Aces and Eights, Event File 01

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Reader Advisement

This book contains romantic and sexual scenes between people whose genders may not fit your expectations. Scenes of torture and intentional misgendering are included.

Buckle up for the ride.

Event File 01

Event Tag: Celebratory Occasion

Timestamp: 16:00-2-1-2157

                                                                   

“Hey birthday boy! Catch!”

The box sailed through the air. Kevin reached out to catch it reflexively as it sailed down the hall, and yelped as Blake smacked his rear. He should have known.

“Twenty one!” the finance officer exclaimed with relish. Kevin raised his eyes to heaven. “Blake,” he began patiently, “you know I have a great deal of admiration for your skills; bear that in mind when I tell you that this ‘birthday smacks’ thing was a bloody stupid game when I was seventeen, and by the time I’ve hit twenty seven it’s become more than a little egregious, not to mention utterly beneath my dignity and yours, and—ow!”

“Twenty two!” Sarah crowed behind him. Kevin sighed and, pointedly, put his back against the corridor wall.

“I hate you. Both. With a deep and abiding passion.”

Sarah cocked her head, grinning. “Open your present and then say that.”

Kevin eyed her as he undid the tape on the box. “If this is some indelicate gag gift, I’ll have you know that I will not be amused, in fact I will be…oh …wow…”

With a grin, Kevin lifted out the t-shirt. The image printed on the fabric showed an ancient music distribution device, its magnetic tape spooling out artistically around the words ‘Life is a Mix Tape’. Kevin laughed at the words. “A Rob Sheffield quote! Stupendous! Alright, maybe my hatred has been somewhat ameliorated.” Stepping forward, he bowed his head and gave Sarah a peck on the brow. “Thanks, this rocks.”

“Tell Aidan I made it to match,” Sarah acknowledged with a grin.

“Hey! Don’t squeal!” Tweak’s high voice snapped as she opened the door of Aidan’s office behind Kevin and stepped out into the hall. Kevin turned to give her a weary smile. “Thanks for the assist, Tweak, these plebes are—”

A sting across his rear was paired with Sarah’s crow of, “twenty three!” Kevin sighed. “Sarah,” he remarked in his best teacher-is-displeased tone, “I understand that you are proudly bisexual, but you do not, in fact, need to prove it by taking swipes at my ass. You may be bisexual, but I’m not, and I’m not impressed. Are we clear?”

“What are we doing that involves Kev’s ass? Do I want to know?” Aidan asked, looking out into the hall with preoccupied eyes.

“Aidan, love, save me from the depredations of the mob!” Kevin threw out, putting on a vid-worthy show by pressing a hand to his heart. That got him a medley of chuckles from his boyfriend and his family. Aidan shook his head a little, lips quirked at the corners. “Okay guys, enough until dinner. I need Kev focused for talking through a mission plan. Go do your jobs.”

“I suppose we’ll let you have him for now,” Blake harrumphed, arms folded over his pot belly, “only don’t be late for dinner, you hear me, you lovebirds? We’re not letting Kevin duck out on a decent party again this year.”

“Define ‘decent’,” Kevin countered. Tweak snickered as she sidestepped out of her commander’s office. Crossing her arms, she looked up at Kevin. “My present. On your tab,” she chirped. “Later. Not now. Take a l-look. Try twenty three. Have fun!” Then she was off down the hall, her ridiculously oversized combat boots clattering on the prefab floor panels.

Kevin blinked, shaking his head as he stepped into Aidan’s office. “You know, I’ve tried to requisition Tweak new boots three times this year. She won’t give up those gun ships she’s wearing. Any idea what that crack about a present references?” he asked, glancing dubiously over his shoulder as he took a seat. “Or do I want to know?”

Aidan shook his head, but he bit his lip in a gesture Kevin had come to know: the man was trying not to grin.

“No idea,” his boyfriend managed, choking on a laugh, “though she did say she’s got the bugs out of our systems. Eagle’s pairing with Techo to send out a ton of virus shit aimed at Force systems.”

“I heard,” Kevin agreed absently, glancing back the way Tweak had gone. “The GreyNet’s started getting restricted too, which is inconvenient on requisition runs. And that’s not to mention the damn ‘independent contractors’ sniffing around our routes and our online communications, like the mangy scavengers they are.” Turning, he eyed Aidan over the rims of his glasses. “Aidan, love. In all honesty, this present. Tell me I haven’t just gotten pranked. Again.”

“It’s not a prank,” Aidan protested, blue eyes twinkling. “Like she said; it’s a birthday present. Though you should probably wait until we’re done with work before you open it.”

“If it’s from her I shudder to think.” Kevin replied as he took his seat. “I’ve already had twenty three ‘happy birthday’ slaps on the ass today. I’m truly beginning to despise birthdays. So what have we got on this?”

“It’s another extraction, for the guys who’re getting too much attention from that undercover job assigned to Base 1321. They need an out, ASAP,” Aidan explained, pointing at the screen. “It should be simple, but we lost our contact in the garage that I thought we could use to get them into a vehicle under cover, and now I’m kind of staring at this and stuck.”

Kevin leaned in. “Lost him, as in…”

“He transferred,” Aidan replied. “He was pretty sure his supervisor was getting wise. He’s helping out in a new Sector, but now we’re screwed.”

“Maybe not,” Kevin mused as he studied the timetables on the screen, his mind flicking through possibilities. He moved the multicolored boxes of time slots around the screen experimentally. “If we try getting Hansen on this shift, he could walk over to the garage and…hm…”

It took another hour to sort out the difficulties and lay out an extraction plan to get the team from another base out of their undercover operation and off the Grid safely.

Kevin glanced at the clock as he leaned back, satisfied, and shot his boyfriend a sidelong smile. “Prepare yourself, the rampant mob is probably going to come banging on the door asking why we haven’t come to the birthday dinner yet.”

Aidan gave him one of his quiet, cockeyed smiles. “Guess I better give you this before they get in here.”

Reaching under his desk, he tugged out a cardboard box, large enough that he had an awkward moment getting it into his hands. He laid it in Kevin’s lap. “See what you think.”

Kevin glanced down at it, brows quirking. “Now this is interesting. Where’ve you been hiding this, love?”

Aidan shrugged, deflecting the question. “This one’s not just from me, but the guys decided I should give it to you. Open it?”

Carefully, Kevin unfolded the box’s interleaved flaps. What he saw inside made his thoughts stall.

Stupefaction. That would be the right word for this feeling, he decided. Or possibly wonderment. An old word with Middle English and German antecedents, wonderment. It was a good candidate as descriptor for the joyful shock he was experiencing.

Sitting there, in his lap, was an analog music player, ranks of cassette tapes packed neatly all around it. The cassette player gleamed in the room lights, the colors in its petroleum-based plastic surfaces still bright. The stuff lasted so much longer than the agar-based plastics of the modern world. They’d probably be scrounging things from the days when it was used for another hundred years yet. The machine barely looked twenty years old. The chrome dials and trim were cloudy with innumerable small scratches, the patina of age and wear. Some of the brittle plastic cassette cases were spider-webbed with cracks, their plastic yellowing over the brilliant artwork and the fascinating titles.

He raised his eyes to Aidan’s in amazement. His boyfriend was smiling like a little boy.

“Where…how …how did you find this?” Kevin managed, the words escaping in a breath of awe.

Aidan shrugged, his face alight. “I told the guys about all those songs that the Corps deleted off American servers after the Incorporation. The ones you talked about wanting to hear sometime? Tweak jumped the firewalls and got on some international collectors’ forums under a fake handle, Jim went trading with Fringers. Janice called a buddy she knows. Yvonne ran and picked everything up when people got a lead on it. Topher fixed the player she found. He added new power conduits to it, replaced the old charge cord it had. All I did was give everybody clearance to go for it. So, what do you think?”

For a moment, Kevin was utterly lost for words. With reverent hands, he set the box aside. Then he leaned in and kissed his man long and deep, stroking his hair. “I think I love you,” he murmured against Aidan’s skin, feeling his amazement and his thankfulness like a cup running over in his chest.

“Later on I’ll give you my present,” Aidan replied, leaning into his touch. Kevin laughed in thrilled bewilderment. “This isn’t enough?”

“This isn’t just from me,” Aidan countered, returning the kiss. “Besides, after what you gave me that first birthday of mine we had together? I kind of owe you. So I got ahold of wine and something special.”

“That wine sounds fairly special in its own right,” Kevin murmured, “How—”

“Traded at Sector on my last trip up,” Aidan murmured with another soft kiss. Kevin leaned into his touch.

“Mm. Do you know what the French say about wine?” he asked, tipping his head to breathe the words into Aidan’s ear. He loved the little shiver that ran through his man as Aidan replied, “No? Tell me?”

“Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire,” Kevin murmured, kissing Aidan’s throat. “When the wine is drawn, one must drink it. And I think—”

“WHAAZZUUUUUP!”

The multipartite cacophony shattered the air. Kevin fell out of his chair. Scrambling to his knees, he glared up at the sound of laughter. In the doorway, five of their fellow Wildcards leaned against each other, laughing fit to burst.

“Perfect timing! Perfect!” Yvonne gasped out. Kevin sighed. “Yvonne,” he remarked wearily, “remind me to hunt you down the next time you’re snogging Sarah and make a fool of you, will you?”

“Oh sweetie, it’s no fun to get after them, they do it on any flat surface.” Blake snickered. “You two are the only ones who make such a fuss!” Behind him, Jim and Topher laughed like a pair of hyenas.

“You know, the last time I checked the regs, it was polite to knock on your commander’s door when you wanted to talk,” Aidan interjected mildly.

“Oh knock it off Aidan, workday’s over,” Sarah declared, leaning against Topher as she caught her breath. “Besides, we knew if the birthday boy wasn’t working, he’d be with you somewhere.” Stepping into the room, she offered her hand to help Kevin up. “C’mon, we want to celebrate!”

Kevin turned his eyes to the ceiling, mostly for show. “If that be my fate, then I shall resign myself to….oof!” he finished, as Henrietta wormed through the group to land on his chest, hugging him.

“Happy birthday!” The four-year-old giggled. “Thanks,” Kevin managed on a wheeze, “but you’re a big girl now. You’re too heavy for sitting on my ribs, sweetheart.”

Aidan laughed as he reached down to gently lift Henrietta off, passing her back to her father as Sarah yanked Kevin to his feet. “Billie got her thing done, right?” He asked.

“Oh yeah.” Jim agreed. Aidan grinned, taking Kevin’s hand. “Great. I don’t see him on a sugar high near often enough.”

“Sugar?” Kevin asked, bemused. “Oh dear, you lot didn’t go about getting a cake together, did you? You know I’m not one for sweets.”

“Too bad,” Yvonne caroled as she led the parade down the hall, “it’s your birthday, you get cake!”

“Blessed Redeemer give me patience,” Kevin sighed, but he squeezed Aidan’s hand and let the crew sweep him along.

The cake was surprisingly good; Billie hadn’t tried to frost it, so it wasn’t sickly sweet for once. The thing was the color of dust, but there was just enough cocoa powder in it to lend the flavor of chocolate. The movie that Sarah had dug up for a present wasn’t bad either, though Kevin did have to take issue with some of its inaccuracies after the crew had finished their viewing.

“Aw Kev, can’t you get off the history books and watch some stuff blow up for once? Come on, you liked it!” Sarah grumbled, shoving at his shoulder.

He shook his head. “I’m not saying it isn’t a good movie, guys,” he repeated as the credits rolled and his family booed his commentary, “In fact I’m really in love with the fierce conviction and the fortitude of most of the protagonists, and you have to give it this, it’s both chillingly prescient and emotionally bolstering. And the roses were a beautiful symbol. It’s an absolutely fitting addition to our collection.”

“And that means you liked it?” Topher asked, blinking. “Yes, that’s what I said!” Kevin replied in amused exasperation. “That being said, I have to repeat, Guy Fawkes was not a freedom fighter. In fact, he was a religious terrorist in his own right. Forcing history to fit your narrative is a stylistic and cultural disservice.”

“Aw Kev, you suck,” Yvonne groaned.

Kevin smirked, though he felt himself blush as he spoke. “With great precision and consummate skill, yes, yes I do.”

Topher covered his ears. Alice choked on her drink, giggling.

At his side, Aidan shared a look with his sister, the siblings giving each other very small smiles.

“Why’s your boyfriend trying to take apart a pulp movie and analyze it like it’s supposed to make sense?” Naomi asked patiently. Aidan gave her a shrug. “Because he’s my boyfriend,” he quipped as he stood. “Okay guys, we have duty tomorrow. Lights out. I’m going to take the birthday boy to bed.”

That, of course, got them a chorus of ‘oohs’. Kevin flipped the general assembly the bird.

Finally, they made it down the hall and into their own room. Kevin glanced at his new analog music player where it sat on the dresser, grinned, then turned to run his hand over Aidan’s soft hair. “So, you were saying something about wine earlier?”

“Mm-hm. Bottle’s in the top drawer,” Aidan agreed, stepping in to lean against Kevin. He let his arms enfold the shorter man, lips running over Aidan’s throat. “Lovely. Merlot isn’t exactly a dessert wine, but I don’t think I’ll complain,” he murmured teasingly.

“Sorry I couldn’t find candles or anything,” Aidan murmured with a gentle smile. “I know you like your sappy stuff.”

“I think I’ve had my fill of sap for one day.” Kevin replied, chuckling. “Birthdays ought to be marked, but why in God’s name they have to mark my birthday by undermining my dignity I’ll never know.” Turning, he dug in Aidan’s drawer and unearthed the bottle. “Ah, alcohol. Perfect balm for wounded pride.”

Aidan laughed as he walked over and dug two plastic tumblers from their nest among his socks. “Got your pocket knife? I think we can get the bottle open that way.”

Kevin slipped a hand into his pocket, pulled out the hand-decorated blade he’d kept on him since Aidan had made it as his Christmas present some years ago, and jammed the screwdriver attachment into the cork. With a few judicious wiggles, the cork popped. The scent of soft tannins and rich fruit wafted up.

Aidan held out the glasses with a crooked smile. “So my love isn’t enough of a balm for you? I’m so hurt.”

“Terribly thin skin you’ve got, then.” Kevin rejoined with a small smile as he filled the glasses, handing Aidan one of them and taking the man’s free hand. Sometimes, he had to make a wry joke when Aidan looked earnest like this, just to keep from repeating ‘I love you’ until he sounded like a fool.

He led his boyfriend to their bed and lay back once Aidan had taken a seat, shifting so that his head lay in Aidan’s lap. With studied care, he took a sip of his wine, savoring the treat. “Now this is Merlot.” he judged, swirling the dark liquid gently in the glass, before glancing up at Aidan. “Of course, your love might just be enough to ease my soul. Fancy giving me a demonstration of it tonight?”

“After the rest of your present,” Aidan chuckled, leaning over for a soft, sweet kiss. His bright hair tickled Kevin’s cheeks. “I told you I had something for you. And I thought you might like to read it before we get distracted.”

“Mm, you thought wrong.” Kevin murmured, raising his free hand to stroke the line of Aidan’s jaw. “I’ve been reading all day. I’m ready to get distracted. Thoroughly distracted, in fact.”

Aidan turned his head to kiss Kevin’s fingers. “Five more minutes. Trust me; you’ll like this.”

“Make you a deal.” Kevin murmured, fingers twining into Aidan’s hair. “You read aloud. I’ll keep myself amused.”

“Sounds good,” Aidan agreed. Kevin stroked his skin as the blonde man reached into his pocket, and grimaced. “Crap. My tab’s back in my office.”

“Use mine,” Kevin offered, pulling it out and turning it on. “We can get yours in the…wait…where did this heart icon come from? I didn’t put this on here.”

Aidan gave a funny sort of laugh, sounding as if he was choking on the sound. Kevin glanced at him. Aidan was grinning shamefacedly. “That’s Tweak’s present,” his boyfriend explained.

Kevin sighed. “Shall I open it or delete it?”

“We’ll want to open it.” Aidan leaned in, tapping the shortcut. The window popped into view, and Kevin blinked. Then his grey eyes opened wide. Cold panic and hot excitement shot through him. He swallowed, working to quell both. “Aidan…there’s a whole lot of naked men on my tab. And I don’t think that’s anatomically possible…”

Aidan tried and failed to quell snorts of laughter. His voice was strangled with mirth. “She found something called the Kaleb Sutra, published in TechoCo territory out in the Eastern Seaboard Region. What’s number twenty-three in there?”

With the terminal bewilderment of someone who’d been smacked between the eyes, Kevin found the page. Both of them stared at the animated illustration, watching two rather attractive young men do something that was probably physically impossible for the general population.

“Oh my…” Kevin murmured distantly. “Do you think that’d…no. Nobody has that kind of upper arm strength…”

Aidan laughed and leaned against his shoulder. “Looks like this will keep us busy for a long time, huh?”

“If only trying to figure out whose legs are whose…how the hell does a girl her age know this sort of stuff exists? I didn’t know this existed.” Kevin added in shock. He flipped to position twenty four, and swallowed. Now that would be fun. But how…

Aidan’s chuckle in his ear derailed his train of thought. He glanced at his boyfriend out of the corner of his eye. “What?” Kevin asked, bewildered.

Aidan stroked his cheek. Kevin imagined he must be hot to the touch. He felt as if the pictures had lit matches under his skin. “You forget she lives on the Net?” The other man asked, cocking his head teasingly.

Yes,” Kevin agreed with preoccupied chagrin, “but why she’s this well versed in sexual interaction when her main method of physical contact is breaking noses I don’t …you’re laughing.”

Yeah,” Aidan agreed with a crooked grin as he leaned in for a kiss. “You’re cute.”

Kevin rolled his eyes, and tapped the screen. “We’re taking this off my main tab and keeping it in our room.”

“Fine by me,” Aidan agreed, leaning in a little closer. Kevin shifted towards him, realizing that the bloody illustrations had done their work a little too well.

“Let’s read what we actually got the tab out for,” Aidan murmured. Kevin swallowed. “Er…actually, I…could we read later? That manual has had its intended effect, if you take my meaning…”

“Really?” Aidan ran the back of his hand down Kevin’s body, brushing over his crotch. Kevin’s pulse leaped. Aidan leaned back, looking him over with approval. “Guess it did. Want to put the wine down and get me my dick?”

Kevin shook his head with a smile, heat and wine pooling in his belly. “One day, love, I’m going to tie you to a chair and make you read Shakespeare and Sagan, to teach you how to use language. Of course, that scenario has its own distractions,” he added, handing his wine over and lying on his belly to reach under the bed, pulling out the svelte black box. Setting it easily to hand, he retrieved his wine from Aidan, watching his beloved with a smile around the rim of the glass as he finished it off.

Aidan shook his head with a chuckle. “You know the oldy-worldy language isn’t my thing. I prefer to listen to you use it.”

“Philistine.” Kevin teased. “Hence the involvement of a chair and rope.”

“As long as you’re the one reading it to me.” Aidan finished his own glass of wine and set it aside, reaching for the slim box instead.

Kevin pulled off his glasses and set them on the bedside table. He slid forward, pushing Aidan down until he was lying over the other man. “What’s the rush?” he murmured, kissing Aidan, feeling the warmth of his boyfriend’s body beneath him. “Let’s take our time, hmm?”

“Taking our time is what you want tonight?” Aidan asked softly. Kevin kissed the angle of his jaw. “It is indeed.”

“Okay, birthday boy. Taking our time. You got it,” Aidan agreed, moving his hand from the box to Kevin’s hip.

“Mm.” Kevin agreed, relishing the words as he leaned into Aidan, fingers stroking his chest in slow circles, then dipping under the fabric of his shirt to stroke skin. He traced Aidan’s collarbone with his lips, trying to peel off his winter jacket with one hand as he did. He failed fairly abysmally on the second task. “Damn thing…”

Aidan laughed and shifted, helping Kevin out of his jacket and shucking his own. “You got a lot on your desk? Maybe we’ll take a lot of time tonight, sleep in tomorrow. Start duty a little late.”

“That’d be at your discretion,” Kevin replied, leaning on his elbows to smile down at Aidan. “Not mine.”

They did take their time with one another, drawing out the evening and wrapping it around themselves like a blanket. By the time Aidan was done with him, Kevin felt as if his bones were made from warm gold, far too soft to allow him to move. For a long time after they’d finished their fun, they simply lay curled together.

Finally, Aidan kissed Kevin’s throat, smiling gently. “How about wine and nude bedtime reading once we clean up, hunh?”

Mm,” Kevin agreed mildly. He lay still a little longer, basking, before Aidan moved. The sweet man cleaned him up with wipes from the bedside table, then saw to himself before pouring two more glasses of wine and fetching the tab. Settling back into bed, head on Kevin’s shoulder, he slipped Kevin’s glasses into his hand and pulled up a screen, setting the hologram hanging at their eye level. Kevin glanced at it once he’d gotten his glasses on, and sighed.

“Aidan, my best beloved, do we have to look at the Sector mission assignment roster now? To put it in direct and rather gauche terms, you just screwed my brains out.”

Aidan turned and kissed him softly, grinning.

“I think you’re going to want to see this. You’ve heard of seed banks, right?”

“Mm?” Kevin agreed muzzily, letting his eyes drift closed. Aidan had really wrung him out this time around.

Aidan’s elbow nudged him gently. “Hey, don’t fall asleep.”

“Mmawake,” Kevin murmured, though the afterglow, the wine and the low lights made that a somewhat dubious statement.

“Have you heard of the pre-dissolution seed banks?” Aidan repeated, words soft. Kevin nodded absently. “Mm. AgCo shut the public ones down in the US, but there are a number in the rest of the world. Why?”

“Because Regional put out an optional mission call for research and reconnaissance bases. They think there might still be a seed bank hidden up somewhere near Fort Collins.”

Kevin’s eyes shot open. He turned his head, meeting Aidan’s deep blue eyes, then riveted his gaze on the screen.

Aidan was right: there was a mission call out marked ‘Optional-Reconnaissance. Possible Resource Acquisition’, followed by a short description of the assignment. With eager eyes, Kevin glanced at the ‘Assigned Personnel’ slot beside it, checking to see if anyone had snagged this gem.

He blinked. Then he turned to Aidan, slow joy welling up. “My name. My name’s down there, and your approval for assignment.”

Aidan nodded, smiling softly. “Thought you’d like it. National’s decided that a couple of test farms like ours proved that bases can grow their own stuff without messing with their work, so they want to start putting more resources into getting us unpatented seeds. Get us independent food supplies. Fresh food makes a good bargaining chip too. I can cancel the mission assignment if you’re too busy, I was going to ask first and then put in for it, but I wanted to snag it before—”

Kevin cut him off with a laughing kiss. “Busy? You got me an assignment hunting buried treasure! An actual seed bank! Aidan, this is phenomenally incredible. Thank you!” He pulled Aidan into a hug. Aidan chuckled and wrapped his arms around Kevin in turn.

“Happy birthday.”

“Understatement,” Kevin declared, giddy on the moment and the prospect of what he would be doing. Research. Discovery. And, if he was very lucky, bringing home the greatest of treasures. Dropping back against the pillow, he stared at the information window over his head, wide eyed. “Do you know what this could mean, Aidan?”

We can be completely off the Grid, self-supportive. Grow our own food; real food, not the crap we’re living on now.” Aidan grinned and slid down the pillows to lay beside Kevin, his head against his lover’s shoulder. “We could actually make a difference, if we’re not struggling just to get by.”

“Exactly! And not stealing seed every damn year when the stock we’ve got loses viability…Aidan, we’d be self-sufficient! Practically free!” Kevin enthused, grinning like a kid. He kissed Aidan again, then pushed the blankets back, springing to his feet.

“Let’s see if there are any sources that we can start on, and—”

Aidan’s hands pulled him back down into bed.

“Start with getting some sleep.” Aidan chuckled in his ear. Kevin laughed. “Fair enough, Aidan my love. And thank you for this. I don’t think I can say it sincerely enough. This is…” Leaning in, he gave up on words and poured his gratitude into a kiss. “I’ll start on it in the morning.”

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