by Acin Fals
Sparkling tears streamed behind the golden-winged angel as she fell into her android lover’s embrace. Pulsing high notes played up the melodrama of their love confessions.
Lexi sighed at the holographic scene. Pulling his knees up, he braced his feet on the cushions of the projection room’s L-shaped rester. His boyfriend shadowed the small end of the rester, silent and absorbing, unconcerned with the projected images as he scribbled on his handpad.
“Hey,” Lexi said.
Aaron glanced up without recognition in his hazel eyes, disconnecting slowly from his drawing. His face pulled into a charming smile. “Hello, my wonder.”
Lexi responded by pushing himself back and opening his knees. Aaron took the invitation. He dropped his drawing pad on the relative safety of the floor to settle his delicious bulk between Lexi’s lean legs. Aaron’s hard and heavy chest was cradled by most of Lexi’s scrawny torso.
Lexi raised his chin from the tickling of Aaron’s auburn hair. “Were you drawing? What is it this time?”
“It’s always me,” Lexi said.
“Only when I don’t need to work.”
“Hm?” Aaron shifted.
Lexi tensed against his boyfriend’s weight, but of course Aaron was careful, bracing with an arm. Aaron’s hazel eyes darkened as his irises widened. Lexi had to look through a lock of his own black hair to watch.
“Why do you like drawing me so much?”
“It’s second best to touching you.”
The problem with this position was that Aaron could feel Lexi’s reaction. Was his pounding pulse obvious? From a tiny comment, not even a suggestion?
Aaron chuckled. He remained close while pulling himself upward, the friction of contact hustling more blood downward. Kisses grazed over skin until their mouths met.
Too soon, Aaron pushed up with a blank expression that suggested he was on-hive, listening to a message.
Lexi sucked in enough breath to talk. “Did someone call you?”
“I forgot to change my settings, so an alert came through. It’s not urgent.” His palm slipped lower between them to press against Lexi’s inner thigh.
Lexi twisted under Aaron’s hand to move it outward. “Hey. If you need to answer…? Is it work or security?” The prosperous man tended to shut out his security team for cuddle time, but they were persistent. The team searched out Lexi whenever Aaron refused to respond.
Aaron answered, “Work. It can wait.”
“With how fast your alerts multiply? I trust you–” Lexi said to preempt a repeat of an earlier talk. “Whatever came through passed how many filters? Take care of it and give me your full attention when you’re done.”
“Mm.” Aaron dropped a quick, wet, sucking kiss on Lexi’s collarbone before pushing away.
The cushions retained too little of Aaron’s heat. Lexi shimmied upright on the rester. “What do you have to do?”
“Retest materials in my studio. A customer complained about the sample I sent her. She asked for biocyber art created in response to tardigrade activity. The technique is an adaptation of the sigkey mural I did for that collage, but the ‘paint’ is made of a cybernetic moss. The result is a macro representation of the microscopic life within it. Not all of the sample survived.”
“Um. O-kay.” Lexi jumped up to grab the base of Aaron’s skull. Aaron hunched until Lexi could kiss a mole on his pale forehead.
Aaron straightened with a grin, displaying his perfect whites. “Did you want to join me in the studio?”
“To see moss and microscopic animals? That doesn’t sound as exciting as an interactive mural. To, you know, someone like me. You’re crazy smart, I know you’ll wow your customer. Go save your project.”
“When I get–”
“Seriously, man, go!”
Despite all his pushing, when Aaron walked out, Lexi’s chest felt like a hollow shell. Does he stay close because he knows I get lonely? Lexi refused to think that his boyfriend missed him from the other side of the house. No one missed him that much.
The second best act to touching you.
Lexi fell back into the rester, his heel tapping a hard object. He leaned over to consider the neglected drawing pad. Aaron always carried it at home. Thin, rigid, and slightly textured across one blank side, it felt lost in Lexi’s hands, as if he held a stolen artifact.
An adjustable pen stuck to one side. Lexi pulled it off.
The smoother side illuminated, showing off an incomplete sketch, little more than bodily angles, affectionately grazed by the pen.
Aaron had painted him enough that he could certainly draw Lexi without a reference. Yet, he used drawing as an excuse to sit nearby.
He always hesitates.
For a man who had everything–from family, friends, and fans to talent, looks, jobs, and custom-designed homes–Aaron was oddly insecure, needing permission to close any gap between them. Could he really need reassurance from a was-buzz?
Lexi stared at the open space on the pad. Aaron trusted Lexi. That was obvious. A year living together with him in Aaron’s world had shown that.
Aaron’s hesitation had to mean he worried about Lexi’s feelings. Right?
He tapped the pen against its pad until he decided. The pen made no sound on the smooth surface. Lexi hummed to himself as he added letters around his image.
* * *
Hive cells implanted in the head allowed most people to communicate with thoughts or tiny movements of their jaw. People who grew up with implants, unlike Lexi and Aaron, couldn’t read a simple text. AI connected to their implants read everything for them.
Lexi knew how to write with a pen only because, as a kid, he’d wanted to show off badly enough to teach himself using archived tutorials. As an adult, he displayed the skill at the bar where he worked. Customers tipped more for any act that added to the retropunk atmosphere of Deckard’s. They appreciated the attempt. No one cared about legibility.
This time, the quality of his handwriting mattered.
Aaron might have to guess what he wrote.
The pad lay next to the rester again. Lexi reached for the pen to study the screen. Did I ruin his sketch? Without knowing how to erase his marks, he could only make the situation worse. He sighed and stuck the pen back to the pad’s side.
Aaron’s voice projected into the room. “Did you want to see my project?”
Lexi smiled so his voice would reflect the expression. “Sure. Give it to me.”
The room filled with layers of a presentation on tardigrade-influenced art.
They talked over the hive until Aaron could start a new sample growing for his customer. Aaron returned to the projection room, tucked his drawing pad into a front shirt pocket without comment, and ushered Lexi to dinner.
On the opposite side of the dining table, the drawing pad pressed out against the fabric in front of Aaron’s ribcage. Lexi leaned against the table, unsure what to do as the food moved into place.
“So,” he said, “those sketches you make of me. Do you finish each one?”
“I leave some unfinished. Would you like any?”
“No.” He had access to everything in the house because of the securities Aaron gave him. Why would he need his own image as a gift anyway?
All he wanted was to figure out how to show Aaron his note. If Aaron should see it at all. Lexi dropped his head into his arms.
“Something is bothering you.”
The sketch wasn’t for work. Even if Aaron wanted his favorite model in a commissioned project, he wouldn’t need to reference the sketch to remember Lexi’s form.
Lexi pulled up to offer a tight smile. “Sorry. Waited too long to eat, maybe?”
They settled into dinner, talking more about the tardigrade project and tech in buzz. For a while, nothing mattered but the moment between them, of expressions and conversations rooted in the present.
* * *
One corner of the bedroom twinkled. Lexi watched it from within the cage of his boyfriend’s strong embrace.
Aaron surrounded himself with his creations. In that corner, a sculpture cascaded down from the ceiling like a widening waterfall of minerals. In the darkness, all Lexi could see were the bioluminescent organisms Aaron had once gene-hacked.
He’s crazy smart. What is he doing with me?
Aaron called to him softly, tentative. “Why do you not sleep at night?”
“Taking you in. Anyway, I’m not used to it. Don’t have to be. I sleep when you work in the morning, ‘member?”
“Would you like to play a game?”
What the hell did he mean by a game? One of these days, Aaron was going to introduce him to a kink he didn’t want to know about. “That comes off as too serious when you’re not petting me or something.”
“Sorry. It’s a child’s game. Old-fashioned.”
“I’ll have to move. Please stay on your side.”
Lexi felt exposed with his bare back to a void. Demonstrations of anything old-fashioned usually involved physical contact, he reminded himself as Aaron pulled away. “What’s the game?”
A small object grazed skin along his spine. A fingertip?
“I trace a word,” Aaron said, “letter by letter, all capitals. Then another word. You win by identifying the phrase.”
“That’s putting too much faith in me, isn’t it? How am I supposed to know what you’re writing?”
“Each letter forms an image. Hold the image in your mind. Tell me if you recognize this shape.”
Aaron applied slow, even pressure to a curved line that changed directions to mirror the first half.
Lexi said, “A heart?”
“Good. Ready for the first word? Call out each letter so I know you can picture it.”
The pressure lifted as if to signal the end of a word.
Aaron closed the void. He formed a barrier with hard muscles as his breath caressed Lexi’s ear. “My heart.”
His words on Aaron’s sketch of him. You touch my heart. Aaron had seen it.
“You could read my love note? I thought you–”
“Receive alerts when my files change away from sigkey. I watched the screen change from my studio. Please don’t take offense– I had to run it through the house AI. Your handwriting is unique. How the letters collide with each other, does that have meaning?”
Lexi shoved his face into the mattress and tried not to burn through fabric with his blushing. He talked into foam. “Yeah, it means I’m a kid from the slums.”
“Did… Did you write that message without help from the hive?” Aaron sounded surprised.
I’m an idiot. Why do I forget to ask the hive for directions? I probably could have asked the house AI to write to the pad from speech.
“How many kids from the slums could do that? Lexington, listen to me. You are amazing. I think that every day. You are smart and courageous. I’m proud that you hold my heart.”
Aaron’s chest pressed against Lexi’s back. What was deep inside it? What sheltered the heart in that chest?
Lexi couldn’t think of anything he wanted than to stay close to Aaron’s heart. He turned in the darkness to face his lover.
“I’ll protect it.”
Futuristic, M/M, Science Fiction Romance
Hive: A digital transactive memory and entertainment system derived from the 20th century’s Internet. <!–[Imagine connecting to the World Wide Web through telepathy. It’s kinda like that.]–>
Sigkey: A security fob within a biochip (a tiny, self-powered implant in a person’s body) used to access systems on and off the hive. Portmanteu of “signal key”.
Lexington Amis: Considered a “retro human” for his unusually low reliance on technology, he works part-time as a bartender.
Aaron Stallard: A wealthy artist who is best known for his interactive paintings that mix organic and inorganic materials. Like most people in the world, he has a hive cell in his head.