Aces and Eights, Event File 04

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Event File 04

Event Tag: Mission Assignment

Timestamp: 20:00-2-6-2157/ 10:00-2-17-2157

Kevin kicked the door of their quarters closed as he grabbed Aidan in another tight hug. Aidan was nearly dizzy with joy. He still couldn’t believe the message scheduling his final surgery had shown up.

“The timing on this couldn’t have been better,” Kevin exclaimed, “Your implant-attachment surgery and my contact meeting will synchronize beautifully. We’ll go in, we’ll get you sorted out, and take two weeks for your recovery. That’ll allow us to meet the contact who’s in touch with the team caring for the seed bank in person, and then we’ll get seeds and come home and…” he finished the statement with a giddy kiss. Aidan could almost hear the words he hadn’t spoken: and life will be so good.

Aidan grinned at his boyfriend when they came up for air. “I’m still stuck on ‘holy shit, this is going to happen’. Glad your planning brain’s still running. I just…I can’t believe…that I’ll have the chance to…Kev, I…” He shook his head against Kevin’s shoulder, not even sure what he was trying to say. Happiness lapped inside him like warm water.

A thought occurred to him, and he laughed. “We won’t need the prosthetic any more, I guess.”

Kevin chuckled as he ran a hand over Aidan’s hair, long fingers gentle. “Good thing too. It wouldn’t make it through security checks.” For a moment, they stared at one another in a daze of joy. Then Kevin gave a little laugh. “I just got the most amusing image: an entire room full of confiscated sex toys somewhere in every EagleCorp PeaceKeeping office. Now we know what they do with their time off.”

Aidan made a face somewhere between amusement and disgust. “Yeah, that’s an image I really don’t need.”

“Fair point,” Kevin quipped, leaning in for another kiss. “I’ll get things scheduled and a route mapped, reach out to our contact. You already got your genome sent to the clinic so they can use it in growing the tissues, I assume. I’ll work out a route and find us lodgings, send you a timeline so you can put in our paperwork for the leave and the mission tomorrow morning. How does that sound?”

“Sounds good,” Aidan agreed quietly. “Sounds really good. And then we have to tell the crew what we’re doing. For the plants, anyway.”

Kevin gave a quiet groan. “Good God, that’s right. It’s going to be a circus too. You know Naomi will try to insist on going along to watch our backs. And Sarah. And everyone else will have a conniption over the fact that Liza will be in charge for three weeks.”

Aidan shrugged. “They’ll handle it okay.”

Kevin gave him a thin smile, tapping the tip of his nose with one elegant finger. “So you say. But they’ll grin and bear it once we explain what we’re up to. Do you want to call a meeting now, or wait until breakfast?”

“It can wait,” Aidan murmured, leaning into Kevin’s warmth. He’d been grinning so long that his face hurt. “Kev…this is really going to happen, right?”

Kevin’s arms wrapped him in warmth. “It’s really going to happen, Aidan my love.”

************************************************************

The canteen was busy by the time they got in the next morning, people talking over one another and Janice arguing with Damian, who was trying to get her to move her work off the table. She gestured at the pieces spread across their oilcloth. “C’mon man, I’m halfway done with the piston an’ I’m out of room in my space, give me five more fucking minutes! A little goddamn oil on the table isn’t going to give anyone a fucking heart attack!”

Aidan gave the general bustle of the room a couple beats to settle. Then he cleared his throat. “Hey guys! I’ve got some news.”

The canteen fell quiet, eyes turning to him. He drew a breath. “Okay. You know the crops we planted last year didn’t give us any viable seed. We saved half of what Kevin brought us, and we were able to culture a lot of clones out of the tissues from those plants. We can probably get another crop for this year. But if we want a real fix for our food supply, we need to get ahold of unaltered seed and modify it to handle the conditions of the Dust. Well, Sector just approved us doing that. There’s still an intact seed bank in the mountains around Fort Collins, containing seeds of crops that the Corporations never laid a finger on. The genetic material is perfect.” He drew a breath. “And we got a contact who says that the seed bank still has personnel. A group of caretakers. I have approval to go on Grid and make an in-person contact. And I’m going to sign us up to take the assignment.”

You could have heard a microtube drop in the quiet left by his words.

It was Janice who broke the stunned silence. “Well fuck me fore and aft.” she remarked, grinning incredulously. “You’re serious about this? It ain’t April Fools’ Day, is it?”

Aidan chuckled, shaking his head. “Nope. Kev and Tweak triple-checked the data, and it’s legitimate. There’s no telling what the contact we’ve made will have for us when we meet, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take, if it means we can be self-sufficient.”

“You think this contact is legit?” Damian asked carefully, chin in his hand as he watched the two men. Kevin cleared his throat. “The institutions were staffed by quite resourceful people with a true dedication to their work, so I’d lay odds on ‘yes’. As long as the genomic material was maintained at the proper temperature, time shouldn’t have done much damage. And if the facility has been staffed all these years, the chances of that are much higher than I had originally assumed. We just need to get there, make an agreement with the contact, and get our findings back here to—”

“Hell, I’m in.” Janice cut in, waving her wrench. Dozer grinned, his blocky face practically splitting. “Same here.” that set off a clamor of voices. As Aidan had expected, everybody wanted to go.

Aidan held up his hands for silence and waited until the excited voices died down again. “I’m honored that all of you are so eager. But for this, we need a small team. Kevin and I are going, since Kev knows how to get us around and I should be there with the authority to make deals with the contact we’ve reached, on behalf of the Force. I’m planning on leaving Liza in charge, until we get back.” Assuming we make it back, his brain added silently. He told it to shut up and maintained his smile.

“I call bullshit.” Naomi declared, pointing her fork at Aidan. “You two’d get killed alone, without any backup. Since when do we run missions with no backup?”

“Grid work.” Kevin put in smoothly. “Best to keep things small and unobtrusive on the Grid. Backup gets you noticed.”

Aidan gave Kevin a grateful nod. “And this trip is going to take us straight through Corps-heavy territory. Backup’s more likely to get us killed than going in on our own, and the contact is requesting as much secrecy as possible. If we can, we’ll keep in touch on the GreyNet, but that’s only if it’s safe.”

“How long you going to be gone?” Yvonne asked quietly, reaching out to squeeze Sarah’s hand nervously.

“If everything goes smoothly, three weeks.” Aidan swept his gaze around the room full of his people. “If things go south…maybe longer.”

The room went silent for a long moment. “Have you boys kept the bounties in mind?” Blake asked, his voice surprisingly quiet. “There’s a lot of money on offer for your skins.”

“Thank you, somebody says it,” Naomi grumbled. “You guys need a gun at your backs at least.”

Aidan gave himself a minute to breathe, before shaking his head. “No, I think we’re better off running this alone. We don’t know this contact, and they’re paranoid. I don’t want to spook them, and I don’t want too many of us out there at once. Like you said, there’s a bounty on our heads. All our heads. Kevin and I will take this. We’ll leave next week. Liza, you’ll hold down the fort while we’re gone.” He swept his eyes around the room with all the authority he could scratch together. “And the rest of you won’t give her any trouble. We clear on this?”

A couple people shot one another smiles that promised a few shenanigans, but the crew gave general nods and noises of agreement. Liza threw a quick salute. “I’m on it s…Aidan. I’ll keep things steady.”

“I know you will.” Aidan agreed. “And I appreciate it, Liza. If anyone has any specific concerns for this period, I’ll be in my office all afternoon.”

“Can we get more on these seeds? I wanna know what I’m gonna be takin’ care of. See if I can get in touch with anybody who can give me some advice.” Janice added. That was all Kevin needed to go off on an enthusiastic, detailed explanation of every bit of research he’d found. Aidan relaxed in the general conversation, glad that it let him eat in peace. He gave Kevin’s hand a squeeze once he’d finished his meal. His guy was still talking; he barely paused to give Aidan a smile. Putting his dishes into the washer, Aidan headed for his office and waited for the first person to come in and have their say.

He should have expected that it would be Naomi. She walked in, closed the door, and planted her fists on her hips. “Look. I know I said I’d take your orders. Yeah, you’re in charge. But this isn’t smart. The bounties out on our heads aren’t pocket change, and all the Corps are gunning for us in particular. What are you doing besides what you told the crew in there?”

Aidan gave his sister a smile, his heart feeling like a balloon in his chest. “It’s my last surgery, Omi. Sector got me a slot with somebody who can do my final surgery. They’re growing the organ and the glands to implant, right now.”

Naomi’s eyes widened. “Wait, really?”

“Really,” Aidan agreed, nodding. Naomi grinned, then stepped over, grabbed a chair, dropped down beside him and gave him a hug. Then, of course, she punched his shoulder.

“You should’ve told your crew the good news, dipshit. They’d be happy for you.”

Aidan felt his smile go crooked with embarrassment as he looked away. “Yeah, I know. I’m still working on telling them that kind of stuff.” He glanced up again. “I did want to talk to you though. The place we’re using is a legitimate body-mod and implant clinic. If we sent them your genome right now, they could get an arm grown for you in time to fit with our schedule. Do you want that?”

Naomi gave him a cockeyed little grin, brushing her corn-silk hair back from her face. “Nah.”

“You sure?” Aidan asked quietly. “We can make it work. We’ve got the funds.”

Naomi shrugged. “You and me are wired different, Aidan, but I think I get you on this: I like the way people look at me these days. These scars? My off hand?” She tapped the case of her cybernetic hand with her flesh fingers. “These’re my medals. They show off what I do. When people look at me these days they don’t see a little girl. They see a badass. They see a fighter. I like it that way.”

“You sure?” Aidan asked, watching his sister carefully. “I want to get you what you need, Omi. These days, I can do that, if you let me.”

Naomi shrugged. “You’re already getting me what I need. And I’m sure.” Then she seemed to think of something, and pulled a face. “Shit. I just wrecked my chance to go in on this with you, didn’t I?”

“Yeah,” Aidan agreed. “You kind of did.”

“Damn it.” Naomi conceded ruefully. She eyed Aidan for a long moment, ice-blue eyes narrowed. Then she reached over and tugged him into a hug. “If I get told you’re dead again, I will seriously bust your ass. You got that?”

“I got it,” Aidan agreed softly, hugging his sister tight in turn. “I won’t end up dead.”

“Swear,” Naomi’s voice muttered against his shoulder.

“I swear,” Aidan agreed softly.

*********************************

A little more than a week later, Aidan followed Kevin’s lead as they worked their way through the Grid crowds toward the hotel he’d chosen. Aidan had picked up a trick from his boyfriend that helped: if he kept his mind on a story or a piece of poetry while they walked, he took just enough focus away from his surroundings that he didn’t jump when the pop-ups went off.

He still half-closed his eyes when he walked through somebody else’s augmented reality holo. For some reason the woman had added dancing pixies and toadstools to her world, and Aidan had to resist the urge to swat at them.

“Watch it!” the woman shrilled.

“Sorry,” Aidan mumbled, stepping out of her AR bubble. Kevin caught his eye, and he pulled a face. He really hated the Grid.

He stuck close to Kevin as the taller man navigated them onto a bus bound for a Zoncom neighborhood. The tech corporation’s graceful white buildings soared up around them, billowing shade cloth leaving them in shadow below. The curving architecture gave Aidan the eerie sense that disinterested giants were standing over the street, watching the people scurry below like ants.

He was relieved when they reached their destination. The hotel Kevin had found them a room in was CSS class, clean and quiet.

“Down this way,” his boyfriend put in quietly, turning down a long hall. He waved his falsified Citizen Card over the reader beside a room’s door. “Redeeming reservation,” Kevin stated. The door clicked open. Kevin caught Aidan’s eye and ushered him ahead, stepping in behind him and softly closing the door. He carefully passed Aidan two sound boxes, pulling another two from his pockets. Aidan nodded and turned to set the two boxes in corners of the room, hiding them inside a bedside table and under a chair cushion.

“Clear,” Kevin said from the other side of the room, “though I’d like to set a few more protections in place.”

“What’ve you got?” Aidan asked with interest. Kevin pulled two round discs from one pocket and a vial from the other. “Hands-off arc for the door, and phage nanoids for the room. In case someone decides not to respect the ‘do not disturb’ sign.”

Aidan nodded. “Good call. Want a hand?”

“If you’ll spread the phage I’ll see to the door,” Kevin agreed easily, tossing Aidan the vial. He caught it, popping the lid and sprinkling the glittering dust into his hand. Carefully, he blew handfuls of it across furniture, over the floor and along the baseboards. He made sure to get it between the platform and the mattress of the bed, noticing as he did just how big the bed was and how good the sheets were.

“Nice in here,” he remarked quietly, bringing up the phage app on his tab and activating the microscopic robots. The glittering dust faded seamlessly into the nooks and crannies of the room, patiently waiting to destroy all DNA-laden material that didn’t have a heat source.

“Given what we’re here for and how long we’ll be staying, I reserved the best room I could,” Kevin’s voice filtered through the room. “You done with the phage?”

“Yeah,” Aidan agreed. He smiled as Kevin’s arms wrapped around him, and Kevin’s lips pressed softly against his throat.

“You know Naomi used to get freaked as hell about phage when she was little?” Aidan murmured, leaning back into Kevin’s warmth. “Some asswipe had shown her an article about phage nanoids that malfunctioned and started destroying more than just dead skin cells that aren’t attached to heat sources. She had nightmares about phage nanoids crawling up your nose to eat your brains when she was nine.”

“What’d you do for her?” Kevin asked softly. Aidan chuckled. “I said ‘you wanna see something that really eats brains?’ and showed her zombie flicks. The seriously campy ones. She watched the fake blood splatter and laughed her head off. There weren’t any more nightmares after that.”

“Nicely done,” Kevin breathed against his skin, cradling him close. Aidan closed his eyes, feeling the tension of the day leaching out of his soul. “What time do we hit the clinic tomorrow?”

“Nine in the morning,” Kevin murmured. Aidan nodded, feeling the strange, electric tension high in his chest; half fear and half excitement.

He turned in Kevin’s arms, resting his head against Kevin’s shoulder.

“Hey Kev?”

“Yes?”

“If things go sideways…get yourself out, okay?” He laid a kiss against Kevin’s shoulder. “I want you safe.”

Kevin gave a breath of laughter. “My beloved pessimist.” His fingers ran over Aidan’s hair. “Don’t worry about me, love. I can take care of myself. And I’ll always take care of you.”

Aidan swallowed back his fear, working at a smile. “Thanks. But I’m serious. Be safe?”

“Always,” Kevin whispered. Leaning back, he tipped Aidan’s chin and brushed his lips over Aidan’s. “We’re here for something wonderful, you know. We should be celebrating.”

I’ll celebrate after surgery,” Aidan replied quietly. “Fate’s a bitch. I don’t want to tempt her.”

Kevin sighed, resting his brow against Aidan’s. “Fair enough, Aidan my love. Fair enough.”

*****************************************************

Aidan wasn’t supposed to eat before surgery in the morning. That was fine with him; he didn’t think he could have swallowed much more than the glass of water he took his mood meds with anyway. He watched the sink’s water meter ring up the charge for the glass, his mind blank. His guts felt like they were full of static.

He got his meds down and returned to lay with his head resting on Kevin’s thigh, doing his best to focus on paperwork he’d saved to his tab for the trip. Most of his morning work went into a more thorough report on the procedures they were using to cultivate their little mobile garden: documenting what had worked, and what had fallen flat on its face. Apparently Colorado soil was missing a few things that plants like blueberries needed; they’d found that out the hard way.

He also took a couple minutes to read the file on the clinic and the doctor he’d been working with, for what had to be the tenth time. Doctor Medevych was a Zoncom-contracted body modification surgeon, highly ranked in his field. He was also stuck in a very nice Zoncom cage on account of his specialty: he didn’t have a lot of options for clinic work, and going into the wrong neighborhood in Denver without escort would probably get him killed. Only TechoCo was as permissive as ZonCom; the other Corporations ranged from distaste to homicidal hatred of body-modification work. In spite of that, Medevych had been working quietly with the Force for decades, and what had gone down in his record was impressive; everything from getting them medical supplies to saving lives of wounded Force members brought to his offices in the middle of the night, after missions went bad. He’d been replacing lost body parts and fixing bodies for Force members for decades too. Aside from excitement about his own procedure, Aidan was looking forward to meeting such a solid ally.

Overhead, Kevin’s screens flickered as he worked on coding some retro game and hummed quietly along with whatever was playing in his ‘buds. Aidan couldn’t help but glance at the clock on his tab as he read, willing it to move its digits. He wasn’t sure if the hollow feeling in his gut was anticipation or hunger.

Finally, Kevin’s leg shifted under him. “Time we were moving,” his boyfriend murmured.

Glancing up, Aidan jerked his head in agreement.

They moved with care through the packed crowds of morning, blending in with the commuters. The sky hung heavy over them, grey with the promise of cold rain. They could use it, no question of that. Colorado always needed water. But in Aidan’s experience, it only ever rained enough in February to make everyone miserable, not enough to do anything for the water table.

He was distracting himself with piddly things and he knew it, but he’d use what worked for now if it helped him control his heart rate.

The body modification clinic was housed in a spartan building of glass and unpainted concrete, soaring over their heads. Aidan was glad they were on ZonCom land. In this area, it was safe to reach over and take Kevin’s hand as they stepped inside.

The cool, clinical air washed over them as the automatic door shushed closed behind. An attendant in mint-green scrubs checked her wall screen. Aidan saw his falsified credentials on there, read from the Citizen Card in his pocket when he walked in the door. The door wouldn’t have opened if he hadn’t been on the list, he guessed. This clinic was that kind of place.

The attendant minced over to them, smiling sweetly. “Good morning, Mr. Adler. The doctor’s been informed that you’ve arrived. He’ll be here to meet you shortly. Please, take a seat.”

“Thanks,” Aidan replied quietly, taking the seat he was ushered to. He squeezed Kevin’s hand, using the connection to keep himself in the moment. He couldn’t give any ground to the fears that threatened to swamp his mind.

Breathe, he told himself. In for seven. Out for seven. Slow. This is going to work out.

Relax,” Kevin whispered soothingly, squeezing his hand in return. “You’ll be fine. Relax.”

“Yeah.” Aidan eked out. “I know. Just…”

Mr. Adler?”

Aidan turned. A man was walking to stand beside him, his long white coat and his thatch of white hair shining in the clinic lights. His smile was gentle.

Aidan forced himself to release Kevin’s hand as he stood. “Yessir.”

The man held out his hand, shaking Aidan’s. “Doctor Medevych. Why don’t you and your partner follow me?”

The doctor led them to a handsome little office, bright and boasting a couple pieces of actual wood furniture. Doctor Medevych smiled once he was in his seat. “I hear good things about you, from our mutual friends.”

“Same here, sir,” Aidan replied, giving the doctor a nod. “I hear you’re the best at what you do.”

The doctor chuckled. “I appreciate the compliment. I’d like to go over today’s procedure with you. Once we’ve discussed everything, we’ll be giving you a sedative pill to begin the relaxation process, and you’ll be prepped for surgery.” The doctor tapped the surface of his desk, and a holo jumped into life, all clean lines and clear focus. The doctor gestured at it as he spoke. The images illustrated his words. “We’ll be putting you under a full anesthetic and attaching the existing erectile tissue, nerves, blood vessels and urethra to this lab-grown penis, as well as implanting gonadal tissue that will produce testosterone and gonadotropins internally. We will also be attaching a vat-grown scrotum, though you do need to be aware that the testes aren’t likely to be effective in terms of reproduction.”

Aidan nodded. “No worries there.” He shot Kevin a quick smile. Neither of them were going to be having a kid,that was for sure. Hell, they were helping to raise four kids already.

Doctor Medevych acknowledged Aidan’s answer, going on with his quiet explanation. “Today’s procedure will take about six hours. We’ll also be implanting a short-duration nanoid conglomerate. After the procedure, the nanoids will block pain and ensure the attachment of all your nerves, as well as acting to monitor the integration of your tissues and the mast cells laid down by the auto pads. Your new organs should be functioning as part of your body within ten to fourteen days. For the first three postoperative days you’ll need to wear a catheter and foley bag. You’ll be a little stiff and will want to stay still much of the time. On day four, I’d like to see you getting up to take short walks around the room three times a day. You’ll be released for recovery in five days. I’ll see you again in ten days to check your progress. At that time, we’ll check for integration of the grafts, the ability of the erectile tissues to function unassisted, and full sensory reaction. If everything is right, I can clear you for normal physical activity then.”

The words ‘normal physical activity’ made Aidan’s heart jolt in his chest.

“Do you have any questions?” The doctor asked. Aidan swallowed. He glanced at Kevin, who squeezed his hand gently and shrugged.

Aidan glanced back at the doctor. “Um…” he had to clear his throat to finish the sentence. “Just double checking; do I need to do anything different with my mood-stabilizing meds?”

Doctor Medevych smiled. “Your regimen won’t be affected; I’ve checked the drugs, and there won’t be any interactions. Anything else?”

Aidan swallowed. “Um…normal activity…does that include sex?”

The doctor nodded. Aidan glanced at Kevin, who was blushing like a tomato, and smiled. Then he turned back to the doctor. “Okay, that’s all.”

Then we’ll get started. If you’ll step this way?” Standing, the doctor gestured at the door.

Aidan glanced back. Kevin stood, watching his boyfriend with an anxious smile.

You going to wait around till I get done?” Aidan asked. Kevin took his hands. “Of course.” Leaning in, he brushed his lips over Aidan’s. “Godspeed.”

Aidan let himself lean into Kevin’s warmth for a heartbeat. Then he stepped away, and followed the doctor.

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