by Hyakunichisou 13 (百日草 十三)
Look, it’s not even remotely all my fault. There’s more than enough fubar to go around on this one. And let’s be honest, the universe enjoys fucking with us, and some days, it comes in for seconds while you’re still catching your breath and wondering where your skivvies landed. And no, I didn’t see it coming. Precog doesn’t work like that.
My worst error–and I am willing to own this–is stepping foot on Crusie’s boat. But we go back a ways, and she swears she’s in Amaldo’s pocket, and Amaldo swears she’s in his pocket, and she’s square with Intake and all that funny business is behind her.
Turns out, not so much.
At least I have the luck to jump off as soon as we dock, to stretch my legs and grab a snack while she deals with Intake. Docking bays are where shitty replicators go to die, so I walk up the corridor towards BioCustoms and get a cup of rooibos made by real human hands. By the time I get back, Security’s rolled up, and I get to watch from a bench fifty metres away while they rip little bags of contraband cocoa beans out from the ship’s upholstery. Crusie’s putting on a show, but the woman in the Intake uniform has her by her short and curlies, and they both know it.
There’s stuff in the ship that I planned on using, but it’s all Intake’s now, so right off I’m behind the eight ball. Because I’m not green as the hills of Eire, I do have my small bag with me, with my screen and my favourite sweater, and an ident card with a name nobody else knows about in an interior pocket inside the wrapper of a half-eaten protein bar. So I finish my drink, check the clock array on the wall like I’ve got someplace to be, and shuffle out through the BioCustoms line.
Achernar Station’s got a pro row, but it’s a bit of a hike, so I keep to the main tourist drag for now. I have a handful of hard credits in my bag–good basic practice–and I buy a bowl of congee with chicken-flavoured sprinkles on top and lean on one of the standing counters to think while I eat.
It’s no fun having your chain rattled right at the top of a job, and I’m feeling a little off my game. The crowd’s a good two-thirds Gala, and that always takes me a bit of time to get used to. I’m lagged, too, ready to hit the hay when it’s only mid-afternoon, station time. So I use my new ident to rent myself a coffin, and have a nap.
I wake up hours later feeling not exactly shiny and new, but solid enough. I wash and brush, and decide I might as well go to work.
It’s easy enough to find the stroll. The Gala put it on their station maps.
It’s getting on into the evening, station time, and there’s a lot going on. I find a spot and let the crowd go by for a while, getting the feel of it. All those Gala, buying and selling, make little human me a tad exotic, which is why I’m here. That makes a lot of them look right past me, though there’s a subset that looks harder at me because of it. But I’m looking for a particular Gala, and I shake them off.
I’m there for a couple of hours. I move around a bit, sit under the ivy bowers and their twinkling red lights, watch a few working professionals get scolded by Station Civility for PDAs and directed into capsules where they can do their business without bringing down the tenor of the stroll. Then I see him. He’s presenting male, which is nice for me. He’s tall, light blue skin, dark blue hair, with that Roman nose some of the Gala have that makes you think the universe is just a big joke on us all.
I reel him in smooth as can be. There’s a reason I’m in this pay grade.
We both know some basic Trade Sign, so the negotiations are easy. He makes me a little prickly, I admit, and I should have listened to that, found another way, but I take pride in my work and I can get kind of focused on the finish line.
He pays me half up front, and we walk down the row of capsules until we find one empty. It’s nothing special: twin bed; enough room to stand, or kneel as the case may be, beside it; tiny sink and fold-out toilet. Galaxy-standard hose-down-ability. The door zips closed behind us, and he bangs the side of his hand against the button that lights up the purple globe outside that means Don’t come a-knockin’.
He doesn’t give me much time to warm up. Soon he’s got me against the wall, hoisting me up and holding me there with his hips so I have to wrap my legs around him to keep steady. His hands are clawing under my shirt. He’s already dry humping, and it’s hurting my back.
I try to focus on what’s coming up for him, but I’m getting nothing, not even useless crap like what he’s going to have for dinner or what he’s going to wear tomorrow. Well, if my precog was reliable, my career path would be a little different.
And then he pinches me. Not a little pay-attention pinch, a bruise-the-next-day fingerful above my hipbone, and I did not sign off on that shit.
“Hey!” I say sharply, and push against his shoulder. “Not on the menu!”
He leans back enough to let me see him grin, and then he grabs both my wrists in one of his hands. I’m small for a human, and he’s big for a Gala, and he pins my hands up above my head where I can’t get any leverage.
He pinches me again, right under the arm, and tears prick my eyes. I pull my head back and butt him in the jaw.
He belts me one. My cheek detonates with pain, and the radius of it is so huge that when I hit the floor I barely notice, until the shock of it fades and my vision clears and I realize nobody’s holding me in place any more. In fact my guy’s on the floor, and he’s not moving. Standing over him is another Gala.
I’m not naive enough to think he’s in here because he spied a working boy in danger. I figure he has his own thing going on, and maybe thought my guy would make an easier target with his pants around his ankles. I blink up at him and say, “Who the fuck are you?”
He raises an eyebrow, smiles blandly, and holds out his hand. I shake my head and use the wall to push myself up to standing.
The new guy says something out the open door in Galan. Another Gala comes into the room and takes up all the rest of the space on offer. This one’s presenting maybe intermediate, maybe neuter, it’s hard for me to tell. Almost as high as the ceiling, and a good hundred kilos solid. Light green skin and hair. No scars, tattoos, or piercings that I can see. Face like the side of a tanker. Maybe I could identify them if I saw them again, but probably not.
They bend down with arms open like they’re going to cradle my guy and carry him away to bed.
“Now wait just a fucking minute,” I say, and make for my guy’s pockets.
The new guy’s hand swoops down and redirects mine. He doesn’t hurt me, I’m just back where I started before I even understand how he did it. It’s a nice trick.
“That guy owes me money,” I insist. I rub my fingers together theatrically. “Money.”
The new guy rubs his fingers back at me, nods, and squats down. He goes through the jacket and pants of the guy on the floor, and hands the contents over to his muscle: screen, ident card, a couple of data slices, while I watch and can’t do a fucking thing about it.
Then he stands and holds out something to me. It’s a little woven bag, gold and red, the kind Gala use to hold that ridiculous silver confetti they use for cold hard cash. I can tell from the sift and heft that there’s not a small amount in there. A lot more than anybody’s ever paid me for a fuck, that’s for certain.
He lets me pocket it without even a regretful glance. Not too many people pass up an opportunity to swipe that kind of untraceable bonus. He doesn’t feel military, and he’s not a cop, not with that suit. He looks like he’s pretending to be a businessman. He’s shorter than the first guy, darker, conservatively cut hair the same shade as his skin but going whatever salt-and-pepper is when it’s blue. He’s a little soft around the middle, but that hand trick made clear he’s tough underneath. His expression says that everything amuses him now, but he won’t have any trouble shutting it all down if he needs to. I don’t know what he is.
He signals to his tank, and they scoop up the Gala’s limp body and disappear with it. I know he’s not dead–the Gala aren’t casual killers, and this isn’t an adventure serial–but I’m relieved to see that there’s no blood on the floor.
It’s been an exciting day, and what I want most is to settle down with a cup of genmai cha and maybe an ice pack for my face. But my contact and every scrap of information I could have got out of him just got carried out that door, and this mystery man here is the only lead I’ve got, and maybe I can salvage something out of this after all.
“You know, this means I’ve got a slot open, so to speak,” I say, and my arm brushes his sleeve as I reach past him and trigger the panel that closes the door.
He raises both eyebrows this time.
I lift the bag and make it jingle. Then I use a few well-chosen bits of Trade Sign to let him know that white knight trumps bad date any day of the week, and if he’s going to be handing me pretty bags of money, there might be something sweet in the deal for him too.
He purses his lips. I let my eyes focus on his mouth.
He puts two fingertips against my breastbone and slowly pushes me back against the wall. He uses a different wall from the one I’ve already made an acquaintance with. I appreciate that.
He leans in for a kiss, just one, dry and gentle. He contemplates me for a moment, and then runs one of those fingertips down the side of my neck. It makes a shiver go through me, which is a complete surprise. He smiles just with the corners of his mouth, and lays his hand against the front of my pants for just a moment, just enough that I can feel it, and takes it away again.
He goes on like that. A thumb in the crook of my elbow, lips on my ear. He unfastens my shirt, one button at a time, and circles a nipple with the pad of one finger. He trails the back of his fingernail along my collarbone, not to scratch, just giving me a contrast to the warmth of his skin. He puts his hand against my pants again, strokes, pulls away.
I lean in and put my hands on his hips. His trousers fall nicely, and he doesn’t seem to have anything in the pockets. He lifts my touch away. A few minutes later I get one hand under his jacket, but there’s no weight or edge in any of those pockets either. Beats me where he keeps his ident or his screen.
His hands circle both my wrists. He looks at me sternly, and then steps back and lets me go with a crisp flourish. I get the message: no more touching, or we’re done.
That’s fine; giving in now just means more chances later. I put my hands flat against the wall, and he nods with approval and leans in to lick my shoulder. His thigh presses briefly against my hard-on before he pulls away again. I was beginning to wonder whether I’d misread him, whether he’s actually presenting intermediate or maybe transitioning and doesn’t want to freak the human out, but that brief bit of pressure gives me the intel I need: He’s definitely presenting male, and he’s enjoying himself.
He smooths my shirt off my arms and drops it on the floor. He taps my left leg until I raise my knee, and he pulls my boot off and pushes my sock after it. He works his fingers up past the hem of my trouser leg and strokes the back of my knee, and my cock twitches. He runs his fingers down the fly of my pants, and I tilt my head back against the wall and hiss at the ceiling.
I know the game he’s playing. It’s a fun time. By the time I’m naked, I’m shaking. He stops touching my cock once there’s nothing between me and his hands, and I’m so hard I could pass a space-grade test.
He looks me up and down, and smiles. His hands fall to his own trousers, and he does for himself what he’s been doing for me, a slow stroke up the hardness outlined behind his fly, and then he opens his pants so I can see what he’s got, and sits down on the bed. He looks up at me and blinks lazily, then looks down in front of him, and my knees hit the floor so fast I imagine I can hear the sonic boom behind me.
Even now he doesn’t let me use my hands. He’s considerate about it, though, and lets me set the pace almost until the end. As I suck him he rests his hand on my cheek, fingers light along my jaw under the hot spot of the bruise, his other hand occasionally lifting from his own thigh to stroke through my hair. After a while, he warns me in Galan and taps the top of my head. When he comes, he chuckles, like this is the most wonderful joke ever. I suck him all through it, more gently as he softens in my mouth. When I finally let him go I take half a second to lean over and spit in the sink, and then I’m right back between his legs again. He looks down at me, heavy-lidded, and I think I might come without him even touching me, but it’s his place to say what’s going to happen next. He licks his lips and leans down and wraps his strong hand around my cock. His leg shifts, and the cloth of his trousers brushes against my bare arm. It makes me think of how we are, him on the bed in his suit, me naked on my knees, and that is it, and let me tell you that space station fucking moves for me.
I’m still in the afterglow when I feel him stand. It takes me a few seconds to focus. He’s all fastened up again and he’s got his screen out from wherever he hides it, thumbing it like a businessman checking what shitstorm’s brewed up since he left the office.
I try to give my precog a nudge. All I get is he’s going to have four hours of sleep tonight and then he’s going to get a message that is not going to make him happy.
He must feel me looking at him. He eyes me over the top of his screen and gives me a little bow that feels like a compliment, and then he’s out the door.
By the time I drag my pants on so Station Civility doesn’t haul me away for a community service penalty and stagger to the door, he’s long gone.
The next couple of days are pretty much wall-to-wall fail. I’ve got nothing on him, so all I can do it wander around and see if lighting strikes. I go back to the stroll a couple of times, but he’s not there. I spot him once in one of the more no-nonsense commercial districts. He’s walking with a Gala who’s presenting female, no one I’ve ever seen before, and I tail him until he splits off from her and goes down a side corridor into one of those warrens of labs and custom spare parts printers and sketchy short-term loan brokers, and I lose him. I get a few snaps of the back of his head, but if I fed those into a recog grinder it’d come back with half the Gala on the station, so I don’t even bother.
I find him again in the gardens a few days later. It’s not a hard place to tail someone, lots of hanging vines and pillars and tourists shuffling at the speed of paint drying. He’s talking to a human selling frozen fruit on sticks.
I don’t know why it happens now or hits me this hard, except that I’ve been thinking about him all day and most of the night for about three days straight. Or maybe it’s the universe bending me over again. It comes in a pulse-hijacking rush: brightness like a cherry bomb in my face, pressure slamming me–him–against something hard, pain and numbness together. I know I yell; I’m pretty sure I clap my hands around my head like I’m in some B-grade drama. I can’t see right, and I’m staggering like I just took a shot of Galan vodka without the antidote, but I fling my hand out and point in the direction he was standing.
“Hey! You! You, talking to the fruit lady!”
All the blurred ovals around me, blue and brown and green and pink, swivel away from me in the direction I’m pointing.
I blink away the dazzle, and I can see him looking at me. He’s not pleased to be the centre of attention.
I lurch towards him. Someone behind him–different Gala, but same size as the previous muscle–steps out in front. My guy spreads his hands and says something to the crowd, and people start to turn away.
I practically trip into the muscle. “They’re going to try to kill him!”
The muscle holds me up by the elbows, not gently, as my Gala frowns down at me.
“Not me. Them. I don’t know who. They’re going to kill you.” I reach for him and grab his lapels. “A bomb and–what kind of morons set off a bomb on a space station?–there are Gala, they have–I think they have knives–something about–is that a well? Why the fuck is my stupid brain showing me a well? I’m sorry, my precog sucks, look, do you understand, they’re going to try to kill you, kill, do you get it?”
I don’t think he understands much Terran, but he must have learned some technical terms relevant to his interests, because he puts his hands over mine. “Kill?” he repeats.
I’m worried that I’m about to have to blow my cover, but the fruit lady helpfully leans forward and translates. His expression gets grimmer.
“Don’t let them,” I say, and it comes out shakier than I mean it to. The fruit lady repeats it in Galan. He puts a large hand on my shoulder and pats me once. I guess it’s supposed to be reassuring.
By this time, Security and Civility have both closed in on us. There’s fuss in two languages, including lots of input from a couple of excited bystanders. My Gala and his muscle manage to get loose pretty much right away. I don’t hear what he says to them, or I would have said it too. I’m there for another twenty minutes.
The next day I blow off work and watch serials all day, because really, I know less than I did when I started and I think maybe the best thing to do for now is to stay out of the way. I check the news feeds every five minutes, and the public version of the Security/Civility active incidents log, but there’s nothing that catches my eye. I swing by the gardens, but of course he’s not there. In the evening I head for the stroll, mostly because I’m comfortable there. I get a drink and settle in under the ivy with the rest of the rubberneckers.
He sees me before I see him, because by the time I spot him he’s got his eye on me and he’s walking towards me. It’s a good thing I’m sitting down, because I think my knees actually go watery with relief. After that’s over, I admit, I get a little hot looking at him, but he doesn’t need to know that, so I sit back and watch him come. He stops a little too close and raises that amused eyebrow at me, and it’s a good show, though the circles under his eyes are dark purple, as if the regular fieldwork state of not-enough-sleep has reached crisis levels. He starts to sign as if we’re here for the same thing everyone else is. The sleeve of his jacket falls back, and I see a spray bandage around his wrist, not quite the same colour as his skin, disappearing up under the cuff of his shirt.
He leads me along the row of capsules and around the corner to where the fancy ones are, the ones you have to pay to use. They’re more like real rooms, with bigger beds and space to move. Maybe this time I’ll be able to get him out of his clothes.
He lets me go in first and closes the door behind us. When he turns around, his expression is different, like he might decide to stop finding me entertaining.
“I know who you are,” he says, in perfect Terran Standard.
“Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me,” I say, trying to think back over what I might have let slip. I’m sure I sounded like an idiot right after the precog hit, but that kind of comes with the territory.
His smile has an edge to it. “No, I am not,” he says, and then he says my name. Not my real name, of course, but a few layers closer to it than anybody on the station should know. Whoever he is, he’s got resources.
“I cannot decide whether you are a fool, or a double agent, or an opportunist, or a traitor,” he says. “I am not certain who your target is. I do not know why you saved my life, or what you wish to gain from it.”
“Whoa,” I say, holding up my hands, “let’s dial back the traitor talk. I saved your life because I couldn’t not, and if you know who I am, you know who I’m working for.”
“Your people and mine stay out of one other’s internal affairs.”
“That’s the official spiel, sure,” I say, “but surprisingly, your basic criminal element on both sides refuses to colour inside the lines.”
“You are a contractor, not a loyal-heart-kin.” He throws that Galan word in there casually, but he watches me closely when he says it. “It might be no surprise to find that you had turned your hand.”
“I’m a contractor because I have a specialized skillset,” I say, “and contractor means contract. Watch your mouth.”
He tilts his head in recognition of that. His expression is still mild. “You were found with that man now, while things are … as they are. Do you wish to tell me that that was just a coincidence?”
“Probably not,” I admit, “but all that means is that we might be looking at the same thing from opposite sides of the glass. He came to the attention of my employer, and I was sent to get intel on him.”
“Well, I don’t know, do I, because they tell me sweet dick-all about these things. All I got was that he had a weakness for humans and I should stick to him and find out everything I could about him. Apparently they didn’t know what he actually liked to do with humans, and that is going to be the topic of a conversation that will be no fun for someone who’s not me. So who was he?”
He shakes his head. “It is best that humans remove their hands from this. It is a sensitive matter, and no good can come of it. The host-world-spirit-lineage-well is safe.” That’s another string of Galan, and I know what the words are, but I don’t understand what it means. “It is deeper than any of us. It is ours to serve, and ours only. Tell your employers.”
“Will do, though what good it does isn’t up to me. But I’m going to be on the carpet for this one. Can’t you give me a hint? Name, rank, and serial number? Curriculum vitae? Dating profile?”
He raises his eyebrows at me.
“And while we’re at it, what are you? Covert yet sinister government agency? Or are you the plausible deniability guy?”
He’s still doing his best stone-face, but one eyebrow twitches.
I roll my eyes. “Fine. This is going to be one hell of a report to write.”
To my surprise, he huffs out a laugh, then winces. His hand comes up like he wants to press it to a hurt. Instead, he runs it over his face.
“How bad was it?” I ask.
He gives a little shrug; that’s not information he wants me to know.
“Sorry I couldn’t be more precise. Like I said, my precog sucks.”
“Without it, it might have been much worse.” For just a second I get the feeling I’m seeing who he really is. “Thank you.”
He breaks the moment by stifling a yawn. He catches my eye and grimaces. “This week has been entirely unreasonable.”
“Tell me about it. You know, it doesn’t have to be a total fubar,” I say. “We’re both here, now, and we don’t have to waste any more energy sneaking around on each other. We could work together.”
He shakes his head ruefully. “I enjoyed our time together, but no,” he says. He walks to the door, opens it, and has a short conversation in Galan with someone outside. Then he closes the door again and comes over to me.
I probably shouldn’t have tipped my hand here, but I’m feeling a little antsy about how I’ve completely lost control of this thing.
I say, in Galan, “Does saying you’ll take care of me mean what I hope it means? Because I have some suggestions.”
He blinks at me. Then he lets himself smile. He cups my chin in his hand and rubs his thumb over my lower lip. “The longer I spend with you, the more you surprise me.”
I grin, and reach up around his neck.
He puts his arms around me and pulls me close. I can feel all of him, from his thighs to the slight bulge of the hidden pouch wrapped around his ribs–so that’s where he keeps his fucking screen–to the warmth of his chest. He dips me back and kisses me deeply. I swear I can hear violins swell. Then there’s a buzz, and the world goes white.
I wake up what turns out to be four hours later, in a coffin in a cruise shuttle headed away from the station. It’s a nice one though, first class, unlimited rec and food service, entrance to the fancier washrooms and gym. I have an enjoyable few days to Cursa Union. I could have turned around and gone right back to Achernar, but I figured I’d take the hint, at least until I have something more to go on. I get the feeling that this one’s going to be in play a while.
I still don’t know what he was. Maybe he’s from that priesthood the academics keep bickering about, or for all I know he’s part of the thing we all call the Royal Family because it takes a six-hour learning module under light hypnosis to understand what it really is. Whoever he’s with, I don’t know if you knew about them already and didn’t include it in my briefing because you can be assholes like that, or whether I was actually first contact, in which case feel free to ream Towrang’s ass for it personally. I could sell tickets.
And I know new power players make you government types twitchy, but at least we know someone’s got their eye on the same thing we had our eye on. And let me just say, if this is the new game in town, he’s a damn sight better in bed than the old game in town, and I don’t mean just literally. You need an operative to go back into whatever that mess is, just say the word.
Until next time,