A kidnapped alien scientist and a down-and-out telepath find love. In a tank.
Near-future sci-fi tentacle porn romance. If that doesn’t make you want to read this, then…you probably shouldn’t. If it does, have fun!
Ven woke as the overhead lights flickered to life. He feigned sleep. His only movement came from the faint currents in the liquid that filled his tank. Two humans entered the building. The taller one was called Dr. Ingram. The other was a stranger.
Their footsteps echoed off rusted metal walls. Ven could feel the vibrations in the liquid that surrounded him, just palpable over the static roar of the ocean outside. He eased himself into the stranger’s mind to use her eyes and ears. He had learned that Ingram’s mind was not a pleasant place to be.
“This is it?” the stranger said, with a gesture at Ven. “You called me back from Luna Station for this?”
“Nobody made you come, Staite.”
“Do you have papers for this thing? Have you had it xenotyped? If you’ve dragged me into something shady again – you know it’s hard enough for me to get funding as it is.”
“Always a tough audience.” Ingram grinned, or at least displayed her teeth. “What if I said this creature was capable of telepathic communication? Maybe then you’d be glad you were my first call?”
Staite gave Ven a sharp look and then gave Ingram a sharper one. “Potentially interesting, but I need my subjects to be capable of communication on a higher level than ‘yummy school of fish, turn right at the next reef.’ ”
Amusement bubbled up through Ingram’s thoughts like a poison seep on the ocean floor. “I think it can manage more than that. The thing had its own spaceship.”
Staite took a step back, both away from Ingram and from Ven’s tank. She turned to stare at Ven. “Are you telling me – what the hell are you telling me, Ingram?”
“Intelligent alien life. Humanity’s first contact.”
“And you kidnapped it?” Staite said. “What the fuck were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that someone’s going to study it, and I want that person to be me. And you, of course,” Ingram said. “We need to be able to talk to it. As far as I can tell, it has no vocal chords.”
Ingram had come on Ven out of nowhere in the deep seas of an outer moon. There had been pain, blackness, and Ven had woken up in the tank. He had not been out since. He coiled one tentacle all the way around his own body and squeezed. He’d been alone all the crawling journey back to this planet, unable to make himself understood to Ingram or anyone else.
“So you want – what? One of my subjects to attempt communication?” Staite asked.
“That’s the idea.”
Staite paced to the back of the building and stood staring out at the ocean through the open doors. “This is insane, Ingram. You do understand that, right? You do understand what you’ve done? What if this creature’s friends come looking for it? Do you want to be personally responsible for humanity’s first interstellar war?”
“What do you think the Union would do? Send it on its merry way?”
“I think if they find out about this, they’ll build a new prison somewhere out in the Belt just for you.”
“But you’ll be there with me, won’t you?” Ingram slid closer and nudged Staite gently with her elbow. “Come on.”
Staite pushed a hand through her hair. “You should have told me. I could have brought Ellis. She’s the most promising.”
“No good. I’ve had one of your graduates in here, lower rated than Ellis, but not by much. He said the thing was like a brick wall. We need someone stronger.”
The man’s thoughts had all been of power and money. Ven had been afraid to attempt communication in case it made the situation worse. Now, he regretted it. He didn’t think his situation could get worse.
“I haven’t got anyone stronger,” Staite snapped. “They don’t grow on trees.”
Ingram handed her a tablet. Ven looked out of Staite’s eyes at the image on the screen: a picture of a young man. A wave of sadness poured over Staite at the sight of him.
“Eric’s gone,” she said. “He dropped off the map two years ago when we were still based on Earth. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. He’s strong – easily the strongest I’ve ever tested – but he had no control, and we were never able to teach him any.”
“Nevertheless, he’s our best bet. Tell me what you know, or even what you guess. It will be more efficient if we search together,” Ingram said.
Staite hesitated, a dozen thoughts piling up, some fear for the young man, Eric. Some for herself. A large degree of intellectual avarice that was familiar to Ven from his own experience. He liked it less when it was directed at him.
“All right,” she said finally. “You might be in luck. We stopped the search efforts a year ago, but the last lead we checked out was near here, in one of the tent communities outside the LA Basin.
“You think he might be here?”
“I suspect the ruins of Los Angeles and the other dead cities would be very attractive to him. All that canned food to live on and hardly another soul for fifty miles around. The same reason you like it, I suppose.”
“The desire for freedom and privacy is one I can sympathize with, yes. But this is not the easiest place to mount a search. You’re sure that’s the best you can do? You never tagged him?”
“He refused consent. I think he always meant to leave us. It’s hard to blame him. He was losing his grip fast by the time he disappeared, and we couldn’t do anything to help.”
“And you have no more information?” Ingram sounded strangely insistent.
“If there were anything else, I’d tell you.”
“Thank you for your assistance, Dr. Staite.”
Ingram took a gun from her pocket. Ven managed to recoil from Staite’s mind just before she fired. Staite fell. Her blood pooled beside her and then slipped over the edge to run into the rushing ocean below. Even in the tank, Ven imagined he could taste it in the water.
Eric had walked into LA a year after the big quake, following shattered roads and train tracks that had never been rebuilt. He liked it here, liked listening to the wind outside his rooftop tent at dawn, liked that he couldn’t hear anything else. He’d made solar stills down by the coast to keep him in fresh water, and there was still enough canned food in the city to supply the few people who wanted to stay.
There were scavengers sometimes, from Last Hope or Outer Angels. They came looking for furniture or blankets or radios, thoughts clear and pointed as their objectives. Easy to avoid. He watched them come and watched them leave.
The creepers were more of a problem. Like him, they lived here, secretive and few in number. Sometimes he mistook their thoughts for his own and let them get too close. Unlike him, they were happy to steal from anyone weaker. Hit by the storm of their thoughts, Eric was always weaker.
When he first heard the whispers, he thought they were creepers.
Sun blazed down, and hot wind scoured the rooftops. The blue-green Pacific lapped at broken glass and twisted metal scattered along the shoreline. Eric hurried from rooftop to rooftop, twitchy, picking at the holes in his shirt cuffs and turning to look behind him every few seconds.
He stashed his pack behind an old air conditioning unit so he could move faster. Voices pricked the edge of his mind and didn’t care about the price of a scavenged radio or where their next meal was coming from.
He eyed up the jump to the next rooftop. Long, but he could make it. He’d done it before. His feet skidded on pea gravel as he launched himself out over space.
Can he hear us at this range?
The shock of that clear phrase was so bad that Eric nearly forgot to catch hold of the concrete rim and pull himself up. They were close. He caught thought fragments from two, five, half a dozen people. He fought the panic, but his heart was already beating fast enough to make him dizzy. It had to be Staite. He wasn’t going back, no fucking way.
He slid down a fire escape, black paint flaking off and stinging his palms. Wind whistled through the gaps between buildings, tossed voices around, and obscured footsteps. It didn’t matter. Eric could hear them inside his head, and they were getting closer.
He ran for the coast. He had a boat hidden by one of his solar stills, gassed up and half repaired. It might run. If he could make it that far.
His lungs burned. His feet ached and so did his knees when he tripped on the broken sidewalks and fell. Worse than that, he could feel them all at the back of his mind, shoving their thoughts into him like fingers sliding under his skin.
—get, take – need him alive—
Eric vaulted over a pile of bones. A man stepped out of the alley ahead of him. He skidded to a halt and spun around, but someone was waiting there too, just out of sight.
He couldn’t think, mind too full, invaded and close to bursting under the pressure. Where had he been going? There was nowhere—
—to go. We’ve got you now, kid.
The sting of the hypodermic was a relief.
Eric pried his gritty eyes open. He was in some kind of warehouse. Loading doors at the back stood open to the ocean. Stray shafts of hot sun came through rust holes in the metal roof. The stifling air smelled of diesel.
A woman moved into his line of sight. She was tall and slim with a hawkish nose and graying hair. She wore steel-rimmed glasses and a white lab coat, stained with flecks of brown.
“Eric. It’s good to meet you. I’m Dr. Ingram.” She held out a bottle of water
Eric gulped it down to unstick his throat. “Where’s Dr. Staite?”
“You don’t need to worry about her anymore.”
Ingram had killed her there by the doors, only a few feet away. The image of her body shot through Eric’s mind, her slack face and dripping blood and open eyes. Eric caught his breath and gripped the bottle tight.
“I see,” Ingram said, following Eric’s gaze. “You’re as talented as your file suggested. Good. Consider what it means that I have proven myself capable of murder and that you know what I have done.”
Eric shook his head hard. “Information acquired by telepathy or precognition is inadmissible in a court of law,” he got out. “I’m no threat to you.”
“Nevertheless, if you went to the police, I’m sure they’d find a way to bring charges.”
“I can’t tell them – anyone.” The pressure of Ingram’s mind on his was getting worse the longer he was awake. He let the bottle fall to the floor and put his hands over his ears, though he knew it wouldn’t help. “I can’t – I won’t tell.”
“But you understand I have very little reason to let you live at the moment. Eric. Are you paying attention?”
Ingram was thinking she should’ve listened to Staite, that Eric was too strong for his own good. Eric could’ve told her that. He was Ingram reaching out to slap him and he was himself watching the blow come.
He jerked back hard to avoid it. Pain sometimes helped, but skin-to-skin contact made everything a million times worse.
“Are you with me?” Ingram said.
“Do you want to live?”
He nodded again.
“So give me a reason not to kill you.” She pointed at a large tank in the middle of the room and flicked a switch, bringing up the lights to reveal the creature inside.
It stirred and gave the impression that it was watching them, though Eric couldn’t see any eyes. It looked like a sea snake with a tall dorsal fin. Its blue-green skin shimmered in the shifting light. A forest of small tentacles protruded from its face and waved like seaweed in the water. Larger ones were half-retracted into some kind of pouch on its belly.
Ingram stood over him, much too close. ”Make contact. Ascertain its level of intelligence. Once you’ve done that, I’ll have questions for you to ask it. Can you do that?”
Eric stared at it. He didn’t really want to try, but animal minds weren’t as bad as people. “And then I can go?”
“I’ll consider it,” Ingram said.
She was lying, but Eric didn’t see much choice. He reached out, expecting the mix of hunger and instinct that he got from fish or wild dogs, but there was nothing at all. A smooth, cool absence of thought. It was like ice water in Death Valley, and he sank into it with relief.
A slap cut across his face, and a slew of murderous thoughts came with it. Ingram held him by the hair. “Tell me. What do you see? What do you hear?”
“It’s – nothing. There’s nothing there. I can’t hear anything from it,” he said, words blurring together in his haste to get them out.
“I wonder if you would tell me if you could. Don’t lie to me, Eric. You won’t like what happens.”
Eric shrank back in the chair. He didn’t want Ingram touching him. Ever again. “I’m not. I won’t. I swear.”
She stooped over him, too close. Her breath smelled sweet and intensely of mint. “Try again.”
He wanted to slide out of the chair and through the floor, into the ocean. Anything to get away. He glanced at the tank. “Skin contact makes it stronger,” he blurted. “If I could touch it, I might get something.”
Ingram studied him, mind churning. Eric could no longer get individual thoughts from her. Everything was a blur. He reached out to the creature again and got another moment of that cool calm.
“Strip,” Ingram said. “I don’t want you contaminating the tank.”
Eric undressed and left his filthy clothes in a pile on the floor. Ingram called in a couple of her people to hose him down, a man and a woman, both with crew cuts and ragged fatigues. Mercenaries, probably hired outside the city and loyal only as long as the money lasted. Eric filed that away, not that it would help him much. It wasn’t like he could pay them anything. The water was hot, probably baking in a metal tank on the roof. Eric felt almost feverish when it was over.
“You haven’t asked if it will attack,” Ingram said. She watched Eric with sharp attention.
“It won’t,” Eric said. He approached the tank, concrete warm and rough against his bare feet. The tank had a ladder up the side that led to a narrow opening in the thick plexiglass lid. Eric climbed up.
The creature sat at the very bottom of the tank and seemed to be trying to make itself smaller than it was. The minds of the mercenaries and Dr. Ingram were fainter now that he was near the creature. If that was cause and effect and not just his imagination, he’d stay in the tank forever.
He let his feet dangle in the water and found that it wasn’t water. It was thicker, more viscous. “What is this stuff?” he called to Ingram.
“An oxygen-rich inert medium,” Ingram said.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Stop stalling. Get in.”
Eric took a breath and slid off the edge. The stuff that wasn’t water felt cool in contrast to the thick air of the warehouse. He let himself sink down to the bottom to get a closer look.
The creature turned toward him. Tiny tentacles the size of thick thread rippled out of a cavity in its face. They extended toward him but didn’t touch. Eric stared a second longer and then had to go back for air.
When he got to the top, he found that the opening in the lid had been closed. The tank was sealed tight. He was stuck under the water. Ingram was smiling at him through the plexiglass.
Eric’s heart jumped in panic. He banged against the top. He pressed his palm flat to the side, searching for any air pocket. There was nothing.
Let me out! He shoved the words at Ingram and saw her wince and back away. Eric drew back his fist and tried to punch the plexiglass, but the viscous liquid slowed his blow to nothing. His lungs were burning.
Something soft and cool wrapped around his ankle. Breathe.
Thick fluid filled his lungs. He choked and tried to cough, heart slamming against his ribs in panic.
Breathe. The voice in his head was more insistent this time.
Eric inhaled deliberately. His body drew the fluid in and pushed it out again. And again. He wasn’t drowning.
He wasn’t drowning, either in water or in thoughts that weren’t his own.
He stopped flailing and was tugged downward. A larger tentacle emerged from the creature’s midsection and slipped around his waist, holding him steady. Eric held onto it in return.
Touch without pain. Without any kind of mental assault. That cool, smooth mind wrapped all around his. He closed his eyes and sank into it and wanted to stay forever. “Thank you,” he said, though no sound emerged. “Holy shit. Thank you.”
The creature gave him a careful squeeze. Are you well?
“I am fantastic. How are you?” Eric looked up and down its gleaming body. “And I don’t want to be rude, but what are you? I guess that’s a dumb question. You’re an alien.”
He got a feeling of assent and then a view of the stars, the enormous void of space, and then pain. I was at the edge of your solar system collecting atmospheric samples. Intercepted communications didn’t indicate anyone nearby.
“Yeah, the illegal mining ops out there code everything. If you don’t have the right receiver, it comes out as static.” He tried to stifle the undercurrent in his head that was just repeating I’m talking to an alien over and over. “Uh. I’m Eric. Hi.”
My name is Ven. I – am glad not to be alone anymore. Though I am sorry you are stuck here with me.
“Don’t worry about that. I’m good at getting out of places.” Eric looked at the perfectly smooth walls of the tank. He had to admit, this might be trickier than breaking out of Staite’s facility. “How does this thing open?”
From the outside. There is a control panel, Ven said.
“No problem. When she lets me out—” Eric would be fucked when Ingram let him out. He’d be braindead again, a telepathic zombie.
Did your parent not teach you how to seclude your mind?
“My … parent didn’t know how.” He couldn’t stop the mental image that followed, of the filthy rented room he’d shared with his mother, abruptly empty one day after school. He didn’t blame her for running. He would’ve run from himself too if he could have.
A dozen thinner tendrils brushed his skin and stroked through his hair. I am sorry. I lost my parent at a young age as well. It is a hard thing.
Eric swallowed. “Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
There’s no need for apologies. I understand.
Maybe he really did. Eric touched the silvery tentacle at his waist. It felt cool, very smooth, and faintly slippery. Ven’s blunt head rested on top of his. He got a tangle of impressions: deep water, darkness, alien bodies woven together in sleep and in song. His throat tightened with it. “Home?”
Ven made a noise that Eric couldn’t identify as mental or physical, a low, unhappy hum. More tentacles coiled around Eric’s legs. “Don’t worry. I’ll find a way to get you out of this. I promise,” Eric said.
You must take the opportunity to free yourself if it comes.
“Fuck that. I’d be useless without you anyway. You saw me out there with Ingram.”
I can teach you how to shield yourself. You won’t need physical contact with me to maintain the integrity of your mind.
He liked the physical contact. Eric clutched involuntarily at the tentacle wrapped around his waist. “Okay, but – don’t let go yet?”
Ven pulled him closer. I will not.
A sharp rap on the tank startled them both. It was Ingram. She stood close, frowning. She was talking, but of course no sound was getting through into the tank. Like turning up the volume, Eric began to hear her words, or at least the thoughts that went with them. That must be Ven’s doing.
“Well? Can you speak to it?” Ingram demanded.
Eric hesitated, and then shrugged. If he said no, Ingram might kill them both. If he said yes, who the fuck knew what she’d do.
“What does that mean? You’re not sure yet?”
Eric nodded and gestured to his wrist, like he was wearing a watch.
He nodded again, and the doctor threw up her hands and smacked a palm against the tank. She stalked away across the room and stood staring out at the waves. Her steps as she returned were measured and deliberate. “Fine. You have until morning. If you’ve got nothing by then, you’re as much use to me as Staite was and you’ll end up the same way.”
The doctor signaled to her people, and they followed her out, shutting the overhead lights off as they left. The doors were pulled closed and presumably locked from the outside. It seemed like overkill when they couldn’t even get out of the fucking tank.
They were left with only the dim green glow of the lights outside on the dock. Eric let out a breath. “We’ll think of something. Can you move out of water? Or whatever this stuff is?”
Short distances. Enough to make it to the ocean.
“Can you breathe in salt water? Is the ocean made of whatever this stuff is where you’re from?”
Ven made a mental sound of amusement, and his grip on Eric eased. I have both lungs and gills as well as several biological enhancements. I will have no trouble in your seas.
Eric nodded and pressed his palms against the tank wall. “Can you tip it over or something?”
I have been in here for weeks. There is little I have not tried.
“Right. Sorry.” The tentacles squeezed him lightly in acknowledgement. Ven had followed him and was curled behind him, tail wrapped around Eric’s feet. “One more stupid question. Can’t you just make them think they want to let us out?”
I can’t project thoughts, only receive them.
“But then how can I hear you? How does anyone talk to each other where you’re from?”
Without shielding, you can’t help but hear me. At home, nearly everyone can both receive and project. I am atypical, but I can be heard easily enough by those who care to listen.
What about those who didn’t care to listen? But that seemed like a really personal question, and Eric had a more pressing one. “Can I project thoughts?”
Yes. The difficulty will be in stopping.
“So can I make them think they want to let us out?”
Ven was silent for a few seconds. You may have the ability, but not the control. I’ve never had the training myself, so I’m not certain I can teach you. Especially not before morning.
“We can try, right? It can’t hurt.”
It can hurt them.
“Yeah, I don’t really care about hurting them.”
With too much force, you risk burning out their minds entirely.
Eric got a mental image of Ingram, blank-eyed and drooling, swaying in place. Blood dripped from her nose. She didn’t wipe it away, and it ran into her open mouth.
“Okay, stop. I got it.” He closed his eyes, but he still got the last few images of Ingram growing thinner and her final collapse. “Point taken. I don’t want to kill anyone.”
The image faded, and Ven’s tentacles held him close, almost an embrace. It came with a wash of relief. I am glad to hear it.
“At least teach me how to keep other people out. You said you could do that, right?”
I believe so. I can try.
“Dr. Staite tried. It didn’t go so great.” He let memories float to the front of his mind, where presumably Ven could see them. The sensory deprivation tank had been the worst. It was supposed to help focus him, but he’d ended up with his brain spread across the half the institute and then he’d blacked out.
It’s difficult to explain in words. If I may?
Eric nodded and felt a gentle touch in his mind, like someone stroking his cheek and then going straight through to his brain. Only nice. Really nice, actually. Ven gave him visuals of various barriers to choose from: stone walls, metal, some kind of liquid barrier that Eric didn’t understand. It wavered, and Eric could see the stars through it in a dim blur.
The walls of my ship, Ven said quietly.
“Holy shit. It’s beautiful. Is that what your shields are like?”
Yes. Seen through my own eyes. It would be clearer and brighter if you saw it yourself.
“You have eyes?”
Vestigial, yes. Useful only under certain circumstances.
Eric watched it until Ven let the image fade away. He wanted to ask about his vestigial eyes and about a hundred other things, but Ven gave him a mental nudge. Pick a barrier image, right. “Can I use the tank? Is that okay?”
Very much so. I’m glad you feel safe here.
Ven moved into his head again, really inside him in a way that made Eric feel full and a little too warm.
I realize this may be distressing. It won’t take long, and I won’t see anything that you don’t deliberately show me.
Eric was glad, because he didn’t find it distressing at all, and he wasn’t sure he wanted Ven to know that. He sat back and watched Ven recreate the glass tank inside his head, with parts of his own mind. He started offering memories: the windows in the first apartment he remembered, his mother’s glasses, the shattered glass eyes of the buildings in the ruins of Los Angeles. Ven took them all and wove them together.
Do you see?
“I think so?”
Good. Now do it yourself.
He took them down all at once, and Eric flinched. A reassuring tentacle wound around his finger. He focused inward, and started picking up the pieces. To his surprise, it was easy. Dr. Staite had told him how to visualize shields a hundred times, and it had never worked worth a damn.
They must be built from what you have. The associations are more important than the structure itself. Glass is a good choice for a visual species, I think. It may be clear or opaque, thick or thin as you choose.
They spent the next hour or two in practice, until Eric could make his mental tank into any shape or thickness or color he wanted and until his brain ached like a strained muscle.
Good, Ven said finally. The hard part will be to keep this control under adverse conditions, but you have made a good beginning.
“I’ll need more than a beginning if I want to be functional when they pull me out of here. Give me some adverse conditions.”
Rest first. It is hours yet before morning. Your body has been under great stress and so has your mind.
“What about you?”
I have slept a great deal. There is nothing else to do here.
Eric yawned, which felt weird underwater. Oxygen-rich medium. Whatever. “Yeah, okay. I can try.”
Sleep took him and held him, wrapped around him like Ven’s tentacles. It was a solid, dark thing, uninterrupted by other minds grating against the edge of his own. Eric was used to shallow sleep and frequent wakings, but this time it took Ven’s gentle touch on his face and insistent voice in his head to pull him out of it.
I’m sorry to wake you. You seem to need it.
“No, it’s fine.” He stretched. Ven’s body was touching his in more places than he could count, muscles shifting under smooth skin like a snake. It felt good. For once, he felt good. He set a hand against Ven’s skin and hoped he wasn’t touching anywhere inappropriate. “Uh. So. Adverse conditions?”
Do you have any to suggest? I don’t want to hurt you.
“I don’t want you to hurt me either. Can you just drop your shields and I’ll try to keep you out of my head?”
Ven hesitated. It is not a thing that is often done.
“Is it – would it hurt you? Would it feel like it did for me? Because don’t do that.”
No, it would cause me no discomfort, not while we are alone. But it is – an intimate act.
Eric got a brief, maybe unintentional sensation of smooth bodies moving together. He closed his eyes. He’d made one attempt at sex, back before he’d gotten really bad. He’d left before they even really got started, panicked by the way he could no longer tell her limbs from his own.
It’s not done in casual encounters, but when there is care and trust involved …
“Sorry,” Eric said. He could feel his face heating. “I didn’t know.”
I wouldn’t mind. It was a faint echo of words in Eric’s head, very distant, and Ven’s smaller tentacles retracted from his skin. Eric felt a projection of worry, of regret and embarrassment that might have come from either of them.
Eric caught hold of the tentacle around his waist as it started to pull back as well. “Is that how it felt when I couldn’t shield at all? Intimate?”
Ven shivered in his grasp. Yes. The touch. The communion. I’ve been away from home for a long time.
And isolated for longer than that. Eric caught the edges of a loneliness that felt too familiar to him. “What you said before, about not being able to project—”
It makes traditional intimacy difficult, yes. I’m sorry. I was wrong to— An image of Eric surrounded entirely by Ven’s body, wrapped up tight and sleeping peacefully.
“No, I wanted it. I want it.” Eric tried to give Ven some sense of the isolation of his life, the terror of touch, and how much better this was.
He got a sense of relief in return. Ven gathered him close again, and his tentacles trailed over Eric’s skin, his neck, his back, his chest. One brushed his nipple. Eric bit the inside of his cheek. His body was already responding, maybe predictably, now that the subject of sex had been introduced.
Ven paused, but Eric didn’t tell him to stop.
The tentacles were smooth and thick, faintly slick with something that coated their surfaces. The smaller tendrils were tiny, scarcely thicker than a hair, and squirmed across his stomach and chest like the growth of vines speeded up a hundred times. He couldn’t help his gasp as one curled around his nipple.
Ven was quiet and still for a few seconds. Adverse conditions. If you can keep your shields in place while I touch you—?
“Yes,” Eric said immediately. “Yes, I mean, if you want to. I – I want to. Yes.”
Relief from Ven and an easing of the tension in his body. You must tell me if I do it wrong.
The tendril teased at his nipple, and another came up to lick at the other, tip flicking back and forth over it until it was hard and then coiling around it, squeezing lightly.
Eric bit back a moan and tried to remember everything that Ven had shown him. He could feel the shields in his head now, the curved glass wall. Ven’s thoughts were knocking softly on the outside. Eric tried to make the glass thicker, keep it strong, but it was difficult.
The larger tentacles continued their exploration, mapping out his chest and arms, brushing over his face and through his hair. They slid down his back and when they reached the curve of his ass, one pushed its way between his cheeks. There was no way Eric could keep himself quiet as the tip brushed over his hole.
Does that feel good as well? Ven asked. There was a hint of teasing to his mental voice.
Eric nodded, unable to do anything else.
The tentacle moved on, but before Eric could say or even think a protest, it was replaced by one, two, three tiny, squirming tendrils, maybe more, maybe a dozen. He bit his lip and choked back a whimper as they held his cheeks apart and played over and around the taut skin of his opening. The ones teasing his nipples never stopped moving.
Eric couldn’t keep still anymore, but the liquid surrounding them gave him nothing to push against. His hips thrust back, and Ven caught him firmly around the waist.
You’re moving too much. And your thoughts are spilling.
Tentacles wrapped around his legs and arms as well, holding him perfectly still as Ven stroked the inside of his thighs and then brushed across his balls. At the first glancing touch to his hard cock, Eric made a strangled cry that Ven could evidently hear in his head if not through the water.
“So good. Oh, fuck …”
The touch got even lighter, barely making contact as it ran around the head. Eric tried to reach for his cock, but Ven’s hold was too strong. He couldn’t move his arm even an inch. His hips worked helplessly as a tentacle ran back and forth over his balls.
Concentrate, please, Ven told him, all amusement and warmth.
Thick glass walls. Right. It was important. Eric knew that. If he wanted to have a chance when Ingram came back—
Sex involves penetration with most species. Should I penetrate you? Is that what you want?
Eric whined and then he nodded, thought yes as hard as he could, and tried to spread his legs. He failed, but a second later they were spread for him, knees raised until he was completely exposed.
Where do you feel it the most?
“My – my dick,” Eric gasped, and the mental picture must have been clear enough. Ven stroked him there again and stopped, one tentacle coiled around the base.
And here? he asked. The tendrils teasing Eric’s hole finally stopped skimming around the edge and began to push inside; three, four, more than he could count, moving inside him, stretching him out. Eric whimpered.
And here, Ven said, pinching one nipple lightly, and then the other. You don’t feel it as much here, do you?
It is still good, but not enough to allow you to achieve orgasm. Yes?
Eric nodded and felt his nipples pinched until they were throbbing and hard. The tendrils inside him pulsed and pressed against his prostate. He cried out, and they stilled, but only briefly. In a second, they were moving again, kneading and stroking, concentrating all their attention on it. He bit his lip and squirmed helplessly, unable to shift the angle to get an iota more or less.
“Ven– I can’t– Touch my dick, touch my cock, fuck, won’t you–”
You want this to be over already? That doesn’t seem like an adequate test of your concentration. A tentacle touched his cheek and nudge at his lips. I want to penetrate you here too. May I?
Eric closed his eyes and opened his mouth. The tentacle pushed inside and rested heavy on his tongue. It tasted faintly sweet, still slick, so that it moved easily as it slid back and in again. At the same time, the tendrils pulled out of him, and something much thicker replaced them. Eric moaned, and Ven filled him slowly. Every inch stretched him a little more, and it moved inside him, rubbing mercilessly at his prostate.
Eric was aware of begging in his mind, breathing hard through his nose, and the fucking went on and on until he thought he would come just from that. Finally, after far too long, Ven began to touch his cock as well. It was light at first, the tendrils licking and flicking across the head as Eric tensed and strained to get more contact. Then, all at once, a thick, solid tentacle was wrapped around him, constricting just enough to squeeze him and release, stroking him with dozens of looped coils. Ven pushed hard into his ass one more time, and Eric came, shuddering and silent.
The liquid rushed through his lungs as he panted, and Ven’s grip on him gradually loosened until it was cradling again instead of confining.
“Did you, I mean. Can I,” Eric started, when he could think again. “Um.”
Later, Ven said. When we are free, I will show you how. You did well, considering. Your shields are strong, and there was less slippage than I expected. But we have more work to do before morning.
By dawn, Eric thought he was as ready as he was likely to be. He was pretty sure, at least, that he could stand to have people touch him without losing his shit completely.
It will be bad while you expel the fluid from your lungs, Ven said.
Eric nodded. It had sucked breathing this stuff in. He figured it would be worse coming out. But they’d expect that, expect him to be weak afterward. There was no way he could take out a bunch of armed guards and Ingram, but he could run. He was good at running.
If he could get to the control panel first, that would be good. If not, he’d lead them away, double back, and let Ven out. If that didn’t work, if Ingram caught him again, he’d stall for time, try to bargain. He could feel doubt coming from Ven. He had his doubts himself, but there wasn’t much choice unless he could get his hands on a weapon.
Please don’t hurt anyone if you can avoid it, Ven said.
“I think the odds of that are pretty low.”
The tentacle still wrapped around his ankle gave him a squeeze and then released him as the door opened.
Eric could feel their minds immediately and had a brief flare of panic, but the thoughts crashed and broke against his shields, spattered like bugs on a windshield. Enough got through to make him itch, but not enough to make him scream.
“Well?” Ingram demanded.
Eric swam up and knocked on the top of the tank. Ingram regarded him, arms crossed. For a second, Eric wasn’t sure he’d be allowed out at all. Maybe the plan had been to keep him in here with Ven permanently. But then Ingram pressed a button, and the hatch in the lid swung open.
Ven had been right about the fluid leaving his lungs. He barely made it down the ladder before his body started forcing the stuff out. He retched and choked and fell on his knees on the floor. This was the point where he should run, but he couldn’t even breathe. The stuff was too thick. He couldn’t get it out. He was going to die like this—
One of the mercenaries pulled him up and pounded on his back. The man’s thoughts got through Eric’s shields: mostly of the payment for this job, what he’d find for lunch, some pity for Eric.
“Enough,” Ingram said. “He’s fine. What have you learned, Eric?”
The man’s weapon hung within reach, some kind of assault rifle strapped across his chest. Eric stayed on his hands and knees, tried to breathe, tried to think. The guy was between him and the control panel. Ven didn’t want him to hurt anyone. And he didn’t know how to use a gun.
Running it was, then. He made an attempt at speech, conveniently choked, and reached out for help getting up. The man put a hand under his arm. Eric staggered to his feet, drove his elbow into the man’s side, and dashed for the door.
“Don’t shoot!” Ingram yelled. “I need him alive!”
That was the best news Eric had heard for a while. He made it through the door, looked around desperately, and stepped on something hard and sharp that made him yelp. Fuck, no shoes, no clothes. He’d have to find some in a hurry, but getting Ven out was the priority.
He skidded around the corner of the warehouse and saw a ladder up to the roof. That would be better than taking a wrong turn into a blind alley and waiting for them to find him. He scrambled up it, lungs still seizing, and ducked down out of sight.
Ingram’s mercenaries were spreading out below, searching for him. Eric tried to take measured breaths and not cough. He thought it was going well, everything under control and according to plan, until he felt the gun pressed to the back of his neck.
“Take it easy, kid. No sudden moves. We’re gonna go back down nice and slow.” It was the same guy who had helped him to his feet.
Eric nodded carefully. He thought he might lose him when he went down the ladder, but the man guided him to a door on the roof. The stairs inside led straight back down into the warehouse.
Ingram was waiting for them. “Hit him,” she said.
Sorry, kid, the man thought. It didn’t stop him from backhanding Eric across the face. The sudden pain and skin contact shattered Eric’s shields and, when the man followed it up with a solid punch to his stomach, Eric fell to his knees. He put a hand to his bloody mouth, bent over and wheezing. Voices everywhere.
“Disobedience results in punishment,” Ingram said calmly. “Now, let’s start again. What do you have for me? Were you able to contact the creature’s mind?”
Eric pressed his hands over his ears. He could hear Ven in his head trying to get him to calm down, but there were so many others, too many, and he couldn’t—
“Hit him again,” Ingram said.
The man hesitated. “Are you sure—”
The slap didn’t hurt as much, but there was more skin contact, and the man’s thoughts drove into Eric’s head like a hot drill. He recoiled, but the man had a grip on his hair. He shoved, with his hands and with his mind, as hard as he could.
All the thoughts stopped.
“What are you standing there for? Get him on his feet again,” Ingram said.
The mercenary didn’t move. Eric looked up into a completely vacant gaze. He reached out with his mind like a hand in the dark, afraid of what he might find, but there was nothing. The man was still standing there, breathing, but he was gone.
“Joe?” One of the other mercenaries moved closer. “Hey, Joe. Snap the fuck out of it.”
Ingram was looking straight at Eric. Like she knew.
Eric scrambled up to his feet and backed away until he hit the tank. He wanted Ven’s touch again. Everything was too loud, too bright, too much. He groped for his shields but they slipped away again in the noise. He pressed a hand to the cool glass behind him.
The switch on the panel near the door. Ven’s voice, clearer than all the rest. Throw the switch, Eric.
Eric stumbled toward the control panel, noise in his head deafening him from the inside out.
“What the fuck did you do to Joe?” one of the mercenaries said.
There was the sound of a scuffle, a bullet being chambered in a handgun. “Do not shoot him,” Ingram said, voice still calm but louder now. “Eric. Eric, turn around.”
Eric turned, backing up against the panel, feeling behind him. He had two assault rifles and three pistols pointed at him. One of the guys was shaking Joe’s shoulder, but there was no response. Joe stared straight ahead. Nobody home. Eric had to look away from his blank eyes and the trickle of blood from his nose.
“The switch behind you will drain the tank and kill the creature,” Ingram said, so calm, stepping forward slowly. Unarmed. Compared to the mercenaries, she looked harmless, but Eric could hear the sizzle of her deeper thoughts, which were all of Ven and Eric strapped down and cut open, electrodes and wires in their brains, jacked into their nervous system until they ended up like Joe.
She’s lying, Ven said. Do it.
Ingram was getting closer. Eric ran a hand over the panel behind him. He felt that if he took his eyes off Ingram, she’d spring like an a animal and go for his throat.
“I don’t want either of you to die,” Ingram said. It was perfectly, horribly true.
Eric’s hand found the switch and yanked it down. The liquid in the tank vented through a dozen different slots, spraying the floor with force and knocking one of the mercenaries off his feet. Ven coiled his body into a ball and lashed out hard at the plexiglass.
Without the friction of the liquid slowing him, the impact was hard enough to crack it on the first try.
“Stop!” Ingram shouted.
Ven struck the tank again. The crack widened. He showed his teeth, fine rows of translucent needles that glinted in the low light. One of the mercenaries raised her weapon, but another grabbed her shoulder. “We’re out. This is fucked. Get Joe.”
Ven bashed his body against the tank one last time. It shattered. The mercenaries ran. Ingram aimed her gun at Ven. Eric braced himself for the mental onslaught and punched her in the face.
It shattered the last of his shields. He saw Ingram stagger back, but he couldn’t seem to move after that, couldn’t think. Even the panicked mental voices of the mercenaries seemed too close, and they were now outside the building and driving away. He sank down to squat in a pool of liquid and shattered plexiglass, arms wrapped around his head.
He heard a gunshot, a thud, and looked up to see that Ven had knocked Ingram across the room with a flick of his tail. Ven’s tentacle closed around his arm, and everything went quiet
Ven was bleeding from the shards of the tank. Eric tried to clear a path for him as they moved to the loading doors at the back of the warehouse. Ven slipped over the side and into the water.
Come, he said again.
Eric stumbled to the edge and plunged in. Cool water rose up all around him. Ven caught him and pulled him close. Hold onto me.
Eric wrapped both arms around his body above his dorsal fin. They cut through the water, leaving a wake behind them, only Eric’s head above the surface.
Ven could feel Eric’s exhaustion, mental and physical. He had to hold Eric against him to keep him from slipping away, and the chill of the water wasn’t helping. He had to find somewhere they would be safe, at least for the day.
Following the coast, he found a half-submerged ship, rusted and cracked open. He left Eric hanging onto a metal railing, dull-eyed and starting to shiver. On the first dive, he found a way inside.
He came back for Eric and pulled him down, into the broken interior of the ship, and up again into a clear pocket of air with a slab of wood decking for Eric to stretch out on and warm up.
Eric climbed up onto it and flopped onto his back in the hot sun. He reached one hand back toward Ven.
Ven wrapped a tendril around his wrist. He borrowed Eric’s eyes to look up at the bright, unnatural blue of the spotless sky. He thought of the day he’d left his own world and the red light of its older sun. He’d never meant to go this far.
“We’ll get you home,” Eric said. He must have picked some of that up. Even with his shields back in place, he had a more sensitive touch than anyone Ven had ever met. Those he knew at home often shut him out by accident. Eric seemed to know every shift of his mood without even trying.
Eric turned onto his side and laid a hand on Ven’s back. “Hey. Believe me?”
Yes, Ven said. He did. But he was no longer sure he wanted to go.
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