written and illustrated by Iron Eater


illustrated by Iron Eater

Soon had decided earlier that day that the only way to truly get used to his new legs after the procedure was to find someplace he could dance like an idiot, since at the very worst people would think he was slightly drunk instead of recovering from extensive physical therapy, and so after coaxing Gemma into clearing him for potentially being moshed into he found himself surrounded by happy people who didn’t notice he was still figuring out which way his ankles were supposed to bend. Colored panels in the walls and floor cycled through dozens of glowing hues while holographic images–their colors synched with the floor panels and currently shaped like jellyfish–floated serenely through the air. The thumping music, some of which he vaguely recognized from the radio, pushed gently against his skin in time with the bass. Soon was just one reveler in a sea of unfamiliar faces. It was actually rather pleasant, he decided, especially since for the first time in quite a while he felt like he could mingle with people and be seen for who he was instead of some poor soul with a large and ghastly prosthesis.

Soon’s HUD chirped and he mentally flailed for the processes required to bring up whatever it was trying to tell him this time. The HUD was yet another newfangled upgrade they’d installed as part of the procedure. He’d known the transfer to Lammeter would expose him to a lot more tech and, more importantly, more culture than he’d known back in Cygnus Point, but the idea of most citizens having access to scoping tools was the sort of thing they’d never dreamed of back on his home colony. Once he collected his thoughts enough to move the code around the way Gemma had showed him, the notice turned out to be a message from someone else in the club.

Hi, Soon, said whoever it was over Soon’s personal band. I read your pub-access stats and you look like someone I think I’d like to talk to more. May I buy you a drink?

He scrunched up his face in concentration as he walked himself through the steps of reverse-scoping a person based on a received message. It wasn’t anonymous, which was already a huge relief; Soon tried very hard not to play the part of the idiot country boy who jumped at every shadow, but old habits died hard. A little brainwork later, he knew he was talking to someone named Rith Arnaquq, who used male pronouns and thought of himself as a man, who liked dogs and fried food and the song that had just finished playing, and who was currently available for a romantic and/or physical relationship. Soon felt his cheeks flush a little when his own HUD happily informed him that based on available information they had a high likelihood of compatibility for both options. Having the computer in his brain tell him whether or not someone might want to fool around with him was another part of Lammeter living he’d have to get used to.

Hello, he replied, laboriously shuffling the information into place. That sounds good. Where are you? I do not message well. Gemma had told him he’d have to knuckle down and practice his messaging skills one of these days, and Soon felt a little guilty for brushing her off before. Thankfully, Rith didn’t seem bothered by Soon’s grunting-caveman level of communication.

I’ll come to you. We can figure out where to talk after that, okay?

Rith, it turned out, was the kind of person Soon had never thought of as “his type” before, with his flashy jewelry and gold eye makeup and the glowing fiber-optic strands striping his dark hair, but this was Soon’s first new potential friend after being decanted, and he was determined not to chase away the strange grinning rainbow spirit that wanted to buy him an Old Fashioned. A few hand signals later they were on opposite ends of a comfortable booth.

“New in town, huh?” asked Rith around a mouthful of onion ring. He kept plucking them from the basket in front of him like a crane diving for frogs; the man was surprisingly dextrous given how many rings he was wearing.

Soon waggled his hand. “Yes and no. I’ve been at the Barck compound for a few months, but this is the first time I’ve really been…um…out, you know?” He glanced from his own shirt and jeans to the form-fitting thing Rith was wearing. “I feel kind of underdressed.”

“Not everyone has to be a peacock to have a fun evening,” said Rith. “You look fine. Besides, those feet you’ve got make you plenty interesting on their own. You mind if we talk about them? They’re gorgeous work.”

illustrated by Iron Eater

Soon wasn’t as worried as he thought he’d be the first time someone mentioned the reconstruction he’d had done. Gemma had told him that the more natural he felt with his new body the more it would feel like someone complimenting him on his hair or a tattoo, and how he’d soon be able to celebrate the way he presented his body to the world with confidence. Even things like how unusual his reshaped tongue and throat felt would become second nature to him. At the time he assumed she was just trying to make him feel better like any good acclimation worker was supposed to. Now, though, with someone with expensive-looking designer eyes telling him he had sculpting to be proud of, he was starting to understand what she meant. He could feel her gentle amusement through the basic monitor link they still had set up between them. Their next session was certainly not going to be short on things to talk about. Taking a sip of his drink to bolster his spirits, Soon let himself exposit.

“I’m from Cygnus Point. You’ve probably never heard much about it, so just assume it’s in the most distant, borderline-forgotten part of the Expanse peopled by nothing by, like, space hillbillies making galactic moonshine and you’ll be on the right track.” Rith chuckled at this. Soon liked how it sounded, and allowed himself a less nervous smile as he continued with his story.

“Part of being out in the middle of nowhere means that you don’t always have the meds or tech to take care of health issues, so I spent my childhood with one leg shaped wrong and the other one missing from above where my knee should’ve been. Lucky for me I was able to get transferred out here, and the compound was very understanding about my ‘special needs’ when they acquired me and my skillset. A little surgery and a few days spent floating in nutri-gel later, here I am.”

“That’s pretty neat,” replied Rith, who didn’t seem sarcastic when he said it. “Anything make you decide on getting the sculpts instead of fancier prosthetic work? Like, is it a personal preference thing?”

“Yeah.” Soon wasn’t yet steady on his new limbs, but they felt so much more like part of his own body than the clunky cybernetics he’d struggled with since childhood. He stretched his legs. Having nerve impulses that went all the way to the ground still amazed him a little bit. “I didn’t really mind the idea of wearing a set, and if updating what I had was my only option, I would’ve been fine with it so long as they weren’t pirate pegs or something. You have no idea how shitty the ones I came here on were. Half the time I needed a walker just to keep from tipping over, big ol’ tennis balls on the end and everything.”

“So what made you decide on hooves instead of, like, dinosaur toes?” Rith made little claws in the air with his hands to demonstrate.

“Oh, that one’s easy. I always liked horses when I was a kid, so I figured I’d go with what I knew when it came time to pick out some feet. I thought they’d look good on me.”

“You thought right,” said Rith, leaving Soon with the unfamiliar sensation of trying to stifle a giggle. It came out as a snort instead, though if Rith noticed (or cared) he did a good job of hiding it. “I wouldn’t have thought of the tiered look, myself. Looks kind of like the saw-back things on a grasshopper leg. Except not really. Ever thought about putting nail polish on them? Just starting with a clear coat to see where it’s likely to scratch and chip, then…”

It was nice being able to talk to someone who wasn’t family, medical staff, or Gemma. Rith was just chatty enough to fill the spaces Soon left in the conversation but not so much that it was a fight to get a word in. He worked in the nutrition department of one of the local facilities; Soon never quite got a feel for what Rith’s job entailed, aside from something to do with food cultivation and meal rotation, but it didn’t really matter, since his own job specs were equally nebulous to people not trained in his field. They had similar taste in media, as well, though Soon enjoyed sports a great deal more than Rith could be bothered, and while neither of them was entirely pleased with the direction that Van der Nils Manor had gone in over the last few episodes they both had subscribed to it all the way through the season finale anyway. Rith also didn’t interrupt things every so often to check Soon’s vitals. That was probably the best part.

Two cocktails later, Rith had coaxed Soon out onto the dance floor, and the results were nowhere near as catastrophic as they could’ve been. Rith was careful to always have an arm or shoulder for Soon to steady himself on whenever his balance failed him. People noticed him for different reasons than they noticed Rith–who soaked up the attention like a capsule sponge and never seemed to actually get tired–but nobody asked why a gawky tech was dancing with a man who literally shimmered in the right light. As Soon collapsed into a seat after a final set he made a mental note to thank Gemma for being so adamant about his PT routines.

Soon generally didn’t drink much. The liquor they got back home was either far too expensive or far too undrinkable to bother with most of the time, the beer they had was notoriously weird-smelling, and even during his college studies he hadn’t been much of a partygoer. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that his alcohol tolerance was, for whatever reason, robust, though in his buzzed state he didn’t understand why Rith was ordering him a glass of some sort of watery fruit juice until Rith explained himself.

“Nutrients!” shouted Rith over the shuddering bass. “If you don’t try and replace some of what you sweated out, you’re going to wish you were dead in the morning! And that’s assuming you don’t get hung over!”

The juice was thin and flat-tasting, but it was cold, and Soon’s exhausted body thanked him. The nail-biting paranoia of Cygnus Point had not yet entirely been ground out of him, however; he sent a quick update to Gemma on her private band, letting her know he was dancing and having a nice time and enjoying drinks with strangers, and would she make sure he checked in with her if he was heading off somewhere less public, please? She sent him a chirp of acknowledgment and he felt slightly more at ease. Reacclimation specialists’ patience was a godsend for the backwater transplants they worked with.

Soon decided it was a good time to be brave.

“So I saw on your scanner thing that you’re not involved in a closed relationship,” he said, straining to be loud enough for Rith to hear him but quiet enough to not be speaking to the entire club at once. At least his nervous sweat was indistinguishable from his dancing sweat. “I, uh, I think you’re pretty hot–” (people actually said that, right? it wasn’t just in the books he read, right?) “–and I don’t know if I’m ready for a serious thing right now, but would you be interested in, uh, maybe meeting up for a movie later this week? And maybe if, uh, if things go well, and you wouldn’t mind, maybe we might spend some time alone a little bit after that?”

While he didn’t hear Rith’s reply over the sound of the majority of the club’s singing along with the chorus of the current chart-topper, Rith’s rakish grin said enough. Soon was elated; he hadn’t thought it would be this simple! Of course, there was still The Issue that needed to be discussed. He waited for things to quiet down again before he continued.

“So it probably was in my scanner stuff, but, uh. If we’re going to maybe be messing around, you should probably know that I don’t have standard junk. I mean, I got more than my legs done, right? Had some issues with my old parts. Case didn’t match the software, if you know what I mean.” He squirmed in his seat. “So I got a completely custom job based on a lot of work I did with my therapist before I started physical transition.”

“Yeah?” said Rith, raising his eyebrows. “That’s cool, I like trying new things. Don’t worry about talking about it in public. I’m sure nothing you got installed will make you any less cute to me.” He leaned in, the smell of his cologne and sweat and half a dozen subtler chemical scents mingling into a heady bouquet. Rith’s face was close enough that Soon could feel his breath and read the designer signatures in his eyes. “You said you’d had a total vocal reconstruction, mouth and everything. Just how much have you tested it yet, anyway?”

Soon lingered in the faux privacy of the booth before staggering out to rendezvous with Gemma and catch a tube back home. It turned out that his new tongue worked just fine.

They’d agreed to meet in the plaza in front of Rith’s workplace, partially for its being an open public space but mostly because it had plenty of shade trees for Soon to read under while waiting on Rith to finish reengineering soybean DNA or whatever it was he did. Watching the lily pads drifting across the pond helped distract Soon from how his mouth felt as dry as the nutrient biscuit he’d convinced himself was breakfast. He was dressed very much the same as he had been at the club, although he’d changed shirts and opted for a light jacket, but the people he saw passing into and out of the building were all in crisp white uniforms with light blue detailing; it was a far cry from the technicolor assault that Rith had worn like his own skin the night before. Soon read the same page on his tablet for the seventh time as he fretted over whether or not he’d been stood up.

He tried passing the time by practicing with his scanner, his HUD promptly surrounding passers-by with infographics. It took some fine tuning before his forebrain wasn’t being assaulted by information overload; this was the first time he’d tried an open scan in such a busy place, and the influx of data was deafening. It was also the first time he’d seen anyone using the custom gender field. While he didn’t quite know what “booxyWewteway” meant it was probably very important to whoever it belonged to, so he tried not to giggle to himself too much.

“Soon Herrera?” asked a voice a few feet behind him. Soon almost dropped his coffee in surprise. He turned around awkwardly to see who’d addressed him.

It was Rith, of course, but not the Rith he’d expected to meet. This Rith had his hair carefully groomed into a serious coiffure–still shot through with glowing fibers, of course, though they were all the same soothing shade of blue–and hardly any earrings. The lustrous golden makeup and the glitter in his goatee were gone entirely. The long, silhouette-obscuring technician’s coat he wore stopped just above his ankles. Even the color of his eyes had been toned down from their previous electric purple, now hovering at a deep, metallic teal that matched the facility’s logo. If they hadn’t already spent so much time together, Soon would’ve mistaken him for someone else entirely.

“I hope you don’t mind me coming along in my work clothes,” said Rith, his expression just this side of sheepish. “I ended up having to deal with some vitamin infuser errors a lot longer than I expected. Didn’t mean to disappoint by showing up out of character.”

“No, you’re…you’re fine,” managed Soon. He took a swig of coffee to hide an anxious gulp. “You look good. A different kind of good from when we met, but still, you know. Nice. I’d be kind of an asshole if I was bothered by someone who’s got more than one public side to them.” He smiled. “I’m not going to call the date off because you weren’t able to glue sequins to ninety-five percent of your body ahead of time.”

Rith laughed. “Well, there’s a relief! I didn’t want to admit I’m all out of glue.” He offered Soon a hand up. He smelled ever so faintly of disinfectant. “So, want to split who buys the tickets and who gets the snacks? I’m starving…”

Later on Soon would have trouble remembering what exactly they’d seen at the theater. It wasn’t a bad movie, and was worth the price of admission to Soon just from getting to watch someone actually dim parts of themselves when the pre-showing announcements requested it, but he ended up being far too distracted by the arm around his shoulder to pay more than a token amount of attention to the screen. Not even the fancy HUD-manipulating effects could tear his attention away for long. Had the plot been less frantic he probably could’ve fallen asleep in his seat, leaning against Rith with a bucket of buttered popcorn in his lap. It was such a simple thing, too, and he couldn’t help but think about how uncomfortable finding a seat that he could fit into would’ve been back in his old legs. Now all he had to worry about was getting somebody else’s gum on his hooves.

He checked in with Gemma over his private band as they stepped outside into the sunset air. She monitored his vitals, skimmed over his various synch readings, and reviewed the seemingly countless fields of data that Soon was silently grateful he no longer had to have checked in person. Gemma was wonderful, of course, and he’d be genuinely sad to eventually outgrow a certain motherly floating robot in his life who fussed over every sneeze and sniffle, but it was easier to try to reintegrate into society without heading down to the health center every day to be hooked up to machines for a few hours.

Gemma reviewed his socialization records with approval–or at least making noises he’d learned to associate with her approval–then pointed out his blank location planner. He paused when he realized he wasn’t entirely sure where he’d be spending most of the rest of his evening.

Got a hot date? she said, playfully.

Kind of, yes, he said. She chirped and bleeped with robotic amusement over the band.

Next time just put that in there and I’ll understand. You have fun, then, and update your location later if you feel like it. Give me a call if you need anything and I’ll come running. Go get ’em, tiger!

One of these days he’d have to figure out whether reacc specialists were all like Gemma or if he’d just been very, very lucky.

“So, uh,” he managed as he and Rith walked along the promenade. “I’m new to this kind of thing. You’re going to have to help me baby-step my way through.”

Rith nodded. “Didn’t get out much back home on Planet Corncob?”

“Not really. Total bookworm as a kid, didn’t realize I was trans until my late teens. My family was very supportive, but I was so busy figuring out what the hell was going on with my doubly wonky body I just didn’t have enough ‘me time’ to put into dealing with other people, y’know?”

“Well, I’m not going to claim my way’s the only way, but I’d be happy to offer my two cents if asked,” said Rith, tucking his thumbs in his trouser pockets. He was walking a little closer to Soon than he had been before; it was an obvious marker that they were more than just two friends taking a stroll, which Soon decided he liked. There were far worse fates than being out in public with someone who wasn’t shy about being with him.

“We’ve already done the meet-cute bit, what with you deciding you wanted to accept offerings of drinks and dancing,” Rith continued. He ran his fingers through his hair to set the fibers to glow in muted tones that matched the red-tinged sky. “The movie went pretty well, too–”

“So this was an actual date?” asked Soon, eagerly.

“Sure, we can call it a date. It was fun! If you’re done with this, then we can go our separate ways for the evening. Of course, if you’re still interested in seeing where things go, we can keep walking around the park, or maybe head back to one of our places…?” He trailed off with a hopeful half-smile. Seeing Soon’s blank expression, he added, “But that’s your call. I don’t want to be anybody’s bad idea, no matter how cute their butt looks.”

Soon, still not used to having any part of him described as cute, needed a moment to chew on the idea. He was very interested in helping an orgasm or two happen in Rith’s company, that much was certain, and while he couldn’t entirely turn off the part of his brain that liked to dissect compliments–it was only natural his posterior would receive attention, given how he’d needed significant muscle tone to work with the old prosthetics and his new legs were like ass-enhancing high heels that never came off, and these pants really did fit him well, didn’t they?–he wasn’t about to ignore the fact that it was pretty nice being praised by someone who had a lot of experience with fine-tuning their physical form. The Soon that was still a terrified country boy had to grow up eventually. He decided on a compromise.

“Rith, I’d love to spend the night with you, but not right now, ’cause I’d like to take things slow, yeah?” He closed his eyes while synching himself up with Rith’s messaging band. Some things were a bit embarrassing to say out loud. I think I’d really like to see your place, he broadcast once the connection was secured. We can make out, and I’m fine with sucking you off or something if you’d like that, but I don’t really want to have other people touching my junk, at least not until I get it more figured out. I want my first attempt at fucking someone else to only be half clueless fumbling. He glanced at Rith out of the corner of his eye. It’s not going to be a problem if I stay clothed this time, is it?

Rith replied by taking his hand and squeezing. He kept his fingers laced with Soon’s even after the time for reassurance had passed. It was somewhere around that point that Soon decided that no matter how long or short his fling with Rith was, he was capable of actually building a new life in Lammeter, and that everything might even be okay.

Lammeter housing was deceptively homogenous on the outside, most of it being trim white apartment complexes with organic curves or modest townhouses lining the streets between facility buildings, but while Rith’s place looked the same as Soon’s did on the outside, inside was an entirely different matter. Back in Cygnus Point, “modular housing” tended to have an implied cringe when it was said, usually referring to the prefabs that dotted the landscape like some vast artificial fungus. Rith, on the other hand, had been able to negotiate with his neighbors which parcels of property would be most useful for him and swapped out for utilities as necessary, resulting in a chaotic layout that Soon fretted getting lost in despite there being less square footage than the house where he’d grown up. He was surprised to see that for all its labyrinthine turns the unit was clean and, much unlike Soon’s own quarters, pointedly lacking in underwear or snack wrappers left on the floor. It was also neatly partitioned: some parts were organized, such as where Rith kept a few simulations running on side projects that looked utterly boring to Soon, others were more suited to the glittery glam-thing that had first bought a shy country boy a drink, and yet others lay halfway between the two. It was this last category that housed the sofa, which Soon flopped on.

“Nice place,” he said, propping his hooves up over one side.

“Thanks. I think I’ve finally got it looking homey,” said Rith. He hung up his uniform coat in one of the prim-and-proper sections of the apartment before rolling his shoulders, stretching, and cracking his back with a series of ghastly little crunches. He puttered around somewhere behind and slightly to the left of Soon. “You’re my guest, so you’re welcome to pretty much anything I haven’t put in a lockbox. Can I get you some water?”

“No thank you, I’m good,” said Soon. Lying on something soft and flat was doing wonders for his aching muscles, which hadn’t yet gotten the memo that he was expecting to do things other than sit, walk slowly, and look at screens for most of the day. Physical therapy could only do so much when it came to rehabilitating a career shut-in.

A slowly-cycling photo in a frame caught Soon’s eye, though he had to roll a bit to get a proper look at it. It showed a few people who looked vaguely like Rith–they shared the same medium-toned skin and the same glossy black hair and most even boasted the same Cheshire grin–posing with Rith, and others with someone who probably was Rith a few years ago, before he’d had quite so much cosmetic work done. There were images of both Riths shaking hands with people who were probably reasonably important; they looked like they were from an awards ceremony. While these were no doubt a source of great pride for Rith, Soon decided he preferred the two or three pictures from a family barbecue, since at least his host was laughing in those.

Something clacked in the kitchen area and Rith, now clad in a short-sleeved top and loose pants, wandered back into view, balancing two pieces of jam toast and a glass of something green and carbonated on a plate. He’d changed clothes so quickly that Soon couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been wearing them beneath his work outfit. Soon also couldn’t help but appreciate how snugly Rith’s top fit against his body. Apparently career nutritionists knew how to take care of themselves.

Rith settled down in an overstuffed chair next to the sofa. He bolted down his toast with alarming speed; he’d said he was hungry before, but given how gently he’d nipped kernels of popcorn from Soon’s fingers it was startling to see him inhale a meal. Rith polished off the glass of whatever-it-was in a single pull.

“Whew, I feel a little more human again,” he said as he wiped his mouth. “You want some water or something for yourself?” Soon shook his head, wondering if Rith hadn’t heard him the first time. Rith bobbed his head and continued talking. Soon let the words wash over him, taking in bits and pieces of information about Rith’s family, the commendations he’d received, how he had far fewer photos of himself than one would expect from such a natural center of attention, and half a dozen smaller topics. Not being expected to say more than a few passing “yeah”s and “uh-huh”s was quite handy after what had been a long day even before they’d headed to the movies. The stream of conversation was as soothing as the thrum of the engines he monitored during his work shifts.

This didn’t make the fact that he was alone with a stranger any less exciting, of course. When he still lived in the ass-end of the Expanse Soon had been raised to be a “good girl,” though he’d never really been able to figure out what that meant aside from not much fun at parties, but here on Lammeter he didn’t have to worry about being any kind of girl whatsoever. Having to explain just how his new plumbing was set up was a terrifying prospect that would probably involve drawing on napkins and a lot of blushing, but having found someone who thought he was cute and interesting even with his pants still on made it a bit easier to think about. Soon also was more than willing to consider Rith repeated-date material so long as things continued going well. He decided then and there to schedule a visit with one of the more specialized offices of the reacclimation center to get things sorted out.

It was when he’d been offered yet another nebulous glass of something between chatting about what Rith’s family was doing lately that Soon made a small, exasperated sound loud enough to break Rith’s flow. “Rith, that’s like the fourth or fifth time you’ve asked me,” he said, trying to keep his voice even. “I don’t need any water and I’m fine, but thank you, okay?”

Rith blinked owlishly before erupting into laughter.

“Sorry, Soon,” he wheezed once he retained his composure. “I can get like that. I can spend all day accurately predicting protein chain mutations generations in advance, but I’m also a guy who leaves the house with his shirt on backwards some days.” Both of their eyes drifted downwards to check on Rith’s shirt; everything was, for now, on right-side-out and right-side-front.

“Look,” said Soon, “why don’t we just make out for a bit before things get any more awkward?”

“I’m game.” Rith joined Soon on the couch, they figured out what went where, and that was that. It was even better than the first time.

“That’s it?” asked Jocelyn, Soon’s assigned body reconfiguration buddy. “Come on… you can’t just stop there if you’re being detailed about everything else!”

Soon crossed his arms over his chest and tossed his head with mock disdain. “Sure I can. I’m doing it right now, in fact.”

“You’re just being a contrary butthole,” she sniffed, sculpting her lips into a fetching pout. Jocelyn was the sort of person to call people things like “contrary butthole” within minutes of meeting them. Soon liked her already.

He and Jocelyn had been paired up after they had been interviewed by their respective reacc workers and deemed to be a good match. There had been the offer to go through the clinic solo, but Soon had made up his mind that if there was anywhere it was appropriate to be awkward about his junk, it was in a therapeutic setting dedicated to helping him feel less awkward about his junk, and this way he’d be able to help out a fellow bodysculpted soul in what he kept personally referring to as “get-naked therapy.” It was also a guaranteed safe, healthy environment, so of course Gemma had been very supportive of his decision. The only thing actually unpleasant about the whole affair was the dreadful white bodysuits they had to wear as a matter of protocol, which Soon found to be only a few millimeters above an open-backed hospital smock as far as dignity was concerned. Jocelyn had said something about feeling like she was in Willy Wonka when they stuffed her into hers. Soon didn’t really get the reference, aside from a vague knowledge that she was referring to a movie based on a book, but figured that talking about vintage cinema would be a good icebreaker later on.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why would a doll want to be enrolled in this process, anyway?” asked Soon, trying to coax the fabric of his suit out from where it had no business being. “Isn’t this all about, like, stuff you don’t need anymore? Sorry if I’m being a prick about this,” he added quickly. “Back home I wasn’t really friends with any dolls. I really have no idea the right language I’m supposed to use here.”

Jocelyn popped her lips thoughtfully, winding a lock of hair around her finger. Her hair and the horrible little onesie were the same color. “Just because I don’t want to feel desire anymore doesn’t mean I don’t want to get laid, if that makes any sense,” she said. “It’s not about getting off for me. It’s about getting other people off, and seeing them happy. That’s the idea, anyway.” She cracked her knuckles. “So, now that we’ve got a rapport going on, how do you want to do this?”

Soon fumbled for something that wouldn’t sound overly dorky. “Well, I figure we’d just go down their list of suggestions. Would you mind if we skipped to the part where we get these godawful things off? I don’t think there’s been a time I haven’t had a wedgie since I put it on.”

“Sounds like a plan, Soon.”

The gender commonly referred to as “dolls”–if there was a fancier term, Soon didn’t know it–could be expressed in a lot of different ways, but he remembered enough from health class to know they were all unified by their removal of primary sexual characteristics. Jocelyn was as smooth as an eggshell between her legs, though she was cheerful to note that she still had an anus “for emergencies.” She didn’t have nipples or a navel, either, though had opted to keep (or possibly add) a few subtle curves to her heavyset frame. Her identity certainly fit: with her simplified anatomy she looked like an organic mannequin.

Soon, on the other hand, was anything but simple, and Jocelyn was just as interested in his setup as he was in hers. The hooves were obvious. Less obvious was how he’d chosen to have his mastectomy scars expanded to make a fetching spreading-wings pattern, or the business with needing to reconstruct his pelvis to allow for the new legs. He was a little surprised that she seemed more intrigued in how his hips worked than the custom genitalia job that had inspired him to sign up for the session for in the first place. It was a piece of work, definitely: a sort of membrane that flushed with blood like his old set had, ringed with sensitive tendrils, but while it had obvious contours when he was turned on he’d specifically set it up so it couldn’t be penetrated. Soon thought of it as his own friendly sea anemone. Sea anemones unfortunately didn’t come with instruction manuals.

He poked at one of his tendrils with a pinky. “You can see why I decided to sign up for the session today,” he said. “I love how I look and it feels great just walking around knowing this in my briefs, but I’m not that great at, like, using it yet.” Soon could feel his cheeks pinken. “I can, uh, sort of jerk off with it, but you know how it is when you can’t open a bag of chips despite there being a big ‘Tear Here’ tab on the package? It’s kind of like that.”

“Like you’re missing something obvious?” asked Jocelyn. He nodded. “Well, maybe if you show me how you usually do it we can figure this out together?”

“But what about you?”

“Me? Well…like I said, for me it’s all about getting other people off. Some dolls get glands added that pump out all kinds of crazy serotonins when they’re present for somebody else’s orgasm, among other things, and others like me are just happy to make other people happy without any extra chemical soup. All I wanted was a nice clean slate and people who wouldn’t get weirded out by me not really wanting sex for myself, and here we are, right?” She grinned and bit her lip, her nose wrinkling in a manner so cute it took Soon by surprise. He hadn’t realized that he was capable of crushing on feminine-presenting people before. He’d definitely want to talk to Rith about this later, assuming they ended up in anything more serious than a night at the club, a movie outing, and some private time.

illustrated by Iron Eater

Contrary to popular opinion, body reconfiguration therapy wasn’t all about having sex: most of their scheduled time involved various stretching exercises, talking about what they liked about themselves, and sharing their goals for their respective procedures. They’d even covered happy accidents, like how Jocelyn’s follicle implants hadn’t quite taken during a session and left her with the snow-white color she loved, or how Soon had peeked under his bandages between procedures and liked the look of the scars so much he refused to have them smoothed out into typical post-surgery flawlessness. The part that stayed with Soon the longest, though, was how he felt as he shyly touched himself in front of Jocelyn and how she’d watched him with all the solemnity of a doctor performing major surgery. It was all very by-the-book–he’d play with his tentacles a bit, then touch them around the base, then by that point usually go hunting for his vibrator–save for the part where someone was watching him.

“It’s basically just this,” said Soon, hoping he wasn’t being creepy. “I mean, sometimes I’ll watch or read something during it, but this is how I do stuff up until I go hunting for a toy to finish up.”

Jocelyn made a thoughtful noise. “So what about the part underneath everything?” she asked.

“The what?”

“Can I show you?” He nodded to her, extending his hand and keeping his muscles limp. Her skin was cool and smooth against his as she manipulated him; first she positioned him into a few different gestures, then she had him touch his nose, his elbow, and his knee. Jocelyn then guided his hand through the main cleft of his tendril mass, her face a mask of concentration. His fingers brushed the membrane there and he yelped. It was so intense he mistook it for pain at first, but it didn’t hurt at all.

“Is this what you think you’ve been missing?” she said, her voice soft, and he nodded. She repeated the gesture. Then she did it again. Each time he got a little more used to it without losing the rush of intimate contact; he could see himself having someone’s cock there, and thought of the same mysterious person–maybe Rith, maybe someone else–grinding against him until they came on his stomach. His brain added Jocelyn to the mix, maybe kissing him or touching his tentacles with her hands, and before he knew it he’d managed to come with someone right there with him.

It was a wonder he’d been able to retain anything else after that.

They’d finished their session and dressed in their street clothes again when Jocelyn stopped Soon before he could slip out the door.

“Hey, Soon?” she said, and he braced himself for a quick mutual breaking of ties. “I know you’re used to being quiet and self-reliant, but you have to be willing to ask for things, okay? It doesn’t make you greedy, it just means you want to help your partner make you feel good. And for a lot of people, making our partners feel good is even more important than our own pleasure.” She clapped him on the back. “It’s been good meeting you. Maybe we could meet for coffee or something later? You’re interesting!” Soon felt a brief influx of information and took a moment before he recognized it as her contact information. This was not quite what he’d expected from his therapy session.

He gave her a hug and nodded before heading back to his quarters, lost in a snowstorm of conflicting thoughts. His mind was so busy he almost didn’t catch her message the first time. You tell your maybe-boyfriend he’s a lucky guy, okay? sent Jocelyn as he drifted along on a people-mover. You’re going to make someone really happy some day, Soon, so don’t ever think you’re anything other than a great catch. He wished she would have followed it up with some sort of just-friends talk, but she didn’t. She was cute and kind and the fact that she wasn’t wired to seek out sex with other people made him want to make her even happier. When he reached his apartment he found himself wondering if the next time he touched himself he’d think of sparkling, rainbow-trailing Rith or of Jocelyn’s round, brown, just-this-side-of-feminine body.

Soon stood in his living room and stared out the window for a long time, thinking about Rith and Jocelyn and Lammeter in general. It wouldn’t be fair to show up for his first time showing himself to Rith with someone else on his mind. Was there a right way to do this? Would he lose both of them this way? He couldn’t just sweep it under the rug and hope for the best, but how jealous a man was Rith, anyway? The questions felt infinite. There was only one way to get answers, unfortunately, and that meant doing things the hard way.

With great trepidation, he began composing a mail.

“…And I don’t even know if she likes me that way but I have a serious crush on her and I want to see her again and that’s, uh, that’s kind of how I feel. This is weird for me to talk about. Really weird. You aren’t mad, are you?” Soon felt his heel swaying back and forth and realized, much to his disgust, that he’d been screwing his hoof into the floor of Rith’s apartment like a bashful child caught stealing a cookie. That wouldn’t help his case very much.

Rith, much to Soon’s surprise, laughed. “Wanting to give the poly thing a try, huh? That’s great! So long as you take care of yourself and respect whoever you’re with, you shouldn’t feel bad about seeing if it works for you.” He rolled his shoulder as he continued talking. “If you want us, as in you and me, to be a long-term thing, I’d like to know who else you’re seeing, but that’s it. I still like you and I’m still interested in finding out what faces you make during sex. Which is still on the table, if you want it.”

“That’s it? That’s all it took?” said Soon, flustered.

“You’re adorable, Soon,” said Rith. “Communication is vastly underrated. So is nudity. You still in the mood to be an underdog and get naked?”

Yes,” breathed Soon, and it was a good thing Rith was already leaning against something sturdy because Soon was soon upon him.

They kissed fiercely, Rith kneading Soon’s ass through his jeans and rubbing himself against the fabric. Soon fumbled with Rith’s belt. For a man whose clothing looked like it would fall off at any moment, Rith was astoundingly difficult to undress. Rith had to guide his hands–and that would be something worth thinking about later on, given how two people had done so with him in as many days–and Soon gradually unclasped, unzipped, unbuttoned, and in one case untied Rith from the riot of colors and patterns he passed off as clothing. It was the first time Soon had ever encountered underwear with lights sewn into it.

Rith, unclothed, was in very good shape for someone who ate as much cheap greasy diner food as he did; a trained nutritionist probably knew exactly how to balance the rest of his diet around more indulgent habits, and dancing so often probably exercised parts Soon couldn’t even find in an index, much less on the human body. Swirls of glitter outlined his major muscle groups and formed a pair of zig-zagging lines pointing towards his crotch, which Soon’s eyes obediently followed. Rith’s cock was a little shorter than what Soon thought of as “the average,” but also a bit plumper, even in a half-erect state; to Soon it looked friendly, the kind of shape his hands itched to play with. It was neither cut nor pierced, which seemed odd for him, but did appear to have a subdermal display installed, which was less so. The slowly-moving tiger stripes he’d manifested that day contrasted sharply with his skin. His pubes were shot through with short, curly tufts of fiber-optics that matched the ones in his hair, their colors cycling in sync. Soon had to admit he would have been more surprised if there hadn’t been something equally ridiculous beneath the gaudy underpants. Having a story about banging a man with a rainbow tiger dick was already worth the sleep he’d lost from writing–and eventually sending–the mail.

Rith posed for him briefly before pulling Soon back in for another extended kiss, his wonderful, ludicrous cock pressed between them. There were hints of the same cologne he’d worn that first night in the club clinging to him. He tugged Soon’s shirt off over his head, revealing the pair of wings that spread themselves across Soon’s ribs, and murmured appreciatively.

“Oh, this looks really nice,” said Rith, tracing the decorative scars with his fingers. “I like it.” He brushed his lips against the left side. “You’re nothing but surprises, aren’t you, little bird?” Soon didn’t answer, instead wobbling backwards until he found the couch and sat in it. Rith was between his legs more or less immediately. Rith looked up at him and raised his eyebrows, nuzzling at the scars like a puppy, and all it took was a half-nod before he threw himself into pleasuring Soon.

Rith’s mouth wandered a lazy path down Soon’s torso. He took his time with this, sometimes doubling back or wandering to one side or the other; Soon felt his breath catch each time Rith’s teeth left a pleasant sting behind or Rith’s tongue raised goosebumps against his skin. It was a wonderfully agonizing wait as Rith meandered his way along, finally pausing when he reached the button on Soon’s jeans.

“You still want me to?” he asked, his voice eager and hungry. Soon nodded repeatedly. It was hard to make actual words come out. Someone wanted him, not just the version that combed its hair and tried not to be a twerp in public but the real Soon (too indie for one of the typical six genital configurations, too square to own any good music), and the fact that said someone was about as hot as a white phosphorus reaction was almost too much. The closet goth in him entertained the thought that maybe he’d actually died on the table back during the procedure and everything was a wonderful last hurrah from his self-destructing neurons, flooding his sedated brain with colors and hard-ons in the final seconds of his awkward little life. He didn’t have time to muse on this further because by then Rith had undone the button with his teeth and was easing the zipper down without using his hands. Floating adrift in a weird death-dream or not, Soon was determined to learn that maneuver himself.

Party tricks couldn’t account for digitigrade legs, however, and the moment was interrupted by a bit of fumbling with unfamiliar angles and making sure no hooves ended up smashing the coffee table. Determination saw them through in the end, and they kissed again before Rith slid Soon’s remaining clothes the rest of the way off, leaving Soon in his birthday suit. The apartment was chillier than the clinic had been, but since it made skin-to-skin contact even nicer he decided he didn’t mind. This time Rith didn’t subject him to a harrowing wait: leaving another kiss on Soon’s lips, Rith immediately returned to where he’d been between Soon’s legs, resting his hands on the inside of Soon’s thighs. Soon heard him make a pleased, interested sound, then felt Rith’s thumbs nudging at his tendrils. Warm breath tickled at his flesh. With Jocelyn things had been very scientific, prodding and stroking in calculated motions to see what worked best. With Rith, things were more intuitive, though Soon was certain that there was no less care put into each feather-light touch. It was a subtle, but pleasant, difference.

When Rith started using his mouth and hands at the same time Soon’s tidy internal monologue had to go lie down for a bit.

Even before his session with Jocelyn, Soon had found success with gently pulling at his tendrils, tugging from the base to the tip like he had dozens of the world’s smallest cocks. He’d only done so one or two at a time, though, usually just for the sake of touching himself, and while it was nice he’d always have to eventually dig out a vibrator to actually get off. This was different. Rith was twining his fingers through Soon’s dainty tentacles and stroking him enthusiastically, each tendril curling against Rith’s palms and thrilling at an unfamiliar person’s touch; that alone probably would have been enough, but there was still more going on. Rith kept catching individual tentacles in his mouth, pressing his lips against the base and suckling. Soon thrashed against Rith’s mouth each time until he was released, sometimes Rith giving him a friendly nip as the tentacle slid out along his tongue. The first time Soon struggled Rith had glanced up in concern. A nervous grin and a nod of approval from Soon was all it took to set things back on course, though he knew Gemma would be pleased to hear he’d picked someone with good manners.

Somewhere along the line Rith got the idea to suck on more than one tendril at once. First he tried two, which was nice but essentially more of the same, then three, which he kept trying to wrap around each other, until finally he swept his tongue around to gather as many as he easily could. Soon replied by making a noise he didn’t know he was capable of making, somewhere between a whine and a full-throated groan, as he dug his nails into the sofa. He could hear Rith’s quiet, pleased laughter and feel the vibrations against his now quite sensitive inner bits. Rith did the mouthful of tentacles thing again before he opted for something even more fiendish. He nudged Soon’s tendrils aside to nuzzle at the inner membrane itself, his goatee tickling the surrounding mass and his soft-skinned cheeks framed by little waving bits of flesh.

While there had been a few religious people back home on the frontier, Soon hadn’t counted himself among them; he’d never really clicked with the concept of spirituality and had been far too busy with his schoolwork to talk with one of the handful of leader-types that called the colony their home. Helpless before Rith’s mouth, however, he was willing to entertain the concept of a higher state of being. Rith pressed in harder and more insistently. Soon squeezed his eyes shut. It was an amazing sensation, the sort of thing that usually required a lot more batteries. He could feel his thighs tensing and a familiar pressure building up somewhere at the base of his spine, which in a few seconds would blossom into what was likely going to be a fantastic orgasm, but this wasn’t quite what he wanted.

“Rith, wait,” he rasped. It felt like his jaw didn’t work. He tried sending a message that said the same thing, but a process that was difficult enough when he was able to concentrate on it was effectively impossible when someone was going down on him. The result was more or less static.

Rith froze, not pulling away entirely but no longer doing things with his lips and tongue. It made it easier to concentrate. “Are you okay, Soon? What do I need to change? Just nod if you need me to stop for now.” His voice was concerned.

“Against me,” Soon managed, and even a phrase that short was hard to say. His mouth was dry. Remembering what Jocelyn had said about being allowed to make demands, he swallowed hard and summoned all the reserves of self-discipline he had. “Want your cock against me. Wanna come that way.”

Rith left a kiss just below Soon’s navel before pushing himself up with his hands. He walked himself upwards until they lay chest-to-chest and erogenous-zone-to-erogenous-zone; they had to change their angles a bit so no one was falling off the furniture, and Rith insisted on applying some lubricant to himself before they went any further, but it wasn’t long before their mouths had found one another’s once more. Rith felt warm and hard against Soon’s tentacles. It was strange and amazing and enough to make the last bit of self-doubt about the procedure leave Soon for good. He was able to manage a single clipped message–Can I touch?–and Rith didn’t even laugh at him for asking such an obvious question.

Go ahead, enjoy yourself, Rith messaged back, his tongue busy with something that probably made him very popular in certain company. You let me know when you want to pick things up again. I can be patient. It was all the prompting Soon needed.

He thought about the nature documentaries he’d loved as a kid: the ones not about horses had been about the ocean and the creatures that lived in it, and the beautiful movements of sea anemones had resonated with him long before he’d thought about switching over from a vulva. His head was clear enough that he could try to duplicate the way they had moved in the water, fluttering against Rith as though he were one of those lucky little fish that lived among the swaying tentacles. Judging by the surprised, but pleased, sound this got out of Rith, it had the desired effect. Soon dabbed at Rith’s glans and marveled in how the texture was so different from anything he had, past or present. The lube tingled as it mixed with the spit already coating a lot of the area between Soon’s pubic bone and mid-thigh; Rith had been quite energetic while he’d had his face there. Even Rith’s well-groomed curls were fascinating to touch, though Soon suspected he would need to check himself for stowaway glitter after they were done. Being with Jocelyn was so much different from this. It was like the first time he’d touched a boy all over again, but better.

Once he’d figured out the way he wanted to continue, Soon broke their kiss and wrapped his tendrils around Rith’s cock as snugly as he could, cradling him like a section of egg-crate foam. Rith gasped like he’d been splashed with cold water. Soon began grinding hesitantly against Rith, more worried about accidentally pulling a tentacle the wrong way than anything else, and all the boiling-over sensations that had been shelved when they changed positions came roaring back. The feeling of weight on top of him, combined with the pressure against the delicate membrane–which he’d once so foolishly thought might be more or less vestigial–and the blissful friction against each little neural cluster was electrifying. When Rith started grinding back, it only got better. It was nothing at all like fooling around with the vibe. He dug his nails into Rith’s back, earning another startled-but-happy grunt, and let himself be pushed down into the sofa cushions. Curling his toes–all two of them–Soon came harder than he ever had in his life, and wasn’t even embarrassed by the noises he made.

He lay limp and panting for breath in the aftermath of his orgasm, reeling with a dozen different happy emotions. Rith kissed his cheek, now careful not to put all of his weight on very sensitive tissue; Soon could feel that he was still hard. That wouldn’t do. He coyly brushed a strand of black and glowing red hair out of Rith’s eyes.

“Can I help you finish?” he asked. Soon affected his most charming smile, the one that never looked quite right in photos. “I’m, you know, really open to new things.”

“Never would have guessed,” said Rith, and Soon chucked him in the arm with a laugh.

Rith insisted on protection until they’d decided to be serious enough to exchange fluids other than spit, and the end result wasn’t as gross as Soon had worried it would be: the brand Rith preferred was more or less completely transparent, letting the tanned gold tones of his skin show through and making it look like he actually had a cock instead of one of the horrible off-white grub-things Soon remembered from the fumbling experiments of his youth. There was still a lot of lubricant left on both of them, but now the outside of the condom got a layer of its own, which Soon was all too happy to help apply.

The scary part came next, though Soon had been the one to suggest it and really did want to try. The most important detail was finding the right position; given their respective heights, his leaning across the back of the sofa was a lot more comfortable than trying to deal with propping various bits up against the upholstery. His hooves proved quite helpful in keeping his legs from skidding off to the side. Soon thusly placed, Rith slicked up one of his fingers and began carefully working a new dollop of slippery, still-slightly-tingly stuff around Soon’s pucker, nudging inside with one of his perfectly-manicured fingers. It felt weird, especially since Soon hadn’t played with himself that way very much, but there was a comforting hand against his lower back and comforting words in his ear. He began to relax little by little, letting Rith’s finger, followed by Rith’s fingers, plural, slide into him with increasingly less resistance. When he felt them pull out for the last time, Soon looked over his shoulder and nodded his readiness. Rith wiped his hand off on one of the washcloths he’d dug up and nodded back.

There was a feeling of pressure, of being stretched even more than Rith’s fingers had managed, and then Soon was properly engaged in the act someone back in college had called “sex in the anal” and which he couldn’t think of any other way. It was nice, though not the sort of thing he’d probably get off on alone. Rith’s hands massaged the cheeks of his ass and held him ever-so-slightly spread. Either Rith was in a hurry to finish or he’d been a lot closer than Soon had expected, because it wasn’t long before he pushed himself all the way in with an undignified squawk and held himself there, trembling a bit as he finished coming. There wasn’t any mess as he slowly pulled himself out, which Soon thought was very hygienic but also a little disappointing in its absence, and that thought had come out of absolutely nowhere. He was learning new things about himself every day.

Rith dabbed at Soon’s behind with the washcloth before handing Soon a fresh towel and excusing himself to dispose of the now decidedly used condom. He was back moments later, vaulting over the couch–still completely naked save for a few bits of jewelry–and patted the seat next to him. Soon took the hint. They leaned against each other in happy post-coital silence for a while before Soon remembered something.

“So what you said about Jocelyn, are you, like, really okay with that?” he asked. This wasn’t bad timing, was it? Maybe it was good timing. He’d already done a proper job of telling and showing Rith how much he liked him, so maybe it wouldn’t look like he was losing interest.

“What, with you two being friends with benefits? Sure, I think it’s good for you to get out more, see more people. I’d like to meet her, too, if you’re both fine with that.”

“For, uh, sex stuff?” stammered Soon. This was not a conversation he could imagine happening back home, though a more rational part of him noted it probably wasn’t unheard of.

Rith shrugged. “If it goes that way, why not? Mostly, though, I just want to tell her thank you. You’ve loosened up a lot since the first time we met.” He wrapped an arm around Soon’s shoulder, ignoring how sweaty and sticky they still were. “I like you, Soon. I’d like to spend more time with you, and not just because you’re a fun guy to share a couch with. I just don’t want you to feel like you’ve gone and ruined your chances to meet new people because you ended up bumping into me first, okay?”

Soon nodded. Rith kissed him again, softly and sweetly, though he ended it with a playful nip at the tip of Soon’s tongue similar to what he’d been doing to Soon’s tentacles earlier. It would be interesting going from his kisses to Jocelyn’s and back again. Relieved enthusiasm welled up inside Soon. Everything was actually going right! He’d tell Gemma, he’d tell his co-workers, he’d even leave out certain key details and tell his family. He wanted to hop around like a goat and dance surrounded by colors, even though he was still a little winded from lovemaking, and he wanted company for it. He could feel his face screwing up in giddy anticipation.

Rith tilted his head at him. “Still got something on your mind?” he asked, giving Soon’s shoulder a friendly squeeze.

Soon smiled. There was still plenty of day left, after all. “Yeah. You want to get cleaned up and go out dancing again?”

“Does a polysaccharide contain glycosidic bonds?” replied Rith with a grin.


“That means yes, Soon. C’mon, let’s see if I have anything that’ll fit you…”

There was always the chance something would go wrong in the Barck compound, or he’d have to visit his family for some emergency or another, or that he’d fall out of love. But for now, with Rith on one arm and Jocelyn–wherever she was–ready to at least friendly-punch the other, Soon was ready to believe that life was pretty great. That was the most okay thing of all.

illustrated by Iron Eater


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