Lukian struggled to subdue his body’s automated, spastic response. In a world devoid of mercy, Lukian honed the skill to mask his pain.
Largely. Mostly. He grimaced. He fought against it.
“Valentin.” Krodha crouched and crooned into his ear, slipping an arm around Lukian’s shoulder. “Where’s your sense of humor? You know these toys are harmless.”
“Good morning, Krodha.” Lukian glimpsed over his shoulder, noticing Krodha’s mad black curls, and his eyes, colder than the endless miles of frozen sea trapping him on this continent. He hated that he was expected to speak to him, as a healthy relationship with one’s therapist was a token of good mental health, looked favorably upon by the Empire.
“You ought to try smiling in the morning.” Krodha raised an eyebrow, crossing massive arms across his chest. “You wouldn’t want to set a bad example for our freshly transferred patriot, would you? It’s been a while since our last session together.”
Lukian spun around to face the man accompanying Krodha, and gulped with surprise: the newcomer was a free birth, a genetic wildcard not forced to any state-prescribed standards. Lukian marveled at his enigmatic, obsolescent features: wild red hair, serpentine eyes, freckles, a curiously triangular face, and sprightly build.
Free births were nearly extinct in positions of power: most born above the underclass could afford in-vitro enhancement, or the Empire simply paid for the procedure, because standardized enrollment was preferable. Free births were not forbidden, but they were pitted against a rigorous set of genetic criteria to earn eligibility for illustrious employment.
Lukian somehow passed the test. But most did not.
And while he was a free birth, he had nothing interesting to show for it–other than inner-Empire employment–he was shorter than most, his dark eyes weren’t in blue Daityan vogue, and, according to Krodha, he was mentally fragile. But he could pass through crowds unnoticed.
It was something he grew to cherish, the path of lesser resistance.
None of the underclass could afford in-vitro enhancement. He was told the streets were crazy, pure chaos, overrun by madmen and degenerates. Lukian was spared an inheritance of misfortune.
“This man is called Aiden Blaine.” Krodha gestured to the dazzling stranger. “He was assigned to be your new roommate: I suggest you be a good patriot and show him the ropes. Eh, Valentin?”
“Lukian Valentin.” Lukian stood to shake his hand and offer a salute, swooning at the sight of his kaleidoscopic variance, the countless and dazzling imperfections that made Aiden larger than life, a caricature of everything he thought meant to be human. Aiden was from another world, a mirage, a fantasy. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“Now, remember one thing, while the two of you are living together.” Krodha turned his back to Lukian, and spoke specifically to Aiden. “Mistakes are not to be tolerated: they are to be corrected. A roommate is no exception to the all-seeing eye of the law, and in difficult times, he must serve as the eye of the law. Such is Triumph.”
Lukian lifted an eyebrow. “Krodha, were you promoted?”
He grinned. “Save the small talk for our next meeting. I don’t have to remind you that any statistical aberration will correct itself over a sufficient period of time.” Krodha put his hands on his hips, and faced Aiden. “Really, we’d have donated his body to science long ago if he didn’t excel at his job. Don’t try to get along.”
Aiden bowed, offering a humble and charismatic smile; he extended his hand, his warmth, an aura of pliable charm and supplication to Krodha. “Many thanks, Sir, for your guidance and trouble; I look forward to performing my duties here.”
“Go with Triumph.” Krodha nodded and shook his hand. “And, Lukian, I know you’re eager to see me again, but please–teach him well. If I catch him wandering the premises ignorant of any code of conduct, it will be on your accountability. The Glory of Daitya before all things.”
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Genre – Sci-Fi/Steamy Romance
Rating – R (18+)