(Standard Year 2238)

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“How you like New Orleans so far, son?”

“I don’t think I like it at all,” Jeremy Paget replied, then took a long, slow, teasing sip of his drink before giving his newfound friends a big smile. “I love it.”

Although it was hard to compete with Los Angeles or Rio, this city had an almost inexplicable charm all of its own – filthy, nasty, decadent, decaying and yet utterly seductive and uniquely loveable. Although the food, the music, the architecture, and even the pervasive, musty smell of the river were all intoxicating, Jeremy decided that his favorite thing about New Orleans by far was the men.

“Th' Big Easy make another conquest,” one of his companions, a swarthy, plump man the others called T-Boy, laughed.

The person on his right, a cocoa-colored man with handsome features who looked more Spanish or Native American than African, grinned suggestively. “You be likin’ it easy, Mr. Paget?”

“Hard’s good too,” Jer replied in kind.

Cho! Co!” one of the two Devereau brothers laughed. “Child, you bold as brass!”

They were too. All the New Orleans men Jer had met thus far were pure, audacious, apparently morals-free, charm. The group of cousins that he had fallen in with in this wonderfully dingy bar just beyond the French Quarter called him “Mr. Paget” with knowing winks that indicated that they saw through his fake ID, but were still willing to let him buy drinks for them all night long.

“What’s he drinking?” Jer asked, nodding towards the youngest of the cousins, a long, tall, delectable slice of unadulterated male arrogance who stood on the other side of the bar leaning on a pool cue.

Despite the fact they claimed to be related, the cousins all had different skin color, ranging from T-Boy who was very brown to this gorgeous creature whose features had a pale, almost translucent cast. The lightness of his skin highlighted how dirty this young Creole was. The fingers wrapped around the pool cue were grease stained. His thick black hair didn’t look like it had seen a comb in days. His clothes were frayed around the edges in a very real version of the simulated distress sometimes adopted by the ultra-fashionable.

He needs to be washed, Jer thought, then licked his lips at the idea. Yes, a long, slow, very, very thorough washing…

The gorgeous creature focused a scalding black-eyed gaze on him that felt a little like an electric shock.

Jer reveled in the sensation. It wasn’t the first time it had happened this evening. It was as if the sullen young man was catching each improper thought as it occurred and attempting to punish it. Paget almost giggled. He’d been having lots of improper thoughts. At first he’d merely been impressed by the striking young pool player. After the creature had started to glare at him though, Jer was beginning to fall in love.

As if reading this thought, the unkempt young man snarled and turned haughtily back to his game.

“Oh, don’ single Shorty out,” Cole Duhon, who, in his mid-to-late-twenties looked to be the oldest of the cousins, advised him.

“Yeah, he no like dat,” T-Boy agreed. “You jus’ buy 'nother pitcher o’ beer an’ he be over when he get thirsty 'nough.”

Andre Devereau, who the others sometimes called Tooloulou, snorted derisively at his pool playing relative. “You buy that fuckin’ possede a damn Jack an’ Coke out the goodness o’ your heart an’ he ain’t gonna do not'ing but cuss you fo' sure, chile.”

“Hey, don’ talk ‘bout my boy,” Cole cautioned as the object of their exchange gave them all a rather magnificent frown. “You gonna throw off his game.”

“Del ain’t got no fuckin’ game,” rejoined Willie, the other Devereau brother, as their young cousin lined up a shot. “That mama’s boy barely know one end o' a pool cue from th’ other.”

“I pass a slap upside your head if you even t’ink the word ‘mama’ again while he tryin’ to shoot,” Cole hushed him quickly.

T-Boy put a hand to his mouth as if that were necessary to prevent being overheard from across the noisy bar. “Shorty’s mama done passed,” the Cajun confided to Jer. “He still real sensitive ‘bout it.”

“Yeah, my boy might not be much of a pool player,” Cole said proudly. “But he got game.”

“You better hope he do – wit’ forty credit o' your money sittin’ on the table,” Andre said, refilling his glass from the pitcher Jer had ordered.

“Shorty done worked him out a method,” T-Boy informed Jer as his young cousin sank two balls using a rather un-ambitious technique. “Most players gotta be good to win. Del jus' gotta score a li’l more than th’ other player.”

Paget blinked as the beautiful, unkempt creature missed a relatively easy shot. “Isn’t that usually the general idea?”

T-Boy and Cole chuckled to each other. “You ever seen somebody get th' Evil Eye put on him?” the plumper cousin asked conspiratorially.

“I think I may have,” Jer said as the creature glanced back at them.

Under his scowl, his relatives all quickly shifted their gaze to the bottom of their beer mugs. However, when the other player leaned over the table to line up his shot, all eyes returned to their young cousin.

A twitch of his lips and another glare from beneath his thick bangs were enough to work the proper magic. The other, obviously more experienced player’s shot went startlingly weak and wobbly, managing to knock in only the eight ball.

“That my Devil-boy!” Cole said, toasting with his cousins.

“He learnin’,” Andre conceded as the creature collected his winnings from his stunned and baffled opponent.

“Hey! Where you at, Shorty?” T-Boy called, gesturing him over.

“Yeah,” Andre said, winking at Jer. “We done found somebody your age you can play wit’.”

“Shut th’ fuck up,” the creature growled, twisting his beautiful lips into a ferocious frown as he laid a stack of credits out in front of Cole.

“You done good, son,” his cousin said, pouring him a beer.

“Don’ I know it,” he replied immodestly.

“Pay day! Pay day!” T-boy crowed as he received his stack of credits.

“Hey, don’ be takin’ your hand out your pocket yet, boy.” Andre pulled on his cousin’s arm. “You know you still owe me from when I staked you last week an’ you blowed up an’ lost.”

“An' who be havin’ to buy you lunch fo’ the past three days since your daddy kicked you out the house?” Willie asked putting out his hand.

“Motherfuckin’ blood suckers,” the creature muttered, slamming more currency down on the table. It was difficult to believe that such vile words could be spoken in such a pleasantly melodious voice.

“How much you got left, Shorty?” Cole asked, sounding concerned despite the fact he was still counting through his stack.

“Five motherfuckin’ credits,” his cousin answered bitterly as he pulled up a chair a carefully calculated distance from Jeremy.

“Hey, you work steady like that ‘til you really 21,” Willie suggested jovially, “you might save ‘nough to buy you half a whore.”

T-Boy added with a grin. “Jus’ be sure you ask fo' th' right half, Shorty.”

“Fuck all a’ ya’ll,” the creature said darkly, rising.

“Sit your ass down,” Cole ordered, pulling him back by the hem of the battered sleeveless jacket he wore. “You not said hello t' Mr. Paget.”

“Yeah, he 21 like you are,” T-Boy said, giggling.

“Yeah, that moonlight 21,” Andre added. “Sun shine on it too much it start to look like fifteen again.”

“Shut th’ fuck up, the creature suggested unpleasantly, checking behind him to make sure they hadn’t been overheard by a waiter.

“He just sore cause he forgot t' figure in all his debt an’ now he broke again,” Cole explained, pouring Jer another beer. “Shorty, you gonna hafta start playin’ fo’ more.”

“Gimme that eighty credits back,” his cousin requested, rising. “I start right now.”

“No, sir.” Cole pulled him back down again. “You only pull that once in a row at a place per night or people start into talkin’.”

“Oh, c’mon, Cole,” Andre objected. “What they gonna say? ‘I was winnin’ ‘til that possede kid cast a root on me’?”

“How do you do it?” Jer wondered aloud, cutting short the acid retort forming on the creature’s delectable lips.

The young Cajun did not deign to look at him. He just snorted his contempt before turning up his glass of beer.

“Del not care much fo' conversation,” his older cousin explained for him. “Not much use talkin’ to him.”

“He sooner cuss you than say hello,” Andre added.

“Don’ take much t’ find a reason t’ cuss you, Too,” the creature growled.

“C’mon now,” his older cousin cajoled. “Mr. Paget here was fixin’ to buy us all a round.”

The young Cajun gave Jer a contemptuous half-glance over his shoulder. “I know what ‘Mr. Paget’ t’ink he fixin’ to do…”

“Hey, why you not jus’ buy a bottle o’ bourbon,” T-Boy suggested quickly, assuming that Jer was going to be offended. “We all split it up.”

“Fine by me,” Jer said, signaling the waiter.

“You gonna need somet’ing to mix wit’ that?” Cole asked teasingly. “Or you t’ink you can handle it straight?”

“Oh, they ain’t no limit on what ‘Mr. Paget’ handles,” the creature muttered. “An' ‘straight’ don’t come into it…”

"Oh, it does sometimes," Jer chuckled.

Cousin Andre leaned across his brother to punch Del on the arm. “Hey,” he said with a frown that was genetically similar but without the beauty or intensity of his cousin’s. “Why not th' motherfuckin’ 21 year old wit’ 5 credits in his pocket shut th’ fuck up while we talk to th’ 21 year old who buyin’ the drinks?”

Jer smiled and held up a hand to forestall the violent retort the creature was about to make. “It’s all right,” he assured the cousins. “He doesn’t bother me.” To emphasize the point he chuckled wickedly. “And it’s not like it’s not true.”

“Chile, you are a caution!” T-Boy exclaimed, clapping Jer on the back jovially as the waiter returned with a bottle and a collection of shot glasses.

“Don’t I know it?” Jer said, echoing the creature’s words just to agitate him.

And of course it did. Before the dark young Cajun could come up with a suitably scathing reply, his older cousin put a hand on his shoulder.

“If you jus’ gonna be ill an’ in a temper,” Cole scolded. “Then why not you go on home?”

“I not goin' back there.” The creature defiantly poured himself a shot and downed it without blinking. “An’ th' ol' man not kick me out. I walk out. An' I not goin’ back this time.”

Cole shrugged. “Mais, you don’t be sleepin’ at my house tonight, cher.”

The creature looked a little hurt. “Why not?”

T-Boy chuckled. “‘Cause he ain’t sleepin’ at his house tonight,” he speculated, shaking a admonishing finger at Cole. “An' since he figurin’ on usin’ watchin’ over you as an alibi, it be some fix if you show up when he don’t.”

Mere de Duin, Cole,” The creature exclaimed in exasperation. “Why you not jus’ marry th’ woman you fuckin’?”

All the other cousins seemed to find this highly amusing. “He got you there, cher,” T-Boy exclaimed, laughing.

Cole just sighed and smiled in his typical, charming, and unapologetically morally bankrupt manner. “It don’t always work out that way, son.”

“It sure would simplify th’ damn sleepin’ arrangements though,” the creature muttered, pouring himself another drink.

“Hey, man,” Willie suggested. “Solve two problems at once. Pay Del t’ go home an’ fuck your wife all night. That way she not notice you cattin’ around an’ I not hafta buy him lunch tomorrow.”

“I hafta get some fuckin’ earplugs then,” the creature said. “I can’t stand Felicia’s damn mouth either.”

“Oh, jus’ put th’ Evil Eye on her,” T-Boy laughed. “She shut right up.”

The creature rolled his expressive black eyes. “Don’ t’ink I not already try that…”

“Already try?” Cole raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. “How many times you done fucked my wife, cher?”

Mais...” The creature shrugged with an exaggerated lack of concern. “Willie only buy me lunch. I gotta find breakfast an’ dinner some way.”

His older cousin cuffed him affectionately. “Shut th’ fuck up.”

“What ‘bout you, chile?” T-Boy asked as Jer carefully sipped the eye-wateringly strong liquor. “You stayin’ in Quarter tonight?”

“Actually, I’m probably going to stay in the Z-4,” Paget replied very casually, calling his borrowed transportation by the nickname its true owner liked to use.

This got the attention of everyone at the table.

Cole blinked at him. “When you say Z-4…?”

Jer smiled “It’s a Zepphora 183 four stage interplanetary yacht,” he confirmed. “Custom edition, of course.”

“Of-mother-fuckin’-course.” T-Boy whistled. “Damn, chile! You a high-roller…”

Willie grinned and shook his head. “I t'ink even Del startin’ to like you now.”

The creature snorted, unimpressed. “It not his.”

“It belongs to a friend of mine,” Paget admitted easily. “I’m testing the warp coils for him.”

“That mighty nice o' you,” Willie said, still more intent on needling his young cousin. “Ain’t that nice, Del?”

The young Creole rolled his eyes. “Don’t see where runnin’ from Rio t’ New Orleans tests out shit on an interplanetary yacht,” he muttered sullenly.

Jeremy raised his eyebrows at yet another uncannily accurate “guess” from the creature. He didn’t remember having said anything about Rio de Janeiro. “Well, it’s a start,” he replied genially. “I figure it’s going to take about 3 hours to test the engines…. And I’m not expected back for another 3 days. Didn’t seem like any reason to rush.”

“If somet’in’ wrong wit’ that ship, you oughta get Shorty t’ look at it for you,” T-Boy suggested.

“This boy can fix anyt’ing wit’ an engine,” Cole agreed, giving his cousin a proud pat on the back.

The creature shrugged him off. “He don’t t'ink they not’ing wrong wit’ it,” he said peevishly. “An' it not his anyway.”

Jer took in a deep breath and forced himself to down the rest of his glass of whiskey in one go. “I do have my own ship, though,” he said, making it into a seductive promise aimed right at the creature.

“Yeah, but that jus' a li’l bitty ol’….” The young Creole stopped as if closely examining the picture Jer was sending him of his sleek, beautiful needle. The very air around the creature seemed to turn pale green with the sudden force of his jealousy.

“A li’l bitty what?” T-Boy prompted, leaving the invitation to answer open to either of them.

The creature looked away, refilled his glass, and downed it bitterly instead of answering.

“Like a racin’ ship?” Cole asked, as if he too were capable of making some fairly accurate “guesses” about what other people were thinking. “You a racer, son?”

Jer smiled and shrugged enigmatically… although there didn’t seem to be any such thing as a secret in this crowd.

“Ain’t interplanetary racin’ ‘gainst th’ law?” Andre asked with a touch of ironic awareness of the dozens of illegal activities he’d witnessed them engaging in or discussing so far this evening.

“Is it?” Paget replied innocently as he sent the creature an alluring panoramic view of one of the Clave’s primary hangers.

The young man wouldn’t look at him, but Jer could see his throat move as he swallowed convulsively.

“So that why you rollin’ in the cash,” Cole concluded.

“I heard there some high stakes there,” Andre said. “Heard the Havens in on that action.”

“I’ve heard that rumor too,” Jer replied with careful neutrality.

Cole leaned back in his chair and rolled his shot glass contemplatively between his fingers. “I always wanted to see me one o’ them racin’ ships.”

“Oh, lotsa people want that,” Willie said grinning at the way his youngest cousin was remaining conspicuously silent on the subject. “Hey, Shorty, you gettin' some drool in th' corners o' your mouth.”

T-Boy sighed and shook his head. “I’d sure like to ride in one.”

Andre gave a derisive bark of laughter. “T-Boy, you couldn’t squeeze your fat ass into one o' them t'ings.”

“Oh, they probably put a normal size seat in ‘em,” his plump cousin retorted.

“Yeah, but you be needin’ a super-size,” Willie teased.

T-Boy chuckled good-naturedly at the barb, then turned back to Paget. “I heard it make you harder'an a bar o’ titanium t' ride in one o’ them t'ings up at full speed.”

Jer couldn’t repress a wicked smile. “I've heard that too,” he confirmed with a discrete touch of salaciousness. “I’ve heard it dozens and dozens of times in fact.”

“Make some people hard just t’ t’ink ‘bout 'em,” Willie said, then turned to his cousin. “Del, what you shiftin’ so much 'round fo'?”

“Shut th’ fuck up,” the creature growled forbiddingly.

Cole shook his head as he poured himself another drink, “Shorty, if you had the sense t’ say one nice word, he’d take you t’ see that ship.”

“Fuck that,” his cousin replied violently. “I don’ want in on that fucked up shit. Ask your “Mr. Paget” what he had to do t’ get that yacht.”

“I didn’t have to do anything.” Jer replied, coolly. “What’s the matter? Haven’t you figured out yet how to make men do what you want them to?”

The creature’s pale features went fire-engine red. “Oh, that fuckin’ it!” he snarled, knocking his chair backwards as he rose with fists balled.

“Sit your ass down!” Cole ordered, holding his cousin back as Willie quickly up-righted his chair. “Damn, boy! If you gonna go out an’ drink wit’ us you gonna have t’ learn to control that motherfuckin’ temper o' yours…”

The creature didn’t reply. Almost too fast to perceive, he cut his eyes towards the waiter who was already heading towards them.

The waiter’s course shifted from Del to Jer. “Sir, can I see your ID again?”

“Oh, fuck no!” T-Boy groaned and began to pour and down shots in rapid succession.

“Is there a problem?” Paget asked, handing over his falsified identification card.

“I gonna motherfuckin’ kill you, Shorty,” Willie promised, pushing his cousin back down into his chair before grabbing the bottle of bourbon away from T-Boy.

“You can motherfuckin’ try,” the creature replied, crossing his arms in grim satisfaction as the waiter ran Paget’s id through handheld scanner.

“This does not appear to be a valid ID,” the server concluded.

“This why I never wanna drink wit’ him, Cole,” Andre complained in between shots of the soon to be confiscated bourbon.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” the waiter informed Jer.

“Dennis!” the manager called from the bar. “What th’ fuck you up to?”

“It’s a fake ID,” the waiter replied holding up the card.

“Every time we get on to somet’ing good,” Andre said, pointing an accusing finger at the youngest of their group, “this spoiled motherfucker gotta pitch a damn tantrum.”

“Fuckin’ hell, you fuckin’ idiot,” the manager groaned.

The waiter wrested the bourbon from the cousins’ hands with some difficulty. “What the fuck else am I s’posed to do?”

“Then go ahead an’ throw out that damn DelMonde kid too,” the manager ordered. “If we gonna get rid of underage an’ payin', we sure as hell ain’t gonna put up wit’ underage an’ broke.”

The creature slammed both fists down on the table. “Sheeee-it!” he exclaimed, putting more syllables into the word than Jeremy had previously thought possible.


Paget expected his sullen fellow ejectee to immediately stalk off into the fog as soon as they were out on the street. Instead, the creature crossed his arms and glared at him expectantly.

The Cajun’s cousins had not let their untimely departure disturb their drinking and had elected to remain inside the bar arguing with the waiter about the disposition of the remainder of the bottle of bourbon Paget had purchased but was not going to be allowed to consume.

Jer tilted his head back, boldly meeting the creature’s gaze as the young Creole sized him up. They were both of about equal height – tall for their age... their actual age. Both had hands and feet that were still a bit disproportionately large for their long arms and legs. Paget estimated that he had a bit of an advantage in weight. The Cajun looked awfully thin and hollow-cheeked in the street light. He grinned as the creature’s gaze settled on the rock-hard, chocolate-colored abs the cutout in his skin-tight bodysuit revealed. Jer’s heart was still beating fast from the excitement of being charged by the young Creole in the bar. The thought of actually grappling with this beautiful, wild thing in the street was making him giddy with anticipation.

“Shit,” the creature spat, turning away. “I not gonna give you th’ satisfaction.”

Jer put his hands on his hips. “Tease,” he called after him mockingly.

“Motherfucker!” The Cajun whirled around, his fists up.

Paget grinned as he assumed a ready pose and beckoned the Creole forward. “Come to papa,” he encouraged his foe brazenly.

Even in the dim light, Jer could see the creature’s cheeks go red again.

“Fuck this!” the Cajun swore, turning back around to stalk off into the murky Delta night. “Fuck this motherfuckin’ fucked up shit you tryin’ t’ pull on me.”

“Hey, hey!” Jer called, jogging to catch up with him. “Don’t be that way.”

“Fuck off,” the Creole advised, without breaking stride.

“Hey, c’mon.” Paget fell into pace beside him. “Look, you know I’m just gonna follow you around the rest of the night, right?”

The Cajun came to an angry halt as his internal sensor system apparently verified this assertion. “Motherfucker.”

“Since I’m gonna be around anyway,” Jer said reasonably. “At least let me buy you a cup of coffee.”

The young Cajun turned his black eyes on him in a glare so ferocious it made Paget’s skin tingle. After a moment though, the creature blew out a long, exasperated breath.

“Yeah,” he agreed with obvious reluctance. “That is th’ very least you could motherfuckin’ do.”


The Cajun took him to an outdoor café near Jackson Square to get coffee, but refused to drink it under their lighted, open-air shelter.

“Don’ like crowds,” the creature had informed him brusquely, although there was only a scattering of tourists present at this hour enjoying their drinks with square, sugar-powdered doughnuts.

After they were served, the Cajun mutely led him to a spot on the bank of the river. They sat down in the damp grass on the top of the levee and sipped hot, dark liquid from disposable cups as sea-going vessels glided past them on the sparkling black water.

“Awfully dark here,” Jer observed after a few moments of silence.

“Then maybe you can quit starin’ at me,” the creature suggested irritably.

Paget smiled and leaned back on one arm. “Guess no one’s told you how beautiful you are in the dark.”

Even in the dim light, he could tell the young Cajun was frowning. “You don’t fuckin’ give up, do you?”

“Nope,” Paget confirmed.

“Well, you better ‘fore I have t’ knock the shit outta you.”

“Is that a promise?” he leered, then reached out to stop his companion from storming off again. “Okay, okay,” he said, holding his hands up once the Creole was reseated. “I’m cool. I’m cool.”

“You better be,” the creature growled.

Jeremy listened to the sounds of tourists laughing in the distance and muted music drifting in from the Quarter as they fell into the sort of silence that his companion preferred.

“Lissen,” the Cajun said, just when Paget was starting to wonder if he’d ever speak again. “I not no wild animal. I not some stray jus' waitin’ t' be picked up off th’ street.”

“If you took a bath more often, people would stop making that mistake,” Jer suggested wryly.

“Shut th’ fuck up,” the creature requested firmly.

“Okay, okay,” Paget relented.

A line of barges floated past them. Somewhere in the distance a police siren wailed. The coffee seemed even thicker and stronger than the whisky had been. The inside of Jer’s head tickled pleasantly.

“What I sayin’ is this,” the Cajun said, looking out at the water. “I not no Mardi Gras throw. I not some damn souvenir you pick up ‘cause you happen to grace this city wit’ your presence. I not belong to you an’ I not never goin’ to. An’ if I were to go to Rio wit' you, I not belong t' this Calvario fellow neither… whoever th’ hell he t’ink he is.”

“Hmmm.” Jeremy was impressed and even troubled at how deeply this boy was able to read him. He hadn’t realized that he was already starting to worry about how Cal would react to this gorgeous young rogue.

The Creole turned to him and frowned. “You understandin’ me?”

“Yeah.” Paget drained his cup thoughtfully. “First part of your declaration is a little disappointing, but second part is probably a good idea.”

After a moment of silence, the Cajun raised an expectant eyebrow. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

The creature gave a short, impatient sigh. “Ain’t you gonna ask me t’ take a look at that ship?”

“I dunno,” Jer said, leaning back to smile impudently at his companion. “You haven’t said a nice word to me yet, you know.”

The creature wadded up his empty paper cup and threw it at him. “Fuck you.”

Jer grinned broadly as he easily dodged the missile. “That’ll do.”


Paget’s guest predictably put on a show of not being impressed by the luxurious crème, navy blue, and bronze interior of Eduardo Ernesto’s sweet little Z-4.

“Engine Room below this deck?” he asked after a seemingly cursory glance around the main cabin.

“Gangway’s over here,” Paget said, leading the way to an access tube.

The creature put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. “I prefer to get paid by th’ job not th’ hour,” the Cajun informed him. “So give me thirty minutes or so an’ I get back to you wit’ an estimate.”

“Oh?” Paget lifted an eyebrow. “Am I going to pay you?”

“Oh, yeah.” The creature nodded. “If I find somet’ing wrong an’ I can repair it, then that the way it work. I fix it. You pay me. Cash money.”

Jer smiled suggestively -- just to be annoying. “I was hoping we could work out a barter system.”

“Yeah.” The Cajun patted him on the shoulder dismissively before exiting down the access tube. “You jus' keep hopin’ that.”

After pausing to admire the departing view of his guest, Jeremy sighed and returned to the part of the ship that actually fascinated him the most – the complex system of sensors and analysis logarithms that formed the Maria Graciella’s nervous systems. More than anything else, he was drawn to the network of input relays and data collection devices that enabled the ship to protect herself and keep herself sane.

“Hello, Gracie, my love,” he crooned, patting the helm as he sat down at the main control console. “Did you miss me?”

“All systems at norm,” the computer reported, acknowledging his touch.

“I missed you too,” he purred back, disarming part of the security system. “I’ve brought home a new friend.”

“Main engine access granted to unregistered visitor,” the Maria Graciella replied.

“Good girl, Gracie.” Paget lovingly patted the input pad. “I’m sure he’s going to be just as crazy about you as I am. Now, tell me about your day…”

Jeremy was soon engrossed in reports from the ship’s monitoring systems, messages from friends, and news items the Maria Graciella’s main computer had determined might be of interest to him.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been at this when he realized he was hearing something unusual. It wasn’t until he took the receiver out of his ear that he could tell someone was singing. He smiled as he opened a comm. link to the small engine room below him.

My grandma an’ your grandma were sittin’ by the fire,
My grandma tol’ your grandma, I gonna set your flag on fire.
Hey now, hey now
Iko! Iko! an de'
Jackomo fe no a nan e', Jackomo fe nan e'

His guest had an even more delicious singing voice than his speaking voice promised. Jer grinned and left the link open.

Look at my King all dressed in red
Iko! Iko! an de'
I bet you five dollars, he kill you dead!
Jackomo fe nan e'
Hey now, hey now
Iko! Iko! an de'
Jackomo fe no a nan e' , Jackomo fe nan e'

All the childlike delight the creature had refused to display openly was apparent in the rollicking, infectious melody of his song.

My flagboy an’ your flagboy, sittin’ by the fire,
My flagboy told your flagboy, I gonna set your flag on fire,
Talkin’ ‘bout hey now, hey now
Iko! Iko! an de'
Jackomo fe no a nan e' , Jackomo fe nan e'

Jer closed down his feed from the Maria Graciella’s computer, unable to resist the playful siren call of the creature’s song.

See that guy all dressed in green,
Iko! Iko! an de'
He not a man, he a lovin’ machine!
Jackomo fe nan e'
Talkin’ ‘bout hey now, hey now
Iko! Iko! an de'
Jackomo fe no a nane' , Jackomo fe nan e'

Paget didn’t think it was possible for him to surprise his guest. He was a little disappointed to be right. As he slid down the short ladder to the engine room, the Cajun stopped singing and scowled at him.

“It not been no half hour,” his guest informed him sourly.

“I’m going to order something to eat.” Jer held up the datapad he’d brought with him, displaying a list of local eateries that offered delivery services that the Maria Graciella had searched out for him. “Are you hungry?”

The Cajun was on his back under a reactor assembly testing the particle stream with a laserwrench. “I could eat somet’ing,” his guest admitted parsimoniously.

“What’s a good place?” Paget asked, casually coming to sit close to him as he perused the list.

The creature shrugged and continued his work. “Avoid a Bourbon Street address an’ anyt’ing in th’ directory all right.”

Paget lifted an eyebrow at the scope of this recommendation. He wondered whether his guest was not particular – which somehow didn’t seem very likely – or if the food in this city was really of such universally good quality. “What do you want?”

“Red beans an’ rice all right.”

Jer pulled up the menu for a restaurant with a satisfyingly authentic sounding name – Mulotte’s. “What’s shrimp etouffee?”

“Order it an’ find out,” his guest recommended unhelpfully.

“Lobster bisque sounds good,” he said continuing down the list of house specialties. “Is it?”

The creature made an impatient noise through his nose. “Since you got more money than good sense, why you not jus’ buy one o' ever't’ing an’ see what you like?”

Seeing that there was a sampler plate available, Paget decided to take the Cajun’s backhanded advice. As he knew would happen, his guest began to sing again as soon as Jer had climbed back up to the main deck.

My flagboy an’ your flagboy, sittin by the fire,
My flagboy tol’ your flagboy, I gonna set your flag on fire,
Talkin’ ‘bout hey now, hey now
Iko! Iko! an de'
Jackomo fe no a nan e' , Jackomo fe nan e'

He placed the order to Mulotte’s through the ship’s comm. system, then raided Ernesto’s liquor cabinet from some Cynian spiced wine that he thought would go nicely with their feast. Paget even requested a couple of hot damp towels and a fingerbowl for his guest from ship’s supplies and had it all routed down to the processing unit in the engine room.

See that guy all dressed in green,
Iko! Iko! an de'
He not a man, he a lovin’ machine!
Jackomo fe nan e'
Talkin’ ‘bout hey now, hey now
Iko! Iko! an de'
Jackomo fe no a nane' , Jackomo fe nan e'

His guest didn’t stop singing until Jer’s foot had hit the bottom rung this time.

“Soup’s on,” he announced after spreading out the towels, wine, and the heaping plates of food that had been beamed piping hot from Mulotte’s kitchen to the Maria Graciella’s hold picnic style on the deck near the Cajun.

The creature slid out from under the reactor and critically surveyed the feast. His grudging grunt of non-condemnation was as sweet as effusive praise from another might have been.

“Help yourself,” Jer said, offering him a hand towel.

His guest roughly wiped off his face and hands before digging into platters before him. The generous portions the young man dished out seemed to indicate that he and Cole’s wife had rarely if ever been able to reach mutually acceptable accommodations about breakfast and dinner.

The food was splendid – rich, spicy, and satisfying.

His guest looked up from under his thick bangs as he broke a piece of sweet cornbread in two and then buttered each half. “You ever gonna quit starin’ at me?” he asked.

“Dunno.” Jer sipped his wine. “Do you plan to suddenly stop being gorgeous?”

Mere de Duin.” The creature shook his head. “Don’ you give up? You not so much as even know my name.”

Paget turned and pressed a combination of buttons on a control near him.

“Subject: Noel Christopher DelMonde,” the computer reported. “Born: November 1, 2223 – Date by local planetary reckoning – at East Jefferson General Hospital…”

His guest frowned and switched off the report. “So that the way you wanna play it, huh?” he asked, narrowing his eyes “All right.” He pressed an imaginary button on his forehead. “Subject: Jeremy Maurice Paget. Born: November 24, 2223 – Date by local planetary reckonin’ – in Los Angeles, California. Uhmmm…He don’t remember which hospital…”

“I was pretty young at the time,” Jer explained repentantly. “So how long have you known you were a telepath, Noel?”

“Everybody call me Del,” the creature corrected.

“Your cousins call you Shorty,” Jeremy reminded him as he scooped out another serving of the irresistible shrimp etouffee as an unconventional desert.

“You not my fuckin’ cousin,” the Cajun pointed out, claiming the rest of that dish for himself.

“Point taken,” Paget conceded. “So, N.C., how long have you known you were a telepath?”

“How long you been a busybody, J.M.?” the creature asked around a mouthful of etouffee.

“Mmm.” Paget took a moment to consider and chew. “I went through a kind of self-centered phase for the first two and a half years, but picked it up very quickly after that.”

The Cajun rolled his eyes and took another long sip of wine. “Well, you right about them warp coils. They not not’ing wrong wit’ ‘em.”

Jer blinked at this abrupt subject change. “Is this what we were talking about?”

“This what we talkin’ ‘bout now,” his guest informed him unequivocally. “Th' warp coils fine, but she probably runnin’ hot ev’ry now an’ then, non?"

Paget took a Rigellian pipe out of a case he had put on the tray with the food and loaded it thoughtfully. “So you don’t want to talk about being a telepath?”

“You runnin’ hot ‘cause you got a bunch of reactor components that are all a li’l bit off spec,” the Cajun continued heedlessly.

Jer nodded and puffed on his pipe. “Of course we don’t have to talk about telepathy if you don’t want to.”

“This Ernesto fella,” his guest replied with another of his elegant frowns. “How he be such a hot shit racer an' not maintenance his engine like he s’posed to?”

“He’s a hot shit equity trader now,” Paget explained. “So unfortunately the lovely Maria Graciella spends a lot of time in drydock.”

“Oh.” His guest accepted the pipe when it was offered to him without comment. “So he got th' money to own her, but no time t' fly her?”

Jer shrugged. “It’s a tradeoff.”

“That why I not rich.” The creature blew a chain of perfect smoke rings into the air above them. “It jus' too much a burden.”

Paget smiled. His guest was still beautiful even when he relaxed a little. “Speaking of cash money, you think you can fix Gracie’s problem?”

“Pretty much already fixed.” The creature handed the pipe back to him. “Still gonna hafta get her out in space, run her up to your top sublight speed an’ re-adjust th’ intermix.”

Both of them looked at the chronometer display on the input panel just above them. It was nearly three o’clock in the morning local time.

“Why don’t you crash here tonight?” Jer said, making it sound as casual as possible. “You can finish up in the morning.”

His guest scowled at him.

“I mean, since you aren’t charging by the hour or anything,” Paget added with gentle persuasiveness. “And it’s already been clearly established that you don’t have anywhere to sleep tonight anyway.”

“I can tell jus' how shocked an’ amazed you are that t’ings work out this way.” The creature narrowed his devastating eyes at him accusingly. “When you gonna break it to me that they only one bed?”

“There’s a couch,” Paget assured him innocently.

“I not sleepin’ on no damn couch.”

Jer smiled and started to put the covers back on the empty plates. “That’s entirely up to you, N.C.”

“Yes,” the creature replied pointedly. “Yes it is.”

“You can take a shower if you want to,” he offered, stacking the dirty dishes neatly.

“Not really,” the Cajun replied with a scowl. “but I startin’ to t’ink that you want me to pretty bad.”

“Guess I’m just into cleanliness.” Jer shrugged, then gave him a leer. “Love to show you how much.”

The creature rolled his eyes. “If I not know you wanted t' get me outta my clothes so bad,” he replied, handing over the used hand towels. “I start to t’ink I not smell good or somet’ing.”

“Good thing it’s just my lust talking,” Paget replied sweetly.

Mere de Duin…” The creature gave an exasperated sigh as he rose. “Where th' shower?”


If you want somet’ing to play wit'
Go an’ find yourself a toy
Baby, my time is too expensive
An’ I not no little boy...

Since even average people sang in the shower, Jer would have been bitterly disappointed to find his guest didn’t.

“You bes’ get th’ hell outta here,” the creature called over the noise of the water.

“I’m just going to put your things in the fresher,” Paget said, wishing the stall door was transparent instead of nearly opaque as he gathered his guest’s scattered shirt and pants.

“You bes’ not fuck up my clothes,” the Cajun warned.

“I’m not gonna fuck up your clothes,” Jer soothed as he deposited the garments into a cleaning unit.

“Then what th’ hell you doin’?” his guest demanded over the sound of the water.

“Nothing.” Paget adjusted a few dials on the controls. “I’m just changing the color a little… and the texture… and the cut.”

A wet washcloth sailed through the air, narrowly missing his head.


“Okay. Okay,” Paget relented, depositing the cleaned and refurbished items in a neatly folded stack before retreating to the corridor outside the Maria Graciella’s beautifully appointed bath.

It was several moments before his guest emerged looking damp, furious, and magnificent in the formerly dingy brown collection pants, tank top, and sleeveless jacket that Jer had turned into low-riding black jeans, a tight-fitting, sparkling white silk top, and a stunning, silver-buckled, black leather jacket.

“Are you going to sleep wearing that?” Jer asked, making an effort to act like it wasn’t difficult to speak when one’s mouth was watering like mad.

“No, this is what I gonna wear t’ kill your ass,” the creature promised grimly.

Paget could not stop himself from grinning broadly and licking his lips. “Then I’m gonna die a very, very happy man.”

“Sweet Mary,” the Cajun groaned and shook his head. “Look Jer… I can call you Jer, can’t I?”

It was inexpressibly thrilling to hear his name on the creature’s lips. “Please do.”

“You just gotta stop droolin’ over me so much,” the Cajun ordered sternly.

“Why?” Paget tilted his head to one side. “It doesn’t have any effect on you, does it?”

“’Course not,” the creature replied roughly, but failed to meet his eyes.

“’Course not,” Jer repeated, taking a step forward. “’Cause that would be kinda awkward, wouldn’t it?”

The young Creole put up a hand to prevent him from getting any closer, but didn’t make an answer and kept his gaze averted.

“I’d really be going out on a limb if I started to guess that maybe you don’t read just thoughts, huh?” Paget moved forward until he was pressing against the Cajun’s hand. He leaned in so he could whisper into the young man’s ear. “Maybe you can feel other people’s emotions too? Maybe sometimes you even get kinda get turned on by them?”

The creature’s black eyes focused on him with scalding intensity. He gave Jer a physical and psychic shove that slammed Paget backwards across the narrow corridor and into the opposite wall.

“I thought I done made myself perfectly motherfuckin’ clear,” the Cajun said from between clenched teeth. “I not want you pawin’ all over me!”

Jer picked himself up and grinned. “Then I should concentrate all the pawing to one area?”

Before his guest could respond, Paget returned the favor by pushing the Cajun into the bathroom door.

“Oh, that it!” the creature exclaimed, cocking his fist and landing a credible roundhouse to Paget’s jaw.

“Wanna play rough, huh?” Jer asked delightedly, replying with a solid punch to the Cajun’s fine young gut.

“I not motherfuckin’ playin’,” his guest growled, following up with a combination of hard blows to Paget’s body.

“At long last,” Jer gasped, joyfully knocking his companion back with a shoulder slam.

“You mother-fuckin’ motherfucker,” the Cajun swore, righting himself before charging back in with eyes blazing.

They grappled for a moment before the creature succeeded in pushing him backwards.

“An’,” the Cajun said, punctuating his words with punches. “If you call me N.C. it better fuckin’ well start standin’ for Noel Christopher -- not Nasty Creature.”

“Anything you say, N.C.” Paget grinned before punching him in the gut again.

The creature staggered backwards and fought to catch his breath.

“This is fuckin’ stupid,” he gasped. “You not fightin’. You just hittin’ me t’ keep me hittin' you.”

Paget smiled and wiped beads of sweat from his eyes. “And that’s a problem?”

Mais, how about you hit me less, then?” the Cajun suggested. “Unlike you, pain actually hurt me.”

Jer chuckled. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” he said, coming forward.

The young Creole automatically put his fists back up.

“Truce, truce,” he said, putting his hands on the other man’s shoulders to emphasize his words. “Okay?”

“Okay,” the creature agreed warily.

“Here’s my idea, N.C.” he said, straightening the Cajun’s jacket for him. “Why don’t we quit fighting?”

“That sound all right.” The young Creole lowered his fists. His cheeks were pink and his black eyes were bright from the exertion. His breathing was still heavy.

“You’ve seen the least I could do.” Jer continued to gently and carefully adjust his guest’s askew clothing until he had sank to his knees before the glorious creature. He propped his chin up on the young man’s belt buckle and looked up into those glittering black eyes. “How about I give you a sample of the best I can do?”

The creature’s breath came in a shuddering gasp. His arousal was undeniably evident from this proximity.

Jer smiled and kissed the polished silver buckle.

The Cajun grabbed the back of his hair. “Look,” he warned, pulling Jer’s head back. “If I let you do this, it not mean I your fuckin’ boyfriend or nothin’.”

Paget let the tip of his tongue search for the opening to the front of his pants in a way that automatically loosened the Cajun’s grip.

“N.C. you are not my boyfriend and you never will be,” he promised solemnly before undoing his guest’s fly with his teeth. Paget smiled at the creature’s surrendering groan of pure passion. “This is just the beginning of a very beautiful friendship.”

Continued in Special Dark

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