There was a whore in my bed when I got back.
He was a slight little thing, small enough that I didn't notice him by the dimmed light of my screen when I came in. Must have fallen asleep waiting for me, too, because he screamed loud enough to wake the house when I jumped in.
Startled me too, I don't mind saying. And not much does, after all I've seen. Once you've stared down an event horizon or two, anything a living being can do doesn't seem like so much. But it was the middle of the night — I was tired and a little high and not expecting company.
I dropped my screen and heard it crack, and the next thing I know, there's old Coffin, barging in like he thought there was murder afoot. To be fair, from the lad's yelling I might have thought so too.
He was shouting at Coffin, his Common loud and heavily accented with the broad vowels of someone from the inner galactic spirals. Coffin laughed at him and said something about me, and then grinned. Then he spoke to me slowly, and loudly, as though I had no knowledge of Common.
"You know," Coffin said, "This man, he sleeps with you, you know?"
"Yeah, I know," I said, flipping back the covers so the shivering whore could get back into the bed. By the light of Coffin's gaslamp, I could see that he was attractive — not thin so much as compact, with ropey muscles outlining his pale arms and a thin trail of hair heading across his flat stomach down to his sleeping pants.
I could see he was cold, but he hesitated and asked Coffin if he would be safe with me. Did I really scare him so much? I glared at Coffin. Just like him to send me a house whore without warning the boy I was a spacer. Some Innies are spooked by spacers, and my tattoos certainly marked me out as one.
Coffin was a shitty landlord and a worse man. He smirked and told the lad I wouldn't hurt a fly.
"You don't smoke," he said to me, gesturing to my vape.
I rolled my eyes, but when I turned it off, the whore got back into bed with me willingly enough. He was cold and a little wary, but I couldn't get it up for the warmest ass on the planet that night, not with what I'd been vaping.
Coffin probably knew it, too, and was gouging me the price of a night for it anyway. When I'd told him I'd be wanting a whore, I meant at some point before I took ship, and now I'd have to pay twice if I wanted to have any fun.
He winked at me, the bastard, and left. The faint lamplight left with him.
I picked up my screen off the floor. Yes, cracked. As I had thought. I set it on the nightstand. By the faint glow before it shut off, I saw the whore, curled stiff with his back to me.
I closed my eyes.
When I woke, it was to the whore's wriggling. He was warm now, and curled up against me snug under the covers. I had my arm firmly around him, though, so all his squirming did was press him up rather delightfully against my morning erection. He froze, and I rasped out a laugh and bit his earlobe lightly.
"Come on now, little whore," I said, and rubbed myself against his arse. He didn't move, and I felt him shudder. I sucked at his earlobe and pulled him closer, and I heard his breath coming fast. He made a small, scared noise.
I rolled onto my back and looked at him. He still wasn't looking at me. He had his eyes screwed shut, and as soon as I let go of him he moved further away from me. Something was wrong.
I mustered all the pre-caf Common I had and tried. "You're a whore, aintcha?" I asked.
His head whipped around and his eyes opened, mouth dropping wide in shock. "No!" he yelled.
I rubbed my hand over my face. Coffin was going to pay for this.
"Sorry," I offered.
He looked confused, and edged out of the bed without taking his eyes off of me. He grabbed a shirt from the chest at the end of the bed and pulled it on. I could see that it was made of an expensive warming material and had a university name printed on the front. In the light, with his light brown hair sticking every which way and falling into his eyes, he looked more like an Innie tourist than a whore.
"You really thought I was a whore," he said, slowly, in passable Spacer.
"Coffin is a mafrini zafur," I said wearily.
I saw comprehension dawn in his face, then anger.
He sat down hard on the chest and yanked on a pair of expensive-looking warming magboots, then stormed out the door, slamming it behind him.
After I got my own kit on and had made my morning devotions, I made my way down the stairs. From halfway down them I could hear my erstwhile bedmate shouting.
By the time I arrived at breakfast, he had backed a red-faced Coffin up against the sideboard and I could pick out a fair number of Common profanities in what he was saying. He wasn't a very imposing figure, but neither was the landlord; grease and sweat shone on Coffin's pasty skin as he attempted to extricate himself. The other spacers were either cheering the lad on or snickering at the show, and Coffin looked relieved at seeing me approach.
He was less relieved when the tip of my harpoon grazed his neck.
My companion stopped shouting and stood very still. I had propped the haft of the harpoon on his shoulder to steady it, and he could no doubt feel me at his back.
"We stay free," I informed Coffin, and slid the harpoon back a fraction so he could nod frantically. There was a small red scratch over his throat where the tip had rested.
"Good," I said, and went to eat.
The room was silent now, and every being set to eating with a will. I looked up from my meal once to find my night's companion staring at me curiously. I gave him a small smile, and he blushed and went back to his food.
He was handsome. It was too bad he wasn't a whore, because he would have made a pretty one, with that fine jaw and the strong nose some of the paler Innies have, like one of the classic spacecraft my ancestors sent toward the inner spiral during Early Exploration.
He got up from the table and left, and I idly wondered what he was doing on this shitty spacer planet known mainly as a miner refueling and trading post.
None of my business, really.
I spent my day prepping my gear and praying. I tended to my gear first; replaced the glass on my screen, sealed my mag boots, checked over my suit. But then I went to the temple. No spacer worth his creds will go out without leaving a few offerings for the gods. I come from the far outer rings, from Koko and her three moons, where we know better than to anger Yojo, who moves in the black emptiness of space.
There is a temple to Yojo and the minor gods in every port planet in the outer or inner spiral, and this one was close to the harbor. I paid my respects and sat for a while in contemplation, legs crossed on the cushions, watching the flames of the gas lamps flicker. It's a solemn thing, to go out into the dark. Disc mining's not an occupation for those who like comfort or the familiar. The dark looks back at you in a way you can't explain.
I breathed in, and felt the emptiness in me settle and calm.
I was back at the Spouter by dusk.
I was idly flipping through a book in Common, looking at the pictures when the lad came in. He banged through the door, pulled off his hat and scrubbed a hand through his hair, making a mess of it. To my surprise, on spotting me, he came forward and scraped back a chair to sit by me.
"Call me Ishmael," he said, in his Innie-accented Spacer. "What book do you read?"
"Queequeg," I replied, and shrugged. "I look at the pictures."
He smiled. He had an attractive smile, in his otherwise unremarkable face, and I couldn't help but return it. I wasn't sure what to say, after our misunderstanding of the morning, but as it turned out I didn't need to say anything.
Ishmael was a talker. More than a talker, a storyteller.
His Spacer was adequate, and he supplemented with Common where he didn't know the terms. Of course, I didn't always know what they meant either, but the rhythm of his voice, the expressions on his face, and the broad gestures he made got most of his stories across.
He started out telling me about the people in the pictures in my book — a warrior virgin, who slew her own father after his wife's death brought a madness upon him; a convert who was sawn in half; and another warrior, who slew a dragon by emerging from its belly after being eaten.
"Like Jonah," he said.
All spacers know of Jonah, if they know nothing else of the church of the One God. The man who traveled beyond the event horizon and emerged unscathed is a legend, and doubly so among those of us who tempt Yojo by mining the glowing accretion disks so close to that ultimate boundary.
I told him I knew of Jonah, and this naturally led to talk of his whereabouts that day — he had gone to a church, and heard a sermon on Jonah so powerful as made his eyes shine and his voice go hushed and reverent.
I have never been to a church of the One God, but it sounded very interesting, and I told him so. The man in the pulpit plainly knew what it was to stare into the black and welcome the void, from Ishmael's telling of his story. Perhaps we are not so different after all.
Ishmael and I shared a vape, and then a meal of Coffin's chowder, and still I did not tire of his companionship.
He had come from a merchant family in the inner circle and was so proud to say that he had shipped out several times before. He told me that he was prone to grim and choleric moods and that the stately progress of the merchant ships through the calm expanse between planets soothed his soul in a way nothing else could do.
Space is not soothing, and if you think it calm then you are a fool; but my regard for him did not dim as he chattered on. This may have had something to do with the animation in his face and the way he gestured excitedly with his hands. They were broad, broader than his ropy frame implied, and his fingers were blunt and well-formed. I found his innocence alluring, rather than foolish, and perhaps that makes me the fool, but I do not think so.
The vape, a milder blend than that of the night before, seeped warm into my blood, and my hands may have wandered a bit, wrapping around his waist as he told a particular story that had him leaning toward me in confidence. And this time he did not stiffen or curl away, but leaned further into my arm.
Another vape, another tale, and still he did not move away, and he lay his head on my shoulder, silly with the drug, and his hot breath tickled my ear as he laughed.
"Come to bed with me," I said, interrupting the flow of his words, and he laughed again.
"This time I believe we understand one another better," he agreed, and his hand landed warm on my knee and slid up my thigh, sending heat racing ahead of it.
We rose as one from the table and went as calmly up the stairs as any two men who were tired and might retire for the evening might. But as the door closed behind us and I threw the bolt, he threw himself upon me and kissed my mouth eagerly.
He kissed like it was an adventure. Sank himself into it, pushing his whole body up against me, rising to his toes and opening to me like a coiled rope unfurls after a miner's harpoon.
And it was like that, the thrill and the shock of energy that went through me. This was not what a whore would have given me, the body's release only. Ishmael's kiss awakened something more in me, something dangerous and warm that filled my belly as well as thickening my cock.
We pulled apart to remove our boots, and I took a moment to set up my small altar to Yojo again, the small carving sitting in his accustomed place, and offered him a bit of biscuit. I was surprised, as I did so, to feel Ishmael behind me, and his arms wrap around me, but he said nothing, just handed me his sparker to use for the biscuit, and we burnt it together and said silent prayers.
I don't know who he prayed to, nor do I care, only that it endeared him to me further, who should have been a stranger. But he stood with me before Yojo and he prayed and I felt I knew him more intimately than many a spacer I had shipped with for years.
And then when we were done, I turned around in his arms and kissed him again, and this time we did not stop.
We tumbled into the bed, this time of one mind about our purpose there. It was cold in the room, and we scrambled under the covers, shivering and clutching at one another, desirous to touch yet too cold to remove our clothes. Instead we grappled, pushing into each others' bodies, hips grinding as he bit at my lips and laughed breathlessly.
As the bed warmed, so too did we calm, our kissing deeper and less frantic, our hands roaming more than grasping. He was not shy, as I had thought from his stiffness and lack of response in the morning. Though he was slim and soft compared to most spacers, he met me with equal enthusiasm and he proved quite experienced, in this at least.
We stripped one another, awkwardly removing articles of clothing while trying not to let out the heat from the blankets. And no sooner had he pushed my trousers down than he ducked his head under the blankets as well and his hot mouth was on me.
My hips jerked and I felt him lift off and cough, and I reached down and ruffled his hair in apology. He went back to his work.
Gods, he was exquisite. He worked me with his mouth until I pushed him back lest I embarrass myself. The shock of cold as he sat up was enough to somewhat reinstate my control, but our bodies were so overheated with lust that it no longer mattered as it had. He knelt up above me, pale and slender, and worked himself open with the slick I handed him.
Fuck, but I wanted him. And when I tipped my cock up to offer it to him he sank back on it with small twists of his hips, eyes closed and mouth hanging open. His fist wrapped around his own cock and he stroked it in time, letting out small pants and noises of pleasure.
I gripped his hips and he whined; I ground him down onto me and he fell into my rhythm, planting one hand over my shoulder and kissing me as I shoved into him again and again. The tight heat of him was delicious, and I bit at his lips and panted into his mouth.
We were sweating, immune now to the chill and in danger of breaking Coffin's shitty bunk. And then Ishmael choked and shuddered and I felt him come, felt the pulse of his body and the dampness on my stomach. Gradually he went still, and I let him, let him pant into my ear and go pliant and relaxed.
And then he squirmed, and huffed out a laugh. "Go on then," he said. I took him at his word and lost myself in his body for a little while.
We vaped a little, after, and cleaned up. But I couldn't keep my eyes open for long.
My next waking was much like the one before, warm and wrapped close around Ishmael's lithe body. But this time, my advances met with a far more enthusiastic reception from my bedmate.
The gruel was lukewarm and running low by the time we dressed and made our way downstairs.
I needed to go down to the port today, and I mentioned it to Ishmael. To my surprise, he agreed to go with me.
"I have to meet with the owners of my ship," he said.
I was confused. "But…I thought your family…"
"I'm tired of being the owner's son," Ishmael said. "I want to take ship on my own. I've signed on with a crew down at the port. She's an old model 7-Z freighter, but she's retrofit for mining, and I've heard the captain's a fair man, though I've never met him."
"You're shipping with a miner."
Of course he was. Enamored of the adventure and the romance of space.
He didn't notice my dismay. "Yes, with the Pequod. She leaves next week, and they'll be wanting the crew aboard soon."
Zafa, they'd eat him alive. I'd been mining since I was old enough to handle an energy harpoon and miners are a special sort of spacer. The crews are hard and they've got no patience for Innies, let alone wide-eyed Innies who think Yojo's realm is there to soothe the soul.
He nodded. "Yes, do you know her?"
I didn't, but I'd shipped on 7-ZRs before, and I said so.
"You should come down and see her." Ishmael looked across the table at me, and I felt his booted foot touch mine under the table. "I've got a few days yet before we ship out, but I'd like to keep you with me, if you don't mind."
His words sparked an idea in me. I hadn't signed on to any crew yet, and why shouldn't I sign on with the Pequod?
It was foolish to think about signing on with Ishmael. I'd known him for two days, not even that, and it could be long years in the black before we mined enough to fill the hold and return.
But I looked over at him, his bright eyes and mobile hands, already describing the merits of his chosen ship to me, and I thought of him standing at the altar of Yojo with me the night before. I thought of the warmth of his body and his deep well of enthusiasm and awe.
And I rapped my hand on the table, interrupting him.
"She sounds like a good ship," I said. "Does she need a harpooneer?"