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Life in the mysterious desert was...manageable!

Kevin asked a couple of times if there was a way back to Desert Bluffs, and Carlos always said he would look for one — but after a lot of time went by and he never started, Kevin gave it up as a lost cause. The man didn't seem to have any kind of manager Kevin could report him to. You couldn't expect people to keep up their stated quarterly goals if there was nobody who could threaten you with a severance package for failing!

On the bright side, at least Kevin was able to put the recommended amount of meat back in his diet. There were plenty of lizards and gophers and things scurrying around the desert, and none of them knew to be wary of human-shaped consumers.

Also, Carlos had these gigantic friends who would help build stuff for you, when they weren't off fighting wars. The friends were nice! Sometimes they came back with fresh wounds and bloody clothes and prayers for colleagues they'd lost, and Carlos would chastise them for getting blood all over the place, which was how Kevin learned that Carlos was some kind of aesthetic minimalist.

(Some of the warriors were alphas too. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to be any help the next time Kevin went into heat, because their cocks were the size of his calf, and there were limits, okay.)

The blinking red light on top of the mountain, the one Kevin had been approaching earlier, turned out not to be a radio tower. There were no radio towers anywhere. Carlos did have a device that he used to receive broadcasts from Night Vale, the quaint little town that had rejected Strexcorp for some reason...but nobody around here had a transmitter.

So Kevin started working on one!

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He had a lot of spare thinking time, with no show to do, no company announcements to heed, no new daily affirmations to keep up. He went through all the prayers he remembered, all the ritual praises to the Smiling God, and all the chapters of the employee handbook. Even wrote them down, in a notebook Carlos gave him. But those only lasted so long.

He used some of that spare time to think about Night Vale. About how mean and hurtful it had been when the locals had thrown him and his co-workers out of town. Some more literally than others.

He thought about Lauren, insisting on co-hosting the show with him at the station where he had replaced Cecil, even as she rose higher and higher in the company's org chart. About what a polite and friendly co-host he had been.

He thought about Cecil's stepbrother (?) ejecting him from that station over...something he'd said about Cecil's niece. He still wasn't sure what the problem was, but maybe he wasn't meant to understand. In Night Vale they had this weird inefficient setup where, instead of a small group of people being certified child-rearers, every parent had to learn those skills individually. Kevin, by contrast, wasn't trained or certified or anything. He shuddered to think of all the lost work-hours if he had tried!

He thought about Carlos, who wasn't intoxicatingly hot when you weren't an omega in the throes of heat, but wasn't bad-looking, either. Obviously Kevin's judgment was no substitute for an expensive screening by the company's genetics division...but Lauren had talked about how great it would be to add his physical features to Strex's resources! Kevin could tell Carlos was smart, too, and such a hard worker.

He thought about Carlos's boyfriend, Cecil. The one who looked exactly like Kevin. Those two hadn't had children yet, but Kevin overheard enough of their phone conversations to be certain that they'd had sex, even when Cecil was in heat. So obviously they were planning to!

He thought, since he and Cecil were completely identical in every way, especially the eyes, there was really no logical reason Carlos shouldn't want to get Kevin pregnant too.

And he thought about his last pregnancy. Spent a lot of time thinking about that topic. Sometimes, especially in the hottest part of the day, he would find a shady spot or duck into a handy cave and sit by himself, just holding his stomach and remembering how it felt when it was round and distended, when there was a tiny little future employee wriggling around inside.

Kevin really, really wanted to feel that...productive (?)...again.

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"I've finished the device to keep you stimulated!" announced Carlos, presenting his invention to Kevin. "Now, the device looks a lot like an ordinary rock carved into a suggestive shape, okay? But it is way more complex and scientific than that, for reasons I do not have time to explain right now."

Kevin blinked. "Why not?"

"Because there is so much science to be done! Just look around you!" Carlos made a big sweeping gesture to indicate everything around them, using the hand not holding the complex scientific device. "Anyway, it smells like you're going to need this soon, so here! I'll check up on you at some point to see how it's working."

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Sure enough, Kevin started to feel hot and bothered and in need of stimulation the very next day.

The first floor of his radio station was all complete by that point. The equipment had months of work to go before it was ready to broadcast, but the masked army had found some simple things to go in the room he slept in, so that was very functional. It had a comfortable pallet and blankets, a rack to hang clothes on, and some windows to let in the sunshine.

After rolling around in his bed for a while, with intermittent grinding against the sheets, Kevin got out his scientific stimulation device and started grinding experimentally against that.

It was nice. Cool and rough and solid, and, mmm, so heavy.

A minute or so of this, and Kevin was feeling all the symptoms he recognized from the heat he'd been through under company supervision...except that he wasn't sopping wet. Was nowhere near the point where he would leave wet spots on the sheets. Was that normal? Kevin had hazy memories of being dry a couple months ago, even when Carlos touched him...did you need extended stimulation from an alpha before your body responded properly? Or was it something Strexcorp had done to make the process more efficient, and unmedicated omega bodies were just...flawed?

Maybe unmedicated omega bodies were usually fine, and only Kevin's was flawed?

He thought about asking Carlos. But what if Carlos said it was a problem he'd never heard of? And even if some other people had it, what if Cecil didn't? How embarrassing that would be, to have his counterpart show him up like that!

No, Kevin would just have to compensate on his own. He cradled the scientific device to his face, and licked the surface of the rock.

It tasted...inoffensive. Even had the residual scent of Carlos's hands. Kevin started lapping at it in earnest, sucking and swirling his tongue and lavishing it with saliva until it glistened.

Once modified, he was able to ease it into himself, going little stages at a time. It was so big, so rough — every jolt sent a fresh shockwave through his body — until it was halfway in and his back was arching, heartbeat thumping through his flesh around the intrusion.

A single violent spasm shook his body so hard that the device slid backward and dropped right out of him, in a long fierce drag of stimulation that sent him crying out over the edge.

It wasn't the same as getting fucked by Lauren, but it was nice, and such a relief, up until the part where his body expected a knot and clenched achingly around empty space. Kevin writhed around, got a hand on the device — his heart skipped a beat when he noticed a streak of blood down the side — and nudged it back in, just the tip. Ohhh, yes. Oh, that was good. That felt right.

He curled up in a comfortable position, moving gently so as not to dislodge his prize again, and relaxed, reveling in the fullness. When his body had had enough of that and started craving to be fucked again, he would go back to riding the device. See if he could get it in deeper.

In the meantime, Kevin drifted into pleasant daydreams, wondering if Carlos had used his own mid-heat erection as a model for this one.

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A couple of heats and many months later, Kevin hiked up to the lighthouse to get some final equipment for his radio station...and found Carlos sitting in the photo room, glassy-eyed and disheveled. His lab coat was closed enough for modesty, but he was clearly not wearing pants.

From the looks of it, he had used them to mop up a puddle.

"I wasn't even sure you went into rut!" exclaimed Kevin. "You are so cute. What have you been watching?"

"Hi, Kevin," said Carlos, distracted. He must have been in the final stages: he wasn't thrusting, didn't even have his hands around his cock trying to mimic the pressure of being locked inside an omega for twenty minutes. But it had definitely been rut at some point, because, again: puddles. "I'm watching Cecil. Who else would I be watching?"

Kevin sat down beside him and found the portrait that showed his counterpart. "Of course! I remember you saying he was the only person you cared about...." He gestured to the scenes from Night Vale depicted across the walls. "...in that world."

Back when Kevin had first learned about this place, he hadn't liked it. He remembered Cecil breaking into the Strexcorp-owned Night Vale radio station using a painting — of a lighthouse, which he now recognized as the very one they were in — and was afraid that these photos would turn out to be the other end of that travel route. He was afraid Carlos would investigate such a theory, discover that it was true, and leave Kevin behind.

But it had been months now, and Carlos had shown no sign whatsoever of testing the lighthouse as a travel route. Kevin liked the place a lot better now!

The shot they were focusing on here was a lopsided view of...well, Cecil was asleep, but it didn't look like a bedroom, it looked like he had fallen asleep on a couch, or maybe some kind of padded bench. There were tubes of paint and a canvas visible in the corner of the frame, in colors that — judging by the glow of the single lamp that was still on — matched some of the spatter on his off-white shirt.

"That painting is terrible," said Kevin cheerfully. "An artistic disaster. Needs more red. I sure hope he doesn't think he's finished! His face is cute, though, huh?"

"The cutest," sighed Carlos.

"Then you think mine is the cutest too! You are so nice."

A bead of sweat ran down from Carlos's hairline. He licked his lips.

"You should have invited me up." Kevin snuggled up against the alpha's side. "I would have helped."

"Thanks, Kevin." Carlos patted his knee. "You're a good friend."

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"Hello! Are you in here? I brought snacks! And some water, because you might have lost some fluid, so, scientifically speaking —"

The chipper voice echoed down the station halls...then Carlos found the bedroom.

"— Kevin! What's going on?"

"Mmm," moaned Kevin, arching happily on his pallet. He was at a lull in the frenzy of orgasms, he was full and comfortable as his heat started to wind down, he was in a room that was beautifully-furnished and hand-decorated, and now everything smelled like alpha. Life was wonderful.

"You are covered in blood! Is that yours?"

A delicious shiver ran through Kevin. Maybe he could talk Carlos into appreciating his style of decoration after all! "Some of it."

"That's not supposed to happen if the scientific heat-relieving device is used properly!" said Carlos, sounding distinctively unappreciative. "Let me see."

"Uh?" asked Kevin, as the hot alpha kneeled by his feet and put a hand on his leg. Was he in luck? Was he, at long last, going to get properly fucked and knotted after all?

"Don't worry, it's fine," Carlos assured him. "I'm a scientist."

He could have been a raccoon catcher at that point, it didn't matter, he was totally welcome to push Kevin's legs apart and do whatever he wanted in between them.

Kevin sat up on his elbows a little, and swooned at the sight. His thighs were streaked with blood from the regular rough pounding he'd been giving himself: some of it dried and dull, a few spatters fresh enough to be glistening red. Now there were little smears on Carlos's skin and the sleeves of his lab coat as he clutched the base of the definitely-not-a-large-rock and dragged it slowly out of Kevin's body. The stimulation made Kevin fall over again, arousal starting to ramp back up — he whimpered in ecstasy over the sloppy wet sound of Carlos pulling the device free.

Carlos paused. "Did you say something?"

"Uh-uh," gasped Kevin, eye sockets wide and fixed on the ceiling. "I just...really like your hands."

"Well, obviously you can't stay like this."

Kevin didn't see what Carlos took out of his basket, just heard the rummaging, then felt a warm wet cloth massaging his inner thighs.

Ohhh, this was exquisite. The alpha was so authoritative, casually manhandling his omega...okay, maybe it wasn't rough enough to be called manhandling...but handling Kevin with firmness and confidence, like he knew it was his Smiling-God-given right to deal with any omega as he saw fit. And the cleaning, ahhh, the cleaning! Why, by Carlos's aesthetic, he was getting Kevin prettied up by doing this, wasn't he?

"I would have pretty babies," moaned Kevin. "You could put the prettiest babies in me."

He imagined some kind of wild, non-corporatized society where every omega in heat did this. Went into heat at random, solicited the attention of whatever alpha they felt like. Maybe alphas would have fought over him. Maybe, in the non-corporatized society they had now, Carlos would be more affected by Kevin's hormones if he had competition!

If some other alpha had been fucking Kevin this whole time, that could have left him just as...decorated. Kevin daydreamed about being spattered with a careless rival's semen, of Carlos ruthlessly scrubbing every bit of it away, determined not to let anyone else get Kevin pregnant before he did.

The real Carlos curled his hand around Kevin's cock and scrubbed the cloth up and down a couple of times. Kevin wailed in desperate arousal. "Inside me. Come inside me!"

Carlos's fingers nudged at his entrance. "I guess if I'm helping you wash up, I should go all the way...."

"I need it. I'm filthy. It's terrible." It was taking all of Kevin's willpower not to grab Carlos's hand and fuck himself down onto it. "Your cock is the only thing that can clean me up."

"Now you're just being silly," said Carlos, and folded his fingers into a spade —

— which Kevin knew because he could feel the exact shape as it pushed its way inside him — it went in easy, his body was a melting pool of arousal, hungry to be filled —

— and it wasn't what he wanted most but it was good, fingers clawing at the patterned sheets, hips rolling out of control, heels kicking and head falling back against the mattress. The alpha's other hand pressed against the flat of his stomach and held him down, while the one he was impaled on turned inside him, warm and firm and dragging over all the tenderest spots at once —

If another alpha had been here, Carlos could have pulled them off of Kevin and torn them apart where they stood — oh, that would be beautiful, it would brighten the room right up — and then he could pin Kevin down and celebrate by fucking him in the middle of it while the blood was still wet —

When Kevin started coming, Carlos tried to pull out. Kevin clamped his thighs together, holding the alpha's arm in place as surely as an antisocial picnic attendee who needed to be taught the value of a good hug, and until he rode out this orgasm he was not letting go.

As the tremors were subsiding, the hand inside him curled into a fist, putting lopsided pressure on all the same tissues that a knot would have. A final extra bolt shot down Kevin's spine.

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"I really would have pretty babies," said Kevin, in his sweetest voice. "That's not just something I say during heat! It's a true scientific fact. You know how I know?"

"Hm?"

"Because I had one! Oh, sure, it was hideously ugly right after it was born, but I managed to track it down again earlier this year, and don't you worry, things have improved. Now, obviously I'm not nearly high enough on the Strexcorp org chart to have managerial access to the childcare system. Want to know how I did it?"

"How?"

"I snuck a look at Lauren's phone! Ooh, Lauren was the sire, did I mention that? She's requisitioned photos of all her children. So I narrowed it down the ones that were the right age, and there was one that looked just like baby photos of my dear grandmother. It even had my smile."

He demonstrated the smile.

What a waste! Carlos wasn't even looking.

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Kevin was adjusting the radio tower when a couple of the giant masked warriors approached. One of them was carrying a giant roll of tarp. The other was carrying Carlos.

"Hey, Kevin!" said Carlos. "I need to talk to you about something."

"You absolutely may!" said Kevin, excited. Did they want to set up a usage agreement with the station? Or maybe they wanted jobs! Ooh, he could have his very own employees, how exciting!

"We need to cover this building up, okay?"

"...What?"

"Put a tarp over it." Carlos waved helpfully at the tarp. "Not forever! Just for, like, a week. Two, at most."

"I think that would be just a terrible idea," said Kevin, in his friendliest voice. "Completely insulting! Also, the tower won't be able to broadcast if you've got something hanging over the part the little zigzag lines are supposed to come out of. Why ever would you want to do that?"

"Because Cecil's vacation time finally came through! He's coming to the desert, where we plan to have a nice peaceful vacation together, and I don't want to...complicate that. Also, you should probably stay out of sight while he's here. And definitely don't talk to him."

"Oh, but I was looking forward to seeing him again!" And Kevin was, he really was! Cecil would appreciate what he'd built here, in a way that Carlos just couldn't, because Carlos studied science, not radio.

Also, Kevin had been thinking a lot about rivals, and about scenarios where they helped you decorate.

"Well, he doesn't want to see you. Probably! I have not told him that you're here."

(This was probably not the time to mention that Kevin had already borrowed Carlos's phone and left Cecil a voicemail.)

"Maybe he does," protested Kevin. "I don't understand why he wouldn't. I really don't! All I ever said was that we could be more productive if we worked together, and if he accepted the hostile overthrow of his government, and we could fix his niece! Does he want her to spend her whole life limited to places where companies have spent the money to build ramps for her? Look around — how many ramps do you see around here? If it were me — if I had a child to take care of — I would move heaven and earth to make sure that child could live anywhere!"

He broke off, gripping the nearest spire of the radio tower for support. This conversation had become something sad and confusing, and he didn't like it! Not at all!

The two masked warriors whispered to each other. It was in their own language, so Kevin didn't know what they said.

In good old familiar English, Carlos said, "I wouldn't know about any of that. It's not my field. I study science, not parenting or medicine. Listen, we don't have a lot of time...so just come on down from there, so we can put up the tarp."