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Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Issue 30: To Infinity and Beyond

Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Smashwords Edition
Copyright 2011 Shousetsu Bang*Bang

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the contributors and editors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy or visit our website at http://shousetsubangbang.com. Thank you for your support.

Shousetsu Bang*Bang Issue 30 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Based on a work at http://shousetsubangbang.com

Table of contents

Don’t Panic, by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)

IN THE LINE OF FIRE, by Zack (ザックス),

illustrated by 2013

The Captain Said, by Kaerutobi Ike (蛙跳び池)

Again and Again a Beginning, by Takiguchi Aiko (滝口アイコ)

Doing What They Do, by Aoime Kouchou (あおいめこうちょう)

Discoveries and Promises, by hcolleen

c:\rano.bergerac, by shukyou (主教),

illustrated by sparks

———

Electronica, by scistor_sizzer

First Contact, by queen_marshed

Front cover by millibayley

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/wiki/index.php?title=Issue_30

Don’t Panic

by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)

Kia was in the middle of making breakfast when he realized the world was going to end in a little more than an hour. He’d already burned his toast, too; it was shaping up to be a hell of a morning.

His ship’s primary display screen was lit up like Christmas, alerting him with every flash of the approaching fleet. Armed to the teeth and heading straight for earth, a thousand ships strong. It was always possible that they were friendly; anything in the universe was possible. Sometimes you got a bag of jellybeans with no licorice-flavored ones. Sometimes a fleet of interstellar battleships just wanted to say ‘hello’. Kia, however, trusted his self-preservation instincts more than he trusted the infinite variations of the universe. Better safe than disintegrated, he’d unfortunately literally did always say.

He could have his ship warmed up and be out of Earth’s orbit in ten minutes. He just had to make a little detour first. He left his ship — which he kept parked on top of an apartment building in the Lower East Side, as part of an arrangement he had with his landlord, Manny, who was a nice gentleman originally from Arcturus — and headed out into the street. There wasn’t time to walk where he needed to go, and the subway would take too long. He headed to the corner and watched as yellow cabs passed him by, all off-duty or filled with passengers. Kia sighed and reached into his bag to pull out a long cylindrical object with a button on the end. He didn’t like to use it often — it was a little showy — but desperate times called for desperate gadgets. He pressed the button and a loud whistle came out of the device.

Three cabs pulled to a screeching halt at the curb he was standing at. Kia picked the one that was a hybrid — he’d gotten drunk with the guy who’d invented that technology, a really slick cat from Proxima Centauri, loved antique pornography and cheap gin — and slid in the back, leaving the other two cabbies vaguely wondering why they were kicking out their passengers.

“Varick and Charlton, and fast, the world’s about to end,” he said. The cabbie laughed.

“The world ends every day, sir!” The cabbie said as he started to drive.

“True, true,” Kia said, and nervously checked his watch, which was synced up to his ship. “Thousands of birds fall out of the sky for no reason. Colonies of bacteria a million strong are wiped out when I wash my hands. It’s the little apocalypses that get to you after a while, isn’t it?”

“I try not to let it get me down,” the cabbie said, a smile on his lips as he watched Kia shifting in the back seat. “Life goes ever on!”

“Sure, sure, good attitude. It’ll definitely go on for the next…” Kia looked at his watch again. “Forty-three minutes.”

The cabbie frowned. “Are you serious, sir?”

“Serious as a heart attack,” Kia said, and then met the cabbie’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. “Actually, more serious than that; people recover from those all the time.” He let out a sigh and looked out the window, then got his wallet and emptied out all the bills in it into the front seat. “Here, take it, just start running red lights.” The cabbie looked in his eyes for a long time. Kia didn’t flinch, at least not until he was pushed against the back of the seat when the cabbie slammed down on the gas.

“Thank you, and I’m sorry about your loss!” he said when he got out of the cab at his destination. He bounded down the street and into an office building, bypassing the front desk with a little shout of “emergency!” and ducking right into a closing elevator.

“Hi,” he said to the people in the elevator with him, as he stood with his back to the door, facing them. “Good morning, I hope everyone is having a nice day. For now.” He smiled at them. “Hi.” The door opened on his floor, and he ran out in a spiral of limbs.

“Simon!” he yelled out as he wove his way through the maze of desks and cubicles. “Simon!”

Simon poked his head up out of his cubicle. “Kia? What on earth are you doing here?”

Kia skidded to a stop in front of him and grabbed his hand, intertwining their fingers. “I need you to come with me right now. It is very… very important.”

Simon looked back at his desk. He was holding a cup of coffee in the hand Kia wasn’t gripping. “Can it wait? I just got in, I’ve got to check my email…”

“If you check your email now you will regret it for the rest of your life.” Kia checked his watch. “Which will be a really rough twenty minutes, let me tell you.”

Simon looked at him and Kia didn’t blink. He’d met Simon three years ago at a Halloween party; Kia had been dressed as a giant vibrator, but Simon thought he was a robot. Kia’d spent the next twenty minutes explaining all the reasons why his costume would be a terrible robot costume, like the fact that he was clearly battery operated. Simon had been dressed as James Bond. He’d looked very handsome in the tux. Kia couldn’t leave without him.

Simon set his cup of coffee down on the desk. “Okay, but if this is nonsense again you’re buying me a muffin.”

“It’s never nonsense. I’m a very serious person,” Kia said, and pulled Simon along by the hand back out of the building and into the street.

Kia looked at his watch and hissed breath. “No time, no time,” he said, and let go of Simon’s hand to dig his keys out of his bag. “I guess there’s no choice…” He hit a button on one of his keys. It made a little ‘chirp-chirp!’ noise and Kia waited, watching the sky.

“Ah… what, exactly, are we doing?” Simon said.

“Waiting for my ship,” Kia said.

“Your ship?”

A shadow passed over the two of them as a low humming sound filled the air, and Kia’s ship slowly lowered itself to the ground in very flagrant violation of parking rules. This was really showy, but he supposed it wouldn’t matter in… really no time at all, he really had to stop checking his watch.

“My ship,” Kia said, and opened the hatch. “Get in, the world’s about to end.”

“The world?” Simon said, his voice small. “This world?”

“This very one,” Kia said, and put an arm to the small of Simon’s back to guide him into the ship. He went in without resistance; he’d always been an agreeable sort.

“I wish I’d brought my coffee,” he said as the hatch closed behind both of them and Kia set the ship to escape orbit.

Kia’s ship rose silently and quickly out of Earth’s atmosphere, inertial dampeners keeping the movement to little more than a hum they could feel in their shoes. Simon just stood behind him, mouth hanging open, as Kia steered the ship to safely outside of earth’s orbit. When that was done, he breathed a sigh of relief and came up out of the pilot’s chair to deal with his passenger.

“So!” he said, clapping his hands together.

Simon was blinking owlishly at the screens and displays around him. “Is this… a spaceship?”

“Yes, it is a spaceship,” Kia said. It was understandable that the Earthman would take a little bit to adjust. He’d always wanted to tell him about this part of his lifestyle, but he’d never found the right moment to bring it up.

“Why do you have a spaceship?” Simon seemed to decide that all of the blinking lights and flashing displays were too much for him, and just focused on Kia.

“Because I’m actually from Alpha Orionis.” Simon looked at him blankly. “It’s a star system. About six hundred and forty light years away, as the crow flies.” Simon blinked in slow motion. “I’m an alien, basically.”

“Oh,” Simon said, and looked down at the floor. “So, you’re not a freelance journalist after all?”

“Oh, I am,” Kia said, smiling. “I get pretty regularly work from several intergalactic publications. Mostly human interest stories.” The Associated Galactic Press loved stories about the baffling details of human nature, like why people said things like “ATM machine” and “PIN number.” Kia guessed he was going to have to find a new beat soon.

“Human… oh. I see.” Simon looked around himself again. “Why am I on your spaceship?”

“Because I wanted to save you.”

Simon frowned at him for a long while. “From what? The ten o’clock staff meeting?”

Oh, this was the awkward part. “No, uh, from the end of the world.”

Simon took in a slow breath through his nostrils. “In a ‘we elect a Republican president’ sort of way?”

“As in an explosion, new astroid belt sort of way,” Kia said. No reason to beat around the apocalypse, as it were. Simon staggered a little and grabbed a hold of the back of the pilot’s seat.

“No. No, this is not happening,” Simon muttered, shaking his head.

Kia had never understood the human habit of denying the really obviously quite true. He looked at the ship’s console, which was still fluttering the alerts that had set him off on this. “It’s happening. Well, it will happen in… just a few minutes.” Kia thought it was probably in best taste not to give him a completely accurate countdown time. Might make him nervous.

“I need to sit down…” Simon said, and his knees were clearly buckling. Kia swooped in to put an arm around his waist and guided him to a seat in the lounge, just a little further back from the cockpit. Kia kept a hand on his shoulder, rubbing his back in a way he was pretty sure humans found soothing.

“Believe me when I say there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Nothing anyone can do.” He made a little explosive gesture with his free hand. “Invading fleet. Bad news big time.”

Simon had his face buried in his hands. “God, this isn’t… this can’t be…” He continued muttering on like that, and Kia supposed he should do something more than just pat him on the back. It wasn’t every day a man got to be the last of his kind. Kia snapped his fingers as the thought occured to him — Simon was the English brand of human, and he’d written a whole article of their ways of dealing with crisis. He left Simon to go deeper into the ship, and returned a few minutes later.

“I got you some tea,” he said, holding out the steaming mug to Simon. “It’s Sleepytime.”

Simon looked up at him with reddened eyes, blinked very slowly once, then took the mug. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and took a small sip.

Oh, what did you say in situations like this? Kia hated an awkward silence — well, it was mostly silent except for the soft bleeping of the countdown until the fleet arrived. “But… hey! It’s not so bad!” Simon glared at him at that, but Kia pressed on. “There’s a whole universe out there! This isn’t the end of the world!” He paused. “Well, okay, it’s the end of your world, but not, uh…” Simon was staring bleakly into his Sleepytime. Kia decided to try patting him on the back again. “There, there.”

“When?” Simon asked, his voice rough and aching. “When is it going to happen?”

Kia glanced at the display. “In about one minute and forty-three seconds.”

Simon put the mug down and put his head back in his hands. Kia supposed at a moment like this, the respectful thing to do would be to remain quiet. He was sad about how the day was going, too; he’d always liked Earth, long enough to spend the past fifteen years of his life there. He liked humans, as strange and inexplicable and goofy that they could be. He’d really miss them. That was why he’d made sure to take his favorite one with him.

His ship’s console changed its display, and Kia left Simon to go see what the results of the apocalypse were. “…huh,” he said, as he examined the readout. He read it a few more times, just to be sure, then turned back to Simon. “Um, good news?”

Simon dropped his hands to let Kia see his face, his brows drawn together in pain. “What could possibly be good news right now, Kia?”

This was really just embarrassing. “I… may have slightly overestimated the threat.”

Simon stared at him, as though Kia’s words were taking the time to physically walk across the ship and climb into his ear. “To… what degree?”

“It turns out the fleet was a lot smaller than I originally thought!”

“How… much smaller?”

Kia held up his fingers about two inches apart. There had been a thousand of them and they had been very well armed, but Kia had just made a mistake in his reading of scale. Really, to be fair, Kia couldn’t have been expected to notice certain details early in the morning, before he’d even had breakfast.

Simon held up his fingers the same distance apart, then stared down at them as though he might see a fleet of battleships within them right there. Doubtful; Kia’s ship had very excellent environmental filters. “That was the fleet?”

“It attacked a beehive in Spain.”

Simon closed his fingers together, crushing the imaginary fleet, and looked up at Kia. “Is that… code?”

“No,” Kia said. “It attacked a beehive. In Spain.”

Simon looked down at the floor, and then brought his eyes back up to Kia. “Was it…” He took in a breath. “A bad beehive?”

Kia had never been an expert on intergalactic politics. He couldn’t tell you anything about the motivations of most of the species in the galaxy, let alone why any one of them would decide to go to war. “Let’s just say it was,” was the easiest way to answer Simon’s question.

Simon was straightening up a little more. “And they’re done? It’s over?”

“It’s over,” Kia said, and checked his ship’s screen again. “The bees won.”

Simon frowned again. “The bad bees?”

“Well, there were heavy worker casualties.”

Simon rubbed a hand over his face. “So… good?”

“Earth is safe, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“It’s safe?” Simon let out a little hitching breath, something that couldn’t make up its mind if it wanted to be a laugh or a sob. “Everything?”

“Everything except those Spanish worker bees,” Kia said. “Abejas de trabajador, I guess.”

Simon was up out of his chair and grabbing Kia by the biceps. “Everything is okay? Do you promise?”

Kia swayed back on his feet a little, but grabbed Simon by the elbows. “I promise! Everything is fine!” He grimaced a little and gave Simon his best apologetic face. “I’m sorry I got you so scared, but you have to admit… better to be overcautious just outside of orbit than blown up like a bunch of bees.”

Simon closed his eyes and took a very deep breath. “Okay. Okay. Where… where are we now?”

“…Just outside orbit. Like I just said.”

Simon looked around the small interior of the ship. “Are there… windows?”

“Oh!” Kia smacked his forehead and laughed. “Of course you’d want to see, silly me. Hang on.” He tapped a few keys on his console and the sides of the ship faded into transparency, giving the two of them a clear view of the Earth, a pretty blue bauble in the inkiness of space.

Simon grabbed a hold of his arm and Kia slipped it around him, steadying him again as he looked a little unstable. “Pretty good view, huh?” he said, but he wasn’t looking at the Earth. He’d seen the Earth. He’d never seen that expression of stunned wonder on his favorite human before. It was nice.

“It’s… amazing,” Simon said in barely more than a breath. His eyes looked a little wet. Kia had never figured out the rhyme or reason of human tears, so he just decided to not acknowledge it. He rubbed Simon’s hip a little.

“I guess I could have shown you earlier, but… there was the whole secret alien thing.”

Simon wiped a hand over his face and sucked in a sharp breath. “This is…” He glanced over at Kia, but he couldn’t keep his eyes away from the sight of the Earth below for longer than a second. “This is like… your house is on fire. You have time to grab one thing. So you grabbed me.”

Kia nodded. “That’s a pretty accurate metaphor.”

Simon turned to look at him again. Kia could see the Earth as a spot of blue reflected in his eyes. “Me.”

He just smiled at Simon. “Yeah, you.”

“Why me?”

Kia would have thought the answer to that question was obvious. But humans sometimes had a little difficulty with the obvious. Like, he was pretty obviously not from Chicago, but no one had ever bothered to ask about the truth. So maybe Simon had never really looked before. Maybe he hadn’t seen.

Kia smiled at him softly, took Simon’s face between his two hands, and kissed him. Simon took a moment to respond, whole universes were born and died while he hesitated, but then he was kissing Kia back.

“You’re my favorite human in the world,” he said against Simon’s mouth. Simon let out a little laugh, one that Kia could feel against his lips, and that was just so nice.

“You know there’s six billion others you don’t even know, yes?”

“I figure they can’t be as good,” Kia said, brushing his fingers along the nape of Simon’s neck, smiling as the touch made him shiver.

“So… an alien… just kissed me… in space,” he said, laughing a little at the end of it.

“That’s pretty accurate, yeah.”

Simon let out a long breath and swayed forward to rest his head on Kia’s shoulder. “Today is… different.”

Kia laughed and let his arms settle around Simon, stroking up and down his back a little. “Well, I hope so. If you’ve been kissing other aliens in space without telling me, I’ve honestly misjudged our friendship.”

Simon sighed against Kia’s neck. “Are there other aliens? I mean, on Earth? Minus the ones that just got…” He let out a semi-hysterical little giggle. “Beeten?”

Puns unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s point of view) were almost unheard of on Kia’s homeworld, so he had no greater reaction than to say, “Oh, of course. Plenty.” He kept running his fingers up and down Simon’s spine, like petting an animal — although he supposed with the whole cross-species thing, that wasn’t too unfair of a comparison. “Couple of people in politics. Actors. Random guys, too. Like Marco who runs that diner we go to, he’s from Rigel.”

Simon lifted his head up. “He came to earth to run a diner?”

Kia shrugged. “Everyone’s got dreams, man.”

Simon laughed and shook his head. “And you’re a journalist. Who writes about humans.” He gave Kia a big smile. “Do you ever write about me?”

“Oh, no.”

Simon frowned a little. “Why not?”

“Well… from an outside standpoint, like, a galactic standpoint, you aren’t very interesting.” Simon frowned more and Kia squeezed him tight. “But I personally find you very interesting!”

Simon feigned a pout for a moment or two, then started smiling. “Enough to kiss me.”

Kia grinned and let his hand slip a little under Simon’s shirt, his fingers touching the bare skin of the small of his back. “Enough to do a lot of things to you.”

Simon’s eyes widened and his eyebrows crept up towards his hairline. “…Alien things?”

“Well… I guess since they involve me and you they’d technically be alien,” Kia said. “Since we are both aliens, depending on your point of view.”

Simon snorted as he smiled. “I’m not an alien.”

“You are to me!”

“Of course to you, you’re an alien!”

Kia just shook his head. “See, you have to get some perspective. Broader perspective.”

Simon leaned in to him and looked out the transparent walls to Earth below. “I can see Australia. All of Australia. That’s… a very broad perspective.”

Kia traced his initials with his fingertip against the base of Simon’s spine. “You are but one kind of alien in a great big universe.”

Simon laughed and rested his head on Kia’s shoulder again, his eyes close. “But I’ve got my green card. I’m naturalized.”

“Still an alien,” Kia said, lifting his hand to brush his fingers along Simon’s jaw. “Just like me.”

“I guess I am,” Simon said softly against his neck. After a moment, he huffed a small breath and nodded his head, like he was deciding something, and straightened up. “Honestly, this is all starting to overwhelm me and I think if I think about this for too long I’ll have an utter screaming freakout, so I’d like to go back to the thing I’ve liked most about today, which was the part where you were kissing me.”

“You’re a very smart human. I’ve always liked that about you,” Kia said, and kissed him again.

As come-on lines went, Kia supposed that “Would you like to see the bedroom on my spaceship?” was actually fairly failproof. If he’d been thinking more sharply, he’d have tried it much sooner. Simon had heard it and become unbuttoned in more ways than one, and soon he was pushing him down into the bed as they kissed again and again. Kia laughed a little and flailed a hand out to find the buttons near the wall, and then the walls in his quarters were fading to transparency just like the others, so that the moon and the stars and all of the heavens could see them getting to first base.

Simon lifted his head to look out at it again, and laughed. “Insane, it’s completely insane.” He kissed Kia’s mouth a few dozen more times, then said, “You know, you didn’t have to wait for the end of the world to kiss me. I’d’ve gone for it under perfectly mundane circumstances as well.”

“Well, you have to admit, it worked pretty well,” Kia said, and then started shaking his head when Simon scowled at him. “Which was not my intention when I brought you here! I swear, I really thought the world was ending! I haven’t faked an apocalypse since I was a kid!”

“I want to hear that story,” Simon said as he slipped a hand under Kia’s shirt, brushing fingers up his stomach. “Later.”

“Oh, I’ve got a bunch of them,” he said as he started unbuttoning Simon’s shirt. “All kinds of crazy space shit. You’ll love it.” He put his hand flat on Simon’s chest to feel his heart beating. Just a single beat, quick and steady. That was wild. He sat up from the bed, firmly putting Simon in his lap as he got him out of his shirt. He took Simon’s arm gently in his hand and kissed along his bicep, trailing his lips down to the bend of his elbow. He skimmed his teeth against the skin there and licked along the center, slow and wet. He could do this all day.

Simon did not seem impressed, though. “Ah, Kia? Why are you making out with my elbow?”

Kia lifted his head up. “Because… oh. Does that not… do it for you?” Kia didn’t exactly have any sexual experience with humans to speak of. It’d been a pretty lonely time, but, well, he’d been holding a bit of a torch.

Simon shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Does it… do it for you?”

Kia snorted. “Well, yeah!” He gave Simon’s elbow-pit one last little kiss and straightened up. “Okay, so what parts are good on humans?”

Simon blushed a little. “Well… the neck is always a good place to start…”

“The neck?” Kia tilted his head and brushed his fingers along the curve of Simon’s throat. “That’s such a vulnerable area, though.”

“Yes, ah…” Simon’s eyes closed and he shivered. “Ah. I suppose that is some of the appeal.”

Kia just started grinning. “Man, I love you humans, you don’t make any sense.” He wrapped his arms around Simon’s waist and started kissing his neck like he would the most appealing of elbows. He could feel Simon’s pulse, that one-heart beat, under his tongue. That was just insane, and made Kia’s own heartbeats go into syncopation. Simon was making these noises too, sighs and gasps and hiccups of breath right into Kia’s ear.

“So, so… God,” Simon gasped. His hand found Kia’s where it rested at his hip, and his fingers crept under the sleeve. “So then this is what works for you?” he said, and slid his fingers up Kia’s forearm to stroke his fingertips just so gently at the inside of his elbow. Kia grunted hard and buried his face in Simon’s neck as the feeling zinged through his body.

“I like you,” he said breathlessly into Simon’s collarbone. “You’re really clever.”

“For a human?” Simon asked as he put his hands under Kia’s shirt to pull it off over his head.

“For an anything,” he said, and kissed Simon again as he went for both arms with stroking fingertips, the man was clearly secretly a completely insane obscene sex genius. He went for the other side of Simon’s neck to see if it got him to make any different noises. It did. Fantastic.

Simon was pressing his thumbs into Kia’s elbows, and Kia was pretty sure he could do that until the heat death of the universe and he’d be happy, but then Simon moaned and grabbed his face to kiss him hard. “Okay,” he panted when he pulled away. “If there are any alarming differences between our two species below the belt, I’d like to be informed now before we go any further.”

Kia was feeling pretty enthused below the belt at the moment. “No, pretty much the same, as far as I know.”

Simon smiled at him. “No tentacles or pseudopods?”

“I believe you Earthmen call it a ‘penis,'” he said, making the air quotes with his fingers, and then Simon was laughing and undoing both of their pants, undertaking a great amount of wiggling and tossing aside of fabric until he was back in Simon’s lap again, this time the both of them naked.

Simon looked down at their laps. “Yes, that looks fairly familiar,” he said, then gave Kia a nervous little smile. “Technically, you know, this is my first time with another man.”

Kia’s hands trailed from Simon’s hips to grip his rear, and Simon sighed at that. He was getting a suspicion that their two species had fairly shared interests when it came to points south of the border. That was awesome. “Technically, I’m not a man. I mean, my species has three genders.”

Simon opened his mouth to explore this detail, then closed it again and shook his head. “Tell me later. You’re close enough to a man for me.”

Kia leaned in to nuzzle Simon’s lips with a smile. “And you’re my first human, so this is a pretty cool educational experience all around.”

“My horizons have been very broadened today, yes,” Simon said into his mouth, and then slid the extra few inches forward so their cocks rubbed together. “Ah.” Yes, it seemed their anatomy was very compatible. Kia gave a private thumbs-up to the infinite variations of the universe, and reached a hand down between them to wrap a hand around Simon’s cock. “Ah!” Simon gasped, and then mirrored Kia’s actions. This cross-cultural exchange was going very well, he thought.

They stroked each other slowly at first; Kia was unsure if what he liked to do to himself late at night on an empty spaceship was the same thing that would work on Simon, but gauging from his reactions, from the way he got hotter and harder in his hand when he twisted his wrist, the way he squirmed on his lap and shivered out Kia’s name, some techniques were universal. Their wrists bumped together as they fell into a rhythm. Kia still thought the whole neck deal was wild, but he had to admit, it was very easy to access in this position. He licked a line up Simon’s throat, stopping just below his ear, and his hand got a little slick as Simon grunted. The human body, man; he was really looking forward to getting a more intimate knowledge of it.

Simon was getting a more intimate knowledge of Kia’s body already. He pushed him back into the bed, straddling his thighs. While his one hand was tight on Kia’s cock, he let the other trailed down Kia’s arm, thumb pressing into his bicep where it flexed with each stroke of his hand, the cool flats of his nails skimming the soft skin inside of his arm. Kia just started smiling as the warm feelings built inside of him, watching Simon watch him. It shouldn’t have taken an apocalypse to get them together like this. He should have stolen Simon away in his ship that first night, when he was wearing his tux and drinking martinis, and shown him the universe.

“Don’t stop, please,” Simon panted, thrusting into Kia’s fist. There would be time for the universe later. Kia stroked him harder, tightly jerking his wrist in a way that seemed to work quite well.

“Not even if the world ends” he said, and brushed his fingers down the center of Simon’s throat.

“God, you… ridiculous…” Simon ended that statement in a long low grunt as he came, splashing Kia’s hand and his own stomach. When he started to soften in his grip, Kia brought his hand to his mouth for a curious taste. Salty? Now that was weird. But then Simon had caught his breath and was skimming his nails down the inside of Kia’s forearm. “Amazing. Wonderful. Now you.”

“Oh, cool, now me,” he said, and just smiled as Simon’s hand slid over his cock steady and quick. He rested his hand over Simon’s heart again and felt it pounding, one powerful drum, and looked out at all the stars above them. It was good to give the universe a show now and then. He closed his eyes and came with the thrum of Simon under his palm and the shape of the Earth behind his eyelids.

When he opened his eyes, Simon was frowning down at him. “Something wrong?” he asked.

“It’s… it’s pink,” he said, and Kia followed his gaze to where Simon was staring, at the pool of bright pink come drying on his belly. Kia laughed.

“Yeah, I always figured that one might give me away.” Kia snaked an arm around Simon’s hips and pulled him down to lie on the bed next to him.

“Yes, that you were either an alien or that you had a terrible disease.” He sighed and wrapped his arms around Kia, cuddling in close to him to breathe against his neck. They were quiet like that for a while, all manner of heartbeats returning to normal. “So… what now?”

“Well… it’ll be a little awkward when we go back to Earth, since I caused a bit of a scene, but I think I can manage to cover things up.” Kia knew a guy in the mayor’s office; he wasn’t an alien or anything. He just knew a guy.

“Do we… have to go back to Earth?”

Kia lifted his head up. “Don’t you want to?”

“Well, I suppose I’d like to pack a bag and maybe put in a leave of absence at work, maybe call my Aunt Hortence and say goodbye, but…” Simon looked up and gestured to the stars. “I don’t know if I can go back to a cubicle after… this.”

“But Earth is saved. Everything is okay.”

“That’s very good. I’m very happy about that. But I have to say the stress of the situation has made me think I’d rather like a vacation.”

Kia looked at him, and then out at Earth, that stupid planet he’d grown so fond of. But he’d been there for a while. Perhaps it was time for a little holiday after all. He brushed Simon’s hair out of his face. “Do you want to see the universe with me, Simon?”

“Well, at least some of it.”

“I know a very good fraction of a fraction of a slim percentage we can see,” he said, and leaned in to kiss Simon. “And I can’t wait to show it to you.”

Really, it was the most successful apocalypse Kia had ever experienced.

Special thanks to ladysisyphus for providing, like, half of Simon’s dialogue. I’ll buy you a drink at the Bar at the Edge of the Galaxy, darling.

IN THE LINE OF FIRE

by Zack (ザックス)
illustrated by 2013

“You’ve been made.”


Will swallowed, fighting down the urge to meet Cosmo’s eyes — knowing they’d be mocking and elusive in a way they’d never been in reality.

“Don’t you recognize him, partner?” Cosmo continued, walking in slow circles around the dealer. “We busted him once, years ago. Remember?”

Will ran a shaking hand over his eyes, rubbing hard enough to see stars. Cosmo was gone when he opened them again, but the dealer was giving him the evil eye.

“What the fuck,” he growled, pulling his gun and aiming it at Will.

“Whoa,” Moreno exclaimed, “what’re you doing?!”

“You brought the heat on me, Moreno!”

Will zoned out as Moreno started reeling off evasive lies, no doubt prepared and rehearsed since the very beginning. He was good like that; Will could appreciate it now that he was no longer trying to take down the middleman.

The dealer chuckled crudely, though he didn’t lower the gun. “You’re right that he doesn’t look like a cop,” he said, “but that’s no guarantee.”

Will was starting to feel stressed. He needed the drugs, and he needed them now. He had no doubt Moreno would launch into another persuading speech — not for concern over Will, of course, but rather the desire to keep his best customer breathing for a little while longer — but he couldn’t stand waiting any longer.

He stepped forward, the barrel of the gun pressing into his chest in a familiar sensation. “Either give me the Lethe,” Will hissed, “or shoot me. Just make up your mind already.”

“Tsk tsk, you’re gonna get yourself killed.”

Will gritted his teeth, refusing to acknowledge the remark. He could see Cosmo in the corner of his eye, standing diagonally in front of him — close to the gun in a way that made Will’s stomach turn.

Cosmo leaned sideways, head resting atop the gun so that his green eyes met Will’s. “Or is that what you’re trying to do?” he asked, voice sad and quiet in a way that was just too lifelike to bear.

Will tried to shove Cosmo away, letting out a guttural scream as his hands just met air. “Get away from me,” he yelled, but didn’t feel comforted in the least when Cosmo faded away.

“Shit, man,” the dealer breathed, backing away. “The fuck’s wrong with you?”

Moreno stepped between them, ever the cool intermediary. “As you can see, Mr. Gamble isn’t… ah, well. I can only hope this has helped dispel your doubts.”

“Hell yeah,” he muttered, nervously fingering the gun as he lowered it. “Let’s do this.”

Will dug through the pockets of his trench coat until his shaking fingers connected with the flask he kept there for emergencies. It’d been a long time since alcohol had helped, but he needed something — anything — to tide him over.

He let the lukewarm liquid wash down his throat as Moreno closed the deal, trading crumpled wads of cash for a bag of Lethe — and a couple of complimentary syringes, clearly meant as consolatory gesture.

The dealer took off down the alley, Moreno watching his departure intently. Apparently satisfied that their business associate was out of hearing range, he rounded on Will.

“Don’t start,” Will preempted him. “I just want my stuff, all right?”

“I’m doing you a favor here, old friend. A ‘thanks’ would be nice.”

“Funny,” Will scoffed, “I thought you did it for the money. No need to pay you a commission anymore then, I take it.”

Moreno’s lips became a thin, white line. “Do you know what would happen to me if anyone got wind of the truth? Me helping a cop!”

Ex-cop,” Will snarled.

“I doubt that’ll matter much to the circles I run in. I’m risking my neck for your sake — a commission I could get from any gutter junkie; I don’t need to put my life on the line.”

There was something akin to pity in Moreno’s eyes. It made Will want to punch his teeth in. Instead, he snatched the bag and walked away.

Focusing on the way the puddles of rainwater splashed around his boots when he stepped in them, Will tried his best to not think about anything. He just needed to make his way back to his apartment, and then he’d get his fix. That was all that truly mattered now.

That was all he had now.

Rounding a corner, he stumbled over a trashcan. The garbage spilled onto the pavement, a disgusting mix of potato peels and used diapers. He stared at the mess for a while, absently pitying the poor bastard who’d have to clean it up.

A sudden clattering to his right made his head snap up, hand automatically reaching for the gun he no longer carried. Several trashcans had been tipped over on the other side of the alley, the culprit clearly being the distinctly human shadow that stumbled out from behind them.

“Thirty-nine?” The whisper was weak, but doubtlessly male.

“What?” Will replied, squinting into the darkness.

A hiccupping sob came from the shadow, before it broke into a mad dash and launched itself at Will. Next thing he knew, a boy was clinging desperately to him — a naked boy.

“I thought you had been harvested,” he said, smiling through the tears. His arms briefly tightened around Will’s waist, before going limp.

Will barely managed to catch him before he slid to the ground. Crouching down and bringing the boy into his lap, Will studied him. Aside from some bruising, cuts and scrapes — worst of which were his feet — the young man didn’t seem to be hurt. But there was always the risk of internal injuries, which meant he should be brought to a hospital.

Will hesitated. Even unconscious, the boy looked restless and scared. All things considered, he’d been hiding in an alley in the middle of the night — no one would do that for shits and giggles. He’d quite possibly been beat up (perhaps sexually assaulted too, judging by the lack of clothes), and whoever had done so was probably searching for him. Bringing a John Doe to the hospital always garnered a certain amount of attention, which meant that the person he was running from could very well turn up claiming to be his relative. Will knew from experience that the hospital would relinquish the kid without much fuss, overcrowded as they were these days.

And there was something off about the boy, that further convinced Will to not bring him in. Black scribbles were all over his torso, in the form of circles and dotted lines — the most prominent being the mark right above the kid’s heart. That, coupled with the diagonal scar on his hip that extended from his back and down to his stomach, had Will getting the impression that the scribbles were meant to be incision guidelines. It was eerie as hell, to say the least.

Mind made up, Will maneuvered out of his coat while making sure not to let the boy drop to the cold pavement. Getting the unresponsive body into the coat was a challenge, but soon enough he was carrying the kid towards his apartment.

—-

The vidphone flickered to life, revealing the harried face of Sheila Morgan. She squinted at the screen, pink nightgown making for an awful contrast with her red hair.

“Who the hell…” she began, before her eyes widened. “William!”

“Hey, Sheila.” Will sent her a lopsided smile. “Long time no see.”

“No kidding,” she muttered, “I almost didn’t recognize you. Shit, what happened to you?”

It wasn’t a question — she knew damn well what had happened to him — and Will calmly sidestepped the subject. “Look, I’m sorry to call you out of the blue like this, especially at this time of day, but I need your help.”

Sheila broke into a smile. “You’ve finally come to your senses! I’m so glad, and I know Cosmo would’ve been really proud too. Just let me make some calls and I’ll get you into a clinic right away — or I can help you through it, if you’d rather—”

“Stop.” It took every ounce of Will’s willpower to not disconnect the call. “It’s not about me. There’s a kid here, who needs medical attention.”

She frowned, clearly torn between disappointment and concern for a potential patient. “I’m sure you can find your way to the hospital, if that’s all this is about,” she began.

“No, I would’ve done that already if I could. You’re the only doctor I know, and I…” Will hesitated, about to say ‘I trust you’ but thinking better of it. It’d be a lot easier for the both of them if things were kept on an impersonal level. “Please, Sheila.”

“…Okay. I’ll be there in ten.”

The screen went black. He watched it for a while, images from old calls superimposing themselves over the darkness.

“Stop it,” he whispered, begging his mind to stop torturing him. Unable to tear his eyes away, his hand went for his coat pocket and the Lethe he knew to be there. But as his seeking hand only gripped air, reality returned. The kid was still wearing it, lying bunched up in the over-sized coat on the couch, somehow looking more vulnerable than when he’d been naked.

He was very pale, but looked strangely healthy otherwise. His body was in remarkably good shape; hardly the look of someone who needed a heart transplant — if that indeed was what the scribbles signified.

Will reached out to touch the boy’s forehead, wanting to check his temperature. The skin was soft and cool beneath his palm. Relieved that he at least hadn’t caught pneumonia, Will let his hand travel down the boy’s cheek to linger on his throat. His pulse was strong and rhythmic.

About to pull back, Will froze when the boy leaned into his touch. It was like a stray dog seeking warmth, and he couldn’t bring himself to break the contact. He stayed put until someone knocked on the door.

“Sorry,” Will mumbled as he withdrew his hand, feeling guilty as the boy’s face returned to looking pained and restless.

He hurried to the door, not wanting to make Sheila wait. She gave him a forced smile as he opened the door, entering the apartment and immediately looking around for her patient.

“He’s on the couch,” Will said, answering her unvoiced question.

Nodding tersely, Sheila began pulling out medical equipment from her bag as she walked over to the couch. Will followed her, and watched as she began examining the young man.

She was in the middle of studying the X-ray results on her portable unit, when she looked up and met his eyes. “Should I ask you to go boil some water?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Huh?”

Sheila laughed, shaking her head. “Sorry, that was mean of me. It’s sweet of you to stand watch over him and be so vigilant.” She hesitated, before quietly adding, “It’s good to see you acting like yourself again, Will.”

Clenching his hands, Will ignored her remark. “How is the boy?” he asked instead.

Sheila sighed.

“What, that bad?”

“No, it’s not that… I…” she waved her hand, dismissing the subject. “He seems to be just fine, actually. The only matter of concern is his feet, but I’ve cleaned and bandaged them so the risk for infection should be fairly slim. Still, you’ll need to keep an eye open.”

“What happened to his feet, anyway?”

“Mm, that’s one of the strange things about this one…” Sheila tapped her pursed lips with her forefinger. “He looks to be in his late teens, but there are a lot of little things that just don’t correspond to that age. Like his feet, for example — I think they became this way by running around on the streets without any shoes. But the soles of someone his age should be callused enough to not come out looking as if he’d been walking on glass.”

Will shrugged. “Maybe he did step on some glass. There’s broken bottles all over the city, you know.”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “There are no clean cuts to imply something that sharp; it’s all evenly scraped up.”

“Okay…” Will drawled, mind turning to come up with an explanation. That old familiar feeling of adrenaline brought on by a mystery, a case to solve, was making itself known again. He was surprised to find that he’d missed it. “What if he’s been ill all his life? That’d explain the scar, and the soft skin — if you’re bedridden you don’t have tough soles.”

“That’d work, yes, if he was sick. But he’s actually in good condition, healthy inside and out. The scar you mentioned is from having one of his kidneys removed — either for donation purposes or illness. There’s evidence in favor of both, and I can’t say for sure under these conditions.”

“Got it. Then what about those marks? Those are incision guidelines, aren’t they?”

“I wish I knew. They sure look like they are, but nobody would have several surgeries done at once like this. Besides, it’s not as if he needs a lung transplant and so on. It’s really strange.”

Will nodded. “I thought so too.”

Sheila gave the unconscious boy one last look, before turning away. “There’s really not much else I can do for him. I haven’t heard anything about a runaway patient either, but I can look into it if you’d like.”

“No, I think it’s better if we keep this to ourselves — at least until we know more. Hopefully I can get some answers outta him when he wakes up.”

“Fine. Just don’t…”

“Don’t what?”

“No, forget it.” Sheila gave him a small smile, and headed for the door. “Keep me posted,” she said, and then she was gone.

“Thanks,” Will mumbled. He went to grab a chair, placing it by the couch. The Lethe beckoned, but he grit his teeth and sat down to wait. His mind needed to be clear when the boy woke up — so he had no choice but to endure the cold sweat, the creeping shadows, and the whispers that were growing stronger by the minute.

He was at the end of his rope by the time the boy stirred. Breathing a sigh of relief, Will focused himself and looked on as a pair of impossibly blue eyes fluttered open.

“Hey,” Will said, and immediately regretted it when the boy flinched. He sat up abruptly, looking around with evident fear. He relaxed when his eyes stopped on Will, before suddenly stiffening. It didn’t seem as if he liked what he saw.

“Thirty-nine…?”

“Sorry kiddo, I really don’t know what that means.”

“But you… I t-thought…” he faltered, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Whoa,” Will started, but didn’t get a chance to say anything else. The boy shot up from the couch, trench coat falling unheeded to the floor, and ran.

Will raced after him by reflex, almost tripping over the boy when he slipped — bandages on parquet floor apparently not making for a good foothold. Will grabbed hold of him as he tried to crawl away, wheezing hysterically.

A flailing foot connected with Will’s jaw, the bandage on it seeped through with fresh blood. Ignoring the shooting pain, Will tightened his hold. “Calm down,” he said, trying to keep his voice as soothing as possible. “I’m not gonna hurt you. You’re safe here.”

The boy kept thrashing.

“Stop, please. You’re only hurting yourself. I’ll let you go as soon as you’re still, I swear. Okay?”

Taut as a bowstring, the boy stilled. The only thing moving was his heaving chest, though it was clear he was ready to explode again — if need be.

“Good,” Will said, squeezing the kid’s forearm encouragingly. “I’m gonna let you go now, but don’t get up. Let’s just sit on the floor and talk a bit. Nod if you understand.”

He nodded.

Slowly, Will released him. He remained completely still, and Will scooted back a bit — giving the boy some breathing space; not wanting to crowd him and risk a relapse.

“My name is Will,” he said slowly. “What’s yours?”

“…Zero.”

That didn’t seem like a very good name to Will, but he didn’t press the issue. “Hello, Zero, nice to meet you.” He kept his voice steady and gentle, just as he’d once been taught to do when dealing with people in shock.

Zero’s eyes darted up, looking at Will before returning to stare at the floor. “Are you going to take me back?”

He frowned. “Take you back where?”

No answer.

Will tried to hold on to his fading patience. It’d been too damn long since he’d done this; where he once would’ve been patient and coaxing, he now felt like simply shaking the kid and bodily forcing him to answer.

There,” Zero said, voice small. “I don’t know the name. Don’t know where I am now either.”

Frustration dissipated, Will tried to get the boy to meet his eyes. “Hey,” he said, “you’re in my home. And I won’t take you anywhere you don’t want to go.”

Raising his head, Zero met his eyes. “Really?”

“Yeah, really.”

A tiny smile flittered over Zero’s lips, dimmed by distrust and uncertainty. Will didn’t blame him, but vowed to himself that he’d do whatever it took to earn the boy’s trust. And to make him smile for real.

“Aren’t you cold?” he asked, deftly sidestepping the questions he really wanted to ask.

“Not really.”

“I’ll go find you something to wear anyway,” Will chuckled, amused by Zero’s obvious lack of modesty. He didn’t seem bothered in the least by his nudity, legs spread and displaying everything he had.

Zero got a haunted look in his eyes when Will stood up, his body instantly tensing up again. Understanding, Will held out his hand. “If you think your feet can handle it, you can come with me.”

The hand that clasped his was wary, but it still felt like a small victory. The feeling grew as Zero didn’t let go; keeping a firm grip while Will led him to the bedroom.

He opened the closet under Zero’s watchful gaze, and rifled through the garments therein. There was little doubt that his own clothes would be too big for the boy. Hesitating, his fingers lingered over the faded blue jeans that had once belonged to Cosmo.

The set of clothes weren’t anything special, originally placed there for spur-of-the-moment sleepovers: late nights when his partner was just too beat to drive home, too riled up to be alone, or — during their rare days off — too drunk to do anything but pass out on Will’s couch.

There’d been a set of Will’s clothes in Cosmo’s home, too. But they were gone now, just like everything else that had ever belonged to his best friend.

A slight tug on his arm snapped him out of his reverie. Zero was looking at him in a way that seemed to imply that he was the one who elicited concern. It was damn near laughable, but Will found himself unable to so much as crack a smile.

Grabbing Cosmo’s old things, he thrust them at Zero with more force than necessary. The boy released his hand in order to grab hold of the load, and Will felt a strange mix of relief and regret at the loss of contact.

“Would you like to take a shower first?”

Zero was looking at the clothes with what appeared to be awe, and it took a couple of seconds before he reacted to the question. “Where?” he asked, eyes narrowing in obvious suspicion.

“Uh, in the bathroom.”

“Here?”

“Yes,” Will enunciated slowly, “here.”

“They’re not in there, right?” The hands gripping the clothes tightened, knuckles turning white.

“They?”

Zero didn’t answer, but his body was quickly stiffening up — readying itself for flight.

“There’s nobody in my bathroom.”

“…Really?”

“Really.”

“Okay,” he said finally.

“It’s that door over there,” Will said, pointing. “Turn on the water and let it heat up while I go get some plastic bags.”

Zero gave him a blank stare.

“For your feet,” he clarified. “Y’know, so the bandages don’t get wet?”

Zero nodded slowly, the look of someone who didn’t understand at all — but who complied anyway, in a misguided attempt to avoid conflict. Will had seen it during his days as a cop, more times than he could count. Sighing, he left the boy and went to the kitchen.

He had found the plastic bags and was looking for rubber bands by the time he heard the spray of water. Will smiled, pleased that the kid had managed to make do on his own. Finally locating the rubber bands, he grabbed a handful and then went to the bathroom.

Zero stood like a ramrod in the middle of the bathroom, though he seemed to minutely relax when Will entered. The clothes had been placed in the sink.

“Sit down a sec,” Will said, flipping down the toilet lid for him.

Zero did as asked, wide-eyed.

Kneeling, Will took hold of one foot and carefully slipped it into a plastic bag. After tying it off with a rubber band, he repeated the process on the second foot.

“There,” he said, getting to his feet. “All done. You can hop in the shower now.”

Zero stood up and wobbled across the bathroom. He seemed hesitant about entering the shower cabin, but stepped in nonetheless.

Sliding the doors closed behind him, Will tried to offer a reassuring smile. “You’ll be fine on your own, right?” He continued without waiting for an answer, “Shampoo’s there, and the soap’s right under it. There are plenty of towels on the rack — I’ll put one on the floor so you don’t slip when you step out. Call me if you need help.”

He hurriedly put the towel on the floor, feeling Zero’s eyes boring into his back. Without returning the gaze he left the bathroom and pulled the door shut behind him. His hands were shaking again, and a killer headache was rearing its ugly head. Back leaning against the door, Will closed his eyes.

“Sure brings back memories, huh?”

Eyes snapping open, Will sought out the owner of the voice. Cosmo sat on his bed, one leg dangling over the edge. He had a lopsided smile on his face, teeth glistening white and sharp.

“Remember when I got shot in the leg? You made me sleep over here ’cause you wanted to keep an eye on me. I had to take a shower, and you couldn’t find big enough plastic bags for me.”

“…I remember.”

Cosmo grinned, getting up from the bed and sauntering over. “So then you tried to cover my entire thigh in plastic wrap.”

Chuckling quietly, Will nodded. “But you kept wailing, saying it was too tight and clingy. As if that wasn’t the whole point.”

“But you still listened,” Cosmo smiled, coming to rest against the door next to Will. “You turned the town upside down, until you found a store still open. I can still see that proud grin on your face, as you came back, toting those huge bags like some kind of demented prize.”

“And I can’t forget the way you looked either, with one leg — and half your hip — covered in a black garbage bag.”

Cosmo’s head tipped back, releasing a peal of laughter. “Fastened with duct tape, no less!”

Forgetting himself, Will leaned sideways — intending to thump their heads together and to give Cosmo a playful shove. But no warm body connected with his, making him lose his balance.

Stumbling, Will sucked in a breath. “Oh fuck,” he whispered, “fuckfuckfuck–”

“Hey, Will…” Green eyes that had been so bright and sparkling now seemed as dark as a swamp, eager to suck him down.

“Don’t! No more, oh please, just stop it. I can’t take this anymore.” The words fell from his lips without conscious thought, his entire mind focused on finding the Lethe. He ran to the living room, where the coat still lay discarded. Dropping to the floor and heedlessly banging his knees in the process, he tore through the pockets until he found what he was looking for.

Cosmo talked to him as he prepared the drug, but Will ignored the actual words. His voice was loud and upset, and it was bad enough just having to hear that. The sooner he got the Lethe in his system, the sooner he could filter that out too. He needed the oblivion that the drug brought, needed it desperately.


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