It was the eve of the system’s lunar new year—a week long celebration and duty-free holiday that brought sellers and buyers from nearby systems to the station, its planets, and its moons. There was no way Arthur was going to be able to snag a bunk in a public unit on station for anything less than a favor and a billion yen—and even then, it’d be a hustle. There was no way, period, he’d find a bunk with the right terminal and ports for him to work.
Won’t make your deadline? Bad luck, point man, he could hear his employer growl—a threatening rumble that would foreshadow the ringing emptiness of Arthur’s accounts and, subsequently, the angry grumbling of his stomach. He was just imagining Cobol’s voice though, of course; it was quiet out here, in the in-between of space. No pings from employers or friends flashing across one’s brain at inopportune moments.
With the barest of mechanical shudders, the shuttle docked into port E78 of the station’s leeward side, Terminal E, and Arthur waited impatiently for the station and shuttle bots to grant him clearance to log on to the station network. When they came, the buzz of activity and roaring river of data were a welcome flood to his deprived senses. They hit his brain hard enough to white out his vision and make him bite his tongue, strong, like a Somna-opioid rush. Space—especially at the speed and confinement of a cruiser shuttle—was a quiet, lonely place. Once their access was granted and their heads had cleared, Arthur and the handful of other passengers eased back in their seats, ready to wait out the uncertain duration of station inspections now that they had access to the net.
Whenever possible when traveling, Arthur made an effort to come out of stasis early and adjust his sleep cycles so he could greet his destination with a rested body and ready mind. This visit to New Panama Station and his old friend Yusuf was unexpected, however: a last minute detour to avoid a Mira system bounty, an unexpected invitation. Logging on, Arthur saw that it was twenty-one hundred hours station time and that Yusuf worked the third shift.
Just docked, waiting to clear inspections, he messaged Yusuf, slipping into the private comm channel his friend had set up in anticipation of his arrival.
Yeah, good luck with that. Hope you’re comfy. E ports take for-fucking-ever to clear, Yusuf pinged back after a mere moment. I have to be on shift at 22:00.
Alright. I’ll need some time to find a bunk anyway. When and where should I meet you?
Hey now, you’re bunking with me, mate, yeah? I already set the locks for you.
I’ll need a terminal to work. I’m not on vacation, you know.
Yeah, yeah. I haven’t seen you in, like, two whole sun cycles. The least you can do is stay at my place and take a day off to get smashed with me.
Yusuf sent him the coordinates to his quarters on E terminal. See you a little after eight, unless I can get off early. You’re welcome to my bunk in the meantime. It’s the top one.
Arthur raised an eyebrow. Got a roommate?
Amused exasperation. Not like that. Mechanic named Eames. They work for station management. Know you’re coming. Oh, and there’s Wex—but don’t worry, she doesn’t bite.
With that, Yusuf slipped from the channel, presumably on his way to work.
Arthur unbuckled himself from the cargo seat and stretched languidly. Yusuf had a terminal he could use; he was such a tech-head, it’d be just as good as the one Arthur had left behind on Epsilon Eridani C. He’d make his deadline, and he’d make time to enjoy the new year festival with Yusuf. He could do both: he was the best. Beside him, a stocky Terran woman whistled out of tune, her glassy eyes jumping here and there as she tabbed through streams of data.
Arthur got to the pod where Yusuf’s quarters were located in one piece, but barely. He and his pack and his shuttle hangover had been jostled this way and that until his jaw ached and his ears rang. Silver glitter, sparkles, and small white flower petals were caught in his hair and stuck to his heavy canvas coat. The crowds were getting a jump start on the New Year celebration. For the more traditional, a somber fast was kept until the New Year countdown; for the less traditional, it was still customary to hole up in quarters for elaborate dinner parties and drinking games until the eclipse occurred. When the moon was born anew for the next year, the private parties spilled out into the public streets, parks, and moon-viewing decks of the station’s civilian terminals—money, work, and military classes all mixing together in carnivalesque revelry. Arthur was somewhat surprised that E Terminal was as raucous as it was already, thick with vendors, musicians, and dancers. But then again, it had been years since he’d come through Tau Ceti system, longer since he’d set foot on New Panama station. Apparently, customs had changed.
At Yusuf’s, Arthur let the security pad scan his face and his net log in while he tried to shake off the worst of the festival confetti. With a pleased chime, the door slid open, revealing not a passage or a room but a person-shaped wall, a solid torso. Muscles were evident beneath a tight shirt, sweatpants hung low to reveal hipbones and Terran tattoo script. Upon Arthur’s double take, a lickable jawline, full, soft lips, and green eyes crinkling at the corners were also apparent. Oh! Arthur thought. The roommate.
From behind this unexpected wall of muscle, Arthur heard a low, rumbling noise—but, like, from what? Some kind of appliance? The sound raised the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck.
“Expecting me?” Arthur managed to ask, fighting to maintain his usual neutral expression.
“You must be Arthur.” The wall-like person beamed. “I am going to hug you now.”
“So Wex knows you’re welcome in our home.”
“What?” Arthur raised his palms to, like, juijitsu Yusuf’s roommate out of his person space, but it was too late. Eames—this must be Eames, that was what Yusuf had said, right?—had stepped forward and enclosed Arthur in those thick arms. Arthur found his mouth and nose pressed against the skin of Eames’s neck; because the two of them were of a height, Arthur could see over Eames’s shoulder. He located the source of the ominous rumbling just as the noise ceased and transformed into a joyous yet deafening baying.
There was a humongous canine creature standing behind Eames. The fur along its spine was raised in a mohawk of alarm, and flecks of spittle clung to its gray muzzle and coppery coat. The canine—the dog—was watching Arthur with softening brown eyes, and as Eames squeezed Arthur tighter, murmuring—seriously?—“Good Arthur, nice Arthur, friend, friend. See, Wex, Arthur is our FRIEND,” the dog’s crooked tail began to wag.
“Is her tail wagging yet?” Eames whispered against Arthur’s ear.
“Yes,” Arthur panted, breath squeezed out of him. “Yes, it’s wagging.”
“Oh good.” Eames released him and stepped back. “Well, come on in. I’m Eames. They and them pronouns, thanks.”
"Arthur. He, him.”
Arthur stepped inside the unit, and the dog—Wex—promptly launched herself at him.
“FRIEND,” Eames bellowed at Wex, but there was no need, because the dog was intent on licking hello onto Arthur’s hands. Damn, the creature was tall. Arthur stepped behind Eames before Wex could bury her foxlike face in his crotch.
“Well, she likes you. Good!” Eames enthused. Then they bellowed again: “Wex! CHILL.”
The dog, surprisingly, complied with this request, turning away from them to collapse on the rug in the middle of the quarters. She was so large that she took up most of the floor space. Arthur glanced around quickly and took in the bunks to the left and the wall screens and compartments where the quarter’s hygiene and nutrition appliances were hidden until needed on the right.
“I can stow your stuff,” Eames offered, but Arthur shook his head, fingers tightening around the strap of his bag.
“I’ll keep it. I need it for work,” he said. “I’ll put in a shift at Yusuf’s terminal while he’s out.”
“You’re not here on holiday?”
Arthur shook his head again. “I’m on a deadline. Just figured I’d see Yusuf while I was passing through.”
“Mm. You’re one of his wandering friends. Can I get you…” They squinted their pretty green eyes at Arthur appraisingly. “Tea? Terran coffee? Sake?”
“Uh, coffee, if you really have it—?”
"Yep. ‘Get a ration of it,” Eames hummed. “Worth it. It’s not so hard to come by in this system anymore. Just expensive.” They flicked their green eyes to Arthur curiously, wondering, perhaps, about Arthur’s story, about his apparently outdated knowledge of Tau Ceti. Arthur met his gaze evenly; like most itinerant hackers, he was used to keeping his cards close to his chest.
He skirted Wex’s giant form and sat on the bottom bunk, watching as Eames bypassed the standard nutrition printer and began what looked like a surprisingly authentic Terran coffee-preparation ritual, complete with grinding fragrant beans in a hand-cranked glass jar and then running hot water through a brown paper filter that they printed quickly from the room’s shared terminal. It was a pleasant ballet, especially as the fragrant coffee scent filled the small room. The fact that it was Eames’s attractive form going through the motions made it more enjoyable, Arthur had to admit. He fought down the urge to get up and offer to help, to make himself useful, and a few moments later, Eames settled on the bunk next to him with two ceramic tumblers of honest-to-God coffee in their large hands. Arthur took one hungrily and held it to his face so he could just breathe it in. Eames didn’t move, though their knee pressed against Arthur’s. They just watched Arthur sip his coffee with a flickering gaze. Arthur reminded himself that not only was there nowhere else to sit in the quarters, but that system etiquette allowed for dramatically less personal space than what he, a frontier-born Terran, was used to.
“This is delicious,” he said. “Thank you.”
“Mmm,” Eames agreed.
“So you’re a mechanic?” Arthur asked after a long moment, during which he tried and failed to remember if gazing was also a system social norm. He should have done some research before coming through, but he had been cocky—his mother had lived on New Panama station for many years before Arthur was born and had often told him about it—and he had also been so consumed by his job. He would search the station net, but he did know that turning inward to surf data mid-conversation was rude. He tried gazing back at Eames, to be polite, but it was difficult because they were so attractive, like looking at a solar flare.
“I’m a mechanic,” Eames affirmed, tone light. “Someone has to manage the hardware around here while all you data junkies surf the streams.”
“Hey, now. I never said—”
“Ah, I know, I know.” Eames hid a self-deprecating half-smirk behind their cup. “But you lot do act all superior.”
Arthur made a noncommittal noise that he intended to sound sympathetic. Truth be told, he did rather turn up his nose, not just at mechanics, but at anybody who worked in the flesh, who wasn’t caught up in the maddeningly complex world of possibilities, legal and not so legal, that came with knowing how to navigate nets and their data streams with dexterity.
“I like to work with my hands,” Eames offered. “With what I can touch and see.”
“Oh,” Arthur said, resisting the urge to scoff at Eames’s attitude. People would come up with all kinds of rationalizations to justify their lives. As if VR was less touchable or visible than basically reality, really. He ran a finger around the edge of his cup and continued in a neutral voice. “Well, what do you do, exactly?”
“I oversee the station core servers.”
Arthur blinked. His eyebrows shot up. “You…oversee them?”
Now Eames full-on grinned. “As in, I’m the person in charge. Yup. All the peons answer to me and my superior building and hardware knowledge.”
“Then how come you’re here, in E Terminal—”
“Hey, E’s a pretty nice place.”
“—bunking in a shoebox with Yusuf?”
Eames shrugged, but they looked pleased to have arrested Arthur’s admiring attention. “I don’t know,” they said, and Arthur was hard-pressed to discern whether it was an evasion or whether Eames’s life was honestly a bit up in the air. “I grew up on E. I like it here, like having a roommate, someone else to help me look after Wex. Guess I’m saving my fortune up for something special. Besides”—they fidgeted with the hem of their sweatpants, where the material was pushed up and showed the beautiful, pale skin of their inner ankle—“my student loan debt is, like, devastating.”
Arthur snorted. Student debt evasion was just one of the crimes his less-than-legal persona was wanted for in this corner of space. He kept tabs on his warrants, though it’d been several years now since he started doing work mostly on the right side of the law; he liked to take the time to flesh out his legal work portfolio now and then. It meant he got to see people like Yusuf, who was currently one of his more savory friends. Not that that wasn’t liable to change as soon as Yusuf got bored. Arthur wondered how Yusuf had fallen in with someone like this Eames, who was trusted with incredible responsibility. Arthur was probably fucking up their security clearance just by breathing the same oxygen as them.
Arthur realized he was staring at Eames’s ankle. “Mm,” he said, a belated attempt to sound present.
He looked up at Eames, expecting them to seem annoyed—but they were biting their lip, pleased, like they were party to some inside joke.
Arthur felt—off balance, suddenly. He scowled, then forced his expression to smooth. Took a sip of coffee. “I wasn’t in the streams,” he said, face heating despite himself. “I was just…thinking.”
“Just run of the mill dissociation, then?” Eames laughed, then pressed their lips together. “Sorry. My sense of humor, it’s not always very funny.”
“You’re fine,” Arthur said—and he meant it, he realized. He’d had far, far worse company lately. Yusuf’s place was quiet and calm, and there was a gorgeous person serving him coffee. Christ, as if Arthur could complain. “I’m just—not as current on system etiquette as I’d thought.” A confession for a confession. Tactical.
Eames made an amused sound. “Where are you from?”
“The frontier territories. For what it’s worth, we’re known to have an odd sense of humor too.”
“A grim sense of humor, I thought.”
“Not grim, just realistic,” Arthur countered.
Eames laughed again. “I like you,” they said. “Yusuf’s friends are usually fucking pretentious. What etiquette’s confusing you?”
Arthur took another sip of his coffee, considering. “The personal space, the eye contact.”
“Is it too much?” Eames started to scoot back, but Arthur stilled them, reaching out a hand.
“No,” he said quickly. “It’s fine. I—I just always forget how close people sit on station.” He gestured between them, where their knees touched, how they were perched on the edge of the mattress with their bodies turned and tilted toward each other.
Suddenly Eames’s grin widened, and they threw their head back and truly laughed—not the light amusement peppered through their conversation thus far, but a deep, rumbling mirth. “Oh!” they said, trying to collect themselves. “I mean, our boundaries are truly atrocious by Terran standards, that’s true enough. But no, Arthur, I’m actually trying to flirt with you because you’re, uh, ridiculously attractive.”
“Ah.” Arthur felt his ears begin to burn. “Well, carry on, then.”
“Now that the cat’s out of the bag, do you mind if I—?”
Eames took the coffee cup from Arthur’s hand and leaned across the bed to place both cups on the small shelf there. Then they shifted closer still to Arthur, cupping his face with their hands, to kiss him.
Sorry, mate. Yusuf pinged Arthur, startling him so that he bit Eames’s lip. Eames moaned. Was hoping I could cut out early, but looks like I have to stay on a while longer.
No rush, I’m finishing a project.
Arthur gasped, his mind deliciously blanking out, as Eames kissed him again.
They made out for several minutes, pressing against each other and rolling around the bed, getting comfortable. Arthur was just about to work Eames out of their shirt when Eames stilled.
“Shit,” they said, pulling back. “Hold on. I just—” They sat back, their gaze turning inward, lust-blown pupils shrinking. They had such pretty greenish eyes. Arthur took the opportunity to stare, to wipe the back of his mouth with his hand and to savor Eames’s taste on his tongue. His hands twitched, eager to make their way back beneath Eames’s shirt to the warmth of their skin. But then Eames swore and sighed, coming back to Arthur. “I have to go in to the station core. Bloody third shift is bloody incompetent.”
Arthur tried to gather his wits against the tang of disappointment in his throat. “Can’t they just…patch you in?”
Eames shook their head, a muscle jumping in their jaw. “They set off an alarm sequence they’ll never be able to locate and contain, even if I could turn it off with my access codes remotely, which I can’t. It’s nothing big, it’s just—it might interfere with the New Year celebrations.” They shrugged.
“Alright.” Arthur tried again. “Can you…fire them?”
“Only every night in my dreams.”
“But if they’re that bad …?”
Eames laughed like Arthur had made a joke. “Nepotism,” they said darkly, when Arthur stared.
“Right.” Arthur straightened his crumpled shirt, tried unsuccessfully to smooth away its wrinkles. “Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you, then.”
Eames shifted, then bit their lip, awkward. “I’m sorry,” they said. “God, could they have worse timing.” They stared despairingly at the front of Arthur’s pants, where he was obviously hard.
For some reason, Arthur intended to be standoffish—no, just aloof, like a cat with its fur pet in the wrong direction—because, damn it, yeah, could they have worse timing? Instead, he found himself giving Eames a crooked smile. “They could have pinged you fifteen minutes from now. I guarantee you wouldn’t have been in a state to form sentences then.”
Eames swallowed. “Oh,” they said, breathless. They reached out and put their hand, tentatively, on Arthur’s hip. “Would you—I mean, I know you’re here to see Yusuf—but would you want to get a drink with me when I get back?”
“Are you asking me on a New Year’s date?” Arthur raised his eyebrows. “That’s—forward.”
“Yes.” Eames nodded vigorously.
Arthur looked away. “I’m not really”—he reached for an old Terran quip, or something like it—“the dating kind, no offense.”
There was quiet for a moment. “Yeah, okay. No worries then,” Eames said. They moved to stand up from the bed.
Arthur caught their hand. “I mean, I want to—I’m just saying, it’s not usually my thing. So you know.” God, it was like his mouth was just saying things without his mind’s approval; had he acquired a brain paradise on Eridani C or something? Fuck.
“Oh—that’s okay. But you want to?”
Arthur nodded, and Eames smiled, leaned back in to kiss him.
“Wait, what I’m trying to say is”—breathless—“you don’t know me. Maybe we shouldn’t—you shouldn’t be—not with me.”
Eames looked at Arthur, rolled their eyes. “You’re not the only one with a shady past, you know. How do you think I got so thick with Yusuf?”
“A shady past is different than a shady present,” Arthur tried to argue, but his tone was off, all supplication, not rebuke. He made no effort to stay Eames’s hands, which rove across his chest, curled behind his neck to dig into his curls there. Fuck, Arthur had zero desire for Eames to stop. One last ditch attempt, to assuage his conscience—so he wouldn’t feel bad every time he beat off imagining Eames’s mouth on his cock later, when he was several systems away. “It’s not worth fucking your security clearance, fucking me…”
“Who told you that?” Eames rumbled. “‘Shouldn’t sell yourself short, darling.”
“Arthur.” Eames mouthed his cock through his pants. Then, levering themselves up easily on those muscled arms, Eames pressed their lips to Arthur’s neck. “It’s not a problem,” they breathed. “Trust me.”
Arthur turned his face toward Eames—a movement too soft, like nuzzling, but he’d just draw attention to it now if he jolted away. “But—you—”
Eames licked his ear. “Nepotism,” they whispered.
Arthur laughed. “You’re hooked up real good, huh?”
Instead of answering, Eames said, “If I get thrown out on my ass, I’ll come find you. You can induct me into the life of crime.”
“You wouldn’t find me.”
Eames grinned a sharp grin, showing some teeth, then kissed Arthur’s fingers, which he had been idly running along their jaw. “You think you’re very good, don’t you?”
Arthur was breathing hard, moving against Eames—they were both still fully dressed, it shouldn’t be that good, rubbing off on each other—but who was Arthur kidding, it was good, it was loads better than Arthur’s recent encounters, a tepid blowjob in a flat above a club on Rehua, a quick fuck in a ship lieutenant’s cabin. Arthur never called either of those people, didn’t even give them his real name. Fuck.
Eames had asked him a question: You think you’re very good, don’t you?
Arthur fought for breath. “The best.” He’d been practicing that ever since he was a runt on Cas B, and he knew the words came out sure, smooth. Confident.
“Well, then, trust me to know what I want—and why wouldn’t I want the best?”
Arthur sighed. “Are you leaving right now, or what?”
“Tragically. But we’ll get this drink later?”
Arthur pushed his hair out of his face. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “I mean, we’d have to meet up with Yusuf when he’s free. But we could, yeah.”
“Okay, good,” Eames said immediately. “Yeah, Yusuf, of course. That’s fine.”
They stepped nimbly around the apartment, retrieving shoes, a coat, and a satchel from different compartments. Wex watched this hopefully, her tail wagging, but dropped her head with a whuff when Eames failed to materialize her leash. Eames paused at the door, turned, and tackled Arthur back to the bed for another long kiss that made Arthur want to wrap his legs around their waist and pin them to the sheets, emergency be damned. But he let Eames go, of course, as soon as they pulled back and scrambled to their feet, panting.
“You don’t mind if I work from here?” Arthur asked.
“From my bed?” Eames beamed. “‘Course not. Increases the odds I’ll find you here when I get back, yeah? Alright, I’m heading out. Keep an eye on Wex, would you?”
“Just keep an eye on her. I’d take her with me, but it’s a madhouse out there.”
“Do I need to—do anything special?”
Eames shook their head. Then their lips quirked in a mischievous smile. “There’s a file on her on the apartment database you can pull up, if she throws you for a loop.”
“Oh,” Arthur said, relaxing, and Eames’s smile widened.
“Or you can ping me. See you,” they said. “When I get back, we’ll go get that drink, yeah?”
“Alright,” Arthur said tentatively, but Eames was grinning as they stepped out the door.
FOUR HOURS LATER
Arthur kicked out of the net halfway through a run, swearing. Eames.
“Wex,” they called. “Wex? Arthur, where’s my fucking dog?”
Arthur blinked, waiting for the spots swimming in his vision to clear. Rough kicks always hit him hard. He rolled onto his side and sat up slowly, palm to his face. “What?”
“Where is Wex?” they repeated. They were staring at Arthur, and they’d dropped their bag to the floor.
“Um, what? She’s here. She was right here a minute”—he looked inward to the net to catch the time—“just a few minutes ago. I know she was.”
“Well, she’s not here now…”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I don’t need a fucking sixth sense to tell me there’s not another life form in this fourteen by fourteen square. She’s my fucking dog.”
“Okay, let’s not panic.” Nausea finally receding, Arthur squinted around the empty apartment. God, it really was a shoebox. As if Wex could be hiding anywhere. “Look. Why don’t you log on and trace her?”
Eames rubbed their face. “Because she’s not traceable on the net. She’s a dog , Arthur.”
“She doesn’t have a—a microchip?”
Eames’s face twisted with guilt. “No—I—I never got her one. Fuck.”
"Fine. So let’s go see if we can find her.”
Eames nodded but dug their fingers into their hair. They were practically vibrating with distress. “But how did she get out? I’ve been gone, what? Four hours? What the fuck have you been doing in here that whole time?”
THREE HOURS EARLIER
Arthur had just gotten a good work flow going—the above level stuff, not going under—when Wex began to nose at him. He pushed her away, eyes still fixed to his portable screen. Again, again.
“Knock it off,” he murmured, grimacing when she left a streak of slobber that stretched across his hand.
The dog retreated to the center of the small room. If Arthur didn’t know better, he would say she looked chagrined, even sulky.
“That’s better,” Arthur said. “Good girl.”
But then Wex began to howl.
And howl. And howl.
“Knock it off!” Arthur finally shouted, flushing because—well, it felt stupid, and wrong, to yell at a dog. But it didn’t matter, anyway. Wex didn’t stop.
What was wrong with her? Was she hurt ? Hungry? Did she miss Eames? None of these options made sense. Well, maybe, maybe, option number three.
In desperation, Arthur finally pulled up Eames and Yusuf’s shared file for their quarters and searched for Wex care—there, a file named Boredom. Alright, that seemed promising. There were several live-streams and recorded vids that Wex apparently liked to watch when she was bored, a note adorned with far too many exclamation points supplied.
Arthur selected the first stream, park, and the apartment’s large shared screen, which covered the wall opposite the bunks, lit up with the chaotic and deafening crowd of dancers who were trampling Terminal E’s largest moon-viewing park. Wex jumped up, paws on screen, and began to bark.
Arthur practically dove to close the stream. “Fuck,” he said, ears ringing. Wex whined and scratched at the blank screen.
The other streams were called cantina ♥︎♥︎♥︎, park 2, and L street. They wouldn’t do; they’d be overrun with the same loud craziness. Arthur opened one of the vids instead.
An image of a shirtless Eames filled the screen. “Wex! Hey girl. Good girl. Are you being a good girl, at home all by your lonesome?” Vid-Eames talked to the camera in a low, crooning voice.
Wex’s tail beat the ground.
They were being entirely fucking adorable. And God, their tattoos, their sleep-tousled hair, those thick-lashed green eyes.
“Are you being a good girl? Are you being a good doggo? Yes, yes you are.”
Nope, nope. This wouldn’t do at all.
Arthur closed out the vid with a shaking hand.
“Sorry not sorry, Wex,” he said, swallowing down shudders of uncomfortable arousal. He could barely meet the dog’s eyes, he was in such a state, damn. “I don’t care if you’re used to watching streams till your eyes rot. It’s too distracting. You’re going to have to CHILL.”
Wex heaved a dog sigh and flopped down on the rug, face turned away from Arthur in juvenile petulance.
Arthur ignored her and turned back to his work, trying to ignore his sudden and insistent erection. Jesus, he needed someone to tell him to CHILL too.
TWO HOURS EARLIER
The vid ended, and the next one in the queue began to play. Oh, good, this one was Arthur’s favorite.
Wex whined with happy excitement.
“Quiet, Wex. Don’t kill my fucking vibe,” Arthur said, not looking at the dog so that he could better pretend he was alone in the apartment, alone in his enjoyment of Eames’s sleepy-delicious form. “Wex, CHILL.”
On screen, Eames veered suddenly from rambling about the proper way to boil different kinds of eggs (avian versus reptile versus koo) to ranting about the excesses of the moneyed class. They spoke with animation, their tone rising in indignation, their brow furrowed. They were reclined on their bunk, recording themselves with a handheld screen. Arthur watched them shift—they had been lying with one hand pillowing their head, showing off a bulging bicep—they pulled it free and scratched their bare chest idly, then began to gesture their outrage at the screen. Arthur watched the rippling muscles of their shoulders and arms. Damn, he wanted to lick along the taut lines of their neck…
Arthur had already unbuttoned his pants. He reached down and pulled his cock free of his briefs. He had been achingly hard yet resisting grabbing himself for far too long now, trying to talk himself down from this particular precipice. Getting off with Eames was one thing. Arthur had certainly picked up in stranger places and situations with far less preamble than flirtation over coffee. Having a drink with Eames was another thing: out of character for him and daunting, yes, but do-able, doubtless worth it. Wanking on Eames’s bed to vids they’d recorded for their dog, however…well, Arthur just couldn’t, could he? He was not that ridiculous or hard up or—
Oh, fuck it. He spat in his hand, gripped himself harder and began to stroke. He thought about Eames’s voice, their weight on Arthur, their teeth on his neck. Eames-on-screen bit their lip, trying to remember the punchline of a stupid joke they’d been telling—and Arthur came, hard.
Arthur’s mind was blitzed. It took him a moment to realize he had come everywhere.
Arthur rolled off the bunk, scrubbed furiously at the wet stain on the comforter with a bandana from his bag. Wex watched him from the rug, her giant muzzle resting atop crossed paws. Arthur didn’t meet her eyes.
ONE HOUR EARLIER
Freshly showered and sheepish, Arthur resettled himself on Eames’s bottom bunk.
Wex was snoozing on the rug.
Well, he’d jacked off; now it was time to jack in. Arthur wrinkled his nose, shaking his head as he automatically told himself that old joke.
But yeah, he jacked in and went under.
He set the program to kick him awake if Eames or Yusuf re-entered the apartment.
The last thing Arthur felt as he dropped under was Wex’s weight as she sprung onto the bunk and settled across his legs.
BACK TO THE PRESENT MOMENT
"W hat the fuck have you been doing in here that whole time?”
“…Nothing! I—we—weren’t doing anything except, you know, I was working.”
“You were under the whole time?”
“No, not exactly. Just the past hour.”
“Well, what were you doing the rest of the time?”
“We were, uh, watching Wex’s vids together.”
Eames gave him a funny look.
The lights by the entrance lit up, and the door slid open to reveal Yusuf. Like Arthur, he had received a dusting of confetti from the revelry. He didn’t bother to shake out his glittery curls before he bounded into the apartment. “Arthur! Mate! Can’t believe you’re here!” he bellowed, spreading his arms. Then he stopped abruptly and glanced between Arthur and Eames. “Alright,” he said, dropping his arms. “What’s going on with you two?”
“Your mate here lost my fucking dog,” Eames growled, crossing their arms across their chest. “Some fucking friend you invite into our home.”
“Hey!” Arthur’s hands clenched into fists. “Come off it! I didn’t do anything to your dog. I told you, I went under for fifteen minutes, and when I woke up, she was gone. If she can get out of your apartment on her own, that’s on you, on your security!”
Yusuf pressed between them, holding them apart with a hand on each of their chests. “Hey,” he said. “Hey. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this.”
“What kind of explanation—” Eames began, as Arthur snapped, “Oh, like they’re going to listen to reason—”
“Hey!” Yusuf said louder, gripping their shirts and giving them a little shake. “Knock it off, will you? You’re wasting time we could be using to find Wex. Seriously, what is wrong with your priorities? Get it together!”
Eames seemed to deflate. Arthur watched Yusuf’s posture soften, his hand on Eames’s chest become more about comfort than containment. When Eames visibly blinked back tears, Yusuf let go of Arthur entirely and grabbed Eames’s shoulders, putting their foreheads together. “Hey, it’s okay,” he said. “Arthur’s going to put his shoes on, and we’ll go out and search. She hasn’t been gone that long, and there are a billion people out there. She can’t have gone far. Someone will have found her.”
Arthur put his shoes on. His stomach felt funny, and it wasn’t from the kick. He felt like an asshole. “I’m ready,” he said, voice too loud.
Eames wiped their eyes, turned, and dug a container of treats out of their bag. They shook treats into Yusuf and Arthur’s hands. “These are her favorite.”
“We can ask around. Everyone in the neighborhood knows Wex,” Yusuf told Arthur.
“But E’s teeming with tourists right now,” Eames cut in.
They stepped outside—and oh my God, Arthur had thought it was wild out here six hours ago. That had been nothing. The street was madness. They didn’t bother trying to speak, just pinged each other to divide up the neighborhood. Eames headed one way, toward the bodegas, bars, and hostels they and Wex frequented. Yusuf walked toward the gate to the park and viewing deck. He pushed Arthur down the street in the opposite direction from Eames, saying, This street curves around into the nice part of the neighborhood, bunch of new money class folks. It should be a little quieter there still.
A dog treat gripped in his hand, ears ringing, Arthur stumbled down the broad thoroughfare, corrugated gray metal slick with flower petals and spilt beer. He was instantly swept up in the carnival—part parade, part market, part dance party. The crowd was a writhing monster, frenzied enough to swallow whole even a giant dog like Wex.
The search did not go spectacularly.
“Hey, did you see a dog?”
“WEX. WEX. C’mere, girl! WEX!”
“I’m looking for a DOG. A big, orange-brown dog. No—not that dog—thank you, no—no, I’m not buying. A LOST DOG. Yes, he’s very cute, but I’m not buying—”
“Wex? Is that you—? Wex! Oh, fuck! Never mind. Sorry!”
Arthur let himself wander further and further, drifting from shouted, confusing conversation to conversation, exchanging tense messages with Yusuf and Eames over their comm channel. The New Year decorations, costumes, and finery gave the search a sense of unreality, like being in a nightmare or under in a particularly psychedelic VR world. Years of training and travel had dampened Arthur’s claustrophobia, his frontier distaste for urban planets and station life. Even still, the press of bodies and the smell of street food, alcohol, and sweat made his skin itch and his head spin. He bought two shots of verquila from a pretty Mira symbiote, her bright red invertebrate twined around her neck like a scarf—scanning them for hard stuff only briefly before tossing them back—and he felt better, like his skull was thicker, insulated from the roaring of the crowd. She hadn’t seen Wex, but she wished him good luck in the tongue of her home planet, which she assured him was especially auspicious.
Eight hours ago, he was in a shuttle. Six and he was making out with the hottest person he’d seen in five systems. How the hell did the day go downhill so fast?
You could be working, he thought glumly, reminded of Cobol. You could cut your losses and hop the next E shuttle out of here, catch Yusuf next time around. It’s not your dog.
Even as he thought this, he knew he never would. He pictured Eames and Yusuf’s worried faces. He thought about a shoot out he’d been in off of Rehua a few years back, the result of some smuggler gang corporate drama—how, when it was over, the bartender had coaxed her Pekingese from behind the shipment crates in the back room, sobbing with relief that he was okay, even as her own arm bled through a bar-rag bandage. Arthur thought about himself at age nine on Cas B, helping his dad bury his favorite cattle dog, which had been gored past saving fending off a boar attack. How his dad had almost cried, how he had held Arthur’s hand for a moment afterward—a very rare thing. Of course Arthur would help Eames find their dog. He’d help a more complete stranger.
Eventually, Yusuf pinged him to regroup back at the apartment.
When he got there, the atmosphere was grim. Eames was sitting on the bottom bunk, their head in their hands. Yusuf was making coffee, fumbling the motions, his eyes more on Eames than his task. There was still no Wex. Gloom hung heavy in their little cube, more pungent than the recycled station air.
Arthur wanted to sit by Eames on the bunk, to offer comfort with a hand on their back, his forehead resting against Eames’s shoulder. That door seemed closed, however. He leaned against the wall screen instead, sliding his hands in his pockets.
“What do we do?” Eames asked the floor.
“We keep the alert live on all the E public channels and streams,” Yusuf said. “We go out again searching after the eclipse, around fourteen hundred, when the people start sleeping for half a shift.”
“Someone’s going to find her.” Yusuf brought Eames a cup of coffee, held it in front of them until they looked up, took it, tried to smile. “For reward money, if nothing else.”
“Thanks. Thanks for everything.” They met Arthur’s eyes for a moment too. “This just—sucks, you know?”
Yusuf squeezed their shoulder. “Yeah. It’s terrifying.”
Just then, the doorway lights flashed, and the door slid open. In a flare of confetti, incense, and pounding bass, Wex bounded into the room. She threw herself against Arthur, barking, then turned and dashed to Eames, planting her platter-like feet on their lap while they gaped. “Wex!”
Thrown off balance, Arthur stumbled into the person who had followed Wex into the room. They didn’t seem to mind, reaching out easily to help Arthur steady himself. They were short with braided dark hair, and they looked festive in their purple lipstick and smart red coat.
As the door closed, returning them to their bubble of quiet, Arthur caught his breath. Eames was petting Wex, pressing their face into her fur, cooing a string of endearments into her floppy ears. “There you are, girl. There you are. Wex, Wex, Wexy. You scared me,” they crooned.
Wex was covered in a constellation of neat bows with LED lights flashing in random patterns, a blue that matched her three eyes.
“Ari!” Yusuf boomed at the newcomer, crossing the room to pull them into a hug. “You had Wex? What the fuck! We were going out of our minds looking for her in the streets.”
Ari frowned at him. “What are you talking about?”
“We thought she got out, somehow.”
“And neither of you thought to ping me? You know I take Wex to the groomer every second week.”
“But it’s the New Year!” Eames said, lifting their face from where it’d been pressed against Wex’s fur.
“Well, yeah. I told you I was going to get her done up real pretty for it,” Ari said. “Aren’t those glow-bows super cute?”
Wex preened as they all stared at her. Then she craned her massive neck and bit off one of the bows, daintily crunching it between her massive teeth.
“She looks adorable,” Eames said, voice thick with fondness. “Fuck, sorry. Can’t believe I forgot you were going to come by.” They paused and seemed to flush, possibly considering the scene Ari would have walked in on, had Eames not been called away to work. “I guess I’ve just been—distracted today.”
Ari and Yusuf followed Eames’s gaze to Arthur.
Yusuf laughed. “Oh, I see how it is.”
“Hey, you’re the guy who was here earlier!” Ari said.
“You came in while I was under? Why didn’t you—?”
“Oh! Believe it or not, it’s not everyday I see a cute guy passed out in Eames’s bed. I didn’t know the protocol.” Ari shrugged, giggling. “I said hello, but you didn’t wake up, so I didn’t push it.”
“Ari, this is my friend Arthur. He’s visiting me for the holiday.”
“Ariadne. She, her pronouns,” she said, squashing Arthur in a hug.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, trying to relax into the embrace. God, station people.
“You coming out with us? It’s”—she squinted—“a couple hours till the eclipse. If we head out now, we could still get into the park.”
“Uh,” Arthur said. He looked at Yusuf, who made a face, and then at Eames.
Eames stood up, leaving Wex to stretch and settle on the floor. They walked over to Arthur and looked him the eyes. “Sorry I blamed you for—for everything earlier. That wasn’t fair.”
Arthur bit his lip. “Sorry I let this tiny person steal your dog out from under my nose.”
“You’re forgiven.” Eames slung a thick arm around Arthur’s shoulders. “Alright, y’all, let’s go get fucked up.”
As the mother moon rose on the horizon, eclipsing the planet’s surface with her blinding glow, the crowd on the E7 park deck fell quiet, then erupted in a frenzy of warbling, joyous cheers that crystalized into a swelling chorus of Auld Lang Syne. Ariadne stood on her toes to kiss Arthur; he kept his eyes open so he could watch Eames and Yusuf go at it with unexpected enthusiasm and excessive tongue, Eames digging their fingers into Yusuf’s dark curls. When they broke apart, wet-lipped and grinning, Eames twirled Ariadne away from Arthur, lifting her into their arms, and Yusuf captured Arthur’s face between his hands. Arthur could taste Eames, could taste coffee, on his mouth.
After being caught in the embraces of several nearby strangers, Arthur felt Eames’s hands on his shoulders—a tight grip, possessive. Eames pulled him close and kissed him again and again.
“Damn, you’re hot,” they said, and Arthur pressed closer against them. “You’ll stay the whole week, yeah?”
The hungry way Arthur ground against them was answer enough, he hoped.
“Don’t worry,” they said, sucking a bruise onto Arthur’s neck. His vision was stars; worry was the last thing on his mind. “There’s plenty of space in my bunk for you, me, and Wex.”
“You’re joking,” Arthur said, arching back and sighing into the bites. “Tell me you don’t let Wex sleep in your bed. Tell me, or I’ll—”
“I’m joking.” Eames kissed him quiet. “Of course I’m joking.”
At the ungodly hour of 5:00 the next day, eighty pounds of dog landed on Arthur and began to lick his face.
After a moment of still-drunken flailing against the beast from within Eames’s tight embrace, Arthur managed to push the dog back to the floor, where she landed with a thump and resettled with a resentful dog-sigh.
“Liar,” he murmured against Eames’s neck, wriggling closer against their chest. Eames sleepily buried their face in Arthur’s hair.
“You pushed my dog,” they mumbled. “I should push you out of bed.”
“Yeah, I’d like to see you try.”
“If they kick you out, you can always come up here, Arthur.” Yusuf’s sleep-thick voice drifted down from the top bunk.
“Cannot,” Eames said, hugging Arthur more tightly. “Get your own.”
Arthur kind of giggled.
Yusuf began snoring again. A moment later, Wex began snoring too.
“You’ll stay with me, darling?” Eames whispered.
“You’re talking in your sleep.” Arthur kissed their neck, stroked his hand down their back. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Nuh uh. Am awake. Very awake. Broccoli. Eggplant.”
“Mmmhmm.” Eames kissed his head. “Solanum melongena.”
Arthur sighed happily against Eames and tried to fall back to sleep.
Stay with me, he thought as he began to drift off. Arthur couldn’t really imagine. But, then again, it was a new year, and who knew what changes it might bring.
He thought of the credits from Cobol that would soon hit his account. And he thought of Eames’s fortune, saved for something special. Maybe that something could include traveling to the tropical planets of the Fom al-Haut system with Arthur…
“Hey Eames,” he murmured.
“D’you wanna to take a trip with me?”
Eames pulled Arthur closer, and Arthur fell asleep picturing it, as lush and vivid as VR—walking with Eames on Hastorang’s beaches, the pink sands and the calm emerald surf, under the planet’s glittering debris cloud and the bright Castor stars.