by Hyakunichisou 13 (百日草 十三)
Infrastructure. It’s all the stuff you don’t think about, the stuff that works until it doesn’t, and then your tube of personal lubricant turns out to be full of toothpaste or you end up knee-deep in chocolate milkshake. That’s not the fun kind of surprise, and it’s not a random example either. I’d had a lively morning, and I was hoping that the afternoon was going to be more on the calm side. At least with the replicator I was working on there was no obvious mess to clean up, though I wouldn’t know for sure until the skeleton key had finished running and I could rummage around inside it and see what it had choked on. It was an older unit, one that I hadn’t had much to do with aside from its monthly service check. A lot of them in Maroon Sector are like that. Not old enough to be historic, like that one over in the Teal heritage district that spits out those weird-ass souvenir apples, perfectly round and shiny like cartoons of themselves. Just solid and unglamorous, a little banged up around the edges, good at getting the job done without a lot of fuss.
The entire sector is a lot like that, actually. It’s one of the mid-station ones, sandwiched between the original core and the fashionable edges. It used to be warehouses, acres of lockable space to store hard goods back before cheap replicator tech was everywhere. It’s been overlooked for a good long while; why bother refurbishing a worn-out area when you can generate your own shiny new custom module for practically nothing and stick it to the side of the station like a piece of chewing gum? But this last year or two, people have started thinking up new uses for those wide, empty spaces. That means an uptick in the use of the replicators; that means more service calls for me. Including some pretty odd ones. Artists and actors, I swear. Don’t get me started.
Eventually the key popped the hood for me and I could take a look inside. The error code was one of the more common and pointless ones, translating basically as “oh-oh, something’s borked.” There was only one job in the queue; I archived it and rebooted. Turn it on and off, jiggle the cords, give it a good whack: those’ll solve a good thirty percent of your tech problems, and I’ve got fifteen years on the job to prove it.
I’d set the walls of the cubicle to the out of service pattern but left the door open, because honestly those stripes get to me a little. Someone cleared their throat behind me.
“Pardon me, but have you forwarded the order to another replicator? Or do you think this one will be back in service soon?”
“I’m just letting it power up again, and then we’ll know more.” I turned around and looked at the person standing just outside the doorway. Taller and skinnier than me, neither of which is a medal-quality accomplishment, with a harried kind of air.
They gave me a grimace-smile. “Do you mind if I wait?”
“Feel free. It should only be a minute.”
They had on work clothes–trousers with a lot of pockets, and a long-sleeved knit shirt that had started life a brighter blue. Their hair was light brown, straight, and shoulder-length, and they were wearing their colours as barrettes to hold it back: purple for agendered, another for matching pronouns, the black-and-white checkerboard that said they were single and wouldn’t necessarily punch you in the kisser if you got flirty, and a rainbow stripe for pan as all get-out.
“Rough day?” I asked, as they crossed and uncrossed their arms.
“Last-minute request.” They looked narrowly at the replicator like they wanted to stick their hands in and bash those molecules together themself.
The machine chimed as it came back online, making me feel like I was a kid again; the new stuff is all four bars of barbershop opera these days. I retrieved the order from the archive, and in a moment the printing cycle started. I kept an eye on the functions display, but nothing out of the ordinary popped up. The order wasn’t large, and in less than a minute, the delivery window went transparent and then rolled itself out of the way.
It was a banana. A nicely formed banana, if a little less ripe than I like them myself. Yellow with a few freckles of brown, a firm curve, only a little suggestion of roughness at the flower end. Whoever was doing their custom work had a subtle touch.
I was closer to the window, so I picked up the banana and handed it over. “You know, this replicator’s not food grade.” Molecules are molecules, but the hygiene protocols on the food-grade machines are something you really want to consider.
“That’s fine. I doubt anybody will be swallowing any.”
Not one of the underground chefs with their secret warehouse dinner parties, then. Artist, maybe? “Now that’s got to have a story behind it.”
“You have no idea.” Their smile was real this time around. “Thank you for your help.”
I might have been imagining it, but I thought they swiped a look over my own colours before they turned away. I wear my set over my left tit pocket, like a row of medals: pink and blue for me being a lady except when I’m not, she/her by a thin margin, open to what-have-you, and not interested in male dick. I’d been having a lengthy dry spell since my last affair ended, and sometimes I’d thought about switching my colours to not interested, period. But I guess I didn’t want to close that door completely. You never know what might come along when you’re not expecting it.
I printed myself out a test toothbrush just to double-check that it was all ticking along properly, but everything seemed fine. I backed the skeleton key out and left the place cleaner than I found it.
Two weeks later, I was back, and this time was the place ever a gawd-awful mess.
The floor was writhing. Black ropes–roots–hell, tentacles for all I knew–crawled from the delivery window, jerking as each new loop curled out of the printer head and cascaded downwards. I got a disintegrator from my toolbox–the physical one–and primed it before I opened the door. Replicators aren’t supposed to churn out living things, but some people just take that as a challenge. I went on a call once where somebody had tried to replicate crickets for their pet iguana’s dinner. Nasty.
But whatever the black vermicelli that thrashed around on the floor was, it wasn’t alive. I poked a length with my boot, but it didn’t reach out to grab me. When I picked up a strand, it was room-temperature. Round, thinner than my finger, with a silky surface and a subtle gloss.
I waded into the muddle, which bounced around my shins like a tangle of springs. It got thicker as I got nearer the printer head. The window was forced up out of the way, and the delivery platform was clogged almost solid with black cords.
I threw a halt code at it, followed by the skeleton key again. The movement stopped. I pushed a load of cords to one side to give myself more standing room. They whispered over the floor with a shivery kind of sound.
The error code was the machine equivalent of hiccoughs: some kind of specs problem. I pulled up the order and ran through the programming. Someone was trying some interesting things with texture here, though replicators of this vintage weren’t really designed to handle all those parameters being turned up to eleven at the same time, not to mention some kind of pattern spliced in that I didn’t know what the fuck it was supposed to do. I figured that that was the thing causing the problem, so I copied the whole shebang to a new order, pinched the problem spot out, and sent the order to wait in the queue. I had to run a clean-out cycle before bringing the whole thing back online. The wad of black coils that wriggled out and plopped to the floor wasn’t pretty.
By this time I was curious. Trying to put specs together into a finished product can be a six-blind-men-with-an-elephant kind of thing, so I watched in real time as the order printed out. The first thing to form was more black cords, which gave me a bit of an anticipatory headache, but the printing skated over my patch without even a jolt. At about half a metre long, the cords fused and braided together into a club at one end, and the replicator chimed and waited for me to quit the manual override.
I’d been thinking it was some kind of fancy dust mop, but it was the handle that twigged me to what it was. The silkiness made more sense now. Flogging’s not my thing, but I’ve got to say, that attention to detail got me a little hot. Someone was going to have an enjoyable night.
I turned control back over to the machine, which shunted the flogger away to one of the lockers in the hallway for pick-up, and put my toolbox back into my pocket. There was a sound from the doorway. I turned around, and it was my friend the banana aficionado from the other week, staring horrified at the junk all over the floor.
“Don’t worry, it’s not alive,” I said.
“I…think that may have been part of my order.” They bent and picked up a handful of cord, looking at it intently and rubbing it with their thumb. “What’s the ETA on it being up and running?”
“I got the machine going again and did a patch on your code, so your order was fulfilled. But you can order again if you don’t like how it turned out.”
They hesitated. “Thank you. I’m sure it will be fine.” That came out a little stiffly. “I don’t have the time to go over the code again before tonight.”
They were the designer? Colour me a little more intrigued. “You get a lot of last-minute requests?” I asked.
“It’s the nature of the business.” They shook their head. “I’m sorry about the mess. Let me help you clean it up.”
It would have been a worse job alone, but with four hands and a little foot action we managed to roll all the connected ropes up and shove them down the recycling hatch.
“Thanks.” I stuck out my hand. “I’m Vi, by the way.”
“Kaet.” We shook.
“You use this machine often?”
“Regularly, yes, though if I need furniture I go to the larger one over by Saffron Sector. I work around the corner, and I tend to need things on short notice. In fact, I should be going. Thank you for seeing that my order was finished; I do appreciate it.”
What was around the corner? I wondered, as they retreated to the hallway and manoeuvered a float pallet up to one of the lockers. This neighbourhood has a lot of the types of places where secrecy is its own allure; if you need a sign, you’re not their audience. What type of place needed bananas, floggers, and–was that a gold-framed mirror Kaet was drifting onto the pallet?
My tastes are simple; give me a mug of cider and a feed of the latest zero-g dance-off and I’m a happy guy. But I couldn’t help but ponder what someone might need with a large stuffed rabbit and a string of lights shaped like roses, not to mention enough new furniture that a trip over to Saffron was a regular occurrence.
The third time the replicator went, I was starting to get ticked off.
This time I couldn’t even guess what the stuff was supposed to be. Tubs of … something, a translucent green that might glow in the dark and possibly move on its own if you took your eye off it. It looked like it had solidified too fast, and it had done a real job on the print heads. It was almost as bad as that time some waste of biomass tried to replicate quick-drying glue.
The clean-out cycle kept shutting down, and I was wondering whether I was going to have to open the machine up and scrape the crap out manually when I heard a familiar voice say, “Oh, no, not tonight.”
I fished in my pocket for a glove. “Is it toxic?”
“I shouldn’t be.”
I grabbed a handful of the stuff from the jar. It jiggled in a way that made me a little queasy, and when I closed my fist it squelched through my fingers, almost-liquid, not-quite-solid. I was glad I didn’t have to get it on my skin. “What’s it supposed to be?”
“It’s called gel oh.”
I stuck my hand into the recycling hatch and peeled the glove off, letting it and everything smeared on it drop out of sight. “Gel oh? What’s that when it’s at home?”
“It was a twentieth-century delicacy.”
I felt my nose wrinkle. “Someone voluntarily put that in their mouth?”
Kaet shrugged. “One of our regulars has an interest in historical foodstuffs. Not necessarily to eat.”
I pulled up the code and scrolled through it. “You know, this wouldn’t keep happening if you’d quit it with the baroque shit and just work within standard parameters.”
“Standard parameters don’t give me what I want.”
“They sure do get you a mess, though, don’t they?” Fine, I was being a little pissy, but Kaet wasn’t the one who was going to have to scrub green slime out of a replicator printer head by hand like some pre-space chimney sweep.
“You only see the failures. You don’t get to see the things that turn out.”
“At least run a test batch before you order–twelve tubs? I’m surprised you got as far as number three.”
“I did run a test–” They broke off. When I turned, they were pinching the bridge of their nose. They took a measured breath and let it out again.
“All right,” they muttered. They dropped their hand and looked at me. “Please cancel the order,” they said, a bit starchily. “I apologize for the mess, and for any inconvenience this has caused you. Now excuse me; I have a party to replan in the next two hours.”
The truth is, now I was regretting being so sharp. Repairing things for a living puts you in the habit of using strong language, and sometimes on a job it sloshes over onto the people in the immediate area. “Now, wait, this might be fixable. Does it have to be to be this texture?”
Kaet stepped up to the window and nudged the tub, then took hold of the rim and shook it more firmly. The gel oh wobbled like a minor earthquake had gone through it. “It could be a little…squishier.”
“I can work with that.” I poked at the consistency specs. Kaet had, again, done some interesting off-roading to get that particular texture, and I wished I had the time to pick the code apart and see how they’d gotten that translucent glow. “When do you need it by?”
They glanced at their screen. “I’ve got a couple of hours, but no more. I need to have the room set up by the time the guests arrive.”
“Leave it to me.”
I watched them have that busy-person I’ll just bend time and space struggle and give in. “I would be very grateful. If you let me know when it’s ready, I’ll have someone come pick it up.” They reached into one of the many pockets in their trousers and handed me a card, black lettering on red silk: The Velvet Rose – intimate shows – private parties – dreams come true. “Thank you. Now I really must get back.”
It took me longer than I liked to clean the printer heads and get the machine on its feet again. By the time I had the twelve tubs ready, it was almost gone two hours. I took the card out of my pocket and looked at the address. It really wasn’t far. It would take me no more time to call a float pallet and deliver the order than it would for Kaet to send someone over.
Fine, I was curious. Dreams come true is a heck of a pitch, and anyway, I really wanted to see what Kaet was going to do with enough historical delicacy to fill a bathtub.
The building was clad in what looked like black-painted brick, with a little single-thorned rose on a carved placard beside its arched double doors. I followed the wall of the building until I got to the alleyway leading to the service entrance, which was better lit and used actual words on its sign.
I tapped the buzzer. It was answered by Kaet themself. Their eyes widened, and they held the door open as I steered the float pallet in.
“Oh, you deserve a medal. The room’s just through here.” They led the way down the hallway, which was made of the cheapest kind of prefab panels, and into a wood-lined corridor with petal-shaped glass sconces on the walls and a plush carpet cushioning the floor. We passed several doors, and then Kaet opened one that had Pavese party in fancy writing in a brass slot on the front.
We walked into another century: flowered wallpaper, a fire set in a marble grate, overstuffed sofas, and a four-poster bed about large enough to park a ship-to-station shuttle in. Everything was polished wood and maroon upholstery. In front of the fire was a claw-footed bathtub.
“In it goes,” Kaet said, and grabbed a container of green goo.
“It’s an actual bathtub?” I’d thought my estimate had been metaphorical.
“It’s not the strangest thing I’ve ever filled a bathtub with.” The gel splurted out of its container and oozed flat to cover the bottom of the bathtub. Kaet scooped up a handful. “This texture is wonderful. You’ll have to show me what you did.”
The supply filled the bathtub a bit more than halfway, leaving enough room for, say, one or two adult-sized people to join it without anything plopping over the sides. We stacked the empty containers on the pallet. Kaet went to the corner and opened a door that had been camouflaged by the wallpaper. Behind it was a modern bathroom.
“Did you print out everything here?” I asked as they washed green jelly off their hands. It might have been a luxury hotel room that some high-roller had just stepped out of: silver-backed hairbrushes on the dresser, a quilted dressing gown hung on the back of the door.
“Most of it. A lot is from standard templates, because I don’t have the time to customize everything. My personal interest is in textiles. The bed hangings are mine, and I have to say, I’m quite pleased with how they came out.” They were woven in some kind of vining roses pattern, one side the mirror image of the other in scarlet and dark green. There were a lot of roses around the place, I gathered.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to work. Do you want me to leave the containers?” I didn’t envy whoever was going to have the job of scooping the mess out of the bathtub later.
Kaet took their screen from a pocket of their pants and checked it. “Actually, I’ve got some time before the guests start arriving. Management always aims to have an hour for everyone to grab something to eat and maybe a shower, so we’re fresher for the emergencies that happen during showtime. I was just about to order dinner. Would you be interested in joining me, as a thanks for your help?”
I’d been off the clock since I left the replicator, and the only thing waiting for me back at my single cabin that night was the latest episodes of a couple of serials. Maybe the offer was one hundred percent platonic, but I did wonder whether it wasn’t. Then I figured I liked them either way, so I just said yes.
Kaet had a cozy little office with a desk wedged at the end and a couch taking up most of the rest of the space, the kind of place someone might end up in overnight because it had been an endless day and they couldn’t face having to make it home before crashing. They excused themself for a fast shower while I settled in and checked that some other replicator hadn’t started spitting out plastic confetti just to spite me. They were back in record time, their hair combed smooth and their barrettes in a tidy row. They had changed into a newer pair of black pants–still with a sensible number of pockets–and a black shirt with a red rose embroidered on the yoke. We ate salad rolls and mi caluk, Kaet folded into one angle of the couch and me taking up the other end, and talked about how we’d gotten into what we were doing for a living, and what we did for fun when we weren’t doing that. It made me wish that we weren’t sitting in an office in our uniforms, in this little overlap of the end of my day and their middle of theirs. I’d have liked to hear how they talked about their work when they didn’t keep having to check the time.
We stacked the containers to take to the recycling hatch. Kaet went to their desk and took something small out of the top drawer.
“This will give you access to everything that isn’t a private party,” they said, and handed me a little pin–guess what? a rose–for my lapel. “You’re welcome to stay for part or all of the evening, though I’ll no doubt be running around. There’s a schedule posted by the front door. Right now I need to do a last check of the rooms before people start arriving.”
I pinned the rose on my shirt. “Do you mind if I tag along?”
“Not at all, though we may not have time to linger.”
This time as we walked around the place was livelier. We passed a couple of people in uniforms like Kaet’s, carrying a large wedding cake on a tray; there was a woman in a rabbit mask, wearing hoop skirts wide enough to sweep the walls, and a man in nothing but heels, stockings, and a top hat and tails. Backstage seemed to cover a lot of ground, not so much one place but a warren of corridors surrounding what Kaet called the guest rooms. Each room had a concealed door, which made sense; no one wanted to see the help bringing props through the fancy gallery.
The first room was a pre-replicator mechanic’s workshop, all polished tools and leather and gears scattered around, and the second was an antique schoolroom, with a real chalkboard and a clock with hands and a teacher’s desk wide enough for two people to lie down on. I guess that was the point; it was getting pretty clear to me by this time just what kind of dreams Kaet was helping make come true. There was a shiny red apple on the naked surface of the desk; Kaet inspected it and put it back down. These were permanent rooms, they said, customizable but standard. I guess there’s a stable of fantasies that live in a lot of people’s heads.
Then we went through a stone dungeon, filled with some dramatically scary-looking racks and chains, and a wide variety of things you could whack someone with hanging from iron hooks on the walls. I recognized the black silk flogger.
“The guest was pleased,” Kaet said, “though they said the tails could have been longer, and the scales I designed into the silk didn’t print out at all. I’m going to take another stab at that one, when I have the time.”
We walked through a place with tatami mats on the floor and galaxies wheeling on all four walls and the ceiling; it made me feel a little green around the gills, but to each their own. There was a garden scene that was more to my taste, a thick lawn shaded by a bower of vines. Kaet spent some time tweaking the morning glories so they could be seen from the ground. I wondered which room was their particular favourite. Or did working here just make it all seem dull?
There were some larger rooms too, set up with raised ranks of chairs looking down on a stage. One had bits and bobs of furniture set around a undecorated space. The other was medical, with a lot of white and gleaming silver under bright lights.
It was the thoroughness and care that were getting under my skin. Things could have looked fake or symbolic, and sure, there were places where maybe it was best not to get too close to the stone walls or push a curtain aside to look out the window. But the things that people were going to touch, touch each other with, lie down on or bend over–they were solid. I picked up a brass letter opener that had a delicate heft to it–that’s a challenge sometimes, getting weight and balance right when you’re only going by pictures and code. And the textiles–my stars, the textiles. Silk sheets and satin bathrobes and buckled leather straps and towels you could sink into. Kaet was a genius.
“Do you design all the rooms, too?” I asked in a purple and magenta tent, running my fingertips over a quilt made of squares of sari fabric in all different patterns. I don’t know how they did it.
“Me? Oh, no, I’m the props coordinator and lead manufacturer, though Rafiqa–she’s the head set designer–does bring me in on fabrics. We all have our specialties. Jian’s a genius with plants–”
The lights dimmed for a full second and came back up again. A trill like a row of birds singing a scale came from speakers hidden by the swag above our heads.
“That’s the five-minute cue.” Kaet twitched a saffron throw pillow a centimeter over from where it had been, and frowned. They said under their breath, “It’s fine, it’s fine,” and motioned towards the door. “This is one of the private parties, which means the light in the sconce beside the door will be red. Any room where the light’s yellow, you’re welcome to go in and watch, and if it’s green, you may participate if you like. Now I really do have to go. And thank you again for your help. It made a difference.”
There was a certain amount of last-minute running around in the corridors outside, someone in the same blacks as Kaet with a bowl of those little one-use squeeze tubes of lube heading for the front door and someone else saying what I could tell were curse words in a language I didn’t recognize as they limped out of a room on one broken high-heeled sandal. A woman in a black corset and lace skirt gave my rose pin the eye, nodded, and slipped into the room with the tent.
I followed the sound of people to the front door. There was a wide vestibule there, and reception rooms behind a row of arches on either side. Someone was serving drinks in one, and there were a lot of long chaises and love seats and some deep chairs with high sides. There were also signs about how this was a casual space, and could people please take their intimate encounters to the rooms designated for that. I got the feeling that maybe some people needed to screw their courage up before they went deeper into the place.
I asked the bartender for something non-intoxicating, and got a curvy glass of clear red juice with mint leaves and a candied strawberry and I don’t know what else as a garnish. I could have drunk those all night. I sat down and watched the guests come in and mill around. Most people seemed to go either fancy or mostly naked, but there were animal suits and at least one full-body screen suit running a picture of flowing water, and a couple of pretty intriguing uses of leather straps that covered more than you’d imagine. I was ready to feel underdressed, still being in my work clothes, but people were playing dress-up in all kinds of ways, and I got the once-over from a couple of people as I sat there.
After a while the early crowd thinned out, and I went to take a look at the program that was written by the door. The schoolmistress was looking for pupils, and the dungeon was open for people who knew they’d been very, very bad. Young Miss Edison was lonely, all by herself in her London mansion with no one to keep her warm. The doctor could see you now, and in the second theatre, X and Y would be performing for your pleasure.
I guess it was because I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but that was the one that interested me the most. I did poke my head into a few rooms on the way. Some were smaller than the ones Kaet had shown me, with just a bed or maybe a couch, and nobody in them. Others were fully decorated and getting lively. Miss Edison wasn’t lonely anymore, and I found an army bunkhouse full of muscular folks bonding with each other in pretty non-military ways. I’ve never been an exhibitionist kind of guy, and it was hard to tell where the entertainment ended and the audience began, if that even mattered, so after a bit of gawking I took myself over to theatre two.
The stage was still set with only a wing chair and a chaise. I found a spot near the centre. The seats were half-full, most people in pairs or groups. A couple of ladies in candy-coloured tutus were necking in the back row. I pulled out my screen and caught up on the latest issue of a visual novel until the lights went down.
A spotlight came up on each seat on the stage. Someone was perched on the edge of the wing chair, and another was lounging in the chaise. X and Y, I guessed. They were wearing old-fashioned school uniforms, but with everything all white, down to their lace-up shoes. The person in the wing chair had a jacket-and-trousers one. Their hair was straight and black and ended in a cut at their shoulders so sharp it looked solid. They had one bright pink streak in it, from the crown of their head down the left side. The person on the chaise had on a skirt uniform, with the skirt just long enough to cover their never-you-mind as they lay there with one leg bent up a little. Their hair was long and dark and curly, with the same pink line on their right side. Neither of them was wearing any kind of colours that I could see, which made it a little confusing and, I’m being honest here, also made it kind of hot.
I hadn’t noticed music starting, but it was playing, something without words and a real slow tune. X and Y looked at each other and smiled. I knew they were performers, but it felt real, like they knew and liked each other and were going to have fun up on this stage in front of us all.
The person with the trousers–I’ll call them X, because they never did say who was who–stood up and ran their hand down their front, from their throat to their hips. Y grinned and did the same, flat-palmed all the way down to bare thigh.
X began to unbutton their high-necked jacket. They didn’t make a show of it, but they didn’t hurry it either. Underneath they had a plain white shirt–more buttons–and when that came off, they were wearing a striped bra, pale like a rainbow behind a cloud, over a pair of small and very nice tits.
Y sat up as if they liked what they saw. X put one hand on their breast and the other over their crotch, and circled both around like an invitation. Someone a few seats down from me went Mmmm, and yeah, seconded.
Y stood up. They were a little taller than X, a little skinnier from what I could see under the uniform. They ran a tongue over their bottom lip. X smiled, and pointed at the floor.
The way Y went down on their knees made a spark go through me like an engine catching, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. They hooked one finger over the waistband of X’s trousers and pulled them one step closer. X resisted a little and then cooperated, tugging once on Y’s hair and then letting them go.
Y unbuttoned X’s trousers and pushed them down. X was wearing a pair of colourful boxer briefs to match their bra, and they were glad to see Y, that was for sure.
Y pressed their lips against the front of X’s briefs, then peeled them back to let what X had in there pop out to give us all an eyeful. It was something like a cock, and something like a flower, the same colour as the stripe in their hair but with scarlet-trimmed petals all the way down like it was a bud about to bloom. It was gorgeous work. Body augments can be a trick to design–you’re trying to perfectly match the way someone thinks of themself in their head–but I guessed X was content with it, because when Y licked up the front of it X tilted their head back like every nerve was live and thrumming.
Y slid their mouth down over that flower cock slowly, and when they pulled off it, the petal edges gleamed wet and metallic under the lights. Y stuck out their tongue and touched it to X’s cock again–rosy tip to rosy tip–and waited.
X reached down to cradle Y’s head with both hands, like they were holding something precious, and pushed that pink flower back into Y’s mouth. They pulled out again, slow as breathing, and rested it on Y’s tongue for a moment. In again, out. They began to speed up, but gracefully, like they were dancing as much as fucking. Y’s hands came up from their sides like dark flowers waving in a breeze, and with every thrust X’s back bowed back a little more, movement leading with their cock as they came up on their toes and rolled back onto their heels. They moved together like waves on a shore, like one thing instead of two, a rhythm that rolled faster and faster until the music that I hadn’t even noticed I was listening to cut out and they froze, X high on their toes and Y balanced on their knees with their arms out and open like they were going to take flight.
Then they both softened and leaned towards one another, lowering their arms, coming down off their toes, and everybody in the audience let out one long breath like we’d been holding it. I realized I was a little worked up, and I suddenly understood why there were those simple little rooms with nothing showy going on in them. If I’d been there with a friend I might have tried to slip out right then.
But the music was starting again, a plain slow beat. Y was standing now, sliding their tie around their collar and off, followed by their short-sleeved shirt. X had lost the rest of their clothes and was standing there in nothing but bra and boxer briefs with their petalled cock still out and ready, and so help me stars did I wish I had a picture of them to take home with me.
Y was wearing a singlet under their shirt, another soft rainbow, cut to scoop low under the nipples on their flat chest. X leaned forward and licked, and Y looked up at the lights with their eyes closed. Their hands went around to squeeze X’s ass. They flexed with the beat of the music, which had more notes along with it now. X’s hips moved in the same rhythm, and then both of them started walking, step by step, still all over each other, to the chair.
X’s back was to the chair, and then they were facing it, bending over it. Their ass was something else, and they swayed it to the music. Y looked down fondly at them, and flipped up their own skirt.
Their stockings were thigh-highs showing off a strip of dark brown skin above the white lace at the top, which was nice. Also nice were the itty bitty panties they were wearing, which they kind of just pushed aside, and there was their own cock, clearly enjoying itself.
X pushed back against them. Y smoothed their hands down X’s hips, and the briefs went with them, stopping above their knees. Y circled their palms on X’s butt. X arched their back. Y took hold of themself and spread their hand over the small of X’s back, and then pushed their cock into X, as slowly as X had pushed their flower into Y’s mouth.
They moved like waves again as they fucked, like breakers crashing the way I’d seen in vids. X didn’t just take it, they took it, pressing back against Y and meeting their thrusts. Y grabbed their hips and hung on, then leaned forward to support themself on the arm of the chair, then leaned over still more, until they covered X like the audience wasn’t even there any more. X’s hand slid under themself, between their legs. Their eyes were closed and they were biting their lower lip.
The music cut out like before, but this time X and Y kept moving. I could hear them, hear the slap of skin, hear Y grunting every time they thrust. It was like they weren’t performing any more, they were just two half-naked people getting fucked the way they wanted, and that right there was the hottest thing I’d seen the whole evening long.
Y rose up a little, losing their rhythm, and they cried out sharply and pushed deep into X and shook as they came. X was thrusting against their own hand. Y reached down and ran their pink-painted nails up X’s thigh, leaving lines of white against X’s skin–the same light tan as Kaet’s–and X made a sound like they were lifting something heavy and came too, free hand smacking the seat of the chair.
They breathed together for a little. Y rubbed X’s shoulder blades. X said something I couldn’t hear, and laughed, pushing their hair out of their eyes. Y pulled out of them, and they straightened up. Two people dressed in black came in from the sides of the stage and slipped white robes over their shoulders. X and Y pushed their arms into their sleeves and pulled the edges around themselves and turned to the audience.
Someone in the front started applauding first, and then it was like we were all set free, clapping and whistling and cheering. Y took X’s hand, and they smiled at each other and bowed deeply. The applause got even louder, and they curtseyed, and bowed again, and waved. Then they walked off the stage and behind the wall at the back, and the house lights came up. No encore to that, and I didn’t blame them.
I was thirsty, and I felt both sleepy and buzzed. And turned on, I felt turned on too. More than I’d been in a while. When you’re not with someone, sometimes sex, kind of like cooking for yourself, falls by the wayside, and I was well past the age when I thought of it every time I turned around. I probably could have found someone in the place to take me into one of those little rooms and give me what for–I probably could have found someone in that audience, even–but even as a young gal that kind of thing wasn’t my cup of tea. I like to have a few chats with someone first, see if we like the same serials and jokes, get to know what they think of things. And I wasn’t quite far enough gone that I couldn’t wait until I got home to take care of myself. So I headed back to the lounge to get another drink.
I was nearly there when Kaet put out a hand and grabbed me. Their mouth was twitching and their eyes were bright. They pulled me through one of the doors that led backstage, until we were standing in another of those prefab hallways, with a light above us that needed fixing and a roll of tape on the floor that someone had dropped and forgotten to pick up again.
When the door was closed, they put their hand on my shoulder and started to laugh. Loud, like they couldn’t have held it in for much longer, and beautiful, like someone running down a scale of bells. It made me want to laugh too, and I did, a little, just watching them enjoy themself.
They stopped and wiped their eyes, still grinning. “So what’s that about?” I asked.
Kaet gasped another little laugh. “The gel oh set. It set while the guest was in it.”
“Oh, no–shit, I’m sorry–” I must have screwed up the damn texture setting. This was what you got when you played fast and loose with specs at the last minute. I’m all for art, but my line of work is in giving people what they’re expecting.
“Don’t be. The guest was absolutely thrilled. He said he wouldn’t have imagined to ask, but it was perfectly satisfying, and he’ll probably want to do it again.” They shook their head, looking at me with a little smile. “You are a marvel.”
I felt myself go red. “Nah, just doing my job. I’m glad it worked out.”
Their eyes flickered to my colours. “Would you–like to get something to eat sometime? Outside of work-related crises?”
So that answered my question about dinner. My chest got a bubbly feeling that made me realize I knew how I wanted to answer, and I felt myself smile back. “Yeah,” I said, “I would. As long as we don’t use that one replicator.”
“Food-grade and standard recipes all the way.”
Someone banged through another door down the hallway, and Kaet shook their head like they were clearing it. “Do you have a card?” I gave them one, and they tucked it into their pocket. “I have to get back to work.”
“I think I’ll be heading home,” I said. I had work the next day, and I guessed the Velvet Rose was going to be open long past my bedtime.
“Thank you again.”
“My pleasure,” I said, and we kind of stood looking at each other until someone called their name and they had to hurry away.
On my way out I saw someone with a tall glass of acid-green drink decorated with a cut-watermelon rose on a skewer. It made me think of the guy in his bathtub of jelly, who’d gotten the exact thing he hadn’t known he wanted. It gave me a warm and hopeful kind of feeling, and then it made me laugh all the way home.