Tohan was incredibly focused on his job. That was admirable and even desired since it meant that he was doing what he was being paid a ridiculous amount of money to do. However, it also meant that he was slowly driving me crazy with just how focused he was when he was working. I could pour an incredible amount of attention into my job, but Tohan made me look like I was slacking off and barely doing the minimum.
Once he plunked his ass in front of the computer and started working, he was gone. I was more personal care-giver than bodyguard at that point. I’d put food beside him and tell him it was there, and when he only grunted a reply, I thought that he’d smell the food and eat it. He may have smelled it, but there wasn’t even the barest flicker of interest from him. I left him alone and started on the file combing he’d asked me to do figuring that he’d eat once he was hungry enough.
Hours later, the internal alarm I’d set to notify me of the next meal time went off. The plate beside Tohan was empty, so I picked it up and went to make us both something to eat. We hadn’t made the hydroponics run yet because Tohan wanted to get some of the other security things squared tightly away before we left the computer room. I thought that was a solid plan and agreed that the fresh food run could easily wait another day or even several days if necessary. We certainly weren’t even close to being in desperate need of the food in the hydroponics bay seeing as it was only our second day at the prison.
I put a new plate of food beside Tohan and nudged his arm. He barely glanced at the plate and mumbled thanks without really turning his attention from the screen. I watched him for a few minutes, but he was obviously right back into his work—if his attention had ever really been taken from it. I went back to my data search, my plate beside me. I slowly ate as I went through the data looking for what Tohan asked. It was a long, very boring process, but given the fact that we seemed to be fairly secure in the computer room, it wasn’t like I had a lot of other things to occupy my time.
The first time I’d put a full plate beside Tohan, I thought he’d eventually eaten what I’d given him. I’d have thought the same thing the second time if I hadn’t caught Effie in the act of eating what I’d served Tohan. Tohan didn’t seem to notice what Effie was doing, and Effie looked guilty as fuck when he realized he’d been caught.
Effie’s reaction was actually pretty funny. He’d frozen with the food halfway to his mouth, his eyes locked with mine. He slowly moved his foreleg holding the food to his mouth as if waiting to see how far he’d get before the shouting started. I’d yelled his name when he had the food close to his mouth and said he was bad like I’d heard Tohan tell him. Effie lurched into sudden motion, jammed the food into his mouth, made a half-assed attempt to grab more food off the plate, and ran faster than I thought he could to the change room where, I assumed, he scurried into his nest. He left a trail of food bits behind him.
Tohan didn’t so much as flinch at the mad scramble Effie made off the desk even through there was all kinds of noise and movement literally within inches of him.
I’d called Tohan’s name and got no response. Not even a mumbled excuse that he’d eat in a minute as he’d said once before when I tried to remind him to eat the first meal. It was as if I wasn’t even saying anything or he’d suddenly gone deaf. He said fondling him would immediately drag his attention away from what he was doing, but I was loath to do that when I had no intention of doing anything sexual with him at the moment. I didn’t want him to think I was a tease or was playing some sort of game with his arousal. In general, sexually teasing someone without intending to follow through with sex very shortly after was seen as very bad form among the Awh’anise unless there was some sort of prearranged agreement for the teasing. Not that I didn’t want to have sex with Tohan. I most certainly did. I simply thought there should be some sort of work versus off-hour times for that sort of thing. I had a certain degree of professionalism to maintain regardless of how happy I knew Tohan would be to nail my ass any time I even hinted at wanting that.
By the time the next meal hour rolled around, I was fairly certain I was going to need to grope Tohan to drag him away from the computer. In the four hours since I’d put the previous plate beside him the only thing that I was sure he moved were his hands to either type something or to move the pointer. Even his tail was still, a sign of extreme concentration among the Awh’anise.
Missing a meal or two generally wasn’t that big of a deal for people. Missing multiple meals would, however, decrease Tohan’s productivity and quite possibly muddle his thinking. I placed the meal next to him and called his name several times just in case I was wrong about that having no effect on getting Tohan’s attention. There was no response. Not even so much as a twitch of his tail tip to say he’d heard me. I sighed and hoped I wasn’t about to offend Tohan with what I was going to do next. Sex could certainly come after the meal if he wanted, but he was going to eat in the next ten minutes.
Tohan was still nude, which I appreciated a lot and made what I was about to do so much easier. Not that typical Awh’anise clothes did anything to impede access to bare flesh. I reached down and stroked my fingers over his nipples. A little smile appeared on my lips when they immediately stiffened at my touch. Tohan made a soft sound of approval in his throat but continued typing and scrolling through the code on the screen. I played with his nipples a little more, tugging and pinching them, but he was still utterly focused on what he was doing. The reaction of his body to my touch didn’t seem to be reaching his brain. I hadn’t thought that would be an issue. Laser focus to the exclusion of everything else indeed.
Tohan was apparently insanely focused on work if he could more or less ignore somebody gently tweaking his nipples. I’d never be able to ignore something like that. Granted, I had a bit of a kink for nipple play, but still. Most people would at least look at the person fondling them and pause in what they were doing. Tohan wasn’t fooling around either to get me to touch him more. He, honest to gods, was that intent on his work.
Perhaps when he’d said to fondle him, he meant touch his dick. He hadn’t specified what sort of fondling worked best to yank him out of his work fugue. I could most certainly do that. Matter of fact, it would be my distinct pleasure to take hold of Tohan’s dick.
I slid my hand down his chest and wrapped my fingers around his cock, giving him a gentle stroke. His cock immediately firmed in my hand going from soft to hard so quickly I was a little awed. The sound of typing immediately stopped, and I heard the very low rumble of his purr start up. He tilted his head back to look at me, a wicked grin on his lips and arousal in his eyes.
“What’s up, Warrick? Aside from me, of course.”
I snorted a laugh. “Food time. You’ve missed two meals already. You need to eat. Now.”
“Really? Two meals? Huh. That would explain why my stomach is now growling.”
I let go of his dick only to have him grab my wrist and keep my hand where it was. I wasn’t protesting that too strenuously because I liked the feel of his dick in my hand. But he really did need to eat, and I couldn’t see my fondling him as anything other than supremely distracting as he was trying to eat. At least I’d find it very distracting to have someone stroking me off as I ate.
“Food can wait,” Tohan said with a leer.
“No, it can’t,” I replied.
“It’s rehydrated whatever. Letting it sit a little won’t hurt.”
Tohan’s hand squeezed mine, making me grip his cock tighter. His purr got a touch louder for a few seconds before dropping down into the barely audible range for me. He definitely liked the feel of my hand on his dick.
“It won’t change the nutritional quality, no, but it will make the texture vastly unappealing. These meals do not benefit from going cold either. Yes, they’re still perfectly safe to eat, but you really won’t want to. Trust me on this. I also don’t want to give Effie the chance to steal your food again. He ate the first meal I put next to you and about half of the second one before I caught him.”
“I’ve eaten Tyh’s cooking and lived. Rehydrated something-or-other, regardless of when it was prepared, could never approach that level of bad,” Tohan said with a shrug and a smile. “I love my brother, but I swear he can burn water. He lives in the Shal-hazal House not only because he’s one of the Wills but because there’s a huge, full-service dining room for the people who live in the House. I know for a fact that Dak is supremely grateful that he doesn’t need to eat anything Tyh throws together. I actually think Tyh’s cooking is some sort of level-three bio-hazard.”
I laughed at that. I could prepare a gourmet meal fit to be served to heads of state with little more than mystery meat caught in a sewer, three spices, two vegetables, and some greens for garnish. Programming and access to a vast recipe database could make anybody proficient. I still couldn’t do a lot to make the rehydrated food taste significantly better. Nutritionally adequate did not mean flavourful or even just okay tasting.
“That may be the case for you. I, however, would prefer not to have to eat this food once its congealed into some sort of formless lump with all the flavour of an under-seasoned mud patty. I hope you realize that I’m only doing what you told me too, Tohan. You said to make sure you ate and slept and that if I needed to drag you away from the computer to do those things, fondling you was the fastest way to get your attention. I understand that sexually teasing someone is not viewed well in your culture, and it wasn’t my intent to tease you. I need you to eat. Now.”
Tohan sighed and pushed back from the computer, letting go of my hand that he’d kept on his cock as well. He stood and stretched, some of his joints making a popping sound when he did so. He was still hard and seeing him stretch, his muscles shifting and bunching in a very attractive and arousing way, suddenly made me question if I remembered correctly just how awful the rehydrated food tasted when it was cold and congealed. Even if the food was horrible, it might be worth it just this once. Tohan smiled at me, and his tail swished lazily behind him.
“Rethinking that bit about the food being inedible if it goes cold? Or maybe thinking that it would be worth it anyway?” Humour and arousal was in Tohan’s voice. “I can smell the beginnings of arousal from you, and it’s getting stronger with every breath that I take. I’m pretty sure you know I’m all for that. I mean, if the rock hard boner I’ve got pointing at you wasn’t enough of a clue that I’d totally be on board with both of us getting frisky in the next thirty seconds. And I knew you weren’t being a cock-tease when you grabbed my dick. I told you to do it to yank me out of my programming fugue.”
“I have noticed how happy you are from me getting handsy with you and assumed the continued erection was because of and for me,” I chuckled.
“Only if you want it. It’ll keep, more or less, if you really are set on eating right now. Hell, even if it goes down, you’ll just need to touch me again, and we’ll be back in business in like three seconds flat. You can make me hard just from breathing. No lie. Stand next to me and breathe softly near my ear, and I guaran-fucking-tee I’ll pop a boner.”
My cheeks heated a touch at his words, the sincerity of them and his utter belief in what he said. Tohan was a wonderful boost to my sexual confidence. I almost hated to do it, but the sexual fun would need to come after I’d fulfilled my duty to keeping him feed and rested so he could do his job at peak performance.
“Food first. My memory is excellent and rehydrated food gone cold is a rather disgusting memory I’d rather not repeat if it can be helped at all. While we eat, you can finally tell me why my tatts freaked you out when you saw them the first time.”
“Sure. It’s not really much to tell,” Tohan said as he grabbed the plate from the desk and gestured to the lumpy couch with it.
I picked up my plate from where I’d put it near my workstation and joined Tohan on the couch. Tohan was already making serious headway into the food on his plate. He wasn’t gulping it down, but it was a close thing. I ate at a slower pace. I thought that it might be an idea to give him seconds since he’d missed two meals earlier. He slowed when most of the food was gone, his initial hunger likely eased, and began to speak.
“Okay, you already know about Moswen’s chaos effect because I’ve told you about it, and you were able to confirm some of the details I told you. I’m not sure if you entirely believe me about how whack-a-doodle some of the stuff that’s happened has been, but the important thing that colours what I’m going to say next is that I believe in his chaos effect. Not just that it is a thing, but that it... changes things in ways you can’t really imagine, and sometimes you need to go way, way back to find that moment, that pebble dropped into a lake, that touches and affects everything from one shore to the other.”
“The butterfly effect. I’ve heard of it,” I said with a little nod as I finished my meal and set the plate aside.
“The what?” Tohan asked with a frown. “What’s a butterfly?”
“Rune, the woman who somehow convinced me to get the tattoo on my chest, called it the butterfly effect. A butterfly is a small, delicate insect with beautiful, brightly coloured, paper-thin wings native to Earth, her home world. They’re very pretty and harmless. The butterfly effect is when a butterfly flaps its wings and a day later, on the other side of the world, a typhoon happens. It is a phrase her people use to describe small, seemingly inconsequential actions that drastically alter the outcome of events.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what Moswen’s chaos effect is,” Tohan said with a grin. “Kinda cool that it goes by other names on other worlds although having more than one person causing that sort of crap out in the universe is a bit on the scary side. From what Moswen says, the Fire Snakes have shit-fits over his chaos effect because it screws up even their ability to see the future around him. I think Moswen makes them nervous because they’re sort of flying blind when it comes to him, those closest to him, and the things that get set into motion. The Fire Snakes sound like they’re massive control freaks from what I know, and Moswen unintentionally fucks with that control, big time.
“A Shal-hazal is damn near a god in the Dream World. The Fire Snakes are pretty much the real deal to hear any Shal-hazal talk about them. Every Awh’anise knows about the Fire Snakes, but they only visit the Shal-hazal and, generally, only in dreams. Very rarely do they appear in the real world. The Fire Snakes are the ones responsible for kicking us, as a species, several rungs up the evolutionary ladder. We apparently went through about fifty thousand years of evolution in roughly three thousand years because of what they did to us. That’s insanely fast as I understand it.”
My eyes widened in surprise. The amount of power and knowledge necessary to do something like that to an entire species was staggering. It also made me wonder why the Awh’anise had been bumped that far up the evolutionary chain. There had to be a very compelling reason for doing that. The alien assisted, super-sonic speed of the Awh’anise development hadn’t been in the data Moswen gave me. I didn’t think it was a deliberate withholding of information though. There was a side note in the information that said the Awh’anise were not far removed from their animal ancestors and that it was believed that developmental closeness to their more primitive selves accounted for the majority of their behaviours and culture, which often seemed primal and savage to other species. If the Awh’anise had changed that quickly, it certainly did explain a great deal about them and why they behaved as they did.
“Fire Snakes are responsible for your evolutionary leap? You’re sure about that? Why would they do something like that?” I asked.
“Absolutely. They weren’t shy about taking credit for doing it. They wanted us to know, and they wanted us to know that they weren’t gods, just a very advanced species. Apparently, they did it as part of some millennia long war with another insanely powerful species, the Ruks. We were or are to be something to help turn the tide against the Ruks. No idea how that’s worked out for them or if what they did to us is still in the work-in-progress phase. I don’t think we’ve done anything as a species to help in any great galactic battle, but they’re not really forthcoming with their battle plans or with info about how the war is going. Honestly, we wouldn’t even know there was a war raging on if we hadn’t been told that by both the Fire Snakes and Ruks, so take away whatever you want on the subject.”
Interesting. Wars happened all the time all over the universe, but I’d never heard of this one. Not that it necessarily meant anything that I hadn’t. I couldn’t possibly know of every war going on everywhere. However, if the war was being fought for thousands of years and was still ongoing and possibly spanned galaxies, it stood to reason that there would be at least rumours of it somewhere.
“I’ve heard of Fire Snakes before, but I’m not sure they’re the same creatures. I’ve never heard of the Ruks, but that means little,” I said as I quickly went through my archived data looking for the exact conversation. “It could be simply a situation where the same name is used for completely different beings. That’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility.”
“In what context did you hear of them? It could be something different from what my people know as Fire Snakes. Coincidences do happen. I just don’t trust random happenstance to actually be random happenstance. So many times it’s not, so I tend to assume everything is somehow related to some grander picture that I can’t see yet. You hearing of Fire Snakes before we met when they play such a huge role in Awh’anise life stinks of way more than just a funny coincidence to me. This could totally be part of the giant clusterfuck that’s about to drop on our heads thanks to Moswen’s chaos effect. I’m leaning heavily to ginormous clusterfuck, just so you know, because seemingly tiny, unrelated things always have a way of blowing up huge in my life. The more minor the initial event, the more far-reaching the outcome. Why, yes, I am paranoid. Thank you for noticing,” Tohan said with a soft snort.
A tiny shiver moved down my spine when I found the conversation and replayed it. I did a little more digging through my archived memories for a few more details that had seemed unimportant at the time but now had greater significance given the conversation we were having. I inhaled sharply. This could not be a coincidence. It was too astounding to be simple coincidence. I hadn’t put a lot of stock in Tohan’s claim of Moswen’s massive chaos effect five minutes ago. Now, I think I was about to become a true believer.
“Rune and Sinn, her husband, mentioned Fire Snakes during the briefing of the mission that I did with them. She said they had a Fire Snake as an “ace-in-the-hole”, meaning she had a secret advantage that when revealed, would guarantee victory. Rune has a laser tattoo of a snake-like creature on her leg from ankle to hip and it looks like a living creature due to the nature of the tattoo. I have a picture of that if you want to see it to compare to what one of your Fire Snakes looks like.
“She said the tattoo is a real Fire Snake called Yanaba and that Sinn can call it forth at will because he is the Fire Lord, although it was never explained to me just what that was. I never saw that happen, but others confirmed it was true. She said a friend, Zivon, dreamed of her having the tattoo and insisted that she get it. To the point that he nagged her for weeks about it. I never met Zivon, but I did see him in a group photo that Rune had. I think you need to see both the picture of Rune’s tattoo and the group shot.”
Tohan gave me a sceptical look. “A Fire Snake is huge—like freakingly massive huge. They’re usually over a hundred feet long. Dak said he could probably stand in the mouth of one when said mouth was closed, and Dak is six and a half feet tall. Unless this Rune chick is a giant of a giant, I can’t see how a tattoo on her leg could become a Fire Snake like what I’m familiar with.”
“Just the fact that a tattoo becomes a thing that has a solid form should tell you that you’re not really able to apply logic in this situation,” I said with a little chuckle. “You need to see these pictures. I can download a copy to your wristcom if you let me.”
“Okay. I’m curious enough. Are you going to need a wired connection of some kind, or can you do it wireless if I give you the password?”
“I’d prefer wireless. It’s easier and less intrusive to me. It doesn’t hurt to physically jack in to something but does give me a vague sense of vulnerability, especially if it’s not something I know is secure like the servers on base where I live. I have very good protection, but I’m still plugging my brain directly into whatever, and that’s a little nerve-wracking.”
Tohan looked thoughtful for a moment before he nodded. “I totally could see that. Hold on, and I’ll give you access to throw the pics my way. I coded the security on this bad boy myself because I’m a paranoid fuck, so it’s probably safer than any server you’ve ever plugged into. Made a nice profit selling the security program to the Awh’anise military later on,” Tohan said with a grin.
Tohan flicked through a few screens, the wristcom projecting an enlarged holo version of what he was looking at a little above his wrist. Some of the code I could make out as it was written in Awh’anise and Common. Other parts of it, I had no clue, as it appeared to be multiple languages. Very interesting and creative way of layering security.
“Okay, good to go. Your password is hotmetalass. You can only download stuff though—not that I’m restricting your access because I don’t trust you. I actually do. I just don’t want somebody somehow getting access and uploading bad shit to target you specifically. Yeah, I know the chances of that are like smaller than small, but better safe than sorry. And paranoid as fuck right here.”
I snorted a laugh at the password. At least it would be easy to remember. I gained access and sent the pictures to his wristcom. The device chimed softly when they were received, and Tohan immediately called up the picture of the Fire Snake, the image enlarged as a holo floating a few inches above the device. He was silent as he stared at the image for several long seconds.
“Yeah, that’s a Fire Snake. I’ve never heard of one being all glitterific-rainbow white, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. It’s not like I’m anything close to an expert on the creatures. Overall though, that’s dead on how one looks according to everything I’ve heard, read and seen. Like right down to the jewel-like scales and beard flowing from its chin to the I-know-everything-and-you-know-nothing look in its eyes. I mean, there could be a ton of other cultures that have something similar either for real or in stories, but given everything else, I’m gonna say this is a Fire Snake. Which leads me to wonder who this Zivon guy is, why he dreamed of Rune having the tattoo, and why he insisted on her getting it. This other picture is gonna blow my freaking mind, isn’t it?”
“Check the group photo,” I said as that shiver crawled down my spine again at having Tohan confirm that the Fire Snake on Rune’s leg was the same sort of creature that he said had played such a massive role in his species development.
Tohan flicked to the other photo I’d sent to his device. He stared at it for a few seconds before he snapped his gaze to me, obviously seeing what I’d realized just a few minutes ago.
“Are you fucking with me? How did you get this? What the fuck is he doing in this photo?” he demanded, his tone and body language shifting into aggression so fast it was startling.
I had no idea what was behind his sudden attitude change. Yes, it was a bit unsettling to see Zivon in the photo when put into context of what we’d been discussing, but I didn’t think it was worthy of the increasing possibility of physical violence that was building in Tohan.
“I recorded it automatically when it was shown to me by Rune. It was apparently taken the night that she got her tattoo. The tall, winged man with his arm around her is Sinn, her husband. The even taller winged man is Liron, a former royal guard to Sinn. The man leaning on the staff is Zivon, which I’m fairly certain you’ve already guessed. I thought it was interesting that he is Awh’anise and the one who insisted on Rune getting the tattoo given your people’s relationship with the Fire Snakes. It certainly lends a great deal more credibility, in my mind, to the chaos effect you say Moswen has and to the idea that her tattoo is of a Fire Snake like your people are familiar with. The only question I’ve got now is just what tail twitch of Moswen’s is responsible for all this,” I said with a gesture to encompass us and our current situation.
Tohan stared at me for several long seconds before he blew out a breath and raked his hands through his hair. The level of his aggression dropped away, and he stared at the photo again shaking his head a little.
“I’ve seen him before. Kushaiah was almost kitnapped by a delusional psycho early in his relationship with Makis and Mered. The sick bastard used a family member that was a Shal-hazal of a different House than the one my family runs to help him track Kushaiah down. The psycho firmly believes that Kushaiah and him are in love and want to be together even though Kushaiah has straight up told him that he hates him and wants to kill him. The Shal-hazal, Gytha, that helped the crazy freak got into huge trouble for doing that, and one of the Shal-hazal Warriors who came to escort Gytha back to her House was this guy. I didn’t know his name then.”
Tohan looked back at the photo, frowned, and enlarged the photo. His frown deepened as he stared at the photo and zoomed in even more before looking at me with a little confusion.
“When was this photo taken?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I saw it a little over four years ago. I can call up an exact date of when I saw the photo if you want, but unfortunately that won’t help you date the photo itself.”
Tohan shook his head. He set aside his nearly empty plate, rose from the couch, and retrieved a slim data pad from one of the transport boxes. He turned it on and looked directly at me.
“I know I’m not supposed to have anything that is able to communicate beyond the prison or on channels not approved just in case it fell into the hands of the prisoners. But I wasn’t about to walk my sweet ass into this situation without some kind of back-up in the event that things went sour fast. This data pad wouldn’t do the prisoners any good as it’s got my special project encryption on it, and unless you know what to enter, you don’t get past the power on screen. You get three wrong guesses, and then it fries itself. Open the casing without doing it in the correct sequence, and it fries itself. Been working on this for the military to provide an ultra secure data channel. Still has some glitches to fix, but I haven’t had one spontaneously burst into flames in a couple of months. Even so, I’d appreciate it if you pretend you never saw this. Aside from being top secret Awh’anise military hardware, I don’t want to pay any penalties for bringing restricted items into the facility when said item literally wouldn’t be of any use to anyone but me right now.”
“I see a reader unit brought along to relieve boredom when the work for the day is done,” I said with a small smile.
“You’re all kinds of awesome, Warrick,” Tohan said with a grin.
He tapped quickly on the data pad. His tail tip flicked up and down as he waited for whatever response the data pad was going to give him. I couldn’t see the screen, but Tohan stared at it intently, scrolling through whatever it was before he suddenly burst out laughing. He clutched the data pad to his chest and laughed so hard I saw tears leak from his eyes. I had no idea what was going on and waited for Tohan to wind down and tell me. I never doubted he would, but it took longer than I thought for his laughter to die down.
“Okay, the guy in the pic you showed me is Zivon, and the guy I saw was his identical twin, Zesiro. I checked the Shal-hazal database because Zivon has some serious scars that Zesiro doesn’t, and if you saw that photo four years ago, there’s no way the guy I saw at roughly the same time could be the same as the one in the picture. The scars on Zivon are old and fully healed in the photo. Zesiro didn’t have any scars that I could see when I saw him, and it’s not like it’s easy to hide scars like Zivon has on his face.
“Zivon is a Spirit, and Zesiro is a Warrior Shal-hazal. From all accounts, Zivon is a nice guy and apparently works on a semi-regular contract basis for Mayhem Inc. when they need to extract people from delicate situations. I actually know of the company as they hired me to do some... creative computer consulting for them once. Never met anyone personally as it was all done electronically. Good, prompt payment. Pleasantly professional. I wouldn’t turn them down if they approached me for more work.”
That cold shiver down my spine was back stronger than ever at Tohan’s words. It was a freakishly huge coincidence that he not only recognized Zivon, more or less, but that he’d also done some work for Mayhem Inc. in the past.
“The only reason I know about Zesiro, and mistook him for Zivon, was because I was at the House to drop off a data pad I’d fixed for my sho and happened to be walking through the main lobby to leave when Zesiro made a comment, within hearing range of Tyh, about how hot Dak looked and how he’d like to fuck him hard and make him scream with pleasure. It’s dangerous to make those sorts of comments about a Lor’fei partner where the other half of the pairing can hear it. It’s suicidal to make that sort of comment about a Litch Will’s Lor’fei partner where said Litch Will can hear it.
“Tyh viciously beat Zesiro unconscious before Moswen got Tyh off Zesiro. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my brother so furious, and I’m almost positive Tyh was trying to kill Zesiro. He wasn’t even listening to Dak’s demands to stop, and Tyh always listens to Dak. Tyh got some really nasty shots on Moswen, too, and the only way Moswen stopped Tyh was to Dream-Step him away for a minute or two for him to calm the fuck down. I don’t think Zesiro realized what Dak is to Tyh when he made the comment as he’d apparently been off-world causing shit elsewhere in the galaxy when all the stuff went down with Tyh and Dak. Or maybe Zesiro did know and just wanted to see what would happen if he said what he did. Apparently, Zesiro is known as a mega shit-disturber of truly epic proportions in his House.”
Zesiro would need to take shit-disturbing to monumental levels if he was crazy enough to pull the tail of a Litch Will with a Lor’fei about said Lor’fei. I only had the data that Moswen had given me, and from that alone, I knew better than to go poking at that testy beast with a sharp stick like Zesiro had. If Tohan hadn’t said Zesiro was a Warrior Shal-hazal, I’d have wondered how far along his insanity as a Litch was to make him provoke someone he really should’ve known better than to provoke.
“I was laughing so damn hard because a few months after that incident with Tyh, Zesiro found his Lor’fei, and for months after finding him, Zesiro thought his Lor’fei was an actual animal. Like fur, walking on all fours, can’t speak, real deal animal. He had no clue that the frankly terrifying creature that was his Lor’fei was actually a guy whose species can change their form into that of an animal. AshEri is a Ruislipian, and Zesiro rescued him from a slaver ship while he was in his animal form. Apparently, the slavers hadn’t known he was actually a man either since they’d captured him when he was an animal. AshEri was being super cautious about revealing himself just in case he was trading one very bad situation for another. It was like all the nasty karma that Zesiro racked up from his shit-disturber lifestyle came due all at once when he found his Lor’fei and thought that he was tied for life to an animal. I’m also going to throw it out there that it was his interaction, brief as it was, with Moswen that got that particular crazy ball rolling.”
I could definitely see why Tohan had laughed to the point of tears over Zesiro’s situation. It was damn funny to think of someone used to causing all manner of shit suddenly getting what seemed like a big, steaming pile of it dumped on his head. Karma was certainly a bitch.
“I can see the connection between you and Zesiro and through him, Zivon, which leads back to Rune with her tattoo and eventually me telling you about it, bringing us back to this point in a rather complex loop of events. However, the flaw in your logic, such as it is, about this all being Moswen’s chaos effect is that the incident with Moswen interacting with Zesiro, however brief, was after Zivon convinced Rune to get the tattoo since you said that you saw Zesiro at around the same time I saw the picture of the night Rune got the tattoo. The timeline doesn’t work out. I think you’re trying to look for connected things in this instance, Tohan.”
“Maybe. I already told you that the Fire Snakes can see the future. That’s one hundred percent truth. They also nudge things along in the present to make that future happen if it suits their plans. They’ve told us this themselves. They saw this,” Tohan waved his hand in a vague gesture at us, “and while some of it was likely clouded by Moswen’s chaos effect, they can still see events that unfold around Moswen. When Moswen is involved, they can’t spot the pebble dropping into the water, but they sure as shit can watch the ripples move away from that point of impact.”
“So they told Zivon to force Rune into getting a tattoo so that years later when I was on a mission with her, she’d convince me to get a tattoo that would hold meaning for you? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Why? What’s my having a tattoo that means something to you have to do with... well... anything?”
“Not a fucking clue. Honest. I’m not a Shal-hazal, I’ve never seen a Fire Snake in person or in dreams, and I’ve never had any contact whatsoever with a Ruks to the absolute best of my knowledge. There’s a plan going on for us. We’re part of something the Fire Snakes have in the works. I just don’t have any fucking idea what that is. But, I’m betting us being here plays a role somehow. There is something else going on here outside of the prisoners trying to haul ass off this asteroid, and the Fire Snakes have poked their busy-body snouts into it for some reason.”
“I can’t say there isn’t something going on here other than the attempted hacking because we both believe that there is. I’m not a paranoid person who sees conspiracies behind every closed door, but there seems to be a bunch of small inconsistencies that are adding up to more than what things appear to be on the surface. I’m going to hold my opinion in reserve about whether or not the Fire Snakes have their proverbial fingers in this mess and are pushing events and people in certain directions. I do agree though that the level of coincidence for, well, everything is much, much too high to be just coincidence. Somebody somewhere is pulling some strings. Whether that’s the Fire Snakes or the criminals imprisoned here or somebody else entirely, I guess we’ll see as we dig into things here.”
Tohan nodded in agreement. “Good enough for now. Eventually, you’ll see I’m right. Hey, not to besmirch your culinary abilities or anything, but what do you think about doing that hydroponics run tomorrow? While not quite a Tyh-level biohazard, that whatever-the-hell-it-was we had for supper was about as tasty as wet sawdust, and I’m really not a picky eater. It was filling, but definitely toying with how-bad-does-it-need-to-taste-before-I-won’t-eat-it territory.”
I laughed at that. “Tomorrow sounds like a plan. I’ll give you a list of things you’ll need to tell the bots to harvest, and we can plan out the most efficient route to take to get in, get the stuff, and get out again without giving the inmates a chance to try to capture us again.”
“I’m good with the no capture thing. Unless it’s you capturing me. I’d totally be on board with that playtime scenario,” Tohan said with a leer.
“We could do that,” I said with a little nod and a curl of anticipation winding through me. “But you might want to check on Effie first. I yelled at him and scared him away from your plate of food earlier. He scuttled away into the locker room and has been hiding there ever since.”
Tohan sighed. “I highly doubt you scared him or that he’s hiding. He’s probably plotting something because you chased him away from what he was eating. I’ll go make nice with him for a bit. Then, I’ll come back, and you can hold me hostage to the depraved whims of your lecherous desires. I’m easy. Super easy. Embarrassingly easy really.”
I laughed and watched Tohan head for the locker room to do whatever he needed to for Effie. I had the feeling that the mission was getting more and more complicated with every hour that passed. But, at the same time, it was exciting. And that didn’t even take into account the utterly fantastic sex I’d so far been treated to and was about to be shown again. This mission was going to be the sort of thing that involved epic songs being sung of the events. I could feel that with utter certainty. Outstanding.