Supper wasn’t spectacular, but with the addition of the greens from the hydroponics bay, it went from something that only kept us nourished with all the appeal of cold, soggy toast to something that was nutritious as well as tasting half-way to passable. A lot of that had to do with my access to a massive cooking database, but I was more than happy to do whatever I could to make the rations taste better than they normally would. Just because I was a cyborg and could subsist on rations indefinitely didn’t mean I liked it. The better tasting food wasn’t just for Tohan’s benefit.
Effie didn’t eat any rations, preferring to eat the remainder of the guy that had surprised us coming out of the secret passage. That was fine by me as it would stretch the food supply by several days, which was a good thing. I also didn’t actually want to see Effie eat, which Tohan assured me was rather gruesome to not only watch but hear as well since when he ate something, he ate everything, bones included.
With supper done and the plates and cutlery cleaned and put away, I could put my sensors into a more sensitive mode for the fun I thought Tohan and I could shortly have. I assumed he’d like a little time for his meal to digest, as would I, before we started with the more physical interaction. A little conversation over some coffee didn’t sound like a bad way to pass a little time before becoming more intimate. I didn’t need to get to know Tohan better, but I wanted to.
He said to ask him how he ended up with Effie in his life and that it was, by his words, a cool story. I had to admit to some curiosity about how Effie ended up with Tohan since there was literally nothing in any databases about that event, and I’d been quite thorough in my search. That Tohan had a hy’prae companion was just a side note in the data on him. Given the relationship between the two I thought it had much more importance than that.
“You said to ask you to tell me how Effie came to be in your life. So, how did Hy’prae end up with a hy’prae?” I asked as I handed Tohan a mug of coffee and settled next to him on the couch with one of my own.
Tohan looked warily around the room for Effie even as he held the mug of coffee close to his chest. I pointed across the room near the door to the locker room. Effie crouched over a small bowl and delicately lapped up some coffee I’d set out for him. I hadn’t given him much, but I thought it would be enough to keep him from trying, and probably succeeding, in stealing Tohan’s.
“If he comes over here and tries to get all kissy-face with me because he’s hopped up and super horny on this stuff, it’s going to be your job to deal with him,” Tohan warned.
“I didn’t give him much. Just enough so he wouldn’t try to steal yours. Hopefully, he won’t get quite the same intense reaction if he has much less than what he generally seems able to steal from you.”
“You are one devious guy, Warrick,” Tohan laughed. “Good thing I think that’s pretty cool. Sure, I can tell you how I ended up with Effie. I think it’s an awesome story. Get comfy.”
I nodded at Tohan and waited for him to begin.
“Kushaiah wanted to take the kits out into the forest to get them more... I guess used to the dangers of Awh’an in a controlled situation is the best way to put it. Not that Makis and Mered were coddling them from everything. Well, back that up a statement. For the longest time Makis had it bad when it came to coddling the girls. I mean, it’s a good parenting thing that you want your kits to always be safe. But it’s a not-so-good parenting thing when you want to protect them from every single bump and scrape that comes their way. I’m not a head healer, but I think it was because Namir and Nusair were so totally unexpected that it sent Makis’ protective instincts into expert-level, god-mode. Honestly, he was pretty neurotic about it for a long time.”
“Is it not a common thing among your people that children are able to fend for themselves, if necessary, when they’re six years old? I understand it rarely happens, but they can do that, right? At least, that’s what the data Moswen gave me indicated. I’d assume that would mean Awh’anise children are less coddled and more self-sufficient than many other species,” I said.
“Yeah, we’re fairly independent at an early age. We pretty much have to be because death comes frequently on Awh’an. It probably wouldn’t be so much a thing if Awh’an wasn’t such a dangerous place and if we were further removed from our animal ancestors. It was pure survival back then, and that hasn’t really worked its way out of us at this point. That’s probably a good thing for us as a species as far as survival goes. Generally, there aren’t a lot of heavily dependent Awh’anise kicking around. They tend to quickly end up dead. I love Awh’an, but it really isn’t the place for you if you’re not always alert to random danger.
“Namir and Nusair were about three when Kushaiah said it was time that the girls got some real experience under their tails with some of the less dangerous flora and fauna of our world. Makis was massively apprehensive about the whole thing and tried to change not only Kushaiah’s mind but also Mered’s mind as well for a week straight. He was pretty boned from the start because once the girls learned they were going to go out into the forest on a weekend trip, they damn near bounced off the walls in excitement for days. Qetsiyah was a little nervous but excited as well. It was actually kinda funny to see how torn Makis was. He wanted to make the girls happy, but at the same time, he wanted to keep them super safe and he knew he couldn’t do both things at once.
“He finally caved to the inevitable because he always wants to see his girls happy and he’s a huge push-over when they turn up the cuteness factor on him. Qetsiyah threw in her charm as well, and to be one hundred percent truthful, I’m not entirely sure she didn’t manipulate his emotions just a little, probably at Mered’s urging, to get Makis to give in. Honestly, Makis’ objections never stood a chance. He just refused to admit that right away. Makis is sometimes slow on the uptake.”
I laughed at the mental image of an adult giving in to a child’s demands simply because said child was being cute. I’d never had anything even close to parents since I’d been created in a lab and nurtured in a tank until I was ready to begin training. But I’d been created in a batch with two dozen other cyborgs and we all trained together, ate together, slept together, and shared down-time together. It was likely similar to having many brothers and sisters even though none of us were actually related genetically. The doctors and trainers were nothing like what I understood parents were, so I had no reference for that on a personal level.
“Because I’m very close with them, I invited myself along for the fun and they were totally cool with that. I did it mostly to tease the shit out of Makis and watch him try to be super protective but not interfere with the girls exploring a semi-dangerous place because that’s just hilarious. I also wanted to do some test flights in difficult terrain with a new drone I was working on. While the place we were going to go wasn’t the middle of the Awh’anise wilds by any stretch of the imagination, there was a lot more wild flora and fauna than I’d find if I stayed in the city.
“Qetsiyah’s partner, Kamau, was coming along as well because wherever she goes, he goes and visa-versa. We were only going for three days, and it was actually to a national park so kinda wild but not too wild. Don’t get me wrong though. You could still end up dead fairly easily if you didn’t pay attention to your surroundings or assumed you were safe because it was a national park. It was just less dangerous to go there than heading out into true wilderness, which would’ve been crazy to do with young kits.”
“You have national parks? Considering how dangerous Awh’an is, why would people willingly go out into said danger? I understand that even living in the cities, dangerous things will still enter and cause problems and deaths. It seems counter-intuitive to actively court death by going out where you know it’s more likely to occur.”
“I’d say we’re not savages, but that would be a lie,” Tohan said with a laugh. “We like danger and fighting not only each other but also the world around us. It’s probably fair to say we’re adrenaline junkies as a species. Generally, we really like the thrill of the hunt or the chase. We love to fight physically and do it at the slightest provocation. We’re stupidly good at it, too. The number one export from Awh’an are mercenaries, and we’re in high demand across the galaxy. That’s just regular Awh’anise fighters I’m talking about. Shal-hazal are a whole other level of in-demand fighters. And Awh’an really is a beautiful place although I’m probably massively biased in that opinion.”
I thought about that and referenced the data I had. Fighting was a huge part of an Awh’anise’s life, and it frequently wasn’t about resolving a dispute. They saw it as a way to strengthen bonds, set a hierarchy among individuals, and in general, just have fun with one another. I knew Tohan could fight. I had his military records, and I’d seen him fight with Moswen. I’d also seen how quickly and lethally he reacted to the man surprising us when the guy had emerged from the secret passageway.
Awh’an was a beautiful place. A good portion of the planet was lush jungle with trees in all manner of colours. The grasslands looked like seas, the typically waist-high blue grasses undulating like gentle waves. The desert had a stark beauty to it, the black and gold sand seeming to shimmer with silver streaks. Most of the oceans were red, but there were also pink lakes, purple seas, and even some lakes that were so dark a blue that it looked like the water was black. The mountains were imposing and topped with palest green snow. Visually, it was a stunning vista that hid the deadly nature of the planet.
“Would you like to spar with me sometime? If fighting is such an ingrained thing for your people, I’d assume you’d miss being able to do that over the next two weeks or so.”
Tohan grinned at me before leaning toward me to kiss me hard. He barely managed to keep from spilling his coffee over both of us in his excitement.
“That would be fucking awesome. You do know that we often use a fight as foreplay, right? I would totally be up for that sort of scenario to happen sometime. We do enjoy rough sex sometimes although if that’s not your thing, no worries. It’s not a must-have for me.”
I smiled at him. “Noted. Please, continue with your story.”
“So, we set up camp a little off the beaten path—not so deep that we were into the wilds but we were definitely off the safe trail. We weren’t trying to get killed or even seriously injured, but the idea was to expose the girls to some of the more common, low-level dangers of Awh’an that they could be expected to encounter. Keep in mind that nearly everything on Awh’an will try to eat you, which includes a rather impressive number of plants, too.”
“I’m aware. It’s both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. It makes me wonder what happened during the evolution of your planet to create such an overly hostile environment.”
“Not my area of expertise, so I’m no help there. Apparently, the highly aggressive nature of the life on Awh’an is why we developed as a multi-birth species. Greater chance of overall survival for the species in general. But I digress.
“So, we’re all doing our thing when we see the leading edge of a storm rolling in. The area of Awh’an that I live in has a rainy season, and it really, really rains. Like a ridiculous amount of water falls out of the sky. But, we were still several weeks away from the start of that, so we weren’t too concerned about the approaching storm. We knew we had the potential to get soaked, but it would be a normal sort of amount not the you’re-now-breathing-water sort of storm that we get in the rainy season.
“I saw the storm as an awesome opportunity to test my drone in poor weather conditions. The drone was something I was developing for the military, and I’m sure you know they can’t wait for perfect conditions to send things or people out. It’s been my personal experience that the shittier the conditions, the more likely it is that you’re going to be marching your ass out in said shitty conditions.”
I laughed at that but completely agreed with Tohan. I’d been sent out to train in hellish conditions because I needed to be prepared to do what was necessary regardless of what was going on around me. I utterly understood why I’d been sent out into freezing cold or burning heat with no real protection. I hadn’t liked it, but I understood the logic behind it.
“We got the girls and Kamau all squared away, moving the tents into the trees just in case the rain went all freaky and caused flooding. We were pretty sure it wouldn’t flood where we were but better safe than drowning, right? The trees were some of the larger varieties that grow on Awh’an. The branches were probably about twelve to fifteen feet in diameter, and the trees themselves were huge. Like easily three hundred and fifty to four hundred feet tall and around thirty or forty feet in diameter. Some areas that are prone to flooding have people building their homes or entire settlements in the trees. Some of them are pretty big, too. Like several thousands of people. It’s really cool actually.”
That did sound pretty cool. I knew what those settlements looked like from the data Moswen had given me, but I wouldn’t mind seeing that for myself. Truthfully, I would really like it if I could see Awh’an with Tohan.
“Anyway, once the kits were secured, I grabbed my drone and headed out. I’d seen a rock outcrop over a creek about five minutes from our camp, and it would be the perfect place to launch the drone and monitor it as I flew it into the oncoming storm. I was gonna get wet, but I’m not made of sugar and won’t melt, so whatever. It was for science and it wasn’t like the water was going to hurt me.”
As soon as Tohan said that last bit, I knew things were going to take a turn for the worse as far as his story went. It was like saying out loud, “What’s the worst that could happen?” At that point you were basically asking for the universe to stand up and say, “Challenge accepted.”
“You did realize that the creek would likely rise somewhat with a storm, didn’t you? You weren’t just standing on the rock outcropping and ignoring the very real possibility of the danger below your feet, were you?”
“Uhhh, well, you’ve seen how focused I can get on things when I’m working. I didn’t think the storm would be as intense as it was, and I was high enough to not have to worry about the creek possibly rising to danger levels where I stood. To be fair, the creek was pretty small and shallow and I was about six or eight feet above the water level. The creek was maybe fifteen feet across at its widest, and it was barely up to my hips at the deepest point. It wasn’t fast moving water either. We’d played in it earlier in the day and had a blast.”
“You’re an intelligent man, Tohan. You had to know that those thing could and probably would change rapidly with regards to a storm and what the run-off from the storm could do to not only the size of a waterway but also the speed of the water in said waterway. A creek in non-flood mode is not the same at all as a creek during a flash flood.”
“Yeah, I know that. I was just intent on what I was doing and kinda ignored the whole flash flood possibility thing in that instance. I know to avoid creeks and rivers during the rainy season because that is dangerous as fuck and only an idiot with a death wish goes near those then. But we were still weeks away from the rainy season, and that shit is regular like clockwork. Swear to all the gods above and below, you could damn near set a watch with how regular the season starts as well as the downpours of the day. I’m totally serious about that, too.
“Everybody in my city knows that you need to seek shelter at about fourteen in the afternoon and be prepared to stay where you are until about seventeen in the evening or risk getting soaked to the skin in under two minutes if you step outside. Rain gear doesn’t help a lot unless you wear something that literally covers you from head to tail and even then, you’ll still end up wet from sweat because the humidity is just gross when it rains.”
I had a moment of pause when Tohan mentioned how long it rained until I remembered that an Awh’anise day was thirty-two hours long. Still, three hours of constant rain coming down hard was a lot. I checked my database, and the average daily rainfall for Tohan’s area was roughly six inches with it sometimes going as high as ten inches. That was staggering. And dangerous if you happened to get caught in a bad spot.
“So, there I am standing on this rock outcropping, flying my drone into the approaching storm, and everything is going fine. My drone is doing great, and I’m getting awesome pictures of the power and fury of the storm. That probably should’ve been my clue to scramble my ass out of there and get to higher ground, but the shots my drone was taking as well as the stuff from the live feed were too good to stop. And my drone was working better than I anticipated, so I wanted to see just how good it was.
“I was actually surprised that my drone was doing so well considering how hard it was raining and that it was still a prototype. It even took a lightning strike and went down, but the camera kept working, which was awesome. I was bummed that the drone went down, but I had a tracker on it, so I wasn’t too worried about finding it later after the storm passed.
“I got totally freaked out when I saw myself on my datapad spin by from the still active camera of the drone. It took me a second or two to realize that the drone ended up in the creek upriver, and it’d just been swept downstream past me. The clue stick was hitting me pretty hard in the head to get the hell out of there, but like an idiot, I moved closer to the edge of the rock to see if I could spot my drone in the creek.”
This was definitely going to be the point in the story where the universe said, “I see your challenge and raise the stakes.” I could feel it. Obviously, things had worked out in the end because Tohan was beside me telling me the story. It was still probably going to be bad though.
“I think my weight on the edge of the rock was all that was necessary to send the outcropping into the creek. The fast moving, rising water had probably undermined the rock over the years, and I just happened to be standing on it when it reached the tipping point. If I’d have stayed where I was originally standing or even moved further away from the creek, I’m sure I’d have been fine. Instead, I went for an unexpected swim although it wasn’t really swimming that I was doing. It was more like flailing madly as I tried to keep my head above water and not swallow half the damn creek. I’m incredibly lucky that I didn’t get knocked unconscious or break anything when I went in.
“The water was just deep enough that I couldn’t touch bottom and keep my head above water at the same time. It was also moving wicked fast. I’m a decent swimmer and frequently swim in the ocean at the edge of the city I live in. There was no possibility of swimming in what was tossing me around like a piece of fluff in a gale. Nearly half the time, I wasn’t even sure which way was up. I was knocked to the bottom of the creek, dragged against the banks, tossed into the air a few times, and spun in circles more times than I could count. I was being battered pretty hard, and I seriously started to wonder if I was going to die.
“Me and my drone weren’t the only things in the creek either. Debris had been washed down as well and was churning around me, randomly hitting me in addition to my getting tossed into things. I had the wind knocked out of me a couple of times, and I got slammed into a big rock jutting out of the bank, shoulder first. That crash dislocated my shoulder and made my survival rate go to maybe fifty/fifty if I was stupidly lucky. I’m sure I did the most awesome landed fish impression ever when the current spun me around and threw me hard into a good sized tree branch that was caught up on some rocks. It felt like I was gasping for breath for minutes although I doubt it was that long.”
I wanted to laugh at the mental image of Tohan gasping like a landed fish, but I was unsettled at the idea that he could’ve easily died at any point during his wild trip down the flooding creek. A cold shiver trickled down my spine at the thought that I’d have never met Tohan if he’d come to an unfortunate end in that creek.
“I threw my good arm around the branch and hung on for dear life. I knew if I could just hold on long enough, the water would go down to a point where I’d be able to slog out of the creek. I wasn’t far from the bank but the current was still wicked strong. I didn’t want to chance making a try when I thought the odds were pretty shitty that I’d succeed. If my shoulder hadn’t been dislocated, maybe I’d have tried for it, but even then my odds of making it out of the creek wouldn’t have been the greatest.
“I couldn’t call Moswen or Tyh or my mom for help as I’d need to be either asleep or knocked out to do that through the Dream World. There was no way in hell I felt safe enough to knock myself out while clinging to a branch in a flash flood. I wasn’t in a position where I could just fall asleep either, so I needed to wait and hang on tight. My wrist comm was beyond done so that wasn’t an option either. It was waterproof but not whack-repeatedly-and-forcefully-into-rocks-and-debris-proof.
“I couldn’t tell you how long I was hanging onto that branch before something smacked into me hard. I screamed like a frightened kit when I felt a bunch of somethings wrap tight around my chest and waist. I might’ve even peed a little when Effie rested his chin on my shoulder, breathing hard, and I saw what the thing hugging me was.
“Effie was a juvenile then, probably just barely old enough to be out of the nest, if that. But even a juvenile hy’prae is very dangerous, and he could’ve killed me without a whole lot of effort especially given the position we were in. Juveniles bites are typically more potent than adult bites because they haven’t learned yet not to inject their entire store of toxin in one go. A juvenile has enough toxin stored to kill an average adult Awh’anise a couple of times over.
“He was exhausted though, and even though it was my first time ever seeing a hy’prae in real life, I could just tell he was scared as fuck. Hell, I was scared, too. He was breathing hard and peeping so pitifully, that as scared as I was of him and what he might do to me, I felt bad for him, too. He never tried to bite me or hurt me in any way as he clung to me. It was like he knew that doing that would guarantee that we both would die. He clung to me for what felt like forever but probably wasn’t as long as I think it was. I was hurt and tired, and I was still getting hit by random debris now and again. I’m sure Effie was getting hit, too, since he was clinging to my back.
“Then I felt his legs start to loosen. That wasn’t too bad as the water was pushing him against me and my ribs fucking hurt from getting hit by all kinds of stuff before Effie was gripping them in a death lock. Something hit him hard and knocked him sideways mostly off of me. He screamed in terror. I swear that’s what it sounded like. It was an awful, heartbreaking sound. I don’t know why I did it, but I grabbed one of his legs as the water started to sweep him away and pulled him between me and the branch.
“That hurt like fuck as I had to grab him with the arm with the dislocated shoulder. There was definitely some screaming on my part when I did that, but I just couldn’t let him be taken. I don’t know why. We were pressed belly to belly with his legs wrapped around me again. He hung on for dear life, peeping, and shaking and sounding more scared than anything should ever feel. We hugged each other tight, and I prayed to any of the gods that might’ve been listening to keep us alive and safe.
“I dunno why, but I started talking to him, telling him we’d be okay and just needed to wait for the water to go down enough for me to stagger out of the creek. I talked about my family, projects I was working on, the pretty female intern that kept trying to get in my pants despite my telling her I only fucked men. The words didn’t seem to matter. It was sort of a calming thing for both of us, so I just kept talking.
“The storm had already passed over us when Effie was almost swept down the creek, so it really was just a waiting game at that point. Eventually, he stopped peeping so brokenly and completely shocked me by licking my cheek and petting my hair. He snuggled his head under my chin, and while I couldn’t hear it over the sound of the rushing water, I could feel the vibrations of him purring against my chest. That was the very last thing I expected.
“As far as I know, there’s only a few other species on Awh’an that purr aside from us. Hy’prae’s are one of them. If I was really close to another Awh’anise that was purring, it would be super hard for me to not start purring, too. That weird impulse to purr back apparently extends to purring hy’prae, too. It was only a few minutes before I was purring back. Effie hugged me tighter when I did and would cheep every now and again. It felt like forever before the water went down enough for me to safely get us out of the creek. I’ve never been so glad to have solid land under my feet in my entire life.”
“The two of you must’ve been exhausted. It can take several hours for a waterway to go back to mostly normal levels after a flash flood. You’re extremely fortunate to have survived. Both of you,” I said.
“Yeah. I’m very aware of that. I think Effie is, too. Hy’prae are wicked smart. You’ve seen that yourself. Of course, at the time, I had no idea just how smart hy’prae really are. I mean, I knew in a general sort of way that they were intelligent, but I didn’t have any baseline to understand or put into context in reality of what they are capable of as far as reasoning and thinking go.”
I nodded. That made sense. The amount of data on hy’prae was not terribly large and relied heavily on anecdotal pieces from people who’d had hy’prae enter, and usually leave, their lives. When the contact could be as brief as a few hours, there wouldn’t be all that much information to share to begin with. The information gathered also relied on people coming forward with their interaction, and there was no mandate or law that demanded people detail their experience with a hy’prae.
“Once safe on land and well away from the creek bank, I tried to get Effie to let me go. He was having none of that. Even as young as he was then and how tired he was, he refused to be budged. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I needed him off me so I could try to pop my shoulder back into place. Awh’anise heal really fast and if we purr, it actually speeds up that healing process even more, which is pretty cool when you think about it. It’s not instant healing or anything, which would be wicked as fuck, but the longer I left my shoulder dislocated, the harder it would be to fix it later. I couldn’t have done anything while I was in the creek keeping both of us from tumbling further downstream, but now that we were out, I needed to try. It was also gonna hurt like fuck.
“I managed to push Effie down my body to about waist level. Keep in mind that he was a lot smaller then than he is now—like maybe a third of the size and weight he is now. I ran at a tree to try and jam my shoulder back in. The first two times, Effie hung on to me, and I’m sure I was confusing the hell out of him with what I was doing. Those times didn’t work because I didn’t want to hurt him and my angle was wrong. When he saw I was going to do it again, he let go and just watched me. I’m pretty sure he probably thought I was fucking crazy to be doing what I was doing. It took another two tries before it went back in because of the swelling and that it had started to heal while we’d been in the creek. I damn near puked from the pain, but it was a good pain if you get my meaning. I sat against the tree, closed my eyes, and tried not to barf as I waited for the pain to ease.
“When Effie realized that I wasn’t going to run at the tree anymore, he climbed into my lap, patted my cheek and started purring again. I don’t know how long I sat there with my eyes closed. I was exhausted from everything that had happened, and I hurt everywhere. I don’t know why, but I ended up petting Effie, which weirdly enough, made me feel a little better. He liked it, too, because he purred louder and snuggled into me. I woke up to Effie patting my face and a partially eaten something on my lap. That was the first time he shared a kill with me. I didn’t eat it, mostly because I had no idea what it was. Just because Effie was okay to eat whatever didn’t mean I’d be okay eating it. But it’s the thought that counts, right?”
I chuckled at that. “Maybe he felt he owed you for saving him and feeding you was the only way to show his appreciation.”
Tohan shrugged and smiled. “Probably. I didn’t know how far down stream I’d been swept, but I was pretty sure I was well out of the relatively safe area we’d been camping in. The water had been moving damn fast, and with the amount of tossing and spinning it had done to me, it was impossible to guess where I was. I was covered in bruises, cuts, and scrapes, and I ached everywhere. Miracle of miracles, the only really serious injury I had was the dislocated shoulder, which I’d managed to pop back into place, so even that wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.
“It was going to be a bitch of a walk back to camp though. I’d lost a sandal in the creek and the one left was hanging on by one strap so was pretty useless. My clothes were ragged and torn, and the knife I’d had strapped to my forearm was long gone, too. And it was starting to get dark. Unarmed in the Awh’anise wilds was not someplace you wanted to be if you intended to stay alive. You really didn’t want to be out there in the dark without a weapon. Yeah, I have claws and fangs of my own, but that would also mean I’d have to get up close and personal with something to use them, and I was a hurting unit. Some of the really nasty shit comes out once the sun goes down, and it’s super easy to walk your ass into some of the more aggressive flora because you can’t see shit.
“I wasn’t the only one hurt either. Effie was favouring a couple of legs and limped when he walked. He had a nasty gash on his side that was still bleeding sluggishly and a lot of cuts, scrapes, and probably bruises that I couldn’t see through his hair. He growled at me when I touched near the gash, but he still didn’t try to take a swipe at me. We had to get the gash taken care of because nothing attracts predators like the scent of blood.”
“It’s a bit of a miracle both of you survived, isn’t it?” I asked.
“The gods watch over kits and fools, and we apparently had both things covered,” Tohan laughed. “I knew of some plants that could stop bleeding and some that had antiseptic properties. The trick, now, was going to be finding them while I still had the light to look for them and hoping there were some nearby. They’re very common and relatively easy to find, but they also require specific types of areas to grow. Adult Awh’anise know basic survival skills through their military service, which is mandatory, so there was that saving grace for me at least.
“Effie followed me around damn near stepping on my heels the entire time. He even tried climbing onto me several times, but my body hurt too much to let him do that. I finally wrapped my tail around one of his legs, and he settled down. I think he was afraid I was going to leave him. It might’ve actually been the first time he’d left his nest, and he was unsettled about being away from that protection.
“I eventually found the antiseptic plant as well as the one that would stop a wound from bleeding and pretty much stripped them bare. I needed the antiseptic one, too, with all of the cuts and scrapes I had. I wouldn’t say the creek water was dirty in the sense of pollution, but I wasn’t feeling like pushing my luck with infections from whatever else might’ve been swirling through the water with us.
“Good thinking. Major injuries are dangerous, but infection, once it takes hold, can be even deadlier.”
Tohan nodded. “Effie didn’t want me to touch the gash on his side, and he really didn’t like the smell of the plant once I crushed it up. To be fair, I wasn’t in love with the smell either. Frankly, it smells gross. Kinda like dirty, wet socks mixed with mouldy bread and a dash of sour milk. But it works so whatever. I wasn’t going to fight him on smearing the plant on him because I didn’t want to provoke an attack. I smeared that shit over every part of myself that I could reach that had a break in my skin.
“He watched me intently, and when I was almost done, he came over and grabbed my hand, bringing it to one of his cuts. That’s when I realized that hy’prae were a lot smarter than I assumed based on what I’d read about them. He’d figured out what I was doing by watching me and even if he didn’t understand why I was smearing that shit on myself. He understood that I was treating my wounds with the plant and made the logical leap that his wounds could be treated, too. That’s some pretty impressive reasoning from an animal in my opinion. Especially one as young as he was.”
“That is impressive. I hadn’t given much thought to the statement about their complex problem solving abilities, but it would appear hy’prae are very intelligent—possibly more so than the data I have indicates. Would it be fair to say they learn quickly, too?” This was fascinating, and if I wasn’t careful, we’d get completely sidetracked by the subject of hy’prae intelligence.
“Oh hell yeah. Effie watches me do stuff, if he thinks it’s interesting and then copies what I’ve done so he can do it too. That’s how he learned to work locks. And how he learned to make rhith-goah in the thermal. He really likes rith-goah and started watching me intently when I’d throw some in the thermal. It’s a hugely popular snack where I live so there’s actually a button specifically for it on the thermal.”
“Effie can cook food?” That was astounding. There wasn’t anything about that at all in the data I’d read about hy’prae.
“It’s only putting a pre-packaged thing in the thermal and pressing a button, but I guess, yeah, technically he’s cooking something. He does it on his own, too. Little bastard doesn’t like to share the rith-goah he makes either.”
“Before we get sidetracked into just how smart Effie is, please continue with the story,” I said with a little mental regret. We could always come back later to the subject of hy’prae intelligence.
“Right. So, I doctored us as best as I could and looked around for a suitable place to sleep that would be more or less out of any danger-paths of nocturnal predators. That meant finding a suitable tree that would be easy for me to climb. Usually climbing a tree wouldn’t be a problem, but my shoulder was giving me hell when I wasn’t doing anything, and it would’ve been stupid to aggravate it so soon by climbing after popping it back into place. Too easy of a climb, which my shoulder would appreciate, would also mean other things could climb up, too. I finally found a tree that was mildly hard to scale, climbed up, had Effie join me, and we both passed out.
“The next morning we started walking. That didn’t last long for Effie though. I think his legs were hurt more than he let on, and it was very awkward for him to try to walk. I tried to get him to grab on to me like he had in the creek, but he didn’t seem to have the strength to do that. I carried him for a bit, but my shoulder still ached, so I was only carrying him with my good arm. He weighed around twelve pounds or so then, and carrying that in one arm over rough terrain gets tiring really quickly.
“I think I lasted about forty-five minutes before I needed to stop and put him down. My good arm now felt dead, and I didn’t want to risk messing up my other one by trying to carry him. Tearing up my clothes to make a sling for him wasn’t a good idea as I needed some protection for my already scraped up skin from the plants we were walking through. The only vines I’d seen that would be useful were on a tree I didn’t dare approach because it was carnivorous. We needed to keep moving back to the camp because the longer I was out in the wilds, the greater the chances were that something would try to make me its dinner. Likely Effie, too. My family was probably going nuts as well since I’d just disappeared without a trace in the middle of a storm.
“Effie was confused at first when I stopped and put him down. He tried to climb back into my arms, but they were dead and I just couldn’t hold him any longer. It never occurred to me to just leave him. He survived the flash flood with me, so he was coming back with me to where I’d started from. I didn’t know where he’d started from, but I’d take him as far as where I’d gotten dumped into the creek. After that, well, I’d done what I could for him to get him mostly back to his nest.
“I highly doubt he understood anything I said to him then. I can’t be one hundred percent sure, but given how young he was at the time, I was probably the first Awh’anise he’d ever interacted with. I still talked to him though. I told him I couldn’t carry him any further because my arms were too tired but that we needed to keep moving. We sat there for probably a good twenty minutes before he moved a little away from me and started spinning some webs.
“Hy’prae webs are wicked strong given how thin they are. I know now that they’ll spin specific patterns and twist multiple strands together to make even stronger threads depending on what they need. Effie knew he couldn’t keep up with me walking and that I couldn’t carry him any longer so he spun himself a sling sort of thing. He brought it to me, settled it over my good shoulder and across my chest, climbed into the sling, and chirped at me. To say I was shocked at what he’d done would be a huge understatement.
“The sling thing worked great. I know now that it was just a quick, modified nest design that hy’prae use if they’re away from their nest and want to rest for a while. It probably took him about fifteen minutes to spin. It was okay at first, but the part that went over my shoulder was thin and started to press into my flesh in an uncomfortable way pretty quickly. I stopped again, and something made me show him that his sling was hurting me. He got out, picked at it for several minutes, obviously thinking, and then spun more web making the strap over my shoulder wider and thicker. He got back in and chirped at me again. Damned if it wasn’t way more comfortable.
“We walked that entire day and aside from needing to be on alert the whole time and me being hungry as fuck, it was actually kinda cool. When I slept that night, Tyh came to me in a dream. He was relieved and worried as fuck. He said Moswen would come get me right away and bring me home. I said I needed to bring Effie, although I hadn’t given him a name yet, back to the camp site because he needed to go home, too, and that was as close as I could manage for him since I didn’t know where his nest was. Hell, for all I knew, we could’ve passed the area his nest was in and he just hadn’t wanted to leave me yet so he hadn’t.
“Tyh forced me awake, and Moswen scooped us up shortly after that. Effie was instinctively afraid of Moswen, and he tried to protect me from him, which was cute but pointless. Moswen brought us back to the camp like I asked, and when I tried to shoo Effie off to go find his nest, he wouldn’t go. He clung to me and made pitiful peeping sounds. I tried to get him to leave for like ten minutes, but he wouldn’t. I just shrugged at that point and assumed he’d go when he was ready to go because that’s what hy’prae do.
“Effie came back to the city with me. He was wary at first but curious about everything. He was also wickedly protective of me and territorial. He still is as you’ve seen. With that curiosity, he got into everything. It was like living with the most intelligent three-year-old you’d ever seen. I started a hell of a lot of sentences with the words fucking hy’prae before cleaning up yet another mess he’d made as he explored my condo and the things in it.
“I was watching the twins one day for Makis, Mered, and Kushaiah. I’d had Effie with me for about two or three weeks at that point, and he was with me while I was kit-sitting because he was always with me in those first few months. I couldn’t even be in another room alone for more than five minutes before Effie would freak out at being alone. I hadn’t realized just how much I was saying fucking hy’prae until later that night when Makis called and asked me to watch my language a bit more carefully around the girls because they were now running around the house shouting ‘fucking hy’prae’ constantly and laughing their asses off. I started calling Effie an effing hy’prae after that, and it got shortened to Effie, which became his name.”
“Wow. That is some story. And he’s never left you since?” I asked.
“He’ll take off for a few days now and again, usually to hunt. Or just explore. Hy’prae are very curious. He might have disappeared a few times to breed, but I honestly have no idea about that. We know very little about the reproduction of hy’prae. The longest he was gone was two weeks. No idea what he did while he was gone, but he looked skinny as fuck when he came back. He acted weird, too, for several days before he disappeared again for another two weeks. He was back to normal when he wandered back.”
“You love Effie a lot, don’t you?” I asked with a small smile.
“Shhhh. Don’t let him hear you say that. He knows that word, and he knows it’s a special thing. He goes all stupid and super clingy when he hears it attached to his name,” Tohan said as he cast a quick look around for Effie. “Found that out the hard way.”
I laughed at that. Tohan scowled at me briefly before he laughed, too. He was a really handsome man when he laughed. I held out my hand for his empty coffee mug and brought both of ours to the little kitchenette. I’d clean them later. Tohan’s story of meeting Effie had taken some time in the telling, and I figured now was as good a time as any to put my plan into motion. From everything I knew about the Awh’anise, Tohan would enjoy it a hell of a lot.
I went back to the couch, grabbed Tohan by his vest, kissed him hard, and flipped him over my shoulder. I was fairly sure he’d land on his feet instead of flat on his back because the Awh’anise were generally nimble, but if he did land on his back, I could still continue with my plan. I spun in time to see Tohan more or less land on his feet, one hand on the floor to steady himself, his tail whipping to help him balance.
“What the hell, Warrick?” Tohan asked in confusion as he stood and eyed me warily with a little chaser of arousal. Excellent!
“Fighting is sometimes foreplay for your people. Fight me. Loser gets his ass fucked however the winner wants to do it. I don’t intend to lose, and I’m going to ride you hard.”
Tohan’s mouth actually dropped open in shock before he snapped it shut and grinned. “You are seriously awesome, Warrick.”
“Don’t think about throwing the fight either, Tohan. You do, and I won’t fuck you,” I warned him.
“As much as I love the idea of you fucking me hard, you challenged me out of nowhere for no reason. It’s fucking on, Warrick. You’re getting a serious fight out of me.”
“Good. Fight me,” I said as I gestured for him to come at me.
An odd, thrilling sensation rushed through me when I saw his cock start to rise and tent his pants. I’d never used physical violence as foreplay before, but seeing Tohan get excited by the prospect was exciting to me for some reason. Tohan growled low in his throat, and his tail swished from side to side. He started to slowly circle me, likely looking for an opening to make his attack. The intense look in his eyes was thrilling, and the subtle shift from civilized person to aggressive individual wanting to fuck was incredibly arousing.
This was going to be amazing.
Rhith-goah: Snack food commonly eaten by Sub-tropical Awh’anise, particularly those settled around/near the ocean. An aquatic insect that lays eggs in the ocean and exists as a nymph in the ocean for the majority of its life until the final moult that produces a winged adult, mero-te’ra, approximately 5”-6” long that lives for only a few days to breed and spawn the next batch of insects. Both forms of the insect are eaten although the cooking method differs.
Rhith-goah are cooked quickly at high temperature, usually in a sealed pot or thermal cooker. The moisture in the nymph causes the internal meat to gelatinize while the hard outer shell keeps the meat inside until steam pressure causes it to burst (like popcorn). It has a taste similar to bacon drizzled with maple syrup.
Mero-te’ra are typically battered and deep-fried and have a flavour like sweet potato and bacon.
The bracelet we’d taken off the dead guy was just as dead as the dude it had belonged to. I couldn’t get it to work with what I had on hand and finding the specific tools and parts to jury-rig something wasn’t high on the priority list in my opinion. Not to mention, there was a pretty slim fucking possibility of finding what I thought I needed. If some of the shit I’d brought with me hadn’t been shot up or fried when we first landed, I might’ve been able to get the bracelet to work for a short period of time. I’d have given myself an optimistic fifty-fifty chance on that happening. Whoever had designed the bracelet was very, very good, and I admired their skills even as I cursed them.
Truthfully, I was a teeny bit glad that I couldn’t make the bracelet work. After hearing Warrick describe what he’d seen in the secret area and watching the playback he’d sent to my wrist com, I really didn’t want to be fucking around in that area. The very last thing I wanted to do was accidentally expose any of us to ruhlex-mar. That shit was pure nasty and a huge complication none of us needed in our lives at any time.
I knew I could catch it because to the best of my knowledge there wasn’t an Awh’anise that was immune to it. I had no idea if Warrick could contract it, and I didn’t want to take any chances that he could. I wasn’t sure if Effie would be okay either as I didn’t think there was a lot of research into finding out if other native Awh’anise species were immune. There was an animal that ate the dwen’sta, the bird responsible for ruhlex-mar infection, as part of its diet, but even that animal would fall into a coma-like state for hours as the highly toxic bird was digested.
For the time being, I was trying to ignore the secret area and the creep-tacular shit down there. I was being paid to do a specific job, and I fully intended to do that job to the best of my abilities. That didn’t mean that my brain wouldn’t wander down the speculation path as I tried to work and get all twitchy over what Warrick had found and what it might mean in the grand conspiracy theory of things. My brain jumping from work to the weird shit probably wasn’t helped at all by the fact that I was a tad on the paranoid side in general. Wild conspiracy ideas would flit through my head at random at the best of times. Now? It was distracting as fuck, breaking my concentration on what I was trying to do and pissing me off with myself.
I pushed back from the computer in annoyance and swore softly. My concentration was damn near legendary, and yet, I couldn’t stop turning over the whys and whos of the puzzle of the infected people in the secret area literally under our feet. It was bugging the shit out of me, and it was making me twitchy to think that all it would take was one small breach in the system and the whole damn facility could end up contaminated with one of the nastier infections from my home world.
There was also the small detail of the disease being exclusive to Awh’an, not widely known off-planet, and me being the guy hired to work on another, possibly unrelated, problem at the prison. That was a few too many coincidences for my paranoid self to fluff off. Toss in the fact that I’d yet to have my life monumentally screwed over by Moswen’s chaos effect, and my general paranoia got shoved into overdrive. I didn’t like this situation at all.
“Tohan?” Warrick asked as he looked up from the data I’d asked him to comb through to see if he could hunt down the power usage records. “Something wrong?”
“I want to work on shutting down the hackers, but my brain is going into super-paranoia mode and only wants to focus on what you found in the secret area. Maybe because on an instinctual level, I know that’s the bigger problem than keeping some sociopaths locked up here? I mean, I don’t think it would benefit anyone to let the people trying to leave, leave, but when stacked up to the thing with ruhlex-mar infecting prisoners here gods only knows how, the hacking stuff, while serious, isn’t even in the running of major-shit-that-needs-to-be-stopped-now that’s going through in my head.”
Warrick shifted his cool invisible chair position so he was facing me and gave me a considering look before speaking.
“So what do you propose we do? You told me that right now you’re just plugging holes in the system and that the hackers are making new ones almost as fast as you’re fixing them. You said you need breathing room, which is why I’m still looking for the power data. If you can shut them down in one location for a while and force them to find a new place to set up, they’ll lose time to you. Are you suggesting that we switch focus to the infection problem? That’s not what you were hired to do, and frankly, you’re not equipped to do anything about that issue. Neither am I.”
“Yeah, I know, but my brain doesn’t want to ignore that problem. My main focus is supposed to be to stop the hacking and keep them from being able to get into the system. I am trying to do that. Honest to gods, I’m trying my best to do that, and I’ve made some good starts on it, but it would be a hell of a lot easier if I had some of the equipment I brought in working condition. I can’t just put a call in and ask for replacements as what I brought was my personal hackers helper collection of stuff I made myself. I’m still a bit pissed that a lot of it is basically junked, but I can build the machines again when I’m back home and have access to the parts I need.
“From what I can tell, there’s more than one hacker working against me which is what’s giving me a challenge. I’d say three, tops, and I think only one of them is truly great at it. I’m pure fucking amazing, but that’s still three against one even if two of them are just average hackers. I have codes and inside knowledge of the programs they don’t have, and that’s about all that keeps them from getting the advantage on me. But, I’m also distracting myself with what I know is down there, and that’s not helping me to stay focused and on task, which is pissing me off with myself,” I said with a scowl.
“Again, what do you propose we do? We both agree that the set up in that secret area couldn’t be something thrown together hastily. It’s too well laid out, and the isolation of the various systems to keep whatever is going on doing down there from spreading to the rest of the facility speaks volumes about planning for that sort of thing during the actual building of the facility. I really don’t like what that sort of advance planning says to me.
“With that being the case, somebody top tier has to know what’s going on here and sanctions it or at the very least pretends it doesn’t exist, which amounts to the same thing really. Neither one of us can think of a perfectly valid, beneficial reason for what I saw down there. Sure, they could be trying to find a cure for those diseases, which would be great. But ruhlex-mar is something only found on Awh’an, is not a common infection, and none of the people I saw infected with it, are Awh’anise. It goes beyond stretching the reasonable possibility of accidental infection given the rarity of the disease, the number of other species I saw infected, and the likely reason for those infected people being here—namely that they are probably prisoners.
“We both think something nefarious is going on, and we’re most likely right. So what do we say to whom that won’t get us killed for being a bit too nosey over something that someone or a group of someones has gone to a considerable bit of trouble to hide? We’re severely underprepared and underpowered to take on whatever that shit is in the secret area. I highly doubt we were ever supposed to know it was there.”
I blew out a breath. Everything Warrick said was pretty much what I was thinking. I had a decent grasp of the questionable stuff the military could get tangled up in during weapons research and development. I did have top tier military clearance on Awh’an after all. Hell, I’d written a sizable chunk of the encryption programs the military on Awh’an was currently using. I’d snuck into several off-world military or government databases, too, so I knew it wasn’t just the Awh’anise military that got a little carried away in their search for the ultimate weapon. Questionable or downright immoral, unethical, or straight up illegal shit got done all the time by the military and government in order to further their goals regardless of what world or species was involved. It was just whether they got caught doing it or not and how much of a clusterfuck it created when it finally was dragged into the light.
“Dunno. Suggestions?” I asked with a shrug. “I’m out of my depth here.”
Warrick was quiet for several minutes, thinking. I got up from my seat and stretched, a soft little groan leaving my throat at the way my back and shoulders popped. I went to the tiny kitchenette along the far wall and pressed my finger to the little scanner on the dispenser for the new-to-me hot drink that I was absolutely sure was the elixir of the gods.
Warrick said it was a drink from Earth called coffee and that it was wildly popular there with nearly every person on the entire planet drinking it. It was amazeballs in my opinion. I absolutely needed to bring this shit back with me to Awh’an. It made me feel hyper alert, and I knew I worked faster and more efficiently after drinking it. It also made my sense of hearing and smell sharper for a little while, which was kinda cool but distracting at the same time because I could scent Warrick stronger. That aroused me more than I already was by Warrick in general and made it harder to concentrate on my work. I really didn’t need any boost in feeling aroused by him because it was something that was already stupidly high even for an Awh’anise.
Effie loved the coffee, too. Little bastard stole my half-full cup one time and ran off with it. He slopped a good bit of it on the floor as he scuttled away before chugging back the rest before I caught up to him. I thought it was funny as hell and a bit disturbing that he turned into a love/cuddle machine shortly after drinking it. A sexually excited hy’prae that was on the prowl was only hilarious if someone else was the target of his affections and couldn’t get away from him.
I sat back down in my chair, the mug of coffee nestled in my hands, and waited for Warrick to speak while keeping an eye out for a certain coffee stealing hy’prae. The dispenser wouldn’t recognize Effie as a valid user, so he had no choice but to try to steal my coffee from me when I made myself a cup. I’d already learned to never put the mug down with any coffee remaining in it unless I wanted Effie to zip in and steal the contents. Coffee had a very strong, distinctive aroma, and neither I nor Effie had any trouble scenting it. He was also sneaky as shit and stealthy as fuck. Hy’prae were apex predators, and their favoured move to capture prey was ambush.
“I don’t think we have any even moderately good choices,” Warrick finally said with a little sigh. “While he is my immediate supervisor for this mission, I doubt the director you met has any idea what’s really going on here. He’s a bit of a pompous ass with an inflated sense of self-importance. If we said anything about what we found, he’d likely write a report and file it because it was required, and it would go nowhere. I’m basing that scenario on my contact with him as well as what was available about him and his management style in the database.
“The next person up the authority ladder is a better bet, but I don’t like the man. He’s only concerned with bringing in the largest profit with the least amount of expense. Personnel are mostly expendable to him with only a few exceptions. Anything that skews profits off course needs to be dealt with immediately and harshly. At least that’s what he told me. He’d either be pissed that we went slightly off-mission and wasted time, which equals money to him, or be pissed that he’s not seeing some profit from the extracurricular activities going on here, assuming, of course, that he isn’t seeing extra profits from the prison. If he is, it’s my opinion that he’d be highly unlikely to do anything to put a stop to what’s happening here and decrease profits. Tough call on which stance he’d take as I’ve only met him once and I’ve no idea what he may or may not know.
“Next in line would probably be a good bet for getting someone to take this situation seriously and do something about it, but she’s also high enough up the food chain to be involved in what’s going on here. All I know about her is what’s available in the database regarding the branch responsible for the running of the prison. I’ve never worked with this branch of the government before, and I didn’t meet with her when I was brought to the station. I can’t offer anything genuinely useful as far as intel on her goes. Going any higher than her requires either knowing that individual personally or having one of the lower-level people kick the problem up to someone else because the issue is above their pay grade.”
“Fuck. Our choices on your end of the deal are kinda shitty. Choices on my end of things are pretty much just as bad. I know I said to call in the Awh’anise military on this, but the more I thought about it, the more I think that could also start a galactic incident. I tend to leave starting that sort of shit in Moswen’s more than capable hands.”
Warrick snorted a laugh at that, but I was completely serious. Moswen had an utter gift for taking a tense situation and expanding it into a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Fine, most of the time he wasn’t trying to cause mayhem, but it happened anyway. He was an excellent and gifted Shal-hazal and knew his business inside out. But that chaos effect of his boned him in the un-fun way more often than not. Sure, it generally all worked out in the end, but still. I was very reluctant to start that particular wheel turning.
Warrick probably didn’t get how the basics of some Shal-hazal stuff worked. Not that I expected him to. It wasn’t a state secret or anything, but it also wasn’t common knowledge. I wasn’t exactly an expert either since I wasn’t Shal-hazal, but I had better than the average Awh’anise understanding of it. I had to just for sheer survival purposes. In my immediate family, counting only parents and siblings, there were five Shal-hazal. That was way, way above the normal amount. Two Shal-hazal happening in two generations of that small of a grouping, fifteen people in the case of my immediate family, was highly unusual. My family was footnotes for further reading in papers on aberrations in inherited genetic traits.
If you added in the other close family like aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews, the number of Shal-hazal jumped to nine, which was freakishly unheard of to the point where my family was the only one in recorded history that had that many closely related Shal-hazal alive at one time. It could even be possibly counted as ten if Jaiseki, Moswen and Kijika’s son, was tossed into the Shal-hazal pool since he was born with the <i>neksha</i> on the back of his neck just like every other Shal-hazal. Jaiseki wasn’t a Shal-hazal as far as anybody could figure, but there was something different about him. What that was, nobody really knew, especially since he was only half Awh’anise. His little sister, Xinda, was a Litch, the first Shal-hazal that wasn’t a full Awh’anise and the only one that had her class revealed without going through some sort of ceremony and before she even started her training.
Yeah, I knew way more than the average Awh’anise about Shal-hazal.
“The Shal-hazal could get in and out of this facility without needing the bracelet or security codes. Hell, a Spirit can go basically anywhere they damn well please. But, ruhlex-mar is highly contagious, and while Shal-hazal can do amazing things, they are just as susceptible as any other Awh’anise to being infected. Yeah, there’s precautions you can take, but it’s still a risky thing. As harsh as it sounds, regular military soldiers are far more expendable than a Shal-hazal considering the rarity of Shal-hazal.
“A Shal-hazal Spirit could certainly bring as many regular soldiers here as necessary to put a lid on this situation and do it in a stupidly short amount of time without anyone knowing. But then what? The Shal-hazal Spirit couldn’t bring the soldiers back the same way as that requires physical contact, and ruhlex-mar is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. Usually those fluids are involved in a sex act, but you have something like a thirty percent chance to contract it from just an infected person’s sweat if you have some sort of cut or scrape that gets exposed.”
“I would think wearing a protective suit would negate the possibility of transmission. It would be stupid and reckless to send people into a known, highly infectious situation without doing something to keep the soldiers from becoming infected and possibly spreading the infection further,” Warrick said reasonably.
“Usually, yeah. Given how violent the infected are in the initial stages, the chances of protective gear remaining intact is on the low side. Even if they’re not Awh’anise, I’d say the violence is a thing linked to the infection based on the video you showed me of the people here. Once there’s a tear and the Awh’anise in the suit gets a whiff of the sex pheromones the infected person is pumping out, it’s pretty much over for the non-infected despite what they know of the situation. From accounts I’ve read of survivors, even though they knew the only smart thing to do was run away as fast as possible, the urge to fuck was basically impossible to deny. More than one person said it was like suddenly hitting cycle crazy.”
“Cycle crazy? I don’t have a reference for that. Is it a slang term?” Warrick asked with a little frown.
“Search for breeding cycle fever. Basically, if a breeding cycle starts for an Awh’anise and we don’t do something to get it going, either fucking or being fucked, our body temp starts rising, and all we can focus on is fucking. After about three days of not being able to trigger the cycle to start, we’re edging to the bad side of sexually-driven insanity from the lust and need. The rare times that forced sex happens in my culture is almost always because of cycle crazy. After five days, our body temp is high enough that we fall into a coma and die shortly after that, our brains fried from the internal heat. It’s not a pretty way to go.”
Warrick was staring at me with wide eyes. I could see him thinking about what I’d just told him and how that could relate to me. An Awh’anise in cycle was not good for anything other than fucking.
“I assume you’re not close to your cycle? My data indicates that there are herbs that you can ingest to delay the onset of a cycle. Should I assume that you have some with you just in case? Don’t get me wrong, this breeding cycle of yours sounds wildly erotic from the data I scanned, but it would throw a severe complication into our mission on top of what we already have going on. I hadn’t paid that much attention to the information on Awh’anise breeding cycles as I didn’t think it was relevant to this mission. Or as all-encompassing for your focus as it apparently is.”
“No, I’m good. I’ve got roughly two months, Awh’anise time, or nearly three Standard months, before I need to worry about it. But that’s the problem with ruhlex-mar for us Awh’anise. The ultra strong pheromones from the infected person will make a non-infected person go into what’s basically a mini-cycle. A mini-cycle out of sync with a regular schedule can happen for someone if they scent an Awh’anise entering their first breeding cycle. The pheromones are incredibly strong from a first-timer, which is what generally helps them get the cycle started before it gets dangerous for them. From what I understand, the pheromones from an infected person are even stronger than what a first-timer gives off, which is honestly a bit frightening and one of the things that makes ruhlex-mar so dangerously infectious for Awh’anise. We literally can’t help ourselves from spreading the infection because the need to fuck is overwhelming.”
Warrick frowned. “Then we’ve got one hell of a problem, and we’re back to square one on figuring out what to do about this.”
“Yeah. I’d love to be able to ignore the whole damn thing, but my brain just won’t let me,” I said with a frustrated sigh.
I suddenly saw whip-fast movement between my legs half a second before Effie made a grab for the mug of coffee I was holding. I barely jerked it out of his reach, slopping some of the hot liquid over the rim and onto my leg. Despite my being dressed, I still yelped and cursed, swinging the mug away from the more delicate area of my crotch. I did not want to douse that particular body part with something as hot as the coffee in the mug. A bit more coffee sloshed out of the mug and onto the floor from my move.
Effie chittered in high-pitched triumph, shot out from under my chair, yanked the mug from my hand, and took off at top speed for the locker room where he had his nest. He spilled probably half the contents as he ran a little awkwardly on seven legs, but he succeeded in stealing my coffee. Again. I shot Warrick a narrow-eyed glare when he burst into laughter at what Effie had done.
“Why don’t you just give him some of his own when you make a cup?” Warrick asked between chuckles. “He probably wouldn’t steal yours if he had a full mug of his own.”
“Because I’m not a fan of how lusty Effie gets after he drinks the stuff. It’s not you that he does his mating dance to, and it’s definitely not you that he jumps and tries to mate with. I can see how you think it’s hilarious. Honest, I can. I’d probably laugh my ass off, too, if I saw it happen to someone else. But when I’m the object of his misplaced romantic affection, it’s really not that funny from my perspective.”
“I suppose it is a matter of perspective,” Warrick agreed with a broad grin.
“So what do you think we should do about this shit with the infected inmates?” I asked bringing the subject back to the issue that my brain just wouldn’t let go of.
“I honestly don’t have a clear plan of action. There are too many variables and unknown quantities involved to come up with something that would give us the best possible chance of coming out of the whole thing safely. Your safety is my main mission parameter. While I realize the things we’ve discovered beyond the hacking were never part of my mission, it can most certainly complicate our safety in several ways beyond the obvious infection possibility.”
“This sucks balls in an unfun way,” I said with a frown as I thought about just what the hell we could do to tackle both problems at the same time.
Warrick remained quiet, which I appreciated, as I turned over our limited options in my head. Some of my tech would’ve helped out a shit-ton if it hadn’t been destroyed when we first arrived. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back as I mentally reviewed what I had, that was still functional, what needed parts to be put back into mostly working order, what was only good for salvage and what was a total write-off. I couldn’t do a lot with what I had but I now had an idea that would probably work if the tech gods took pity on me. I grinned and opened my eyes to look at Warrick.
“You have a plan. Or maybe just a really good idea that you think will become a plan,” he said confidently.
I raised my eyebrows at that, impressed that he could read me so well after only a few days. I got up from my seat and went to the pile of stuff that we’d deemed too damaged to be useable to us. Warrick followed me but stood off to the side out of my way. I pawed through the boxes, pulling out wires, mechanical bits, circuit boards, and anything else I thought might be able to help me fix what I was cautiously hopeful I could modify.
Forty-five minutes later, I was elbow deep in electronics with Warrick beside me handing me whatever I asked for, saying nothing as he watched me work. It was oddly relaxing to build something with his help but not have him question everything I did. I was sure he understood some of what I was doing, but he had to have some questions since I tended to build my creations a little unconventionally. He never said or asked a damn thing though, letting my concentration run down a wonderfully uninterrupted path while still being helpful. It was a fucking awesome way to work.
Several hours later, I was done and reasonably happy with what I’d cobbled together. I was pretty sure it would work as I intended, but I was using a mish-mash of parts, quite a few of which weren’t in what one would call proper working order. I’d probably get some random weird results if the damn thing didn’t catch fire the first time I turned it on and set it to do what I hoped it would.
“I assume this whatever-it-is will help us in some way with the situation we currently find ourselves in?” Warrick asked when he saw I was finally done.
“Provided it doesn’t immediately burst into flames or explode or some hellish combination of the two, yes. Probably.”
“Rousing endorsement of your technical skills, Tohan,” Warrick said with a little smile.
“I’m not exactly working with pristine, quality parts here, so there’ll probably be some... irregularities in its operation. It should work as intended, but when you start with damaged items, well, you need to expect a few glitches.”
“True enough. So what did you make?”
“A neurotic data miner,” I said with a grin.
“A what?” Warrick’s confusion was priceless but understandable.
“This bad boy will go deep into the facility files and fuck shit up on a grand scale. It won’t touch anything related to life support because that would be dumb and frankly genocidal. But it will go in looking for files with specific keywords, namely the ones dealing with the viral research that is happening here. It’ll copy those files back to this physical unit and then rename the files with bullshit names like undergarment acquisition forms or vermin infestation control schedule. Usually, it would start decoding the files, too, but that part of the unit is slagged. Doesn’t matter though as I can always start decoding later. Should some on-the-ball fucker open one of the renamed files without punching in the appropriate code, which they won’t be prompted for, the entire file gets code-burned and goes whoosh. It’s completely destroyed and not retrievable either.”
“Wow. That’s more than a little impressive, Tohan. I’m guessing that’s not entirely a new thing for you either since I would think it would take you a fair bit of time to write a program to do all that.”
“I’ve only used the program once before, but the assholes I set it on deserved it. God damned slavers are scum. I had the joy of being responsible for setting a lot of people free and totally fucking over the waste of skins that had taken away their freedom. I wasn’t the one that re-programmed their ship to fly into a neutron star when they made a run for it, but I was the one that renamed all navigational files, via that program, to insurance claim form YAF-01.”
“Once it copies all the files you send it after, then what? I assume you have more to your plan than just screwing over their files.”
“It’ll act as insurance to keep us alive, if it comes to that, and to later hand over to whomever gets the joy of cleaning up this mess because I highly doubt they’ve only been playing with the two diseases we saw. I would think that if somebody, or a bunch of somebodies, went to all the trouble of setting up that secret area, the stuff they’re doing there is probably really important to them, and they’ll want that info back. I have no intention of giving that shit back regardless of what they offer, but they have no way of knowing that. Thus they’ll be less likely to shoot first and search our corpses after. Hopefully. You sometimes get trigger happy assholes.”
Warrick shook his head a little and smiled. “I haven’t forgotten that you’re Hy’prae, but it’s times like this that I’m rather strongly reminded that you do things that are outside the law of many worlds. I’m not saying its necessarily a bad thing because I do believe that there are people out there in the universe that would be better dead than causing misery to others. It’s just a bit jarring since you don’t come off as that type of person.”
“Secret time, Warrick. I’m about as far from your typical computer nerd as you can get. I’ve been a soldier and have killed during that time. Well after my military service, I was involved in a plot to straight up murder someone and then cover that murder up. We’d have totally gotten away with it, too. The murder didn’t happen but not because of any moral issues or second thoughts on my part or on the parts of the others involved in the plot. The sick shit that needed to die ended up taking care of the problem by being his crazy-ass-self and getting himself committed to the psych ward.”
Warrick gave me a speculative look, and I could just about see the wheels turning in his head.
“Duly noted. You’re a complex, fascinating man, Tohan.”
I couldn’t believe it when I felt my cheeks warm from the genuine compliment even as a pleased feeling settled deep in my gut. Impulse had me lean forward and kiss Warrick gently on the lips. It wasn’t a sexual kiss at all, but it left me feeling strangely satisfied. Going by the expression on Warrick’s face, he was feeling the same sort of thing. Sweet!
“Okay, let’s plug this baby in and get it going. It’ll probably take a while to find what I want it to find, but it will eventually do the job I programmed it to do. Maybe now I can concentrate on doing the job that I’m being paid an almost obscene amount of money to do.”
Warrick laughed and gave me a hand to stand, pulling my body flush with his. His smile when he looked at me was a touch predatory and lustful at the same time. I was totally on board with what that smile and the slowly increasing scent of his arousal meant.
“Excellent. After supper, just so you know, I have plans for your ass.”
I grinned at Warrick, my cock already firming. “Better than excellent. My ass is yours however you’d like it. Matter of fact, you can have at it right now if you want.”
“Work first. Play later,” he said as he cupped my ass and gave it a squeeze.
“You expect me to concentrate on work now?” I asked as I ground my groin into him.
“I have faith in you to do what needs to be done, Tohan.” Warrick kissed me and then pushed me a little away from him.
“Never doubted that, Warrick. Okay. Work beckons. Let’s fuck some shit up.”
Warrick laughed and went back to his seat to continue the work I’d asked him to do. I went to my seat, plugged in my device and crooked my tail in the hopes that it didn’t catch fire or explode. The gods favoured me when it started up with only a faint scent of burning plastic that quickly dissipated. Awesome-sauce! We were in business.
Neksha: Symbol on the back of the neck of a Shal-hazal or Vi’deshron. Awh’anise born with this mark are either of the two. Shal-hazal have a black symbol while Vi’deshron have a white symbol.
The symbol of office that a full Shal-hazal wears is the same shape/design and is also called a neksha. This symbol is made of metal (type depends on what kind of Shal-hazal the person is) and has hidden blades that pop out as it is also a weapon. The weapon is thrown and will return to the Shal-hazal unless it embeds in the target. The weapon is caught by inserting the talon into the center of the disk as it rotates and takes great skill and several years of training to wield.
Effie headed straight for Tohan and climbed into his lap, cheeping and butting his head against Tohan’s chest. Tohan startled for a moment before putting down the bracelet that now sprouted a tangle of wires and seemed to be connected to a small grey box resting on the desk. Tohan looked over at me and grinned.
“That didn’t take long. Or at least I don’t think you were gone that long. Dead end?” he asked as he started to give Effie the chin rubs he’d promised.
Effie’s eyes closed, and he made soft peeping sounds at Tohan’s touch, obviously loving the attention. I set Tohan’s weapon on the desk and noted with approval that he immediately picked it up and slipped it back into the holster strapped to his thigh. We were in as safe an area as we could be so the weapon readiness Tohan was using was likely unnecessary. I still liked that he did it automatically.
“We were gone slightly less than an hour. Most of the doors I encountered were electronically locked, and I couldn’t open them. I did see something down there that we should discuss, and we will in a moment. Effie opened the door to the computer room. When did you teach him that, and why?”
“He did? Cool. Hy’prae are really good at memory things and solving puzzles. Generally, they’re good at pattern recognition, too. I didn’t think he was really paying attention when I did the code as we left, but he can also look in multiple directions at once because of his six eyes. How many tries did he need?”
“At least three that I saw. He was at the door before me, so he probably could’ve tried another three, maybe four times. You’ve seen him do this before?”
“Hell, yeah. That’s why anything that’s super important requiring locking up gets an old fashioned physical key lock. He can’t pick a lock, and if the key is on me, he can’t open the lock. He seems to think it’s some kinda game I play with him when I lock shit up. I could do some sort of bio-lock to keep him out of things, but that seems a bit extreme. Usually, he just opens whatever I locked to show me he can and be a little shit about it. He understands about doors and locking them though, so he won’t randomly unlock the door to this room unless he wants to go out. I think he likes the concept that he can keep his space from being invaded by others because of locks.”
“Why isn’t this data in the information about hy’prae?” I asked curiously.
Tohan shrugged. “I think it might be just Effie who does the lock thing and only because he’s been with me for so long. He’s been with me longer than any hy’prae has ever been recorded staying with someone. Remind me at some point to tell you how I happened to end up with him. It’s kind of a cool story. So, what did you find?”
“A lot of locked doors and things that didn’t answer any questions but raised more instead.”
“Naturally,” Tohan said with a chuckle. “So what questions got raised, and do you think we have a chance of answering them? I guess, technically, it doesn’t matter as far as what I’ve been hired to do, but I’m a curious person. Who wouldn’t be curious about a secret passage sort of deal?”
“There were two levels. The initial hallway led to stairs that went down three floors. The doors on that level were all locked with no identifying marks or way to see into the room beyond the door. I couldn’t hear a single sound and am assuming that the area is soundproofed to keep any questions about mystery noises to a non-issue. A second set of stairs went down two more levels. There were fifty doors with numbers on them and what appeared to be one-way observation panels set in the doors. There was also a larger door at the very end of the hall that had no number or observation panel. All the doors were locked on that level, and there wasn’t a single sound I could hear either. Effie was very agitated while we were in the lower hallway and physically tried to get me to leave almost the entire time we were down there.
“In the cells on one side of the hall were prisoners suffering from some sort of disease. One of the cells had what was possibly blood on the walls and floor; although I’m not sure of that because I could only see that through the observation panel. There were prisoners of multiple species in various stages of the disease, but something about the progression of it seemed off to me. I’m not a medical expert, but I do have access to a rather large database. Even so, I have no idea what those prisoners were suffering from or why I feel like there was something not quite right about the disease progression I saw.
“Effie became very persistent about leaving the area when I moved to the doors on the opposite side of the hallway. The prisoners in those cells were also infected with something, but it was very different from the first prisoners I saw. There were also two prisoners to each cell, always of different species, and they were chained so they couldn’t reach each other. I saw one try to attack her cellmate, so I can understand the need for the chains.”
Tohan continued to pet Effie absently and seemed to be thinking of what I’d said. I waited for him to get his thoughts in order. Perhaps Tohan would have a different take on what I’d seen.
“How can you be sure the diseases were different? A disease can present with varying symptoms depending on the stage. It can also take on different characteristics depending on the species it infects. I’m generally shit on the biology end of things when compared to a healer or doctor, but I know way more than the average person because of the schooling I’ve had. I assume the database you mentioned would make you better at understanding the biology of diseases than the average person, too.”
I nodded. “Better, yes. An expert? Not even close. The prisoners I first saw had what looked like ugly bruises and appeared to have trouble breathing as the disease progressed. The bruising appeared to get worse as well with those in later stages of the disease. They also appeared to be bleeding from somewhere as there were blood stains on the sheets, but I couldn’t see any wounds that would account for the amount of blood I saw. That was more or less universal for the ones I saw regardless of sex or species infected with whatever that disease is.
“The other prisoners had blisters on their skin that faintly pulsed. I saw one break open on the face of a female prisoner. An orange liquid leaked out, and when it did, she screamed. At least, I assumed that she did based on what I saw as I couldn’t hear anything. The scream scared her cellmate briefly before they both lunged at each other. They fought hard against the chains with one female dislocating her shoulder in an effort to get to the other female. She didn’t appear to even register the dislocation when I know that is a painful injury based on personal experience. An electrical shock hit both of them after a few minutes of them trying to get at each other, and I think that was the only thing that stopped them. Prisoners in what I assume were the final stages looked like skeletons with paper-thin skin stretched over their bones. They no longer had the blisters at that point although you could see where the blisters had healed. At that stage, they had what I can only call a hungry look in their eyes. It was unsettling to say the least.”
Tohan stopped petting Effie and sucked in a sharp breath. Effie nudged Tohan’s hand and cheeped at him to continue with the chin rubs. Tohan absently started petting Effie again, but his focus was entirely on me. I couldn’t have said why, but my stomach tensed and I felt a shiver of dread slide down my spine.
“You’re sure about what you saw with the second set of prisoners? Like super, absolutely, without a doubt sure? I’m talking about the ones with the blisters and orange shit that leaked out,” Tohan said in a voice that held more than a bit of dismay.
“Utterly sure. You can play back what I saw if you want to see for yourself. I can send it to your wrist com again.” The bad feeling in my gut grew at Tohan’s grim nod.
I sent the entire video of the file of my trip into the secret area to Tohan’s wrist com and watched as he cued it up. He skipped over the upper level as there wasn’t anything of interest there. He alternately played and skipped forward over the footage of the first set of cells I’d looked in on. He watched the entire section of the video showing the prisoners with the blisters. Halfway through the viewing, I noticed that his hands were shaking. Effie had opened his eyes at that, saw the video playing, and immediately growled low in his throat. Tohan stopped the playback when I left the lower level, and there was genuine fear in his eyes when he looked at me. Fuck. This was going to be very bad. I could feel it.
“I know what that disease is, and there’s no way it could’ve ended up here accidentally. I’m one hundred and fifty percent sure about that. It’s called <i>ruhlex-mar</i>, and it’s native to Awh’an. You get it from improper sanitation after contact with a small, flightless bird called a <i>dwen-sta</i>. You also get it from eating the undercooked or improperly prepared meat of one of the little bastards. They’re apparently fantastic tasting and highly nutritious, but I’ve never wanted to spend the crazy amount of money necessary to eat some when the possibility of being infected is more of a risk than I’m comfortable with. Chef’s need to train for one Awh’anise year, which is equal to two and a half Standard years, and have to test cook meals, which only they eat, multiple times during their training before being given a license to prepare <i>dwen-sta</i>, assuming they make the meals right and don’t infect themselves at any point.
“There’s no cure or vaccine for <i>ruhlex-mar</i>. Once you start showing symptoms, it’s too late to do anything about it except to ride it out. It makes a person highly aggressive physically and sexually. While you think it would be easy to avoid either fighting or sex with someone who has those blisters you saw, the liquid mimics pheromones indicating a readiness to breed, increasing the scent by at least three times the norm. Your brain will tell you to run away, but your body just wants to fuck and frequently wins the fight with your brain. I’ve heard that it can even be so strong an urge that people like me who only do one sex will have zero problems fucking anyone even if that person is the ‘wrong’ sex for it to happen naturally for them.
“<i>Ruhlex-mar</i> isn’t fatal on its own. What it forces your body to do or ignore to satisfy those fighting or breeding urges can be fatal. What you become if you survive the toll the virus takes on your body frequently leads to suicide. I’ve never heard of a non-Awh’anise getting this virus, but it’s not something easy to catch and given the general hostility of most of the flora and fauna of Awh’an, we’re not exactly a big tourist destination making non-Awh’anise infections not a thing. In my opinion, the hacking attempts have just gotten shoved to the bottom of the importance pile of serious-shit-that-needs-to-be-taken-care-of-right-fucking-now.”
“Fuck,” I said as I blew out a sharp breath.
If accidental infection of <i>ruhlex-mar</i> was highly unlikely, and I had no reason to doubt Tohan’s words, that shone a very disturbing light on what I’d seen in the secret area.
“I’d personally go with fuckity-fuck-fuck, but I know more about this at the moment than you, I think. Check the data dump Moswen did. Info about it might be in there. I don’t know though since it’s something pretty specific to Awh’an that would be very hard for a casual visitor to Awh’an to come across. We don’t advertize about the <i>dwen-sta</i>, there’s very few restaurants that are licensed to serve it, and finding one of the little shits in the wild isn’t easy since they’re generally shy and live in remote areas, thank the stars. People are infected every year by <i>ruhlex-mar</i>, but it’s not like it’s an epidemic. The numbers are fairly low, but that’s mostly because the people directly exposed are low. Still, last I heard a couple of hundred people catch it every year mostly because it spreads wicked fast.”
“So it was brought here somehow? Could there be an Awh’anise prisoner here who was already infected before arrival?” I asked as I checked the database in my head.
“No. Incubation time is short before symptoms start showing if I’m remembering right. About a Standard week, maybe? If we’re talking typical prisoner transport time from Awh’an to here it would likely take a week, and that doesn’t include any of the processing time on Awh’an or processing time on the prison facility end before the infected person would be dumped into the general populace. Somewhere along the way, symptoms would start cropping up, and somebody would sound the alarm that there was a problem.
“As a species, we’re super paranoid about letting any of our native nasties get out into the universe because they are just so damn nasty. Awh’an has actually signed several accords promising to do our best to not let certain things off-planet because of the threat they could pose to others. Somebody definitely brought <i>ruhlex-mar</i> here. The most important question in my mind now is why. For the record, my paranoid little brain isn’t liking the reasons its coming up with.”
“There’s nothing in the database Moswen gave me on <i>ruhlex-mar</i>, but if it is as uncommon as you say, I can understand why it’s not there. I’m also not liking the possible reasons that a highly contagious virus was brought into a prison facility. It further makes me question the origin of the disease that the other prisoners I saw were suffering from. Add both of those things to the stuff we already knew about—the hacking, the missing power and water data, and prisoners having access to places they shouldn’t—I’m getting a very, very bad feeling about this mission.”
“I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. This is all Moswen’s fault with his damn chaos effect. I told you it was going to be a clusterfuck of epic proportions when it hit. Sometimes I pure hate it when I’m right,” Tohan said with a heavy sigh.
“I’m going to hate it if you are right, too, and things are pointing in the direction of you being right. We’d better start figuring out a game plan on this. There’s way more going on here than either of us was told, and I think we’ll need to be careful about what we reveal to whom. This could have the potential to blow up in our faces in a big way, and I’d rather not end up dead because we said the wrong thing to the wrong people.”
“You and me both. I have way too many kinky ideas to put into motion with you, so death is not an option right now,” Tohan said with a grin.
I laughed at that. “Good to know you have your priorities figured out.”
“Always thinking, Warrick. Now, let’s see if I can figure out this damn bracelet and get it to work again. Once that’s done, it might be in the best interests of saving our hot asses to let the Awh’anise military know what’s going on here, give them the bracelet, and let them deal with whatever. It’s kind of their thing to enforce the keep-the-nasty-shit-on-Awh’an rule.”
I nodded. That indeed might be the best course of action. Dealing with what I’d discovered in the secret area was most definitely outside of my mission parameters. Assuming something new and bad didn’t leap up and bite our asses, someone was going to have to take responsibility for what we’d discovered and shut it down. Just who that someone was, I wasn’t sure, but I highly doubted it should be either Tohan or I since neither of us was prepared or suited to handle the situation.
<b>Ruhlex-mar:</b> Extremely contagious virus carried by a small flightless bird, <i>dwen’sta</i>. The virus is spread by contamination from the bird’s droppings, improper sanitation after handling the bird (alive or dead), or by eating undercooked or improperly prepared meat of the bird. The meat of the bird is very tender, naturally flavourful, and highly nutritious and is an expensive delicacy. The virus is completely harmless to the <i>dwen’sta</i>. It is not fatal to other species on its own, but the symptoms the patient suffers from almost always lead to fatality.
Incubation is 3-5 days, during which the infected person seems perfectly fine and rarely shows any symptoms. Transmission is via bodily fluids. Onset of symptoms include greatly increased physical and sexual aggression, tripling of pheromones indicating breeding readiness, and breeding cycle commencement regardless of when the last breeding cycle began. For patients too young or old for a breeding cycle, the virus will force a cycle to start.
Faintly pulsing blisters will form on the face and upper torso after 4-6 days of initial infection and for 2-3 days, the blisters will release a virulent orange liquid that mimics the scent of someone in a frenzy to breed/be bred. The scent is almost impossible to resist despite knowing that the infected is highly contagious. Anyone within a fifteen foot radius capable of smelling will be affected. If there is no penetration to start a cycle, the infected will experience the symptoms of cycle sickness (high fever, intense arousal, delirium, etc.) but it will not cause death as is typical, instead sending the infected into a vegetative state.
Later stages of the infection have muscle begin to waste away as the infected is not concerned with eating, only sex. They will eat if food is given but won’t seek food on their own. They will be consumed with a powerful thirst and will drink large quantities of whatever liquid is available. Eventually, the virus stabilizes in their system rendering it harmless to the host but still capable of infecting a sexual partner approximately 25% of the time. Muscle mass never recovers well, and the survivor is left hyper-sexualized and sterile.
The lighting in the secret passageway took shitty to a new level. There were some low-level lights near the floor, but the illumination they provided was just barely enough to show potential obstacles in front of your feet. I was perfectly fine with the lack of strong lighting, my enhanced optics making it more than bright enough for me to see. Anybody else would likely be at a serious disadvantage, and I wondered if that was intentional. With that in mind, I moved cautiously down the hall, ready for whatever might come at me. Effie followed along behind me, his footsteps nearly silent except for the periodic scratching sound of what I assumed were his nails or claws or whatever on the concrete floor. Hy’prae had excellent low-light vision according to the information I’d processed about them, so I wasn’t worried about him stumbling around as we moved further into the passageway.
The hall turned a ninety degree corner after about twenty feet, and a long flight of stairs descended. I started down the stairs, Effie close behind me, making noises I assumed were ones of disapproval going by the sounds of them. I wasn’t all that thrilled to be going deeper into god only knows what either, but the passage and what it led to needed to be checked out. The guy who’d popped out of the wall wasn’t a prisoner, and to the best of my knowledge, all personnel had been removed from the prison before Tohan and I arrived. There was also the fact that I was currently walking through an area that wasn’t shown on any plans or maps of the facility that I had access to.
That begged the questions of who was the mystery guy, why was he still at the prison, and what was the purpose of the secret passageway that wasn’t on any plans I had access to?
If he hadn’t been killed almost immediately when Tohan and Effie saw him, I could’ve questioned him. Not that I faulted either Tohan or Effie for their actions. We were in a hostile situation, and it was the correct course of action to assume that anyone we encountered would probably try to kill us or, more likely, capture us, torture us for intel, and then kill us. If I’d had a clear shot, I’d have aimed for incapacitating the man so I could have tried to get information from him. But that wasn’t the way the situation had played out, and we’d need to deal with what was and not what could’ve been.
At the bottom of the stairs, the hallway was better lit, but not by a lot. Several doors lined both sides of the hall, each with an electronic lock. Nothing on or near the doors gave any clue as to what was behind said doors. The locks next to the doors could only be opened by the type of bracelet that the prison personnel, including our dead guy, had. A manually entered pass code could open the doors as well, judging by the keypad. What that pass code was... it could be anything and randomly punching in numbers would get us nowhere and waste time.
The hallway was utterly silent. If there was anyone behind the doors, they either weren’t making a single sound or the rooms were soundproofed. I was thinking soundproof simply because I was standing in a secret hallway, and the last thing I’d want was for some random noise to be heard by someone outside of the secret hallway and have them get curious about where that sound was coming from. There was the strong possibility that a prisoner would report hearing strange noises and that eventually someone would be sent to investigate to make sure that prisoners weren’t doing something to attempt to disrupt the running of the facility.
I had gone down three levels via the stairs based on the number of stairs, the rise of each step, the floor to ceiling height of each level, and the supporting structure of each floor involved. There were prisoner rooms on this level of the facility as well as two more levels down. The area I was in was not a hastily cobbled-together afterthought. To have something like this deep in the middle of the complex said advance planning to me. It was entirely possible that the area had been intended for some other use but was abandoned and the entrances sealed off for some reason. However, the way the initial door opened said intentional hiding of the place to me. Which made me wonder why and who had signed off on it.
Effie was now crowding up against the backs of my legs. I didn’t think he was doing that out of fear though. Effie didn’t seem to do fear from what I’d seen of him. Granted, I’d only been around him for less than two days, but there had been several instances where fear would’ve been a perfectly valid response to what was happening and he’d shown none. All the information I had on hy’prae also indicated that, in general, they were fearless apex predators.
He was currently making low growling sounds in his throat, and he had one of his forelegs hooked around my calf, pulling on it in the direction of the stairs we’d just come down. He’d never be able to move me, but it was fairly clear to me that he wanted us to leave the area we’d just entered. Something was making him behave that way, but I had no idea what. It could even be that he didn’t like leaving Tohan all alone since he seemed very protective of Tohan. I wasn’t all that thrilled with leaving Tohan alone either, but I hadn’t seen any other choice in the situation. I did not want Tohan with me if things suddenly went to shit in a completely unknown area. It would be much harder for me to effectively deal with a threat if I needed to worry about Tohan’s safety in the close confines of a secret area with no advance knowledge of the layout.
“We can’t leave yet, Effie. This isn’t enough investigation,” I said in a voice barely above a whisper.
Effie chittered at me, the sound low as if he knew we needed to be quiet. Given how intelligent hy’prae were known to be, he probably did understand that we needed to be as silent as possible and that we were in a dangerous area. I moved forward as quietly as I could, alert for any movement. I kept my weapon holstered as I crept down the hall. I could draw and fire both my weapons with one hundred percent accuracy over a distance of three hundred feet in a fiftieth of a second. Since the hallway was nowhere near that long, I was very confident I could quick draw and make whatever shot I may need to.
The hallway turned again after fifty feet and another set of stairs led down. I frowned and wondered just how far down I was going to end up travelling. I assumed that I was eventually going to be stopped from further progress with a locked door I couldn’t bypass without the proper access code. I doubted the secret area would be a massive place based on where it was located in relationship to the other parts of the facility. It could descend beyond the levels of the prison and spread out to claim a large area, but I was hoping it didn’t. The bigger the area to search, the longer Tohan would be relatively unprotected and the greater the chance that someone would discover me in the area, assuming that I wasn’t already being watched on hidden cameras.
I headed down the stairs. Effie was very, very unhappy with my decision to go down the stairs. He was actually hitting my legs quite hard with his forelegs now, and his chittering had taken on an urgency that was difficult to ignore. Halfway down the flight of stairs Effie stopped bitching at me and settled into sounds I could only call resigned muttering. I was almost willing to swear I heard him say <i>stupid</i> but that was likely just my ears trying to make sense of the rising and falling cadence of sounds he was making. Nothing in any of the documentation I’d processed on hy’prae said they could talk. I was fairly sure Tohan would’ve mentioned something like that as well.
I went down another three levels and entered yet another long hallway. There were many more doors on both sides of the hallway than in the upper hallway I’d left. Each door had a number above it and an electronic lock, and the doors were closer together in spacing. A quick check of the numbers put the doors at fifty. There was a twelve by twelve inch opaque panel set into the middle of each door with a button near the bottom of the panel. The doors in the upper hallway didn’t have the opaque panel. There was another, wider, door at the very end of the hallway without any number above it and no opaque panel. Like the upper hallway, there wasn’t a single sound to be heard.
Effie hopped around to stand in front of me. He went up on the rear-most set of his legs and waved his forelegs in front of my face. With him standing like that, he was easily close to four feet tall and just a little intimidating, which was likely the effect he was going for. He started making the same sort of sounds he had in the hydroponic bay when warning Tohan of the approaching group of prisoners. Tohan had called that posture and the sounds Effie was making his danger warning. I was a little surprised that Effie was warning me of danger, but Tohan had also told him that I needed to come back in one piece if Effie was to get those chin rubs Tohan promised him. I was both amazed and impressed that Effie understood Tohan’s instructions so well.
“You sense danger here. I understand that,” I said softly. “I need to check this place out as best as I can to keep Tohan safe. I know you want Tohan to be safe. We’ll leave as soon as we can and go back to Tohan. Understand?”
Effie stopped waving his forelegs in front of my face and went silent. He tilted his head to one side as if contemplating what I’d said. He chirped softly once and dropped back to all eight legs. He clearly wasn’t happy about being in the hallway, but he was silent and wasn’t trying to get me to leave. He watched me for several long seconds before he pushed against my leg and chirped again as if to tell me to get moving and do what I needed to do so we could leave. Effie was fast becoming a fascinating creature.
As far as the danger itself, whatever that was, it was entirely possible that Effie was hearing or smelling something that I couldn’t. My sensors could detect a wide range of things that were harmful to me or whomever my client was; however, things that weren’t harmful wouldn’t trigger any warnings at all. Like the scent of other people for example. Or sounds of movement that were too low for me to pick up. I wasn’t about to ignore Effie’s warning as that would be foolish. I’d simply be even more cautious as I tried to determine what was the purpose of the area before I left. Without the access codes, I was fairly limited to what I could actually do as far as investigating the area. Some knowledge was better than no knowledge especially where potential threats were concerned.
I approached the first door to my left and pressed my ear to it for several long seconds. I heard absolutely nothing. Deciding the risk was worth it, I pushed the button below the opaque panel. The panel turned clear and showed the inside of what looked like a standard prisoner cell but about half the regular size. The cell was neat and empty. I pressed the button again, and the panel went opaque.
I moved to the next door and pressed the button. The same prisoner cell was revealed. Something that looked a lot like blood was on the walls and floor that were in visual range. That was not encouraging. There wasn’t a body in the cell though, and I couldn’t tell how fresh the blood was without a closer look, which I wouldn’t get without the code to open the door. I turned the viewing panel opaque and moved on.
The next several cells were also completely empty and without any blood I could see. Effie was still making the occasional low sounds of disapproval as he followed me as I walked down the hall checking the viewing windows. After seeing the cell with blood liberally decorating the walls and floor, I could understand why he didn’t want to stay where we were. The only reasons I could come up with for seeing so much blood, if that’s indeed what it was, all over the walls and floor were not good ones. Accidental wounds wouldn’t produce that much blood. While Effie couldn’t have seen the blood in the cell through the panel, it was highly likely that he had been able to smell it given how much there was. The scent of blood likely didn’t bother him. It was probably the relationship of that much blood, knowing that he was in an unsafe area and Tohan being more or less in the area that set him off.
The next cell I peeked into had someone asleep on the bed. His or her back was to me so there was very little useful information I could pick up. Their chest moved, so I felt it was safe to assume they were alive. Beyond that, I couldn’t have said anything more about the person: not what their health condition was, what sex they were, or even what species they were.
I moved on to the next cell hoping I’d get something even mildly useful out of this exploration.
Effie seemed to be getting more agitated the closer we got to the large door at the end of the hall. He was still occasionally trying to urge me to turn back, and while I wasn’t an expert on hy’prae behaviour by any stretch of the imagination, I was willing to lay money on the bet that he was preparing for some sort of confrontation. It was something about the way he was moving that said readiness to fight to me. That was a bit odd as there still wasn’t a single sound to be heard and there was nothing giving any indication to me of us having been discovered.
The next cell had somebody who was awake and sitting on the bed facing the door. The female in the cell was staring directly at the door with a staggering amount of hate and fear in her eyes, but there was no indication that she could see me looking at her. I made the assumption that the panel was a one-way type of thing since she didn’t react at all to seeing me or when I waved my hand in view of the panel. There were bandages wrapped around her forearms, an ugly, livid bruise on her jaw, and a few smaller bruises on her throat. Aside from the injuries, based only on what I could see of her, overall, she appeared fine.
Perhaps this area was some sort of solitary confinement or protective custody area? But why have it as a secret area since the cells appeared to be quite secure?
The next cell was occupied as well, but with a male prisoner that was a different species from the female. He wasn’t doing nearly as well as his neighbour. He lay on the bed on his back, and even from several feet away, it was easy to see that he was gasping for every breath he took. His skin was mottled with what looked like deep bruising, but it didn’t look like the type of bruising one would get from being in a fight. Something about it was... off, but I couldn’t quiet put my finger on what it was that gave it that sense of not being right.
The next several cells were more of the same, with prisoners of both sexes and multiple species in degrading states of health. The more bruising I could see on a prisoner, the more lethargic they seemed to be. Prisoners that appeared to be just one giant bruise seemed to also be bleeding from somewhere given the stains on the sheets covering them, but I couldn’t see any obvious open wounds that would produce the amount of blood I saw.
After seeing the tenth prisoner in very obvious medical distress with the same sort of condition as the others, it finally clicked for me, and I sucked in a sharp breath. I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, but it seemed like the prisoners were suffering from some sort of disease and had possibly been quarantined here to keep the rest of the population from catching it.
I was now a little bit glad that I didn’t have the codes to open the doors to the cells. I had no idea what sort of disease the prisoners had, if it was a disease, or how it was spread. If it was a contact vector with bodily fluids, that wouldn’t be too bad as I wouldn’t have allowed the sick prisoner to get within touching distance of me or Effie. If it was air-borne, just breathing the same air as the prisoners could infect me or even Effie, and we could’ve possibly brought that back to Tohan, infecting him as well. While I was immune to a very large number of diseases, I wasn’t immune to everything as that would be impossible. Not having the pass codes in this instance was a good thing.
Having some type of contagious disease run rampant through the prison would be very bad and staggeringly easy to have happen. The prison was, for the most part, a closed system because of the nature of the facility. But it wasn’t entirely closed. The personnel switched out for their shifts which had the potential for even further spread of the disease, depending on incubation time, when the personnel finished their rotation and went home. Because the prisoners had fairly free-roaming of the majority of the facility and the air supply was shared with everyone in the facility, an air-borne disease could spread rapidly throughout the entire facility, infecting a large portion of the people on the asteroid before it was discovered.
That the facility wasn’t on quarantine lockdown suggested that either the disease had been caught very early or it wasn’t as easily spread as some diseases. That didn’t make the threat of the disease any less dangerous though. I knew of the protocols involved for such a thing, and extreme caution was always exercised in dealing with something of this nature in a situation like the prison. The prisoners held here were not here awaiting execution, and the governments that sent prisoners here had a reasonable expectation of the inmates continuing to live and serve out their sentence even if that sentence was to never leave the facility.
How a disease could’ve gotten into the prison wasn’t a huge mystery in my mind. Every inmate was screened for health issues before being transferred to the prison; however, it was impossible to screen for every single disease in the universe. There were far too many of them, and some were even species specific—devastating the natural host but doing little to nothing to other species. The opposite was true as well with some things being completely harmless to one species but deadly to others. I’d also read of certain bacteria being vital to one species survival yet crippling for another when introduced into their species.
The question I now had was why were the infected prisoners being kept in this secret area instead of in the perfectly functioning quarantine area of the medical bay? The staff had been removed from the facility, but the medical bay was operated by androids. Medical androids had massive databases to work with and could identify and treat a staggering number of conditions. They also couldn’t catch any diseases unlike a living person. The only viral thing dangerous to an android would be malicious code. I highly doubted the inmates would do something to the androids as medical care was frequently required given the violent and volatile nature of the prisoners.
I finished checking the cells along one side of the hallway, finding more prisoners suffering from varying stages of whatever they were infected with. I wasn’t a medical expert by any means, but even without closer inspection of the prisoners, it appeared to me that there were differences in the disease they were suffering from. That could very likely be because there was a mix of species that were infected. That made perfectly logical sense. But my gut feeling about it said no. It said there was something else going on with the disease progression I’d seen. What that was, I had no idea.
The large door at the end of the hall was locked and there was no viewing panel. Whatever was behind that door was going to remain a mystery until Tohan managed to get the bracelet I’d taken off the dead guy working again, if making the bracelet work was even possible for him to do. I knew he was skilled with electronic devices, but I’d also asked him to make alien-to-him tech work again within a very brief timeframe when said tech was specifically designed to become completely inoperable when abruptly deactivated. Then again, given the health status of the prisoners I’d seen in the cells, opening any doors in this area may not be the best idea either as we didn’t know anything about what the prisoners were infected with including how fast or easily it spread.
I started checking the doors on the other side of the hall. The cells were a little larger and there were two prisoners to each cell. The prisoners were chained at neck, hands, and feet to the beds, which were bolted to the floor. The length of the chains probably gave the prisoners just enough room to use the toilet and food dispenser on their side of the cell but appeared to be short of allowing them to reach each other. The chains seemed an odd thing given that they were also suffering the effects of some sort of disease and worrying about infection from one to the other was a moot point since both prisoners seemed to be infected with the same thing.
I thought it was interesting that the prisoners sharing the cells were always two different species. There were individuals of the same species infected with whatever the disease was, but I didn’t see the same species sharing a cell. Odd.
Whatever the disease was, it was something completely different from the prisoners I’d already seen on the other side of the hallway. Instead of severe bruising and difficulty breathing, the prisoners I was looking at had faintly pulsating blisters that showed signs of leaking a virulent orange liquid. There was also a rather disturbing level of aggression and madness in their eyes.
As I watched one prisoner, a large blister on her face split open, spilling the liquid inside it over her cheek. I couldn’t hear anything, but her mouth opened in what must have been an ear-piercing shriek going by the reaction of her cell mate, another female. The non-screaming female shrank back on her bed for several seconds before she raised her head and seemed to almost be scenting the air. Her lips suddenly pulled back in a snarl as she lunged at the other female without warning. The screamer mirrored the action. Both of them were stopped hard by the chains but they strained against the restraints, trying to get at each other, their mouths opening and closing as if biting and thick, viscous spittle dripped from their mouths.
One of the females jerked viciously on one arm in her attempt to get at the other female, and I saw her shoulder drop suddenly in an unnatural way. I knew a dislocated shoulder when I saw one and winced a little. The female didn’t even seem to notice the injury and renewed her efforts to get at her cellmate. Both females continued to snap their jaws at the other and I was sure that if I could hear what was going on in the cell, it would be nothing but animalistic growls and snarls of pure rage.
Blue light suddenly arced from the floor and danced over the straining females. They dropped like stones, falling into twitching jumbles of limbs before laying still. Both of them had just received what I assumed was a massive electrical shock. They lay on the floor, breathing raggedly, their eyes glazed with pain, all the fight gone from them as if it had never been.
The electrical shock had been too well-timed to be random. The prisoners were obviously being monitored. I didn’t see a camera in the cell, but I also couldn’t see the entire cell either. I thought shocking the patients as had just happened was extreme, but at the same time it was possible that was the only way to stop them from trying to attack each other. The one female hadn’t reacted at all to dislocating her own shoulder, and I knew from personal experience that a dislocated shoulder was quite painful and not something easily ignored. Shocking the prisoners still seemed a rather cruel method to use on people who were obviously very ill. In my mind, it would be far better to have each person in their own cell to remove the possibility of them trying to attack their cellmate. But if all the cells were occupied, it was possible there were too many patients for the number of cells available.
As I continued to check the cells, some of the prisoners appeared further along in the stages of the disease as several of them appeared to be wasting away to nothing but skin and bone. They no longer had the blisters and there was something about the look in their eyes that was unsettling. It wasn’t madness but there was a... hungry look to them. I was fairly sure I was safe from the prisoners both in a sense of contamination and from them breaking free of the cells. I still felt more than a little on edge though, and Effie was not helping matters at all with his renewal of chittering and physically urging me to leave.
After checking the last door and finding what I thought might be prisoners suffering the last stages of the disease given that they resembled skeletons with paper-thin skin stretched over their bones, I needed to leave as there was literally nothing else for me to see. I’d learned very little, which was disappointing. What I had discovered only caused more questions to rise to the surface.
Foremost in my mind was what were the odds of two very different diseases requiring quarantine showing up in the prison at the same time? A quick and dirty probability calculation told me the odds of that happening were huge. Not impossible given the broad range of species in the facility, but very much stacked against it happening. Suspicions were gathering in my mind, but without more information, suspicions were all they were. My gut was telling me that something sinister was going on at the prison.
I headed for the stairs, taking them two at a time. I didn’t want to spend any more time in the secret area than I needed to. The longer I was there, the greater the chance of discovery of our presence or the slightly open secret door. I also didn’t want to leave Tohan alone for longer than I had to. I slowed as I approached the top of the stairs and stilled while several steps from the top to listen, unseen, for any movement in the upper hallway. Hearing nothing and not seeing Effie act more anxious than he already was, I cautiously entered the upper hallway.
The upper hallway looked exactly as it had before I’m made the trip down the second flight of stairs. I hadn’t been down in the lower level for very long—slightly less than twenty minutes by my internal clock. I honestly didn’t expect anything to be different, but exercising caution certainly wouldn’t hurt. It could also mean the difference between literal life and death for Effie and me.
Effie moved quickly ahead of me without a backward glance to see if I was following. The doors I passed all still indicated that they were locked, which was a good thing I supposed. I wanted to know what was behind the doors, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of possibly exposing myself to whatever the prisoners on the lower level had or maybe getting into a firefight with unknown odds against me. I was very, very capable, but I wasn’t undefeatable, and sheer numbers would eventually overwhelm me. I reached the stairs without incident and took them two at a time as well. The dimly-lit hallway was still empty with the barest sliver of bright light coming from the two inch-wide gap where Tohan had planted his weapon to keep the door from sealing shut.
Effie waited at the door and looked at me expectantly. Since he seemed impatient to leave, I assumed he couldn’t hear or smell anyone on the other side of the door. I still waited and pushed my sensors to the maximum before reaching the same conclusion. I slipped my fingers in the gap and pushed the door open. Effie shot out and headed for the computer room at a fast clip, not waiting for me. I squeezed out of the opening and let the door go. It bumped against Tohan’s weapon as it tried to close, and I frowned.
The small gap had been fine for the short amount of time I’d been down in the secret area. The chance of somebody coming along then had been small. But to leave the gap now for who knew how long was just asking for trouble in my opinion. However, I didn’t want to allow the door to fully close in case Tohan couldn’t get the bracelet working again. I thought about my options and opened a small compartment at my hip, taking out a tiny piece of what looked like clay.
The material was a polymer-bonded explosive. It was completely inert and harmless until detonated with a very specific wave form that only I knew. It was usually used to blow open locks and took very little material to do so. A piece the size of my baby fingernail and as thin as the typical blade of a table knife was more than enough to blow out the entire locking mechanism of a steel door. I pressed the little piece of the explosive at the midpoint of the door jamb, removed Tohan’s weapon and let the door snick closed. If he couldn’t get the bracelet to work, the door would open in a more permanent fashion if we needed it to.
Effie was at the door to the computer room when I walked up. He was standing on his hind-most legs and using his front legs to press the buttons on the keypad. I stopped to watch him, a little smile twitching up the corners of my mouth. He likely saw Tohan pressing the buttons before, making the door open, and was trying to copy what Tohan had done. I wondered how long he was going to press the buttons before he gave up. I decided to watch him for a moment or two out of curiosity before I entered the code to open the door.
On the third try since I’d been watching him, the keypad lit up green and the door opened. My eyes widened, and my mouth opened in shocked disbelief. Effie dropped down to his normal stance, shot me what I swore was a smug look, and sauntered into the computer room. I hurried after him before the door closed on my stunned face.
I’d seen the map of the hydroponics bay on screen, but the actual scale of the place once you were standing in it was freaking huge. I totally saw now why Warrick wanted to have the bots harvest what we needed beforehand and pile it all in one spot near the main door so we could just grab and go. It was not an exaggeration for me to say that I couldn’t clearly see from one wall to the other, my less than stellar eyesight having absolutely nothing to do with that. It would probably take me a good ten to fifteen minutes to walk from one side to the other, and I didn’t dawdle when I walked.
I wasn’t a strategist by any stretch of the imagination, but even I could see that the layout of the place was great for an ambush. The plants weren’t just in beds at floor level but were stacked in raised beds a good fifteen up, too. Sure, they were all set out in perfectly straight rows, but it created a sort of jungle-feel to the place with all the greenery stretching way above our heads. There were even full-on trees twenty feet tall with fruit growing on them in one section.
Effie loved it.
Leaving him in the computer room hadn’t been an option. He’d have trashed the place as sure as I knew that I loved sucking cock. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that he trashed a space I was using. After the first time he’d done that to my condo, I made sure that anything irreplaceable was always someplace he couldn’t access. If he trashed the computer room because he was pissed at being left behind, I wasn’t in any position to replace any of the computers or other tech in the room. Questions would be asked, and I was sure there’d be hell to pay for having Effie along even though I hadn’t intentionally brought him in the first place.
Effie was currently running and climbing around the immediate area, chirping his pleasure at being able to explore something new. Hopefully, he wouldn’t eat anything that would make him sick. Or kill him. There were all kinds of plants from dozens of worlds, and it was a good bet that some of those plants would be dangerous or even deadly to not only Effie but also me and Warrick as well.
Effie was primarily a carnivore, but there were some plants and fruits he liked, too. He was especially fond of tart/sour fruit. I’d heard that if prey was scarce, a hy’prae could survive on bugs, plants, fruits and nuts for quite some time although I doubted they liked doing it. Eating meat was definitely their thing.
I’d told Effie to not wander off too far and to not eat anything. He’d probably listen. Maybe. Hopefully. As much as he drove me nuts at times, I’d be crushed if he died. I knew he’d come if I whistled for him, so I wasn’t too worried about him being out of eyesight. Hy’prae had really good hearing, and when I whistled for Effie, it was pretty damn loud, and he knew that meant “Come here right away”. He always came when I whistled for him. Always.
“This might take longer to load than I anticipated, Tohan,” Warrick said with a little frown as he looked at the fairly large pile of boxes stacked neatly by the door, courtesy of the harvesting bots.
“I programmed them to harvest what you told me to,” I replied as I looked at the pile of boxes. “But that is a shit-ton of boxes. The boxes are kinda big, too. I’d feel bad about leaving some behind because that seems wasteful especially since the inmates rely on what’s grown here for the bulk of their food supply. I could, however, command the bots to process whatever we don’t take into the general food supplies for the prisoners so it doesn’t go bad.”
“I didn’t anticipate the size of some of the plants. Or that the bots would harvest the entire plant and box it up when we only need the roots of some and the leaves of others,” Warrick said with a thoughtful look. “I suppose when the bots are harvesting during the regular cycle they take only what’s necessary. It wouldn’t make sense for the bots to routinely take the entire plant when that’s frequently not necessary.”
“You’re probably right. I didn’t delve into the harvesting routine before I commanded them to collect what we wanted. It didn’t seem important. I honestly didn’t think about being that specific when I gave the command to harvest what we needed. I thought the bots would follow whatever the regular procedure was for harvesting stuff even if it was out of the normal routine. Lesson learned.”
Warrick nodded and studied the pile of boxes. He was obviously thinking of something, so I stayed quiet and waited.
“Let’s load what we can onto the power cart. I calculate that we’ll need to leave approximately eighteen percent of what’s gathered here at the very least. The power cart has a maximum weight capacity. With the full plants the bots boxed up, the power cart will be over that load limit if we try and get all the boxes on, and then it won’t move. We’ll probably have a little trouble manoeuvring it once the power cart is fully loaded to capacity even without that eighteen percent extra as the cart basically moves like an old, overloaded cargo ship with bad thrusters at the best of times.”
“Yeah, the cornering on this thing sucks giant, hairy balls,” I said with a little laugh as I patted the handle of the power cart. “I’d have designed this to have power steering at the very least. A better wheel-turning base wouldn’t hurt anything either. Maybe a load-shift compensator, too, if I was to get all fancy about it.”
“And pin-striping with maybe a little brushed chrome detailing?” Warrick asked with a smile.
“Yeah and some comfort grips with... hey! Just because something has utilitarian use doesn’t mean it needs to <i>be</i> utilitarian in looks. Have you no sense of design flare?” I asked with a bit of a narrow look at Warrick.
“I was teasing you, Tohan. I can appreciate the aesthetics of mechanical design quite well actually. I’d say the chassis I’m using is very pleasing aesthetically, combining form and function rather nicely. I believe you find it exceptionally pleasing on multiple levels,” Warrick said, his smile turning into a grin that held a hint of a leer.
I snorted softly and trailed a finger over the thick hose that ran vertically where the side of his ribs would be. I smirked when I caught the sudden hint of his arousal in the air. I ran my finger up and down the hose lightly, enjoying the teasing scent of Warrick’s arousal as it subtly increased. Somebody definitely liked that, and it would be my pure pleasure to keep touching him as he liked. He said he could feel stuff through sensors on his chassis, and his reaction was very promising for us and future foreplay. I wondered what his reaction would be if I started stroking the hose like I would a dick. My grin turned downright lecherous at that idea.
“Your chassis is very pleasing to me visually. I like that just a simple touch like this is arousing to you. I can think of all kinds of very fun things to do if you get excited by just this light touch,” I said as I continued to stroke the hose up and down with my finger.
“How do you know I find that arousing?” Warrick asked with just a little huskiness to his voice.
“Awh’anise awesome sense of smell. I could smell the little shot of arousal when I stroked the hose. If I wasn’t as focused on you as I am, I’d probably have missed it because it is pretty faint right now. If we were in a room with a bunch of other people, I might’ve missed it then, too, because of the other competing smells. But with basically just you and me here, I could catch even that small change.”
Warrick seemed to be struggling just a little to gather his thoughts before he spoke as I continued to fondle his hose. I smirked a bit at the thought that what could’ve been a euphuism was actually the dead honest truth. The barest hint of pink tinged his cheek bones, the smell of his arousal gradually getting stronger. Sweet!
“The hoses are made of a more flexible, thinner material than the rest of the chassis and thus have greater sensitivity. I can dial that back, of course, but I don’t think I will in this case. Or at least when we’re intimate I won’t. I’m intrigued as to these ideas you mentioned with regards to the sensitivity level I have over the surface of the hoses.”
Warrick’s voice was still a little on the husky side, and he hadn’t told me to stop yet. Fan-freaking-tastic. Naturally, I would stop if he asked me to, but he didn’t seem to be inclined to do that any time soon. I was so totally down with that. This was a new and exciting take on foreplay for both of us unless I missed my guess.
“Because I’m a sharing kind of guy, I’ll be more than happy to show you those ideas. I’m a big fan of being pro active, and I think it helps people understand better when you show as opposed to just tell someone your ideas. Where appropriate, of course,” I said as I gave the hose a light squeeze before sliding my hand down from the top of the hose to where it connected back into his chassis near his hip.
Warrick’s breath shuddered out of him, and the scent of arousal coming from him easily doubled. Awesome! He gave me a stern look that I thought was hot as hell and gently removed my hand from the hose, much to both our disappointment. We were so going to play around with that sensitivity of his later. Warrick cleared his throat, the soft pink tinting the bone-white skin of his cheeks even more noticeable than before.
“I will be looking forward to your demonstration later. This area is not secure and, therefore, not appropriate for any personal types of exploration despite how much I’d like to. I’ve now scaled back the general sensitivity of my chassis to damage indicators during work hours. Off-hours, it will be turned up to levels more appropriate to intimate encounters. I’m telling you this only so you don’t think I’m ignoring or rejecting your advances, which I most certainly am not, should you touch me again in a sexual way before our work day is finished. Given what I know about you, it is highly likely you’ll touch me in that way again. It’s not professional of me, but I enjoy it, and thus, I need to adjust my sensitivity to maintain my professionalism during work hours.”
I gave him a put-upon sigh. “Neatly cock-blocked by duty and technology when I only have the most impure intentions towards you.”
Warrick laughed and gave my hand a little squeeze before picking up a box from the pile and setting it on the power cart. I joined him in moving boxes, grunting a little at the weight. Warrick seemed to be lifting the fairly heavy boxes with no effort, and I wondered how strong he was. His upper body was organic, and he was pretty far from bulging with muscles, so how was he doing it? The interesting bio-mechanic puzzle aside, I got an intense zing of anticipation when the idea of him holding me down and me being unable to break free as he nailed my very fine ass whipped through my head. Damn, that would be wicked cool and massively erotic. I’d have to mention that to him at some point.
“The data on your people was very clear about your species being pushy and aggressive in general and suggested that a very firm <i>no</i> was necessary to curb your sexual attention towards someone. The sexual no I’m telling you now is working hours related only. I’m only temporarily cock-blocking both of us so that we can get the job done that we came here to do.”
“You do have an undeniable point there. We are pushy and aggressive, and a firm <i>no</i> is generally required to make us turn our sexual attention away from someone. Damn Moswen for including that bit about the firm <i>no</i>. Not that I think somebody being gentle with a no actually means keep trying and it’ll eventually change to <i>yes</i>. Consent is everything to us. But I really like touching you even just casually. It’s satisfying to me.”
“I didn’t say you had to stop touching me entirely, Tohan. Only that my reaction to your touches during work hours will not get you a sexual response from me. I know how touch dependant your people are. I like when you touch me outside of a sexual way just as much as when it is sexual. It feels... I’m not really sure how to describe it. I just... like it. Please, feel free to continue with the friendly touching you’ve been doing.”
“Oh. Sweet. Some species get irritated with all the touching us Awh’anise do, sexual and non-sexual. Most of the time we don’t even realize we’re almost constantly touching someone. If it does get to be too much for you, say so, and I’ll make an effort to scale it back. I’m not going to be offended. Honest. Dunno how successful I’ll be at keeping my hands to myself, but I’ll try.”
“I don’t see the amount you touch me as being a problem, but thank you for being willing to curb your instincts should I ask you to,” Warrick said with a smile.
We continued to load the boxes on the power cart, and I wondered just how much food Warrick thought we were going to eat. I would frequently skip meals when I was working and not really notice the passage of time, so what we were loading seemed a bit excessive even if Warrick managed to drag my attention away from what I was doing more often than not.
“So not to question your judgement or anything, but why is there so much stuff? I mean aside from the obvious of having the whole plant harvested and boxed up instead of just the parts we needed,” I asked.
“I looked for things that had good shelf-life. The bulk of the plants harvested will be perfectly fine to sit out at room temperature for up to a week or slightly longer before they start to spoil. Some are more time sensitive, a couple of days at most, but have excellent nutritional value and are quite tasty, so I thought the trade-off was worth it to add those to the list. I think we’d both appreciate a little variety in our diet, too.”
“You are awesome. I didn’t think of it at the time I was ordering the bots into harvesting this stuff, but would some of the things you picked be tart or sour? It’s not a big deal or anything, but Effie likes tart or sour stuff. You can rent his affections for a while if you give him something he likes to eat. I mean, if you care about that.”
Warrick placed the box he was holding on to the power cart and got a thoughtful look on his face.
“I assumed that this was all for us and that it would make up roughly half of our meals. Effie will have to make do with only the dehydrated meals. That’s part of the reason I asked you to harvest so much. I’m not sure about reactions between Effie’s system and plants from another world. I could make the assumption that since both of you are native to Awh’an, what’s fine for you would be fine for him, too. But there is a more than minimal risk that might not be the case as you are two different species regardless of being from the same home world.
“I can’t test for the compatibility of Effie’s system and the other foods like I did for me and my possible reactions to Sliaru since that test kit is specifically designed for my system, and I am not Awh’anise of any type. Because your people have been to a fairly large number of worlds, there’s a great deal of documentation on what’s safe for you to eat and what’s to be avoided. However, to the best of my knowledge, Effie is the first hy’prae to leave Awh’an, so there’s nothing tested for him when it comes to eating non-Awh’anise food. Although he did seem just fine after eating some of that prisoner in the docking bay.”
Well, damn. I hadn’t thought about that at all. Thank the gods that Warrick was that fucking good at his job that he thought about all of that. Thank the stars Effie wasn’t a picky eater. He’d probably try to steal my food, but he always did that anyway. That was mostly my fault to start with since I frequently gave him pieces of whatever from my plate and had done that from pretty much day one with him. I was sure he thought he was entitled to whatever was on my plate. To be fair, he did bring his kills to me to share even if I’d never eat what he brought.
I put another box on the cart and just about jumped out of my skin when Effie landed on top of the box from gods only knows where and started growling very low in his throat interspersed with short, high-pitched chirps while waving his front legs in my face. I froze for a few seconds interpreting his display.
Oh shit. This was bad.
Effie made a ton of sounds and gestures, and they all meant something different. With him being pretty much a daily presence in my life, I’d learned what a lot of the sounds and gestures meant. Or what I assumed they meant based on Effie’s reactions to my reactions. It was an on-going learning process. I was actually toying with writing a paper on communication with a hy’prae. I thought there would be a lot of interest in that.
Academic project aside, the sounds and gestures Effie was making was his, <i>“Danger, Tohan, danger,</i>” thing. He’d only used it a handful of times, but it wasn’t something to be ignored. I couldn’t think of anything in hydroponics that would trigger that reaction though. He knew what bots were, in general, and unless one broke programming and was chasing him, which was highly unlikely, he wouldn’t pay any attention to the bots. In my mind, that meant it had to be something else that he considered a threat. People didn’t scare him, and he generally didn’t see them as threatening unless there was a group of them too large for him to take down by himself. Then they weren’t only a threat to him but a threat to me as well. Effie didn’t respond kindly to perceived threats to me. Territorial and murderous were good descriptions of his reactions.
I tapped rapidly on my wrist comm, accessing the hydroponics bay cameras. I couldn’t see much of anything with the limited number of cameras in such a huge area, and the towering rows of plants that effectively blocked much of what was in camera range. I switched my view to thermal and scanned rapidly again. I swore loudly when I saw a clump of red spots moving in our general direction. The spots were too close together to get an accurate estimate, but on a guess, I’d have said there were at least two dozen of them. They were still a way off, but if we didn’t get our asses in gear, they’d be all over us pretty damn soon if they kept going on the course they were on.
“Fucking shitty, stinking, hairy balls.”
“Tohan?” Warrick asked as he moved another box onto the cart. “What’s Effie doing, and why do I get the feeling you weren’t swearing at him for his antics?”
“Because I wasn’t,” I said as I grabbed one of the straps attached to the bottom of the cart and threw it over the boxes so we could start tying down the load. “Good boy, Effie. Stay here. Do not go hunting. We’re leaving. Now.”
“Care to share the reason for the sudden rush to leave, Tohan?” Warrick asked calmly as he grabbed a strap and flicked it over the boxes without me needing to ask him to. He secured the strap before moving to the next one.
“Those noises and gestures Effie was making is his danger warning. He doesn’t do it often because hy’prae are pretty fearless. Something set him off though, and it would be massively stupid of me to ignore his alert. So, I checked the bay with the cameras and saw nothing, mostly because the plants are huge and there’s a serious lack of cameras in here. I turned the cameras to thermal, and that’s when I saw what I think made Effie give me the warning. We’ve got a large group of most likely unfriendlies, given that they’re inmates, in here with us. They’re heading our way more or less. Effie warned me because he thought there were too many for him to handle alone.
“That’s mega not good in case you didn’t know. He could wipe out a dozen people by himself without most of them even being aware of what the fuck was going on before it was too late. You saw what he did in the docking bay. I can’t tell how many there are for sure. The cameras aren’t that good. But it’s a pretty big blob of heat signatures—maybe two dozen people on a guess. We need to get the fuck out of here right now before they stumble into us and fuck our shit up.”
“Shit. How did they know we were here? Or is this just some random chance encounter? How did they even get in here, and why aren’t the bots detaining them? I thought you said it didn’t look like the inmates had gained access to the hydroponics bay.”
“No idea how they entered. I haven’t got a clue why the bots aren’t capturing them either. I didn’t do anything to change that part of the program. I only added us to the list of do-not-detain so that group of people should have the bots all up in their business. Unless, of course, they’ve figured out a way to avoid the bots or make the bots ignore them. They didn’t come in the main door because we’re standing almost right in front of it. Then again, they weren’t supposed to be able to access the docking bay, but we ran into them there. I’m guessing they have alternate ways into places that aren’t the official entry points. We might be fucked in a totally unfun way when we open the main door. There could be a whole crew of them waiting for us.”
“Can you remote access the cameras in the hallway to see if we have a nasty surprise waiting for us when we open the door?” Warrick asked as he finished securing the remaining straps on the power cart.
“Does a hy’prae shit in the jungle?” I asked with a little smirk already doing that on my wrist comm.
Warrick rolled his eyes at me. I called up the camera feed outside the hydroponics bay main door and blew out a soft breath of relief. There wasn’t so much as a bug scuttling over the floor, thank the fucking stars.
“We’re clear. Dunno how long that’ll be the case, but for now, we’re good to go. There’s a small blind spot immediately in front of the door, but there’s only enough room for maybe two really skinny people who are <i>very</i> friendly with each other to hide in that blind spot. I suggest we don’t dawdle because that red blob of people is definitely coming closer to where we’re standing.”
“Excellent suggestion. We’re leaving more food here than I want to, but I agree that it’s best to go now to avoid any possible capture or injury. We got better than three-quarters of what I anticipated us gathering, which is better than nothing and will definitely help stretch our food supplies.
“Because of the unexpected turn of events, it may also be difficult to come back here undetected. Leaving the food here could make someone suspicious as to why it’s here. If it does, they may leave some people to watch for whomever gathered the food in the first place and jump them when they come back to get the rest. At least that’s what I’d do if I came across this situation.”
Fuck. Everything Warrick said made perfect sense. Gods damn it all to fucking hell.
“I’ll send the bots to dispose of it once we’re back in the computer room. I don’t think we have time for me to fuck around with that, and my wrist comm isn’t set up to do that sort of thing right now either. They might think it was other prisoners who piled the food here. It’s not like any of the inmates would know we have some issues with food supplies and assume it was us. If we’re lucky, anybody checking the food pile will assume it was bad or something and shrug it off or not worry about it. The plants aren’t harvested like they normally would’ve been, and that might work in our favour in this instance. At least, I’m going to really, really fucking hope that’s the case.”
Warrick nodded and gestured for me to get behind the power cart and push. Effie was still on top of the box he’d landed on, making his danger sounds. I told him to stay and nodded at Warrick that I was ready for him to open the door. Warrick drew one of his laser pistols in readiness and punched in the security code to open the door. The door opened smoothly to an empty hallway, and I let out a little breath I hadn’t been aware I was holding. So far, so good.
I pushed the cart out of the hydroponics bay and punched in the code again, closing and locking the door behind us while Warrick scanned the hall for potential threats. I felt a touch better about having the solid steel of the firmly locked door between us and whomever had been heading towards us. We weren’t free and clear yet, but we’d avoided running into people it would be very good for us to <i>not</i> run into. It was all about the little victories.
“I need you to check the camera feeds for any possible inmates that might be between us and the computer room. There’re a couple of corners and some halls that intersect the one we need to use, and I’d prefer not to be surprised,” Warrick said.
“You and me both,” I agreed.
The way back to the computer seemed way longer than when we’d first went to the hydroponics bay. I was sure that was only because I was feeling a little twitchy. Warrick was calm, cool, and focused on getting us safely back into the computer room. I was totally good with that. I was damn fond of getting back into the safety of the computer room unscathed.
Whenever we were coming up to a corner in the hall or where another hall connected to the one we were using, Warrick would have me stop the cart a little distance from the intersection, pull up the camera feed to check if we were clear, and then continue on our way if there was nobody in our way. Doing so didn’t slow us down much, but it did add a little to my overall nervousness. Effie stopped doing his danger stuff and seemed more relaxed once the door to the hydroponics bay was shut. He was still making unhappy noises now and again, but that probably wouldn’t stop until we were somewhere he felt was safe. I didn’t doubt for a second that he was picking up on my low-grade nervousness and Warrick’s caution.
“Uhhh, Warrick, we have a problem,” I said in a quiet voice as I checked the camera feed for a hall that branched off the one we were travelling through.
“How many and are they armed or not?” Warrick asked softly.
“That’s the problem. The camera is dead in the hall. I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not. It was wonky already and cut out on me twice before we left the computer room. There might be a short in the wires or something simple like that. Or it could be sabotage. I got it back up before by making it pan but that didn’t do shit this time. There probably isn’t anybody there. Maybe. Hopefully.”
“Fuck. Can you smell or hear anything that would say people to you without getting closer? I don’t want to put you in a position of danger by moving you closer to a potential threat to see if there’s a potential threat.”
I inhaled, but all I could smell was me, Warrick, Effie and a big cart of greens and dirt. The hum of the power cart was relatively quiet and didn’t interfere with any other sounds going on. I could even faintly hear the sound of the ventilation system moving the recycled air through the hallway. I couldn’t hear or smell any people though.
“If there is someone, or a group of someones in the hall, they are being super quiet. But, I’d need to be a lot closer to hear someone breathing or their heartbeat. I can’t smell anything that says people aside from us. To smell someone else, I generally need to be closer even with my excellent nose, but unless they’re giving off fear or arousal or just general nervousness or excitement, I’d need to be a hell of a lot closer than I am now to catch a whiff of them.”
“Do you think Effie could smell someone from here? His sense of smell is better than yours, isn’t it? Or would he already be reacting to a stranger’s scent if there was one?”
“Maybe? I don’t know. If he thought the person was a threat, he’d react. But if he’s just smelling someone nearby, he probably won’t think of them as a threat unless they do something. But that’s a total guess on my part. This is a unique situation that neither of us has ever been in before. He’s a bit unsettled from what I can tell, but I think that’s more because we’re twitchy and he’s picking up on that. What’s our next move, Warrick?”
Warrick frowned a little, and I could just about see his thought process happening. Intense and bad-ass was a super hot look for him.
“I’ll scout ahead. Wait here and stay alert. I’m not going to check the whole hall. I’m only going to confirm that there’s nobody in the immediate area that could turn into a problem for us. If I tell you to run, do it. Don’t wait for me. My mission is to keep you safe and protected. Are we clear?”
“Yeah. For the record, I don’t like not waiting for you or letting you go check that hall by yourself. I’ll do it, but I really don’t like it. I should be backing you up,” I said with a little scowl.
“That’s not in your mission parameters, and it’s not up for discussion, Tohan. I’ll signal you if it’s clear and yell if you need to run. Leave the cart if you need to run. Make sure Effie goes with you. He’s not part of my official mission parameters, but I’m adding him, which I can do, because you’ll work more efficiently if he’s safe, too.”
I got a warm and fuzzy feeling in my chest at Warrick’s words. Effie was a total unexpected addition to the mission and, honestly, not something Warrick even had to worry about. But he was because he could see how much Effie meant to me. Warrick was an awesome guy. And fucking hot when he took command.
“This bossy side of you is damn hot. I could really get use to it,” I said with a leer before I grabbed him by the front of his short jacket and jerked him close for a fast and hard kiss.
Warrick returned the kiss with surprising-to-me hunger given his earlier words about scaling back his sexual responses during work hours before pulling my hands from his jacket. He grinned at me and moved silently ahead to where the mystery hall connected to the one we were using. I squinted, silently bitching about my less than stellar eyesight, and watched him take what I assumed was the little mirror he’d used in the docking bay from his chassis. He crouched down and slowly inched the mirror around the corner near floor level. He was motionless for several long seconds before he swiftly stood and motioned me forward.
I blew out a soft breath in relief and pushed the cart past him, hurrying to get us and our food to the safety of the computer room. Effie was still hunkered down on the boxes stacked on the cart, low growls coming from him now and again. If he could talk, I’d have said he was muttering to himself about how this whole situation was turning into a total shit show. From where that hall connected, it was a straight run of maybe two hundred yards to the computer room and I felt a little relief at that. Awesome! We were nearly home free.
I yelped in surprise when a section of the wall next to me suddenly slid aside and somebody stepped out. I had a split second to stare at a male who was looking at me in just as much surprise. Instinct and training took over, and I lashed out, my claws extended to their fullest. The guy didn’t have time to do much of anything before my claws tore through his throat, silencing any sound he might have tried to make, blood spraying high over the wall and even onto the ceiling.
Effie launched himself at the man at the same time I slashed, a hostile snarl coming from him. Effie’s mouth open wide before snapping shut on the hapless man’s face, crushing the bones of the face with brutal efficiency. I heard Warrick swear, but he didn’t fire a shot, both me and Effie being in his way. Even so, the unfortunate male Effie and I attacked was dead twice over before his body fell to the floor.
“Tohan? You good?” Warrick asked as he moved next to me, his pistol still trained on the male even though he was very obviously dead.
“Yeah. Just about shit my pants when the dude popped out of the wall next to me, but I’m fine,” I said as I shook blood and little bits of flesh off my claws.
Effie was making pleased sounds as he ripped off half the guy’s head when he pulled back and happily chewed noisily, grinding bones into tiny pieces with his powerful jaws. I looked away. Watching Effie eat was not something you wanted to do if you planned on eating within the next several days. Seeing him cheerfully scarfing down flesh, bones, hair, and sometimes even clothes, depending on what or who he ate, was not pleasant. It was also creepy-gross to have to dispose of his “baggage” several hours later when I knew what, or who, he’d eaten.
Hy’prae baggage was the indigestible material they ate, tightly compacted into a mass that was puked back up several hours later. Usually, hair, fur, feathers, and things like shreds of clothing and jewellery if they happened to eat a person were in the baggage. The size of the baggage varied depending on what they ate with the largest being roughly the size of a small loaf of bread.
The only good thing about hy’prae baggage was that the coating or shell around the mass was hard and not slimy despite it being something that was puked up. Baggage was frequently sold to jewellers for a very nice profit since the hard shell was considered a natural, iridescent gemstone and was cut into brilliant cabochons for very high-end jewellery. I had a nice little bit of extra cash in my bank account thanks to Effie’s baggage.
Warrick moved to the opening in the wall. The door panel was trying to close automatically but couldn’t because one of the feet of the dead guy was blocking the path and making the door bounce open over and over. Warrick studied the dimly-lit, narrow, hidden passage and frowned a little. He crouched next to the dead guy despite Effie’s warning growl and just stared critically for several minutes. I thought he risked losing his own hand when he dared to pick up the dead guy’s hand closest to him and pushed up the sleeve exposing dead guy’s wrist.
A metal bracelet roughly half an inch wide circled the dead guy’s wrist. Warrick turned the bracelet around the dead guy’s wrist and made a soft, annoyed sound in his throat. A panel opened in the calf of his chassis, and he pulled out a long, heavy-looking blade. My eyes widened when he swiftly chopped off the dead guy’s hand in one smooth stroke. He slipped the bracelet from the arm stump and tossed the hand at Effie, who easily snapped it out of the air and immediately began chewing, a happy, slightly muffled warbling coming from him.
Warrick looked at me and pursed his lips as he held up the bracelet. He turned it back and forth, examining it. I didn’t think it was anything special, but Warrick seemed to have a different view of it.
“It’s highly unlikely this man is a prisoner here and this passage isn’t on any of the plans I have for the facility. This bracelet, or one very similar to it, is for facility personnel only and allows them keyless entry to all the prisoner restricted areas of the facility. It’s keyed genetically to whomever is wearing it. Should that individual die or if the device is removed without the proper code, which the one wearing it doesn’t have, it’s automatically deactivated immediately to prevent any prisoners from using it to access areas they shouldn’t.
“I want to explore this passage. I think I need to explore this passage. I also have the suspicion that for whatever is down there, I’ll need this bracelet functioning to access it. If this is one of the facility personnel bracelets, it’s entirely possible it controls access to this passage and maybe others like it as well. I at least want to see where this passage goes right now as I think the door will close tight the moment we move the body out of the way of the door. It would present an unacceptable risk of discovery by either inmates or more facility personnel that may be down this passage to jam the door wide open. I know you’ve never seen this bracelet before, but could you do something to make it work, even briefly?”
“I’m totally warmed to the tip of my tail that you think my tech skills are that awesome. Short answer to your question is maybe. I’m good with electronics and a coding god, but until I crack that bad boy open, I can’t say for sure one way or another whether or not I could make it work even temporarily. There’s also the strong possibility that once I do open it up, I can bastardize it into working easy enough but lack the parts to do it. There are a lot of ifs and maybes involved. I’d say let’s go with the open door right now and see what we can see. I can try making the bracelet work after our little trip into the bowels of the unknown is done.”
Warrick stood and handed me the bracelet with a small frown.
“You’re not going down there with me, Tohan. Take the cart and go to the computer room with Effie. See what you can do with the bracelet, if anything, while I’m checking this out.”
“Uhhh, no. You want to go poke around in an unknown passage and face stars only knows what without backup? Seriously, no. Not going to happen, Warrick.”
I was not going to let Warrick go down there by himself. That was just asking for trouble to run up and fuck him hard. It would be like the opening kill scene of damn near every horror vid ever made. You never split the party, and you never went into creepy secret passages alone unless you were trying to die.
“You’re not coming with me, Tohan. I’m responsible for your safety, and I can’t guarantee it if you follow me down that unknown passage. I know you can fight and fight well, the dead guy on the floor makes that point for me. That’s not the issue. You need to be safe and to keep working on solving the hacking issue. That is what you’re being paid to do, and this sort of thing is what I’m here to do, more or less. I will see what I can, secure the passage, if feasible, and come back to you,” Warrick said in a tone that told me he wouldn’t budge on the issue.
I scowled and crossed my arms over my chest, my tail swishing behind me in annoyance. He was right, and it pissed me off in a way that he was right and would be heading into stars knew what alone while I went back to the safety of the computer room and waited for him to come back. Unless....
“Fine. Take Effie with you then. Either that, or I will follow you into that passage. I’m not comfortable with you going in there with no backup,” I said with my own tone of not relenting.
Warrick sighed. “Effie and I aren’t exactly best friends, Tohan. What’s to say he wouldn’t jump me and eat me once we’re down that passage?”
“That’s easy,” I said with a tiny smirk.
I knelt next to Effie and chirped at him. He stopped eating and looked at me expectantly. I probably had a horrible hy’prae accent, but he generally paid a lot better attention to what I tried to get him to do if I used his sounds instead of speaking to him in Awh’anise. It didn’t guarantee his actions, but he knew I was super serious when I made the effort to communicate on his level.
I chirped and peeped and growled and waved my hands, hoping I was getting across what I wanted him to do. Effie stared at me and made a few petulant peeping sounds before looking at Warrick for several long seconds. Effie looked at me again, chirped in a way that definitely sounded put upon, bit off the dead guy’s other hand and ambled over to Warrick. Effie looked back and forth between the body and me several times, and I sighed.
“Fine, I’ll drag the body back for you to eat later if it’ll make you go with Warrick as back up. I’ll throw it into your nest for you. Be helpful to Warrick, and I’ll give you chin rubs when you come back with him, alive and in one piece.”
Effie warbled and did a funny little bouncing dance around Warrick’s legs. He’d do almost anything for chin rubs. And Warrick had tossed him a hand to eat so he was feeling friendly towards Warrick at the moment.
“Effie will watch your back. I’ll go to the computer room and see what, if anything, I can do with the bracelet. Don’t take chances, Warrick. I want you and Effie back in once piece,” I said as I stepped up to him and kissed him hard once more.
Warrick kissed me back just as hard. “I’m always careful. I’ll watch out for Effie, too.”
I nodded and bent down to pet Effie, giving him a little chin rub. He warbled in pleasure and licked my hand. I took off one of the sticks strapped to my thigh, popped the curved blade open and jammed that into the base of the secret door so it couldn’t close completely. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but I didn’t want Warrick and Effie to possibly be trapped in the passage if the bracelet was the only way to operate the door. Warrick grinned at me and headed into the passage with Effie following closely behind him. I watched them walk down the passage until they disappeared from my sight, which didn’t take long. Creepy passage was creepy.
I turned to the dead guy and frowned. I didn’t want to get covered in blood by carrying the guy, and I didn’t want his blood dripping all over the plants that we’d be eating in the very near future. I thought for a minute before stripping his pants off him, tying the legs around his neck and tying the ankles of the pants to one of the straps on the power cart. I pushed the cart into motion and headed down the hall to the computer room.
Should anyone wander down the hall, they were going to have one hell of a bunch of question of just what the fuck had happened. There was a good-sized pool of blood on the floor where the guy died, with some blood sprayed over the wall and onto the ceiling from when I’d slashed out his throat. Then, there was a trail of blood smeared across the floor in what was obviously a body being dragged away. Even somebody without the barest first aid training would be able to guess that whomever had been dragged away was very probably dead from blood loss. That the blood smear on the floor led to the computer room was going to raise all manner of questions if someone saw it.
I really hoped my day didn’t get any more exciting than it already had.
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.
I was officially in heavy lust with Warrick. The full-on sex had been awesome. A giddy rush actually swept through me at the thought of banging his exceptionally fine ass when he was out of his chassis. It’d been kinky cool to slide into him as a cyborg, but I wanted to feel his skin against mine as we ground together, panting and grunting and reaching for orgasm. He smelled better than fantastic as his arousal increased, and I honest to gods wanted to lick him entirely from head to toe. Well, not really lick his chassis, but I wanted to taste every inch of his skin that I could. I wanted his scent clinging to me just as mine needed to be covering him.
I had no idea what had come over me to call him mine, even in a casual form. That wasn’t something that typically slipped out of my mouth regardless of how arousing and attractive I found my partner to be—especially not after the first real romp in bed with someone. I’d said it to lovers before, but only after being with them for a few months. I didn’t count the times I’d said it when under the effects of a breeding cycle as that was a completely different situation and generally an Awh’anise wasn’t very rational then, operating purely on instinct and very firmly in the dominating/submissive mindset. At least initially, we were like that until the insane need to breed settled into just a very serious need to breed.
I hadn’t expected him to respond in kind and say the right word back to me. I knew he had the entire Awh’anise language in his head, but that shouldn’t have meant he’d know what to say back to me. At least, I didn’t think it worked that way. Warrick replying as he did had sent a thrill through me like nothing I’d ever felt before. It felt so right, it was a little scary. But scary in a good way. He made me purr for him, too. Like most Awh’anise, I was usually good at controlling when and who I purred for. I couldn’t stop myself from doing it around him. I was far too content and happy feeling. That was scary as fuck because I’d never had the problem of keeping my purring to myself before. I couldn’t stop myself with Warrick. I’d make myself stop and then five minutes later, I’d find myself purring again as we lay snuggled together. I finally mentally shrugged and just let it happen.
I wasn’t sure if he knew the significance of my purr. I had no idea all of what Moswen had stuffed into Warrick’s head. I knew, in general, that Warrick now had language, customs, and such, but whether he now knew about some of the finer points of Awh’anise interaction, I didn’t have a fucking clue. Was the thing about us purring for a partner important information to be included in the data dump Moswen had done or was it just an unimportant side note that was left out? If Warrick was curious or needed more info, I was sure he’d ask. Warrick didn’t strike me as the kind of person to silently try to muddle his way through something if asking a few questions would get him the details he needed. It wasn’t a secret that the Awh’anise purred so maybe he thought nothing of it.
I was super comfortable where I was, and I should’ve been sleeping but my mind wouldn’t shut off. It happened sometimes when there was something bothering me about the way a program was working, or not working as the case often was. My body was nice and relaxed from the awesome sex with Warrick, and I was currently laying half on him, his heart a steady thumping under my ear and his oddly comforting-to-me, personal scent filling my nose. Effie was a little furnace against my back, his legs wrapped around me as much as possible, his breath puffing gently over the back of my neck. I felt settled and peaceful and like everything was suddenly perfectly right in my world. This actually felt better and more comforting than sleeping in a tangle with Tyh and Telek, and I’d never felt that way before about anybody I’d slept with.
My brain wouldn’t let me fully sink into the peace though. It kept going over the parts of the programming I’d been checking, questioning things and not finding answers, which was frustrating. I tried to shove those questions away, but my mind refused to stop poking and going round and round in circles. It was annoying as fuck when I wanted and needed to sleep.
Warrick seemed to be asleep. Effie was out like a light. I refused to disturb either of them by getting up and going back to the computer. I was also pretty sure that if I did get up and hit the computer again, Warrick would wake up, give me hell, and probably make me go back to bed. I smiled a little at that thought. I didn’t doubt for a second he’d be persistent as fuck in making me rest. I kinda liked that. It made me feel all warm and squishy inside. Yes, I knew it was his job to make sure I did my job properly, but I also felt like he was concerned about me on a personal level, too. We seemed to click with one another, which was a billion kinds of awesome.
“Can’t sleep or won’t sleep? You need rest, Tohan. I’ve taken into account the length of an Awh’anise day in figuring out our active/rest cycle, and you should be sleeping now,” Warrick said in a low voice. “You should be feeling like it’s the middle of an Awh’anise night and be sufficiently tired to fall asleep quickly.”
“Shit, did I wake you?” I wasn’t sure how I could’ve woken him since I hadn’t moved so much as the tip of my tail, but whatever.
“No. This close to you I can monitor your breathing and heartbeat, and both indicated that while relaxed, you weren’t asleep and didn’t appear to be approaching sleep any time soon. I can go extended periods of time without the need for sleep although my performance will gradually suffer. I’m in a resting mode that’s not sleep until you fall asleep. I’ll sleep then as well; however, my wet-ware will still be active and monitoring several things, alerting me to any changes that require my attention or immediate action.”
“You’re monitoring my heartbeat and breathing?” I asked surprised. I had no idea he could do that. Or would do that.
“Not intentionally. My sensors can pick up those things because of your current proximity to me. I can set them to ignore that if it bothers you. It isn’t meant to be invasive. It’s a passive sort of thing that helps me ensure you perform at optimal levels. It’s something like my monitoring of the air quality and ambient temperature.”
“You keep track of the air quality and temperature? Why?” This surprise conversation was even more interesting than the puzzle of the program my brain was still toying with.
“To keep alert for changes that might pose a threat to us. Decreases in breathable air could be the subtle beginnings of an offensive aimed at incapacitation to make an attack more effective with less chance of injury or failure from our attackers. Or a toxin could be introduced into the air to do the same. Lowered or raised temperatures can serve the same function, making us sleep heavier than we normally would.”
“That is so fucking cool. The monitoring thing I mean. Paranoid, but wicked cool. People call me paranoid, but I say I’m just very cautious. And no, it doesn’t bother me that you’re keeping track of my breathing and shit when we’re this close. I guess, technically, I’m sort of doing the same in a way. I can smell things and hear things from you that give me clues to your emotional and physical state. I can’t turn those senses off, though. I can make an effort to ignore some sounds, but it’d be straight up impossible for me to ignore the smell of your arousal. I can keep myself from acting on that though if I try really, really hard, but that’ll take a lot of effort now that we’ve had sex and I know you want to do it again.”
Warrick chuckled. “Duly noted. And yes, I’d very much like to have sex with you again. Not right this instant, but most definitely again. So, why aren’t you asleep? I assume it has something to do with whatever you were checking earlier. I’ve also got some questions for you regarding both of our tattoos but if you’ve already discovered something in the program, that is my primary concern and I want to hear about that first. I’d also like to discuss our food plans, but we can do that in the morning if you’d like, since it’s not an absolute pressing need right now.”
I hugged Warrick a little tighter and gave his skin a quick lick. I knew with one hundred percent surety that he wanted me to bang him again. It was still made of awesome to hear him say it. I wrestled my libido away from the suddenly very tempting possibility of maybe a little frottage as we lay pressed together. He’d just said not right this instant to more sex, so I’d wait until later. My dick was disappointed with that decision, but that’s the way things were. My brain gleefully leapt to the topic of the programming weirdness the second I stopped trying to wrestle it away from that line of thought.
“There’s something weird about the way some of the programs are organized. I suppose you could put it down to the way things are organized to a set rule for this facility or whatever. At first blush it looks that way. But something about it is bugging me. It’s a little too carefully... disorganized isn’t exactly the right word, but I can’t think of a better one to use at the moment.
“It takes a little time to find specific files I’m looking for, but only certain types of files. The main stuff is easy and generally where I’d expect them to be. Sub-folders are a little trickier, and they’re not the ones I’d expect to have to hunt to find. Stuff that the inmates need to be able to hack faster into the system overall are buried, which is good. But other stuff that people shouldn’t give a shit about are stuffed even deeper than that, which doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“What sort of things?” Warrick asked.
“Innocuous things that make no sense to hide. At least things that don’t makes sense to me. Like water consumption. I get that water is important, but why go to the effort to hide how much water is used in a sub-folder six deep in a folder called maintenance flow, which sounds like it should be about sewage but isn’t? Honest-to-gods, I can’t see anyone really giving two shits about how much water is or isn’t used here. As long as it’s there to drink when you want it, what’s the big deal in making it out to be something worth hiding?”
“That is a bit odd. Perhaps it was an accident to hide the folder? I don’t think that’s worth your attention though. You’re looking for the security holes, not for whomever is trying to use more than their share of water rations.”
That was a good point, but things just didn’t add up for me. I was a paranoid person and fully admitted that. But this folder layout was taking paranoia to a weird new level.
“True, but in looking for the security crap, which isn’t all nice and neat in one secure folder like it should be, I stumbled on this other stuff. I’m too nosy to leave something like that alone. It’s a family trait. The nosiness. I’m not as bad as Moswen, but then nobody is as nosy as he is. At any rate, how can you accidentally misfile a folder about water consumption six folders deep in something that doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with water consumption?
“And why can’t I find the power readouts? I thought if I maybe followed the power path through consumption records, I could get a general idea of where the prisoners were doing their hacking and then try shutting them down for a little while by cutting the power to that area. Life support is a different system, and I wouldn’t touch that, but power for lights and stuff, yeah, I could temporarily cut that to screw with their hacking progress. I can’t find the power records though, which is really weird. Why hide that? They would normally be in the admin section, but they’re not.”
“They could be filed elsewhere. Just because you’re used to a certain arrangement of files doesn’t mean whomever set this system up used the same organizational template you’re used to,” Warrick said.
“Very true. But when I tried a keyword search to find those power files, nothing came up. Not a single damn thing, and I tried every word and word combination I could think of to look for the power files. They exist. I’m sure of it since you’d need to keep track of power flow in a facility like this because it’s all generated on site. Any spikes or disruptions would need maintenance to take a look at the problem, so there have to be records of power usage and on-going monitoring. But I can’t find those records.”
Warrick said nothing for several seconds, so I looked up to see him frowning. Good. He was thinking about what I told him and wasn’t brushing aside my words. He was taking what I was saying seriously and not like I was being a bit too paranoid for my own good. I started talking again now that I was sure I had his attention and not some indulgent thing that would be forgotten come morning.
“The prisoner cells or rooms or whatever you call them have very basic, ultra-low power requirements. There’s an overhead light, a task light, sonic shower, and food dispenser. The dispenser and shower are on-demand and only power up when they’re actually used. The draw, overall, is super low. If you’re running a computer out of a cell, the demand is going to be higher than the average cell especially if the machine is something cobbled together from stolen parts, which it probably is. If that’s the case, the machine is probably going to run hot without the purpose-built fans that computers have so that more power will be needed to run not only the computer but whatever fans or cooling system they’re using. I’m thinking there’s at least two machines running to code break the system, and they’ll likely have them set up in the same area so that the people can talk to one another and not repeat stuff the other person has already tried. That’s how I’d set up a hacking team at any rate.”
Warrick nodded, his look thoughtful. “That’s a good plan of action to find the hackers. Pity it hasn’t worked out. I could’ve stealthed my way into the area based on the information you’d gathered, taken care of the hackers in a very permanent, terminal fashion, and destroyed whatever computers they were using. I doubt there are a lot of people in the prison populace that have the skills necessary to hack a system, so killing even a few of the hackers would slow them down considerably. Destroying their tech would further slow or maybe even stop them for a time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given a manifest of the prisoners and their crimes that got them sent here. It was deemed unnecessary to my mission parameters. Any prisoner that interfered with my mission was to be seen as a threat and disposable.”
I frowned now. I hadn’t realized that. I didn’t like it. Not the killing part. I didn’t give two shits about that. It was the withholding of information that bothered me. Why keep any information about the prisoners from Warrick? In my head, knowing more about the situation we were going into would only help, not hinder us. Fine, we weren’t going to try to schedule dinner parties with the prisoners, but knowing who was in for what could’ve been helpful. I’d have to see about snagging that inmate list for Warrick.
“I did a brief check of the prisoner log. Currently, there are eight people here with really good hacking skills. It’s what got them sent here in the first place. I know two of them by reputation only, although I didn’t know they were prisoner’s here. Under normal circumstances, the hacking skills of these prisoner’s wouldn’t be an issue since none of the prisoners are allowed anywhere near computers. But they have access to one, or more than one, now. So far, their access appears to be contained to only the systems here on the asteroid and not all of the systems. They can’t make contact with the universe at large as far as I can tell right now, which is good. If word got out what was happening here, I’m positive some of the associates of the more powerful people would mount an attack of some kind.”
“True enough. The auto-defences would engage though. It would need to be an assault of substantial size to overcome those. Given some of the people held here, an assault of that size could likely be raised; although there would be heavy casualties before they managed to break through. It’s also possible that some factions could band together to draw up the necessary firepower to completely smash the auto-defenses if the prisoners managed to somehow get word out to the universe at large. It would be impossible to hide that many heavily armoured ships with the firepower necessary from the tethered station and they’d most certainly send an emergency signal out, notifying an attack. It has the potential for a bloodbath and a high rate of failure. The ones behind this hacking attempt have to realize that.”
I sucked in a sharp breath as ideas and possibilities suddenly clicked into place in my head.
“Shit. What if the purpose isn’t to get themselves off the asteroid via the shuttles but to get a message off the asteroid? Think about it. The shuttles that were here aren’t designed for long flights, and it’s a flight of several hours just to get to someplace with spaceships capable of speed and long flights. The station we left from is the closest and is heavily guarded. There’s no way in hell that an unauthorized ship would be allowed to just land, and the people on said ship go their merry way and book passage to someplace else.
“The derelict station tethered to the asteroid only gets shuttles capable of longer distance once a week for the scheduled crew exchange. If a shuttle managed to leave the asteroid and get to the tethered station, unless they timed it just right, an alarm would be raised on the station. Sure, they could probably dock at the station, but it would be a dead end as they’d be trapped in the shuttle in a de-pressurized docking bay. With the stuff that’s already gone down, I can’t believe they wouldn’t know that.”
“The prisoners do seem to possess a good deal of intel. I agree that they’re likely aware of what would happen if they attempted docking at the tethered station. There could be a ship waiting out of range of the security sensors. That would solve the docking issue with the tethered station, and one of the shuttles could make it out of sensor range. It wouldn’t be a fast flight, but it would certainly be within the capabilities of the shuttles that were here. To the best of my knowledge, the tethered station doesn’t have any ships capable of giving chase and firing upon a fleeing shuttle. It’s merely crew quarters and a way-point.”
“It would take a good bit of money to finance having a ship just waiting out there for stars only knows how long on the off chance that they managed to get a shuttle out of here and cleared of the auto-defences. A message, however, only needs to reach a beacon, and those are small and virtually undetectable unless you’re actively scanning for them. Once a message hits a beacon, it goes to the next and the next, and you’ll never catch up to it regardless of how fast your ship is. Once sufficient clearance from the asteroid is reached, a beacon could be launched from the shuttle, and if it’s small enough, it wouldn’t trigger the defences to target it. It could then broadcast it’s message without any problem. They can’t launch a beacon high enough from the surface of the asteroid to reliably send a message as there is a communication lock-out field. It needs to reach a certain height, and the only way to do that is via a shuttle breaching the auto-defences. The shuttle isn’t the escape. It’s a means to setting up the escape.”
Warrick was quiet for several minutes. Now that the idea of a message beacon had formed in my head, it seemed even more likely than the idea of the prisoners trying to leave for parts unknown via the shuttles. They had to know how close to impossible fleeing in a shuttle was. But a message sent rallying the troops to come when the prison was in disarray and open to attack, that had a lot of merit.
“That does seem very plausible. Additionally, with the pulling of all personnel from not only the asteroid but also the tether station, should a heavily armoured ship arrive on a beacon signal, there’s nobody at the station to send out an emergency message,” Warrick finally said. A smile quirked up one corner of his lips. “You are definitely worth the money you’re being paid to solve this problem.”
I felt ridiculously pleased by Warrick’s compliment.
“That director guy said you’d help me if you could. With some of my equipment getting trashed that I really could’ve used right about now, how do you feel about mind-numbing data crawling?”
“How I feel about it is irrelevant, Tohan. Tell me what you need me to do, and I’ll do my best to complete the task.” Humour was in Warrick’s voice.
“You can say no, Warrick. You’re not a slave for me to use,” I replied, my tone serious.
“No, I’m not a slave. However, I am a soldier on a mission, and my orders expressly state that I’m to help you in whatever way I can. I suppose you could consider yourself my commanding officer in a way if it helps at all. I know you understand about chain of command, so if it helps you have a non-slavery point of view towards my role in this mission, then give me orders, sir.”
I grinned at Warrick, my brain immediately abandoning the thought of what I was on the asteroid to do in favour of something we’d both find way more fun. “So, we could play commanding officer disciplining an insubordinate recruit? I kinda like that game.”
Warrick shot me a surprised look before he laughed softly and gave me a quick kiss on the nose. “I’ve never played that game, but I’d certainly be willing to give it a try.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic. Too bad we don’t have some uniforms to really give it the zing of serious playtime. I bet you’d look awesome in a uniform. But I wasn’t kidding about the brain dead stuff I’d like you to tackle for me. If you can track down where those power consumption files are, that would be awesome. If I can put a crimp in the hackers activities while I continue to do my shit, it’ll help me buy some extra time to plug the security holes. I’d also like you to keep an eye out for any other things that seem odd to you. Nothing specific but just stuff that seems off. I’ve gotten a couple of strange vibes since I started this job, and instinct means a lot to an Awh’anise. Something other than just prisoners causing a shit-storm so they can get the hell off this rock is going on here. I know I’m not here to figure that out, but I feel like it’s connected in some way.”
“I can certainly do that. Since we’re discussing strategies, on the food front, you’ll need to adjust, if possible, the harvesting schedule of the bots in hydroponics in certain areas for us. The sooner we make a run there, the better. It leaves less time for the prisoners to come up with a plan to attack us, and if we stick to mostly fresh food with a little of our supplies mixed in to round out our nutritional needs, the things we brought will last longer. Hopefully, we only need to do one run to the hydroponics bay before we can get this situation wrapped up, but we should also think about needing a second at some future date before we’re finished here.”
“Yeah, I can do that. The bots shouldn’t be a problem to order around. The security for them is okay, but it could be a hell of a lot better. You tell me what you think we need, and I can do it in the morning. I can get a time for when they finish harvesting what we need so all we’ll need to do is show up at the right time and place to pick the stuff up and go.”
“Excellent. Can you tell me about your reaction to my tattoos and about your tattoos or are you starting to feel sleepy? You really do need to get some rest and the questions can certainly keep.”
“Nah, it’s fine. Not much to tell anyway. My tattoos are easy enough. Awh’anise heal really fast. Like stupid fast compared to a lot of other species. Most tattoo methods I’ve read about would have the tattoos healed and the ink absorbed or pushed out of our skin in weeks. You’d never know anything was done if the standard way of applying a tattoo was used on an Awh’anise. So, if somebody wants to have a permanent mark on their skin, scarification is the only way to go. Cuts are made in the skin, the depth varying depending on the look desired. Adding the liquid from a specific type of root will darken or add colour to the scarification like what I’ve got.
“The liquid from the root is very mildly caustic, which helps with the scarification process, and it changes the colour of the new skin formed. Depending on the time of year that the root is harvested, you get three different colours. By combining the colours, you can get more colours, although you’re still fairly limited. The colours can vary a bit dependant on the quality of the root, skill of the artist, and the person getting it done.”
“Your scarification is quite large. I assume it was painful and took a considerable amount of time?”
“Yeah. Even with the stupid-high pain tolerance my people have, it still hurt like a bitch. I had it done in two sittings, one wing at a time. I think it was about three hours per wing. After twenty minutes, the cuts felt like torture. Generally, you’re strapped down to a chair or table so you don’t move and fuck things up. Painkillers or even paralytic agents can’t reliably be used unless the piece is small because we metabolize them too fast to really be effective. I probably could’ve asked my Sho to put me under by using the Dream World but I know she would’ve told me if I wanted the scars so damn badly, then I’d have to suffer for them.”
“Wow. I would guess that scarification isn’t an often done thing then?” Warrick asked. “Or something done lightly if the pain is that high.”
“Actually, a lot of people get something. Usually it’s a small something and not the size of what I have. But go big or go home, right? I brought Kushaiah to the artist who did my wings. He wanted to have a band based on a design his sister made for him around his upper arm. It turned out really awesome and was super important to him because his sister passed away and he wanted to honour and remember her. Not sure exactly what family details you have from Moswen, but Kushaiah is phu’aetsu with Makis and Mered. I’m pretty sure they’re going to declare themselves shu’anad to each other in the very near future because they’re just that tight of a unit.”
I couldn’t help the tiny wistful tone in my voice. I loved Makis, Mered, and Kushaiah very much, but it was of the brotherly variety and not anything romantic despite the absolutely epic sex we’d all had that one time. I’d gotten super close to them over the last couple of years—almost as close as I was with Tyh and Telek—and I only wished them the very best. The wistful note was because I envied them the relationship they had and the absolute love they shared.
I was also really disappointed that by taking this job I’d missed the chance to witness Qetsiyah give Kamau her ceitai risdepa and Kamau declare himself shu’anad to Qetsiyah. Qetsiyah, Kamau, Nusair, and Namir were more than my brother’s kits to me. I was around them often enough to almost be a substitute parent to them, and I adored them. Qetsiyah, being the wonderful and thoughtful young lady that she was, had offered to move the date so I could be there for the ceremony, but that would’ve made Kamau’s sho miss the event, and having her there was far more important in my mind than having me there.
“Is something wrong, Tohan?” Warrick asked. “You sound a bit sad.”
“Thinking about Makis, Mered, and Kushaiah made me think about Qetsiyah and Kamau. I had to miss a very special, once-in-a-life-time event to take this job. I really wish I could’ve been there, but it just wasn’t possible with the timing of everything. There’ll be video of the whole thing, but it’s not quite the same as being there yourself. I know Qetsiyah and Kamau understand but....” I trailed off with a little sigh.
“I’m sorry you needed to miss something so important to you,” Warrick said softly.
I shrugged one shoulder. “Shit happens. They know I would’ve been there if I could’ve been. Technical challenge aside, I’m really glad I did take this job.”
“I got to meet you. Sounds like the worst pick-up line in the history of forever, but I swear it’s totally true. And not just because you’re a Daquan cyborg either. You, as a person, are way more interesting to me than any cyborg. That you happen to be one is just icing on an already awesome cake.”
Warrick’s cheeks turned pink, the blush dead easy to see on his bone white skin. I thought he looked adorable and sweetly hot when he blushed like that.
“Thank you. I’m glad we met, too. You really should try to get some sleep, Tohan. We’re going to be quite busy over the next little while.”
I grinned and kissed his throat before settling more firmly against him. He was right, and I actually felt like sleep was a little more within my reach after talking to him. Maybe I’d needed to talk things out with someone in order to get my mind to stop spinning in circles as it tried to figure out what was going on. I didn’t think I had everything figured out, but I’d barely scratched the surface of the files at the prison. I was sure things would get more clear the deeper we went into the files. Or at least I hoped they’d become clearer and not create more questions. As I was starting to fall asleep, I realized I hadn’t explained about my reaction to his tatts. I mentally shrugged. I could tell him in the morning over breakfast or something.
I blinked and looked around, confused at why I was on the beach in my home city on Awh’an. Last thing I remembered was making a mental note to myself to wake Warrick up with a little foreplay to get our day started with a smile and maybe a bang if I was really lucky.
“So, was it as good as you dreamed it was going to be?” asked a voice I’d recognize anywhere.
I spun around to see Moswen sitting on a rock, grinning at me. I gave him a huge smile and said nothing. He waited for several long seconds before rolling his eyes at me and sliding from the large rock to walk towards me.
“Come on, Tohan. How often am I going to get to hear about the mechanics of robot sex? Spill it. Inquiring minds want to know.”
“It was dead, fucking, awesome. But you know what? I want to have sex with him when he’s not in his chassis even more than I want sex again when he’s in full-on cyborg mode. Don’t get me wrong, it was wicked cool, but I want to suck his real cock and rim his actual ass way more. I want to lick every inch of his skin and rub my scent all over him.”
Moswen stared at me, his eyes widening in surprise. “You know about him being able to leave the cyborg parts? How? When I brought you there you didn’t know. I mean, I knew you dreamed about doing him as an organic in addition to a cyborg, but that was just a dream. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t common knowledge of how organic Daquan cyborgs are. I know how frustrated you were over just how little info you could find on them, too.”
“He told me. He seemed to think I’d be all freaked out over him not having all the parts that most bi-pedals do. I told him about Pallas. That set his mind at ease, I think. How’d you know? Or do I want to even ask? You’re lucky I’m feeling generous, too, or I would totally tattle on you to your sho about poking around in my dreams.”
“I’m nosy,” Moswen laughed. “Besides, I could always make you forget we even had this conversation so your threat isn’t a threat. Anyway, Kushaiah asked me to let you know that Effie wasn’t in your condo and that it hadn’t been trashed like Effie usually does when he’s mad at you. Kushaiah said he’ll still check the place like you asked him too, although he said that there was no way in hell he was going to clean up your place if Effie trashed it.”
“Kushaiah doesn’t need to check on Effie. That bag you accused me of putting rocks in? Yeah, Effie can apparently work zippers now. He stowed away in my bag. Little bastard is smart as fuck.”
Moswen’s mouth dropped open in shock before he closed it with a sharp click of his teeth. “Effie is with you? In the prison? Oh, shit. He didn’t hurt Warrick, did he? Warrick seemed like a nice guy, and I know the two of you will be good for each other. I’m not supposed to trespass on the prison, but I could scoot in really quick, grab him and be gone without so much as a blip on any sensors.”
“Nah. It’s fine. It was a bit tense a couple of times, but I think he’s okay now. At least, I think everything is going to be okay. Effie watched us have sex, and aside from that being a little weird because he was watching so intently, he seems to be ignoring Warrick for the most part. I told Effie he wasn’t allowed to attack Warrick, and so far, he’s mostly listening to me. He tried once to barrel into Warrick in a classic hy’prae take-down move, but that didn’t work and there was no harm done except maybe to Effie’s pride. He helped save our asses when we were ambushed getting out of the shuttle, so I guess it’s actually good that he snuck into my bag to tag along on this job.”
“You were ambushed? Stars, Tohan, lead with that sort of thing,” Moswen said with sudden worry in his voice. “You’re okay, though? Effie and Warrick, too?”
“Totally fine. Not a scratch. Got to see Warrick in action. That was fucking cool as hell. He shot somebody using a mirror and holding his gun backwards. I wanna see him in hand-to-hand combat. Might see if I can get him to do a little sparring with me. It’ll probably be hella fun.”
“That would’ve been wicked cool to see,” Moswen said with a grin before his expression turned serious. “Be careful, Tohan. There’s something about this I don’t like. I don’t know what it is, but it’s making the fur on my tail tip stand up. If you need an extract, don’t hesitate to call me. Or Tyh. Or your sho. If it’s not me, one of my Spirits will come get you both. Effie, too. I’ve put the word out, and they’re on standby for you guys. I wish I knew what it was that makes me twitchy about this job, but I honest to gods haven’t got a clue. Promise me you’ll be careful.”
I nodded and grabbed Moswen into a tight hug that he returned. I highly doubted that Moswen’s main purpose in seeing me in the Dream World was to pass on Kushaiah’s message. He was worried. Moswen worried was never a good thing and usually pointed to things going epic bad in a big fucking hurry. I needed to tell Warrick about this visit in the morning. We needed to come up with contingency plans for when everything went to shit.
I wasn’t being pessimistic or overly paranoid. If Moswen said he had a bad feeling, things were going to go sideways in a big way that would effect not just me and Warrick but could possibly be world-view changing. I’d seen it happen and gotten caught up in the blow-back before. The only uncertainty in my mind was when the clusterfuck dropped like a bomb.
Phu’aetsu: partner—permanent pairing/mate with children (long term, not necessarily monogamous)
Shu’anad: braid partner (husband/wife). Deeply committed pairing that typically only ends with the death of one partner. The pairing can be dissolved, but is rare. Only a very small percentage of Awh’anise opt for this as it is a strictly monogamous relationship.
Two thin braids about the thickness of a finger are made at the left temple of the one declaring themselves shu’anad, a braid representing each partner. The style of the braid is up to personal preference, and they can be basic, complex or woven with objects. Frequently the braids are made by the partner. The braids are only undone to wash the hair or tighten them as required. If children are the result of the pairing, a braid for each child is also added to the right temple.
Ceitai Risdepa (Laoikian): Promise/wedding armband created using an individual’s hair. Strands are looped, twisted, knotted, and braided into armbands that reach from wrist to shoulder on the left arm. Each design is unique to an individual. Made with the strands of hairs actually pulled from the scalp instead of cut. This is a very old, rarely used method. This is a much more permanent armband than a risdepa as the roots of the strands burrow into the flesh of the recipient, linking with their blood and nervous system. The process generally takes several weeks to complete and is said to be uncomfortable with stinging pain similar to a paper cut at the site of the root attachment. Because the armband attaches to the host, it remains alive as long as the host is. Once attached, the Ceitai Risdepa will be able to transmit some sensations of touch to the owner of the armband, and it is said to heighten the emotional connection during sex when the donor of the hair brushes his or her hair over the armband. A Ceitai Risdepa can be removed, but it is not a pleasant process and requires several hours of fairly intense discomfort to do so.
Effie was highly amusing when he woke from his sleep and came into the main computer room almost to the second the food was finished heating and the packages were opened. True to Tohan’s words, Effie bounced around, got underfoot, and even partially climbed up Tohan’s naked body in his effort to get the food before Tohan could place it on the floor for him. Effie got as far as Tohan’s still exposed crotch and stopped, his sides heaving as he drew in large breaths. He turned his head slowly, looking at me accusingly. I was willing to swear on whatever somebody wanted me to that I’d just gotten a death glare of epic levels from Effie.
I assumed he could smell pheromones or the residual scent of Tohan’s come or even my saliva on Tohan’s cock, and that’s what made Effie give me such a hostile look. He’d just need to deal because there was no way I was going to be giving up the little taste of pleasure that Tohan had shared with me. There was utterly no way I’d turn down the possibility of full-on sex with Tohan. I was certain that would be an experience and a half, one I was very eager for.
Effie stuck like glue to Tohan during the meal, sending me suspicious looks the entire time as if he was waiting for me to jump Tohan between bites of food. I half expected him to jump onto the table, but he remained sitting on a chair next to Tohan, four of his front legs crossed and resting just a little on the table, staring at me. It was a bit unsettling to be the focus of such an intense, calculating, and hostile look from an animal. I could almost see the grievous bodily harm plans running through Effie’s head as he watched me.
After the meal, Tohan said he wanted to check something he’d noticed in the computer system earlier. In mere moments he was completely engrossed what he was doing. I had a good grasp of computer code, but from the little I’d seen over Tohan’s shoulder as he worked, I might as well have been a child learning the basics of how to get to a command prompt on screen. I left him undisturbed to do whatever he was working on so intently since that was the entire reason we were at the prison. Effie parked himself in Tohan’s lap, making soft chirping noises as Tohan worked. Effie stared at me, a smug expression in his many eyes when Tohan absently petted him now and again as he worked.
Effie was very disgruntled when Tohan pried him off his lap after an hour saying that his legs were falling asleep. I had to give Effie credit for persistence as he tried to climb back into Tohan’s lap off and on for a solid ten minutes before Tohan flicked him between the eyes and said no in a tone of voice even I recognized meant piss off. Effie made a noise I could only call rude and stalked away, seemingly indignant. Tohan appeared to be ignoring Effie completely. I found the entire interaction amusing and fascinating. The data I’d gone through indicated that hy’prae were very intelligent, but there hadn’t been anything about how much personality they had.
“Get the fuck away from my shoes, Effie. If I find even a drop of moisture in them that isn’t my foot sweat, I’m going to kick your hairy ass. Hard,” Tohan said without turning around as he typed and clicked through screens.
Effie growled and detoured abruptly away from where Tohan had left his shoes near the inflatable pad I had yet to finish repairing. Effie went to the couch and settled himself right in the middle of it, his eyes watching Tohan and me at the same time, which was a bit unnerving. I set about finishing the repairs to the inflatable pad, which didn’t take long, and then wondered what to do for the rest of the evening.
We’d already sorted through the boxes, separating the damaged ones from the undamaged ones and salvaged what we could of the gear. There wasn’t really anything to be done as far as setting up our living arrangements. I didn’t need to patrol anywhere, and it would likely be the height of foolishness to leave the secure computer room if we didn’t have to given the access the prisoners seemed to have of the facility.
I wanted to ask Tohan about his reaction to my tatts as well as his not-quite-but-almost-tattoos, but he was completely involved in what he was doing. The question of my and his tattoos could certainly wait until he took a break from his work although I was intensely curious about his. I could see the bottom edges of them under his hair and aside from the fact that his looked like wings made of hy’prae webbing, they were more like coloured scars than tattoos. I wondered if that was something culturally specific to the Awh’anise or simply something that Tohan choose as his method of permanently marking his body. From the size of the wings on Tohan’s shoulders, which seemed to take up the entirety of his shoulder blades to a point a few inches above his waist, that sort of large-scale scarification had to have been very painful.
There hadn’t been anything in the data Moswen gave me about decorative scarification. I highly doubted I knew everything about Awh’an or its people even though the data dump had been massive. I believed I had the most relevant pieces of information on the Awh’anise without going into the minutia of daily life. It was still a staggering amount of knowledge.
Someone without a high-speed processor in his head would easily be going through the data for months. Fortunately, it seemed to be set up in such as fashion that the knowledge was simply there. Like knowing water was wet and fire was hot. Information could also be called up easily as if it was something learned long ago and done so often it required almost no thought to do or explain to another. Like showing someone how to tie a shoe. The entire process was fascinating, and I wished that I was able to question Moswen more on how he’d done what he did.
With nothing else to do immediately and knowing it needed to be done eventually, I sat on the floor next to the repaired inflatable pad and called up the footage of the ambush that was recorded through the sensors embedded in my eyes. I’d also review the footage from the security cameras once I was done with my video data. The more intel I could put together about the prisoners and what sort of threat they posed to us, the better our chances of evading capture and surviving. If I was really lucky, I might see something in the combined playback that would help us stay out of the prisoners clutches.
I watched all of the footage from my sensors as well as what the functioning cameras in the docking bay showed, examining everything in great detail. Very little of it was helpful. My footage only showed what I’d been able to see, and I’d been processing and correlating that data while in the situation, adjusting my responses accordingly. The docking bay cameras were nowhere near as good in quality as my eyes. The docking bay footage didn’t show where the prisoners gained access to the bay either. I assumed they were taking advantage of a blind spot or possibly even a series of blind spots to gain undetected access where they shouldn’t.
The little glimpses of the weapons I was able to see on the docking video were all but useless. The video was disappointingly grainy, and I couldn’t make out any details that would’ve told me what the weapons were and thus the capabilities of said weapons. I knew they were projectile weapons but had no idea of the type of range or stopping power. They could obviously penetrate the shipping boxes from a short to medium range, but the boxes, while sturdy and reasonably resistant to damage, weren’t meant to withstand any sort of projectiles being fired at them. Someone decently proficient in unarmed martial arts would be able to put a fist or foot through the boxes with little effort, so making any kind of assumption based on the boxes ability to withstand being shot was useless.
Whatever the guns fired was a total mystery as there’d been nothing in the boxes of any significant size to make an educated guess as to what the projectiles were. There was some scorching inside the boxes, but it seemed like that was due to the self-heat packages rupturing when pierced by the prisoners weapons. Neither my eye cams nor the facility cams showed any laser weapons in the hands of prisoners, and I hadn’t heard any of the typical noises associated with the firing of a laser weapon. Not to say that there weren’t some laser pistols in the hands of the prisoner’s, but it appeared that none of them had any when they’d attacked us in the docking bay.
With the docking bay videos an unhelpful disappointment, I moved on and checked out the video feed in the hydroponics bay as well as the growth reports for the various plants. We’d need to harvest some food to bulk up our reduced supplies. I thought that the sooner we did that, the less time the prisoners would have to plan and mount some sort of offensive to try to pry us out of the computer room. I highly doubted the ambush in the docking bay was going to be a one-time thing.
If we knew exactly where the food we wanted was growing and ready for harvesting, we’d be able to get in, get the food we needed, and get out without spending very much time in an unsecured area. Tohan could likely set some of the bots to harvesting what we needed so all we’d have to do was load the food and go. The less time we spent outside of the security of the computer room, the better our chances of not having a gun of some sort pointed at our heads or other body parts.
Since the hydroponics bay was fully automated, it was actually running smoothly and undisturbed. It didn’t appear that the inmates had tried to gain access to it, which was good. While gaining control of the hydroponics could be a tactical advantage as everybody needed food to live, disrupting any of the bots that tended the plants would likely end up killing the plants and any advantage in capturing the bay would die as well.
I wasn’t a big fan of veggies, but I also wasn’t a big fan of starving. I could go without food for extended periods of time like any other organic being, but my performance suffered. There were some high-caloric liquid reserves built within my chassis, but those would only see me through three full days or six half-ration days and were always last resort uses. They also made me feel jittery as hell and I wasn’t thrilled with the method of delivery.
Having a needle six inches long pierce my abdomen into my stomach was highly uncomfortable to say the least. I also needed to be utterly still for ten minutes as the nutrients were injected into me. Moving while having a needle jabbed through your stomach was not recommended. I could opt to receive the nutrients anally, but that was also uncomfortable, took longer to absorb, and was not as efficient as getting the nutrients directly into my stomach.
There were fruits available in the hydroponics bay as well as vegetables, and I liked fruits a lot more than I did vegetables. There were some veggies I liked, and there was a lot of diversity in the plants growing, so we should be able to make out just fine. Some plants I’d never even heard of and needed to do a search to find out what they were. That search revealed that there were some plants being grown that were highly toxic to some species but perfectly fine for others to consume. A few species of prisoners actually required certain plants to maintain their health yet were utterly deadly with just one bite to others.
It was actually fascinating how complex the food supply for the inmates was. I couldn’t say for certain, but it was possible that somebody within the prisoner population knew about the complexity of the food system for the various prisoners, and that was the reason that there’d been no attempt made to take over the hydroponics bay. It was unlikely that the prisoners wanted to kill each other off systemically, some probable minor personal issues aside. The more of them that existed, the more likely it was that they could hold off any assault that might be mounted against them to quell their activities. I was fast coming to believe that there was a good deal of organization and planning behind the attempts to leave the prison, so that line of reasoning seemed like the right thought path to follow.
I wanted to get a detailed map of the various plants and areas of harvesting on the very slim chance that Tohan couldn’t get the bots to harvest what we needed. I wasn’t sure it was safe to physically jack-in to the system given the semi-successful hacking attempts for the shuttle security codes. Instead, I opted to record the data from the screen to my eye sensors, taking a video of the map of the grow beds as well as the list of what the various plants were. Of course, not all of the plants that were suitable for us were close together. There was going to be some scurrying around if the bots wouldn’t harvest things out-of-turn. Thankfully, we weren’t going to have to run from one end of the huge bay to the other to get what we needed as most of the safe-for-us plants seemed to be in one area. It was a fairly large area but manageable. Bringing the food back was going to be a bit of a pain and required some planning.
We had the power cart, and it was still doing okay with regards to a charge. Some of the boxes that our initial supplies were in were still usable, too. Securing those boxes to the cart was easy enough with the straps we’d used before, but doing that took time. Time wasn’t an issue before we left on the fruit and veggie run but could become a factor when we were leaving hydroponics depending on how closely the prisoners were watching us for movement. Once we left the computer room and the camera feeds we could check for prisoner movement, we’d be blind to them until we were back in the computer room. It would be utterly foolish to assume that the inmates weren’t keeping an eye on us and didn’t intend to try to capture us again to squeeze whatever information out of us they could. I’d read the reports on the previous teams and wasn’t eager to be subjected to the prisoner’s information extraction methods.
There was also the problem of possibly needing to make more than one run to the hydroponics bay. We could gather enough fruits and veggies for two weeks, but a portion of them would spoil since we had no refrigeration. The most we should grab was enough for a week and see how our food stocks looked from there. It would also be in our best food stock interests to grab fruits and veggies that had a relatively long shelf-life even if neither of us were too crazy about those same fruits and veggies. We could eat just the things we gathered for the first week and rely on our supplies for the rest of the time, but I had no idea how to calculate the right nutritional balance for Tohan with only the fruit and veggies available. The prisoners were also given capsules tailored to their species to supplement what was missing nutritionally from a diet of just greens. I’d tell Tohan the plan once he finished checking whatever it was that he wanted to look at.
Several hours later, Tohan was still working away and didn’t look like he was going to be stopping anytime soon. I smiled a little at that. Apparently dragging him away from his work to eat wasn’t the only instance where I’d need to haul him away from his programming. I got the idea that if I didn’t make him, he’d keep working until he literally fell asleep at the keyboard. He hadn’t been kidding when he said he got so involved in his work he’d neglect eating or sleeping.
“Tohan, find a place to stop. It’s getting late, and you need to sleep soon so you’ll be fresh and alert to work tomorrow.”
“Uh huh. Five more minutes,” Tohan said as he scrolled through lines of code, typing or deleting things as he went.
I waited the five minutes and spoke again. “Time to shut down, Tohan.”
“Okay. Five minutes. Nearly done with this,” Tohan mumbled as he flicked between screens.
“You said that five minutes ago. Even accounting for the longer Awh’anise day that you’re used to, its late and time to shut it down for the night.”
“Sure. I just need to change this one thing before I forget.”
I could understand that so I waited. Another five minutes passed with Tohan showing no sign of closing out what he was doing.
“Tohan, shut it down now, or I’ll physically move you from that machine.”
“Almost done. Five, maybe ten minutes more, tops.”
I waited ten minutes. He kept his eyes glued to the screen, scrolling through code and flicking back and forth between screens as he typed intermittently, occasional mutters and sounds of mild irritation leaving him. Tohan’s ten minute claim was obviously something he said just to get people to leave him alone while he worked. I sighed, grabbed the back of his chair, and pulled it away from the desk, spinning the chair around as I did so. Tohan squawked in surprise and scowled at me.
Effie growled at that move and launched himself off the couch. He moved incredibly fast and headed straight for me. I had slightly less than two seconds to brace for whatever Effie was going to do. He barrelled straight into the backs of my knees, and if I’d have been a regular person, his weight and momentum would’ve knocked me down, possibly knocking the wind out of me or even making my head hit the floor. It would’ve been a surprisingly effective attack against a typical bipedal. I didn’t doubt for a second that if I’d fallen, Effie would’ve been at my throat in a flash. I wasn’t a typical bipedal though. There was no way Effie would be able to generate enough momentum and force to knock me down with the style of attack he’d just tried as my weight was too great and I could lock my knees. Instead, he hit with a solid thud, bounced off me, and looked utterly confused at what had happened, namely me not falling down.
“What the fuck, Warrick? I’m working here,” Tohan said as he tried to wheel his chair back to the desk, sparing only a brief look at Effie. “Bad, Effie. I said don’t attack Warrick. Do it again, and I swear you’re not going to be allowed to sleep next to me for the rest of this job.”
Effie burst out with a series of angry sounding chirps and hisses, his forelegs waving wildly, sometimes pointing at me as if accusing me of something nefarious. He shot me a distrustful look as he parked himself between Tohan’s legs, his body language clearly saying that he was defending Tohan from me. I smiled a little at that. Effie really was quite the fierce protector of Tohan. After several long seconds where we just stared at each other, neither of us willing to back down, Effie and I pretended not to see each other while still keeping watch on each other.
“You told me to set an alarm or something to get you to stop working at appropriate intervals because you’d lose track of time as you worked. I’ve been trying to get you to shut down what you’re doing for twenty-five minutes.”
Tohan stared at me suspiciously for a few seconds before sighing and dragging a hand over his face. “I’d call bullshit on that, but I’d be lying to myself. It really was twenty-five minutes?”
“Sorry.” A slow smile grew over Tohan’s lips as he stared at me, and I couldn’t help noticing that his cock was starting to firm. Naked was such a stellar look for Tohan in my opinion.
“You know, you’ll have my immediate, undivided attention if you start groping me. Not saying you have to or anything, but there’s nothing like a little fondling to yank me straight out of whatever program I’m messing around with and pay complete attention to you.”
I laughed. “Duly noted. I’m suggesting getting some sleep and starting back up in the morning. I know you’re working against a deadline and whatever the hackers are doing to break the security codes, but you need to be rested to do what you need to.”
“Yeah, I get that. I’m just super focused when I work. You did what you need to do to drag me away before I get over-tired and cranky as shit. Tyh and Telek say I’m a surly bastard when I get run-down because I’ve ignored stuff like food and sleep when I’m coding. They’re probably right.”
Tohan stood and stretched, and I admired the lines of his body. For somebody that spent a good part of his day sitting in front of a computer, he was surprisingly toned. He wasn’t overly muscled, but he had to do some sort of regular exercise to look as fit as he did. He noticed me appreciating his body, and his cock jumped to full attention.
“I’m not so tired that I need to go right to sleep,” Tohan said with a grin as started to stroke his cock as he stepped over Effie. “If you’re interested in a little more playtime I’m obviously ready to go.”
“I’m very interested. Could you let me experience sliaru this time around? I’m really curious about that.”
“Sure, but it would be a fast and dirty fuck. Sliaru doesn’t really let either person go slow and explore each other. The main purpose of Sliaru is to basically guarantee breeding, so it tends to override things like being a considerate lover in favour of fucking like animals. It hits like a starship jumping to hyper-drive, and there’s nothing we know that can stop that rush to orgasm. I mean, you can try, but you’re going to fail. Foreplay, before I’d let the pearls appear, can be as long as you want, but once the pearls appear, all I can do is run full-bore at reaching orgasm. You’ll get there just as fast as me if not faster because that’s how sliaru works.
“Pretty much right after that first orgasm, you’ll need to have another to work the last of the sliaru out of your system just like you saw me do on the shuttle. For you, the need will be more intense since you’re on the receiving end of the sliaru I expose you to. If you don’t have another orgasm quickly, your balls will ache with the need to come, your skin will feel sexually hyper-sensitive to the slightest touch of anything, and you’ll be begging for relief after about ten minutes. After about half an hour you’ll have an orgasm just because you’re so hyper-sexualized but it’ll be painful and very unsatisfying. Exposing somebody to sliaru and then leaving them hanging for that second orgasm is still used as a punishment method on Awh’an for certain types of crimes. The only reason I’m mentioning this is because earlier you said your balls were still tender, and I don’t want to cause you any pain.”
“I appreciate your concern, Tohan, but I’ll be fine. Actually, the idea of a fast and dirty animalistic fuck appeals to me right now. I viewed the video or whatever it was Moswen put in my head of various Awh’anise under the influence of sliaru, and it was very arousing. We can take our time later, but right now, I really just want some cock. Yours specifically,” I said as anticipation zipped through me.
I had reviewed the data on sliaru after finding that I should be okay to sample it. The data Moswen had given me wasn’t only text but some strange type of video as well. It wasn’t a video in the traditional sense but more like a memory that was crystal clear with perfect audio viewed from multiple angles. I assumed that had something to do with how the information had been dumped into my head, a process I was still very unclear on but had been massively effective on transferring all the data I’d received. However Moswen had done it, the scenes with various Awh’anise under the influence of sliaru, both for pleasure and while under the control of one of their quarterly breeding cycles, was fascinating, educational, and highly erotic. Once I’d seen the primal-like fucking and how blissed out the people had been, I wanted to experience it myself.
At my words, Tohan stared at me for a few seconds before he smiled widely. “Well, I am a giver in bed, so whatever you want, if I can give it to you, it’s yours for the taking. I’m not sure how Effie is going to react to us getting our freak on since he’s never been around when I’ve had sex. He’s possessive and gets jealous super easy as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I have no idea what he might do if I lock him in the locker room as a precaution. He can’t tear that room apart, but he can spit digestive juices all over the place and web the shit out of the room. Both those things will take forever to clean up. Been there, done that multiple times, and not real interested in doing that sort of clean up anytime soon. I’m also not sure how we’d lock that door either since it doesn’t seem to have a lock. I know for an absolute fact that Effie can open regular doors all by himself as easy as you or me.”
Well, that was a bit of a complication I hadn’t anticipated. I wasn’t going to let Effie get in the way of finding out what sliaru was like though or experiencing the pleasure I was sure I’d have with Tohan as a lover. Effie would just need to deal, preferably without attacking me. I held out my hand to Tohan, pulling him close when he placed his hand in mine. Effie growled at the move. Tohan swatted at him as Effie tried to climb up his body.
“No, Effie. This is my play time with Warrick. As long as you’re a good boy and don’t bug us as we fuck, you can sleep snuggled up with me later, okay? You’re going to have to share me with Warrick.”
I knew hy’prae were intelligent, but I really didn’t expect Effie to react as he did. He gave me another distrustful look, hissed softly once, and then chirped, seemingly to himself, as he went to the couch and assumed his previous position in the middle of it. He watched us intently and peeped a few times as if to voice his displeasure but stayed on the couch.
“Cool. I wasn’t sure that would work. Effie usually does whatever he damn-well feels like and fuck what I want or need him to do. So how fast and dirty did you want this to be? As I mentioned, I can give you as much foreplay as you want before I relax my control and let the pearls appear.”
“A little foreplay would be nice, but I wasn’t kidding when I said I want your cock. I’ve been thinking about it a great deal after your wank in the shuttle and our earlier mutual blow jobs. Did you want me to have my attachment out? It’s not my real cock and balls but I will feel pleasure if you play with them. It’s not necessary for you to do that for me to reach orgasm either. I’ll get most of my pleasure from having your cock pumping in and out of my ass and playing with my nipples.”
“If you get pleasure out of me playing with your attachment then why wouldn’t you want them available for me to play with? Unless you want some sort of denial thing? I’ve had a few partners who were into that. I’ve enjoyed it myself a couple of times, too. I can definitely do some denial play for you if you want.”
I retracted the cup at my groin, my attachment falling free. As soon as it wasn’t restrained, it immediately began to harden, the program and my desires making it reach full erection in moments. He leered at me when he saw how fast I got hard, cupped the ass of my chassis and pulled our bodies flush with each other. My exposed cock wasn’t real but the sensors transmitted very real feelings of pleasure. It certainly felt very good pressed against Tohan’s cock, rubbing lightly against him. His other hand slid to the back of my head, and he pulled my head down the little bit necessary for us to kiss while grinding our hips together.
Kissing Tohan was unexpectedly erotic. His lips were firm and demanding, but I didn’t feel like he was trying to dominate me. I wouldn’t have minded that, but it was wonderful to have a sense of give and take to the kiss. I didn’t usually get that sort of sexual experience with a client, although, to be fair, Tohan didn’t feel like a regular client assignment to me. I’d need to explore the why of that later.
His tongue teased the seam of my lips, waiting for me to open my mouth to him. I was not disappointed when I allowed him entrance. His tongue dipped and swirled with mine, encouraging me to return the favour of pushing my tongue into his mouth when his retreated from mine. I felt the shape of his fangs with my tongue, intrigued by them. He sucked gently on my tongue, vividly reminding me of the pleasure of sucking each other’s cocks earlier. That had been a wonderful experience that I looked forward to repeating in the very near future. He wriggled a hand between our bodies, wrapping his fingers around both our cocks, stroking us in time to the suction he was using on my tongue. The fingers of his other hand lightly massaged the base of my skull, the feeling relaxing, tender, and intimate.
When Tohan slowly pulled back from the kiss, I didn’t want him to. I really liked kissing him. My breath caught, and I moaned softly when he lowered his head and began licking and gently biting one of my nipples. I adored nipple play and could come from that alone. I didn’t think Tohan would have any problem making that happen for me. I gasped in delight when he started to suck on my nipple and automatically cupped his head, holding him to my chest. I had to lock the knees and hips of my chassis to keep from collapsing to the floor in pleasure. He switched back and forth between my nipples, sucking and gently biting them while continuing to stroke our cocks together. He hadn’t been kidding when he said he was a giver in bed. I actually whimpered a little when he pushed back against the hold I had on his head.
“I have an idea I think you’ll like,” Tohan said as he released our cocks, grabbed my hand, and tugged on it to get me to follow him.
He led me to the inflatable pad and had me go down on all fours his hands stroking briefly over my skin and chassis. Effie still watched us, but it seemed like there was more curiosity in his gaze than hostility now. He remained on the couch, the odd chirp or peep coming from him. Tohan ignored Effie and left me for a moment to get something from our supplies. A smile quirked up my lips when he showed me a small bottle of lube.
“No self-respecting Awh’anise will leave home without some kind of lube. Never know what sort of opportunity will come your way,” Tohan said with a grin.
He knelt behind me and ran his hands over the ass of my chassis again. I mentally sent a signal to the mechanical sphincter to relax and open, readying myself for his cock. Tohan surprised me by kissing my hole and fondling the balls of my attachment.
“Can you feel my lips on your chassis? I know you said you have sensors built into your chassis, but I’m not clear on where they are or how sensitive they are.”
“I can feel pressure from your mouth on the asshole of my chassis, which I assume was you kissing me, but no real pleasure from the act since the sensors aren’t calibrated for that. I can adjust the program slightly to heighten the sensitivity, but it won’t be as good as what I can feel through my cock attachment since those sensors are purpose-built for that sort of thing. I assume it feels good to be rimmed because quite a few clients had me rim them. I’ve never been rimmed, so I don’t know how it feels on a personal level. Anything inserted in my ass is felt on a genuine level because that is my real ass.”
“I love a good rimming. Damn shame you can’t get pleasure out of it while you’re in your chassis. I’ll make sure to rim you when you’re out of it so you can feel how awesome it is. I’m going to stretch you good and open because once the sliaru hits both of us, there’s not going to be any slow getting used to having my cock in you, and I don’t want to hurt you once we’re both under the influence of sliaru.”
“I’m more than good with that. I deeply enjoy being fingered,” I said, excitement making my nipples stiffen.
“Fan-fucking-tastic!” Tohan said before leaning forward and pressing a kiss to the skin over my spine just a little above where my chassis ended.
Tohan started slow, almost like he was testing to see how much he was going to need to stretch me. The tube in my ass was generally not large in diameter but it was highly elastic and would easily stretch to accommodate his cock. I’d taken a hand multiple times, and the tube never had a problem stretching for that. A cock, no matter how nicely a guy was hung, was not going to be an issue to accommodate when compared to a hand. Tohan was gentle as he stretched me open, adding generous amounts of lube as he worked, building my arousal with every push and twist of his fingers. The tube was fairly short so the touches I could feel from his fingertips were one hundred percent genuine and not generated by a program.
He was very attentive of every little twitch and flutter of my muscles, repeating movements when my body responded in ways that indicated that I enjoyed something. Generally, my real cock would be slow to rise, if it rose at all given the catheter and the way it was positioned in my chassis. That was fine though as I was used to it and could still orgasm, and enjoy it, without my cock being hard.
Tohan didn’t need to only go by what my body was telling him either. I couldn’t have stopped myself from voicing breathy moans and groans of pleasure if I’d tried as he worked my ass open to his satisfaction. It didn’t take him long to zero in on my prostate, stroking it gently but firmly, steadily pushing my arousal higher. When he did stop, I made needy sounds in my throat and pushed my ass back at him, wanting him to continue.
“Thought you might like a taste of sliaru before I slide balls deep into your ass,” Tohan said as he moved to kneel in front of me.
I licked my lips as I stared at his cock. The pearls travelled down the length of his cock, the sliaru giving his skin an iridescent shine. It didn’t have a scent that I could detect, but my sense of smell wasn’t nearly as strong as Tohan’s. He offered me his cock, cautioning me to just take a small lick as sliaru was easily absorbed orally and it apparently didn’t take much to send most people’s lust through the roof.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect taste-wise when I licked Tohan’s sliaru-coated dick. As he’d said, it was slightly sweet with a bit of a spicy taste. I reminded me strongly of what Rune called a cinnamon danish, and I’d really enjoyed that the one time I’d tried it. I’d have loved to suck on Tohan’s cock while it was covered in sliaru, but after that one little taste, he’d moved back and grinned at me as if waiting for something.
I was completely unprepared for the intense desire that slammed into me. My balls suddenly felt heavy with seed, and shockingly, my cock went from soft to hard in what seemed like mere seconds. Despite the catheter inserted in my cock, there was no pain from getting hard since I was well used to it and actually enjoyed the sensation when it happened. I moaned softly as my ass clenched and released in anticipation of having Tohan’s cock fill me. My nipples hardened into nearly painful points and demanded to be played with. The need to be fucked and fucked hard was suddenly clawing at my belly surprising me with how fast it happened. I locked my knees and hip joints as well as the quasi-spine of my chassis so I’d remain bent over but didn’t need to use my arms to support myself. I immediately started pinching and pulling on my nipples, my breathing quickening as sounds of want came from me. I’d never felt so aroused in my life.
Tohan glided his hands over my back and chassis as he moved behind me and pressed his cock to my hole. I moaned, and a shiver rushed up my spine as he sank his cock steadily into my ass. He was relentless in pushing his dick into me, and I adored the way that felt. He growled low in his throat when his hips pressed hard against my ass, seating himself balls deep. God, but that felt so damn good—but wasn’t enough at the same time.
I needed him to move. I needed to feel his cock pumping my hole like I needed to draw my next breath. I felt sharp pressure as his claws scratched roughly over the metal of my hips, the move increasing my arousal for some reason. His fingers tightened as he drew back before pushing in again. The desire twisting through me easily doubled, and my balls felt like I hadn’t come in months instead of the hours it actually was. I wanted to rock back onto his cock, but I’d need to unlock my joints and stop playing with my nipples to do that. Pinching and tugging on my nipples felt far too good to stop. Tohan needed to move. Now.
“Fuck me, Tohan,” I demanded as another shiver streaked up my spine. I’d never felt such an intense need to have a cock pumping in and out of my hole. “I need you to fuck me hard. Now.”
Tohan growled again, and I felt something soft yet firm curl around my attachment sending even more lust spinning through me. It took me a moment to realize that he’d curled his tail around my attachment. He started to stroke me in time to the powerful thrusts in my ass, and I gasped at the new pleasure-filled sensation hitting my system. I tugged on my nipples to the same rhythm Tohan was using and moaned as bliss and need flooded my system. He’d barely thrust into me a half dozen times, and I was already so very close to coming. The lust rushing through me was almost painful in its intensity, but it was also highly erotic at the same time. I wanted it to last forever at the same time that I wanted to come immediately to ease the pleasurable ache in my balls.
“Xa’,” Tohan said in a rough voice as his hips moved a little faster and rougher.
A thrill shot through me at hearing that word and feeling the rougher thrusts in my ass. “Ony-ma,” I replied between breaths, the word seeming to come out automatically without any thought on my part.
Tohan growled and leaned over me, repeating the word again before he bit the back of my neck, his fangs pressing hard into my skin, his thrusts getting wilder. I cried out in surprise as release suddenly slammed through me at the highly dominant move. Tohan released his bite hold, repeated the word again and bit me harder, giving his head a little shake as if demanding I reply.
I gasped out, “Ony-ma,” as intense pleasure rushed through me, my cock spurting with release for what seemed like forever. My head spun and every inch of my skin felt hyper-sensitive as I panted and moaned through my orgasm. I had to stop playing with my nipples because they felt so sensitive from the pleasure overload. Tohan thrust hard into me several times before he stilled, and I felt his cock pulse as he hit his peak. I groaned at how good that felt, my eyes closing at the almost too good feelings swirling through me.
Tohan let go of my neck and licked the spot he’d bitten. I could hear loud purring and feel the vibration of it on my back. I smiled, pleased with myself for bringing Tohan to a point where he was purring. Only relaxed or very satisfied Awh’anise purred for their partner. Tohan brushed little kisses and licks over my shoulders, the sensation both relaxing and feeling highly intimate. I liked it a lot and would probably be quite happy to stay exactly as we were for a good long while. Having Tohan buried balls deep in my ass felt perfect and like something I’d been waiting a very long time for.
“I don’t want to take my cock out of your ass, but you’re going to need to work the rest of the sliaru out of your system just like me or else your arousal is just going to climb again until it becomes painful,” Tohan said as he lifted himself from my back and his cock slid from my ass.
I made a wordless sound of disappointment at his cock leaving my body. It’d been a really quick fuck, but it was also powerful in a way I couldn’t quite explain. I’d enjoyed it a hell of a lot and was eager to find out what a leisurely fuck from Tohan was like. I was also determined that before the mission was over, somehow, some way, I was going to have the pleasure of a purely organic fuck with Tohan. Any punishment I might suffer for an unapproved exit of my chassis would be utterly worth it. I was absolutely positive of that.
“I’m not feeling any increased arousal. Matter of fact, I feel very relaxed, but sort of euphoric at the same time. My skin feels really sensitive, too, and I want you to keep touching me,” I said as I unlocked my joints and turned to face Tohan, sitting cross-legged.
He was still hard, and the muscles in my ass fluttered pleasurably at the thought of taking his cock again. There wasn’t a driving need for that to happen in the next few minutes, but I certainly wouldn’t say no to it happening. I really, really liked having Tohan’s cock in my ass. It felt like that’s where his cock was supposed to be, which, in reality, was highly illogical but made perfect sense to me at the same time.
I was erotically thrilled that I could seal my anal sphincter shut, keeping his come inside my ass. I’d never done that before or felt a desire to do so, but it felt completely right and natural to do that with Tohan’s come. That was very odd, and I’d need to examine that thought process later for the why of it. It didn’t matter right now, though. I felt intensely, intimately connected to Tohan. It felt like we were in perfect synch with one another now. I felt as if I could tell him anything, share anything with him, and he’d understand perfectly just like he could do the same with me. I’d never felt so connected with another person. It was, for lack of a better word, spiritual.
“Really? You’re sure you don’t still feel like you need to come?” Tohan asked in surprise.
I tried to focus on how I was feeling physically, but all I was getting was a sense of deep connection and understanding with him. I felt relaxed but hyper-aware at the same time. It took me a moment or two of hard concentration to realize that I’d felt this way before but nowhere near as intently or intimately.
“No. But this does feel very similar to the drug, sinnanhynt or SNT as the locals called it. I was given doses of it during training for a mission. It’s commonly used recreationally on a world in another galaxy. I needed to be aware of how the drug interacted with me and how to still do my job since the probability was almost one hundred percent that I’d be exposed to it because of the client and her lifestyle. Because of what I’m engineered to be, I metabolize many drugs and toxins very quickly. That could be why I’m not feeling arousal now although it did hit me really hard initially, which I enjoyed a hell of a lot. I have to say I really like sliaru’s effect on me and would love to experience it again in the very near future.”
“Cool. I’m totally up for letting you try it again. Not to be rude, but I need to come again even if you say you don’t. That’s easy enough for me to do on my own though. I just need to jerk-off like crazy. I’ll probably come in like a minute or two, and then I’ll be fine.”
“Please don’t hold back on my account. I enjoyed watching you before, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy watching you this time, too.”
“I liked you watching me. It was fucking hot,” Tohan said as he took himself in hand much like he’d done earlier in the shuttle.
It was intensely erotic to watch Tohan quickly stroke himself off. Some of that might’ve been the effect of sliaru, but I thought he was just naturally beautiful as he reached his peak. His eyes were incredibly intense as he held my gaze. It was like I was getting a peek into his inner most self. The strange sort of deeply connected feeling that I was getting as we stared at each other as he jacked-off and came intensified when I would’ve sworn that wasn’t possible. Having such an overwhelming feeling probably should’ve worried me a little, but I felt content and satisfied and like everything was happening as it was meant to happen.
The rational part of my brain was explaining away that deeply connected feeling as just a side effect of sliaru and its similar sensation to SNT, which I knew made people feel like they were intimately, often erotically, connected to those around them. The part of my brain that found ethereal, supernatural things fascinating was insisting that what I was experiencing was not sliaru induced but something that sliaru was helping me to realize more quickly than I would’ve on my own. Once sliaru was out of my system, I was definitely going to need to examine the incident more closely.
Tohan wiped his hand clean on a cloth he must’ve grabbed when he got the lube. He then leaned in and kissed me. I hummed my approval of that. His fingers lightly traced over my skin wherever he could touch as he continued to kiss me. My eyes closed, and I let myself sink into the very pleasurable feel of him touching me. I could very easily get used to that. Tohan gently pushed me to my back, and I let him press me to the inflatable pad. He broke the kiss and laid his head on my shoulder but kept up with the soft touches to my skin. The motion of his hand was soothing and relaxed me further as well as increasing the sensation of being connected to him on a deeper level. I heard him start to purr again, the sound lulling me into relaxing even more. I could definitely get used to this sort of thing on a regular basis, possibly even crave it. That didn’t worry me as it should’ve, but I couldn’t seem to dredge up the ability to care.
I still had questions for him about our respective tatts, but that could wait a bit longer. I was feeling far too relaxed to get into what I was sure would be a fascinating discussion. I also needed to talk to him about our food foraging plans. But not right now. For the first time in my life I felt content and... happy. I wanted that to last a bit longer before reality intruded and pushed me back into thinking of the mission and what would come after the mission was over.
Xa’: My/mine. Casual form.
Ony-ma: Yours. Casual form.
Effie stowing away was both endearing and a pain in my ass. I’d need to keep an eye on the little asshole to make sure he didn’t try something on Warrick. I told him not to attack, but Effie did what he wanted to do, and what I wanted or told him to do or not do usually had zero bearing on anything. He could behave himself because he did it all the time when family or friends came over to visit. But those times were generally for just a couple of hours at most, and if he was being a really surly asshole, I’d literally shove him out the window. That wasn’t going to be an option in our current situation.
I was a tiny bit worried about how Effie would take me and Warrick screwing. There was a better than average chance that Effie would take the moans and groans to mean something other than deep pleasure and he’d attack Warrick. If Warrick was the one screwing me, and Effie heard those sounds, I could totally see him savaging Warrick. He couldn’t do anything to Warrick’s mechanical parts, but it wouldn’t take him more than a few seconds to figure that out and go for the organic bits. Hy’prae were ruthlessly efficient killers, finding the weakness of their prey and remembering it for future hunts.
Effie had never been in my condo when I had partners in my bed. A full-grown hy’prae growling and hissing at you was a giant mood killer, and since that’s usually what he did when he saw new people around me, I generally shooed him out and made sure he stayed out before bringing somebody home. Or I did the easier thing and went to my partner’s place to get my freak on.
Effie was just going to have to deal. I wasn’t looking forward to a sulky hy’prae, but I also wasn’t about to give up on fucking Warrick just to avoid Effie puking digestive juices into my shoes to show his displeasure with the situation. At least Warrick seemed to be taking everything in stride. Although, it was possible he didn’t yet realize what a pain Effie could be when it came down to us getting dicks into asses.
Warrick really was pretty fucking awesome. The gun fight in the docking bay had been hella cool, our nearly getting shot to shit aside. That thing he’d done with the mirror and holding his gun backwards to shoot and fucking nailing his target not once but twice was wickedly awesome and totally something out of an action vid. I knew it was a dangerous situation that we’d been in and not something for entertainment, but fuck, that had been super cool.
Warrick was busy stacking what was left of our supplies and said he was going to fix the inflatable pad. I was glad about that last bit as the couch was lumpy as hell, and I’d probably be more comfortable sleeping on the bare concrete floor. If I was really into sleeping as comfortably as possible, I could always ask Effie to build me a web hammock. It would take a considerable amount of coaxing and a ridiculous amount of constant praise, but he would eventually do it for me. It took him a while, though, to make something that big and sturdy and it pretty much wiped him out for an entire day when he was done. I was a bit annoyed with him for sneaking into my bag, but I wasn’t going to be a dick about it and make him do something that taxing just for my comfort.
While Warrick was sorting and repairing what he could of our stash, I was going through some of the systems of the prison. Setting us up to have management level access to the hydroponics bay was stupid easy. Honestly, whomever had written the code for that had to have been some grade school kit. The security protocols were laughable, and it’d taken me all of five minutes to get into the program, give us access, and change the security codes to something almost decent under the limits of the program. Even so, a first-year high school student with a respectable understanding of programming could hack their way into the hydroponics system on their lunch break using their wrist comm and still have time for a quickie screw before their lunch break was over because the security of the programming was that shitty.
Fine, there wasn’t much that was of strategic value in the hydroponics bay, so security could be lighter than say what there was for the server room. But when a relatively bright child could hack their way through what was supposed to be security, there was a problem, in my opinion. However, fixing the security of the hydroponics bay wasn’t part of my job. As much as it pained me, I didn’t start fucking around with it. I wasn’t gonna be paid any extra to fix that issue since it had nothing to do with fixing the security breach for take-offs from the facility.
The security camera that Warrick showed me that had been on a loop wasn’t the only one set up that way in the inmate free-roaming area. I found six others also set to loop a static recording of the area. I cut the loops and four of the six cameras went black. The two remaining cameras were heavily damaged, the video coming from them sketchy and partially obscured by cracked lenses. One camera wouldn’t pan at all and the other would only pan to the right and back to center. There wasn’t a lot to see, but some sort of video feed was better than no video feed in my books.
The cameras in the secure area were mostly working. There were a couple that were offline, but it seemed to be a programming thing and not a mechanical issue. I could fix programming issues easily enough. Mechanical problems would be tougher to solve. I was decent at basic repairs, but we hadn’t brought along anything to fix physical problems with the cameras in the facility. I could probably scavenge some parts from the stuff that had been shot up in the docking bay, but things like lenses or specific dedicated circuits, well, we’d be shit out of luck. It wasn’t a must-have thing to get all the cameras working, but it would be nice. Maybe Warrick could do something about the physical repairs to the cameras.
I had the cameras in the docking bay active at the moment and was panning the area. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the bay. At least nobody alive was in there. I could see a couple of bodies, the inmates not having bothered to cart the dead away. That was probably going to be good for Effie as far as food went. I didn’t like the idea of him wandering around the facility on his own. He was fine to go wherever he wanted by himself on Awh’an, but he knew the flora and fauna there, and the possibility of him getting shot was pretty low. Here, it was a new scenario, and I didn’t doubt for a second that the inmates would shoot him the second they saw him, especially after word got around of what went down in the docking bay. Of course, they’d have to see him first, and that generally wasn’t a thing when a hy’prae was hunting. But that also didn’t mean it didn’t happen.
I’d downloaded a map of the facility to my wrist comm and had plans to look at it more in depth later to get a general idea of the layout. I was sure Warrick had a map of everything in the facility downloaded into his head, which was great and useful. But if something were to happen and we were separated for some reason, I didn’t want to be running my ass into dead end corridors or storage closets because I had no idea where I was or how to get to where I wanted or needed to be. That would just be shit planning, and I was big on planning courses of action.
I flicked through the cameras that were working and saw a whole bunch of nothing. I hadn’t expected to see anything though. Whatever the inmates were doing, they were doing it where there was no video feed. The secure area that we were in appeared to actually be secure. At least for the time being, it was secure. I wasn’t all that optimistic about it staying totally secure. The prisoners knew we were here and could probably guess why, given the other teams that had been sent before us. Somebody on Team Psycho Killers had better than decent coding knowledge, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before an attempt would be made to try to breach the security of the room we were in or, at the very least, physically wiggle their way into the general secure area to try to pry us out. I was highly in favour of doing what needed to be done and getting the fuck out before that happened.
Finished with what I needed to do for now, I spun my seat around to watch Warrick. Gods, he was hotness given form. I wasn’t sure what I wanted for our first encounter. I knew I was going to get my dick sucked since he said he had an oral fixation. I was totally cool with that. I knew I was going to play with his nipples since I’d seen that he liked that. I totally intended to lick every inch of his skin that I could. Beyond that, I almost wasn’t sure what to do now that I knew sex would be a welcome thing with him.
If I was asked, I might say that I liked getting my dick into someone just a tiny little fraction more than having dick in my ass. It would be a super close call though, and there was even the possibility that my opinion would change depending on the day and whom I was with. I hadn’t seen what Warrick was sporting when I jerked off in the shuttle, but he had said that he’d been outfitted with a nice unit. I wondered if his dick would be mechanical like his chassis, which would be kinda kinky cool, or if it would be like an organic cock, which had its own aesthetic appeal. I wondered if balls were part of this unit he’d been kitted out with or if there was just a cock. If he had balls, was there any sensation in them or were they just decorative? Would he like me playing with them or would it be a wasted effort?
As far as his ass went, there was obviously going to be some differences right off the top between his chassis and flesh. Flesh had give and obviously all kinds of nerves to register things like the light touch of fingers or the squeeze of those same fingers to a muscled ass cheek. Kisses and light bites would be felt on flesh, too. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but that sort of thing probably wasn’t part of the sensor array in Warrick’s chassis. He could likely detect pressure at a certain level if only to make him aware of any damage or obstacles to his chassis, but I had serious doubts those sensors would translate to the arousing touch of someone during sex.
He said he had sensors in the unit he’d been fitted with and in his ass that allowed him to feel pleasure when he was fucking or being fucked, and I was intensely curious about that. I didn’t want to be all weird and kill the sexy times mood by examining closely whatever he had that simulated an asshole. Unless, of course, he had some kind of medical kink and would enjoy that. When we got down to cock-into-ass, did he need to be loosened or would his quasi-hole just widen to accommodate whatever size of dick was going in? Was lube necessary or did his hole self-lubricate?
Stars, I had so many unsexy questions about sex with him.
“Can I ask you some sex type questions specific to you without making you feel all weird about it?” I asked Warrick.
He looked up from what he was doing to repair the inflatable pad. “Certainly. Especially in light of the fact that we’ll be having sex at some point. Correct me if I’m wrong, but to the best of my knowledge, based on the data I have on you, you’ve never had sex with any cyborg before so you likely do have pertinent questions. Ask away.”
Awesome. I rolled the chair closer to where he was doing the repairs and watched as he cut pieces from the bullet-shredded mat and set them aside. I wasn’t sure where to start the questions, so I figured I’d just blurt them all out and let him figure out which ones to answer and how he wanted to answer them.
“You said you’d been installed with a nice package. What, exactly, did you mean by that? I don’t mean dimensions, although if you want to tell me before I see the goods, that’s cool. Is this a mechanical dick? Or does it look real? Just a dick? Or are there balls involved in this, too? Are they just for looks, or do you get sensation from having them played with, too? You said you get pleasure out of sex. How does that register for you? When you come, assuming you do come, what happens? What about taking a cock? Do I play with your ass to loosen you up, or does your chassis adjust to whatever is stuffed up there? Is lube required, or is there self-lubrication in your ass? What sort of sensations do you get from taking a cock? Do you have a preference either way?”
Warrick raised a brow at me and smiled. “You’ve certainly been doing some thinking.”
“Well, yeah. As you pointed out, I’ve never had sex with a cyborg, and I’m really a giver in bed so I like to know I’m pleasing my partner. This is totally new, totally cool territory for me. I want you to enjoy sex with me. That’s super important to me.”
Warrick moved from the crouching position he’d been in to the sitting-without-a-chair thing he’d done earlier when he’d been checking the cameras. That was fucking neat as hell. He slid one of his feet to the side, making his legs spread. The rounded cup that was at his crotch retracted into his groin, and then a very real looking cock and balls flopped out. Wicked.
His cock and balls were completely hair-free, and the skin was just as bone white as the rest of his skin. The head of his cock was flushed the most delicate of pink, and I immediately wanted to lick it. I watched in fascination and growing arousal as his cock firmed. When he was fully hard, I had to admit that he did indeed have a very nice package. Damned if it didn’t look real as hell, too. I was going to love taking that equipment up my ass. The only weird thing I noticed was that despite him having a gorgeous boner, there was zero scent of arousal from him. That was kinda cool but a bit confusing and even a little unsettling at the same time.
“This is, for lack of better phrasing, a mechanical dick and balls. I can be hard for as long or short a time as my partner wants or needs me to be. I will feel pleasure from stimulation of both cock and balls, and yes, I will orgasm from stimulation to them. There is a release of fluid but it’s not actual ejaculate. It has the same consistency and taste though. My ass is not self-lubricating, and while I can take a cock without any stretching, it’s not something I enjoy as it does hurt to be taken without any prep.”
“Wait a second. You’re telling me that your chassis is designed to allow you to be fucked without stretching your ass but that you feel pain when that happens? That’s seriously sick shit, Warrick, and a major design flaw in my opinion.”
Warrick looked at me, conflict in his eyes. He pressed his lips together briefly before seeming to come to some decision. His cock went limp so fast it was a little boggling and the metal cup part slid back over his groin covering everything back up.
“Moswen said to be honest with you and to go with my gut. He learned something about me when he took me into the Dream World, and he said he’d leave it up to me whether or not I shared that information with you. He said he didn’t think you’d be repulsed but that he couldn’t say for certain, which was a fair statement.
“You know there’s some things I can’t reveal to you with regards to the design of my cyborg parts as that is proprietary information. I also can’t disclose information about my programming or details of the wet-wear in my head. The organic parts of me, however, are pretty much fair game for discussion since organics are more or less a universal constant for a lot of species. Because of the questions you asked, I think I need to reveal more to you about myself than I’ve ever voluntarily revealed to anyone not part of the Daquan cyborg program. There’s nothing that stops me from telling you what I’m about to, except my reluctance to see your reaction based on past experience.”
“That’s not exactly filling me with all kinds of confidence for what you feel like you need to say, Warrick.”
“A previous reaction from someone outside of the project was... harsh. It was my first experience with someone outside of the project learning more about me than is apparent at first glance. How much would you say of me is organic? Rough percentage is fine.”
“Twenty-five percent at most,” I answered. I had no clue where he was going with this.
“I’m actually fifty-nine point two six percent organic. I’m fully organic down to my pelvis. We’ve been genetically tweaked to bred true every time without legs since they’re not necessary to our function as cyborgs. Having a full torso and pelvis allows for us to eat regular diets, swap in and out of any chassis without the need of life sustaining machines between transfers, and for the collection of prime genetic breeding material, sperm from the males and eggs from females, instead of relying on clones, which have some problems with health, aging, and remaining stable the more times they are cloned.
“The reason anal will hurt if I receive no prep or lube is because you’ll actually be pushing your cock into my organic ass through an opening in my chassis. I have a narrow, short tube roughly three inches long inserted into my rectum while I’m in my chassis for voiding solid waste. The tube will widen for anal sex since it’s quite flexible, but if my ass is forced wide suddenly, the tube automatically pries my ass open as far as is required, and that is painful. And before you ask, yes, I do have an actual cock and balls, too. I’ve got another tube in my urethra going into my bladder for voiding liquid waste while in my chassis. When I’m aroused and in my chassis, because of the catheter, I’ll have a retrograde orgasm where my sperm ends up in my bladder instead of leaving my cock. It’s not painful or dangerous in any way to me. It feels mostly the same as a regular orgasm just not quite as intense. It’s still very pleasurable.”
I stared. Okay, I did not see that coming. My mind latched on to the information that he was whole to his pelvis and could swap in and out of his chassis without needing a surgical bay to do it. That was cool as hell, and all kinds of new sexy-fun-times opened up in my head. I still wanted to fuck him as he was now, but I was also suddenly excited to find out that I could fuck him without his chassis. I wasn’t sure why he felt reluctant to tell me about having more organic bits than I thought. There had to be something I was missing.
“That is wicked as fuck. Why would you not want to see my reaction to what you just told me? When can we have sex without your chassis? Stars, that would be like icing on an already very tasty cake. Or are you not comfortable with that? Don’t agree to it because I want to. You need to want to have sex as just two organics, too. For the record, I would flat out love to be able to suck your cock and rim your ass. The mechanical parts of you are super cool, but I want to experience all of you if I can.”
Warrick was staring at me like I’d suddenly grown another head and it was firing lasers out of its eyes. I didn’t think there was any kind of language issue causing his confusion and shock since I was speaking Common. Maybe it was a cyborg cultural thing, and I’d stepped over the line by asking to sex up just his body. Maybe it was some sort of deeper relationship thing for cyborgs or something. Had I just offended him on a grand scale? Maybe I should ease up on teasing Moswen about his sucking at the alien species interaction thing. It was apparently harder than I assumed even when you’d done your homework on the alien culture you would be interacting with.
Shit. Damage control time.
“I didn’t mean to offend you or step over any line. I’m really sorry about whatever I said. Tell me what I said that was wrong, and I won’t make that mistake again, I swear it. I brushed up on some Daquan cultural things before leaving Awh’an, but there was literally nothing anywhere that I could find about cyborg culture or customs, so I’m kinda groping around in the dark on that side of things. How pissed are you?”
“I’m not pissed about anything. And there’re no cyborg customs or culture. We’re property. You just.... I wasn’t expecting you to ask if we could have sex with me out of my chassis with you knowing what to expect of my organic parts. You’re not disgusted at the thought of seeing me as incomplete?”
“Incomplete? Now I’m confused. How could you be incomplete if you just told me you’re genetically bred to be the way you are? Unless you feel incomplete when you’re not in your chassis? Is that it?”
“No. My chassis is a tool. This one is my favourite, but it’s still only a tool that allows me to do things quicker and better than if I were without it. The previous experience I mentioned had me needing to do an emergency exit from a heavily damaged chassis that was partially trapped under some rubble I couldn’t move. The client I was protecting at the time was horrified and disgusted when I exited the chassis.
“I needed to complete my mission, which was to protect him at all costs. Help was coming and I only needed to safeguard him for another ten minutes or so before backup arrived. I went to him and tried to cover him as best as I could with my body. I was still capable of shielding him physically, and I could still fire my laser pistol. He shoved me away from him, called me a disgusting abomination, and threatened to blow my head off if I came near him again. I disarmed him, we struggled, and he managed to get me in a compromising position since I was not at optimal performance due to taking a glancing blow from a steel beam to the back of my head. My backup found him straddling me, trying to smash my head in with a fist-sized chunk of fallen concrete while screaming about me being a belly-crawling demon spawn. Fortunately, our bones are quite dense and reinforced with metal mesh, but it still hurt like fuck and took a month for all the swelling, bruises, and cuts to heal.”
“Holy shit! That is just all kinds of wrong. I hope like hell there was some kind of retribution on the guy for doing that to you.”
“No. He was a client, and as I’m sure you’re aware, only the wealthy can afford to hire a Daquan cyborg. Mind you, he was put on a list to never be taken on as a client again. It is expected that some damage could happen to a cyborg while on mission because of what those missions usually entail. It’s unacceptable for the same cyborg to be willfully damaged by the client especially to the degree that I was.”
“I’d better never find out the asshole’s name. I’m not joking about that, Warrick. He’ll suffer a massive reversal of fortune if I do manage to track him down. Maybe a few illegal activities of his, real or created, will come to light and a little jail time will be in order. I’d arrange for it to be a real cess pit that he gets sent to. It’d be marked down as a clerical error that landed him there and would take a few weeks to get straightened out, but that’d be enough time for him to get the shit beaten out of him daily. Killed if things go not-so-well for him or possibly a little cash incentive occurs to help along the desired course of action. Stars, that sort of shit pisses me off so bad.”
“Why?” Warrick asked.
“Because it’s wrong. You’re born the way you’re born and have no choice in how you look or what sort of person those things cause you to be. Who gives a fuck if that’s not what everybody else sees as the norm? As long as you’re a decent person, it doesn’t matter what you look like. That’s a bit of a hot button for me.
“Moswen gets a lot of unfair treatment because he’s a Throw-back. It’s not his fault that he’s a Throw-back. It’s just a genetic quirk. As much as he can be a pain in the ass little brother, he’s a good person, and I’d gladly have him at my back any time. But people see the marks on his skin and immediately assume he’s going to flip out and eat their face if they so much as look at him sideways. And yeah, I do mean that they literally expect him to attack and eat their face. People see my eyes and automatically assume I’m contagious when they know better. Anybody having the intensity of markings that I do and is walking around in public has been cured. That’s common knowledge. But the first reaction at seeing my eyes is always to take a step or two back before they can stop themselves.”
“Okay. I can see why you’d feel that way given your experiences. I happen to think your eyes are beautiful, by-the-way. Are you sure you’d be able to accept sex with me as wholly organic yet having no lower limbs? I hate to belabour the point, but aside from my experience, I have done some casual research into how people feel about sex with others who have less than the standard number of body parts. It was a bit disheartening to see the results to be honest.”
I could see where Warrick was coming from on that score. I had my own experience with someone who had less body parts than was the standard. He’d been shocked at my shrugging my shoulders and saying I didn’t care as long as he could still fuck and be fucked. Pallas said my attitude was not common because I treated him like any other guy regardless of what limbs he did or didn’t have.
“Nope, not a single problem. Couple of years back, I dated a guy that lost both legs on a military mission. Pallas and his squad were hired out by another planet to do recon and a little bit of pre-emptive mayhem before the rest of the invading force landed. He was scouting ahead with some others and discovered the natives of the planet weren’t quite the backwater pacifists his squad had been led to believe. Landmine blew off his right leg at roughly mid-thigh and mangled his left leg so badly they had to take it off at the knee to save his life. Lost the lower third of his tail, too. I hooked up with him a few years after that happened.
“I met him by pure chance in a safety shelter as we waited for a swarm to pass over. It never mattered to me that he didn’t have all his legs or a whole tail. He has replacement cybernetic legs, but he’d usually take them off during sex. That was his thing though. I didn’t care either way. I’m a cock/balls/ass man, and those parts of him worked just fine and were very pleasing on all kinds of levels. We dated for a couple of months, but he couldn’t deal with who I was related to and the constant stares. It was right around when all the shit was going down with both Moswen and Tyh at the same time. My family was getting a ton of exposure planet-wide because of the things happening. It was like living on display in a glass box, so I can’t really blame him for saying he couldn’t do it. There were days where I felt like I couldn’t do it. We’re still friends though. I partnered with him during his last cycle as a matter of fact. He’s a really intense fuck, but in that wicked ride sort of way.”
Warrick smiled at me, a subtle tenseness leaving him. “I’d love to try sex as just organics. The problem is that any time I exit my chassis, I need to either have permission for it or provide a valid reason for leaving it without said permission. Exiting my chassis so I can have sex is not considered a valid reason—especially when I can have sex while in my chassis.”
“Well that sucks in the totally un-fun way for both of us. Hey, since you’re supposed to have sex with me as part of your mission orders, could it be considered following orders if you exited your chassis because I said I wanted to have sex with you without your chassis?”
Problem solved. I was fucking brilliant.
“I honestly don’t know. The possibility of it has never come up before. I can send a transmission to headquarters to ask and probably get an answer in a few hours. This would be a low priority thing so it could take even longer to get a reply. However, if the answer is no and I leave my chassis without an excellent reason for doing so, I’m going to be getting some severe disciplinary action. If I don’t ask and leave, a signal will be sent immediately to Daquan, but we’d be able to finish what we started before I’d need to go back into my chassis. What do you want me to do?”
Okay, maybe not quite so brilliant. I didn’t want Warrick getting into trouble just because I wanted to get my freak on with him without the mechanical parts. It was still a good idea. Just needed a little refining maybe.
“Tough choice. How about for now, we stick to cyborg sex and not borrow any trouble for you just yet. I’m totally down with that idea. We’ll figure something out for purely organic sex later. I don’t want to get you in trouble when there could be a way around that. So, you feel like getting a little frisky with me right now? Gotta be honest, the wank in the shuttle was cool but nowhere near as much fun as I know it’s going to be when we get our mouths on each other.”
“Just our mouths? That’s a bit limiting isn’t it?” Warrick teased.
“I thought starting slow and seeing how things progressed would be the gentlemanly thing to do. But hey, if you wanna go balls to ass right away, I’m not gonna say no,” I leered.
Warrick laughed. “Just a little note of warning that will apply to positions you want to try. I’m considerably heavier than you are. While I’m in this chassis, I’m three hundred and twelve pounds. Out of my chassis, I weigh seventy-two pounds.”
“Good to know. You mentioned having an oral fixation. Did you want to satisfy that with a little mutual action? Maybe some ass play, too?”
“I’d like that very much. I’ll lay on the bottom since I’m heavier,” Warrick said as he shrugged out of his short jacket.
He tossed his jacket onto the couch behind him and leaned forward, falling into a kneeling position before sitting and then laying down on his back on the still damaged inflatable mat. The covering at his groin pulled back and his cock and balls were exposed once more. Stars, he was fucking hot.
I stared for a few seconds, licking my lips, before standing and shrugging out of my vest, dropping it behind me, hopefully onto the chair I’d just vacated. Warrick trailed his hand over his chest, toying with his nipples briefly before continuing down his body to grip his slowly hardening cock as he watched me strip. The scent of his arousal wafted up to my nose and my mouth watered. Gods, he smelled good. I undid the ties on my pants and threw them at the chair behind me.
“I have to say that aroused and armed is a very good look on you, Tohan,” Warrick said with humour in his voice and arousal in his eyes.
I grinned at that. I unstrapped the thigh holsters for the batons and carefully placed them on the chair seat with my clothes. I toed off my shoes and went down on my knees next to Warrick’s hip. I took his free hand and brought it to my nearly hard cock. He needed zero encouragement to wrap his fingers around it and start stroking. Stars, that felt fantastic. I ran my fingers down his dick, amazed to find that it really did feel like skin and was even warm as if it was living flesh. This was going to be awesome.
“Not to be a mood-killer, but your cock totally feels real. If I didn’t know, I’d swear it was. This is way fucking cool.”
Warrick chuckled. “It’s supposed to feel real. Feels good to have your hand on it, too.”
“Yeah?” I asked as I gave it a few experimental strokes, grinning at the little catch in Warrick’s breath when I did that.
“Oh, yeah. The sensation and arousal program is very sophisticated. I’m very much looking forward to feeling your mouth on my cock. Not nearly as much as I’m looking forward to getting my lips around your cock, but we all have our little fetishes, right?”
“Yep, we all have little wants and needs,” I said as I leaned forward and licked one of his nipples.
Warrick gasped and his back arched. His cock throbbed in my hand, and the nipple I’d licked hardened immediately into a tight little nub. Awesome! He squeezed my dick, forcing a pleased growl out of my throat. I bit his nipple gently before sucking on it a little and then backing off. Warrick groaned, the sound making my dick twitch in his hand.
“Good to know you like nipple play, too. I figured you did when you played with them in the shuttle as you watched me jerk off. Fair warning, I plan on driving you nuts in the best way possible with that little kink of yours another time. Right now, I want you to suck my cock while I suck yours.”
“It’ll be my pleasure,” Warrick said eagerly as he stroked my cock.
“Our pleasure,” I corrected as I returned the favour.
Warrick leered at me. “You have no idea how much I like having a cock in my mouth. Trust me. It’ll be all my pleasure.”
“Well, then, I aim to please. I’m a real giver in bed. Making my partner feel good and getting them off is a total erotic rush for me.”
“Then give me what I want, Tohan.”
I grinned, kissed him quickly on the lips, turned around, and swung my leg over his head. Warrick grabbed hold of my dick and immediately guided it into his mouth, happy sounds coming from him as his lips closed around the head. A shiver of intense pleasure travelled down my spine as his hands settled on my ass cheeks and steadily pushed my cock down his throat. My tail tip shook in excitement.
He swallowed me down to the root without even a hint of gagging. He held me there for several seconds, his throat massaging my dick as he deliberately swallowed twice before gently pushing my hips up until just the head was in his mouth. He sucked hard on the head and teased my slit with his tongue before slowly sliding the entire length of my cock back down his throat. He was making me fuck his mouth, and it was one of the kinkiest things I’d had the pleasure of doing. I couldn’t have stopped the back and forth swishing of my tail in pleasure if I’d tried.
My breath shuddered out of me, and my dick throbbed in approval at what he was doing with his mouth and the sexy sounds of pleasure he was making. Stars, he was really, really good at cock sucking, and he’d barely even started. He was better than Mered, and I’d thought Mered was the best cock sucker to ever get his lips on my dick. I’d go so far as to say Warrick was a gods damned artist when it came to cock sucking. That he wanted to suck my cock, well, I was obviously a monstrously lucky bastard.
I grabbed hold of his dick and licked it. There was a faint metallic tang to it but nothing overpowering. It was a bit weird that there was no musky scent to his junk. I could smell his arousal and that was heavenly, but there wasn’t the other male smell I was used to having in my nose when I was so close to hard cock. If I hadn’t known it was mechanical, that absence of scent would’ve clued me in that something wasn’t quite right. It was still a very fine cock though. It was warm and soft and gave encouraging little twitches in my mouth as I sucked on it just like a real dick would. I could taste a little pre-come on my tongue, and it actually did taste like what it was supposed to. I cupped his balls, not surprised to find that they also felt totally real and moved like a genuine pair of balls would move.
I slid a finger behind his balls, not sure what I’d find as far as an asshole would go. Warrick caught on to what I was aiming for and spread his legs a bit to give me better access. I was surprised to feel the wrinkles of a pucker under my fingertip. They were a lot firmer than flesh but had much more give than the metal of the rest of his chassis that I could feel. Spit was a lousy lube for sex, but for just pushing a finger into an ass, it wasn’t that bad. I backed off his cock for a moment and gobbed a more than healthy amount onto my finger before going back to sucking his cock. I slid my wet finger over his pucker and teased it with gentle circles and a little pressure, asking for entrance. I wasn’t entirely sure that would work, but if there were sensors in his mecha-cock and the chassis was designed for anal sex, it made sense in my head that he’d feel what I was doing, and his chassis would open for me.
His hole relaxed, and the tip of my finger slipped into him. The inside of his ass was warm and clasped my finger gently with a vague sort of rubbery feel. That had to be the tube he’d mentioned that was up his ass. My mind suddenly went off running in a totally kinky direction when I realized that Warrick, while in a chassis, was basically open-plugged anally and had his cock stuffed day and night without a break. Holy fuck that was a hot concept. We were going to have to explore that as kink play in the future. Assuming he’d be into that sort of thing.
I began to finger his ass as I sucked his cock, utterly loving the way he reacted. It thrilled me deeply to have a finger inside him since I knew that was real for him and he was obviously enjoying it a hell of a lot going by the way he doubled his already phenomenal efforts to suck my brains out via my dick. I liked sucking his cock, but it wasn’t as good as I knew it could be for both of us if I’d had his real dick in my mouth. He was enjoying my mouth but I wanted to give him true pleasure not something simulated by a program. Warrick backed off my cock, his breath puffing against my balls making my dick twitch.
“Push another finger into my ass, Tohan,” Warrick demanded.
“I’m only working with spit, Warrick. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I’ll be fine with spit for a couple of fingers, Tohan. It’s not like you’re trying to shove your hand up my ass with just spit for lube, which would be a huge no fucking way and get you a swift punch to the balls. Spit is fine for two fingers for someone used to things in his ass. I shouldn’t have to tell you that.” Humour laced Warrick’s voice again.
“You’ve been fisted before?” I asked with a little surprise. That was the last thing I expected to hear from Warrick.
“Yes. A client was into some weird stuff. I was outfitted with a micro-penis but really big balls for him. Like balls the size of your fist. You almost couldn’t see the penis I had because the balls were so huge. Every orgasm had an insane amount of come shoot out, too, as per his request. He never put his dick in my ass, but he fisted me daily, sometimes more than once. Took my ass a while to recover from that aspect of the mission.”
“Did you like it? I know what you do or don’t like doesn’t matter on mission, but I’m curious if you enjoyed any of it.”
“Yes, I liked it. Just not on a daily basis. That was a little much even for someone who likes permanently having something in his ass. Come on, Tohan. Don’t make me beg to have more in my ass. I will if that’s something you like, but it’s not a kink of mine.”
“Nah, making lovers beg isn’t my thing. Teasing can be fun but only if both people are into it. Any time you want to be fisted, you let me know. I’ve been told I’m damn good at it by my size-queen brother, Mered. I enjoy doing it, too. I get off on pleasing my partner.”
“Really? Possibly death by torture aside, this has the potential to be one of the most enjoyable missions I’ve ever had if that’s the case. Finger my ass and come in my mouth, Tohan. That will get me off,” Warrick said as he swallowed my cock once more.
I groaned, spit on my fingers, and pushed two into his ass like he wanted. Warrick moved my hips so I was fucking his mouth deeply and quickly. Stars, that felt amazing. The noises he made as he sucked me were incredibly hot and cranking my desire higher. I guided his cock back into my mouth and bobbed my head up and down while fingering his ass. My orgasm began to curl through my groin, the pressure building in an intensely pleasurable way. When I was seconds away from blowing my load, I pulled back from Warrick’s cock.
“Gonna come, Warrick,” I warned quickly before taking his cock back into my mouth.
Warrick responded by forcing my hips down hard so his lips pressed into the hair around my cock, holding my hips still. He began swallowing convulsively, the sensation tipping me the last little bit over the edge. I moaned around the cock in my mouth as my dick started pulsing. Warrick kept swallowing, the sensation as if his throat was milking the come out of my balls. It was fucking amazing, and I loved it.
I whined in my throat when his cock started spurting in my mouth. His ass began squeezing my fingers rhythmically, and a burst of satisfaction hit me. He was having a genuine orgasm, too, and it wasn’t just programming making his cock seem like he was taking pleasure in what I was doing with him. I let him finish in my mouth before releasing his cock. I kept my fingers in his ass, moving them slowly and enjoying the little flutters of his muscles. I’d stop playing with his ass if he said it was too much for him.
Warrick lifted my hips, my cock popping free, and drew in a sharp breath. He settled my hips on his chest and stroked his hands over my ass cheeks. I groaned softly when he raised his head up and gently kissed both my balls. I shivered when he kissed my taint and flat out whimpered when he kissed my hole. I swore softly when he tongued my pucker and couldn’t have stopped my happy purr if my life depended on it. My tail whacked the floor several times in pleasure before I could stop myself. Gods, I loved being rimmed.
“Mmmm, that was beyond good,” Warrick said after giving my hole a quick lick and kiss.
“Fuck, yeah,” I said as I rested my head on his thigh and eased my fingers from his ass when he squirmed a little.
Warrick made a small sound of protest at my fingers leaving him. I pushed myself up and off him, turning around so I could lie next to him. I snuggled up to him and started running my hand over his chest. His nipples were still hard, so I extended a claw and teased one to see what his reaction would be. He drew in a sharp breath and immediately grabbed my wrist, pulling my hand away.
“They’re really sensitive right now. It’s too much to tease them. God, my balls ache now but that was completely worth it.”
“Sorry. Why do your balls ache? Shouldn’t they feel better now that you got off? Or is that some sort of cyborg thing?”
“I was milked before starting this mission. That’s standard ops in case something happens and we don’t make it back. The milking is an intense process and leaves my balls sore and tender for hours after.”
“Why didn’t you say something? I would’ve been fine with waiting until your balls didn’t hurt if you’d told me. Warrick, don’t just go along with what I want sexually. I know it’s part of your mission parameters to say yes to sex with me, but I won’t die from not getting my rocks off. Well, I could die if I was in cycle and couldn’t fuck or be fucked, but that’s a totally different set of circumstances and doesn’t apply here.”
“I didn’t mention it because I really wanted to suck your cock after seeing you jerk off in the shuttle. It doesn’t matter what my mission details are with regards to sex with you. It’s nice to have official permission so I don’t get disciplinary action later, but deciding when, where, and how I have sex is entirely up to me. My balls already ached because they were forcefully emptied earlier. They feel a bit more sore now, but it’s fine, completely manageable, and will fade soon.
“Trust me in this, if I really didn’t want to have sex, real sex and not the programmed shit that can look like I’ve orgasmed and enjoyed myself, I won’t. Any of the times that I’ve needed to have sex but haven’t been aroused was all pure programming. I don’t come, and I don’t even feel the barest urge to come. I’ll let my mind sink a little away from the encounter as well so I’m not even really mentally there, although whomever I’m with won’t have a clue because of the programming I can engage.”
“Okay. If you say so. I just don’t like the idea of you getting all sexy-times with me if you don’t really want to or if it hurts you. Unless the hurting thing is a kink of yours? I can get on board with that if you need me to. I’ve had a few partners who were into that, and we are kinda on the violent side as a species in general.”
Warrick chuckled. “No, purposeful pain with my sex is not my idea of fun or arousing. I will let you know if I don’t like something or if I don’t feel in the mood. I know consent is a big deal in your culture and how you feel as a species about forced sex that isn’t a bedroom game between consenting partners. I’m more than capable of stopping you, Tohan.”
“Okay. Good. Glad we’re clear on that. You up for breaking out some food? I’m hungry now, and I know once I get working on the security issue, getting me to stop to eat will probably be an ongoing problem for you. I’d suggest you set an internal alarm or something to make me eat at regular intervals because I’ll ignore hunger pangs if I’m into what I’m doing.”
“Noted. Let’s see what culinary delights we can throw together with what we have. Should we make something for Effie, too?”
“Yeah. He’ll want to gather some of his kills later, but he’ll probably be hungry when he wakes up and wanders back in here. Fair warning, Effie is disgustingly energetic and perky when he wakes up, and I don’t mean just after naps either. He’ll be bouncing around and totally getting under your feet for like a solid fifteen minutes before he calms the fuck down. It’s funny but annoying at the same time.”
I started to get up only to have Warrick slip his hand behind my head and pull me close for a kiss. The kiss was demanding and aggressive, so I responded in kind. I loved that as soon as I did, his lips gentled and became accepting. His hand slid over my back and paused when he got to my tattoos. He traced over the slightly raised tissue, pulled back from the kiss and sat up. He pushed at my shoulder to make me turn a little to see my back and moved my hair aside. He stared in silence at what he could see of my back and then looked me in the eyes.
“I believe you mentioned telling me why you had such a strange reaction to my tattoos... Hy’prae. Don’t even bother denying you are Hy’prae. I can feel it in my gut.”
“You’re not gonna... uhhh... do anything with that info, are you? I mean, the reward is pretty substantial, but you don’t need the money, right? I mean, as a cyborg, you’re totally provided for, right?”
Warrick said nothing and just stared at me hard for several long seconds. My nuts started to sweat. This had the potential to be really, really bad. There might be a couple of governments that wanted me dead for shit I’d leaked to their populace about them and the shady things they’d been doing. The reward didn’t specify that I needed to be healthy or even in one piece in order to collect. Alive was the only stipulation.
Warrick burst out laughing and stood, holding out his hand to me. I accepted it warily.
“The look on your face. Gods, that was priceless. I’m yanking your tail, Tohan. Not about you being Hy’prae. I’m utterly sure you are. I’m not going to say a damn thing to anyone about that. One of the prime reasons Daquan hired you was because of their strong suspicions, but no proof, that you’re the hacker, Hy’prae. It’s not part of my mission parameters to either confirm or deny that you’re Hy’prae or to report you to the appropriate authorities for arrest related to the things you’ve done as Hy’prae. I wouldn’t mind talking to you about how you accomplished some of the things you did, though. If you want to.”
My heart slowed its mad gallop in my chest. I believed Warrick when he said he wouldn’t say a word. I punched him none-too-gently in the arm. Warrick didn’t even twitch a muscle, and it felt like I’d punched a tree. Damn. He hadn’t been kidding about having dense bones that were reinforced. That should’ve at least made him wince a little.
“Asshole. I nearly had a heart attack. I really didn’t want to have to make an emergency call to Moswen to have him come wipe parts of your memory.”
“He’d do that?” Warrick asked as he headed for the boxes with the food.
“In a heartbeat. Family covers family’s ass.”
“Noted. Come pick out what gourmet sludge you want to have, and while you’re at it, you can tell me why my tatts freaked you out and then tell me about the one on your back. You don’t need to bother dressing either if you don’t want to. I appreciate the view. A lot.”
I grinned. Crisis averted. Awesome.
***Ch6 currently available on Patreon and will post here June 1st! Thank you for reading!
The rest of the shuttle ride was spent trading general likes and dislikes between us. Tohan was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humour. Surprisingly, we had a lot of common interests and had similar likes and dislikes. As promised, Tohan regaled me with stories he swore were one hundred percent true about Moswen and his chaos effect. Tohan said that I could even check databases for some of the better known details. I did, and even if I was only able to confirm a very small part of what Tohan said, it was most definitely true and frankly astounding.
Like the fact that Moswen was a royal concubine to Kijika as well as his shu’anad and Lor’fei partner. Not only that, they had two children together, Jaiseki and Xinda, and the children were actually entirely theirs, Kijika having given birth to them. He was male, but the genetics on his maternal side made it possible for all males to become pregnant and give birth if they chose to do so. I thought it was fascinating that Kijika’s maternal side was also a triple-sexed species and winged. His paternal side was also winged although the style of wings was very different.
According to Tohan, the event that brought Kijika and Moswen together, in a roundabout way, namely Moswen’s significant role in the accidental destruction of a top secret military lab, also led to his brothers, Makis and Mered, becoming fathers under highly unusual circumstances several years later. They and their partner, Kushaiah, ended up adopting a Laiokian girl, Qetsiyah, which wouldn’t have been possible if Tohan’s brother, Tyhlian, hadn’t had Moswen’s help to escape Awh’an when he was unjustly put under an order of execution for his supposed dangerous insanity, thereby allowing Tyhlian to met his shu’anad and Lor’fei, Dakvir, who is Laiokian, while on the run from the Shal-hazal Hunter sent to eliminate Tyhlian. With the backing of the Shal-hazal House that Moswen and Tyhlian run with other family members, Dakvir was able to help hundreds upon hundreds of Teichle, a sub-group of Laiokians that are hated and feared by their fellow Laiokians, to immigrate to Awh’an. That immigration of Teichle to Awh’an also ended the government supported slavery of the Teichle for sale to other planets.
On Awh’an, the Teichle found a use for their uniqueness. In the past, Shal-hazal Litches had had to be put to death, going dangerously insane due to the nature of their abilities. The Teichle were able to maintain the Litches sanity, something the Litches and their families were exceedingly grateful for.
Tohan had not been kidding in the slightest about Moswen’s chaos effect when one considered that the entire chain of events began several years ago because Moswen wanted to poke around in the top secret lab his sister, Mahira, and her team had been guarding. She’d said no to sneaking him in, so he crept in on his own, got caught playing with chemicals in one of the labs by two people of his sister’s team, and had his silence bought by the ones who caught him when they asked him to say nothing if they let him join in on the sex they were about to have while on duty. Apparently, some chemicals were left cooking when Moswen jumped into the action, and although it took a few hours, the lab blew sky high. Casualties were minimal as it’d been during some sort of national holiday and during a shift change when most of the personnel were out of the building. Even more astounding was that with the lab being blown up, highly illegal activities involving weaponizing some of the native flora to be sold to the highest bidders by of some of the scientists was revealed. Most of the casualties involved those same scientists, and to hear Tohan speak of it, most Awh’anise seemed to feel it had been a good thing that the scientists were dead.
Epic stories indeed.
We were almost at the asteroid when Tohan began turning his head side to side and frowning. He seemed to be listening intently to something. Or perhaps trying to listen intently to something was a better way of putting it. He continued to turn his head back and forth, and the frown on his face deepened after several minutes.
“Can you hear that?” Tohan asked me.
“That noise. I’ve been hearing it off and on for the past half hour. It’s sort of an up and down wave of sound but also intermittent. Really low end of the frequency scale, too. Close to the bottom of my threshold. I know I’ve heard it before, or something a lot like it, but I can’t remember where at the moment. It’s driving me nuts.”
“No, I don’t hear anything. My hearing, while very good, isn’t as sensitive as yours. Are you sure it’s not some sort of sound vibration associated with the shuttle engines?”
“Not unless there’s something really wrong with them. I’m pretty sure you’d at least mention to me that there was an issue with the engines’ so I wouldn’t freak the hell out if we needed to do some sort of controlled crash landing or were about to be adrift in space with no engines.”
“Yes, I would mention that sort of thing to you. The computer hasn’t noted any issues.”
Tohan growled softly and unbuckled his harness. He stood and began slowly walking around the shuttle, stopping every now and again to listen, obviously trying to pin point where he was hearing the mystery sounds coming from. He got to the cargo area and stopped at his garish duffle bag. He crouched down and unzipped it, swearing in multiple languages at whatever he saw in the bag.
I heard chittering seconds before Tohan was knocked flat on his back by a large, multi-legged something that landed on his chest and pinned him to the floor. Sharp chirps and whistles sounded, and Tohan appeared to be struggling to get the creature off him all while still swearing in multiple languages. I had my harness undone and was on my way to save Tohan from whatever was attacking him only to freeze in place at Tohan’s command.
“Warrick, don’t move. I’m fine. This is Effie. Little bastard stowed away. I didn’t know he could work zippers. That’s new. He’d tried to crawl into my bag twice when I was packing, and I dumped him out both times. I thought he fucked off in a huff because he’s done that before, but he obviously waited until I finished packing and left the room and then got in the bag closing himself inside it. Crap. I have no idea what he might’ve taken out of my bag to make room for himself. Moswen’s comment about bringing a bag of rocks makes total sense now since he was the one carrying this bag for me while I had the bag of personal computer shit I’ll need.”
Effie was quite large. I’d guesstimate he stood probably knee-high and weighed around fifty pounds from the look of him. Effie’s eight legs were not spindly like the spiders I’d seen. They were about as thick around as my forearm and looked powerful. There seemed to be some sort of short, purple-black hair or fur tipped in dark green covering Effie’s body and legs much like the pictures I’d seen of tarantulas. There were six eyes in three matched pairs on Effie’s head. The smallest set was closest to the mouth/fangs with the eyes increasing in size the further back from the mouth they were located. The eyes were arranged in a v-shape with the point of the V over the fangs. The smallest eyes were barely bigger than my thumb nail while the largest set of eyes looked to be roughly the size of my palm.
Tohan sighed and stayed on his back for a few minutes while Effie chirped and whistled softly and shoved his large head with wickedly long, thin fangs into Tohan’s face. The most forward pair of Effie’s legs combed through Tohan’s hair and patted his cheeks. Finally Tohan shoved Effie off his chest with a grunt and considerable effort. He stood, and Effie immediately scrambled up Tohan’s legs and clung to Tohan’s chest, cheeping softly. Tohan sighed again and looked up at the roof of the shuttle as if seeking patience before looking down at Effie.
“Bad, Effie. Very, very bad, Effie. I told you I’d be back and that Kushaiah was going to check in on you while I was gone. You weren’t supposed to come with me. It might be dangerous.”
Effie peeped pitifully, and an impossibly long, bright blue tongue curled out of Effie’s mouth to swipe over Tohan cheek. Tohan avoided the tongue licking over his lips only because he jerked his head to the side.
“No, kisses don’t make it better. Stop that. I know you’re faking the whole I’m sorry thing, too, so you can knock that off as well,” Tohan said in a firm tone.
The sad-sounding peeping stopped like a switch had been flipped. Effie still didn’t let go of Tohan though. The hy’prae turned his head and stared at me. That look was a bit unsettling as it seemed like there was a good deal of intelligence in the eyes that studied me so critically. Effie seemed to be plotting something as he stared at me. Tohan’s arms immediately went around Effie, holding the hy’prae to his chest.
“Don’t you even dream of attacking Warrick. I need him to protect me and help me. I’m also going to fuck him later, and I swear to all the gods above and below, if you mess that up, I will make sure you can never, ever get back in the house again, and I won’t let you be in my life. I mean it, Effie. No attacking Warrick. Ever.”
Effie stared at me for several long seconds before looking away. I got the distinct impression that I’d just been dismissed as unimportant. I couldn’t help but smile at that. Tohan blew out a soft breath and moved back to his seat, Effie still clinging to his chest. I watched Tohan sit and then struggle to get his hands between Effie and his chest. He pushed for several minutes, finally wedging his forearm between Effie and his chest and continued to push. After nearly five minutes of shoving, Effie let go reluctantly and immediately settled in Tohan’s lap, the hy’prae’s legs wrapping around Tohan’s thighs as much as possible. It did not escape my attention that Effie positioned himself so that he was facing me, watching me.
“See? Separation issues and possessive tendencies. He also thinks he’s prime lap-sitting material despite being the size of a freaking toddler and just as heavy as one. That’s probably my fault as he was a lot smaller when he first entered my life, and it wasn’t a problem then to have ten pounds or so of hy’prae sitting in my lap while I worked or watched vids. I think he’ll be okay around you because he knows I was serious about the no attacking thing, but I’d advise you not to let your guard down. Just because I told him not to do something doesn’t mean he’ll actually listen to me for longer than he feels is convenient for him. He can be sneaky as fuck and a real little shit. That’s actually sort of one of their things.”
“Noted. Couldn’t you ask Moswen to come get Effie and take him back to your house on Awh’an? This mission has the potential to be dangerous.”
“I could ask, but Effie steers well clear of Moswen and frequently hides from him. I think Effie can sense that chaos effect of Moswen’s and wants nothing to do with it. I’d go so far as to say Effie is a little afraid of Moswen, and hy’prae are known for their fearlessness so it’s definitely something to take note of. And while it might sound easy to put Effie in a room and wait for Moswen to show to take him home, I swear, I can lock Effie in a room with nothing in it, and he’ll find somewhere to hide.
“I’m not exaggerating that either. I once locked him in my storage room when I had to clean up the mess he’d made when he brought home a fresh kill. The storage room is like a five-foot by six-foot box that had nothing in it but empty shelves. When I went to let him out an hour later, he wasn’t in there. To this day, I have no idea where he was but he couldn’t have gotten out as he can’t open locked doors. Well, at least not that type of locked door since it locked with a key.”
I wasn’t sure I quite believed that. Not that I thought Tohan was lying to me, but there had to be a reasonable explanation. Then again, I’d had Moswen take me to what basically amounted to an alternate reality using nothing but the power of his mind, which was staggering. Who was to say that hy’prae couldn’t pull off some sort of inter-dimensional phasing to get out of places they didn’t want to be in? I had no information that said they could do that, but by the same token, I had nothing that said they couldn’t do that either.
From the information Moswen had put in my head, there didn’t seem to be a lot known about hy’prae. They made very poor lab subjects for further study, either seeming to commit suicide if they couldn’t get free or killing the scientists and escaping the lab. Trying to force one to be a pet usually ended badly, with the hopeful owner becoming a meal for the hy’prae. Even for the people who had hy’prae that decided to be with them, like Tohan, information was provided by the person the hy’prae befriended, and it was more anecdotal than scientific. There was also the amount of time that a person had with a hy’prae, which tended to vary wildly, generally from hours to weeks, with a few reporting months. Hy’prae spending the amount of time Effie had with Tohan was very unusual, but not unheard of. The longest noted time period was slightly less than two years.
I soon picked up the controls of the shuttle, preparing for the landing. I logged into the security system of the asteroid and keyed in the access code I’d been given that would keep the lasers in orbit from firing on us. It was a temporary code and only good for the one use. Using the code again would have the lasers auto-target the shuttle and blow us from orbit without warning. Once the job was done, a second code would be sent to me via my secure military encrypted link, allowing us to leave without being vaporized.
Tohan stayed silent as I guided the shuttle to the docking hub. The shuttle touched down gently, and I began my shut-down procedures for the shuttle. Tohan unbuckled his harness and stood. I couldn’t help the chuckle when Effie stubbornly remained clinging to his legs. Tohan shot me a dirty look which only made another short laugh escape me. I couldn’t help it. He looked funny standing there with Effie hanging off his non-existent lap.
“Get off of me, Effie. I’m not carrying you, and I can’t walk like this. Stop being a dick. Just don’t wander off, okay?”
Effie refused to move for another minute or two before climbing down to the floor, possibly to prove that he’d decided to get off of Tohan on his own and not because Tohan told him to. He followed Tohan to the back of the shuttle, and I turned a little in my seat to watch for a moment. Effie was very nearly underfoot as Tohan started unstrapping the transport boxes until he seemed to realize what Tohan was doing.
I almost couldn’t believe it when Effie started working on undoing a strap on one of the boxes. He had a couple of false starts before he eventually figured out what to do from watching Tohan and having a little trial and error of his own. He took longer to undo a strap than Tohan, but I thought that was more to do with just learning how to do it than problems manipulating the strap. His legs seemed to be quite dexterous, and I wouldn’t have minded getting a closer look at them if I wasn’t nearly positive that Effie would try to eat my face. Comments in the reports regarding the complex puzzle-solving abilities and intelligence of the hy’prae in general didn’t appear to be overstated in the least. They might’ve been understated.
I finished my shut-down procedures and locked the shuttle console. If somebody was very determined, he or she could probably gain access to the shuttle but, without the codes to the orbiting lasers, wouldn’t get very far in it. Tohan would also be working on the problem very soon, making it even harder for the code breakers to do what they needed to in order to leave the asteroid. I left my seat and helped Tohan and Effie finish unstrapping the boxes.
“I’m going to go find a cart for us. Please stay in the shuttle while I’m gone. This is supposed to be a secure area, but prisoners have somehow gotten into the docking bay before. I have no doubts that they are fully aware that we’ve landed here. They might try something to either capture the shuttle or us or even both going by the previous experiences with the crews that were sent here. I’ll be as quick as I can, but stay alert for anything.”
Tohan nodded. “I’ll move as much as I can close to the door so we can chuck the stuff on the cart as soon as you pull up with it and then get the hell to the computer room.”
I smiled at Tohan grateful he understood the urgency to get loaded and into a truly secure area as quickly as possible. There weren’t a lot of boxes. Maybe a dozen medium-sized ones. I had no idea the weight of them, but even if they were relatively light, it would just be awkward, if not impossible, to try to carry all of the boxes at once. I opened the hatch and cautiously looked around. Nothing moved, but I still waited for a full minute, scanning the area, before heading out of the shuttle.
I knew the layout of the docking hub from a map uploading into my head and where the carts were supposed to be stored. That didn’t necessarily mean I’d find a cart there. I was hopeful though.
I found a cart before reaching the place where they were stored and it even showed that it was charged three-quarters of the way to full. Excellent. I powered it up and quickly headed back to the shuttle. There was still no sign of anything or anyone, which was good. True to his word, Tohan had piled all the boxes near the door and immediately began dumping them on the cart before I stopped. My lips twitched up in amusement at Effie shoving boxes close to the door when he realized what Tohan was doing. He was turning out to be quite the little helper. Interestingly, there was nothing in the information on hy’prae that said they helped out the person they befriended like Effie was currently doing, and I wondered why.
“Shake your tail, Warrick. Something is making the hairs on my tail puff up. I haven’t seen movement or heard anything, but Effie is twitchy, too. It’s not his being in a new place or me knowing that we’re in the super max prison in this corner of the galaxy. Something feels... off.”
As much as I was trained to discount gut feelings in favour of known facts and gathered intelligence, trusting in a gut feeling had paid off more than once for not only me but clients of mine as well. There was also the small but significant-to-me detail about the Awh’anise and their uncannily accurate instincts. Moving faster to get to a safe zone quicker was simply a smart move as well with no downside.
I helped Tohan get the rest of the boxes on the cart and took the extra two minutes to secure them. If we needed to really move, I didn’t want to risk losing the load from jouncing them around. There still wasn’t anything I could call suspicious in the docking hub. Whether it was Tohan’s words or the way Effie was sticking close to Tohan—body held low to the ground, his head swinging back and forth as if looking for something—I was starting to get a twitchy feel down my spine, too. I closed the shuttle door, keyed in the lock code, and gestured for Tohan to start pushing the cart towards the set of doors that would take us to the computer room while I scanned the area for potential threats.
We were halfway between the shuttle and exit when the ambush happened.
I grabbed Tohan and threw him to the ground behind the cart as things pinged off the smooth stone floor of the docking bay and whizzed over our heads. I hoped the transport boxes were sturdy because they were currently providing us with some cover from whatever type of projectile weapons the prisoners were using to pin us down. The prisoners were either incredibly bad shots, or they weren’t really trying to kill us. That said to me that they were more interested in capture than kill. Knowing that didn’t make me feel any better about being shot at.
My pistols were out and in my hands almost before Tohan hit the floor. I didn’t return fire as there was no solid target to shoot at yet. The gunfire was coming from several places at once, and it would take me half a minute to calculate where the greatest concentration was coming from before returning fire. I had no idea where Effie was, but I sincerely hoped he hadn’t taken a hit somewhere fatal in the initial burst of gunfire. Tohan was irritated with Effie for stowing away, but he clearly loved the hy’prae, and I’d hate for him to lose Effie.
I waited for a lull in the sounds of firing, my calculations complete, before I popped up and snapped off a few shots from the direction most of the fire seemed to be coming from. I knew I wouldn’t hit anyone, but I was hoping that they might re-think their assault plan if they knew they were outgunned. Laser fire had a very distinct sound that most people recognized. That hope died when a flurry of shots peppered the transport boxes in response to my shots.
“Fuck. Can you see anybody well enough to blow their head open?” Tohan asked as he crouched next to me.
“No. I’d say most of the prisoners here have more than a casual idea of how a shoot out works. If somebody does stick their head out a little too far, I will pulp their brains provided I see them do it. I don’t think killing us is the goal. Capture seems more likely given that they could’ve, at the very least, gravely wounded one or both of us when they first started to fire on us,” I said as I pulled a small mirror from a compartment in the torso of my chassis.
I extended the little wand on a mirror and slowly moved the edge of the mirror above the boxes, trying to spot our attackers without alerting them to what I was doing. I caught sight of part of one person, his or her leg sticking out a little past the column he or she was hiding behind. I brought the barrel of my laser up to the top of the box and sighted using the mirror. It was an awkward, backward position to hold my pistol and fire, but it wouldn’t be first time I’d done it. I squeezed off the shot, smiling when I took out most of the person’s knee. The woman screamed and fell forward as her leg gave way, and I fired again, boring a neat hole through her head before she hit the floor. Tohan stared at me with wide eyes before he grinned and kissed me hard and fast on the lips.
“That was fucking cooler than cool, Warrick.”
His hands slipped under the open edges of his pants for a moment, and I was about to mention that now would be a very inappropriate time to become sexual. Before I could say anything, I saw that he now held a short, skinny metal stick in each fist. He flicked his wrists hard and the sticks telescoped into three-foot-long staffs. He rapped the butt ends together, and sharp-looking, curved blades popped out. Tohan grinned at me when he saw my surprised expression.
“You didn’t seriously think I was going to dance my sweet ass into a super max prison where the prisoners have free-roaming of the place without some sort of weapon on me, did you? Yeah, I’m a computer nerd, but I’m also from a species that lives to fight from one of the more hostile planets in the universe. Most Awh’anise are armed with some type of weapon all the time. It’s a matter of survival even in the cities because you never know when the next swarm or herd of deadly whatever’s will invade and try to kill you.”
“I’m glad you’re prepared, more or less. Your batons won’t do much good against whatever they’re using to fire on us, which I’m sure you know, but if somebody gets close, feel free to bash their head in. Stay close to me, and I’ll do my best to get us out of here and to safety. I don’t know where Effie went.”
“Effie likely went to play. When the screaming starts, I suggest pushing the cart like crazy.”
Tohan just grinned at me. Within a few minutes, there was a shriek of pure terror that was cut off abruptly. A few seconds later, there was another scream along with a small spate of gunfire. A third scream sounded almost immediately after the second one stopped just as abruptly as the first. Tohan did something to retract one of his batons and slipped it back under his pants. He held the remaining baton in one hand and gripped the side of the cart with his other before he began to push the cart awkwardly to the exit doors.
“What’s going on?” I asked as I helped him push the cart without exposing either of us to the people trying to shoot us. I hated having to put up one of my pistols to be able to push the cart, but holding both and pushing and steering the cart at the same time was not going to work for me.
“Effie takes huge offense to people trying to hurt me. He knows the sound of gunfire and that people can die after being shot. He watches vids with me frequently and rarely misses my favourite show which usually involves a lot of gunfire, explosions, and sledge chases as well as the standard beat-the-snot-out-of-someone that you’ll see in virtually any Awh’anise show.
“Hy’pre are scary-good ambush predators. They can move very fast and almost soundlessly. Usually, you never even know one was stalking you until it pounces on you and injects you with the paralytic toxin they produce. Once that shit hits your system, you’re pretty much dead although you don’t need to actually be dead before the hy’prae starts eating you.”
“So Effie is... eating people?”
I knew they were deadly animals, but I hadn’t expected to actually see Effie eat anybody. It was a morbidly fascinating idea. Could he even eat a whole person? How long would that take? How did he eat things? Swallow it whole or tear chunks off it? There was no information on the eating habits of hy’prae in the data I had except for the note that they’d eat whatever they could catch and that they frequently took down prey much larger than they were.
“Probably not yet because he’s eliminating the threat he sees to me. He’ll want to come back for whatever he kills later. He might web them up and stash them somewhere so he can eat at his leisure, but he won’t take the time to do that now. He’s weirdly picky about how stuff gets webbed and will spend quite a bit of time doing it to his idea of just right. Don’t be freaked out if he brings me body parts. He’s sharing his kill with me. It’s gross, but it means he thinks I’m family or part of his raze.”
There were now intermittent screams and shouted curses mixed with gunfire. We were nearly at the exit when a man staggered in front of us, clutching his arm to his chest, his eyes wild. I could clearly see the white of bone through the strips of flesh hanging in tatters from his wrist to his elbow. With the amount of blood on the man’s clothes and what was still dripping from his wound, it was amazing he was even standing never mind moving around. He saw us a second before Effie leapt on his back from gods only knew where, knocking the man flat on the ground and making him squeal like a frightened, wounded prey animal; which I supposed he was as far as Effie was concerned.
Effie’s mouth opened wide enough that I could’ve easily fit my foot into it with room to spare. Backwards curved teeth that were serrated on the inner curve and the length of my baby finger lined Effie’s top and bottom jaws in addition to the very long fangs he sported. He clamped his mouth over the back of the man’s neck, gave his head a vicious side-to-side shake, and jerked his head back. I heard the unmistakable crunch of bone breaking. Blood sprayed upward as Effie tore out the back of the man’s neck, taking the entire section of spine at the neck, too. It was both fascinating and nauseating to watch and hear Effie chew what he’d torn free and then swallow. Well, I supposed that answered my question of how Effie ate things. Damned if he didn’t look very pleased with himself, too.
“Good boy, Effie. Come here. We have to go now. No. Leave it. You’re not dragging that with you. I said leave it. You can come back for it later. We need to go. Now,” Tohan said as he held out his hand to Effie.
Effie looked back and forth between the corpse and Tohan. He obviously wanted to stay and finish his meal, but just as obviously, he wanted to follow Tohan. He reluctantly left the body and approached Tohan, peeping at him. Tohan put his hand out pressing it on Effie’s head between his sets of eyes, holding the hy’prae at bay with some effort.
“I know I said you’re a good boy, but just no. I’m not letting you rub against me when you’re covered in gore. You need a bath before I’m going to rub your belly. Don’t run off. I don’t want you getting lost.”
Effie followed close to Tohan but didn’t touch him. He kept peeping at Tohan as we pushed the cart to the exit. Tohan ignored him. I had no idea how because the sound quickly got on my last nerve until I wanted to yell at Effie to shut the fuck up. We weren’t attacked again as we cleared the docking hub, Effie having effectively thrown our ambushers into complete confusion and disarray. That was actually pretty damn cool. While I technically hadn’t done my job in eliminating the threat to Tohan’s safety, I had kept Tohan safe.
Once through the doors, I entered a lock code and hoped that would buy us enough time to get to the computer room. Hopefully, the prisoners hadn’t had enough time from noticing the shuttle begin to descend to the docking bay and mobilizing the surprise attack to also have anybody lying in wait for us down the hallways we needed to use. I jogged alongside Tohan as he pushed the cart and kept an eye and my pistol out for any potential trouble. Effie had jumped on top of the boxes on the cart as soon as it picked up speed. His annoying peeping finally stopped, but now, he was warbling and rocking his body back and forth as we zipped down the hall.
“Is he okay?” I asked Tohan.
“He likes going for rides in the sledge. The faster the better. Scares the shit out of the other drivers when he hangs halfway out the window. That’s his go faster warble.”
Effie was turning out to be very interesting, potentially eating off my face aside. I directed Tohan to the computer room door and keyed in the code. I scanned the large, open room, but there was nothing inside except computers and some furniture. I motioned Tohan in, followed him, and keyed in the door code to close and lock it. I immediately punched in the override, changed the lock code, and pushed the thick metal manual lock bar into place. I moved quickly to the door at the far end of the room that led to the locker room and checked that for unwanted guests. Finding nobody, I relaxed and put my pistol away.
“We should be reasonably safe now. I’ve changed the lock code for the door, but it wouldn’t hurt anything if you could get into the security protocols and change the override codes. We can’t be sure that the prisoners don’t know what those are. Judging by their attack in the docking bay, they have at least some of the override codes that allow them access to places they shouldn’t have. The metal bar lock would buy us some time if they tried to get in here, but I’d feel better about our safety if you could get on changing the overrides right away for this room at least.”
“Sure. That’s easy. If you could start unloading the boxes, that’d be a help. I have to see if anything I need for my work was damaged by the gunfire. I’m hoping not, but I’m almost willing to lay money on something critical being damaged,” Tohan said as he dropped into a chair in front of a computer and started typing.
“Not a very positive outlook, Tohan,” I teased as I approached the cart.
Effie, realizing that his ride was over, jumped down from the boxes, ignored me completely, and began exploring the room. It wasn’t an overly large room. Maybe twenty by twenty feet. A good portion of the room along the walls was occupied by computer work stations. I knew the servers were located in another secure room not far away and that we’d need to check those soon as well. There was a small alcove with a counter, sink, beverage dispenser, and cooker. Next to that was a small table, a few chairs, and a sofa that had seen better days. A door on the far wall led to a small locker room with a shower, three sinks, and three toilets. Our home for the next couple of weeks was definitely lacking in some of the more comfortable aspects of even a cheap hotel room. But, it was reasonably safe from being breeched by the prisoners, which was more important to me than a bed and five hundred channels worth of porn.
I unstrapped the boxes and began sorting them into two piles, damaged boxes in one pile and undamaged in another. Fortunately, the weapons the prisoners managed to cobble together didn’t seem to have a lot of power behind them, and most of the damage seemed confined to the boxes that took the brunt of the shots on the one side of the cart. There were two boxes on the side we’d been hiding behind with a hole going in one side but no exit hole. I finished sorting the boxes almost right when Tohan declared the overrides changed. Out of twelve boxes, eight were damaged to varying degrees.
“Whoever is doing their hacking is going to have a heck of a time figuring out the codes unless they speak Awh’anise, Laiokian, Vylfian, and Naemo. The odds of that are very, very, very small. Basically, they’d need to be someone from my immediate family, and last I checked, none of them had been sentenced here.”
I waved my hand at the boxes. “These took some damage. Those appear to be fine. Shall we get to seeing what we’re going to have to live without?”
Tohan nodded, and we began opening the damaged boxes. I was only on the second of the damaged boxes when Tohan swore loudly. I looked up to see him throw a mangled package in disgust back into the box he’d opened.
“I take it that’s not good?”
“It’s our part of our food supply. Easily half the packages have been torn open, and there’s some scorching on a bunch of others. I’ve no idea what they were firing at us, but it didn’t play nice with the food packets, specifically the self-heat ones. We’ll salvage what we can obviously, but our food options just went way down. With Effie here, even if we’d had all the food undamaged, it still would’ve been a bit tight. Effie is a bit of an eating machine.
“On the plus side, Effie will eat anything. I know he’ll want to go get the prisoners he killed, and he’ll be more than happy eating them, so we probably don’t need to worry about his food as long as he can get his kills or hunt new stuff down. I dunno about you, but I’m really not into eating the prisoners Effie killed. I mean, if I were in a fight and went feral, under the right circumstances, it might happen that I’d start to eat the person I beat, but those would be some pretty extreme circumstances and not at all about eating because I was hungry.”
“Your people eat your fallen foes?” I hadn’t come across that nugget of information yet.
“Not anymore. Well, not usually. It has to be a really intense situation like if your shu’anad is mortally threatened or something. Throw-backs like Moswen, they still do it more frequently than your typical Awh’anise, but even then, it’s not a common thing. I don’t even know anybody who’s done that.”
“Good to know.” I knew the reputation of the Awh’anise as savage and very skilled fighters was well deserved, but I hadn’t realized that they were cannibalistic.
“You’re not going to be all weird around me now, are you? I swear to you, I’ve never even been tempted to eat anyone. I’ll swallow your come, and I don’t mind eating out my partner’s ass, but that’s as far as I’ll go.”
“No, I’m not going to be ‘weird’ around you. You have to admit that’s not something you typically drop into a conversation.”
Tohan shrugged. “Thought you already knew about that from Moswen’s data dump.”
“I’m still processing. It’s a vast amount of information on a staggering number of topics. I’ll tell you when I’ve finished.”
“Okay. Cool. Let’s finish up with these boxes, tally up how fucked we are, and make a plan to get as close to unfucked as we can.”
We finished with the boxes fairly quickly. It could’ve been worse, but not by a lot. One of the inflatable pads was riddled with holes and utterly useless. The other had two holes, but I could repair it with pieces of the garbage one and some glue. The blankets had some holes as well but were still serviceable. Tohan was rightly pissed that some of the computer equipment, while packed in padded boxes, was damaged beyond repair. Another box containing food was in the same condition as the first box Tohan had opened, and the third box of food was, by some miracle, completely fine.
“I’d guess we have about a week of food if we’re careful. Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about water since we have a beverage dispenser in here. By the way, don’t drink any of the water out of the taps as it’s not potable. While the sofa doesn’t look very comfortable, it’s better than sleeping on the bare floor. Unless you want the inflatable pad? Technically, I don’t need anything to sleep on. I can lock the joints of my chassis and sleep standing up without much discomfort. How much harder is your job going to be without the computer things that are damaged?”
“Not too much harder. Some things are going to be tedious though, which is why I requested that equipment,” Tohan said with a heavy sigh. “As for sleeping arrangements, I’m cool with whatever. I don’t mind sharing a bed with you either if you want to. And I do mean for sleeping, not just fucking. Just be advised that Effie likes to sleep wrapped around my back, and he’s like a miniature sun as far as heat goes. I have no idea how he’ll react to us sharing a bed if you want to. The situation has never come up before. What’re we gonna do about the food for us?”
“There are food dispensers spread around the station, including ones in the prisoners quarters. Problem is food gets doled out via retinal scan but we’re not in the system. You could probably hack your way around it, but I’d rather not be out in the open and exposed for longer than we need to be trying to get food and then running back here with it. Employees are required to bring their own food as the station only makes enough for the prisoners, so there’re no food dispensers in the secure area of the station. We’d be exposed to possible attack from the inmates if we tried to use their food dispensers.
“There is a hydroponics section. That would probably be a better target for us. You should be able to access the security codes for that fairly easily, and since it is in the secure area, the inmates shouldn’t have gotten into it. Yet. Drones do all the work tending the plants, harvesting them, and preparing them for the meals that the prisoners get. If someone living goes in there, he or she needs clearance, or the drones will incapacitate the person and hold him or her until someone with the proper clearance comes and gets the individual. With no personnel on the station, the drones would hold the trespasser indefinitely, and there is a real threat of the person dying from lack of food or water since their program is only to hold not feed and give water to their captive.”
“Getting access to hydroponics doesn’t sound too hard. I’ll have to see just what the security is like and give us clearance to be in there, but I don’t anticipate a huge problem. When did you want to do that? I’m assuming before we reach a critical stage for our food.”
“Yes. I suggest we tap into whatever cameras are functioning and try to get an idea of what the inmates are up to. Cameras are frequently down or destroyed in areas where the inmates are free to roam however they will. The last security report had the cameras functional in most of the secured area, but some of the cameras were offline for unknown reasons.”
“Sounds like a plan. Know your enemy and all that. Effie has been quiet a little too long, and I don’t see him. I’m going to go find him, hose him down of the blood on him, and then see what I can see. Unless you can access the cameras?”
“I can. I’ll get started on that. Effie’s probably in the locker room since I don’t see him in here.”
Tohan headed for the locker room while I went to the nearest computer. I pushed the chair out of the way, not sure if it could take my weight. I looked like I weighed about one hundred and eighty-five pounds; however, while I was in my preferred chassis, I weighed a total of three hundred and twelve pounds. That was actually a huge improvement over the standard cyborg chassis of four hundred and twenty-six pounds. Add in the fifty to seventy-five pounds of the cyborg, depending on size and sex, and the total weight was right around the five hundred pound mark, which sometimes presented problems when sitting on standard chairs or being on things that weren’t meant to hold that sort of load. I bent my knees and locked them in place so that it looked like I was sitting on a chair and started clicking through the various pages until I reached the cameras.
“Effie built himself a web in the middle toilet stall. No, I have no idea why he made a web there. At least it’s out of the way. It fucking sucks to walk into one of his webs. He’s sleeping now. Figured out what the sound was in the shuttle when I found him in the stall. It was him snoring. He doesn’t do it a lot, which is why I couldn’t place it right away. What have you found on the cameras? Anything useful?” Tohan asked as he peered over my shoulder.
“Not really. The secure area cameras aren’t that helpful, and of the few that are working where the inmates live, there’s nothing moving. It’s a bit strange actually. I’d expect to see at least a little movement when I checked quickly through the last several hours, but there is absolutely nothing moving within camera range.”
Tohan hummed, moved the recording backward and forward in time, and eventually reached around me, typing quickly and one-handed. He sighed, hit a few more keys, and the still picture I’d been looking at flickered and went dark. I turned my head to look at Tohan.
“What just happened?”
“I cut the loop feed to that camera. The camera isn’t working, but someone went to a bit of trouble to make it look like it was. That’s probably not good.”
“No, I don’t think that’s good either,” I agreed as I stared at the black screen.
I got a gut feeling that there was going to be quite a few unsettling things to discover about the prison over the next two weeks.