A new fiction story by yours truly.
“Babe.” Khalid/a looked up and paused their bicep curls, their heavy-lidded eyes moved lazily up and down the shadowy form of their partner. “Yeah, you okay?” Their vision wavered and the image of their partner fuzzed up around the edges. In the other room they could just hear their partner Viola’s voice, “son of a bitching mother shit bag. My transmitter is on the outs again, come help.” Khalid/a smiled to themselves, fully expecting to find Viola tangled in wires or something absurd.
Khalid/a rose and wiped their brow before heading into the den of their small apartment. They picked up a set of fine tools. “What happened this time?” Viola squirmed in her manual wheelchair, her round brown face screwed up in frustration. “I was just trying for a sharper more defined image. I mean, we’re up in three weeks and I want to get a better visual this time. I think if I can tweak the image enough, combine it with the pheromone release from the bots we’ve got a shot. I think I can make the projection meaty.”
Khalid/a waited patiently for their wife to stop wriggling so they could do the delicate work of resetting the tangled web of neural interfacing and tinkerers bits of junk attached to the wheelchair. “We do all right. You know we do. We do better than most. They haven’t figured us out yet.” Viola grumbled but held still as Khalid/a worked slowly on her connections. Khalid/a loved the way their wife always had to be fixing and making, their tidy little home was full of gadgets and weird little helper bots made of whatever Viola thought was both shiny and useful.
They were both born after The Darkness came. Their great great grandmothers were among the first to learn how to hunt the things that populated the darkness, the vamps and cretinous flesh craving others, the eaters and even the ravening hordes of misevolved humanish things that flourished in the heat and dark of the end of the green days. By the time Khalid/a and Viola were old enough to meet, fall in love and hunt, the world found a way to return to capitalism and exploitation. Of course, it went home.
Most people didn’t participate directly in the hunt anymore. Some were flesh brokers. They would clean up the aftermath and sell it in various markets. Eater teeth fetched a pretty price, more so when strung together with common pearls. Vampire skin preserved with burnt edges brought in as much money and credit as the pelts of the strange beasts. Still others made weaponry, some made tech, others made their money outfitting hunters with body cams and selling the footage. Khalid/a and Viola had another hustle, Viola had adapted available neural interfacing to provide full sensory gaming. The watchers could be the hunters in the safety of their own homes.
Extra money and comforts were in it for hunters with implants and transmitters or other broadcast and observational tech. Of course, there were the human mechanics, both above ground and under. The Dark life was normal, there was no resurrected ice age or even a proper extinction event, daily life evolved with the change in the daylight. Theories as to what caused The Darkness ran from the sun star killing itself, to mythological Gods returning to claim the good and leave the wicked to die in fear and darkness. By then, it really didn’t matter.
When things began to happen, what mattered was adaptation and survival. Amazing how, the reason for a thing becomes so unimportant when the wolf is at the door. Or that’s what Viola’s Mama always used to say when Viola started asking questions. No one asked why by the time they were born, it was just life.
“How is that? Back to default settings or nah?” Kahlid/a was teasing of course, Viola was a born tinker and not one piece of hardware in either of their bodies or in their house was allowed to remain the cheap default. “Default, shut up. And yes, thank you. We still have a couple of days, maybe I’ll reconfigure the body cams to interface with our adrenal systems instead. This projection shit is for the birds. While you’re in here, get down here so I can check your ears.”
Khalid/a knew better than to put up a fuss. Instead they got the stool that was perfect height and laid their head in Viola’s lap. “You know Vi, I was thinking. If we can clear ten more confirmed kills and make a few sales, maybe we can think about moving out of the city. Let’s retire and have some babies.” Viola’s busy hands stopped, she repeated the words slowly as if they were in a new language.
“Let’s retire and have some babies.” “Bae, really? You want to make babies with me?” They hadn’t really discussed the idea seriously, people in their position in life generally didn’t. Babies were an expense sink and not really something people who grew up in the Dirty districts of the cities thought about. Sure, they happened sometimes but it was never something to be planned, never something for people like them to dream of. Khalid/a smiled, feeling Viola rumble and yammer. Their head turned slightly, one slim brown hand gesturing. “Sweetie, I can’t hear you.”
“Oh, damn sorry. Sorry babe.” Viola went back to work on Khalid/a’s ear. The implant they’d had since childhood should have been replaced when they hit puberty but, having grown up semi-feral it hadn’t been a priority. Viola was a wizard at fixing them, as she was with all things electronic and fiddly. Her skilled fingers did the invisible things that cleared the static from the audio stream.
“What were you saying?” Khalid/a was smiling, flashing a gold tooth. “Are you serious about babies?” They nodded, still smiling. “We have a lot of savings and I may or may not have found us a place. You wanna see?” Viola’s face lit up from within, she made her cute squealy noises until Khalid/a sat up and reached for one of their tablets. Khalid/a opened the photo collection they’d been hiding in a subfolder of junk. Viola’s little intake of vibrational breath tickled against their arm.
“What? Really?” When words failed Viola, she signed. Her fingers flying, her face contorted with joy.
“This house? For us? Babies?” Her fingers stilled, and her eyes closed, her lips rolled together, she resumed her signing with her eyes closed. “We can’t pay for something like this. Bae no>> Khalid/a waited for their wife to open her eyes, when she didn’t, they tapped her lower lip, their secret code. Tap tap, stroke, tap. Viola opened her eyes. Khalid/a put the tablet aside to speak. They waited for Viola’s gaze and attention before beginning. “I. Will. Make. This. Happen.”
Their silence and stillness crept between them. Viola vibrated with worry, Khalid/a just smiled. “Fix my other ear.” Khalid/a closed their eyes and laid back over, that part of the conversation was finished. They had a plan; things were already in motion.
Days later, Viola rolled out of her workshop with two large caliber guns in her lap. “Bae? Where are you?” Khalid/a wandered back inside, their eyelids drooping, sun drunk. “What are you doing with my biscuits?” Viola grinned hugely, her chubby cheeks making her squint. “I did it. I did it.” Khalid/a raised their eyebrows, waiting. Sometimes, Viola got so excited about herself she couldn’t quite express anything but glee at her own genius.
Khalid/a waited, ever amused and patient with their gifted love. “Babe, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What did you do?” Viola wiggled her upper half and her eyes went wide. “So, I was thinking about the part of the full sensory experience of the hunt and I added a new layer. I added an option to turn on bullet sight. They can switch to bullet view and get super gory. We gotta test it out.” Khalid/a nodded, and Viola’s gaze floated down to their tightly muscled belly to follow the trail of a drop of sweat. “Or, we could do that later.”
After lazy lovemaking Khalid/a eased out of bed and watched Viola sleep for a few minutes before they got dressed and armed to head out for a practice run. Khalid/a lifted Viola out of her wheelchair and into the training harness they had built together. “Ready?” Viola wiggled and made her sweet little puppy noises. “Let’s go.” Khalid/a started off at an easy jog and once they got warmed up, started sprinting. Once Viola finished with her thrill, she checked the mini-tablet she’d tucked into her bra.
“Speed up babe, hit one more sprint for me please.” The sensors placed at key point on and in Khalid/a’s body as they moved sent information back to the house and main computer. Khalid/a filled their lungs and took off like a cheetah with Viola tight to their back. The biofeedback started to come in and Viola howled, it wasn’t just good, it was amazing. Khalid/a juked left, leapt a bench and their face frozen in a murderous rictus, put on another burst of power flew over a fence.
Viola was in awe as ever at the raw power and grace of her love. Khalid/a moved like an apex predator made of water and bone. The readings were beyond even her highest rated projections. When Khalid/a finally slowed to a stop, their strong fine body covered in sweat, Viola wiggled in her harness in absolute delight. “What have you been doing? That was way past your previous benchmarks.”
Khalid/a turned to head home, out of habit they caressed the soft skin on Viola’s stumps. “Training hard. The Blood Moon is coming, I’ll do the hunt that night. I’m thinking, I can make it for a full twelve hours. And then you can do your magic and then, we sell. And then, we are out of this bitch.” Khalid/a’s tone turned a little sour at the end, Viola kissed the shell of their ear. “Even if we don’t sell, you have been amazing. We have time babe.”
Viola spent the next few days hunkered down in her workshop putting the final touches on the sensory input devices, testing the reload speed of the guns and other weapons. Khalid/a was slow, they moved with a gentle purpose through those days. In the days leading up to a big hunt, Khalid/a spent time in meditation and setting intentions to be Death. It was their most private rituals that even their beloved was not given access to.
Khalid/a put Viola to bed and sat alone on the patio, they looked out into the city where the animals were beginning to come alive. The big moons, the Blood moon and the super moon were the best. The Blood moon being the one that roused the worst of the things, it brought them gibbering and slavering out of their hidey holes and Khalid/a was going to kill them all.
On the dawn of Blood Moon day, Viola let Khalid/a sleep and went to prepare the ritual meal. Light protein packs with Khalid/a’s preferred electrolyte juice packs and a lot of the weird heavy sugar, caffeine chews they carried on the hunt. Once the food was ready, she went on to lay out Khalid/a’s clothes and equipment.
First, Viola would secure the sensors to her lovers’ skin. A few subcutaneous connectors would have to be wetwired for the best connection, the specialized hearing aids fine-tuned, the contact lenses fished out of their solution, Viola was ready for the adjustments, the collection of sensors and wires, the hearing aids and even the flexiwired outwear was truly the apotheosis of her life work. Viola had been working to bring the body to body sensory array together for so long and finally, there it was.
If things worked the way they were built, the accumulated data would transmit a full body, fully emotive, fully immersive biological event. The hunt at first, the combination of terror, muscle memory, battle, survival and hormonal fluctuations provided the most extreme ends of sensation and would, as Khalid/a promised get them out of there and on their way to the country house and babies and freedom.
Viola snuck back into bed and cuddled herself against Khalid/a as they slept. It was possible it would be their last cuddle but, she didn’t think about it. She inhaled the musky funk of her lovers’ skin and felt their breath. It was good. It was always so good to be near to Khalid/a so calm. They were the sort of person who in general walked around vibrating on some astral plane in another whole galaxy. Everything about them was a singularity of energy.
Khalid/a was the most perfect being and Viola loved them more than anything. As she drifted and dozed under Khalid/a’s arm she thought again about how, that moment wasn’t the future she’d envisioned. At best, she’d thought she’d be a kept creature in the house of some wealthy dilettante with a passing interest in engineering, someone who wanted a pretty pet tinker. And there, on the dawn of the most important Blood moon, she was cradled and cuddled and loved.
As evening lowered itself across the city, most people went inside and locked their doors. Khalid/a and Viola were settling down to eat. Before a hunt Khalid/a liked a light but nutritionally dense meal. Viola as always felt the calm radiate from her lover and it baffled and thrilled her, the more still and language Khalid/a was before the hunt, the better the hunt would be.
Traditionally, Viola left Khalid/a to their preparations and pre-hunt ablutions. Viola’s job was to prepare the tech and weapons. A fly on the wall would have noticed the slight tremble in Viola’s fingers, the fluttering of Khalid/a’s throat, they had so much riding on that hunt but neither would break the magic of their routine to speak of it.
Viola helped Khalid/a get kitted out. She took her time affixing the sensors and modified wetwire connects. She watched Khalid/a ease their strong body into the suit and pull on the cap. They did a slow turn and Viola as usual just goggled at the curves and might of her lover. “You are fucking magnificent. Your heartrate is still 50.” Khalid/a bent over and nuzzled Viola’s ear, then the soft kinky curls behind it, their eyes closed.
“Sundown. I’m off.” Viola would normally have wet red eyes and shaking hands but, she knew it was different that night. One way or another they were out. She watched Khalid/a do one final stretch before they shot off into the dark like a sleek animal. Viola wheeled herself back into her workshop to monitor and dream. She had secretly printed the photo of the house and kissed it for luck.
The downside of their upgraded sensory tech was that Viola had no real time eyes on her lover. Instead she focused on their vital signs and the progress of the big blood moon. Those who also hunted, gave Khalid/a a wide berth, they were too vicious a hunter to be messed with. Those who witnessed, created the lore that followed Viola and Khalid/a from the hunt, to the sale and beyond.
The bloody details of Khalid/a’s hunt are not really important to the mythos they created. Suffice to say, the things in the dark grew to fear the long lean figure of death among them that night. Khalid/a stumbled home at dawn, triumphant and covered in blood. They stood outside their little home and screamed until their voice cracked and they started to shake. Viola opened the door and as was their custom she bowed low to greet her beloved.
“Oh, fuckin gamers.” Post processing and marketing the various gaming factions were fighting over the tech and the content. Khalid/a spent days after the hunt recovering. They ate everything in sight, slept off and on for hours like a cat and in spite of Viola’s worried fidgeting, stayed calm. “It’ll sell bae. Relax. You have a new job.”
Viola fretted so hard she’d chewed a raw spot on her lower lip, Khalid/a ran their fingertip along the puffy curve. “All you have to do I start packing and get ready to get me pregnant. Okay?” Viola squirmed, blushed and accepted Khalid/a’s kiss. “Okay. Okay.”
It took a full quarter to settle the sale and it broke records. The G-X Syndicate faction won the day and they bought everything. The CEO spent five minutes in the hunt and tried to hire Khalid/a and Viola, offered them a skybox penthouse, fresh food, everything they wanted but nothing they wanted. Viola was too nervous and overwhelmed by everything to answer, Khalid/a politely but firmly told the man they wanted their cash and to not be bothered.
As promised, everything changed.
Six months later, the house in the photo was real. Viola had finished the redesigns and the work was finished. The ramps were to her specifications, her workshop had a view onto the garden where Khalid/a would squat digging industriously and cursing their little plants to do something. It was high summer and when it really all settled, it was a dream.
Khalid/a was mostly naked in the garden and when they rose, their belly full and proud, their dark skin dotted with sweat Viola sat in the doorway of her workshop and wept. She wept for a dream, dreamed by their ancestors and forged by them.
The monsters in the city still ran amok on the Blood moon, the gamers bought the sensory and biodata, the scoundrels did what they did and yet, it was good. Their lives were finally good.