by Tamari Erin (玉里えりん)
Dante’s clothes still smelt like the maintenance tunnels, of oil and must and secrets. At the rate the MRBs cleaned the station, Asiel’s body wouldn’t be discovered for another few months.
The scabs around his new port began to itch. Dante dragged a fingernail over them and down the back of his neck, cursing the ham-fisted surgeon who’d grafted it in for him, and the desperation that had driven him to such a crude technology. With Asiel dead, Dante was cut off from a large part of the nets, restricted to only what his own brain could handle without the intermediary of an interface.
He slouched further into his chair and looked down at the softscreen he’d dropped on his lap. He smoothed out its surface and brought up one of Station Crimson’s news feeds. The i-girl’s mouth moved silently, and he tried to keep his attention focused on her face, but his bitterness still remained. Damned Asiel. Damn that boy and the dirtfucker who’d sold him all that foreburn.
His interface was dead. His interface had killed himself. And Dante needed a replacement soon. He didn’t, couldn’t spend much more time off the nets; his funds were low, and Nahid had sent a large, well-enhanced man around the day before to ‘remind’ him of his duties.
Dante rubbed his neck. His joints still ached from that, but he’d managed to buy himself another week. He let the softscreen slide through his fingers and puddle on the floor. But where could he find someone who would make a good interface in such a short amount of time? He knew everyone who lived on Station Crimson, but none of them would do; he’d found Asiel many years ago on a holiday to Mars, but they had known each for months before they tried to venture onto the nets together. He didn’t have that kind of time
And if he couldn’t find one… Dante rubbed at his face. He couldn’t run; running was what had gotten him here, on a dilapidated station at the bottom of the solar system. And Nahid was far more vengeance-minded than the Russian had ever been.
He needed a plan. Something. Anything. One of the miners on their way off Mercury and up to Luna. No one would notice if one of them went missing. It would be a stop-gap measure, and a not very good one at that — he’d never tried to use an improperly-modded interface — but it was better than nothing.
Dante stood suddenly, and unfastened his collar. A gang of miners had arrived only a few days ago, and if he was going to ‘recruit’ one of them, it would be better to be well-dressed.
The station rumbled and one of the docking alarms began to sound.
Dante started. “A transport!” His voice was still hoarse, and he wiped at his mouth as he crouched down over his softscreen. He brought the sound back up, wincing at the i-girl’s vowel-twisting Martian squeak.
“All residents, attention please,” she began. “The Ganymedean skiff, Sir Charles Tupper, has just docked at Station–”
Dante scrambled to his feet and ran out the door.
Lucio stepped out of the airlock and took a deep breath of Station Crimson’s air. His travelling companions gave him a few odd looks, but he ignored them. He’d always preferred closed habitats to open-sky environments like Luna or Mars; ambient air scrubbers were never as effective as eliminating the stench of humanity as a proper ventilation system, and this place was no different.
No matter how ugly it was, no matter its reputation, at least Station Crimson smelt clean. He ran a hand over his head to smooth out his plaits; they’d become mussed during the walk from his ship. The clean air was the only thing that could make this, the last leg of his grand tour of the system, bearable. It had been a long few months, and what had first sounded exotic and exiting had become deathly dull, as they visited cities and outposts from the top of the system all the way down here, to the bottom, each one identical to the last. Lucio had bored quickly, alienating himself from his once-friends.
Perhaps that was the true reason behind this custom — once you’ve explored the whole of the system, in all its mind-numbing glory, Ganymede would seem terribly exiting by comparison.
A group of locals had come to the docking bay to watch the Ganymedeans disembark. Lucio surveyed them with a critical eye. Most had the look of either rubber-neckers or the criminal types Station Crimson was famous for. Except…
Except for a lone man standing in the back, darkly handsome and wearing an ill-fitting, stained jumpsuit. He looked out of breath, and was leaning against a wall for support. As Lucio watched him, the man looked up and met his eyes. There was an odd hunger in the man’s gaze, and he ran the tip of his tongue over well-formed lips.
Lucio felt heat rise to his cheeks, and, dropping his head to his chest so he didn’t meet anyone else’s eyes, quickly jogged after his companions. The way the man had looked at him had made him feel oddly vulnerable; he knew he had to likely be just a drug-runner or a whore, but no whore Lucio’d bought had ever looked at him like that, like he was something they could own.
The darkened tavern was half-empty; Lucio sat hunched over his drink and watched the people around him out of the corners of his eyes. He’d parted from his companions once they’d all reached their rooms and settled in. They had headed somewhere with dancing and gambling, and the possibility of a fight. Lucio had sought out someplace quiet.
He hoped this tavern would do, he didn’t want to spend the whole of this leg of the trip locked in his rooms, small dirty claustrophobic place that they were.
Lucio lifted his vodka to his lips and took a sip. The barman had bragged about its quality, told him how the still was built half outside of Station Crimson, to aid the distillation. Whether that was true or not, the vodka was certainly quite fine.
A chair was scraped loudly against the steel floor. Lucio looked up for the source of the noise. He nearly choked on his vodka.
Standing in front of his table, hand on a chair, was the man from the landing bay. “May I join you?” he asked. There was a faint Venerian lilt to his words.
Lucio twisted his gaping mouth into an effortless smile. “Be my guest.”
The man flipped the chair around and sat, resting his folded arms on the back.
The bartender took that moment to set the man’s drink on the table between them. The two of them exchanged an odd look, and from the expression on the bartender’s face, Lucio wondered how much money the stranger owed him.
The man downed half of his drink in one shot, and smiled at Lucio. “Station Crimson built its reputation on the quality of its alcohol.”
Lucio looked down at his own drink. “From what I’ve sampled, the alcohol is quite good.”
The man let out a loud belly laugh. He gestured expansively. “This is not exactly what you must be used to on– Ganymede, is it?”
Lucio nodded. “I’m here on holiday, with some school friends. And you?”
“Oh, I live here.”
“But not born here.” At the man’s surprised look, Lucio clarified, “we have quite a few Venerians studying at the lycée I attend. The accent is easy enough to recognise, especially when it is so out of place.”
The smile melted off the man’s face. “We are not all… blessed by accidents of birth.”
Lucio nodded slowly, and tried to push through the awkward silence. “I’m afraid I never caught your name.”
“I am Dante,” he said, laying a hand on his chest and favouring Lucio with a charming smile.
“Only Dante. And you?”
Lucio smiled. “I am Lucio Yukimura-del’Alesso.”
It felt strange to Lucio, to be so pleasant with this man, who he barely knew and had little reason to trust. But the feral expression he’d seen on Dante’s face in the landing bay was gone, and so Lucio could almost convince he was dealing with a different man.
“So what brings you to Station Crimson?” Dante asked, breaking the silence that had settled over them.
“‘A holiday’, I know, you said,” Dante interrupted with a breezy wave of his hand, his tone of voice taking the sting from his words. “But why? Why here? This is the very bottom of the solar system; the only way you could get lower would be to go to the Helios platforms orbiting the sun, and they don’t let civilians on those.”
Lucio took another drink of his vodka. “Well, we could have gone to the museums on Luna, visited First Colony on Mars, and all the other ‘important’ places in the solar system. But… But my friends and I wanted to go somewhere interesting–”
“Here?” Dante asked, incredulous.
Lucio laughed weakly. “That was the original plan. It soon devolved into visiting all famous strip clubs and seedy bars in the system.” He sighed and looked away.
Dante leaned closer, and set his hand on Lucio’s face, turning his head so their eyes met. “But Red’s isn’t famous anywhere, for anything, not even here.” He lowered his voice and began to stroke the line of Lucio’s jaw. “Why are you here?”
“I’m sick of it.” Lucio’s voice was barely above a whisper. “I’m sick of them, I’m sick of travelling. I don’t even know if I want to go back to Ganymede when this is all over.”
Dante was pressing Lucio’s drink into his hand. “It’s all right. Truly. Here. Drink. It’ll make you feel better.”
Lucio took a small sip of his vodka.
“No.” Dante mimed swallowing all of it in one go. “Just knock it back.”
Lucio drank down the whole glassful. It tasted different, grittier. He ran his tongue over the roof of his mouth. Even the aftertaste was different. He looked up to meet Dante’s eyes.
And saw in them that awful, feral look from earlier. And then everything went black.
When Lucio awoke, he was naked, and strapped, face down, in a padded, cruciform chair that was attached to a great deal of strange machinery that encircled both him and the chair. He did not recognise what little of the room he could see from his vantage point. The architecture looked different from what little he’d seen of Station Crimson. He doubted he was still in the visitors’ section.
He gave his bonds a quick tug to test their strength. They didn’t give. He only seemed to have enough room to not chafe.
Anger burned deep within him. “Let me go!”
“Why?” He sounded truly curious.
He choked on his words before he could bring himself to speak. “Because! You… you have no right to do this!”
“You would be surprised,” he replied, and stepped into view. Dante bent down to meet Lucio’s eyes. “Do you know what the law of Station Crimson is? Our only law? Keep the miners happy. That’s it. We need them to keep digging, because if they stop, we’re all fucked.
“You are not a miner. You being here does not make a miner unhappy.” Dante leaned even close, so close Lucio could almost bite him. “No one cares. No one. Your friends won’t even notice. You’re going to become another statistic, another Ganymedean who just vanished on his ‘Grand Tour’.”
Dante rose to tend to some of the machinery. Lucio struggled harder against the restraints and glared at his back. “What do you want? What do you want from me? My parents aren’t rich, no one is going to pay up any ransom–”
Dante touched something on the console in front of him. Lucio twitched and screamed as a jolt of electricity flooded through him.
When the after-spasms had finally stopped, Dante came closer, and ran a hand through Lucio’s hair. A few of the pale plaits fell across Lucio’s field of vision. “A quite suitable interface,” Dante murmured, “and so beautiful as well. You are a rare find.”
It was hard to force his mouth to shape the words, but Lucio’s determination won out. “Whuhuh… innahveiz?”
“Interface,” Dante corrected. “It is what you are now. It is what you will be for the rest of your life.” Dante let go of Lucio’s hair and stepped around his outstretched arm to another one of the control panels that Lucio could now see he was wired to. Dante’s boot-heels rang loudly against the metal floor. “My previous interface died, you know, that’s why I need a new one so desperately.
“He burnt out his brains on stims, and I’ll never know why.”
Lucio spat. “Because you did to him what you’re doing to me, no doubt, and he wanted a chance to escape. Make no mistake, Dante, I will do likewise as soon as I am able.”
“No, you won’t,” Dante chided, with a shake of his head. “And, no, he did not. Asiel loved me. But I know a Ganymedean such as yourself would have a hard time with a concept like love.”
“Oh, we understand love. We also understand insanity, and hate, and vengeance.”
Dante sighed, and lightly tapped the face of the console. “With all the biomech implants you people ‘install’ in yourselves? You think it makes you better than me? More advanced? With all that machinery crammed in your skull and littering your body, you can’t be very much human anymore.
“But!” he continued, with a manic flourish. “But! Were it not for your ever-useful body-gadgets, I never would have chosen you for this! And if it weren’t for you Ganymedeans coming just the right moment, I would have been forced to take one of the miners. And they don’t have the right kind of implants–”
“You haven’t even told me what you’re going to do to me!” Lucio ground his teeth together, expecting another electrical shock, but it didn’t come.
Dante regarded him thoughtfully for a long moment, and then began to unfasten the collar of his filthy jumpsuit. “I am, to put it in as simple terms as possible, a data pirate. I am a user. I use the nets.” Dante pulled the jumpsuit’s zipper down, from neck to groin, and unfastened the cuffs at his wrists.
“You, my dear Lucio, are my interface to the nets. You are my filter, my dam on the unfathomable amount of data that exists out there. My brain cannot handle that data.
“And the only computer,” Dante said, as he shrugged off the jumpsuit and stepped out of Lucio’s field of vision, “that can process the data into something my mind can handle is another human brain.”
Lucio tensed, his breath coming in short, sharp gasps. He tested his bioware, and saw proof of Dante’s handiwork — it had been commandeered and subtly reprogrammed. It was no longer his. His body was no longer his.
Dante trailed his fingers down Lucio’s spine.
Lucio moaned, pressing his face into the soft, padded headrest.
But Dante was not finished his little speech. He continued to talk, and Lucio could not block it out, could do nothing but lie there and listen. “And all I need to do to get that data from your mind and body into mine is to connect our nervous systems. Skin to skin, that’s all we need.”
Dante’s hands settle on his ribcage. If this was it, Lucio thought he might be able to handle it. Dante made a satisfied noise. And Lucio felt the head of Dante’s cock brush against his arsehole.
“Sssshh…” Dante hissed, “ssshhh.”
Lucio felt himself grow wet, felt his heart pump faster, and he knew it was part of the changes Dante had made to him. It had to be. It had to be.
Then Dante’s grip on his ribcage tightened, and with a sudden, powerful thrust, Dante was inside him.
Lucio moaned. He gripped the handholds on the chair, driving his fingernails into the plastic grips. He’d not expected gentleness, but Dante — the warmth, the hardness, the thickness of him — filling him, buried in him, was a sweet surprise. It was not pleasant… but he had never been one for pleasant.
Dante was silent, though Lucio could barely hear anything over the sound of his own laboured breathing. His erection throbbed. His implants activated, funnelling information to and from Dante’s machines.
When Dante pulled out, Lucio could have wept.
But it was only for an instant, a moment to catch his breath, feel the station’s cool air against his skin, and then Dante drove himself into Lucio again, harder, rougher.
And again, and again, and again.
Lucio came suddenly, his cock spurting onto the chair, the floor. But the information still skimmed across his skin, and Dante– Dante had not stopped.
And then, as though Lucio’s own climax had been a signal of sorts, Dante came, with a sharp laugh, filling Lucio with hot and wet.
It felt as though a star had exploded in Lucio’s brain.
In some far remote part of his mind, he knew Dante was still fucking him, still had him chained to that horrid chair, but all that didn’t matter anymore. The only thing — the only thing — that mattered anymore to Lucio was the information.
It didn’t simply go through him as Dante had said it would, it was him. He was the data. He was the nets themselves.
Dante was doing something unimportant with it, he could sense, something with money and security shells on a node that tasted like Jovia. Lucio smiled to himself and moved the data, shifted things around so that Dante could get at what he wanted and no one else would be the wiser. It was as easy, and as intuitive, as raising a finger.
The thunderous sound of Dante’s surprise pleased Lucio very much.
The light of the data faded, and Lucio slowly came back to himself. Dante had withdrawn, both from him and from the nets.
Lucio took a steadying breath. Dante was still silent. “Let me go,” Lucio asked.
Dante’s voice wavered. “No. You’ll try to escape.”
“I give you my word I won’t.” He craned his neck around to meet Dante’s eyes. “If we can do that again, I swear I will not stray from your side.”
Dante hesitated, but only for a moment. As Lucio slumped bonelessly into the chair, he felt Dante shakily remove the restraints and detach him from the various machines.
Lucio shivered at the touch of Dante’s skin on his. This was not what he’d expected to find when he’d come to Station Crimson, but now that he’d found it he never wanted to let it go.