and Engid, the village doctor, had examined it there were no answers. Engid could only scratch his head and mumble theories.
Until he noticed the bite marks on Tang's neck, hidden amongst the folds of flesh.
"An animal?" asked Taar.
The doctor shook his head. "I don't think so. It doesn't look like any animal I've seen. And the marks on his neck are so very ... curious."
Taar craned his neck and examined the two puncture marks at the man's jugular. He shrugged his shoulders and searched the doctor's face for some clue to make sense of it all, but there were none to be found.
"Were there any animal tracks?" asked the doctor.
"Difficult to tell in the grass," Taar replied. "But the grass looked intact to me."
* * * *
Later that day, as the shadows grew longer and the last scraps of sunlight began to die, Taar hoisted a large earthenware urn onto his shoulders and headed for the stream. As he pushed through the tall grass and ferns, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. Of course, there were jaguars in the jungle, great beasts that would love to dine on his young flesh. However, they usually avoided the village. There were plenty of other creatures for them to feast on. But with the discovery of Tang's body he could not help but be a little more cautious than usual.
Ahead he could hear the trickle of water as it cascaded off the rocks further up the stream and fell into the pool that the villagers used for drinking. He was almost relieved as he approached and dipped the vessel into the water. His journey was half complete.
He lifted the urn from the water and was suddenly struck by the sense that something was behind him.