31

Re: Flotsam

Damn, those pheromones must be strong to go through computer text, I'm starting to feel the need

32

Re: Flotsam

Flotsam
Chapter 10: The Arena

I am standing here looking up at a two storey hologram of myself holding a severed head, holographic blood dripping around me like gruesome rain.

“She is magnificent!” thunders Steadfast Freya, clapping me on the shoulder.

“One finds the severed head a bit much...” sniffs Bluebell critically.

We are here to see the gladiatorial spectacle commemorating the end of Shift Change, but really we are here to see Halley-11. After my trip to the Grove, these last few days have been spent finding a routine and not fantasize about green women fucking. Which has mostly meant working in Hank’s bar and learning the basics of space bartending, with occasional solo trips out into the city running errands. Errands I suspect I was being sent on so Hank and Freya could fuck without me uncomfortably listening. On one such errand to buy dried Groveberries from a nice old woman, I saw a hologram poster on the wall of myself, but wearing armour and holding a chainsaw sword. Gladiator Halley. And so here we are at the Arena. Or more accurately next to the Arena, in the Plaza of Champions, standing at the foot of a holographic representation of myself with a severed head. I shake my head in disbelief.

“We should not tarry here,” Freya suggests, “events have already commenced and we would do well to be in our seats before Halley the Destroyer fights.” I nod in agreement, but Bluebell stamps a hoof. “Snacks!” she lows. Freya rolls her eyes. We push into the crowd and begin to tack towards a row of food stalls.

The Plaza is awash in sapients: humans from all over the city, here to celebrate the end of their holiday, with a healthy representation of Reptilians, who, it seems, just love a good fight. Foreign food smells fill the air and busker music rises over the chatter of the crowd. Street performers carve out little pockets of space and amaze onlookers with feats of acrobatics or sleight of hand. Near another towering Champion hologram, hawkers have gewgaws laid out on carpets and bully the crowd to buy their wares. A pair of giant cartoonish monsters stage a battle, oblivious to the crowds, hologram puppets performing a Kaiju show for kids. Small drones zip through the air, trailing colourful streamers, either decoration or advertisement. Grey spheres sedately hover over everything, observing. The entire thing has a carnival atmosphere, a barely contained giant party.

Honestly, I’m feeling more than a bit nervous. The noisy crowd, while a fun spectacle, is triggering all kinds of anxiety complexes. Even before my trailer park days, I always avoided big gatherings like this, missing out on festivals, concerts, and big sportsball games. Which has always been a total bummer. On Flotsam, I’m going to do things differently. What’s a trip to a crowded Arena when you're the clone of a woman abducted by aliens? Deep breaths and try to have fun.

It occurs to me as we squeeze through the throng that the crowd is made of humans and Reptilians. For the first time on Flotsam, I don't really see any Blues. “Bluebell,” I ask, “why are there so few Blues here?”

“This one’s species does not condone violence for entertainment. To be seen attending the  Arena would harm ones Social Standing and enjoying the games is a form of Deviancy,” the cowgirl replies. Freya frowns and scoffs.

“Why did you want to come?” I ask.

“One is here out of friendship and a sense of anthropological curiosity. As one becomes more mammalian, one wants to understand the human fascination with violence, the way it thrills your species.”

Freya snorts and waves one of her hands dismissively, “She is just here to feast on snacks!”

Bluebell moos in amusement, “One does love snacks!”

I spot a group of Blues standing near a towering hologram of a Reptilian gladiator. These Blues are a decidedly punk rock looking bunch of aliens. Their androgynous bodies are taught with muscles, and their bare torsos and arms are covered in jagged tattoos. On their elongated heads they wear skullcaps with bright ponytails or mowhawk-like fans of hair. Three of the group are juggling knives, sometimes launching them back and forth between them, performing for a small audience . “What about them?”

Bluebell smiles, “Other Deviants!” She returns a circle-in-the-air gesture that one of the tattooed Blues makes at her. A Blue greeting? “Unlike this one, who was made Deviant for her perversion, these Blues are philosophical Deviants. They have rejected the Social Contract to practice a life of personal freedom and personal achievement. Their counterculture emphasizes competition and they believe that strength and force are types of personal realization.” Bluebell moos thoughtfully, “They love the Arena.”

Freya nods, “They are a wise band.”

With Freya being the crowd equivalent of an icebreaker, we are soon standing standing by a cluster of foodcarts. Something they are making smells delicious, and my mouth waters. I grimace, the persistent knot of anxiety in my stomach rules out eating. Bluebell happily begins collecting her supplies. From a scarred old Reptilian she buys an enormous bag of something like popcorn sprinkled with bright, orange-red powder. A cute little bakery cart run by masked and robed humans sells the Blue cowgirl a large satchel of sweet cakes. A large thermos of sweetened tea and a tub of custard-analogue later and an excited Bluebell says she has what she requires. “Moo,” she adds a little bashfully, “one’s lactation requires a great many calories.”

Laden with supplies we begin the crowded journey to find our seats. The Arena looms above us, one of the largest structures on Flotsam, a giant cylinder devoted to combat. From the outside it reminds me of an air and space museum crossed with a jigsaw puzzle. Salvaged chemical rocket engines, each unique and multiple stories tall, form columns ringing the structure, each hung with bright cloth banners marking entrances. Between rocket columns the skin of the Arena is a quilt of different perforated steel plating raggedly welded together. From a distance it gives the Arena a uniform look, as though purpose built, but up close it's as improvised as the rest of the city. The substrate of the junk desert made monumental.

At the Fuchsia entrance we scan our Keybands and enter the building, climbing a long ramp that spirals upward, passing level catwalks, to our tier of seats. I stumble on a tricky kind of angled stair, and Freya catches me. Flustered I step into the knave of the Arena. I squint my eyes against the brightness, and goggle at the sheer majesty of the space.

As big as the Arena seems on the outside, somehow it seems larger from inside. The floor of the arena, the actual fighting surface, is a circular pit cut into the red stone of the mesa which is filled with shockingly white sand. Around this pit is the original arena, an ampitheatre of cut red stone benches that step upward from the central pit. Above this are row after row of seats bolted to scaffolding, so steep they are almost stacked. The seats themselves are remarkable, a riot of recovered chairs from all manner of space debris: simple metal seats bolted next to wing-backed command thrones, next to rugged fighter pilot ejector chairs as far as the eye can see. Above the collected space chairs are two levels of steel shipping containers cut with wide windows; scavenged private boxes. Finally, just below the roof membrane is a lattice of scaffold, a hanging standing-room gallery that people clip themselves into with carabiner harnesses. The place is packed with murmuring, chattering sapients creating a living cylinder of people and aliens surrounding a white Circle, lit with beams of sunlight and industrial lighting. It’s huge and claustrophic all at once.

No sooner do we squeeze into our seats then the next event begins. In the Circle below are two slight women, short and wiry, holding bows and wearing small quivers of arrows on their backs, ankles, and wrists. They are clothed in tight shorts and tops like sportsbras and their skin is painted in a dazzle camouflage of colourful lines, one red the other blue. Their hair is worn in tight braids, held in place with arrows, and is dyed in the opposite colour of their paint. They look like twins or, since I’m living evidence, clones. Calmly, they pace out distances and stick arrows head first into the sand.

“They are warrior-acrobats, sisters from the Circus Armada,” Freya informs me.

The two archers strike a pose back to back, arrows notched and bows drawn. A giant hologram like a Jumbotron, a jumbogram, floats in the air showing a close up of the two pretty women smiling in fierce joy. A hum fills the stadium as drones lift off out of trap doors on the perimeter of the circle. The drones have a wing and two rotors, like miniature versions of those Osprey planes in the videogames Clem used to play. Except, in place of a fuselage the engines and wing support a kind of nerf gun looking canon. One of the drones lazily wobbles and with a thump discharges it’s canon, firing a black sphere that expands to a softball, strikes the ground, and keeps growing into a shiny black bowling ball. A warning shot. “Immobilization rounds,” Freya says, “Non-lethal yet very effective.”

The drones form up in a circular formation, revolving sedately around the outer edge of the arena floor. Until, suddenly, by some unspoken command each drone skews off, suddenly with a mind of its own. The two archers spring into motion, tumbling away from a barrage of black spheres in smooth somersaults. Both archers come up with arrows drawn, simultaneously letting fly and sending two drones tumbling to the sand. The women both instantly move, dodging more spheres, one doing a cartwheel where she plucks an arrow out of the sand along the way, nocking and shooting as she lands, dispatching another drone. I grin in delight as it becomes a kind of dance, the drones swooping and shooting, the archers leaping and spinning off each other like dancers. They come together, snatching arrows from their partner’s quiver, and shoot and shoot and shoot, drones raining around them. It is impressive and actually quite beautiful.

I hear a rowdy commotion and see a group of dudes happily berating a friend who is hunched over a hologram with something recognizably like crosshairs on it. “That one is piloting a drone right now,” Bluebell tells me. “As part of their act, the archery performers sell control of the drones to the audience. If a wave of drones manages to immobilize the performers, the pilots will be awarded a significant prize of Currencies.” The rowdy dudes roar in mirth and the pilot curses as his hologram control snaps off. Below a drone, skewered by an arrow, falls almost lazily to the ground.

Freya makes a disgusted noise, “These pilots are such fools! They do not marshal the strength of their numbers and hunt as a pack, or utilize the tactics of the wing.” The Nordic woman thumps her chest with her two right arms, “If I had control of the drones I could quickly dispatch these tumbling archers!”

Bluebell rolls here eyes and moos rudely, tossing orange-red popcorn at Freya.

The two archer acrobats are rapidly running out of drones to shoot down. One archer picks off another drone from her knees and curls up into a ball, Child’s Pose yoga style. The other archer, running, vaults off her back and launches herself through the air, firing four arrows, before landing in a controlled tumble. Only one drone remains, circling for a better angle of attack. The two women launch themselves into a series of backflips, the drone firing a barrage of spheres as it swings around. The women, mid flip, each snatch up an arrow, and arresting back-to-back, let fly, simultaneously hitting the final drone, which plummets to the ground, dead. The pair holds the pose as the Arena erupts in celebration, Reptilians drumming their tails, humans clapping, or whistling, or stamping their feet. I am standing with my fist in the air shouting and feeling a bit silly.

I blush as I sit back in my space fighter jock seat. Freya smiles at me and playfully elbows me with one of her arms. In the Arena Circle the archers alternate between waving, blowing kisses, and collecting arrows from the wreckage of drones. Freya summons a hologram from her Keyband and taps out something in a menu. A troop of beautiful human women and men wearing bikini and brief analogues come skipping out to shovel debris into scuttling robotic trash bins. Bluebell is complacently chewing on snacks, snout and fingers stained with the orange-red dust of her food. A cloud of quadcopter drones fill the arena, one cruising over to Freya, and delivering a chilled, probably alcoholic beverage. The scantily clad pretties finish cleaning and the archers take one last bow; the Arena is reset for the next exhibition.

A huge horn, like one of those alpine things, blares and a hulking creature ambles into the circle. It looks like an ape crossed with a warthog. I almost giggle when I think of a joke from one of Clem’s stupid cartoons. The creature, or maybe Sapient, is covered in a pelt of slate grey fur and absolutely bulges with muscle. He, based on his bulging TV wrestler briefs, would probably be a dozen feet tall but is hunched, walking on all fours like a gorilla, knuckles on the ground. His face pushes out in a stubby muzzle, pig-nosed with sharp looking tusks. His eyes are large and surprisingly soulful. “Aggronotham the Strongest,” Freya purrs with appreciation. “An Orckonian from a high gravity planet. He is a talented bard who fights challengers to earn his keep.”

Bluebell pauses her munching and moos like a sigh. I glance at both women and see a pair of crushes. I look back at the huge Sapient, frowning. “You are both attracted to him?”

“Oh yes,” Bluebell says dreamily.

“He is a warrior and poet both,” Freya says. “Of course.”

“And he is endowed like one of your human horses!” Bluebell says, before mooing lustfully.

Aggronotham stands to his full height, throws back his head and howls. The crowd of spectators rumbles with their appreciation noises. In a wonderfully rich, cultured voice Aggro shouts, “Who has come today to challenge the Strongest!?”

As if in answer, another blast of the alpine horn sounds and four new combatants enter the circle. They are Blues, bared chests and arms covered in lean, ropey muscles, their blue skin covered in jagged swirls of tattoos. They wear loose pants and steel shod boots and gloves and brandish bat length metal clubs that spark with electricity. The four Blues form a loose circle around the Orkonian, shifting their weight from foot to foot. “Deviants!” Bluebell lows happily.

Freya scoffs, “They shall be as chaff before the reaper.”

“Indeed?” Bluebell says, voice a little wounded. “One would not be so confident. These Deviants are versed in the ancient technique of Groupstrike.”

Freya smirks rubbing her four hands together, “Mayhaps we shall make a wager?”

Bluebell moos with determination, “We shall! If the Blues win, you will give this one a dozen jars of Hank’s honey.”

“A steep price,” Freya says happily, “and when they are defeated?”

“If Aggronotham is victorious, one will give you two dewars of her milk.” The two women shake hands, one from a set of four and one snack stained and hoof tipped.

The horn blares and the Blue combatants start to circle Aggronotham. Hidden drums slowly tap out a rhythm in time with their steps. One of the Blues feints a straight on attack, and simultaneously another Blue dashes in from the side. Aggro ignores the feint, turning to meet the second Blue, who throws a very conservative taser chop. The drums pick up the tempo, catching the rush of action. The third and fourth Blue, as if on silent cue, have already launched their own attacks and both strike the Orconian with blows that crackle with electricity, staggering the hulking alien. Larger drums boom like thunder with each blow. The five fighters come apart, the Blues circling, the drums slowing to a cautious tap tap tap. Again the entire Blue group launches a silent, coordinated attack, moving as a unit to feint and strike, drum music swelling to match the action like a Taiko team. This time the Blues press their advantage as Aggro lashes out at nothing and is struck by repeated electrified blows. The drums thud and surge, making the entire Arena shake with percussion. Blindly Aggro throws a mighty arm out, and with the crash of a gong, he lands a glancing strike on a Blue, sending them tumbling. The Blues regroup, and the drums quiet. The Orconian shakes his head and gathers himself for the next assault.

“They use Scentspeak to act as one,” Bluebell says with pride.

“They fare better than I expected,” Freya mutters with grudging respect.

The Deviant Blues set themselves and begin another round of silent, scent signaled attacks. The drummers eagerly increase their beat. This time one of the group, the struck one, moves just a little too slowly and the Strongest manages to catch them with a solid punch that hurls the Blue off their feet and leaves them groaning on the ground, clutching their ribs. The other Blues continue their blitz, coming in waves, landing staggering hits on the Orconian. Drums pound and thunder.  Aggronotham accepts another blow, howling through his pain, and snatches up his Blue attacker, lifts them above his head, and throws them at another Blue. With a reverberating gong sound effect the two Blues smash together in a tangled heap. The Strongest laughs in triumph and scoops up a fallen taser club, turning to menace the final Blue. The Orconian waves his sparking club like a small wand in his huge paw, and takes a shuffling three-limbed step forward. The final Blue drops their club and flees. The drums instantly stop. A victorious Aggronotham lifts his head and howls in victory. The crowd goes wild!

“Coward!” Freya shouts happily. She turns to Bluebell, a huge grin on her face. “I believe you owe me some milk.”

Bluebell moos in disgust.

There is another lull in the action while the scantily clad pretty people come jogging out with stretchers for the Blues. Aggronotham the Strongest helps one of his adversaries limp out of the circle, smiling and clapping the Blue’s back. While the Arena resets, a very fat human in a robe of flashing holographic colours floats into the air in the center of the Arena. “My fellow Sapients!” he booms, “Aggronotham the Strongest remains undefeated in the Circle!” The part of the crowd not distracted by eating food or ordering food roars with approval. The floating man makes quieting motions with his hands, “For our next Exhibition, we are pleased to present a Reptilian Proving! The Matriarch Sssllissa has come to us to bear witness as twelve suitors fight to sire her next clutch!” The huge jumbogram screen cuts to a large brown Reptilian with a sickly crest of rust coloured feathers on her head and arms. She hisses and bears her fangs and her surrounding cohort of Reptilians drum their tails. “Sit back and enjoy the carnage!” Shouts the fat man as he drifts out of the circle and view.

“This is unexpected,” says Bluebell, one hand coated in her custard desert. “Usually a Proving is a private matter, handled out of view.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

Bluebell licks at her custard covered fingers. “When a Reptilian female is fecund but is unsure which male suitor to have quicken her eggs, she offers them a challenge. It can be any sort of contest, but is often combative.” The cowgirl sucks on a finger, “One has never seen a Proving, or heard of one being showcased to the public.”

“Aye,” Freya agrees, “'Tis strange. I suspect that this Sssllissa has designs on becoming Flotsam’s next Dragon, and is using this stunt to increase her prestige.”

“Dragon?”

“Flotsam is an unusual planet, for there are many Reptilian clans here working within a single Syndicate hierarchy. The Dragon is like a judge or monarch and is selected to preside over disputes between clans or Syndicate factions. The former Dragon was recently assassinated, so there exists a power vacuum on Flotsam, with many ambitious Matriarchs vying for the throne.” Freya shakes her head, “If staging a fight in her honour is the best this female can do, she has a poor claim.”

Bluebell moos, “One has heard the interim Dragon is infertile, so perhaps this courtship display is aimed at upsetting her claim.”

Freya grunts and sips her electric blue beverage.

The alpine horn blasts and a dozen Reptilians charge into the Arena Circle. Most are nondescript Reptilian males with brown or black-green scales, but a trio stand out. One emerald scaled male is absolutely giant, bigger even than the female whose eggs he is fighting for and seems like a clear favourite to win. Another male has jet black scales and is tall, but very lean, flexible like a snake and just as trustworthy. The final standout is a diminutive, powerfully muscled male with ruby red and white scales, confident despite his small stature. All of the Reptilians brandish wicked looking curved knives and are sizing up their opponents.

The jumbogram shows Sssllissa the matriarch standing in her private box, holding one of her pathetic rusty feathers. She opens her clawed hand and the feather drifts slowly down, floating and eddying, until it comes to rest on the Arena sand. As soon as it touches the ground, the Reptilian combatants spring into motion, blades flashing. The Reptilians in the audience begin to beat. A steady. Rhythm. With their tails. Thump. Thump. Thump. A brown Reptilian pounces on a Black-green one, wrestling and stabbing. The jet male dashes over, deftly slashes both males, leaving them hobbled and bleeding. Two down. Thump. Thump. Thump. The emerald giant lumbers at a brown male who gamely stands his ground. The giant lands a crushing, stabbing blow and the brown is down, clutching a bleeding and broken flank. Three down. Thump. Thump. Thump. The ruby male hisses and six other males look up, thump their tails, and form a ring around the towering emerald. Treachery! Two black-green males dash emerald at once, one getting smashed off his feet, but the other landing a slash on the giant Reptilian. Thump. Thump. Thump.

“What the fuck?” I ask. “Isn’t this cheating?”

Freya grins savagely, “A Reptilian Proving selects only for the victorious, and cunning is more desirable than strength.”

Waves of Reptilians come at the emerald, hacking and slashing. The giant has managed to smash one of his lesser attackers out of the fight, but attrition is starting to slow the hulking male. Thump. Thump. Thump. Jet slithers around the edge of the fight stabbing staggered and distracted males. Five down. Ruby just holds back waiting, letting other males break themselves. Thump. Thump. Thump. Emerald crushes a male and Jet dances in to finish the job. A black-green male rushes Ruby, who deftly ducks a wild swing and rapidly stabs the male multiple times, one two three four five. The attacking male falls, black blood welling from its chest and the small red Reptilian picks up a second knife. Thump. Thump. Thump. Five are left.

Two drab green males are pressing Emerald, who looks halfway hobbled. The green males rush Emerald at once, one is batted away, tumbling, but the other stabs the huge Reptilian in the side. Emerald roars in pain and snatches up his attacker by the throat, holding him aloft and shaking him. Thump. Thump. Thump. Ruby, sensing his moment, dashes towards the back of the distracted Emerald. Ruby leaps, very much like a bird, and lands on the back of the Emerald, knives stabbing in like handholds. The small red Reptilian stabs and climbs, and then drives both his blades into the back of Emerald’s neck. The towering Reptilian makes a wheezing sound and falls forward, crushing the male he was choking beneath his bulk. Ruby rolls nimbly to his feet. Thump. Thump. Thump. Jet catches the other drab green male watching and coils around him like a lover, slashing out his throat in a spray of black blood. There are two left. Thump! Thump! Thump!

“Cunning prevails!” Freya says merrily, four fists clenched, eyes shining. “But the backstabber is in trouble now!”

The sinuous jet black and small ruby Reptilians stand facing each other, their fellow combatants lay bleeding on the ground, some writhing and hissing, some totally still. The watching Reptilians have stopped drumming their tails, making the Arena eerily silent. The ruby male holds his two bloody knives loosely, stands confidently. The jet male shifts his weight, back and forth like a cornered snake. I agree with Freya, the jet male is clearly outclassed by the ruby, who is still fresh and uninjured, and clearly the better fighter. I feel like the Proving is already over.

The ruby male waves his hand in a signal, and a close up of his face fills the jumbogram. Ruby bears his teeth, “Sssllissa! Are theesssse truly your ssssuitorsss? They are unworthy of me!” The male hisses, “You! Sssllissa! Are unworthy of me! I revoke my claim!” The ruby male turns his back on where the matriarch is sitting and begins to walk to an exit from the Ring.  The jumbogram shows Ssslissa standing in her box, howling in fury.

Jet, seeing an opportunity, lunges after Ruby, knife leading. Ruby waits until the black Reptilian has almost stabbed him before turning, lightning quick, landing a double slash that leaves the jet male laying in the sand clutching his side. “Unworthy!” He roars.

“That did not go as the female intended,” Bluebell suggests thoughtfully.

“No,” I agree, I bet that fucking didn't.

“An embarrassment!” Freya says chuckling. “I sense the scale marks of the Serpent on this debacle!”

“Serpent?” I ask.

“The Interim Dragon,” Bluebell says.

The scantily clad clean up crew comes flouncing out along with a team of rubber suited Reptilians trailing floating drone stretchers. Sssllissa and her entourage make an angry retreat among jeers, mostly from other Reptilians. Fallout already. Freya orders another drink and Bluebell starts in on her sweet cakes. The Circle, empty of injured aliens and raked clean of bloodstains, sits empty and ready for more carnage.

The alpine horn blares again and two armoured figures step into the Circle. The amplified voice of the announcer rings out, “Our Challenger! Vrax The Shamed! A fallen Nordic warrior, exiled from Holmspace for crimes of violence and lapses of moral cowardice! Shamed, he fights not to regain his honour, but to gain your respect!” The jumbogram focuses on one of the fighters, a hulking Nordic man with an enormous axe. He stands as tall as Freya and is wearing red scaled, Kevlar-like armour on his torso and legs. His four arms are bare, the top two holding a menacing looking two-handed battleaxe with a severe looking spike, while his lower right arm wields a short thrusting sword, one that has more of a punching grip than handle. His fourth arm seems to be a robotic replacement, the skin of his bare arm ending abruptly above the elbow and blending into an industrial looking sharpened claw. He has shockingly blue eyes and his long blonde hair is tied up around his head in elaborate braids and tucked under a techy looking headband. The Arena boos and hisses and whistles and jeers. Clearly Vrax The Shamed is what Clem's wrestling show would call a heel. The Gladiator growls through gritted teeth.

"Hailing from the darkest, most barbaric planet in space comes a warrior born of warfare, plague, poverty, and famine," shouts the announcer, "Your Champion! Halley of Earth! The Destroyer!!!" The Arena erupts in cheers and a thunder of approval. The Jumbotron focuses in on me, or, well, her: Halley-11, the gladiator clone. She is wearing a suit of blue ceramic armour and wields a heavy round shield and broadsword. Her face is lean and angular, severe with traces of scars, a deep one running from her left temple, through her cheek, down to her chin. Her hair is undercut, shaved short except for a crest of longer hair on top, held out of her eyes by another techy headband. Halley of Earth looks more like my badass older sister than a clone of me. Halley holds up her sword and shield and the Arena quiets. She bangs her sword and shield together three times and many Sapients in the crowd, her fans, clap or tail stomp along with her. Clearly the hero here.

The Alpine horn sounds again and the Gladiators square off, nodding to each other, before starting to cautiously circle. The hidden drum team starts to slowly tap out a rhythm. Vrax the Shamed suddenly charges, making great sweeps with his of axe. Drums thud and bang. Halley efficiently gives ground, neatly stepping back or around each slash, sometimes smartly redirecting a blow with her shield. She is good at this. Vrax, carried by momentum, throws a particularly wild horizontal slash with his axe that Halley neatly ducks under, immediately springing up to barge the Nordic human in his face with her shield. A forcefield, made by the headband maybe, snaps into view, blocking the shield. Vrax stumbles back, scalp bleeding from where his head smashed into his own forcefield. The drums snap quiet, and Halley stands relaxed, quirks her eyebrow and smirks. Touche. Vrax snarls, blood dripping down his face. Drums thud as the huge man wades back towards Halley, axe held ready to strike. Vrax lunges, making several more wild sweeps of his axe, which Halley deftly manages, until he throws another apparently uncontrolled swing. Halley sets herself to block and counterattack but Vrax somehow reverses his axe stroke and hooks Halley's shield with the spike of his axe. He yanks and Halley stumbles in, her guard ruined, too close to use her sword, vulnerable. I gasp and Vrax punches her with his short sword, stabbing her in the side. Halley growls and head buts the Nordic man, their helmet forcefields flickering as they contact. The gladiators stumble apart, Halley bleeding black fluid from a rent in her armoured side. I wince, suddenly worried for her. She smiles wildly, eyes gleaming, and launches her own attack, advancing behind her shield, launching quick little stabs around her guard, herding Vrax, scoring a small cut on an exposed leg, scratching the steel of his claw hand. Drums rattle the Arena. Vrax tries to counter, throwing an overhand chop with his axe, which Halley somehow blocks squarely with her shield, levering the heavy weapon up and away, slashing in under it with her blade, laying a meaty chop into Vrax's short sword arm. He howls, dropping the sword, clutching his wounded arm in tight to his body. Halley spins free, resetting her guard, eyebrow once again quirked at her opponent, a manic smile on her lips. Vrax splits blood from his mouth and nods.

Drums swell again as the Gladiators come back together in a flurry of motion. Vrax throws an axe chop that Halley catches on her shield. The axe blade skitters and hooks the edge of the shield which Vrax yanks on, pulling Halley forward and ripping the shield off her arm. In the same motion Halley springs, driving her broadsword up, stabbing the Nordic human through the meat of his shoulder. As the sword impales his shoulder, Vrax grabs Halley around the wrist of her sword hand with his industrial claw hand, squeezing. Vrax growls and begins to bring his axe around for another swing. Halley, snagged and shieldless, punches Vrax with her free hand, a long dagger blade extending out of her forearm gauntlet as she strikes. The blade punches through armour and into the Nordic man's chest, the tip emerging from his back. Vrax whimpers and drops his axe, sags slowly to the ground. Halley's arm, crushed in Vrax's claw, is cut free of her body and falls to the sand of the Circle. The drums fall silent.

The Arena erupts in celebration.

My heart is hammering in my chest.

"Your Champion! Victorious! Halley the Destroyer!!!"

My eyes dart back and forth from the prone body of Vrax the Shamed, laying in a spreading stain of blood, to Halley's amputated arm.

Medical drones descend on Vrax. Applause, cheers, and Reptilian tail stamps fill the Arena.

I stare at Halley's severed arm, motionless in the sand.

Jesus fucking christ!

***

(Are you not amused!? Hopefully you are amused! And hopefully my attempt at writing compelling action choreography turned out okay.)

33

Re: Flotsam

Finally caught up with this and this is genuinely fun to read; it is literature that goes above and beyond the smut. I would pay for this as an ebook. But since I can't, have a sticky instead.

34

Re: Flotsam

Haha thanks, I’m glad you are enjoying it. I’ve never gotten a sticky before, it is quite an honour.

Also the added tag line is perfect : )

35

Re: Flotsam

Flotsam 
Chapter 11: Destroyer

I am standing outside Halley The Destroyers chambers being glowered at by a scarred Reptilian bouncer. “I’m here to see Halley?” I say meekly.

“No autographssss,” hisses the Reptilian. He is a big one, a head taller than me, and heavily muscled. He looks not old exactly, but experienced, his scales faded grey and white, his hide chiseled with thick scars. The male snarls, showing a mouth of very young looking teeth, “Ssso bugger off!”

“Sssaka, you old Snake, is this how you treat guests?” Asks Steadfast Freya, stepping into view.

“Sssteadfassst!” Exclaims Sssaka the bouncer. “You know you are alwaysss welcome here.” They step together in a fist clasppy bro hug. “It hasss been too long!”

Freya does a four armed shrug. “Spacer life and the tavern,” she says by way of explanation.

Sssaka’s muzzle grins, a worrying expression on a Reptilian. “Come in! Come in! I’m ssssure ssshe will be glad to sssee you!” He steps aside and beckons us into The Destroyers Chambers.

After Halley The Destroyer fought Vrax the Shamed, Freya, maybe seeing how upset I was, announced that combat watching time was over and that we would go meet Halley-11. I didn’t really want to, didn’t think a post amputation meet-and-greet was for the best, but Freya was adamant. Freya dragged me and Bluebell out of our seats, down the Arena rampways into a stone passageway where she bluffed her way past a guard, and then down into the red mesa-stone tunnels beneath the Arena. A walk through a confusing maze of tunnels, a route that in hindsight, Freya knew quite well, and we were face to face with Halley-11’s Reptilian gatekeeper. Who Freya got past with a happy bro hug. Is there a backstage anywhere in the galaxy that Freya can’t get into?

We step into a large red stone chamber with a high, vaulted ceiling set with bright lighting. The air is filled with a complex perfume of incense, metal, floral and mechanical oils, and something botanical that might be drugs. The chamber is too warm and surprisingly humid. I unfasten my light jacket, hoping I don’t start sweating. 

The Chamber is filled with people in various states of debauch. Pretty young humans lounge naked on piles of cushions, looking sated and content. A handsome middle aged woman lays on a divan, legs spread while a beautiful Nordic man, naked body oiled to a sheen, patiently and enthusiastically eats her pussy. A Blue, evidently male, skin covered in strips of metal like a Deviant tattoo, fucks an unnaturally busty human woman on all fours. The two archer acrobats from the Arena lay in cushions giggling and high while two nude men wearing collars lick off their striped bodypaint. Aggronotham the Strongest sprawls placidly in a corner, crotch draped with a towel, drinking from a tankard the size of my torso, mumbling poetry. Shaped pet-people, a muscular lion-man and tiger-woman lounge together on a mattress, chained by collars to the wall. The tiger seems me looking, and licks her cleft top lip, stretching in a way that emphasizes her eight heavy breasts, striped tail twitching. The male just yawns, flashing sharp feline teeth. A naked young woman, wide-eyed and innocent looking, is locked in a narrow birdcage, watching. It is quite the entourage.

Somewhat apart from the party is another group of sapients. These are sitting around a low steel table strewn with what I'm guessing are space drugs. One is a sinewy man, whose bald scalp flares into the hood of a cobra. He takes a hit of something from a drug inhaler, his lizardy eyes squeezed shut in pleasure. Next to him sits a Reptilian female, hulking but somehow young looking, with a suppleness of scale that I haven’t seen. She has that too serious look that screams intern. The final figure is a human woman dressed in biker punk leather. She has blue and gold scaled skin on her bare arms like tattoo sleeves and a cluster of golden scales on her chest, just above the hollow of her breasts like a medallion. On her face she has an organic domino mask of midnight blue scales and her hair is wound into dreadlocks hung with ceramic snake rattles. She stares at me, judging with slit Reptilian eyes. I shiver. Is this Syndicate muscle?

Freya places a pair of hands on my shoulders and a pair of hands on my hips and steers me deeper into The Destroyer’s Den. Bluebell, gives us a sly look and slinks away, hooves scuffing the floor, over to chat up Aggronotham. Thirsty cow.

We find Halley-11 soaking in a large hot tub, head tipped back in contentment, a cute guy and a pretty girl nestled under each arm. Relaxed like this she looks more like me, the hard lines of her lean face softened by repose. She does not look like someone who just fought a duel to the death and had her arm chopped off.

“Destroyer!” Freya booms merrily. 

Halley-11 startles, eyes widening in recognition. She smiles, “Steadfast!” Halley-11 climbs out of her jacuuz and torpedoes into Freya’s four arms, the pair clutching and kissing passionately. “You finally came back,” Halley-11 purrs, playing with a looped braid of Freya’s hair. 

“Alas, fair Destroyer, this is not a romantic visit.” Freya says, kissing Halley on her forehead. “I am here to present 24th.”

As the two women untangle, I finally get a good look at Halley-11. Her face, lean and scared, is the same as on the Arena jumbogram. It's my face, but battle-tested and devoid of its usual hint of baby fat: the effect is harsh and maturing. The crest of undercut hair is messy and spiked by moisture. Outside of her armour, which made Halley-11 look broad and tall, she is Halley-scaled and boyishly slender, far too small and fragile looking for a gladiator. She is wearing some sort of white bodysuit that completely covers her body from neck to toes. It hugs her small breasts, her muscle smoothed stomach, slim hips, and crotch making her look like a porcelain mannequin . I am deeply relieved to see she has both her arms attached. Maybe the bodysuit is some sort of futuristic healing device? I sigh a breath I didn't realize I was holding.

“Uh, hi,” I say awkwardly, resisting the urge to wave a little.

Halley-11 appraises me with a cool confidence I doubt I could ever manage. I try not to cower. Halley-11 is just a version of me. A version of me that fights alien gladiators for a living. I shiver internally and break eye contact. The Destroyer sees this and smiles a little. “Okay, Rookie, walk with me.” She turns fluidly and leads us through her entourage and into a second chamber. “I bet you have some questions,” she says without looking at me.

“Like, uh, how did you become a gladiator?”

Halley-11 snorts, “Don’t you mean how the fucking fuck did one of me become a fucking gladiator who fights in front of crowds!?”

I laugh nervously, “Exactly.”

“Well...” Halley-11 says gathering her thoughts. “I woke up here, lived with Clem until I couldn't deal with it anymore, and then moved in with Hank and Freya right after they opened the bar. Hank and Freya were lovers, but not exclusively so, and like a silly girl I fell in love with Freya. But it was just fun sex for her and Hank was still her guy and I was hurt and jealous and needed out. So I moved and found myself unemployed and alone on Flotsam.”

Lights snap on as The Destroyer glides into the next room. It is an armoury filled with bladed weapons and suits of futuristic armour hung in racks, mounted to walls, and laid out on tables. I grin thinking about trailer park Snakeguy and his sad little katana and bowie knife collection. He would absolutely lose his shit over this room.

“I managed to find a waitress job at a dive bar out by the Spaceport. It was dark and shitty and the pay sucked, but it was a start. I dated a bartender because he was easy and I was lonely and honestly, because he had a place to sleep. It wasn't the happiest time.” Halley-11 frowns, long face scar puckering. “But I did get to meet a lot of Spacers and hear stories about well, not adventure exactly, but something cooler than being a waitress in a shitty bar. I decided I wanted to be a Spacer too. My friends thought they could get me on a crew, but only if i showed up with my own kit. An experienced Spacer might get loaned a Spacesuit, but an untrained groundpounder needed her own stuff if she expected to be taken into the Black. So I needed money."

“Which is how I entered The Cage.” Halley glances back at me and smiles ruefully. “My Spacer buddies, who were a bunch of fucking degenerates, would frequent an even shittier bar that had a big steel cage in its cellar where amateurs would fight. Tough guys would fight other tough guys for bragging rights or prize money. But there were also, and my degenerate friends loved this, catfights between pretty girls in bikinnis.

“You didn’t...” somehow fighting in the Arena was more plausible.

Halley-11 laughs, “I did! Even though I figured the Spacers were just trying to see if I would actually do it, the money was pretty good. If I won a fight, it was a Shift's wages, and I even got paid if I lost, about what I would make from a night of waitressing. It was stupid and embarrassing, but...” she shrugs, “it was a way forward.”

“But how did you actually get in the ring in your underwear? I would have literally died first!” I was uncomfortable even thinking of it!

“I was desperate and unhappy enough to try almost anything, and angry enough that the idea of fighting was a little exciting. I needed... something.” She shrugs her porcelain white shoulders with smooth ease. “So I bought a conservative bikini, something with wide bottoms and a top with the biggest cups and most straps I could find and took a turn in The Cage."

Halley-11 smiles wistfully as she pokes through a pile of metal gewgaws on a work table. “I’ll always remember that first fight, the crowded dark bar basement with its inadequate fluorescent lighting, the metal smell of the cage and the humid stink of bodies, my opponent, some chick with her blonde hair loose wearing a tiny top and thong, wiggling for the crowd, the gong signalling the fight.” Halley sighs. “The way these things are supposed to go is hair pulling, slapping, some wrestling and maybe a tit pops out, then someone is pinned or submits. Blondie came at me expecting that, throwing a jaunty slap. But I was panicking, locked in a claustrophobic cage surrounded by drunk jeers, and so automatically Halley’s old self defence training kicked in.” Halley-prime’s self-defence classes that one of her therapists suggested she try to be more confident in public. I remember enjoying it and keeping after it even when I'd mastered the basics. It was empowering...until my depression ruined it and the rest of college. “I grabbed the chick's extended wrist, stepped into her, and threw her over my shoulder. She shrieked, her tit popped out, and she smashed into the floor and started wailing. I’d won my first fight!” 

Halley-11 grins, “even though it wasn’t the girly show the crowd was expecting, they loved it, and so i was invited back for more fights. At first it was easy, a novelty, tough girl dispatches giggly floozies. But then word got out about the crazy bitch in the cage and the fights started attracting serious challengers, women who actually knew how to fight a little. I quit my waitressing gig, dumped the loser boyfriend, and started training. I had become the Queen of the Cage, the destroyer of floozies, the Champion Bitch. And i loved it!”

“That's how I came to the attention of an Arena promotor.”

As I’m listening to Halley, I’m gawking at all of her weapons and fighter stuff. I notice the blue armour she had been wearing in the Arena earlier laid out on a heavy work table. I walk over and examine it, reaching out to touch the gauntlet of the amputated arm, laid out casually next to the suit. The suit itself is mostly intact, but the blue ceramic chest plates have been removed, exposing the damaged underlayer. I frown and bite the inside of my cheek. The armour seems to be filled with mechanical, robotic looking things. Actuators and such. It makes sense that the armour would be some sort of... what would Clem call it? Power suit? Mechanical armour that could move itself. But... this suit seems completely full of machinery without space left for a pilot. I can’t figure out how Halley-11 could even fit into it. “Halley?” I ask turning to look at her...

And stare in mute horror as Halley reaches up with her smooth white hands and pulls her head off her body. 

I think I must be screaming because my throat hurts.

The headless white mannequin body calmly holds Halley’s frowning head, neck, and the smooth disk of silvery metal that caps it. Halley-11’s decapitated head snaps at me to “Be silent!”

I stop screaming and take a ragged breath.

Halley-11 rolls her eyes and her white body smoothly carries her head over to the work table, carefully places it on its metallic base, and turns Halley-11’s head to face me. I am hyperventilating. “Oh calm down,” the decapitated head instructs me, “I know you are made of sterner stuff than this.”

“Wh-what happened?” I manage to stammer.

Halley’s scarred head grins fiercely, “The Arena happened!” 

Halley-11 twists her head, stretching until her neck cracks. She smiles in relief. “As I was saying before you lost your shit, my cage fighting got the attention of an Arena promotor who offered me a fight. It was a little thing, what we in the bizz call a ‘Monster Match’: they pit an exotic and violent animal against a group of sapients in a duel to the death. The promoter wanted a bunch of pretty girls from bikinni brawl bars, but he needed a few actual fighters to make the event work. Since I was both he offered me a lot of Currencies, enough to get me a down payment on a spacesuit.” Halley’s head pauses and tilts, stares at me, “But what really sold me on it was getting into the Arena. I thought if I could just get in there, get a fight or two, I could go from being the champion fighter of a dive bar to a real fucking gladiator. So I took the job.”

“It was my first time in the Circle, standing in that white sand, roaring spectators packed in seats all around. I was nervous and giddy with excitement. It felt like destiny.” Halley-11 spat and shook her head, a weird gesture in the decapitated. “It was a fucking bloodbath. Here we were, twenty cute human girls in little metal costumes with spears, giggling and strutting into the Circle of the Arena, thinking this was going to be a silly tits-falling out of tops exhibition. And then they released the monster.” Halley-11 frowns and licks her thin lips. “Picture the mouth of a lamprey, that circular pit of barbed teeth, but on the end of a long, flexible neck. Picture the pincers of a preying mantis, sharp, snapping, and lightening quick. Picture two insectoid legs and a long, grub like body meant to float in a swamp like a manatee, but instead dragging heavily in the sand. They called it a Lurker.”

“The bikinni brigade wasn’t ready for this; they were panicky, and about to break apart, routed before the fight even started. But one of the real fighters, a thick, battleaxe of a woman, who’d fought monsters in the Arena before, barked out commands, told us our advantage was our numbers, our ability to coordinate. Some of us, the brave and smart ones, fanned out, encircled the slow moving, lurching monster. We danced back from the pincers, stabbed and prodded the grubby flank of the Lurker with our spears. A too slow girl was caught by a claw and cut nearly in half, falling down screaming. Another girl was savaged by the beasts mouth, tearing a bug chunk out of her, a gout of blood painting the sand red. I thought I saw an opening, a chance to stab the creature in the base of its neck, and lunged. The Lurker sensed it, and snapped its long neck and head at me. I threw out my arm reflexively and the monster caught it in its mouth.” Halley-11 bares her teeth and snaps them for emphasis. “It completely engulfed my arm and a thousand serrated, barbed teeth tore into me. I screamed as a wave of overwhelming pain flashed through me. And then I was laying in the sand, holding the spurting, bleeding stump of my arm. It was just gone a little below the shoulder, eaten down the gullet of a monster.” Halley grimaces, “It still hurts just thinking about it.”

“Oblivious to me, the Lurker was defeated. All those little stabs slowly built up and weakened and then killed the beast. Leaving, for the crowds enjoyment, a dead monster and a pile of bleeding, horribly injured girls in sexy metal bikinis.” Halley-11s head spits. “Monster Matches are the fucking worst.”

"Sounds like," I say quietly. "What happened with your arm?"

“This is Flotsam, the alien future,” Halley says with a bright, frosty smile. “And the medical technology is totally out of our world. Almost no one actually dies in the Arena; they collect you and stabilize you, and charge you out of what they owe you.” The same frosty smile, “It can cost you an arm or a leg.”

“They don't actually repair you though. Your eaten arm? That’s on you to fix.” Halley-11’s decapitated head attempts a shrug. “There are options of course. For a small fortune they can clone you a new arm and surgically graft it on. But that takes time and more money than I had to spend. Or you could see a Shaper who could grow you a new arm as if by magic. But that costs even more and would take dozens of sessions or it would mean going crawling back to Clem... which fuck that.” Halley frowns and I'm curious. “Or you could do what I did and buy a reasonably priced prosthetic and get back in the ring.” Halley nods at her headless white body which does the Vanna White thing at a particularly industrial looking robot arm mounted to the wall like a trophy. It is made of scratched dull metal, and has chunky actuators with two chunky cleated fingers and a thumb. 

“I went back to the bar cagefight circuit, but with my scary new arm they wouldn’t let me fight the bimbos anymore. I had to fight the real sapient fighters. And i did, and did well too,” Halley smiles with a fierce pride. “My new arm was great in the cage. I was usually slower and weaker than my opponents, but I could use my metal arm as a shield and punch and kick from cover. And if I broke their guard? My prosthetic was slow but it hit like a fucking truck. A couple solid blows from super-arm and victory. I was becoming a cage fighter for real.”

“And that’s when Sssaka showed up with a proposition for me. It seems my story had reached the ears of an up-and-coming Lieutenant in the Reptilian Syndicates, one who placed great value on self-made sapients. Apparently she was impressed by my determination and, being a fan of the Arena, thought it would be amusing to be my patron. Potentially. So she sent Sssaka, a retired Champion, to train me for a Proving-style knife fight with a rival Lieutenant’s pet fighter. If I won, this Syndicate Lieutenant, The Serpent, would be my patron.”

Halley-11 made a yadda-yadda skip ahead facial expression, strange without the accompanying hands. “And so I fought a knife fight to the death in the Arena against a Reptilian Male. It was brutal, close and mean. It was the smell of Snake  and reek of human fear,  the scent of flowing human and Reptilian blood. It was the roar and thrum of the Arena crowd, giddy and inflamed. It was the pain of cuts and stabs, dozens of new wounds. And it was the moment of growling victory when I stabbed something important and felt a hot shower of blood on my arm and face, tasted it in my mouth. I stood dazed, covered in blood, so much of it my own, in the Circle of the Arena and heard the crowd, hundreds of sapients, all roar for me. It was exhilarating! Like a drug!” She smiles radiantly, “I was drunk on victory and only wanted more.”

“And so I was in: the lieutenant would be my patron and Sssaka would train me. I trained, gaining muscle and strength, learning to fight for real. I was given a better arm prosthetic, leaner and faster, more like the one I’d lost but better in every way. I was given power armour and weapons and the skills to use both.” Halley-11 grins, “And I fought in the Circle almost every Shift against other journeyman fighters, amassing small victories and building a reputation for myself. It was incredible, but I was hungry, so fucking hungry for more.” 

The decapitated head licked her lips, “And then I got more, a real fight, one on one, with an actual Champion.”

“I remember this fight like it was yesterday, standing in the Circle, hot in my armour and nervous like it was my first time. The roar of the crowd, so familiar and yet somehow loader, angrier. I felt the familiar tingle of the old panic attacks, could feel my composure like a brittle thing. I bit my lip hard enough to draw blood, raised my sword and shield above my head, and roared curses at the crowds. Across the sand from stood my opponent, an Ürnaut, The Outcast. The cyborg was motionless and composed, armourskin gleaming in the light, face a featureless mirror, empty hands by its sides. Time seemed to hang there... until the horn sounded. I charged the Ürnaut, roaring, leading with my shield. In a jerky motion The Outcast struck me, lifting me off my feet and sending me tumbling across the sand. I rolled to my feet and watched the Ürnaut stomp towards me, lurching with every step. Up close I could see that the cyborg was battered and scratched. As The Outcast drew itself up to strike me, I realized the Ürnaut was damaged, slowed by time and neglect. I could use this, I could beat a broken old robot. I dashed in, dodged a lumbering blow, and hit the Ürnaut with my sword as hard as my mechanical arm could muster. The cyborg didn’t even flinch, simply grabbed my hastily raised shield, and with an industrial strength began to twist, relentlessly to twist, cracking amour, tearing tendons, ripping muscle, and breaking the bones of my flesh and blood arm. I screamed in pain and in a panic kept smashing the Ürnaut with my sword trying to make it let go. The cyborg placidly yanked and my shield and destroyed arm tore free of my body. I howled in agony and rage, kept conscious by stimulants, and hacked wildly at the Ürnaut, trying to break through the dented armourskin. The Outcast headbutted me, dropping me to the ground in a heap. As I tried to pick myself up one-handed, the Ürnaut stomped and stomped and stomped on my legs, smashing bones and hobbling me. Leaving me broken on the ground.” My clones scarred head blinks back tears and takes a ragged breath. “Defeated.”

I swallow, not sure what to say.

Halley-11 grits her teeth. “My body, my human flesh had failed me. I needed to get better, get stronger; to truly commit to the path of the Gladiator. So when it came time to heal, I rebuilt myself instead. My destroyed arm and broken legs would have to be replaced with new prosthetics. But that wouldn’t be enough. Stronger limbs are meaningless without an upgraded core. Enhanced speed is pointless without faster reflexes. I had to go further, replace more. I underwent radical surgery. They removed my hips, my shoulders, my spine and back muscles and replaced them with a powerful mechanical skeleton with integrated robotic limbs. I still had my head, my chest and organs, and crotch, but these were cradled in a robotic chassis built for victory.” The Destroyer smiles, “And when I returned to the Circle, I was unstoppable. No one could stand against me.”

“That is,” she says ominously, “until I fought my next Champion.”

“This time I fought WoManticore, one of the greatest Champions. She was human once, but over a career she Shaped her body into a lethal fighting creature. She stood seven feet tall, with an elongated torso and neck, thin and strong like a snake. Her legs were short, stocky, and powerful while her arms were thin and long, filled with whiplike enhanced muscle. Her skin had been replaced with a thick black exoskeleton, hard as stone. From her spine she had grown a great scorpion tail, tip shod with a curved spike of steel. WoManticore was my shadow, a woman who devoted herself to the flesh to win, while I had chosen the path of the machine. As we stood across the Circle from each other, a monster and a cyborg, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of symmetry and fate. I took a deep breath, stirred the sand with my boot. This time I was ready. WoManticore smiled at me with her beautiful human face and saluted me with her two thrusting swords. I nodded back, wearing my own stern smile.”

“The battle horn blared and WoManticore adopted her usual defensive posture: serpentine torso swaying, long arms cocked to thrust her blades like a mantis. I feinted an attack, and quick as snake WoManticore snapped forward with her torso and arms, blades flashing. She had superior reach and I would have to risk entering her deadly range to attack. And there was still that awful barbed tail to contend with. But I had a strategy. I was more mobile than WoManticore, and with my mechanical limbs, I was stronger too. I carried my shield and wielded a maul, a heavy steel hammer with a long armour piercing pick, ideal for breaking Womanticore’s carapace. I circled the monster gladiator. I would try to keep her turning and attack her flanks, try to damage her long arms if I could. I would wear her down with small strikes, just like that Lurker who had hurt me so long ago."

"At first, the plan worked. I landed solid blows to WoManticore's arms and tail, splitting her carapace and leaving wounds dripping with ichor. WoManticore seemed to be slowing too: her strikes were coming a little sluggish, one arm maybe a little weak. I caught one thrust on my shield, felt the lack of strength behind it, and pushed it aside. Overclocking my leg servos, I lunged, moving inside her guard and smashing her torso with my heavy maul. I felt a satisfying crunch as my hammer bit into the monster woman's side. But then, quick as a snake, WoManticore twisted and struck with her tail, its steel barb tearing through my armour and ripping into my torso, gutting me throat to crotch. It had been a trap and I had fallen right into it."

"We came apart, WoManticore clutching the wound in her side, me standing mechanically, entrails hanging in the air, blood pouring out of my body. My vision became hyper-focused and bright as contingency subsystems flooded my brain with a superoxygenated fluid and cut pain signals from my damaged body. I tried to gasp, but my torn chest and slashed diaphragm just spasmed. My body was dying. And yet... my systems were intact. My robotic limbs and chassis still functioned and my powerplant was reading optimal. My brain could be kept alive by emergency life support and drugs. I could still fight, even stick to my strategy of attrition, but my body would certainly die. I could forfeit and save my flesh or sacrifice it and defeat the Champion." The Destroyer's head grins it's sharkiest smile, "I chose Victory."

"As WoManticore collapsed unconscious to the sand I became a Champion, The Destroyer, the woman who killed even herself to win." 

Jesus fucking christ! I gulp, "and you decided to become a head?" 

Halley-11 rolls her eyes at me, "I became modular". The headless white porcelain body finishes fiddling with a holographic counsel by a pile of battered machinery and glides back to Halley-11's head, lifting her back into its hands. "My body was dead. Why should I replace it, only to have it fail me again? Grey tech could keep my head alive and I could control an entirely mechanical body in battle. All kinds of bodies." The white body cradled Halley's head with one arm and gestured around the armoury. It clicked suddenly that the suits of armour strewn about the room were all Halley's extra robot bodies. I shivered. "A body is damaged or obsolete? I can replace it. A certain opponent calls for extra strength or speed? I can customize. Multiple events in the Circle? Just swap bodies." Halley smiles from the crook of her headless body's arm, "It's very efficient."

"But you don't fight all of the time," I stammer. Right? It can't all be fighting. "What about when you are with friends or lovers or just like, relaxing?"

"It's the future, Halley," Halley-11 chides, "prosthetics can be very convincing." The white porcelain body gestures at itself and cocks a hip, striking a saucy pose. I watch as its smooth mannequin body buds white nipples and its breasts swell into familiar small handfulls. Its barbie doll crotch pinches a seam, which splits and blossoms into white vulva, becoming a perfect clone of my pussy. "I can feel every sensation in this body with perfect fidelity." The white body traces a hand over a breast, down its flat stomach, and cups its crotch. Halley-11s decapitated head sighs and lids her eyes in pleasure. "It can do everything my old body can. And more." The white porcelain body, now resembling a fitter version of my own naked body begins to strut towards me carrying Halley's head. As it walks, its hips widen and its ass plumps. Another step and its breast swell, growing huge and ripe, hanging heavily from its chest. Another step and its clitoris began to swell and lengthen, growing into an erect white porcelain cock. Its vulva drop and seal, inflating to become a perfectly smooth scrotum. The white body lifts Halley's head, holding her face inches from mine. "I can do things now that you can only dream of." She stares into my eyes licks her lips, tongue almost touching my nose. "I could show you."

I take an involuntary step back. Was another version of me trying to fuck me. What the fuck is with this planet!?

Halley-11 snorts and smiles a real, delighted smile. "Fuck! You rookies are too easy!" Her face becomes serious. "But seriously, don't you ever fucking judge or pity me. I am living exactly the life I want to. I am the steel I've made myself. I am a beloved Champion and when I step into the Circle, all of it, all of the fear and bullshit falls away and I live in a moment where I control the outcome. I have power here. I know who I am and what I want." She smiles ruefully at me, "Can you say the same?"

I stammer and blush. 

"Here," The Destroyer says, "hold this." The porcelain body hands me Halley-11's head. I yelp, and fumble her for a moment, surprised at her weight. "Don't drop me please," she scolds. Her head is warm in my arms. 

The white porcelain body, still over-sexualized and sporting a boner, marches over to the pile of machinery and resumes poking a hologram. "That useless Blue fucker, Monk is dusted on Red and getting laid instead of doing his job, so we will have to get me ready for my next fight," instructs the head in my arms. The machinery pile thrums into life and reconfigures itself into a squatting form. It is another robot body, I realize, but an enormous one. Like a walking monster truck. "Okay Rookie, I need you to carry me over to the mech and slot me into it. Can you handle that?" I nod and carry The Destroyer to her body. I survey the mech and bite my lip, unsure of where to stick the head exactly. "See those red lights? Put me into that depression between them." I gently lower Halley-11 into the machine, her neck stump sliding smoothly into place. Halley grimaces and the robot body whirrs. I take three hasty steps back as the porcelain body enters more commands into its interface. The mech revs louder, and lifts itself to a standing position on thick metal legs, arranging arms ending in a huge chainsaw and an industrial scale pincer. A steel dome painted with a cartoon shark face closes around Halley-11's scarred head. A deep, amplified digital voice booms from the mech, "One piece of advice, Rookie?"

"Figure out what you want, and then do anything to get it."

****

(Holy crap that was a long time between chapters! Sorry for the longest wait! Hopefully I can get a couple more done before things get too busy again...)

36

Re: Flotsam

Wow. One, hoo wee it's been a while, and two, hoo WEE that was something.

37

Re: Flotsam

Flotsam
Chapter 12: Faith and Desire

I am meandering at the crossroads of delay and procrastination. I know where I want to go, but I’m really in no hurry to get there. Which probably explains a lot about my life, actually.

At least I know where I want to go for once?

I think again of Halley-11 The Destroyer booming at me from her huge battlemech, telling me in her doombot voice to take what I wanted. Coming from a version of me who killed her own body to win a contest, that advice has a menacing edge. I definitely didn’t want to become a gladiator or sacrifice quite so much of myself to get ahead. A head. Ugh, fuck. Halley-11 seemed like such a cautionary tale about what life on Flotsam could do to me, but also in a fucked way how much potential I had. She was a famed Champion, rich and glamorous, confident and happy, which was all something this Halley had never managed. But that was her path, not mine.

What do I even want?

Do I want to try and get home to Earth? To return to a life of mental illness and hiding in a trailer park? Was that even possible? Do I want to try and find Halley-prime, to figure out why this is happening and why all these clones of me exist? Should I move on and carve out a new life here? Not as a stripper or man or vegetable hippy or cyborg fighter and definitely not as a sexual petgirl but as something else? I have no idea.

But maybe I want to be with Clem again? Clementine, whatever. Clem had been the best guy I knew, who had stuck with me through all the bumps and twists and setbacks of my mental illness. I doubt I would have made it without him. It felt like just a few days ago that he’d been my guy; even if I rationally knew years had passed for Clem it felt like we were still together. Except for the whole sorcerer space princess thing... But so what if he was a girl now? I’ve always liked women and Clementine, for all her strangeness, was more beautiful than Clem had ever been. Plus, Clem the man had always been a study in wasted potential, a talented guy held back by the world or his own lack of... something. Flotsam and Shaping had maybe unlocked that, let Clem grow into the star I always knew he was. She, whatever. I’m attracted to her and maybe still in love with her, or at least the idea of her. Did I still even know her? This is all too weird.

I know that I had to at least talk to her.

My Keyband honks at me, letting me know I’m wandering too far off course. I turn left down a narrow flight of turbine fan stairs bolted to a landing pod bungalow and back in generally the right direction.

After meeting the Destroyer and watching her charge off to another battle, I decided that it was time to get the fuck out of the Arena. Freya and I left a very happy postcoital Bluebell snuggling in the arms of The Strongest and navigated our way back outside to the Plaza of Champions. Freya gave me a staggeringly strong hug and then quested forth to provision for her upcoming return to space. So I was left alone to wander home. Which got me to thinking about what I was doing here, and about Clementine, and about how I really needed to talk to her.

And so I am walking to Clem’s space trailer, just the scenic way is all. Well, I’m at least wandering in its general direction. I’ll get there when I’m ready, which has to be eventually, right? I walk along a curved footpath past a collection of steel wire woven baskets filled with vibrant alien flowers. A tidy human woman with steel teeth sees me looking and smiles. Maybe I should buy flowers? Does Clementine like flowers now? Is that too much? The florist snips the stems from a bouquet with her mouth, delicately chewing on the ends before swallowing. Maybe no flowers.

I hastily climb a ladder hammered into a rockface between two salvaged homes and onto a new path. My Keyband doesn’t yelp, so It must be generally the right way. This path leads to a T junction at a large fuel tank row house with stone stairs leading up or down the Mesa. I’m pretty sure I need to go up, but starting that way earns a squawking reproach from my Keyband. Down it is. I meander down the staircase until it ends onto a tarmac paved street lined with shops. Okay, I think I’ve been here before. I turn in the clockwise direction, which my wayfinding approves of, and look around the oddly quiet street. The sparse foot traffic is thin and very Blue for this neighbourhood and many of the shops are shuttered. I guess most humans are too busy packing for the upcoming work Shift or saying goodbyes to be hitting up retail. Above me the silver cigar of a Grey drone hovers sedately, blubbing off a small sphere which trails quietly after me. The road takes a jig-jag of tight blind turns, a product of Mesa shape and a couple ungainly improvised buildings and...

“Hi! Halley! What a joy it is to see you!”

I startle and peep, blushing and spinning around. There, half hidden in a blind corner was a glowing holographic sign, cycling through alien texts, until it said in perfect English “The Circle of The Sleeping God.” Oh good a cultist, and one who apparently knows me, or knows a previous model of me. Grrrrreat.

My eyes shift to the cultist and are immediately drawn to a long horn growing from their forehead. It is as long as my forearm and sticking up and out, immediately making me think of a unicorn horn. It has a twisted, braided aspect, with a kind of decorative ridge that wraps around a central cylinder before tapering to the the top. It is covered in pale skin and is surprisingly veiny. I look at the tip of it and... what? The flesh horn doesn’t have a sharp point, it has something bulbous and kind of red and... fuck! It’s a cock! This cultist has a giant penis growing from their head! A veiny, twisted about its axis with a urethral swirl, capped by a huge fucking red glans, cock growing right from the centre of their fucking forehead! “What the fuck!?”

“I know,” says my own voice warmly back to me, “it’s beautiful isn’t it?”

My stomach drops into my toes, I see the cultist is another me, another clone of Halley. She regards me with a placid look from my own violet eyes and her wide mouth is quirked with bemusement. Cockicorn Halley looks like me if people said I had a horseface: her nose is a bit too wide for her face with prominent, almost equine nostrils and her jaw juts forward making her mouth too large, with big flat slightly bucked teeth. She has a mane of snowy white hair that cascades over her shoulders and white furry horse ears that stick out the sides and rove around in the air. And of course a fucking unicorn horn made of cock flesh growing right out of her forehead. “Fuuuuckkk,” I whine.

“I know it’s surprising, Sister, but you are truly overreacting.” Cockicorn Halley admonishes.

“Overreacting!?” My heart is hammering in my chest and I take a step back, surveying the rest of my cultist clone. She is dressed in a pink spandex unitard thing that covers her body from her neck to her wrists and ankles, but leaves little to the imagination. She has the usual number of limbs and a decidedly muscular build, with long powerful arms. Cockicorn has the conventional two breasts, although they are quite enlarged and capped with big nipples which aggressively tent the fabric of her pink onesie. Her torso is lean and toned, except for a little belly paunch that sports another pair of small nipples; an equine udder I realize. Her thighs are too wide and her muscular legs posses an equine recurve and end in hooves instead of feet. A snowy white horse tail flicks from her very wide and toned ass. The crotch of her tight purple uniform shows the lewd topography of enormous testicles and what I was unfortunately sure was the shape of an equine cock sheath. It seems this Halley has more than one cock horn. I take a long shuddering breath to calm down. Always breathe. “Seriously, what the actual fuck happened to you?”

“Like you, Dear Sister, I too was once lost and alone...”

“What makes you think I’m lost?” I ask hastily. “Or alone?”

Cockicorn whickers, “Because you are wandering by yourself on the last night of Shiftchange. Only the aimless are out now.”

“I’m not aimless. I’m going somewhere, I’m just not *well* aimed.”

Cockicorn continues, ignoring me, “I can introduce you to the Path, teach you to hear the Voice of the Slumbering King. For in his Dreams you can find Meaning, you can Transcend your Mortal Limitations and be the Light that He-Who-Slumbers needs to see in the cosmos.”

Oh here we go. I try not to roll my eyes. The thing about living in a trailer park is that poverty attracts god botherers, and the crappier the park the more evangelical and weird the preachers that would appear. Our park had attracted some doozies. I’d heard it all before so I’m a bit surprised and disappointed a clone of me had fallen for it. “So you found religion?”

“You make it sound so paltry,” Halley replies with a snort, eyes flashing in annoyance, nostrils flaring. “What I have found is Truth! This isn’t like those pathetic Pretenders who shambled into the park to sell us a sad little creed about an absentee god. What I’ve found is a True Deity, a god-entity that hears our Prayers and Intercedes in our lives. This isn’t spiritualism or superstition, The Sleeping God is Real and one day he shall Awaken.” Halley regards me, a look of raw passion in her eyes, her cockhorn throbbing with the beat of her heart.

With a sinking feeling, I realized that Cockicorn Halley is a zealot. I’d seen this very look before in the faces of the nuns who ran St. Ursula’s Orphanage, where I was taken to live after my parents died. The Sisters there had terrorized us, enforcing a strict code of morals and conduct with a swift disciplinary hand that I’m pretty sure crossed the line into abuse.  But to them they were conducting a sacred duty to raise their little girls to be good Christian women who were obedient and lived according to the Bible. They couldn’t see the way they used fear and their power to brutalize vulnerable orphans because their Faith made them Right and Just. It was sad to see this reflected in my own cloned eyes. I shivered, Cockicorn’s religious zeal was actually more upsetting than her altered body with its forehead dick. Barely.

“That still doesn’t explain the Cockicorn thing.”

“Cockicorn?”

“The whole penis on your forehead, horse-lady thing you’ve got going on...”

“My Sacred Form?”

I rolled my eyes, “If that’s what you call it.”

“It is the Manifestation of my Devotion,” she says, flashing a self-satisfied horsey smile. “When one truly commits to the Sleeping God, one Communes with him by Dreaming together. We Dreamed of horses. You must recall the small farm down the road from the trailer park? Where we would walk to when we needed to get away from Clem and the park for a while? He-Who-Slumbers Dreamed with me about standing at that fence and watching the horses run. He Dreamed with me about feeling so powerless and watching those strong, majestic creatures cantor and run without fear. But then, instead of returning home to my sad little life, He-Who-Slumbers Dreamed me entering the paddock and running with the horses, taking on their Aspects, and becoming powerful and Free.” Halley whinnies in ecstasy, “He showed me a Path to a Truer and Happier Self.”

“And so your god turned you into a cockheaded unicorn?”

“No, Transmigration of the Flesh is a journey, a Manifestation of my Devotion and Worship. It represents my Commitment to Being the Light and following the Plan that Sleeping God has revealed to me,” Halley tosses her head and paws at the ground with her hooves like an excited equine. “I voluntarily entered this Covenant. I Choose to do be this.”

“Okay,” I say for lack of anything else.

Cockicorn Halley looks at me earnestly, but I think without actually seeing me. “It would bring me Great Joy to Introduce you to He-Who-Slumbers so that you might Dream with Him and Learn your Path to becoming the Light.”

Nope. Not a chance in whatever whacky hell she Dreams of. “No, thank you, religion isn’t something I’m looking for right now.” Especially a weird Shapist cult. I look at my Keyband like a cartoon person, “Gosh, the time! I really have to get going.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Halley. I will Pray for you to Him that you might change your mind.”

“Right.” There was one thing I still wanted to know though. “Sorry, but before I go, which Halley are you?”

“I was Halley-21, but now I am Sister Equestria.”

***

I am once again standing at the airlock door to the space apartment of my ex-boyfriend, maybe future girlfriend.

I take a deep breath, trying to quell the butterflies having an orgy in my stomach. I am so completely fucking nervous. What do I even say to Clem? What do I even want from her? Do I even know who this person is anymore? This is fucking crazy! Maybe I should just go... but fuck, I just met a version of myself in a cult with a dick on her face. Life is too short; I have to do this. Preferably without throwing up. Or fainting. If only I had a giant four-armed woman to give me a shove.

I steel myself: gotta grab life by the balls.

I touch the rust coloured steel door which recognizes me, brightly welcomes me home, and smoothly snaps open. I take a breath and step gingerly into the cycling chamber foyer, stepping around piles of fancy womens shoes and brushing against jackets hung from pegs stuck into air vents. I hear a noise and freeze.

Jesus, I should have called ahead.

A woman makes a low throaty groan and something yowls. It sounds decidedly sexual. I should go...

Instead I peak into the living room, eyes sliding along grey polymer to the plush blue rug surrounded by couches. There I see them, intertwined, Clementine and Pussy, having sex.

Fuuuuuck.

I should really go.

They are facing away from me, fortunately, but at an angle where I can see their bodies. Pussy is on all fours, hand-paws and knees on the ground, eight little breasts hanging and bouncing. Clem is behind and over her, on her knees, delicate back and silver hair and her perfectly toned and soft ass clenching and shaking as she fucks her pet catgirl from behind. Doggy style? Cat? Clem’s three round, unreasonably ripe breasts, seen from behind and beside, surge as she thrusts; her large balls slap the catgirl’s yoga ass, and the slick wet pink of Clem’s labia sometimes peek free. Sticking out from between their bodies, Pussy’s long black tail lashes the air. Clem pants and whimpers and Pussy pushes back into her with an inhuman flexibilty of spine and yowls like a cat in heat.

I am dismayed and furious and more than a little turned on. It’s too fucking weird but also weirdly hot. I want nothing to do with this; I want to be Pussy. I stifle a dismayed sound.

I should really fucking go.

Pussy makes an awful cat sound and arches her back even further while the claws of her paw like hands and feet dig into the rug. I blush as I realize she is coming. Clem pauses her humping, letting Pussy savor the moment. Panting Pussy agilely rolls onto her back, rotating her body on Clem’s enormous cock so they don’t completely separate. Now face-to-face, Pussy pulls a Clementine down on top of her, nipping her face playfully, and mewling for mistress to keep Fucking her. Clementine groans happily and starts to slowly work her cock in and out of her catgirl pet who purrs in appreciation. I can see her face now, and Pussy is a vision of feline contentment, like she is getting the best head scratch in the universe. I whimper and one of the black kitty cat ears on Pussy’s head twitch. I hold my breath, hoping she is distracted. Instead the catgirl clone languidly looks at me, pleased recognition flashing on her face as we make eye contact. Clem, oblivious, keeps steadily fucking away. Pussy flashes her clawed paws and drags them down Clementines long shapely back, who gasps in shocked pleasure at the sensation. Pussy, still looking at me sticks out her long rough tongue and licks her pink little kitty nose. Cat’s got your ex. Tears sting my eyes. It’s just so fucking unfair.

Starting to cry I finally go.

***

(Much less overdue, here is a nice short chapter. The next one might be a while coming because, writing schedule aside, I think it might be a loooong one.)

38

Re: Flotsam

Were you playing Cultist Simulator while writing that last chapter? Coming up with silly Lovecraftian cult stuff is always fun.

39

Re: Flotsam

Flotsam
Chapter 13: The Grey Place

(This chapter has some stuff about suicide in it, so y’know maybe skip ahead to the RED insert below if you aren’t in a good place to read that kind of thing. Also if you have suicidal thoughts please contact your local crisis center or mental health provider! I’ll drop in a quick summary of what got skipped over in the insert below.)

I am ugly crying on the streets of an alien city and it fucking sucks.

I think about Clem fucking her petgirl Pussy and make a retching sob sound. It’s so fucking unfair! I didn’t even get a chance to be with the one guy I’ve ever really loved because now he’s a freaky space woman who has a sex slave clone of me. A freaky sex slave me with a whole bunch of little tits and the ultimate yoga instructor body. How does a plain old Halley compete with that? And anyway what kind of scumbag has a sexpet!?

Fuck him. Her. “And fuck her Pussy too!”

A human couple dressed in High Fantasy drag and sporting antlers startle at my outburst and cross the street, their robotic pram crawling in their wake. Fuck them too.

Why did I ever decided that I wanted to be back with Clem? Why did I ever think it was going to work out? Nothing ever has before. Why would being in space help? Because aliens!? I snort laugh and snot leaks out of my nose. I’m a fucking mess.

It’s getting kind of dark. I glance around and I don’t recognize any of the repurposed trash houses. I don’t even know where I am, really. I’ve just been crying and walking, at first just eager to get away from the scene of the crime but then just wandering.

I bet Hank and Freya are fucking right now too. Assholes.

I stagger into a courtyard surrounded by vacant patchwork offices and miserably sit on a stone stoop. Wind chimes tinkle cheerfully nearby. Asshole chimes. I wipe my snotty face on the sleeve of my jacket, which I realize has grown warmer in the chill of the dusk air. Jacket is okay, I guess. I hug myself and sniffle.

“Halley, are you okay?”

I startle and blink my teary eyes. There, hovering silently in the air above me is a reflective silver sphere of metal about the size of a basketball. A Grey drone.

“Do I look okay!? And what the fuck do you want?”

The drone drifts a little lower and suddenly I am joined by an ethereal projection of myself, Halley rendered in light, nude but for tasteful retro voxelation and smoothed over genitals. She looks at me with an expression of genuine concern, “I want to make sure you’re okay and maybe help get you somewhere safe.”

“What the fuck is this?” Why is a Grey drone projecting me. “Who the fuck are you?”

“I’m HAL-E, and I’m a gh-gh-ghost!” Then hologram does the creepy hands and smiles a perfectly Halley smile, watching to see if her goofy joke landed. It didnt.

“I’m not in the mood for corny jokes,” I grumble.

“Of course you are,” HAL-E replies brightly, “nothing cheers you up more than a goof. I sometimes think it was like, half the appeal of Clem.” The hologram shrugs, “Besides it wasn’t really a joke. I’m the digital ghost of Halley-8.”

I frown, curious despite myself “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Halley-8 died. I’m her uploaded digital consciousness, the ghost in the machine.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah, it’s something,” HAL-E shrugs, “but it beats the alternative.”

I guess it does at that. “Why are you being projected by an alien drone?”

“I’m the human Interface Agent for the Grey administrative AI cluster.”

I blink my eyes.

“The Greys are bad at humans, and Blues, and well, most planar species. They have issues conceptualizing how our minds work. The administrative AI cluster, the supercomputers and sentient intelligences that monitor the planet for contraband and also, like, run the city, are basically super mathy Grey minds. They are also bad at people.” HAL-E rolls her holographic eyes, “So bad at people! But anyway, to help administer the city the Grey have uploaded minds from different species to basically serve as cultural translators. And I’m the human Interface Agent.”

“So you’re like, what? The Grey’s automated call router?”

HAL-E laughs, “I like to think of myself more as Help software. But maybe I’m just the supercomputer Babel Fish for our Alien Overlords?”

“So you’re Software? Jesus.”

“Well, I mean, it’s more complicated than that. The parts of me that are modeled on Halley-8 are a kind of program, but I am also the hardware Nodes in the AI Spercluster dedicated to HAL-E Stuff. Not to mention all of the networked drones and devices that are running some amount of my consciousness at any given moment. Which means I’m kinda the result of a complex adaptive algorithm network running on a particular cognitive strata. Which if you think of the human brain as a meat computer, means I’m basically the same as you.”

“But computers are artificial...”

HAL-E sticks out her tongue, “So’s the human brain, Earthling.” Touche, I’d forgotten about that.

“You sound really smart,” I sniffle while wiping my nose on my sleeve again.

“It helps when your brain is an alien supercomputer.”

“So you aren’t really human anymore?”

“No, I’m something else. I still have a human personality and can understand and emphasize with people, but I am also loads smarter now. Plus I’m running on Grey technology and part of my mind is built on their AI framework so I can understand and communicate with them too. So I’m sort of a hybrid mind.”

“What’s different?”

HAL-E grins, “Well I’m a total Maths wiz now.”

I frowned. I’ve never been a slouch at Math. I was even top of the class at St Ursula’s. “But...”

HAL-E rolls her eyes in a perfect Halley emulation, “Inhumanly good at Maths now. I can also run in parallel, which means I can be in multiple places at once, with different instances of me doing different things, all sort of linked together by a central me. It’s like the ultimate multi-tasking.”

“So what else are you doing right now?”

“Well I’m checking up on you, keeping an eye on a little girl who is running her first errand for her dads, leading some medics to an elderly woman whose had a fall, chatting with a Scavenger troupe while the AI inspects the weird thingy they found in the Junk Desert, keeping tabs on this shitbag drug dealer I kind of hate, providing spooky sound effects for a teen trying to scare her friends (which isn’t working because they know about holograms), having a movie day off with one of my girlfriends,” HAL-E smiles rakishly, “and having sex with a dozen sapients. Among other things.”

“You have sex?”

“Oh yeah! I’m networked with dozens of sex toys, especially dildos and fleshlights I’ve distributed around the city. I get sensations from whenever they’re used, just like the real thing.” She smiles lustily and I blush.

“Do people know?”

“Some sapients know I’m in the toy and think its fun and kinky. I even have some actual relationships where I’ll holographically embody for sex and hanging out and stuff.” HAL-E Winks, “And a lot of people need to be better about reading their end users agreement!”

“That’s a bit intrusive...” I manage.

HAL-E shrugs, “Do you really think it’s any better on Earth? I’m only in it for the orgasms, not the Big Data and lube advertisements. Besides, I’m already up in everyones business: I’m pretty much watching humans all the time to help the AI decide if something is normal or a problem, like distinguishing between someone shouting for joy from someone crying out in pain. So if I’m already being a total creep, why not get laid too? Plus I give the sex toys out for free and they are very fancy.”

“So you’re happy then?”

HAL-E shrugs again, then nods, “It definitely beats the alternative.”

“Speaking of the alternative,” I say, feeling like a jackass, “how did Halley-8, how did you die?”

HAL-E makes a very serious face.

“Sorry!” I say, “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable!” Why did I ask that? Obviously you don't ask an uploaded consciousnesses how they died. Right?

HAL-E shakes her head “It’s okay. It’s just not a fun story, Halley.” The hologram takes a simulated deep, practiced breath. “I killed myself.”

I nod, not really all that surprised.

HAL-E frowns, “When I first woke up here, everything was great. It felt like a chance to start over as a brand new me. Literally even. But things got bad with Clem and then I had some bad experiences in the city and so I went to the Dark Place.”

The Dark Place, the name I have for the worst depression. In College I went to the Dark Place, feeling shitty and bailing on friends, then skipping classes, then locking myself in my dorm room for days at a time... Just too empty to do anything. It was like being filled with a kind of Soul Fog. It was this Dark Place depression that ended College and sent me hiding in the Trailer Park. I nod at HAL-E, feeling like I should hug her but not sure how that would even work with a hologram.

“Flotsam City isn’t a place with a lot of resources for mentally ill humans and Hank hadn’t set up his home for wayward Halley’s yet, so I ended up in a Breakyard.  A lot of the most valuable salvage in the Junk Desert are components. A big broken alien flight computer is basically worthless, but the platinum wire or quantum memory crystals or whatever inside of it are pretty valuable. So Flotsam has factories where sapients spend their days breaking down weird space junk to pull out the best pieces. The Reptilian Syndicates run the biggest operations, filled with Indentured sapients working off their debts, and the Ürnaut penal camp has their prisoners Break as part of their punishment. But there are also tons of smaller workhouses that provide two hots and a cot in exchange for hours of taking apart weird salvaged tech. Down on my luck and depressed, I ended up in The Workhouse for Wayward Young Women.” HAL-E shook her head, “Every day I would wake up, eat some nutrient paste gruel, spend tennish hours mindlessly taking apart weird metal boxes in a fugue, eat more nutrient paste and sleep the rest of the day away. Repeated over and over and over in a total fog. It went on for weeks, maybe months. I lost track of time. I became totally robotic.”

“I was subsisting, but things just didn’t get better. I couldn’t see a way out of the Workhouse or out of my depression. And so I decided it was time to end it.” The Hologram winces, “I climbed the Mesa up into the Terraces and walked to a mansion I’d visited with Celm for a gala once. I remember that It had the best view of the city I’d ever seen because it stood on the lip of a good tall cliff.  When I got to the Terrace mansion, I walked into it’s beautiful gardens, climbed up onto the little wall at the cliff edge, stepped out of my shoes, and threw myself off.”

HAL-E’s face is calm,  “At first, as I fell, I didn’t really feel anything. Maybe relieved I didn’t have to go back to the Breakyard, but not really happy. But then, as the ground rushed up at me, something happened. I stopped falling... but no, it just seemed like that. I was still falling, just imperceptibly slowly, my hair lashing my face in bullet time, the world around me still and quiet, drones and fliers hanging motionless in the air, rotors and turbines almost static. And then a silver ball, a Grey drone, flew into view and matched its velocity to my glacial fall. ‘Halley, you have decided to kill yourself,’ a monotone male voice said.” HALL-E’s voice modulates to match the pitch of the voice.

HAL-E’s voice returns to normal,  “‘Yes’, I responded too calmly, able to speak normally despite my bulletime fall.”

“‘Why have you done this?’ The voice had asked, puzzled.”

“‘Because I am too unhappy to fix. I’m already broken.’”

“‘What if We were able to mend your cognition? Repair the fault in your brain/mind/psyche that causes this depression/unhappiness?’”

“I snorted a laugh then, falling to my death. ‘You make it sound so easy.’”

“‘We did not intend to. This repair will require great effort on Our part and will cost you dearly as well.’”

“‘It’s not as though I have much to lose,’ I had grinned despite myself, ‘I’m not really in a great bargaining position.’”

“‘We are aware.’

“‘I accept whatever your terms are. Please save me!’”

“‘We do not intend to save your life,’ the voice had replied. The Voice laid out the bargain, explained that he was the liason between the Grey and Flotsam humans, but that he had evolved and become too removed from his humanity to effectively serve his purpose. He needed a replacement, and he had been watching me because he thought I could make the transition. When he observed me throw myself off the cliff, he knew he had an opportunity. The fact he didn't recognize this was super shitty probably confirms he was right about being too inhuman. Ultimately, I accepted the deal.”

HAL-E smiled a tight little smile, “so my mind was scanned and recreated, molded and fused with the Grey AI core, and reconfigured to function in my new role while still being essentially myself. As a bonus my cognition was slightly altered to fix my anxiety and depression. I haven’t been mentally ill since.” The hologram chewed her lip and looked guilty, “I have no memory of the original me, Halley-8, hitting the ground. Sometimes I wonder what she was thinking right there at the very end.”

“Holy shit,” I say, tears in my eyes. It’s not like I, well, Halley-Prime hadn’t considered suicide before, about maybe climbing to the top of the brutalist waffle of the admin building and jumping. But to hear a clone of myself go through with it was like being visited by a time traveling holographic ghost. My heart aches for her. “I’m so sorry,” I say and hug at the hologram, almost falling over as I pass through her projection.

HAL-E giggles, “It’s okay. I’m still here and I won’t ever feel like that again. I think Halley-8 would have taken that deal even without the whole impending splattery demise thing. Besides, with my new role I can do a lot of good. I help people as much as my prerogatives allow and I keep a special eye out for humans in distress or showing signs of mental illness and try to intervene.” HAL-E gives me a meaningful look, “And I watch out for Halleys.”

“So you’re like my gaurdian angel?”

“I prefer digital spirit guide. But seriously: if you are ever in trouble or distress, you aren't alone. I love you and can help you, okay?”

I nod, “Okay.”

“So how about we get you back to Hank’s, hey?”

I sigh, I don’t really want to go back to my closet cot and maybe listen to people fuck loudly. “What can you tell me about Halley-Prime’s disappearance?”

HAL-E rolls her holographic eyes at my delay tactic, “Not much, really. Wherever she went, it happened before I was uploaded and my predecessor basically didn’t give a shit about humans so his observations were spotty. Plus Prime was surprisingly good at avoiding Coverage, almost like the Grey were turning a blind camera to her or she was being scrubbed out of the sensorium later.”

“Wouldn’t you know if the Grey had some sort of deal with her?”

“No, I might be a fully adultish human, but I’m still a baby AI. They only show me what I need to know for my job or what I can understand. Besides, even if the Grey did know something about Halley Prime, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.”

I frown, “How come?”

“There are privacy rules that I’m unable to violate because of my, well, programming. Think of it as an NDA that is hardwritten into my mind.”

“That’s fucked.”

“The Grey take their seclusion seriously,” HAL-E shrugs, “its not all that different than what people sign on Earth in a tech company, just way easier to stick to. Plus, y’know the whole not being dead thing. So if you want to know what the Grey actually know, you’ll have to ask them yourself.” HAL-E frowns and pauses. She pinches the bridge of her holographic nose and sighs, “This really isn’t a great time for this, but I’m compelled by my programming to tell you that you are invited to the Grey Citadel...”

“Me? Why?”

“I literally cannot say,” HAL-E says, frowning in a cloud of angry voxels. “For the record, I don’t think you should do this right now. You are clearly upset and... I don’t think you should go.”

I look up the Mesa, just making out the edge of the silver globe at its top, reflecting the last rays of the sunset. A trip to the Overlords compound, something Hank says pretty much never happens. Maybe not since Halley-Prime visited them. It could be a chance to find out what the Grey know. And if nothing else it would be a distraction from, well, everything. “I can ask them about Halley-Prime?”

HAL-E nods, clearly displeased with the question. “You can.”

“And they’ll honestly tell me what they know?”

“I cannot say.”

“Okay.” A  burp of anxiety, “And they won’t hurt me or hold me prisoner or anything?”

“You will not be harmed and will be allowed to leave at any time. Someone in the Citadel wants to meet you, and you will be treated as a guest.” HAL-E is scowling.

“Who are they?”

“I cannot say.”

I chew my lip, indecisive as the holographic woman stands and paces angrily. This is a terrible idea, but I want to go. Sometimes you just gotta keep moving. “I appreciate the advice and you looking out for me, but I think I want to go.”

HAL-E stops pacing and sighs, “I was afraid you were going to say that.” She shrugs her shoulders and dissolves into a cloud of voxels. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you...”

The grey drone swings up into the air expanding from a basketball sized ball of silver to a sphere slightly larger than me. “Go stand in the middle of the courtyard,” HAL-E’s voice instructs me.

I get up from the stoop and stumble into the middle of the space between buildings. The Grey drone hangs for a moment and then drops onto me. I yelp and throw my arms up, but the drone flows around me, and I find myself standing inside a perfectly hollow sphere, blinking stupidly at my wildly distorted reflection on the concavity of the mirrored walls. I feel a sense of momentum shift and I stumble on the curved floor of the sphere. It must be moving. Abruptly the walls of the expanded Grey drone become translucent, leaving me feeling suspended in the air above a sunset Flotsam City. I gasp when I see how quickly the drone is moving: it is really hauling ass. My ass.

I look up the Mesa as the Grey Citadel comes unto view. From below it looks like a giant blob of mercury, but as we crest the top of the Mesa I can see that it is a perfectly round silver sphere, sitting on the smoothed mesa summit like a marble on a tabletop. Despite being the size of an avante garde university library, I almost feel like I could get it rolling, push it right off the Mesa. The drone hangs in the air for a moment and then I yelp as it explodes into motion, racing directly at the Citadel. I drop to my butt and raise my arms, bracing for impact and the drone smoothly merges into the wall of the Citadel leaving me sitting on the floor of a perfectly round tunnel with unsettlingly mirrored walls.

Shakily I climb to my feet, awkward with the curved floor, and stumble forward, since that seems to be the only way to go.

I walk for a few moments? Minutes? Time is hard to track in here...

There is a flash of bright white light...

(Hi there! If you skipped ahead it is safe to start reading again. To catch you up: Halley-24 was very upset and HAL-E, the uploaded consciousness of Halley-8 checked up on her. HAL-E is the human interface agent for the Grey and spends her time observing humans, piloting drones, helping people, and embodying sex toys. Through her Halley is invited into the Grey Citadel, she accepts, and now here she is walking in an alien tunnel.)

***

I blink my eyes open and my clothes are gone. Instead I’m wearing a worryingly skintight outfit of silver material. Metal? Skin? It’s warm and slightly taught like good athleticwear and covers me from my throat to my wrists and ankles. My bare feet are cool against the concave metal floor. I know I should be upset by this, but somehow I’m not.

I take a deep cleansing breath, air cool and oddly scentless, and keep walking along the tunnel.

The air fills with a hum that I can feel but not hear, and it begins to syncopate with a resonance that I experience as a strobing light, even though nothing visually changes...

***

Cut scene and I am aware again, still barefoot in a circular tunnel. The skin of my arms and legs is goosebumped since my silver clothing skin has shrunk to a swimsuit, leaving my limbs bare. I shiver, breath steaming in the abruptly frigid air. My mind feels fuzzy and I rub my face, surprised to not feel my hair. Fingers trace with profound tactile sensation up to my scalp and I learn my silver swimsuit has a tight hood, leaving only my face exposed. I hold myself, rubbing my arms for warmth and continue walking along the tunnel.

***

I slowly come back into focus, as if from a fog. Or is it fugue? I am now encased almost entirely in silver material, everything but my face coated in a mercury skin. I swear I can feel it slowly flowing over my body, like the tides of my own personal ocean. I find it comforting? I blink and I can hear sound again, noticing my deafness only upon its absence. What else am I missing that I don’t even realize? It is nice to hear again.

I look around and see that I’m approaching a crossroads, a place where another tunnel bisects my own. I hear footsteps, clicking cheerfully like a tap dancer. I stop and patiently wait while six Grey aliens march past, the first few without even glancing at me. They are kind of cute, short like children and wearing tight suits that sparkle purple, pink, red, blue, green and orange. Their heads are enormous, great grey teardrops of rubbery looking skin. The final one in the troop turns to look at me, its small mouth a grim line, its slit nostrils flaring. I look into its huge black eyes and see a perfect darkness that I could just fall int....

***

I am alone again in a tunnel, the air uncomfortably warm and humid, a small stream of bathtub hot water trickling in the bottom of the circular space. Sweat beads on my body, which is naked now, except for my arms and legs, which are encased in long gloves and tall boots of silver skin. My distorted reflection on the tunnel wall looks like a kinky carnival version of myself. I wink and giggle, strangely giddy. I skip along the tunnel, splashing, and snickering, until I find myself in a widening, a kind of antechamber lined with translucent bulges. I stop and peak into the first pod and see a sleeping form. It is a Grey, large eyes closed, silver tubes inserted into its nostrils, body held aloft by something that I can’t see but can feel as a vibration in my guts. Its jumpsuit, I notice, is a porcelien white, neutral instead of the joyfully gay suits of its wakeful compatriots. I tiptoe to the next pod and see another Grey in stasis, its own suit also neutral and white. I wonder if that’s a thing. I stare at this Grey’s face, so relaxed and peaceful in slumber. I reach up and touch the translucent membrane of the pod with my silver coated hand and the Grey’s eyes instantly snap open and stare into mine, stare into me, stare through me, and I feel a great pressure on my thoughts a buzzing in my mind and...

***

I am standing in the tunnel again, my silver garment reformatted to be thigh high boots, opera gloves, and a shoulderless evening dress made of brilliant quicksilver. My hair is pulled up in an elaborate updo, strung up with silver tendrils. I step forward, the heels of my boots clicking on the floor, and step into a huge, cathedral like space. The chamber is shadowy, broken only by streams of light from spotlights at the apex of high vaulted ceiling domes. A narrow, blessedly smooth catwalk fills the centre of the room like an aisle, while the surrounding floor is made of large bumps like the interference pattern of standing waves. As I watch, I can see the floor imperceptibly moving, undulating in slow motion. I take a few cautious steps into the room, my boots echoing in the space.

<Welcome, Halley-24.>

I startle and stop, look around.

<It’s quite alright.>

I realize that I’m not actually hearing the voice out loud, but instead experiencing the voice in my mind. And this voice ‘sounds’ a lot like me. “Who is it?” I ask, aware of, but not actually feeling, dread.

A sense of mirth washes over me, <I’m Halley-7. I’m very pleased that you accepted my invitation.> A burst of bubbly happiness.

“Where is here, exactly?”

<As you’ve no doubt surmised, we are within the Grey Citadel. This is a kind of art gallery and cultural exchange. I am a kind of curator and ambassador... as well as artwork. We feel, the Artist and I, that the time is right to welcome others to view our project. We have decided you, with your freshest of eyes, would be an appropriate first guest.>

“I’m honored?” What does she mean by artwork? And why is she speaking in my mind? I should be completely flipping out, and yet my fear is held apart from me, wrapped in a kind of mental blanket.

<If you would step this way?> I feel a compulsion, a sense of where I ought to go. I nod and respectfully walk deeper into the gallery, heels clicking.

I stop at the opening of a side space, a smaller sphere forming a kind a chapel off of the central knave. At first it is hidden by unnaturally deep shadows, but then a light beams down from the ceiling illuminating a bizarre tableau. I gasp and bring a silver gloved hand to my mouth. The chapel floor is a shallow wading pool, filled to the brim with an opaque white liquid that smells faintly of milk. Floating lazily in this saucer are two round spherical objects, but slightly oblong, deformed by the weight of gravity. They make me think of a racey poster belonging to Trailer Park Snakeguy of a naked woman laying in a bathtub of milk, her tits breaking the surface like islands. I realize I am looking at giant breasts, creamy freckled tits, each the size of a large bean bag chair. At the apex of each giant boob is a wide red-pink areola, bumpy and wrinkled, but instead of a nipple, there is a woman’s face coated in areola skin. Instead of hair, milk streams over each woman’s head, but not straight down, instead flowing unnaturally to form bangs and the ringlets of impeccably styled hair, that then trickles quite naturally down the breast body into the milk filled wading pool of the chapel. The tit-women smile coyly at me and speak to each other in a gibberish that I can’t translate. “What the fuck? What am I looking at?”

<This is is our first artwork. It is untitled.>

***

I am seated in the throne room, mindful of my posture, ribs crushed by my ceremonial bodice. I straighten my back and adjust my skirts, being sure to align the green glowtubes woven into the matte black fabric. Who decided royalty had to wear such uncomfortable clothing? I should have them executed! Not that I shall ever enough of the throne for that kind of thing... I smother an unbecoming frown and glance at my twin sister. She peeks back at me out of the corners of her eyes, raises her auburn eyebrows ever so slightly, and I repress a giggle. Fuck the sovereign, I love that girl. I don’t expect I’d be able to get through all of this without her.

A bass rumble of official music drops and the laser portcullis snaps off. The official business has arrived. How wonderful. The first through the gate is a harsh looking man, angular and scarred, wearing a spotless grey minimalist uniform. He is escorted by an honour guard of soldiers wearing sleek grey armour with black visors. Their jackboots click loudly on the black glass floor as they assemble into a tidy formation and snap into rigid martial attention. “Presenting,” the electronic courtier announces, “The AllCommander of the Iron Colonies!”

A second bass rumble sounds and a second retinue enters, this one lead by a nude woman wearing only a harness of bells who skips and tumbles and laughs. Plodding in her wake is a hugely obese man, dressed in a bright red doublet and hoes worn under a black ceremonial shoulder-padded blazer and long necktie. The rest of the group is a mixed entourage of rakishly dressed business dandies and intimidating war lawyers. The lawyers form a defensive ring around the fat man, while the dandies loaf about with terrible posture. The glowtube tapestries reflect gaily from their golden tie clips, cufflinks, and decorations. “Presenting, the Chief Executive Prince of the Outer Monopoly!”

I keep my face blank as my mind whirls: what are these two men doing here? The Iron Colonies and Outer Monopoly are at war! I know that my brother, the Monarch Alluvar-Glorious IX, has been negotiating with both parties since his recent ascent to the throne and the Troubles with the Snakes. He wishes for military assistance from the AllCommander and finances from the CEP to help undercut the Syndicates greymarket... but to have them both here together was surely madness! Unless... no! He wouldn’t, would he? I glance at my sister, seeing the dawning fear reflected in her eyes.

The Monarch stands to the dub of a base drop, his glowtubes blazing blue for attention. “Dear guests, thank you for joining us on this happy occasion! We are overjoyed to welcome you into an alliance born of blood. AllCommander of the Iron Colonies, to you we grant the hand of our dear sister Maxel-Brilliant to you in marriage. CEP of the Outer Monopoly, to you we grant the hand of our dear sister Maxel-Celestial in marriage. May the ties of alliance now become the ties of brotherhood.” Our ruler brother smiles, “Welcome to the family.”

I stifle a scream of anguish, face still a regal mask. This is unacceptable! A political marriage was always our fate, but not to sworn enemies! My sister and I were to remain together, traveling together between our obligations, family to the end! But this could never be allowed if we were married off to these two. Even now, I can see our betrothed glaring at each other, their soldiers and lawyers fingering their weapons and battle motions. Breaking protocol, I look directly at my sister, seeing her stare back, rage and determination reflected in her eyes.

***

“Fuck the Monarch!” My sister snaps, pulling her pinched finger out of the scrap motor we are disassembling. I giggle at her and she pokes out her tongue.

We have fled to this filthy stye of a planet known as Flotsam, forsaking our titles and shirking our responsibilities. But Fuck the Monarch, fuck him for putting us in such an impossible situation. Our father, Preserve his Legacy, would never have done this to us. I entertain thoughts of a combined regicide-fratricide and...

My face is struck by a small metal fastener. I glare at my sister and she laughs. “Be in the moment sister,” She chides, “And get back to work!” I poke my tongue out at her and return to the task at hand.

We are working and living in one of the interminable Workhouses of Flotsam. Instead of gowns and glowtube jewelry, hocked for petty Currencies, we are clad in heavy synthetic coveralls and rubber coated cloth gloves. Our auburn hair, once elaborately braided now is gathered in tangled topknots. In place of subtle scents and shimmering makeup, our freckled skin is grubby and reeking of machine oil. We are two elegant princesses turned into twin laborers, pulling apart some piece of garbage for the catalytic platinum panels within. “Fuck the Monarch!” my sister yells, pulling out her once again pinched hand and shaking it. I laugh, so happy to be free and on this adventure with her.

***

I am laying on my bunk cot, exhausted from a day of menial work, fingers still throbbing from that Queens Cock of an engine. I stare at the bunk above me and the depression my sister makes in her cot. My mind is racing. “Sister,” I say quietly, “what are we going to do about... them.”

My twin hangs her head over the side of her top bunk, her loose hair hanging in a copper cascade. “I am not sure,” she admits in a whisper, lest she wake our slumbering coworkers. The man they bribed at the space port had sent word of the arrival of an efficient Iron Colonies Destroyer and a flamboyant Hostile Takeover Logistics Vehicle on Flotsam. Which meant that the mesa city was probably already crawling with Special Forces and Tactical Process Servers, the minions of our betrothed already hot on our trail. My sister and I had worked hard to keep a low profile, but Flotsam was a small world and we are, after all, identical twin redheads. “Maybe we could employ a Shaper, forsake being twins for a while...”

My heart sinks, to compromise our identity, our sameness, even in the name of practical security, felt like a defeat, a capitulation. “I’d rather we didn’t.”

“I know,” she whispers, “besides, I’m not sure we could really afford a Shaper right now anyway.”

“There simply must be something we can do?”

“What about the dream?” The dream we had both been having, night after night, where a warm voice that tells us it can offer us sanctuary, a way to be safe and together for all eternity. It seemed to good to be true, a contagious fantasy of our twin subconscious. Such a shared delusion was the only reasonable explanation. We might be princesses but this was no fairy tale. It just couldn’t be real. Could it? My sister reads these thoughts in my eyes, “What if it *is* real?”

***

I am standing naked in a strange alien throne room and holding my sister’s hand. She smiles at me nervously and I smile back. The voice in our heads instructs us to stand in the center of the chamber, and we comply. Anything to be together, free and safe.

“I love you,” she says.

“I love you too,” I say.

And a blinding light drops over us and everything changes...

***

I blink my eyes and I am myself again, Hayley of the 24th variety, looking at twin sisters turned into lactating breast creatures. Tears sting my eyes and I smile at them, happy that they are still together. They smile back and say something I cannot understand while a psychic whiff of gratitude brushes my mind. They have become a living testament to love and family, if a truly bizzaro one. Why are they a huge pair of boobs? And how is this, what was the phrase, ‘Cultural Understanding’? This place is too weird...

<Please proceed to the next artwork.> I understand new instructions and follow my innate sense of where to go.

I walk past empty chapel alcoves, my heels click loudly on the smooth path which forms just ahead of me on the glacially undulating waveform floor. Instinctively, I turn to face another side chamber shrouded in artificial feeling darkness. I pause there, smoothing the front of my silvery dress and wait. A light descends to illuminate a mass of flesh resting on a raised pedestal.  I frown. It is a giant scrotum, wrinkled but hairless, large enough to fit a couch inside. I stare at it and notice it is moving, writhing like there is something animate inside. The overhead light fades and is replaced by intense backlighting behind the giant nutsack. The harsh light makes the balls semi-translucent and silhouettes two humanoid forms within the pink envelope of the scrotum. They are fucking doggy style.

<This is is the second artwork. It is also untitled.>

***

I am perched invisibly against a concrete wall, the adhesion cleats on my shoes and gloves clinging to the building substrate. I am sweating inside the sheath of my stealth suit; this might be a temperate world, but thermal masking means stewing in my own waste heat. I silently groan in discomfort. My muscles ache and this stupid suit really pinches my balls. I try to subtly stretch within the motion limits of my cloaking field, but it doesn’t quite satisfy me at all. I genuinely hope the target arrives soon.

I am guarding the fortified Advanced Technology Research laboratories, a stout concrete warehouse in a campus of glass walled offices and evergreens. My mission is to prevent the Target from capturing the Objective, a device found in orbit around the junkyard planet of Flotsam. In my visor I review the sensorium of the security system, algorithms rapidly performing facial recognition checks. My target could look like anyone, in effect be anyone, so human vigilance is required. I pause the cycle of faces on a handsome man with curly hair, a young material engineering professor entering the building. He is an approved visitor on the project, but at this time of day he habitually visits a pretty chemistry researcher with whom he is having an affair. A quick review of their private digital correspondence reveals banal sexts and a promise to meet in “the glass blowers workshop wink”. I check the cam feeds, and spot the young professor, face pinched in pleasure receiving a different sort of blowers workshop. Nice. Which makes this young materials engineering professor a fraud. Excellent. Target acquired.

I spin around on the building, reduce the adhesion force of my gloves and boots, and slide silently down the wall. My executive control of the lab network fizzes out, attacked by a pack of viral infiltration programs. I trigger my own counter phage, aware that the ensuing digital immune battle will take minutes to resolve. Until then the network is out of play. I smile inside my cowl, I am dealing with a real operative. My feet strike the ground. The hunt is on.

I sprint to a fire escape door, the start of my preplanned route to the Objective. Every door, lock, lift, and camera has been recruited, airgapped from the building network and slaved to my own covert one. Flying up a flight of stairs, I check the feed from the inner vault, and find the Objective remains undisturbed. The Target must still be on route. Rounding a corner, I launch my small fleet of cam drones, and I smile as I see a blur of motion in designate Route 3. I slow slightly, taking a moment to prepare myself for hard contact with the Target. I smile. Things are about to go Kinetic.

As I approach the Vault my feed of its interior suddenly dies. The Target has reached the Objective. I position myself for an intercept, and, idly curious, start a timer. Just how good is the Target?

Hardly twenty seconds elapse, a respectable time, and the Target emerges from the vault carrying a hardened steel case and wearing tactical goggles. They can see through my cloaking shroud. I launch a paralytic flechette from a wrist gauntlet, while the target simultaneously shoots me with an electrified bola. My dart is harmlessly caught by nanomesh armour hidden under their lab coveralls. The bola hits me, winding tight around my legs and shocking me with thousands of volts. I collapse, systems fried out, heart in cardiac arrest. Contingency systems activate, pumping me full of pain meds and deploying an emergency defibrillator, restarting my heart. I sit up and free myself from the bola wires with a diamond bladed cutter. The Target has the Objective and a 30 second head start. I grin. Things are definitely Kinetic.

***

I am sitting naked on the bed of a beautiful woman, still bleeding slightly from my wounds.

I am still wearing the body of the handsome engineering professor whose identity I assumed to reach the Objective, although now it is beaten, burnt, and lacerated from a three day running battle. Things had gone Kinetic, which is not ideal as far as covert operations go, but in the end I had managed to get offworld with the Objective and to bring it here to Flotsam for my scheduled rendezvous. I managed this despite running into much more talented resistance than I was briefed to expect. I smirk a little in pride. Although, the Adversary had allowed me to reach the Objective before intercepting. It was as if they wanted things to go Kinetic, like a game. I smirk again, it had been quite exhilarating.

The woman in the room with me, the Resource, is wearing an oversized cotton sweatshirt fastened in the front by archaic metal teeth and tights that hug her digitigrade legs and tail. Her beautiful face moues in concentration as she examines my injuries. She tucks her silver hair behind her ram-like horns. “You poor thing,” she says quietly, tracing her elegant hands over my skin, warm tingles preceding wounds and burns smoothing over with clean healthy skin. This is not the first time I have experienced Shaping, but the casual ease with which the Resource repairs me is incredible. I must look agog. The resource giggles and springs my curly hair playfully, “I like a clean canvass before I paint.”

I lay flat and the Resource draws her sweatshirt sleeves up to her elbows and sets to work. A pleasant warmth fills my body as I am shaped into a new Identity. The Resource hums tunelessly but beautifully as she works, her tail twitching behind her. As the well muscled body of the engineer softens, my mind wanders, thinking about the Objective sitting safe in its steel and booby trapped case. It is a circlet of scratched, slightly oxidized steel containing an elaborate lattice of electromagnetic crystal and exotic tech. Despite it’s damaged appearance it still apparently functions, miraculously still intact despite languishing in orbit around Flotsam before being recovered and shipped offworld for study. Control, my psychic command officer, did not brief me on what the Objective does or why it’s in such demand. But I am a curious little Agent, and it was a small thing to hack the records at the ATR Labs. The Objective is a psychic device, a machine that allows normal Humans to read the minds of others, even without the rare inborn psychic gift. I think of my time with Control, the uncomfortable feeling of him probing my mind to verify the truth of my Identity and to record my every action and thought. I frown and purse my now fuller lips, I am not convinced this device is a good thing. But I am just an Agent. My thoughts return to my body as the Resource remolds my genitals, the pleasant feeling of Shaping becoming intense as my now erect penis sinks into my body reforming into a clitoris and vagina. Despite my discipline I orgasm. The Resource grins at me impishly, “What do you think?”

I climb uncertainly to my feet, feeling the bounce and sway of breasts, cool air in the gap between my thighs. I examine my reflection in the holographic mirror. I am absolutely gorgeous. The Resource as made me over into a ravishing raven haired woman, with long curly hair, and a truly improbable figure. I strike a sexy pose, chest out, and smoulder. Being this woman would be fun, but altogether too risky. “I love it,” I say in a breathy contralto, “but it’s a bit much for the Mission.”

The Resource pouts, “What were you thinking?”

I raise a perfectly sculpted black eyebrow, “I am aiming for someone less attention getting and more anonymous. Picture the most competent person in an office, the woman who actually gets things done but is otherwise essentially ignored. She cares about appearances for the sake of professionalism, but is too efficient to spend too much time on it.” The Resource nods along and starts to gently touch me here and there, tweaking my body and features. My black hair becomes straight and sandy blonde, my angular face rounder, my breasts shrink and my unreal curves contract into the body of a single, middleaged woman with a slight dedication to ffitness. I frown severely at the mirror and relax into resting bitch face, pulling my hair back into bun. I am still too pretty, but it’s nice to be attractive and maybe I can use that as an Asset. I nod curtly to the Resource, falling into character, “It will suffice.”

The Resource sighs dramatically, ”And here i thought working with spies would be exciting...”

***

I am standing in a Terrace reception hall holding a glass of chilled green fruit wine. I pat my shoulder bag, a standard bag among local business types, feeling the Objective inside. According to my Mission Brief I am to hand off the Objective directly to the Client, a certain Vice President of Flotsam Acquisitions for a semi-large technology company. I sip my wine and discretely watch the Client who is mingling and gladhanding various business associates. I frown a little harder, this handoff is terrible Craft, exposing both me and the Client in a needlessly busy environment. I wonder what Control had been thinking. Fortunately, my guise of competent-woman-at-a-work-event-she-isn’t-enjoying is so far proving quite effective.

I keep my eyes moving around the crowd and try to look bored. The Client formalizes another business interaction with a handclasp, and wanders over to another associate in need of attention. I silently groan. Maybe I should violated the Brief and initiate contact? I take another look at the Client, calculating how best to casually bump into him, when I notice the date of the man he is talking to. She is outrageously beautiful, a flame haired woman with improbable curves wearing a shoulder-less, sparkling green dress. She is unrealistically good looking, a clear product of Shaping. This woman’s sculpted, angular face doesn’t match anyone on the guest list, or any of the known mistresses or escorts whose appearances I also memorized. My scalp prickles, could this ravishing woman be my Adversary after pursuing me to Flotsam? Would they really pick such a reckless and obvious disguise? The red haired woman sweeps the crowd with a professionally wary gaze, eyes locking with mine. Oh Fubar me! She is the Aversary and she just Made me! I have to get out of here.

***

I am staring at the Target. She is here wearing a very Craft appropriate disguise as a wallflower: dirty blonde hair pulled back in a severe bun, wearing a scowl and a safe but nice black cocktail dress. Perhaps she is a little too pretty, but who am I to judge while wearing this outrageous sexpot body? Although being so glaringly obvious worked pretty well despite the risk. Take that Control! You mind reading leech.

The Target calmly makes her way to the toilets. As she walks her practical heels lose height, reforming into atheletic shoes, her dress becoming shorter and looser, affording her better range of motion. She is getting ready to bug out and critically she still has her bag with the Objective. I smile, the chase is on. I kiss my date on his wrinkly bald head, “Sorry baby,” I bubble, “I have to visit the powder room.”

I set off calmly after my Target, my sexy dress reforming into a romper and practical shoes. The Target pushes through the restroom door. I count to three and push in after her and am immediately kicked in the face!

I stagger, instinctually slipping into a guard that buys me moments to reorient. The Target presses her attack, but I managed to stay just ahead of her defensively, my System preventing any crippling blows. I try and counterattack, to win back the initiative, but the Target is able to repel enough of my attacks that I cannot seriously injure her either. As we exchange glancing kicks and blocked blows in the women’s bathroom, it is obvious that the Target is very well trained. In fact, judging from her choice of strikes, the style of defense, and how well we are intuiting each other, the Target is trained in the System. Which means...

“AGENT!” I snap with all of the authority I can muster.

The Target goes rigid for a split second, reacting as though scolded by Control.

And in that instant I land a debilitating blow to her head.

The Target crumples to the floor, the Objective falling next to her.

***

I come back to myself laying on cold metal paneling, my head pounding. “Glughhh,” I groan, wincing.

A beautiful face smeared with bruises smiles at me. “Good, you’re awake.”

“Waugh?” I say through swollen lips.

“Why?” The Adversary laughs and pokes the Objective, worn over her red hair like a crown. “Because we are being played, Agent.”

I sit up, surprised that I am unrestrained. I lick the inside of my mouth and spit blood on the floor. “I take it you are also an Agent,” I rasp, reworking my hair into its bun.

“Yes,” she says. I frown, this is not supposed to happen. There are Protocols to ensure Agents are not working against each other. It is unproductive and a bad look for the Organization. I rub my sore head, not to mention a fine way to get Agents hurt or killed. The Agent reads my thoughts with the Objective and explains “We have the same Control.”

The same Control? Then he has sent two of his own Ring after the same Objective, in direct conflict. Almost like he doesn’t want either of us to succeed. The red haired Agent taps the Objective on her head again, the mind reading device. It dawns on me: Control is psychic and a mind reading device significantly compromises his position. The Agent nods her head. “Fubar,” I say.

“Snafu,” she agrees.

“What do we do?”

“Give him exactly what he wants,” the red haired beauty says with a most unattractive smile.

***

I am perched on a steel superstructure in the Flotsam Junk Desert looking through the scope of a magnetic rifle. In the far distance I see a sleek needle shaped flyer skim over the junk and land by the hulk of a red painted derelict space tug. A figure climbs out. I sweep the target graphic over the man and enhance. It is the bald head and mirror shades of Control. “Contact.”

Standing rakishly behind me, her red hair streaming in the breeze, the Agent grunts. “Amateur.” I glance back and we smile at each other, a little giddy. What we are about to do is insane.

We had discussed several Strategies, boggling at the freedom of choice. We could sell the Objective on the black market and try to disappear, attempt to outrun the Agents who would pursue us. We could keep the Objective for ourselves, use it to sniff out Agents, maybe hunt them and try to take down the Organization. But that would be suicide, and our conflict lay with Control himself and not the entire Organization. The beautiful Agent advocated revenge against him personally, and I found myself agreeing. Even knowing that it was Forbidden for an Agent to kill their Control, we both felt such betrayal that we felt justified going against ingrained Protocol. So the Agent contacted Control claiming to have dispatched the Target and acquired the Objective. She was instructed to arrange a dead drop in the Junk Desert for the Client and Exfiltrate offworld. And so the trap was set.

That night we fucked, not because it was tactically expedient, but because we wanted to. I almost cried for the novelty of pleasure for its own sake and companionship directed at my own core identity. Afterward the Agent handed me the Objective and helped slip it onto my head. She sat across from me and gave me an earnest look. “I read your mind while you were unconscious,” she said. “It was the only way to see if we were both Agents, to prove we shared the same Control. But, I saw more than that... I saw you.” Passion flashed in her eyes, “I want you to read my mind too, to know me as completely as I know you.” I closed my eyes and concentrated on the Agent, my mind filling with vivid memories of being recruited as a child, of years of brutal training, of wearing hundreds of identities on missions, of calculated sexual encounters, of killing sapients many different ways, and of eventually ending up here on Flotsam. Throughout the memories is a familiar sense of loneliness, a yearning for something missing. Something that maybe we both finally found? I open my eyes and see her watching me intently. I understand her and she understands me. I wondered if this is love? I kissed her and we made love for the first time.

I am still smiling as I look back into the rifle scope. Control is cautiously approaching the Red tug, touching his forehead and probably doing a psychic sweep for observers. We are more than far enough away that he can’t sense us. I drop the target graphic over his head and release the safety on the rifle. My finger tenses on the trigger and I hold my breath. It would be such a simple thing to kill him. Instead I watch him squirm through a hatch into the red tug. I know that inside the derelict sitting in plain sight is the Objective. I look up at my lover, “Target is inside.”

The Agent smiles at me, finger stoking the trigger of a handheld device. “I love you,” she says to me.

I flush, delighted and hoping that it’s true. I think I love her too, even if I’m not sure I really know what love is. “I love you too,” I say anyway.

We share a complicit smile and the Agent triggers her device. An explosions blossoms in the distance, the Red painted tug disintegrating as the explosives we had filled it with detonated. The thunder of the blast eventually reaches us. Control is dead. I safety my weapon, stand, and press myself into the Agent’s arms. “No going back,” I say, kissing her fiercely on the lips.

“No going back,” she agrees.

***

I am standing in a strange alien space, guided by the mental instructions of a mysterious curator. I am holding hands with my erstwhile Target, now my lover. I glance at her, her severe but pretty face broken with a look of wonder. She notices me looking at her and smiles encouragingly. This is madness, but maybe it’s a way to stay together.

It had started in our dreams, a mental voice that we both recognized as a powerful psychic contacting us in our subconscious. The psychic voice promised us that we would be together forever.  They promised us safety from Control’s other Ring Agents, now honour bound to kill us. Part of me wanted to run, wanted to test my cunning, but my lover just wanted to be together, to put aside Objectives, Missions, and Protocol and find meaning in ourselves and each other. And so we accepted this strange offer and came here, to the Grey Citadel.

Hand in hand, we walk into a circular chamber and stand in the appointed spot. My lover kisses me. “I love you,” she says with ever more confidence in her voice that it was true. “I love you too,” I reply, certain that it is.

Above us a blinding white light flashes and everything changes....

***

I blink my eyes and I am myself again, staring at a huge scrotum filled with two people fucking. “What are they like in there?” I ask in a dull monotone.

<They have become testicles, mostly. Their bodies were reduced to featureless heads and limbless, narrow hermaphroditic torsos made mostly of glandular tissue. These bodies produce a semen analogue which is animate, allowing our two Agents to mold bodies for themselves based on any of their previous Identities. They also share a mental link, allowing an unsurpassed level of empathy. They are now an artistic statement about intimacy, about focusing on our lover in a quest to find meaning.>

I blink rapidly, I can certainly see the artistic intent, but also I see two jizz people trapped inside a nutsack. A part of me is sad that the Agents traded their freedom for this new, stranger prison and disappointed that they didn’t go out in a blaze of glory Thelma and Louise style. I hope they are happy in there.

<Please proceed to the next artwork.> I get a tingle of nervousness, <Which is... me.>

A new sense of where to go appears in my mind. I swallow and obediently follow the path. I am trying to process the memories of four other people, trying to understand the bizarre forms of these tragic humans. I am aware of a roiling mass of fear and anxiety, but one that is still held apart from me, orbiting my mind like my own stormy Venus. What has Halley-7 done to herself? Without experiencing my fear, my curiosity dominates.

I walk past several more empty alcoves and ascend to an altar like landing in something like the knave of this gallery. There is a raised platform here crawling with impossible inky shadows. I try to take a few calming breaths.

<I present myself, another untitled artwork.>

The shadows are replaced by a bright light revealing what must be Halley-7. The dais rotates slowly, showing me her body from every angle. Her naked body is covered in a reflective silver covering, much like the mercury dress I am wearing but I suspect it‘s literally her skin. Her feet stand lightly on the platform and her legs seem longer and more elegant than mine, her ass more tight, her labia more trimly elegant. Above the waist she is a giant penis. Instead of arms, a torso, and a head with a familiar face, it has all been replaced by a tube of erect cock flesh capped by an enormous glans. I can see fluid glisten in her dickhole and veins pulse softly along her shaft. Hanging in her lap is an enormous hairless scrotum, filled with humongous head sized balls. Halley-7 has made herself into some sort of psychic alien cockwoman.

I feel my fear twist and writhe around me! This is just too fucked up! Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck! It hits me all at once and I feel my heart hammer in my chest! What the fuck is happening! And...

I faint.

Floor 2 - Halley 0.

***

(Continues below.)

40

Re: Flotsam

(Flotsam Chapter 13 continued)

I become aware again, except I am outside on Flotsam wearing unfamiliar clothing. I just learned that I made myself into a monster cockwoman! No... that hasn’t happened yet. I’m just me, Halley-7, and I am running late for a meeting. I shake my head to get a hold of myself. An important meeting! One I have spent weeks working to arrange.

Since waking up in Clem’s apartment I have been trying to track down Halley-Prime. Initially it was just something to do while Clem was busy with her Shaping gig, but now I’m obsessed with figuring it out. I‘m totally onto something too! I know Halley-Prime got inside the Grey Citadel, that she made contact with the elusive alien overlords. I am convinced that they know what happened to her, or at least why she disappeared. Actually learning what the Grey know has proven to be difficult... but ace investigator Halley-7 is intrepid and dogged and brassy.

My keyband chirps to alert me that I’ve reached my destination. It’s a derelict derelict, a poorly constructed space junk building with a collapsed roof on the outskirts of the mesa. I’m wearing one of my nicer outfits: dress, jacket, and heels and so of course the meeting is in a shithole. I roll my eyes, it figures. Awkwardly I shimmy into the building, hands filthy and a smear of rust on the sleeve of my nice jacket. So much for making a good first impression. I slip under a sagging I-beam and into the hollowed out core of the building and see a basketball sized silver sphere hovering. “Greetings Halley Number Seven.”

“Hello Dorian” my name for the Grey-Human liason AI agent. “I hope you’ve got good news for me.” Really hope, really really really! Be cool Halley.

I am not sure I would qualify the news as ‘good’, since that contains a value judgement,” the sphere responds cryptically. “I do suspect you will be pleased with the outcome.

“You can finally tell me what the Grey know about Halley-Prime?” So that I can finally stop harassing you.

No, I cannot answer that.

Just like every other fucking time! I swallow a growl of annoyance. Use the calm voice. “Why would I be pleased?”

One of the Grey wishes to meet you, to attempt communication. You have been invited to the Citadel.

Holy fuck! No one is invited to the Citadel! My heart hammers in my chest. This is my chance to get answers! “When do we leave?”

Presently.” The silver drone sphere expands and engulfs me.

***

I am standing naked in The Gallery, excited and too nervous to speak. This moment is the culmination of months of study and agonizing attempts at communication with the Artist. Despite all my progress and the Artist’s unique perspective, we can still convey so little. But it is enough for this at least. Enough to remake me into the first piece of his Artwork and to change me so that, with time and study, we can truly communicate. I don't really know what he has in mind, but from what we have been able to share I know it will be radical. I’m afraid, deeply afraid, but the path towards understanding is fraught and demands confrontation and sacrifice. I take a deep, deep breath and quell my anxiety. The time for fear is in the past. I am here and I am willing to forgo my humanity for this cause. I feel a benign questing in my mind, the fractal integration of a question or request. I smile bravely, “I am ready.”

I am blinded by light and everything changes.

In a step of time that stretches to eternity but is far too quick to measure I am destroyed and remade. Gone is Halley-7 the awkward Earthling woman. In her place stands an untitled artwork. At first I am not graceful, longer legs bent inelegantly for balance, unfamiliar with the heft of my new form. I try to stick out my arms for balance and nothing happens. I am blind, but I have a new sense, a kind of universal proprioception. I can sense myself in relation to everything else in the room. In my minds eye I can see the contours of myself, see what I have become: the lower body of a beautiful woman joined seamlessly to a giant cock and balls, an expression of fused feminity and powerful masculinity. I am a testament to my commitment to the Cultural Understanding. I am far too strange, too alien. I am beautiful. I am.

A query appears in my mind, an abstract concern tinged with satisfaction. I realize it is the Artist soliciting my opinion, a level of communication we have never managed before. I am overjoyed, perhaps this plan will work after all. Using capabilities I didn’t formerly have I transmit this sense of pleasure back to the Artist. <I am well.>

A transcendental joy washes over from me from the Artist. I feel my body, my giant cock thrum with blood, becoming almost painfully rigid. My legs buckle, knees weak. I feel a whole body pleasure like being struck by lightening, an intense unfamiliar pressure in my new immense testicles. I transmit ecstasy, the psychic equivalent of a moan. Suddenly I stand completely rigid, mentally blinded as if the transformative light has fallen over me again and narrowed to an infinitesimal point of existence... and then... like a supernova, I expand while something clenches and opens within, my legs going taught, feet to their tip toes, and then something is rhythmically surging through my entire body, erupting from my glans in a great geyser of spunk. I am a giant cock and I am coming! I stagger, still spraying come and mentally scream in joy, my pussy clenching in a complimentary female orgasm, fluid leaking down my leg. I am electrified and splattered with my own semen. My mind is a broadcast of satisfaction and bliss. Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes, this plan will work! Yesssss.....


***

I come back to myself as Halley-24, and I am deeply fucking disturbed. I can feel everything, experience the entire alien abduction horror fucking movie of this place, and yet the fear is mostly gone, maybe burnt off in my own emotional supernova. “What the fucking fuck fuck fuck!” I yell. Super articulate.

The silvery cock with legs is standing with an uncertain posture that is incongruously very Halley. <I fear my attempt to protect you from your fear may have been a mistake. I apologize. I just... I needed you to see this place, what we are trying to do. It is important.> Contriteness and worry are communicated.

“What is so important!? What is Cultural Exchange!? What is this place even!?”

The giant cock starts to pace. <The Grey do not exist as we do. Humans, Blues, Reptilians, we are all Planar; our bodies and consciousness exist within a single plane, a single universe. The Grey have evolved to span the multiverse: their minds simultaneously experience multiple planes of existence. Their bodies here are just part of their physical manifestation, maybe their original one, but their minds are mostly engaged elsewhere. The reality that we experience is so different that not only is a common language impossible, but the actual concepts we wish to communicate do not correlate. This is why communication is so difficult between Greys and Humans.> Halley-7 pauses, cock body swaying a little. <I initially came to the Grey to learn what happened to Halley-Prime. I was met by the Artist, a Grey who was damaged so that he notices more of our universe and has developed an unusual interest in Humans. He was the one who met with Halley-Prime, curious about this strange Earthling for some reason I still do not understand. He was, I think, remorseful that he could not be more Helpful to Halley, and wished to try to explain himself to her again. And since she was missing, he met with me instead and tried to communicate. We failed miserably, but this time we kept trying. We spent months working together, and got almost nowhere, except to cement just how different our minds are. So we decided on a radical approach to increase our understanding. This Gallery.>

“By transforming people into sex-freaks? How exactly does that help you communicate?” I don’t get this place at all.

<The... forms... that are chosen are tied to the Artist’s vision. I do not understand it, but the Artist is fixated on human reproduction and sexuality as an aesthetic. Being sculpted according to the Artists obsession is the price of being here. For me it was the price of having my mind reformatted so that I can start to understand the Grey. For the princesses it was the price of being free from their obligations. For the Agents it was the price of safety and intimacy. This is... not a form I would have chosen for myself, but my physical form is somewhat immaterial now, since my purpose is psychic.>

“So losing your humanity was worth it? Are you happy?”

Halley-7 shifts her hips thoughtfully, and then wags her cock body in the affirmative. Which is actually kind of an hilarious gesture. <Yes, I am satisfied with this. In my time here I can already almost communicate effectively with the Artist, I can send my mind out into the city and into the dreams of others, and I can at least sense some other planes of existence, even if I cannot journey there myself yet. I am discovering things no human has ever known before. And one day I will teach it to others.>  The cockwoman somehow looks bashful. <And the feeling of a whole body ejaculation is also pretty spectacular...>

I blush, having experienced that... memory? Sensorium? I know how amazing it feels to come as a giant cock. I shiver and try to put the sensation out of my mind. I gesture around, “And the Gallery, what is the point of this?”

<It serves a few purposes. The first is aesthetic: the Artist is proud of his vision and work and wishes to share it. The Grey do not understand or approve of his art, so the Artist wishes to show it to planar Sapients. This is being tolerated because of his... injury? His sacrifice? You are our first such guest.>

“I’m honored?” Although I don’t get or like his art...

<My hope is that the Gallery will over time increase the mingling of Sapients and Grey and serve as a cultural bridge.> Halley-7 turns her body and sweeps her left foot around somewhat elegantly, despite the jostling of her huge balls. <Also the other artwork have had their minds expanded as I have. For now, they are content to revel in their forms and freedom, but in time some of them may also become disciples and join me in study of the Grey. It may take several human lifetimes, but I believe this project is worthy.>

I close my eyes to stop seeing Halley-7’s phallic body for a moment. It is still fucked right up. One of me voluntarily becoming a huge cock will never be okay to me. My mind flashes again on the memory of a whole body ejaculation, and I shudder, but also feel an embarrassing warmth in my belly. Blah. That is gonna be a thing now isn’t it...

I realize that I’m not afraid of the Gallery anymore, now that I understand it. It’s still super creepy and the perverse creation of a demented artist, but the goal of bringing different aliens together is pretty cool. I can’t imagine handing myself over to be sculpted by the Artist, but I can understand Halley-7’s passion for her role here. I open my eyes and take in the silver, sleek lines of her legs flowing smoothly into  the cylinder of her erect cockbody, there is a certain alien beauty to her. There is even a kind of artwork there. I take a deep breath, in and out, this is a passing moment. “I am glad you found your thing.” Even if your body is too fucking weird.

<Thank you.> The sensation of pleasure and gratitude strokes my mind and Halley-7 somehow manages to look like a happy cock. <Before you leave, the Artist would like an audience. I promise he won’t do anything too weird, he just wants to express his gratitude!>

Oh, shit. Directions appear in my mind. I kind of don’t want to do this, the products of this aliens imagination are deeply unsettling, and I don’t imagine meeting him will be especially fun. What are the chances that someone who turns people into cocks and tits is a fun guy? I sigh. Based on the nervous expectation that Halley-7 is beaming at me this is super important to her. It would be rude not to. I fucking hate meeting people. My heart starts to beat faster in my chest, it seems my social anxiety is alive and well. I adjust my fancy silver dress and walk where directed. Deep breaths, just pull off the bandaid and get the fuck out of here. I plaster a smile on my face.

In a part of the Gallery I had previously perceived as empty, I now see a raised dais made by a cresting wave of silver floor. Perched atop this is an egg shaped throne containing the Artist, who doesnt so much sit on the throne as is embedded within it. His lower body and abdomen are completely contained within the silver substrate of the throne and his scrawny naked grey chest has a spiderweb of silver filling in deep, ugly scars that trail across one side of his body. His arms are folded pharoah-style across his chest and I can see the left one is coated with or maybe made entirely of silver material. The left side of his head is a ruin of scars, some that are filled in with silvery amalgam, others open and glowing faintly with a blue light. His face is sunken and thin, almost skeletal in the jaw, and one side of the dome of his forehead is misshapen and patched with silver. His left eye is a cloudy white ruin, bifurcated by an enormous blue glowing rent in his flesh. The Artist has obviously been through some shit.

The Artist looks into me with his remaining eye. My mouth goes dry and my bare shoulders prickle. I feel a pressure on my mind at first like a gentle tide but then growing into a crashing wave and then building again into a violent surge. The silver threads in my updo melt and trickle down my face like mercury. I gasp and my bones vibrate like I’m a human tuning fork. My skin feels charged and suddenly my silver dress erupts off of me in a splash of silver liquid and my muscles all contract. I would scream if I could, am screaming in my mind. Blood trickles out of my nose as the mental pressure shifts, probing around like someone solving a mechanical puzzle. My teeth chatter and tears fill my eyes. I feel naked in a way that has nothing to do with my nudity. My consciousness begins to strobe. And then...

And then for a crystalline moment there is a connection spanning universes.

And then nothing.

***

(Here it is, the longest damn chapter ever! Hopefully you like it!)

41

Re: Flotsam

I love it!

42

Re: Flotsam

Flotsam
Chapter 14: Like, Okay?

I am laying naked in Hank’s bed and trying not to giggle.

I hear someone enter the apartment through the barroom hatch and familiar male grumbling. Finally Hank is home from wherever. I pull his comforter up over my head and try to lay still and silent under the blankets. Which is hard because I’m finding this all too fucking hilarious. I bite my lip and smother my face with my arm; be cool Halley! Tittering uncontrollably is not seductive and an excellent way to ruin a surprise.

Hank putters around his apartment, making some kitchen noises before shuffling to his bathroom to piss loudly with the door open. I snicker through my nose. Hank clearly think he is home alone, which is all exactly according to plan. But like, hurry up my dude! I arrange myself as seductively as I can under the blankets and try to keep it together.

I hear Hank stumble into his dark bedroom and shuck off his shirt and kick out of his pants. He makes his way to the large bed, clearly not paying enough attention to see the Halley-shaped bulge under the covers. It is everything I can do right now not to laugh. He reaches and peels the blankets back to climb in and sees me smiling up at him, hair messy and breasts bare. “Oh, hello,” I purr.

Hank actually jumps and makes a very Halley-femme peeping noise. A giggle slips out of me, followed by a whole fit of them. Hank is panting, eyes wide, glaring at me. “What the fuck!?” He says.

I keep giggling at the look on his face. “Like, howdy sailor?”

“Halley? What the fuck are you doing here? And why are you in my bed?”

“Like, I live here, duh.” I say, sitting up, letting the blanket fall away to expose more skin. “And I thought that, like, the second part would be, like, obvious.” I tilt my head, hair cascading, and look Hank’s nude body over, taking in his trim muscled stomach, slim hips, and the growing bulge of his cock. “And I think you’re, like, totally getting the message.”

Hank is, despite his semi-hardon, giving me a skeptical look. “Are you high?”

I giggle. I am totally fucking high. Blissed to the stars, even. It’s amazing how easy it is to score good drugs on Flotsam. “Maaaaaaaybe a little.”

Hank did his best version of “the look”, but paired with his now erect cock, it managed to look sexy instead of scolding. Kind of a dickish male smolder. I bite my lip, aware of my own painfully erect nipples and the hot wetness between my thighs. I wonder if Hank can smell me. “Halley,” he says, “you’ve been gone for like four months and then you just turn up in my bed out of nowhere. High, no less. What gives?”

Four months? What the fuck? I only went into the Citadel a few hours ago, didn’t I? Fuck me, was I in there that long? Or does Grey time work differently? I suppress a shiver, what don’t I remember? I’m really glad I’m high right now, otherwise this would be a major buzzkill. But that’s a problem for the morning. So like, y’know, whatever. Let’s have the sex now please. I crawl out entirely from under the blankets, on hands and knees and look up at Hank from inside the tangle of my black hair. “Like, what’s a girl gotta do around here to get laid?”

Hank puts his hands on his hips and raises an eyebrow while at my face level his cock vibrates slightly with his heartbeat. I sigh in frustration and sit up on my ankles, thighs strategically splayed to bare my wet slit. Hank’s eyes betray him and he ogles my snatch. I giggle. I can see the warring emotions on his face: Hank clearly feels like he should do the ‘right thing’, which is sweet, but he’s also a guy with a boner in an open relationship looking at a naked and available girl. A very willing naked girl! Stop trying to be a nice guy! Fuck me already! Do I literally have to throw myself at you!? I take a breath, “Hank, like, you’re the only man on Flotsam I trust, okay? And I like, really need to have sex right now.”

I had regained consciousness back in that random Flotsam courtyard wearing my own clothes again. For a dizzy pleasant moment I thought all that Grey Citadel stuff might have all been an insane dream. But then my very full bladder complained, and after sneaking behind some non-space garbage, I dropped my tights and peed an enormous stream of glowing fluorescent blue urine. I looked at that bright blue piss and shivered, reliving the weird gallery and the experience of being a huge penis. Looking back at that glowstick puddle of piss in my current state is kind of funny, but in that moment I was justifiably horrified.

I thought then about all of the weird shit I had been through. The out of body experience of the Grey Citadel, experiencing the lives of other people, feeling myself transform into a penis and the mind blowing feeling of my whole self ejaculating. The absolute dysmorphia of not being remotely human. Meeting my digital ghost and confronting my own mortality and all that depressing baggage. Not to mention all of the other weird clones of me: the dick unicorn cultist, the severed headed warrior, the nymphomaniac dryad hippy, the bimbo stripper... Maybe worst of all is Clem, the fact that the guy I love is a beautiful space woman now and instead of being with me he is off fucking some catgirl sex slave clone. I felt rejected and alone and sad and like my body wasn’t my own anymore. That maybe I wasn’t even real. I decided then that what I really wanted, no needed, was something to take the edge off (thank you Mr. Adder) and to have sex in as normal a way as possible. So for lack of a better plan, I did some Bliss and snuck into Hank’s bed. And now I just need to close the deal. I try to look as sober as I can, “Please Hank, I just, like, need to feel alive and like a normal human woman for a night.”

Hank is still standing there in good dude mode, but I can see that argument landed. He knows what it’s like to feel alienated by this place, to just need a human connection. In real time I can see Hank reframe the situation, decide that maybe the best way to be helpful here is to fuck me, and then realize he is about to get laid. A deliciously predatory look spreads on his face. I really do make a sexy, sexy man. Hank climbs onto the bed and kisses me, hard. I mewl happily and kiss him back, enjoy the scrape of his stubble on my face and lips. Mmmm yes...

Giggling I pull Hank down on top of me. This is exactly what I need right now.

I just hope this isn’t a huge mistake...

***

(A short and hopefully dramatic chapter! Why be consistent when you can vary things wildly!)

(@Hellboy: thanks! I’m glad you liked it!)

43

Re: Flotsam

I just feel worse and worse for Halley. She keeps looking at the ways her life could turn out—did turn out—and so few of them are things she can be proud of. So she’s on track to make terrible decisions, ruin her life, and become another cautionary tale who the next Halley can learn exactly the wrong lessons from on the path to ruin her own life.

44

Re: Flotsam

If this was a book, I'd buy it. Seriously well done, I love how interweaving you've made the plot out to be.