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Beyond Imagination

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At first John thought they'd sailed through the worst of it. Harold balked at the curb despite police sirens nearing, and demanded John steal him a motorcycle instead of a car. Then he rejected a helmet and shouted gleeful encouragement in John's ear all the way back to the library, gripping him by the waist, but John got him there safely, and after that Harold went inside willingly enough, patted a barking, relieved Bear, and sat down at his desk with a pleased sigh.

He smiled up at John. "Thank you, John. There really is something irresistible about the experience."

John smiled back at him, muscles relaxing: Harold's eyes were clear, his hands were steady, he was back where he belonged. It felt like they'd crossed the finish line. "I'll get you some water," John said. "I know you might not feel like it right now, but we're better off staying in the rest of the night."

"Oh no, I understand perfectly," Harold said. "It's a really interesting sensation, actually. It's nothing like the ecstasy high, or drunkenness; I feel entirely compos mentis. I might do a little work, in fact."

"Maybe I'll go turn off the network," John said, prudently.

"If it makes you feel better," Harold said. He was already moving into what John thought of as his serious-coding mode, taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves, cufflinks rattling across the table like dice.

John set himself up with a book at Harold's side and glanced over every so often to make sure Harold hadn't hacked his way into the neighbors' wi-fi, but the computers stayed offline. Harold seemed to just be writing code. John mentally shrugged: the drug really wasn't supposed to do anything but remove inhibition, and anyway Harold would review it in the morning before they turned the network back on and let it do anything.

Harold worked fast. By the time John was a couple of chapters in, there were at least forty pages of code sprawled over the various screens, test routines scrolling by in a terminal window. "So what are you building?" John said finally, curious.

"Hm," Harold said thoughtfully. "It's rather complicated to explain. It's an intelligent broadly-targeted polymorphous cyberweapon."

John paused. "What?"

Harold turned and circled his hand, explaining. "Most cyberweapons — trojans, viruses, and so forth — are generally aimed against a single piece of infrastructure. For instance, Stuxnet was designed to attack Siemens equipment, because that's what the Iranian government was using in their uranium enrichment program. Obviously that's quite limited and potentially ineffective — it also produces a great deal of collateral damage, since the weapons are normally loosed into the wild and tend to attack innocent systems as well, and then of course the weapons become visible, and the computer security community become aware of them, which leads to obsolescence — and so forth.

"Imagine if instead you could simply define, for such a weapon, a higher level goal — say for instance," Harold leaned over and picked up the New York Times off the desk, "to prevent the use of chemical weapons within a particular nation."

John was imagining it. He stared at Harold. "What does it do then?"

"Oh, anything," Harold said. "That's the point. Sabotage the manufacturing process to cause the produced chemicals to be inert. Take over the HVAC systems in a warehouse where the weapons are stored, raise or lower the temperature sufficiently to destroy the supplies. Hijack an unmanned drone and crash it into a truck transporting the chemicals. With a sufficiently large database of exploits — which is conveniently available thanks to antivirus software companies — there's almost no limit to the options that such a system could explore."

He finished describing his monstrous, world-conquering weapon and smiled at John: cheerful, bright-eyed, drugged out of his mind.

John tried to keep his voice calm. "Harold, maybe it's not the best idea to work on this."

"It's true I've felt enormous hesitation," Harold said. "I've had this system in my head for years — more of it than I even realized. I think I'll have the core finished before morning," he added, horrifyingly. "There are only a half-dozen major problems left to solve. I've avoided thinking about it consciously, but to be honest, I think that's been a little cowardly of me."

He turned back to his keyboard. John restrained his first impulse: leap up, pull the plug, rip the hard drives out, burn the computers. It didn't matter that they were offline. Once Harold had brought this thing into the world, there wasn't going to be a way to shove it back. John jerked his head around and looked at the security camera outside the window, the tiny green pinpoint light watching. Suddenly it felt like a threat.

He couldn't even just drag Harold away from his desk and lock him up in a room. Harold would lie down and stare at the ceiling, solve those last six problems and wake up with this thing inside his head, fully-formed, impossible to forget short of a bullet to the brain. And Harold knew that better than anyone. Harold had deliberately not thought about this thing.

John grabbed the arm of Harold's chair and turned him back around. "Hey," he said. "Why don't we go for another ride? I'll take us across the George Washington — the wind off the Hudson would be amazing."

"Hm," Harold said thoughtfully. "No, I think I'd rather keep working on this. Coding doesn't produce quite the same kind of rush, but it's equally intoxicating, you know."

He tried to turn back. John held the chair. "How about a movie? There's — something playing somewhere."

"No, John, I don't think I should." Harold made a small grimacing face. "I almost always want to make out with you in the theater."

"What?" John said blankly.

"I always took my dates to the movies as a boy," Harold added, musingly. "It's nearly a Pavlovian effect. At any rate, under the circumstances, I don't know that I'd trust myself not to start pawing at you, and that would be remarkably rude. I think this is safer."

Harold went back to coding. John sat, holding himself rigidly still, and when his hands stopped trying to shake he said, almost harshly, "Harold?"

"Hm?" Harold looked at him.

John turned Harold's chair back towards him again. He edged his own forward, leaned in and took Harold's hands by the wrists. He brought them over, kissed the soft inner skin of each one, put them on his own chest. "Touch me as much as you want."

Harold blinked at him in surprise, his thumbs nestling beneath the lapels of John's suit jacket. "Oh. Really?"

"Really," John said. His throat was tight with terror and desire.

Harold didn't hesitate any further. He pushed the jacket back, off John's shoulders. John shut his eyes, panting. Harold's hands were warm on his chest, efficiently unbuttoning him, baring his collarbone to the stroke of Harold's thumbs. "Oh, John," Harold murmured, fingers gentle on his old scars. He tugged the shirt out of John's pants. John peeled himself out of it the rest of the way, staring at the Dewey Decimal category labels on the side of the bookcase opposite him while Harold unbuckled his belt.

"Chairs are rather inconvenient for this sort of thing," Harold said. He put John's belt neatly coiled on the table and stood up.

John pushed himself up and raggedly followed him into the next room and let Harold push him down on the old squeaky couch. His head tipped back over the arm and he stared at the curved ceiling above them, the dust-stained vaguely religious murals mostly lost in shadows. The springs digging into the underside of his leg and the back of his shoulder were like anchors; without them he didn't think he'd believe this was happening. A noise escaped his throat. Harold was sliding the heel of his hand thoughtfully between his legs.

"That's really very..." Harold didn't finish, the murmur trailing off. He tapped John's leg; John put it up on the back of the couch and put his other foot against the floor, sprawling wide. Harold laid both his hands on John, braced on the upper ridges of his hips, his thumbs sliding in gentle remorseless lines up and down on either side of John's cock, framing him beneath the fabric of his briefs. The head of his cock started pushing out of his waistband. Harold bent down. He put his tongue out and licked, a small experimental darting stroke.

"Please," John said, gasping. "Please." Harold sat up and smiled at him, wide-open, and took off his glasses; he set them aside with a faint clatter on the table behind the couch. His eyes looked larger without them, his face just a little different, enough to rub along the edge of John's instinct for danger.

John stared at storm clouds and angels while Harold closed his warm mouth carefully around his cock and his tongue rubbed curiously over the soft hood, cold tip of his nose pressed against the vulnerable skin of John's belly. Harold's hair was bristling, slightly sweat-dampened under his fingers. Harold's hands settled on his hips, a firm grip. It went on forever. It was over too fast.

Harold sat up, wiping his mouth, licking his lips with the very tip of his tongue. He smiled down at John, warm, heavy-lidded, pleased. John was still struggling for breath, shuddering like an ocean. "I suppose I should feel awkward about how spectacular it is to see you so broken open for me," Harold said tenderly, brutally, more proof all the reins were off, and then he unbuckled his own belt, and opened his pants.

He didn't ask. John watched him, feeling himself wearing a stricken face, while Harold shifted, eased forward, pressed in. John clamped his mouth shut, not against pain, overwhelmed. His breath came in sharp pants through his nostrils. He was shaking. Harold was inside him. John let his head fall back, his whole body starting to rock involuntarily, trying to ask for more because he couldn't say it out loud. He felt like he was the one drugged, helpless, unable to control himself. He'd never thought about this. He'd never let himself think about it. Some things were too dangerous to imagine.

# End