Cheesecake and the Art of Political Warfare

by Sakana Sara (魚 サラ)
illustrated by haitoku

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/100813.html)

[disclaimer: this is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any real people and events is coincidental. …yeah, maybe not so coincidental but at least heavily tinkered with. Hell, most of the main cast isn’t even from Earth in this thing, and the ones who are aren’t even 100% human. Still, if you are easily offended or don’t care for smut in your political silliness, you might want to skip this.]

“No. Listen to me. No, Greg, you listen! You hold your mandibles still and you LISTEN TO ME for one fucking minute, all right, one more click out of you and I hang up this comm, I come to your office, and I separate your head from your fucking thorax, you get me? …all right then.”

The first thing any new recruit to this campaign learned: when Adam 19-Epsilon is yelling into his tiny comm earpiece and pacing back and forth and waving his hands around and looking like he’s trying to find a neck to snap, you stay the hell out of his way or you die.

Danos Ansoleia learned that the hard way early on–not five minutes after he gated in from Solathei, he walked right into Adam’s warpath and caught seventy-seven levels of hell for it. Now he couldn’t help but feel a little bit of sadistic glee when someone else stumbled right dead center into Adam’s crosshairs. As long as he could watch the mayhem from a safe distance, anyway.

“I’ve been on the Zeketo campaign for two years, Greg. I’ve worked with the Progressive Party for six. I know what I’m talking about and this is not the time to play nice and start kissing Webster’s ass on camera, this–well, I don’t give a flying fuck how you won, this is a whole new game here, this is not the kind of pissant planetary-level–ah, dammit, all right. All right. I know, you’re right, I forgot, ‘pissant’ is demeaning to your people and I sincerely apologize. I’m very sorry, Greg. Very sorry. I mean that. Are we okay? Okay? Good. So as I was saying, there are very specific things you need to be doing right now, and bitching and hissing at me every time I ask you a goddamn question isn’t on the list.”

Adam was tall enough to stand out in a crowd: six feet, five inches, to be precise, and looked like he should speak in a thunderous baritone. He didn’t, which tended to rattle people who had never seen him speak. But what his voice lacked in depth, he made it compensate for and then some in volume–and in vulgarity.

He looked somewhere between thirty-five and fifty years old, but unless one looked at his driver’s license, it was impossible to tell for sure. His neat, short hair was a shade of pale silver-blue punk Earth kids spent months testing dye and bleach combinations to achieve, and it was completely natural. His eyes were just large enough to register as not exactly normal, and contact lenses were not responsible for their unnerving tangerine hue. These were visible markers genetically programmed into an otherwise mostly normal human body to mark it as the carrier of a brain painstakingly engineered for strategic genius, insatiable drive, and all-around unrelenting will to get shit done. It was this brain that had gotten him this job with the campaign.

Before the wars on Earth ended, people like Adam were used as military strategists. Now they were used as political campaign managers. Go figure.

“Don’t fuck this up or I’ll fuck you up. I’ll kill you,” Adam went on, and Danos had to look away until the urge to laugh passed. “All right. Okay. I love you. Bye.” Adam ran his thumb over the comm earpiece to hang it up. “Fucking cockroach.”

“Now, now.” Danos picked up his briefcase and fell into step alongside Adam, now that they could get back to business as usual. “No need to be racist.”

“I’m not being racist,” Adam said with a shrug. “He’s–”

And all right, maybe he wasn’t being racist, not exactly. Greg–” Greg” being the short and familiar form of Congressman H’kh Kl’kxak’s human-tongue nickname–was a Blattellan. Blattellans were the dominant race on a shithole of a planet known as Xlkik’hik IV. As a race, they had survived three nuclear wars and the subsequent nuclear winters, two ice ages, five geography-altering meteor impacts, four Enberian Flu pandemics, and their own sun going nova. If Adam were to carry out his threat of ripping Greg’s head off, the rest of Greg’s body would probably survive about two Earth months, after which it would finally die of starvation. Aside from the fact that they could look the average human in the eye when they stood up on their hind legs, Blattellans bore more than a superficial resemblance to the Earth insect scientifically known as Blattella germanica.

Or in layman’s terms:

“–a fucking cockroach.”

Yes, “Gregor Samsa” was an eye-roller of a nickname to pin on a giant cockroach. But it was one hell of a lot easier for the humanoids working this campaign to pronounce than “H’kh Kl’kxak.” At least he had a sense of humor about it. He often hung out in the various break rooms along the campaign trail with the lights off and made a big show out of scuttling under a table or something if someone came in and turned on the lights. Unfortunately, not everyone found it as funny as Greg did. The campaign lost more interns that way. As far as Adam was concerned, though, anyone who would leave the campaign over Greg’s antics didn’t have the necessary spine or guts to work on it anyway.

“He ever try to shake your hand?” Adam went on. “It’s appalling. Makes you want to boil yourself in hand sanitizer. You’ll still feel it when you’re trying to sleep that night, all those little prickly hairy things and–ugh. And if he ever asks you if you want to see pictures of his wife and kids? Run.”

“Duly noted.” They passed an arrival/departure screen, and Danos was pleased to note that they were still a full hour early for their flight to the next stop on the campaign trail: the Europa colony. “And here we are, plenty of time to spare.”

What Danos wasn’t saying, of course, was that he purposely figured in an extra hour anytime Adam needed to be anywhere, in case something like that comm from Greg came up and Adam got carried away verbally flaying strips of flesh (or, well, in Greg’s case–chitin) off some poor bastard.

“Great.” Adam did not yet set his stuff down–instead, he scanned the immediate area for something. “That’s what I need,” he said, pointing to a BaristaBot kiosk a few gates down. “You want some coffee?”

“Ah…” Danos frowned a little. He much preferred to order his coffee from real live organic beings who knew who he was, who knew where he came from, and who understood what his emphatic stress on the word decaf meant. “A latte and a bagel, please? Make sure the damn thing understands decaf.”

“Yeah, I know. Be right back. Watch my crap.” Adam set his briefcase down and took off towards the ‘Bot.

Danos claimed three hard plastic chairs at the gate: one for him, one for Adam, one in between with their briefcases and other stuff piled on it. A nice, professional distance. Not that the general public would give a damn, but the other campaigns would have a field day if a photo of Adam and Danos crammed into two adjacent hard plastic chairs and fighting for the armrest hit the media. Especially the Webster/Harr campaign. Look, they’d say, here’s their Adam unit campaign manager and its Solthasti aide, shouldn’t that be the other way around and isn’t that a cup of coffee? You know what they say about that…

And then Adam would kill the press. And then Adam would kill him. Okay, probably not actually kill him, the candidate wouldn’t like that at all, but Danos sure would get a verbal flaying. The last thing the campaign needed right now was tabloid crap about its manager’s personal life flying around.

Not that there was anything going on, and not that it was anyone else’s business if there was, and not that anyone on Earth or Solathei or most of the civilized planets really gave a damn who slept with who these days. But there were still civilizations that had a long way to go in dealing with their silly gender issues and their silly sexuality issues, and there was still a huge target demographic for crap like this, huge and easily swayed by the kind of sensationalist bullshit the Freedom Party liked to sling around about its opponents.

Danos wasn’t a huge fan of the English curse words, but he was fond of “bullshit.” Such a lovely, evocative word for the idiocy it described.

“Here.” A paper cup and a little brown bag appeared in front of Danos. “Breakfast of champions.”

“Excellent. Thanks.” Danos set the cup on the empty seat next to him, removed the bagel from its bag, and took a bite. “Mmm. Day-old ‘Bot bagel. Scrumptious.” He washed it down with a hearty slug of coffee.

“Yeah, sorry about that.” Adam hadn’t even bothered trying to get anything solid and fresh out of the ‘Bot; he just stuck with his usual plain black coffee. “I’m gonna be so glad when this shit is over. On November 5th, I am going to eat three real hot meals cooked by real people, and I am going to eat them sitting on my ass and not running for my goddamn gate at the starport or squeezed into a minicruiser or whatever. Hell, I don’t even care if we win anymore–”

“Of course you don’t.” Danos took one more nibble off the bagel, made a face at it, and pitched it into the trash. Terrible. Hopefully they’d be fed on the flight, at least. He took another big swallow of his coffee. “That’s why you threatened to behead Congressman Samsa two weeks before the election when we’re up and climbing in almost every poll.”

“Okay, maybe I still care a little bit.” Adam took a long drink of his coffee and didn’t seem to notice that it was probably hot enough to scald the hell out of normal people. Thick skinned, he was–both metaphorically and literally. “Just because we’re up doesn’t mean we can stand around scratching our asses for the next two weeks. Polls don’t mean shit. And we’ve been lucky, every time Trisha Harr opens her mouth lately you hear half the fucking galaxy slap its forehead. ‘I have plenty of interplanetary relations experience! I can see Vega from my front porch!’ God.”

“Ugh.” Danos mock-shuddered. “It physically hurts me to hear her speak sometimes. Didn’t Webster find her on some ice planet way out in the–” Danos shut up quickly and cast a quick, accusatory glance at his coffee. “Oh hell,” he said.

“What?”

Danos scowled at his coffee, popping the lid off just to be sure. No, he definitely had a latte, Adam definitely had plain black, he hadn’t accidentally gotten them mixed up on the way back to the gate. “Are you sure you ordered decaf?”

“Of course I did, why–” Adam scowled in the general direction of the BaristaBot kiosk. “Shit.” He took Danos’s cup and waved a hand. “Go do what you need to do. When you get back I will handle this.”

Danos nodded, grunted out something that he hoped would pass for “thanks,” and hopped up out of his hard plastic chair, grabbing his overcoat as he rose. He walked to the men’s room as quickly as he could walk and still look more or less casual about it, with his overcoat draped over his arm and his arm strategically bent across his waist. The first time this had happened, Adam had ribbed him mercilessly for it. Now it was just one more minor alien issue to deal with, like the Tleiaxian staffer’s mostly harmless but dramatic and horrifying allergic reaction to wool or the Umbran delegation’s insistence that all food be served on unfinished wooden planks which they ate for dessert.

It was a fairly well-known fact that Solthasti anatomy was not much different from Earth human anatomy. Still, there were a few subtle differences. Solthasti lifespans were longer, Solthasti hair and eyes came in a wider variety of colors, and Earth alcohol had as much effect on a Solthasti drinker as water.

Caffeine, however, had the same effect on a Solthasti male as Dixarizin on an Earth man. Worse, actually. It was nearly instantaneous, and it would not go away on its own.

Hence, Danos and his need for decaf.

The good news was, the men’s room was nearly empty at this hour. Small favors, thank every last one of the Gods. Danos locked himself into the farthest stall, hung his overcoat on the hook inside the door, and did what he needed to do.

He had to do it twice, though. As he came silently into a handful of toilet paper, he made the mistake of letting his mind play back its recording of Adam growling I will handle this and–well, he might as well have taken another good solid slug off that full-caf latte.

Danos returned to the gate a few minutes later, none the worse for wear.

“You good to go?” Adam asked him, and he nodded. “Good.” Adam stood up, the offending coffee in hand. “I’m going to go have a word with the ‘Bot.”

“Please don’t break this one,” Danos sighed. “The last one came out of our campaign funds and those things aren’t cheap–”

“Don’t worry,” Adam said, already on his way. “I’m not gonna break it.”

Exercise in futility. Nothing to be done about it, Danos reasoned, so he might as well try to get some work done.

He went over press conference schedules and speech notes and poll data and tried to ignore the modulated voice of the BaristaBot rising in protest, then in distress. And the same voice, calling for security. And the same voice apologizing profusely for calling for security and assuring Mr. 19-Epsilon he would have his decaf latte right away sir, yes sir, BaristaBot #71621 at Friedman Interplanetary, Concourse B apologizes sincerely for the inconvenience, no further debits to his account would be made (“Goddamn right they won’t,” Danos tried to pretend he didn’t hear), have a nice flight sir, please wish his candidate the best of luck in the upcoming election on behalf of BaristaBot #71621, BaristaBot #71621 is now offline for one hour for recovery from irregular AI function, please come again.

Danos did not look up after the synthesized litany of emergency customer relations salvaging ceased. He knew if he did, he would see Adam swaggering back to their hard plastic chairs like he was marching home victorious from a particularly hard-fought war, and Danos knew if he looked up and saw that he would start laughing and never stop.

He didn’t look up until another paper cup appeared in front of him.

“Decaf,” Adam said simply.

“You made the BaristaBot cry,” Danos pointed out, and he took a long, confident drink of his new latte as Adam sat back down on his hard plastic chair.

“Yes, I did.” Adam sounded just a little too pleased with himself. “But I didn’t break it, did I?”

Theirs was a relationship based on mutual respect. Danos liked Adam because he got things done that desperately needed to get done. He hurt a few feelings in the process, but never irreparably–well, except that one time he sent a lovely gift box containing a dead fish to a Progressive congressman who’d defected to the Freedom Party mid-campaign two years prior. If he said he was going to do something, he did it. He took no bullshit from anyone, not even from the candidate himself, and in return he gave none. If he liked you, you knew it. If he didn’t like you, you knew it. And if he truly wanted to rip your head off, well, you knew it and so did everyone else in a twenty-mile radius.

And Adam liked Danos because he wasn’t easily intimidated. And also took no bullshit from anyone. Adam had tried calling him “Dan”or “Danny”or something early in their professional relationship, and Danos let him know in no uncertain terms that he would like to be addressed by the proper name his parents gave him, thank you very much, sir.

Danos didn’t even realize Adam wasn’t exactly human until a few months into the campaign, when they met another Adam unit. This one worked for the Webster/Harr campaign, and if Danos had had any doubts about whether or not he was on the right campaign before, they were dead and buried after he saw how their Freedom counterparts treated their own Adam.

The last thing Danos had expected to see backstage at their first debate was a man who could have been Adam’s twin brother.

Adam answered the question with another before it even came out of Danos’s shocked-open mouth. “You think we’re the only campaign with an Adam unit?”

This one had long purplish hair and yellow eyes and was sort of in need of a shave and apparently didn’t go outside very often, but otherwise was an exact copy of the Adam he worked for. Well, aside from the fact that he barely spoke to or was spoken to by anyone. And when someone did speak to him, they addressed him as “21-Gamma.” Not “Mr. 21-Gamma,” not “Adam.” When they asked him for things, they didn’t say “please” before or “thank you” after. When they weren’t talking to him, they referred to him as “the Adam” or “21-G” or just “it.”

Danos, long trained in the fine art of keeping his mouth shut under pressure, did so throughout the debate. About halfway through, he silently watched Adam–his Adam, impeccably dressed in his crisp dark blue pinstripe suit and his classic blue and gold silk tie and his meticulously polished Italian shoes; his Adam who had honed ass-chewing and intimidation into a fine art; his Adam who on a normal day used the word “fuck”an average of eighty to a hundred times as a noun, verb, exclamation, adjective, and gerund, sometimes all in the same sentence; his Adam who appeared on CNN and C-SPAN and IPN and every other news network in the civilized galaxy with the words Zeketo/Chang Campaign Manager proudly run under his name–he watched his Adam walk over to this other Adam who sat on the bare floor in baggy jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt with his stringy purplish-silver hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, this other Adam Danos hadn’t even known existed until now.

He watched his Adam lay a hand on this other Adam’s shoulder and say a few words. The other Adam blinked up at his Adam for a moment, then shook his head and said something–I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you, is what Danos tentatively lip-read. His Adam nodded, shook the other Adam’s hand, and returned to the Progressive side of the backstage area.

Danos tried to picture this other Adam getting up at the crack of dawn to go for a run, or standing on a stage with Steve Webster’s arm around his shoulders and a huge grin on both their faces, or playing basketball with Trisha Harr’s teenage sons or pacing back and forth threatening to rip someone’s face off. He couldn’t.

“Most of the big names have an Adam unit on staff,”his Adam explained quietly while Danos stared at the pale, skinny, unkempt creature in the jeans and sneakers poring over blogs and polls and lists of numbers with a strange sort of intensity that remained, to Danos’s eye, still somewhat detached and clinical. “Even some of the ones who still think of them as equipment instead of people.”Like our opponent here, Adam didn’t say but Danos heard all the same.

Danos kept his mouth shut until they were on the flight back to Earth, him in his window seat, Adam (his Adam) in his aisle seat stretching his legs and reading the Wall Street Journal on his Palm, and then he couldn’t keep his mouth shut any longer.

“Sir,” Danos said quietly.

“Mm.”

“Their Adam,” Danos said, careful to keep his voice low so as not to attract any unwanted attention. “Don’t they know he’s a person?”

Adam didn’t say anything for a while. He finished reading his article. “Yeah, they know. Do they give a fuck? Nope.”

“They–” Danos tried to imagine the man next to him sitting on a cold floor in secondhand clothes, pale and skinny and speaking only when spoken to, and even then avoiding as much eye contact as possible. The image twisted his stomach into an angry knot. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I don’t understand why anyone would think like that.”

Adam scratched a few notes in in the margin of his article with his fingernail and then tucked his Palm back into his jacket pocket. “Neither does our guy. Now you know why I work for him and not that other son of a bitch,” Adam finally said. “Their Adam, all he does is crunch numbers and give advice. They think that’s all he’s good for. He doesn’t get to talk to the press. He doesn’t appear in public and it’s probably just as well because he’s a fucking social vegetable. I’d be surprised if they gave him anything other than some clothes, three meals a day, and a bed to sleep in. And you know what? They’re shooting themselves in the fucking feet because all that gets them is an Adam unit who doesn’t give a flying fuck if his candidate actually wins.” He unclipped his comm earpiece and stowed it in his pocket. “I do care. I care a hell of a lot.” He put his seat back and shut his eyes. “That’s why we’re going to win.”

“Sir…”

“Danos?” The faintest hint of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “If you call me ‘sir’ again I’ll kill you.”

That smile was contagious. “Yes sir,” Danos replied, and fixed Adam with a look that dared him to make good on that threat in this cruiser full of people.

Adam just leaned back and closed his eyes again. “Wake me up when you see Mars.”

After that, they got on very well. Very well indeed. In a purely professional sense, of course. Purely professional.

Of course there were rumors. Politicians had always had their own fair share of gibbering fangirls. The birth of the Internet and all its subsequent iterations just gave a wider variety of gibbering fangirls a place to gibber. And like any army of gibbering fangirls, there would always be that one particular corner of gibbering fangirl-ism where the fangirls picked two good-looking people and made up stories about them having sex.

Adam was tall and handsome and a renowned badass and had a tendency to stand with his hands on his hips, his suit jacket pulled back, and his tie a long silk arrow that led the eye right there. Danos was purple-eyed and handsome and from a planet whose primary language didn’t even have words for “straight” or “gay” and never seen standing more than twenty feet from Adam on the news. They practically had big flashing signs reading fangirl bait here following them around. So most of the rumors were about them. Adam didn’t seem to care much about them one way or the other, and Danos found them quietly amusing.

But of course the rumors and fangirl fantasies were just that–rumors and fantasies. Adam had more important things to deal with right now than anything resembling an intimate personal relationship with anyone.

Which, Danos thought, was too bad. Honestly, he wouldn’t have minded a few of those rumors coming true, and if he said he didn’t have a few fantasies of his own, well, he’d be a liar.

Ah well. Business first.

The red-eye to Europa was nearly empty–nobody flew out to Europa to begin with unless they had business with the colonists (like, say, winning their vote), and even the ones who did have business with the colonists tended to choose a flight that left at a much more civilized hour of the day. Adam and Danos took their seats near the back of the cabin–Danos in the window seat, Adam in the aisle so he would have room to stretch his ridiculously long legs.

A hundred years ago, this would have been a decade-long flight. If there were a gate on Europa, it would be as easy as stepping through a door. But there was no gate–those were fairly recent Solthasti technology, and the gate network had not yet expanded to lunar colonies–and Europa was too short a trip for the really fast cruisers. By the time they warmed up to full warp, they’d overshoot Europa twenty times over.

And so, Adam and Danos settled in for a nine-hour flight. Adam had a tiny blue button on his collar, no bigger around than the tip of Danos’s pinky finger, with a minuscule Apple logo that lit up when Adam brushed his thumb over it; a second later, Danos heard the faintest rhythmic ticks and buzzes as Adam’s iPod Yocto beamed its payload of music straight to his comm earpiece. Danos knew what the music meant: leave me alone, I’m thinking.

And he didn’t blame Adam. Not at all.

Two weeks until Election Day, and three massive swing sectors to worry about. In previous elections, these three sectors hadn’t been an issue–they’d chosen their sides early on and stayed there throughout the campaign. Even one or two of them being an unknown quantity, the campaign could have worked around by courting the smaller sectors. But all three… Adam was right, whether they were up in the polls or not, this was not a time for sitting on their asses and letting things happen.

Three massively populated battleground sectors with forty to sixty electoral votes each, folks, Adam declared in their meeting the morning before. We can afford to lose one of them and one only. We lose two of them, we’re fucked.

They were most likely to lose Sector 3273, Adam thought, and Danos had to agree. 3273 was home to a race of warriors, the kind who would order a steak and expect a live cow and a machete to be brought to the table. The Mordrai had a collective hard-on for war heroes, as Adam had so delicately put it, and Steve Webster happened to be a former Space Marine and a decorated veteran of several conflicts. He had in fact fought on the Mordrai front, against the Mordrai themselves, and Mordrai held nobody in higher regard than a warrior who had kicked their asses in a fair fight.

The second problem sector, and the most unexpected of the three–2814, the Sol sector. Kandec Zeketo was a Regulan. His running mate Nigel Chang was half human, half Aquilan. Steve Webster was one hundred percent Earth human; his running mate lived offworld, but she too was an Earth-born human. And with the exception of a handful of Blattellan colonies (which Adam had no worries about, thanks to Congressman Greg Samsa’s influence), a few Vegan outposts, and one Solthasti consulate planet, every colonized planet in 2814 had Earthman roots. And–sad but true–far too many Earthmen still thought the rest of the galaxy revolved around them.

And finally, there was Sector 1829, home of the Vareen Empire–the strictest matriarchy in the known universe. The Vareen had been a spacefaring civilization for three hundred years before they deigned to give their men the right to vote, own property, or even drive. Even the most militant of feminists working on the Zeketo campaign admitted to being a little skeeved out about that.

At first, the Vareen had mostly supported them. But then Webster named Trisha Harr–a woman who according to Adam’s most conservative assessment had set not just women in politics but women in general back a thousand years, but a woman nonetheless–as his running mate. Senator Zeketo and his running mate were both male. And now Sector 1829 was fairly evenly divided between voters who could look past the gender of their candidates and see where they actually stood on the issues, and voters who cared only that there was a woman on the ticket.

Adam brushed his thumb over the little blue button again. A minute later, he put his seat back and shut his eyes, but he did not sleep–if Danos listened carefully and leaned in just a little closer to Adam than was strictly professional, he could hear piano music. Chopin, most likely.

Adam’s fingers played along on an imaginary keyboard as he listened. That was a little-known campaign fact–Adam played the piano. Very well, in fact. Classical, mostly; a little jazz now and then. It was one of the few pastimes he’d taken up just because he wanted to and not because it would look good in the media or put him in contact with important people. He said it helped him think, helped him quiet the endless streams of numbers and data in his mind so he could think past them, to get to the really important things. And so the air piano-playing was another signal: Thinking very hard. Disturb me and I will kill you.

Two weeks to swing two–if not all three–sectors to their favor. It was going to be a difficult two weeks. And it would start on Europa.

The rally on Europa went as well as could be expected. And Senator Zeketo earned serious cool points with the mostly blue-collar middle-class crowd by rolling up his sleeves, donning an apron, and helping cook and serve the barbecue after the speech. Naturally, Adam got drafted for this as well. He did look good in an apron. He didn’t look happy, but he looked good.

Of course, if Adam got drafted to put on an apron and serve brisket… well, so did Danos. He kind of enjoyed it, actually–it sort of reminded him of the average service at the temple of Kahsanas-Ansanth. Walk into the temple, grab a horn of beer or mead or whatever you wanted, carry it up to the altar, toast the image of Kahsanas and brag about all the great things you’d done since your last service, get cheered by whoever else was in attendance, drink half your drink and pour the rest at the image’s feet. And then after the service, there was meat on a grill.

During a brief lull in the feeding frenzy, Danos leaned over and mentioned that to Adam. Adam replied by grinning and throwing a rubber glove at his head.

“Well, I have to admit–when you said ‘come to the temple with me,’ that’s about the exact opposite of what I had in mind,” was all Adam had to say for a while after they left the temple.

It was the first time Adam and Danos had ever been anything less than completely sober in each others’ presence. Earth alcohol was like water to Danos, but half a horn of Solthasti beer was just enough to leave him relaxed and a little flushed. Adam’s metabolism was engineered such that it refused to absorb more than an Earth beer or two’s worth of alcohol; he figured it wasn’t worth wasting his money on at all if all he’d ever get out of it was a weak buzz and a trip to the men’s room every five minutes for the rest of the night.

“I told you you’d like it.” Danos flashed Adam a rare grin. “Sir.”

“Back to that, huh.”

“Yes sir.”

“Couldn’t help but notice all the uniforms in there,” Adam said. “Kahsanas is pretty popular with the military, I guess. Captain.” Danos flashed him a look but said nothing. “I thought the Queen’s Guard was all female till we met you.”

“You’re thinking of the Narah,” Danos said.

“Narah–that’s the ones in the black robes, right?”

“Yes sir.” The only people on Solathei who wore head-to-toe black uniforms were coroners and Narah soldiers. There was a Solthasti joke about that–that the only difference between the two was that the body removed from the scene was dead before the coroner arrived.

“So.” Adam kicked a loose rock and watched it roll into a storm drain. “Why’d you quit?”

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” Danos said. “I’d rather not–”

“Danos, I just watched you yell at a fucking statue about how awesome you are and dump half a perfectly good beer on its feet, I don’t know how this could be any more embarrassing than that.”

They walked along the road, back towards the gate terminal. “I got bored,” Danos finally said. “By the time I graduated from officer school the war was almost over. One ground battle. That’s all I saw. And a quick one, at that.” He shrugged. “Then there weren’t anymore. Not that I’m complaining about that, all the Gods know I’m not complaining, but after that… back to standing next to a door in the Palace. Maybe a tourist would take your picture now and then. Then I got promoted to captain. Then I got to supervise people standing next to doors in the Palace. And do paperwork. March in a parade once in a while. That was it.” He glanced over at Adam. “Do you think anyone in their right mind would want to spend his life guarding a fucking door?”

Adam did something Danos never saw him do again–trip. Granted, Danos had just done something Adam wouldn’t see him do again for a very long time–say “fuck.”

“Hell, no,” Adam finally said when he recovered his composure. “Can’t blame you for that. I’d go nuts.” Danos raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay. More nuts.”

“I still wanted to fight.” They passed a temple dedicated to Mizasta-Anthasa, the healer goddess; Danos had warned Adam on the way to the temple of Kahsanas that he wouldn’t like that one. People had to be quiet in there. Adam, as everyone knew, did not do quiet. “Except the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t want to fight with my sword. I wanted to fight with my brain.”

“Why not run for office yourself, then?” Adam asked him, gently catching his arm and tugging him out of the way of a little sidewalk-sweeper construct that was merrily cruising down the street on a collision course with him.

“Can’t,” Danos said. The sidewalk-sweeper chirped as it passed, gobbling up rocks and leaves and bits of paper. “Not on Solathei. Except for a few advisory positions, military people can’t run for public office or become priests. Priests can’t run for office or join the military, except for a few chaplains. And elected officials can’t serve in the military or become priests. We’re very strict about keeping our church, state, and military the hell out of each others’ hair.” He shrugged. “A little too strict if you ask me, but… honestly, I couldn’t see myself running for dogcatcher. I’d rather do–” He laughed. “What I’m doing now, actually.”

“What, working for the greatest campaign manager in history? I mean, if you believe that editorial about me from the other day–”

“I believe the, ah–” Danos coughed softly. “The exact words Lord Mnrrm-har used were ‘amoral, showboating cock,’ sir.”

Adam threw his head back and laughed, harder and louder than Danos had ever seen. “Same thing coming from him, God bless his crazy translucent ass. Remind me to send him a thank-you present when we get back to Earth.”

“Cheesecake or dead fish?” Danos asked in all seriousness, and Adam burst out laughing again.

Standing there handing out cheap canned beer on Europa and thinking about that evening on Solathei sprinkled a little water on a tiny little seed of an idea sprouting in Danos’s head–a tiny little seed of an idea about how to swing the Vareen back to their side. In theory, it sounded like a good idea. As most ideas do. But it would be another four days before he could put enough of his own faith in that idea to pitch it to the rest of the campaign–and especially to Adam.

Their latest appearance in Vareen territory could have gone better.

It could have gone a lot worse, at least; the reception Steve Webster received was only a few degrees warmer, despite him bringing Trisha Harr with him. And there were a few boos from the audience when Harr said something particularly boneheaded partway through her speech. Something about how she pressured the President of the United States to crack down on some illegal casinos in New California. New California was not in the U.S., it was in fact on Mars where said casinos were perfectly legal and it had been there for the last hundred years, and if a crowd full of average blue-collar Vareen halfway across the galaxy knew that, Adam didn’t know what the fuck Harr’s excuse was.

But Webster was still ahead in the Vareen Empire–not far enough ahead that he was sure to win, but definitely far enough ahead to infuriate Adam. While the whole campaign was stuck on the GFS Lincoln between Vareen space and Earth. With no way off the ship. Some of the less essential campaign personnel refused to even come out of their cabins, for fear of being the nearest sentient being when Adam finally snapped and started tearing heads off for real.

Contrary to rumors, Adam had never actually killed anyone–but who wanted to be the first?

The rest of the campaign personnel were crammed into a conference room, trying to figure out how to make up the ground they had lost to the Webster campaign in Vareen space.

“Does anyone–anyone have a single goddamn feasible idea as to how we can take 1829 back short of praying for the whole fucking Freedom Party to up and develop simultaneous fatal allergic reactions to oxygen?” Adam snapped off, pinning each person in the room with his gaze, moving to the next person around the table with each word. “Anyone. Someone tell me something I haven’t already heard or thought up myself, because obviously my ideas aren’t worth shit for this sector.”

Danos chewed on his lower lip. Yes. He did. He had an idea, anyway, the “feasible” part was still in question, but–all the Gods, what the hell would Adam do? If their roles were reversed, what would Adam do?

Well…

Adam would say fuck it, let’s go for it, that’s what he’d do.

Danos raised his hand. “I do.”

“All right.” Adam half-laughed it, a combination of pleased surprise and relief. “Let’s hear it.”

“Tell the press there’s a possibility of a female Secretary of Defense in a Zeketo administration.”

There was a ripple of murmured assent. Well, from everyone except Adam. “That’s good. That’s a good start. But I need more than that. I need a name to drop. You got one?”

No turning back from this one. “Yes,” Danos said, “Shona Illudin, commander of the Third Narah Legion on Solathei. I served with her on some joint operations with the Queen’s Guard.”

This suggestion was met with a few gasps and stunned silence.

“Okay. Danos. That’s a hell of an idea, but…” Adam cleared his throat. “You told me soldiers can’t run for public office on Solathei. You told me it was against the law, that there was a very strict separation of the church, the government, and the military–”

Danos held up a hand, the gesture looking a lot more confident than he felt about this. “One: the law states that a Solthasti who has served in the military cannot be elected to public office on Solathei.” Danos stabbed his finger against the tabletop for extra emphasis on those words. “It says nothing about being appointed to an advisory position at the Galactic Federation level.” Gasps again, now with added excited murmuring. “Two: Shona Illudin is the matriarch of House Illudin. That title takes precedence over her military status, and if she wants to accept an appointment as Secretary of Defense–”

“–Nobody can stop her,” Adam finished, and Danos slapped his palm onto the table.

“Not even the Queen herself,” he said. “And three: she doesn’t even actually have to take the position. All she has to say is that we approached her, we made the offer, and she is considering it.”

Adam processed this for a moment. “Okay,” he said, cautious, guarded, but Danos could practically see him running numbers in his brain, over and over, and coming up with the same wonderful beautiful result again and again and again. “Okay. The big question: can you get her on board?”

“No, sir. Not directly.” Before Adam could say a word, he had his comm earpiece out of his pocket and clipped onto his ear. “She’s above my station. I’ll have to have another House Matriarch contact her first–ah–Anthasa? Danos sa…”

The entire staff of the Zeketo campaign would remember this as the day Adam 19-Epsilon looked like he had not a fucking clue what was happening in front of him. Solthasti was not a commonly-spoken language, but a few basic words were fairly widely known. “Anthasa” was one of them. When it wasn’t used as a suffix, it meant “mother.”

Adam and the rest of the gathered staffers waited patiently while Danos chattered to what was most likely his mother in Solthasti, picking out the odd word now and then–a number, a planet, someone’s name. When that conversation ended, Danos hung up the comm and found twelve pairs of eyes trained right on him, including Adam’s piercing orange ones.

“My, uh…my mother happens to be the Matriarch of House Ansoleia,” he said, scratching lamely at the back of his head.

“Would have been good to know earlier,” Adam scolded, without much real heat. “What’d she say?”

“She said if Lady Illudin doesn’t call back in ten minutes, assume she’s not interested.”

“Okay, then.” Adam stuttered out a laugh. “Fuck. I knew I was forgetting something, someone get Kandec on the line and tell him what we’re doing behind his back. Not you, Danos, you need your line open, if you pull this off you will be a goddamn hero.”

If, Danos thought. This is crazy. I’m crazy. Lady Illudin is going to have my head on a pike. We’re going to lose. It’s going to be because I came up with this stupid idea, and Adam is going to (hate me) kill me. Very slowly.

Three minutes later, Senator Zeketo jogged into the room and trotted right over to shake Danos’s hand, a little prematurely perhaps, but at least that meant he approved of the plan. And he went on to make some vague noise about that actually not being a bad idea if he did win. Adam glanced over Senator Zeketo’s shoulder, right at Danos, and winked.

Adam was going to kill him. Maybe by slamming his head in a grand piano, after which he would sit down and play Mozart until Danos stopped twitching.

Two minutes after that, Danos’s comm earpiece chimed softly and whispered incoming comm from Lady Shona Illudin into his ear and he felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. He flashed Adam a quick look as the room went silent–here goes nothing–and thumbed the earpiece. “Illudin-anthasa? Ah–” He went through the long customary introduction and greeting (which involved naming off five or six preceding generations of Illudins and Ansoleias and recitation of Lady Illudin’s list of military honors and decorations–Lady Illudin’s very long list of decorations). He tried to, anyway. She remembered who he was after about the second “daughter of”and cut him off, stifling laughter and imploring him to please skip the ceremonial bullshit and get to the point.

“Uh–” He glanced up at Adam and Senator Zeketo. “I’d like to take this in private, if that’s all right…?”

“Of course,” Adam said with a nod. “You heard the man, folks. Clear out.”

The rest of the campaign staff and even the candidate himself didn’t hang around to wait for Adam to ask again. Adam was, of course, the last one out the door. Goddamn hero, Adam mouthed again, stabbing a finger at the air in Danos’s general direction as he shut the door behind him.

“Are they gone?” came Lady Illudin’s much-amused voice over the comm, still in Solthasti. “Can we talk like normal people without all this ceremonial crap now, Captain?”

“I will if you will, Lady,” Danos replied, also still in Solthasti. “I will if you will.”

“Good. You know, I’m tempted to take your candidate up on his offer just so I can work in an environment where I don’t have to start off every report I ever make with fifteen minutes of salutations, All Gods bless the Queen, but really.”

“Ah–” Danos forced calm into his voice. “So Mother explained the whole situation to you, then.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “She did. And frankly, if I didn’t know better, I would say it wasn’t your candidate’s idea at all. I would say it was someone else’s idea. Like maybe that Adam 19-Epsilon gentleman I keep hearing about. Or maybe even, dare I say it… you. Because if I were in your position, Captain, losing ground to a pig like Steven Webster and a walking stereotype like Trisha Harr in a sector controlled by a frothing mad matriarchy, I would probably consider offering a highly decorated female military commander a prestigious cabinet position too. Or at least telling the media I was.”

“Well.” Danos cleared his throat. At least he wouldn’t have to explain much. “You’ve pretty much got it in one, there.”

“Including the part about whose idea it really was?”

“That too.”

“Well, then.” He could practically hear her smiling. It was the same kind of smile Adam got when he was pondering fun ways to ruin the opposition’s day. “You must want your candidate to win very, very badly.”

“I do, Lady,” Danos replied. “Very badly.”

“Mm. Clearly. Well, if you’re a quick enough thinker to come up with this plan, then I’d expect you to be a quick enough thinker to defend it. So tell me, Captain–why? Why him?”

“Because I’ve seen the way our opponent treats people,” Danos said, without the slightest hesitation. “His campaign has an Adam as well, did you know that?”

“I suspected they might,” Lady Illudin replied. “Though I’ve never seen him. I don’t think they’ve ever even mentioned him.”

“I’ve seen him,” Danos said. “They treat him like a thing. They make him look at data and strategize, and then they take credit for his work.” He snorted out a dry, humorless laugh. “They call him ‘it,’ Lady. Can you imagine that?”

“Yes,” she said. “Unfortunately. I don’t understand it, but I can imagine it. And one can learn a great deal about a person simply by observing the way he treats beings he considers lesser life forms. Like animals. Or offworlders. Or gen-mods.”

“It makes me sick,” Danos spat. “The way they treat their Adam. It’s disgusting. I wanted to–I don’t know what I wanted to do to them, Lady, but it’s probably a good thing I don’t carry a sword these days. I can’t imagine anyone treating–” my Adam, he almost said and caught himself. “–our Adam that way. So if I can help keep a man who would let his staff treat a man like a piece of equipment out of the highest office in the galaxy, I’m going to do it. If that includes begging you to say ‘yes, I am considering their offer’ when the media asks you if the rumor about Senator Zeketo considering you for a cabinet position is true, then so be it.”

Lady Illudin was silent for a while, and for a moment Danos feared the worst–that he had offended her so badly as to make her hang up the comm right there.

“And your campaign’s Adam unit,” she finally said, “you serve as his aide, don’t you?”

“Yes, Lady.” He paused. “We don’t refer to him as a ‘unit,’ Lady. We address him by his name.”

“My apologies, Captain. I meant no offense.” And she most likely didn’t. But Danos was sure she knew he would find it offensive nonetheless. A test. “You seem …devoted to him, Captain.”

“Devoted,” Danos repeated. “That’s a good word.”

“Both professionally and personally, if I might be so bold.”

Now it was Danos’s turn to insert an awkward silence into the conversation. “Lady,” he finally said, “our primary concern is this campaign. I have little time to think of Adam in anything but a professional manner, and he has even less time to think of me that way. After the election…” He paused. “I might… consider trying to form a more personal relationship, if he would have it.”

“Ah.” Was that a laugh? A sigh? Both? “Tell your candidate I’ll be willing to help. In fact, if he would consider offering me the cabinet position for real, I would be very interested.”

Danos let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding, and felt a little like a balloon whose air had suddenly been let out. “Thank you, Lady,” he said, doing his damndest not to gush. “Thank you very much. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I do, Captain. You just told me. Have a good night. All the Gods bless your candidate, and to Hell with that other idiot.”

They hung up.

Danos had to sit there in his chair for a while to process everything that had just happened. His plan. It worked. It was going to work. His plan worked. His plan.

He wondered if this was the same sort of visceral rush Adam felt when his own plans clicked into place.

Slowly, with much restraint and choking back of the urge to do that thing humans did when good things happened, that fist-pump-and-hiss-of-“yes!” thing, Danos pushed his chair back from the table, stood up, and opened the conference room door.

The entire staff was still gathered in the corridor. Adam and Senator Zeketo stood together, off to the side, and stopped their conversation in mid-sentence as Danos emerged into the hallway. And later, Danos would think about this, and he would realize that Adam was grinding his teeth, his tall, wiry frame wound tight as a coiled spring, as if trying his damndest to keep something specific from coming out of his mouth. Like he was trying to bite back the urge to spoil a surprise, perhaps.

“Lady Illudin,” Danos began calmly, “has agreed to work with us.”

Silence for exactly six seconds. Complete, absolute silence… followed by utter chaos.

People whooped. People yelled. Senator Zeketo swept Danos up in a hug that lifted him off his feet. Adam threw his arm around Danos’s shoulders, kissed his cheek, and none-too-gently mocked him for turning red at that.

It was still too early and things were still too uncertain for anyone to celebrate for real, so the little victory commotion in the hallway broke up mere minutes after it started. Besides that, it was late, it had been a long day, and people were anxious to get back to their cabins and sleep.

“You,” Adam said as he walked Danos down the hall, arm still slung around his shoulders, “are the man. You are my goddamn hero. Shit, you might be looking at a Cabinet seat yourself if he wins because of this.”

“I don’t want a Cabinet seat,” Danos said, still trying to keep the buzzing sensation in his chest out of his voice. “I’m happy where I am, doing what I’m doing. You know that, sir.” They reached Danos’s cabin, and (a little sadly) Danos slid out from under Adam’s arm. “See you in the morning.”

“Yeah.” Adam took two steps down the corridor… and then came back. “Oh,” he began, one finger upraised, “one more thing…” and then he leaned right into Danos’s personal space (not that Danos minded that, no sir, not one bit) and very plainly, very casually said: “Solthasti esa laseia.”

I speak Solthasti.

Adam took a moment to savor the horrified expression on Danos’s face–at least that’s what it looked like from Danos’s point of view, anyway. But then Adam kissed him again and this time, this time it was no congratulatory smack on the cheek. This time, Adam grabbed him by the back of the neck and kissed him on the mouth.

Actually, the word “kiss” does not begin to describe what Adam did to Danos’s mouth; he kissed Danos with the same ferocity he poured into every single moment of this campaign, devouring his mouth, conquering it with teeth and tongue and lips. And after only a few seconds of shocked paralysis, Danos gave back as good as he got, knotting one hand into Adam’s short, thick hair and the other hand into Adam’s tie and growling into Adam’s mouth. Adam’s other huge hand found its way to the front of Danos’s slacks and squeezed and then did it again and again and every last one of the Gods above, if anyone happened to come down this corridor right now, if Senator Zeketo happened to pop out of his room for a quick snack in the galley Danos didn’t know what he would do about it and–to use one of Adam’s favorite phrases–he did not give a flying fuck.

Still, he let go of Adam’s hair to reach back and tap the panel that would open the door to his cabin so he and Adam could at least get out of the corridor. Or he would have, had Adam not seized his wrist and pushed him back. Not in anger, just enough of a push away for Danos to look up, to look him in the eye.

“I’m not going in there with you right now and you know it,” Adam growled softly against Danos’s forehead. “Not that I don’t want to, goddamn do I want to, but you were right. This is not the time and it’s not the place. But the minute this election is over…” He leaned down, so his lips brushed against Danos’s ear as he whispered, “I’m going to bend you over the nearest piece of furniture and fuck you until you forget how to walk.”

Danos knew he would never again be able to listen to the average sentence that came out of Adam’s mouth without remembering the moment Adam first said that word to him in that context and springing a hard-on even the caffeine bombs sold as “energy drinks” could not induce. “Yes sir,” he hissed back, and Adam laughed softly into his ear.

“Probably call me ‘sir’ while I’m doing it, huh?” he asked, ending that question with a sharp nip to Danos’s earlobe and a slow slide of his palm down the front of Danos’s pants.

“Probably,” Danos agreed; he ground against Adam’s hand, barely aware that he was doing it. “Sir.”

Adam rewarded (or maybe punished) him for that by flicking his tongue over Danos’s ear, almost too fast to register. Then he pushed back, away from Danos, and took one step backwards. “Get some sleep,” he said, and Danos could hear him trying not to laugh at the mere suggestion of sleeping now. “Lots of work to do tomorrow.”

“That there is,” Danos replied, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Good night, sir.”

For a moment, Adam looked like he might be weighing the pros and cons of darting forward to claim one more kiss. The cons won out, at least for now, and Adam strolled on down the corridor like he owned the whole damn fleet.

Magnificent bastard, Danos thought, and he grinned.

illustrated by haitoku

Before Adam went to sleep, he composed a brief press release and sent it to every news agency in his address book. There were several thousand.

Five hours later, while the Zeketo/Chang campaign entourage slept on a ship hurtling through space somewhere between Vega and Earth, Lady Illudin called a press conference on Solathei.

By the time Danos and Adam woke up, that was all anyone could talk about.

“Every news network, every blog, every newspaper, every last little bitty morning talk show in the Vareen Empire looks exactly like this today–” Adam threw an armful of Vareen newspapers across the table like a magician’s grand finale. Two names and two pictures blared across the front pages of every last one: Lady Shona Illudin and Kandec Zeketo. “–ladies, gentlemen, and others, I’ve checked the polls, we’ve made up what we lost when Webster scraped Trisha Harr off her goddamn ice floe and then some, we are officially back in the game in Sector 182-fucking-9 and would someone find out why the fuck the cheesecake I ordered for Danos three hours ago hasn’t been beamed here yet?”

One week before Election Day.

Seven days. If everything remained constant, if everything kept going the way it had been going for seven more days, the Kandec Zeketo campaign could count on a solid victory.

So of course that was when things turned ugly.

The trouble began with Trisha Harr running her mouth. Specifically, she claimed the naming of a possible Secretary of Defense hinted that the Zeketo camp might throw the election, and she further belittled their pick of “a pampered noble who did nothing to earn her title but happen to be born into the right family, whose military duties [were] purely ceremonial.”

The Solthasti reaction was something like Human, please. We’d sooner vote for this inanimate crystal rod than you, and if you say one more word about Lady Illudin we will tar and feather you in front of the entire galaxy.

Lady Illudin didn’t dignify those remarks with a public response, but she did call Danos to ask him, not entirely facetiously, whether he thought Mrs. Harr spontaneously bursting into flames in front of several thousand people would help or hurt their chances.

Adam chalked it up to desperation and ignorance; anyone who’d ever heard of the Narah knew someone who’d commanded them in battle was anything but “pampered.” Besides, Adam said, anyone who thinks an elite military unit is standing around doing nothing in peacetime is an idiot, of course you don’t hear about any current secret Narah operations, they’re fucking secret operations, what kind of clueless–oh, wait.

Of course Adam didn’t say that in public. Although he was tempted to. Senator Zeketo gently scolded him for saying it in the safe confines of their staff room, but he still snickered when he thought nobody was watching.

So the Zeketo campaign let that one slide. But then Harr opened her mouth again and something else stupid fell out of it. This time, she compared Nigel Chang to a Yakuza lackey, and that–Danos wanted to write up a list of everything that was wrong with that and send it to her, lovingly tucked into a box of dead fish. For one thing, that kind of blatant human-vs.-human racism was unheard of in this day and age. For another, he was the governor of New South Wales, for all the Gods’ sakes, not exactly a hotbed of organized crime. And for another still… really, what the fuck?

And when called on Trisha Harr’s spectacular fuckwittery, one might have expected the Webster camp to apologize publicly.

No.

They turned it back, complaining that it was apparently all right for the Zeketo campaign to lob sexist attacks at Mrs. Harr (the unanimous reaction from the Zeketo camp and even from much of Webster’s staff: huh!?), but they cried foul at the mere mention of their own running mate’s race and while they were on the subject, his great-grandfather did have Yakuza ties!

Never mind the fact that Nigel Chang’s great-grandfather had been dead for sixteen years when he was born. Never mind the fact that the “proof” the Webster camp produced was a sixty-year-old receipt found in an arrested Yakuza boss’s pocket decades before, which showed the boss had bought a pair of shoes from the elder Chang’s shop. War wasn’t a problem on Earth anymore but there were pockets where organized crime had not died and likely never would, and all some people had to hear were an Asian surname and Yakuza in the same sentence and there went a chunk of the 2814 vote, right down the shitter.

But they saved the worst for Senator Zeketo himself.

Apparently he shared a middle name with a Regulan prince who had done some inhuman things before being taken down by a citizens’ militia. Senator Zeketo’s father had the same name. His father who had, incidentally, been born about twelve years before Crazy Prince Jondei.

Apparently he had also gone to college with a Vegan who would, years later, be arrested for dumping flesh-eating nanomachines into a swimming pool. Never mind the fact that they’d hardly said two words to each other in four years.

And apparently, he had a staffer who did not seem to understand his place in polite society. Specifically: a bossy, abrasive, foul-mouthed Epsilon-series Adam unit.

Adam, for his part, laughed that off (and, well, flipped it off). Until the Webster “campaign manager,” a loathsome toadlike Umbran who probably didn’t actually do anything himself, called Adam a “meat robot.” On camera. With the Webster campaign’s own Adam unit right behind him.

“You know,” Governor Chang said, eyes wide and disbelieving, “at least they acknowledged my human half. This is appalling.”

Danos very quickly changed the channel, grabbed Adam by the arm, and marched him to the ship’s gym so he could hit something that wouldn’t press charges.

Much like Lady Illudin, Adam did not dignify any of this shit with a response on the record. Still, there were rumors about him snarling his way through dinner on a Regulan cruiser and then stabbing a steak knife into the table, right through a newspaper editorial from that morning suggesting that since gen-mods already had superior intelligence and were practically guaranteed decent jobs, society owed them nothing else and they should remember that they were created to serve humans, not the other way around.

Adam calmed down enough to appear in public again after the (rumored) table-stabbing incident, and he did so with smug satisfaction. It may have just been Danos’s imagination, but it seemed every time Senator Zeketo threw an arm around Adam’s shoulders in front of a thousand cameras and reporters, Adam scanned the crowd for the nearest Webster staffer and flashed that individual the biggest shit-eating grin he possibly could.

The day after that, the Zeketo campaign was very nearly doomed in Sector 2814 by the same man who had saved it in Sector 1829.

It just so happened that five days before the election, the Zeketo campaign and the Webster campaign held rallies an hour and a little over five blocks apart on Al-Dhanab, on the edge of 2814. Adam had scheduled their rally first. The Webster campaign caught wind of that, and scheduled their own an hour before the Zeketo rally. Which was fine; neither campaign had more claim to any particular day or time or planet than the other.

The only problem was, Trisha Fucking Harr was on stage spouting the same ridiculous allegations for an hour before the Zeketo rally started… which got the crowd of about a thousand Al-Dhanabi Webster supporters all nice and wound up.

It should not be difficult to guess where they went afterwards.

Danos had to give the Al-Dhanabi police credit–as soon as they realized there was potential for trouble, they blocked off the roads leading directly from the Webster rally to the Zeketo rally. Still, a few slipped through the roadblock–and the ones who got through were the smart kind. The kind intelligent enough to not stand in a crowd of Zeketo supporters and yell stupid racist crap or death threats.

The kind intelligent enough to wait until the rally was over, insinuate himself as close to Danos as possible, and then tell a reporter that he wasn’t impressed with the Illudin pick and it looked to him like Lady Ansoleia was just whoring her son out to the Zeketo campaign to weasel herself some more prestige.

And to think all this time, the Zeketo campaign figured Adam would be the one to snap and beat the living piss out of someone on camera.

It was well known that the Solthasti words for “mother” and “goddess” were the same; also the words for “father” and “god.” This was not a coincidence. On Solathei, if a person charged with assault could prove that his victim had insulted his parents to his face, that was all it took to have the case dismissed. And had they been on Solathei, Adam probably would have let nature take its course.

But they were not on Solathei, and the absolute last thing the Zeketo campaign needed right now, even less than footage of Adam swearing like a Mordrai grunt live on camera, was for their campaign manager’s combat-trained aide to kill an average Al-Dhanabi guy in front of a crowd of voters and reporters.

If Adam had been one step further away, if he had been talking to Senator Zeketo instead of watching Danos, if he had been talking to the press himself, the campaign might have been over then and there. But, as Adam tended to be, he was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Even as fast as Danos could move, he had barely taken one step towards the bastard when two Secret Service men neatly and ever-so-casually sidestepped into his path and Adam had an arm around his shoulders. And before he could say a word, Adam led him back behind the stage, shoved him into the trailer that served as the rally’s backstage area, and slammed the door behind them.

Before he said a word to Danos, he thumbed his comm headset. “Hey. We’re in the trailer. Nobody comes in here until we both come out. Not even Kandec, this door doesn’t open until I open it. Did anyone see–okay, more importantly, did anyone get it on video–okay. Small fucking favors, yeah. Keep an eye on the networks, get the Solthasti consulate on standby to explain the whole parents-are-god thing just in case. Okay. Thanks. Bye.” He hung up. “You,” he snarled at Danos, “need to settle the fuck down.”

“But–”

“You’re not leaving this trailer until I’m sure you’re not going to kill someone, now find a chair and sit your ass down. Or hell–” Adam spread his arms wide. “Take a swing at me, if it’ll help!”

“Sir!” Danos sputtered helplessly, “I–I can’t–”

“What? Better me than a registered voter in front of a hundred fucking reporters!”

“Sir–”

“Don’t fucking ‘sir’ me!” Adam roared, right over the top of whatever Danos was about to follow that “sir” with. “Answer me something–if I hadn’t been there, what would you have done?”

Danos shut his mouth and stared Adam right in the eye. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “I–”

“I’ll tell you what you would have done, you would have fucked us! What the hell were you thinking? Were you thinking?” He scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “I get it, okay? The guy was talking crap about your mom–”

“You couldn’t possibly get this!” Danos spat, and right away he wished he hadn’t. Adam shut up, mid-sentence, flinching like Danos had punched him. “I–I didn’t mean–”

“Yes you did,” Adam said. “Yes you fucking did.” He sighed. “It’s okay. You’re right. I don’t have parents. I came out of a vat, okay–” He shook his head. “But you can’t do that.”

“I know.” Danos spotted a chair, stalked over to it, and fell into it. “I’m sorry. If you want me to leave–”

Adam sputtered out an incredulous laugh. “No! I don’t–no, I don’t want you to leave, I just need to know it’s not going to happen again. Because I guaranfuckingtee it won’t be the last time someone does that. I need you to promise me you will never, ever pull that shit on us again.”

Danos nodded, numbly. “Yes sir.”

“You promise.”

“Yes, I promise.”

Adam took one cautious step away from the door, and Danos made no move towards it. “Stay your ass in that chair,” he warned anyway, and Danos nodded. Adam grabbed another chair, turned it around, swung a long leg over the seat, and sat on it backwards. “I almost beat the shit out of a Freedom candidate once. Not a staffer, the candidate himself. First campaign I ever worked. He called me ‘uppity.'”

Danos raised an eyebrow. “Uppity.”

“Well…” Adam laughed a little. “More like ‘look at the goddamn uppity gen-mod that thinks it can tell people what to do.’ Something stupid like that.” He held up his thumb and forefinger, about half an inch apart. “This close, Danos. Swear to God. This close to kicking his ass right there backstage at the debate. And then I settled my ass down and I did what I was made to do. I fucking thought about it.” A slow grin crept across his face, and Danos felt a corner of his own mouth give a sympathetic upwards tug. “I figured, fuck him. Give him an inch and he’d hang himself with it, you know?”

Danos opened his mouth–he might have been wrong, but he was fairly sure that wasn’t quite how that expression went. He shook his head and closed it again.

“And sure enough, the video feeds were live when he said it, the whole sector saw him say that to my face, totally unprovoked. The fucker ended up winning, but he got his ass kicked when he ran for his second term because that came back to haunt him.” Adam scooted his chair just a little closer. “You know what it means when they start shit like this?” Adam crossed his arms on the back of the chair and set his chin down on them. “When they start dragging the personal shit out and going after aides and all that? It means they’re desperate. It means they’re fucked and they know it. It means they know they can’t compete on the real issues, so they have to drag people through the mud just to make themselves look better. And, y’know, try and bait you into doing it back.” Adam kicked Danos’s left foot–not hard, just enough to keep his undivided attention. “We’re not going to do it back. We know what it means when they do it to us, and we’re going to nod and smile when the cameras and the voters are looking, and then we’re going to get the fuck over it and keep working.” He gave Danos’s foot another oddly playful kick. “Four more days. We keep our heads up and we keep walking the high road for four more days. And when we get behind closed doors we wring our hands and we cackle because we know four days is plenty of time for them to take it one step too far and fuck themselves. You understand?”

Danos nodded. All the Gods, though, he still wanted to find that idiot and strangle him. “Yes sir.”

“Good.” Adam slid one arm out from under his chin and gave Danos a hearty slap on the knee. “You want some coffee?”

Danos huffed out a breath. “Sure,” he replied, with a little handwave that said I don’t really care, but it’s something to do while you’re holding me captive in here. “Why not.”

Adam was not a telepath, and he did not hear what that handwave was saying. Probably a good thing. He stood up and headed for the trailer’s little kitchenette, returning a minute later with two small cups of coffee. One regular black for himself, one decaf with sugar and cream for Danos.

Danos assumed it was decaf, anyway, and he took a nice big gulp of it. And why was Adam watching him like that, anyway? Like he was waiting for Danos to–

To–

“Oh,” Danos suddenly croaked, and the wicked grin that spread across Adam’s face confirmed it: yes, this was regular coffee in his cup and no, Adam had not made a mistake in putting it there. “Y-you did that on purpose, you swaggering prick!”

And at that, Adam threw back his head and laughed like he had when Danos quoted back Lord Mnrrm-har’s description of him. “Hey, I said you’re not leaving until I’m sure you’re not gonna kill someone,” he tossed off between gales of (evil, Danos thought, fucking evil) laughter. “Kind of hard to think about mauling people when–oh, guess I shouldn’t say ‘hard’ right now, huh?”

“I hate you!” Danos spat even though they both knew damn well he didn’t. He shoved himself up off his chair and glared ten thousand daggers at Adam, and Adam had to sit down–that, or fall over laughing. “I should–I should make you deal with this!”

“I told you,” Adam said, sitting back and wiping his eyes, “not until after the election. So you can either sit there and think about Steve Webster naked and hog-tied and Trisha Harr coming at him with a strap-on until you scare your dick back into submission, or you can go in there–” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the bathroom– “and jack off while you think about what I’m going to do to you when the election’s over. And I damn sure know which one I’d rather think about.”

“Think about?” Danos repeated, and glared a few more daggers at Adam. “I should make you watch.”

“Try it and I leave.” Adam flashed Danos his best shit-eating grin. “But feel free to scream when you come, the trailer’s soundproofed.”

Danos snarled something in Solthasti that translated roughly as may the Serpent of Kyr-Rhylas bite off your testicles, turned on his heel, stomped the five steps to the trailer’s tiny bathroom, and slammed the door.

He made as much noise as he possibly could just to spite Adam, and he could not help but feel vindicated when he came out of the bathroom and found Adam sitting with his legs ever-so-casually crossed, doing a piss-poor job of pretending he hadn’t heard a thing.

Of course it didn’t take long for Danos to forgive Adam. Though he did have a few extra-snarky little comments about Adam’s strangely urgent run to his cabin once they were back on their cruiser.

Three days before the election.

Sector 2814 was still theirs according to most of the polls, but just barely. Which beat the hell out of the alternative. Nobody other than Adam, Danos, and those two Secret Service men had any idea that Danos had nearly mauled a Webster supporter at the rally. But the Mordrai still had their collective hard-on for Steve Webster (although not a few of them admitted that with Lady Illudin in the Zeketo corner, it was a tough decision) and the Vareen Empire was still an unacceptably huge question mark. No two polls agreed which candidate was actually ahead there, and Adam was back to snarling and yelling at people simply because they’d had the audacity to be born.

Which, of course, was the perfect time for things to go entirely to shit.

When Adam sat back and groaned “goddamn cocksucking shitbrained motherfucker!” at something he saw in the morning newsfeeds, Danos knew they were in deep, deep trouble.

“What?” he asked, easing his way over to Adam’s side like he was worried (and not unreasonably so) that Adam was about to jump up and strangle everyone in the room including him, “what is it?”

Adam threw his Palm at Danos’s head, got up, and stalked to a window.

There had been an… incident on Earth.

A human lady (human, Earth human, Danos would remember later that they were very specific about that) wearing a Webster T-shirt was grabbing a mocha from a street corner BaristaBot when a man she described to NYPD as “really tall and skinny and blue–” the vaguest possible description of a Regulan–snatched her purse. And then he noticed her T-shirt, knocked her down, and punched her in the face a few times, all the while yelling about “teaching [her] a lesson.” And then he splashed some kind of acid in her face and ran, leaving her half-conscious and badly burned on the sidewalk.

Danos hissed something in Solthasti that translated roughly to “goddamn cocksucking shitbrained motherfucker.”

“Write up a statement for the press,” Adam snapped. “Right now. I want it in front of every goddamn newspaper editor and network and feed admin in the galaxy in five minutes. Five fucking minutes, Danos, and make it good. Make sure it says we want this son of a bitch found, arrested, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and whatever the lady needs, we’ll take care of it.” He turned away from his window and marched down the corridor. “I gotta go break this to Kandec–fuck, it’s going to kill him.”

The news release was out in three minutes, but the damage was already done. The Vareen were livid, to the extent that their farthest-right-leaning factions seriously suggested that any Regulan ship entering Vareen space be shot down, no questions asked. Some human Webster supporters in 2814 suggested a similar course of action on a much smaller scale. Even the Solthasti Queen, squarely in the Zeketo corner from day one, condemned the incident. Lady Illudin and Lady Ansoleia ran damage control as best they could, both on Solathei and elsewhere, but both of them called Danos and Senator Zeketo personally to express their displeasure at this turn of events.

As for the poor Regulans: most of them weren’t angry about the outbursts of racial slurs and death threats they suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of but generally, as a race, Regulans (with a few exceptions like Crazy Prince Jondei and, well, their mysterious attacker here) didn’t get angry about anything. Upset, yes. Very upset, yes. Angry, no.

Most of the Mordrai, amazingly enough, thought it was ridiculous and dishonorable to attack an entire race just because of the actions of one idiot. Of course, they added, it was even more dishonorable to disfigure a woman just because she didn’t support your candidate.

And as for the Regulan who happened to be running for President… well, suffice it to say Adam hoped devoutly he would never again have to tell him that someone had done something terrible in his name. “Upset” did not begin to cover Senator Zeketo’s reaction.

The mood was grim. Very grim.

And then details began to emerge–details that did not make any sense. The woman claimed to have been attacked around five in the morning, directly in front of the BaristaBot on the corner of 5th and Main in New York City, after she’d gotten her mocha. But that BaristaBot had no record of a transaction with her. And she did not appear on its security footage. Neither did the alleged “really tall and skinny and blue” attacker. Neither did anything that even sounded like a mugging. The woman explained this by saying she didn’t live in New York City, maybe she gave them the wrong BaristaBot location, there were ‘Bots every ten feet in New York City. Which, while a slight exaggeration, was fairly accurate. But no BaristaBot in a fifteen-mile radius had any record of the incident, either–or of the victim making any sort of transaction.

This was when Adam stopped grinding his teeth and cursing the name and lineage of the mysterious Regulan and started grinding his teeth and tentatively cursing the name and lineage of the “victim.”

Which is when the really strange details started to emerge. Like the fact that the woman had not seen a doctor. And that she did not call the police until about ten that morning.

“Why,” Adam asked, “would a woman who just had acid thrown in her face not go to the emergency room or call an ambulance or something? And here’s an even better question: why would she wait five hours to even call the fucking police? Even better–New York Fucking City, people! Five in the morning or not, why isn’t there a single goddamn witness?”

This was when Danos started tentatively cursing the “victim.”

And then, as Adam so delicately put it later, the shit really hit the fan.

Governor Chang had come in to take a look at the articles and their accompanying photographs of the poor burned girl. And all of a sudden, he scowled at the photographs.

“Wait a minute,” he said, “wait a–oh, hell!” He thumbed his comm earpiece and nearly knocked it right off. “Kandec! Come to the conference room right now! You need to see this! …no! No, it’s nothing like that–” He paused, then let out a quick burst of laughter. “No! She’s having us on!” Danos could hear a faint squeak of What!? buzz forth from the earpiece, and Governor Chang winced. “Just get in here!”

It took all of a minute and a half, as if Senator Zeketo had run all the way–and he probably had. “Are you kidding!?” he blurted out as he burst into the conference room, wide-eyed and panting. “Nigel, you better not be kidding–”

“I am not kidding.” Governor Chang pointed at the photograph, at the woman’s eyes. “Look!”

“I don’t see it,” Senator Zeketo said, squinting. “What am I looking a–whoa, whoa–“ He glanced up at Governor Chang as if to confirm something, then back at the picture. “Oh my God! She-she’s–” He flapped his hands around, sputtering, trying to turn thoughts into words and mostly failing. Adam, faithful retainer that he was, offered a few of his own. Most of them consisting of four letters.

Danos, still not entirely sure what was going on here, twiddled a few controls to zoom in on the eyes Governor Chang was pointing at. And then he saw it.

Governor Chang’s eyes and their catlike third eyelid came from his Aquilan genes. And the woman in the picture had that third eyelid, barely visible behind the swollen-half-closed outer lids of her right eye.

“I thought that specifically said she was human,” Danos said slowly, “or did I just hallucinate that?”

“Nope,” Adam snapped right back, “no, you did not.” Adam tapped the passage in the article where she had specifically been called human. “She’s Aquilan!?” he said, his voice cracking in a way nobody ever dared mention again, “she’s fucking Aquilan!?”

Governor Chang snorted out a laugh. “Well, that would explain why she didn’t seek medical treatment, now wouldn’t it?”

Yes, it certainly would. There was a particular Aquilan trait Governor Chang often used to amuse the campaign staffers and the press, one that would explain a whole hell of a lot about this situation.

Aquilans were shapeshifters.

They couldn’t drastically alter their form, they couldn’t change their bone structure–but they could easily fake a disfiguring injury like, say, a swollen black eye and an acid-burned face.

And this… this was when Danos started to curse the “victim’s” parents.

Governor Chang was already on comm to the NYPD, softly and rapidly relaying the findings to them. Senator Zeketo, meanwhile, just stared at the picture in the news article and slowly, incredulously shook his head.

“Kandec?” Adam laid a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You okay?”

“I–” Senator Zeketo’s mouth hung uselessly, silently open while Governor Chang went on rattling off details in the background. “Adam… I–I wanted to concede over this, you had to talk me out of–”

“Right, right,” Governor Chang went on behind them, “ah, you’ve figured that out as well, then. Right, I just–oh? …Did she really? No sir, I’ve not heard the name myself, but…” There was a long pause, after which Governor Chang’s eyes and mouth both dropped wide open. “Oh really now…” He snatched Adam’s Palm off the table, ticked it over to the notepad, and scrawled a quick note with his fingernail: Webster staff!!!

Adam sprayed a string of curses at a loud enough volume that Governor Chang felt it necessary to apologize on his behalf. Danos forgot for a moment what “words” were.

“Well, we’d appreciate it if you could give that information to the press as soon as possible, of course. You’ve been a magnificent help. Thank you very much, Officer. Goodbye now.” Governor Chang thumbed his earpiece. “Apparently, our girl has given in and admitted to making the whole thing up and is having the appropriate charges brought against her. And–” He nudged Adam’s Palm back across the table. “I wish I could say I was surprised to find out who signs her paycheck, but…”

“Oh,” Senator Zeketo finally said, an expression of the closest thing to rage the average Regulan ever displayed–explosive indignation–breaking out across his face, “oh, fuck him!”

“S-sir!?” Danos sputtered.

Governor Chang, for his part, just fell into the nearest chair and whooped laughter until he wept.

It was the first time any of them had ever heard Senator Zeketo curse at all, let alone deploy the F-bomb. And while Adam was shocked speechless at the time, he would later confess to Danos that he had never before been so proud of his candidate.

Of course nobody would ever be able to prove that the woman–whom Adam, much to Senator Zeketo’s quietly horrified glee, immediately began referring to as the Mighty Morphin’ Moron–had acted on Webster’s orders.

But if the Webster campaign had planned her hoax, once the word got out that it was in fact a hoax, it backfired.

Horribly.

For the first time in the campaign, a handful of Mordrai polls showed a very, very slim Zeketo lead and the blogs and news were full of Mordrai community leaders condemning the NYC Webster campaign headquarters en masse for the cowardly attempt to discredit Senator Zeketo.

What the Zeketo campaign had lost in human support when news of the attack first broke, they regained by the end of the day. Again, still a very, very slim lead.

The Solthasti Queen issued a formal apology for her previous statement, and half an hour later House Illudin’s flagship gated into Vareen space at the request of the Empress herself; half an hour after that Lady Illudin delivered a rousing speech to a few thousand cheering Vareen from the steps of the Empress’s palace. The Vareen Empire was still an uncomfortably large question mark, but at least the most hawkish factions begrudgingly apologized for that suggestion about shooting down Regulan ships.

The reaction of the Regulans themselves ran along the lines of “no hard feelings but seriously, you guys, what the hell!?”

As for the Regulan who happened to be running for President, once things started clearing up he bopped right into the conference room, called Steve Webster, and cheerfully informed him that he would be perfectly willing to let this whole mess slide if Webster would just be so kind as to make a public statement that he didn’t approve of what his campaign worker did and he would see that she was relieved of her job; after all, the Zeketo campaign had issued a similar statement minutes after the news first broke, wouldn’t that be only fair?

Two hours later, the Webster campaign issued a terse, begrudging statement that Tonya Little, otherwise known as T’kya-Loh Lyllyx, was no longer its employee. Adam gave it two triumphant middle fingers and went back to work.

Two days before the election.

Both campaigns were gating all over the galaxy, packing as many appearances and speeches and kissed babies as possible into these last hours. Danos watched with a mixture of revulsion and sadistic glee as a Blattellan woman handed Steve Webster her baby–a wingless cockroach the size of a small dog–live on GNN, while the Zeketo entourage was waiting in the terminal for the gate to open to its next speech venue.

“Oh Gods,” Danos squeaked as Webster sucked it up and planted the quickest and tiniest of kisses on the baby Blattellan’s head and then handed it back to its mother as quickly as he could without throwing it at her. “That’s horrifying. And… kind of cute. But mostly horrifying.”

Adam glanced up at that and nearly sprayed coffee on the back of Governor Chang’s head. “Oh fuck,” he said once he recovered. “That’s–”

“Oh, hey!” Senator Zeketo just looked up and grinned his adorably radiant little grin. “Is that Mrs. Samsa?”

GNN played that clip at least four times every hour for the rest of the day. So did CNN. So did C-SPAN. So did IPN. Even worse, a photographer captured the exact moment the wee Blattellan had been thrust into Steve Webster’s hands–and the look on Webster’s face at the exact moment when he realized he had to kiss that cockroach. By the next morning, that picture was on the front page of every newspaper that had endorsed Senator Zeketo and most of the ones that had endorsed Webster. It was e-mailed to friends and family. It was manipulated, amusingly captioned, tacked on office and cubicle and break room walls all over the galaxy, and set as wallpaper on anything that had a screen. Adam would keep a beautifully framed copy of it on his desk for years. It would be the butt of a million jokes. Political cartoons would use the image over and over and over again, for decades to come. Steve Webster would occasionally receive gag gifts of bug spray and plastic cockroaches wearing diapers until the day he died.

And, for the record: that Blattellan woman was indeed one K’hk Xa’khhaklx and her youngest son K’hk Klklxah… otherwise known as Mrs. Greg Samsa and her youngest son Franz.

One day before the election.

Senator Zeketo gave his last speech at the last rally of the campaign on Rigel 3, in the middle of a freak frigid rainshower–a weather control tower malfunctioned five minutes into the speech, and getting any kind of cover for the stage on that short a notice was impossible. There were force field generators, but they weren’t in place when the speech began; it would take another half-hour to get them to the stage and power them up. And they would only stop the rain, not the cold, which wouldn’t do any good because Senator Zeketo was already soaked to the skin. Danos did at least find a plastic poncho in the van that had brought them to the venue, and he interrupted Senator Zeketo’s speech just long enough to run up on stage and help him put it on. It was something, but it wasn’t much and he had already been out there far longer than Adam liked.

Regulans didn’t do well in cold weather. Standing around in anything below about ten degrees Celsius for more than five minutes or so without a decent coat made them stiff and groggy. Much colder than that, they were risking hypothermia.

“Kandec,” Adam said softly into his earpiece when Danos returned to his place in the front row, “I’m giving you three minutes to wrap it up and get your ass in the van.” The wet and cold didn’t bother him as much as it did Senator Zeketo, or even Danos–Danos sat huddled as close to Adam as he could get away with, trying to remember that however cold and miserable he might be, Senator Zeketo was ten times colder and more miserable and he was bringing five thousand Rigelians to their feet in the middle of a near-freezing shower. “I won’t let you go down in history as the first Presidential candidate to freeze to death in the middle of a speech and if I have to yell ‘fire’ and clear the place out so nobody sees me drag you off the stage, I will.”

Senator Zeketo didn’t so much as pause, but he flicked Adam the quickest little glance and nod.

Five minutes later, he wrapped it up. Adam helped him off the stage; Danos ran across the street to a BaristaBot, fed it some money, and met Adam, Senator Zeketo, and his two Secret Service men at the van with a venti cup of hot Earl Grey.

They rode back to the hotel in silence with the van’s heater blowing full blast and Senator Zeketo bundled under a thin emergency blanket from the van’s breakdown kit that did not a damn bit of good thanks to his wet clothes, shivering and clutching his gigantic cup of hot tea with both hands and taking little careful sips between bumps in the road.

Mostly in silence, anyway.

“Don’t ever do that again,” Adam snapped, one warm hand on Senator Zeketo’s back and the other unobtrusively thrust back behind his seat, curled around Danos’s cold fingers. “It’s not worth this.”

“Yeah,” Senator Zeketo laughed, and he took a long drink of his tea as the van stopped at a traffic light. “Yeah, it is.”

“How is he?” Danos asked Adam later, after he’d shucked off his wet suit and put on some dry Queen’s Guard Academy-issue sweats.

“He’s fine,” Adam replied; he had changed into a pair of loose jeans and a well-worn button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the top three buttons open. He poked at a replicator until it gave him a sandwich. “He took a hot bath, the doctor checked him out, then he went to sleep. He’s fine.” He peeled back the bread, scowled at the mystery meat under it, replaced the bread, and took a bite anyway.

“How are you?” Danos asked next.

“Fine.”

Danos raised an eyebrow. “You have dark circles under your eyes.”

“I always have dark circles under my eyes. They give me character.”

“Right now they make you look like you’re about to fall over and die.” Danos narrowed his eyes. “I’m fairly sure you haven’t slept in–”

“I’m designed to go seventy-two hours without sleep, all right? I’m–”

“It’s been ninety hours at least and your hands are shaking,” Danos snapped. “If it’s your job to keep Senator Zeketo from burning out, it’s mine to keep you from it.”

“Fuck,” Adam half-snorted, half-laughed. “I’ve created a monster.”

“Yes sir,” Danos agreed. “You have. Now eat your sandwich and go to bed, you great goddamned hypocrite.”

Election Day.

Senator Zeketo went home to cast his ballot, and the rest of his entourage went with him. Danos had never been to Regulus, and the moment he set foot outside the gate terminal he understood why Regulans had so much trouble with cold weather. He was told this was the dead of winter; it felt more like spring on Earth. Later, Adam would compare it to a place on Earth called Hawaii–nothing but sun, ocean, green places, and friendly people.

Danos made a mental note to come back here someday when there was time to explore. But for now, there were polls to watch. It was going to be a very long, harrowing day. For Adam, particularly–he would have to watch these numbers come in, knowing there was no longer a thing he could do to affect them.

The Zeketo/Chang campaign had its headquarters in a cave. A cave. Well, an artificial cave with windows and skylights, and on Regulus that wasn’t terribly unusual–the philosophy of Regulan architecture seemed to be something like “make it look like it belongs here.”

One entire wall in the Zeketo home office was actually a gigantic touch screen, used for presentations and such (and the occasional movie or video game in Senator Zeketo’s rare free time). Currently, it displayed a huge, slowly revolving map of Galactic Federation territory, with bright white lines marking off each sector and each sector marked with two numbers: the sector ID, and the number of electoral votes that sector had. The three “battleground” sectors–2814, 1928, and 3273–were highlighted in bright yellow.

It wasn’t the first time Danos had seen such a map–not even one this big, there were bigger ones on Solathei, three-dimensional ones you could stand right in the middle of–but he couldn’t help but stand in front of it for a few minutes and marvel at it.

This was what they’d been working so hard for all these months, this slowly revolving spiral of stars and planets and people, so many people Danos didn’t even know what a number with that many zeroes was called–they’d worked their hearts out to send a man to an office at the top of a shining steel and marble monument called the Spire on a planet called New Columbia where the decisions he made would affect every single one of those stars and planets and people.

It was the first time Danos truly understood the scope of what he and Adam and everyone else had been working for all this time, and the thought took his breath away for a moment. And even now, if someone had come up behind him and asked him if he was sure he’d backed the right candidate, if he was sure Kandec Zeketo was the right one to send to that office–even now, without hesitation, he would have said yes.

Danos felt a huge hand on his shoulder while he was pondering that. “Amazing, huh?” Adam asked, and Danos nodded.

“Yes sir,” he replied, his eyes travelling from the blue dot of Earth to the blue-green dot of Regulus to the twin blue dots of Solathei and Kyrthei to the bright green dot of New Columbia. “It is.”

Something pinged behind them, a clock of some kind, and Adam slid his hand down Danos’s back in a way that could have been accidental but Danos knew wasn’t. “All right, people,” Adam shouted, clapping his hands to get everyone’s attention, “this is it, polls are open!”

The next few hours came and went without any surprises. Every once in a while someone would call out a sector and a name–177, Webster. 2991, Zeketo. 3181 and 229, Webster. 1190, 38, and 1721, Zeketo. And so on. As the sectors were called, Danos touched them on the big screen to turn them red for Webster or blue for Zeketo.

Currently, they were about five percentage points ahead in the popular vote and almost dead even in the electoral vote. Not good enough. Danos watched Adam pace and grumble, and thought it best to stay out of his way. Even Senator Zeketo just popped his head in once to say hello and then left to spend the rest of the day with his family, and Danos didn’t really blame him.

Nothing to do now but watch, wait, and keep Adam from wearing himself to a little frazzled end.

They’d held their slim lead in Sector 2814 as the results started to come in, with the occasional seesaw as a particularly conservative area reported. But then the results from Earth and its closest colonies started to come in, and things went crazy.

And then the Zeketo staffer who had been watching GNN coverage of the election popped up out of his chair and announced that GNN had just called Sector 2814 for Zeketo. Other staffers joined in the chorus–IPN, CNN, VNC, SolaNet, all concurring.

“What!?” Adam sputtered. “Not that I’m complaining, but what the fuck happened?”

“Ah–” Danos squinted at the GNN screen himself. “There’s a write-in splitting the vote on the Freedom side, and whoever these poor bastards are writing in, he’s siphoning off just enough of the Freedom vote to leave Webster almost no chance of taking 2814.” He shrugged and puffed out a laugh. “At this point, Webster would have to have at least eighty percent of the uncounted votes to win and, well…” He gestured at the screen. “At this point I think it’s safe to say that’s not going to happen.”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Adam laughed, wiping a hand over his eyes. “Who the hell are they writing in?”

“Let me check–” Danos made a few queries. “Ah–” Then he sat back, head cocked to the side, one eyebrow raised in confusion. “Who the hell is ‘Ron Paul!?'”

Adam’s hand went back to his forehead. “Oh, fuck me,” he wheezed, and he dissolved into silent laughter.

Danos didn’t get whatever joke it was that had Adam nearly weeping with laughter (and felt he deserved credit for not interpreting Adam’s initial outburst as a command), but he tapped Sector 2814 on the big screen to turn it blue anyway. A win was a win.

The incredulous joy didn’t last long, though. About twenty minutes later, results from Sector 3273 started to come in and they weren’t pretty.

The Mordrai had flipped again, and flipped hard. What little good the Mighty Morphin’ Moron incident had done the campaign had been completely negated and then some by the final frantic volley of mud from the other side–specifically, Senator Zeketo’s middle namesake and Vegan terrorist classmate, the sensationalist dead horses Trisha Harr continued to cheerfully beat even after the Mighty Morphin’ Moron incident. Adam couldn’t fault the Mordrai for falling for it, not really; they were warriors, they were emotional, they were fanatical, and Harr played right to them.

Thirty-two percent of precincts reporting. Webster/Harr: sixty-one percent. Zeketo/Chang: thirty percent. Other candidates: nine percent.

And it didn’t get any better.

“All right, people,” Adam finally snapped, understandably sick of watching the rest of the staff standing around looking horrified at the screen, “we knew this might happen. Watch something else and get over it.”

What Danos (and perhaps everyone else in the room) thought but did not say: yes, we knew it might happen, but we hoped it wouldn’t.

“We could still catch up,” Danos said softly a while later, while other people were busy doing other things and they were down a full forty percent.

“We won’t,” Adam replied.

They didn’t.

Everything rode on 1829 now.

The Mighty Morphin’ Moron Incident ended up having unpredictable effects on the 1829 polls right up to Election Day. Some Vareen were outraged that someone would fake such a terrible attack and then play the “poor weak girl” card to turn popular opinion against Senator Zeketo. Some were equally outraged that the Zeketo campaign hadn’t come out condemning the “attack” more strongly before it was revealed as a hoax. Some were equally outraged over the very real possibility that the Webster campaign could have planned the whole thing, offering up one poor girl as a sacrifice to their ambition.

And some… well, some were even more outraged and still convinced that the girl’s story was completely true and the mean male police had intimidated her into a confession.

Adam did not know whether the Mighty Morphin’ Moron had been acting on her own or under the orders of the Webster campaign and he did not care. All he cared about was that at the last minute, a bomb made completely out of chaos, disorder, and discord had been dropped right in the middle of his carefully calculated data and even the mere mention of the “attack” was enough to send him into a snarling rage.

There was a lot of mention of the Mighty Morphin’ Moron on the networks as the first results from 1829 began to trickle in.

Adam was seething.

Even more so at fifteen percent of precincts reporting: Webster/Harr, fifty percent; Zeketo/Chang, forty-nine percent; other candidates one percent.

Slightly less so at twenty percent of precincts: the opposite.

And even more so still when the spread leapt to four percent in Webster’s favor five minutes later. And stayed there. And stayed there. And fucking stayed there. One after another, smaller sectors turned blue, sectors with two and three electoral votes. Adam ignored them. They didn’t matter now. Without a win in 1829, it was over.

Danos watched Adam stand up, pace around the room, yell at someone, not so much sit down as hurl himself at a chair, scowl at someone, stand up again, and repeat the process about twenty times in ten minutes. He could practically hear the train of Adam’s thoughts–four percent, four percent, four fucking percent, we did not come all this way and bust our fucking asses this hard for the last two fucking years, we did not work this fucking hard to lose the fucking sector that fucking decides the whole fucking election now by four goddamn fucking percent.

Danos knew he couldn’t do anything about the numbers. But, he decided as he shed his comm earpiece and delegated his big-screen-tapping responsibility to another staffer for a while, he could fucking well do something about Adam.

He marched over to intercept Adam mid-pace–a dangerous maneuver in and of itself, as he well knew. “Sir,” he said, and before Adam could open his mouth to bitch about it, “there is a situation that requires your immediate attention.”

“What?” Adam snapped. Stronger folk than Danos would have flinched. Narah soldiers would have flinched. Danos did not.

“Walk with me,” he replied, and took hold of Adam’s shoulder; he could feel Adam’s muscles vibrating like piano strings through the fabric of his dress shirt. Well, Danos thought, steering him none too gently toward the conference room and pushing him inside, this will be the least professional thing I’ve ever done.

Danos shut the door. Locked it. Flicked the privacy switch and watched the clear windows turn milky white, heard the faint hum of the soundproofer.

“What?” Adam repeated, with a little more annoyance.

“The polls have closed,” Danos replied, as cool and collected as ever despite the fact that he was sure even Adam could hear his heart hammering in his chest. “The results haven’t all come in yet, but the polls are closed.”

Adam took one big step forward, right into Danos’s personal space, probably with the intent of making him step back. Danos did not step back. “What’s your point?”

“My point is that being an unpleasant, irritable prick will not make the 1829 results come in any faster or swing in our favor. Also that the election has, technically, been over for longer than a minute and the nearest piece of furniture appears to be the table behind me.” Danos’s eyes narrowed. “Sir.”

Adam glared at him, his eyes two angry orange coals in the low light of the conference room.

“Fuck,” he finally snarled, and before Danos could do a thing about it Adam seized him by the tie and the hair, yanked him that last half-step forward, and kissed him with a ferocity that made the kiss on the Lincoln seem tender by comparison. Danos staggered and reflexively threw his arms around Adam’s neck to keep his feet under him and before he could fall against the table Adam hooked both huge hands under Danos’s thighs, carried him to the table, dropped him on it, and went straight for his belt buckle with one hand and his cock with the other.

“I thought your plan was to bend me over the furniture,” Danos gasped into Adam’s ear, grinding into Adam’s hand and yanking his shirttail free so he could get his hands on bare skin.

“Changed my mind,” Adam growled. “All that fucking noise you made the other day, now I want to see your pretty little face when you come. Take those off and fold them up.” Without waiting for the inevitable yes sir, Adam went to work on his own belt buckle. “Shirt too. You’re not walking out of here looking like you’ve just been fucked on a table.”

“Yes sir.” Danos swallowed hard, kicked off his shoes, shucked off his slacks and underwear and folded them up, then yanked his tie loose and his shirt off. “This too?” he asked, plucking at the hem of the white T-shirt he wore under it.

Adam didn’t bother to answer that right away. Instead, he snatched Danos’s dress shirt out of his hands, shook it out, and draped it over the back of a chair. Then he flipped his tie over his shoulder and pushed Danos onto his back. “I don’t give a fuck,” he said, pushing Danos’s knees apart and leaning down to nip at his lower lip. “You need a couple fingers to warm you up or–”

“No sir,” Danos growled; he hooked his knees around Adam’s waist and groaned when Adam’s shirttail brushed over his cock, whisper-light and teasing. “Just do it.”

“So fucking eager,” Adam breathed out a soft laugh into Danos’s mouth. “You know what I really want to do? Make you wait. Make you beg. Maybe make you earn it, make you suck me first–” He spat into his hand and reached down to rub it over his cock. “–tie you to the bed and touch you everywhere but your dick until you’re screaming for me to fuck you–” But as much as Adam might have wanted to do these things or any number of others, urgency won out and he slammed forward, hard, into Danos.

Danos threw his head back and snarled through his clenched teeth, arms whipping up to wrap around Adam’s shoulders and claw at handfuls of his shirt. “Okay?” Adam rumbled against his lips, and Danos nodded. And that was all the warning he got.

He was going to be sore later, Danos knew, and probably for two or three days after as well. He was going to have bruises where Adam’s fingers dug into his shoulders and thighs. His lips were going to be red and swollen for hours. He was probably going to have teeth marks in the side of his neck. He didn’t care about that either. Adam fucked him with an intensity that bordered on violence, just as he did everything else in his life, and all Danos could bring himself to care about was the feel of Adam’s mouth crushed to his and Adam’s cock pounding into him and Adam’s huge, hot hand wrapped around his own cock, stroking him with that same ferocious intensity until Danos had to tear his mouth free from Adam’s and gasp for breath. “Sir,” he wheezed, “I’m–”

“Gonna come?” Adam growled into his ear, and if Danos had any doubt before, he didn’t after that. Danos groaned and nodded, and Adam let go of his cock just long enough to reach over, grab a tissue from the box that seems to always be on a conference table next to the pitcher of water, and press it into Danos’s hand. Danos didn’t need to be told what that was for; he reached down and cupped his hand over the head of his cock and came the second Adam’s hand closed around its shaft again, head craned back against the table (something else that would be sore later, he thought wryly), eyes squeezed shut even though he wanted so badly to see Adam’s reaction, screaming through his clenched teeth. He could hear Adam gasping and snarling out a long string of mostly undecipherable but probably filthy words above him; he could pick out the occasional fuck and yeah and finally gonna come so fucking hard– And then he did, hips bucking so violently as to scoot Danos back a few inches every time Adam slammed into him, snarling around a mouthful of Danos’s shoulder–another spot Danos would find teeth marks later. It was all Danos could do to hang on until Adam sputtered out one last string of exhausted curses and slumped over him, sweaty and spent.

“Okay?” he finally asked, and Danos nodded. “Okay. God. Tell me it’s a bad idea to just sleep here.”

“It’s a bad idea to sleep here,” Danos repeated drowsily even though he wasn’t convinced it was.

Adam wheezed out a weak laugh against the side of Danos’s neck. “All right, all right…” With a great effort he pushed up on his hands and stepped back, hissing softly as he slid free. “Hand me a–” Danos reached for the tissues and handed Adam the box. “Yeah. Thanks.”

Danos grunted something that sounded like “you’re welcome,” cleaned himself up, and–as much as he hated to–located his clothes and stepped into his pants as Adam pitched his own wad of used tissues into the trash. “If you’d like to do some of those other things you mentioned later, I wouldn’t object,” he said. “Sir.”

Adam just grinned, dazed and happy. “Good to know,” he said, and he leaned forward to claim a kiss while he zipped up his slacks. Or he would have.

The soundproofing system was good enough that the staffers outside might have heard little more than the occasional thump over the last ten minutes or so (and they probably assumed it was Adam throwing furniture anyway), but not enough to completely block the sudden cacophony of whoops and shouts outside the door.

“You hear that?” Adam asked.

Danos blinked up at Adam, mouth half-open.

And then they were both up in a blur of motion, Adam scrambling for the door, Danos throwing his shirt back on and doing up the buttons as fast as he could. “What happened?” Adam yelled through the cracked-open door, not noticing (or caring) that Danos didn’t even have his fly buttoned yet. Adam, for his part, didn’t even seem to care that his shirt was still untucked and his tie was still slung over his shoulder. Danos considered mocking him about looking like he’d just fucked his aide on a table and thought better of it.

The answer to Adam’s question came in a Gordian knot of loud voices, frantic but undecipherable, and Adam flung the door open and stomped back into the main office. “Everybody SHUT THE FUCK UP,” he yowled, and Danos hastily buckled his belt and put his tie back on and scooted into the main office behind him. “ONE PERSON tell me what the hell’s–”

“Sir,” the staffer watching IPN, an Aquilan named Kyryl Ollyx, stammered, “we’re up in 1829!”

Danos could hear Adam swallow. “How much?” he asked softly, unbelieving.

“Eight percent–no, ten, ten percent with sixty-seven percent of precincts reporting–no, twelve percent with seventy-two percent of–” Ollyx went silent, mouth half-open. “Sir,” he finally said, “IPN just called it!”

Danos laid his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Sir,” he said.

“That’s it,” Adam said, and for the first time since Danos had met him, he sounded calm. Satisfied. “That’s it,” he repeated. “We won.” He choked out an incredulous laugh. “Stick a fork in the motherfucker, we won!”

Which technically they hadn’t, not yet, there were still uncounted sectors. But as soon as those last two words left Adam’s mouth, the office erupted into a fresh cacophony of cheers and whoops. After letting out his own obligatory holler and before Danos could say a word, Adam swept Danos nearly off his feet and kissed him violently, right there in the office. And there was nothing Danos could do about it but hang on.

He barely noticed a gust of warm sea wind blowing into the office. “Oh, hey!” Senator Zeketo chirped somewhere nearby, “I guess it’s safe for–oh. Wow. Heh. Wow.” Danos felt a hand slap him between the shoulderblades and realized all that wow was directed at him and Adam. Senator Zeketo laughed, and then low enough that the rest of the whooping staffers wouldn’t hear: “About time, you two.”

Five minutes later, Steve Webster called to concede.

One hour later, in front of what must have been every Regulan on the planet and some flown in from the rest of the galaxy, President-Elect Kandec Zeketo delivered his acceptance speech.

And if anyone noticed that Adam and Danos left the party that followed a little early, nobody mentioned it.

“So,” Danos said a week later on New Columbia, falling into step alongside Adam. “Chief of Staff. Congratulations.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Adam grinned his best shit-eating grin and slung an arm around Danos’s shoulders. “Go ahead. Make the joke about chiefing my staff. You know you want to.”

“No, too easy. And you just did.” Danos wrapped his arm around Adam’s waist. “Have you found a new aide yet?”

Adam waved a hand. “That guy Ollyx seems to have his shit together. But you kind of set the gold standard.” He gave Danos’s shoulder a squeeze. “I wish you’d–”

“We’ve been over this,” Danos said. “It wouldn’t be proper. Besides–I’ll be Lady Illudin’s aide, her office is three doors away–”

“Too far,” Adam growled into Danos’s ear. “I want you in my office so I can sexually harass you all day.”

“You’d never get any work done. And you can sexually harass me all you want at home.” Danos smirked up at him. “Sir.”

“You’re never going to stop that, are you?” Adam asked, and Danos’s smirk spread into a grin.

“Definitely not in private. Sir.”

He would have laughed if Adam hadn’t swept him into his arms and kissed the life out of him, right there on the steps of the Spire.

illustrated by haitoku

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