How to Keep Good Time with Rare Cogs and Orphan Springs

 

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Chapter 1

2033 : The Colony : Trystan (15)

“Are you a soldier or a whore?” a prostitute had once asked Trystan. She’d been watching the young man for the past 30 minutes as he’d flirted with passers-by on the edge of the marketplace. His limbs, she noted, had the stretched appearance of someone who had recently had a growth spurt. The way he moved suggested he wasn’t yet comfortable in his new skin. She expected he probably wouldn’t get much taller. He’d offered her a cigarette and a charming smile.

“Am I on your patch?”

She gestured to her breasts. “You’re not harming my business.” He had a slim boyish jaw line, pleasant cheekbones and a long defined nose. His skin was tight over his collarbone like a smooth metal bow of a ship. He was eye catching and unusual to look at. He hadn’t grown into his features and his eyes were small and unusually dark. “You’re going to grow up handsome,” she said.

The young man turned his long neck and drawled, “I’m not a child.”

Not a child and not an adult, the woman mused. He looked as though his body had grown before he was ready for it, and he had age in his eyes that suggested he had seen much more of life than he had been ready to. She noted the boy’s trousers; a little on the tight side, and a sleeveless shirt. The clothes sat awkwardly together on his lanky frame and the young man wore them equally awkwardly. He reminded her of an animal thats feet had grown too big too fast, and lacked the ability to walk on them. Meanwhile, a neatly dressed man passed by in the crowd, and lingered at a leather stall close to the market edge. His eyes were drifting down the boy’s body, and the young man hesitated, shifting his posture as if to find which would be to his best advantage. The prostitute watched the exchange. “Have you been doing this long?” she asked the boy.

His eyes flickered down her own body as he mimicked, “Have you been doing this long?”

There was a good natured twinkle in the boy’s eyes. Meanwhile, the potential client was lingering and looking through a stall, but his eyes roaming the young man’s body like a rare good only found off-ship. The boy edged forward, hesitating, and the prostitute reached out and touched his arm. He flinched like a cat and stared at her. “He’s a Officer,” she warned him.

The boy’s eyes widened and he looked back at the man, studying him for clues. “How can you tell?” he demanded eventually. “We get a lot of soldiers here, you learn to spot them.”

“Soldiers have courtesans.”

“Plenty don’t.”

“The good ones do,” the boy said.

“There are soldiers that aren’t satisfied by their courtesans, or that prefer their own sex.” The boy glanced at her, and she continued, “Trust me, that man is a Officer.”

The boy looked at her thoughtfully. “Do you take women clients?”

“Sometimes.”

“Do you prefer your own sex?”

She smiled, “Yes.”

The boy continued staring at the man, who was now at a food stall, looking at vegetables. “How can you tell?” he asked irritably.

“Look at that air of entitlement he has, the way he looks at that woman’s wares- he thinks he deserves better.” The boy clenched his fine jaw and the prostitute wondered again where he had come from, “Look at how he’s dressed. He’s too clean, smart, pressed.”

The boy ran his hand down his own shirt. “So?”

“How many people here look neat?” The young man looked around the marketplace. “Soldiers don’t dress well out of uniform; they don’t know how. You see how he looks at that food? He’s never been hungry, he doesn’t recognise vegetables and he’s never had to cook or feed himself. See that dreamy look he has? He doesn’t sleep; maybe he can’t. He probably thinks he’s awake even when he’s asleep.”

“You think you know a lot about soldiers,” the boy said calmly, but his face was ugly with blotched heat. “They protect the Colony.”

“They commit genocide for the Colony. To that Officer, life and death is as black as the space outside and as white as your skin.”

“That’s just civilian gossip,” Trystan said, his eyes shining.

She wondered again if the boy was a Officer. “You didn’t answer my first question,” she said.

“I didn’t.”

“Have you done this before?”

“Maybe I don’t feel like I owe a marketplace whore an explanation.”

“What’s a bit of gossip between whores?” Many emotions crossed the boy’s face; anger, sadness, anger… he opened his mouth and closed it again. He sucked in his cheeks like the idea was sour to him. “Better get used to the word,” she said. “My name is Pelagia, how about we start with that.”

The boy hesitated then shrugged. “Trystan.”

“Have you done this before Trystan?”

He gave her a toothy smile. “You’re curious, aren’t you?”


Pelagia guessed he charmed his way through life. “Aren’t you used to answering questions? Or asking them?”
Again, the boy sucked at his cheeks like the question was repugnant to him. Through the gap in the marketplace crowd, she could see a man glaringly angrily at them. “Who’s that?” she asked.

Trystan put his hands in his pockets and walked over to his brother. He flashed Cadell a smile and lowered his voice. “Pretend to be angry at me, she thinks you’ve caught me freelancing.” He tried to lean on his brother’s shoulder, but Cadell shook him off, his face flushing with anger and barking; “Trystan.”
Trystan felt powerful with his new discovery and he smiled at his older brother while his young Captain stared at him like a co-ordinate without a location. The boy lowered his head and smiled. He’d almost certainly landed himself in solitary confinement, and perhaps he’d suffer a broken limb next time they trained. They weren’t due to be deployed off Colony for a few weeks yet and he’d spent a few moons testing his Senior Officer’s patience.  
Men were still stealing looks at his body and Trystan bathed proudly in the attention until Cadell’s eerie blue eyes met his own. “I won’t protect you if you’re caught.”
The words were like a web of safety snapping painfully under him, and like the painful growth of his body during the past two years, he couldn’t go back.   

 

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Chapter 2

2033 : The Colony : Trystan (19)

Trystan straightened the collar of his shirt and fumbled the last button closed. He’d done it. He ran through the Colony for the last time; no matter what end. His blood was pounding around his body and his head was dizzy. His body was singing with life. He likened it to a stone entranceway breaking, and the possibilities are stretched out in front of him. He didn't know if he’d get out alive before the army found out what he’d done, or even if Cadell would protect him. It was too late to change now, the dam had broken and the current was rushing through, changing everything.
It felt like an excess current through his body and his skin tingled with it. When he looked down at his hands, he flinched to see Sessions darker hands instead of his own- he blinked and looked again, and it’s his hands again. He didn't know what to do with the extra energy- his heart felt like it was flooding the rest of his body, the dam was broken and the river was overflowing. He sprinted down the corridors, dodging soldiers and civilians, an idiotic grin plastered on his face. He was elated and heartbroken all at the same time. If this was what it felt like to snap then maybe he should have done it a long time ago- he hadn’t realised it felt so good.
He made it as far as their quarters and Cadell was stood outside as though he were expecting him. There were grey shadows beneath his eyes and at the creases of his steeled jaw. Trystan slowed to a walk and stumbled, his limbs shaking. He wiped the blood that was trickling down his lip with the back of his hand. Cadell’s blue eyes scrutinised him until he winced with pain and stumbled forwards. His brother wrapped his arm around his shoulder and carried him into the quarters and over to a bed.
“We have to leave tonight,” Trystan said. “It has to be tonight.” “Trystan?” Rhiamon asked, walking in. He’d seen his friend in worse states, but he knew something was wrong. He looked at Trystan with concern, always so different to how Cadell looked at him. They both stared at the youth expectantly; Rhiamon was taking in his injuries and Cadell was hanging on his last words. “I killed Sessions,” Trystan told them with a stupid grin. He rubbed his forehead and laughed. Cadell stared at him. Trystan thought he knew all of his brother’s expressions, he had experience of his anger and shock from years of his transgressions, but he’d never seen this one before. Did his brother ever think he’d go this far? Who knew. Killing a Senior Officer, even fucking one, was treason and punishable by death. Worse than that, he’d endangered his siblings and put his Captain, his brother, in an impossible situation.
The young Captain struggled to contain his breathing. Trystan wondered if he’d lost his voice again, and willed him to say something, even one of his favourite stock phrases reserved for Trystan’s moments of greater stupidity;“and you wonder why you attract trouble,” or the Captain’s recent favourite; “If you put yourself in vulnerable situations you’ll be vulnerable.”
Though the most relevant and terrifying had been; “I won’t protect you if you’re caught.” Both of his colleagues know that he’d fucked Sessions first, they knew him well enough. “I have the codes,” Trystan told them and held out Session’s device towards Rhiamon. His sometimes-lover took it with a trembling hand.
Cadell looked at Rhiamon and it seemed like they were trying to stare each other out. His Senior Officer looked down at the device like it contained all the answers. Then without another glance in Trystan’s direction he hissed; “Get cleaned up.”
Trystan’s heart felt weak like a muscle had given up during a training session as he pulled himself upwards.  

 

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Chapter 3


2036 —> 2010 : Earth : Trystan (19)

Trystan blinked once or twice then closed his eyes again as the pain throbbed through his body. He dug a small device and clicked it off its safety mode, then hesitated. He only had two of these devices with him- was the pain he was experiencing worth a dosage? A few seconds pause was enough to persuade him and he clicked it down on his skin. 9 small needles punctured his vein and the painkiller flooded his system. He felt the steroids seconds later and his muscles felt surged with energy. He drifted a hand over his torso and felt blood sliding beneath his undershirt, but it was easy to be objective and calm about an injury that he couldn't feel anymore. His heart, for the first time in hours, felt numb. He thought about Delsin and the muscle just lay like cold still meat in his chest.
He could hear music playing and felt the bass as it vibrated through his body from the ground. In his fear to open his eyes, he savoured the sounds. Music was always good and familiar, it was a constant rhythm in his head. Next, he savoured the scents around him. Tarmac, grass, alcohol, and touch- there was grass beneath his body, he could feel the texture through his clothes. But what colour was it? He knew from his studies that the planet Earth had green vegetation and a blue sky. He was alone; he might have landed on a different planet than his siblings. But why him? Were the other youths scattered, or was he the only one alone?
He thought he'd seen blue sky the last time he'd opened his eyes, but perhaps that was just wishful thinking. All he'd have to do was open his eyes and he'd know for sure. What if the youths were close by, waiting for him? He curled himself up in the grass and tried to muster the courage to open his eyes as he felt a cold spot land on his cheek. HHe leapt straight to his feet in fighting stance, looking around for danger. His muscles relaxed as he saw that he was entirely alone. His eyes were also open, so he glanced upwards and caught his breath. The sky wasn't blue. It was grey, streaked with pink and rich gold.
He felt another cold spot on his cheek, and then again on his forehead. The sky grumbled, before flakes of snow began to swirl down onto him, and Trystan was transfixed. Rain was one thing, but snow? He'd only ever read about it. It was cold, light, and the flakes melted on his hot skin as soon as they landed and he felt the exhilaration of being free, closely followed by grief, loneliness and fear. Where was his team?
A shriek startled Trystan back into a defensive stance, and two women walked down the street towards him. One of the women smiled at him. "Snow! Pretty random, isn't it?"
Trystan flashed them a bright grin. The women were dressed like courtesans, but they were far too slim. Their thighs weren't toned enough for them to be soldiers. Civilians, he concluded.  
The woman's companion giggled. "It’s definitely global warming."
The first woman trailed her eyes down Trystan's body, reassuring him that wherever he was, he didn't look out of place. “Did you see 5 people? My age?” he asked the woman urgently, but she hadn’t.
He swore and ran a hand through his hair. He looked down at his wound. He couldn’t feel any pain due to the drugs, but he could see it was fairly serious. How long could he afford to wait here for the others before he bled too much? Gods, where were they? They were meant to be here together.
There are no settings, Rayne had said of the time machine. Was that why he was alone?
Nothing was familiar in this new world- nothing except the music. The bass shook softly under his boots. Gods, where were they? They’d always traced him faster than he’d been able to find them in the past. Just stay out of trouble, Rayne had reasoned with him, after they’d discovered him in a brothel after being separated after a mission, then a bar fight-   
Arienne had probably alerted them to his possible locations by now in the dry voice of hers. Rhiamon would be worried, probably nervously fiddling with the button on his shirt cuff with broad fingers. Broad fingers moving quickly, dispersing energy. His green eyes dilating with relief and arousal at finding them both alive at the end of a fight.
You’re alive, he’d breathe. Fingers flexing, probably aching to reach out and touch him and check he was real.
Prove it, Trystan would reply.    
Trystan closed his eyes and more cold flakes landed on his skin. He needed to stitch his wound. He didn’t want to leave the spot, but the music was drawing him in with seductive bass tones. It was easier to hide in a crowd of people than alone, he reasoned. He wanted human contact, that familiar tingle under his skin urged him towards the building. The man at the door eyed Trystan as if to say 'what are you doing here?.’  The man probably had 70 pounds on him- he squared his shoulders. He was wearing a leather vest, and a handlebar moustache. The man’s eyes ran down him in turn, taking in his own leather trousers, boots and long ornate leather coat.  
“Lost sonny?” the man asked.
This was a regular lower level dive bar- seedy, dark. His rank meant nothing here. Rather than square up, he slouched his slim shoulders. “I dunno- you out of drink already?”
The man laughed and let him past.
His Amyll nostrils stung at the wall of new smells. It stank of sweat, old beer, testosterone. pheromones and blood. He edged his way into the crowd with his reflexes alert. Most of the people in the bar were crowding over one side of the large room where the repetitive chanting of the people was like the metallic hum of an engine.
He put a hand over his throbbing wound that was casually soaking his shirt fibres with blood. He needed to patch himself up first and foremost. He raided a first aid kit on the wall for its contents, and gods, he didn’t have much to work with. Somewhere private was needed. He scanned the room and his eyes settled on a bathroom. He ignored the eyes on him as he went into the only stall in the room and locked the door. It was times like this he cursed his over sensitive nose. He sewed up the wound with the basic medical supplies, wishing he had Rayne with him for her small neat stitches. He’d need to find something more permanent than the temporary stitches he’d given himself, but at least he wasn’t bleeding anymore. His shirt, though black, was full of blood. He dropped it in a ball on the floor and pulled his long coat back on.  
He left the bathroom and the movement of the crowd pushed him towards the centre of the bar. A cage loomed over the heads of the people. The metal bars dulled with dirt and old blood. For a blissful moment, Trystan considered his position and an intense feeling of anonymity. He was lost to the eyes of the army for the first time in his life. He felt both terror and exhilaration at once. The crowd around him was throbbing around the cage; he could smell their excitement like a pack of creatures around a fresh kill. The crowd was bathed in a blue light from a light above their heads, and the people became ocean waves, topped with sheer white surf. Next, they were bathed in hot orange, and the bar floor became a desert blizzard. Trystan was dizzy as he pushed his way through more people as they were cloaked in cool green. He took time to appreciate the physicality of the men in the cage. The blood ran to his neck, making the leather collar he wore feel tighter. The testosterone in and out of the cage was choking his senses. Women wearing tight clothes clutched the bars and cheered the fighters on. One of the women turned to eye Trystan appreciatively as he pushed to the front.
The fighter closest to him - as though realising he was there- turned his head. There was blood running down his temple from a cut above his eye as the man stared in Trystan's direction.
The fighter was confident and impressive inside the cage. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt like the one Trystan had been wearing, but his shoulders were considerably wider. Whereas Trystan's shirt clung to his lean muscles and made him appear lanky, the older male's shirt accentuated his solid bulk. His muscles were trembling from the exercise. The other fighter in the cage approached him from his blind side but the older man span into a roundhouse kick and knocked his opponent across the floor. The resulting charge hurled both men across against the bars, where the fighters back and shoulders clattered painfully against the metal cage.    
The crowd screamed in approval and Trystan felt the adrenaline sluggishly flood his bloodstream. He had about two hours, maybe three, until the drugs wore off. He just had to see out the night in relative comfort and find his squadron. He retreated to a bar in a haze and a drink appeared in front of him. The man who bought him the drink looked out of place in the bar. He wore a crumpled green suit over a starched white shirt. The man was late 30's, perhaps early 40’s; Trystan had fondly noticed the crow's feet at the side of his eyes.
The crowd roared and Trystan looked back at the cage. His eyes fixed on the older fighter who had just floored his opponent. The bar was a ruckus of movement and sound and the man in the green suit’s hand was pressing against his thigh, and Trystan swatted it away with annoyance. No sooner had he done it, the man put his hand back. Trystan swore with annoyance. He couldn’t risk fighting here and drawing attention to himself. Arienne’s voice was in his ear suddenly; Keep a low profile, Trystan, low means no fucking, fighting, flirting in public.

The lights above the cage flooded the crowd in deep pink as the fighter looked directly at him. The man's frown increased as though he recognised him. The women around the cage screamed and shook their hips and hair. Pink light flooded over the fighters and crowd, dyeing everyone with its strange hue. He moved away into the crowd and watched the fighter look for him in vain. His heartbeat caught in his throat as he watched.  The crowd was roaring with appreciation as he stepped back into view just as the lights faded and the pink lights drained like a watercolour rinse. The fighter looked back in time to see his opponent charging him again and he ducked, causing the other man to crash into the cage, unable to halt his momentum. He continued the fight with urgency.
When his opponent finally fell to the ground, the man ignored the applauding of the audience and skimmed his eyes over the onlookers. Trystan's skin sweated as the man's eyes rested on him again. He held eye contact with the fighter as they unlocked the cage. He walked across to the cage door and Trystan followed as if on a leash, being dragged by the weight of their stare. They crossed to the bar, together but apart.

The man had the easy air of arrogance and his eyes were as challenging as they were welcoming. With a dismissive shrug and a youthful swagger, Trystan diverted his course towards the bar in the corner of the room. The fighter hesitated as he leant against the bar. He didn't look over his shoulder but twisted his neck to the side, just enough to be aware of the fighter's movements. The older man was running his eyes down the youth's back as much as he could without drawing attention to himself. He moved to the entrance of the open back door. The snow was still coming down in light flakes, and the wind had picked up sending cold air into the bar. The fighters sweat soaked shirt clung to his muscles and absorbed the coldness of the air touching it, but his skin beneath was still thrumming with heat. A man near him moved to close the door, but hesitated at the sight of him. The fighter ignored him and slowly peeled the shirt from his body. He didn't look back towards the bar at whether Trystan was watching or not, and pulled his cigarette packet and light from his pocket. He sheltered a cigarette from the wind and lit it as he stepped out into the cold flurry.  
Trystan lingered for a minute before following. The man waited until Trystan moved out into the open before glancing his way. He walked into the mans personal space, seeing the mans muscles tighten. "Do you have a cigarette?"
The man offered the packet and Trystan daintily took one with his teeth. He let his long hair slide to one side, exposing his defined but slender neck. His lips brushed the edge of the man's fingers as he lifted the cigarette out with his mouth. He put his head back, locked his black eyes with the man's and waited. The man lit his cigarette and Trystan put his head back and inhaled, exposing his neck once more; then lifted the cigarette from his mouth and exhaled.
This man might not even be gay and Trystan hoped it wouldn't turn into a brawl. He kept an easy intimate manner, taught to him by more experienced prostitutes. He caught his stare and smiled warmly. Trystan could feel his heart thundering in his chest, and hoped to god the fighter  couldn't hear it. Rheam’s throat was dry of any further comments and his palms felt clammy. Whereas he had felt like he held all the cards, he was suddenly faced with an unfamiliar sense of equally unfamiliar territory.
Trystan watched the mans muscles tense and kept still as the man inspected him. What would he find, Trystan wondered. He was out of uniform, but he'd long since learnt to exist in civilian clothes, that wouldn't give him away.
Trystan was wearing leather trousers, slim fit that clung to his thighs, boots, and a long dark coat. His shirt was balled up on a bin, exposing his pale chest under the ornate trimmings of his open coat. The mans eyes predictably lingered on the small bandage, and probably wondered what kind of injury it could be covering. "Who are you?"
Trystan chuckled at the small victory. Emboldened, he parted his lips and flicked his tongue across them. "Does it matter?" He knew how it felt to come out of a fight; adrenaline in your blood and wanting physicality of a different kind. His blood was still charged from his escape. He stepped dangerously close to the older man and said, "Do I look like someone you know? Or someone you once knew, is that it?" He ran his hand down his arm. "What can I do about that?"
The man showed no surprise or insult at his proposition, which meant he'd used prostitutes before. Trystan leant towards him and paused, his lips above the man's own. The man shook his head and Trystan nestled his cheek at the man's neck instead. The fighter's fingers began tracing circles at the base of his spine, and Trystan breathed warmly into the hollow of the man's collarbone. "What do you do?" The fighter asked.
Trystan pulled away. His cheeks felt flushed as he slid his tongue across his bottom lip. "Everything," he answered.
Trystan breathed in the scent of soap, nicotine and arousal. He followed his nose down, inhaling a lungful. He felt the blood rush to his mind and spread warmly through his body. He inhaled again like a drug addict in need of his fix.
The door to the bar slammed shut. The fighter, sobered by the distraction, said, “Not here."


Trystan leant back against the brick wall as the man paid for a hotel room. If he was lucky, then he might get to stay for an hour- maybe two. He thought about the other youths as he watched the last flurry of snow coming down. Had they made it through alive? He touched his stomach and thought of how the machine had torn them apart like blossom. His heart pounded, and the snowflakes melted immediately on his heated skin. Control your emotions, Cadell always told him, before they control you. He pushed the images of blossom and flesh out of his mind, inviting a static white noise instead. He could gain nothing from panicking, all that mattered was continuing to live, securing a stable position and waiting to regroup. He was shivering- he was cold, that was all.  
He heard the clink of keys and two steps on frosty ground. He opened his eyes to see the man standing there, keys in hand and watching him.
The room number was the same as Trystan’s favourite escape hatch on the 22nd level of the Colony. The room was clean- nice, actually. He’d certainly been fucked in worse places. The room had a green carpet and itchy looking wool blankets on an average sized bed. The fighter closed to door on the cold outside, and Trystan savoured the warm air circulating inside. He gazed out of the window, and saw the blue stretch of the sea in the near distance. Fascinated, he stared at it as the waves rolled against the pebbled beach. No wonder he’d smelt salt in the air. The snow was covering the pebbles on the beach, and Trystan was reminded of the white beaches he’d seen planetside. He remembered the great city on the beach burning blue from the chemical refineries reacting to the excessive levels of oxygen in the air. Trystan’s helmet had been hair line cracked- not enough to endanger him, but enough that he remembered the head rush, like a cheap drug available in the lower colonies.           
The fighter sat down on the bed behind him and drew his cigarette packet out of his pocket. He removed one and lit it as Trystan turned to assess his client. He was possibly retired; it was harder to tell once someone had lived among civilians for a few years. He was wealthy enough to be comfortable- he hadn’t asked how much Trystan would cost. 100 had seemed a fair price and the fighter looked like he could afford more. The fighter opened his wallet and put a pile of notes on the table. He wasn’t bad looking; Trystan had certainly done worse for a warm bed for a few hours.
He’d often returned to the marketplace to speak to Pelagia, the marketplace whore that became a friend and a mentor of sorts. She taught him about more things that just recognising soldiers. Through her, Trystan learnt to be independent. Although Trystan’s profession was dangerous, he had grown up in a position of privilege. He and his comrades had never been hungry. It wasn’t until Trystan became a whore did he see the way other people lived. He walked among the poverty among the forgotten lower levels of the Colony. They were starving, Trystan could see, but why, and how? Pelagia once held up a fruit, and asked him how much it cost. Trystan didn’t know and doubted Cadell did either. They ate rations provided by the army. “You’re kept,” Pelagia said, and he couldn’t argue.  
He had been under Pelagia’s wing for a week or so, when she asked him a favour- to offer Trystan in payment for something she owed an Officer. “You fit his tastes more than I do,” she’d explained.  
He’d had a client or two since he’d began his new career, and Pelagia smiled at his unease. They were at the edge of a fruit stall, eating an apple that she had bought for him. She’d leant close to him, exposing her glorious cleavage and winking at a passing stranger who had stared before asking Trystan; “Do you know what to do with a naked man?’
He’d opened his mouth, still full of apple, to protest- but stopped and had shut his mouth again.

The fighter smoked and seemed content to let his penetrating eyes roam his body. Trystan knew to bathe in the attention and let the process move at its own speed. Every client was different, some had their hands on him from the first moment, some needed time to warm up, or god forbid, talk. It was good to see what the client wanted early as he could. But this man didn’t seem interested in any of it. There was a vitality about him, like a reactor core beneath a cool metal shell. It was easy to sense the boiling heat that was beneath the exterior although impossible to prove; it was crackling in the air around him as he smoked. Unnerved, Trystan broke their eye contact again. The man’s expression was unreadable; like a barely understandable flight manual. What did he know about this man already? Introverted, private, possessive, liked to fight… probably an Officer, but he’d rather be sure who he was dealing with. Trystan held back a smile as he remembered Pelagia’s teachings.    

Pelagia dropped her dress on the floor. Trystan looked at it. He stared at it until the fabric swam into shapes he couldn’t recognise.
“Officer,” the woman said at him. “Right there. Anyone would guess you were military.”

Trystan shrugged off his coat, the wet leather sliding easily from his skin, and dropped it on the floor.
The man looked at the cocoon of leather and then back at Trystan. Trystan watched patiently as the older man’s eyes flickered restlessly between his skin and the coat. Officer, the boy thought smugly. Definitely military.  
He scooped the coat up and stroked the creases out before hanging it on the back of the door. He could feel the man’s eyes on his back, so he took his time before turning around. His hand had paused in mid air with the cigarette burning leisurely between his fingers. This was a man who liked to take his time. Trystan knew how that felt- sex for a Officer was often desperate and quick, it was luxurious to take it slowly. “Do you have anything to drink?” he asked.
“In that cabinet somewhere,” Rheam answered.
You’ve been here before, Trystan thought as he opened the doors. He chose something that looked refreshing. He sat back on the chest of drawers and clasped the bottle between his hands. He took a swig and immediately grimaced- alcohol, strong, too.
There was a chuckle from the older man. “Are you old enough?”
Probably means the drink- god knows what their age of consent was, for drink or sex, Trystan mused. He hitched his foot up, let his thighs drop apart and his other leg dangle from the dresser edge. “What?” he teased after a minute.
The fighter inhaled in his cigarette. “Your muscles,” he said finally.  
Muscles- did he look like a Officer himself? “I’m not a woman,” Trystan teased.
The fighter didn’t smile but the crows feet became more pronounced around the older man’s eyes. “There are more important things to worry me.”
Trystan fantasied about what he would look like if he really smiled- he’d be beautiful. And he’s flexible. High enough rank to have a courtesan and feel entitled and comfortable with it. An Officer without doubt, probably senior. A Captain, a Commander?
Trystan felt his confidence rise and the noise in his head quieten. This he knew, this was familiar, comfortable. He took a more tentative mouthful of the drink. Not bad.
“What do you do when you’re not having sex?” the fighter asked. His tone was velvety soft, and Trystan felt the texture like it was touching his skin.
Trystan smiled and answered honestly. “I like to dance.” The boy leant back and placed the drink down beside him. He could hear Cadell’s voice insist; My brother doesn’t dance.
The man relaxed just enough. “Family?” the man asked. Trystan struggled to hide his sudden anxiety, though the man seemed intrigued by his lack of control. “Do they know you’re in a hotel room, about to be fucked by a complete stranger for money?”
“So sad that you have to fuck a stranger for money,” Trystan said. “At least I can buy a drink afterwards.”
The fighter laughed. He had a sense of humour, thank gods, Trystan thought.
The fighter stood up and walked towards where he was sitting. Trystan let him touch his skin with no protest, the crease of muscle leading down to his flat stomach, half expecting the fighter to feel the heat of his anger beneath his skin. “How brave, to insult a man you don’t even know,” the man purred with amusement. “Tell me, are you completely lacking intelligence, or are you so sure of yourself?”
“I know you want me,” Trystan said with unwavering confidence as he lay half naked like a centrefold.
There was enough heat in the man’s eyes to see that he was enjoying the verbal spar. “You want me,” the fighter smirked.  
“Doesn’t mean I like you,” Trystan answered. He leant forward, all swagger and teenage arrogance. He ran a his tongue discreetly over his lower lip. Trystan wanted to be touched. His skin shivered until he felt he should offer money to the other man to have his hands on him. “Want to get on my good side?”
The older man ran his hands along his sides, then lifted him up, turned them around and dropped the younger man on the bed. His broad body eclipsed the light on the celling, like the radiation protection shields of the colony and his shadow was blissfully cool. Electricity was running through Trystan’s veins, as it had when he had killed Sessions. This man’s arms were either side of him, like a crude survival shelter, encasing him, and Trystan could breathe again. He lay a hand on his client’s stomach. It was solid bulk, muscle, he couldn’t imagine it exploding into atoms. This man was far too real. But he’d been ripped apart like blossom. How had Cadell felt in his current mental state? Had he felt like he’d become raindrops, like the day he’d- No. Not now. He needed to get his head back to the task in hand.
He looked up into the man’s eyes, still impassive and guarded, and thrust his body upwards as he kissed him. His heart was full of Delsin and the idea of another man touching him was repulsive; his nerves jolted unpleasantly at the older man’s hands; but he also needed to be touched. The heat of his blood was boiling under his skin, in his cheeks, his chest and in his groin. His body was full of life blood, but how had it gotten back into his body so perfectly? He was alive, like he’d scrambled out of an exploding vehicle just in time. It was an itch under his skin, wanting to be touched- needing to be touched, caressed, licked, fucked -
A smirk grew on the older man’s face, he stroked the boy’s sweated cheek, and Trystan couldn’t move his lips to retort.

“Don’t look down,” Pelagia gestured to her eyes and leant in close. “Look right here.”

The man’s hand grasped the back of Trystan’s head, holding the roots of his hair tightly. Trystan arched his back and let his jaw drop open. He couldn’t move his head, couldn’t deepen the kiss-
The older man's gaze dropped to his throat as he loosened his hold on the boy’s hair. The boy's developed shoulders glistened and he wondered if they would they taste of salt. Rheam raised a hand to the boys flat chest and  brushed a dusky pink nipple. Trystan gasped and his lips again parted invitingly. The fighter didn’t move as Trystan ghosted his fingers down his jawline with an awed expression.    
Trystan pulled at his shirt, and coaxed him down onto the itchy cream blankets. The man knelt over, watching the boy's stomach muscles relaxing. His hand encircled a near white hip but Trystan guided his hand further downwards. A brush of fingertips was all it took for the boy’s torso to arch beautifully. Trystan murmured nonsensically, nuzzling into the man’s neck as the older man’s palm caressed him. Trystan’s body arched fully under him like the bow of a ship and heard the other man take a sharp breath at the sudden contact. The older man sighed as Trystan pressed his groin against his own. Not so long ago, he’d been dragged apart- his body divided into atoms and molecules- he was a puddle of ink blotting through paper and dripping through the other side.
Now his body was responding as a body should, answering the wandering touch of this client, arching it just so, and he knew it looked pleasing when he did that.

“The soldiers here, especially Officers, never give up control, or at least they don’t think they do,” Pelagia touched his cheek as the man kissed his neck. “You hold the cards here- see how much he wants you?”    
A flash of fear crossed his face and his cheeks burned with humiliation. Pelagia kissed his heated cheek and whispered in his ear; “How disarming you are; how vulnerable.”

It was a celebration- when he’d pushed his body to the limits, where he’d taken more chances than he should have had- this is how they knew they were alive.
The boy kissed his client’s ear. His long slender fingers clasped a little tighter at his neck, curling around strands of hair. Trystan wondered if this was his first time with another man as a leg moved to nudge his thighs apart, remembering his own clumsy first attempts, and how he’d felt the first time a man had done that with him.

“Like a girl?” the boy had said with disgust.
“Do you think this makes you weak?” Pelagia asked him.
Trystan opened his mouth to answer but shut it again at Gia’s expression. “Then what?” he demanded.

Not weak, Trystan knew that now. It took tremendous amounts of discipline to submit and to be just what a client wanted.
The fighter kissed his neck and ran his hands down his hips. There was awe in his touches, and the boy could imagine this was new to him. He made encouraging noises and felt the man’s muscles tighten above him. The fear curled in Trystan’s stomach with no warning, it curled and crashed and coiled like whirlpools on the 6-7b planets.
Rheam laid a hand on his stomach. Such a simple gesture, Trystan thought, but the effect on his mind was anything but simple. The fingers, palm laid there quietly, no expectation and no malice. It was shocking to his nervous system, this small gesture. This man from a cage- this senior officer- his hand was tender; exquisitely gentle; it was entirely new, but he suddenly wanted Delsin more than he thought possible, but the man he loved was behind glass 22 years in the future. I’ve got you, he heard in his mind.
Time ground slowly down to the sound of footsteps on the concrete outside. A sort of creature was crying out over the sea somewhere and the breath sucked from Trystan’s lungs as though he were being drowned. He remembered Session’s survival training where he’d been held under water until his lungs had burned and the life felt like it had flooded out of him. Tears sprung from his eyes. No, no- Not now- Not with this stranger, not now, not when he had no other choices.
The older man’s body moved back as Trystan sobbed like a child.  

 

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