Rio kept his breathing even as he felt the stretch and almost impossible fullness from the blunt-ended toy Shen was slowly slipping inside him. This was the biggest they’d ever gone, and from Shen’s expression the previous night when it had been his turn, Rio knew it was going to be worth it once it was in him. Shen kept one hand steadily pressing on the egg-shaped piece of silicone, smooth and sleek, nearly the size of his fist, and the other roaming between pressing on Rio’s belly - making the pressure indescribably better - or loosely fisting his dick, which made another kind of pressure entirely but no less incredible. There were three smaller ones to go once he’d managed this one, and he couldn’t wait to feel them all.
“You’re doing so well,” Shen breathed. “Just a little more, all right?”
He shifted his palm, the suit implants along his arm catching a little on Rio’s as he braced him, and pushed with irresistible pressure. Rio’s mouth dropped open in a silent scream as his body finally swallowed the bulk of the lubed silicon egg, the sensation setting fireworks off along his nerves from the inside out. Shen’s fingers pressed inside him, Rio too open to protest the invasion even if he’d wanted to, and captured his lips in a brief kiss before letting Rio pant and his head loll as he tried to process the sensation.
“Ready for more?”
“So ready…” Rio said, voice rough, body open, and stars in his eyes as he watched Shen pick up the next shining egg with lustful reverence and brought his hand down low.
The alarms blared to life.
Shen and Rio cursed in every language they knew as Shen shifted himself to brace Rio, one arm around his chest, lips right by his ear.
“Sorry we don’t have time, but you have to give it back to me now, baby,” Shen said, pressing his hand to Rio’s stomach.
“Fucking alien-pirate-raider-bastards,” Rio said all in one breath, body tensing as he tried to push the egg toy back out. His eyes fluttered as it pressed in all sorts of good spots inside him, pleasure lighting him up like electricity as he pushed again, the pressure aided by Shen’s warm hands.
“Command said raiders,” Shen said, having a touch more presence of mind to check his datalink because he wasn’t pushing a damn egg out of his ass in a hurry. Couldn’t have sex toys in while wearing power armor, because there was no way to explain that to medical in a way that wouldn’t be supremely awkward. Medical had a way of making anyone who had to get things extracted out of their orifices feel like a prime idiot if they risked themselves in an active engagement. Not even for this level of fun would Rio want to have to go through that rigmarole again.
He wanted to relax and feel the egg inside him, to feel Shen pushing his fingers in alongside it, or try to tighten himself when Shen pushed his cock inside Rio’s open body, but apparently raiders made certain no one could have nice things.
“Push, baby, give it back to me, the fate of the universe is in your ass…” Shen said right in his ear, which made Rio laugh and swear at the same time as he managed to push the smooth, slippery bulk past his rim. Shen caught it and eased it the rest of the way out, swatting Rio’s butt with his other hand.
“Get moving, soldier,” Shen said, dropping the toy in the cleaning unit and wiping his hand off. Rio rolled his eyes at Shen’s casualness, trying to will his erection away and cursing the raiders with a constant low stream of invective. They ran out of their quarters and down to the launch bay, far from the only ones in the squad to be running in the nude. In seconds they were at the gleaming rows of power armor, which lit up in anticipation.
“You too, killjoy,” Rio said, tapping open his armor and climbing inside, grimacing as the armor closed around him and fastened along his implants, engaging him to its systems. Across the way, Shen was just a step behind him, ready for the ship drop. In a few minutes the armor would drop into the launch tubes to get them to the transports so they could finish the integration process: a time-consuming pain in the neck, but necessary to get easy, human range of motion out of the power armor. Stellar Marines were cheaper than single fighter craft, far more versatile, and far harder for their enemies to track. Besides, Shen and Rio were two of the fastest on their squad.
“Bad news everyone,” Control said in Rio’s ear. “It is raiders, but the raiders are in trouble too. Krellians just arrived on scene.”
Nothing could wilt someone’s ardor faster than the thought of fighting aliens rather than just jacked-up space-raiding thieves. Rio caught Shen’s concerned glance across the aisle just as the chime for drop sounded. He silently mouthed, I love you to his husband before their armor dropped into their chutes, veins singing their adrenaline song of power armor battle readiness.
Rio kept careful control of his breathing as his heart rate climbed, his power armor reacting to the subtle increase in tension by flooding the plasma channels in his blasters. They were less than a minute out from engagement, and he needed to be ready. Thank small favors the call had come when everyone had had time to get armored properly; the last call had been while on escort duty, and he’d been running around in half-speed armor for the first pulse-pounding part of that Charlie Foxtrot. It took time to get the armor calibrated properly, the neural links and implant inputs firing on all the right channels if you wanted the fastest possible reactions. He flicked his eyes to the side, knowing he wouldn’t see Shen, but still missing his husband’s presence. They always managed to get linked up the fastest when they could work together. The lights flickered red in his HUD as a warning of immanent deployment, and he refocused. Two more months, he reminded himself, and shifted to his toes to allow his thrusters to warm.
The screen showed what they were getting into: a passenger cruiser surrounded by the beautiful crystalline clusters of Krellians, who were busily cutting the helpless vessel apart piece by piece, starting from the command deck in front, to observe the effects of explosive decompression on the contents inside. At the rear, the escape pods were getting ready to drop, just waiting for the Stellar Marines’ covering fire.
The Krellians didn’t care what happened to the ship. They didn’t care at all. That was the worst thing about them and the nastiest shock of human colonization. They’d found alien life, and it thought humans were less important than lab rats and twice as expendable. Krellians were silicon-based life, looking like nothing so much as a cluster of crystals ranging from the size of a human head to the size of a small starliner. They communicated with some kind of quantum atomic pulses that Rio wasn’t remotely qualified to understand, but what it meant was that their own communications couldn’t be jammed, while they casually shut down radio, tight beams, and relays without a second thought.
Why? Because they wanted to see what would happen. Krellians had amazingly sophisticated technology operated by means the Solar League’s brightest couldn’t entirely figure out, and when they encountered humans, they could end up using that tech in ways that were usually lethal for carbon-based life. Krellians had sliced the control module off a cruiser and watched as it plunged into a star, had opened up the side of a transport and pulled out helpless, dying people inside to examine them, had bombarded a new colony ship with radiation and followed it as the crew and passengers died on their long, lonely transit. They thought nothing of human intelligence, and considered experimenting on humans to be completely normal.
No use trying to contact the Krellians. Even the most hopeful xenobiologist had given up on trying to talk to them thirty years ago. They understood humans were trying to talk to them; they simply didn’t give a shit.
As they couldn’t be reasoned with, the Stellar Marines had been put in charge of communicating the old-fashioned way. It wasn’t the way the Solar League wanted to deal with them, but they didn’t have a choice. The good thing was that the Krellians didn’t seem to be that numerous. The bad thing was with the Krellians’ presence interfering with communications, this was going to be a bitch of a mission.
The tone sounded in Rio’s helmet as the doors opened, two squadrons of Stellar Marines thrusting from the ship’s belly into the emergency doors the crew had left unlocked. As soon as the last Marine was inside, the escort destroyers turned their weapons on the Krellians while the escape pods jetted towards the transports. The crew had tried their best, but the Krellians had a nasty habit of sending small Krells to do individual experiments on people while the major Krells were dissecting the ship. The crew manifest still had nearly twenty people unaccounted for, and Rio’s squadron was responsible for getting them out. Luckily the Krellians could be blown up just like the rocks they resembled, and if they retained consciousness that way, at least they were then too small to threaten the ship in rubble-sized pieces. Hit the gravel with the right laser, and you could eradicate every semblance of sentience.
Turnabout was fair play, after all.
The only trick was you had to do it fast, and half the time you had to do it mostly alone and half-blind.
Rio moved in step with Lock as she checked corridor after corridor, cabin after cabin, watching her back for surprise attacks. The internal sensors were down, of course, and even with the Stellar Marine hardening of their communications systems against Krellian interference, things could get fuzzy as a twentieth-century broadcast when Krellians were around. It spooked him, not being able to hear the rest of his team. He had no idea if there was a call for help, or a warning that the ship had been compromised, or that the Krellians were on their way to him. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to go on a rescue mission like this, but it spooked him every time. It had spooked Shen too, more than spooked, which was why-
Lock jerked to a halt as she opened the next door, and Rio caught the flash of her firing off two plasma blasts. He checked their surroundings before looking past her, disgust rising at the site of the dead civilian splayed out with clinical precision. From the glassy lumps on the floor, she’d interrupted a minor Krell in mid-study. Thankfully the poor bastard on the bunk was already dead. Being a Marine meant seeing bodies, whether from pirates or colony raiders or the latest failed trial run of a ship, but something about the cold, anatomical way the Krellians opened up a body never failed to make him a little sick.
He tried to compliment Lock on her good shooting, but only heard static in his feedback. Rio turned, plasma blasters covering the widest arc possible, and tapped Lock with his boot as softly as he could in power armor. More Krells were near, and they’d lost even the fuzzy communication they’d had before. Unless he pressed his helmet to hers, there was no good way of talking. They’d trained for this, but it was damned hard to suddenly be reduced to what they could see in the limited field of vision from their helmets. They’d lost their HUDs, all their readouts, and it was too dangerous to work his arm out of his armor to check his implanted datalink, even if the link would be working.
A glint coming out of a room down the hall gave Rio a target, and he hit it square, bouncing the Krell into Lock’s field of fire. She finished it off as he searched for the next one. Lock bumped into him as she turned, smashing her armored fist down on one who had come from a ventilation shaft, then screamed loud enough for Rio to hear her, pressed together as tightly as they were, as he saw a much larger one cracking through the floorplates. Rio nailed the one Lock had smashed, and then backed up with her as the larger Krellian shimmered with disruptive energy, causing the floorplates to part as if they were water. A shine of energy lanced out from one of its crystalline points, missing Rio by a hair and destroying something behind him in a cascade of sparks. His heart thundered in his chest as he and Lock pounded the creature with plasma in retaliation. The small Krells were bad enough but larger ones like this could cause massive damage to the ship and end up completely venting this portion to space before they’d even had a chance to finish looking for survivors.
The plasma hits broke up the Krellian into smaller ones, which darted down into the hole it had made and vanished. They weren’t afraid; the scientists didn’t think the Krellians even felt fear as humans knew it, but they were probably going to look for a different area to experiment on. Communications fuzzed back to life and Lock reported the findings into a static-filled array. No one answered, and Rio checked his clock readout with a lightning-quick glance. They had to return in six minutes. Either everyone else was engaged, fuzzed out, or worse. Rio hated this more than anything. Despite all the improvements of armor and communications, the Stellar Marines had to still do this cavemen bullshit because a bunch of intelligent rocks didn’t think anything made of squishy meat had any more importance than an infestation of rats. Lock was a good Marine, but Rio always missed Shen fiercely during these engagements; they had their own set of signals that made them a damn effective unit. And in two months, Rio would be able to join him again, on a wavelength even the Krellians couldn’t fritz. Assuming he made it out of here alive.
Rio dodged the sudden appearance of another small Krell that darted past him and up an escape hatch, and found one cowering civilian in the next room, safe in his emergency pressure suit, eyes huge with shock. Lock wedged him behind her as they started their retreat, only to have to whirl around as static crackled harshly in their ears.
Four small Krells darted out of the vent behind them, Lock’s wide-mouth silent scream his only warning as one raked her with its laser-like emanations before ramming her. Her armor smoked as she had to physically pull it free, ejecting herself roughly, now only clothed an evac pressure suit, grimacing in fear from the heat and nasty neural feedback from her armor damage. Rio spotted three more Krells in his peripheral vision, turning with agonizing slowness to try to keep himself between them and his less-armored charges. The civilian began to moan and collapse to the deck in fear as Lock scrambled to free her plasma rifle from the hands of her damaged armor.
Right then two figures in smooth blue armor dropped out of the same vent, armor forming instantly into claws that they used to tangle with the Krellians, delivering a sudden electric charge as they connected. That made the Krells dance in mid-air and begin to swerve into walls. Rio felt a rush of relief at seeing Bio-Armor Marines, called the Naked Legion for their slim-fitting armor, and turned his protected back to help Lock pulse the rest of the Krellians into glass. The Legionnaires waved at them and pointed back towards the exits. No communication problems with their armor, as they were connected on a bio-link that even the Krells couldn’t hack. That had been one of the reasons Shen and Rio had both signed up, though Rio’s slot wouldn’t be open for another two months.
Five months back, on that raid that had interrupted their date night, Rio had nearly suffered a fate worse than Lock’s. Shen had told him that screaming a warning for his husband and have it not be heard had been the absolute last straw, not when Rio had been missed by nanometers. They’d both decided it was better to take their fight to the Krellians directly, no matter what it took, as long as they could do it together.
Nothing beat finding the Krellians before they got anywhere near humans and turning them into space dust, but for this kind of close work, the Naked Legion was the best tool. You just had to be crazy enough to want to join them. As Rio and Lock retreated, the communications became clearer and clearer. All the civies were accounted for, one way or another, and the Legionnaires were covering the retreat as the destroyers drove off the last of the large Krells. Once the Marines were clear, they’d blast the remaining Krells into unintelligent particles.
“Rio, they have another opening?” Lock said, sounding out of breath as they finally made the transport. They settled their civilian and then put themselves back in their armor-cradles for the trip back to base.
“Always openings, but not sure if it’s your style, Lock,” Rio said, raising an eyebrow. The Bio-Armor Division wasn’t for the faint of heart; bonding with a symbiote to grow your own armor took… a certain kind of person. He hid a smile from her as he put his armor in rest position, bringing up his newest conversation with Shen to replay on his internal screen.
“The Zensho hate them,” Shen said, shaking his head to settle his hair. It was long now, well past his shoulder, a curtain of black silk. Rio was envious; he wanted to run his fingers through it. His own hair was barely there, just the tiniest amount of tight black curls so his helmet could fit without problems. Hair apparently wasn’t an issue when your armor could pull it out of the way for you. Rio blinked and refocused himself on Shen’s words, but from the smirk on his face, he knew exactly what Rio had been thinking.
“I thought they didn’t go in for long conversations,” Rio said, eyes flicking back to the just visible bulk of the Zensho symbiont that stretched across Shen’s shoulders.
“Yeah, but they’re big on emotions. It’s easy to figure out why. I don’t think the Zensho and Krells are related, but Krells take, absorb, and destroy; the Zensho give back. It’s like finding the very nasty ying to your yang… No, more than that. Like you’re a predator that’s part of the food chain and you find some new one is moving in and just carpet-bombing the whole area.”
“What, like humanity?” Rio said.
Shen rolled his eyes. “Well, we figured that out eventually.” Not after a few billion people had died though. It was part of the reason the Solar League had been formed. After the ecological collapse early in the 21st century had brought wide-spread disaster to most of the Earth, everyone left got their acts together to preserve and restore what they could of Earth, and then extended humanity’s reach outward with a better attitude.
“You have a mission coming up?”
“Always. They rotate us through pretty quickly. Hey,” Shen dropped his voice on the last word, leaning forward into the pickup, “you’re going to love it up here. I can’t wait for you to get here.”
“What was it like?”
Shen closed his eyes, and the expression on his face, that blissed-out look - combined with the flush - made Rio shift in his seat. “Everything you could hope for. Only thing that could have made it better was if you were there.”
“Not my fault we were born on different stations!” Rio protested, hands gripping the armrests to keep from doing anything too indecent. “If I’d’ve known you were on Alpha Centauri, I would have enlisted my ass faster!”
“What you get for not traveling more.”
“I got grav-sick!”
“Why the hell did you join the Stellar Marines?”
“Uniforms and hot guys, why did you?”
Shen threw his head back and laughed. “You got me there.”
“I got you all right.”
Two months later
Rio smirked at Shen's quip, the same devil-may-care grin on his face that he always wore before trying to prove someone wrong. He jumped down the last two steps from the shuttle and threw his arms around Shen’s broad shoulders, feeling the bulky, stone-like backplate rough under his fingers. It was surprisingly warm, feeling alive... which it was. Rio knew that; It was just strange to feel it.
Shen pulled back after kissing the breath out of him, moving easily despite what had to be a heavy weight attached to his body, and slugged Rio gently in the arm. “Yeah, you're nervous. Scared as hell, gonna cry like a baby and say uncle-”
Rio slung his bag in Shen's face, putting an end to his stream of greeting insults, prompting his husband to burst into muffled laughter. He pulled the bag down, and Rio started to realize that in that split-second Shen's armor had formed over his head, showing the smooth, segmented, distinct rich blue helm that exemplified the Space Bio-Armor division of the Stellar Marines. As Rio watched, the helmet folded back into itself, and then retracted into the backplate in barely a second.
“Yeah, she's that fast,” Shen said fondly, reaching back to brush his backplate with his fingers. “A lifesaver if an asteroid hits a derelict while you're on it, or the damn Krellians come in for an ambush.”
Rio had seen the promos, had watched Shen's letters home once he'd bonded to his symbiont, but that wasn't the same as seeing it with his own eyes. He'd still expected that machine sound, the metal-on-metal and metal-on-plastic of good power armor clamping into position. But not even the fastest power armor, not even with those fancy new neural links some of the guys were getting, could react that fast, not without already being hyped up on a combat drug cocktail and the midst of a firefight. And here Shen was doing a partial armor-up with no prep, from a cold start, for a stupid bag to the face.
That was a big part of the reason Rio was here. He wanted to be fast enough to take on anything, fast enough to be at Shen's side no matter what.
“I’m about one-tenth nervous,” Rio admitted, taking his bag back and shouldering it. “But mostly ready.”
Shen smiled and slung his arm around Rio’s shoulders. “I know. I felt the same.” Under Shen’s fingers, he could feel the wound dressings under Rio’s uniform, covering the last healing stages of the implants that had been taken out. You had to have them to connect to the mech suits, but for the Bio-Armor division, you had to be completely au naturelle. They barely hurt now, and Rio just smiled at Shen.
“We’re gonna make that difference?”
“You know it. You got guts, sticking it out for six months without me to watch your back.”
“Coulda said the same, lamebrain, if you hadn’t had Jana looking out for you,” Rio said, patting Shen’s backplate fondly.
The backplate grew warmer underneath his hand, and Rio kept it in place as they walked. Soon enough, he’d have one of his own. He had to stretch a little farther to reach across Shen’s shoulders than he used to, look up a little farther into his face, but he’d expected that. It was the whole reason he was here.
One month ago, Bio-Armor Orientation
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Planet S-F7X, also known as Armor World to us uneducated jarheads.”
A few chuckles scattered around the room as the instructor brought up pictures of its natives, both carapaced and uncarapaced.
“The carapace is derived from the Zensho, a symbiont who bonds with its host, providing retractable armor, adaptive environmental support, and increased systemic functions throughout. They act as the front-line warriors against predators or guides during times of environmental stress. We've seen bonded animals lead their herds or prides to sources of water or food miles away and out of range of their normal senses, rescue members of their group from rockslides or tar pits with intelligent tactics, even anticipate extremely distant threats like minor meteorite strikes, massive storms, or landing spacecraft and move their herd to safety.
“Zensho-bonded creatures are subtly changed on a genetic level – despite their obvious improvements, they can no longer cross-breed with their own species, and seem disinclined to engage in any mating acts with their own kind, which rarely produce offspring anyway. The Zensho are aware of the changes they create in their hosts, which is why the entirety of Armor World hasn't been overrun by symbionts. They recognize they can only keep existing if they are a controlled portion of a larger, stable group.
“Twenty years ago, a group of Stellar Marines was stranded on Armor World when their ship was damaged by Krellians. Their ship, the Angel 5, had been transporting wounded soldiers back to a medic ship when they'd been forced off-course and down onto Armor World. There were no functioning suits of armor aboard, and most of the Marines were badly wounded and in no condition to fight. With the possibility of the Krellians finding them and finishing them off, the Marines retreated and concealed themselves in what turned out to be a Zensho cave. Lieutenant Medic First Class Danielle Frost was the first to bond to a Zensho, though this was involuntary on both of their parts. This was First Contact, and though traumatic for both, this allowed for real communication between both species. The more intelligent the host, the more completely a Zensho can interact with them, and Frost was able to explain about Earth, the Solar League, the Stellar Marines, and the Krellians.
“The Zensho have a strong, inborn need to protect that aligns well with the Stellar Marines' doctrine, and over the course of the next five days the Zensho attempted bonding with the rest of the Angel 5's crew and passengers. Ten of the worst-wounded didn't survive the process, and ten Zensho were lost as well. The remaining ten found their wounds healing quickly, and within fourteen days were able to repair the Angel 5. When they left Armor World, they found a Krellian scout ship waiting at the edge of the sector. At the urging of their Zensho, who could protect a bonded in such extremes as the depths of the ocean or close proximity to molten lava, the bonded allowed the Zensho to armor them up similarly to space battle-armor and took the fight to the Krellians directly.
“The armored bonded could penetrate the Krellians' shield technology, surviving in space until they could literally punch through the hulls of the vessel and destroy all the Krellians on board. Those ten Space Marines became the first members of the Bio-Armor division.
“If you bond with a Zensho, you will become stronger and faster. You'll be able to grow your own bio-armor, which can assemble itself in a split-second without any conscious thought on your part. You can survive the vacuum of space without additional equipment and be instantly aware of all members of your squad at all times on a frequency not even the Krellians can jam or monitor.
“But make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, if you bond with a Zensho, you will take yourselves out of the ranks of humanity. There is no going back, no way of unbonding, no way of resigning your commission, no way of being discharged. You will become our vanguard, our spearhead, and our last hope. You will go places no sane human can go, and there will be no one else to help you but your own bonded brethren. Not only can you not unmake the choice you make today, you will not want to. So think carefully about your plans for the future. Forget about family and kids. Forget shore leave, getting shit-faced drunk in some military pub, and getting laid by someone impressed by your uniform. You're doing this because you want to make a difference to the Solar League, and even though you might not be quite human at the end of the bonding process, that won't negate your drive to protect them.”
The volunteers stared with rapt attention at their instructor, some of them shifting in their seats, the room charged with unease.
“The Zensho program won't accept unwilling recruits, and especially not anyone who doesn't know exactly what they're getting themselves into. You’ve heard the stories. You’ve read the specs. But that doesn’t always tell you everything. We learned that the hard way. So listen up, don't take your eyes off the screen, and if you decide the program isn't for you, there's no shame in that, soldier. You head out that door, and we'll find something for you. Unless you are certain you want this, I expect you to go. Understood?”
There was a ragged chorus of assent, and then the instructor started the recording of the bonding process of a young Marine from last year's volunteer squad.
They lost five people during the first phase of the recording. Twelve at the implantation. Eight during the growing. Most of the rest during the final stage of bonding. A few people actually ran from the room, hands over their mouths.
Rio had his hand fisted into the cloth of his trousers in an attempt to keep from palming the hard erection he'd had since the second phase of the recording. He'd managed to keep from making any noise, but he wanted nothing so desperately as a trip to the toilet before he came in his pants like a teenager. He'd heard about the bonding process from Shen, and the recording didn't do a damn thing to dissuade him. Instead, it intensified his need to join. Now.
The lights came back up. The instructor looked across the room, seeing Rio and two female Marines left, Rio sweating and shaking, a death-grip on his pants leg, the women with their hands clasped hard on the desks before them, color high in their cheeks. He nodded slightly, smirking.
“Kinky world-saving motherfuckers,” he said almost fondly, and nodded at them. “You pass. Welcome to the Naked Legion.”
“I gotta admit, I expected you to be more...” Rio started, as Shen guided him to his quarters.
“Naked?” Shen said, grinning. He stood a good three inches taller than Rio now, a bigger difference than before his bonding, and was definitely more muscular in every direction. It was... really damn distracting, particularly in the skin-tight blue leather all the Legionnaires wore. Shen palmed a panel near a doorway, and Rio was fascinated to see the armor briefly wind around Shen's hand as it opened, then retracted again.
“...Yeah?” Rio admitted, as he stepped inside and let the door close behind him.
Shen chuckled. “I am. I haven't worn clothes since the day I was bonded. Don't want to, don't need to. She doesn't like it anyway.” “She” being Shen's Zensho symbiote, Jana, of course. Jana wasn’t exactly female or male, as Zensho gender was sort of both and neither at the same time, but “she” was the term for regular power armor, and “she” had become the default for the Zensho. They didn’t seem to mind.
“Then what's with the blue leather?” Rio said, slinging his bag into a corner. The room was oddly spartan, even for a Marine. It didn't even have a cot, or chairs, just cushions and a low table. It looked vaguely like Shen’s parents’ place, aside from the holo-mural of family and friends on one wall along with Shen’s weird hyper-pigmented paintings Rio loved and no one else did. The quarters were very spacious for someone who grew up on a space station and had spent most of his adult life in one ship or another, but having the Bio-Armor base carved out of an old planetoid did give them a few perks, like space enough to stretch your limbs.
“It's not leather. It's Jana's second membrane. The Zensho use it whenever we're going to be in public. Gives us something to hang our medals on for ceremonies, and keeps us out of the newsbytes for the wrong reasons.”
Rio looked over at Shen to see if he was shitting him, that he was standing here in basically the inner lining of his battle armor. Which, since it was part of his symbiote, which was part of him, technically meant he was naked as a jaybird right now. Heat bloomed across Rio's chest and if he hadn't already tossed his bag on the floor, he would have dropped it.
“That's really hot,” Rio said fiercely, and any subsequent words were cut off as Shen's “leather” abruptly rolled up, retracting away from his limbs and torso, pulling into his backplate, into Jana. Aside from the Zensho changes, Shen looked mostly the same, and that was like coming home. He closed the space between them and kissed Shen hard, six months of waiting going into it. Shen made a few closed-off noises, desperate, appreciative, longing moans as he held Rio close. The Bio-Armor division clearly didn’t give a flying fuck if they were together; no need for the elaborate dance of married Marines. Here, it wouldn’t matter at all, not bonded to an alien lifeform and in constant contact with all of the other Legionnaires. They could do their duty, serve their own honor to protect the people of the Solar League, and finally be themselves.
Even if they wouldn’t be entirely human. Rio was only a day away from joining him. But for now, they’d enjoy what they had. Rio broke the kiss to slide down farther, kissing across Shen’s chest, slow, firm, tracing his tongue around the swell of his muscles, the tight nub of his nipple, down past his navel, to the hollow of his hip. Beneath Rio’s hands, he could feel a distinct rocking motion, and under the sound of Shen’s moans, he heard a slick, rhythmic sound. He blinked, and shuffled over a few steps, and paused.
Shen’s backplate had grown a long, muscular appendage, slick with some kind of secretion, and it was slowly thrusting into his ass, a sort of casual familiarity about it that meant this was far from the first time Jana had decided to get sexual with her host. Rio watched with something between fascination and envy, and settled for fascination, as much for the look on Shen’s face as anything.
“Getting the party started early?” he asked. That set Shen to chuckling, and his hand drifted down to run over Rio’s short hair.
“Zensho want to make sure we’re lacking for nothing. They take care of us, keep us in… ah, balance,” Shen said, voice breaking a little as he flushed a little deeper red, his cock hardening right in front of Rio’s eyes.
“Mind if I cut in?”
Shen made some quiet little noise, his hips jerking, and Rio had a sudden insight that Jana was very much into the proceedings. Maybe even encouraging him to get on with it. He leaned forward and closed his mouth around Shen’s hardness, laving over the head with swirling strokes before sucking in gently. He tasted different now, something richer, almost earthy, but Rio was not going to mind. Not when Shen’s hand was in place on his head, his voice murmuring in between grunts and sighs of pleasure, not when he was hot and hard in Rio’s hand. This was where they had left off, and now they were picking everything back up again. Across half the Solar League, six months of waiting, and an alien bonding or two, this was the two of them, back where they belonged, to each other.
Rio had his own pants undone, palming himself roughly as Shen cursed, spilling onto his tongue. He tasted like green things, like earth and the ocean and the familiar bitter salt that Rio remembered. Pulling back for air, Rio’s own pleasure crested in a few hard strokes, too powerful to resist. He leaned forward against Shen’s muscular thighs to rest, and Shen moved down to join him on the floor. He rolled them onto one of the cushions, which completely made sense now. If all the Legionnaires were being “comforted” by their Zensho in the same way, Rio would have wanted a soft space on any convenient horizontal surface.
Shen wrapped his arms around him and pulled him against his chest. His heart beat in a familiar rhythm, maybe a little slower than before, but still as steady as a metronome. “Fuck, I’ve missed you,” he said.
Rio relaxed into his husband’s strength, backed by a Zensho symbiont who would soon be part of him too. Bonded.
“Don’t have to, not ever again.”
Shen nodded, and Rio felt Jana grow a little warmer, as if radiating approval for he who was going to be, the newest member of the Legion.
“Did you eat?” Shen asked, gently guiding Rio to lie down. He did so very carefully, feeling like his stomach was as big as a small planetoid. He’d been preparing all morning for his bonding, which necessitated some things not normally found on the list of Solar League medical procedures. Then again, this would not be taking place in a hospital.
“Everything you said to,” Rio said wearily. Every damn protein shake, MRE, and dessert ration he'd been able to get his hand on, on top of a triple-rationed breakfast. Marines were always hungry, and Rio enjoyed a good meal, but he'd never put so much food down his gullet at once. It felt like he wouldn't want to eat again for a month.
“Good,” Shen said, sounding fierce.
“The warnings said to eat, so I ate. I'm not gonna be stupid about this,” Rio complained, trying to make Shen stop hovering so much. There was fat chance of that.
“The more you eat, the faster your Zensho can grow. Fuck, they used to tell potential Legionnaires to fast before the bonding process, and wondered why we nearly lost a third of them. No, you're gonna be like a mama bird, feeding your baby.”
Rio ran a hand over his distended stomach and shivered, feeling himself fill out a little at the thought. Kinky, world-saving motherfucker, he said to himself, remembering the recruiter’s words. He smiled to himself.
“Jana's gonna need everything you got to give you what you want. It'll be hard on you, 'cause you've got fewer options, but she'll make it work. If you want it, she won't give up on you,” Shen promised. Rio nodded, trying to breathe normally. The Naked Legion had a disproportionately high number of women in its ranks for good reason; it was easier for implantation if you had a functioning uterus. But if you wanted it enough, the Zensho were adaptable.
“I've been telling her about you. Jana's ready for you. So, so ready.” Shen leaned down to kiss him, slowly. Lingeringly. Long enough that whatever annoyances and nervousness that Rio had been feeling had faded nearly to nothing when he finally stopped. “Jana has one of her own to give you,” Shen said, right against Rio’s mouth. “She knows who you are to me. I love you.”
If Rio hadn’t already been married, the Stellar Marines would have found him a partner to help him through the process. The Zensho’s bargain with the Solar League wasn’t just to help fighting the Krellians, it was also to help perpetuate their species; so Rio wouldn’t just be accepting a Zensho egg inside himself to host his own symbiote, he’d also be growing another. That was rough on the human host, but it was part of the deal. Everyone knew that going into the process. Shen had done the same, and so would use the egg from Jana to implant Rio. Someday, Rio would either do the same or give his symbiote’s egg to the partner of the new Stellar Marine who would. No one went through the process alone anymore. You could read about and watch the bonding process until your eyes crossed, and it still wouldn’t matter when most of the changes were happening inside your body, from the deepest, most fundamental levels outward.
Rio had been ready to be very, very jealous of whoever had helped Shen through his bonding when Shen had reassured him that Captain Frost had been the one to do it. That had shut Rio’s budding jealousy down cold, that the leader of the Legionnaires herself had made sure nothing was going to come between her two newest recruits.
“Love you too, asshole,” Rio said, and Shen laughed against him. As he did, spirals of something thin and blue began to rise up over his shoulders, thin extensions of Jana, similar to what she had been enthusiastically applying into Shen last night.
Rio’s eyes lit on the tentacles, and he bit his lip, breath speeding up, an involuntary yes falling from his mouth. Shen’s eyes went with dark with desire and care as he abruptly relaxed.
The first smooth blue tentacle slid into Rio's mouth, lips already swollen from Shen's kiss, and rested there, twitching slightly until Rio began to breathe again and relax. Then it moved, sliding in deeper, thickening as it went. It paused before reaching the back of Rio's throat, and he could feel something viscous and slippery coating its length, tasting musky and almost smoky. The weight, the thickness, was uncannily like what he'd done yesterday, and Rio was very, very certain now that Jana had been enjoying his oral talents as much as Shen had. If his mouth hadn't been occupied, he might have cracked a smile.
“The first part is the worst, you remember that, right?” Shen said. He shifted slightly and Rio could feel Jana armoring Shen's arms and legs so he could pin Rio down better. He knew he was going to need it in a minute. Rio just breathed for a few moments, and nodded minutely. He remembered that part of the recruiting video vividly – it was the flat-out scariest part of Zensho bonding. His new Zensho had to know how he breathed so they could manage the rest of the bonding without anyone getting distressed. She had to learn every part of him, inside and out.
Rio forced air in and out through his nose. Once. Twice. Shen made a soft grunting noise and ground down gently against him as Rio felt Jana swell slightly in his mouth and push forward, down his throat. He didn't even choke, her secretions temporarily overriding his gag reflex as she slid deeper. Shen breathed hot on his neck, his voice rumbling deep in his chest.
“Last night I nearly lost my mind seeing you again, feeling you. Feels so good now...” he said, and Rio reflexively swallowed, the tension momentarily broken. Shen could feel a lot of what Jana could, and Shen was well-versed in Rio's oral talents. Then Rio felt the lumps moving through Jana's tentacle, and the sudden push as the eggs emerged one after the other right down his esophagus. The pressure was thoroughly uncomfortable with his stomach so full already, and he groaned as Jana retreated. Shen didn't let him up for a second though, and pulled his hips and chest back so Rio could see his stomach bulging in a smooth arc.
“Fuck,” he said, and tensed as he felt something moving inside him. His stomach sloshed, cramped, then pushed out again, stretching further. The eggs were hatching, taking the food he'd eaten and growing, and soon they'd be big enough and they'd start to move, to explore, to find out what their host needed. Zensho were a many and a one, and together they’d form the symbiont he needed to protect him from the ravages of space and the danger of the Krellians. But only once they’d found their place. Rio pushed his head back into the mattress as the too-full feeling, like he'd never want to eat again, began to move into hunger. But the pressure still lingered.
“Look,” Shen coaxed, and Rio looked down at himself, stomach even larger now, shaking as the Zensho inside him began to squirm. Rio was achingly hard now, adrenaline and danger priming him as he saw his body change.
Abruptly there was another shift inside him, and Rio tried not to tense as something squirmed up his throat, tried not to panic as he felt something tickle his throat from the inside, and he'd never been so grateful for Shen holding him down with one hand as the other held his jaw open, because the tiny Zensho was trying to help him and didn't know she was freaking her host out.
“Breathe,” Shen said in warning, and suddenly Rio couldn't. He could feel the wriggling thing in his mouth abruptly slide tentacles up through his nasal passages and down into his lungs, and felt a scream trying to be born in his throat. Shen pushed back as Rio arched, instincts trying to make him fight for air. “Breathe, Rio, breathe, you gotta teach her what you need those lungs for, breathe!”
Rio choked and tried to drag air into his blocked lungs and mouth. Tried again. Again. He was a Stellar Marine, trained to go for five minutes without air if he had to bail from his armor, he could do this. Again!
Another tickle in his chest, and abruptly a little air went into his lungs. He tried again, and this time got a full breath. Kept breathing, feeling lightheaded, and suddenly the tickle faded into something that now became familiar. Rio just kept breathing for long minutes, suddenly keenly aware of Shen's body against his, and his dick throbbing hard against the new curve of his stomach.
“Shit,” Rio said quietly, fists opening and closing.
“First big hurdle,” Shen said, shifting himself a little so a shiver of pleasurable friction caressed Rio’s cock, before pulling back to give him space.
“Dunno,” Rio said, getting his breath and aplomb back, “that wasn’t so big.”
Shen lost it, laughing as Jana’s tentacles danced over him in a tickling caress.
Rio’s laugh turned into a groan as he felt a deeper, lower pressure inside him, like the pressure of the egg toys he and Shen often played with, but more abruptly there from the inside rather than having been introduced from the outside. The Zensho were on the move, mapping every part of him, changing what they had to to give them the room they needed to protect him. His new partner needed to know what he could offer her and the Zensho as a whole.
His dick throbbed at the thought. Shen kissed him softly on the forehead, Jana’s tentacles brushing across his face as a strange, feather-like sensation ran down his inner thighs and up towards his erection. The Zensho inside him was reaching out, seeking his other bodily systems for compatibility. Rio breathed out slowly as he felt the Zensho reach out from within him to spiral her own tendrils up his shaft, over the head (nearly making him completely lose control) and then inside. Rio’s back arched in a violent spasm as he tried to come but couldn’t, and found himself caged in Shen’s armored arms. He could only focus on the exquisitely painful pleasure of the thin tentacles reaching inside his dick, and then further. Deeper. Shen swallowed his moan as Rio felt the pressure within his balls, a caress inside his skin, too good and too strange and suddenly too familiar as well. Pressure inside every part of him, honing his awareness to a sharp point as he felt himself balanced on the edge, Shen’s breath right in his ear, right next to him.
He was shaking, body trembling beautifully between pleasure and pain as his nerves tried to process a sensation no human had ever experienced.
“Ready?” Shen breathed. And pressed against his swollen torso, the pressure too much and now just right. A whisper in his mind that become a scream of triumph as Rio snapped forward into Shen’s embrace, wound tight in his symbiont’s arms.
Rio woke to a warmth in his mind and body, a physical lassitude of having had a great night’s sleep after the world’s worst workout. He didn’t ache, exactly, more was just hyper-aware of his body and the need to be cautious when he moved lest he wake up unpleasant sensations. He opened his eyes to the dim light of Shen’s quarters, seeing Shen sprawled out on the cushions. Jana’s thick backplate was just visible, all parts of her retracted. Rio felt a soft, possessive touch across his shoulders, and reached back. The warmth of a stony backplate met his questing fingers, and a thin tentacle griped them in the chastest echo of their bonding. It was like a friendly reminder of the Zensho’s presence. Without really forming words or asking questions, he knew her name was Lira. She was his now, his partner; more than that, an extension of himself. They didn’t really need to talk, not that the Zensho used words. Lira would protect, strengthen, enhance, and heal him as he fought alongside Shen against threats like the Krellians. All they needed was practice, and each other.
A flicker of a vision and a little hint of emotion crossed his mind from Lira, and he suppressed a snicker at her idea of the best way to practice outside of mock-combat. But he certainly didn’t say no. Lira extended a thick tendril and penetrated him with a soft squelch, setting a lazy pace that just felt good. Rio wondered a little at the casualness of it all, but instead reached for Shen, sighing in contentment as Jana imitated Lira’s action. Shen woke up with Rio kissing him while their symbionts warmed and filled them from the inside out.
A few tendrils brushed against Rio’s shoulders, but he was too busy concentrating on the sweet pressure of Shen’s lips against him and the slow movement inside of him. He craved Shen’s touch, the strong body he’d been forced to admire from afar, and clung to his husband, meshed chest to chest, lengths trapped together, hard and wetter than he’d ever been.
“I missed you,” Rio breathed, and shifted, ground down, made Shen groan in that beautifully familiar way. Abruptly Rio realized he could feel the thick tentacle pulsing and throbbing within him; he could feel himself fucking and getting fucked at the same time. He whimpered in realization and delight, and got a colorful flash of smugness from Lira. Shen was panting in his ear and inside his head, a resonant echo inside his head where he could feel even more presences lurking, just out of “earshot.” And that was real, it was really him under Rio’s body and moaning in ears and mind both, both spiraling their pleasure up to a mutual gasp before they came together, seeing stars.
“Oh my god, I missed you,” Shen gasped in his ear, one arm slung around Rio to keep them close. Jana and Lira withdrew gently, leaving only the faint quiver of pleasure and the slightest residue of moisture. Smaller tentacles dipped between them, supping on the spendings that were spattered and smeared on their skin.
“If you don’t stop me, I’m gonna spend all day in here, finding all the new ways I can make you scream,” Rio threatened, eyes half-closed. Shen chuckled and echoed inside him, I’d like nothing more. But then he shifted anyways, propping himself up on one elbow.
“Come on, Marine,” Shen said, triggering Rio’s duty reflex. “You can’t say last week didn’t make up for the last six months.”
“Week?!” Rio looked down at his wrist before remembering he didn’t have his datalink implant anymore. There was a ripple of amusement from Lira.
“You didn’t grow your backplate overnight,” Shen teased. Rio had known that, but it was still weird to hear that he’d managed to miss a week without noticing. But he did find it insanely wonderful that Shen had stuck with him through all of what had to be a gross process.
“They blank out the nasty parts,” Shen said. “Consciously, I mean. It’s there if you really need to know, and she can tell you, and we recorded it too.” He had to, for both safety and research purposes. Rio hoped the scientists had gotten a good show. “But it’s something you can see later if you want.” Shen stood and offered his hand. Rio took it, rising, and realized he was back eye-to-eye with Shen. Which meant he’d been doing the same growth spurt that not only made him stronger and tougher, but gave Lira room to grow alongside his new tissue. Probably best that he didn’t remember, because he was sure it had been painful. The parts he did remember about the bonding were enough to fulfill a million fantasies, and he didn’t need to taint that.
“Let’s go, I want you to meet the others.”
As Shen and Rio emerged from their quarters, Rio could feel the other Legionnaires as a very slight background murmur, not much different than the distant chatter of the crew on every ship he’d ever been on. Except now he knew he could tune into someone if he needed to. There weren’t names on any crew quarter doors, but he didn’t need them. Lira knew every Zensho here, and every Zensho knew their host.
In walking from their quarters to the mess hall, Rio already knew more about the other Legionnaires than he did about some of his old squadmates. Shen was giving him a shit-eating grin as Rio looked at him in amusement and wonder, right before opening the door.
Inside, the Legionnaires were already looking up at him, occasionally adding a rippling tentacle wave from their symbionts. At the back of the hall was the distinctive cloud of dark hair that marked Captain Winters. She stood and smiled at her newest Legionnaire, and Rio grinned back. Taking a deep breath, he exhaled, letting Lira armor him up in what he knew was time-honored tradition; showing you could handle yourself in front of the rest of the guys. Warm plates of blue closed around him in seconds, and Rio opened his eyes to aura-like glows of information surrounding everything.
Welcome to the team, Rio, she said/thought at him, smiling. The rest of the Legion raised blue-armored fists in the air in welcome as Shen’s encouragement washed over him like a kiss.
One month later
Rio could feel every member of the Legion as the transport ship closed in on the Krellians slowly circling above a solar array of a scientific vessel. The high-wire tension of the last time he’d faced the Krells was no longer present, but there was a low buzz of anger that thrummed from Lira and echoed through Zensho Radio. Shen’s voice murmured, You see what I do? inside Rio’s head.
Rio nodded, sending back a wave of assent. The Krellians were circling in a deliberate pattern to disrupt the sunlight and redirect it to themselves, or so the eggheads were saying. Though it was impossible, Rio could imagine the slow whine as the Krellians filled themselves with stolen power. Lira thrummed again, around him, inside him, an echo of Shen and Jana. This time there wouldn’t be any fuzzing out of their comms, less risk of the Krells getting through the Zensho armor, and info coming in at all angles. This wasn’t going to be like the cruiser. This time no one would be alone, screaming at each other with their helmets pressed together just to warn them of a crystalline horror about to pounce.
This time they were going to meet the Krellians on their own terms.
They armored up the instant before the drop door swung open, kicking off in the zero-g and streaking down to the crystal-encrusted vessel. This one was for scientific research, and had had the bad luck to be studying some planetoid the Krellians decided they wanted first. Never mind that they hadn’t been seen within a hundred light-years of this place in ten years, as soon as the Solar League took an interest, it apparently was time to slap down the upstart lab rats. Or maybe just start a new experiment.
Either way, the scientists inside had put themselves in a hardened shelter right after they’d sent out the distress beacon; the eggheads knew better than anyone than the Zensho how to make something the Krells would have a hard time cracking. That meant that the Naked Legion had a little bit more time to affect a rescue, but not much more. The Krells could and would reduce the rest of the ship to component parts, and whatever internal atmosphere backups the research team had in their panic room couldn’t last forever.
Lira pulsed around him, a warm reminder, and he heard the soft chatter of the others echoing his tension as the vessel loomed ever-larger and closer.
Sights set? Shen asked, and turned towards him the tiniest fraction. Even though Rio couldn’t see Shen’s face, he could tell every detail of his body from Jana’s armor, distinct from the others, and hear the love underlying the battle tension as they closed the distance.
Set and ready. Let’s rock these rocks, Rio sent, and heard a chuckle from Shen. The Legionnaires swung their weapons to bear simultaneously, like fingers in a fist, and fired pulse after pulse of photons into a single point. Krellian armor was destroyed in a beautiful spray of crystal that pinged off of their Zensho protections as they twisted and dodged as minimally as they could to avoid the larger clusters. In seconds they touched down against the hull, their armor’s feet shifting to clamp onto its surface. Here was a rent in the hull where the Krellians had penetrated, forced wide enough for everyone to get through without touching the edges.
That would have been a great place for the Krellians to ambush. Except they didn’t do that. They had no reason to coordinate to kill humans specifically, rather than for scientific purposes. And they couldn’t hack Zensho Radio, so any coordinated response to the Legionnaires would be delayed until the Krellians actually sighted them.
This time, the Krells wouldn’t see them coming.
Rio could feel Shen’s smile and echoed it with one of his own. Side-by-side, they landed on the edge of the spacecraft, armored in only their own skins, and flowed into the compromised craft.
Two unaware Krells became glassy shards when Rio and Shen pulled them apart silently, the Zensho amplifying their bio-electricity so they could disrupt the Krellians’ through-processes (such as they were) and giving them no time to warn the rest of their cluster. Sparks of triumph were cascading through Zensho Radio, giving Rio a good view of the ship being cleared deck by deck. Three corridors later they were within striking distance of the hardened shelter, and could spy one large Krell, an easy two meters in diameter, clogging up the entry point.
Rio crooked his hands, his armor forming into claws, but Shen whispered, Wait. Behind them came six more Legionnaires, moving into easy formation. The Krell might be able to leave by phasing through the floor, but it would get hit at least once if it tried. The crystal seemed to shiver, and Rio imagined it would sound like the windchimes he’d once seen in a planetside installation. Lira seemed to growl inside him, an anger echoing his own, but deeper. This was more than hating an enemy who killed for no reason, this was a hatred of someone specifically, a personal animosity amplified through the entire Legion. A growl that echoed from dozens of throats and seemed to reach the Krellian across the soundlessness vacuum of space.
And it was afraid of that anger.
With another pronounced shiver, it parted the deckplates and descended rapidly, losing spines and chunks as the Legionnaires fired and clawed at it with the rage of decades of unanswered cruelty, chasing it from the ship and forcing it to fold itself into space, retreating into whatever dimensional pocket, vessel, or desolate planet served them as home. Rio let the anger run through him until their enemy was gone, soothing Lira in return as the Legionnaires calmed themselves down.
Got them on the run, now. They are afraid of us, Rio said, the thought meant for Shen, but he let it spill out into those nearest to him. Assent flared back as the support ships moved in to repair the breaches to the scientific ship. Rio reached to catch Shen’s hand as they kicked themselves back to the drop ship. He could nearly feel warmth, and definitely could feel Shen’s strength through the Zensho armor. Smiling fiercely, Rio waited only until the hatch had closed to pull Shen near, their armor retracting to let them be as close as they wanted to be, a hundred thin symbiont arms pulling them even closer.