The solitary flesh

by Mikeytron

 A pair of space mercenaries are dispatched to a strange alien world to guard the manufacture of a massive quantity of the medical and cosmetic wonderdrug SynthStem, which allows humans to reshape their bodies. In part one, the stage is set and the stakes are raised.

Added: Sep 2022 Updated: 8 Oct 2022 23,643 words 9,552 views 5.0 stars (73 votes)

E

“Everyone walks into the maze blindfolded”—Margaret Atwood, Negotiating With the Dead

Mal racked the weight with irritation. That should have been a max effort set for 6 or 7 reps, but he got 10 instead, 10 without that much struggle. Christ. Had Dex turned down the artificial gravity again? He moved his arms experimentally, trying to gauge the weight of his limbs. What an asshole. Breaking protocol just for an ego lift.

Mal and Dex were the only crew on the ship who regularly used the weight room. It was pretty small, but it had the basics. In truth, Mal was glad it existed at all. His life had been hard, and at times it was very tough to focus on building muscle, but he always made it a priority, and he was proud of his lean, bulging limbs, his firm round pecs. He wasn’t massive, but he wasn’t small.

Besides, the life of a hired grunt had a surprising amount of downtime, and lifting filled the hours. It turned out being a space mercenary meant weeks of boredom interspersed with whole minutes of excitement—every now and then a spike of pure terror, when you were rudely reminded that, oh yeah, you could die doing this job.

Sure, light speed had been conquered a generation ago, but it still took weeks, or even months, to get from star system to star system. Small chores, repetitive drills, and pointless busywork filled most of those days. During downtime most of the rest of the crew either watched their personal holoviewers in the lounge or jacked off in their bunks. Mal was more bored now than he was trying to scrape an existence back on Earth, not that he ever wished for a return to that awful time of his life.

But, despite the tedious routines and ample downtime aboard ship, Mal and Dex were the only ones who lifted regularly. It showed. Both men were notably fitter and more muscular than the other members of the crew. It set them apart, was the cause for some light teasing, some jealous glares.

If you live in a sad slower-than-light civilization, stranded on your single solitary rock, impotently adrift in space, you might assume mercenaries would have some kind of fitness protocol. But honestly, between power armour, advanced weaponry, and designer iterations of good ol’ methamphetamines, it doesn’t really matter how physically fit the amped up and expendable little meat nugget at the centre of all that tech actually is.

But back to our two space-faring gymrats.

Sure enough, Dex was over in the squat rack, pumping out reps with four plates a side like they were made of styrofoam. Damnit, why did he have to be so fucking sexy? Mal felt momentarily hypnotized by Dex’s ass, bulging and flexing in his tight blue shorts with each squat. It was a thing of beauty. Round, muscular, with just a touch of fat to give it a little bounce. Mal’s hand ached to grab it. Dex’s ass was shelf-like when he stood at the end of each rep, cheeks jutting out from his lower back, meeting the top of his thighs at near-right angles. Quad muscles so swole you could see them from behind and hamstrings like two thick ropes completed the cock-stiffening picture. Dex had been a stud the first day Mal set eyes on him, the day Mal joined the crew, but he had grown substantially bigger in the six months since then, and a lot of the mass was landing on his ass and legs.

Dex racked the weights with a hoot of triumph, his prize-winning ass jiggling just a little when he did. “Fuck yeah!” he exclaimed as he turned to face the rest of the weight room. Fucking frat boy, Mal thought acidly even as he admired his crewmate’s sharp jawline, his short-cropped blond hair, his sparkling blue eyes, his big square pecs hairless with cute little nipples that made the vast muscle look all that much bigger, bare skin shining with sweat. Dex never wore a shirt in the gym. “Just us boys here, hey Mal?” he’d say, stripping it off after his warmup, already glistening.

Maybe Dex was a tease. Or maybe Dex was just stupid. Mal was technically in the closet,—it was more that he just wasn’t close enough to anyone to tell them his sexuality either way—but goddamn, sometimes he couldn’t help himself. Over and over again, mid-workout, he’d just devour his muscular crewmate with his eyes. Didn’t matter that he found the guy annoying. Hot was hot, horny was horny, and they were stuck together in space with 137 days before their next shore leave. The cornfed moron had to notice Mal’s hungry eyes.

“You fucked with the gravity settings, didn’t you?” Mal asked, trying to keep his voice neutral as he stood and walked over to the control panel by the door.

“Nah bro, you’re the only person here to impress, and I know I do that anyway.” Dex shot Mal a shit-eating grin and flexed, peak of his baseball-bicep shining in the artificial light.

“Well, something’s not right. Maybe it malfunctioned. I should not have gotten ten reps easy as that.”

“265 bench, bro? Yeah, you should. You’ve been chipping away at it for weeks. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. You’re growing a pair of big ol’ muscle-tits.”

Grumbling, Mal opened the control panel and tapped at it, typing in his access code. Huh. Gravity was set to 1.0 g. Sea level on good old Sol III, aka Earth. “This can’t be right,” Mal muttered under his breath, going deeper into the settings, trying to discover some discrepancy.

“Oh, quit your bitching,” Dex said. “Stop inventing problems out of nothing. You hit a PR. Fuckin’ feel good about it. You’re the second studliest dude on this dumb hunk of interstellar junk.”

The door opened without warning, the sudden sound startling Mal. He jumped back from the panel with a strangled yelp before he could stop himself. No one else ever came into the gym.

“Attention! Get your dicks out of each other’s assholes and stand to attention!” the Lieutenant’s sharp bark came as he and the Captain stepped in.

The Captain was a blustery old guy with an elaborate white moustache that Mal took for an affectation. The Lieutenant was a lanky middle-aged man with a permanently sour expression. The Captain seemed vaguely pleased to rule over the little fiefdom that was his ship. The Lieutenant seemed aggrieved that his career ascension had permanently stalled at second-in-command of a mediocre midsize cruiser.

“Private Maldonado! Corporal Deckard! Our two fitness nuts, hard at it I see. Just the men I’m looking for. I knew I’d find you here. I’ve got a mission for you boys. A week from today, you’ll be groundside for six weeks on special assignment. Dromida IV. I see you’ve heard of it? You’re both prepared for that energy transport they insist on, I hope. Never liked the notion of it, myself.”

Mal glanced at Dex. The buff idiot was grinning like he was excited. Well. Maybe Mal was, too. There was certainly a mystique about Dromida IV—it wasn’t the sort of place you could just up and go visit. And maybe it would be good to break the monotony, the mind-numbing boredom of waking up, eating, lifting weights, eating, walking around the corridors on a pointless patrol, eating, cleaning the toilets, eating, watching a movie, eating, perfunctory masturbation, bed. Whatever mission he and Dex were about to be assigned to, at least it might be interesting.


Two Weeks Later

“They wanted to get rid of us,” Mal grumbled as he strode over to relieve Dex from his pointless guard duty. The two men stood on an observation platform, able to see the whole production facility below them. Not that either of them understood much of what they saw. No one really understood how the Dromidans had such a talent for bioengineering, and this SynthStem factory was, as far as Mal could tell, just like the dozens of others dotting the surface of Dromida IV. ‘Guard the shipment’ my hairy left ass cheek, he thought grumpily. Dex must have done something to piss off that bitch of Lieutenant. But why punish me? What did I do?

“Yeah, well, would you rather be scrubbing toilets? Or soaking up fire from outer rim raiders? Remember when that colonist took a potshot at you when we were distributing rations like a month ago? You put your helmet on five minutes before that; if you hadn’t, your head would have popped like a rotten melon. Still knocked you flat on your ass, if I recall. So. Think of this as a little vacation,” Dex replied. The musclehead had kept a sunny disposition so far. He seemed as impossible to get down as a Labrador puppy, determined to see the bright side. But this was only the end of their first week, and there were another five to go; who could say how long Dex’s optimism would last? The Dromidans weren’t much for conversation. Their only company was each other.

“I guess you’re right,” Mal answered glumly. “Some vacation, though.” The facility was dimly lit—the Dromidans evolved with lower light than humans—but other than that it was much like any other biomed industrial facility. Immaculately clean, unembellished by such frivolities as decoration or, you know, personality. Which was to be expected, Mal supposed. If the Dromidans had personalities, they sure didn’t show them around off-worlders.

They were down there now. Slowly moving from station to station in complete silence. Eight feet tall, their unsettling limbs, long and somehow… bendy… as if their appendages were halfway between arms and tentacles. Nude, hairless, slick grey skin that was vaguely nauseating to behold, tiny slit mouths. Mal had never seen them eat or speak through the miniscule orifices; he wondered if they were vestigial. If they had gender, Mal couldn’t perceive it. If they had genitalia, he wasn’t able to distinguish them. Hell, he wasn’t sure they reproduced sexually at all; for all he knew they might do it by budding. Or, considering their freakish biomedical expertise, maybe they just grew more Dromidans in vats.

“Don’t stare, man,” Dex said under his breath as the two muscular men stood side by side, broad shoulder to broad shoulder, looking out from the platform. “It just makes it worse. Pay attention to the machines. I mean it’s pretty interesting, right? There’s literally hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of SynthStem being made before our eyes down there. Imagine how many boob jobs.”

“Or how many new kidneys,” Mal countered, in no mood to pretend to be heterosexual.

Dex either didn’t clock Mal’s attempt to throw cold water on his horniness, or he didn’t care. “You know some chick I used to bang would always accuse me of having a SynthStem ass? She claimed all this cake couldn’t be natural. Wouldn’t listen when I told her it’s all squats and deadlifts and good ol’ Terran testosterone. Not that I blame her for thinkin’ it.”

Yeah, Dex, I’ve made a thorough visual assessment of your ass myself, it sticks out a mile and defies gravity, you absolutely sure it’s not fake? Mal thought to himself, but all he did was grunt and continue observing the production floor.

Their keeper—Mal had no idea if it was the same being, or one of a rotating roster, or a different one each time—glided up to them. It was uncomfortable to watch them walk, their lower limbs bent in ways that knees could not. For whatever reason, they didn’t like when both of the humans congregated on the observation platform; this one was here to break up their little party. A tiny electronic device attached to the thing’s neck emitted an artificial voice that was just slightly off, in some way Mal couldn’t describe.

“Corporal Deckard, your shift ended three microcycles ago. Your nutrients are prepared and waiting in your accommodations. Your species dislikes ingesting nutrients that have cooled.”

Dex rolled his eyes. “See ya tonight, Mal,” he said, allowing himself to be led off.

Mal grunted a goodbye and assumed the position he’d hold for the next hour, using his personal device to mark the time. He tried to stand differently for every Terran hour he was stranded on this observation platform, just to introduce some variety to the endless monotony—and to relieve his aching feet as best he could. God, it was abjectly boring. Watching these creepy aliens move in slow motion between vats and computer terminals, all in dim light. They were perfectly silent at all times. Near as Mal could tell, they communicated by touching each other briefly.

What other bizarre technology did they have? They were such a reclusive and mysterious species. It gave him the creeps. Mal still wasn’t over his first time being Transported, that notorious rite of passage for any visitor to the Dromidan homeworld. He shuddered at the memory.

The Dromidans had mastered transferring matter to energy and back, making Star Trek-style transporters a reality. This was a technology they did not share with other species, however, and as far as Terrans could tell no other spacefaring race had yet figured it out. All theories about it suggested it would require mind-boggling amounts of energy; it was a mystery how the Dromidans pulled it off.

There was a reason the Dromidans held that particular technology so close to their chests, too. Or whatever they had instead of chests. The only way on or off Dromida IV was via the Dromidans’ matter-to-energy transport. It was illegal to try to land a spacecraft on the planet’s surface, and the robust planetary defense system would incinerate any vessel that tried. The Dromidans were xenophobic and secretive. What better way to control who and what got on and off your home planet than to make any and all visitors use your matter-to-energy transport? The ultimate border control: consent to having your body and your possessions disintegrated and re-corporealized, or don’t bother showing up.

It had been an unnerving experience. Mal’s first time. Dex’s too. It felt something like a limb falling asleep, pins and needles, but all over. Then nothing, quite like being put under anaesthesia—count back from 10, but you don’t remember anything after 7. Then you come to and you’re in an entirely different room, on an alien planet, and one of these slimy grey beanstalks is talking to you through its robot voice, telling you to follow it to the appropriate-for-humans accommodations that have been prepared. Not even a glass of water or a cookie to help you get your bearings, first.

How much time passed between blacking out on the ship and waking up on the planet? The Dromidans were shifty and elusive the handful of times Mal asked them. “Some” time. “A period.” How long did it take to disassemble and reassemble a freakin’ body? For all Mal knew, it could have been a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year… there had been no communication between them and their ship, or the company they worked for, or their friends and families… he assumed Dex had friends and family. Someone had to love the motherfucker.

As for himself…

Mal sighed, shutting down that part of his brain before it could go any further down that path. There wasn’t anyone back on Terra III who cared if he lived or died. He stared down at the aliens, working away, producing five thousand kilograms of synthetic stem cells for transportation back to the Terran system where they would be sold for medical and cosmetic purposes at quite a markup. Nothing to do but stand here and try not to think.

They don’t pay us enough for this.


There wasn’t a gym at the production facility, not that Mal expected there to be. He couldn’t picture the Dromidans lifting weights, and even if they did, their physiology was so different from a human’s, he doubted there’d be much crossover in equipment. So Mal did pushups and jumping jacks in the room he shared with Dex to try and keep some level of fitness. He knew six weeks wouldn’t ruin his progress, but he didn’t appreciate the setback. More, he typically lifted to blow off steam, to discharge some aggression. He was… an angrier person than he liked to admit to himself. Working out was his psychological anchor. Without it, he felt antsy, keyed up. Especially since his days consisted of standing on an observation platform staring at a bunch of weird aliens manufacturing SynthStem, sitting in the little room he shared with Dex, bored out of his mind, or sleeping just to hurry the passage of time.

You’d think having a sexy but frustrating and frustratingly hetero meathead for company would add even more to his unvented annoyance, yet it didn’t. In fact, other than an hour in the morning and the evening, he didn’t actually see much of Dex—the Dromidans seemed to want to keep them separated.

Why? Could it be anything to do with the ultra-valuable material they manufactured here? Less chance the two humans—a notoriously untrustworthy species—would conspire to steal some for themselves? Mal wouldn’t dare, who knew how the freaks would deal with thieves? Their tech was so much more advanced than human tech. But they were a famously paranoid species, the Dromidans…

SynthStem. The miracle substance. Synthetic stem cells, which could be used to make almost any biological change a person might desire. Grow a new organ, erase a scar, increase the amount of a certain tissue in a desired area—mammary, for example. Or genital. Or muscle.

It was a medical marvel. Heart attack left you with cardiac damage? SynthStem! Liver failing from a life of alcohol abuse? SynthStem! Provided you could afford it, of course, but even that was less and less of a problem. The shipment they were sent to guard was worth hundreds of millions of dollars on Terra III, but an individual treatment might cost as little as a typical month’s salary—not cheap, but something most people could save up for, or a debt they could conceivably pay off.

It was also a cosmetic marvel. SynthStem boobs. SynthStem dicks. SynthStem lips. SynthStem asses. It did what implants and fillers did, but it did it better. In the weeks following injection, the synthetic cells adapted and became your own cells, as if you’d always had a twelve inch dick, or a massive bubble butt, or whatever else you happened to want.

And it was impossible to detect. Once the cells adapted, they were indistinguishable from your own. The SynthStem became part of you.

It made bodybuilding almost impossible to judge. Unlike synthol, popular decades ago, the results were extremely convincing, because SynthStem became real muscle tissue, actual muscle cells that further training would grow in the months and years after injection. Unlike steroids, it only took weeks, not years, to add the new muscle tissue, and it didn’t take a toll on the user’s health.

Sure, a full body treatment to turn a poindexter into a hulk required gallons of SynthStem, and thus was very, very expensive, very, very time consuming, and very, very tricky, requiring the deftest of hands—but it could be done. You just needed someone to inject a precise amount of SynthStem into each and every skeletal muscle. Rumour had it the few billionaires who opted for such a thing spent a week or more sedated while undergoing the process. Mal definitely saw the appeal. If he was private-planet level rich, he’d definitely sign up for a ten day coma. Wake up already bigger, spend the next month swelling into a ripped-to-shreds 400-pound muscle freak.... Mal couldn’t really see the downside to that—except that the amount of SynthStem required was far too expensive for any but the ultra-rich to consider it. If he worked for a hundred years he wouldn’t be a tenth of the way toward affording it.

So it was much better—cheaper, quicker, easier—to build muscle the old-fashioned way and then use a touch of SynthStem here and there to top up a body part that’s lacking. Or to gild the lily. A bodybuilder with 19 inch arms who wants to bring them to 21, for example—two small shots in each bicep head, three shots in each tricep head. It could be done on a lunch break, and two-to-four weeks later the little stem cells would have become real muscle cells, fully integrated with the ones that were already there. You’d have that 21 inch arm, with the potential to push it up to 23 inches or more over the next couple years, if you trained hard.

Mal himself had intentions, some day, to get a little ‘Stem in his arms. He always wanted them to pop a bit more, to look a little outsized—he definitely dreamed of getting them over the twenty inch mark. He was saving up. Maybe next year. His mercenary paycheque wasn’t all that great, but it was more money than he’d ever had before, and he didn’t have much to spend it on, either. He really did want a lot more muscle on his frame. As much as he could get, if he was honest with himself—more muscle than was seemly, or practical.

So when he walked into their shared quarters and saw Dex with a needle stuck into his own bicep, Mal had a lot of conflicted feelings.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

Dex grinned, the idiot, like a kid caught with his hands in the cookie jar, a kid who knows his Mom is too much of a pushover to punish him. “Hey Mal. Sampling the wares, as you can see.”

“You fucking moron,” Mal hissed, quickly pushing the door shut behind him. His heart pounded. He didn’t know what would happen to anyone caught stealing from the Dromidans. Nothing good. He did not want to become familiar with whatever those aliens considered justice. Whether they had any sense of mercy. Fuck, who knows if they even have a concept for privacy? Our room could easily be under surveillance.

“Relax, Mal, Jesus,” Dex said, finishing the injection and pulling the needle clear. He dropped it into the little chemical incinerator slot where all their waste went to be molecularly repurposed. “You don’t think I just helped myself on a whim, do you? I’ve had this in the works for a year. I covered my tracks, no one will ever know. By the time we ship out of here those little cells will be indistinguishable from my own. And this little arm will be a good two inches bigger, maybe a little more.” He smirked and kissed his bicep.

Mal didn’t relax. “How,” he said flatly, uncharmed. “How did you cover your tracks.”

“You really want to become an accessory?” Dex asked quietly, suddenly serious. Fuck, somehow he was even sexier like this than he was when he was acting like an overconfident frat boy. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Although, you do know too much already, don’t you…”

“What… what do you mean?” Mal suddenly wondered if he should be nervous. If Dex was dumb enough to steal some SynthStem right under the non-noses of the mysterious aliens who manufactured it, with no viable escape route, would he be dumb enough to murder a witness with nowhere to stash the body? The little chemical incinerator chute was way too small, he’d have to chop his corpse to bits—Mal felt his face go white, his heart rate doubling in an instant.

“I told you to fuckin’ relax, man. We’re all friends here,” Dex said, advancing slowly. “But I do need you to keep your mouth shut. You always had a bit of the boy scout about you, didn’t you? Teacher’s pet. What’s it gonna take to keep you from snitching. Hmm. I’ve got a clue.”

By this point Dex was moving into Mal’s personal bubble. He grinned again, devilish this time, as he reached out to cup Mal’s crotch. Mal made a startled sound. What the fuck was happening.

“I’ve seen the way you look at me,” Dex growled, moving in closer, his grip on Mal’s cock tightening as it rapidly filled with blood. “I’ll give you a blow job every morning and every night if you promise to keep your yap shut.” Mal could smell the other man now, the subtly spiky scent of masculine sweat, not fully washed away by the inadequate shower, built by a species with only a theoretical understanding of human hygiene. “Whad’ya say?” Dex breathed, his face only six inches from Mal’s now. Fuck, he could feel the heat of his breath. Mal’s heart pounded in his ear.

“Not a blowjob,” he managed to force out.

“No? I thought you’d love that.”

“Not a blow job,” Mal managed again. “I want to fuck your ass.”

Dex made a throaty chuckle, tinged with surprise and delight. He didn’t pull away, didn’t let go. If the request repulsed him, he showed no sign of it. “You’ve got balls, Maldonado. Lucky for you…” He squeezed Mal’s now-painfully hard dick tighter, moving the foreskin slightly. His gaze predatory as Mal gasped at the flash of pleasure across his mind like sheet lightning on a summer night. “...I find your proposal agreeable.” He closed the gap and locked lips with his crewmate.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!”—Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Dex had clearly been dipping his fingers back into the cookie jar a few more times, but he had learned better discretion– after that first time, Mal didn’t catch him injecting again. But one by one his muscles subtly and slowly blimped up. Not just his arms. He was gaining muscle at an alarming rate all over his body. He was about to split the seams of the uniforms he’d brought to wear. Pecs a bit rounder and heavier. Lats a bit wider. Quads a bit thicker. Ass… fuck. Mal’s train of thought jumped the tracks, his whole mind occupied by visions of Dex’s perfect muscular bubble-ass, with the blond peach fuzz. The way it defied gravity, round, protruding. The way it shifted and bunched and flexed as he moved. The way Mal’s dick felt pushing between those cheeks. The gasping jolt of pleasure every time he forced his way into Dex’s hole, the way it grabbed his cock and pulled him in. The way Dex’s ass throbbed and flexed around his dick, every inch massaged by velvety warmth, squeezed, pulsing. Mal could barely last more than a couple of minutes no matter what he tried. Seeing the vast hilly plain of Dex’s back spreading out before him, wider and hillier every time, hearing his deep moans...

Fuck.

The shocking thing was, he could swear Dex enjoyed it too. Ladies’ man, frat bro, bragging about all the women he’s fucked… Dex not only liked it up the ass, he took it like a pro. The way he flexed and moved, he mercilessly milked Mal’s cock every day for the remaining weeks of their stay.

This can’t be his first time… Mal thought to himself, but he didn’t ask. Even if pleasant, the unexpected sexual relationship was ultimately a thing of utility. Dex was buying Mal’s silence. They weren’t friends. They didn’t share their life stories. Mal still kind of hated the dude.

But fuck, his ass! And his ever-swelling Synth’d up muscles! And his model-handsome blond good looks! Fuck! Mal had to hate him, if he didn’t, he’d… he’d– don’t finish that thought.

And his dick! A generous uncut seven inches at least, maybe eight, and thick, too. The first time Mal reached around to give him a few strokes as they fucked, he worried the supposedly straight bro would bat his hand away– but instead, his frattish crewmate moaned in approval as Mal worked his foreskin back and forth over the ridge of his cockhead. Now, it was a standard part of their encounters, and Mal looked forward to Dex’s spurt of cum almost as much as he did his own.

They only spoke about the SynthStem once more, three weeks before their scheduled departure. Mal had just finished inside of Dex. His softening dick plopped out; he flopped over and lay on his back staring at the ceiling, his mind fractured and his heart racing. Dex next to him on the bed, on his back, grunting as he jacked himself off to completion, his swelling arms and pecs dancing and bouncing as they flexed with each stroke. It only took a minute; soon he was shooting an arc of sperm onto his magnificent enhanced chest. It dribbled and drooled into the crevice between his pecs as he flopped back alongside Mal, eyes barely-open slits, a cat-like smile of content on his face. Already starting to doze. They didn’t cuddle, but often enough they lay alongside each other for a time, after. Fuck, his hairy pits reeked, that same spiky synthetic male smell; Mal wanted to bury his face in them and inhale til he passed out.

Instead, he sat up in bed and spoke. “Three weeks until our pickup date,” he said.

Dex seemed to wake up a little. “Yeah,” he said, turning his head to look at Mal, somewhat apprehensive, cautious.

“You shouldn’t… indulge yourself in any more… samples of the product. The cells won’t have time to adapt and become identical to your original cells, and I bet their transporters scan for synthetic material. They find synthetic cells in your body, we’re both dead.”

“Oh,” Dex said, relieved. “Yeah, don’t you worry. I’ve thought of all that. Like I said. I’m not doing this on a whim.” He smirked and reached over to tousle Mal’s close-cropped dark curls. “I was afraid you were catching feelings for a second there, champ,” he said, cum still slowly draining into the gutter between the ridges of his abs.

Mal grunted. “I just don’t want anything bad to happen. I can’t wait until we’re out of this place. It gives me the creeps. I hate it here.”

Dex hopped out of bed and waddled toward the bathroom, his legs grown so huge he had to swing each one around the other. “I’m almost offended,” he said. “I can’t believe you’re in a hurry to leave this behind.” He gave his big muscle butt a comical shake.

“Ass,” Mal muttered as Dex continued into the bathroom.

“Correct!” Dex called over his shoulder as he shut the bathroom door behind him. Mal heard the shower start. He lay there quietly, determined not to think. He hadn’t considered what would happen when they rejoined the crew, renewed their duties. All those days working out together in the gym. Could they just… go back to that? Being gym-rat frenemies? Mal hadn’t assumed their fuckbuddy arrangement would be permanent, had he?

Had he?


It was night. Or, as the Dromidans referred to it, their dormancy period. Fair enough, Mal figured; the human circadian rhythm was entirely divorced from the rotation of Dromida IV as it orbited its alien sun. The viewports to the outside world were few and far between in this place; Mal could never predict if they would show a ruddy, foreboding alien landscape, or simple blackness.

Dromida IV had no moon.

The room was dim, but not black. Their bunks were on opposite sides of the space, with a table, two chairs, and the chute for the chemical incinerator in the middle. Over the course of the five weeks they’d been there, the air in the room became more and more… male. Mal figured the Dromidans must not have body odour, must not be used to accounting for it. Maybe they did not sweat, even though their nude bodies always looked slick with moisture. Or maybe it was just that Dex was becoming so huge, sweating so much, that whatever air exchange the aliens had built was not up for the task of scrubbing his testosterone scent from the air.

Such a curious smell. Like… cedarwood and old gym socks.

Mal could make out Dex’s form across the room, the hillocks of his absurdly swollen body. He just got bigger and bigger as the SynthStem bloomed within him, gradually converting from their tiny originary form to big, juicy, human muscle cells.

Mal couldn’t sleep.

At first he thought it was his imagination. Little movements under the blanket. Hitches in Dex’s slow, heavy breathing. But soon he had no doubt.

Dex was jacking off.

Horny, frustrated to not be invited over for a nocturnal bonus round, Mal initially felt grumpy at his crewmate. But he soon made a second realization.

Dex was still asleep.

He wasn’t sure about that until the big man started murmuring in his sleep. At first too quiet to make out the words. But soon, louder, enough that Mal couldn’t pretend to be ignorant any longer.

“Mal,” Dex murmured. “Mal….” He groaned then, big paw rubbing at his hard cock, the bulge moving under the blanket.

He’s sleeping, Mal told himself. It doesn’t mean anything.

He groaned louder. “You’re such a fucking stud, Mal…” more pawing at himself, the mattress protesting under his shifting weight as he slowly bucked his hips. “Wanted this for so long… I saved you some… get huge for me, Mal…”

It’s just sleep talk, Mal told himself as he quietly crept out of bed. He didn’t save me any SynthStem. And anyway, even if he did, I wouldn’t accept it til this fucking planet was a dozen light years in the rearview mirror.

“You’re so fucking huge, Mal… keep growing… bigger than me…. Fuck….” Dex whimpered, now.

Mal padded across the floor. This is dumb, he told himself as he stood over Dex’s bed, watching the giant beef heap slowly jack himself off. So dumb, he thought as he gently pulled back the blanket covering Dex’s freakishly inflated muscular form. He was so big, his muscles so full and bubbly, he looked wholly unnatural, now.

Dex’s cock stood like an obelisk in the dim light, a pearl of precum at the tip. Breathing hard, Mal gently moved Dex’s hand away from it, replaced it with his own.

“Fuck, Mal… take it all…” Dex muttered, his handsome fratboy face scrunching up as Mal milked his cock, slick with precum.

What the fuck am I doing, Mal thought to himself as he watched Dex’s pre glitter in the dim light. He spit on his hand and worked it between his own ass. Spit again, not enough. Again. Working some fingers in there. One more time for luck. This is so fucking stupid, for one this is going to hurt like hell, for another he’s going to wake up, and who knows what he’ll think then? You’re giving away your one bargaining chip, you idiot. The monologue in his head may as well have been reciting the digits of pi. As ready as he would ever be, Mal carefully straddled Dex’s hips and lowered his ass onto Dex’s achingly hard cock.

FUCK, he thought, all internal nagging about the wisdom of this choice silenced. He gritted his teeth and controlled his breathing. It’s been… too long since I did this… and he’s a big boy… spit isn’t gonna cut it. I need to get off and find lube. What the fuck was I thin—FUCK. It burned with mind-incinerating fire, but Mal was committed now, face contorting, breath hitching and catching. The pain faded as the muscles of his ass grew accustomed to the situation. Thank god he drools pre like tap.

Dex whimpered underneath him, still asleep. He bucked his hips slowly, drowsily, pressing Mal’s prostate with each slow upward thrust. “Mal,” he murmured happily, over and over. “Mal… I was afraid to go alone…”

At the back of his mind, Mal wondered what the hell he might mean by that, if anything. Most of his brain was scrambled by the intensity of what was happening, the pain and the pleasure and the clandestine thrill of riding his big dumb frat boy of a crewmate. He could never admit to himself that he’d wanted to do this since the first time he’d seen the big lug. All his psychological defenses were failing, more and more with each slow-motion upward thrust of Dex’s big cock. He whimpered. The snail’s pace of the fuck somehow made it even more intense than any jackhammering could be. Dex was owning him, and he was losing the will to resist it.

Dex was panting now, whimpering, moaning, but his eyes were still closed. How can he still be asleep?! Mal was finding it more and more difficult to stay quiet, to keep his movements slow and careful.

Dex let out a pained groan, his enormous body clenching, his unnaturally swollen muscles bulging so fat and full Mal almost worried he would split his skin. He felt the big guy unloading in him, spurt after spurt after spurt, and this sent Mal over the edge in turn, his cock bucking and spraying, painting little pale dollops over Dex’s writhing, yet unconscious, torso. Snow on a mountain. Marble veins in bedrock.

Mal whimpered, the last of his strength leaving him. He collapsed onto his huge crewmate, onto the landscape of him, like a field of hot boulders covered in silk. He felt the bigger man’s heavy arms enveloping him, the smell of him overwhelming. Felt warm breath on the top of his head as Dex held him, cradled him. “Mal,” he said, happily, content. “Mal,” he sighed again, tightening his grip, holding him closer. This time, Mal was pretty sure he was awake.

He wouldn’t be able to check, though. Clawing desperately at consciousness, to no avail, Mal slipped away into sleep, completely surrounded by Dex’s huge, bulging muscles, their wet slippery cocks nestled against each other’s bodies, their DNA mixing as it lubricated the small movements of their abs, in and out, as they breathed, holding each other.

When Mal woke up, he was in Dex’s bed, but Dex was gone. For a moment, there was a bitter feeling of abandonment, but then he checked his personal device. Fuck, look at the time. Dex would have been on guard duty for almost two hours by now. How long had he slept?!

Then, he saw a text message from Dex. Not sure what to expect, he opened it.

It was a simple thing, really. Just a few emoji. A winking smile, an eggplant, a trio of waterdroplets.

Fuck.


There weren’t really any recreational areas in the facility. Where the Dromidans went when they weren’t working, Mal didn’t know. If they had some kind of cafeteria or break facility, he never saw it. But Mal had taken to sitting in the hallway near their room, his back against the wall, just to introduce some variety to the hours when he wasn’t standing alone on that stupid observation platform. Someone needs to tell these grey freaks about zoo animals and how they need enrichment in their enclosures, he grumped to himself as he flipped through his personal device.

He’d lost track of how many times he looked this up. At least six or seven. It’s not like it ever changed. Yet here he was, opening it up again, scanning it as if he might have missed some detail.

Crew manifest of the ISS Scylla.

Deckard, Alexander Brandon. #0048795R. Rank: Corporal. Born: February 21, 2066, Boston, Terra III. So he’s 27 right now. Doesn’t sound like he’s from Boston. Not that that means anything. Current assignment: Biohazardous Material Security Escort, Dromida IV. Prior service: redacted.

Redacted.

They didn’t even have the date he joined the corps, information every other profile included.

Something stank, and it wasn’t Dex’s ever-inviting pits. He’d gotten too big to fit in the little shower, the last couple days, and the smell of him… Stop that. Concentrate.

How long had Mal known Dex? He was crew on the Scylla when Mal transferred over. How long was he aboard before that, though? The other crew seemed to know him well enough. He was jovial but kept his distance. What had he been doing before his assignment on the Scylla? If only Mal could ask any of Dex’s friends.

Wait. His friends. Who were his friends? If they were both back aboard the Scylla right now, who would Mal ask? Ishiguro? Mayfield? No. Dex was superficially friendly with everyone, but he kept to himself.

Holy fuck. Am I Dex’s only friend on the ship?

Mal suppressed a twinge of pity. Why should you feel sorry for him? It’s not like you’ve got other, better friends onboard either, do you? Who else are you friends with, exactly?

Holy fuck. Dex was his best friend on the ship. Why had he never considered that before? And I can’t stand the motherfucker. Mal felt like some sort of structural support had been removed from his worldview. I… I need to get out of here. Not just off this fucked-up planet. That’s only three days away, anyway. I need to get the fuck out of this service. I need to go back to Earth and ask for a discharge. I can… fuck, what can I do, though? He didn’t have family who would support him. His few friends had all proven untrustworthy over the years, letting him down when he needed them. He’d only joined the mercenary corps to avoid falling into the shelter system, because he knew how hard it was to crawl out of that once you were in it.

It wasn’t like well-paying jobs were all that plentiful. Earth could be good, if you knew the right people, but if you didn’t, it was a miserable, environmentally wrecked slum of a planet. You could work in a mining operation on an asteroid. Stripping space rocks for iridium all day. Or you could sign your life away to be an off-world colonist. Mal had seen his share of colony planets since joining the corps, most of their jobs were on worlds like that. Most of them were miserable places, with limited technology, limited culture. They were lawless or they were tyrannical, the wild west or Mayflower pilgrims. Frankly, the tedium and occasional danger of space mercenary work was the best option, as far as he could tell.

“But I’m losing my fucking mind, I need to get out,” he said to himself as he stared through his personal device, staring down the array of bad options before him.

“Are you the one designated Deckard or the one designated Maldonado.”

The distinct metallic tone, the slightly wrong cadence. Mal suppressed a squawk of surprise and quickly angled his device down, to obscure the screen. One of the Dromidans was standing before him. He never saw them in the corridors near their room. What was it doing here?

“I’m… I’m Maldonado. Why?”

“We have great difficulty distinguishing members of your species.”

“Well… the feeling is mutual. Sorry.”

“Sorry. You believe you have offended me. Curious. Our species are very different. It is logical to expect difficulty telling one specimen from another, when the species in question evolved on an entirely different planet. Even on the same planet it can be challenging. Tell me. I have studied your planet somewhat. Many species have been lost in your ecological collapse but there are still the animals called starlings, correct.”

“Uh… yes.” This was a very strange encounter. This one Dromidan had already said more words in thirty seconds than he had ever heard from the rest of the species combined. Maybe he’d finally discovered one with a personality: chatty.

“Can you distinguish one individual starling from another when you observe a… I believe the word is murmuration.”

“Well… no.”

“Precisely. Fascinating phenomenon, murmurations, do you not agree? I have observed recordings. But I digress. I do not apologise for being unable to tell you and your mate apart. You did have distinct scents when you arrived, but they have blended more and more. So you are Maldonado.” Mal looked at the alien’s huge black eyes, determined not to break eye contact, forgetting his cultural training as to whether this was perceived as a threat or as a respectful gesture. He got the sense the being was… almost deciding how to proceed? Maybe? “Tell Deckard to be careful in the days ahead; there is only one path for him.”

“What? Why?”

The Dromidan tilted its head to one side. “Do you not understand your instructions?”

“Uh… yes. But be careful of what.”

“He will understand.” The alien was already gliding away, its slick grey skin glistening in the sickly light.

Mal sat there alone for a minute, uncertain of what had just happened.

they know. At least one of them knows. But he… she… they… it… fuck. The one who knows is on our… side? Dex’s side. Not our side. I’m not going down for this stupid asshole and whatever reckless scheme he’s pulling.

Mal felt exposed. He felt unsafe. He hastily pulled himself up into a standing position and walked stiffly to his room, suppressing the instinct to run. He didn’t feel safe in the room, either, but at least it was somewhere he could go. Somewhere he could at least pretend to hide.


Of course, the room was empty when he got there. Dex was on that fucking hateful platform and Mal had to wait hours before he could pass along the message he’d just received from the only talkative Dromidan to exist on this entire fucking planet.

Mal should have been sleeping during this period, but he couldn’t. He’d close his eyes and his mind would swirl and race. Finally, he heard the door, saw a familiar shape angling sideways to pass through.

Jesus.

Dex was really exploding with mass. Every time Mal saw him lately, he was shocked anew– even the length of one shift was enough for him to further inflate with raw meat. His body was running out of space to put it all, yet he kept blowing up, bigger and bigger.

The SynthStem cells were tiny before they specialized and adapted; it took weeks after injection for them to reach full size, as they gradually added themselves to muscle tissue. Clearly they were all reaching maturity at just about the same moment. Just how much had Dex crammed into himself? He had to be well over 300 pounds now, maybe even over 350, and there was no sign of his growth levelling off or even slowing down. He wasn’t a particularly tall man– 5’11” if Mal had to guess.

Mal’s dick was stirring. No, he thought at it, angrily. Focus.

“Little help,” Dex chirped, struggling to pull his shirt off, the new, comically oversized one he’d had synthesized just a week ago. This dumb balloon animal is going to get us both killed.

Mal stood up and helped pull the cloth over Dex’s head. “Hahaha, gotcha,” Dex laughed, encircling his massive arms– fuck, they have to be, what, 27”?– around Mal’s form and pulling him in tight. Mal’s own firm, muscular body was overwhelmed by the freakish masses blossoming all over Dex’s torso and limbs. Mal felt his erection strain, trying to get even harder. Dex was already kissing Mal’s neck, pulling at his clothes. The big boy was horny, eager for it. Since their unplanned nocturnal rendezvous, Dex had been insatiable, even romantic, touching Mal at every opportunity, kissing him, cuddling him.

“Wait, stop, something important happened.”

“Can’t be all that important,” Dex muttered, continuing to kiss Mal’s neck, shifting his hips, subtly grinding his dick against his fuckbuddy. “Get those pants off, already.”

“No, fucking listen. One of those freaks came up to me and talked to me. Like, whole paragraphs. It asked if I was Maldonado or Deckard and then after I told it I was Maldonado, it told me to tell you to be careful, and that there was only one path for you, or something like that.”

Dex’s hips lost their rhythm, his kisses paused. He inhaled, sharp and quick. “It said that, did it? Exactly that?”

“Yes. They fucking know, Dex. You took too much, it’s too obvious. You look like you’re about to fucking burst out of your skin.”

Dex pulled back and made a dismissive gesture. “No. It couldn’t even tell which one you were. Humans all look the same to them.”

“Do we? You’re like twice my fucking size, man, they might not be used to our species but it’s pretty fucking obvious.”

“No, to them, it’s really not.” Dex was speaking in a manner Mal had never heard before. He was sharp, serious, his horny fratboy persona completely gone. “Look, I never told you anything about what I’m doing here, how or why, and I want to keep it that way. The less you know, the safer you are. Just like… did it ever occur to you that I must have someone on the inside? Did that thought ever rattle around the empty space in your thick skull?”

Mal frowned. “No. Dromidans aren’t like that.”

Dex scoffed. “There are always, always, always exceptions, Private.” The blond muscle blimp’s voice was tight, the artificial light casting harsh shadows over the freakish curves and angles of his shirtless torso, striped with livid stretch marks. He looked inhuman, and he looked angry. “Maybe you shouldn’t make assumptions. Your first perceptions aren’t always going to be true.”

Mal stepped back, feeling chastened, not expecting Dex to– to what? Shut him down like this? “I… I don’t know…”

“Yeah, that’s right, you don’t know. And let’s keep it that way. Stop trying to be in control of a situation where you know next to nothing. Fuck, you really need to feel like the smartest guy in the room at all times, don’t you? Try working on that.”

Dex was fuming, Mal realized. He was muttering under his breath as he slowly turned his body’s overburdened frame toward his bunk, awkwardly stripping off the rest of his uniform, any suggestion of sex completely evaporated. “Goodnight, Private,” he said curtly, clambering onto his bunk, which audibly creaked under his immense weight. He lay with his back to the room, his back to Mal, muscles mounding up so high it was scary. His hyper-developed back a bulging wall between them, spinal erectors actually sagging under their own weight.

Unsure what else to do, Mal retreated to his own bed, turned out the lights, and lay there, staring at the space between him and the ceiling. He had never felt so alone before.

Three days to go.


The tension between the two men was unbearable. Mal spent more time sitting in the corridor when Dex was around, just to not have to be in the same room as him. The blond man’s muscular expansion had continued apace, but Mal felt too rotten to be turned on by it. He was so huge he could barely function, yet he kept swelling. The Corporal was all business when Mal had to interact with him; frat-boy informality and good cheer nowhere to be seen. Mal wondered if he should apologize. But some part of him was too proud. No, don’t apologize to that dumb muscle blimp, he’s put you in a hugely dangerous situation, you didn’t do anything wrong, he’s the one who should be apologizing to you.

When the day finally came for them to go through the matter-to-energy transport, Mal expected he would feel happy, relieved. But instead he felt resigned, sad. Maybe Dex had been his only friend on the Scylla. But now he was returning to a ship where he wouldn’t have any friends at all. Why are you so depressed about that? You never thought of Dex as a friend before this mission. You thought he was no better than dirt under your shoe. Mal flinched at his own thoughts, feeling the truth of them. He realized, now, that Dex had always treated him in a friendly fashion, and that he had taken it for granted, returned the favour with unending scorn and suspicion.

He felt awful, and he soothed himself by retreating into anger. This was all Dex’s fault.

Mal still couldn’t tell any of the Dromidans apart. One of them showed up at their door to escort them to the transportation chamber. Dex was professional, taciturn. Even his utterly muscle-bound waddle seemed dignified, somehow, as he followed the eight foot tall grey being. The man was fully obese with muscle by this point. His ass so big you could serve a three course breakfast off its shelf… Mal sighed, wishing he could have gotten inside maybe just one more time… He was champing at the bit to fuck you, you couldn’t have waited a half hour to give him that stupid fucking message?

The transport chamber was a vast hangar-sized area, with strange devices lining the walls and ceilings. Scanners? Emitters? Who knows how it works.

And there, in the middle of the vast room, was the cause of all this. Five thousand kilograms of fresh, undifferentiated synthetic stem cells, in clean white containers, stacked neatly.

“We have received word that your ship is in orbit and is prepared to receive our energy transmission,” one of the Dromidans said in its artificial voice. Its big black eyes glittered as it observed the two humans. It seemed almost… sad? Mal had never attributed an emotion to any of the aliens before.

“We are ready when you are. Thank you for your hospitality while we were here. On behalf of Terra III, we thank you for the swift and accurate manufacture of these medical supplies.” Dex’s voice had a formal air, as if he was reciting something rote that he had memorized. The Dromidan who had spoken, the one who seemed somehow sad, inclined its head in response.

“Please take your positions by the containers.” Mal and Dex moved into place, standing in front of the huge shipment of SynthStem, five tons of the stuff. “Closer, please.” Mal shuffled closer to Dex, who did not move. “Closer.” Mal shuffled again, his shoulder almost brushing Dex’s bulging delt, bigger than the man’s head, now.

He could feel Dex breathing, could feel the heat radiating off his body, could smell him. Mal felt a sour pit in his stomach. He wanted to say something. He wanted to say sorry. But this wasn’t the time. There wasn’t time.

Maybe once they were on the ship… Mal was surprised to feel himself suppress tears. Pull yourself together, man. He’s just a dumb hunk of muscle who didn’t like you asking perfectly valid questions.

The Dromidan was still watching them, its huge black eyes seeming to suck up all the light in the room. Mal still couldn’t shake the impression that it was a sorrowful gaze.

“Initiate matter to energy transfer.”

Mal felt his body begin to tingle, and then the world disappeared.

“I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind”—Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

Mal woke, groggy. He tried to raise his hand to his eyes, to wipe away the crust, but something stopped him. He couldn’t move his arm. He tried to sit up. He couldn’t move at all. His pulse doubled. His breathing became fast and ragged. Unable to even turn his head side to side, his eyes cast wildly about. He was flat on a slab, limbs spread-eagle, strapped down.

Dex lumbered into the room, as massive as ever, like a parade float that had broken its moorings, his inflated muscles interfering with natural movement. Despite this awkwardness, he seemed menacing, and Mal was frightened of him.

“Good. You’re awake. We can begin. I didn’t want you to miss a minute of this.”

“What… what are you doing?”

“You’ll see,” Dex said enigmatically. It was only then that Mal realized they were both naked. Dex’s flaccid cock subtly wagging with his movements. In another context it would have been cute. Here, though, Mal felt trapped, helpless.

His enormous crewmate was fiddling with some mechanism. Mal couldn’t see what it was, Dex’s back was just so monumental and broad there was no way to see around it. His ass like twin flesh-coloured planets. Despite himself, Mal’s cock strained toward it, wanting to penetrate those grotesquely overgrown orbs once again. Mal whimpered in fear.

Finally, Dex stepped aside. “Ready,” he said, grinning evilly. “I’ve wanted to see this for so long…” His smile widened, a light in his blue eyes.

Mal didn’t recognize what the device was, but the hundreds of needles gave him no comfort, and his blood froze when he recognized the massive tank above them. Hundreds of gallons, maybe more than a thousand, that same sickly goop he had grown to hate the sight of, day after day on that observation platform.

A gigantic tank of SynthStem.

“On the count of three,” Dex said, still smiling. “One…. “ His grin became manic as he stabbed the controller in his hand prematurely. “Twothree,” he machine-gunned after the fact, as hundreds of needles shot out, each one homing in perfectly on a muscle on Mal’s immobile body.

He couldn’t move. He could just lie there and be pierced in a hundred places at once. It felt so weird. So uncomfortable. And then…

Fuck.

The pressure. The pain. The machinery shuddered as the SynthStem was forced into his body. There was nothing merciful or delicate about it. Nothing gradual, nothing careful, nothing artful. He was being violently inflated with synthetic cells, the only goal to make him balloon with grotesque size. And he knew this was just the beginning—in the weeks ahead, as the cells converted to muscle, he’d triple or quadruple whatever outlandish size he’d be after the enormous tank was injected. He whimpered as he rapidly inflated, bigger than Dex. Bigger. Bigger. Much bigger. Grotesque, inhuman, his frame deforming from the sheer volume of it all. 1000 pounds. More. He could feel his joints begin to pull apart as his muscles overwhelmed his frame, limbs spreadeagle. Hips already at their limit, adductors the size of truck tires demanding they spread even wider. Shoulders pulling out of socket. Skin threatening to tear. The restraints broke, not that it mattered. He was immobile now, meat-locked, a prisoner of his own swelling body. And still the pumps worked, forcing more and more synthetic cells into him. He felt himself rising off the slab as his ass and hamstrings and back and calves bloated grotesquely, huger than even the most demented muscle growth fetishist could ever dare to dream. A grotesque, tortured, perverse parody of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

Dex was jacking his cock, watching, rapt. “Yeah,” he grunted. “More. Fuck yeah. Grow for me. Grow. Bigger. Bigger. More. I don’t care if you fuckin’ burst. Get bigger for me.”


Mal woke up.

Everything was slow to come back into focus. His mouth was dry, his eyes hurt to open and close, like his eyelids were sticking and unsticking.

The dream was fading. Already parts of it were hard to remember. Just a horrifying feeling of… weightiness? Being buried or confined, somehow? What a fucked up dream. At least they were well away from Dromida IV. But… why did he feel… He couldn’t…

It took a moment for Mal to begin processing what he saw as his eyes slowly focused. He saw… fuck….

Dex’s face, inches from his own. His brows pulled together, anxious. His mouth moving. All Mal could hear was a dull ringing. Sound returned slowly. It was like being underwater, everything was slow, distorted. Then, with a dull pop, reality crashed in on him.

“Oh thank fuck you’re awake. Oh thank fuck. You were unconscious for so long. I was so scared.” Dex was… was Dex crying? Shining rivulets traced down his handsome features, his blue eyes looked huge, watery. Fuck. He was crying, his breath was quivering, there was snot hanging out his nose. And he was just a couple inches away. Mal could feel his breath on his face.

Mal groaned. He needed space. Whatever had happened… it was sweet that Dex was so scared for him, but the big guy needed to back off, let him breathe. “Give me air,” Mal managed to mutter. Why was it so laborious to speak? Like a pressure pushing down on his chest.

Dex stifled something, and turned it into a quick laugh instead. “I’d love to, big guy, but… well….”

Mal tried to raise his arms to push Dex away. Something was restraining him. “Let go of me,” he muttered, still having trouble speaking clearly.

“I’m not holding you, Mal. Look around you. Take a second. I’m so sorry.” Dex broke then, a quick sob escaping his mouth before he clamped down and regained control.

Mal found his head would only turn so far before something obstructed it. Still, he looked down as best he could… around… he was surrounded by some flesh-coloured… striated… hairy… mass….

Fuck.

What the fuck?!” Mal yelled in shock. He didn’t have any trouble speaking, now.

Dex winced, inches away. “I’m right here.”

What the fuck?!” Mal yelled again, even louder, trying to struggle. It was like drowning in wet cement, except the wet cement was… his body? Dex’s body? Both of their bodies?

“Please,” Dex’s eyes were welling up again. “Please try to calm down. I know…” He inhaled shakily. “I know this is a shock. I know this is bad. But…” he winced. “Fuck, you’re hurting me when you do that. You’re trying to… rip us apart… trust me, it won’t work, they tried… FUCK, that hurts! Arrrrggh, Mal, stop! Fuck!!! Stop!!!”

Mal was trying to thrash, trying to pull away, trying to rip his body free of Dex’s body, even as he couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. His mind rejected the evidence of his senses. “No! No! Fuck no! This isn’t real! This is some fucked up psychosis!” He couldn’t breathe. He was gasping for air, wanted to claw at his face but he couldn’t move his limbs. He wasn’t even sure he had limbs.

Dex was panting, his face white, grimacing, struggling to maintain control. “It’s been two days, Mal, it’s real, I wish it wasn’t. Please…” Dex was crying fully, now, unrestrained. “I’m sorry….” Mal pulled back, harder, brutally. A wet ripping sound, sickening. Dex screamed in shock and pain. Palm-thick stretch marks pulling apart, failing. Mal was a panicked animal, his leg caught in a trap, pulling away with hysterical strength, even if the trap took the leg off. Pulling both their bodies apart. Another ugly wet ripping sound. The sensation of hot fluid flowing freely over taut skin.

A third voice. If Mal had his wits about him, he might have recognized the sour-faced Lieutenant. “He’s having a panic attack, sedate them!”

Then the medical officer’s voice. Mal couldn’t see either of them, all he could see was… Dex, sobbing, in agony. Himself. Them. Their body. This mutant mass he was part of, trapped within. The flesh that was eating him alive.

He couldn’t breathe. He was going to die.

Fresh crimson blood flowing down the boulder-like protrusions of their body, splattering onto the metal floor.

Dex’s eyes squeezed shut, his breathing ragged, his skin white. He looked like he would vomit. He was forcing words out through gritted teeth. “Please, Mal,” it sounded like. Desperate words. “Please stop. Please.”

“I can’t sedate them, one’s going into shock and the other one is panicking, their blood pressures are on opposite ends of the scale,I don’t have the first clue what an appropriate dose might–”

Sedate them.” Mal had never heard the Lieutenant’s voice like that before. The man was… the man was terrified.

“Yes sir!”

Mal’s vision was squeezing shut. Tiny stars dancing across the narrowing field of vision. His attempts to draw air were rasping, wheezing, frantic. He was drowning.

Then, nothing.


Medical Officer’s Log

I confess to being out of ideas. I also confess to being frightened.

Corporal Deckard and Private Maldonado were transported to the Scylla from the surface of Dromida IV, along with a shipment of five thousand kilograms of SynthStem, which they had been dispatched to guard. The energy matrix we received from the Dromidans began to reassemble into matter in the cargo bay, but we knew there was something wrong right away. I was attending, as is standard procedure any time a crewmember is arriving or departing via Dromidan matter-to-energy transport.

Instead of two human men, something… huge, and barely recognizable began to form. Reactions from other crew members were predictable. Some were nauseated to the point of having to leave the room.

I confess to having to rapidly compartmentalize in order to act, but I knew these two crewmen needed me immediately.

In short, somehow Corporal Deckard, Private Maldonado, and a massive quantity of undifferentiated synthetic stem cells had become, well, mixed up in the transport, and materialized in one big lump of organic matter.

Photographic and video documentation are attached to this log, but they are not for the weak of heart or stomach.

Unfortunately, I was at a loss as to how to aid them, and I remain at a loss. Thankfully, the crewmen are stable, after a fashion, although they remain in grave peril. Communications with the Dromidans have been frustrating. They blame some fluke fluctuation in the planet’s magnetosphere for the accident. Unfortunately, we understand their technology so poorly, we have no idea how plausible this is as an excuse.

But why would the Dromidans spoil hundreds of millions of dollars of SynthStem in order to… disfigure these two men so profoundly? I have no idea, not even the beginnings of an idea, of how we might extract Deckard and Maldonado from the biomass they are encased within, and with every passing hour, every passing minute, the synthetic stem cells adapt to the surroundings and become cells that both men share. Muscle cells, mostly, but also nerve, skin, blood.... They are literally growing into each other.

They seem to be growing into a single organism, is my reluctant and horrified conclusion.

They are becoming one inhuman body. And since most of the SynthStem is becoming muscle tissue, they are already massively overburdened with muscle, grotesquely inflated with it.

It is difficult to distinguish body parts. They are face to face, heads separated by 11 cm; if they incline their heads toward each other their foreheads touch. The men have retained their distinct identities; Deckard seems to be the stronger of the two, in terms of his resilience and psychological fortitude. Although he is, understandably, very emotional about his situation, he is able to answer questions somewhat sensibly.

Maldonado has been mostly comatose, although he has twice awakened. Upon becoming aware of his situation, he understandably spirals into a panic and requires sedation. My hope is the next time he comes to he might stabilize, psychologically, and begin to accept his situation. Although to what end I hope for this outcome, I am unsure. Maldonado’s unconscious state is, I confess, quite likely the more merciful of the two.

Their pectoral muscles are fully fused, and rise high enough that both of their chins rest upon this mass of muscle tissue. Their trapezius muscles surround and rise above their heads, severely restricting cranial movement. In short, they can only move their heads a little bit before the enormous mass of muscle surrounding them prevents further movement.

Below this, it becomes much more difficult to describe in words. Please see attached drone footage of a 360 degree survey of the… biomass. It’s all muscle, as you will see. Writhing, flexing, pulsing muscle. Growing, too, I might add, as the synthetic cells adapt and differentiate, as they become yet more human muscle cells.

The men’s genitals remain distinct, as well, although massively inflated with SynthStem. Despite their emotional and physical distress, they become turgid regularly. Perhaps some wild misfiring of the fight or flight instinct? Their genitals are greatly enlarged, attaining an erect circumference of more than 18 inches. Estimating length is difficult, as the groins from which the genitals emerge are not visible, and the biomass is too large to fit inside any of my medical scanners. One penis angles out over what I presume is a gluteal muscle the size of an armchair, the other juts around what I suppose might be a lat. They are arranged in such a way that they press against each other with some degree of force. This routinely leads to a degree of sexual excitement, with regular emissions, which I have instructed the crew to treat as a biohazard. I intend to study these emissions when I have a moment, but my mind must focus on helping these two crewmen, especially during these early days, when a majority of the cells in the biomass they are trapped inside remain foreign. I suspect, as more and more cells ‘awaken’ to their environment and mature, hope of rescue will grow dimmer and dimmer.

I have no idea how to separate these men, or to undo what has been done to them. Only the Dromidans might—might—possess that technology, and they are proving very unhelpful.

Worse still, the nature of SynthStem is such that the synthetic cells are, every minute, expanding as they differentiate into muscle tissue. A synthetic stem cell is very small, several times smaller than a human muscle cell. In short: Deckard and Maldonado are growing, growing at a frightening rate. Their fusion is still in progress, and the mass of muscle tissue consuming both men is continuing to expand. It has been two days since the incident, and this is projected to continue for another two to three weeks. I predict the cargo bay will be large enough to contain them—but only just. They are already the largest human specimens to exist, even dividing their weight in half, and they stand to triple or quadruple their mass in the weeks ahead.

The Captain is already agitating for us to leave Dromida IV’s orbit. We are operating on a schedule, after all; we are already overdue at our next port of call. He also believes more advanced medical centers will better be able to help Deckard and Maldonado. I strongly disagree; if there is any help for the crewmen, it will come from the planet below, and two human lives are more important than any mission or schedule.

I have used my emergency powers as chief medical officer to keep us in orbit, but I do not know how long I can maintain this level of control over the situation.


“Mal… are you awake?”

“... Yeah.”

“And you’re not going to freak out again?”

“I mean… I’m giving it serious consideration.”

“Okay, well, try not to.”

“What the fuck happened to us?”

“I don’t know, man. Something fucked up with the transporter. The two of us got mixed up with a huge amount of the SynthStem.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“And it’s your fault?”

“I don’t know, Mal. It might be.”

“You’re sorry.”

“Yeah, I am.”

“How do I know you’re sorry.”

“Well. Please don’t freak out. But have you noticed something?”

“....No?”

Dex’s voice broke the silence like a rock thrown through a thin layer of ice, the waves circling out under the surface beyond the puncture. “Neither of us has been talking this whole time,” he said out loud.


Their heads were slowly being forced closer together as the twin towers of trapezius muscles behind them continued to swell. They were caught in a trap made of traps, and its mouth was slowly closing over them.

The medical officer was increasingly concerned. Feeding them was growing difficult, and their enormous mass required a freakish quantity of food. What would happen if their faces eventually merged when pressed together? Would they be able to breathe? Would they be able to eat? Would the SynthStem, run amok, cannibalize their organs and other tissues to continue to find the energy to fulfil its biological imperative? The horror and urgency of the situation ratcheted up.

Their nervous systems were beginning to grow together, which raised lofty questions about self, other, identity, philosophical concerns. But food, air, water, those things were more… immediate. If feeding or respiration were compromised, one or both men would die, and die quickly.

The Captain was increasingly impatient with the grotesque blob taking up more and more of his cargo bay. He wanted to offload them on some colony world with a decent medical system. Hopefully one that was along the route to their next destination. But the medical officer stiffened his backbone and told ol’ moustaches that he would have to relieve him of duty first. As long as the medical emergency continued, they weren’t going anywhere.


Mal and Dex didn’t speak to each other using their voices much anymore. It was so much easier to just… share thoughts. The more they did it, the less like words those thoughts were. The less able they were to hold back from each other. Each flash of panic, each stab of sorrow, each flush of pleasure, each deeply hidden glint of love… they all became perceptible to the other.

“You hated me,” Dex thought, and Mal sensed his sadness, a kind of crumpling feeling.

“No,” Mal thought, hurrying, not wanting to hurt the other man.

“You did, though. I can see your memories, some of them. You… you repressed so much fury at me. You wanted me to leave you alone.”

Their faces so close, Mal couldn’t look away, was forced to stare into Dex’s big blue eyes as they welled up. Unable to bear it, he closed his eyes, felt his heart hammering.

“I’m not a good person, Dex,” he said, out loud, voice ragged. “I’m cruel and angry and miserable. I hate everyone.” He choked on the last words. He didn’t want them to be true, but he knew they were. Who was the last person he actually liked?

“Stop,” Dex thought, silently. “Stop stop stop stop. Come back to me. Here. I see it now.” There was a sense of surprise behind the other man’s thought. “Like, actually see it.”

“See what?” Mal replied, again, out loud, not wanting to go back to their shared thoughtspace, eyes still closed, burning with unshed tears.

“You’re doing it right now,” Dex thought at him. “You don’t hate everyone. You… you don’t hate anyone. Other than yourself. And maybe… one other person? I can’t see who. Not me, though. You’re… you’re scared. You’re so scared. You’re scared of other people and you’d convince yourself of anything to avoid confronting that fact. You act superior, you get mad, you make yourself cruel… to keep yourself alone. Because even though you’re sad when you’re alone, at least you’re safe.”

Mal tried to close his eyes tighter, tried to pretend he was somewhere, anywhere else. He could feel Dex, could feel every one of the thousands of pounds of muscle that had mounded up on his body, their body, could feel him, somehow, reaching out, not physically… emotionally. Aching to take Mal in his arms. Tell him he was worth it. Worth loving. That he wouldn’t hurt him the way everyone else always eventually did. To prove that he was safe.

“I want to believe you,” Mal thought, finally. “I just… I can’t…”

“What made you so afraid?” Dex said, out loud. “That, I can’t see. Show me.”


Seven Years Ago

“It’s 2086, your dad can’t actually care all that much, can he?”

“Look, I know you’re in Blue America, with your pronouns and polyamory and whatever. I’m here, okay? You don’t know what it’s like here.”

“But we’re travelling the stars now! You can see literal space aliens on the street, not a lot of them but they’re there! Even if your dad is a little bit upset, he’ll get over it, and then it’s done and you can live your life.”

“Hold on, I can hear him coming home, I need to go.”

Young Tom Maldonado quickly swiped the chat app away and brought up his homework, adopting a studious pose. His dad didn’t like him chatting to strangers on the internet, strangers who were his only friends. They filled his head with ideas, and he was bad enough already, without the help.

Tom’s dad was angry that night, but that’s how he typically was, nowadays. The ranch wasn’t doing so well. The grasslands were slowly turning to desert, and the aquifers were drying up. It was clear to Tom that this land wouldn’t be arable in a decade, and he was studying hard to find some way out of inheriting a farm that would be nothing but a curse. Doctor. Lawyer. Drone in a code farm. Anything that wasn’t nursing dying cows as the planet curled up and turned away from the humans who had abused it too much, too long.

“Tomas,” his father grunted as he passed through the kitchen.

“Dad,” Tom replied. Something in the way he said it made his father stop. The older man turned to look at his son. A thorough disappointment. Small. Girly. No interest in working with his hands, in learning how to be a man. A pity his wife had only given him two older girls and this sorry excuse for a boy before the pandemic of ‘71 carried her off. She was a good woman, not that a virus cares a thing about how good or bad a person is. He had it pretty bad himself, and it left him with a dull ache in his lungs whenever he pushed himself too hard. The fact that prissy little Tomas, just a toddler, was the only member of the family to be totally unscathed… he had never really forgiven the little twerp for his unearned good fortune.

“You have something to say to me?”

Tom felt his heart race. “... No.”

His father grunted, turned, left.

Tom returned to the chat app. His friend in New York had sent one more message while Tom had pretended to study.

“Tell him!”

Tom typed in the fateful words. “Okay. Tomorrow. I promise.” And he always kept his promises.

It was the worst decision of his life.


Mal was a mess as he felt the memories of what came next pull out of him and into Dex. The worst day of his life. The memories cut him open as they moved from his mind into Dex’s, left old wounds bleeding like they were fresh. Unhealed. The brutality of it. The shock. This-can’t-really-be-happening as it faceplants into the hard cement of you-bet-your-life-it-is.

Dex’s breath caught as he observed what had been done to Mal, after he told his father. Felt them. “No,” he said quietly. “No. I… he… That should not… he should not have done that to you, Tom. Mal.”

BUT HE DID, the thought came blasting across the channels connecting them, pure pain, the nerves seeming to catch fire.

“I don’t know how you heal from something like that…” Dex thought, knowing it was stupid, unable to stop the thought or shield it.

“You don’t! You don’t! You don’t heal! You’re ruined forever, okay? I didn’t ask for this! I didn’t ask you to try and fix me! Leave me alone! Get the fuck out of my head!!

“You know I can’t do that.”

No response. Not even a thought. Just the ragged breathing of a wounded animal.

Dex felt helpless and he knew Mal could feel that helplessness across their link. He had to try. “You’re not ruined. I don’t think you’re ruined.”

Nothing.

A long moment passed. Dex watched Mal like an astronaut in low earth orbit watching a hurricane devastate a coast below. Whirling, churning, drowning cities, pulling lives apart. Unable to stop it, unable to help those caught in the tempest, unable to look away.

Finally, Mal spoke, a rough whisper that Dex could barely hear.

“But I push everyone away. I make myself miserable and I treat everyone awful so I’ll stay miserable. You think I hate you, and the only thing you ever did wrong was try to be my friend. I…” Mal choked on his words, unable to hold back his tears. His voice failed. He switched to silent thought as he started crying too hard to speak. “I don’t want to be alive, Dex, but I’m too much of a coward to do anything about it, so I make people hate me. I push away anyone who might make me happy. Who might convince me this is all worth it. I snuff out any hope I find. I can’t help it. I can’t stop myself. That’s ruined, isn’t it? Isn’t it?”

“And yet I’m still here.”

A bitter flash of dark amusement, like a spark landing on bare skin. “Like you said, it’s not like you could be anywhere else.”

“No, no,” Dex thought, his frustration bulging forward in his mind, fizzing. “But even if I could be anywhere at all, right now… I would be here. I would choose to be here. I want to be where you are. Why do you think I kept trying to be your friend, over and over and over?”

Mal wanted to believe he was lying, wanted to think he was just saying that. Everyone always left him. But he could see, just as easily as Dex saw the violations that were done to him when he was a vulnerable boy. He could see Dex’s mind, too.

And he saw that Dex meant it.


Flashes of everyday life, memories, snippets, steadily crossed the failing barrier in the days that followed. Some of them, Dex wanted to show, to help explain how they had ended up in this mess. Other memories, Mal saw whether Dex wanted him to see them or not. Privacy was becoming impossible. It was not just their bodies that were growing together. Their minds were merging, more and more, thoughts moving between them easier and easier. Sometimes they knew each other’s thoughts as they happened; deception or omission were impossible. Sometimes, thoughts formed and they couldn’t even tell which man they had come from originally. They thought in unison, in those moments, an experience no human has ever had before.

But some of these memories that moved from Dex into Mal, they’re worth sharing here too, to fill in your understanding of how these two ended up in that cargo bay, in that giant mass of muscle, slowly filling the space.

Months ago.

Dex watched the new crewmembers boarding. He was a lone wolf. He preferred to sail solo. Pick your metaphor. He was jovial, friendly, no need to make enemies without good reason, but he didn’t want anything too deep. He watched the new arrivals more out of boredom than anything. Plus, strong social bonds could make whatever work he had to do more difficult—he still had no idea of the specifics, to his frustration. He’d been on this assignment for three months, waiting for secret orders that were still yet to arrive. Easier to betray people you don’t know that well.

I didn’t realize I was signing up to be a sleeper agent, Dex thought sourly. They sure seemed like they were in a hurry to get me onto this rust bucket, but for what?

His train of thought derailed, though, as the next new crewmember stepped out of the airlock.

Fuck me, Dex thought. He was darkly handsome, Latino if Dex had to guess, shorter than him, but muscular. Broad shoulders tapered to a small waist, which the standard issue jumpsuit only emphasized. Promising hints of a ripe peach of an ass, thick powerful legs. But his face. An intensity to it, a challenge to the world. His gaze direct. Just a Private, single stripe on his shoulder, yet no one’s subordinate. Fuck me, Dex thought again. As soon as the hunk disappeared around the corner, following the others, Dex scrambled through the crew manifest to find out who he was.

Private Tomas Maldonado.

Flash forward.

Watching Mal lift. Dex never used to train shirtless, despite having the weight room to himself before Mal joined the crew. He started stripping as he lifted, half in hopes Mal might show some interest, half in hopes Mal might take inspiration and follow suit. Dex was still frustrated—he had no idea if Mal even swung his way. And if there was anyone on the crew who was even more resistant to making friends than himself, it was Maldonado. He’d earned the nickname “Mal” not just because it was a short form of his surname—he was also one prickly motherfucker. The fiery shorter man was an enigma, which only made Dex want him more.

Dex was still waiting for those orders. He was starting to think they’d never come. But he reminded himself he should act as if they would arrive any day. He shouldn’t get close to anyone he might have to betray if the word came. He was only a pretend Corporal, placed here to execute some mission, if they ever got around to telling him what that mission was.

“Stopping at Mars colony soon,” Dex heard himself say. “We get a couple days of shore leave. You gonna score any Martian pussy while we’re there? You know the low gravity means men from Mars are all string-beans, the ladies are hungry for meat.” Fuck, what was he doing?

If he was hoping to get a reaction out of Mal, he succeeded. The fiery glare his question earned made Dex’s heart race. Fuck, was he… excited? “We’ll see,” was the only answer he got.

“C’mon, bro, you’re enough of a stud to pull on any colony world, and Mars is easy mode.” What was this character Dex was playing? Yeah, he was an undercover agent, it would be smart for him to affect a persona… It was dangerous for anyone to know the real him.

“Did you fuck with the artificial gravity again?” Mal asked, changing the subject.

“No! I keep telling you, it was broken the first day! I didn’t do it!”

Mal grunted in disbelief and walked over to the control panel to check, giving Dex a clear view of his perfect muscle ass, shifting and flexing in his shorts with each step. “I guess you’re telling the truth,” he muttered to himself. All Dex could think about was tackling him right then and there. Don’t, he thought, sternly. It won’t go well if you do.

Flash forward.

Dex was wasting time in the sparse crew lounge and mess hall, nursing some passable beef stroganoff, counting the hours until it would make sense for him to go to bed. They were in interstellar space, chugging along, ten days out from Mars, five days away from the next stop. Day after tomorrow was a day full of drills, all the other days were just patrols, chores, and downtime. God, he was bored. Still no word about that fucking secret mission he was supposedly on.

The mess had about a dozen guys in it, sitting in groups of three or four, their conversations loud and idiotic; Dex kept to himself but smiled and responded jovially whenever someone took note of him and directed a remark his way.

Mal was there, too. Also sitting alone, like Dex. His empty plate was abandoned next to him—he never dawdled over his food, like he was afraid someone might take it away if he didn’t eat it quickly. Dinner done, he was absorbed in his device. Headphones on. He was smiling. Dex never saw him smile at other people, but when he forgot there were people around… he had such a beautiful smile. So big and warm.

I wish I knew him better. It wasn’t even his horniness talking. Mal was different than most of the crew. Despite his surly demeanor, he was the only one who didn’t quickly become annoying. There was no question at all that Mal only served his authentic self to the people around him. His relationship with Dex had evolved into a kind of teasing workplace frenemies type of thing. At this point, Dex was pretty sure both of them knew the other was gay, yet nothing had come of it, and Dex kept playing up the pussy-obsessed frat boy persona just because it got a reaction from Mal. It’s so over the top. He’s got to realize I’m not being serious. Right?

Dex stirred the stroganoff around on his plate and took a half-hearted bite. You’ve gotta eat if you want to grow. You see that muscles turn him on, so eat. Maybe if you get big enough he’ll finally fuck you. He sighed, took another bite. Mal’s grin had grown wider, showing his straight white teeth now, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

I wish he’d smile at me like that. The thought surprised Dex, but it was true. No one had smiled at him like that since… Don’t think about it. That life is gone now. You’re a spy, remember? A secret agent? Stop this foolish mooning.

Something happened on Mal’s device and he laughed. The other crewmates in the lounge had coincidentally all reached lulls in their loud conversations, and Dex heard Mal’s laugh clearly. It was such a lovely sound, a low delighted chuckle. There was such warmth there, not the fire of his disapproval that he showed the people around him. Actual kind, friendly warmth.

Whoever finally broke through his spiny shell would earn such a prize of a man.

Dex couldn’t stand it. He ached to go over and speak to him, to have him smile at him the way he was smiling at whatever he was watching, to find some way to draw another laugh like that out of him, a laugh that was for him. For Dex. But he knew if he did go over, he’d just earn a glare for interrupting. He’d just say something buffoonish, sure to earn Mal’s ire. Irritation was better than nothing, but Dex longed to find some way to draw Mal’s attention in a more positive way.

But he just couldn’t think of anything he might say or do.

Dex got up, dumped the rest of the stroganoff into the trash chute, and marched off to his bunk.

Flash forward.

Dex woke up to see his device flashing, a steady green pulse. Fuck. He knew what that meant right away. Orders. Actual orders. After nine months, he was finally being activated.

It only took Dex a few minutes to read the mission brief. He kept shaking his head in disbelief. His employers had apparently made an arrangement with a rogue Dromidan to smuggle out premature SynthStem, in such a state that the secret of its manufacture would finally be cracked and the Dromidan’s monopoly broken.

Mature SynthStem strongly resists reverse engineering, it’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing. But if Dex were to inject his own body with a significant quantity of unfinished or ‘immature’ SynthStem at different stages of its development… His own muscle tissue would be used to smuggle out a large enough quantity of unfinished SynthStem to figure out just how the stuff was made. His eyes bulged when he reached the part of the mission brief about just how much immature SynthStem he would have to shove into his muscles. 65 kilograms?! Holy fuck. I’m gonna be a blimp by the end of it.

Apparently, the Dromidan on the inside would provide the immature SynthStem, and would be recognizable to Dex by using the code word “starling.” The rogue Dromidan had also made assurances that Dex would evade all scans when transporting out. Once he made the rendezvous point enough of the cells would be in their original state that they could be extracted and reverse-engineered, although he would be left “significantly more muscular” than he had been before—as if that was a bad thing? Apparently the cells were “unstable” in their immature form, so they couldn’t be completely sure about the long term effect they would have on Dex’s body. Sure, Dex thought ruefully, that sounds very safe.

It was the final line of the brief that made Dex’s blood run cold, though. If you are discovered or the mission is otherwise compromised, we will disavow all knowledge of you.

So his entire life was in the hands of a Dromidan turncoat he had never met before. And he was going to be alone on the planet the whole time.

He hated to admit it, but he was terrified. He assumed he’d be smuggling secret documents, kompromat on some politician or other. Not muling advanced biotechnology past the most xenophobic and inhuman alien species anyone had encountered so far.

If you wanted a quiet life, you should have… what? Dex’s mind flashed over the brief, unappealing list of alternatives. He’d agreed to this job because there wasn’t anything else for him. He’d already lived the alternative. He wasn’t going back.

Flash forward.

Dex sat at the computer terminal. The access codes he’d been given actually worked. He was staring at the mission log for the ship. All he had to do was plant the bogus mission to Dromida IV. He thought it was flimsy and unbelievable—who ever heard of a shipment of SynthStem needing to be guarded while the Dromidans manufactured it?—but it wasn’t his place to question.

The idea hit him in a flash. He took a minute to consider it, knowing he didn’t have all that much time—at any point the ship’s computer might realize someone was meddling and lock him out. He couldn’t see any downside to his idea, though. He couldn’t think of a reason not to do it, other than…

Look, just keep him totally in the dark. If they catch you, they catch you, as long as he’s not involved I’ll just say it was all my idea and he had no clue I was doing it.

He was decided. Where it said Crew, he was meant to type Corporal Alexander Brandon Deckard. He typed that, then added Private Tomas Maldonado and hit submit before he could reconsider it.

Sealing both their fates with a keystroke.


Back in the present moment, the flow of memories and emotions from Dex into Mal tapering off, leaving the aftertaste of… sorrow? Regret?

It’s your fault, Mal thought quietly. You’re the reason I’m stuck here. Slowly being absorbed into you. You wanted to get closer to me. Well, congratulations.

Please, Mal, please, I had no idea… I never knew something like this could happen.

Mal could sense Dex’s desire to be forgiven. His honest remorse.

You don’t want to forgive me, Dex thought.

No, Mal thought, I don’t. But. I think I just want someone to blame. I want someone to be angry at. And what good is that? I can’t run from you. I can’t hide from you.

The borders between us are starting to be erased.

I know. It scares me.

It scares us.

Are we going to die?

I don’t know.

Hell of a first date.

The nervous crewmen guarding the bay, monitoring the freakish blob of muscle that had engulfed their crewmates, that grew larger by the day, were surprised to hear something that sounded like laughter coming from the grotesque pile of meat.


A memory, flowing from Dex into Mal like water down a slope.

About 18 months back.

Dex is in a shabby basement apartment in old Chicago. He’s doing pushups and pullups, getting ready to head out. Thin film of sweat over his taut muscled body as he stops to examine himself in the dirty bathroom mirror. Yeah. He looks good. Blond all-American muscle boy. He knows his brand. He knows what he’s selling. He makes enough money for membership at a good gym, for a protein rich diet, for some basic gear, for nice clothes to show it all off, even if it means he has to live in a dump like this to make the budget stretch.

He’s seeing one of his regulars tonight. A man he calls Mr. Taurus. He’s never learned any of their real names, but the idea to give them zodiac signs as codenames was completely his own, and he even felt a little bit proud of it.

He feels like if there are never more than twelve of them, then he hasn’t completely surrendered to the fate that threatens to suck him down more and more with each passing year. There was turnover, of course. There had been three Mr. Gemini over the five years since he started doing this, for example. But he never kept more than 12 active clients, that was his rule.

Mr. Taurus was probably his favourite. He was definitely named right. Beefy, short, red-faced man in his fifties, firm gut, lots of muscle on his shoulders and thighs, cock not that long but very thick. Rutted like an enraged bull. Always a bonus when one of these men actually knows how to fuck. Did he have a wife and kids? Probably. Typically they did. Dex made himself not care.

It was a nice evening, really, which was how things usually went with Mr Taurus. He treated Dex well, liked to take him to a good steakhouse, or maybe a concert or a gallery opening. He wasn’t ashamed of Dex, if anything the opposite. He seemed to want to show off what a handsome, muscular young stud he had landed. Often he gave Dex little presents like designer t-shirts, cut to show off his bulgy arms and pillowy pecs; of course Dex had the brains to wear them on their dates.

He also seemed to get off on a bit of an Eliza Doolittle kink, educating the young himbo, injecting him with some culture before injecting him with some cum. Dex tried to hide the fact that he did, in fact, have a Bachelor’s degree already. Even putting that aside, he found himself learning lots of trivia, building up his cultural cache. Learning to tell a Magritte from a Mondrian, learning to identify wines beyond red, white, or rosé, that kind of thing. How to act rich even if you aren’t rich.

This night, however, was the night when everything changed for Dex. They were at Mr Taurus’s pied-à-terre after dinner and a movie and a thorough ass-pounding. It was a stylish if anonymous bachelor unit on the 43rd floor of a recently built tower, looking out over the dazzling field of lights that was the city. Dex knew the man kept it simply as a place to have sex with escorts; no on actually lived here. But you could just see launches from the far-off Illinois Spaceport from here, and Dex loved to stand in the window after sex, while Taurus dozed, sipping whiskey and watching ships arc up and out, dimmer and dimmer, until they winked out of sight and escaped the planet.

He was doing just that when Taurus stirred, came up behind him, wove his beefy arms around Dex’s small waist. Dex felt the man’s flaccid dick, still wet, tickle him beneath his ass.

“You know,” the man breathed, “you’re somewhat wasted on this escorting stuff.”

Dex tried not to react. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Taurus laughed against Dex’s broad back. “You’re a good actor, Alex, very good. Which helps you be a good companion for blustering old men like me. We like to be fooled, we’re paying you to fool us.” Dex could feel the man chuckle at himself. Dex really did like him, as clients went he was pretty great. Considerate, gently paternal in his way. Dex felt safe with him, looked after. He had to remind himself not to trust that feeling too much.

“Well, thanks for the compliment, but I don’t know what you were driving at just now.”

“Well, I was attempting to offer you a job, young Master Alex. You’re charismatic. You’re smart. Athletic. Quick on your feet with a good head on your shoulders. Frankly, you’re just the sort of man my associates need.”

“Your associates?”

“Call them a consortium of… interested business people. Industry leaders, if you will. We need clever young people like you to accomplish… specific jobs for us, from time to time. The pay is, frankly, excellent. You wouldn’t need to do this anymore,” he said, bucking his hips, humping Dex’s ass once to make his point. “I would miss you, you understand, but I’m a man of conscience. I see wasted talent, I see potential without an avenue to grow, I want to step in.”

“So…”

“Think on it, Alex. If you’re interested, meet me at the Café Diplomatico tomorrow at 1, I take lunch there and the staff are very discreet. If you’d rather keep on escorting til your looks fade—or until you get very unlucky with a client—then forget I said anything.”

Dex was silent. A ship was taking off from the Space Port. Into the sky. Rising above the rotting city spread out below him.

This was it. This was his way out.

“Diplomatico. 1 p.m. You won’t regret it, sir.”


The captain and the medical officer are arguing in the hall outside the cargo bay, not bothering to keep their voices low.

“When will you accept that those slippery freaks down on that planet aren’t going to do jack shit for those two poor bastards? You’re costing the company millions of dollars keeping us in orbit here, do you know that?”

“What price two lives, Captain? I can tell you right now there’s no medical technology we know of to help these two men. If there’s any hope for them, it exists on the planet below. We have to keep trying.”

“No we bloody well don’t! We have shareholders to answer to, Doctor! Thank god insurance accepted the claim for the spoiled shipment of SynthStem! Just accept that those poor conjoined freaks are a lost cause! If they live, they belong in some kind of care facility, or maybe a carnival sideshow—not the cargo bay of a working vessel!”

“Are you relieving me of duty, Captain? Because as long as the medical emergency persists, I have final say in what this ship does, and I have heard these arguments from you a dozen times. My decision remains the same.”

“... No. But you have 48 hours. Either those damn aliens give us a straight answer by then, or yes, I will relieve you of duty and haul ass out of this cursed system so fast your damn head will spin. Am I understood, Doctor?”

“... Yes, Captain.”


Dex and Mal spent a lot of time sharing thoughts, now. It was the only thing they had to do, really. Exploring the hidden nooks and crannies of each other’s minds. Sharing dreams, even. Dreaming together. It became confusing, difficult to tell what was real and what was not. Sometimes the dreams felt more like life than the waking world, being immobilized, slowly swallowed up by muscle, in a dimly lit cargo bay.

I can feel your dick.

I can feel your dick.

Be careful we don’t lose track of whose is whose.

Funny. Won’t be a problem. Mine’s bigger, obviously.

Haha. You sure about that? Feels like I’m sitting at a solid yard of meat, at least, getting bigger by the day.

Fuck, you’re getting hard.

We’re getting hard.

You’re turned on by this. Sicko.

Takes one to know one.

I can’t even tell if I always thought this was hot, or if the idea just came from you and it got stuck in my brain too.

Or maybe it’s one of those third ideas that didn’t come from either of us.

Fuck off. You always found this shit hot. I saw all those memories of you reading old alternative erotica on the cloudnet when you were a teenager. Log into the metabods archive then wipe your browser history after you cum.

Yeah, well, I saw your secret sketchbooks. I just passively consumed, you created this sick shit yourself. Left it where anyone could find it.

Wait, were those my sketchbooks? I thought they were yours.

Does it matter, now?

God damn, I’m so hard it hurts.

I know, I can feel that. I’m not far behind. Like two steel rods.

I know.

Fuck, should we lean into this? I mean… they’re not going to fix us, or cure us, or whatever? At least we should enjoy it.

You heard the doc this morning.

Fuck yeah I did. 13,850 pounds, close as he can tell. Gaining about 50 pounds a day, he said.

Fuck.

Flex our muscle. That’s it. Harder. Fuck I can feel our skin pulling taut over it.

God damn, I can feel us swelling. Ugh.

More. Bigger.

Fuck. Imagine getting us even more SynthStem. Cramming us full of it.

Fuck.

Imagine us growing until we fill this cargo bay with muscle. Twenty thousand pounds. Fifty thousand pounds. More.

Fuck! Imagine us splitting this fucking ship apart like an egg.

Hnnng. Burst out of this little tin can. Endless parade of ships coming up from the surface to pump even more muscle into us. Fucking mile long orbital fleshlights to pump our cocks.

We’ll be a twin-cocked muscle moon.

Bigger by the day. Adding a ton an hour. Outgrowing the damn planet. Swelling unstoppably. Bigger. More. MORE!

Oh fuck, we’re cumming!

FFUUCCKK!

….

….

Was that the human race’s first shared orgasm?

I don’t see how it wasn’t. That was…

… we don’t have the words for it.

Who needs words when we have this. When I can just feel how you feel. And you can feel how I feel.

Wait. I want to try something.

Dex’s eyes narrow, like he is concentrating. Inches away, Mal feels his mouth open involuntarily, feels air push out of him. His tongue and lips move without him willing them.

“Hi Dex.”

Holy shit. I just made you talk.

Fuck off. That was weird. Fuck. Let me try it.

Mal concentrates, and Dex relaxes, unsure if he could resist even if he wanted to. His mouth opens, air moves through his throat, his lips and tongue move.

“Hey Mal.”

They look at each other with wonder, desire, fear in their eyes.

I want to

I know what you want. We want

So let’s

Tenderly, together, their lips meet, and they kiss, feeling and thinking in unison.

On the planet’s surface below, there is new activity among the Dromidans, almost as if they had been waiting for something which had finally occurred.

“A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn’t have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows.”—EM Forster


Medical Officer’s Log

The combined organism containing Corporal Deckard and Private Maldonado continues to grow and expand in our cargo bay. I estimate its mass to be approximately 6500 kilograms at the moment. This amount of muscle tissue ought to be incompatible with human life, but, other than increased cortisol levels and occasional spikes in heart rate– both completely understandable, this must be horrifying to experience, it’s bad enough to watch– I’m shocked to report they seem fine. Medically, at least.

I have managed to gain some better understanding of what is happening to them. Their skeletal systems remain completely distinct. There are two fully formed human skeletons underneath all of that muscle tissue, although I fear the weight of the muscle will begin to fracture bone, and the force of contraction will begin to disarticulate joints. Many of the larger muscle groups have merged, and the shared biomass is covered in a single skin. There are no breaks in the dermis, and stretch marks are less severe than one would assume. The wounds torn open during Maldonado’s panic attack have healed with shocking alacrity, leaving almost no mark.

Their vascular systems have grown together. At first only a few blood vessels bridged their bodies, but at this point as far as I can tell they form a single cardiovascular system with two hearts and four lungs. As a result of this, their hearts beat in unison, and their breathing has synchronized– when one man inhales, the other exhales, and vice versa. Luckily for them, this seems to be autonomous.

Most worrying of all is their nervous systems. More and more, their nerves are growing together, forming stronger connections between their bodies. They are each fully sensible of physical stimuli at any point on their shared biomass, and they both experience sensations like hunger and physical arousal at once. In terms of their awareness, they no longer have distinct bodies at all.

It goes beyond this, however. Their emotional states bleed between each other. They are no longer emotionally distinct, but a feeling originating in one mind is soon experienced in both minds, often with such rapidity that they report difficulty in determining whose feeling it initially was.

Most troubling of all, though, is the claim that their minds themselves are interfacing with increasing ease. They claim to be able to communicate silently. Telepathically, as it were. Simple tests of this claim do verify it, and I see no reason for them to lie or to mislead us.

If the combined organism that they are transforming into survives long, many papers about the nature of consciousness may result. Much like Phineas Gage in the 19th century, whose own gory accident so advanced our understanding of neurology and the brain, perhaps Deckard and Maldonado’s misfortune may be an unwitting sacrifice that unlocks many mysteries of the human mind and of consciousness that continue to elude us.

I am getting ahead of myself. To my vast relief, the Dromidans have finally agreed to help before the Captain’s 48 hour ultimatum expired. The Captain is displeased– I truly think he wants to dump the Maldonado/Deckard problem and pretend it never happened, not to solve it or learn from it. In the exact words the Dromidans used, Deckard and Maldonado are “finally ready.” They have dispatched a representative to the Scylla. It is very rare indeed, as any informed reader knows, for a Dromidan to leave their homeworld.

If the being has a name, we were not graced with it. They ignored all diplomatic formalities and requested to be brought to the cargo bay straight away. They are there now, as I write, examining the… combined thing that Deckard and Maldonado have turned into.


The being’s tentacle-like limb gently extended, glistening in the bright artificial light. It touched the thin skin, barely containing wrist-thick veins and grotesque fibrous mounds of muscle, striated as if glacier-scraped. When it made contact, Mal and Dex quickly understood why the aliens wore artificial voice boxes, why they had never witnessed one speak aloud to another. Humanity had more than two decades of contact with the Dromidan species, yet somehow they had not learned they communicate with one another through biochemical and electrical signals passed rapidly back and forth through skin to skin contact.

Yes. The Dromidans speak through touch, not sound.

And, by their design, the modified SynthStem cells had altered Dex and Mal’s shared skin such that it, too, can receive and transmit communication this way.

The combined being that Dex and Mal were becoming was the first human to ever truly speak with a Dromidan, as the Dromidans typically speak to each other.

And how they communicate… the things they say… words can only ever be a pale shadow. The speed and precision of the thoughts and feelings flickering back and forth between the alien being and what Mal and Dex were becoming can’t be rendered in text.

The truth of it is, the conversation that follows is like a crude child’s drawing of a vast architectural plan. Translation is so flawed as to be almost pointless– almost.

But words are the only medium we have available to us, poor humans. Words. Flawed and feeble as they are. Our only tools with which to build a bridge between ourselves and others, our only light against the darkness of solitude. Landlocked in our bodies, throwing sounds into the void.

“We thought you would be happy. You are such a curious species. A superpredator, yet a social species. By nature, alone, yet also by nature, damaged by loneliness.”

“Why would you care whether we are happy or not?”

A flash of rueful humour. “Do not think us heartless because you cannot easily perceive the contents of our hearts. Why should we, a species so different, with such different needs and wants and preoccupations, develop advanced biotechnology perfectly suited for humans? Has that never struck one of your species as peculiar?”

“You are paid huge amounts of money for it.”

“What need have we of money? Your species can offer us nothing we want or need. We accept your payments because we learned, in our study of your species, that if we offered our technology as charity it would be accepted with suspicion, or possibly rejected. If we let you think of it as a transaction, an equivalent exchange, you are more likely to trust it.”

“So why make the SynthStem?”

“At first, to reduce your suffering. You are such short-lived creatures, your bodies so prone to failing, to betraying themselves. Your bodies are like unstable stars, they burn so brightly, but for such a short time. But then, we realized the SynthStem was used for cosmetics as much as it was for medical need. Some among us thought to stop providing the technology. But others, wiser ones, considered that this was also a very deeply felt need, and you would not use the technology this way if you did not feel it was necessary for your happiness to do so. Your forms are fixed, and you wish them to be mutable.”

“You pity us.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“We have encountered 38,912 humans. To a one, you have all been full of pain.”

The realization hits Mal and Dex that the Dromidans can sense, acutely, the emotional state of any sentient being they are close to. They have always been able to do this.

There is a great sorrow from the alien. “Every one of your species… you hurt. It is difficult to be around you. To us, you walk around grievously wounded, every one of you.” Mal and Dex suddenly understand that, to the Dromidans, humans are… gory, is the best word for it.

“And you want to experiment with ways to make us not hurt.”

“Yes.”

“So you turned us into… this.”

“We initially planned a more rudimentary study on the one designated Deckard, as he was coming alone. His mission was always bogus, false. A ruse to acquire a human who we might attempt to… heal. Or at least to make a start on that project. But then there were two of you, and some among us successfully lobbied to launch a more ambitious project, to attempt to cure your species’ constitutional loneliness. To open your minds to a kind of intimacy and communion you have not been able to experience previously. But you are not happy.”

The response Mal and Dex made is too complicated for words. It combined yes and no and maybe. In a moment, they communicated something like the following:

Dromida IV has no moons. Perhaps that is the cause of the difference between our species.

Terra III, Earth, is properly understood as a dual planet. Our moon is very large, about one quarter the size of Earth. They orbit each other, they long for each other. In a way, the Earth and the Moon are in love.

When the sky is dark, the Moon steals sunlight for the earth. The silver light that the wolves howl at, that the moths flutter toward. Light given freely. Love letters written in photons, arriving in the darkness of night.

And the waters of the earth reach out, with all their might, for the parched moon. They collapse, exhausted. They rest, gather their strength. Then they reach out again. Over and over and over. Longing to embrace.

Is it a tragedy that they will never touch what they reach for?

No, because the nature of their desire is separation. If the moon and the earth could ever meet, they would destroy each other. For love to exist, between two, between many, there must be distance between everyone involved. The right amount of distance, to make the love sweet to feel. Too much distance and the pain of solitude overwhelms us. But with no distance, love cannot exist at all.

Distance is the medium within which human love is expressed. Just as sound vibrates molecules, love vibrates the distance between people.

Love is gravitational. It curves the path of our lives around each other. We orbit the ones we love. But we remain distinct. Near, but not touching. Alone, but also not alone. Separate bodies that form a system. Spiralling through space, turning around each other, bound together but never truly touching. We are alone, all of our species, yet we are not alone.

Humanity is a murmuration of starlings. We know you know about starlings. We remember the day in the corridor, when half of us met you for the first time.

Do you understand?

The Dromidan took a moment to receive this and consider it.

I think I do. We have much to learn about you, still. You are a very curious species.

We feel the same way about you. We understand now. When Dromidans touch, it is like what we have become. You see each other truly. You feel each other. There is no privacy. There is no deception. There are no lies. Your communication is true communion. You are like water, poured together, then separated, then poured together, then separated, over and over and over. When you love, you combine fully.

Yes. But now I see. Humans are not like water. You do not love like water. You love like starlings. I see our error. Would you like to be separated?

Is that still possible?

It is, if we act quickly. Soon it will not be. You will not be who you were, though. That is no longer possible. But you will be two people again. You will carry part of each other with you forever. Our apologies. We did not know that this would hurt you. You have explained well why solitude is necessary for your species’ survival, even as it causes you pain. Your concept of love is very different from ours. Distance as the medium within which it is expressed. It is fascinating. There is much to consider.

A silence, like a rest in a song. Mal and Dex, their eyes, inches apart, stare into each other, huge, two blue, two brown. Gaze locked. The Earth watching the Moon. The few parts of their minds that are still distinct, racing. Two hearts beating to the same rhythm. Inside their joined lips, their shared mouth, their tongues touch. They don’t wrestle, like eager lovers. They nest against each other, gently. They both understand.

The end of this embrace is not goodbye.

Then, through the membrane of skin, to the Dromidan: yes, we would like to be separated, but it is not painful to know we will both carry a piece of the other with us, even after. It is not painful at all. It is a strange mercy. Your experiment was not a complete failure. Your hypothesis was flawed, but not totally wrong.

We are all learning.


Weeks later

Mal lay on the king sized bed, drowsing. Outside the window, the greenish sky was feathered with clouds. He supposed he should get up and walk around the grounds, but he still wasn’t used to the stares he got. This was a rehabilitation facility on a colony planet, one of the few posh ones. Most of the people here were wealthy, recovering from traumatic injuries or debilitating illnesses. Most of them were frail, old, or both.

Mal was a fucking hulk, one of the most muscular human men to ever exist. The Dromidans had made him as small as they could, but that was still… ridiculously huge. 487 pounds crammed onto his 5’8” frame.

He lazily cupped his pec, still not used to the massive amount of meat overflowing his hand. He made his bicep jump, watching the heavy orb lurch into shape, then fall under its own weight as he relaxed, over and over. The damn thing was so big and heavy, it looked like it might fall off the bone when he stopped flexing it. When he flexed it, it almost reached his fucking fist. His goddamn arm was just a couple inches shy of three feet around. Sickening glob of bicep meat. Fuck.

He felt his dick stirring again. The doctors assured him that his hormone levels were normal, that he shouldn’t be experiencing this hyper-charged libido. Yet he was. He got hard constantly, for the flimsiest of reasons. He could barely keep his hands off his cock, and the fact his biceps mashed into his pecs, made it difficult to reach when he jerked off, only turned him on even more. He was almost too fucking muscular to masturbate. Fuck.

The door opened, and Mal’s cock rocketed to full hardness as a pure Pavlovian reaction. He knew who it was already.

They’d given Mal and Dex separate rooms, figuring the two men would not want to spend much time together after their ordeal. This was both right and wrong. No human could understand what they had been through. Mal had been behind those blue eyes. He had experienced Dex’s thoughts as Dex thought them. And Dex, in return, Mal’s.

A memory burbled up, unbidden. A New England college campus in fall. The air crisp. The leaves crimson. The rising thrill of being eighteen, away from home, everything new, walking to the first day of class. Feeling like this rehabilitation complex was, in a way, almost like going back to college again. Another fresh start.

Mal had never attended college, had never even been to New England. But Dex had.

In truth no one could tell them how close to their original selves the Dromidans had returned them. The aliens had been vague. Mal was about 75% Mal and 25% Dex. Dex was, in turn, 75% Dex and 25% Mal. Or close enough. Those are very rough estimates. Most of the bleed-through was mental. Personality traits. Memories. But it also included little physical things that both men were still noticing. Like how Dex had somehow ended up with Mal’s ear-shape.

But back to the present. Dex was still squeezing through the door. He barely fit.

In terms of raw biomass, the aliens had split them more or less evenly, yet somehow Dex had continued to expand with size in the weeks of their rehabilitation. Mal grinned at it, grinned at the doctors’ puzzlement. A final gift from the aliens? They had to have known how horny it would make both men. Amazing what the Dromidans can learn in a moment, just with the merest brush of skin on skin. There is no keeping of secrets on Dromida IV. An entire planet without closets.

Mal stroked his stiff cock as he watched Dex scrape himself against the doorframe. The skin thin, stretch-marked, ruddy from the unconventional form of exfoliation.

Dex was freakish. 638 pounds of muscle on his six foot frame.

“Hey babe,” he quipped, half in and half out of the room, literally stuck for a moment. Watching Mal watching him, lazily stroking, smirking. “Enjoying yourself?”

“Shut up and get in here,” Mal said, voice low and demanding.

Yes, they had both changed.

Dex’s grin widened. He visibly strained, muscle bulging alarmingly, then finally popped through the door, vast orbs of meat wobbling and jiggling and flexing wildly as he fought to regain his balance. Gotta yell at the staff to widen the entries… the thought drifted across the back of Mal’s mind as he enjoyed the outlandish eroticism of Dex’s too-big-ness.

It was strange. Neither man had known what to expect. Both were relieved to find they wanted to be in each other’s company. Yet they rarely felt moved to speak. It was as if being merged with each other made small talk unnecessary. There were no stories left to tell, no further secrets waiting to be shared. They knew each other fully, utterly. But still, they took some comfort in just… being near each other.

Once Dex had his balance, he simply made eye contact with Mal, his smile huge. Then, he flexed.

Mal’s breath caught as he watched the monstrous globs of flesh overwhelming Dex’s frame lurch into life, fighting for space, his body like stone drywall, blocking out the light, the mile-deep crevices between his muscles so tight a razorblade could not pass between them.

He relaxed the flex and clambered toward the bed.

Mal raised his hips, his cock reaching toward the ceiling.

Dex lowered himself. Mal whimpered involuntarily as his steel hard erection pushed Dex’s glutes apart, deeper and deeper and deeper, until finally reaching his twitching hole, which seemed almost to grab him and pull him in. Dex had shown up ready, knowing.

Their eyes locked as their bodies united.

Their breathing synchronized. Their hearts beat in unison.

For a moment, they were back in that cargo bay. But it was not a traumatic flashback. The opposite.

They were one flesh, joined at the middle, two freaks, grown larger than nature ever intended, super-augmented hyper-males. Some new organism spiralling into being from their union, existing only when they were joined like this.

Mal found himself babbling. He realized it wasn’t nonsense. He was saying a name. Over and over. His own name? No. The other man’s name. But it sounded like his own name. Didn’t it?

Dex was muttering, too, as he grinded his enormous ass into Mal’s crotch. He was muttering his own name. But no. It was not his name.

“I…” Mal tried to speak.

“You…” Dex answered, his voice breaking.

“We… FUCK,” Mal lost his composure, erupting out of his cock, his mind blank, all sense of identity erased, his being dissolving into particles and scattering throughout the universe.

“Fuck…” Dex tried, unable to offer anything more complex, anything clearer, and then he whimpered, and his own cock began to unload all over Mal’s jutting pecs and cobbled abs, cum drooling and dripping and dropping in elaborate moving sculpture. He kept whimpering, almost like he was crying from pleasure and joy.

They collapsed together.

Mal’s mind reformed.

“Get off me,” he muttered, pushing Dex’s enormous, crushing weight. “Can’t breathe.”

“Sorry,” Dex said reflexively, flopping to his side.

The cool air between them now.

It was a king-sized mattress yet it was too small for both of them. Dex did a controlled roll onto the floor then sat there, his back against the bedframe and the side of the mattress.

Mal looked over at him. The back of his head, his short cropped blond hair. His traps threatening to overwhelm his puny skull. His delts, his shoulders a mile wide, wider than any human’s ever before.

He felt many complex emotions surging inside of him.

Start with the little things. The fun questions.

Would Dex get even bigger? Mal hoped so.

Would Mal get bigger too, if he started working out again? Mal hoped so.

How big could they get? The settlement coming their way should take care of their financial needs… and they could always make money flexing for horny rich guys… Mal remembered some guy he had never met named Mr. Taurus, felt a complex flash of emotions. Vividly remembered Taurus ramming his thick cock into his hole even though he knew that had never happened to him. He wondered if Taurus and his associates were finished with him. With Dex. With them both. Or did he still have his hooks in?

“Did we make the right choice?” Dex’s voice cut the silence, rough, deep. Resonating in his huge chest.

“I don’t know. I think we did.”

“Mmm.”

Mal looked again at the back of Dex’s head, his traps and delts. His hand hovered in the air, halfway between them.

He decided to go for it. He reached out, touched Dex, placed his palm flat on the plane of his planetoid of shoulder muscle.

He could feel the flinch run through Dex’s body. Could see it.

Mal pulled his hand away.

“No,” Dex said, his voice thick, “don’t, I…”

“I know,” Mal said. “I know. I feel the same.”

“Do you? Used to be I could just tell. I could feel what you felt. Now I have to trust your words.”

“Yes. Well. How do I feel? I want it back, I don’t want it back. I miss it, yet I feel thankful to have escaped it.”

Dex sighed shakily. “I feel like we escaped, too. In the nick of time. But also, I miss you, and you’re just three feet away from me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it. Even when you’re right here, next to me, I feel like we’re on separate planets. I feel… I feel so alone.”

Mal was silent for a moment. Then he shifted as far over as he could, almost falling off the mattress to make room. “Get up here. Come on. I won’t bite. Just lie next to me. While we still kind-of fit.”

“... Okay,” Dex answered after a moment’s consideration. He laboriously rose to his feet, then clambered back onto the mattress.

The two men lay in silence, staring at the ceiling side by side.

“I’m sorry, Mal,” Dex began.

“Shut up,” Mal cut him off. “We’ve been over this before. And anyway, I’ve been in your head, don’t you remember? I am you. And you’re me. I know you’re sorry. And you should know I forgive you.”

“I didn’t say what I was sorry for,” Dex said grumpily.

“Yeah, well, I can probably guess.”

“Mmm.”

More silence.

“So… is this going to be our life? Or… do you want to… when we get to Earth… go our separate ways….”

“No!” there was a spike of fear in the voice.

“I didn’t mean to scare you by asking. Just we never imagined this, when we were joined. I actually don’t know how you feel about it. We never thought about getting split into two again, mostly ourselves but with some of the other mixed in, financially set for life, long decades ahead of us… We thought we were going to die, or we thought we were going to fully melt into each other. Still not sure how different those two things are.”

“Well. How do you feel?”

“.... It’s so hard to say how I feel.”

“I know. It’s so different from when we could just… know. When we could just feel what we felt without having to put it into words. When I knew what was going on inside you as easily as I knew what was going on inside myself.”

“I hate it.”

“Well, try.”

“I…” the voice choked. “I…”

One hand reached out for another. Fingers entwined.

“I know.”

They lay on the bed, looking at the ceiling, holding hands, their breathing slow.

“Do you remember when… you saw what happened to me. What my father did to me. When I was young. And you said you chose to be with me? That there was nowhere else you’d want to be?” Mal asked, finally.

“Yes. I do.”

“Do you still…?”

Dex squeezed Mal’s hand firmly. “As long as I’m able, as long as you want me… you’ll never have to be alone again.”

Silence again. Then, in the silence, Mal’s thought in Dex’s head. “I want to be here. I want to be here with you. I want to share myself with you. I want to make you happy.”

The two men whipped their heads towards each other in shock, their eyes wide. Shining. Dex’s thought in Mal’s head. “Let go of my hand and let’s try it again.”

Reluctantly, their hands parted. Nothing. Silence in the room, silence in their minds. Mal placed a deliberate hand on Dex’s grotesquely muscle-bloated thigh. He drew his eyebrows together, concentrating, trying to project his voice into Dex’s head.

Still nothing. Mal couldn’t keep the surge of disappointment from his face. Maybe it had been a fluke. Maybe it had been a shared hallucination. The flare of a dying ember.

“Maybe the new rules are a little more specific than just skin on skin,” Dex said out loud, reassuringly. He reached out his hand. Gently lifted Mal’s hand off his leg. Wove his finger’s around Mal’s. Their eyes met, shining with hope.

“I will always want to be here with you,” Dex thought, and Mal heard him, and could tell he meant it. “No matter where you go, or what you do. I will always want to be with you.”

The Dromidans had left them a gift. A patch of transmissive skin on both their palms where they could pour into each other like water, when they wanted to.

They didn’t have to say how overwhelmed and happy they felt. They could feel each other. They didn’t have to say “I love you.” They both already knew, felt the love passing back and forth through the palms of their entwined hands. Love flowing like water.

Outside the window, the green sky of the colony world darkened as evening approached. Light years away, on another alien world, there was a sense of satisfaction. The experiment had not achieved its intended goal, but, in its own way, it had not been a total failure. Their understanding of the curious human species had expanded enormously.

And there was always next time, after all.

 

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