Zero Hour

Archived Parts: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven

Part Eight (Not Worksafe)

The water distended Ernest’s stomach, and caused it to press against he walls of his abdominal cavity. It had to be applying pressure to his liver, his small intestine, his gall bladder and pancreas. If anyone had told him that a full stomach felt so  painful and wobbly, he never would have swallowed anything to begin with. How many hours would it take to digest? He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t very well ask L0U15E, either. Not with a belly full of water.

He recapped the bottle, set it on the floor beside the cooler, and made his way downstairs. The pressure in his body made it difficult to concentrate, and he reeled down the alleyway like a drunken actor in an old-time feed. It would have been amusing, if it weren’t so terrifying.

He decided it might help to sit down for a few moments while some of the water passed into his duodenum. He staggered toward the single chair, the one he’d collapsed in last time, and paused. There, on the seat, was a scrap of paper.

There was some printing on the paper. “All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available.” Ernest parsed a word here or there, but for the most part, it was a long, meaningless string of characters.

But then there was the handwriting, over the top of the print: “I OW YOU 1 BREW. ~W.”

That parsed just fine.

Ernest bounded down the stairs, pausing only to lock both doors behind him. He sidestepped past a few buildings and slipped down the alley to approach the coffee shop by the front door.

It was early evening, nearly sunset, but thankfully the shop was still open. The other clerk might be there, Ernest reminded himself as he jogged up to the doorway, that short, dark man with the sour disposition who never once looked Ernest in the eye.

Ernest didn’t believe that, though. He pressed his fingertips against the front door, shifting foot to foot in anticipation as it opened, everything seeming to move slowly like a feed playing at half speed, until finally, there, framed in the doorway, scowling at a series of glowing characters as he wiggled his fingers under his scanner, was Will.

Ernest stared so long the door nearly shut on him. At the last moment he ducked inside and approached the counter.

“Can I help you?” asked Will without looking up as he finished a line of computations.

“I hope so.”

Will raised his head, eyebrows bunched together in the center, mouth pressed into a grim line, and as he locked eyes with Ernest, his entire face transformed. His eyes went wide and he bit his lower lip as if to fend off a grin. He made the old-time “silence” gesture of fingertip pressed against lips, and pulled out a syringe wrapper with a blank side and a shard of graphite from his pocket.

He pressed the tip of his tongue between his teeth, and he wrote in slow, careful letters:

Meanwhile, he said, “I think there’s a storm brewing. It’ll send everyone trooping back to their PODs. Lousy for business.”

Will kept glancing over Ernest’s shoulder as he spoke. Ernest figured that was where he wasn’t supposed to look.

Will found another back of a label and wrote more painstaking words.

“I’m closing the shop,” said Will, probably louder than he needed to.

“Oh,” said Ernest. “Are you sure? I’ve been trying to get here for a while now, but I always seem to be tied up.”

Will tried to write something else, became frustrated with it, crumpled it up and threw it in the recycle chute. He found another label and wrote, 1 DORE ->

Ernest pointed toward the abandoned building next door, and Will nodded. “It’s inefficient to stay open late for just one or two customers,” he said. “You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” Will jerked his head toward the rendezvous point.

Ernest nodded. He tried not to smile, but didn’t quite succeed. He did his best to sound disappointed. “I guess I’ll just come back in the morning, then.”

Will picked up his cloth, turned away and began wiping down the counter. He didn’t say goodbye like the characters in old-time feeds. Ernest supposed it would have seemed suspicious if he had. Ernest glimpsed the man in the white jumpsuit at the back table. He was hooked into an IV that was mostly empty, and he was focused on a portable V3 game similar to the one the girl in the resale shop had been playing. The Storm Trooper’s game was much more expensive. The tiny holos it projected were brighter and more opaque.

Ernest exited the front door, walked by the abandoned building (doing his best not to look inside), passed a few other businesses he’d infiltrated on his search for Will, then, when there were no PODs on the magnetic strip and no one on the street, he slipped into an alley and doubled back toward the abandoned building.

Its back door was unlocked. The main room in the front, whatever it had once been, was now completely destroyed, with broken shelves covering the floor, their contents reduced to unrecognizable rubble by oxidation and a thick layer of dust.

There had been two small bathrooms in back. The porcelain shards of their original fixtures littered the floor of both, and one had the twisted metal sheath of a privacy stall partially in place. Ernest sank back against the wall at the sound of rubble shifting behind him. Will’s silhouette filled the dark doorway, lanky and spike-haired.

“Here,” said Ernest, and Will flinched, startled.

“What did you mean, you were tied up?” he said. He made his way across a pile of old wooden planks, arms outstretched for balance.

Ernest pressed his back into the wall. It seemed to be the only thing holding him up. “That’s what they say in old-time feeds, isn’t it? I’m all tied up. There’s also, ‘I just washed my hair and I can’t do a thing with it.’ But I figured that would sound even less like--”

Will hopped over the last bit of rubble and grabbed Ernest by the shoulders. He wrapped his arms around Ernest and squeezed, tight. “I didn’t think you were coming back,” he whispered.

A hug. Yes. Ernest scrambled to remember what people did on old-time feeds. He patted Will’s back three times. That was what was expected of him, wasn’t it? Will squeezed tighter. Ernest gasped. His head spun. He wondered what to do with his hands. “Induced sleep,” said Ernest. “Five days, seventeen hours, thirty-five minutes.”

Will buried his face in the crook of Ernest’s neck. “Your hair’s shot through with gray,” he said. His breath was hot and wet against Ernest’s skin. It tingled in a peculiar way that he felt in his knees, molars and groin.

“Louise showed me a holo,” said Ernest. “You were right about the crow’s feet.”

Will squeezed Ernest even more tightly. Ernest began to worry that Will might dislocate something. “Don’t go back. You can’t afford to keep shunting in.”

“I...I don’t know....”

Will released Ernest (none too soon), but took his face in both hands, and pinned his whole body to the wall. A bit of twilight filtered through the windows, just enough to see the shape of Will’s eyes. Their faces were close, almost touching. “So, you’re het? A hundred percent?”

Ernest stared hard at what he could see of Will’s eyes, hoping to find some meaning there, but he could discern nothing but intensity. “Explain?”

Will laughed, a short, choked noise, nothing at all like the sounds that came from Ernest when he watched free comedy feeds. “Do men trip your switch at all?”

“What? Not parsing.”

Will sighed. “Okay, the porn. What did you prefer? And it better not be the techno-kink.”

Ernest struggled to figure out what his feed preference had to do with shunting in, or not. “I don’t know. I didn’t get to the kink menu yet. I guess I liked the feeds where the actors were talking and laughing. But I don’t think that’s what you’re asking me.”

Will closed his eyes, and rubbed his cheek against Ernest’s. Will’s face felt bristly. If there had been any lingering doubt in Ernest’s mind as to Will’s species, it was gone now. “You really are as innocent as you act,” said Will, his voice scarcely a breath in Ernest’s ear.

Ernest thought of the lie he’d told the health monitor. “Not always.”

Will’s lips brushed Ernest’s cheek as he spoke. “I want to kiss you. Would that put you in override?”

The tingle in Ernest’s molars intensified. “Tongues are for talking,” he said. He was finding it difficult to breathe.

Will tilted his head until his lips pressed into Ernest’s cheek. The feel of Will’s mouth moving against him caused a cascade of sensation to course through him. Strange. Possibly good. Or maybe more like narcotics, something so intense you could hardly name it, that left you wanting more once you’d finished.

A tongue. Wetness. Ernest felt his legs wobble. He searched for the word. Lick. Yes.

Will’s hands dropped to Ernest’s sides. Will stroked him from hip to thigh, while he buried his face in Ernest’s neck and lay wet kisses over his throat.

Ernest remembered that technique from one of the porn feeds, the especially disturbing one that showed lots of kissing. He remembered how the woman being kissed squirmed and moaned. It made sense, now. His whole body wanted to writhe against Will.

“Don’t go back to your POD,” Will murmured into Ernest’s tingling neck. “Stay with me.”

Ernest felt a moment of pure, sublime, joy. Yes. That was what he wanted.


“I’m not like you,” he said, as gently as he could.

Will’s hand cupped Ernest between the legs. Ernest’s hips rose to meet it. “I think I could convince you to switch.”

“Show me any species that can switch just by wishing for it.”

“Species?” Will placed a lingering kiss on Ernest’s jaw. “Oh. I get it.”

“Do you? It makes no difference what I want. I can’t just turn myself into a homo sapien by wanting it to happen badly enough.”

Will backed away enough to look Ernest in the eye. The dim, ambient light made his teeth glisten as he smiled. “What if I told you that your Deacon’s been feeding you a pack of lies?”

It was nearly impossible for Ernest to formulate an answer with Will’s hand moving between his legs, distracting him. “That...ah...that if you were a regular person, your POD would haul you into your Deacon’s lab for saying things like that.” Will touched Ernest like the women had touched the homo sapien men on the porn feed, tracing the shape of his cock through his trousers, then reaching farther down to caress his scrotum. Balls. That’s what the homo sapiens had called it. Them.

Will placed his mouth against Ernest’s neck. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a regular person.” His words tickled against the damp trail he’d left on Ernest’s skin. “But I was born in a natal center, same as you. Trained ten years in a training center, same as you. Lived twenty more shunting into my stupid POD every night....”

“Don’t lie to me,” said Ernest. He tried to push Will away, but Will was stronger and had better leverage. “I feel the bristles on your face. Your big, hard cock is pressing into my thigh. There’s no way you’re homo consummatus.”

“Shhh.” Will grazed Ernest’s ear with his lips, pressed Ernest’s back into the wall with his whole body. “Think for a minute, would you? If I’m some kind of genetic throwback, where’d I come from?”

“I don’t know. There could be plenty of explanations.” Ernest’s groin throbbed at the feel of Will’s strokes, caress after caress, up and down, steady and slow. It was an unsettling sensation, and yet the more Ernest focused on it, the better it felt. “A pack of homo sapiens living outside the city?” he ventured. His hips flexed, pressing his cock into Will’s hand. “A genetic experiment of some sort?”

“I like the way you think,” said Will. “Your first guess isn’t far from the truth, and your second is something I wouldn’t put past those lousy Deacons if it made them any richer or more powerful.”

Ernest gasped. It was getting more and more difficult to parse what Will was trying to tell him. His cock felt strange, tingling and engorged. Needy, like his arm at feeding time. Hungry.

“ Will....” Ernest covered Will’s hand with his. His penis was swollen. “I don’t think you’d better.....”

“I know what I’m doing,” said Will. “We gotta go slow. That fucking shunt’s got you chemically castrated. But with a little patience, a little luck--”

“I don’t feel well.”

“Intense, huh?”

“Not just that. My stomach.”

“It’s a whole-body kind of experience. Watching people orgasm on feeds and doing it yourself are two totally different things.”

Will stopped rubbing Ernest’s cock  with only the flat of his palm and wrapped his fingers three-quarters of the way around it, as much as Ernest’s trousers would allow. Ernest’s hips bucked. “No, I think that flask of water I drank isn’t digesting.”

Will’s hand stopped moving, and he pulled his face back so that he could look into Ernest’s face. There wasn’t much to see, given the lack of light. But Ernest felt Will’s eyes on him.  “You drank?”

“And I feel it sloshing around in my stomach like--”

Will crushed his mouth against Ernest’s lips, and he stroked Ernest’s cock, harder, faster, pressing his own cock into Ernest’s hip and thigh. Ernest stood, stunned, while Will’s tongue parted his lips, skirted the edge of his teeth. And then Will pulled back, only enough to suck Ernest’s lower lip into his mouth and tongue it.

Heady sensations rushed down to Ernest’s groin, made his balls tingle and shift against one another, his cock strain against Will’s hand. He lost interest in whatever it was he’d wanted to say.

Will yanked Ernest’s belt open and slipped his hand down Ernest’s trousers. Ernest gasped for air, but Will’s mouth was there, drinking him in. His head spun, and his shaking knees finally began to buckle, as if they could no longer hold him.

But Will was there. He stopped stroking Ernest’s cock and instead shored him up with both hands. Will kicked some rubble out of the way and lay Ernest down on the floor, straddled his hips, and planted an elbow on either side of his head. Will’s hard cock nestled in the crease of Ernest’s thigh, and Will’s breath was warm and moist against his cheek.

“Promise me you won’t go to Reclaim,” said Will.

Ernest sighed. “When I die, I need to be demagnetized. We can agree on that much, can’t we?”

“When you die. Which could be twenty, thirty, forty years from now. If you’d just stop shunting in.”

Ernest stared up in the direction of the ceiling. “Fine. I’ll stop shunting in.” If he could get the hang of drinking water, he could survive the next two weeks without L0U15E pumping fuel into his arm.  Will’s mouth covered his again, not as shocking this time, but still strange, the smoothness of his lips, the wetness of his tongue, the bristle of his whiskers rasping over Ernest’s upper lip and chin. “Promise,” said Will. The word tickled over Ernest’s lips.

It would be an uncomfortable two weeks to go around with a distended stomach full of water. Then again it was, after all, only two weeks. “I will stay with you. I’ll even stop shunting in. But when it’s my time, I’m going to Reclaim.”

“Listen, if the Deacons have been lying to you about your body giving out at thirty, what makes you think that Reclaim--”

“Shh!” Ernest covered Will’s mouth with his fingers. Both of them stopped speaking, stopped moving. Ernest even held his breath.

They listened. Silence. Ernest saw a faint reflection of moonlight on the white of Will’s eye. He began to exhale slowly. And then he heard it again.

The scrape of wood against concrete.


Go to Part 9!



Zero Hour: a dystopian adventureThe final version of Zero Hour is now in ebook, including 6 interior illustrations by Jordan and a gorgeous cover by PL Nunn. Buy Zero Hour at JCP Books

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