Hermes V was one of fourteen active Terraformation Monitoring Stations. Each one was positioned in disparate sections of human space and were owned and operated by the United Planetary and Intersystems Alliance. The UPIA had governed the total of human settled space for over eight centuries following the end of the Human-Tsaseen war. The war had lasted five decades, destroying not only whole planets but the structure of the Callian Democratic Empire which had governed the majority of human-settled space for nearly a thousand years.
After the war, all the human systems banded together and formed the UPIA; historians generally agreed it was both for protection against a possible second invasion and to help with economic recovery from the war. The Tsaseen had not distinguished between human governments. They attacked human planets, stations, or ships regardless of which human government was in control.
Entire planets had been devastated, fleets of merchant ships as well as military fleets had been attacked, and nearly every single mining colony in the outer-lying systems had been completely wiped out. The Tsaseen had eventually been defeated through the use of biotech weapons and what the historians called 'sheer human guts and probably a dose of dumb luck.'
The defeat had come almost too late, for the Tsaseen had unleashed a weapon late in the fifty years' war -- nuclear devices that wiped an entire planet's surface clean of living organisms. Humankind had spent the first hundred years simply recovering from the war; then they began to rebuild what was lost. The Department of Terraformation was created, and the first plans went into motion to reclaim the planets the Tsaseen had destroyed.
SA12-31 rolled down the corridor of the station's main thoroughfare, its round, magnetic wheels clicking softly against the faint joins in the metal floor plates. Jensen followed along behind the small robot at an unhurried pace, his attention focused on nothing in particular as he absently checked each sealed doorway as they walked past. Hermes V was orbiting the planet's nightside and would be for the next several days so Jensen barely spared a glance out the large windows lining the upper edge of the walkway. He'd seen it a million times before and the view held very little interest.
He did like the view of the sun rising when it came up over the planet's horizon. He liked the idea of a day beginning, even if the sunrises didn't usually coincide with the beginning of the work shift on the station. The next rising wouldn't be visible for another six days and seven hours. He'd already scheduled his workload to permit him a nice long break so he could go up to one of the lookout towers and watch it. Granted, with no one on the station but himself and the maintenance robots, it wasn't as though anyone would mind if he went up to watch a sunrise unscheduled, but it was easy enough to mark it on his work calendar ahead of time.
As he thought about the upcoming sunrise, Jensen wondered idly what the settlers would name their planet after they arrived. The first arrivals were due in five months -- the initial salvo of scientists and staff would be coming to the station to begin their studies of the planet below. Jensen had been monitoring the planet's development and every scan made was transmitted back to the Department of Terraformation, and, from there, to any interested party who wanted it. The scientists would know perfectly well that their project was proceeding smoothly and that no problems had arisen thus far in the terraforming cycle.
He understood that it wasn't the same thing, reports of someone else's scans versus making them yourself -- and neither was as good as being able to go down to the planet's surface in person. Jensen never went planet-side, even now with perfectly breathable air and the surface stabilized to a nice, steady gravity of 1.3 Earth-G. The people who would be coming to Hermes V would be shuttling down and taking all their own readings, setting up with their own equipment and doing all the more detailed work that would tell them if the planet truly was suitable for human settlement and more precisely what sort of planet they'd built.
No one anticipated any major problems; hence the scheduled arrival of the first of the homesteaders just one month after the science contingent was scheduled to begin their work. They wouldn't be permitted to take up residence for another three or four months afterwards, but everyone would gather just the same. A significant, but still relatively small fraction of homesteaders would arrive with a few thousand flocking to the planet early. Once the assayers divided up the land and decided where to start putting the towns, it wouldn't take long for tens of thousands more to show up and the new world would be quickly settled.
None of it mattered to Jensen. He wasn't going down to the planet; wouldn't be settling down. His job would be over and he would move on to another station orbiting another once-dead world to monitor the next terraforming project on the Department's list. That was how he preferred it; he wasn't even planning to attend the planet's opening "Welcome Home" ceremony.
SA12-31 bumped his ankle and Jensen looked down. Numbers scrolled quickly across the robot's readout, a screen curved slightly across the front of its head. The screen was old and slightly warped, making the first few numbers hard to read, but Jensen was used to it by now, tilting his head now and again as he followed the scrolling report.
As the data flow ceased Jensen nodded; the station's systems were functioning normally, as he'd expected them to. With no one living on the station yet, there was no one to use the main thoroughfare except him and all he ever did was walk down it. Nothing ever changed in any of these sections; in all his time here nothing had ever gotten worn down, broken, or even dusty. He kept up his maintenance routes of the station all the same, checking each section as required. Soon enough he'd have to confirm the station ready for its arrivals and he didn't want something to go wrong at this stage and not get fixed just because he'd been too bored to check everything over.
Embarrassing as hell to tell a Ship's Captain his passengers couldn't come aboard because a recyclables pipe was broken.
Jensen tapped SA12-31 lightly on the top of its head to let it know he had received its report, and the robot spun on its axis, then headed onward to begin its sensor-sweep of the next section.
Soon enough people would begin to arrive. Jensen was determined to enjoy the last of the quiet solitude on Hermes V while he could.
Several weeks later Jensen stood at the edge of the window at Lookout Tower 3 and watched the sun rise over the planet's horizon. He could see the sparkle of blue as the sunlight hit the northern ocean; he wondered again about what the planet's future residents would call it. Would the settlers would pick a theme like the settlers of New Orcasion had, naming every body of water, town, and hillside after the ancient Bini'do pantheon? Or maybe they would re-use names they knew from their previous homes, or simply name places after whoever landed or broke ground first. So far, none of the conversations he'd overheard had even touched on the issue of naming the planet. Though, to be honest, Jensen was trying to avoid the station's new arrivals as much as he could.
He splayed his hand against the flat, cool surface of the window-screen and watched as the planet slowly turned into the light. The window shielded just enough of the sun's light that he could see without being too bright to force him to look away. It would be warm, now, on the portion of the planet's surface he was looking at. Not even the height of summer and it would already be warm; this planet was going to be a hot, dusty place to live. The projections he'd studied had detailed it well, mapping out the generous deserts and tropical climates, the relatively low amount of ice-covered surfaces near the poles. It would be a good planet to grow crops and attract tourists in the winter months.
When the sun was fully up, Jensen turned away. "Come on, we have work to do."
The sensor-robot at his feet switched its input array to ready-on, flashing a light from red to green, and waited for direction. HA42-9 was an older model than most of the station's worker drones; it and SA12-31 were the two Jensen was most comfortable working with. They never seemed to suffer from glitches, unlike the entire range of RY robots which Jensen had simply left in their cases after his first week on the station. Nor did they ever offer alternatives to his commands, unlike the brand new robots that had been sent to the station fresh from the factory to replace Jensen's out-dated units.
Jensen found he hated arguing with a maintenance robot, so he'd directed the new KL5 series robots to scour the station on their own recognizance and to evaluate everything they found. Once that was completed they were to submit, in binary, every suggestion they could come up with for making the station run more efficiently.
That had been four years ago. Jensen hadn't been bothered by the robots since. He saw them constantly, rolling about the station and beeping to themselves and each other. But they hadn't finished their evaluation yet, so Jensen hadn't had to read any reports or figure out what to do with them next. In the meantime, he did his work unencumbered, monitoring the planet and performing regular upkeep on the station with the assistance of his two old robots, SA12-31 and HA42-9.
As he left the lookout tower, he caught sight of one of the robots -- KL5-12, according to the large red ID strip painted on its back. Jensen had no idea what it was doing; it appeared to be studying the floor. Every sensor it had was trained downward and it was moving slowly, barely an inch at a time before it would stop again, sitting in place for nearly a minute before rolling forward again.
Jensen heard a footstep and looked up to see one of the scientists -- Dr. Gregory Huffkit, a biogeologist -- nearly trip over little robot. Jensen held back a grin; he'd seen the man bruise his shin on KL5-3 just the previous day. Dr. Huffkit seemed surprised and annoyed by their presence, but Jensen hadn't worked up the nerve to ask the man if he simply wasn't used to the robots or if, as the gossip Jensen had overheard suggested, Huffkit was the sort to forget where he was all the time and walk into walls, too.
Well, he'd learn to watch his step, with twenty-two of the KL robots wandering around the station -- and if not, Huffkit would be gone soon anyhow. The biogeologists and climatologists were always among the first to arrive on a monitoring station and were always the first to disembark and move planet-side. The scientists had arrived eleven days ago and were still getting settled into the station. Jensen gathered that it was slow-going due to the sheer excitement of finally getting to see the planet first-hand.
He didn't begrudge them; he'd grown used to the thing, revolving slowly nearby, doing nothing but grow and evolve. But he'd been here for a long time and, besides, this was their work. Jensen was happy to leave them to it and do his own. Scientists he could handle -- easily avoided and easily distracted should they come to the station's original resident with questions.
It was everyone else that was presenting Jensen with his current problem. Twelve days ago the station had been quiet. Not silent, but quiet. Now it was constant noise. Everywhere Jensen went, there were people.
First was the support crew for the scientists, staff brought in to perform the mundane tasks the scientists themselves were too busy to take care of. Then there were ten shuttle pilots, constantly being pressed into service with flybys of the planet and quick excursions to the planet's surface. There was also the planet's initial governing body, two dozen people slated to take over running the planet and its people once it was settled. They'd installed their governship on the station immediately, already making their presence felt as the scientists found that not everyone's priorities were exactly the same and squabbles erupted over privileges -- such as shuttle flights.
Besides the ones here to work were the families of all those who'd arrived, easily tripling the population. As if that weren't enough, there had come all those predictable ones who knew a money-making opportunity when they saw one. Restaurants and entertainment venues had sprung up, and the meeting rooms were full of corporate and independent traders who wanted to lock down the rights to whatever minerals and deposits were discovered on the planet below all flowed in after the initial wave of official arrivals.
All in all, the population of the tiny station had exploded from Jensen and his robots to over three hundred humans. The station was fairly teeming with people everywhere Jensen turned. Constant noise and activity -- which he'd expected, he'd known this was coming from the day he'd first set foot on Hermes V to watch the planet below. He didn't like it, but he had, at least, expected it.
What he hadn't expected was Jared.
He wasn't going to do it.
Jensen stood at the exit of the accessway, staring across the busy thoroughfare at the wide open doorway. The main thoroughfare had become...he didn't know what to call it, but every empty room had been opened and they were now occupied by a myriad of shops, theaters, arcades, restaurants, and license offices for all the legal transactions springing into being. People came and went and from within each one Jensen could hear the raised voices of people, conducting whatever business or recreation they'd come to do.
He brushed his fingers against his shirt. In all his time aboard the Hermes V he had only once complained of being bored. Now he wanted to go back to that time and smack himself in the face. He'd just spent the entire morning repairing a back-up generator on Residential Level B; two young boys had somehow managed to pry off the locked panels and tried to rewire the thing to make a shrill beeping and spurt power out at pseudo-random intervals. Luckily it wouldn't switch on without authorization, else they might have fried more than Jensen's nerves.
Yesterday it had been an emergency sprinkler-system on Residential Level A, poked and prodded until it had sprayed fire-suppression foam over everything in the family's suite. The day before the walkway outside the shuttle bay had been covered in thick green plasticore which had stuck to the flooring. When he'd gone to clean it, he'd taken SA12-31 and HA42-9 with him; the plasticore hadn't been fully dry which he'd only discovered after hearing the shtook, shtook of the robots' wheels as they rolled across it. After he'd cleaned the floor he'd had to carry them back to the workshop and clean their wheels as well.
Today, after a long morning, he'd finally got the generator working again and had the entire afternoon to catch up on his normal duties. Which didn't explain why he was standing here, staring across the way at the open door to J's Bar and Grille. The grill was no more than sandwiches and soup from the dispensers, but Jared had told him that 'J's Bar' didn't sound homey enough so he'd added food to the menu and 'Grille' to the name. Jared had told him a lot of things -- the man talked mile a minute and never seemed to stop even once for a breath of air. Jensen had met him on accident twelve nights ago, called out to fix a broken temperature modulator at the shop next door.
"You're the station's monitor, aren't you?"
Jensen had been crouched by the shop's climate controls, SA12-31 at his side. The question had surprised him and when he'd looked up -- and up -- he'd found himself staring. He'd had to shake himself to answer, muttering something that had meant to be an affirmative and he'd ended up just nodding, dumbly. The behemoth towering over him had crouched, then, balancing on his heels and the man had grinned at him, holding out his hand.
Jensen remembered exactly the weird flopping feeling he'd gotten in his stomach. He'd smiled back and hastily shaken the offered hand. For a second Jared looked startled, then he grinned again and Jensen found himself answering questions about the climate controls -- how they weren't used to the sort of burden being placed on them after so long of being powered down, and how circuits would sometimes fry themselves from overuse.
Jared had seemed genuinely interested, even saying he'd go back to his own place and turn down the heat a few degrees to lessen the strain. "Come on by sometime," Jared had said, smiling again with a wide, happy smile. Jensen hadn't been able to even nod, and Jared had just looked at him for a few seconds before repeating his invitation and finally walking away.
Jensen hadn't gone to the bar despite the fact he'd run across Jared a few more times since. Each time Jared had repeated his invitation and Jensen had mumbled something that he'd intended to sound non-committal.
Now he was standing across the thoroughfare from the bar, feeling somewhat frozen in place as he stared at the sign above the doorway. As Jensen watched, two of the station's pilots went into the bar, talking loudly about a run they'd been on. Something involving pirates and shooting -- more excitement wherever they'd been than anything they were likely to get here, though Jensen couldn't tell from their conversation whether they deemed that a good thing or bad. Then they disappeared into Jared's bar and Jensen took a step towards the door.
"This is stupid," he muttered to himself, clenching one hand into a fist. It wasn't like he'd never hung out at a bar. Wasn't like he'd never sat and talked to people. It had just been a long time and he liked how things had been. Quiet, alone, predictable -- and if it had ever gotten a little lonely, there had been an entire library to peruse. He'd spent so many of his evenings reading, or watching vids, and he'd barely made his way through a third of the library's contents.
He took another step towards the bar and bit his lip.
To hell with it. He'd go order a drink and be done with it. One drink, then he'd go.
It wasn't until he reached the doorway that it occurred to him that Jared might not even be there. His step faltered only for a second, then he continued in, trying to act as though he had simply come for a drink and nothing more. He chided himself even as he thought it -- of course he had. It didn't really matter if--
Jensen stopped and looked over, a quick glance taking in the forward half of the bar. Only a few tables, fewer customers at them. The two pilots had taken places at the bar -- the bar from behind which Jared was grinning at him.
Jensen forced himself to walk casually over to the bar, taking care to head for a stool far enough away from the pilots that he wouldn't be pressed to make small talk, but not so much that it looked as though he was avoiding them. Which he was, of course, but he didn't want them to start talking about him or passing along the sort of gossip that pilots could spread. Then he asked himself why he cared, really, and before he could move to take a seat slightly closer to appear more sociable, his hand was on the back of a stool and Jared was standing on the other side of the bar, beaming at him.
"Um. Hi." Jensen sat down, hoping he didn't manage to fall off the stool, given the amount of grace he was feeling. No one had ever accused him of being a smooth talker.
"What can I get you?" Jared asked, leaning casually on the bar-top. It was made from the same sort of metal the entire rest of the station's structure was built from, but here it had been tinted and polished to resemble dark wood. In residential suites it was shaded and textured to appear like carpeting or painted walls according to the tastes of whoever was living there. Jensen's room was the basic metal surface, with the walls tinted slightly lighter than the flooring.
"Just coffee," Jensen said, and Jared nodded easily and moved away. Jensen took advantage of the brief respite to look around more closely at the interior of the bar. He'd been inside the room before, of course, many times. This was his first time inside since Jared had moved his business in.
Jared had apparently arranged for the wall decor to resemble something only Jensen couldn't figure out what. It was too neatly done to not be a design of some kind. The bottom half of each wall was a light color that looked like paneled wood. The top half was darker and smooth, with pictures and other items sketched in. All of it was fake, of course, but Jensen recognized a phootsboard in the back, and the landscaped paintings along the front were probably from Jared's homeworld. Overall, Jensen thought he liked it.
He noticed suddenly that the air was slightly cooler in the bar than it was in most of the other businesses. Jensen was oddly touched, knowing Jared had kept his word to lessen the strain on his climate control computer. One large room would hardly make a difference, what with the hundreds of rooms now in use, but it was nice knowing that there was one computer system he wouldn't have to repair.
Just then Jared came back and set a large mug of coffee in front of him. "Cream, sweetener, reconstituted rum?"
Jensen's head popped up and he blinked in surprise. Jared laughed.
"I'm kidding about the rum. And the cream, actually. I have sweetener though. Lots and lots of powdered sweetener." Jared leaned forward, resting his elbow on the bar-top and looking excitedly expectant, as though Jensen's response was important. Maybe, Jensen thought, he had a surplus of sweetener and was trying to get rid of it.
"Just black is fine," Jensen managed, and was grateful he'd got all the words out without tripping over his tongue or slipping into Danish. "Thank you," he added, and he raised the mug to take a sip.
It tasted exactly like the coffee he got out of his private kitchen, and the coffee that he got out of the repair shop's dispenser. It was the same, after all. The station's dispensers were in every room and they all connected to the same beverages generator. Hermes V was too small and out of the way to justify shipping in real foodstuffs instead of preparing re-hydrolyzed and regenerated foods. Jared wouldn't be selling the coffee, anyway. Jensen would leave a credit as a tip just to be polite, but bars on small, out-of-the-way stations like this one made their money from the distillery that the bartender set up in a back room. Being the only source of alcohol on the station would make enough credits that it wouldn't matter how many sandwiches and coffee Jared gave away.
Jensen wouldn't be doing more than renting the stool he was sitting on with a single credit, but he didn't have much desire for alcohol. But as Jared handed over his mug, Jensen gave him a smile and was rewarded by a grin bright enough that Jensen felt he should have worn eyeshades.
He took another drink while he tried to think of something to say. Fortunately, Jared rescued him before he had a chance to ask if Jared had been here long, or if he liked the station's weather.
"So, um, I heard about the green paint," Jared said, and Jensen could tell he was stifling a laugh.
Jensen rolled his eyes. "Kids. I swear, their parents should keep them better corralled." He could hear the bitterness in his tone, and it surprised him a little that he'd let his frustration slip.
Jared frowned. "It didn't hurt anything, though, did it?"
"No, it just peeled right up after I neutralized the sticky-back. Green tinted plasticore, no big deal. I just wish they'd stop breaking things. I spent all morning cleaning it up and..." Jensen paused, then reluctantly admitted, "Well, it was something different to do, I'll give them that much."
This time Jared did laugh. "So, they had fun, you had...something not too boring to do, and the pilots had a bad moment when they thought the beer had really turned their eyes green." Jared winked at the two pilots. The pilots just glowered back, and Jensen suddenly had a really bad thought.
"Why would they think the beer had turned their eyes green?"
Jared's expression turned wide-eyed and innocent. "Well, I might have been serving green beer last night. It's a custom, after all. Saint Padrick's Day. Green beer and green ham."
Jensen kept staring at the bartender who was now wiping a cloth along the bar-top as though it needed cleaning. "Jared."
"Yes, Jensen?" Jared smiled at him brightly.
"What do you know about green-tint plasticore?"
Jared opened his mouth with an expression of denial, then his grin changed and he ducked his head, sheepishly. "I owed them a joke, and I knew you'd find out that I did it."
"Why would you--" Jensen cut himself off, not wanting to know why the bartender felt the need to play a joke on the station's pilots. Instead he asked, "Why would you think I'd figure out it was you?"
"Because your little robots helped me find the plasticore," Jared said, and Jensen stared at him, dumb-struck, until he realized that Jared was telling the truth. He made a mental note to...well, figure out how, exactly, one punished station maintenance robots.
But Jared's explanation still didn't make much sense. "If I'd known you'd done it I would have just come in here and yelled at you," Jensen pointed out.
Jared shrugged. "But at least you'd have come in here." He glanced at Jensen with a more serious expression, then moved away, heading out to one of the tables to tend to the customers there.
Jensen sat there and watched him go, absolutely no idea what to say. He stared at Jared as the other man moved from one table of customers to the next, taking away empty glasses and returning a few moments later with refills. Jared never glanced over at Jensen while he worked, but soon enough he'd returned to stand at the counter, opposite him.
"I'm sorry," Jensen blurted. He realized that he'd been rude -- he'd understood that Jared had been inviting him to come by the bar and he hadn't actually disliked the man. But he hadn't meant for Jared to think his offers were being refused.
Except they had been, really. Jensen wasn't exactly sure why he'd finally decided to come today, other than the suspicion that Jared would just keep asking until he said yes.
"I meant... I just didn't," Jensen began again, and stumbled to a halt. It had been a long time since he'd even talked to anyone but his robots and they weren't exactly good for in-depth conversations. He finally shrugged. "Out of practice, I suppose. Not used to people being around." Jensen looked over at the pilots, wondering again what they had done to deserve Jared playing a joke on them. He hadn't overheard anything, but really, he didn't overhear much at all.
He looked back at Jared, ready to try apologizing again and was surprised to find the bartender smiling. Once again Jensen found himself distracted by that wide grin, and it took him a second to process that Jared honestly wasn't upset.
"A lot more people around than you're used to," Jared said, in a tone of real sympathy. Jensen just nodded, not wanting to get into the details. He liked it on Hermes V by himself, but he knew enough not to go around telling the new residents that. Jared leaned forward slightly and continued, "We'll just have to work on that."
Then he stepped back and walked away. Jensen blinked, then gaped at him with a growing feeling of alarm. Work on that? What the hell did he mean? He stared as Jared piled empty, used glasses in the sanitizer, wanting to call out and demand to know what he meant.
He had a very bad feeling he knew what Jared meant. Jared had issued invitations until resorting to unusual and drastic measures to get Jensen into the bar. If this was only the first step.... Jared ignored him as he cleaned the glasses, apparently oblivious to Jensen who was watching him, worrying -- and not, against all good reason, running while he could.
Ten days later, Jensen had formed two theories about Jared. One was that he was out to wander the galaxy stirring up trouble wherever he went. The second was something Jensen didn't like to think about too closely and tried very hard to ignore. It involved feelings he couldn't afford, and a lot more socialization than Jared was probably intending.
Socialization was Jared's ploy, after all. Working on getting Jensen used to people on the station apparently meant forcing Jensen to spend time with them. Jensen had put his foot down and refused to visit the bar every night -- Jared's first suggestion. He'd meant to say 'no' to each one of Jared's suggestions, but somehow over the course of that first afternoon, he'd ended up agreeing to visiting the bar every third evening. Jared had agreed that he didn't have to sit with anyone as long as he didn't hide away in a corner.
Jensen had suffered through Jared's socialization experiment three times so far, and he'd found that as long as he sat at the bar and spoke with Jared when the other man was between customers, he could avoid getting glared at and forced into conversations with strangers. He'd found that it wasn't really that bad, either. A skill rusty with disuse, he was gradually remembering how to interact with people who spoke in real sentences and needed more than a tap on the head to let them know he'd heard. When he was left alone, he found he rather enjoyed sitting at the bar, watching people and listening to snatches of their conversations. Mostly he found that he liked listening to Jared. The man had a hundred stories, it seemed, all full of jokes and laughter and strange things happening to people who caught Jared's mischievous eye.
He still didn't know what the pilots had done to deserve a green floor outside the shuttle bay, but he was beginning to suspect they hadn't done anything. Jared seemed to enjoy playing harmless jokes on people and pilots -- at least the ones Jensen had ever encountered -- were the sort to enjoy a clever or creative prank.
He was currently sitting near the rear of the bar at the counter, away from the bulk of the evening's first patrons. The bar would be quite full in another hour, and Jensen would probably be gone by then. For now it was perhaps half-full, and it was enough for him to be there for Jared to accept that Jensen was going along with Jared's plans.
He didn't know why he was going along with Jared's plans. Jensen thought he should devote some serious discussion with himself about that, except he thought maybe he already knew the answer. Jared was gorgeous, friendly, and very focused on Jensen. It was easy to understand there was a growing attraction -- on Jensen's part. Whether or not Jared saw him as anything other than a pet project, he didn't have the nerve to find out.
Jensen nursed his coffee, using it to shield his lack of purpose in sitting there. He was still nervous being around so many people and was still afraid someone might sit down beside him and start talking. He thought about rigging HA42-9 with a remote to trigger a fake call that he'd have to answer and give himself an escape. It would be easy to do and Jared probably wouldn't figure out he'd done it.
A couple came in and sat down at the table nearest his stool, and Jensen turned slightly away. He recognized them both: Janice Harper was a technician with the solar energy department, and Mattias Beninby was one of the scouts for UPIA Mining Corp.
"I haven't seen anything definitive," Mattias was saying as they took their seats. "I'm not sure there's one here yet."
Jensen had no real intention of listening to them -- they were sitting close enough it would be obvious which would either lead to them talking to him or calling him on being rude. But he was sitting too close not to hear, so he turned his back fully to them and tried to at least look like he wasn't listening.
"Well, they wouldn't be obvious, would they?" Janice asked, a tone of surprise in her voice.
There was a pause, then Mattias said in a knowing tone, "You learn to recognize them. Despite the UPIA owning the rights to the planets being terraformed, there are always corporate raiders and techspies hoping to get a foot in the system."
Jensen relaxed; he'd heard this concern before. New planets were rich with minerals, deposits, and other natural sources of just about anything a person could dig up and sell. The UPIA intended for the planets to be self-sustaining, with off-planet exports being heavily restricted for the first fifty years. That never stopped those corporations and individuals hoping to make a quick dollar, or somehow get the privileges of mining-rights when a planet was finally open to habitation.
"So you'd recognize them?" Janice was asking, dubiously.
"I know some of them on sight, yes. That's why the UPIA Mining sent me here, after all. But there are hundreds more of them than there are of UPIA agents. Even with ID scans and regular updates we can't hope to spot them individually. You learn to spot them by behavior," Mattias' voice dropped in a stage-whisper, and Jensen had the odd feeling he was playing it up. To impress the lady? Possibly. But everything he was saying was true.
Jensen had seen the in-bound newsreports himself, every twenty days since the first day he'd arrived on the Hermes V. Mostly the reports were vague and general, listing corporations which were suspected of illegal interest, and a short list of those who had been charged or even found guilty. The problem was that individuals behind those corporations were too numerous to charge, and they always slipped away and created new businesses, letting the old one dissolve away.
It wasn't even that resources were necessarily tight across the realm of human-settled space. But everything was already owned. New planets already able to sustain life, or even provide mineable resources, were extremely rare. The Tsaseen invasion had seen to that. The terraformed planets offered the chance for huge wealth -- for the settlers and the UPIA. The UPIA kept corporations out of the lists of approved settlers, which meant the only way to get mining rights was by stealing or tricking it away from the rightful owners.
"What sort of behavior? How do you know when someone's a techspy?" Janice's voice had dropped to an excited whisper. Well, at least the UPIA man had found a receptive audience for his dramatics, Jensen told himself. Corporate raiders and techspies in real life were relatively unexciting. Most often they hacked into a computer system and stole ownership of plots of promising land. All the action was binary -- the most physical action Jensen had ever heard of was when a techspy had been arrested on the station Gallagher Nine; he'd tried to make a getaway and been wrestled to the floor by the station's security.
That didn't mean that trillions of credits weren't at stake. But binary-style theft was generally considered a boring crime by most humans. Jensen wondered how Mattias would manage to make his job sound exciting, and sipped more slowly at his coffee.
He listened as Mattias spoke slowly, drawing out his words as if that made them more impressive. "You learn to notice the little things," he was saying. "Mannerisms and strange behavior. It all looks obvious when you've been hunting down spies as long as I have."
Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Jensen risked a brief glance over. Janice was leaning forward, apparently hooked on his story. Despite the fact Mattias wasn't really saying anything concrete to answer her questions, she was falling for every line.
Mattias might or might not know anything about real techspies, but he clearly did know something about charming women. Janice, for whatever reason, was enthralled as Mattias began to recount a tale of espionage which sounded like a complete fabrication to Jensen. He was fairly certain he'd read that very tale in a library file, not too many years ago.
But it was very obviously working. Janice was hooked.
On the other side of the counter, Jared moved past him, pausing to refill Jensen's mug of coffee and offer him a quick smile. Jared had managed to get Jensen into his bar, after trying and failing for several days. Now that he had him here... nothing else had happened. Jared seemed perfectly content to let Jensen sit for an hour and drink coffee and avoid all but the barest minimum amount of conversation.
He was pretty sure that making his job sound exciting and dangerous wouldn't do more than make Jared laugh at him. But surely he should be doing something? Something more than taking up space and waiting until....
Until what? He had no idea. He didn't understand why Jared had even bothered trying to get him here in the first place. Jared hadn't done anything more to 'socialize' him, hadn't pestered him about attending any of the station's functions being held now that there were people here to grow bored and restless. There were vids being screened in one of the larger meeting rooms every fifth night. There was a conference hall that had been reserved for some kind of party, ten nights hence. Jensen had gotten the request to alter the room according to specs that said it would be a dance of some kind, with piped in music and refreshments from the same kitchen everyone already ate from.
Jensen had to admit he'd been half-expecting Jared to mention it, but he hadn't. He wasn't disappointed, exactly. There was no way he wanted to attend such an event. But he was starting to wonder if maybe there was supposed to something more to Jared's socialization experiment than drinking coffee and listening to people talk.
He heard a laugh from Janice and didn't bother looking over his shoulder. It occurred to him that maybe Jared was waiting for him to make the next move. He had no idea -- Jensen had never dated in his entire life, his only knowledge about it came from the library and watching people like Mattias charm his intended. Jensen had no idea what next move he was supposed to make, or how to make it if that was what Jared was after.
Assuming Jensen had any business making a next move. There were very good reasons why Jensen shouldn't be thinking about pursuing a relationship with Jared. Jensen knocked back a large swallow of coffee and, for a second, considered ordering a mug of the distilled alcohol Jared served. It wouldn't help, but Jensen felt the sudden need for something other than coffee.
He really shouldn't be thinking about a relationship with the bar's owner. But...once the planet below was opened for settlement, Jared would either be moving down with the others, or moving on. Jensen realized that any relationship they managed to have would be temporary. A year at best, maybe a year and a half before the station would be refitted for government offices and UPIA security patrols and everyone else would move on.
So maybe it would be all right if Jensen made the next move and saw where that got him. If it got him Jared...maybe it would be nice, for a few months, to have someone to sit with and talk to, spend the night with and wake up to something other than a softly flashing blue light from the clock that said the morning had begun.
Jensen looked over to where Jared was standing near a group of young women, all dressed in the dark green smocks designating them as climatologist interns. They were smiling and giggling, Jared was carrying forth with one of his many wild stories. Jensen felt a sudden stab of jealousy and fought down the urge to walk over there and interrupt. Completely pointless and stupid, Jensen told himself. He'd only barely decided that he wanted to instigate a relationship -- and what if Jared wasn't interested? What if his pet project to socialize Jensen was already done and he was moving on? Was Jensen reading too much into whatever overtures Jared had made?
He took another look at Jared, watching as he continued regaling the young women. Two of them seemed especially interested, leaning forward and acting not unlike Janice with Mattias, who was -- Jensen checked -- wrapping up his tales of espionage and inviting Janice to have dinner with him that night. Janice was accepting and -- what if Jared--?
With a sharp mental twist, Jensen derailed his thoughts. There was a reason why he wasn't any good at 'people'; it wouldn't do him any good to get worked up over the situation when he didn't even know what the situation was. Right now, all he could do was sip his coffee and ignore Mattias telling Janice that he carried a pistol. An absurd claim that was blatantly false and Jensen was surprised Janice didn't laugh in his face. But she made an impressed noise and was now inviting Mattias back to her quarters.
Jensen blinked in surprise at the blank wall behind the bar. He was mildly curious to know what would happen if he interrupted them and told Janice that the man was lying. It wasn't any of his business, he knew, and he had no real reason to intervene. He did turn slightly to watch them go, and as he started to return his attention to his coffee he found Jared looking at him from the other end of the bar.
For a long moment they just looked at one another, neither of them doing anything. He couldn't read Jared's expression -- closed, so unlike his usual friendly and cheerful smile. Just as Jensen was about to worry if he had done something, Jared said something aside to the women he'd been talking with and headed towards Jensen.
Jensen didn't move, even when Jared had made his way all the way down the bar to stand there, looking at him. He was smiling again, which reassured Jensen in a way he couldn't quite put into words.
"Refill?" was all Jared asked, and Jensen shook his head. Jared didn't move away, looking at him as if waiting for him to say something. Maybe he thought Jensen would finally order a sandwich.
In the thirty seconds it had taken Jared to reach him, Jensen had searched for and discarded a dozen options. He didn't want to do anything that involved being around a large group of people. Preferably not even a small group of people. He didn't mind hanging around Jared's bar, but he wasn't sure that Jared found it particularly exciting. He was here every day, all day, as it was. It hardly seemed to count as a date.
Jensen had to shove his thoughts past that word and latched onto the one option he'd come up with. The only thing he liked to do that he could possibly share with Jared.
"Four days from now the sunrise is going to be coming over the planet's horizon," he said, pushing the words out before he could convince himself it was all a mistake.
"Oh?" Jared's eyebrow went up, and he looked slightly confused...but mostly interested. There was a smile on his face like he knew what Jensen was doing and -- and he was happy about it.
That or he was getting ready to laugh in Jensen's face. Jensen took a deep breath and looked down at his nearly-empty mug of cold coffee. "I'm planning on heading to Lookout Tower Five to watch it. If you-- I mean, if you want... Do you--" He was rapidly running out of steam and he wondered if he should maybe cut his losses. Somehow he forced himself to look up and found Jared waiting for him. His smile had gotten soft, and he looked-- he couldn't describe it but it was all the encouragement Jensen needed to say, "You can join me if you're interested."
The blazing smile and delight in Jared's eyes made his answer unnecessary, but Jared said, "I'd love to."
Jensen nodded, looking away again then up at Jared and he wanted to make his escape while he hadn't made things worse. He toyed with his mug and told himself he shouldn't bolt, because that would give Jared the wrong impression, but he had no clue what he should say next.
'I carry a light-pistol' didn't seem appropriate, somehow, even if it had worked for Mattias.
"So what time should I meet you?" Jared asked, as if he knew Jensen was flailing. He opened his mouth to say he usually got there at six one ten, when Jared continued, "Or should you just wake me?"
Jensen froze, mouth open, and tried in vain to kick his brain back into gear.
He sat there long enough that Jared's smile faded and he sputtered, "I'm sorry, God; I just thought-- "
Jensen shook his head quickly. "No, it's...you can. I mean--" He felt his face turn bright red. "I didn't know if you wanted to," he managed.
That got him a shy grin that looked amazingly adorable. Jensen found himself caught in it for a moment. "Then I could come by your place the night before? And we can see the sunrise after?"
Jensen wasn't blushing any less as he nodded. "I'd like that." He expected he could make his escape now, without stumbling or doing his psyche any further damage.
Then Jared leaned over the bar and kissed him.
The following afternoon Jensen had avoided Jared and talked himself out of, into, back out of, and back into keeping the date. He had even sat down in his little-used office and begun compiling a list of pros and cons while HA42-9 rolled back and forth on its wheels, bumping into his leg. Jensen had initially thought the robot was trying to get his attention, but every time he'd looked down to check HA42-9's readout, there was nothing on its display. He'd finally decided the robot was near its maintenance cycle and was simply having a glitch, and ignored it. Tomorrow would be soon enough to render repairs.
His list was growing unfortunately slowly; he couldn't decide if he was more afraid of convincing himself to cancel than he was of convincing himself to go through with it. He moved his leg out of the way as HA42-9 rolled into him again and frowned at the handheld's screen. Number five could easily be moved to the con column; he tapped the item and thought about moving it. Or maybe he should put it down twice, one in each column?
The robot bumped his leg again and this time Jensen glanced down; its readout was still dimmed. Jensen tried tapping its head to see if the input-ready light would come on. It did so Jensen asked, "Status?"
For a moment there was no response, then a single line of code appeared indicating the robot was prepared to accept incoming instruction. Everything appeared perfectly normal. Jensen frowned, then nudged the robot away with his foot. It rolled almost immediately back, running into Jensen's leg again. Jensen sighed. Maybe he would give the robot a quick tune-up today. He set the handheld aside and picked the little robot up, putting it on his desk.
"Maintenance mode," he told it, and its display screen flashed once, then went dim. Jensen picked up his small toolkit and keyed open the faceplate to reveal the initial coding boards.
The following day he got as far as talking himself into and out of meeting Jared twice, when he got called to the nanochemistry labs to repair a faulty scanner. From there it was Residence Level C and a bathroom sink full of purple goo, a crying toddler, and one furious and embarrassed mother. The pilots' bunker was next after that, with climate controls that kept spewing out freezing air no matter how the controls were dialed.
With one pseudo-emergency call after another, he never even had a chance to attend to his routine scan-checks and before Jensen knew it he was standing in his quarters staring at the door, waiting for Jared to knock. He'd considered and rejected a thousand different scenarios, from grand romance to simple rations and straight to bed. He hadn't had a chance to make a list for that, either; in fact he hadn't had time to plan anything until suddenly it was ten minutes until Jared had told him he'd arrive. With no idea of how punctual Jared would be, Jensen was stuck, standing in the middle of the front room, watching the door with absolutely no plans made for dinner or breakfast or anything in-between.
Before he could dash into the kitchenette to confirm that the dispensers were working properly, there was a knock on the door. Jensen froze for just a second, then hurried forward and triggered the door. Then he stepped back to let Jared in and blurted, "I have no idea what I'm doing."
Jared grinned, then cocked his head and frowned. "You don't mean that literally, do you?"
It would be nice if he could just turn himself off, like he'd done with HA42-9. Trying to salvage something, if not necessarily his dignity, Jensen tried to explain. "I don't-- I haven't...ever been on a real date before." He had no idea what had prompted the outburst of honesty. His cheeks were burning and he really truly hoped Jared would take pity on him. Maybe he could salvage it as a joke and bluff his way through.
Jared's frown deepened slightly. "Are you saying you haven't had sex before?"
"Of course I've had--" Jensen looked away, staring at the far wall. "I...just notwithanotherperson," he said quickly, trying to swallow the words even as he said them. Maybe it was better this way, to get Jared's expectations down low where Jensen might possibly meet them. Or scare him off with the threat of being disappointed.
He didn't really expect Jared to walk up to him and place one hand on Jensen's face. "You did pretty well when we kissed."
"I tripped over three chairs," Jensen mumbled. His exit from the bar had been...memorable. Unfortunately. If he had paid any attention he was fairly certain he would have heard everyone on the station talking about it.
"But you didn't bite me, or miss my mouth and kiss my elbow or anything," Jared said, smiling slightly.
"How could I kiss your elbow?" Jensen narrowed his eyes. It was difficult to tell if Jared was laughing at him or not.
"I'll show you sometime. But why don't we just start there, and we can work our way up." Jared glanced downwards. "Or down." He waggled one eyebrow in a decidedly lecherous way and Jensen couldn't help but laugh.
It didn't make him any less nervous. "Jared, I--" He was cut off by Jared's finger across his lips. He stopped, obediently, and stood still as Jared leaned down and kissed him.
When Jared broke away, Jensen was just glad there weren't any chairs to trip over. He grabbed onto Jared's arm, trying to regain some focus. He found Jared looking at him with a slightly worried, but mostly expectant expression on his face.
"I know how to kiss," he said, trying to sound as annoyed as he felt. "And I know how to have sex. I just thought you should know...." His irritation faded and he sighed. "I don't have any idea what I'm doing."
Jared just nodded and bent his head to kiss him again. This time it seemed to last longer, lips pressed together and Jared's hand on the small of his back, holding him upright. Jensen was the one to move away first.
"We could not," Jared said, calmly. "If you want time to research it?"
Jensen glared at him. "I've done research, thank you. I've seen movies and read a million books on the subject and I have actually--" He paused for only the briefest moment, wondering how he could claim to have done anything like this before from the interactions he'd actually had with people.
Jared started to smile, then visibly held it back, his mouth twisting into a gentle smirk. "Jerked off?"
Jensen scowled harder, and did the only thing he could think of to do. He punched Jared in the arm. It had worked, long ago, with the kids he'd grown up with. Well, not on Charisse; she'd always cried and run to someone to complain. Douglas had always hit back even harder so Jensen had learned not to punch him, either.
Jared's smirk vanished into shock; for only a second then the smirk was back, blossoming almost instantly into a grin. "That means you like me, you know."
"I don't think I do," Jensen said, and somehow he had...not relaxed, exactly, but the nervous fear he'd been feeling for the last three days was fading away.
"He li-ikes me," Jared said, grinning.
"He's throwing you out of his quarters," Jensen said, and put his hand on Jared's chest as if to do so. Jared caught it up, and held his hand. He held it against his chest, fingers lacing together, palms pressed close. He looked hesitant for a moment, then looked quizzically at Jensen.
But Jared shook his head and his laughter softened into something else. "Nothing. We really could do this another time if you want. We can just hang out and I'll tell you more stories that you'll pretend to believe and we can go see the sunrise in the morning."
"I--" Part of him wanted to leap at the chance to avoid embarrassing himself. But he didn't want to let go of Jared's hand. "I'd rather," he began, and was still searching for the words when Jared spoke.
"It's OK if you don't know what to do," he said easily. "If you want to know something, just ask. I'm not going to laugh." Jared paused, then added, "Unless you tell that joke about the ducks and the racing ship."
Frowning, Jensen tried to figure out what the hell Jared was talking about. He'd never in his life told a joke, and certainly not one about a racing ship or ducks. He tugged his hand out of Jared's grip, and took a step backwards. Away from the crazy man, he thought to himself loudly, perfectly happy for Jared to know exactly what he was doing. Before he could ask, Jared just shook his head.
"Sorry. It's a quote from a vid. Very popular last year. There were these two guys on a spaceship stuck in a blackhole and-- Um. I guess you haven't seen it. Never mind." Jared grinned sheepishly, like he'd realized he was babbling and was embarrassed by it.
It made Jensen feel a little better. "The library here only gets updates every five years," he explained. The library had been due for a data upload four months ago, but with the pending arrival of the scientists, the UPIA had decided no one would care how up-to-date the station's entertainment library was. Besides which, the space was now being used for other things. "All the scientific work being done is taking up the server space," Jensen explained. "It didn't seem important to upload new entertainment files."
"Ah. Well, how about I promise to tell you the joke later? Right now, can I kiss you again?"
"You didn't ask the first three times, why are you asking now?" Jensen put on a fake-scowl. Jared laughed -- and kissed him again.
Not surprisingly, Jensen didn't really mind. When Jared broke away, Jensen asked, "How could I have kissed your elbow?"
Jared stepped back, slipping his hand down Jensen's arm to take his hand, giving him a gentle tug towards the bedroom. "I'll show you." After only a moment's hesitation, Jensen followed.
Jared's chin was digging into his shoulder. Jensen nudged his shoulder upwards, but Jared remained oblivious to the hint. He bounced his shoulder twice more and Jared just said, "Which one is the seismograph?"
Jensen pointed to the lower screen on the left. "That one." He was sitting at his workstation in the main scansroom, where he did the bulk of his actual monitoring of the planet's terraformation progress. There wasn't a lot of actual labour involved; the processes were automated and a lot of Jensen's work involved keeping an eye out for things that were going wrong. He wasn't a trained scientist, but over the years he had grown to understand the significance of what the screens were displaying.
He might not be able to teach a fourth-grade science class on any of the sciences, but he did, for example, know which screen to check when someone complained about the sensors not being calibrated properly to detect minute changes in wind strength.
That was what had brought him in here today. Jared had tagged along, claiming an interest in staring at screens and scanners. He hadn't opened the bar for the day yet, and Jensen had observed that over the last five consecutive days he'd been opening the bar later than normal.
He knew why, of course -- Jared was with him. He'd asked Jared yesterday if he wasn't concerned about his business, after Jared hadn't opened for a full hour later than usual. Jared had laughed and pointed out no one else was distilling alcohol on the station -- where would his customers go? He'd smiled like he knew something Jensen didn't, and Jensen had had to admit that he hadn't actually heard anyone complaining.
What was also odd was that Dr Wilma Forrester, when she'd called him half an hour ago about the wind sensors placed around the planet's upper atmosphere, had apologized for disturbing him. He still didn't know why -- it had been mid-morning and thus well past the usual beginning of his shift. Granted, he hadn't been doing much work; when he'd shown up at her lab with Jared at his side, she'd grinned at them both and promised it shouldn't take long.
She'd shown him the trouble and he'd quickly determined that he could either fix it in the scansroom or else someone would have to go down with a shuttle and visit each atmospheric sensor first-hand. At the moment he was attempting to locate the source of the trouble, a task which was made slightly more difficult by Jared's chin on his shoulder.
"You can sit down, you know," he said. "Or doesn't your back not hurt, bent over like that?" He glanced over his shoulder, pretending not to notice that Jared's face was half an inch from his own.
"I'm very agile," Jared said blithely, and Jensen found himself blushing. He turned his attention back to the wind monitors and tried to banish the images from last night. Jared had been showing him a great deal of agility over most of the last eight nights.
One night they'd actually just slept -- Jensen had spent the entire evening cleaning the outside of the shuttle bay, suited up to remove the debris from a dust-storm it had run into, planetside. The shields had managed to flicker just long enough to coat the seams to the bay doors, and the security protocols wouldn't let anyone open the doors while there was a risk of contamination. With flights scheduled for the following day, Jensen had worked hard to get the doors cleaned. He had a vague memory from that night of falling into bed and Jared's hands on his shoulders, rubbing.
Then four nights ago Jared simply hadn't stopped by, and Jensen had pretended he didn't think anything of it until the next morning when he'd found Jared at his door, looking pitiful and claiming he hadn't been able to sleep and not to ever let him do that again.
He was growing rapidly used to having Jared around. Mornings they would go up to the Lookout Tower and watch the planet, or Jensen would show Jared around the station. Afternoons they'd go their separate ways, meeting up again late in the evening to spend the night in Jensen's quarters.
Jensen was amazed at how easy it seemed. He was pretty sure it wasn't supposed to be, despite all the romance stories he'd ever read. In vids it very often was this easy, but Jensen knew perfectly well the difference between reality and fantasy. But this...thing, with Jared, seemed a lot more like fantasy than real. Jared felt nearly perfect beside him, spooned up behind him when they slept. The way he smiled made Jensen's entire day go better, and every minute he was somewhere other than with Jared, he was thinking about him and when they'd meet up again.
He tried telling himself to stop asking for trouble and focus on his work. The wind wasn't going to stop blowing because Jared was leaning up against his back, poking at dials and letting Jensen slap his hand away from actually pressing any controls. Maybe it was just because it was new, Jensen mused. Or maybe he really didn't know what was supposed to be real.
It just seemed really easy to let Jared into his life and part of him was worried that it meant something was wrong.
He felt a soft nudge at his foot and he glanced down to find SA12-31. He tapped its upper screen and a line of code appeared. Jensen frowned. "But I didn't request anything."
"Huh?" Jared stood up, hand brushing against the back of Jensen's neck.
"It's saying it has the data I requested, but I didn't ask for anything." Jensen started to lean down to check the robot -- maybe HA42-9 wasn't the only robot in need of maintenance. But suddenly Jared crouched down.
"Come here, girl."
And to Jensen's amazement, the robot rolled over to Jared. Jensen could see lines of code appearing on the screen, which Jared was reading quickly.
"The robot doesn't have a gender," Jensen said, idly. Jared didn't respond, still looking at the robot's screen.
Suddenly he laughed, and patted the robot on the head. "Good job, Sadie."
Jensen blinked. "Its designation is SA12-31."
This time Jared did look at him. With a wide grin, he said, "Sadie suits her better."
"It isn't a her," Jensen repeated, feeling confused.
Jared patted the robot on the head again and it rolled forward, bumping into Jared's leg. Jared laughed and bent down, telling the robot how grateful he was for its assistance. Then he glanced up at Jensen and said, "She likes the name Sadie. And I think Harley likes his name, too. He's been finding some good quiet spots on the station for me. Well, for us -- the Lookout Towers are nice but the open vistas give me just a little too much vertigo to really concentrate on making out with you."
"We've never made out in a lookout tower," Jensen said, numbly. "Wait -- Harley? Jared, you named my robots?"
Jared nodded. "Suits them. Makes them feel more like part of the family, you know?"
Jensen opened his mouth to remind Jared that the SA- and HA-designated robots didn't have personalities, when the robot made a series of beeps. It bumped into Jared's leg again and rolled back and forth, all the while beeping. As far as Jensen knew, the sounds had no communicative purpose other than audio-location. If the robots got away from him in poorly-lit areas, they could signal to him.
The fact that SA12-31 did seem...happy with Jared bent down, talking and patting it on the head .... It made no sense.
Jensen looked down at the robot. After a moment, he frowned. "My robot likes you better than me." He'd meant to tease Jared, but it came out sounding a lot more petulant than he'd intended.
Jared's head popped up and he started to say something when SA12-31 rolled over to Jensen and bumped into his leg. Its input-screen was blank for only a moment, then a single line of code appeared. Ready for instruction. Perfectly normal and exactly what it was supposed to do.
It was entirely possible; Jensen knew that Jared could have snuck in a few lines of programming so the robot would respond just this way. An elaborate prank, no harder to pull off than painting the shuttles bright pink with yellow flowers all over their atmospheric wings.
Jensen hadn't had time to do anything about that, yet, and the pilots were threatening to boycott Jared's bar for half an hour in protest. SA12-31 rolled back and forward again, nudging his leg gently. Its input-screen flashed again. Ready for instruction.
Jensen put his hand on its head, stroking just once. The robot beeped and it rolled in a tight circle before coming back to rest beside his foot.
Oh, Jensen thought. Swallowing hard, he managed, "Good girl, Sadie."
The robot beeped again, rolling over to Jared before returning to him. Jensen looked over, and found Jared watching him with an odd, but happy, expression.
Activity grew fast over the next twenty days. The first of the regular supply ships began to arrive and for a few days afterwards everyone on the station seemed even more excited than normal. Jensen understood from the conversations he overheard in the bar that people were receiving shipments they'd prepared before leaving their previous homes; personal belonging and items for their upcoming homestead were finally being delivered.
More people were arriving as well. There were support personnel for the science departments as well as more of the governmental staff, setting up the UPIA planetary government well in advance to curtail potential problems. The new governor wouldn't arrive for several more months, but the deputy governor had arrived and made his tour of the station, greeting people and making impromptu speeches about new frontiers. Jensen had been introduced to the station's new security chief and seen the half dozen security patrol personnel and their one dozen towering, lanky, and well-armed LEDANO peace-keeping robots come aboard. It would be a small contingent for the planet, but was a huge one for the space station. There were nearly a thousand people on Hermes V now and while the station could easily house five times that amount it was by far more than Jensen was comfortable with.
Oddly, he found that the increased number of strange faces often made it easier to go unnoticed. No one stared at him when he walked into a room, and no one seemed to notice when he sat quietly in Jared's bar for an entire evening drinking only one cup of coffee.
Better yet, the terraformation department support staff was now large enough that the station residents had their own people to complain to when equipment malfunctioned. None of Jensen's original duties had changed, but the small, annoying calls he had been getting were now assigned to a five-person service crew. Jensen had only to keep an eye on the planet's monitoring systems, double-checking that none of the scientists' activities disrupted the planet's progress by doing something like triggering an unscheduled volcanic eruption.
His job was growing rapidly redundant and he knew it would only become more so as the day of emigration grew nearer. He didn't mind -- he'd known what it would be like and what would be expected of him when the settlers arrived. His job wouldn't officially be over until the day the planet was listed as an inhabited member of the UPIA and given its official name, but in practice he would have less and less to do as that day grew nearer.
While he definitely appreciated not having to attend to broken toilets and climate conditioners that were spewing green smoke, it did leave him with a bit more time on his hands.
He'd tried at first to simply hang out at Jared's bar. The bar was much busier, to the point Jared had hired on a waitress and second bartender for the evening shift. Jensen didn't mind sitting near the back of the bar, nursing a cup of coffee and listening to people talk, but it didn't give him much opportunity to talk to Jared. Some nights he didn't even make eye contact until half an hour after closing time and Jared looked up from cleaning. Once or twice he'd even seemed surprised to see Jensen still sitting there.
They still spent their free time together, and Jensen still loved waking up every morning to find himself wrapped up in Jared's arms. But he'd started spending more of his time with the entertainment library's files, resuming his systematic progress through the files he had yet to view. He was working his way through it by date of release -- he'd figured out early on that doing it alphabetically meant he'd have to double back with every new update.
Sadie and Harley split their time between helping him with his work and disappearing -- he surmised they were with Jared, as they always returned to Jensen's quarters in Jared's wake. He hadn't quite decided if they really did like Jared better, or if it was just his imagination that Jared seemed to have a better rapport with them.
He wasn't fully convinced the robots had nascent personalities, either, but he wasn't willing to hurt Jared's feelings by saying so out loud. It didn't seem to affect the robots' performance of their duties and Jensen had to admit that if the little robots could be happy, they did sort of seem to be so.
As if Jared was making their world more perfect, too.
That evening Jensen was in his quarters, sitting at the console. He hadn't gone to the bar at all that day, hadn't seen Jared or the robots since that morning. He'd been trying to read up on the history of space travel, something he normally found quite interesting.
But thoughts of Jared kept interfering. Not just thoughts of Jared nestled against him, or the way Jared smiled when he rolled Jensen onto his back for a sleepy kiss. But other thoughts, little nagging things that Jensen had been trying for days to dismiss.
Part of it was just how easy it was. Not that Jensen expected them to have had arguments -- they'd only been dating for thirty one days. But so far they'd not even had a disagreement. Perhaps that, too, was normal for a fledgling relationship; it wasn't like Jensen had any others to compare it to. But from everything he'd seen, or read, or even overheard from other people -- it shouldn't have been this...perfect.
Until now Jensen had ignored the nagging suspicion that it ought to concern him more. But the other day Jared had told him and several other bar-goers a story about a raid several years ago on an orbital station above Candton. Jensen had looked it up in the news files, hoping to find a copy of the embarrassing video Jared had mentioned, and discovered the station Jared had apparently been on didn't exist.
It wasn't a huge leap to think Jared was making up his stories to amuse people, and given the circumstances -- entertaining a crowd at his bar -- it wasn't really that upsetting. But Jensen couldn't stop thinking about it, so finally closed the files on second-generation cargoships and opened up a newsfile program to do a little research.
He didn't know exactly what he was looking for, but he plugged in names, places, and dates from all of the personal history 'exploits' Jared had shared with him. Jensen focused his initial search on just those things Jared had told him, personally, ignoring for the moment anything he'd said to other people in Jensen's presence.
After an hour, Jensen widened his search, hoping that what he was learning was completely wrong. A mistake in the files, missing articles, something. The entertainment library only got updated once every five years, but the current events and scientific journals received updates every fifteen days. It wasn't hard at all to find the reference to Jared's arrival on Hermes V. He'd filed for a license to open the bar and distill alcohol for human consumption and it, along with a declaration of bar ownership, was part of public record.
It was proving impossible, however, to find records of Jared being anywhere before coming to the station. Just to verify his assumptions, Jensen researched each of the other arrivals to Hermes V, from scientists to staff, pilots and even the security cadet who'd graduated from the academy a mere fifty days before being assigned to Hermes V. Each person had records which were easily accessible to a public search -- schooling, travel, publications and awards. There was one scientist, Dr. Martin Vacotes, that Jensen was able to track back eighty years to his first civic duty award in high school.
Jensen sat back in his chair and just stared at the computer screen. Forty nine days ago, before boarding the ship that had brought him to Hermes V, Jared simply didn't exist.
"I can't believe he thought on a station as small as this one I wouldn't find out."
Jensen kept his head bent down over the climate control screen, fiddling with the codes for the cafeteria's computer. The repair had been a rather simple one, but ten minutes ago Janice Harper, the solar energy tech, had sat down nearby with Desie Armando. He knew he shouldn't listen in, but he'd apparently learned bad habits in Jared's bar and once they'd begun discussing Mattias Beninby he hadn't been able to help himself.
"Merian knew he was seeing you," Desie was saying, shaking her head while she dipped a piece of bread into a dish of jeri sauce. She was clearly rather angry at Beninby herself, as the dish clattered onto its side as she jammed the bread into the sauce.
"She says she didn't know we were exclusive," Janice said, and Jensen couldn't tell from her tone if she believed the other woman or not. "She says she won't be seeing him anymore -- which is fine! I won't be, either! That dirty mackraker. I hope his dick falls off!"
Beside her, Desie laughed, once. Jensen risked a glance over while he re-typed a useless line of redundant code. He'd been creating make-work for himself for days, stretching out repairs and pretending to find problems where none existed -- he'd been avoiding Jared for four days, begging off due to his workload whenever Jared tracked him down. He'd stopped going to the bar and began leaving the robots switched off in the workroom in his quarters at night so they wouldn't wander away. Two nights ago they'd tried just that, leading Jensen towards Jared's personal quarters when Jensen had left them switched on. He'd ordered them back before Jared had discovered them, setting a lockout on their data input.
He still didn't know what was wrong. Why he hadn't been able to find out anything on Jared. But listening to Janice rant about her unfaithful boyfriend, he began to get a horrible suspicion.
Beninby had as much as said he was here on Hermes V to track down techspies. And who else would be traveling under a false identity? A corporate raider, sent in to find opportunities to steal away valuable rights to mineral deposits, or a computer tech who would sneak into the files and spirit away the billions of credits pouring into and, later, out of the new planet.
He flashed back to Jared's quick, easy smile and friendly nature. It was impossible to believe someone like that would be a criminal. But Jensen found himself reluctantly wondering why else their relationship would have been so perfect. Unless Jared was faking it all, making sure there were no arguments or disagreements, making sure that Jensen was happy and distracted and-- for what? Why would a corporate raider be interested in him?
SA12-31 flashed a code on its screen, indicating that the cafeteria's climate controller was fully repaired. Jensen knew as much since he'd fixed it five minutes ago. He stared at the robot.
Jared had been taking the two robots out with him. He'd never really explained what he was up to -- he'd talked about pranks and exploring the station, but Jensen had never verified any of it with the robots' memories. As limited as they were, the two robots had enough processing capability and enough data about the station that Jared -- if he were skilled enough, himself -- could easily have used them to break into the station's main computer systems.
Jensen felt sick to his stomach as he got to his feet, still staring down at SA12-31. If Jared was a spy or a thief, he'd used his robots, he'd used Jensen to commit his crimes. He'd used him and distracted him, making him think he'd fallen--
Jensen snapped the cover back onto the cafeteria's computer console and closed his toolkit. "Report to workshop," he instructed SA12-31. "Confirm HA42-9 as well." HA42-9 should be in the workshop already, on standby mode. He was grateful for his paranoia now, not to allow the robots to wander freely anymore in case Jared found them. Maybe it wasn't too late and Jared hadn't been able to finish whatever it was he'd been doing. Jensen was going to have to check the robots' records carefully. A techspy as good enough to use them at all would be good enough to cover his tracks. But Jensen had to start somewhere, before he did anything else.
Jensen walked out of the cafeteria, SA12-31 rolling obediently at his heels. Maybe this was a horrible misunderstanding, he told himself fervently. Jared's records had been lost, somehow, or he did have a false identity but not to hide criminal activities. By the time Jensen had reached the accessway that led to his workshop, he'd created a whole story where Jared was the UPIA techspy hunter and Mattias was his partner, distracting the criminals from Jared's investigations by appearing the bumbling bore in public.
Telling himself it was foolish, Jensen couldn't shake the belief that something was wrong. Jared's being a techspy was, he hated to admit, the easiest explanation no matter how far-fetched it might seem. He rounded the corner to head down to his workshop and froze. Jared was standing in the alcove across from the doorway to his workshop. His back was to Jensen, and Jensen carefully pushed SA12-31 backwards with his foot, so the little robot wouldn't spot Jared and give away their presence.
Because Jared wasn't alone. The man he was talking to was no one Jensen recognized A supply ship had come in yesterday; he must have been on it. The previous supply ship had only brought five new personnel and Jensen had seen all their records added to the station's database. This man was a stranger, and he and Jared were talking urgently, their voices pitched low enough they didn't carry down the corridor to where Jensen was standing.
The sick feeling in Jensen's stomach was back. Jared made a gesture towards the workshop and Jensen's stomach tightened. What could they be talking about, other than the robots Jensen was keeping from Jared? The man with Jared was shaking his head; he didn't seem at all happy.
Jensen ducked back out of sight and stood still, back pressed up against the cool metal wall. Then he reached down and picked SA12-31 up, holding it in his arms as he walked back the other way, away from Jared and the stranger and whatever plans they were involved with.
He'd only gotten five steps when he realized HA42-9 was back in the workshop. He stopped, but didn't turn around. He could feel the slight vibration from SA12-31, trying to spin its optical receptors around. He didn't let go, idly reflecting that he couldn't remember ever carrying any of his robots before. Jensen tried to kick his brain back into gear and focus. He hadn't seen HA42-9 with Jared. The door to his workshop was locked, but it was a simple lock not meant to deter any but bored children. Anyone who could reprogram a SA- or HA- series robot could break in without any trouble at all.
Of course he still had no proof that Jared had done any reprogramming of the robots; he had, admittedly, no real idea of anything. One thing he knew: Jared did not appear in any public records before he'd boarded the ship that had brought him to Hermes V. Everything else was conjecture.
But every other person on the Hermes V had at least one piece of public information, if only their place of birth and UPIA identity number. Jared had neither. He had nothing.
Jensen looked down at SA12-31. Its screen was tilted, now, towards him. The line of code that appeared when he looked down was the basic code, ready for input. Jensen shook his head. "I don't know," he whispered.
The ready for input code vanished, and a moment later was replaced with, "Status query?"
"I need to check you and HA42-9. Check your memories. See...what Jared's been up to." He hated saying it; if he was wrong, if all of this was perfectly innocent, Jared would laugh at him. Or worse, be offended that Jensen had suspected him of such serious crimes. Jensen's head was spinning.
Then he blinked and looked at SA12-31's display. There was a video feed window in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, playing something back. There was a time-stamp, indicating it was the first time SA12-31 had been with Jared without Jensen around.
He watched in dumb surprise as SA12-31 rolled down the corridor. He couldn't see Jared in the playback, but he recognized the door SA12-31 led him to. He recognized the sealed container of plasticore that SA12-31 rolled up to, then he saw Jared's hand and face in the video pickup. He watched as Jared mixed the plasticore and tinted it green, then watched as SA12-31 followed Jared to the shuttle bay and assisted in smoothing it out all over the floor.
The video playback ended and SA12-31 flashed on its screen, "Data playback JARED-2.314?"
It took Jensen a moment to find his voice. "Um, no, not yet. Um." He swallowed back his question of when had SA12-31 developed such a fine response-set to his instructions. He'd never used the video playback on his robots, preferring to work with straight binary and coding. But clearly they were capable of more than he'd thought....
More than they'd been doing before Jared arrived.
Which had to mean Jared had been reprogramming them.
Jensen bit his lip and looked down at his robot. Sadie, he'd named her. Jensen had actually been getting used to thinking of it as a her, with a name and something of a personality. Now he was going to have to hand her over to station security and let the computer techs scan every molecule and bit of code, yank everything out for evidence then wipe her clean.
He might not even get her or Harley back. He had the KL robots for his work, these two were registered as obsolete models and would more likely be recycled than returned to him.
Jensen dropped his head, resting it on the top of Sadie's curved dome. He stared at the far side of the corridor, the black of space visible through the edge of a viewing window at the other end. He could hear the distant hum of the station's engines and the hiss of the air through the climate vents. In his arms, Sadie sat quietly, rolling one wheel slowly back and forth against his arm.
"I have to tell someone." Jensen sat on his bed, staring at Sadie and Harley. SA12-31 and HA42-9, he corrected himself. He had to get out of the habit. He had to....
He had to do something. He'd waited nearby his workshop until Jared and the other man left, ready to duck into a store room had they come towards him. Thankfully they'd walked the other direction and Jensen had hurried to his workshop and recovered HA42-9. The robot had been sitting quietly, no sign of Jared having found him at all. Then Jensen had brought them back to his rooms, set them on the floor, and tried to decide what to do.
He'd watched SA12-31's playback of three more videos with Jared, all of them exactly as Jared had alluded to. Wandering around the station looking for quiet, secluded spots or sneaking into the pilots' bunkspace and leaving what looked like eggs under their pillows.
Jensen knew he needed to dig into the coding to determine if the videos were faked, or if they were real but left there to distract Jensen from finding out what else Jared had been doing. He had almost been willing to brush it off as nonsense and accept the evidence of his own two eyes, when he'd seen, in the fourth video playback, Jared bend down to SA12-31. His hand touched the top of the robot's head and there was a brief burst of what Jensen could only describe as almost-static.
It was so brief it could easily be brushed off as signs of the little robot's age and wear. But when Jensen had frozen the playback and checked the data logs for that moment, he'd found a data dump -- completely unexplained and from a source he had been completely unable to track down.
His instructions to the robots were always verbal. This transmission hadn't been. It hadn't come from the robots' internal comm system, so it hadn't been transmitted from HA42-9 or even one of the KL robots. As far as Jensen had ever discovered, the KLs didn't transmit any data to SA12-31 or HA42-9, and he'd never instructed his robots to transmit information to the KLs.
The data had to have come from an external source. And Jensen hadn't given anyone or any computer system access to his robots.
If he'd been able to scan the data, Jensen would have at least known if he needed to take it and his robots to station security. He knew he should regardless, especially since he couldn't scan the data. But it was encoded in a way he'd never seen before and he just wanted to know what was going on before he handed everything over to the authorities.
He had to know just how much Jared had betrayed him. He was willing, if reluctantly, to admit that he'd been falling in love. Jared had been perfect, he thought bitterly. Fun and crazy, but patient with Jensen and understanding. He'd gently badgered Jensen into doing things he hadn't thought he'd want to, sitting in the bar and socializing with strangers. He'd been tender and undemanding those first few nights in bed, letting Jensen explore and learn without letting him feel awkward.
Jensen needed to know how much was built into his lies. But he couldn't make himself get off his bed and look at the robots' coding. The inter-station comm was resting on the nightstand; he didn't make a move to pick it up, either. SA12-31 and HA42-9 made no movement, nor sound, and their screens remained dimmed. He wanted to ask them to explain Jared, tell him how all of this was a ridiculous fantasy.
He opened his mouth to give the first order, to get it over with and just crack open Harley's casing and check the code directly. Then he jolted at the sound of a knock on his door. Jensen leapt up and hurried to the door, heart pounding. Station security, already having found out everything and thinking he'd been a part of it? Coming to take away his robots and arrest him as a conspirator?
His hand touched the doorpad and it slid away to reveal Jared, looking worried and scared until he saw Jensen. Then he smiled. Jensen couldn't hide his apprehension, and Jared frowned again instantly. "What's wrong?"
"Who are you?" The question slipped out, and Jensen didn't for a moment think Jared was going to tell him the truth. He might even become the first victim of a violent crime meted out by a techspy -- he'd make the newsfiles and all the settlers would gossip about him for years. He tried to reign in his imagination, but his fear only intensified when Jared's face showed only guilt instead of confusion. "Who are you?" Jensen asked again. "What's going on?"
Jared sighed and glanced back over his shoulder. "Can we talk inside?" he asked, and Jensen felt the sudden chill of ice in his veins.
"Because I don't want to have this conversation in the hallway," Jared said, almost sounding calm, like nothing was wrong. Like he wasn't trying to get Jensen someplace private so he could murder him.
"What have you done to my robots?" Jensen demanded, not moving an inch away from the door.
Jared's head jerked back and he blinked. "Your robots? I didn't do anything." He shook his head, showing real -- or very well faked -- confusion. "I named them, but you knew that."
"And who was that guy you were talking to? Outside my workshop? What did you two want with HA42-9?"
"Jensen, what are you-- You mean Jeff? Earlier today? We were waiting for you." His words sounded innocent enough, but the expression on Jared's face was guilt, again. Nervous about something, and Jensen wanted anything but to have his fears come true.
"What is going on?" Jensen demanded, his voice breaking halfway through, and he hated the fear that he couldn't hide. Jared, master criminal, would laugh at him for being broken down so easily.
"Can we please talk about this inside?" Jared asked again, nearly whispering.
"No!" Jensen braced his hand on the doorway. There was no way he was letting Jared get him inside, with no witnesses. Down the corridor he could see glimpses of personnel, passing by the accessway his room was located on. One loud shout and he'd have them running to help him.
"Jensen, please, I don't know what you think is going on, but if we could just go inside and I'll explain--" Jared looked at him earnestly, begging him in a manner that might, in other circumstances, have Jensen folding immediately. Right now, it only made him more afraid.
"Tell me," Jensen demanded. He kept his grip on the door, shoved his foot against the doorframe.
Jared's expression grew suddenly determined, even angry, and he raised his hand. Jensen froze, not seeing a weapon but knowing that it could be hidden, could be miniscule-- Jared held up his other hand and peeled back the skin from his wrist.
Jensen blinked. Underneath, where a human would have veins and muscles and bone, was the smooth circuitry and metal of an android's neural and skeletal system.
Jensen kept staring. Jared didn't move except to angle his hand so no one down the corridor might happen to see, though Jensen noted that they were so far away no one could possibly see what they were doing.
He looked up at Jared. "You're an android."
Jared grinned, briefly. "We use the term artificial person, now." He smoothed the skin back into place and lowered his hands.
"You're an android," Jensen repeated. He didn't move, his hands and foot still bracing him in the doorway. He felt one of his robots bump into his other foot, but ignored it.
"I'm an android," Jared repeated, sounding indulgent and smiling, just a little.
Jensen's mouth dropped. Jared wasn't a techspy or a criminal. He was an android. Which meant-- "You're here to replace me." The sick, tight feeling he'd had when he'd thought Jared was lying to him was nothing compared to the hollow sensation that hit him now. He stepped backwards, turning away to let the door slid shut in Jared's face and stumbled as Jared grabbed his arm.
"I am not here to replace you," Jared said, his tone so insistent and sincere that Jensen almost believed him.
"Then why are you here? They don't need two of us!" Monitoring a terraforming planet wasn't hard work. It was tedious, and took almost a hundred years for a single planet to evolve. Humans had, centuries before, designed machines to do the work for them. The original computers hadn't fared well, not able to make the judgements necessary to ensure the planet was not just livable, but palatable to human needs and comforts.
So they'd built androids with enough personality and intelligence to make sure the planets being terraformed suited the humans destined to live on them. Over the years the androids had been refined and upgraded until they'd evolved sentience, but still with the basic programming that allowed them to do their work. Jensen, along with the other JE-series androids, honestly enjoyed the long years creating a planet where one day humans would live.
This was Jensen's fourth terraforming project, and he'd brought each one to successful fruition. The first three were well-populated, sustaining the generations of humans they'd been designed for. This latest one looked to be no different. Certainly the UPIA had never given him complaints about his work.
But he knew that, like Sadie and Harley, he was growing obsolete. Work on androids hadn't stopped just because the JE series was successful. Each time he'd finished a job, he'd returned to the Terraforming Department Headquarters to file his reports and receive his new assignment. He'd seen how much androids had improved, each hundred years; the leaps and bounds of technology had amazed him. The last time he'd gone back, most of the scientists and technicians were themselves androids, working to improve their own people.
"I can still do my job," he repeated, weakly. He didn't suppose his protests would matter, if they had already sent Jared out to take over.
"I'm not replacing you, Jensen," Jared said gently. He started to reach out for Jensen, but Jensen flinched back, and Jared's hand froze in mid-air. In a careful tone he said, "They sent me here because fifty years ago artificial people gained all the same legal rights as natural humans. And along with legal rights, it was decided that we had the same moral rights as well. All the terraforming androids spend centuries by themselves, monitoring their assigned planets. Everywhere else, artificial people have the freedom to go and do whatever they want. And that isn't fair."
"I like my work," Jensen protested, but he still felt like maybe sitting down. Or laughing hysterically. "I don't mind -- I'm programmed to like the solitude."
Jared nodded. "I know. All the original terraforming androids were programmed the same way. But all of them have been showing the same trends." Jared looked at him, and Jensen fought the urge to lean in close. Jared looked like he wanted to kiss him, or hug him or-- Jensen held himself still.
"What trends?" he demanded, waiting for Jared to start making some kind of sense.
"You send back files of yourself to HQ every twenty years, so you can be monitored for deterioration or major glitches," Jared began.
"I know," Jensen snapped. "I've been doing this for four hundred years. I'm familiar with the process."
Jared just shrugged. "The last couple of backups showed you were getting lonely."
Jensen waited. When Jared didn't elaborate, he scowled. "I'm not--" He didn't continue, didn't say that maybe he was, because certainly Jared had been...wonderful. Someone to be with, someone to talk to and sleep with and just have around had been nicer than before. He still didn't like crowds of people, but Jared.... It had been nice.
"They designed me to be your companion. They mapped your personality and made mine to suit you. I'm not replacing you, Jensen. I'm here to love you."
The words seemed to hang there for a moment. Jensen wanted to shove everything else away, and focus on those words. Everything Jared had done or said was perfectly consistent with his explanation. "I didn't ask for a companion," he said, keeping his voice even. His mind was whirling. Did he believe this? Was it a further, more elaborate trick? Maybe the techspies were hiring androids, now, and Jared was just spinning a wild story to distract him.
But Jared just shrugged, easily. Like it was nothing. "Not all the JEs did. A couple did, and the rest all seem not to mind." Jared grinned, a flicker of something that might have been the prelude to laughter.
Jensen really didn't feel like laughing. "So this was just my lucky day?"
The smile on Jared's face vanished and his expression turned hard and determined. Not angry, Jensen noticed. He spared a thought to find that curious even as he focused on...what the hell was going on, really. Jared spoke in a tone that made it sound like he was struggling for the right words -- or maybe fighting the temptation to not talk and just hit Jensen instead. "They sent me here to be your friend. Because the UPIA finally got around to agreeing that we're people and deserve such niceties like friends, companions, lovers who won't freak out or die of old age three hundred years before we do. Do you want to be alone for the rest of your life?"
"I didn't ask for--"
"Does it matter?" Jared interrupted him, stepping closer and -- yeah, there was the clenched fist, like he'd rather be pummeling sense into Jensen than arguing. "I'm here. I like you. I love you. I want to stay with you--" He stopped, then, and Jensen didn't think he really needed to know what else he might have said.
For the rest of our lives.
It was a lot to take in. Jensen tried to say something, but it was hard to think clearly. Everything Jared was saying, offering, and all he wanted was-- He realised with a start that he wanted it to be true. Desperately, so much that it practically hurt. He'd never felt that sensation before, right there in his chest. Tight and pulling, and maybe he should run a quick diagnostic because it didn't seem good. Some tissue choosing now to break down and just his luck to damage an internal system while having an argument with Jared.
"I was expecting them to just give me a raise, for the next project. I could use some new clothes." The humour fell flat, even as he spoke the words. It was easier than believing Jared.
"Maybe they should have just asked first, but the other JEs seemed so happy and I guess it didn't occur to anyone you...wouldn't. Do you want me to leave?" Jared asked, his eyes dull. Defeat was written all over his face. "If you don't want me here, don't like me -- I can go."
Jensen didn't answer. He knew he had to; the way Jared was looking at him, like he wanted to beg Jensen to let him stay. But if Jensen said yes, they could change Jared's programming so he wouldn't miss Jensen. They could even wipe his personality and start over.
Jensen found his hand gripping Jared's shirt, tightly. Pulling him in like his thoughts would signal someone to come carry Jared away.
"This doesn't make sense," Jensen whispered, fighting against the sudden look of joy that appeared on Jared's face.
"I'm sorry they didn't warn you first," Jared said, and his calm tone made Jensen think he'd been forgiven. He wasn't sure he was the one in the wrong, but -- right at the moment, he had to admit, he wasn't sure of much of anything. Jared put his hand on Jensen's fist, still clinging to the front of Jared's shirt. "They should have asked. But they didn't, and I'm here, and...do you want me to leave?"
It looked like Jared knew the answer. He didn't look afraid, and his hand was curled around Jensen's like he wasn't planning on letting go, even if Jensen said 'yes.'
"Don't leave." The words surprised him. He meant them, Jensen knew that as soon as the words left his lips. But he hadn't realised he was ready to say them. Whatever else he might have wanted to say got lost in Jared's blinding smile, then lost again as Jared tugged him close and kissed him.
It all seemed rather impossible -- but then, so had his other theory. Jared, techspy, sent to seduce and deceive him.
Maybe he wouldn't share that theory with Jared. Ever. As Jared let him go, Jensen found himself finding some kind of balance, finally. The strange sensation in his chest was loosening. He still wanted to run a diagnostic, but maybe it wasn't as urgent, now. He narrowed his eyes, still not sure what to believe, but he had to admit this did make more sense than any other explanation.
It was certainly the explanation he wanted to believe. Jared was looking at him, expectantly, just a hint of worry beginning to creep into his eyes. Jensen said, "You're kind of...a crazy person."
Jared 's grin fucking quadrupled, before he narrowed his eyes and gave Jensen a challenging stare. "What does that say about you? It was your personality file they used to design me."
"It says I'm doubting your programming was accurate," Jensen began, and Jared wrinkled his nose at him in delight. Jensen found himself stepping forward and grabbing Jared, pulling him close and kissing him again. It only took a second for Jared's arms to come up around him, and hold him tighter than Jensen had ever felt before.
He felt a nudge at his foot, Jensen managed to break away long enough to look down. He nodded. "Yes, Sadie. It's all right now." He wasn't entirely sure he believed his own words, but it felt good to say them. Maybe he could just pretend until all of this made sense.
The two robots beeped at them, then rolled around in a tight circle. Jensen decided to ignore them, and kissed Jared again.
When they finally moved away -- mouths only, hands still clutching tightly and bodies still pressed together, Jensen tilted his head down and took a deep breath. He felt Jared chuckle and he didn't bother to ask what was funny.
"This would have been so much easier if your recognizer was working," Jared said, after another long moment.
Jensen raised his head and glared his question.
"That's who Jeff is. He's from repair and upgrades. When we first met, you didn't recognize me, so I sent a message to get a tech out here."
"Jeff's from the android tech service?"
Jared nodded, but said patiently, "We call ourselves artificial persons, now, and he's from Repairs and Upgrades."
"He's a monkey tweaker?" Jensen dredged up the slang from nearly three hundred and fifty years ago, used by the first series of androids with personality to describe the techs who worked on the dumb robots they were replacing.
Jared poked him in the ribs. Jensen just let his head fall back onto Jared's shoulder. It felt comfortable -- almost perfect. Like Jared had been designed just to fit him.
He couldn't help the grin. He still didn't understand why they'd sent Jared here, but given that he was...it felt too good to have him here. "Seriously, it doesn't explain why you're a goofball."
"I told them to re-write your personality, so I could be normal," Jared countered.
"Nah," Jensen said, feeling unaccountably tired. Too much jumping to conclusions, he told himself. "I like you this way."
He felt a kiss on his ear, then Jared said, "I like you this way, too." There was a pause, then, "Except you have got to get out more. Talk to people. Maybe go to a dance."
Jensen's head popped up so fast he nearly gave himself whiplash. Jared's innocent expression told him all he needed to know. He glared, then put his head back where it had been. "I hate you."
There was a vibration from Jared's chest, signaling a silent laugh. Then, "I hate you, too. Bozoface."
Jensen looked at him. "What?"
"Too recent? Um... fruitybat?"
"Is that an insult?" Jensen shook his head, perplexed.
Jared sighed. "OK, first thing we do is get an upgrade for the entertainment library. There's 4,113 movies you need to see."
"And 9,214 books. I got the newest catalog, just not the files."
"That's cruel," Jared said, sympathetically.
"Tell me about it. I haven't gotten the sequel to Godin Masters' Farewell series."
There was a pause, then Jared said, "I've read all five of them. The butler did it."
Jensen hesitated, then took a slow step backwards. Jared grinned, wide. With a scream, Jensen lunged at Jared who ducked, laughing, and ran pellmell away from him -- towards the bedroom.
Jensen followed, tackling him well short of the bed.
He stood outside the door and counted to fifteen hundred, twice. He started to count a third time when the door slid open.
Jeff smiled. "Jared told me you might be coming by." The R&U tech stepped backwards, clearly inviting Jensen to come inside.
He felt like he was being invited into a meltdown center. Jensen didn't quite manage to take a step forward, frozen between simply turning tail and running, and dealing with the possibility of Jared dragging him back here, forcefully.
Or just giving him that sad look when Jensen told him again that he didn't want to do this.
"Jensen?" Jeff was looking at him with a slightly concerned expression, which cleared into a look of non-threatening understanding. "It's OK. You know a lot of artificial people are hesitant about repairs and upgrades. It's pretty common."
"I'm not--" Jensen stopped, then sighed. He waved Jeff back, then followed him into the small stateroom the tech had been assigned. A guestroom rather than a residential suite, Jeff was clearly intending to be here only long enough to do his job and leave again. He probably hadn't expected to be here this long, Jensen thought, but so far Jeff hadn't shown any signs of impatience.
He sat down in a chair as Jeff waved him towards it and waited until Jeff settled himself in another chair beside the desk. His tools and diagnostic-repair assistant were sitting there, all switched off but looking extremely foreboding.
"Are you concerned about the procedure?" Jeff asked when Jensen finally wrenched his eyes away from the tools.
"I don't," Jensen began again. He rubbed one hand against his forehead and realized it was the same hand that, on Jared, housed the recognizer. "It isn't broken. I don't have one." Jared had originally thought his was only broken; all the other JE-series androids had, apparently, already received their upgrades.
Jeff was frowning a little. "Is that a problem? You've had upgrades before; I looked at your records. You've had 82% of your original systems upgraded over the last four hundred years. It wasn't in the file, but...was there a problem with one of them?"
Jensen shook his head. "No, no problems. Not even the time they removed my skin and laid me over with new stuff." He looked at his hands, remembering the way they looked, circuits and servos all exposed. He'd found it fascinating, if not a little gruesome, to see himself in a mirror with no skin. He'd even helped the techs lay it on, smoothing it out and making sure each section fused properly. He knew some androids preferred to be shut off for upgrades like those, but it hadn't bothered him at all.
"So what's the problem, this time?" Jeff sounded curious, and patient -- much like the other head-techs Jensen had encountered. Programmed to be calm, and have a soothing effect on their 'patients', Jensen found himself responding to Jeff like any other kindly old doctor.
He looked away and tried to figure out how to explain. He hadn't even heard of recognizers until Jared, and ever since Jared had finally told him who and what he was, he'd asked Jensen every single day -- sometimes two or three times a day -- if he'd been to see Jeff yet. The last few discussions had grown heated enough to almost qualify as arguments.
Jensen stared at the far wall, away from the repair tech and his table full of tools. "Jared wants me to have one. Keeps talking about it. How great it'll be once I get it working. It's all he talks about."
He fell silent, and after a moment Jeff asked, "And you don't want one?"
He looked back at Jeff. "What's wrong with me?" His voice was barely a whisper as his voice tried to break. Jeff shook his head.
"There's nothing wrong, Jensen. Upgrades are just--"
"I know! But...what's wrong with me that Jared doesn't.... I'm four hundred years old. I'm a JE-series, and since we were built there's been 14 new series of android. Jared's a PA-series, and there's nothing in him that even resembles my systems. I can't even track his cabling system. He says it's all nanochemical, now. I--" He shook his head again, banishing the images of Jared's internal systems. Jared had eagerly shown him, calling up displays on the console as well as peeling back access-points to show Jensen his insides. He'd been thrilled at Jensen's interest, talking for hours about the new developments in the planning stages for the next generation of artificial people.
He dropped his head, and said the words he'd been fighting against saying out loud, to Jared. "Why do I have to get fixed up, before he'll--" Jensen swallowed. They'd gone back to spending their nights together and on the surface it all seemed perfect.
But Jared's attention was all on after, and when. After Jensen got his upgrades. When they could finally be whatever it was they were going to be. Showing Jensen all the ways in which he was old and out-dated, and talking about the ways Jensen could change himself to be better.
He couldn't explain that to Jeff, keeping his head down and trying to get himself under control. He'd come here to tell the tech his answer was no, and that he was free to leave.
Even if it meant he would eventually lose Jared, as well. Since he didn't want to become whatever Jared was trying to turn him into -- no matter what he'd been programmed for, even androids of Jensen's era had been given free will. When Jensen refused, eventually Jared wouldn't stay, even if this was what he'd been created for.
He was startled by Jeff's hand taking hold of his own. He looked up.
"He isn't trying to change you, Jensen. Did he even tell you what the recognizer is for?"
Jensen nodded. "It's how androids detect each other. They can transmit their IDs and not have to announce it to the whole universe. There are a lot of humans who still think we should be designated as service machines and not as equal citizens. Sometimes it's safer to just pretend you're human."
"That's true, but it isn't all. That isn't even half of it. Jensen.... It isn't that Jared wants to change you. He does love you, and if you turn this down that isn't going to change. But look at this from his point of view. A recognizer is a fairly simple upgrade. Without it, it's like if you didn't have a voice box. You would still be able to communicate, you could type or write or even make gestures. But you wouldn't be able to speak. A great deal is communicated through tone of voice, and all that would be lost. A recognizer does more than just transmit identity. ID and general status are transmitted automatically, but you can load whatever information you want, into it. When two recognizers make contact, that data is transmitted. You can relay instantly how your day was, what you did, who you saw. It's a whole level of communication that you're missing. Without it, Jared sees you as...blind, or deaf, or mute. And it's a simple thing to change, but not because Jared thinks you need to be different or because you have to meet his demands before he'll be happy. He just wants you to be whole."
Jeff was still holding his hand, lightly, as though knowing Jensen would snatch it away at any moment. Jensen wanted to, still wanted to run out of here and tell Jared he wasn't going to do this.
He remembered, back in the training lab, he and the other newly-built JEs were still going through their accelerated childhood. Learning how to be people, as well as learning their jobs, they'd had limited contact with humans outside the development center. There was one old android, one of the very first ever built. They'd called it Grandpa Robert; its official designation had only been Robot-Terraform-5. Its speech centers were functional, but its processor was rudimentary, able to respond to only simple questions and instructions.
They all felt sorry for it, as they grew and became actual people, and it just moved through the rooms, carrying whatever objects they told it to and sweeping dust from the floor. Grandpa Robert hadn't even had fingers, just a jack which it used to plug into the terraforming computers to monitor the systems.
Jensen looked at his hands again. His fingers, coated in artificial skin, designed to withstand a hundred years of living. Easily repaired when necessary, with lotions and patches and a tiny laser Jensen had in his bathroom for the purpose.
Jared's skin was self-repairing, fusing itself closed when torn. Did Jared feel that same pity he and the others had for Grandpa Robert? Old, decrepit, sadly out-of-date? Or was it just like Jeff was saying: Jared saw it as an easy change, one simple upgrade and Jensen would be able to communicate with him in one more way?
He looked at Jeff, who smiled suddenly. "You know, it's easy enough to install. If you don't like it, we can take it out. Just as easy."
Jensen blinked. "You can?"
Nodding, Jeff reached over towards his desk. "Absolutely. You're not required to accept the upgrade, Jensen. It's not a level one. It's just a life-quality tool. No big deal." His easy smile made everything sound simple.
"Can...can we do it and not tell Jared? I mean, if I say no?"
The tech's smile dimmed, and he looked grave. "That will be between you and Jared. I wouldn't recommend lying to him, but it isn't my decision."
"I don't want to lie to him. I just can't-- I can't think about everything at once." All Jensen knew was that he was confused, and taking things one step at a time was the only decision he could make. It wasn't that he wanted to lie to Jared, but he wasn't sure he could deal with Jared's disappointment if he found out Jensen had tried the recognizer and still refused it.
"Then why don't we do a temporary install, and let you make a more informed decision about whether or not to keep it," Jeff said.
Relieved, Jensen just nodded. He held out his hand when Jeff gestured for it. He didn't like thinking about lying to Jared -- wasn't sure he'd actually meant it that way, anyhow. But his head was in a swirl, between meeting Jared at all, arguing with him over the upgrade, and learning about all the ways in which he didn't measure up to the newest model of android.
But he kept silent as Jeff worked, breaking the skin at his wrist and replacing it with access-point skin so the recognizer could be accessed easily. The recognizer itself was small and fit neatly into his palm. Two sets of connections melded into his neural system and, after a moment, he could feel it switch on.
It was like having a little remote data center, not entirely unlike the rare times he formed a direct connection to his robots. He'd only done so when they were switched to standby, but he had a feeling this was going to be a lot more complicated.
He found Jeff watching him and asked, "Is that it?"
Jeff laughed. "Almost. Is it on? Can you try loading some data into it?"
"Something easy. An initial report on the planet's atmospheric development. Like you'd give Dr. Rogers back at TD."
Jensen nodded, and gathered up the information. It was almost instinctive, figuring out how to load the data onto the recognizer. "Now what?"
Jeff held out his hand.
Jensen stared at it before realizing, dumbly, what he was meant to do. He held his own hand out and, after only a small hesitation, took a hold of Jeff's hand.
Instantly, he felt the data transmit. In the next instant he received the data Jeff had sent. ID - Jeff M11-6, Repair and Upgrade Technician License 421IB7961. Current status, assignment Hermes V remote for upgrade. Progress report pending.
As the initial bits of data registered, Jensen realized something else. Jeff was well, in fine repair, and pleased.
Jensen stared at him.
"That's what the recognizer does," Jeff said. "It's automatic, status and ID. You won't be able to lie about who you are or how you feel, no matter what other data you load onto it."
"I...could feel--" He trailed off, not sure how to describe it. Almost like his own emotions, but not quite. Obvious which data had come from Jeff and which were his own, but somehow he'd registered the data as thoroughly as if they had originated from himself. He glared at Jeff in confusion. "Why didn't Jared say that's what they did?"
"Didn't he?" Jeff sounded honestly surprised.
"He said...they transmitted.... Oh." Jensen remembered the conversation. Jared had been babbling, high-speed, about how the recognizer transmitted identity and status and let androids share more than they ever could simply by talking. He'd kept saying status, like Jeff had, but Jensen hadn't realized what they meant. "I think he forgot to say it all out loud." Jensen said, glumly.
Jeff laughed. "Well, he's probably used to relying on his recognizer. Maybe a bit too much. He's had it since he was first built, like all the PA-series people. It's probably been a challenge for him to learn how to talk with you without it."
Jensen realized it was probably true, and in retrospect it explained a lot. Why Jared had kept shaking his hand, those first few days, then avoided touching the palm of his hand completely. The odd looks from time to time, which left Jensen feeling like he'd missed something. In fact-- "Can he communicate with Sadie and Harley, too?"
"I imagine so. They're not extremely sophisticated, but they can receive basic data from a variety of sources."
It would explain that burst of static, when Jared had touched Sadie's head. Sending her information via the recognizer -- Jared had decrypted the data for him, showing him that it was just a set of instructions to go back home to Jensen.
"So...do you think you might keep it?" Jeff asked, sounding like he was being deliberately casual.
Jensen looked down at his hand. It was a pretty simple piece of equipment, and if Jared was used to communicating with it-- maybe it wouldn't be so bad. After all, he didn't have to load any data onto it, or even touch his palm to Jared's, if he didn't want to.
"I think I will."
Jeff gave him a pleased smile, one which matched the sensation Jensen had felt before. He wondered how Jared would feel, when he found out Jensen had finally gotten it.
"I have to go," he said, jumping up. He was out the door before he could even hear Jeff's goodbye.
Jared was working at the bar, and Jensen was slowly pacing in his quarters. He'd thought about heading to the bar and hanging out, but he was too nervous to stay still. He didn't want to give everything away -- not in public. So he was trying to wait until Jared came home and he could show him, firsthand.
The pun was probably intended. Jensen paced some more, wondering if he should find something in the library to read, or maybe tinker with one of the broken pieces of equipment he'd been working on that morning, trying to decide whether or not to visit Jeff. He wasn't sure he could focus well enough for the distraction to work -- it certainly hadn't that morning, although it had led to him finally going to see the tech.
He looked down at his hand and pulled the data he'd loaded onto it, wiping it clean. He'd done so four times so far and had a feeling he'd be loading and unloading data a dozen more. Maybe Jared would be early. Maybe he'd be late. Maybe he'd get eaten by the security robots and they'd bring him a foot to identify as his former companion.
Companion. Jensen stared at his palm. Jared had wanted this. Wanted it badly, and Jensen was beginning to understand why he'd thought Jensen was missing something important. He'd be delighted that Jensen had gotten it, and he'd be able to communicate in a way he was used to. He wouldn't see Jensen as...disabled.
Maybe he wouldn't mind that every other one of Jensen's systems was old. Everything still worked, and he wasn't even scheduled for an overhaul for another fifty years. And it was a pretty simple way of making Jared happy. Jared had been created for him -- just like Jensen had been made to watch planets grow, Jared had been built and programmed to be Jensen's companion. It seemed...unfair for Jensen to refuse him such a little thing like a recognizer.
Jensen paced the room, still staring at his hand and wondering what he should load onto it. What first impression did he want to make? Something big and dramatic, cramming as much about his personal history onto it as he could? Or something subtle and simple, hi honey how was your day kind of thing.
"What do you think?" he asked Harley, who was sitting quietly in a corner. Harley's screen lit up, ready for instruction. Jensen normally would have told it he was only talking to himself; instead he went over and crouched down in front of it. Him. "Do you think Jared will be happy I got a recognizer?" He held up his hand, not sure if Harley could detect the new equipment inside.
On impulse, he loaded the question onto the recognizer, and pressed his hand lightly onto Harley's head.
After a second he received the reply. Affirmative, in binary, and a code designator. He checked the message again and realized what it said.
Jensen fell backwards onto the floor. Harley looked at him, data screen blank and sensors motionless. His mouth dropped open and he froze, and would have remained there, staring at his robot, except Jared took that moment to finally get home.
Jared walked in and stopped, and Jensen looked up to see the worried, amused look on Jared's face. "Do I want to ask?"
Jensen scrambled to his feet, still unable to form the simplest question that didn't start with babbling. Then it hit him -- Jared was home.
Jensen practically leapt forward, grinning, fighting back the worry that this was all a horrible mistake and Jared wouldn't stop until he'd been rebuilt from the toenails up. But he reached out and took Jared's hand, and twisted his hand until their palms aligned.
Jared's ID flashed first. JA-15-JE9. Jensen blinked and starred at the numbers in his mind. His own designation was JE9-51; there was no denying that Jared had been built for him. Which he would have known, that very first day, when Jared had shaken his hand. Jared, who was now utterly shocked, and surprised, and delighted, and -- loved him, and was still holding his hand as he received Jensen's own status transmission, full of the apprehension and worry Jensen hadn't been able to fight down, that he would never be good enough until he was shiny and new as Jared.
He felt Jared yank him close, hands still tightly pressed together even as Jared kissed him, pressing their mouths together and the data continued to flow. Love, and the words never, and perfect, and Jensen couldn't find his footing against the onslaught. His own fears reflected in Jared, and Jared's love reflected in him, and the data flowed back and forth until he couldn't tell from which of them each emotion originated.
He felt Jared pull back and unlocked their hands. Jensen let him go, panting and closing his eyes for a second.
"Maybe we should take it slow," Jared said.
Jensen wrapped his arms around Jared, hanging on. "It doesn't," he began, and felt dizzy.
"Doesn't what?" Jared sounded so calm, so full of love and gentle concern, and Jensen knew, finally, how much Jared had been missing. Why he'd thought that of course Jensen would want this.
"Still doesn't explain why you're such a goofball."
For a second Jared just gaped at him, then he laughed. Once, full and loud, then he scooped Jensen up. Jensen hollered, but Jared just carried him out of the room -- into the bedroom, dropping him carefully onto the bed. Jared crawled onto the bed after him, looming over him as Jensen scooted away, then fell onto his back and pulled Jared on top of him.
They kissed, hands not touching though the overwhelming sensation of vertigo had faded. Jared was over there, Jensen was here, and he was already beginning to miss him. Jensen slipped his hand towards Jared's and after a second, Jared took it.
He was hit by a veritable wave of love and lust so strong Jensen would have teased him for it if it hadn't been as strong as what he'd already been feeling. With their free hands they began to pull at their clothes, though Jensen suspected it would be unimportant. Pushing up against Jared, feeling him push down against him, the feeling of skin on skin as they struggled out of their clothes was almost paltry compared to what he was feeling from the recognizer.
What they were feeling, because everything he sent to Jared was picked up and sent back, the loop growing tighter and tighter as they continued to kiss, continued to touch each other. Even fully naked with Jared's body pressed down onto his own seemed a more remote sensation, one step removed from the emotions -- he wanted to drown in them, close down his sensors and wash away in Jared.
He felt a jolt from Jared, and realized Jared had picked up on his feeling. Jared's reaction was to push himself closer, physically and through the recognizer, shoving himself at Jensen as hard and fast as he could receive. He could hear them both panting, moaning out loud and feel their bodies building towards orgasm -- everything flavored with the data flowing through their hands, showing him that everything Jared had said was the truth. Everything he felt was real, and reflected in one another.
Jensen felt something shatter, his neural processors shutting down from overload. With a shout, he felt himself coming, clinging to Jared's hand even as the last wave of lust crashed down and one second later everything went black.
When he opened his eyes, Jared's face was millimeters from his own, and he was grinning.
"Muvoo," Jensen said, wriggling his body.
"I muvoo, too," Jared said, laughing. Jensen realized their hands were still pressed together and his mumble had been transmitted clearly. He wrinkled his nose at Jared, but didn't try to let go.
It seemed that Jared was willing to let him go to sleep, so he closed his eyes and wriggled again, snuggling into the mattress and the blanket that was Jared. Jared settled down, wrapping his other arm around Jensen and the pillow. Two long breaths, and Jensen thought they'd both be fast asleep in another few moments.
"Hey," he said. There was a pause, then Jared lifted his head and looked at him with sleepy eyes. "Why don't you have any records before you got here?"
Jared looked confused. "This can't wait until my brain's back online?"
"No." Jensen slipped his hand out of Jared's grip, not wanting Jared's sleepy feeling to drag him under.
Jared frowned and tried snuggling, pressing his hips into Jensen's, and looking like sleep and cuddle was the best part of existence, ever.
Jensen poked him. "Why don't you have any records?"
"Because I was at the development center before I came here, dolt. They don't put that on public record."
Jensen scowled. "But that means you came right here."
Jared looked at him like maybe Jensen had lost a brain cell or twenty hundred.
"Which means you got built, went through training, then came right here."
"Yes? Is this a problem?"
Jensen sat up, knocking Jared back. "It means you're, like, what? Fifteen years old!"
"I am not--!" Jared scowled, and surged forward, pinning Jensen back against the mattress. "Does it matter how long ago I was built?"
Jensen grinned. "Nah. But you're just a baby! I could be arrested on some planets, you know. Android or not."
"Artificial person," Jared said, still scowling. "I'm twenty-three. I had an extended training session so I could learn how to put up with crotchety old people."
"So you're legal, that's good."
"I own a bar. I make and sell alcohol -- and you thought I wasn't legal age?" Jared cocked his head, clearly wondering if Jensen was serious.
Jensen grinned. "Could have all been part of your cover." He scooted sideways, pulling Jared back on top of him like a blanket.
Closing his eyes, Jensen said, "As a techspy. Why you didn't exist before you came here. False identity, so you could sneak in and steal everything."
There was silence, then Jared asked, "If I was a techspy, wouldn't I have created a false history? So people wouldn't suspect me?"
Jensen didn't respond. He felt Jared nudge him, and scowled even though Jared couldn't see his face. "Go to sleep."
"You started it," Jared pointed out.
"Did too-- do I need to replay this entire conversation?"
"Go to sleep, Jared." Jensen grinned, fighting back laughter.
In a doubtful tone, Jared asked, "Are you going to be like this for the next one hundred years?"
Jensen rolled over, and looked at Jared. Faces almost close enough to touch, he reached up, placed one finger on Jared's cheek. "And more," he said, softly.
With a wide smile, Jared kissed him. Then Jensen laid his head down, wrapped in tight with Jared, and closed his eyes again. He heard the soft sound of wheels rolling, and felt the slightest bump as two small robots nudged the edge of the bed.
"Go to sleep," he heard Jared said, and there were two soft clicks, then silence. As Jensen fell asleep, he felt Jared's hand touch his, and felt the warmth of his companion wash over him.
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