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We are all Human

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||What’s your bearing, AKS-42?||

The tinny, robotic voice spoke in Damen’s ear. He adjusted his helmet, a nervous habit, to ensure his microphone could pick up his words.

“Coming in at approximately fifteen kilometres a second, will begin approach in forty five minutes.” Damen double checked the readings on his piloting console. “Please send docking speeds and rotation.”

||Sending now,|| the voice said. A small message alert displayed on Damen’s screen. He opened it and found the equations for his autopilot to dock safely. ||Please confirm.||

“I’ve received them, thanks.” Damianos sent them to his autopilot, and he felt a slight shift in inertia as his ship began to make corrections in preparation for docking.

||Please be aware that there have been reports there may be a Slartyari Striker in the area. There have been no confirmed sightings, but several miners on nearby rocks have mentioned heightened drone activity.||

“Thank you. I’ll keep an eye out. Hey, tell Nikandros Delpha that I want to see him as soon as I land.”

||Affirmative. Message recorded and sent. Will there be anything else, Commander?||

“That’s all for now, Athena, thanks,” Damen said. He heard the distinctive click of the computic on the other end disconnecting, and sat back in his chair. Overhead, the stars glittered against the obscene darkness of space. Damen closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. Even with over five thousand hours of spaceflight, the vastness of the Black still made his heart race and his breath quicken. Some things humans just feared instinctively.

The cockpit was cramped and efficient, with exactly the right amount of room to allow him to stretch if he needed to, but no more. His Lioness was more a bullet through space than a luxury liner, and the lack of any meaningful entertainment drove the point home on long skips into the Belt. Damen tipped his head back against his chair and figured at least the toilet worked on this flight.

A soft beeping drew his attention, and Damen opened his eyes to see his proximity alert had gone off. He quickly shut down all communication frequencies and took manual control of his ship, a small Akielon Lioness fighter. If there were Slartyari Strikers in the area, his ship would not withstand a full assault. Best to remain out of their sights completely rather than engage.

The vehicle on his readings appeared too small to be a Striker. It could have been a drone, sent ahead. Damen steered away from the signal’s source, and kept his eyes on his own speed and bearings. He would still have to dock with the station, but he couldn’t lead the drone along behind him. With any luck, the ambient noise from the asteroid field would hide the burn of his engines until he was out of range.

The proximity alert beeped more urgently, and Damen glanced at his display. The approaching ship was closer, and there was another one directly behind it. Definitely a drone and the accompanying Striker.

“Shit.” Damen couldn’t hail the station, because the transmission would almost certainly be tracked. Even with the station’s advanced shielding, a transmission would give away it’s position like a beacon. “This sector was supposed to be clear.”

Without wasting more air on complaining, Damen ignored the computic’s advice completely and guided his ship towards one of the larger rocks he could see. He felt a slight pull as he drew near, signalling that the rock was large enough to have it’s own gravity, and kicked his boosters just enough to put him into the rock’s fragile gravity well.

Then, he killed his engines, his lights, and all systems except life support. Attached to the rock, he was able to see the Striker’s approach.

Slartyari Strikers were massive carrier ships. They were able to launch fighters and drones from two hangar bays that led the command centre and living quarters of their ship. Damen felt dwarfed as the Striker passed overhead. While it was far enough away they could not see him visually, the ship blotted out a portion of the sunlight that permeated the asteroid field. Damen was even in its shadow for a brief moment before it moved past him and further into the Belt.

Damen snatched a notepad and pen off his console and scratched down the direction the Striker was moving. They would have to warn their mining stations in that direction, and possibly send reinforcements. When the striker was far enough that his engines wouldn’t cause any significant blip on their scanners, Damen sucked in his breath and flicked his engines to life.

Light flooded his compartment, and with one eye on the vanishing Striker and the other on his readings, Damen carefully boosted away from the asteroid and adjusted until he was once again on a orbital intersect course for the station.

The cockpit was very quiet around him, save the ambient hum of electronics and the constant buzz of space that could drive men mad if they weren’t careful. Leaning back in his chair, Damen allowed himself a moment to miss the soft feminine voice that used to join him on these excursions. Only a moment. He could already see the station in his windshield.

The station’s designation was officially Tellus-18, but it was more commonly known by the corporation that held eighty percent of its office units: Arlesian Robotics. Arlesian Robotics ran everything on the station down to the ration machines in the dining commons and the toilet paper dispensers. It was why they had gotten a prime rate on their lease for the orbital station. Most companies would have to front the next ten year’s earnings to be able to afford a spot on an orbital, but Arlesian Robotics had something the Tellusian Alliance needed.

Damen idly ran through his docking procedures while the station drew nearer. It was impossible to tell how large something was until it was right on top of the approaching ship. Space had a way of distorting perspective, especially at the speeds they were traveling. Even with the slight pressure of artificial gravity, Damen could feel his ship maneuver in preparation for docking.

His autopilot did much of the work, which included matching his spin and speed to the rotating station. Damen monitored his progress visually, with one hand on the controls in case he needed to take over. He docked without incident, and as his ship hissed around him during decompression, he removed his helmet.

The door to his ship slid open, and he rested his helmet on his hip as he ducked through his ship’s doorway and into the attached hall. The short hall led to another door, and Damen pressed the button affixed to the wall for entrance. A door shut over his ship’s entrance before the door in front of him opened, a precaution against accidental breach.

Two men stood on the other side of the door, and Damen snapped to attention when he recognised his brother, Kastor. “Sir.”

“At ease, brother.” Kastor laughed, and clapped Damen’s shoulder. Damen barely felt it through the flight suit, but he returned the easy grin. “Welcome to Arlesian Robotics.”

“Damen.”

Damen turned to the other man waiting for him, his childhood friend Nikandros. Damen lifted an arm and drew Nikandros into a fierce hug. “Good to see you, bro.”

Nikandros slapped him gratuitously on the back, and that Damen did feel. He laughed and left his arm slung over Nikandros’ shoulder as they faced Kastor. Damen sobered. “There’s a Striker heading for the Sector 3-4. We need to alert the units in its path. I took down the heading.”

Damen handed Kastor the scratch paper from his notepad. Kastor read the note with a frown. “I’ll message the units. I have something for you.”

“It’s too early for my birthday, Kastor,” Damen said.

“You have an appointment with Paschal in an hour,” Kastor said.

Damen stiffened. “Why? My physical was just a month ago.”

“Not a physical. You’re getting an assistive intelligence unit.” Kastor held out a tablet and Damen stared at it, making no move to take it. “Damianos. We’ve been over this.”

“I don’t want one. I’ve been on three missions without one. Three successful missions. I’ve reported my reasons for going without one. You can’t force me into it.” Damen released Nikandros to fold his arms over his chest. His fingers clenched into fists, tucked tight against his side.

“Damen, it’s been over a year since Lykaios,” Kastor said. “You can’t be at a disadvantage because of your perceived attachment to a tool.”

The raw wound in his soul where Lykaios used to be ached at the mention. He gritted his teeth and said nothing. Kastor had been out of a suit for years. He didn’t have the experience with the newer units. When Lykaios’ connection broke, it was as if Damen had lost a limb. She had been his companion and caretaker in the Black. He did not want another.

“You will accept an AI unit or you will lose your commission,” Kastor said.

Damen took a step back, rocked to his core. “You can’t. There’s no precedence-”

“I can, as overseeing officer of your squad, and I will, ahead of the mission you are about to be handed. You cannot complete the mission without an AI, and you will have one before you ship out from this station. You are the only special forces marine who does not have one, and it is seriously hampering your ability to function in your squad.” Kastor shoved the tablet at him, and Damen was forced to catch it or let it shatter against the floor. “You’re going to get yourself and your team killed. It’s time to move on.”

Damen glanced down at the specs displayed on the tablet screen. Kastor was only partially correct. AI units helped quickly calculate trajectories in microgravity environments, things humans couldn’t do. They also helped regulate damage control to the special forces power suit’s systems during battle. But an AI unit did not always make the correct determination, often discounting the strength and ability of a human under intense stress. More than once, Damen had ignored Lykaios’ advice and returned victorious from his missions. Eventually she learned to adapt to his methods and logic.

Damen stared at the name designation. “You’re giving me a Veretian unit? Why?”

“It is the only one stabilized for integration into the suit,” Kastor said. “It’s a unit, not a person. It has no nationality. But while you brought the subject up, a Veretian is transferring into your team.”

“Should I be sitting down for this debriefing?” Damen said. Behind him, Nikandros snorted. “Or taking notes?”

“Everything is in the file on that tablet. His name is Jord Chastillion, and he is transferring in from another team that took heavy casualties a few months ago. He and one other were the only survivors.” Kastor gestured to the tablet. “Read through his file and let me know if you have any questions. And if you miss your appointment with Paschal I will hear about it and you will be stripped of command.”

“Yes sir,” Damen said. He stood at attention, biting back any further protest. Nikandros did the same, and they held the position until Kastor stalked away, disappearing into his offices. When the door clicked shut, Damen’s shoulders slumped. He cast a weary look at Nikandros, and offered the tablet.

Nikandros took it and scanned the doc files. “Why are you getting a recycled AI unit?”

“What?”

“It says here that the unit was previously installed in a marine and had to be removed upon the marine’s death.” Nikandros scrolled further down the document with a quick flick of his finger. “That marine was part of Chastillion’s unit. Why wouldn’t it just be decommissioned?”

Nikandros handed the tablet back to Damen, who scrolled down the docs as he started down the hall. Nikandros kept pace with him as they moved deeper into the station. Damen saw Nikandros was correct. The AI unit had not been taken from one deceased marine, but had been passed along at least three marines who had met their end in combat. Damen frowned.

“This can’t be right,” he said. “Is it defective? Why would a defective unit be assigned again? It should be decommissioned.”

“Maybe Paschal will know,” Nikandros said. “We can head down now. I think he’s in his office.”

“I have to get my suit before the fitting, if he’s really going to give me this thing. How’s Makedon?” Damen asked. He strode quickly through the hall with Nikandros close at his heels.

“Fine. It’s cycling right now otherwise I’m sure it would have something to say,” Nikandros said. He held up his wrist, where a thick armband enclosed his wrist. The black armband was thick, and reached halfway up his forearm. It was identical to the one Damen wore on his own forearm. Damen’s was silent, however, while a small indicator light glowed a steady orange on Nikandros’. “The ship is this way.”

“When is debriefing for this new mission Kastor is sending us on?” Damen asked.

“After your fitting, most likely,” Nikandros said. “He’s been very quiet about the whole thing. The others haven’t arrived yet, so it can’t be soon. He will undoubtedly let us know.”

“Undoubtedly,” Damen said.

As he and Nikandros passed through the hall, gravity lightened until they were able to grasp overhead handles attached to a moving belt that pulled them along to the very centre of the space station. The outer rings of the space station rotated to create artificial gravity, which meant the closer one went to the centre of the rotating station, the less gravity affected them. The centre shaft of the station ran through all four of the turning rings, and at the very top of it was where the Tellusian Drafters docked.

Drafters were ships designed to carry teams for longer missions. Their compact design allowed for a team of marines and their support unit to slip around Slartyari defenses and blockades without attracting undue attention. The ships were cramped but effective.

Damen and Nikandros slid their identification cards into the key card reader at the very top of the station centre column, and the light on the pad turned green to indicate they could enter. Damen pressed the button and the door slid open with a pneumatic hiss. He heaved himself into the dimly lit ship and made his way towards the storage area where the mech suits were kept.

Damen went ahead of Nikandros, tugging and bumping up into the storage chamber until he floated in front of the bed that contained his suit. He swiped his access card, and the bed popped free with a slight chime of acknowledgement. Damen tugged it until he could tip it down and push it towards the end of the storage chamber. Nikandros grasped it and pulled the bed the rest of the way into the ship, and Damen followed.

They made their way back into the station, and Damen kicked out the rolling legs on the bed as gravity started pressing on them once more. By the time they had reached the outer ring of the station, Damen was pushing his suit bed along the hall in front of him with Nikandros as his side.

By the time they had reached Paschal’s office, it was time for Damen’s appointment. Paschal met them in the hall with a tight smile. “Gentlemen.”

“Hey, doc. I hear you have a present for me,” Damen said in Standard.

“I do. Mr Delpha, if you will excuse us,” Paschal said. Nikandros saluted and went back the way they came, eventually falling out of sight along the curve of the walkway. Paschal indicated for Damen to follow him, and Damen found himself being led to one of the training rooms adjacent to the main ring.

Inside, Damen pushed his suit up against the wall beside the door. Paschal was pulling a table and chair out, and as Damen sat down, Paschal opened up a portable computic and propped it on the table. He quickly typed in his access code, checked his ID badge for the most recent security encryption password, and logged into his medical system.

“I’m sure your brother informed you why you are here,” Paschal said.

“He said I have to get an AI unit for my next mission,” Damen said. “I’d like the record to show that I was against this course of action.”

“Noted. I think you will benefit from exposure to this particular AI unit, however.” Paschal tapped out Damen’s concerns, noting them in the medical file.

“I saw it got three other marines killed,” Damen said. “Is there any particular reason it’s not being decommissioned?”

“It’s far too powerful to decommission. The deaths of those marines were unavoidable, and the AI unit was found to be free of any coding or decision making errors. I can let you see the reports if you don’t believe me. Those marine deaths were tragic but not intentional,” Paschal said. He had a chip in his hand. Damen stared at it.

That tiny chip contained the computing power of a human brain, crammed into two centimetres of plastic, silicon, and gold. When Paschal inserted the chip into Damen’s armband, he would once again have a constant companion breathing numbers and reassurances in his ear during battle.

“Wrist.” Paschal held out his hand. Damen offered the wrist with the armband, and Paschal pressed his arm flat against the table. Damen’s dark skin stood in sharp contrast to the cream of the tabletop, and Paschal’s white fingers as he worked. “Put this earwig in.”

Damen accepted the insertable headphone, and as he was wiggling it into place it clicked to life. He held his breath, waiting.

A Veretian voice came through the wireless headphone. ||And what is your name?||

Startled by the sheer insouciance of the young man’s voice, Damen blinked, his mouth falling open. He was dimly aware of Paschal watching him closely from behind his outdated wire-rimmed glasses. Damen, in his confusion, responded in Veretian. “Damen. What is your designation?”

||Oh. It speaks a cultured language. How refreshing. The last two did not.||

Damen turned wide eyes to Paschal. “Does it even speak Akielon or Standard?”

Paschal’s mouth quirked up, which he hid behind a hand. “It speaks Standard, Akielon, Patran, Vaskian, and Veretian. Just like all AI units.”

“It is refusing to speak Akielon or Standard,” Damen said.

“Good thing you are fluent in Veretian, then,” Paschal said. “Turn your wristband speaker on.”

Damen flicked the audio on his wristband, and the AI unit’s voice rang out through the room. ||Paschal?||

“I’m here, Laurent.” Paschal folded his arms over his chest. He kept one eye on Damen’s wristband and one on the computic monitoring Laurent’s functions. “How do you feel?”

||I am incapable of biochemical responses. You know this.||

“Fine, fine. How are you adapting to the new connections?” Paschal asked. He leaned over his computic, fingers ready to type Laurent’s response.

||I thought I made it quite clear that I did not wish to be attached to another bag of flesh,|| Laurent said. His voice cut sharply through the crisp station air.

“And I informed you that it was necessary,” Paschal said. “Your uncle is coming to the station, Laurent.”

Damen boggled. “Uncle? This is a computic. A highly advanced one, but a computic all the same. It can’t have family members.”

“Laurent was designed by the head of Arlesian Robotics,” Paschal said. “Aleron Arles coded a great deal of his programming, and we’d taken to calling him Laurent’s father. Aleron’s brother is a bit of an uncle in that sense. He had a hand in the coding as well, it’s actually where Laurent got his name. Laurent is very unique.”

“You are giving an AI unit that does not want a partner to a marine that does not want a unit,” Damen said. “Just to be completely clear about the situation.”

“Your brother informed me that you needed an AI unit,” Paschal said. “This one is the only one ready to be implanted for suit functions. When Kastor saw its file he was very eager to assign it to you. You will have to take it up with him if you have concerns.”

“I have many concerns,” Damen said, gritting his teeth.

||I believe protesting will provide no fruitful results,|| Laurent said.

“Oh, so now you’re okay being stuck with a bag of flesh?” Damen asked.

||It appears neither of us have a more appetising option,|| Laurent said.

“If you’re through, I would like to run through the suit tests. Ios, if you please.” Paschal gestured to where Damen had left his suit bed.

Damen pushed to his feet and walked over to the table to unpack his suit. As he assembled the suit, Paschal worked on his computic, assembling his notes on Damen’s case, most likely. Laurent also remained quiet while Damen worked.

The power suit was an advanced type of protective armour that enabled the user to enter combat in space. It came with a hard outer shell, a flexible under armour, and an enclosed breathable atmosphere. The under armour helped maintain pressure in the absence of atmo, so the wearer didn’t depressurise. The enclosed atmosphere allowed the wearer to breathe under any conditions, from the vacuum of space to the densest ice forests on the Slartyari homeworld; Yisk.

Damen snapped his gauntlets on and secured them in place over the arm band that held Laurent. He heard the familiar chime that informed him Laurent was integrating with his suit. Paschal looked up at the sound, and picked his computic up from the table. He walked to Damen and stood in front of him.

“Laurent, can you hear me?”

||Yes, doctor.|| Laurent’s voice sounded more robotic issued from the suit speakers.

“Okay. Ios, put your helm on.”

Damen secured his helm in place, and flinched as cool air skirted across his face with the activation of the breathing systems. The internal user interface lit up, and Damen checked his own readings out of habit. Oxygen levels were fine. Core temperature was fine. His electrical systems were functioning at maximum efficiency. His suit had not suffered while in storage.

||Dr Paschal wishes for you to turn your audio on so that he may converse with you,|| Laurent said. Inside the suit, he sounded like a young man. Damen suppressed a shiver at the sound of his voice so close to his ear, and his heart lurched unwittingly. Laurent said, ||Do not be presumptuous.||

“Do not be obscene,” Damen said. “You are a computic.”

He flicked his speakers on so that Paschal could hear him. “Are you certain this AI unit is not faulty? It just implied that its voice was arousing.”

“Are you aroused by its voice, Ios?” Paschal quirked an eyebrow.

“Absolutely not,” Damen said.

||Your heart rate reveals the truth,|| Laurent said in his ear.

“Both of you stop it,” Damen said. “There is something wrong with this AI unit.”

“It is the one you were assigned by your commanding officer,” Paschal said. “The AI unit is not faulty. It functions perfectly under the appropriate circumstances, and it is incredibly powerful. It will be extremely advantageous to have it with you in battle. Now lift your arms.”

Damen suffered through a thorough test of his suit systems and Laurent’s integration. Laurent seemed to behave perfectly for Paschal, passing all of his tests well within the margin of acceptable error. Damen had to be impressed. Lykaios hadn’t been that good, as efficient as she was. She had been functional, but not unique. Laurent seemed to be another system all together.

When Paschal finally completed his battery of tests, he instructed Damen to depower the suit and put it back into storage. By the time he had finished packing his suit away, Paschal was closing his computic and tucking it under his arm. “The rest of your team will be arriving shortly. I’ll see you in a few days, Ios.”

“Wait, you’re coming with us?” Damen asked. He sealed his suit inside it’s storage bed, and turned to the doctor.

“I am. I will be the attending medic for the duration of the mission,” Paschal said. He pushed his glasses up his nose in an oddly antiquated gesture. “I will see you at the debriefing.”

“Yeah, sure.” Damen watched him go. He was alone with the AI unit. Warily, he glanced at his wrist, as if it could bite him when he wasn’t looking. Just to be safe, he turned the speaker off. He kept the earwig in, however. He left his suit in the training room, and as he entered the hall he spoke to his armband. “Laurent, send a message to Nikandros Delpha. Tell him I would like to meet him for a spar.”

||The message has been sent,|| Laurent said. ||Coordinates have been received. It is the micrograv room on Southwest 5.||

“Southwest 5? He was just here. How could he get on the other side of the base?” Damen sighed to himself and started walking.

He was just about to pull himself up into an arm hallway when he saw Nikandros approaching from the opposite direction. Damen frowned. “I thought you were in the Southwest arm.”

“Why did I get a message from you asking if I wanted to fuck?” Nikandros asked.

“What?”

“Makedon, play back the message received approximately five minutes ago,” Nikandros said into his armband.

||For: Nikandros Delpha. From: Damianos Ios. Please meet me in my quarters to fuck. End transmission.|| Makedon’s voice was that of a gruff older man, and there was no doubt that his simulator was Akielon.

“Laurent.” Damen swore. Nikandros’ eyebrows hit his hairline.

“Your AI unit is altering your messages?” Nikandros pressed his lips together. “That’s a serious security risk.”

“Paschal and Kastor both swore there is nothing wrong with it,” Damen said. He rested a hand over his armband, resisting the urge to crush the chip within. “Despite my protests.”

Nikandros leaned against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. A technician walked past them in the hall, and they were silent until he was out of earshot. “What are you thinking, Damen?”

“I don’t know.” Damen kept his voice low, frustrated. “If they verify the AI unit isn’t faulty then I will be sent out with it.”

Nikandros nodded, his dark eyes somber. He glanced down the hall over Damen’s shoulder and then met his eyes. “I know the message was in error but… Do you-?”

“Yes,” Damen said, immediately. “Yes.”

He and Nikandros casually made their way to the room Nikandros was being housed in for the interim, and as soon as the door was shut Nikandros had his hands on Damen, tugging at the zips of his uniform. Damen hungrily met his lips, pulling just as urgently at the man’s jacket. He peeled it back from Nikandros’ shoulders, and Nikandros wriggled the rest of the way out of it. Damen tossed it on the floor and guided Nikandros backwards towards his cot with a light touch at his hips.

Their room was sparse, with no decorations and a single overhead light to guide them. The cot was a mere five steps from the door. The door to the ‘fresher was to Damen’s left.

Nikandros’ knees hit the cot and he tumbled backwards, pulling Damen with him.

||Am I going to be forced to witness this?|| Laurent asked, directly in his ear.

Damen jerked up with a sharp gasp. Nikandros scowled under him. Damen pulled the earwig free with a disgusted noise and threw it onto the pile of Nikandros’ jacket and trousers. Nikandros laughed, a full body shake that Damen felt to his core.

“Was it listening?” Nikandros could barely get the words out. He curled up under Damen, laughing into the twisted sheets.

“Shut up or I’ll do that thing you hate,” Damen said. He bent low over Nikandros’ exposed neck and sucked a hickey into the dark skin there.

“Which one? You do quite a lot,” Nikandros said. He twisted under Damen, his hands fumbling for the clasps on Damen’s trousers.

In response, Damen pushed Nikandros’ white undershirt up to his collarbone and pressed his lips to Nikandros’ stomach. Then, he blew out, hard, and the razzing sound made Nikandros lurch up under him. Damen kept him pinned in place with two large hands at his hips.

“No! Oh fuck it- Stop! Shit you are the worst- Damen!”

Damen found himself flipped onto his back, his arms pinned at his sides by Nikandros’ thighs. Nikandros sat up, a heavy weight on his chest, and crossed his arms. “Stop screwing around.”

“I thought that’s what we were here for,” Damen said. He wriggled for emphasis.

Nikandros swung his leg off and sat on the bed. “Take your clothes off and come here.”

After, Nikandros collapsed on his side in bed. Damen fell after him, and slung an arm over Nikandros’ chest to pull him close. Nikandros patted Damen’s hand and twisted until he could see Damen’s face. “Do you really think your AI unit is faulty?”

Damen rested his chin on Nikandros’ upturned shoulder, and rubbed his thumb along his arm. “It is not like any other AI unit I’ve come across. Would Makedon ever comment on your sex life?”

“I doubt it is even aware it exists,” Nikandros said. “It’s a machine. Sex is not something to be taken note of.” Nikandros was silent for a moment. “Do you think Kastor is trying to hurt you? Giving you a Veretian AI unit? And a potentially faulty one?”

“He is my brother,” Damen said, repeating the same stubborn argument that he gave every time this topic came up.

“I’m aware. I’m also aware that being family does not prevent one from wishing harm on another,” Nikandros said. He turned further, onto his back and looked up at Damen, propped over him. “I’ve known you since we were children, Damen. I’ve known Kastor just as long. He makes me uneasy. I just want you safe.”

“Where safer than with you?” Damen pointed out.

“You aren’t hearing me, Damen.” Nikandros sighed and stretched his legs, sliding along Damen’s as he moved. The sheets pulled at Damen’s hips. “The only reason your inheritance isn’t in your hands is because of him.”

“If the money is that important to him, he can have it,” Damen said. He nuzzled Nikandros’ neck. “I don’t need or want it.”

“It’s not just the money, it’s your father’s entire business empire,” Nikandros said. He sighed the heavy sigh of the long-suffering. “You’re impossible to talk to after sex.”

“You’re the one trying to talk,” Damen said. “I’m just trying to rest.”

Nikandros let his head fall against the pillow. “Fine. Rest. Debrief is in two hours. Makedon, set an alarm.”

||Affirmative.||

Damen let himself drift off to the steady sound of Nikandros’ breathing.