The thing about living so long without genitals is, the moment everyone on board the Callister got them back, they were pretty damn anxious to use them.
It wasn’t quite so bad for Nanette, who hadn’t been there as long and was still only focused on celebrating getting that creep Daly the hell off their ship. She hadn’t had the same amount of time to build up sexual frustration as the rest of the crew before going through the wormhole, so she didn’t have quite the same needs as everyone else.
But she definitely didn’t blame them for boning at all hours and in all possible permutations all over the ship.
She hadn’t been surprised when she turned a corridor to find Nate fucking Shania against the wall. Shania had only stopped clutching Nate’s shoulders long enough to give Nanette a wink and a wave before getting right back to moaning and giving Nate a pretty stellar review of what he was doing.
When she walked in on Elana, Nate, and Kabir going at it in the mess hall, she just apologized and slowly backed away, not particularly shocked by what she’d stumbled onto. Except, maybe, for Kabir’s full back tattoo.
It wasn’t until she found Elana eating Shania out in what had previously been the captain’s ready room (now remodeled into a lounge) that it occurred to Nanette that yes, it had been a while since Elliot, and she might as well join in the fun.
Since then, she’d had a blast with the rest of the crew, enjoying a wide range of bodily configurations and celebratory sex with her new friends. No one seemed particularly picky about who topped or bottomed or what holes got involved or even who was invited to partake in the menage-a-whatever for the night. They were all out to have a good time, and as far as Nanette could tell, they all seemed to be succeeding.
It actually took her a couple weeks before she really registered the only person whose newly reclaimed junk she hadn’t fondled or fucked at some point was James Walton.
In fact, other than showing up for his assigned rotation on the bridge, she hadn’t seen much of Walton at all since they’d made it to the Update universe. The few times she had spotted him off-duty, he seemed to be drinking just as hard as he had when that prick Daly was still trying to play god.
When she finally noticed Walton’s conspicuous absence, she mentioned it to Shania (who could do positively wicked things with a replicated strap-on). Shania just pressed her lips together in silence and tightened her arms around Nanette’s waist for a moment.
“I wouldn’t talk to him about it, if I were you,” she said finally. “He was just as happy as the others to get his dick back. He just might not be as anxious as everyone else to share it ‘round.”
Nanette fidgeted in bed until she could turn her neck and see Shania’s entire face instead of just the one side.
“I’m not worried about Walton not wanting to join in the group sex every night,” she said. “I just want to know what the hell he’s doing with himself when he’s not with us. Do you think—is it about Tommy? Does he miss his kid? Because if that’s it, he shouldn’t have to deal with it alone. We all miss people. I don’t know, maybe it is different if it’s your child or whatever, but still—”
“I’m sure Tommy’s part of it,” Shania said, cutting Nanette off. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not the whole reason. Don’t forget, Walton was stuck in here alone with Daly for a while. None of us are entirely sure how long. Or at least, how long it felt to Walton. We’re all deeply fucked up, Nette. Maybe Walton’s just fucked a bit deeper than the rest of us.”
Nanette cuddled back against Shania, resting her head on her shoulder and thinking. Daly was an asshole, and Walton had every right to be as fucked up as he was. But that still didn’t mean he had to deal with his shit on his own.
~ * ~
Nanette knocked on Walton’s cabin door after her shift the next day. Walton had gotten off a few hours before her and of course disappeared directly to his room. At least that worked in Nanette’s favor for the conversation she wanted to have with him now.
“What?” Walton’s voice cut through the white door.
“It’s Nanette,” she supplied. “I was wondering if we could—talk?”
The door slid open, revealing Walton standing on the other side wearing a mostly open robe and holding a half-empty bottle of neon green liquor in one hand.
“Is there a problem, captain?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
“No,” she said. “No problem. Just—look, can I come in?”
“You wanna drink?” he asked, hefting the bottle in his hand.
“Um, sure. Okay,” Nanette said, eyeing the stuff without any hope it wouldn’t taste like the radioactive glow stick filler it looked like.
Walton turned and walked back into the room, grabbing two glasses off a nearby shelf and filling them both almost to the brim before handing one to Nanette.
“Thanks,” Nanette said, taking a sip and wincing at the unmistakable tang of lemon mixed with what could only be battery acid.
“Shall we toast?” Walton asked, holding his glass up and spilling a bit over the sides and down his arm.
Nanette was relieved his flesh didn’t bubble at the touch of the stuff like she half-suspected.
“To freedom from our late Captain. We may not be dead like we planned, but at least no one’s going to turn into a giant spider mutant. And that counts for something, I guess.”
Without waiting for Nanette to react, Walton downed his entire glass, then crossed back to the bottle to fill it up again.
“Cheers,” Nanette mumbled, taking another drink herself.
“Look, Walton,” she said. “Some of the others and I are a bit—concerned.”
Walton snorted, swirling the liquid in his glass before taking another long swallow.
“The others, huh? The others know how to mind their own goddam business. They don’t give a shit about how I’m doing, and neither do you, not really. You just don’t want to feel guilty about letting me languish away without putting up some token effort to bring me into the lovefest.”
“Fine,” Nanette said, setting her glass down on a plastic end table with more force than she meant to. “No one else does seem particularly worried. And I’d like to be able to feel as genuinely concerned as you clearly think I should be, but the truth is, I barely know you. All I know is, you’re keeping to yourself too much. And it can’t be healthy. We’ve all been through a lot. And maybe none of us actually wanted to spend the rest of our lives exploring virtual space together, but we’re making the most of it. You could too if you wanted to.”
Walton laughed a little, shaking his head before draining his glass again.
“Just—think about making an effort to adjust, okay?” Nanette said.
Walton didn’t look back at her, so she turned and left the room, trying to tell herself she’d done all she could. She couldn’t make the fucker open up if he didn’t want to.
~ * ~
Fortunately, not everyone in their newly inhabited universe was as big of an asshole as Gamer691. There were actually some pretty cool people out there, and while Nanette and the others decided to keep the whole virtual clones thing a secret and pretend they were just playing the game like everyone else (because really, what good would it do their real-world counterparts if they pushed too hard to find a way out of their new reality), they did enjoy catching up with people from the “outside,” as they started calling it.
Maybe the aliens were fake and the loot they found on away missions was just coding, but it was some kind of life. They had adventure and entertainment and food that they could actually taste and that felt filling. Eventually, Nanette had to admit she didn’t actually mind it in the Update universe. Here, she was, well, kick-ass, in a way she’d never been able to be outside.
And well, the fact that the sex was great didn’t hurt matters either.
Walton continued to keep to himself, but Nanette put him out of her mind as much as possible and focused on Shania, Nick, Elana, and Kabir. They were all pretty great people—smart and funny and each kind in their own way. Nanette could think of worse people to spend eternity with. They all got along mostly, and when they didn’t, it only took a couple of days before they fought it out, fucked again, and forgave each other.
Nanette had succeeded so well in forgetting about Walton, she actually drew up short when she saw him out of his cabin off-duty for the first time she could remember.
He was sitting in the top tier of the engine room, legs dangling over the edge, looking down at the warp cylinder and cradling a bottle of something thick and black like tar.
He turned his head when he heard Nanette, and she couldn’t help but notice his eyes were red and puffy.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s you.”
Nanette (kindly) refrained from asking who he’d been expecting and instead walked over to him, lowering herself onto the metal grated floor beside him, and letting her own legs dangle over the drop.
“Are you all right?” she whispered.
“No,” Walton said, turning his face away, staring back at the churning white light contained in the warp cylinder.
“Is it—Tommy?” she asked.
“No,” Walton said, smiling without it reaching his eyes. “And that’s the most fucked up part of it.”
He took a drink of the tar liquor, and Nanette leaned forward, resting her arms on the railing around the warp cylinder and resting her chin on her forearms.
“Do you know how long I was in there? How long I was in the old universe before anyone else showed up on the fucking Callister?”
Nanette shook her head, not daring to look at Walton full-on, but peering at him out of the corner of her eye.
“Five years,” he said. “Five goddam years alone on this fucking ship. Alone—until he’d show up. And I really did fight him, I really did. Hell, I made you look like an eager lap dog in comparison.
“I know I told you what he did to Tommy. And I hated him for that, I really did. But in five years, the only person I saw other than my son who died five minutes after showing up on the ship, was that bastard Robert.”
Walton paused to run a hand over his face. Took another drink of thick liquor.
“Robert wanted to set himself up as a god, and somehow, in those five years, part of me started seeing him that way too. Well, you saw what he was like. Demanding submission. Exacting punishment. He was a god. A petty, vengeful god.
“And after a while, I really tried to be good for him, you know?” he said, voice soft. “I might have bitched and moaned about it in front of everyone else, but Robert got what he wanted in the end. An obedient plaything. An eager goddam footstool! And that’s what really pisses me off.”
Nanette was quiet for a moment, watching him.
“Not in the end, though,” she said.
“Hmm?” Walton said, clearly not listening to her.
“I said ‘not in the end.’ Not when it mattered. You came through for everyone else. You stood up for yourself and stuck it to him in the end.”
Walton shook his head.
“You still don’t get it, though, do you? The fawning, adoring slave bit. That wasn’t even the worst part. No—the worst part was, it was never good enough. I was never good enough. But I guess that doesn’t matter now, huh?”
Walton wiped at his face with the back of his sleeve, and Nanette averted her eyes, giving him the illusion of privacy.
“Anyway,” Walton continued after clearing his throat. “Like I said, that doesn’t matter. And Robert really was a piece of shit. Let’s just say, Tommy may have been my worst punishment for defying Captain Daly, but he wasn’t my only one.”
“Walton—James—what did he do to you?” Nanette asked, sure she didn’t want to hear the answer.
Walton shook his head.
“It doesn’t matter. Robert was creative with his punishments, that’s all you need to know. But then again—he always was.”
Walton sat up a little straighter and set the bottle down beside him.
“He wasn’t always like that, you know. I mean, maybe he was. Maybe he was always a creep. But I didn’t always know it. Before everything, before the company, he was just—Robert. A creative genius. We were partners before we ever went into business together. Before I got a big head and convinced myself instead of bending over and taking it from a computer nerd, I should be going out with ex-models and failed actresses. I know—I know it’s not my fault Robert did all this shit. That was his choice. It’s not on me. And it was all so terrible. So truly, truly sick and terrible. I meant what I said to him—fuck him to death. I’m so glad he’s gone. But—”
Walton closed his eyes, face still turned toward the light in the cylinder.
Nanette edged closer to him, resting a hand on his arm. She remembered moments, things she’d seen before they’d made it through the wormhole. How easily Walton stared at Daly in admiration when they were on that planet facing off against Baldack. Walton banging his head on a computer console and calling it a hobby. The soft, reverent tone Walton used when he talked to Daly that maybe wasn’t quite as forced as anyone else. Different moments that when added up painted a different picture than the one she’d first seen when she woke up on the Callister.
“But you still love him?” she asked.
Walton laughed again.
“I don’t know,” he said. “What does love feel like anyway? But I just—how does someone get over doing what I’ve done? How does someone move on from leaving their god?”
“I—I don’t know,” she said. “But people do it, don’t they? Change religions, change churches. It isn’t unheard of.”
Walton let out a shaky breath. He reached for the bottle of liquor, picked it up, looked through the glass, and set it back down again.
“I hear you all, getting up to all sorts of things all over the ship,” he said, a non-sequitur. “I haven’t gotten hard since I got back the equipment to do so. Not sure if I can.”
“Well,” Nanette said after a while. “I don’t know if it helps, but I happen to know Kabir has a pretty wide assortment of toys in his cabin, including rope and some other kinky shit. According to Nate, he really knows what to do with it too.”
Walton’s lips curled into a smile, not a big one, but genuine.
“Are you trying to convert me, captain?” he asked.
Nanette shrugged. She climbed to her feet and offered Walton a hand to help him up.
“I’m not saying it’s everything. But maybe it’s a start. You’re not alone anymore, James.”
Walton looked up into her face for a moment before taking her hand. Slowly, she led him out of the engine room, only realizing after the door had shut behind them that he’d left the bottle behind.