Some situations are difficult to imagine. There was a lot about Lucere that was already well into the realm of surreal; so different from my normal life before this that it was very dreamlike, though perhaps nightmarish felt like it was closer much of the time. While the big things that happened had each been like a tonne of bricks in their impact on my world, there were still a multitude of little moments that, cumulatively, were just as disarming.
One of those moments was sitting across from Carlos at breakfast the next morning. All of us were there except Mira, who was still deep in a regenerative sleep. Konstantin had checked on him and was satisfied he was fine, but told all of us not to disturb him. The other boy didn't make eye contact with me over the counter-top as we ate, keeping his head towards his food. There was bruising across his jaw and cheek, and though I didn't know what it was from, I knew it because he helped Mira to rescue me.
Conversationally, as if asking someone to pass him the butter, Konstantin broke the silence which had developed after the initial greetings. "So, I gather you have met one another before, mm?" The query was directed more at Carlos than at me, though his attention shifted casually between us.
The boy glanced at the Russian and gave a cursory nod. "Yes, it was away south and west from here, closer to the city ruins." He looked at me furtively, then to Konstantin again, not wanting to linger. "We didn't have a very friendly meeting. It was mostly my uncle scaring Shay, I think .. and I .. I, uh, wasn't too kind either." The family similarity is strong, he acts a lot like Sofia when he's regretful, even though she was .. pretending, faking it.His mannerisms are a bit more .. fiery I think is the word. Sofia and her father were very deliberate, very certain of what they did. "Of course, we were separated and we thought sharpelings killed him. We had to leave him alone, there was too much danger to search."
The story made sense until I realised that Carlos had said something revealing. He said I was alone. Ah .. damn. Konstantin had noticed this immediately and he shot me a look that said: 'Alone? What did he mean you were alone?' Shit. This is going to come back to haunt me. He already knew I was hiding something and now he knows that Mira wasn't with me when I met them, therefore .. he came into all this only a few days ago. My claim to be from Straalfidjar isn't looking so plausible now. Carlos went on. "You will want to know more about the group I am from?"
"I think we have to know," Lily told him, "too much has happened to just assume that they will let your uncle's death go."
He looked at both the adults and then gave a lacklustre shrug. "There were 22 of us before my uncle, Sofia and Luis were killed. It's a good place, out of the way, well disguised. We got by okay, though León had us out searching for more salvage, more food, more anything. Always an eye for weapons, since we don't have working guns and no ammo."
Konstantin sat back, folding his arms. "Well, weapons I am not so worried over. What really concerns me is how he was able to pass the security fence and get into the grounds of my house."
"I don't know. Sofia told me she got a big shock when she got too close, so we never tried anything more. I thought it is movement, but I don't understand, I saw the other boy run straight through it and he never suffered a thing."
"Motion detection is right," agreed Lily. She swirled her glass, the liquid in the bottom moving in languid circles as she explained. "It records other parameters too, not just movement. The sensors are quite sophisticated, as is the software that manages them. Individual exceptions can be added to the system so that it doesn't zap anything that fits the profile of a person living here, like me or Konstantin. Shay and Mira were put on that list." Then a slight pause and a sympathetic nod of the head. "You will be too."
Carlos' face dipped down, obviously embarrassed and not knowing what to say. "Well, I don't know how he got in here," he mumbled, "so I don't think I can help, but ... you said you caught someone?" His voice picked up a bit. "It was probably Federico or maybe Juan. Those two and Luis, León told them what was going on. They would be the ones he'd bring as backup. If anyone knows, it is them."
The Russian grunted. "He is not going to just tell us everything. Not willingly. He has nothing to gain from talking and everything to lose. Certainly, I do not like the idea of .. painful interrogation .. to make him speak."
"Well," he hesitated, not sure about his response. "I could do it, if you trust me. Without too much violence, I swear. I know him, I might be able to scare him into talking. Only," he took a breath, without looking at me yet, "I want Shay to come with me." Me? Why does he want me? "I think it will provoke him. Maybe fool him into saying something stupid."
All three of them looked in my direction. "Well if you think it will help, and if he is okay with this." Konstantin held his hands up in the air in surrender. "It is up to him. Though remember, I do not want you bloodying the place without need. Talk is one thing, but torture is another. Understand?"
I stood and Carlos followed suit. Well if he really thought I could help him, I guess I should. It was my mistake that contributed to this mess, so I should do something about fixing it. We do need to find out how León got into the house. It was like I had accidentally slipped into an old war movie, off to beat the living daylights out of an enemy prisoner until he spilled his guts. Hopefully with less beating and more talking.
"I hear you," he promised. "I won't take it too far."
"I moved him to the garage last night. We might need to actually do some laundry today, so it's hardly suitable as a jailhouse, yes?" The chuckle was sardonic and fatherly. Just like Konstantin to see the humour in such an undesirable situation. "Oh, and take this." Unholstering the Tokarev, he ejected the clip and loaded an empty one into it, then handing it to me. "It will work as a prop, if suggestive words won't do for your 'dirty work'."
A gun with no bullets. Seems fitting for the situation. Time to put the fear of God into this guy. Carlos met my gaze fully for the first time since we'd began breakfast. He gave a slight nod, his face serious. Well, no time like the present. Time to go have a little chat ...
The man was heavyset and balding, probably in his mid 30s. His snub nose and close eyes made me think of unflattering comparisons to the animals outside. Ankles and wrists were bound securely and he was propped against the wall on a clear section of floor. As we had entered the garage, he did not say anything to me, but recognition shone through when Carlos stepped into view. An ugly smirk crawled onto his face and I knew then this would be an interesting experience.
He started to speak, his voice wheedling and insinuating. It was Spanish, directed at the other boy, but right away Carlos interrupted him. "No. You speak English. All of this will be in English, you get me? Don't try to be clever. We're going to have a talk, the three of us, sí?"
His eyes darted to my face then back to Carlos, and his smirk broadened. "Sí. Is okay. I talk English. Make easy for you friend." He drew out the word, making it sound as out of place as possible, making it sound dirty. Okay, already I can tell .. this guy is a fucking dick and by the sound of it his English is the worst of anyone I have encountered so far. I hope this isn't going to be as annoying as it looks. "Little Carlo, makes new friends. Now he forget his family, eh?"
"Federico, shut the hell up," the boy said flatly. "Listen. I need some answers from you and you need to be smart about this. Smart, or god knows what will happen."
"You want me to talk? Think I say all the words you want, eh?" The man let out a guffaw. "Hahaha! You not nothing like you uncle, boy. He got brains. He got balls. You just a kid. Can't scare me to say nothing."
"Uncle León is dead," replied Carlos, "because he was on the wrong side. I'm not like him and I don't want to be. Thing is, do you? Do you want to follow a dead man?"
Federico shook his head, the toothy grin very off-putting. "You think I'm dumb as ever, eh Carlo? You don't fright me. Kill me and you don't find out shit. The wrong side?! You turn you back on León and little Sofia because you a dog. No faith and no love. Without you, there no problems." He turned and spat on the floor in front of me, casting me a look like I was garbage. "Should let her fuck him and kill him, like they plan."
He lashed forward, quick and precise, the blow knocking Federico onto the floor. Hauling him upright by his shirt front, Federico's lip was split, but he was still grinning through it. Carlos looked furious, and I knew he was still holding it in, but not all that well. He really wants to beat him up. I bet they never got along that well even when they were on the same side, before this. Can't really say I blame him for being angry if he had to put up with jerks like this all the time.
"What the fuck is wrong with you Federico?" His hold on the shirt front kept them close, face to face. "What did they do to us? You think it's good to go round destroying other people to stay alive? When are you gonna wake up?"
"Oooh," he crooned, still irreverently grinning back into Carlos' face, "Maybe I wrong, eh? Maybe you want this skinny white boy ass for yourself, huh?" He looked me up and down, leering. "Didn't think you for maricon, Carlo. He look soft, like a girl." The grin grew even wider, back to the other boy again. "Does he feel like one too?"
Disgusted, Carlos shoved him back into the wall, and stood. He turned and stepped towards me, his hands balled into fists. Speaking, his voice low, not even looking at the man on the floor: "Shay, we should stop now. I was wrong, he's too stupid to use any tricks on and this keeps up, I will be breaking my word to Konstantin."
He's on the money. This guy is crude and brainless. Maybe he doesn't actually know anything useful anyhow and is just playing along because he has nothing to work with. "You're right," I said. Then, almost as an afterthought. "Sorry. I mean, that he is this useless to us."
He shrugged. Casting a glance to Federico, Carlos moved to the door, with me behind. The man's voice followed us as we made to leave, mocking all the way. "Going so soon? Thought you wanted a talk, eh? You learn nothing." He snorted, a rude garble of laughter. "They come back for me, come to this place again. Same as before. You don't know. Won't get away again, white boy. They kill the Russian. They kill Carlo. They kill the other one, that little bastard, the wild one. Sí. They make it slow, for León. They make him beg! Beg for his life, white boy!" I stopped dead in my tracks. Mira?! He's talking about Mira! I know I shouldn't have reacted so emotionally, but something about that man just touched a direct nerve and his mention of Mira was the very last thing I needed to hear.
I saw red. I snapped.
Suddenly my pulse was pounding in my ears and a dark crimson wrath was boiling behind my vision. Turning, I strode across the room, the gleeful taunting expression on his face ignored completely as I knelt down, grabbed him by the neck and slammed his head into the wall. His jaw opened in pain and protest, and as it did, my other hand withdrew the Tokarev from where it was tucked into the waistband of my pants under my shirt and shoved it into his mouth.
His eyes were wide in fear, and I pressed the barrel further in, hearing him choke a little, squeezing his neck harder at the same time for added effect. "Listen, motherfucker," I whispered, my voice wavering from the condensed anger in it. "I'll make it really simple. You crossed a line, so now you're on three options, nothing else. One: I'll pull the trigger for you right now. Two: the 'wild one' can have your throat, just like León. Three: talk and tell me everything. EVERY-fucking-THING! Understand?" When he didn't respond, I jabbed the barrel in further. "Do you understand?!" He choked and tried to nod his head around it, his nostrils flaring in terror. I pulled the gun out and instantly he gasped and coughed, retching.
He sat back, catching his breath, silent still, scared witless for the moment. I waited for him to at least start speaking, but when he didn't, I looked at the pistol, slid the safety along the side off and raised it, ready to put it back into his maw.
"No!" He cried, his eyes widening again, his breath accelerating into shorter gasps. "No no! Dio! Stop!" Carlos was crouched beside me now, watching, his eyes darting between me and Federico as the scene played out. "I will talk! Three! Okay? Please!" His chest rose and fell quickly, the gun barrel hovering right in front of his face. "I will talk!"
"So talk," I growled. "Now."
He nodded rapidly, now in thrall to the dark metallic shine of the TT-33, prepared to say what he had to, to make it go away. "The fence. The fence, you want to know? León talks with these others, for a long time. Carlo, he remembers when his uncle, he went out for days. Ten days, more than ten maybe, longer! He tells me and Juan, he meets a group. They have guns, big guns, food, water, vehicles. They tell him, they are looking for anyone clean, no disease. They offer shelter, protection, to anyone clean. So León want you, for Sofia. So she is with child. For everyone safety."
"So that's what it's about?" Carlos spluttered. "He wanted her to produce a baby that was immune so he could use it to bargain with this group?!" They wanted me to make Sofia pregnant? What in the ...
"Yes! He said he asks them for advice about you fence. They tell him trick to get around it. Don't know it. León was only one, he not tell us how."
"This group .. how many are there? Did León talk to them often? Do they know where we are?"
"Don't know how many, just dozens," he babbled, still fixating on the gun. "He talk often, hid a radio at camp they gave him. Don't know! Don't know, okay? Please. That's all. Carlo?" He looked at the other boy, pleading. I don't think he knows more than this. In any case, León was the only one from their group who knew how to get onto the estate, and he died without telling anyone, so that's good enough for now.
Abruptly, I stood, clicking the safety back on and replacing the pistol back into the waist-band. Lapsing into silence, Federico collapsed against the wall, and we walked off, departing the room. As soon as Carlos eased the door shut and we were both standing in the hallway, he turned to me and started laughing softly. "Shay, that was brilliant! You scared the hell out of him." I smiled weakly and tried not to feel foolish, since I had meant every word I said to Federico. Probably best not to tell Carlos that I might have shot him had the gun been loaded and he said the wrong thing. Then his expression changed and sobered. "I want you to know, I really am sorry for all what happened since I met you. The way I act, the things I did, it was from the people I lived with. I could not escape them, they were family and all I had, and they wanted to do evil things like that .. it made me very upset at the world."
"I'm sorry too," I told him. "I wish you didn't have to have that as your life. I'm sorry your uncle and cousin died."
"I'm not. They deserved it," he said, his voice very matter-of-fact. "Now, I think I should tell Konstantin what Federico said. He needs to know about this. Oh and .. uh, Sofia told me what she said to you that day you met us. She was right, for both bits. I do hit very hard and you are too pretty to be bruised."
What?! The look he gave me over his shoulder as he went back to the kitchen was somewhere between teasing and serious.
Only, I wasn't quite sure which.
Lily's study was full of books. Normally they were on the shelves along the walls, but now there were several piles on the central reading desk. Some were paperweights, some were sprawling wide open and some were sporting markers here and there for annotation. When I entered, she was reading from a tome that was thick and heavy enough to hurt someone with, and gave me a smile when she saw me.
"Shay! Did it go well with our prisoner?" She hauled some books off a chair and patted the space. "Here, sit down. Tell me how it went."
I took the proffered seat. "It went okay. I had to, um, threaten him with the gun, but in the end he talked. Carlos is telling Konstantin about it now."
"The prop did the job, huh?" Amused, she carefully closed the leviathan in front of her, slipping in a bookmark as she did. "You know, he loves that gun. It's everything about Earth to him, about Russia. The strongest reminder of where he is from."
I'll say. He hasn't let go of that on Lucere, and that's .. one of the coolest things I've seen.Love where you are from and what it means. Good way to see the world. I looked at the stacked wisdom of the written word in their pillars on the table. Wonder how far she has gotten with her research. "So, have you found anything yet? It looked like there was heaps of data in their storage."
"Oh. Yes, there's plenty of information." She rolled her chair over closer to the computer and showed me the content listing again. "Too much information, almost. The big problem with this will be interpreting it to make it meaningful, so we can draw some conclusions from it that are valid."
Even without him being here, my father's influence hadn't faded at all. Like him, the curiosity about this kind of thing tended to stick in my mind once it had been introduced. Before coming to Lucere, being sick had often dominated my attention and even if I wanted to learn about a fascinating subject like the aemfid phenomenon, I wouldn't be able to focus on it. That melancholy, physically and mentally, got in the way of everything. I hadn't wanted to be involved. Now it was another matter. No, not any more. Now .. I want to know what's behind this. "Okay. So what do you know so far?"
"Well, visible aemfid have always been found in the atmosphere away from the surface of the planet, particularly in cloud cover, since there is a lot more for light to interact with." She switched views, a bunch of graphs appearing on the screen. "Typically they usually measured the EM field in differing atmospheric bands just to get some idea of its relation to altitude. It was thought that the visible distortions were just the tip of the iceberg, and that it was all over the place in the sky. This study though, it also measured electromagnetism on the ground. Guess what it found?"
It has to be the same as the air. "That aemfid is on the surface too, just like up in the clouds?"
"Exactly!" Satisfied with my answer, she continued on. "In fact, it's pretty much everywhere. Of course, it's not strong enough to actually be noticed. People would never have seen the effects of it in their everyday lives, but the instruments the Institute were using to record EM picked it up. They found evidence of it at differing times and places all over Aurum and on the other landmasses of Lucere, though the study was centred here. Currently, I'm just trying to figure out if the aemfid on the ground can be tied to any geophysical feature; if there's any sort of logical pattern to it."
Geophysical feature? "So maybe whatever is making it happen is on the ground, or in it or something like that. This wouldn't rule out organic stuff, like plants or animals or anything either, would it?"
She gave me a thoughtful look. "Well Shay, I don't think it's very likely that the cause would be organic. It's not uniform; that is, aemfid is stronger in some places and more or less non-existent in others. Possibly it could be related to organic chemistry or something in the physical strata of the earth, but at this point, nothing stands out."
How could organic chemistry or geology connect to this other stuff though? The idea seems like a long shot. "How would you link that to the EM field? I mean, I kinda get how it's related, but ... " I trailed off, not totally sure what I was asking her.
Lily looked at me like she was trying to decide something, then she smiled wistfully. "You remind me an awful lot of Dimi's brother. He was enquiring, smart, a little bookish." He has a brother? Or had, I guess. She giggled, remembering. "Very considerate too, brave though you wouldn't know it." I felt my face beginning to heat up, but then she went on. "I'm getting off track here though. It's all really in your understanding of electromagnetism as a force. You probably think of it mostly as obvious things. Lightning in the sky, a magnet sticking to metal, electrical charge running through a computer or any other device, right?"
"Think of it this way instead: electromagnetism is the force that pushes and pulls electrons between atoms. It can attract and repulse - both directions - and is happening all around us, all the time, in many ways too small to be recognised or thought about. It governs chemistry, organic and inorganic both. Mechanics, electronics, medicine and biology, light and radiation .. I could name a lot more. Almost all the things you can see happening in the natural world have some base in electromagnetism."
Okay, I do know how electrons and atoms work from science at school, but my teacher never explained it like *that* .. his description was a lot more basic. This makes me think. "I never considered it so .. important."
She nodded curtly. "It is one of the fundamental forces of the universe. Along with gravity and the- .... uh, well, I won't get into that now, because then you will just think I'm lecturing you." She grinned at me cheekily, rubbing her broken arm as she did so. "Oh .. radiation! That does remind me. GSPI was recording lots of anomalous data to see what would turn up. The other thing I've noticed is radioactive decay. In tiny, insignificant quantities that barely register and would not normally be seen at all."
This wasn't a topic I knew anything about. "No clue about that."
"I will spare you the long complicated explanation. In brief: an atom 'decays' by radiating out energy in the form of an ionized particle. The three main types are alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Beta decay is what I've found here. Spontaneous beta decay which seems to be happening in concert with aemfid. Another correlation I can't make sense of yet."
"Oh .. so what does that mean?"
Lily sighed. "I don't know. One thing I do know is .. you need to get out of here." She made a shooing motion with her hands, a poke in the metaphorical ribs to stop me from bothering her. "It's great to have a bright young mind around like yours, but I do need to concentrate on what I'm doing. Question time can happen later. Go check on Mira, make sure he's asleep and not out hunting down some bandits or whatever."
I got the message and made my leave. Hunting down bandits? Would hardly be surprised.
I wasn't all that shocked to find Mira's room empty. A little more so when I discovered him in my room instead, only not in his usual nest of bedding on the floor. He looked very sleepy still and was sitting by my pillow, not quite close enough to lean against the wall, his legs out in front of him. He saw me come in and watched very lazily as I came over and sat on the bed by his feet, hugging my knees to my chest. Through half-open eyes, he looked like he could doze off any second but I could sense that he was focused on me now. A whisper in my thoughts was busy telling me: of course he won't go to sleep. You're sitting in front of him. He's going to want to look at you. I squashed that little know-it-all sentiment, ignoring it. Whatever it was really trying to suggest to me could do with some time-out.
"You're awake. You were waiting for me huh?" Yeah, I know. He can't answer. Doesn't understand. I don't care, I have to talk to him. At least I feel like I'm sharing myself with him. Not like I can do it any other way. He just stayed still, watching me sleepily as I spoke, giving me his full attention. "I wish you could understand what I see. You've saved my life now more than once. It's incredible, what you've done. I want to show you how I feel, and sometimes I think you know it, the way you look at me .. it's just .. so .. I don't know .. so content." That sounds lame. He'd think you were a dork even if he could understand you. Fuck it. "So thank you. For everything."
He bent forward and then, disproportionately fast to how lazy and relaxed he was, his hands slipped under my butt and in a flash of movement, pulled me to him. I was practically sitting in his lap, my legs unfolded and splayed out on either side, sort of straddling his hips. Mira's arms slipped around my waist, his head landing on my shoulder. I laid mine on his. Wow this is a bit weird .. but .. didn't Konstantin say his interpretation of the world is all physical? Maybe this is all just part of that, learning human relationships through human contact. Then I thought about all the ways we were touching. Chest to chest. Thigh to thigh. Head on the other's shoulder. He just wants to touch me, to feel close. Then it occurred to me. I want the same thing really. I never liked hugging that much, touching of any kind at all. Just wasn't a touchy-feely person. What's so different about wanting to learn it now? It's new to me too.
So why not?
"I never had any brothers or sisters," I whispered into his shoulder. "If I did have a brother, I'd want him to be like you. He'd watch out for me, keep me safe, kill the bad guys." I smiled to myself. Kill the bad guys and anyone who tries to fuck with me, period. "Yeah," I murmured, "he'd be a lot like you."
Mira can't have liked not being able to see my face when I was talking or maybe he couldn't hear me properly or something. I wasn't sure, but he let go of me, easing me backwards so there was a little space in between us. I came to rest a bit lower down so I was partially sitting on the bedsheet and partially still on him, our faces now level. His forehead touched mine and his hands slid under my forearms, grasping me by my elbows, substituting for the hug. I gripped him back the same way, fingers encircling the crooks of his arms.
His eyes were closed, so I did the same. So peaceful. It's perfect. I think I could fall asleep like this. No expectations, no pretense, just comfortable, quiet relaxation. I could feel him very slightly moving against me, his nose rubbing against mine, lips brushing together oh so faintly, strands of hair tickling me. That does tickle. I tried not to, but I had to let out a giggle. "Feels funny," I whispered, "you're closer than people get. Way closer." Strangely enough, I didn't have a problem with it. Normally I would have been freaked out, but Mira felt entirely comfortable this way.
Yet the movement of air right by his face caused him to pull back. I opened my eyes, and he looking at me curiously with his own still-dozy gaze. There was something though, a spark of inquisitiveness there, as if a new idea had just become apparent to him that he had never noticed before. Then he was forward again and experimentally, pressed his lips to mine, moved them about a fraction, breaking away.
The illusion or maybe delusion of a brotherly hug, familial closeness, was no more; my chest tightening, mental acuity lying shattered in a million parts. A horde of butterflies were attacking my insides and I couldn't form thoughts to speak or move, but Mira knew. The spark was now aflame, a burning light of revelation. Eyes fully open, tiredness discarded, he delicately wet his lips with the tip of his tongue. Head tilted, his mouth slid over mine, entwining flawlessly as could be. My resistance lasted two seconds. Literally two seconds. After that, the world just faded away and there was nothing else.
Nothing else except for the silky feel of his lips. Warm, soft, smooth. Fingertips caressing gentle circles upon my arms. My heart, pounding in emotional excitement, a thundering tattoo as it beat inside my chest. His lashes, fluttering against my cheeks. My tongue sliding on his, a wet friction. A tingling warmth, consuming ... filling. His breath, hot and rushed, washing over my skin. Nerves all over my body in an extra-sensitive shivering burn.
Then we were pulling apart, our lips separating with a nearly imperceptible smack of pressure. We were both breathing heavily and I'm sure I wore the same expression he did. Eyes glazed, face flushed, completely dazed looking. His stare flicked to my lips, then back up to my eyes. Then he opened his mouth, eyes trailing over every last infinitesimal part of my face, memorising this moment for all eternity, and ... he spoke.
"Shay .. "
Like his kiss, soft, intense, transmitting everything of his essence in what he did; his voice was the same. Then, at the same time, he smiled.
The mask he had worn since that first day, that shell of contented neutrality, it fell away. He was aglow with joy and his smile was wide, happy, completely adoring. In it I could see tenderness, compassion, attachment, devotion. There was longing, attraction, compulsion .. and connection. Most of all .. love.
"Mira," I whispered back. Utterly incoherent, there was nothing else I could say.
"Shay," he said again, still smiling.
No words came. They didn't need to. Reflected in him, there was an understanding, an inbuilt sense that just told me: your words, they're plain as day to him. Right now, perfect clarity. He understands you. More than ever, he understands you. Talk to him, Shay. Talk to him right now. Talk while you can.
"Mira," I repeated, my voice cracking. "You hear me?"
A pause, then he nodded slowly.
Oh my god.
"I think .. I feel for you what you feel for me. I didn't know till now, I still don't know, this is all new .. but I feel it."
Again a pause, then a nod.
"I am afraid that something will happen ... to you, or to me. That we won't escape from here."
This time, the response was swift. He shook his head, denying it vehemently. My chest tightened a little more, if that were possible and I almost swooned like a girl. He won't let something like that happen to me. He'd do anything for me.
I tried to speak but as soon as I opened my mouth, his fingers were on my lips, silencing me. He spoke and just like every previous time, it floored me. As if the sound of his voice alone was purposely designed to dissolve all the centres of higher reasoning in my brain and make me stare at him like an awe-struck little boy.
"Shay," he whispered. "No fear."
No fear. I wasn't to be afraid. He didn't want me to be that way. No fear.
The his hand came away, cupping my chin and his mouth was on mine again, slow, caring, comforting.
No fear. Everything was going to be okay.
It had been ridiculously hard to leave my room knowing Mira was still there, now sleeping. What had just happened to me and the fact that I was a willing party to it was completely undeniable. That was one thing but confronting it once I had regained control of the logical parts of myself was another.
You never even saw this coming. How could you be so blind? You let it happen and you liked it. You never even suspected it? What the fuck is wrong with you Shay? He's a boy and ... you don't care? You know what that makes you, don't you? Normal wasn't me any more, that's for sure. If you ever were normal. In what way have you ever been normal? You don't even come close.
"Shay!" It was Lily's voice and I followed it back to her study, still feeling lightheaded and not terribly functional. "There you are. I think you sho-" She stopped, seeing me properly now, concern appearing from nowhere. "Are you okay? You look very pale. Everything alright?"
"I'm just .. distracted," I managed, trying to keep the emotion out. Somehow I feel like everyone in the world can tell as soon as I walk in the door. This is fucking scary.
"Mmm," she hummed. She tapped a pencil on the book in front of her absently. "I don't suppose it has anything to do with the fact that you were kissing Mira, does it?"
My whole head instantly felt like it was on fire. Oh FUCK. "W-what?!" I stammered, voice shaking. "I d-didn't h-hear anyone!"
"Of course not, you were too busy exploring each other's mouths at the time," she said nonchalantly. "I went to the kitchen to get some water. The door to your room was open a crack, and some unusual sounds were coming from inside, so I peeked."
"Oh my god!" I moaned, burying my face in my hands. "I c-can't believe you s-saw that!"
"Hey." Softer this time, conciliatory. I heard her stand and come round the desk and next thing her arms were around my shoulders. "Don't be scared. I don't care if you kiss boys or girls. Do you really think it matters to me who you love when there are creatures out there who could tear us all apart in a matter of seconds? There are better things to waste our energy on than drama over a kiss. So stop that." Then a beat, and a second later. "Besides, I think you two are cute. He's very .. boyish, it's refreshing. Wonderful expressive eyes. I can see why you like him."
If this isn't the weirdest possible conversation to be having, I don't know what is. I didn't even know I was ... that way .. until five minutes ago and now, here I am discussing it with Lily like it's old news ...
"Do you think Konstantin will c-care?" My voice sounded so small and pathetic right then, although at least I had mostly suppressed the nervous stammer. "He's so traditional and .. conservative and I d-don't want him to be angry with m-me."
She let go of me. "Dimi? He shouldn't do. He has strong values about some things, this is true, but he is not a man to let any sort of love be oppressed for the wrong reasons. Speaking of which, he wanted to talk to you. He's in his office right now, so you should go see him. Don't let it get to you Shay. You're still the same intelligent mature young man I knew a few minutes ago when you were in here bothering me with questions about the science of aemfid." She gave me a gentle push towards the door. "So go. You're okay."
I repeated that a couple of times in my head until I got to his office. Apprehension didn't dull at all as he greeted me and ushered me to a chair, closing the door behind him. I wish I knew what this was about. The kiss was in the back of my mind now and Konstantin seemed different somehow, perplexed. Not angry, just out of sorts. As if he couldn't quite get something.
"Shay," he said to me, "I want to sort something out. Just to make sure I understand things properly."
I swallowed. No reason for nerves. Lily told me it would be okay, right? Mira told me it'd be okay. There's no point in worrying about Konstantin, of all people. "Um, sure."
"Okay. Your last name, it's Andersen? With an 'e', not an 'o'?"
"You don't have a middle name, do you?"
"No, I don't." Wait a second, how does he know that? "Where did you f-"
"Wait." The interruption was definite. "I will finish this, then you can speak. You said you were fourteen. When do you turn fifteen?"
Stomach was turning over and over now. How did he know I don't have a middle name?! And now my birthday? What's going on? I don't get it. "Uh, I'll be fifteen on October 10."
He stared at me. "So let me make absolutely sure about this .. you will be fifteen years old on October 10 .. 2104 ... do I have that correct?"
My throat felt dry and I nodded. "Yeah."
He held my gaze, assessing me. It seemed like he was trying to figure out if I was telling the truth. Then his hand on my arm and he was sitting me in front of the computer. His voice was calm and flat, dead-pan. A finger touched something on the screen.
"Then perhaps you can explain this. This is today's date."
I looked where his finger pointed. Right above it was a small string of text and numbers. Today's date ... it couldn't be. It had to be wrong. There had to be a mistake. Yet somehow in my heart, I knew it.
The truth was stranger than I imagined.
I am curious: how do readers think of romantic sex in a story like this? I have no problem describing emotive and romantic love, but the physical activity of it? It's a thorny question. The 'sex' part of my fiction will never be big. It's about the story, first and foremost, and the romance, like the science fiction, the action, the drama, is just another aspect. It won't (and shouldn't) dominate it.
What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear. No public response needed if you don't want. Send me a message. Also, to show your appreciation, even anonymously .. just hit the like button at the bottom of any chapter(s) that you think are awesome.