“But did you have that little zero-g closet right away?” Emma asks.
Dance blinks at her, spreads his hands. “I don’t know. I only know when it starts squirming and wanting to stay out loose all the time.”
She frowns at him, and then at the tip of the new thing. It is touching her hand lightly, pushing against her fingers, as if they confuse it. “That has a pretty rough surface. Is it rubbing your legs raw if you tuck it up–”
“Yes, and scraping other things.” Dance sighs.
She looks at it. “Well, wrapping it in an adult diaper and then covering everything with another one might work for a while, if you wear bulky long shirts or jackets. But I don’t– since we don’t know how big it will get–or how long it will keep growing–”
We need someone who does know, and I’m useless at it, Drin thinks, but he doesn’t say it. He knows better than to ask if the poor man wants to go to a doctor. The shedding skin was warning enough that somebody’s expensive secrets are about to blow sky high, and very likely they’re going to be unhappy about it. He hadn’t expected to have Preacher Slick rebalance his brain like a car with new tires. He never expected the nasty surprise chunks of unpleasant knowledge that have been bobbing up ever since, provoked by equally surprising events.
Drin looks at his lovers. They need a place to hide now, a lot sooner than he’d realized.
“How are we going to tell this to the guy you want to talk to?” Dance says, adjusting things in his pants.
“Dance, just like you told me.”
Dance gives a little wobbly wave of his hands, looking away.
“Dance, a human fetus at four and a half months has a tail like a reptile. At earlier stages it has gills. Changing the genetics isn’t even needed to find a way to make some tissues revert into earlier forms. Just proteomics, directing which parts of a genome will be turned on or not. If you have reasonable control over an immune system that might object, then you can also add genetic engineering for new parts entirely that no fetus ever saw. And you might keep the science in it a big fat secret until you’d made all your fancy high-budget military projects.”
Dance looks up. “A super soldier or something? But I don’t…” he makes that gesture again. “I’m just a musician. I just… play music.”
Drin looks at the hands that also get callused from workouts in the dojo, not just from hammering strings eight hours a day. “Thank God!” Drin says. Then he holds up one hand, and he pats Dance. “You’re not Hyphen, and you’re never going to be. I swear. Okay?”
“Okay,” Dance says.
“I might be able to find out more.” Emma frowns. “That’s what we need, more information. I’d like to see how fast it’s growing out, too, see how your general health is holding up. We’ll need to keep some records on it for that.”
Dance looks over at Drin, making a sour face. “She will want to take many pictures. Many.”
Emma can’t stifle a laugh. “Will you be okay with that, love?”
Dance nods. “Perhaps it will be difficult putting up with the tape measures, but I will be all right.”
Emma snorts. “No, you’ll bitch the whole time, but promise me you’ll do your best. We don’t know who or how it might help.” Then she looks at Drin oddly. “You seem very calm about this very… strange…”
“Yeah, I’m kind of wondering about that myself. I know I’ve seen things like that before. It’s cruel that I don’t remember enough to explain it to you, Dance. But I know you’re still who you always were, so that’s not… that’s not what matters about you, to me.”
Dance’s eyes go very wide, and shiny, and then he’s kissing Drin very hard. Drin kisses him back just as much.
Eventually Drin ends up flat on his back with his knees wrapped around Dance’s waist, and he feels that strange organ rubbing ecstatically down his inner thighs. He knows the scales are sanding away at his skin and hair, and maybe he’s going to have red marks later, and he doesn’t care. It feels wonderful.
Emma is watching Dance and his precarious backbone, holding the length of the tail gently in case Dance might need the support, and sometimes the tip is twining around her hands happily too, as if it’s wallowing in kissing her.
Drin is sprawled out on his back because it worked out faster that way, with Dance’s renewed need, and Drin’s intense desire to feel Dance as intimately as possible without pressing his weight down on the uncertain base of Dance’s spine. He needs Dance, needs to feel Dance moving with him. He knows Dance needs to be buried in his scent, he knows that Dance will be calmed by it. He knows touching Emma too is going to calm Dance.
Drin just doesn’t know how he has come by that knowledge.
rewritten excerpt from a larger chunk on googledocs by the same name
“Did you send the dossier? Nobody’s reported back.”
“Give him a second,” Bennie tells his phone, and cracks open a can. “Let him do his thing.”
“His thing,” Auren’s voice on the phone makes it clear, “is a great big liability.”
Bennie shrugs, sticks the phone in the crook of his shoulder, hesitates, then pulls the cucumbers out of the refrigerator.
“It’s how he kills people,” he says. “What are you gonna do? It works.”
As it happens, Edward Trinley Fell is not knitting when Bennie’s beso comes through on the LRT. He is writing.
April put the Oppenheimer Key at the very bottom of her notions bag, surmising—rightly—that her father would never think to look for it there, and that her mother, finding it, would never realize what it was. With her bargaining chip secure, April tied her outdoor shoes, put on her day cloak, and prepared to leave the house. She wasn’t sure if Harman would still be there. Her Trailing Birds had told her nothing more than that his camp had not been struck. Perhaps, if she hurried, she would find him drawing his queer ley lines in the soft soil of the Outer Redwold.
Bennie’s beso sets the parameters and offers the retrieval code for Turner’s dossier. “Remind me again,” Bennie had appended in his own writing, “why we work for the guy who wrecked our lives? I keep forgetting.”
Edward Trinley Fell, when he is honest with himself, is not precisely sure.
April schooled her face to a suitable amiable blankness–
Turner, Fell, reading, thinks with some bewilderment, is a dinosaur. Two wars and still going steady, which you were not likely to see these days, what with abrupt retirement, re-inscription, wholesale release of memory. People signed on for nothing longer than four years, maximum; who would want to lose more than four years? Even if, Fell reflects, what there was to recall was…
It was a bit of bother to get through the kitchen and to avoid Mrs. Rutherford and the slap of her inordinately large hands, but April managed, reassuring the staff with her very timidity. All was normal, her slight, slumped shoulders proclaimed; all was as one supposed.
Fell feels a prickle of disquiet. Turner’s dossier can’t tell him whether the man still has his memory. A patchwork man of sutured time, he thinks; or whole, wholly in his wars, that might be worse. For a second Fell is lost in speculation at the living archive of killing power Turner might perhaps remain. Many tools would fit on paper discs inside a watch, a pocket camera, a battery case.
Also unknown, Fell notices, is motive. He drops through layers of the dossier, reading documents, commentaries stored on separate, color-coded layers. Auren Han’s layer of notes includes the reflection that Turner might have gone rogue, be acting on his own. Fell considers this unlikely. People do not realize, he thinks suddenly, how difficult it is to act on one’s own. More likely Turner is working for–and Fell’s thought turns, quickly, away from the name.
He feels obscurely sorry for the man Drin, who strikes him as a gentleman. It is obvious, to Fell, the way a dragon is obvious, that Turner is only incidentally interested in Dance. It is Drin who has attracted his attention; it is Drin for whom the trap is set. Dance is…what?
Fell rests for a moment against the counter that divides his tiny kitchen from his low-ceilinged living room. He closes his eyes, studying the faintly glowing afterimages left behind by the dossier. His right foot brushes restlessly against the whorled carpet.
Turner’s way, he recognizes, guided by Auren’s data. Turner’s way is to kill you with your house, with your friend, with your favorite song. Turner possesses the familiar, turns it. Fell understands this. It’s not too different, really, from what he does.
He feels it then, the light, thin, creasing him. A shiver of meshed planks. His self, he realizes abruptly.
A voice speaks quite clearly in his left ear:
Well, you see, Harman has gone to the Caves of Altamira.
In the trailing edge of the light he sees it emerge, the passageway that leads to the killer. He feels the old pathway open between himself and his prey, the meeting, as always, fated; he looks below his thoughts, finds him waiting there, the Under-Turner, the other inside himself, his necessary other half.
The Under-Turner is telling Fell to buy groceries at MidHaven and then to get on a ferry going north.
Emma leans forward, smoothing the mixture of baby oil and lidocaine ointment across what used to be Dance’s bottom–what used to be quite a nice muscular ass. What it’s become is a surreal combination of the spooky, the transcendentally beautiful, and the absurd. Trying to remain bipedal with twelve feet of anaconda musculature hanging off your pelvic vertebrae is asking for a backache of Biblical proportions. She sympathizes, although she’s got far less reason for her wonky backbone than he does, now.
“I do not understand being so tired all the time,” Dance says, slightly muffled, laying on his belly with his head resting in his arms.
The tail is visible briefly, freshly oiled like this, sprawled out in brown shadowy loops that gleam with little bluish and purple and green glints. Little glints of white and of dark blue show up in diamonds and bars of darker brown skin. The track of glinting scales runs up his back midway between his shoulders now. She knows more of them will be growing out, as the texture of his skin has begun to change subtly up to the base of his skull. She smoothed the oil mixture on all of that, up under his hair. Neither of them is sure how far the scaling will go, or if he’ll lose his head hair.
She lifts her eyebrows. “Silly,” she says, because he does know a lot of reasons, perfectly plainly, why twelve feet and growing would exhaust him, just from hauling around the weight. It’s hard to guess at the resources the thing has been soaking up.
The scales stir and roll lazily under her palm, and the tip comes up and slides along her arm, curl around her shoulders. “Yeah, I’m starting to get tired too,” she says, and brushes more of the mixture onto the tip as it rises in front of her, hanging there as if waiting for her to respond.
“Better?” she asks, and it makes a little flippy waving gesture, and flops back onto the bed with a vivid cartoonlike gesture of exhaustion. “Any other bits need a second coating? Dry bits?”
A loop midway along rises in front of her. “How far along there? Okay, let me get some more on my hands.”
The tail wiggles a little, like a man shifting around while locked out of a bathroom he needs desperately, and she chuckles. The tail speaks for Dance’s sense of humor, his whimsical side, for his temper, for his more childish id, and he has very little ability to stop it from doing whatever it wants. And it is still a baby, still clumsy, still learning how to manipulate objects. She saw it fling a fork across the room in frustration that morning, and Dance painfully got up and cleaned up the mess himself, clenching his jaw, while the tail coiled and twisted around his legs and got in the way, like a kid having a tantrum.
“There,” she says to it, smoothing more oil mixture onto the loops in front of her. She says then, “Let me look. Is it peeling yet?”
The tail tip comes up and touches her arm, then slides rapidly up her arm, up to her face. “Yes, love? What? Show me.”
The base of the tail arches up, shifts over to one side, and Dance gives a little grunt, butt shifting.
“Yes, love, I know what you want. In a minute,” Emma says, stroking her finger along the tip gently, and watching that tail base shift ecstatically even further aside. “Now let me see if any of this is peeling, I need to put extra oil on it, so you won’t hurt so much later.” After some time examining spots where the surface skin was cracking earlier, she gets up and washes her hands and puts on gloves and gets out what she’s going to need next. Condom onto the dildo for him, and check there’s enough remaining in the bottle of lube. She uses a lot when she’s fucking him like this.
She returns to Dance’s side and warms up lube in the palms of her hands, and strokes that on in quite a different location. He gives a sigh, and gets his knees under him, hoists his pelvis up for her to get at him. Her hand slides across the little pouch of skin, and it relaxes opens for her, and his cock spills out into her fingers, already hard and eager and half-erect. He leans his head into his forearm and says, quietly, “I still don’t know how on earth you found a sex place out here to buy toys–”
“You should have seen the tacky lingerie!” She smiles, and smooths on more lube, and slides the first finger into his anus, and he gives a little eager panting noise, pushing up into her touch. God, it’s so hot inside him!
“–but I’m so relieved you did!” he gasps as the second finger slides into him, and then he’s not talking, just making those noises. Good noises.
His lower back is far too stiff with pain to move or rock much, it’s her arms that provide the motion and pressure he needs. Her hand on his cock is stripping up and down his shaft at the nice, steady, even pace that he needs to build upward toward climax.
She knows she’s doing it right when the tail comes up and climbs around on her, stroking her legs, with the tip exploring over her back, touching her hair and her face and down over her ass and cupping her boobs, doing all those touches he would be doing with his hands if he was in a different position. The odd part is that it feels so oddly good, not creepy at all. The affection is clear. He always loves touching her.
“Ready, love?” she asks, sliding her fingers out of his body, and pressing the cone of the dildo into place instead. He gasps, pushes into it, with that good groan, the one that says he needs exactly what she’s giving him, it’s not too soon for him. She drives the length of the dildo into him in little rocking stages of possession, a little deeper on each stroke, in and out of him at the same pace as she’s fisting his cock. She cups her little fingers around the tip of his cock then, pushing hard against the glans with each stroke on his shaft, and he gives a louder, harder gasp.
She’s pushing inward and dragging outward on him, front and back, with all the strength of her arms, trying to prevent him shifting his ass around very much, and he’s still rocking a little in place, making a tight noise growling down in his throat. Good sign, that means she’s got the dildo’s arch turned the right way, she knows it’s hitting his prostate gland–which seems to be pretty far up inside him, but it always was–and he’s making that little groan every time the tip of the dildo hits him there.
It doesn’t take long, in clock time, really. It just feels like a long time when her arm muscles are starting to tire out. But she loves seeing him lose it, just give himself over to the pleasure of climax.
“Oh,” Dance gasps, his spine humping upward like a Halloween cat. “Oh.”
What takes real skill is to get him safely lying down again, tail stretched out in comfortable bends, cleaned up, before post-coital exhaustion takes him down within about eight minutes. He never used to be sleepy after sex, but now it knocks him out completely, sometimes for a couple of hours. With his tail in so much pain, that’s a blessing she figures she can help along as much as possible.
Having fun on the road/
Bringing me howlin’ moon boys/
we gonna party down/
Where the rubber meets the sea/
Gotta get me some etoufee/
and some sugar beignets/
Ain’t never liked my catfish in pie/
Gonna wrassle your snake from the bag/
Do that bug-stomp do-si-do/
chase down the clock/
with them three blind mice/
Kisses, Fozzie Bear
Dance looks over at the game controller, and away at the wall again. Drin got him that to keep him from getting too bored. He still loves to find things that please them. Their big rangy freckled husband, the guy who laughs with his whole belly, and loves spicy food… Drin still can’t resist Emma reading him stories in her Aussie accent, and he still snores a little when he sleeps on a hotel bed, the way he’s finally out of it at Dance’s back right now.
Dance has been shocked and upset at other changes in his partners. Losing everything all at once is quite a learning experience for them all. He was startled at how they have stuck it out in this room. They’ve clearly got colds or something, but they’re still getting up to take care of him.
They should be snoring their heads off, exhausted, sick, cranky. Emma and Drin are both sniffling and sneezing. Everything aches, and their noses are raw from using tissues. Drin says the other symptoms that they all share are an immune system overload of some sort, and possibly it’s just a cold, possibly something more. Drin waved it off, saying they’re all getting such bad headaches that they couldn’t be make much mileage if they hit the road anyway. Disappearing into a hole for awhile is a nice trick anyway, he says.
Drin might be a veteran, he might be an auditor with a gift for numbers who speculated brilliantly on stocks and got rich at the right time, but he was something else before. Drin isn’t just the kind of fabulously popular symphony patron who gets to fuck the Concertmaster against the storage closet door whenever he takes the notion into his head. Drin is able to remember there’s some other story to tell.
Drin tells him that it was all made up. Like them, Drin was made to remember things that never happened to him. He says most of his memories are borrowed time. He too has had his awkward bits blurred away, leaving imperfect traces. Drin isn’t sure of his own mind. He clearly doesn’t have answers to some of the most obvious things: Oh, yes? How it was done?
Something like that slidecoated tail on the bed comes from some other place, and so does Drin, the only one of them who remembers entire chunks of that other time, not just nightmare fragments. He will blurt out the most startling things–elaborate, detailed, harshly expert–clearly knowledge from some person that he once was–and then the edges of that selective knowledge go all fuzzy on him.
That’s when Drin stutters to a halt, confused. His descriptions of that, trying to explain why he can’t explain, are painfully, nakedly, upsetting. Dance has noticed that Emma has been cautious of pushing Drin for more talking when Drin has run out of answers.
It’s Drin who has the most fundamental craggy outcroppings of some former life washing up, suddenly visible among the mess, hard planes of basal rock that resists the tide that’s swirling away with their ordinary lives.
Drin proves to have new words for old games. It used to be just horsing around. Now it’s called testing Dance’s reflexes. Drin carefully massages Dance’s legs and feet to help manage the pain, but he also tests the feeling in Dance’s toes. He asks Dance to perform simple exercises as diagnostics on his coordination. Sometimes they toss small juggling beanbags back and forth, within the limits of Dance sitting or lying on the bed. Drin kneels or sits on the bed next to him sometimes, steadily juggling the beanbags, and invites Dance to snatch the bags out of the air, just as he used to invite Dance to horse around in the living room.
Now Dance’s hands can swat up and grab fast-moving bags idly, precisely, in a way which he was never able to do before. It’s a strange improvement, among many other changes that are not helpful at all.
What’s disturbing is that now he recognizes that Drin has played some of these testing games with him before, horsing around, laughing, not making a big deal out of it. Dance used to love grappling around with him, they always ended up in tickling or wrestling matches and then rolling around making love somewhere unlikely.
Then there’s Emma wither her scholarly precision, all those uncanny things she says. Who knew that Emma gets cranky when she’s isolated from all her reference sources for too long? Who knew that she remembers everything after she’s watched the news?
It turns out that some of her odd pauses in conversation, over the last few years, actually meant that she was locking onto whatever she’s looking at, remembering if she’s ever seen anything about that object, anywhere, in any source. She just didn’t say it, before. She knew it was weird. Now, she will share it, just in case they’ll need to know.
Emma is one tough, resourceful chick. She used a chain of anonymizer computer websites as a phone service, called the Humane Society back at home, asked them to check on the crying puppy in their abandoned house. She was even able to call a second time, to learn the animals were picked up and safely in the animal shelter. She said their pets might be at risk of euthanasia, kennel cough and distemper, but they weren’t going to die for lack of water and food.
Dance is not going back to see his garden and his potted plants and all his instruments. That part doesn’t hurt at all, oddly. There’s just a numb place, ever since they worked out how to get the pets out of there. He’s content with that, knowing things are out of his control. She’s not, but she’s aware that getting sentimental might endanger other people, and she won’t do that.
Dance hasn’t had enough brain cells to knock together to begin to ask the real questions, honestly.
They agree that all his memories of growing up and family and silly songs and learning to play guitar and then the violin, those were all lifted in a bad copy from somebody else’s mind, not even from the correct era. But what makes him ask questions about himself, is the money. Classical musicians do not often make enough money to save up that far in America, let alone in Korea. Where did the money to immigrate come from?
It wasn’t just the Metro’s prize grant. He doesn’t remember how he must have got his savings built up enough to immigrate, who provided the necessary regular income to satisfy the IRS. He’s forgotten the face of whoever it was did the right letters to sponsor him to come, some name on the symphony patron’s list he never met. He doesn’t remember exactly who gave him the final amount of money to cover the first few months in the US, he has no idea where some of it came from in the first place.
It bothers him that he doesn’t recall any of his family ever visiting the States in person. Not even any trips to Disneyland. He doesn’t recall ever seeing his family, doing trips back in Korea, not since he first auditioned for the Metro Symphony. But people can go for years on their own, that is not unusual for the first immigrant to a new country, when they’re poor and struggling just to pay the rent. Nothing strange in that.
He did have that box of family prints, old color prints with a few random strips of developed film in there. The prints were faded, cracked, irreplaceable. When Drin scanned in each picture, he commented on the odd unrelated pictures on those strips. But there were real people in those pictures. Yes, Drin said their memories were all doctored. Yet, there were real people out there talking to him, to Emma, to Drin himself. Live people left him voicemail messages, sending him increasingly concerned emails over the last few months. He doesn’t know why they were growing worried.
Whoever they might really be, they spoke to him as a person in the last few months, talked to him in the way that concerned, decent people do. Dance knows they’re going to worry about him disappearing, just as Emma’s sisters and mother will do back in Australia, the people he heard her laughing with in an accent so broad he couldn’t make out the words at all.
Dance kept emails from his teacher in Korea, short messages full of kind thoughtful advice. He especially remembers those. His grandmother-teacher seemed to know all about dropping everything and starting over. She talked about being stubborn on choosing to be cheerful, be brave on accepting the strangeness, just let it pass through him so he can move on.
She told him–and she was right, of course–that his first six months in America had to be the hardest for him, then it would get easier. After that, he would find himself adjusting to the new country, the new food, the new rules, the new people.
He should be using that attitude for this strange new life, too. It’s useless wishing that he could talk to her. It doesn’t matter if they really are related or not; he wouldn’t dare contact any of them now, purely out of fear for their safety. The person who doctored perfume for Emma can find their families too, easily enough.
Looking at the dents laid in the mattress by his invisible tail, it’s hard to dispute the story that maybe those people aren’t his blood relations and he doesn’t come from Korea. And Emma isn’t from Australia. Or at least, not the same country that they could fly to right now.
Dance’s shoulder sockets are loudly tired of this position, lying on his side. Either side. Other positions make other bones complain louder. He decided to sacrifice the shoulders for awhile. This can be a serious decision for a concert violinist. Even a former one.
He is watching reflected light from the hotel pool slide through a gap in the curtains. The window is open to the afternoon wind, as he asked. The curtains riffle in the breeze, and his nostrils expand. He is smelling the dry trees outside the room, the chlorine from the overdosed hotel pool, and the smell of the whole area. As Emma put it, amused, the whole town smells like a mossy algae top note with a bass note of soaked wood tannins.
Part of his pain comes from lack of his usual exercise, lying here frozen to the bed by his own changes. He’s pinned them all down, parked in a hotel room and not going anywhere for awhile.
He’s been working on his new pawnshop violin, instead, with the help of his two partners. Poor battered relic of a good amateur player’s line, it must once have cost some decent money. With new strings and some careful adjustments over the last two days, it sounds much better than it did a day ago. He is fairly sure that the scarred violin has never been cleaned or cared for or treated with much respect. He can feel it trying pathetically hard to do what he asks of it, and failing, because it still needs repairs.
He knows how that feels. Sitting up to practice means learning a whole new posture, with the tail.
He stares at the light movement bouncing around on the wall in childlike gleeful rainbow bubbles. He’s too tired to keep his eyes on the TV, whether it’s local news, or the videogame that Drin set up for him. He’s dropped the game controller on the nightstand beside the bed, among the empty water glasses and the used tissues and the empty food wrappers.
The reflected light wriggles and changes color and flickers around on the wall. He can’t help but watch it. Any movement makes his eyes snap to it, focus, target on it as if he’s playing a game of darts. But he isn’t steady on his feet for that. Sometimes he gets dizzy just laying on the bed. When he turns flat on his back, it makes the pulse pound like a drum all down his belly and through his hips. It make his legs start tingling. He can do it for awhile with a thick stack of pillows under the small of his back, propping his shoulders high.
Propping up his upper body helps his aching head too. Well, he has something going on inside his face, he’s got drainage and sinus pain and headaches and he’s not thinking very clearly. He needs to drain it just so he can breath, at times. But not always–which makes him wonder what really is going on just under the bones of his face.
A distant, cool part in the back of Dance’s brain observes that things are drifting loose, poised, parts disarticulated, waiting for choices to be made. Old things had fallen totally apart from the way they ought to be in his old, orderly world. His wasn’t a real conventional world to begin with, but it had structure. A lot of structure, as it turns out.
Most of that has disappeared. They’ve run away from home. He still has the two people he loves, but nothing is guaranteed. His lovers aren’t who they thought they were, either. The loss comes back to their eyes every time they look at him.
They’re running away from a faceless enemy who puts unguessable toxins into perfume bottles for beautiful women. Contaminants that may not affect ordinary people at all–just ones like Dance.
Things like Dance.
His tail aches savagely.
Emma and Drin could start over. They could pretend to be new people if they chose, pretend none of it happened. They could pass as regular people again, some day.
But he’s the monster in their bed now. He can’t pass as remotely human. The new part of him has been growing steadily. Growing out since the afternoon someone drove a car right into his back, and then they threw a bottle of perfume out of the car. The night they ran away.
The tail has grown so sensitive he can’t lay a bedsheet over it. Nerves twinge in the muscles whenever it moves. The bones ache. It’s clumsy, it bangs into things because even he can’t see it.
Drin says that the tail is covered in a optically-advanced layer called a slidecoat, that it processes incoming light and reflects back what could be seen if it wasn’t in the way. It may be refusing to go back hidden in its old box, but the skin keeps it hidden so nearly invisible most of the time that none of them are quite sure how it’s been changing, including him. It’s impossible to believe until you see the dents in the mattress under it, but not the thing making it. It has scales, it leaves dents like an alligator leather in his lovers’ skin when they try to hold it up.
Drin says it is holding in the heat too much, which is why Dance is always too hot, chewing down buckets of ice.
But then Drin can’t remember the rest of what he used to know about it, and he looks anxious, and goes silent on them for an hour or more.
Emma is coping by doing things, being bossy, working on meeting Dance’s needs. When he’s not keeping her busy, she’s exhausting herself on research, trying to learn more on Drin’s borrowed laptop. She’s gone very owlish about it, possibly as a result of not venting her inner librarian as usual, at work.
Emma documents everything. She insists on buying little disposable cameras and taking pictures of the dents in the mattress, with her tape measure hanging around nothingness, the loop bigger every morning. That morning, last time Emma measured it, it was about nine feet long and about eighteen inches in diameter at the base near his buttocks, about as thick as his neck.
She takes pictures of Dance lying there on the bed twisted around, trying to get comfortable, sprawled naked in different odd positions that won’t look like anybody’s average porn shots. She catches him yawning, and asks him to open his mouth wide for her while she aims the flash into his tongue. She takes pictures of the changes in his lower back and his hips. She takes pictures of how he’s lost most of his pubic hair in the last few weeks.
She takes pictures of the astonishing things that have happened between his thighs. She takes pictures of his genitals in every state, showing his penis going from flaccid to erect, even some pictures of him trying to relieve himself in the trash can when he couldn’t make it to the toilet in time.
She takes pictures of him writhing in orgasm in Drin’s arms, which probably will come out like those unflattering sexual pictures of ordinary people. Pictures that will never, ever get developed in a regular photo lab.
The tail is just a symptom.
A lot of things are totally unhinged, out of kilter, flapping gently in any breeze that offers. He knows that the decisions they all make will fossilize down to the way things go on for quite a long time.
Drin says that it’s even possible that some choices made at the biochemical level will just make the tail go quietly away, shrink back to nothing, and Dance will be much as he was.
Dance just doesn’t know which way things should be.
Right now he’s the monster that can’t hide underneath the bed. They might mesh into this world better than he does, right now, but they didn’t come from here either, as they all believed. Certainly not as their memories were somehow edited to make them all believe. They can’t avoid it when they see those loops sprawled across the bed, with nothing visible there to explain the crumpled, compressed sheets.
The thing built off his spine unrolled itself out of nothing, longing to touch Drin, and it can’t go back into hiding. He has no idea exactly where it went when it hid from everything, small and hot and cramped, but it isn’t going back in its hole now. It stays out all the time, and increasingly it hurts.
The scaled glassy invisible skin has outraged nerves that hurt the way a bad sunburn hurts, so laying on any side of it hurts, but not moving the weight off any one section of skin hurts too. Besides the incredible unbalanced weight dragging at his spine and muscles too weak to support it reliably, his legs have gone all silly on him.
The second day in this room, he fell badly, and then he got to lay there whimpering. The skin of his tail was burning alive with outraged nerves so badly that he couldn’t move for an hour. He got to abuse the little hotel trash can that night because he couldn’t even crawl as far as the toilet. He has the suspicion this is not new to the trash can, which doesn’t help assuage his pride one bit. He hadn’t realized he was quite so… vain. Or body-proud. Or something.
He’s been asking for help to keep him steady when he walks. Pride be damned, it was a bad enough fall he’s not going through that again. Visions of wheelchairs dance in his head. His arms may be stronger and faster than ever, but below the waist he’s a total disaster in the coordination and walking department.
Now he can actually chimney his body up into the ceiling corners above the bathroom door with his arms. When the tail hangs down loosely, touching nothing but air currents, it hurts less. It pulls differently on the tired muscles and the vertebrae of his lower back, easing the ache that reaches past his kidneys.
However, it wasn’t so funny when Emma came in from shopping and walked into bathroom, smacked face-first into the magic invisible tail, and shrieked in surprise. He thought she’d seen him climbing up there, but apparently not. The tail hadn’t liked her being alarmed, and wanted to pet her a lot, and she really hadn’t been much in the mood to be touched like that.
The tail has a mind all of its own, too. The slide coat on it keeps it hidden so well he can’t see its movements. He rarely gets a glimpse of where it actually is, as opposed to where he thinks it is–and it turns out that visual feedback is more important to his coordination that he’d realized. Often he has no idea what it’s up to. It moves on its own, gripping and smacking into the bed and the walls and scrawling wild gestures in the air like a drunk.
It’s like being attached to a retarded cousin.
In spite of how much it hurts to grab things or touch that burning skin to anything, it still loves to fall into Drin and grab his crotch, or to drape itself around Emma’s tits. The damn thing is tied into his subconscious or his libido or something because it doesn’t want to let go of them, and it has a very silly lewd sense of humor. He can’t stop it from pulling pranks like floofing up Emma’s skirt, or yanking down Drin’s loose pants.
The only reason they believe his protests is that they see him grab at it, gritting his teeth, to haul it away from teasing them–and when it resists, like a little kid, it’s very strong.
It’s also got some weird tie-in with the rest of what’s going on between his legs. For the last two days, the sexual heat went away completely, it left his plumbing system completely unable to respond at all.
“Down for repairs,” he told Emma wryly, when she touched him in a way that normally would have made him come up hard.
He can’t believe it when he wakes up the third morning with a raging hard-on, as if there had been no hiatus, and it was the tail that woke him up, flopping around trying to do something about it. It grabbed at his crotch, gripped his penis too hard, trying stubbornly to masturbate. It didn’t calm down until somebody’s hand took up the job instead and his penis declared itself happy. It does react to pleasure, becoming fluid and easy and strong when he’s having sex. He knows enough about basic anatomy that he is pathetically grateful about that.
Every morning when he wakes up, they’re finding the tail weighs another twenty pounds. Emma bought a bathroom scale. She weighs herself right beside the bed, muttering at the fluctuations she writes down. Then she lifts up the slippery pile of his new extendable personhood in her arms, and steps on the scale again with the load. When he can stand for it to be touched at all, that is.
Most of the time Drin has to be doing something extremely sexual to him for Emma to girlhandle it for weighing. It’s gotten heavy enough that this morning was probably the last time Emma can hold it up by herself. She’s a strong girl, but there’s limits.
She and Drin will have to swap jobs tomorrow morning. They might kid him about it, but they’re not going to let him out of the task, either.
Emma isn’t fazed a bit by his physical needs, by suddenly getting to know a whole new side of him and his amazing erratic digestive system. That morning, she bought piles of fresh herbs and knobs of ginger root and cinnamon health food capsules, crowing about getting lucky. She’s been coaxing him to eat whatever high protein sources she can find.
Drin suggested trying the pet shop to try various samples, but it was Emma who grimly bought him a bag of frozen mice. She waved one of those in his face, and blinked when he grabbed it and wolfed it down. He was just glad for how cold it was. Frozen cubes of beefheart, liver and seafood, intended for large fish, prompted the same response.
He’s learned it has to be moving, half-melted and spreading scent, for him to react. Emma disapproves of keeping reptiles as pets when they need to be fed things like poor pathetic frozen mice, but if she can find nothing better, she will do it. He prefers to eat without anybody watching him flipping his food around. He’s not very happy about the baby mice either.
Emma says he’s depressed, not just sick and hurting and begging for more sleep. She’s been concerned about his tired indifference to how he looks, bullying him into combing his hair, helping him shave when he’s too clumsy to do it, using wet towels to cool him down in the afternoons when everything is breathlessly hot and he still can’t stand the weird smell and the rattling of the air conditioner.
It gives her something to do, it gives her a reason to touch him, which she seems to need as badly as he does.
But she did one thing that he didn’t wanted to revisit. Emma gravely pulled out a hand mirror out of one of her shopping bags this morning. She bought it so he can look at the more awkward personal parts of himself, in the same way that women are supposed to keep an eye on their private parts.
She asked if he wanted her help to see what’s changed, and he said no. As politely as he could manage to say it, but no. He asked her to go take a long shower and let him get on with it by himself
She actually sang in the shower, to make sure he knew she was there, ready to come running if he yelled for it, even dripping wet if necessary. It just made it harder. Made him flinch, expecting her to come charging out any moment, and he didn’t want her to see how upset he was.
He spent a difficult, thoughtful forty-five minutes straining around, aching, trying to see things he’s never noticed before. A lot of men never see themselves in such a way, never realize how odd their asses really do look until they see it, big as life, in ridiculously personal detail on theri own webcam images. Well, poking about the Internet in years past, he’s had plenty of chances to learn that women look odd too caught at such unflattering angles. That was before Drin marched into his life and found them all much more amusing things to do with all of their perfectly ordinary personal charms.
Dance has never been able to think a live person’s body is odd when he’s got his nose down kissing their skin, smelling it, enjoying himself, getting to know his lovers. It all seems right and normal and healthy. He’s only had these two lovers to explore. But this… what he looks like now…
When Emma did eventually emerge from the bathroom, her fingers were all wrinkled from so much time in the water, her face all peachy pink and soft from being steamed so thoroughly.
She took one look at him and put the mirror away in a drawer and made sure he knew that she likes touching him, that she is not afraid of how he’s shaped now. But hell, she’s braver than he is. It makes her laugh when he says so.
What he has now, she told him briskly, looks like an adaptation of a reptilian cloaca, a slitlike pouch that covers up all the relevant bits safely away from dragging on the ground. Very sensible arrangement, really, to protect everything much more than the way mammals have to allow things to cool off for sperm development. If his cloaca stays closed too much, his testicles may stay too hot for fertile sperm, just like a man wearing tighty-whiteys too much.
He may be sterile anyway, of course.
Dance just kept staring at her as she talked her way through this. He’s been trying to convince himself that his lovers have seen all of him before, anyway, except of course they haven’t. He hasn’t seen it all before. Nobody has.
She says she knows it’s an adaptation, because his one penis still looks like it always did. If he had reptilian genitals, there’d be two erectile organs, called hemipeni. It’d be a wet dream come true for some people, of course, she says, but not exactly what anybody expects to see. They’ll have to keep checking on that area in case anything changes further.
He’s not sure he wants to let them poke around looking that closely to check on him. He doesn’t want to do it. He doesn’t want to find some kind of nub of a second penis growing out.
The tail is bad enough.
She scolded him when he said so, and kissed him silly. She made him feel the love pouring into him through her hands, while she explained it all in her storytelling voice. Somehow that was the most upsetting of all. He wasn’t sure why. He just wanted to cry.
When she saw that the words were just making it worse, then she stopped talking and made love to him, slowly and thoroughly, and exhausted both of them. He slept, instead. That’s been a new habit, the last few days.
Being clumsy isn’t stopping his sexual needs since it woke up again. Part of the achiness is just wear and tear from so much sex. He should be out for the count, feeling this bad, but he’s still up hard, begging for it if the slightest chance of sex offers, and a good whiff of honest sweat from either of his lovers sends him rigid as a rock.
He’s in some kind of full-on raging heat like a screaming cat. It’s humiliating, some sort of overriding trance like a Siamese, yowling and rubbing his face on Emma and pushing his ass at both of them, begging for it. He’s probably going to hump furniture if he gets left by himself too long. Dance knows he’s giving himself suspiciously TMJ-like symptoms from having his jaw wide open that much, busy pleasuring other people’s body parts, or busy pleasuring himself by licking them. A lot.
It isn’t just him. They’re all over him, too. His lovers are in heat too, they’re not shy about that. Emma has complained once that her wrists hurt from taking awkward angles to grip their penises too often, and her jaws hurt from going down on them so much. But she still wants more.
Drin doesn’t complain much, but he’s walking a little funny, and Dance has managed to restrain himself and turn down some of the poor man’s more wincing offers to satisfy him. Dance will take Emma’s word for it when she says she calculates he’s been climaxing about every two hours through the day, and about every four at night. That’s when he’s trying really hard to keep his thoughts disciplined and just lay there and be quiet so they can get some sleep.
Drin sounds cooler about it, the least ruffled mentally about it, but he’s right there touching Dance the most often. It’s his hands easing Dance into climax all the time, his body taking the most punishment from Dance’s hips whacking into him. He’s the one who’s up all night, talking to Dance, holding him when he’s hurting, trying to get him to eat, trying to arrange pillows to help prop him up, rocking him in his arms and kissing him, getting him off when he can’t stand it any longer.
Drin is restless anyway, nights. He doesn’t sleep much when it’s dark. Neither of them have asked him why he has bad dreams if he dozes off at night. “Guess I got that old night watch built in for the duration, don’t worry,” he says, making a face.
Drin has some ideas about finding support people to look for in a new part of the country, and he’s been trying searches on his battered little secondhand laptop. He visits different coffee shops, visiting Wifi spots. None of them knows where exactly they will end up, or what they’ll be doing, or why. None of them know what is going to happen to Dance’s body.
Drin believes that it’ll improve. He says Dance will get adjusted to the shift in his center of gravity, he believes the tail will stop growing so fast, its coordination will improve over time. He thinks it might learn how to vanish from sight completely. But he doesn’t think it’s just going away.
That’s why Dance touring in a zydeco band is probably wishful thinking on Emma’s part, but it might come true. Emma searches on the computer for zydeco and jazz and blues gigs in another part of the country, where she and Drin might find jobs eventually. Dance has never watched so much tv before, hunting among cable channels for history of the blues, about cajun music, about jazz, any music he can find, just in case.
Emma has taken on daylight watch. She gets things for Dance during the day, goes shopping, does research on Drin’s laptop while he’s out cold during the afternoon, and insists that Dance try to exercise his tail, work on testing it out, try to get some coordination going, whenever he can stand to move it around.
They can go out in public and ask questions and get directions and buy food and pay for gas.
Dance has never needed care like this, never asked for it from anyone, and he is stunned by it.
Dance knows that not all of the shadows in the room are cast by the reflected pool light darting about. When he’s laying still, feeling hot, needing to cool off, then he sometimes sees little flickering lights tossed out from his tail, little glittery blue and red and green flickers that are not just the cute rainbow patterns of a glassy surface tossing back reflected sunlight.