by Mikami Ren (三神 恋)
illustrated by erli
“Approaching destination. Planet’s denomination: K-72-13. Entering atmosphere in twenty minutes.”
The computer’s voice broke the silence in the transport’s cockpit. A previous pilot had programmed it to speak with a soft feminine voice, so Tyler couldn’t help referring to the machine as ‘she’. He hadn’t given her a name, though, and he tried not to humanize her too much. He saw how some of his colleagues lost track of reality after too many lonely flights and started talking to their computers as if they were their best friends. Tyler liked to think he was a calm, well-adjusted man, and under normal circumstances he preferred the company of other people to that of a disembodied voice.
Today’s passenger, though, was proving to be a handful even for him. Junior technician Mikhail Nikovic was squirming in the seat next to him, clutching the edges of his tool kit with his long fingers. He was a tall, lanky guy, almost as tall as Tyler himself, though you wouldn’t have guessed it by the way he sat with his shoulders hunched, leaning away from the control panel. Tyler ferried a bunch of passengers between the outer planets every month, but he had a feeling that he’d remember this particular one.
Since Mikhail was the only passenger, Tyler had insisted that Mikhail take the empty co-pilot’s seat instead of sitting all alone in the back. From the way the techie almost refused the offer, muttering about ‘rules and regulations’ and ‘safety hazards’, Tyler guessed he was just starting out. Give the guy a couple of months and he’d loosen up. Heavens knew that Tyler had. After almost six years on the job he felt he’d earned the right to call himself a veteran, and as such he felt duty-bound to help the rookie.
However, after the fiftieth inquiry about additional info, Tyler was starting to feel the impulse to shove Mikhail out of an airlock. He was tired of trying to explain that Tyler knew even less about this job than he, and that he had no idea how long the comm lines had been down, or what had caused them to go down in the first place. He was just the pilot, and all he knew was that he had to bring the techie to the research facility on planet K-72-13, wait until the techie had finished fixing whatever he had to fix, and then bring the techie back to HQ. If the techie didn’t have enough info about his job, there wasn’t anything Tyler could do about it.
“Could you try to contact the colony to get more info?” Mikhail had asked shortly after departure.
“Dude,” Tyler said, torn between annoyance and amusement, “their comm lines are down. If HQ could contact them they would have done so already instead of sending a techie on a twelve-hour round-trip journey.”
Mikhail ran a hand through his gelled hair, making it stand up at funny angles. “Oh, right,” he said. “I’m sorry, during simulations we are given much more info than this….”
Tyler had been tempted to welcome him to reality in a very sarcastic manner, but Mikhail already looked on edge as it was. Hoping it would calm him down, Tyler had launched a program that attempted to make contact with the planet every few minutes, just in case it could catch a signal as they drew nearer. So far they hadn’t had any luck, but this didn’t stop Mikhail from asking several times if there had been an answer yet.
The guy was lucky that he was cute, because Tyler was seriously tempted to strangle him.
“These colonies all have faulty equipment,” Tyler tried to explain. “It’s not surprising that their comm lines went down. They are so old that they break down all the time.”
“So you think that’s what happened here?” Mikhail asked.
Tyler shrugged. “Probably. What else could it be?” he replied.
“I don’t know,” Mikhail said. “There could have been an accident. What if the people on this colony didn’t have enough food? What if they all starved, and the reason nobody is answering is because they’re dead?”
Tyler laughed at the idea. “Dude, you’ve watched too many movies. We’re not in the early days of terraforming any more,” he said, as reasonably as he could. “They have plenty of food, they grow, er, vegetables and stuff.”
“Planet K-72-13 hosts a self-sufficient colony,” the computer put in. “It could support its human population without external support for two-point-five to three years.”
“Thank you,” Tyler said before the computer could say anything more. For a machine, she sounded proud of herself whenever she could spout random stats. He glanced at Mikhail. “See? There’s nothing to worry about.”
Mikhail didn’t seem too sure about that. “They could still be dead,” he said. “Maybe they had a disagreement about something and started fighting each other. You can’t know that’s not what happened.”
“Or maybe,” Tyler said, “the planet was destroyed in a freak nuclear accident!”
“Really?” Mikhail asked, and he looked so startled that Tyler almost felt sorry for making him jump like that.
“No,” Tyler replied. “Dude, it was just a joke. There is no freak nuclear accident and no warring scientists. It’s just a boring, routine job.”
Mikhail bit his lip and seemed on the verge of asking if Tyler was really really sure that there had been no incoming communications from the people whose comm lines were down, but thankfully he didn’t say anything. He just gave a huge, theatrical sigh, as if it were Tyler’s fault that he was stuck with this disconcertingly vague job.
The only reason Tyler was putting up with him was because Mikhail was incredibly attractive: auburn hair, pale skin, and delicate features that made him look as if he belonged in a movie, not on an actual ship doing an actual job. Tyler had put up with much worse for people far less gorgeous.
“Here, you can see the planet on the monitors now,” Tyler said, mostly to take his mind off the fact that he hadn’t been laid since forever. He punched a few buttons and cleared one of the monitors nearest to Mikhail, replacing the data display with a live feed of the planet. Using manual commands was slower than telling the computer what to do, but at least this way he wouldn’t have to listen to her know-it-all comments. With a few more keystrokes, Tyler superimposed the image with a map showing the planet’s research facility.
“It’s so small,” Mikhail said. “And green. Is that normal?”
Tyler almost made a joke about the planet’s actually being an alien cabbage that was going to eat them, but he didn’t want to risk Mikhail’s actually believing his bullshit. So instead he nodded. “Yeah, there’s all kinds of planets,” he said.
In truth he’d never seen a planet quite so covered with jungle. Most of them were gray or brownish or blue. He kept sneaking curious glances at the monitors while he maneuvered the ship through the planet’s atmosphere, until he had to concentrate on landing.
Landing without any signal from the ground was tricky at best and the landing pad for this base was just a square flat area surrounded by trees. Ignoring the computer’s protests, he disconnected the autopilot and used manual commands during the descent. Computers were good at landing at precise coordinates, but not so much at remembering that the human crew didn’t like to be tossed around. He felt a twinge of satisfaction when he managed to land without as much as a single bump, right between two other ships belonging to the base.
Mikhail didn’t appreciate the smooth landing, though, or even acknowledge it. He grasped his toolbox with shaky hands and stared at the monitor showing the outside of the base.
“Are you going or not?” Tyler asked, getting out of his seat and stretching his arms as far as he could. He liked his job well enough, but he would never get used to having to sit for hours in the same place.
“Yes,” Mikhail said, looking from the monitor to Tyler and then back to the monitor. “It’s only that there’s nobody waiting for me outside.”
“Not surprising,” Tyler said, pulling a keyboard close and starting to type. “We couldn’t get in touch with them at all. They’re probably inside, wondering when their lines will get fixed.” He punched a few more keys and stared at the output on the screen. “Computer, can you get any signal from the base at all?”
There was a pause while the computer processed the command. “Negative,” she replied. “I cannot make contact.”
“Then you’ll have to go in there to find out what the problem is,” Tyler told Mikhail.
Mikhail nodded and looked at the screen. “The antenna should be in the control center,” he said, pointing to a large building with a glass dome. “I’ll just… go and see what’s happened, then.”
Despite his words, he didn’t move from his seat. Instead he kept staring at Tyler in a way that was half endearing and half unnerving. Tyler felt suddenly weak in the face of those puppy eyes.
“All right,” he sighed, throwing up his hands. “I’ll go with you to protect you from whatever danger might lie ahead.”
Mikhail smiled at those words, as if having one unarmed pilot with him might actually make a difference in the crazy life-or-death scenarios that he’d been imagining. He was even prettier when he smiled, in a neurotic kind of way, which made it hard for Tyler to remember that he was supposed to be annoyed at this guy for being a pain in the ass.
Tyler was the first to step off the transport, followed very closely by Mikhail. The landing space was large and paved with packed dirt: one of the best Tyler had seen on an outer planet. It was a shame that the place was so unkempt. There were weeds growing through cracks in the dirt, and the last rains had left some puddles that should have been drained.
It must be tough to live in the middle of the jungle, Tyler thought. He could see stumps where someone had cut down the trees that were getting too close to the base, but new sprouts and saplings were already growing back in their place. The base itself had several buildings, cylinders of metal and glass that housed both the research facilities and the living quarters of the personnel. A network of elevated corridors connected the buildings, so that there was no need to go outside to move between them.
They found an entrance next to the landing pad. The doors were locked, but luckily Mikhail was equipped with a universal access card. He swiped it across the sensor and the door slid open, revealing a dimly lit empty corridor.
Mikhail peered in. “Shouldn’t we wait for someone to come and meet us?” he asked. “They had to notice when the transport landed.”
“Dude, it’s a planet!” Tyler exclaimed. “Big planet, lots of empty space, only a handful of people. Maybe everyone is in another base.”
“This is the only base on the planet,” Mikhail replied.
“Maybe they’ve gone on a picnic in the jungle?” Tyler suggested.
Mikhail sniffed. “That’s ridiculous.”
Tyler laughed. “More ridiculous than when you suggested that maybe they’d split into two rival factions and murdered each other?” he said. Mikhail didn’t reply, but his lips twitched a little.
They walked in silence, following the signs to the main control center. It might have been that Mikhail’s nervousness was contagious, but Tyler was starting to wonder just where everyone was. How many people were there on this planet anyway? They should have met someone by now. Every once in a while they passed the doors of laboratories, storerooms, and once a cafeteria, but there was no sound coming from any of those rooms.
Their footsteps echoed on the grayish-green tiles on the floor. The light overhead flickered occasionally, probably a sign that the electrical system was faulty too. There was a faint, lingering smell of disinfectant, the cheap stuff that some unlucky janitor would use to clean each corridor twice a day.
But there was no janitor making the rounds with disinfectant and a mop. They reached the double doors of the control center without meeting anyone. Mikhail took his card key, made to swipe it over the sensor and paused with his arm in mid-air.
“This isn’t right. We should go back,” he said, voice audibly shaking.
Tyler shook his head and steeled himself against the other man’s puppy eyes. “No way, not after coming so far,” he said. “Besides, what are you going to report? ‘Sorry, I got to the control center and chickened out at the last moment?’ Come on, I’ll be right behind you.”
He put a hand on Mikhail’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Mikhail nodded, but he was still hesitant, so Tyler snatched the card key from his hand and opened the door before he could be talked into changing his mind. HQ would have given them hell if they went back without having done anything.
If he’d thought that the empty corridors were creepy, the room they stepped into was definitely uncanny territory. Without the signs outside labeling this as ‘Control Center 01’, he would have thought they’d accidentally walked into a greenhouse. Tyler paused in the doorway and stared at the mess of plants and vines in front of him. They covered every available surface, showing only glimpses of metal through their thick leaves.
“They’ve grown all over the equipment,” Mikhail exclaimed, looking around with wide eyes. “How is that even possible?”
“I guess that explains what happened to the comm lines,” Tyler replied. He poked a large purplish flower, probably the source of the sickly smell that was slowly creeping over him. It oozed some kind of sticky sap, and Tyler was quick to step back and wipe his fingers on his jacket. “Ew, gross,” he muttered.
Mikhail looked pained, probably because the rules and regulations handbook didn’t cover the event of a control center overrun by plants. “What do we do now?” he asked.
Tyler pulled a face. “Damned if I know,” he replied. “You’re the techie. Could you fix this?” he asked, gesturing to the mess surrounding them. It looked like this wouldn’t be just a boring routine trip after all.
“I don’t know,” Mikhail replied, “but I’m glad I’ve got gloves.” He opened his tool kit and dug around. Then he sighed and proceeded to win several sympathy points with Tyler as he walked up to the largest bunch of plants in the middle of the room and started hacking at them with a pocket knife. After a couple of minutes he was up to his elbows in sap and had cleared almost all of the foliage from one of the control panels.
“The power is still on and nothing seems out of order,” he said, running his gloved fingers along the panel. “My best guess is that one of the connecting cables broke. Or maybe more than one. I don’t know.”
“Can you fix it?” Tyler asked.
Mikhail sighed. “I don’t know,” he said. “Probably yes, it’s a textbook case, but I’ll need to chop off all those vines to see where the damage is.”
Tyler considered the amount of vegetation versus the size of Mikhail’s knife. “I’ll see if I can find an axe or something,” he said. “And maybe a change of clothes for you,” he added with a snicker.
Mikhail looked at the globs of foul-smelling goo that covered his shirt and made a face. He didn’t let that stop him, though, and after wiping off the worst of the stuff with a handkerchief he started unscrewing the front of the panel. “You do that,” he said. “I’ll stay here and check the circuits. Unless I mysteriously disappear too,” he added darkly, and Tyler took that as his cue to leave before being subjected to more disaster scenarios.
As he wandered through the corridors wondering where on this blasted base he could find an axe, Tyler had to admit that Mikhail had a point. Between the lack of people and the overgrown control center he was becoming increasingly uneasy. There was something off about the planet, and it wasn’t just the smell wafting out of the control center’s open doors. He searched several labs, the cafeteria, and a storeroom containing seeds and dried vegetables without finding anything sharper than a dining knife.
There was nothing obviously out of place in the base; no signs that a war or a nuclear catastrophe had taken place. It was pretty much like any other outer planet base Tyler had seen, aside from the complete absence of people. And aside from the strange plants. Some of the rooms were full of those purple flowers, as if they’d been growing undisturbed for years. In other places there were just a couple of vines sneaking around the leg of a chair, or climbing a wall. The base didn’t look abandoned, though, and it had been operating regularly until a few days ago.
Tyler was about to go check another building when he heard a scream. He froze, then turned around and ran back towards the control center. It had only lasted for a few seconds and then silence had fallen again, but there was no mistaking that voice. It was Mikhail.
Tyler didn’t want to think about what he’d do if something had happened to the guy, not after he’d laughed at all of his fears and talked him into entering this creepy deserted base and pushed him into staying when they should have got the hell off of the planet. Right now all of Mikhail’s crazy ideas didn’t seem so far-fetched. Tyler burst into the control center calling Mikhail’s name before he could think of a better plan.
The first thing he noticed was Mikhail, sitting on the floor looking pale and shaky but unharmed. There was a definite lack of monstrous alien aggressors, which seemed almost anticlimactic given that Tyler had run so fast he felt dizzy.
“Dude, you scared the crap out of me,” he wheezed. He leaned against the doorframe and tried to catch his breath. “What happened?”
The other man pointed a shaky finger towards a bush growing in the middle of the room. “Over there,” he managed to say.
Without waiting to hear more, Tyler walked over to the bush. “Is this another of your scary theories?” he asked. “Killer bushes?”
Behind him, Mikhail made a strangled noise. “It’s not pretty,” was all he managed to say, right as Tyler moved away some of the leaves.
“What the fuck?” Tyler yelled, jumping back and stumbling in his haste to get away. What he had at first mistaken for a bush was actually a bunch of plants and vines growing around something. Growing around a human body. A corpse. Or, at least, part of a corpse. Tyler’s stomach twisted.
“That, uh,” Mikhail said. He had to clear his throat before continuing. Tyler guessed that he, too, was trying hard not to barf. “That seems to be the source of the foul smell. And also explains why we didn’t meet anyone. They are all dead.”
Tyler shook his head, trying to clear it. This whole thing was crazy. “Let’s not jump to conclusions,” he said, ignoring the fact that his voice was shaking. “We don’t know for sure that everyone’s dead.”
Mikhail just gave him a look. “Did you see that?” he asked, pointing vaguely in the direction of the bush.
Tyler didn’t blame him for not wanting to get any closer. Because, as if things weren’t creepy enough already, half of the body was missing. Tyler took a deep breath and approached the clump of leaves again.
“He looks as if…” Mikhail began, but he couldn’t finish his sentence and just trailed off.
“As if his body is melting,” Tyler supplied. The man’s arms had gone already and so had half the torso, exposing the bones beneath. He was lying face down, for which Tyler was grateful. He really didn’t want to add the dead man’s expression to the list of things that would be visiting him in his nightmares from now on.
“We should leave,” Mikhail said, pushing himself unsteadily to his feet. “Now.”
Tyler nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, we really should leave.” Despite that, he spared one last second to yank a couple of hairs from the dead man. “So that the computer can find out who he was,” he muttered.
Mikhail was already waiting for him at the door and clearly only cared about how quickly they could get out of there. Tyler felt as if he was going crazy, but forced himself to think about what they had to do. He made a list in his head. Get the hell out of the base and back to the transport. Have the computer identify the dead body and maybe figure out why he died like that. Fly back and report their findings as quickly as they could. Change out of these clothes that smelled like plants and rotting corpses. Not necessarily in that order.
Even the first item on his list didn’t go smoothly. They were rushing along the main corridor when Mikhail stumbled and almost fell down.
Tyler grabbed his arm for support. “Dude, get a grip on yourself,” he said. “We want to get out of here as soon as possible.”
“Yes, it’s just, I just need a moment,” Mikhail replied. He licked his lips. “I don’t feel well. My head is spinning.”
“Same here,” Tyler replied, tugging him along. “Finding a half-melted dead body can have that effect. Come on, let’s get away from here and we’ll feel better. This place gives me the creeps.”
Mikhail’s legs were still unsteady, but he leaned on Tyler for support and they managed to stumble out of the base and into the cold sunlight of the landing area. Despite Tyler’s optimism, the fresh air did nothing to dispel his dizziness and sluggish thinking. Mikhail’s body was warm and trembling where it draped over Tyler’s. He was shaking so much that Tyler had to manhandle him onto the ship.
“Are you going to be all right?” Tyler asked, even though the man looked like the opposite of all right. His face was flushed and he leaned heavily on Tyler. “I think those plants affected us. Hold on, I’ll have the computer analyze the samples.”
“Tyler,” Mikhail said. His breath was coming in short gasps and his skin felt as if it was on fire. Tyler could feel it through the layers of fabric and the sticky, crusted sap that was still clinging to their skin and clothes. “I feel… funny,” Mikhail mumbled. He pulled Tyler closer, until the two of them were almost nose to nose.
Mikhail’s eyes were bright and his pupils were dilated. Tyler could smell the sickly-sweet smell of the sap still clinging to Mikhail, and beneath that he could smell Mikhail’s own sweat. It made Tyler’s head swim and his heart beat madly in his chest.
When Mikhail touched his face, Tyler couldn’t hold back any more. He pushed Mikhail against the nearest wall and crushed their lips together, hot and messy and desperate. Mikhail whimpered in the back of his throat and wrapped one arm around Tyler’s waist, pulling him closer and rubbing their groins together in small circular motions that left Tyler seeing stars.
They were both getting hard already. Tyler wasn’t the kind to jump the bones of random hot guys he had just met, but he couldn’t control himself. He felt lightheaded, as if he was on drugs, and Mikhail seemed to have it even worse. He couldn’t stop, not when Mikhail was warm and pliant against him, curling one hand against Tyler’s neck, making him desperate for skin against skin.
When Tyler pulled back from the kiss to catch his breath, Mikhail whimpered at the loss. “More,” he gasped, as if he needed that kiss more than he needed air. He dragged his tongue along Tyler’s cheekbone. “Please, Tyler…”
Tyler shivered at the cold air against the wet stripe on his cheek. He knew just what he wanted, but undressing seemed like an impossibly difficult task. He tugged at Mikhail’s shirt, wishing he could just tear it off. His hands felt slow, all his thoughts were sluggish save the most urgent one. “I know,” he told Mikhail. “I know.”
Finally he managed to take off the shirt. Tyler ran his fingers along Mikhail’s bare sides, and they both shuddered at the contact. Tyler pulled off his own shirt and they wriggled out of their trousers as quickly as they could, though Mikhail was shaking so much that he was more of a hindrance. The front of Mikhail’s boxers was already wet with pre-come.
There was almost too much skin now; too much heat wherever Tyler and Mikhail were pressed together. Tyler could feel both of their hearts beating frantically almost in unison. He wrapped one arm around Mikhail’s waist for support and yanked down Mikhail’s boxers with his free hand.
Mikhail’s skin, usually so pale, was flushed with a deep purple. He wrapped one hand around his cock and tried to jerk himself off, but he was shaking so badly that Tyler had to put a hand over his to help him. Mikhail bucked into the contact, thrusting his hips forward with small, jerky motions. He moaned at the increased friction and Tyler caught the noise with a kiss.
Tyler traced a thumb over the head of Mikhail’s cock, making Mikhail hips rock faster and faster. “Do that again,” Mikhail gasped, and then, almost in a whimper, “please!”
Tyler pressed his other hand over the front of his own boxers and stroked himself through the fabric. There was a wet spot in the front already, warm against his fingers. He bucked into the contact, into Mikhail’s leg. He could barely register the words and curses coming from Mikhail’s mouth, and just concentrated on stroking Mikhail’s cock rhythmically, on feeling it pulsate under his palm.
It didn’t take long before Mikhail came, shuddering and throwing his head back to bang against the metal wall. Tyler stroked him to completion, until Mikhail went boneless in his arms. They both slumped to the floor. Tyler felt as if his legs couldn’t support him any longer, as if he was going to die if he didn’t get off now. He licked the flat of his palm with one broad swipe of his tongue, and caught Mikhail staring.
When Mikhail started to say something, the words caught in the back of his throat and he could only give a strangled moan. However, his flush and the fact that he was still hard were more than eloquent.
“You want me to…?” Tyler managed. He didn’t know what he would have done if the other man refused, wasn’t even sure he could handle a refusal. Mikhail just pulled him closer, between his legs, and kissed him. Tyler kissed back, biting Mikhail’s lower lip and pushing him down on the floor. Mikhail’s mouth was warm and inviting and promised so much more.
Tyler couldn’t tear himself away for long enough to get lubricant, so he just licked his fingers and hoped spit and Mikhail’s come would be enough. He knew it wouldn’t be, but Mikhail spread his legs for him and pushed back when Tyler slid one, then two fingers inside.
Mikhail pressed his face against Tyler’s shoulder. When Tyler twisted his fingers, he bit down so hard that Tyler was sure it would leave a mark. He couldn’t bring himself to care, not when Mikhail was writhing under him, pressing back against his fingers and moaning a litany of “Please, please, please.”
Tyler was more than ready to oblige him, replacing his fingers with his cock. He pressed inside Mikhail with one long slide that left both of them gasping for air. “Fuck,” Tyler grunted, bracing one arm on the floor for support.
Moving was delicious agony. Mikhail was too tight and spit and come as lubricant wasn’t quite enough, and every movement sent delicious sparks through Tyler’s body.
“Does it hurt?” Tyler managed to ask, because he had to.
Mikhail swallowed and nodded, but rolled their hips together. “Don’t stop,” he asked, almost begging.
Tyler bit back a sigh of relief. “Couldn’t have stopped if I wanted to,” he grunted, pushing into Mikhail again. He didn’t want to stop. He didn’t know how to stop.
He leaned in for a kiss, pressing against the length of Mikhail’s body and trapping Mikhail’s cock against his stomach. The contact made Mikhail hiss. “Ty,” he gasped against Tyler’s mouth. He came shortly afterward, his muscles tightening around Tyler’s cock and sending him over the edge.
Tyler came with Mikhail’s name on his lips. He only barely managed to remember himself enough to avoid crushing the other man under his weight. Instead he fell on the floor next to him and closed his eyes, listening to their breath become regular again.
When he started to feel the coldness of the metal floor under his shoulder blades, Tyler pulled himself into a sitting position. “Computer,” he croaked. “Immediate departure.”
“Acknowledged,” said the computer. The engines whirred into life as if the computer had been waiting for the order. Tyler tried not to think about being recorded while having desperate sex against the wall and on the floor with Mikhail, and wondered if he could wipe the computer’s memory once they returned to HQ.
He and Mikhail stumbled around, retrieving their clothes and hopefully a bit of their dignity. Mikhail seemed to be trying and failing to look as if he hadn’t just had his brains fucked out.
It was only after they’d left the planet well behind that Tyler remembered about the samples. He placed the dead man’s hair and a fragment of sap under the sensor, and the computer obligingly scanned them. “Processing items,” she confirmed. “Please wait.”
Tyler turned back to Mikhail, who had collapsed on the nearest seat and was staring at the wall. Unsure of what to do, Tyler sat down next to him and started rubbing soothing circles on his back. Mikhail was impossibly tense under his fingers but didn’t say anything, just leaned into the contact with a sigh.
“It’s okay, we got out,” Tyler said in an undertone. He wasn’t sure if he was speaking more for Mikhail or for himself. “We got out of there. Whatever happened in that place, we’re still alive. It’s okay.”
He could have gone on forever, muttering nonsense and holding on to Mikhail and thinking of nothing at all. However the computer interrupted to announce the results of her analysis, filling the screen with data and graphs.
“The first sample has been identified,” she said. The screen showed a picture of a middle-aged man in a white lab coat. The man’s photo or his name didn’t mean anything to Tyler.
“Does that look like the dead guy?” Tyler asked Mikhail, who nodded just once. Tyler hadn’t seen the dead man’s face, and from Mikhail’s slightly nauseated expression he gathered that it wasn’t a pretty sight.
The computer was talking about post-mortem and toxins, but all the medical terms didn’t mean anything to Tyler.
“What was the cause of death?” he asked. “Why was the body melting? In simple terms, please; my head still feels clouded.” In truth he felt a lot better than before, but the computer had the bad habit of using words that had way too many syllables to make any sense.
The computer whirred and readjusted her speech patterns. “The victim came in contact with a very toxic substance, either assimilated through the skin or inhaled,” she said. “The substance matches the second organic sample. The substance also seems to have accelerated the body’s decay, turning it into nutrients. It is my speculation that the plants were able to grow quickly by consuming the flesh of their victims.”
Tyler felt a wave of nausea wash over him. They’d both touched those damn plants, and Mikhail still had globs of their sap on his arms. “Computer,” he said. “This toxin… are we…?”
He couldn’t bring himself to say it, to ask if they were infected, if they were going to die, but the computer knew what he meant anyway. She had always been too clever by half, for being just a machine. Tyler wrapped a protective arm around Mikhail’s shoulders while the computer whirred and ran analysis. Mikhail’s shoulders tensed but he didn’t shy away from the touch.
Waiting for the answer felt like the longest minute of Tyler’s life. “Negative,” the computer answered, finally. “You were both affected, but by a small dosage. The result was only a temporary hormonal imbalance. Your bodies have flushed out most of the toxin already, through sweat and semen.”
Tyler collapsed against the back of his seat, limp with relief. He was so happy he could have danced, if he weren’t so bloody tired. But Mikhail looked glum and was staying uncharacteristically quiet.
“It’s all right,” Tyler told him. “The computer said we’re out of danger.” When Mikhail still didn’t answer, or even look him in the eyes, Tyler bit his lips. “Hey, I’m sorry about what happened,” he said in an undertone. “I couldn’t fight it. Maybe I should have tried harder to fight it, but you were just as gone as I was and…”
His voice trailed off. Tyler didn’t want to have this conversation, especially because he was starting to realize that he didn’t regret what happened nearly as much as Mikhail seemed to. On the contrary, the thought of Mikhail’s mouth on his own still sent shivers down Tyler’s spine, and Tyler was sure that alien toxins had nothing to do with that.
Mikhail swallowed. “It’s just,” he said. He tried to meet Tyler’s gaze but immediately looked away. “It’s just that I hoped that my first time would be more romantic than that,” he mumbled.
Tyler laughed with relief, and Mikhail turned crimson.
“Do you think it’s funny that I was a virgin?” he asked.
“No, wait, it’s not that!” Tyler exclaimed. He had to grab the other man by the shoulders to stop him from pulling away. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to mock you or anything. I’m just so glad that you don’t hate me.”
“I don’t hate you,” Mikhail replied. His face was still very pink. “Why would I hate you?”
“Because, er,” Tyler said. He couldn’t bring himself to say, ‘because I forcibly took your virginity while we were both high on some weird alien sex drug’. “I was afraid I hurt you,” he said instead. “I don’t know if you noticed, but I wasn’t exactly in control of my actions.”
Mikhail shrugged. “I didn’t feel myself either,” he said in an undertone. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Did it hurt?” Tyler insisted. He had to know.
Mikhail bit his lip. “A little,” he admitted, and Tyler’s heart skipped a beat. “But it also felt good. It felt really, really good.”
Tyler didn’t know what to say to that. “Will you go out with me?” he blurted out instead.
Mikhail just stared at him.
“Dinner,” Tyler continued. “You and I. When we get back. We’ll go to some place that has a completely carnivorous menu. I don’t even want to see potted plants in the restaurant.”
At that, Mikhail finally smiled. “Yes,” he said, and then he pressed a butterfly kiss on the corner of Tyler’s mouth. “I’d like that.”
He had a gorgeous smile. Tyler’s stomach did a little flop as he realized that he might have just fallen for this skinny newbie techie. “Oh, fuck,” Tyler thought. Now he was in trouble.