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<<display "To-do">>
<div class="howitis">Here's how it is: your Wheel Corp ID is 038524-σ3. You've been on [[__Grace__ cluster|Grace cluster]] for nearly three revolutions -- a little more than five years, you mean. You're technically a private first class, but the uniforms you wear tend to not have rank insignia on them. You're about seven feet tall and you don't shave as often as you ought. You have a small berth on the junky end of the station, half inside Maintenance.</div>\nYou've got a to-do list before you can leave. You're not enthusiastic about any of it, but it is how it is.\n\n* <<if $suited neq true>>''[[Get suited up in your new armor]]''<<else>>==Get suited up in your new armor==<<endif>>\n* <<if $cleared neq true>>''[[Get Hernandez to clear you]]''<<else>>==Get Hernandez to clear you==<<endif>>\n* <<if $caym neq true>>''[[Swing by Caym's quarters]]''<<else>>==Swing by Caym's quarters==<<endif>>\n<<if $caym eq true and $suited eq true and $cleared eq true>>* ''[[Go]]''<<endif>>
One of the three colony clusters at the Lagrangian points between [[Tartarus]] and its largest moon, Elysion. __Grace__ is the L1 cluster; __Charity__ is at L4 and __Mercy__ is at L5. __Grace__ cluster itself is composed of two dozen-some different stations -- labs, hydroponics, military accommodations, giant laser array aimed at the planet below.\n\n[[<--|To-do]]
Superlarge rocky planet, nominally habitable mostly due to extensive terraforming at initial habitation, a hundred revolutions ago. Two hundred-fifty years. Surveyed for minerals, stayed due to the abundance of lightrot -- you don't know what the Wheel Corp calls it, aside from "that yellow shit" -- that could be processed into fuel. The equator is a mess of acid swamps; the poles are tropical. Most of the rest of the planet is desert. You're from there.\n\nIts largest moon is Elysion, and then in order of prominence from the surface are Cocytus, Acheron, Lethe, and Erebus.\n\n[[__Grace__ cluster|Grace cluster]] is at L1, between Elysion and Tartarus, and the major surviving military outpost of the Wheel Corp.\n\n[[<--|To-do]]
<<set $suited = true>>The armory is in the back of the habitable area, and you get glares walking through. First time you've been cleared this far back.\n\nIt's standard Wheel Corp plate. A solid hull over the chest and back, overlapped matte grey plates on the sides where it needs flexibility. Chunky greaves that lead into even more massive boots. Sleeves and gauntlets with contact plates on the palm and wrist, trying to read a [[sensor chip]] you don't have.\n\nThe twelve-spoke wheel logo is on each shoulder, and someone's marked through [[ten of the spokes]]. Half of the suits on the station are marked up like that. Anyone else and it'd just be black humor, but on you everyone'll assume it's insurrection.\n\nThe helmet fits tight over your buzzed-short scalp. ''[[You don't put it on yet.|To-do]]''
You got chipped when you got here. Location only. Humans born in the cities get chipped as kids, and then the miltary upgrade when they get here.\n\n[[<--|Get suited up in your new armor]]
The war hasn't been kind on the great cities. Two are left on the surface of the planet, and those, just barely.\n\n[[<--|Get suited up in your new armor]]
<<set $cleared = true>>It was his fucking suggestion (read: order) and now he's dragging his heels, saying you might not be prepared for surface duty. He has this funny idea that since you were taken from the surface you're not loyal to the Wheel Corp. He's right, but you try to avoid giving him evidence.\n\nHe talks a lot about the war and their great mission and how all of us -- no matter where they came from originally -- are part of the thin line between humanity and the bug hordes. You nod at all the right intervals. You want to punch him in his fucking face, bash it into his shiny polished table until it's streaked with gore. Maybe he can tell.\n\nHe clears you as the reserve adjunct for squad μ-3, tells you to put your life in their hands and likewise know that their lives are in yours. You suspect the rest of μ-3 has gotten a different briefing. But he did what matters, and ''[[your ticket is punched.|To-do]]''
Engineer Third Class Rayadyah Caym. He grew up on a farming corporation in inner June. He doesn't like to talk about how he got here, fixing the unending list of broken things. You think he has family somewhere; he's mentioned brothers, sisters before.\n\nHe's short -- 5'9", shrimpy. He's got dirty blond hair, shaggy in a way that wouldn't be at all acceptable for military units, and skin of almost the same exact color. He's kind of an asshole, but that's your type. When he tries to pronounce your name he fucks it up a little less than everyone else. His quarters are right next to yours, physically, but since he's in Maintenance and you're in Security the route between them is extremely convoluted.\n\nYou started fucking around six months after you were conscripted, after you got tired of the glory holes. It hasn't been a continual thing. You get on each others nerves too much, and you both get vicious. You know his weak spots. You're one big weak spot.\n\nHe's not a bad sort, but you want to choke him and every other motherfucker on the station to death. You have a long list of unforgivable things you could say to him, but so far you haven't said any of them.\n\nThat's what you know about [[Caym|Swing by Caym's quarters]].
<<set $caym = true>>Strictly speaking, not something you have to do. You don't even know if he's still on the station, but you just want to say... well, most pragmatically, "bye", because you're probably not coming back. It's not...\n\nHe deserves to hear it from you, is all.\n\nHe's there. He looks dazed and half-asleep, with his hair sticking out in every direction. That's his usual look. He's wearing a threadbare undershirt, stained with grease and [[blood]].\n\n<<if $suited == true>>"You look good," he says, looking you up and down in your new armor. You shrug.<<endif>> "Was wondering if you'd drop by," he says.\n\n"I got an assignment to the surface." You swallow jerkily. "You know the keycode to my room. My auth card is under the bunk." You thought about telling him you loved him. You don't, but it seemed the kind thing to say.\n\nHe looks like you gut punched him. "Look, asshole," he says after a moment. "That's not how you say goodbye to someone." It's true, you've always been awful at goodbyes. He steps forward and practically climbs up you so he can kiss you. Then he presses himself close, quiet and breathing. From him, it's a jarringly strange gesture. "Come back," he says, muffled in your neck. "I know I don't have any right to ask, but..."\n\nThe truth is you're... fond of him. He's less intensely awful than most of the people here, and together you've made life easier for each other just by being close, which is maybe as good as it gets. But everything you've done has taken place here, in the dying timeless passages of the Wheel Corp station, and that rots everything through. You found him because you needed someone and he was the only person close: you think maybe you're the same for him. That's who you are for each other. If you could leave, you'd be gone in an instant, and you wouldn't come back, not even for him. Maybe especially not for him. Partly you're not having a relationship with //him//, you're having a relationship with everything in your head you hate about this, projecting it all over him.\n\nYou step back, let him sink to the ground. "If I don't come back, you can have my stuff."\n\n"I don't--" he starts, raising a hand, and you brush him off with enough force to make him take a half-step back.\n\n<<if $suited == true and $cleared == true>>"Shuttle's due in five minutes," you say. "I'm going."<<else>>"Departure is coming up," you say. "I've gotta go soon."<<endif>>\n\n"Fuck you," he says, angry and then tired. "Fuck, I'm sorry, just don't--" he says, but you don't hear how he ends it. ''[[You go.|To-do]]''
He's got bandages wrapped around both hands, blood spotted around the knuckles. [[His|Caym]] hands are basically always covered in scabs. Half the time when you fuck you end up with smears of blood across your back. It's nice.\n\n[[<--|Swing by Caym's quarters]]
The shuttle is ready, and μ-3 is waiting. Desert recon. Bugs -- they don't even //look// like bugs, you always think -- have been spotted in increasing frequency in the area by the orbital satellites, enough that Wheel Corp thinks they're setting up a new forward base.\n\nIt is not //strictly// speaking a suicide mission, but it's not one where it'll be very suspicious if you all die. It'll be even less suspicious if only //you// die. You wonder if μ-3 is getting punished for something.\n\nμ-3 gets in the shuttle, a collective entity you don't care much to join. You ''[[follow|Shuttle]]''.
"So you're the indigenee, huh?" One of the μ-3 privates thinks that's a great way to open a conversation. You nod. "How long you been with us?"\n\nThe information is public record, because everything about you is a matter of public record. If he's asking he was either too lazy to check or wants to hear you repeat what he already knows. "Six years," you say.\n\n"Right, right," he says, while nodding. "Bet you're glad, huh, to be up on __Grace__ instead of down on sand; hear it's really gone to shit the past few years."\n\n"Shut the fuck up," you say, calmly, and look up at him. He flinches and looks away.\n\n"Just makin' conversation," he mumbles.\n\nHe's younger than you, big and burly the way kids are. You don't remember his name, Jack or John or something like that. Private First Class; he's got the insignia on his shoulder. He's brash.\n\nCorporal Miller sits next to you. She's tall and built enough to fill out the armor. She has short-cropped brown hair and a gun. "You'll have to forgive Jones," she says, and it sounds like an order. "He's new to the squad, just like you." You want to flinch or snort, but it'd be clear it was an affectation. "He just wants to get to know his teammates." Jones, standing on the other side of the shuttle but clearly in hearing distance -- you're all in hearing distance, even the pilot up front; it's just social nicety that keeps everyone from acting like they're listening in -- mutters something low and insulting you pretend not to hear.\n\n"We all just want to live through this, you know. Gotta trust each other for that." And ain't that the worst part. If Jones was bleeding out at your feet: yeah, you'd probably save his life. Maybe they'd even do that for you. People were kind like that. But they'd also shoot an unidentified thought-hostile right through the head if they thought it'd help someone they liked, and you spent a lot of time being that unidentified thought-hostile. "He was conscripted just a few months ago, from February," she says, because she's still talking. "None of us want to be here, but it's us or someone else."\n\nYou're saved from more pep talks by the shuttle ''[[hitting the atmosphere.]]''
Sam, in the front, yells out something over the com, and for the next fifteen minutes it's nothing but the blissful noise of atmospheric reentry. You finally put on your helmet, cinching it tight across the back of your head. You already hate it.\n\nYou land at the crumbling wreck of the last outpost. You're glad to see they've been pushed back so far you can see June on the horizon, a dark spiky line of black against the bright blue sky. You land in a gritty hollow, sand streaked with grime near the landing site, but the slopes continually let down a trickle of pale white sand, covering it up. It almost looks like ''[[home]]''.
<div class="howitis">Here's how it is: You're Εὐρυνόμη of the fixed place between the desert and the sky. Near the second aphelion of your ninth revolution, Wheel Corp soldiers came to your house and took you as a tracker, on pain of death. Once you walked them through the acid flats, they conscripted you -- with a gun to your head -- to work for the Wheel Corp in their hopeless war against the new ones.</div>\nIt's your first clean breath of air in almost three revolutions: it hurts as it scorches through your nostrils. Your mouth is wet for a moment as you exhale, and then the desert sucks up the moisture, sticking your lips to your teeth. It's welcome, grounding and familiar.\n\nThe sky above is very bright and very blue, and very far away. Behind you is June, one of the two remaining great cities. You're half the planet away from home, and it's a big planet.\n\nAll this makes Miller's chatter all the more insulting. Someone's hand claps on your shoulder and you understand why they didn't give you a gun or anything more useful than a utility knife, because if you had one you'd try to kill them all yourself. It occurs to you that your shoulders are shaking. You might be crying; it's hard to tell. You always did tear up in the desert wind.\n\n"Yeah, ''[[recon]]''," you hear yourself say.
You feel more alive than you've felt in a very long time. At the same time, that just makes everything hurt more. You were taken at the first aphelion -- not that that meant anything on the station -- and it was the second before the howling despair faded into something you could live with. You haven't thought about it in a long time, because you couldn't afford to; just approaching it in your thoughts made it hurt too much.\n\nYou go with Miller and Lopez, while Jones and Wright head in an opposite circuit. Sam stays with Brown at the shuttle. It's nice that you're so thoroughly useless here you don't even count as an entire person.\n\nGiven that Miller is going with you, it's still entirely possible the real point of the mission is to get rid of the indigenee.\n\nThankfully, it's at that point the new ones attack. There are yells of "Bugs!" over the radio, then a lot of shooting. Dark shapes rise up from the sand, military ops, low and chittering around you. Miller gets shot in the shoulder, you see her spinning to the ground -- from the impact, not from injury; she's wearing the same armor you are -- and then something explodes in a cloud of sand. Lopez' yells get more distant. You ''[[move]]'' in the other direction.
Escape feels like it should be a lot more climactic. There's havoc, and you're unarmed, and visibility is low, even for the new ones. You feel still in the midst of action; quiet in the midst of noise. You step under the cover of one of the half-fallen buildings, nothing now but rubble and concrete pillars. The floor is covered with drifts of sand. Your radio clicks and chirps, military check-in codes. You turn it off.\n\nA new one vaults over a waist-high wall with a howl, blades on his hands skating over your armor. You block, knocking them away, and then wonder why you bothered. You're home. If you don't die you'll have to go back, and that death would be much worse. The new one will kill you, and that's how you'll die, another Wheel soldier, remembered simply as one of the final stragglers in the dying days of the war. You'll bleed out on the sand, like you should. You're ready for it. You've been ready for it for a revolution now. ''[[Except--]]''
There's something about the new one. He shoots you twice in the chest -- nice to see the armor is good for something, because it feels like getting punched savagely, rather than being burnt out from the inside -- and you stumble back and fall. He crouches over you, close, knives heating red hot, and--\n\n"''[[Ὀφίων]]''"
"Ὀφίων", you say, tearing the awful helmet off your face even as the sabre heats burning hot on your neck.\n\nAll six of his eyes -- two more than when you knew him last -- go wide. His sabre clatters over to the side, hissing as the edge scrapes along the wrecked concrete.\n\n"You grew out your horns," you hear yourself saying, weakly. "You always said you hated those military cuts."\n\nHe grabs you with all four arms and //squeezes//, until the hug is barely discernible from the honest attempt on your life he was making a second ago. "I thought you were dead," he says, as if it even needs saying.\n\n"I'm so sorry." //Now// you're definitely crying, tears streaming through the stubble on your cheeks. "They took me at gunpoint, every day I wanted to come home."\n\n"You took the baptism," you say.\n\n"I had to," he says. "Not just for you," -- which is honestly a relief; Ὀφίων now is enormous and sleek and deadly, when before he was just beautiful. You wouldn't want to be the one thing responsible for the change -- "but... the humans are waning. Ten of the cities have fallen. They have a plan and a weapon, something they will use to destroy as much as they can reach." You've heard the same rumors: they're rife in the station, of how the war now is just a long delay until the secret weapon is ready to be revealed. It's always given you a sinking feeling. "I had to help stop them. For you, and for..." he trails off and looks away, and your breath catches in your throat.\n\n"Is it -- who's died?!" The other side of the coin: if Ὀφίων is alive, here, there are others, elsewhere who have died. Your house exists in your memory, but you can't even approach the memory of Ὀφίων coming home to find you taken. As long as you knew you were never going back you could keep them alive in your mind, but now you have to know the damage that's been done in your absence.\n\n"Everyone's alive," he says, and you don't believe that, but you let it rest. "But things have changed. For the humans the war has gone poorly, but they get more desperate. Everyone hides deep in the hives." He shakes his head, velvet shaking. "I had to help bring it to an end."\n\n''[[What do you even say.]]''
You're content to just touch him, to hold him close and let him hold you. You kiss, and it's hardly romantic. His mandibles stretch wide, covering half your face, the tusks working against your cheeks. You talk, a little, but the words aren't the important part. His voice is different -- much like the rest of him -- but it's familiar in all the ways that are important.\n\n<div class="howitis">Here's how it is: you were born at the fixed place between the salt desert and the sky, eleven revolutions ago, approaching the first perihelion. At five you met Ὀφίων, though of course he wasn't called that then. At seven he asked you to journey with him, and you flushed all the way to the tips of your ears before accepting. The second aphelion of that revolution, when everything was dark and uncertain and fate's weaving was open for the reworking, you named each other and promised to follow each other, no matter where you went in the world.</div>\nHe's younger than you, by a revolution and a half, but the new ones mature faster. Your village was near the hive he was hatched at, and so you met him when the new ones visited, for trade or simply to visit. He soon visited often.\n\n<<set $touch = 0>>He's [[different]] now -- new eyes, new glow -- but you suppose you've [[changed]] too. But you're wondering how much [[lightrot]] he got exposed //to//.
<<if $touch gte 5 and $touch lt 7>># "//Hey//," he says, breath whistling into your ear. "Let me touch you."\n# You're standing very close together. His hands are on you: hip, shoulder, forearm, side. Touching your //armor//, and suddenly it's all you can take just not being closer to him. His fingers trail over the breastplate, claws catching on closures. He snaps them open, and the armor sags loose. "I couldn't think about you after you were gone," he says, and his fingers are trembling as he pulls the breastplate off with two hands, the others flat against your stomach. Your undershirt, faded and thin, gets a few more holes in it as he jerks it over your head. The desert wind is fresh and hot over your chest, breezing through your sweat-matted chest hair. Your nipples are fat and erect, pebbling tight as he trails his knuckles up the muscled swell of your pecs.\n# "God, I love you, I missed you so much," he says, just a rough whisper down the back of your neck. A tear hits your shoulder and burns, leaving a scorched trail down your back until the air neutralizes it. His hands are warm on your skin as he traces over your new scars, back and forth over your sides, along the jagged tear down your back.\n<<endif>><<if $touch gte 7 and $touch lt 9>># He pulls you closer, until your chests are pressed tight together, with your head nestled in the hollow of his throat. His claws trace lines on back, trailing lower to the small of your back. His lower hands curve around your waist, petting the thick pelt of hair that fans across your stomach.\n# You moan, the sound muffled over his skin. His ovipositors stir against your stomach, heat and wetness already seeping through the skin-tight leather of his uniform. He kneels in front of you, tongues flicking out to catch over a nipple, and he snaps the catches around your waist, down your legs. He helps as you step out of the plated greaves and onto the sand, in your stocking feet. In this light it's shocking how pale you've gotten: a sallow yellow-red all over. Your cock is straining the front of your insulated leggings, but he just stands again, grinds the extending length of his ovipositors over the bulge of your cock, hands wrapped around your thighs.\n<<endif>><<if $touch gte 9>># You tug at the leather clinging around his hips, a tiny set of skin-tight trunks in hide-black. He shudders as you skim over his underbelly. The skin there's soft and supple, tinged deep blue. You work them down his hips, revealing in tantalizing slices the flushed skin of his slit. It's the same fluorescent yellow-orange as the inside of his mouth. You knew it would be; the anticipation of actually seeing it was like a wound coil in your chest. His ovipositors are absolutely gigantic, way //way// beyond what you were expecting. He's drizzling precome, sticking your leggings to your skin and outlining the erect length of your cock. His hand closes over it and strokes slowly.\n# He's trembling at your touch, jaw open wide as he mouths his mandibles at your jaw, hissing and murmuring. You're doing the same, practically babbling as you hold him close, rutting against his stomach, his ovipositors spread around your cock, bobbing up to smear thin lightrot slime across his stomach. His claws catch your leggings wrong as he tugs them down, tearing right through the waist, and they sag lower for a moment before he jerks them off completely, off-white cotton cradling between your ankles as you kick them off. Your cock is slick with lightrot, his stomach a mess.\n# "''[[Fuck me]]''," he groans, bodily picking you up and stepping backwards until you're inside the shattered lobby. "Then I'll fuck you," he says, lower, and you just let out a sob, chest heaving as you kiss across his neck and jaw.\n<<endif>><<if $touch == 0>>Obviously. <<endif>> Here are the similarities:\n* <<if $last neq "fourarms">>[[Four arms]]<<else>>The new ones are mostly hexapodian; even for the humanoid ones there's not that much of a difference between arms and legs aside from where they're attached to the torso. Really he just has six limbs. But the four upper ones are more like arms. One is at the shoulders, same place your arms are. The other pair -- down over the still-ticklish skin between them -- is lower, just above the end of his rib cage. The joints there are articulated strangely, but so smooth in motion when he flexes; the second scapula working on his back, interstitial muscles making diagonal lines across his stomach. They're a little less well-developed than his upper set, but that still means they're far more massive than yours.<<endif>>\n* <<if $last neq "teeth">>[[Two rows of serrated teeth]]<<else>>You can see it as he talks, the slight curl of his lips around his teeth. Fangs. Whatever. The second row is a little more pronounced, higher and closer to the outer set. His tongue flicks against his palate. The distinctive accent the new ones have is a result of them being unable to press their tongues against their teeth without cutting them. You and he figured out some ways to use your tongues together, if you were careful enough.\n\nHe still has really nice lips.<<endif>>\n* <<if $last neq "dewclaws">>[[Dewclaws]]<<else>>His arms and legs end in... articulated digits. He has opposable thumbs on his feet, though they're drawn out into immense webbed claws. He also has a vestigial-looking fifth finger (or toe), just a little claw-tipped spur on the outside of his hands. His claws are all bigger now, that one included, but it's still easy to weave your fingers into his and worry your pinky over the vestigial joint, back and forth.<<endif>>\n\nHere are the differences:\n* <<if $last neq "sixeyes">>[[Six eyes]]<<else>>He had four eyes, before. His skull -- specifically, but also for the new ones in general -- doesn't have eye sockets so much as eye troughs. So now he's got six distinct eyes, every one [[lightrot]]-orange. Every so often one of them blinks, though he has his transparent lids all closed to protect from sand. His nose is upturned and pushed out a little more than before, turning it a little more solidly into a shallow muzzle or snout instead of just a big, oddly-structured nose. The ridge of his cheek, just under his right eyes and above his mandible casing, has an invisible scar. The skin is puckered and rough to the touch, scarred by something unknown.\n<<endif>>\n* <<if $last neq "tinedhorns">>[[Tined horns]]<<else>>He still keeps his loose velvet tied back behind his head, but he's got a set of close-cropped, asymmetrical horns, spiky and blackened. Their tips are crystalized lightrot, and you can see through them dimly, like thick amber. He always hated horns, so he never stimulated his velvet; he let them stay long soft cords. You wonder what changed.\n<<endif>>\n* <<if $last neq "blackhide">>[[Black hide]]<<else>>He's got the black hide of the military special ops -- when you knew him he had this iridescent green-blue coloration. You can still see hints of that, across his shoulders and at the edges of his silhouette as he turns, or when your touch dimples his hide, a faint iridescent shimmer dancing across his skin.\n<<endif>>\n* <<if $last neq "glowing">>[[Glowing]]<<else>>His eyes glow: his ear-slits glow, his mouth glows. It's lightrot-orange. The inside flesh of his mouth -- you note, peeling his lips back like you used to, and he obliges with an eye roll -- is dimly luminous. His mouth is wet and humid against your fingers, spit slick over your fingertips. The curl of his lower lip is thick and warm rolled over your thumb.\n<<endif>>\n* <<if $last neq "pustules">>[[Blobby pustules oozing lightrot]]<<else>>There are... cavities, oval blobs in clusters on his shoulders and hips, and an uneven line down his spine. They bulge outward, but they also force down the skin and muscle below. The seam seeps and splits when he moves, before rapidly crusting over again. He lets you run your fingers around them, dislodging the crust of sand and dried impurities in the [[lightrot]], revealing the delicate fanning of skin as it goes translucent and thin, stretching over the pustules. His body shudders under your fingers.\n<<endif>>\n* <<if $last neq "taller">>[[Maybe seven inches taller]]<<else>>He's taller and bulkier, to the point where he has chitin plates lapping across his arms and legs for extra support. His calves and feet are massive. He passed you in height half a revolution before you were taken, and now he's almost a foot taller than you. You have to crane your neck up to look at his face; it's giving you a new vantage point of his snout. You're eye-level with the swell of his neck and shoulders, with the sharp lines of the muscles of his neck. It's a little hard to focus.\n<<endif>>\n* <<if $last neq "muscle">>[[Like 100lb heavier, Jesus, it's like he's made out of muscle]]<<else>>His skin is sleek, clinging tight to the smooth curves of his gigantic muscles. The new ones always looked so much more cleanly articulated than humans to you; you could always see the slide of muscle and tendons under their skin. On him it's blown up to gigantic scale.\n\nHe's [[changed]], but not inside. Well, //literally// inside; he's got different organs.<<endif>>
<<set $last = "fourarms">><<if $fourarms neq true>><<set $touch = $touch + 1>><<endif>><<set $fourarms = true>><<display "different">>
<<set $last = "teeth">><<if $rowsofteeth neq true>><<set $touch = $touch + 1>><<endif>><<set $rowsofteeth = true>><<display "different">>
<<set $last = "dewclaws">><<if $dewclaws neq true>><<set $touch = $touch + 1>><<endif>><<set $dewclaws = true>><<display "different">>
<<set $last = "sixeyes">><<if $sixeyes neq true>><<set $touch = $touch + 1>><<endif>><<set $sixeyes = true>><<display "different">>
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Lightrot bubbles through the planetary core, erupting in geysers and swamps around the equatorial belt. Elsewhere it concentrates in aquifers, such as underneath the very desert you're standing in now. Generations ago, the first settlers -- after the scant terraforming that made the planet at all habitable to humans -- made contact with it, and those that didn't die [[changed]].\n\nRaw, it looks almost identical to magma. Now it's refined through new organs and exists in symbiosis with the new ones, pervading their cells. Most strains look a fluorescent yellow-orange, with differing levels of opacity.\n\nKnowing Ὀφίων, he went into the [[wells]] and dove in. It'd explain why he looks so [[different]].
In the new cities there are cisterns that sink down into the blinding abyss below. [[Lightrot|lightrot]] steams upwards in a humid vapor. Over the years the cavern ceilings above the pits have [[changed]] from the accumulation of it, forming immense glimmering stalactites. Ὀφίων is traditional. He would've swam in the stuff.
The new ones are morphogenic.They diverged from human stock almost from initial habitation, and over time their... "genome" is incorrect; they don't reproduce like that... pattern stabilized into a few dozen strains. The most important factor is the sheer amount of lightrot they produce or consume, and then what strains predominate. The most basic look humanoid. They get less so.\n\nTheir military always required a higher dosage of [[lightrot]], enough to provoke a transformation. They were, at the least, bigger and bulkier. That was the minor dose. Bigger doses brought the [[difference|different]] Ὀφίων shows now: sleekly black, solid claws, the inside surface of his body glowing, and new lightrot-digestion and production organs forming bloated swells down his back, at his shoulders and hips.
He settles on a waist-high spur of fallen concrete, carrying you on his lap. His ovipositors -- that's something else new, huh, they didn't used to look like that: knobbled corkscrew spirals, more bloated pustules swelling in archimedean spirals along their shafts, and //absolutely gigantic// -- are spread wide, the slit between their extended lengths gaping open to show glowing yellow-orange flesh, slopping with lightrot and more and more vivid further inside.\n\nYou groan deep in your chest, rumbling as you keep kissing across his jaw, darting in to kiss him properly. You slick your right hand up before wrapping it around the new shape of one of his ovipositors, stroking him off as you get into position, your cockhead bumping between his thighs and then between the swollen structure of his ovipositors before you slide into him.\n\nIt's not the most expert thing you've ever done, bumping and jolting in his lap, thrusting more-or-less perfunctorily as you focus on kissing him. You're both crying; that's how you get a few more acid burns across your cheek and the web of your left hand, where the furrow lines up across his cheek, as you worry your thumb over the underside of his mouth, fingers fanned out over his neck just below the frills of his ear slits.\n\nYou rock on his lap, rutting back and forth. Your breath comes out in sharp puffs, billowing around his neck. Lightrot drools from his slit, sliding down your cock and tangling in the short hair of your balls, pooling in the sharp divots over your hips that form as you rock forward into him. It's not long at all until you come all over. You still deep inside him as your cock pulses, spraying come that quickly drools out, opaque white strings in the tide of lightrot. Your cock softens inside him. You stay holding each other afterwards. You're hunched forward so you can press your heads together, forehead against the base of his horns, back curled forward but supported by his lower arms.\n\nYou switch off which ovipositor you're stroking.\n\n"''[[You wanna fuck me?]]''" you ask.
"You wanna fuck me?"\n\n"Always," he says, some little measure of his habitual cockiness showing through. You shift, pulling away -- but never actually breaking contact, leaving your left hand pressed tight to his body, trailing the palm down his chiseled stomach as you stoop in front of him.\n\nHis ovipositors are... there's no simple way to say it. They're //enormous//, for one. New ones as a whole tend to have oversized genitalia for their body size -- you know from, uh, unrelated experience, sometimes in groups -- just like humans, only they're moreso. Even when Ὀφίων was a shrimpy adolescent, a foot shorter than you, he had a foot-long [[cock]]. Now he's gigantic. They're monstrously thick, swollen even larger by the oozing lightrot pustules, and they spill in two swollen-fat yellow-orange curls from his gaping, sloppy slit. Your come is a thin matte smear across their swollen, engorged flesh. They're rigid enough to arc up away from his body, up across his stomach to just past his lower set of arms, the sharp tips knobbled with fat blisters.\n\nIn short: they're close to being the size of your entire arm, each, and the bases are //definitely// larger than your fucking //bicep//. It's been noted before: you're not a small guy. Someone not married to a new one, and thus not just used to it but eager for more, might call them 'nightmarish'. Even if you weren't fucking desperate for every touch you could get after three revolutions, you might have a little trepidation about this. But you are, and instead of doing anything else you ''[[open wide]]''.
Ovipositor. Ovipositor//s//. There's not actually much of a distinction; new ones can reproduce through sperm and egg, sure, but those aren't really the important vectors. They're entirely capable of generating whichever they want, as well as a half-dozen more specialized cell forms they can use for reproduction.\n\n[[<--|You wanna fuck me?]]
Lightrot tastes bitter and sweet in almost equal measures. Different strains taste different, but mostly to new ones, who have different taste organs. [[You can discern some of it]], but for the most part it escapes you. You just keep swallowing.\n\nThe spiral curve of his ovipositor -- the right one; you're still idly stroking the left -- is thick and very slightly spongy; some fractional amount of give in it. The lightrot pustules are rock hard, straining against his shaft. The knobs on the curve are smooth over your lips, bumpy but still slick and smooth as you try to swallow more of his shaft. It's basically impossible -- you don't even have the full length of his //cockhead// in your mouth; it gets fatter in an uneven swell, down all the way to the titanic base -- but you keep trying. He's enjoying it, at least, claws scrubbing through your hair and fingers wrapped around the back of your neck. The minute amounts of pressure and movement tell you what parts to focus on. You used to know his every little sensitive spot, but this is something entirely new. You go away for a few revolutions and he grows a new set of sex organs.\n\nIt's with a shudder of delight you realize the fat bulge along the inner spiral of his ovipositor corresponds to the former underside of his cock, a thin strip of nerve endings. The [[familiarity]] is the best part. You repeat the motion now, with your tongue, and he lets out a sharp howl, ovipositor spraying enough lightrot it bulges out your cheeks, makes you choke and cough as it burns through your sinuses and out your nose. Your face is already a dripping mess; it doesn't actually change anything.\n\nHe looks as if he's ready to pull back after that, but you dive deeper just to show you can. His hands are slack for a moment as you bob forward, the tip of his length popping into your throat with a lurch, and then they're back on your neck, firm and steady. Your jaw aches, more than a little overworked. You insinuate your tongue inside the spiral of his cock, sliding all over the fat line, and he howls again as his ovipositor lets loose another burst of lightrot, hot and glowing as it spills past your lips, smearing down your chest and dripping over your cock, where you're grinding against his leg.\n\nYou come again humping his leg, jaw almost dislocated around his girth, nose bumping against his other ovipositor as you try to keep slurping back and forth. That seems to be enough for //him//, the shuddering tension rushing through your body as you spray lines across his calf, dripping down the chitin. His ovipositor throbs and swells, and you jerk back enough to keep your jaw from //really// getting dislocated. The tip peels back, a gaping mouth opening as he comes in the back of your mouth, enough that half of it bursts over your aching lips and drips from your nose, down your chest, even as you swallow and swallow until your stomach aches, full and sloshing with come.\n\nIt's literal minutes: minutes of you kneeling in front of him, swallowing over and over, managing desperate breaths between bursts, blocking off your throat to let the next few pulses ooze thickly from your slack mouth just so you can have a half-second to breathe. The whole time his hands are tight on your shoulder; his knee against your chest, your half-hard cock rubbing against the chitin of his calf.\n\nHe stops slowly, less and less coming until you're practically //suckling// on his length, trying to get the dregs of his orgasm. He doesn't even go soft; his other ovipositor is as sloppy and drooling as ever.\n\nYou pull off him with an obscene wet slurp and try to open your eyes. Your face is webbed with come, neon-yellow lines of lightrot in lines and filmy sheets, smeared all across your head and his crotch, tethered in slimy lines to his wrists and your shoulders. You pull back and the lines stay, sliding in coherent chunks across your skin, like enormous slugs. Some pull off entirely and swing back to hit his ovipositors with a wet splat. It's honestly incredibly hot.\n\nThere are points of pressure across the bridge of your nose: he swipes his fingers through the mess he left behind, slowly clearing off layers of ooze until you can flutter your eyes open. Your eyelashes are caked with strands, and there's more right up against your eyes, looming in fuzzy blobs at the corners of your sight.\n\n"''[[We should've talked about that]]''," he says.
The upwelling of power a fiery taste in the back of your throat; the sharpened drive and alertness a sour contrast. The standard, the common strain: that's not a taste so much as a texture, and one that's achingly familiar. It's responsible for you being able to taste this much of it. You didn't think you'd be homesick for the taste of his come. He's overflowing with other strains, the rest a buzzing heat with a dark edge, and you swallow mouthful after mouthful of excess.\n\n[[<--|open wide]]
Revisiting the long dark nights you spent together: in your shitty tent during sandstorms; in his narrow apartment in the great underground hive; in the too-bright bedroom of your house, bright but chill on the underside of the cliff.\n\nYour fingers slipped up his then-straight lengths, thumbs sliding up and down along the ridge, sloppy-wet and frenetic until he howled, coming in lines across his chest, and you'd lean close and pump him through his orgasm, kissing your way up his chest.\n\n[[<--|open wide]]
"We should've talked about that," he says.\n\n"It's okay," you say. "I knew what I was getting into." You're not talking about the facial. Well, incidental facial. "I've been ready for it."\n\nIt's the first thing either of you have said that even obliquely mentions the elephant in the room: neither of you are home free. You have a tracking chip where it'll take surgery to remove; the Wheel Corp has orbital weapons and an obsession with making examples of deserters. There's a war going on. You just swallowed around a gallon of mildly-radioactive mutagenic come.\n\nIt wasn't something you talked about //then// either. It was more-or-less common knowledge: yeah, a dozen revolution's worth of regular sex with a new one would at the //very least// result in substantial alterations to your biology, and in most cases, well, how do you think the new ones came to be //new// in the first place, because it sure wasn't the slow pace of mixing chromosomes and hoping for some useful drift.\n\nHere and now, Ὀφίων is //glowing// with lightrot. He doesn't have //blood// proper anymore, just a strain that carries plasma. He's dosed up in almost all the ways you can be dosed up with it, and because of that, now you'll be too. By doing this, you committed to a certain course of action, and it's one that... probably won't end well. But the same could be said about the rest of your [[life]].\n\nYou sigh. "You know about their [[weapons project]], right." You say it flatly: if you've heard the rumors, someone actually in the war proper is gonna know all about it. Ὀφίων nods. "I'm on the __Grace__ cluster; it's got research labs. They're getting close to getting a working prototype, and you know what they'll do once they have it." You stay close, heads pressed together, breathing each others air. "I gotta go back, see if I can do //anything// to stop it." You feel him sag at the words, even though you both knew what they were gonna be. You sit there, with him, quiet, breathing, alive.\n\n"You wanna //actually// fuck me?" He laughs and pulls you into another kiss, nipping his mandibles up your neck.\n\n"''[[Always]]''"
The plan is weaponized lightrot. Toxic strains, garbage strains that mangle other strains. The reality is they have lethal strain poison and not much else: they're working on planet-wide deployment. They're talking bombs, mostly: something to light the atmosphere on fire, disperse it high up. They're talking genocide. The Wheel Corp has already lost, but they're determined to go to the bitter end, tearing bloody chunks across the planet as long as they still live. They lost the third remaining city, December, to revolution, not to the new ones, and they bombed it afterwards to make sure.\n\n[[<--|We should've talked about that]]
You've been thinking about it in the long dark seasons on the station. It's death or victory, and you'd resigned yourself to the thought that although victory was inevitable, it'd be after you're dead. The thought of you being //around// to see the victory is as painful as a wound, a kind of hope that burns through your chest and leaves you weak. It means you might have a future after all, and //that// means death isn't an inevitability but something to be avoided. It means you have something left to lose after all.\n\n[[<--|We should've talked about that]]
You get up off the ground. Your stomach rolls, achingly full, and you kind of stagger. Ὀφίων catches you, helping you lean against the fallen pillar. It doesn't show through your abs but you're //bloated//; the pressure sharply increases when you inhale, lungs and stomach fighting for space.\n\nThe concrete underfoot is sandy, and you've been sweating enough in the heat that it's sticking; you've got sandy patches across the front of your calves, and on the palm of your hand, and anywhere else you've been in contact with anything other than Ὀφίων's body. He brushes you off, and tries to brush off the pillar. You'd worry, but honestly you've fucked in worse conditions with less preparation and you didn't get unacceptably abraded. He's still drooling lightrot absolutely everywhere; you figure that counts as enough lube.\n\nHis still rims you out anyway, but he's the one with the nightmare cocks. He bends you over the pillar, legs spread, and trails his tongues down your back, spluttering to the side every time he catches sand grit. This too is familiar.\n\nThe tusks of his mandibles scrape down your spine, and they dig into your ass cheeks when he presses his lips against your asshole. His snout helps. His hands clasp over your body: two spreading your cheeks, the others wrapped around your thighs. His tongue pushes against the tight pucker of your ass, spit and then more lightrot easing the way as he opens you up with his fingers and tongues. Given the size of his junk, you don't think any amount of preparation is too much. Or enough.\n\nHe idly jerks your cock as he rims you, and he has to stop when you start drooling precome, wet droplets that in no way compare to the mess he's making. He wants you to come around his cock, not before. You think you could manage both before and around, but you let him have his way.\n\n"You ready?" he asks, his lower lip dragging over the dimpled skin above your spread asshole.\n\n"''[[C'mon]]''," you say.
His ovipositor slots the crack of your ass -- the right one; the left bangs against your left cheek -- and immediately it goes from slick with spit and lightrot to sheets of it actively pouring down your thighs. Still, Jesus Christ, that is a big thing to shove inside you. He shifts and the weight of it changes, the pressurized pustules of lightrot rocking against your skin as he tentatively thrusts up and down the crack of your ass. You're so not prepared for this, but you want it even if it //does// rip you apart; you're never gonna ask him to stop.\n\nIts helix compresses until it's coiled tight between you, a fucking twenty-pound tentacle coiled right up the crack of your ass. The fat, tapered tip of it noses against your asshole, kissing it wetly. He pushes forward, claws scraping over your ass, and the head eases inside. That's the easy part. You groan, breath already coming fast. God, he wouldn't even have to do anything else, just him being inside you again, hands splayed wide and tight over your hips and ass -- it's more than you were expecting to get in this lifetime. His ovipositor twitches -- both of them do, but the one //lodged several inches up your ass// is a bit more noticeable. The slickness is strange. You know from having sex with humans, lube feels... weird. Slick and not much else, just something to ease the intrusion of taking something in your ass. His pre always had a //texture// to it, thick and vaguely gritty, and even now absolutely suffused with lightrot that's the same. But now it's much, much slicker. The low scrape, pellets or char in the thick fluid: that's still there, but it's mediated.\n\nOf course, his cock (ovipositor) being almost twice its former size mediates //that//. It //burns//, a sharp ache racing up your spine. You like that, but he's barely moved forward since and already your ass is stretched tight. Every bubble and knob on his weird spiral ovipositor is like a spike as he slides forward and back, barely even thrusting. He's drooling more and more, a second weight of fluid forming inside you. It saturates your ass, slicking it up, but it takes long slow minutes of movement for it to relax and stretch. But it does stretch, as you flex the muscle wide, and the lips of your ass practically //gape// for a moment as he slides inside, his spiraling length spooling out inside you until you're dizzy with the stretch of it, his heartbeats steady and strong, felt through the bloated flesh of his ovipositor. It crashes against your lower abdomen from the inside, not even denting the wall of muscle, and it creeps -- vaguely prehensile -- for the opening to your guts.\n\nHe pulls back, thrusts a little without trying to go deeper. You come all over the pillar. You feel it coming: a tightness in your gut, a whirling in your head. He's fucking you with slow, steady strokes, each just just barely enough to bring you closer and closer, and the inevitability makes it all the better as it finally crashes up and up and finally over. Your legs are trembling, asshole spasming around his ovipositor as you come, completely untouched save all the places where he's touching you: his palm, flat on your back, unmoving, is erotic enough to bring you over the edge. The flat weight of it, the friction and inertia jostling it minutely with each thrust, the barely-there pressure of his clawtips. You come all over.\n\nHe groans, his left ovipositor spraying //entirely// all over your back, his right letting loose in the same quantity but swallowed up by your ass, wet glugs and slurps coming from your guts as he floods you.\n\n"I'm close," he says, voice rough. "Do you-- want me to keep going?"\n\n"Yeah," you say. "''[[Pump me full of eggs]]''."
He makes an utterly inarticulate sound, fully coming with his //right// ovipositor. He manages to work it in far enough the tip is lodged in your guts, and so this time the entire two gallons worth gets pumped inside your guts, in pulse after pulse for another five minutes. The increase in weight is slow but unmistakable. You just lie there and wait, your guts gurgling and sloshing as each passage, in turn, is filled up enough for it to overflow deeper. It's even visible from the outside: not a bulge or a swell, just a slow, gradual expansion as your muscles work to maintain their shape around the increasing internal pressure.\n\nHe's [[primed]]. He finally tapers off again, and he hesitates for a moment: long enough for you, even dazed and aching, to notice he's hesitating. "Do it," you say.\n\nHe groans. His entire body is trembling and shuddering in time with the throbbing of his ovipositors. He jerks back, pulling all the way out with an eruption of come, and then shoves right back in with both ovipositors, just the tips. There's no way both of them will fit much further than they already have. Already the crowning eggs are stretching them double-wide, forcing them into an alternating rhythm, since as soft and pliable as they are, there's still no way of fitting two inside you at once.\n\nAlso: Holy //fuck// his eggs are bigger. Fat globs the size of your palm, stretchy and almost-spherical. You can tell, because very quickly you're becoming very intimately acquainted with a large amount of them. He keeps coming, legs trembling against the backs of your thighs, the spirals of his ovipositors distended into a spiky seashell curve, internal muscles pumping and pumping as they force egg after egg into your ass.\n\nThe lightrot seeping into your tissues helps a little. You're definitely //high//, dazed and hazy and feverish; it's hard to say what parts of that are lightrot versus the emotional high versus heatstroke. Honestly, the egg-laying isn't very exciting on your end. //Ὀφίων// is locked into the strongest orgasm he can have, drawn out a half-hour long. He's dazed and trembling, leaning down over your body, mouthing at your neck and mumbling, praying. It's not //not// hot, it's just not really anything your body wants to get hard from; the pressure is flat-out uncomfortable enough it messes with getting an erection. //You// fucking love it. Each egg makes a wet squelch, and your ass is full enough the eggs are slowly migrating up through the gaping-open passageway of your guts. They're moving by tidal pressures, which is a very strange but not unpleasant thing to feel inside your ass. And it's Ὀφίων doing it, here, now: everything else could be different but you'd still be grateful for anything he wanted to do with / to you.\n\nMostly though //this// is just a continual slow stretch as he deposits his enormous clutch all through your guts. Your stomach gets //distinctly// distended, reddish seams showing across your sides as your skin is forced to stretch too much too fast. You just relax and let him keep going.\n\nIt ends up taking closer to an hour; you doze for most of it, and it's not until he pulls out and you try to stand up that you fully take in the monstrously-bloated curve of your stomach.\n\n"Oh," you say.\n\n"Sorry." He's still dazed, riding the afterglow. Back in the day it kept up for almost a full day, even after he slept. You don't know if it's stronger or weaker now.\n\n"Don't be." Still, you can barely walk, or move, or breathe. You put some considered thought to whether or not you should try and vomit just to make room.\n\nIn a lot of ways you imagined this scene would be more romantic, but the fact that it's actually happening, ''[[pragmatic]]'' as it is, is more than you expected.
New ones are divided into castes by their strains; this also has some bearing on their usual sex organ. Ὀφίων, being the lowest caste -- that's "humanoid", more or less, though it's less true now than it was -- has a pair of ovipositors, and basically as many internal gonads as anyone could want. Sex -- that is, //reproductive// sex -- happens after the ovipositors are stimulated to release a nutrient slime. Come, basically, only without the sperm. "Seminal fluid" if you want to not call it "nutrient slime". After that, secondary arousal happens, which primes certain muscles for the rhythmic pumping motions they'll need to make to actually pump eggs from the ovaries to the ovipositor. He had big clutches to begin with; you're more than a little worried about the size of them now. Also the size of the //eggs//.\n\nUsually you didn't go this far. New one eggs are //tenacious//, and having a gut full of them is something that basically requires a medical procedure to remove. It was something for special occasions, with precautions. That's... not why you're doing it now.\n\n[[<--|Pump me full of eggs]]
You decide no, the more lightrot in you the quicker it'll go, and you need that quickness now. Ὀφίων helps you sit, and then scrubs your legs and ass with sand, until you're no longer dripping lightrot from most of your orifices. You kiss him when you can, and when he finishes he pulls you into your mostly-ruined leggings and undershirt, which doesn't really fit anymore. Your leg armor is okay, but the slightest pressure across your stomach makes you want to hurl.\n\nThis would be when you hear the whine of a Wheel gun spinning up. Your reflexes are dull for a //lot// of reasons, but Ὀφίων's across the cracked floor before you can blink, slamming the soldier back against a pillar and knocking the gun askew. When he -- it's Jones -- squeezes the trigger the bullets bury themselves harmlessly in the sand.\n\nJones looks like he's about to piss himself. Ὀφίων is snarling in his face, teeth bared, his claws wrapped tight around his forearms, neck. You inhale, exhale:\n\n"''[[Don't kill him.]]''"
Ὀφίων looks surprised. Jones still looks like he's about to piss himself, though as he looks at you it fades into shock and disgust. "You're //fucking// one of--" he starts, and Ὀφίων elbows him none too gently in the face, bloodying his nose.\n\n"Don't fucking talk to him," he says, but knowing what you know of Wheel soliders, Jones probably just heard a growling mumble. The accent takes some getting used to.\n\nYou move -- slowly, Christ your stomach hurts -- over to them. "I just saved your fucking life," you tell Jones. He sneers, and Ὀφίων makes to punch him again. "You owe me, and I'm gonna make you pay me upfront. What's your group's status?"\n\nJones' eyes cut away to Ὀφίων, like he's worried that he's gonna listen in on what no doubt is valuable combat intel. "Miller and Lopez are pinned down a half-km from the shuttle, in the ruins there," he jerks his head in the direction. "Sam and Brown are bunkered down beside the shuttle; bugs swarmed the camp. We got engaged; I got split up from Wright, he's making his way to Miller, went to check your last-known position." He sneers at Ὀφίων, though the blood coating his teeth makes the gesture pathetic. "Thought I'd find you dead, not whorin--" Ὀφίων hits him again, knocking his head back against the concrete.\n\n"Keep talking," Ὀφίων snarls, teeth close to Jones' neck.\n\n"Here's what's gonna happen," you say. "You're gonna give me your gun, we three are gonna meet up with Miller. I'll talk to the new ones at camp, get us back to the station." Jones looks wary but also like his death sentence might've just got waived. It cuts you up to have to plan your own fucking internment.\n\nὈφίων gives Jones a fractional range of motion, just enough to unlatch the gun's tether. "You can't even fucking shoot it," Jones says, as Ὀφίων grabs it from him.\n\n"It's so you don't shoot //me//," you say, taking it. "Here's the story. You're gonna radio it in. I got separated in the first engagement and my radio got shot out by a stray bullet; I went here to take cover and got trapped when the sand shifted. You helped me get out, and now--" you look at the sky, evening light pouring across the dunes. "now since night is falling we're gonna bunker down for the night instead of heading over." You shake your head. "Say you'll head over but when Miller tells you not to be an idiot, say you'll dig in for the night."\n\nJones looks a little overwhelmed. You smile meanly at him. "Make it sound authentic."\n\nYou wonder if μ-3 came up with codes to say "I've been compromised, and you shouldn't trust this message." If they have, you're fucked. But Jones blitzes his way through what to your ears sounds like a perfectly benign status update. You chime in once or twice when prompted. Miller is frazzled but alive, Wright with them, and it sounds like the shooting has subsided -- mostly because they're in such a shit position they can't get out without reinforcements. She tells you two to sit tight, not get killed, and flank their position in the morning.\n\nQuietly Ὀφίων contacts //his// squad, tells them not to kill any of them but to keep them stuck in place until we get there. Looks like the plan's going to work at least until you're on board the shuttle with five Wheel soldiers and no backup. You don't think about that part of the plan.\n\nὈφίων frisks Jones, takes three knives and a garrote, then lets him go. "What now?" Jones says, nervousness bleeding into his voice.\n\n"Now we make camp," you say. "Here's as good as anywhere else."\n\nJones looks around at the wide-open stretches of desert. "Shouldn't we get somewhere more... secure?"\n\nYou look over at Ὀφίων. "''[[Who's gonna attack us?]]''"
It doesn't really help Jones' nerves, but you at least decide to move to a section of the building that's not splattered with Ὀφίων's come. You can basically only stagger. Hopefully it'll be better in the morning -- this far from the equator, and at this season, night is only a few hours. Enough time to catch a nap, but you sure as hell don't feel safe with Jones there, even if he's unarmed. Being with Ὀφίων means now you get to worry about him getting killed in front of you. Maybe he's thinking the same thing about you; he sticks real close, touching you whenever he can. Jones opens his mouth to talk about it a few times, but each time he glances over at Ὀφίων and contents with a sneer or grimace.\n\nYou consider saying something, and then you think about what you'd even say. "He's my //husband//, asshole," is what you finally decide on, when Jones scowls through you sharing rations, though it's mostly a token thing, since you are honest-to-God //full// from Ὀφίων's come. He looks pretty nonplussed. So does Ὀφίων, if you're being honest.\n\n"The bugs get //married//?!" Jones says, incredulity winning out over whatever other feelings he has on the matter.\n\n"More-or-less."\n\nYou haven't told any Wheel soliders this, ever: it was your personal pain. It was something //private//. Ὀφίων sitting next to you, a warm line of heat down your side: that makes it a lot easier to talk. Jones is mostly incidental to this whole process, you just want to talk about you and Ὀφίων to someone, for the first time in three revolutions. "I lived in --" you think of how to put it in Wheel words: "an encampment by the salt flats. It was close to a hive, so we got new ones coming by. Wheel soldiers too, though they mostly came to trade." Jones looks surprised. "We met when we were both kids; things just... kept going from there." You grin over at Ὀφίων, who looks exasperated, but in a good way. "He asked me to journey with him."\n\n"Huh?" Jones says. You start thinking about how to explain a journey to someone completely unused to the concept, and then you figure: who cares, this isn't about him.\n\n"It's tradition. They travel when they become adults, alone usually," you say, which is technically correct but misleading in a lot of ways. "Anyway, afterwards we built a house together, a little place at the base of a cliff. Took us more than a fucking revolution to agree on the floor plan." You had a running argument about cellars and cisterns, the kind of minutiae that was all the better because it was so unimportant.\n\nJones actually quirks a little smile at that, though it looks cockeyed with his swollen lip. He takes a big breath, obviously steeling himself for something. "Sorry I tried to shoot you," he says. You roll your eyes. Ὀφίων shrugs.\n\n"Sorry I broke your face, but if you insult Εὐρυνόμη I'll do it again," Ὀφίων says.\n\nJones blinks. "What'd he say?" he asks you.\n\n"He said sorry for punching you," and then when Ὀφίων grumbles, "and that if you're an asshole he'll do it again."\n\nJones looks a little contrite. "When I got conscripted, they gave me twelve hours to departure, y'know? And since they didn't want me runnin' away I got a guard following me around the whole time, all suited up." He sighs and looks away. "I had a girl back in the city -- February, you know -- but I didn't want to go to her mom's house with a crowd of soldiers following my every move. Didn't want that to be the way we said goodbye." He shrugs. "I called her and she was furious. We had a date the next day." You hum sympathetically.\n\n"I just wish this fucking war was over," Jones says. You and Ὀφίων share a look.\n\n"It's over any time the fucking Wheels stop trying to kill us," you say, sharp, and Jones barks a laugh.\n\n"Yeah, and then the bugs swarm out cities and kill all of us, no thanks."\n\nYou just //growl//, and Ὀφίων says "Like we'd want anything from your piss-poor shitholes," and Jones still doesn't even //hear// it, so you have to translate. 'Translate'.\n\n"How can you defend them?!" Jones says, gesturing at your swollen stomach. "Look at what he did to you! You're gonna turn into one of them!"\n\n"He //asked//," Ὀφίων all but yells, jaws snapping. His gums are glowing bright in the dusk. Jones flinches back.\n\n"I asked for it," you say tiredly. "You think I didn't know what I was getting into, falling in love with this asshole? I know the Wheels love their freaky alien corruption porn, but they don't go around transforming everyone they can find."\n\nJones doesn't look mollified.\n\n"Just go to sleep, we'll head out in the ''[[morning]]''."
You were going to stand watch with Ὀφίων, but he insisted you actually get some sleep. You needed it. You're still uncomfortably full, but your stomach is less visibly swollen -- the lightrot is running through you; you're running a fever as it breaks down your immune system. The eggs will've soaked up some, becoming denser but thankfully not any larger. Your stomach still looks bloated, packed and heavy to the touch, but you might be able to squeeze into the body armor. You're not looking forward to that.\n\nJones radios Miller in the morning; they exchanges coordinates. Ὀφίων talks to the nearby squads. Here's what happens:\n\n* You head out. As you get close to where Miller's still pinned down, you and Ὀφίων both drag your feet. You tell him you'll be back. He says he'll come for you if things get bad. You both cry.\n* He leaves and you watch him go.\n* You give Jones his knives and gun back.\n* The new ones very convincingly orchestrate being overwhelmed and pushed back when Jones comes in from an angle. Miller, Wright, and Lopez burst out and go running. The defense ("defense") around the shuttle is light, for //some reason//, and it's not much to break through, collect Sam and Brown, and get on the shuttle. During the firefight, you catch Jones jerking Wright forward, yelling "hurry" when he was going to shoot a fallen new one right in the head. It's not fucking much, but it's something.\n\nThe you're on the shuttle, and there is actively no reason in the world for Jones to not tell everyone exactly what went down. Your heartbeat is thrumming in your ears, stomach tight with nausea. He doesn't. Yet.\n\n__Grace__ cluster is exactly like you left it. ''[[Elapsed time on mission: seven hours.]]''
Caym is waiting in the shuttle bay. He's been dozing, and the arrival of the shuttle jerks him awake. He looks woozily around, and when he catches sight of you he leaps to his feet.\n\n"You came back," he says, when you're close enough to talk.\n\nYou think of Ὀφίων on the surface, waiting for you again with a weight in his chest. "I came back." And then, because you're on the edge and you might as well jump in: "Just how much do you know about the research labs here?"\n\nTO BE CONTINUED[[...|---]]?
HA HA HA DON'T GET YOUR HOPES UP FOR A PART TWO.\n\nwith apologies to Cliff Bleszinski and i guess minor ones to Yasuhiro Nightow\n\nwell, not to Cliff Bleszinski, you deserve all the porn of your series ever.\n\ni finally figured out the proper gloss for the alien monster tf porn game i've\nalways wanted to write! in a way this is a prequel to the hypothetical further\nsegment where Εὐρυνόμη gets all 'freaky alien corruption porn' going on on the\nstation, but given how i wrote it here well, maybe that won't happen. probably\nit will though. I MEAN IF I WRITE A PT TWO AT ALL, WHICH ISN'T AT ALL FOR SURE\n\nanyway this is more-or-less mashing up my first two twine stories into roughly one third of a new whole. rayadyah gets kind of stiffed, since, like, i only really decided to include him specifically instead of a slightly varying character template on a whim. the big conceit here is that description of Ὀφίων, i guess, (and also the link thing, if that counts) and while i like the _idea_ i think the execution could be refined. definitely planning on doing more with that in the future though.\n - xax