Because I do more of these than any kind of finished work I should be proud of.
I don’t have hair nearly this luxurious, or sunglasses nearly this cool.
[This is the account of the sizekinkster previously known as Kisupure. Meaning, I spent most of my time in the fetish as a she/her SW and am now mostly a he/him GT.]
Giants, giant machines, BDSM, and vore about sums me up. If it's tacticool, it's kosher!
I’m no stranger to the macro community, but I thought I’d introduce myself here. I’m Kisupure (yes, a nod to the infamy of Kiss Players!), I’m a FTM and sizeswitch, though I lean more towards the giant end of things.
The good lord above put me on this earth to bring a little more Heavy Metal Magazine to macro/micro world, so here I am, with guns and engine grease in tow. Oh, the gravel truck’s here? Tell 'em to dump it just out back.
I like realistic size difference, and wildly unrealistic size difference. I like gun play that involves stuffing tinies down the barrel of a nice, loaded M4. I like giants with their boots on, muscles bulging behind their body armor. I like daddies in dusty kevlar. I like giants who are cyborgs, robots, and machines that are designed to have people sit inside of them. Giants who are large and in charge, but also giants who are soft and kind and scared of losing their little lovers or allies or fuckbuddies, giants who have flaws as well as sexy things they’re really really good at. Giants that are unapologetically dominant, and giants that are good at faking it. Vore and endosoma are A+ too.
I’m also an objectum sexual (as in orientation), so to me, “male” can mean flesh and blood as well as axles and ailerons. An A-10 warthog is just as much a lovable giant to me as the guy on your bag of frozen peas. OS representation all the way.
I write, I draw, and I’ve got some long-form stuff in the works including a “graphic novel” that I hope tickles somebody’s fancy (other than my own, of course). So howdy!
I think the problem with topics like this is that there is always going to be the implication, however small, of entitlement. It’s never “I wish more people were into the thing I’m into”, but always some kind of “I wish creators would make things for me for free”. Creators make all kinds of free things already, the internet is full of them. That none of it, or enough of it, is your favorite thing isn’t anyone’s problem but yours. Creators don’t owe you their time, skill, money, resources. It’s kind of a slap in the face to creators who make things for free already, like myself (and I even take requests!), because it’s not the thing you want to see.
But that’s what commissions, trades, and financially supporting creators who make things you like are for. The more you actually pay people to make things, the more your interest is going to be noticed and acknowledged.
Griping like this is not a good look, especially when there are creators reading and posting here.
Camp Fox was currently located in a wide, shallow granite canyon, its floor carpeted in fine sand and dotted with fire ants. It was only a few hectares in size, but it was enough: Corps leadership preferred to limit contact between the camps in its broad, diffuse network, and to the best of anyone’s knowledge Alpine ran 22 camps like this, each staffed by around a thousand. The logic was that it was harder to take out the whole resistance when you could only hit one or two outposts at a time. And so far, the strategy worked. It’d been over a decade since the Anakim were able to mobilize enough bodies to launch a full–scale assault on even a dozen camps, let alone hit Base Camp far, far in the mountains.
Visits between camps were reserved for officers and toons borrowed to bolster numbers on the rare occasion when an attack was anticipated in advance, but transfers happened often enough. Once or twice a year a camp’s weakest soldiers were rounded up and marched off to other parts of the Corps, never to be seen again. Problem corpsmen were also usually sent off to be Retrained—that is, to work Corps quarries and ammo-packing lines, where afterward they were said to be given another chance at Freedom at some other camp. Gray had met transfers but not any retrained corpsman. Fox was a well-oiled machine, however, and Hitch made quick work of malcontents in his own way. Supposedly their camp had one of the highest morale rates in the Corps. Hitch made sure to keep it that way, and Gray actually managed to find a little pride in it.
When Exercises were done, she was filthy. But it was also Friday, and she lined up outside of Captain Burke’s office to receive her two weekly liquor vouchers because truthfully, she wanted a drink more than she wanted a shower. A minute or so later and she was already walking out, little while slips in hand, each embossed with the seal of the Western Human Defense Corps. Though they felt like sturdy paper, they weren’t, and melted when held to a flame.
On her way out, Gray checked the bulletin board, and her heart sank when she saw that this month’s movie had been canceled. The projector was broken, and they were waiting on some replacement parts form Alpine. And who knew when that would be. A pair of corpsmen came up beside her to check it too, and grumbled loudly at the news.
“And it was gonna be a Henry Fonda!”
Gray made a face and sulked away. She liked westies. Movies (when Camp Fox could get them), books (when she could get them), it didn’t matter. She liked them for being simple. She liked that even in a gunfight, nobody ever had their brains shot out, or their throats cut open. Nobody took 3 days to die of a gangrenous leg. The action was exciting, the stakes were high, and it resembled life as she knew it in the Disrupted world, but there was an ease to it all, a cleanliness, that helped her forget the dirt under her fingernails and the ever-present preoccupied hum of fear in the air that you could very well die out here before earning Freedom.
Moreover, Henry Fonda was handsome. Errol Flynn wasn’t so bad either.
The broken projector was going to be the least of her worries that evening, though. As the sun was getting low on the horizon, she sensed tension in the camp, even freshly showered and with a shot of ‘shine in her belly. A few clerks were running between officers’ tents with that look in their eyes. Slowing to an amble near Green Fox’s captain’s tent, Gray trained her ears and through the canvas heard that they’d lost contact with the first checkpoint.
“Reroute the outgoing B patrol to see what happened. Tell them to use the cable box to check-in, and if they don’t, we assume the worst.”
“Yes, sir. Should I inform the Commander?”
“No, I’ll do that. Dismissed.”
Gray made sure to keep walking by the time the clerk rushed out again, then as soon as she was a little ways away, picked up the speed herself. She rushed past corpsmen at work in the fading light, past a group gathered around a badly-tuned guitar, looking for Harper and Finch; Wesson was still out on Exercises.
She ran into Harper first, but the wireman already seemed to know what she was about to tell him.
“Look alive, Gray,” he said, grabbing her shoulder. “Somebody’s gone and dusted our-”
“First checkpoint, I know.”
“Second now, too,” he said. “Berg’s just been ordered off the box to go get his gun.”
“Fuck. Where’s Finch?”
“She wasn’t with you grabbing her Fridays?”
“Must be at the showers, then.”
“I’ll go get her.”
Gray was only halfway there when she heard shots report at the edge of camp. And worse, it was an all-too familiar kind of sound: deep, loud, brutal. These were no brigand weapons. They were ‘Nak guns.
And ‘Nak guns hit harder than anything else she knew: their standard-issues used fifty–fucking–caliber rounds, and could blow a corpman’s head clear off their shoulders. It had been eight months since she last heard one. Gray swallowed a ragged gulp of air and turned to beeline for her tent to grab her gear. Finch could get herself to the muster point.
“’Naks!” came the call from around camp. “’Naks incoming!”
Out of the corner of her eye, Gray spotted Harrison, the resident Corps chemist and almighty bartender who had just served her, hefting the camp’s only submachine gun as he moved like a thunderhead out of the bar and cellars dug out of the canyon wall. He closed a camouflaged door behind him to protect some of the their most precious resources: not just liquor, but solvents, ethanols, combustion fuels and rare chemicals, all prime targets for both human and ‘Nak raiding parties.
The shouting and exchange of gunfire was drawing closer, and Gray sprinted over to the muster point outside of her toon’s captain’s office where about sixty other Brown Fox corpsmen were already anxiously gathering, with more pouring in every minute.
“We think there’s only about nine or ten dozen of the bastards, so this should be easy!” Burke shouted. “Form ranks at the southern end and maintain cover! Break into your fireteams if you have to, but do not, I repeat, do not go solo! Get going, move, move!”
Gray ran, not knowing where any of her close friends were, so she clumped together with some other corpsmen she knew and let both her training and adrenaline work their magic. She began to wonder why the ‘Naks were sending such a small force against an entire camp. They weren’t dumb. But it wasn’t long before her ears were ringing with the sound of battle, and there were suddenly more important things to think about, like the fact that it appeared that ranks were already being broken.
This was a deadly embarrassment to both sides. Not that Corpsmen weren’t gifted survivalists, but there were too many fuckers running around without clear orders. Out of the small handful of engagements they had with the ‘Naks each year, most of them were lethargic, and rarely did they get this close to home. Neither side could afford to lose so many soldiers so often, but they still needed to exchange fire and make a bunch of noise. Worse than losing men was losing morale, and going soft on the enemy was out of the question. There’s no telling what the ‘Naks would try if they knew just how threadbare the Corps could be some days. This, however, was not one of those days. Eleven-hundred corpsmen against one hundred of the giant bastards on Corps turf was going to be far from lethargic.
Gray knew something was different when the smell hit her. She paused just long enough to scowl as it sank in. This was the pheromone, she noticed, and her body reacted. Her heart raced and her muscles wanted to pull her in the opposite direction. She was supposed to run, this was it, this was the unthinkable thing. But the seventh-year steeled herself and dove down behind a water drum to remember her discipline.
“It’s strong,” she said to herself, panting. Stronger than usual.
Was this a new cocktail from The Algo?
When she glanced up, the evidence was all around her. The chaos, the cries of panic, the sound of someone puking, someone else sobbing. It was amazing what a chemical could do, the suggestion of predation, the thought that you could have a hundred exit routes and still be cornered. It was evil. Gray swallowed and knew what she had to do. Against all animal logic, she turned the safety off on her kicker and prepared to fight. It was her or them. As much as she hated it, this was her life, and she was going to defend it.
“They’re advancing!” someone yelled from across the road as they turned on their heel to take cover further up the path. They were made quick work of. Gray had to do something. The ‘Naks were moving quickly, hunched like big, bloodthirsty beasts as they popped off thundering blasts from their even bigger guns. Down the road someone’s chest exploded, spraying canvas with red.
She got down low, peeking out from behind her cover, and got off a few shots at one of the ‘Naks’ feet, crippling him. She gave the same treatment to another who watched his comrade fall, but a third noticed her muzzle flash in the growing twilight and she pulled back.
“Shit, shit, shit…” Gray’s brown eyes darted around, looking for a window of opportunity to make her retreat, but her water drum cover was quickly turning into a deathtrap. She couldn’t help the scream when the metal suddenly filled with holes and precious water poured out onto the dusty ground.
The ‘Nak’s guns grew louder and louder, and Gray knew she was going to get shot. Which was all the more reason to at least attempt falling back.
“It’s working! Spread out!” she heard one of the giants bark, and they broke formation.
Someone had managed to re-man one of the heavy guns and a dusky ‘Nak was knocked to the ground with the force of his own bullets, moaning in the dirt like any other wounded creature on god’s green earth, then a few more went down. Gray was about to take this opportunity to get away from the drum, maybe duck into a tent, when a ‘Nak soldier suddenly loomed overhead. He glanced down, and through the thin strip of face she could see between his helmet and the cloth covering his nose and mouth, their eyes briefly met.
Through the haze of panic that his proximity was inducing in her, Gray managed to notice his face soften, and turn to acute concern. And the squeeze… was not so oppressive.
But then there was pain. A 50-cal bullet hit him in the chest, clearing his armor and ammo pouches to land a bloody blow near his armpit. Her face was spattered with his living heat as he collapsed over the drum and on top of her, cloth torn away from his face. Gray suddenly found herself pinned under a pair of three–hundred pound legs with something stabbing her in the side. She hissed, barely able to breathe.
“F–fuck…” she wheezed, and then fell deathly still when she realized that it was the muzzle of her own kicker sticking her in the ribs. One wrong move and it could go off at any minute. She tried pushing against that weakening body on top of her, pushing against the fear. “G-get off me, you giant piece of shit…”
He was wheezing too, and she could now hear a wetness in his lungs. But he reached out with a massive hand, big enough to palm her skull, and touched her cheek. Gray froze.
Signy? Who was Signy?
“I didn’t know you came… back.” Blood appeared at the corner of his mouth and he tried licking his lips. The ‘Nak’s brown eyes were glazing over. “I’m sorry. I didn’t… know…”
His hand fell away from her face and Gray just laid there, fighting for breath, unable to do anything but watch the fire disappear from those strangely human eyes as he gave his last gasping death rattle.
I would totally be the mysterious, mythic figure living in the mountains and minding my own business, Big Lebowski style. People would seek me out to complete their manhood initiation rituals, to cut a lock of my hair in my sleep or something and bring it back to town. Of course the “battle” that they have to do with me to get it would involve more cum and less blood!
There’d be stories about capturing maidens and things too, but mostly it would just be unmarried farmgirls or unhappy princesses coming to me to ask if I could eat their betrotheds and save them from a life of misery. For especially horrible arranged marriages I’d probably be down for a little murder, but I might have more fun helping fake the girls’ deaths so they could go off and be happier somewhere else. My services wouldn’t be free, though…
I’m more interested in being an immortal and modestly-sized giant (20-30 feet) with generations of folklore surrounding me, a slew of villages that would defend me and my territory to the death because my existence is a backbone of their local culture, than a tyrant. Because let’s face it, at the end of the day I’m lazy!
Intimate relations between one (1) or more enlisted corpsmen are not expressly forbidden by Protocol. Corpsmen in good standing are permitted to indulge themselves in sensual, sexual, and romantic behavior without the permission of their overseeing Officers, provided that this behavior is not expressed while on-duty. However, intimacy is not to interfere with the good corpsman’s performance or punctuality, nor should loyalty to any individual corpsman overrule one’s loyalty to the Western Human Defense Corps as a whole. Failure to correctly prioritize may result in Gross Insubordination charges against offending corpsmen as a Camp’s ranking Officers see fit.
It was dark by the time she returned. The moon was out at least, bathing the dry, rocky landscape in just enough light for her to plan her steps by. On a whim, Gray practiced the footstrike of the Anak from earlier, ball first, heel following. It was difficult to replicate while wearing marching boots, but the modifications were effective. She knew that there were still some part of the technique she was missing, though.
Upon returning, Gray checked in with Captain Burke to fill out a debrief form: during her watch, did she see or encounter any humans; did she discharge a firearm at any point; would she be willing to submit her weapon for a count; did she see or encounter any Anakim. No, no, yes, and… no. Gray stared at the check mark she’d made on the form next to the last question.
It wouldn’t make a difference if I said anything anyways, Gray reasoned. It’s not like they don’t know we’re here, now.
Slipping the sheet back to Burke, she was promptly dismissed for the rest of the night. Gray was grateful, and she headed out the flaps of the officer’s tent to her own. I need to find the guys and put these fridays to use.
Until excavations were completed, Harrison’s was a tent like any other. Sappers were hard at work digging out cellars further up the canyon, and it would be another few weeks before they could wire the place for lighting and open up shop.
Harper was manning the cable tonight, so only Finch and Wesson were with her, and before long the three had gathered around an oil drum with their friday rations and a ratty deck of cards. Finch dealt, though Gray had no idea what they were playing.
“I thought you used up your last friday this week already?” she asked Finch, who was already looking over her hand of seven cards.
“Small miracle, gambling,” she said with a smug grin. “Gold Fox held some tarantula fights while you were gone, and I had my money on the smaller one. Now come on, it’s just a few rounds of Rummy.”
Gray shook her head and grabbed her cards. It was a terrible hand. “We’re not playing for keeps, are we?”
She shot a deadpan look at Finch. “Does it look like I have anything worth keeping?”
Wesson laughed and made his first discard. “So how was the treehouse?”
Gray suddenly found herself frowning and tried to make it look like she was studying her cards. “Fine.”
“Boring, huh? Even with your rib?”
“The pain was the most exciting part, actually.” She made to discard something.
“You forgot to draw.”
“Right.” She took another deep drink of her liquor and did as told, suddenly able to put together a short run of spades. The back of her neck prickled with warmth as she fought the temptation to start thinking about what she had seen.
“And how was inventory?”
Wesson shook his head. “Found a bad batch of ammo, leaving us with about a ton and a half until the next delivery.”
“Well, it’s good that we’re not expecting any company for a while, then.”
Wesson threw back the rest of his drink. “I mean, if ‘Naks were the only thing we had to worry about. Fox itself may be safer, but we’ve moved closer to gang territory.”
He was referring to organized bands of brigands that usually liked to stay just as far from civilization—‘civtown’—as the Corps. They were a dangerous type, known to jump anyone passing through their borders who might have anything worth stealing, sometimes shaking down entire caravans. She even heard stories of brigands taking on small teams of Anakim. Sometimes abiding folk in civtown would ask the Corps for help with particularly disruptive activity, but small-time brigands usually exercised more discretion than that.
“Patrols may be exchanging fire more often,” he went on. “Be careful out there.”
Finch made her play: four kings. Gray’s shoulders and eyelids both slumped. She stared at the ace and queen in her hand and cursed at her friend. Finch just grinned.
“Be careful in here too,” Finch chuckled, downing the last of her shine. “So I heard that Alpine says the ‘Nak scent was more concentrated for this last fight.”
“You heard? You were there.”
“No shit, but it’s nice for the Alpine labcoats to agree with us every once in a while.”
Wesson’s attention was piqued. In fact, he looked surprised that a sixth-year would find this out before him. “Harper told you that?”
Finch shrugged. “What? It was an open message. It’s going on the boards tomorrow.”
He looked taken aback. “Yeah, but you… gotta have a little respect for the process, right? You can’t just do whatever you want, the Corps couldn’t run like that.”
Finch rolled her eyes. “Look. Does Harper act like a gossip? Even if it were a secret, it’d be safe with me.”
“It just confirms what we already know because we were there, Wesson. Nothing confidential about that,” Gray said.
“Fair enough. But I don’t think I’m being unreasonable either.”
Finch sighed loudly. “We can both be right.”
Wesson played a four-card straight and discarded something Gray couldn’t use, so she finished her drink and waved at Harrison for another. She parted with a second friday for it, and threw back the small cup, feeling it burn all the way down. They played a few more rounds.
Eventually, there was a lull in the conversation, and something was percolating its way through Gray’s mind as the alcohol started kicking in. “Something I’ve been wondering,” she began. “What’s the most human thing you ever see a ‘Nak do? How much like us are they?”
This wasn’t the smartest question she could have asked in a Corps camp as it skirted some important rules, but she could have asked dumber. Questions like, “how hot is the sun?”
“I seen one jack off once, remember that?” Finch laughed.
Gray did remember and she found a tightening in her chest at the thought now.
“Must’ve been a big piece of meat,” Gray muttered with a strained chuckle, keeping her eyes on her cards.
“God, are you kidding? It was like…” She held her hands up in the air, greatly exaggerating. “Wouldda been easy target practice.”
“How ‘bout you, Wesson?”
“They only look and act like us in order to fuck with our sense of empathy,” he said, avoiding the question entirely. “If you talk to vets from the first phase of the Disruption, they’ll all tell you that dusting machines was easier than flesh and blood. The Algo figured that out and decided to use our likeness against us.”
Gray frowned. “When did you get to talk to veterans from the old wars?”
“I mean, I didn’t talk to them. But I’ve hung around when we got some passing through once, and they talked about it with the officers.”
That was a mighty privilege, Gray thought. It wasn’t often that enlisted corpsmen were given an opportunity to even get near outsiders, let alone speak to them.
“Anyways, I don’t care what they look like,” Finch said coldly. “I’m happy to kill the fuckers dead after wiping six billion humans off the map. Including my mom and auntie.”
Gray swallowed at the reminder. She discarded, realizing too late that she had a run of hearts hiding in her hand, and Finch promptly won a second time.
“Remind me to never play cards with you ever again,” Wesson snorted.
Finch smiled obnoxiously. “There’s no shame in losing.”
The blond-haired man slapped the remainder of his hand on the table, not even counting his points, and Finch roared with laughter. She shoved the mess of cards at Gray. It was her turn to deal.
The alcohol made gathering up the cards more difficult than she thought it’d be. Her fingers were clumsy, and a few dropped on the ground. When she bent to pick them up, she hit her head on the table.
“God dammit,” she hissed. Wesson’s hand was soon on her arm and he pulled her up.
“You OK there?”
“I think I just… need something to eat.”
“And a night in your own cot,” Finch added. She took the cards back.
Wesson didn’t let go of her arm. “C’mon, I’ll help you back.”
Gray nodded and they began walking. With dehydration and growling stomachs being the accepted norm around here, a little shine, she remembered, went a long way in Corps bellies. She focused on walking straight.
They headed steadily down the road between tents. “Hey Wes,” she slurred, bending the ban on nicks by just shortening his surname. “You ever get confused sometimes?”
He chuckled, and his arm worked its way around her shoulders instead. “Yeah, when I’m trying to do inventory on 3 hours of sleep.”
“No, no. Confused about… what our enemy even is.”
He looked at her wistfully, cautiously. “Well, I can tell you what they’re not.”
Gray screwed up her face. “I’m trying to be serious, man. I’m not that tore.”
“After five years you’d think I’d know you well enough to know when you’re full of shit. Now look, we’re here.” She pushed open the flap to her section of the tent and Wesson helped her to her cot. “Hang tight while I find you something to eat, alright?”
“Yes, sir,” she mumbled, rolling her eyes. He disappeared back outside with a smile. It figured Wesson would like getting sir’d. He was gunning for promo, after all, and it was no secret that he intended to get it. It was also no secret that he liked being buttered up.
In the big toon tents, which were partitioned off into fourteen rooms, each housing four or five cots and a single light bulb that was cut off at exactly 10pm every night, there were usually a few folk mingling or trying to catch some shut–eye before a shift. The place was impeccably clean, mostly because her tent–mates hadn’t had time to settle in and make a mess of the place yet. The tents were not especially comfortable places to be: dimly lit, and stiflingly hot if you wanted to keep the sun out. Gray wondered what conditions the Anakim lived in, and decided it was probably much of the same.
She didn’t know how many minutes had passed before Wesson came back, though it was probably fewer than it felt. He handed her a small cup with a metal foon sticking out of it.
“It’s all the cook would give me,” he declared as she balked at the slurry inside. “And here.” He produced a flask of water, which he began to pour into her own. “Or you’ll be begging for a bullet to the head tomorrow.”
She sat up and spooned some of the green–brown mush into her mouth. It was salty, and the high algae content made it taste distinctly like pond scum. There was meat in there somewhere too, but the only clue was in the small tough bits of ground–up tissue and the thin film of grease that clung to the utensil when she took a bite. What animal the weekly shipments of ‘wet ration’ were made from had already become a popular subject of the rumor mill.
Still, it at least didn’t suck the moisture from your mouth like hardtack.
“Thanks,” she mumbled.
“And between you and me,” Wesson said quietly, crouching down to give her his best fatherly look. “Be careful of the stuff you ask around here, even with friends. I know you don’t sympathize, but some young boot hearing you talk at the bar doesn’t. People still get reported. People still get retrained.”
Gray just frowned.
“And I know it’s easy to get confused sometimes. But just remember that the Corps is our lifeblood. Without it, humanity wouldn’t have stood a chance. We could all be dead, or worse.”
“What’s worse than being dead?” she scoffed.
Wesson leveled his eyes at her and she swallowed. “We could be packing ‘Nak bullets right now, for one thing.”
Gray blinked, surprised at how odd this sounded. Bondship was bondship, wasn’t it? Every enlisted Corpsman was a bond. The only reason anyone was here was the hope of getting that coveted freemark and being addressed by your given name for the first time in a decade. The Freedom Ceremony was what dreams were made of.
She almost opened her mouth to ask him if he really thought that being the property of the Corps was better than being property of The Algo. But you didn’t say things like that in a Corps camp, no matter how much you drank or how much you wanted the last word.
“Probably,” she mumbled. “At least its only ten years of this, and the Corps does keep its word.”
“The Corps always keeps its word.”
Wesson smiled again as he rose, satisfied that he’d reached her. But just as he was about to leave, she stopped him.
“What happened to us, Wesson?”
The handsome tenth-year paused and his eyes fell to the ground for a moment. “It’s like you said, you weren’t feeling it.”
Gray thought for a minute, chewing slowly. “I guess I just got tired of sneaking around. We’re not youngyears anymore.”
“I think being a good corpsman really matters to you now. I respect that.”
“And you’re almost out of here anyways.” She looked up and their eyes met. “Even though you want to stay with the Corps, I’ll probably never see you again after you get your promo.”
“Everybody’s gotta say goodbye at some point.”
Gray nodded drunkenly.
“Now get some rest, I’ll tell Harper you missed him.”
Not to play sads olympics here, but uh… I have to say, I’ve seen way more giant couples material than the niche-r stuff I’m into. And of course I’m just talking art. I think you need to adjust your expectations when it comes to real-person video stuff - it is very expensive, very time-consuming, and if the market isn’t there, then… you as a creator out a lot more than $800-1000 worth of labor and materials.
I built an entire website around the under-served kinks I’m into. I built a Discord community. I make my own smut, in whatever capacity I’m capable of. “Make the porn you want to see in the world” is my motto; haters can go fuck themselves.
FINALLY, A SEX SCENE!
Gray had spent the afternoon napping, or trying to. Her thoughts were spinning in all directions, and after staring at the canvas above her head for a long time, she realized that her feelings were not incompatible with each other. In fact, the fire in her belly burned for two reasons, like riders approaching each other from different directions on the road. They met, now. Shook hands. Her lust for the sentinel and her frustration with Wesson were one in the same thing.
If he showed up tonight—there was always the chance he wouldn’t—and if he didn’t use this opportunity to wreak bloody havoc—there was always the chance that he would—then maybe, just maybe, this was the solution to her problem. The middle finger she was looking for. Gray could dangle her treason in front of his face every time she stepped into his office without him suspecting a goddamn thing.
Maybe she could have this.
One of her bunkmates came in to change out of a shirt drenched in sweat. “You’ve been hard to find lately,” she said, pulling the garment off to reveal a back crisscrossed with a few old switch scars. “Gonna play some strip horseshoes when the sun goes down. You in?”
Gray swallowed. “Nah, I’m busy.”
“With what? C’mon, don’t you wanna see that nice ass Tucker’s got? Or how ‘bout Hill’s?” Hill was a woman.
“I think I might have a date with somebody else’s ass, actually.”
“Ooh. Who’s the corpsman?”
Gray bit back a smirk and her heart began to race at the thrill of it all. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“I’ll find out one way or another,” the other woman said, pulling down the new shirt. “Have fun!”
Gray waved her out. “I’ll try,” she murmured to herself.
* * *
2140 arrived. Gray was restless, abuzz with anticipation, excitement, a sense of danger not unlike the kind she felt in a firefight. But she wasn’t going to war, so the corpsman had settled for spending a friday to throw back some hard shine near the checkpoint to watch the summer sun dance along the far horizon. Near the end, it flattened into a lumpy red blob in the haze for a short while, then finally winked out of existence along with her drink.
Dusk in the Southland was her favorite time of day. The tans and golden browns of the landscape ripened to purple and ochre, and when the afternoon heat finally began to evaporate into the cooler night air, it was almost possible to imagine that the world wasn’t one endless, shell-pocked desert. As she started walking, a pleasant breeze picked up and Gray found that her nerves had calmed a little. But she couldn’t delay any longer, it was almost time.
Gray made her way up the canyon, shivering despite the heat.
For all intents and purposes, she looked like any other tired corpsman taking an evening stroll to clear the mind. She passed the mules in their corral, passed the pair of patrolmen whose movements the sentinel had tracked, noted, and memorized long ago. Their uniforms indicated that they were with Rose Fox, so she didn’t know them and by her guess, they were only a few minutes away from the beginning of their circuit. The Anak’s comment about their behavior was proven right also: these two were taking their sweet-ass time, barely aware of their surroundings as they talked and chewed on what looked like a couple codys. She nodded to them as they went by, but neither noticed.
The canyon began to narrow here, its walls steep and rocky. Gray had no idea how the sentinel would find his way down from a path along the top of the hills, but she didn’t doubt that he had one in mind. The hairs on her arms stood on end as she turned her brown eyes upward, following the ridges above, trying to see any signs of life or movement among the tall grass and tobacco trees. Nothing but the rustling breeze. Up ahead was the long maze of storage: mismatched crates, boxes, barrels of varying make and age, all of it salvage. Inside them? Extra tent canvas, spare parts for everything from guns to cot frames, paper, light bulbs, copper wire. The important stuff was kept under better lock and key, but everything here, bulky and unconcealed, was the boring necessities of sustaining a Corps camp. And it provided ample cover for an illicit encounter. In fact, it was a surprise that she hadn’t stumbled across anyone else with the same idea yet.
“Can’t believe I’m doing this,” she whispered to the mass of containers.
Gray passed row upon row of storage, some piled neater than others. She hurried along, not quite sure why, but decided that she was looking for a place they could meet. Don’t mind me, she declared in her head. Just figuring out where to fool around with a goddamn ‘Nak.
The perfect spot was near the end. Crates stacked well above her head, encircling a small area. But that’s when she saw it: several storage rooms dug out of the hillside, kept cool and hidden by a board of plywood and canvas flap. Gray glanced around, listened, heard nothing. Heart beating, she set the board aside and pushed away the flap. Feeling around for a switch, with a flick the single bulb heaved to life above. It couldn’t have been more than 20 watts. Just enough to bathe the small space in a meager, shadowy glow. Enough to find one’s way through a tangle of limbs. She checked her watch: 2158.
She immediately shrugged off her overshirt and undid her belt, setting them quietly down on the floor just inside. Her sider was going to be next, but as she considered its modest weight in her hand, Gray turned on the safety and put it in her pocket… just in case. He was still an Anak after all.
Then, she waited.
But she didn’t have to wait long.
There was a noise outside. It wasn’t him, as far as she could tell, and it took a few moments of searching to find the source: there was a stick at her feet that hadn’t been there before. When she held it to the light, she saw that it was roughly inscribed with three straight-lined marks, separated each by one dot. Her Morse was rusty, but the prosign was familiar: ATTENTION, it meant.
There was another noise, then. A faint crack from the right, the smallest shuffle, and a moment later her eyes fell on that towering wall of gray shadow that blended expertly into the twilight, rounding the corner with predatory skill. The sentinel was right on time. She looked at him, some part of her still in complete disbelief at what was unfolding.
The soldier in her reached for the comfort of her little sider, ran her fingers over it, told herself that if this was all a ruse then she still had a chance to make it out alive, because there was no turning back now. She wondered if she could ever trust him more than this, or if she was going to be content fucking a man she might have to pull a gun on.
All nine feet of him stood beside the bank of crates as he rested his elbow on it, the wood creaking under his weight. In the thinning light, though, he was quite a sight: lean, imposing, with his face obscured by that cloth and eyes hidden behind the striking green lenses of what could only be a pair of night–vision goggles. She’s heard about them before, but never seen a pair herself. Gray could only imagine what they would look like while in the squeeze.
Quickly he tugged the fabric under his chin and raised the eyewear to rest above his forehead, and his face caught the light in just such a way that it occurred to her she was looking at one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen in her whole goddamn life. Besides her nerves, it felt like her heart was going to explode.
“W-we’ve got forty minutes,” was the first thing she said. Gray could have smacked herself for how unsexy of an opener that was. Worse, her apprehension was showing.
But he didn’t seem to give a damn. The giant wasted no time kissing her: it was deep and salty and he tasted like cigarette smoke. That roughed–up palm of his glove was behind her neck, up in her hair, down to her shoulders and then her arms. He broke away, giving her a little wink and a smile before twisting on his heels and pushing her in through the door as though he knew what she’d planned for them.
“We’d better get started, then.”
Gray glanced at her watch for reference, committed the hour to memory and marveled as he entered the small shelter, ducking deeply. He closed the door behind them. This was it now.
As if reading her mind, he asked: “We gonna do the enemy soldier song and dance again?”
Fuck, she loved the sound of that deep voice, so raspy around the edges. Gray couldn’t tell if she wanted to jump him or call it all off. But she steeled herself. This is it, corpsman. You’ve got treason to commit now, or didn’t you know?
He didn’t have his pack on, she realized—he must have left it somewhere nearby—and so he started with his body armor. Slim spaulders went first, dropped to the dirt floor, then he quickly undid the bracers around his big forearms. Gray watched him in fascination, forgetting herself for a few moments. She never in her life imagined be here, close enough to a ‘Nak to see the whites of his eyes outside of a battle, outside the do or die logic of war. Well, she did on the rare occasion. But she never told a soul.
“Why?” she countered, blood still beating in her ears as she went for the belt holding her pants up. “You want to?” Surely, false confidence was better than none.
The Anak shook his big head.
“You wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight in a tight space like this,” he said with a smirk, eyes roaming around the interior of the sandstone bunker for a moment to punctuate his point. “I’d have you on the ground in no time.”
Was he talking about killing her, or fucking her?
Gray shot him a look, at once wry and flirtatious, and realized that he was trying to make her—or the both of them, maybe—feel more at ease. She was half his size and a quarter his weight, sure, but he could still catch lead like her, could still bleed out with a well-aimed shot. She cocked a hip and an eyebrow at him, acutely aware of the gun in her pocket and the fact that once she discarded her pants, she wouldn’t be within easy reach of another weapon.
“You don’t know what I’m packing,” she half–joked.
Before she had a chance to slowly shimmy off her slacks, he had her by the hip–bones against him again, pressed very fully against that familiar tenting in his pants. Every nerve–ending in her body lit up when he ground those hips into hers, pressing that bulge against a much smaller mons. She was surrounded by him, his dust, his need. She had to remember to breathe.
“You don’t know what I’m packing either,” he smirked into her shoulder as she could feel heat beat her cheeks red.
She braced herself against that wall of a body as his still-gloved hands began to roam, and it wasn’t long before he came to the familiar shape in her pocket. He reached in with two fingers and pinched it out. Gray looked away. Embarrassed?
“Weren’t going to be able to hide that for long,” he said, and dropped the sider to the floor before yanking her pants down.
Gray still averted her eyes, settling on the rippling muscle of his clothed thigh. “A little protection,” she said, forcing a laugh.
“Yeah,” he said with a faint snort. “Old habits die hard, don’t they?”
Then he reached into his boot and slid out a fierce looking knife, showing it to her before pushing the blade into the dirt beside her gun. The small gesture said a lot to someone like her. He kissed her again, finally tearing off his gloves.
“It feels weird to not be afraid,” she said when she broke for air. It was another dumb thing to say, but it was true.
The sentinel chuckled and it sounded like gravel. “Spoken like a true corpsman.”
A minute later they were both shirtless and he was on his back with her straddling his firm waistline. Finally, she could see what he looked like under all that brown and gray.
And he was marvelous. A quick survey of his chest, broad and strong, revealed a hard life: scarring, chillingly symmetrical from implants, and scattered others from his time in the wilderness. There was a fading tattoo underneath his left collarbone: R-402, it read in plain black. Gray became momentarily aware of the slight metal chain around her neck, and the stamped tags tucked into her compression top that had a something similar pressed into them, her Enlistment Identification Number. Her fingers found the ink in his skin. She wanted to see if she could feel the tattoo, and found that she could.
“They call me Rice,” he murmured. No given names for Anakim either, then?
“Gray,” she replied.
“I know.” His bare hands, almost as rough as the gloves, were on her back now, imposing against her slender bones. Imposing, but god, so good.
How could this be treason?
She could sit there, staring at that body, that handsome face, and feel those strong hands against her spine for eons. But they didn’t have eons: they had barely more than half an hour. The giant soldier underneath her seemed to remember this and he decided to push her compression top up to reveal soft, lean breasts.
Gray sucked in air as the sensitive flesh was exposed, and Rice rumbled deep in his chest, his eyes fixed on the smooth swells punctuated by dusky pink. His fingers soon followed, each one taking a breast and giving an almost reverent squeeze.
She couldn’t help the little moan. He grabbed harder this time, raking his thumbs across a pair of nipples quickly puckering up at the attention. He seemed to revel in their meager weight, their plump curves, stroking and cupping. Gray was aware of a throbbing heat between her legs and realized that she wanted to be touched there too. She arched, sliding her hips back so that her ass just grazed him through the fabric of his pants. A bold move.
“I’m not going to fit,” he grunted after drawing her face down to his for a second. Then he kissed her, as if to make up for the disappointment. “You know that, right?”
“Like hell you won’t.”
He cocked his head at her. “I’m nine–one, five–hundred and sixty pounds, Gray.” A chuckle. “If you’ve never taken five fingers, you’re not taking me.”
She bent over and nipped along the side of his thickly corded neck. “Never say die, Anak.”
The little human had no idea why she was fighting him over it. He probably could have convinced her if he’d stopped suppressing his pheromone, though, and the thought made her shiver.
In a swift motion, he was suddenly on top, a padded knee on either side of her ankles. He palmed at the bulge in his pants for a moment before going in to undo the buttons on the fly. She watched, enraptured and curious. It’s not that she’d never seen ‘Nak dick before, but she’d never seen one like this. Never seen one that wanted her.
Then there it was. The length of flesh that slipped out was almost startling, actually— thick, long, and with a little bit of a curve to his left. It only took a half second to realize that it was as big around as her forearm, and not at the wrist.
Poised above her, Rice met her gaze again with a pair of very dark eyes. “Told you,” he said.
The excitement went straight between her legs and she unconsciously arched up toward him, wanting, needing to be touched again. Gray, partly driven by a refusal to admit defeat and partly driven by some animal need to feel that thing between her legs, set her jaw and dug in her heels.
“Never say die,” she repeated.
He quirked a brow at her and one corner of his mouth curled in the faintest hint of a smirk. “I would if I were you.”
Rice seemed to enjoy moving her comparatively slight weight around because he had her again, grabbed her with those huge hands by the hip and the shoulder, turned her as he pulled her up to him and sat back on his heels. Gray’s shoulders were against his warm chest, simply dwarfed by the breadth of his own. The crown of her head barely grazed his chin as he held her precipitously above that heaving organ.
Big, was the only word that crossed her mind for a moment. Fucking big… all of him. Jesus!
With a hooked thumb he slid her underwear down her thighs just enough to expose that moist heat between her legs with practiced confidence. The suspense was killing her and she fought back a whimper.
Her mind nearly exploded when the head, a rich, purple-red, slid up against her folds and brushed her clit, sending a jolt of pleasure rushing from her head to each of her curling toes. Gray arched even more, trying to angle herself against it by some primal reasoning but froze when she felt the pressure of him trying to enter.
“Yeah,” he panted above her with both warmth and frustration, “Never say die until you realize you have no lube. Now hold still while I…”
He wasn’t interrupted so much as he didn’t bother to finish. With a deep growl he was in. Well, the first inch of him.
Gray hissed loudly and gasped.
The sentinel’s girth had her stretched as wide as she’d ever been in her life and her aching cunt stung around the invading member. She had to do something with her hands— anything—and they settled for holding on for dear life. He shifted slightly underneath her, and even that seemed to push the air from her lungs.
Still, Gray was no stranger to pain, and it didn’t take long for her to feel the pleasure percolating beneath it.
“You can tap out.” Rice’s words were breathy and ragged, and he struggled to hold still.
“So can—” Gray whimpered when he moved the tiniest bit. “—you.”
That appeared to be a challenge he wasn’t going to walk away from. Quickly, the giant adjusted their positions, pinning her knees to her chest with one arm and wrapping his fingers around her slender neck with the other. A pang of fear electrified her and her own little fingers grasped at the hand at her neck, strong enough, she imagined, to crush her windpipe in the blink of an eye.
He plunged in another nearly unbearable inch, and muffled her cry with his tongue in her mouth.
Gray’s head swam, and she was prepared to regret playing with fire. But what she didn’t expect was the intense wave of pleasure when he pulled out. A clever quip would have taken more wherewithal than she had now. A wordless moan was all she could manage instead.
He worked himself back in with what few inches her body could accommodate like this, hand still on her neck but not tightening. It was there for effect—an effect that she found she liked. It kept her on edge like the pheromone.
Gray realized that she wasn’t going to last long like this. Rice withdrew once more and drove back in, rocking his hips so carefully into her, and she was all ragged whimpers and straining muscles and hot, hot heat—
Orgasm rolled through her, spreading from the pressure in her pussy down to her toes and up to the scalp on the top of her head.
His hand was quick to cover her mouth before her cries could reach their crescendo. The corpsman’s body stiffened so much and so quickly that her bones felt like they would break if her climax had hit any harder, and she made ugly, desperate noises against the palm of his hand.
Her legs shook and her cunt shivered, greedily clutching at that massive cock, either trying to push it out or pull it further in, maybe both. The giant groaned when her muscles gripped him even harder, but he was patient, she dimly noted—he was waiting for her to finish. Eventually she collapsed back against him, shaking and holding onto herself.
“Mm, you sure showed me,” the giant muttered into her hair.
Gray didn’t dare move because he was still in her, still hard, and still putting pressure on all the right places. But she was tired now. Her hips ached. She was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. It felt like she’d just walked a mile with a hundred-pound ruck. But they weren’t done. At least, Rice wasn’t, and something told her that he hadn’t risked life and limb just to get her off.
She was about to say something, but the rosy haze had turned her mind to mush. After a moment he gave a small thrust into her hypersensitive cunt: she yelped, and he laughed.
“Wake up, corpy,” he chuckled. “We’ve got fifteen minutes.”
He eased himself out of her, and she whimpered.
“Over there.” Rice picked her up and set her on the ground against a few crates. Kneeling, his cock was at the perfect height for her to use her mouth. Above, she saw him brace his massive hands on the containers, effectively pinning her down. Gray swallowed, reminding herself that this was a dangerous position to be in. More dangerous than what she’d just done? Hardly. But things still felt weird without the fear. Disorienting; only, in a good way.
The one thing she could know for sure, though, was that this Rice, this deadly Anak sentinel, was using her as a means to an end. But it was mutual, they both understood. Their allegiances didn’t matter here in this cramped room, only that base hunger for touch. For a witness.
But there was something else, too: why agree to go through the trouble to fuck a corpsman on camp soil? Surely, there was another, bigger game he was playing that Gray was providing a set piece for.
And yet, it still didn’t seem wrong. Or, wrong enough.
As the massive man rolled his hips in closer to her face, Gray momentarily thought of Wesson. She’d slept with him a number of times; the sex wasn’t bad, exactly, but not good either. He’d been gentle and mealy, sentimental. But there was no time for that. Not at Fox, not in the Corps, not anywhere in the vast rolling desert of the Southland.
Why Wesson wanted romance was beyond her. Romance didn’t just stifle, it made things more complicated than they needed to be. Then she remembered another corpsman, his name forgotten to her now, and how he’d put his hand around her neck once too. But still, it hadn’t been like this. It hadn’t been an Anak’s hand.
Rice’s boots scraped against the floor, and the sound drew her out of her head. Boots in the dirt, she thought, turning the image over in her mind a few times. It was one of the most honest sounds she could think of.
He grabbed himself, touched the sticky moisture at the tip of his cock to her lip. Gray smelled herself on him and blushed. But beyond that, he was clean. He must have bathed for this, somehow.
Gray’s tongue darted out to lick at the precum, and she could feel his eyes digging into her from high above. She took him in both hands, suddenly wondering if her knowledge of human anatomy would be enough here.
“Are you… it’s like a human’s, just bigger, right?”
She glanced up, suddenly sheepish and feeling very, very small now.
“Far as I can tell,” he grunted.
Rice reached down to grab and stroke her chin, a little roughness in the gesture reminding her that the clock was ticking.
Licking her lips, Gray opened her mouth as wide as it would go and he pushed in to the back molars, which was as far as he could go. Even then she had to fight a gag.
Rice felt it and massaged at the bulge under her chin. “Don’t need you to deepthroat,” he murmured. “You can grip me harder than that, though.”
Gray nodded with his cock still splitting her mouth open and got to work synchronizing her pumping fists with bobbing her head around the first few inches of his heaving length.
She couldn’t believe how hot he was! Or how rock-hard now; it was like stroking sun-baked saddle leather. His veins were so pronounced that she felt like she’d be able to feel the pumping blood under the tight skin. It was like even his dick was made of muscle.
“Fingers can’t wrap all the way around me, can they?” he quietly teased.
She responded with a short moan that vibrated around his hot cockhead, so swollen now that she could barely tug at his foreskin. She rubbed her tongue along the underneath of his head, and when she pulled away, she licked up along the slit, oozing his moisture now.
“Getting close, keep going.”
Gray picked up her pace. She stroked along his thick shaft as hard as she could, lubricating him with her spit, and hollowed her her cheeks to suckle at the tip. A swear left the giant’s lips and wood creaked high above.
He reached down to cup the back of her head, threading fingers through her hair as he began rocking his hips in a way that told her he was still in tight control. One overzealous move and he could choke her. Or have his dick bitten. It was impossible to tell which one was the stronger motivator.
Before long, Gray was sucking and stroking as fast as her tired little body could go. He helped by grabbing himself at the root to stroke his bottom half, and from what she could see, his breaths were growing more labored, his cut belly tightening with every heave of his chest.
“Y’ready?” he breathed.
A second later he grabbed her by the hair hard enough to sting and stiffened. His huge body convulsed once, twice, and he kept his cock firmly buried in the back of her mouth as he pumped his load into her with a groan. Gray held onto his hips and made a noise as she struggled to swallow the globs of heat hitting her throat, concentrating on not gagging, don’t gag, don’t gag!
There was still so much of it in her mouth when he freed himself from her aching jaw with a thread of milky split connecting them for a moment.
Licking her lips, Gray was finally able to actually taste him. His flavor was surprisingly clean, too, and human enough, but there was a note there, faint, that was immediately recognizable, and it made her heart jump.
Rice sat down, an arm resting on his knee as he breathed slow and content, need satiated for now. Gray was still busy swallowing the last of his cum as she went to sit beside him. Idly, they both watched his erection flag until it lay limply against his leg.
He tucked it away again, buttoned up his fly, then without warning pulled her up into his lap like the rag doll she suddenly was. They sat like that for a minute or two, half–listening for approaching corpsmen, half lost in the doped–up haze of post–orgasm. But something else made her not want to get too comfortable.
“How’d you learn to fuck a human like that?” Gray asked, not sure she really wanted to know the answer.
“I’m a sentinel,” he grunted. “A free-range operator. And there’s still a lot of free–range humans out there.”
Gray started to wonder what that meant, having been only sixteen when she left that world behind. But why should that surprise her? There were more people out in the wastes than the Corps, after all. She supposed that if he had something valuable enough to offer someone, then they would probably have no problem trading themselves for it. She wondered if he ever threatened anyone for sex, but something struck her odd about the idea.
“Though to be honest,” he continued lazily, and there was the faintest hint of satisfaction in his voice that she couldn’t get a read on. “I’ve never fucked a corpsman before.”
Neither of them said anything for a long beat, but the way the air in the storage room was starting to feel, Gray could tell that a something was bubbling to the forefront of both their minds. He spoke to it first.
“Question is, the hell do we do now?”
He’d been naive, she realized, in pursuing her like that, and he knew it. Maybe he was used to having the kind of latitude that let him follow his whims, used to being able to bend the rules. Gray wondered if he hadn’t actually thought this through, or if he’d been thinking with his dick too much.
Because fuck knows she hadn’t been thinking with her brain either.
Her mouth was suddenly dry, but she spoke anyway. “We put on our uniforms and go back to doing our jobs,” she muttered.
Gray suddenly felt that his pants were too rough for her bare thighs, and his skin too warm for her bare back, so she released herself from his loose grasp and staggered back to her clothes across the room. Her watch told her that their time was almost up.
She hefted up her pants and underwear at the same time, and reached for her shirt. She stole a glance at the Anak as he dressed, watching him strap on his matte beige gear. He must’ve caught her looking, because he nodded in distant agreement, but her answer also seemed to bother him.
She was ready in the short span that he was, and it was time for him to go. The light was switched off again. She sucked in a shaking breath and held it as she peeked outside the door, listening to the silence for any trace of movement. There was none, and Gray stepped out. He followed and the two found themselves among the crates again, obscured by the deeper shadows of night.
“Let’s do that again,” he said. He’d taken a knee, goggles hanging loosely around his neck. His gloved hand held onto her hip with his thumb stroking her belly.
Images and sensations passed through her mind’s eye and she tingled with a small surge of adrenaline. Could they have this? Would they be able to hang onto this simple, dangerous arrangement, even when all the forces of their world were hurtling them towards the grim and inevitable? Gray felt compelled to try. If she couldn’t assert herself against the interests of the upranked, she could at least assert herself here. She could bring this back to camp and unlike shifts, unlike fridays, unlike codys and blankets, the Corps didn’t give it to her, and so the Corps couldn’t take it away.
Gray’s own game had begun.
“Yeah, we should.”
“This is your territory, isn’t it?” she countered with a little smile. “You tell me.”
He laughed quietly, and she almost lost herself in that deep, earthy sound. “You won’t like me gettin’ the drop on you.”
Gray grabbed the webbing of his vest and yanked him forward with the help of his cooperation. “You thought my pussy wouldn’t like your cock either. Seems to me like you’re in the habit of being wrong.”
His smile widened and he showed teeth. “Big words for a human.”
She snorted, was about to make some kind of clever, sexy rebuttal, but Rice just kissed her before she had the chance. His fully-loaded silhouette, ominous and striking in its effect on the senses, blocked the starry sky from her field of vision. But he was gentle, if not a little trepid, even. Not the behavior of a well-trained ‘Nak.
Then he lifted up his goggles, depressed a button along the side, and disappeared back into the wild like a rustle on the breeze.
Ah here we go with the smoke and mirrors - things are getting interesting!
And, unlike most tall people, he did not present the illusion his limbs would run away from him
I have to say though, that THIS is true size fiction haha. Definitely a detail that someone into tall men would notice about the way tall men carry themselves. In my experience, it’s usually better to find a 6’ man to act 6’6", than it is to find a 6’6" man to act 6’6".
I would hope to god I could still use my phone so I could start calling up everyone in my rolodex that I’ve been interested in to see if they want to “meet me for beers”.
Then, while I waited for the first of my dates to show up, I would take the opportunity to severely punish all of the fuckers who make illegal turns onto my street at rush hour. Because what’s a growth spurt without some car stomping?
((Not a fun chapter. I know yall aren’t squeamish, but there’s some brief torture in this one.))
The Corps cannot function without an effective command structure. Therefore, forging bondship status or otherwise impersonating an individual of any other rank, platoon, or social demographic is strictly forbidden. Corpsmen falsely identifying themselves in a way that contradicts their information on file will be met with severe punishment without release.
— HDC Manual, Section 8 § 24
He did not pick her up this time, and Gray was left to walk behind him, though he had slowed down enough for her to keep up. He was still producing pheromone, a fact she was painfully aware of, even now, as he was some kind of raw and vulnerable. They walked in silence for ten minutes, fifteen. Gray wondered if she should say anything at all. Maybe he was waiting for her to.
She spoke when they had reached another patch of shade. “Hey.”
Rice stopped, looked over his shoulder.
“You’re still scenting,” she ventured.
He took a deep, slow breath, and closed his eyes, willing his body to relax. After a moment he waved his great hand through the air, trying to disperse the invisible weapon.
Gray closed her own eyes and breathed. Already she felt a little less on edge, felt like she was in the company of something a little more human.
“Better.” A pause. “Can I… see your side?”
He knelt, vest still hanging from his belt, and he pulled up his shirt again. Gray just now realized that it was a plain t-shirt under all that gear, nothing special. She saw the spot of blood on his side, already dry, and ventured to gently feel with her own fingers. There was a small, barely noticeable shape under the skin.
“It’s a port,” Rice rumbled.
“What did they put in you?”
Gray could piece together the rest. It never occurred to her that the feeding tube jokes could be real. Or rather, real like this.
She took a step back. “I’d hate it too, you know.”
It looked as if there was more he wanted to say, but didn’t. Her answer seemed to satisfy him, and he nodded. Actually, he grabbed her by the chin and bent forward to deliver a rough kiss before breaking away to stand and strap his things back together.
“Can you find your way from here?”
“Yeah, but I’ll be loud and slow.”
The corner of his mouth twitched into the faintest resemblance of a smile. “You’ve got chops,” he murmured, voice so deep that it sounded more like the growl of a machine than not. “You’re definitely good enough to train rooks. If you wanted to stay with the Corps, that is.”
“Thanks, but I’m not staying. I need to get out.” Then, she said something that surprised her. “Maybe even leave the Southland, if I can.”
“Southland’s a big place, a thousand miles square. You gonna walk?”
His thoughts were drifting, and so were hers.
“Rice, what’s a pairing?”
If he had begun to loosen up, then his edge returned again.
“You don’t wanna know.”
“I don’t wanna know, or you don’t wanna tell me?”
That got a weak smile out of him.
* * *
She didn’t hear from the sentinel for the rest of her time at blind 14, but she wasn’t expecting to. Between the glimpse he had given her into into the severity of his duties and the Westie Harper had made sure to send with her water, Gray was sufficiently occupied until the end of her sixth day came around. Her relief came a little after 0730, and she shouldered her ruck to head home.
Gray didn’t know what to expect when she returned, though she had a few hours to think about it as she picked her steps along the trail. Things would be tense—the brass had arrived—and when she finally signed in at the checkpoint and the vast flood basin came into view, aglow with oil lamps and the occasional electric floodlight, she noticed Camp Fox showing off its colors at every pole: the Corps standard was white, with a blue fist holding a bundle of arrows out of one side, and lightning bolts out the other. Encircling it was olive branches, symbolizing the “hope for a peaceful future”. Conveniently, the Manual had a diagram explaining it all.
The first thing she did was use up a luxurious amount of water in the shower, more than five minutes—being away from camp for almost two weeks meant that she could afford it, since cards were reissued at the beginning of every month, no matter how many minutes you had left.
At the end, Gray stared at her feet in the stall, getting lost in the sensation of water dripping down her arms, her back, her legs. It was going to be a long few days. She didn’t want to look at the board. So she didn’t. Not yet, at least.
She found herself being drawn to the rope cordoning off the west end of camp, the shadiest part of the basin in the blasting heat of late afternoon. Gray poked around, noticed the line of horses. There were five majors and two colonels, she could tell by their tack and saddles: majors had black leather with white blankets, and colonels had red leather with blue blankets. Gray didn’t even know where blue dye came from, it was so rare. They also had saddlebags, decorated and personalized. These weren’t Corps issue, they were from civtown. Two ninth-year corpsmen guarded the horses.
Gray swallowed. Where were the bonds? They must’ve been crammed into an entire guest tent or two, and would probably begin processing in the morning.
She jumped when a hand clapped onto her shoulder. “Shit! You son of a…!”
When she turned, it was the captain.
“Hey, easy there!” he said, letting her go.
“Christ, Wesson, I almost pissed myself.” He had surprised her so completely she’d forgotten how mad she was supposed to be.
“You didn’t come to see me tonight.”
She frowned. “I was going to pop in for my debrief… tomorrow.”
“Look, Gray, I just… I want to apologize for last week. It wasn’t professional of me. And I wasn’t being fair.”
The seventh-year looked him in the eye, wondering what was going through that straw-haired head of his. He must’ve noticed the look on her face, because his hand was on her shoulder again.
“I mean it,” he continued. “I rearranged the roster, you’ve got three days off now.”
That was generous.
Gray glanced back over to the guest tents, hearing an explosion of laughter all of a sudden. Then a guitar picked up.
“Hey, not even a thank you?”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Would you stop throwing that in my face? You know where we are, you know how this works.”
“I thought I did,” she murmured.
Wesson sighed. “Where you headed? You can’t gawk at the brass all night.”
“I’d like to get some sleep, actually.”
“I’ll walk you back.”
He kept his hand on her shoulder for the stroll back towards their—his, and in the possessive sense—toon tent. They walked in silence for a minute and then he stopped them.
“Actually, you wanna see my new quarters?” Wesson asked. There was an odd grin on his face, as if this were awkward for him, but he wanted it anyways. Gray was distinctly reminded of a young boy. “Most captains are with the camp guests, there won’t be hardly anyone over there. C’mon.”
Gray licked her lips and put her hands up. “Look, Wesson, I don’t think it’s… smart. I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea if they see us.”
“What do you mean? I’m an officer, you’re downrank; it’d look like I ordered you to come with me.”
She sucked her lip between her teeth and stared at his chest. “That’s exactly what I don’t want it to look like. Sir.”
He looked genuinely hurt at that, and it almost got her. Almost. But she put a pace between them, and was about to wish him a good night, when he grabbed her by the arm, firmly but not hard, and drew her close again. Her heart immediately began to pound against her ribs when he bent his head as if to kiss her and–
…he grabbed the threadbare collar of her undershirt to give it a sniff.
Her heart pounded even harder.
Did she smell like him? She’d washed up, but never thought it could soak into her clothes, never thought it could linger enough for someone more sensitive to detect. The rag that the recruitment officers had to test the new bonds was kept soaking in a disgusting mix of dead ‘Nak’s sweat and alcohol to preserve the pheromone’s effects. She hadn’t thought anything of it otherwise. Gray’s hands began to tremble as organic fear welled up in her, and she listened to Wesson sniff once, twice, before righting himself. She was glad for the darkness otherwise he might’ve seen that she’d gone sheet white.
“Didn’t know you started smoking,” he said.
Gray let out her breath with a ragged, nervous laugh. “Oh, that, yeah. I uh…”
Wesson released her arm. “Let me know if you need matches.” He dropped his voice. “Or tobacco.”
“You can get me toby?”
“It’s not cured long, but it’s toby. I can get you a lot of things, Gray. You really don’t believe me, do you? Is that what this has all been about, that you don’t trust me anymore?”
Trust! What the hell was that anyway?
But that was when it dawned on her that she might not have ever completely trusted him. Or Finch. Or even… Harper. None of them had ever done any one thing to betray it, but when you grew up out in the desert, you knew to take nothing and no one for granted. Gray had to pick her words carefully.
“I trust you because I trust the Corps. You wouldn’t have gotten this if you didn’t deserve it.”
He stopped them again.
“Gray, wait. Are you… you’re not jealous, are you?”
And what was this now!
Sure, maybe a she was a little jealous. But she was jealous of everyone who made it, everyone who was free to do what they wanted, come and go as they pleased. So jealousy was hardly the point, and the idea that he thought it mattered offended her.
He went on. “Because you’re talented as fuck, Gray. I know you’ve always said you didn’t want a promotion, that you always wanted to get back out to the waste. But you could make it. You have everything they’d want out of an officer. You’re a good shot, you handle people well… and you’re proof that you can make ten years in one healthy, beautiful, piece. The boots would have no choice but to respect you.”
“I’ve still got two years of this,” she said quietly. “So don’t get your hopes up.”
Wesson grabbed her by the arms again, and harder this time.
“Gray, I’m telling you. If you want freedom, this is where it is. It’s not out there. You don’t want to live in fear for the rest of your life.”
“You think no one’s scared here, captain?” she found herself hissing back. “Corpsmen go through a drum of shine every day, and we get whipped for nicknaming our friends. Piss off an officer enough times and he’ll add another year onto your service or have you shipped out to fuck knows where for retraining.”
“Have you ever had to sleep with a gun under your pillow? Holed up in your shack because a bunch of brigs have turned your bombed-out village into their personal warzone? Ever walked five miles with a broken leg just to find a doctor in the next town over?” He looked at her, and hard. “Ever seen a caravan ripped apart by marauding ‘Naks? Seen one snap a horse’s neck with his bare hands as the young and the strong are tied up and dragged away?”
Her heart began to pound again.
“No one’s free out there, Gray. And no one can give you what we can: time to let your guard down. There’s no R&R in the waste. No taking three days off because your captain had something he wanted to prove to you by it.”
There was nothing to prove, and she didn’t like how he was making her feel all of a sudden. Wesson seemed to sense this, and he let her go for the last time with a sigh. He’d gotten a little carried away.
“Goodnight, sir,” Gray finally said. “You can debrief me in the morning.”
“My offer still stands, you know. If you want matches, all you gotta do is ask.”
* * *
Gray had just come out of the latrine the following morning when she heard a clerk coming down the street.
“Priority lesson! You know the drill, corpsmen, now move it!”
“Another one?” she groaned, wondering what poor idiot would be getting it this time. But her belly was empty still, and she didn’t see the hurt in making a quick detour to the mess for a cup of coffee at least.
“Priority lesson, people!”
She sluiced through the crowds of grumbling corpsmen, squeezed in through the netted flap of the big mess tent, and had just curled her fingers around a clean cup when something came down sharp and stinging on the back of her head.
“You think we’re playing games, corpsman?” came the rough voice of a ninth-year clerk as he grabbed her shirt and yanked her away from the coffee warmer.
“Hey! I’m just-!”
“You’re doing as you’re told! Now get your ass out there!”
The bigger, older man practically hauled her out the door one-armed, throwing her into the crowd. He shouted at the few remaining corpsmen lagging behind in the mess as well, but Gray didn’t stick around long enough to leave with them.
“What’s his problem?” she asked another face she knew.
“Brass are here, remember?”
Gray had almost forgotten.
Up on the platform beside the commander’s tent stood three corpsmen. One of them she immediately remembered as being on patrol that night in the canyon when she met Rice. He was a ninth-year. Ninth-years rarely got in trouble, they’d been at the game so long. They knew what behavior would put them at risk, and that was besides the fact that officers tended to overlook their more minor infractions anyways.
But she knew this wasn’t a normal priority lesson, because off to the side, lounging on canvas chairs and puffing pipes, were the visiting brass. In the morning light, she could finally get a good look at them.
Three of the majors were women, dressed in regal reds dyed from cochneal and trimmed with gold. Their clothes fit them well, and the women had hats on, elegantly shaped, that kept the sun out of their eyes as they sipped coffee from porcelain. The men too, had hats, but they were smaller, and more brutish looking.
The three colonels were even more impressive. Blue jackets that matched their horse tack, fitted to make them look lean and broad, were festooned with colorful ribbons and shiny bits of metal shaped like stars, circles, triangles. They had ropes loosely wound at the shoulder, purely decorative, and wore white gloves. That anything could stay white out here was a feat in itself, but the colonels also wore white pants, tucked into clean boots that ended just below the knee. All three of them had swords strapped to their belts, gleaming in the early light, though Gray had no idea how they could possibly be useful in a fight. One of them smoked a long pipe, and the other wore glasses, something she hadn’t seen in over a decade.
Hitch was also in his best-looking tans, wearing his cap as well. He stood beside the group of his superiors, making small talk with them as the corpsmen finished gathering. Eventually, Hitch strode calmly to the center of the boards and held up his hand for quiet. The crowd did as it was told.
“It saddens me,” he began, surveying everyone. “That we should be here again so soon. But in my twenty-three years of service with this proud organization, I have learned that it is better to reckon with our mistakes than to let them go unnoticed for the sake of comfort; for the sake of appearances.
“So today, we remember another of the Corps’ priorities: providing the downtrodden with opportunities to improve themselves. And what better way to do this than to exact the toll that a mistake demands so that we can learn, we can forgive, and we can move on? Now. Who can tell me what our purpose here is?”
“To protect and defend the human race from oppression!”
Gray didn’t say anything.
“Good,” Hitch barked. “I’m proud to hear that you remember. Today, we have three crimes to exhibit and atone for, I’m sorry to say. But these corpsmen will be held accountable for their mistakes so that tomorrow, we may get back to the task of keeping the Anakim at bay like the dogs they are.”
There was hooting and cheering, but Gray knew that the corpsmen didn’t care—they just wanted to see blood.
Hitch beckoned to the first row of the crowd. “Captains, assume responsibility for your men.”
She couldn’t see who he was speaking to until they stepped up onto the platform. There was Captain Rashid of rose toon, Captain Alder of black toon, and… Captain Wesson of brown toon.
Gray didn’t like this, not one bit. She glanced around, trying to recognize someone, anyone she had a close rapport with so that they could at least bear witness to this together. But none of her friends or acquaintances were anywhere in sight. She swallowed and folded her arms tightly.
The ninth-year from rose was instructed to take off his shirt, and Captain Rashid was handed the switch.
He got fifteen for popping cody while on-duty, and was dragged from the boards a wheezing, bloodied mess shortly thereafter. The second corpsman, she knew, would not be getting a lighter punishment.
“And here we have a soldier who was caught bartering with a brigand while on-duty. You’ve met with this individual before, haven’t you, Stearns?”
“Which means you’ve lied on your debriefings too, then.”
“Captain Alder, you have the honor.”
The black toon captain frowned deeply, but he did not hesitate drawing the knife from his belt and grabbing the corpsman by the ear. The offending black foxer stammered and shook badly, trying to twist away even though he knew this was inevitable.
Gray looked away when Captain Alder sliced off the man’s earlobe. He hollered in pain, gasping, and when Gray looked up again, he was clutching the side of his head as blood gushed quite spectacularly down his neck.
“Get him to the med tent,” Hitch ordered.
Then she looked over to the assembled brass. She didn’t know why, something told her she knew what she’d find there. But she did anyway, and was angered when they looked on, grinning and talking among themselves as they watched the spectacle. Sure, there were corpsmen who enjoyed the brutality of lessons, gawked and cheered at the blood, but at least they had skin in the game. When was the last time an officer was dragged over and beaten in front of a crowd? Never.
“And as for this corpsman.”
Gray’s attention was turned back to the remaining boot on the platform, petrified with fear. Hitch saved the worst for last, and Gray suddenly wished that she was back in that blind.
“We’ve caught this young woman in a plot to escape with fraudulent credentials.” Few understood what those complex words meant, but he was going to illustrate for them. The commander grabbed her roughly, twisting her around and fisting her hair to expose her neck to the crowd. Right in the very back was a bandage, and Hitch ripped it off, revealing raw, bloody skin. “She was trying to cut in line, corpsmen!”
Shouts and jeers filled the air, and someone even threw something at her. Gray knew immediately what the self-inflicted wound was: when a corpsman became a free man upon release, the Corps tattooed the arrow and lightning-fisted insignia on the back of every neck in blue. This was intended to prevent anyone from purchasing, capturing, selling, or owning any such marked person ever again. For some unfortunate free individuals, they did somehow end up in bondship a second time, and their freemark removed by cutting or burning. Many owners, including the Corps, would turn away any bond with such a scar, or risk their reputation.
It was because of this that those scars would sometimes be deliberately produced on someone without a mark. This youngyear was dumb enough to think she could have gotten away with it.
Reminded that he was here, that this was his toon, that this was his corpsman, Gray’s breath caught in her throat and she almost gagged. No. No, she didn’t want to see this, and she definitely didn’t want to see Wesson do this.
Hitch’s assistant handed Wesson a hatchet and a sledgehammer, and her eyes fell on him in horror. He looked dazed, just the way she remembered him looking after getting his promo.
The assistant also dragged out an old block of wood, stained from use, and grabbed the terrified youngyear by the wrist to place her hand on it. She sobbed and begged for mercy, but Hitch’s man was bigger and stronger than the teenager, and not moved by her tears.
The crowd hushed and Gray could hear Hitch explaining where to place the hatchet blade: right above the second knuckle on the smallest finger. He was to bring down the hammer quick, with as much strength as he could to make a clean break. They wanted this wound to heal as well as possible so that she could get back to serving out the rest of her years.
It felt like the air was thick with pheromone, and Gray found it hard to breathe. Wesson closed the distance between him and the cosprman being forcibly held to the block, and she watched him slowly, haltingly, position the blade as the girl cried.
Gray couldn’t look. She couldn’t. Hitch was growing impatient, he barked an order at Wesson. Her body tensed up painfully, shoulders rounded. The seconds ticked by.
“Do it now, captain!”
It was over in an instant.
She jumped when she heard the sudden clang of metal on metal, and thought she tasted bile when it was followed by a long, agonized scream. If there were any other sounds coming from the crowd, she didn’t hear them. All there was now was the thunderous pounding of her heart and the image of Wesson with the bloody hatchet in his hand. Suddenly, her body tingled in an ugly and familiar way, and Gray found herself pushing through the standing bodies to reach the edge of the quad as the brass applauded the display. Holding on to a light post like her life depended on it, she retched. Nothing came up.
* * *
Gray cashed in her friday as soon as the priority lesson was over. She didn’t want to be alone, but she didn’t want to talk, either. All she wanted was to stare down into her cup of shine and let the noise of Harrison’s help keep some of her darker thoughts away.
Why was it that this only seemed to get harder as the years wore on? The switch, the lash, that was one thing. But this was altogether different. That girl hurt herself to try and get out, and it was Corps policy to hurt her more. The Corps made sure you knew that it could always hurt you more if it needed to.
That was the machine that Wesson was now part of. The machine that Wesson loved. The machine that, just last night, he wanted to convince her more than anything else was safe.
She just kept circling back around to the Corps policy of transferring new officers away as quickly as possible. That had to have been part of the reason the brass were here, to evaluate his performance. See if he had what it took to help keep a sweat farm of 2000 bonds in line.
Or maybe they didn’t care and this was all just some performance put on for their entertainment. Like soiled doves in a Westie dance hall.
Was it better when it was Burke slashing ears and taking fingers? She never knew Burke, none of the boots did. Maybe that helped, or at least made it feel like it helped. After two years of training at Camp Jay, Burke was the only captain that Gray knew. How long had that woman been with the Corps? How long had she been mutilating the people under her command? How did she react to her first order to mete out punishment? Did she hesitate, or did it seem like the most natural thing in the world?
Gray got sick of staring at the reflection in her cup and threw back the rest of the shine.
She sat there for a good ten, fifteen minutes more, thinking about Rice. She wondered if he had watched this, if maybe he’d done it through a pair of binos. Distance would make it all seem so small and simple, she guessed, like watching bugs tear each other to pieces in a ring of stones. She wondered if his stomach ever turned from the cruelty of things. Or maybe that wasn’t how his kind experience disgust.
But what he had been forced to do to that ‘Nak, that brownband, still seemed better than this. There was no pomp, no suffering. It was quick and efficient, much more so than Hitch could ever expect from a 25-year old with an ax and a hammer.
Eventually, there was a hand on her shoulder and Gray jumped.
She looked up to see the somber faces of her two remaining friends. They sat down quietly, each with their own cup. Gray opened her mouth a few times to say something, but nothing came out. She didn’t quite have the words yet.
“I don’t think he’s ready,” Finch said after a while.
Harper’s frown deepened. “I don’t think I’d ever be ready.”
“Well, somebody’s gotta do it.”
Was that really true, though?
“And he’s trying. The guy’s only had a few weeks, and they spring this on him. It’s not fair.”
“None of it’s fair,” Gray said.
Finch took a swig. “Of course its fair. It’s all laid right out in the Manual. If we try to cheat the system, we know exactly what’s going to happen if we get caught. That girl gambled and lost.”
“Maybe the system needs to be changed instead of cheated.”
“There’s always going to be cheaters, Gray. You could make the service requirement three years instead of ten and there’ll still be people trying to lie their way out of it. The price of freedom is paid in blood, remember? There’s no changing that.”
“Don’t quote General Pierce at me.”
“Then take your head out of your ass.”
“He probably didn’t even exist. I’ll bet the Corps made him up.”
“So what if they did?”
Gray didn’t have an answer. She’d let Finch have this one.
Harper had been sitting quietly during the exchange, but took the opportunity to gesture at the sixth-year. “Let’s have those cards, Finch. I think we could all use a game about now.”
“You in for some rummy?”
Gray shook her head. “What I need is another friday.”
“Saiyeh has one if you want to patch up her socks,” Harper offered.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll do whatever.”
Finch had been shuffling the deck, but slowed. She didn’t look up. “I got a couple from Wesson in exchange for some favors.”
Harper turned to her. “You didn’t tell me that.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not my keeper. Got a couple other things too.”
The man frowned. “Like what?”
“Like ‘screen,” she murmured.
Gray’s mouth almost fell open. Screen was harder to come by than toby, and she’d never heard of an enlisted corpsman getting their hands on any. Finch could trade a small tin of the stuff for ten fridays. Maybe more.
“Wesson said that it would help keep me from blistering in the sun because I’m so pale.”
“How in the hell…?”
“Won it in a card game.” Finch was still avoiding eye contact.
“I’m not supposed to say.” She looked to Harper suddenly. “How about some crib since it’s just the two of us?”
Harper didn’t say anything.
“C’mon, help me find the table with the holes in it.”
Finch got up, grabbing the bigger man by the arm to drag him away. Once she was halfway across the room, she finally glanced over at the seventh-year.
“The captain will be around in the office in a few hours if you want to talk to him. He keeps his promises, Gray. And he might appreciate the company.”
Gray headed out without another word, looking for Saiyeh.
P.S. I had to laugh when Gray describes the Western that she was reading because I’ve read so many books like that.
P.P.S. Giants carrying smaller people over their shoulder are the best.
I haven’t actually read any Westerns that I can remember, believe it or not… but I do have me a sizeable Jack Higgins collection and I can imagine that with a mere swap of settings, a lot of the tropes are the same!
And yeah, I do love me some shoulder carry. That’s one of the fun things only minigiants can really do!
@kisupure Do corpsmen have dogtags? I thought it was just tats.
No, they only get ink when they leave (and it’s put in places that look very suspicious if tampered with, say, in the event someone tries selling a corpsman that’s already earned their freedom). The tags are basically there to remind them what their number is and when they joined.
lol what’s a blood type
Either way, they’d look shiny hanging from
I mean, not that I’m a nak, but if I were one I’d definitely have some fun with the Finches of the world, jussayin. And I could think up probably a dozen not-so-nice things to do to a human with a metal chain around their neck…
@olo I did a little investigating using some size calculators, and yeah, he’s a hair too big. Nine feet is pretty fuckin impressive when you’re standing next to it, but when it’s bodies and they’re all scrunched up, the difference loses its magnitude
To make up for it, here’s the other request!
Sentry positions are to be held with the utmost attention paid to one’s surroundings. Speaking at volume, indulging in distractions, and sleeping for more than seven (7) hours per night is indicative of poor performance and may result in transfer to another Corps division. Repeated or particularly egregious violations of good corpsmanship may result in the need for retraining.
— HDC Manual, Section 12 § 18
The corpsman stood there in the dark, straining to see how long her ears could detect him. But he was a talented bastard, and she counted eleven seconds before she lost track of the Anak giant.
Gray went to wipe the Anak’s taste from her mouth, and found her fingers smelling strongly of sex. “Shit,” she muttered, and crouched down to quickly muss her hands around in the dirt just as she heard the plodding steps of the patrol come up the path, accompanied by hushed conversation.
“Hey.” Gray nodded at the pair when they came into view. They paused and eyed her.
“What are you doing up here?” one asked.
She swallowed, trying to look appropriately cool and disinterested. “The usual,” she shrugged. “Trying to think up a way to end the war.”
The other, a ninth-year, snorted and flicked some ash from his smokestick. “Sounds like you’re gunnin’ for a medal or something, corpsman.”
Gray smiled sardonically and began the trek back to camp. “Any metal but lead.”
* * *
She went to bed as quickly as possible that night, as she’d need to ruck out for Wesson’s spiteful assignment at nearly the crack of dawn. In her cot, it was difficult to sleep. Gray felt a little giddy, almost, thinking about whether the sentinel would visit her at the blind, if he could ever steal further into Fox and visit her here. Abduct her from her tent in the dead of night, and drag her off to be thrown against a rock somewhere and…
That’s when she decided her imagination was getting away from her, and flopped over to try and get some sleep. Gray made sure to set the weak, quiet alarm on her watch to give her enough time to barter a friday for a few books in the morning. She was going to need them.
* * *
At 0530, Gray headed over to the Gold Fox tent, looking for a ninth-year named Craft. She found his flap and gave a hiss.
“Hey, you awake in there?”
There was a groan inside, and the creak of a cot frame. “Depends what you want.”
“Looking for some books.”
“What’s in it for me?”
Gray popped her head inside.The ninth-year was sitting up in his cot, rubbing his tired face. She didn’t feel too bad about waking him up, because the lucky bastards were only two to a room, so they had the space to begin accumulating personal belongings ahead of release. She spotted the crates under his cot, fitted with locks, and she knew they were packed to the rim with artifacts from the outside world.
“Friday?” she offered.
“Just one?” Craft held out his arm impatiently, clicking his tongue. “Let’s see it.”
She handed the slip over, and he inspected it briefly before stuffing it into the breast pocket of his beige overshirt. “Alright, you know how it goes, youngyear. Out, out.”
Gray ducked back out, letting the flap close behind her as she heard him unlock the crate and rummage around. “If you had smokes,” he called out to her, “I could get you one that didn’t have pages missing in the middle.” The lock clicked, keys jangled, and the crate was slid back into place before he peeked out and handed her two ragged copies of something. “I’ll buy ‘em back from you when you’re done for two minutes of water.”
Gray sighed. “Deal.”
She turned the books over in her hands as she walked back towards the Brown Fox tent to gather up her gear. They had clearly passed through many hands, smelled like old sweat, and the covers were long gone, but they were just the distraction from her distraction that she’d need for the next few days.
By 0600, she was signing herself out at the checkpoint with a belly full of coffee.
“Off already, huh?” came a groggy, but familiar voice.
Gray turned to see Harper coming along with a cup of his own. He looked very tired; he’d probably been up all night at the wire.
“Yeah, the captain couldn’t decide between giving me the rock or the hard place. So I got both.” She signed her EIN in the watchman’s book. “You won’t be seeing me for another six days.”
Harper sighed bitterly. “I’m sorry, Gray.” Then, he looked tired again. “I’ve been trying to steer clear of him too. He hasn’t been right since the engagement, and Finch…”
She swallowed. “Keep an eye on her this weekend, will you? Something stinks and it ain’t pheromone.”
“I had to notify Alpine of the visitors, they’ll be staying for four days. Then after that, it’s brass.”
Gray’s brows shot up. He was referring to the majors and colonels, the most lavish of guests that a camp could host.
“And they’re bringing forty-seven bondsmen with ‘em.”
Harper just shrugged. “We’re still down more than two-hundred. We need the boots, and it’s better to train ‘em all at once.”
She couldn’t argue with that. But it would take days to process that many people. And with brass here, the camp would once again be a prime target for ‘Nak hostility. Even brigs would be interested in making off with a few unwary bonds if they could get close enough.
“Not sure if I wanna be here for that or off on another six-day watch again,” she chuckled weakly.
“Wesson will have to clean up his act for the brass, that’s for sure. Especially since he doesn’t have his mark yet, they’ll be holding him to the letter.”
“Just… watch out for Finch. Friday night, especially.”
Harper just drew his mouth into a line and nodded.
Gray handed back the clipboard and exchanged it for a radio. It was a bulky device, about the size of her foot, and its face was fitted with a few sturdy buttons and dials. She strapped it to her belt.
“And send another book with my water delivery, will ya?”
The broad corpsman broke into laughter and Gray smiled back. She had to, she didn’t want her last memory of the place before going back into solitary confinement to be grim and dour. But maybe she wouldn’t be alone after all. There was that chance.
* * *
Dawson by Dusk was, by all measures, a terrible story. It was a typical Westie: characters were either cowardly or stone-faced, and the men were all leathery and tough, while the women either beautiful and docile or shrill and just as leathery as the men. Well, she couldn’t complain too much; corpsmen were a pretty leathery bunch as well.
The biggest problem with them, though, was that they didn’t last long. She’d only been reading for a few hours on her second morning and she was already a third done with the damn thing. When she closed the book, the renegade hero had just come upon the comely daughter of a dredge owner suspected of murdering a U.S. Marshal, whatever that was. Even with the missing bits of context, it was quite predictable so far.
She sighed and closed the book, beginning to settle in. Blind 14 was on an exposed ridgeline with a view of the lowlands, and it was part of a string of solitary posts networked together to keep an eye on movement below, to the south-west. Gray hadn’t done one of these since well before the relocation, and she almost forgot to “check-in” with the other positions at 2130 that night. In the small kit provided, she pulled out a flashlight, snapping on the requisite red night lens, and crept out of the small raised shelter. Yawning, Gray looked to her right where, about half a klik away in the distance, another blind was located. At exactly 2133, she looked hard and against the darkness spotted the all-clear sign: four solid bursts of light. Then turning left, she counted down the seconds until 2134, and gave her own. Down the line they went, a string of 6 posts working together to hold down the territory. A few minutes later, and the signal was communicated from left to right.
If something was wrong, she’d see a different pattern, followed by more information in Morse. Luckily, it looked like things would be quiet tonight.
Gray slipped back into the blind, a small A-frame shelter made from the rough-cut wood of small trees and thatched with grasses. It was better than the unprotected platform up in the tree, but being lower to the ground she would have to hang her rations from one of the scraggly trees behind her to keep the mice away, and periodically smoke the shelter to keep the bugs out. Especially those nasty, fat-bottomed widows. Waking up next to one of their tough, messy webs would give any seasoned corpsman a good scare. She wondered how Rice did it.
Rice. Gray laid on her back and looked up, her belly doing a little tumble at the thought of him. He was out there, somewhere, never too far away it seemed. She wanted to ask him how much ground he was required to cover, how big his territory was. She wondered if he’d tell her. Gray craved him now more than she wanted to admit, longed for him to step out of the night like some supernatural creature to rescue her from her boredom. Gray never remembered being this bored, or this restless. It’s as if her tolerance for quietude was disappearing, and for the second time in her life, she was experiencing a deep hunger for something.
The last time this happened she joined the Corps.
She tried not to think about her life before escaping very often. The memories were jumbled now, distant, but at points alarmingly clear. She remembered the silky mud between her toes as she helped to dig a grave along the side of the road in pouring rain. She remembered the closest thing she had to a mother: a stern old woman named Cleo, another bond who died from a scorpion sting when Gray was 11. The most remarkable thing about Cleo, though, was that she was a child in the years before the Disruption. When the masters were asleep, sometimes Gray would get to hear stories of the old world, of the house that Cleo was raised in, with its water and electricity, and the machines that made the air cool. She spoke of screens, like mirrors, that could show you faraway places, books, the faces of others instead of your own. She said that everyone always had at least one, and that they were thought of as precious, like water.
Gray wondered if Rice knew anything of the pre-Disruption world. Or if he even cared about it at all.
She rolled over, trying to keep from picturing him, from remembering the way his massive hand felt in her hair. She focused on the sounds of night around her instead, and tried to fall asleep. The crickets helped.
* * *
There was another check-in in the morning at 0800, and another at noon. Every four hours, up and down the line they went, with either flags during the day or red lights in the dark. A wide, three-mile gap in the hills was monitored this way, with as few bodies spared for the job as possible. It was brutally efficient.
Gray finished her first book on day three, and almost found herself wishing that she was a weaker reader just so they would last longer. She knew some corpsmen who would take ten minutes to read a page from the Manual. And that included needing help with some of the more esoteric words.
The sentinel must’ve known how to read; he wouldn’t have gotten very far keeping track of a Corps camp without being able to peek in on duty rosters through a pair of binos. Or maybe he didn’t. Would would have taught him? Was he born knowing?
Behind the blind, in the scattered shade of some wide, scraggly tree she didn’t know the name of, Gray had made a “dust bath” - a spot to cool down when the air just got too hot to do much else. She kicked off her pants, tossed off her shirt, and scraped away at the top few inches of sandy soil to make a shallow trough long enough for her to lay down in. She sighed when she did, enjoying the much cooler dirt against her skin. Gray almost fell asleep.
Her eyes flew open at the smell of tobacco smoke, a surge of excitement suddenly invigorating her. But when she sat up, looking around for the man she was sure would be smoking it, she quickly found that the source was a butt on the ground next to her, still weeping a tendril of smoke.
Gray started, immediately noticing that it was still hot. Without thinking, she smashed it to bits with her hand until she was sure that every last tiny ember had gone out. It was a reaction that was well programmed into her: the Corps took fire very seriously. As they were one of the few things more dangerous than an attack, arsonists and their friends were dealt with swiftly and severely, no matter how small the blaze, and turned out into the wastes with a bright red letter A tattooed next to their freeman’s mark. No one wanted to deal with fires, not even the Anakim.
She stood up, eyes scanning the area for any trace of him. This wasn’t how she imagined him making his entrance.
“You ass,” she called out into the bush, and like that, he revealed himself from where he’d been crouched, still as stone. “You know what they’d do to me if this ridge caught fire?”
“Leave you for the brigs,” he called, stepping out from behind a rocky outcrop. “Not much fuel for a blaze here, though.” He kicked at the bare dirt around the tree to prove his point.
She shook her head and sat down in the shade, surprised when a second later he ducked down to sit next to her. Her head only came up to his bicep, but already she was getting used to it. She didn’t want to get used to it.
“A little dangerous to be here in broad daylight, isn’t it?”
She was expecting innuendo, a kiss, something. But Rice just reached into a pouch and produced another hand–rolled stick, lit it and took a drag. Gray watched as he blew the smoke away from her, the faint wisps coiling around in the air and disappearing. Where did he get all of those, anyway? It took a lot to trade for genuine tobacco.
He checked his watch. “Your water delivery left camp about 20 minutes ago, he’s still 2 hours away. Corpsman in blind 13 over there brought a bunch of shine with him and has been sleeping between whatever that thing is that you do every four hours. And blind 15’s practising the harmonica. Be glad you can’t hear it from here.”
“How’d you know all that?”
“Gathering information is what I was designed to do,” he chuckled. “Besides, eavesdropping around a Corps camp isn’t that hard. You guys act like no one’s ever listening.”
She narrowed her eyes at the horizon and folded her arms. Why was he being this way? Wasn’t this supposed to be a tryst? “Yeah, well, with you in charge, it doesn’t seem to matter what we do,” she huffed.
Rice grinned wider, holding the little brown stick between his lips as he stretched out his massive legs and put his hands behind his head against the tree.
“You don’t have a damn clue what I do out here, do you?”
She wasn’t sure what came over her, but she suddenly reached up, snatched the smokestick from his smug face, and brought it to her own mouth.
“Yeah, you smoke up and fuck humans, you fuckin’ chucklehead.”
Gray sucked it down, feeling the smoke hit the back of her throat, and exhaled like she knew what she was doing. But a beat later it burned, and she erupted into a coughing fit.
Rice just laughed as she gave it back, hacking.
“Whatever,” she rasped, and coughed some more. “I’m great at sentry. And for the record, the rest of your kind are about as easy to spot as a bull elk in rut.”
“The brownbands?” he snorted, referencing the color of their armbands, of which he wore none. “They’re useless in the bush.”
He took another long drag, held it for a few seconds, before letting it out again.
“And I don’t doubt you do your job well. Unfortunately for the Corps, give a sentinel enough time in one place, and he’ll eventually notice everything.”
Gray sighed quietly, eyes dropping to look at her booted feet. Then she glanced at his: enormous, strong, deeply treaded for traction. She couldn’t tell what color they were supposed to be through the dust. The excitement of his presence was wearing off a little, the warmth in her belly fading for not being put to use. Maybe Rice was only here to chat, if she could call it that. The thought disappointed her.
“So why haven’t you reported us yet? You know our positions, our movements.” Gray just shrugged. There was nothing more to say.
The giant didn’t take his eyes off the horizon. “Because smoking up and fucking humans is a hell of a lot more fun than fighting,” he said, confirming part of her theory.
Then his smoky breath was on her hair when he lifted up her chin, and a moment later he was kissing her on the mouth. Finally.
He tasted like ash. Gray just looked him in those blue eyes, wondering if she should take him at his word. Of course there was a lot he wasn’t telling her. The question was how much.
“You’re a lousy soldier,” she said.
Rice’s expression had a bitter edge to it but he shrugged. “Probably.” Then he kissed her again. There were no gloves on his hands, she realized, when his fingers wandered down to the waistband of her underwear.
She put her hand on his arm, but it didn’t stop him. “If somebody sees us, we’re both dead.”
Rice undid her pants and snaked his fingers slowly down between her legs. “Didn’t stop you last time.”
Gray reached out to palm his building arousal, but he seemed to ignore her as he pushed her into the dirt. He rubbed her through her underpants, feeling her heat. When she spread her thighs for him he pulled the garment aside and stroked her skin directly. Gray moaned.
“Next time I’m going to find us a spot where we can get away for a couple hours,” he said, watching her face as he continued touching her. “Where I don’t have to cover your mouth.”
Gray shivered and tilted her hips into him. “Fuck that sounds hot,” she sighed. Then: “Y-you’re hot.”
He plunged two fingers into her, and Gray gasped. “Never thought I’d hear that from one of you. There’s a lot of fucked up people out in the waste, but I thought the Corps taught you better,” he smirked.
“We’re taught a lot of things.”
“So are we.”
Already she was keening, pushing her hips against his big hand. He worked in three massive fingers, rubbing circles around her little clit with the pad of his thumb. It wouldn’t be long.
“I’ve been thinking about you a lot,” she murmured, the words coming out between little moans. Unfortunately, she realized too late that this made her sound hopelessly sentimental. He cocked a brow at her but didn’t even slow down.
“You have?” There seemed to be a little enjoyment there at her expense.
“You know what I meant.”
Rice scoffed and picked up his pace in just the right way. He had her bucking like a pony, and in no time orgasm rolled through her like a cresting wave of heat.
Squirming, panting, mewling, she came against him, until all that was left was that hazy warmth as she lay limply in the dirt, looking up through the leaves at the clear blue sky. Gray glanced at Rice, who brought his hand to his mouth and stuck his finger in to taste her.
“Bet you’re even sweeter after a shower,” he said with a grin.
She blushed fiercely and yanked her underwear back into place. “Thanks, asshole. You don’t look so fresh yourself.”
He laughed, which made her scowl even more. “Yeah, no kidding. That’s why I’m not whipping it out for you.”
Gray sat down again and looked out at the view, thinking. She was struggling to reconcile her image of him, and who this… Anak actually was. Somehow, deep in her bones, she knew she could trust him. But she still had no idea what he wanted. And that not knowing was making her uneasy this time.
“What the hell is your deal, Rice? What is this game you’re playing with me?”
The giant looked at her and his smile disappeared. He rose, ducking out from under the tree, and wandered over to her blind, taking another long drag of the stick. Then he reached inside and pulled something out, something dwarfed by his huge fist. A second later and there was a sider tossed in the dirt between her feet. The look in his eyes reminded her that he was a ‘Nak.
“Humans play games too, don’t they?”
She looked at the dusty weapon for a few silent seconds, picking it up and turning it over in her hands. She set it down again. “Guess we are pretty shitty soldiers.”
Rice’s eyes narrowed at the horizon. “No, we’re good soldiers. It’s this war that’s shitty.”
Suddenly, a few more pieces clicked into place, and she looked at him, feeling a bit smug herself for figuring it out. The way he spoke to her earlier made her want to get one up on him, even the smallest bit. “So you’re a rebel, then? Get your kicks from giving the middle finger to the Algo, shirking orders and doing what Rice wants to do.”
He was quiet for a minute, and she saw his expression beginning to harden. “Sounds like you know me better than you thought.”
“What I don’t get is the interest in me,” she boldly continued. “It’s not personal, is it? It’s just ‘cause I’m the first corpsman that hasn’t shot you yet. After so many years, you’ve finally gotten to fuck the uniform.”
“You really are fuckin’ dense.”
There was something in his voice that shut her up immediately. Something dangerous, authoritative. A knowing. Rice checked his watch, then began to walk away.
“W-where are you going?”
He was already making his quick, silent way down a game trail and she found herself trying to keep pace as he disappeared into a small copse of red, wiry manzanita shrubs.
“Slow down!” she called after him.
Rice stopped and when she caught up she was suddenly in the air, and then there was a very spacious, but very uncomfortably armored shoulder under her belly. It was not a fun ride when he picked up his pace again, and it wasn’t without some protest.
“I’d let you walk, but you’re too slow and too loud.”
“Where the hell are you taking me?”
“Far enough to be out of sight of those blinds. Got something to show you.”
It was one thing to watch him walk, but another thing entirely to be slung over his shoulder like that as he took his long, swift strides across the soil, expertly sidestepping noisy brush and the small, flat leaves of the sparse manzanita grove. Most of the plants only had a few inches on him, but the Anak seemed to move with all the deftness of an animal through the landscape and she knew that he would be difficult to see for sure.
After a good amount of time, long enough for her side to start hurting again and then some, they came to a dry stream bed, and followed it for a few hundred yards as it cleft its way around a small bluff. In the shade of a single old oak tree leaning precariously over the edge, he finally set her down.
“Get up top behind that tree. Don’t move, don’t make a sound.”
Gray nodded, desire gone and replaced with the edge of a trained soldier. Finding purchase along the face of the bluff, she carefully made her way up and waited in the tall grass at the base of the oak.
They waited a while, probably ten minutes. Rice stood, lit up a third stick, his eyes studying the ground in silence. Then she heard it: heavy boots. And soon after, she felt it. Pheromone. Rice had stopped suppressing.
She watched him, noticed the small changes in body language. He squared his shoulders, set his feet apart, folded his arms in such a way that made them look absolutely huge. Was he signaling uprank dominance? He had to have been. What was curious is that it looked more to her like it was deliberate more than instinctual, a finely-tuned image of what he was expected to be.
Off to her right came three brownbands. An odd number like that was strange, she’d never seen it before.
“Late,” Rice said. His voice seemed louder and harsher, but she couldn’t be sure if it was the pheromone playing tricks on her.
“Sorry, sir. We got your delivery.”
One of them was carrying something special on his back. Rice sat down on a boulder, undid the straps of his vest to let it fall away, then pulled up the side of his shirt to reveal those tight muscles that Gray had enjoyed so much the week before. The same brownband that was carrying the pack got closer, kneeling beside him. Rice felt around the side of his abdomen with a pair of fingers, looking for something. The corpsman watched, fascinated. Something told her that she was witnessing an exchange few humans got to see.
The attending brownband handed Rice something, a small spray bottle, and he gave his skin a spritz as the other Anak readied a tube connected to his pack, and replaced a head on it. When Rice was ready, the nameless Anak pushed the tube to his skin, and a beige liquid proceeded to flow from the pack.
Rice held still, eyes closed, and he breathed slow and steady. Gray could see from here that he did not enjoy what was happening, and that he wanted it to be over with. What was this vaguely grotesque ritual?
After a minute passed in complete silence, the brownband with the strange contraption pulled out the tube with a single, decisive motion, and Rice was quick with a rag at the spot. In the split second between them, Gray saw blood.
Rice wasn’t concerned by it, and after dabbing at the spot a few times, he pulled his shirt back down and stood.
“Alright, your orders from Central,” he said, and the three brownbands stood at attention.
“557, you’re to go rendezvous with the 44th company by tomorrow. You’ll be replacing their Gamma. Be ready to receive new instructions within the week about your new section.”
He turned to the brownband with the special ruck.
“619, report to G Waypoint, also within the week. You’ve been deemed worthy enough to be put in the queue for pairing.”
“Th-thank you sir, it’s an honor. If you can tell Central that I—“
“Central doesn’t care what you have to say, soldier.”
Rice then looked to the last of them.
“And as for you, 701, Central acknowledges your attempt to organize outside the command of your Alphas, and has deemed you unfit to serve.”
This Anak looked taken aback, and Gray saw him begin to panic.
“S-sir, I… it was a football game, sir. A simple game!”
But the sider was already in Rice’s hand, and a second later, the insubordinate giant was flung to the ground with a hole between his eyes. Gray covered her mouth with her hands to keep them from hearing her horrified gasp.
Rice ground the last of his smokestick under his heel and turned to the remaining pair. “We’ve been having problems with the Tobins lately,” he said dispassionately. “Report anything unusual about them to your Alphas and Betas. Central is working on a gene patch in the meantime.”
Gray couldn’t tell if it was the strange cruelty she had just witnessed, or if it was the accumulating pheromone, or something else altogether, but she didn’t want to be here anymore. But she had to be. And not even for the fact that she’d be dead the instant any of them saw her. It was because Rice had specifically wanted her here.
“Now get him out of here. Dismissed.”
Quietly, the pair of brownbands lifted the immense weight of their dead comrade, and hauled him away. As soon as they were out of sight, Rice took a moment to consider the red stain sinking into the dry, pebbled earth, before heading around and up the bluff. He didn’t go to her, though. He passed her by and, on the other side of the tree, was his pack. He dug through a small pouch on the top and pulled out something no bigger than a poker chip, connected to the pack by a curly wire. She realized that it fit snugly into the shell of his ear.
“This is R-402,” he said out loud, just as coldly as before. “Current assignments complete. C-557, A-619, and T-701 all green. C-557 and A-619 moving now to assigned sections.”
“Understood. R-402 underway.”
He returned everything to its place and stood to lean back against the trunk of the old tree, staring out, though it didn’t appear he was looking at anything. Gray saw that his fists were closed, but restless. He didn’t acknowledge her for a few long moments.
The giant blinked, glanced at the time once more. “Let’s get you back,” he said quietly.