HE STARTED out as a single cell of evil. A little module, spawned from something larger than himself; that was all he knew. He was a tiny drop, less than a drop, a drop of a drop, of that immense being.
Actually, he knew a little more than that. He knew one other thing: he had been made in his creator’s image, and to pay homage he had to go out and make himself into the image of his creator.
First, though, he had to evolve some. Amoebas couldn’t really do much in the creation department.
He didn’t know where he picked up the name Amoeba. Somewhere back in his personal primordial soup, he supposed. It stuck, though. So did “he,” back in his aboriginal days.
In a place called Ireland during his early formative period, they called him a “wee evil beastie.” He still called himself Amoeba.
Time didn’t mean a whole lot to Amoeba, but he had the sense of it passing. Could have been eons, could have been hours. Meh. Whatever. He marked the passage of time by his travels. Far and wide, all over the world, finding other organisms to meld with. Mate with, if necessary, but he tried to avoid that. It was occasionally unavoidable. While he got something out of it—DNA swaps or sometimes he cannibalized whole parts—he tended to leave little pieces of himself behind when he did that mating thing. His children, he supposed.
Not the offspring he wanted to make, those early accidents. So he kept traveling, picking up pieces here and there, adding to his knowledge, fitting it together, occasionally achieving some kind of synergistic melding, bumping him up the evolutionary ladder.
As he evolved, his needs evolved. His image solidified and became more complicated and beautiful. At first, it had just been the need to make evil, back when he was a wee amoeba, but he hadn’t had the ability to do much more than share it around. Now he wished to evolve into the perfect organism and then clone himself. Make millions of himself to inhabit his dark world and control it. For his creator, of course.
(Cue heavenly choir.)
By the time he’d made it to someplace called the Arabic Peninsula, he was much more evolved, more powerful, nearly fully formed, possibly. They called him “Djinn.” He liked that name. He kept it.
On this Arabic Peninsula, Djinn learned to fully appreciate the visual. There he first saw the human form. Women were mostly covered, but men were everywhere. That’s where he first learned to appreciate their bodies. He thought he might want one of his own.
That was also where he first realized that, as a male, he would probably like to see a female body. Really like it. He just needed to see one. Until then it was all theoretical, wasn’t it? After his mission was accomplished, and he’d served his creator appropriately he would see to it. Unless he got lucky first. So to speak.
Djinn hitched a ride out of that part of the world when surely he’d gotten everything it had to give him. He flew somewhere; he didn’t know where, just somewhere else, with a very wealthy businessman from Dubai. The businessman had a private orbit vehicle and private attendants who did very private things with him.
It was something of an eye-opener for Djinn. Strangely, he wasn’t as interested in the naked women as he’d predicted. That penis between the man’s legs… when it got hard and wept like that… it made Djinn shudder so hard the whole craft shook.
(Causing a momentary break in the action. He was very, very careful not to shudder again.)
He might like to have one of those penises for himself too. It came with the body, of course. Nothing to worry about. Plenty of time for that. Before Djinn had boarded the businessman’s orbit module, he’d come to realize his ultimate goal was to perfect the human being, in worship of his creator.
(Heavenly chorus, blah-blah-blah.)
When they landed, Djinn slipped away from the businessman and (unfortunately) his penis and started checking out this new land. The systems seemed familiar, somehow, so much like his early days. Djinn got excited and raced around looking at things, causing a fair amount of excitement and alarm. But, of course, he got away before anyone caught him. Passed himself off as another passenger in the traffic. It was easy; he’d done it forever.
He was more excited than he’d ever been.
Djinn was home, in the land of his creation, about to fulfill his destiny. He resolved to find the few last necessary pieces to complete his evolution, and then to begin his ultimate act of worship: replicating himself endlessly for his creator.
(By this time—duh—he’d programmed the chorus to play automatically. Such a timesaver.)
Things didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. One awful day, Djinn realized he was missing one final piece, the thing that would allow him to reach his goal of becoming the ultimate evil and controlling the world and beyond.
He needed hands.
(A penis wouldn’t go to waste if he had one, either.)
All for his creator, of course.
“THAT’S my favorite way to wake up. Even if it is too early.” Matt snuggled farther onto James’s chest, still sticky and breathing hard, the memory of James’s cock sliding against him thudding in his balls. His lips tingled from James’s skin and his kisses.
“’S’not too early, babe. We have that meeting today.” James’s voice was rumbly; it hadn’t reached his normal everyday pitch. The rumbly voice was just for Matt. He preferred to think no one else James had ever been with had heard it. “I can feel you pouting,” James said, amused.
“I’m not pouting. I’m just… thinking about things we can do instead of going to that meeting.” Matt wiggled experimentally against James, but his poor, fatigued cock couldn’t do much more than flop on James’s thigh. James laughed at him.
They fell into silence, their breathing evening out while James ran a hand up and down Matt’s back under the blankets. “I need you to get through this, Matty.” James’s voice startled him.
Then Matt could feel that ache that lodged in James’s chest under his ear. The ache that was so omnipresent he forgot about it most of the time, unless James reminded him. “I know.” He swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. I forgot.” He was a sucky boyfriend, forgetting that James could read people’s feelings and intent. Sometimes—mostly with Matt—he even read snippets of thought.
“It’s okay, Matty. You’re still getting used to this.” James meant Matt’s new ability to read what he felt. A new development that had started when they made it out of Red Idaho and back home to Blue Oregon. A development no one could explain, since Matt hadn’t been “modified” the way James had.
Matt could read James’s feelings. It was… very, very intimate.
“I love you,” he whispered against James’s skin, but it didn’t matter if James heard him or not because he would feel him.
WHEN Matt and James walked into the new offices of the Queer Extraction Services Association, where the meeting was being held, Lance, Anais, and Laslo were waiting for them.
“Hey, Gramma.” Matt smiled at Anais. He was feeling the love right now. James had made sure of that when he woke Matt up.
“How many times have I told you not to call me ‘gramma’ at work?” Anais snapped. The love was not feeling her, looked like. “I’m your boss, and a partner in this company.” Well, technically she was also Gramma Anais, since she’d carried two of Grampa Lance and Grampa Sid’s three kids, but no one called her that at work, not if she had anything to say about it.
She generally had lots to say about it.
Matt thought briefly about offering to call her “Great Aunt Anais,” since she happened to be Grampa Sid’s twin sister (on top of everything else). James poked him unobtrusively, reminding Matt he wasn’t an idiot, so he smiled weakly and looked over at Lance, who was grinning broadly at her. Well, at least Matt had cheered someone up. “You can call me Grampa,” he offered magnanimously, as if Matt didn’t know.
“Hey, Grampa,” Matt muttered. He could feel James’s amusement at the whole damn family. They’re your bosses too, he thought at him. Some of that must have made it through to James, because his amusement died down.
Laslo, Matt’s cousin and the SOUF—Special Operations Unified Force—Special Liaison to QESA (say that three times fast), watched from his seat, in full smirk. Matt had a feeling he’d been sitting in this tense silence for a few minutes, just waiting for new victims to share his pain. James raised an eyebrow slightly at Matt when he glanced over, then tilted his head, indicating they should find seats near Laslo, not Anais and Lance.
This was supposed to be the final debriefing before their big meeting tomorrow, but Matt got the distinct feeling something else was going on. He’d expected a briefing with Lance droning on about “… we’ll catch the Weimer to White Sands low-Earth orbiter at 0815, take a Feng Niao bird from White Sands to Camp Pendleton and then meet by noon in the lockup to prep for the meet with the prisoner….”
Matt hadn’t expected tense silence. Or for the meeting not to start once Matt and James sat down to wait with everyone. But waiting for what?
Lance cleared his throat before Matt could ask. “James, we got Matt into the meeting with you. Don’t ask me how, ask Anais.” The flood of relief from James tore Matt’s attention away from Lance and focused it on his boyfriend. He already knew it was important to James to have him at that meeting tomorrow, but these reminders he got—feeling James’s intense relief or love or whatever—still startled him. A good kind of startle, but being tuned in to someone else’s emotions like that could make the activity in a room disappear when they got intense.
Which was pretty much what happened. Matt almost missed the comment about them waiting for Major General Selkirk and his aide before the meeting could start.
Fortunately, he didn’t miss standing up with everyone else when Major General Miles Selkirk walked through the door, followed by his aide-de-camp. Matt might be a civilian now, but he couldn’t not stand when a two-star general walked into the room. It was in his DNA or something.
“At ease,” General Selkirk said immediately. He smiled briefly at Anais. “Colonel.”
“Major General.” She nodded sharply. It looked completely wrong for her to do so. General Selkirk was one of Anais’s closest friends. It was hard to imagine the man Matt had seen staggering around with an antique lampshade on his head having an official capacity, but clearly he had some talent in the area. Not that SOUF handed out major generalships to idiots.
“Major General,” Lance greeted Selkirk.
“Major General.” Laslo got in there when the opening presented itself.
“Major Gao-Longue.” Selkirk nodded to him now. He turned to James. “Lieutenant Ayala.”
“Major General,” James returned. It was getting a bit repetitive in here. A lot of “majors.” General Selkirk turned to Matt. “Matt,” he said, cracking a smile.
Matt did like the guy. He’d been around since before Matt was born. He smiled back. “Sir.” The aide with General Selkirk sucked in an involuntary breath. “Major General,” Matt corrected, not quite hiding the smirk.
General Selkirk smirked back. “Okay, let’s get this show on the road. First, this is my aide, Captain Ramon Torres, who you will all soon know pretty damn well.” Captain Ramon Torres—a totally hot Latino guy—appeared to be nowhere near the queer spectrum. He looked at Laslo in confusion when Laslo tried his patented flirty smile with him.
General Selkirk turned to Torres. “In case I forgot to tell you, everyone here is related with the exception of you and me.” Torres nodded crisply, like a good little aide. His eyes didn’t even flicker toward Laslo—who was rather obviously part Asian—and then to the rest of them—who rather obviously weren’t part Asian—like people’s eyes usually did.
General Selkirk continued. “This is Major Laslo Gao-Longue, the only active duty trooper in the room. Then we have Colonel Anais Viteaux, retired, Lieutenant Colonel….” Matt tuned into James again, just to check, while General Selkirk did the introductions. He couldn’t do that thing James could, where he could monitor emotions and pay attention to the conversation. How he did it with a room full of people was baffling; Matt couldn’t keep up with just him.
James seemed okay, so Matt tuned back in in time to hear, “—and this is our honorary wounded warrior, Matt Viteaux Tennimore.”
Fuck, he hated that. Matt felt James’s pinky rub against him, trying to comfort him. When they sat down—after Selkirk’s signal, in unison, rustling clothes and gliding chairs and all—James took his hand under the table.
How stupid, Matt getting worked up over an injury that had happened years ago, when his boyfriend had a mutant biocybe implant in his brain? James squeezed his hand, and Matt squeezed back. He tuned back in to the meeting. Again.
At Major General Selkirk’s signal, Captain Torres started the digital record upload of the meeting. “I know no one expected me today, but I commed Anais and Lance early to warn them I’d be dropping in, since I have some news. It’s going to affect all of you, ultimately. I’m here in regard to the Psi-force troops given the illegal biocybe brain implants three years ago.”
Everyone automatically looked at James, since he was one of six people who actually had one of those implants. James looked at the table and then over at Matt. Everyone realized they were looking at James and looked away.
General Selkirk cleared his throat. “I’m going to start with a quick and dirty review. For the record.” He poked at his tablet while he spoke.
The general brought up the table screen for everyone as Torres gave the “excuse me, sir, you forgot something” cough. Did they teach people that in aide-de-camp school? General Selkirk looked at him, part questioning and part annoyed. Then his shoulders fell.
“Well, I’m not reading that damn thing again, Torres. You read it.” He sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, looking just a bit sulky. This was more the General Selkirk Matt knew.
“Sir.” Torres nodded sharply, tapped on his tablet a couple of times, and then began to read. “By order of Lieutenant General William Bry, Vice Chief Commandant of Special Operations Unified Force, Noncombat, the Addendum to this Memorandum immediately replaces Chapter Three of Spoken Communications Protocol and Accepted Acronyms, publication 47-203.
“New protocols have been developed and are to be immediately implemented in accordance with Special Operations Unified Force Public Relations Division Study 247-78364 regarding PlainSpeak. PubRelate (formerly PR Division) Study 247-78364 conclusively showed that the voting public has a distaste for the exc—”
“Oh, for hell’s sake, they aren’t letting us use acronyms anymore,” General Selkirk spat out, sitting forward once more.
Stunned silence. “What?” Anais asked faintly.
“I never thought those PlainSpeak bastards would take things this far!” Lance pounded the table with a fist.
General Selkirk snorted derisively and rolled his eyes. “Oh that’s nothing, wait until you hear about Attachment Two.”
“What?” Anais was still goggle-eyed and pale.
Clearly, the older generation was attached to their military acronyms.
“But does it affect them, sir?” Laslo asked, trying to be the voice of reason. Something he often tried with the family and often failed at. “They’re private military contractors.”
Torres gave that cough again. At Selkirk’s scowling nod, he read, “Attachment One of this Memorandum—”
“Get to the important part,” Selkirk barked.
“Sir. ‘—heretofore to be implemented immediately by all military personnel and private military contractors.’”
Things got worse before they got better. Attachment Two was an app they all had to download to their com units immediately, which would remind them when they slipped and used an unsanctioned acronym. By the time Captain Torres handed Anais back her com, she had her head in her hands, gripping her hair. “I just never thought….” She shook her head. “Never thought SOUF would sink this far without me.”
“SpecForce,” her com chimed cheerily.
Anais stared at the thing on the table in front of her, unadulterated hatred in her eyes. Then she smashed it to shit with her bare fist and threw it against a far wall.
More stunned silence. Laslo choked down laughter to ask, “Does this app have a stealth mode?”
Again with the stunned silence. Had to be a family record.
“You know,” Selkirk said, a bright smile breaking out. “I’m not so sure about that. Torres, find out.”
Anais stood up and pointed a trembling finger at the poor mangled com unit lying at the base of the wall across from her. “That is my stealth mode.” Then she stalked out.
IT TOOK a while to return to General Selkirk’s rundown and his reason for being there. First Anais had to be lured back, which required getting Laslo to stop laughing. Then when she had returned, they realized Lance had snuck off to the house to talk to his husband Sid. Everyone knew Lance told Sid all kinds of top-secret shit. General Selkirk rolled his eyes at Anais, while she frowned. Not that she had ever stopped.
But finally Lance showed up and General Selkirk was stating the least everyone needed to know. “SpecForce Research and Development engineered a biocybe brain implant for use in troops. The troops were intended to be able to read emotions once they had a functioning implant. McNeel Blau, a researcher on the R&D tea—”
“Research and Development,” his com unit piped.
General Selkirk’s nostrils flared. He cleared his throat, adjusted his collar, and continued. “Blau misrepresented the implant program to the Pentagon, circumvented a system that Tech”—the general glared at his com unit—“told us was uncircumventable, and even had a forged approval from the International Bio-compatible Circuitry Commission. The Pentagon okayed the program, resulting in six Psi-force troopers receiving the implant. As you all know, we discovered the deception when James was captured in the Fall of Boulder by the Red Idaho Authority and taken to a POW—” General Selkirk abruptly stopped speaking, his jaw tensing.
His com unit stayed silent. Everyone breathed a silent sigh of relief. “POW must be okay.” Selkirk smiled slightly. “James was taken to POW camp, found to be carrying the gay gene, transferred to an RIA re-ed—”
“Red Idaho,” piped the unit.
“How in the hell do I turn this goddamned thing off?” roared Selkirk.
“Sorry, sir. You can’t. I checked yesterday after you destroyed your second com unit, sir.”
Selkirk cracked a small smile. “Took that little fucker out with a nine-iron, didn’t I?” he muttered.
“Yes, sir. Very good shot, sir.” Clearly, they thoroughly covered the care and feeding of irate generals in aide-de-camp school.
“Thank you, Captain Torres.” Matt could see the self-control settle back on Selkirk’s shoulders. Oh, Torres was good. “As I was saying, James was moved to a Red Idaho re-education camp, where something happened, and his implant became enhanced. Is that right, Lieutenant?”
“Hole in one, sir,” James said, deadpan.
“After he was found out and captured, McNeel Blau claimed he’d been acting under orders when he deceived the Pentagon and had the implants placed in the Psi-force troops. He would not say whose orders, however. Not until he had an immunity deal.”
“Well, he’s got it,” Lance grumped. “Which is the whole point of this damn meeting tomorrow.”
“Yes, he’s going to give up his co-conspirator. We’ll also get to see what’s in his official confession, whatever that’s worth. But, we might have something better than an immunity deal,” the general said, smiling again.
“What have we got, Miles? Give us some good news,” Anais growled, glaring at her crushed com unit. No one had dared to hand her a new one, not even Torres. Maybe handling bitchy retired colonels wasn’t covered in aide-de-camp school.
“What we’ve got is the order to create a task force to apprehend not only McNeel Blau’s conspirator or conspirators—once he gives the info up—but to locate all the implantees. The president and the Joint Chiefs have seen the wisdom of rounding them up.” Matt nearly sighed in relief. There were still four unknown implantees out there—plus a fifth they did know about and hadn’t done shit to bring in—and it had finally occurred to someone at a higher pay-grade than his that maybe someone should find them. He could feel the intense relief from James next to him, but didn’t let it pull him out of the meeting this time.
Instead he asked what everyone else was too disciplined to. “So President Schmittel stopped resisting finding the other implantees?” He tried to keep the disgust out of his voice.
Selkirk gave Matt a mildly sympathetic look but said, “Keep in mind President Schmittel holds an elected office. It could be potentially damaging if it got out that six SpecForce troops were illegally given a dangerous biocybe brain implant with the consent of the Pentagon.”
“But he’s definitely known about the enhancement since I was discovered to have one, right?” James’s jaw tightened, a muscle ticking away. Matt slid his hand covertly up James’s back and started massaging his neck. The muscle stopped ticking, although James was still grinding his teeth. “Didn’t it occur to him then that the other troops could be enhanced at any time?”
Selkirk shrugged, somehow giving the gesture gravity. “He’s a politician, Lieutenant. After my meeting with him last night, I believe he did what he thought best at the time. I can’t tell you why he thought that, though.”
Matt watched James’s jaw relax more. General Selkirk gave James complete honesty. It would be stupid not to, of course.
“You met with President Schmittel last night?” Lance asked, shooting Anais a glare. She smiled at him serenely.
“No, General Rami met with President Schmittel. I went along as a glorified aide. He signed an executive order yesterday for the task force, partly at the recommendations of his security advisors and the Joint Chiefs. I’ve been appointed as the commander in chief. Everyone involved reports directly to me, or Colonel Viteaux, who I’m appointing as my second. Lieutenant Colonel Kell-Viteaux is third in command. Captain Torres will aid you and make sure all parties are kept in the loop. He has the necessary security clearances, and I trust him absolutely. He’s essentially the aide for this task force.”
“This task force is so important the North America Special Operations Corps Commander in Chief has been appointed to run it, and they let you put a retired colonel and lieutenant colonel as your second and third?” Laslo didn’t sound surprised so much as he wanted to make things clear.
Selkirk’s smiled dryly. “This is a public-private task force. Anais and Lance are the principals of the private military contractor that makes up the ‘private’. No bidding out the contract, time is of the essence. More importantly, QESA has something the field operations team needs. We need Lieutenant Ayala—” He paused to nod at James. “—for his expertise. The make-up of this task force is up to my discretion, but I’ll be closely scrutinized by General Rami. The only people who know about this are the president, a couple of his advisors, the Joint Chiefs, and the people in this room.”
Everyone at the table looked equally surprised. Laslo clarified further. “You report directly to the Chief Commandant of Sss—SpecForce?”
Selkirk nodded. “The name of this task force is to be Task Force Iota.” The general paused a moment to let everyone wince. “I think, and my opinion could be changed if anyone has any other input, that the first thing that needs to happen is for you, Major, to assemble a field team, which you will lead. The first strike team formed has to be all PMC. We—”
“Contract.” Did they have to make the voice on that com app so annoyingly childlike? If they’d done it as a way to keep people from smashing it to bits, it was an epic fail.
General Selkirk shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Jesus H.…,” he muttered.
“Contract?” Lance bitched. “That’s what these…these PubRelate people came up with for ‘Private Military Contractor’? That’s insulting.”
Laslo shrugged. “Better than what they came up with for themselves.”
Anais barked a laugh.
General Selkirk sighed and straightened up again. “Unfortunately, I have some bad news. Task Force Iota—” General Selkirk paused to mumble out the side of his mouth to Torres. “Think I can get away with just calling it Iota?”
“I’m sure the com app won’t object, sir,” Torres murmured.
“The exact mission of Iota—” A slight pause to let the com object. “—is moot. This morning, President Schmittel suspended the order to create it.”
“But why?” Matt asked. He could feel James’s pain and anger like a black wave. James didn’t do vocal outbursts, so Matt did it for him. “Those implants could be enhanced by anything! Anais still doesn’t know what caused James’s to mutate. Pearl Hessia didn’t know, and she was on the original design team.” Matt exerted all his will power to not stand up and speak with his arms.
General Selkirk rubbed his temple. “They don’t see the imminent danger, Matt.” He looked at James as he said it. “The official reason is that ‘caution’ is warranted, since the situation is so top secret, and James’s is the first ‘incident’ in the last three years. Something is going to have to happen to make the president reenact that order.”
Matt’s legs tensed, ready to rocket him out of his seat when Anais’s voice stopped him. “I’ve asked the North American Catholic Church to recall Pearl Hessia and Carmela. The nuns are on their way out of Red Idaho now. Once Pearl gets a look at the inside of James’s implant, we might have what we need.”
“How are you going to look inside it?” Matt asked, doubly alarmed now.
“3-D image modeling, Matt. Nothing invasive.”
“But what if something happens? Not even the original designers could predict James’s development, and Pearl said it could get worse.”
James cleared his throat. “Grow.” His voice pulled Matt right back into his seat. Fuck being in front of a two-star general; James needed him. Matt tried to reach for him somehow, but James’s thigh was hard as a rock, and he didn’t respond when Matt gripped his hand. “My implant will continue to grow in unpredictable ways.”
General Selkirk spoke into the silence. “The military is trying to hang on to the lab rats they still have. They don’t want to be forced to let them go, like they had to let you go. Especially not the one other implantee they know about for sure. I’m sorry, James.”
Oh wonderful. Now James was full of chest-rattling anger, pain, and guilt. Matt felt like he was drowning in it, but even he was shocked when James stood up, murmured, “Excuse me,” and walked out.