by BRK

 A starship full of hot young recruits gets marooned in a strange part of space that seems to have an augmenting effect on the crew, leaving the AI and the unexpectedly immune commander to try to get them free.

Added: Aug 2009 Updated: 30 Mar 2018 8,994 words 33,244 views 4.7 stars (38 votes)


Rick strode down the corridor of the Fortitude, glad that they only had three more days cruising through uncharted space. After three months on remote patrol with a skeleton crew, all of ’em wet behind the ears and barely out of basic training, he’d been sure that some kind of disaster would strike when they were furthest from home, out of range of any help. After all, the Vree were supposed to be cruising these very sectors, if the rumors were right. And a boatload of kids still checking their command sequences in the helpguide would be just the kind of feast they’d make gleeful songs about and sing for centuries.

But they hadn’t anything in months of gliding through black, desolate emptiness. No Vree. No nebulas. No star systems or strange new worlds of any kind—not even a stinking comet. They’d found a rogue moon and named it after Rick’s mom. That was it.

Half of Rick’s mind was inclined to think they were out of the woods. The other half was wondering just how naive the first half was.

An overhead chime sounded, followed by Kit’s voice paging him to come to a comm screen. It was already overnight shift—the lights had dimmed while he was working out—so it was easy to see the soft glow of the nearest screen where the corridor he was in met the starboard main passage. He trotted over to it and called up the bridge.

“What’s—damn, Kit, put a shirt on,” Rick said. Kit, the comm officer, was clearly shirtless, the comm screen offering the free spectacle of his carefully sculpted torso from the nipples up. Rick felt his restless and very lonely cock react with a kind of lovelorn passion to the melon-sized pecs, straining toward them in his trousers. Rick gritted his teeth and tried to look stern, knowing he’d never looked stern in his life.

“I will if you will, lieutenant,” Kit said with a smile. Rick blushed and scratched the little patch of hair between his own (firm but rather smaller) pecs.

“I was just coming from the gym,” Rick said, his boner jumping frantically in his uniform slacks as his eyes drifted across Kit’s luscious landscape. He forced himself back to being an officer, with difficulty. Why couldn’t they have given him a bunch of ordinary looking guys? … Who knew what they were doing?

“I can see that. You’ve got a great pump,” Kit said appraisingly.

“And you are the comm officer. Suppose the admiral called and you answered the phone like that?”

“Oh yeah, the phone’s ringing off the hook up here,” Kit said snidely. “C’mon, L. T., you know we won’t get comm until we’re back in Alliance space. So what’s the big deal?”

Rick gave up on trying to act stern. It was a lost cause. “The big deal is I can see the head of your cock,” he said, matching snide for snide. And yet—just for a moment it seemed like he imagined he actually could see something, the ghost of a massive cock that seemed to want to ease itself between Kit’s pecs. He blinked, and the vision was gone, leaving only a shred of memory.

“Ha ha, it’s big but it’s not that big.”

“Are you at least wearing pants?”

“Of course!” Kit said, then grinned sheepishly. “Well, boxers.”

“What the fuck?” Rick said in surprise, barely noticing his hand moving to his own crotch. “Look, Kit. I realize I’ve relaxed discipline, but come on!”

“Hey, L. T., it’s all for a good cause. We’re trying to seduce Kyle.”

Rick laughed in spite of himself. “Fat chance, he’ll never crack. He’s more stubborn than you’ll ever—wait, ‘we’?”

“Yeah, all of us up here,” Kit said jovially. “Me, Ted, Jode—oh, and Mikey too.” He sniggered. “Kyle’ll never last.” Rick knew he wouldn’t. His whole crew was teenagers who’d had nothing to do for months but work out. They were looking damn fine.

These distracting thoughts meant that part of what Kit said registered late. “Mikey? The holographic computer interface?” The one who normally looked like some government bureaucrat?

“Yeah, we reprogrammed him. Well, okay, Kyle did, to get back at us. But I think it’s turning him on.”

“Is not!” called a voice from offscreen—Kyle, presumably, at the geek station, otherwise known as computers and systems. In full uniform, no doubt.

Rick smiled. “Hi Kyle,” Rick called to the offscreen voice. “Hi boss,” it called back.

“All right, I’m going to bed. Hey, why did you call me, anyway?” Damn, he was the worst officer ever.

“Oh yeah, the last navigational sensor sweep picked up something a few hours ahead,” Kit said, checking his panel. “It reads kind of like a micronebula, but a lot of the energy levels are wrong. Kyle and Jode are analyzing it now. Should we alter course to skirt it?”

“Hell no, we haven’t had a blip in weeks. Let’s get closer and check it out. Wake me when we’re close.”

“Aye, aye. In the meantime, you need any help with that, L. T.?” he asked, glancing down with a saucy grin.

Rick experienced a moment’s panic before he realized Kit couldn’t see his big boner—he was just guessing. “You wish,” Rick said, switching off the screen. Then he turned and continued his walk to his quarters, a little more quickly than before.

He woke suddenly to find a stranger standing over him, shaking him awake. “What the—who the fuck are you?” he yelled, still blearily trying to focus on the unfamiliar shape looming over him. “How the hell did you get on my ship?”

“I was installed on it,” said a voice he knew—dry, sardonic, a slightly refined accent.

“Huh? Mikey?” Rick’s eyes focused at last, but this Adonis wasn’t Mikey—every single corner of him from his sea-blue eyes and loose, dusty blond hair to his heavy, generous pecs and broad, bulging shoulders to his eight-pack and ludicrously narrow waist to—oh god, what a cock!

“Yes, the boys had some fun reprogramming my visual interface. Listen, lieutenant, we have a problem.”

“I’ll say, you’re a positive distraction.” Rick realized with chagrin that he was tenting his bedsheets in a big way. He moved to sit up, hoping to make his problem less visible. He felt weird being so turned on by Mikey—not only was he normally a barely noticeable interface, but there was something odd about him. Maybe it was that he had no smell. All the other guys had smells. Nice ones, sexy ones—damn, his dick was drooling fiercely. “At least put some clothes on,” he groused, his head in his hands. He was still waiting for his grogginess to pass.

“I can’t, I’m programmed not to now,” Mikey sighed. “Anyway, I’m not the problem.”

Rick stopped and listened to the ship around him for a minute, sensing something strange. He glanced at the A.I. in alarm. “It’s really quiet, Mikey.”

Mikey’s gorgeous face looked grave. “Engines are off line. Everything else too except life support and a few other systems.”

“What? What happened?” Rick yelled, jumping out of bed, his sheets falling draped over his protruding hard-on.

“Not sure, but it has to do with that cloud we found, I’m sure,” Mikey said. “We’re right at the heart of it.”

“I was supposed to be notified before we reached it,” Rick growled, angrily tossing aside the sheet.

“Apparently it reached us, sir,” Mikey said, moving to the closet and pulling out regulation boxers and uniform slacks.

Rick took them and pulled them on. “Where are the others?”

“The night shift is unconscious on the bridge, sir,” Mikey said gravely. Rick stared at him. “The rest of the crew are in their quarters, also unconscious. You’re the only one I could wake.”

“Damn it, Mikey, why didn’t you say so?” Rick tore out of his quarters, heading for the bridge.

When he bounded onto the bridge, only a little out of breath, he found Kit, Jode, Kyle, and Ted, all sitting at their stations, looking for all the world like they’d simply fallen asleep. All of them except Kyle were wearing nothing but boxers—Kyle was wearing a regulation tee and slacks.

Mikey appeared out of thin air standing in his accustomed place near the vacant command chair, as if things were perfectly normal apart from him looking like an irresistible god.

Rick moved to Kit and checked his pulse and breathing, which were both almost normal. “Kit! Kit, wake up!” Nothing happened. “You think they’re okay?”

“They’re more than okay,” Mikey said. “Look again.”

Rick frowned at Mikey, then looked back at Kit. He gasped.

Kit was bigger.

Rick knew his crew very well. He especially knew Kit. Every fat-free inch of him. He’d been jerking off thinking of Kit and what he would do to that perfect Nordic body for months.

But this was the new and improved version. His whole body was bigger, taller, thicker. Every single muscle was 25% bigger. His pecs had reminded him of melons before, and now they were thick and heavy and spherical, honeydews replacing cantaloupes. His formerly tight abs were now an even tighter, deeply crevassed eight pack.

“Holy shit!” he gasped again. Spilling out of the leg of Kit’s regulation boxers was a huge sausage of a cock. There had to be three inches of soft, impossibly thick cock hanging out of those boxers.

Rick ran over to Jode at the navigation console. He was bigger too. All over. His lanky Hispanic body was even lankier—he looked like he had a ten-pack—and what was falling out of his boxers was by itself enough cock to make any man proud.

Ted, the pale redhead who covered the engineering station, looked like a statue carved in pure white marble. His musculature, exquisite before, was now unbearably perfect. And something like eight inches (!) of thick white cock snaked out of his left boxer leg. As in, eight inches of soft monster cock was what emerged below the hem of his regulation boxers.

Kyle, the pretty-faced geek with nothing more than a trim swimmer’s build yesterday, was something else now—he was packed into that tee shirt like it was painted on, and every seam was straining even with all his ponderous new muscle totally relaxed in unconsciousness. The formerly loose slacks were now tight and straining as well. Especially at the crotch where the fasteners were actually starting to be pulled out of the fabric by the obscene bulge.

Rick glanced around frantically, at a loss to even process what was going on, and his eyes hit on the main view screen at Kit’s station—it was filled not with stars but with swirls of an opaque milky blue like he’d never seen.

Somehow they had drifted into the micronebula.

Rick dropped into his command chair, stunned. He looked around him at the four young officers. They looked relaxed, comfortable, like they were idly wiling away a night off, their eyes closed peacefully, their beautiful faces composed, as if they were listening to pleasant music or enjoying a reverie of some bygone moment of serenity.

He turned his gaze to Kit, whose comm station was to his left. Kit looked completely, utterly at rest. To look at him you’d think there was nothing happening at all, no motion, no waveforms, no vibration even of the smallest particle. He exuded stillness, as if the universe were paused, suspended. In that moment, as he looked at Kit, there was no movement anywhere—nothing, but the slow-moving milky blue swirls of the nebula.

Rick became conscious of his own heart beating. It felt like the only heart in creation.

For a moment he felt terribly alone.

“Are they all like this?” Rick breathed, almost afraid to speak, to break the stillness.

There was a brief pause. He was not looking at Mikey, but the avatar answered the question. “The crew? Yes.”

“Unconscious and—?”

“Augmented, yes.”

Rick shuddered, processing the thought. 67 men below decks, all—

He realized his big, torpedo-shaped cock was hard, had been hard. For all that he’d been unbearably horny and lonely this whole voyage, he felt now like hardness was some new thing, like he’d never had a hard-on before. The hard, thick boner in his lap straining against his uniform slacks seemed to radiate scalding heat, enthralled by its own existence, aching with arousal that felt suppressed for a lifetime and more. This ship was filled—packed—with—

Rick fell back in his chair and was momentarily surprised by the course feel of the upholstery against his bare back. He thought bemusedly that he had never felt that before. Which was not surprising—he certainly (Rick snarked to himself) had never come to the bridge shirtless before.

This was a very—strange—emergency.

The distraction, in any event, was bracing. He stood up and faced Mikey. The avatar, recently reprogrammed (as a joke) to exhibit all the characteristics of male beauty and then some, looked oddly at home among the unconscious gods Rick’s bridge officers had become.

Mikey, at least, was able to achieve the superhuman, or nonhuman, tact necessary not to glance down at the outline of Rick’s raging boner in his slacks. If Kit were awake, he’d be staring at it—and grinning like a Pridestian hyena, Rick thought dryly. Rick felt his face warming with blood. Shit, now I’m blushing.

But Mikey met his gaze. And anticipated Rick’s line of reasoning. “Only you seem to be immune,” Mikey said neutrally. “From both effects.”

“Lucky for me,” Rick said. Mikey raised an eyebrow, somehow managing to look even more gorgeous as he registered demure surprise. “At least with the unconsciousness bit,” he added with a small smile. “So what’s different about me?”

Mikey shrugged. “Not much,” he said. “I have been considering it. You are from the colony Elqon III, which is unusual in the Alliance fleet but not unheard of. There are three others on the ship, and they were all affected.”

Rick nodded. Elqons tended to be lanky and well hung, but apart from the predisposition for golden-red eyes they were biologically indistinguishable from the main population groups of the Alliance even after centuries of independence.

“I’m a couple years older than these tenderfoots,” Rick said slowly, nodding at the four hunks at their stations.

Mikey nodded. “Yes. But there are a few veterans aboard, and they were affected as well.”

A thought struck Rick. “Even Seldie, the security chief?” Mikey nodded, and Rick whistled. “I’ll have to see that. He was huge before. Was his—?”

“Focus is probably important right now, lieutenant.” Mikey always managed to say things like that without sounding snide. It was just a fact. And yet, Rick had caught an amused twinkle in the avatar’s eyes on more than one occasion in the past, and, yep, there it was again.

“No laughing at the humans, Mikey,” Rick said with a smile. “We’re—vulnerable. To—certain stuff.”

Mikey looked down at his own flawless, naked avatar. “I had, in fact, noticed that,” he said.

Rick turned to face the image of the micronebula. “I don’t suppose you know what’s causing the effect? Wait—are they still being affected? Are they still—growing?” Rick’s boner, distractingly, throbbed a little as the idea rose through his mind. A thrum of emotional arousal—a vibration of all the cells of his body—seemed to pass through Rick like a wave.

Unbidden the teeming motion in his body started to occur to him. Coursing blood. Electrical impulses. Cellular mitosis. He’d never been more aware of himself as a physical creation, an impossibly intricate edifice of living, thriving organic matter.

“No, and no,” Mikey said. Rick’s boner seem to want to protest. It wanted to ask: Are you sure?

“Well, if we can’t figure out the causation, or why it’s selective, we can be reasonably certain it’s to do with the micronebula,” Rick said. “So logically we should move out of it and sort things out afterwards.”

Mikey said nothing. It was not his job to comment on command decisions one way or another.

His mind made up, Rick moved quickly toward the navigation console where Jode seemed to be in a peaceful slumber. Rick had meant to reach past the teen cadet to the helm controls in front of him and start the ship moving out of the nebula. But as he did so, his naked, buff torso within inches of Jode’s arresting body, Rick suddenly felt intoxicated, overwhelmed with the proximity to Jode, as if he had come close enough to him to become trapped in Jode’s presence, a passing ship snagged by the event horizon of an irresistible gravitational force.

Rick felt absorbed into Jode’s beauty. His warmth, his clean, rich smell, his gorgeous pecs and ten-pack and fascinating dusting of hair along their vertical axis, his too-handsome face with just a bare hint of dark stubble around the mouth and along the chin line, the inches of cock falling out of his boxers, and there was nothing in the whole of existence but Jode, his body, his lips—no past, no regulations, no Alliance, no ship or nebula, just the embodiment of physical arousal, a hardon made man, made into a demigod. Jode seemed almost to be glowing with power—the power to draw Rick in. Without being aware of himself Rick was moving his lips toward Jode’s—

Their lips met, and a charge shot through them both, and they began slowly, sweetly making out. Jode’s tongue slid gently, warmly into Rick’s mouth, and Rick was suddenly consumed with rapture that his mouth’s long loneliness had, in a moment unlooked-for, been slaked.

After a few moments Rick pulled slowly back, just an inch or two. Jode’s bright brown eyes were gazing deep into his golden-red ones. He felt Jode’s warm breath on his lips.

“That was the best kiss I’ve ever had,” Jode said softly.

Rick smiled, gazing back into Jode’s beautiful eyes. “I’ve had better,” he said.

Jode’s lips twitched into the smallest of smiles, which, to Rick, made him look even more devastatingly handsome. “Bitch,” he whispered.

A heartbeat passed. A normal human would have delicately cleared his throat, but somehow the programmers had omitted this ancient social tool from Mikey’s repertoire. So Mikey said, “Ahem,” forcing Rick, somewhat shockingly, to realize he had forgotten about the existence of Mikey, the Fortitude – everything outside Jode.

“I seem to have discovered how to wake them,” Rick said, still staring into Jode’s eyes.

“Yes,” came Mikey’s dry reply.

“Was I asleep?” Jode asked sweetly. His brow furrowed just slightly. It occurred to Rick to say something humiliatingly corny, like, “I was asleep before I kissed you,” but instead he straightened up and turned away. His eyes happened to fall on Kit. Kit! He’s amazing, but why didn’t I fantasize about Jode before? Was I blind?

Or did the change—did it give Jode something more? An aura, an—atmosphere that induces lust? Infatuation. Love –

“Whoa,” Jode said. Rick turned. Jode was looking down at his own body. Rick, reconfronted with Jode’s beauty, felt his heart start pounding and his skin start to warm again. He was very aware that his own big boner had never gone away and was now pumping and jumping in his uniform slacks. Naturally this thought caused Rick’s eyes to drift downward toward Jode’s gargantuan cock. He suppressed a gasp. During their make-out Jode had gotten a semi-hard-on, and what had been several inches of thick, soft cock visible below the hem of his loose boxers had become—more. Longer, thicker, a huge casing of potential energy, to be unleashed by another man. Not any other man. Only Rick. Only me.

Jode looked up at Rick, not freaking out, not alarmed in any way. He looked merely mildly surprised, like the guy who woke up in the Academy dorms the morning after a party to discover he was naked and sprawled out on the common room couch rather than back in his room. It was a Huh, that’s weird kind of look. A thrill of apprehension ran through Rick’s body. Why is he so calm about something that should be impossible?

Mikey noticed it too. “Interesting,” he said. “Another part of the effect?”

Rick glanced at Mikey, taking in the avatar’s muscle-hunk beauty as if for the first time. A horrifying thought struck him like a taser charge. “Someone’s reprogramming us—just like we did to you!” Rick said, feeling the blood drain from his face. “And they’re doing it for exactly the same reason.”

Mikey frowned. “For kicks?” Rick nodded.

But Mikey shook his head, glancing at the swirling micronebula on the viewscreen. “My analysis suggests a natural effect is still more likely—”

But Rick was too overcome with dismay at his own theory, unproved or not. He dropped down into his command chair, ignoring the unpleasant feeling of the upholstery on his back, and faced Jode, who was still looking at him inquiringly, slightly confused. Rick forced his lust, infatuation, love brusquely aside and said, “Navigator, chart a course clear of this micronebula and execute at best speed!”

“Lieutenant—” Mikey began to object. Rick frowned thunderously at him, his sudden near-panic to get free of the micronebula causing him to be enraged that Mikey was overstepping his bounds and questioning a command decision. Mikey subsided, but he looked unhappy.

Jode had turned and was operating the helm as normally as if nothing bizarre had happened, despite being a few sizes larger than the last time he’d seen Jode working. “Executing course to clear the micronebula, boss,” Jode confirmed. On an ancillary screen next to the main viewer full of milky-blue swirls, Jode had brought up a three-dimensional chart of the nebula, with their own projected course curving through and out into normal space.

“Why is your course not a direct line, cadet?” he asked, half angry, half curious.

“There are gravitational streams and eddies throughout the micronebula,” Jode said. “A direct course would incur greater danger to the ship.”

Rick wanted to order Jode to fly the Fortitude out in a straight line anyway, get them out now, now, now, but he steeled himself to be a proper commander who trusted his officers’ judgment. Jode may have been a kid when he signed up for this mission, but he had proved himself adept half a dozen times already on this mission.

“Gotcha,” Rick said a little reluctantly, relaxing into his uncomfortable chair. There was sweat on his back now, making the chair’s coarse covering even more uncomfortable. Rick stood up irritably.

The viewscreen now showed forward motion. But something was wrong. He was feeling some kind of force. It shouldn’t be the motion of the ship—inertial dampers prevented that. This was something—else—

A sudden riiiiip made Rick snap around. Kyle, sitting serene and unconscious up at the operations console behind him, was the only one of them wearing a tee shirt. It had been loose yesterday, but the young cadet’s body was now packed with muscle, especially thick, heavy pecs and shoulders, and the seams that had been straining along his bulging lats were now starting to pull violently part! And the shirt was also inadequate in other ways—a full pair of deep-carved ab muscles showed where the shirt had been pulled up out of Kyle’s slacks.

“Oh shit—” Rick breathed.

He glanced at Kit over at the comm station. As he watched, Rick could see—it was just barely perceptible—Kit was growing. Very very slowly, but Rick could see it, sense it. Kit was already huge—he had been big before!—but his pecs were swelling and firming, his abs slowly tightening, his legs strengthening. And his cock –

Rick turned to the other side of the bridge where the pale-skinned, red-headed engineer Ted sat. He walked closer to him. Ted had never had any extra body fat, and now he looked like a paragon of impossible fitness: he was growing, but also evolving

Rick’s eyes dropped to Ted’s cock. It had grown the most before, a good eight inches of heft cock spilling out of the regulation boxers before. And now Rick bent down to stare at the beautiful organ as it swelled, a little longer, a little thicker, with each and every passing breath.

The cock started to consume Rick’s vision. He could feel nothing but his heartbeat, see nothing but Ted’s growing cock inching out of his shorts –

“Sir,” called Jode. “Sir!” added Mikey, an unusual note of urgency in his voice.

Rick turned blankly, distracted. No one on this ship ever called him “sir.”

Rick stared at Jode, who was looking down at his pecs and ten-pack and at a cock that was spilling off the front of his chair. “I’m grooooowing,” Jode said, half to himself, as if he were unsure not of what was happening, but where it would lead.

“I tried to tell you, lieutenant,” Mikey said patiently. “This is what happened the first time, while you were asleep.”

And Rick nodded. “The growth is tied into propulsion within the nebula,” he said.

Jode stood up. And up. Rick did gasp this time. He was a head taller than the already tall and lanky Rick now. And his body—he could see, somehow, that every muscle in Jode’s body was filled with thriving life, wanting to grow, to expand, to become not just larger but better, more perfect. From his neck to his ankles, every part of Jode’s gorgeous body was striving, bulging, pushing toward muscle nirvana. And the obscene cock hanging wide and ponderous out of Jode’s boxers, was striving and growing, too, constrained even less than the muscles of Jode’s body which had to remain workable, functional. It could keep growing and growing. It reminded Rick of a great steel pendulum he’d seen once, hanging from the domed rotunda of an important building, nearly scraping the tiles of the lobby five floors below.

Rick said nothing, staring at Jode. He was aware that he was consciously letting the effect happen. Jode was growing. The bridge crew. Sixty-seven young muscle cadets and veterans in the quarters below. All of them, except Mikey, and him. Why except me?

Jode stared back at him, passively, at peace, confidently leaving his life, his growth, his everything in the hands of his commander. Rick was aware of only one sound during that long silent moment, the sound, from behind him, of another thread from Kyle’s shirt seams popping open.

Finally he spoke. “How long until we clear the micronebula?” Rick said, his mouth dry.

Jode already knew the answer. “Twenty-eight minutes.”

Jode was suddenly overwhelmed with an almost irresistible urge to yell, “Floor it!” They’d get out, they’d be a shipful of giants—giants, Rick considered, who’d been screwed around with by some unknown force. For laughs. Or even another, unknown, even sinister reason.

Maybe he’d end up with a shipful of giants, Rick thought ridiculously, but he’d do it on his terms. He shook his head.

“All stop!” he ordered. “Thrusters at station-keeping.”

“Aye aye, boss.” Jode turned to execute the command, bending over his console. But after a few bleeps and bloops Jode quickly turned and looked down at Rick in surprise.

“Boss, the helm won’t answer,” he said, his eyes wide. “We’re still moving!”

Rick stared at his navigator, almost unwilling to comprehend what he was being told. “Clarify your report, cadet,” he said, frowning. “Are you unable to stop forward propulsion, or are you unable to fire thrusters for station-keeping?”

Jode, who was still standing (or, rather, towering) over his console, turned back to face him, his eyes wide; and Rick wished he hadn’t. Officers were trained to deal with the kinds of distractions you expected to get on an interstellar command ship: attacking hostiles, the ship blowing up, passing microsingularities ripping holes in your stewpots… that kind of thing. What officers weren’t trained for, in general, was a crew of hot cadets on a long tour who were already spending way too much time in the ship’s fitness centers suddenly growing and blossoming into fucking gods. Not to mention, said cadets looking at him the way Jode was, as if Rick had invented kissing and in fact like Rick was the only source of this euphorically awesome and indispensable phenomenon in all the known universe. Rick could have done with an exploding bulkhead right about now. He steeled himself and met his nav officer’s gaze with all the steel he could muster.

“Both,” Jode responded. His eyes dropped to Rick’s lips, then he shook his head and met Rick’s eyes again, struggling to collect himself. “I—I had control over engines and thrusters until a minute ago, but now—nothing’s answering, boss. No sell.”

Rick’s eyes narrowed. More games, Rick thought. More jerking us around for someone else’s jollies. This could not be a coincidence. “Keep trying,” he ordered.

Jode nodded. “On it,” he said, and turned back to his station. “I may have a few ideas.”

Rick turned to Mikey. As with Jode, he had to school himself to meet his eyes. And yet, as with Jode, his peripheral vision was sending information straight to his aching hard-on. At least Mikey wasn’t looking at him like he wanted Rick to throw him down and kiss him senseless. “Can you locate the fault?” he asked briskly.

“Yes, lieutenant,” the A.I. answered immediately. “The fault is located in the ship’s command software. An embedded routine has been triggered to disable helm-engine rapport.”

Rick nodded, turning away from Mikey as he considered his options, tapping his lips thoughtfully. Software fault. He knew better than to ask Mikey to fix it: it might have been just paranoid superstition, but it was longstanding permanent protocol in the Alliance navy that shipboard A.I. entities were never to be allowed control access over command software. That meant he needed Kyle to handle the software problem—and maybe Ted, too, for the engineering end, if they had to shut off the engines by brute force (and maybe get them running again by brute force, too, when they had their escape sorted in a way that didn’t turn everyone aboard into colossi. And hang it all, he really should be sending a few “Hello, fuckers!” out into this blasted micronebula and trying to make contact with whoever was jerking them around, if only on the off chance that they’d agree to stop being dickholes if they were asked nicely.

He needed to wake up his whole bridge crew. The way he’d woken up—wait.

He turned to look back at Mikey sharply. Mikey was waiting for it, and when Rick caught his eye again, the A.I. nodded. “That’s right, sir,” he said. “An embedded routine.”

Rick stared hard at Mikey. “Embedded… since when?” he demanded.

“Unknown,” Mikey answered. “External source control summary for that subsystem has been deliberately cleared. Internal source control details are available but require control access.”

Right. He’d need Kyle for that, too, but how a sleeper routine had disabled his helm at exactly the wrong moment was a mystery that could wait until his crew wasn’t being fucked around with. He started to turn away, then checked himself. Unless—He addressed the A.I. again. “Can you tell me if there are any more of these sleeper routines ready to jump out and fuck with us?”

“I am commencing a diagnostic to compare current system configuration with baseline specs. It will take—” He paused fractionally. “—twelve minutes to complete.”

“Proceed. I’ll, uh, see to the men,” he added unnecessarily. Xerg’s tits! I’m explaining things to the A.I. now? He grimaced and moved deliberately around the bridge toward the operations console, which was situated behind the command chair to the right. Along the way he passed first Kit, serenely unconscious at the comms station, and Ted, who sat just as blissfully unaware of things at the engineering panels.

As he came close to each man he felt a powerful pull, almost like he was being physically drawn toward them. It took an effort of will to keep walking. Everything on this damned ship was taking an effort of will.

When he’d lost control leaning over Jode and he’d felt himself moving toward his nav officer, their lips crashing together like suicidal asteroids, he’d gotten a corner of his brain going on the “why” even as the rest of him was consumed by the “wow”. It had offered a tentative suggestion along the lines of pheromones, each of the bridge crewmen emitting something like a particulate into their air. He’d almost asked Mikey about it, except… well, it didn’t seem quite right somehow. It wasn’t in the air with Jode. And now, as he moved around the bridge and felt Kit and then Ted pulling at him, he was sure. It wasn’t something in the air. It was a force, like gravity. Very much like gravity, Rick thought as he pushed himself ruthlessly past Ted’s transgressive beauty. Something within these men was creating a physical pull with something inside him.

Another mystery that could wait.

He stood before his computers-and-systems officer and drew in a sharp breath as he sensed the pull tugging hard at him, almost like it was grabbing him at some physical point inside him—like Kyle’s compelling magnetism was taking hold of his actual heart and pulling them closer together. Rick resisted, but only because he was studying how Kyle had changed and was still changing. The pale blue regulation tee shirt was both too short and packed with thick, burgeoning muscle, and the slacks were straining at his thighs. At least two of the rips he’d heard had been the seams of the shirt giving way atop his swelling shoulders, exposing the skin below where the fabric was pulled taut around the breaches. At the chest the fabric was straining visibly across the chest and seemed likely to fail—already there seemed to be a weak spot where the fabric was pulled too thin right over his sternum between the two huge globes of muscle. The side seams on his dark slacks might start pulling apart thread by thread at any moment, too, and a couple of the fastenings at his fly had already come undone from there pressure of his slowly expanding junk. Rick was weirdly reminded of how embryonic lamosks built muscle mass so quickly within the egg that they didn’t just break out of their shells, they burst out. Kyle’s rapidly developing cock was going to do exactly the same thing.

But what was happening to Kyle was more than size and potency. Like the others, Kyle was being made more in every way Rick understood as beautiful in a man, but in ways unique to Kyle. His pretty face was now heartbreakingly beautiful, long lashes resting on perfect cheekbones, dark hair falling in wavy locks onto his forehead and bulging shoulders, a faint, dark scruff on his chin setting off the sweetness of his youthful face. His lips called to Rick, begging him to let Kyle to unspeakable things to him. He was also close enough to catch Kyle’s scent, and it was intoxicating, a subtle, earthy musk that was everything he loved about men. He though he could feel even the heat from his body, a radiant warmth that seemed to envelop and embrace him. Almost unwillingly Rick breathed in deep, wanting to draw the experience of sharing Kyle’s presence into himself. The ship wasn’t kept cold exactly, but someone in the Alliance brains trust whose job it was to decide such things had prescribed that human comfort and efficiency was best maintained at an ambient temperature a degree or so lower than most recruits new to the fleet expected. Rick was used to it, and yet… the pleasure he got just from the warmth of the unconscious man seated before him matched all the rest of the heady stimuli Kyle was buffeting him with even while totally inert. He wanted to bask in it, but he also wanted more. Rick’s pulse quickened just from looking at him, just from being close to him, but even more from imagining Kyle coming awake, his carnal urges stirring in response to the touch of Rick’s lips before any other part of his consciousness.

The rest of the bridge subsided away into blurred, unfocused unimportance again, though Rick did not let it quite fall away again completely the way he had with Jode. Half articulated visions drifted underneath his consciousness, of him and Kyle embracing… of them waking up in bed curled together, their faces close, eyes locked on each other, Kyle’s beautiful body and mammoth erection stimulating them both beyond the normal possibilities of sensual pleasure… of kisses that melded their infinitely aroused bodies and souls together in perfect shared pleasure, sweet, heart-pounding kisses that lasted as long as the endless life of the expanding universe.

Kyle’s succulent lips filled his vision. Joining his mouth to Kyle’s was necessary. An urgent command to cover Kyle’s painfully beautiful lips with his own consumed his overwhelmed and conflicted mind.

He could resist no longer. He knew, in the small part of himself that retained who he was and what was happening around him, that it was what he came up here to do anyway, despite the thoughts coming from the same tiny self-aware smidgen of brain cells he had left that it was dangerous to submit to this compulsion that derived from an unknown and possibly hostile force. He told himself that the dictates of Kyle’s unstoppable attraction coincided with the imperatives of saving the ship and all hands aboard. Regardless of all considerations there was no reason to hold back and every reason to proceed.

He reached out to brace himself on the panel at Kyle’s station… but somehow his hand found Kyle’s powerful shoulder instead, and his grip ended up right over the tear when Kyle’s growing delts had pulled the seam apart. The awareness of that small patch of bare flesh against his palm made it seem like his touch was more illicit that any skin-to-skin contact he’d ever had before.

Rick bent and touched his lips to Kyle’s.

Barely a heartbeat passed before Kyle began responding. It was nice just brushing their lips together, especially with all the impact of being close to Kyle—his warmth, his scent, the awareness of his slow, steady transcendence. But Kyle’s lips began to move gently against Rick’s as if tentatively exploring a new sensation, and the thrill of it sent sparks of delight up Rick’s spine. Erotic tension swelled massively within him and flooded it already straining cock and balls. Kyle’s lips moved more, intensifying the kiss, and Rick helplessly followed suit. His consciousness filled with thoughts of Kyle’s lips, and an image of Kyle’s mouth wrapping around his raging erection, engulfing him, hit him so powerfully that he thought for a moment he could actually feel Kyle going down on him. His heart pounded madly in his chest, and just as he moved to deepen the kiss Kyle opened for him and snuck just the tip his tongue into Rick’s mouth, making brief, electrifying contact with Rick’s own tongue. Rick moaned. The pleasure was so intense that suddenly he was microns away from humming, just from the merest exploratory beginnings of a kiss. And if a kiss could be that potent—what would it be like to make love to him? Those faint images he’d still been percolating under his consciousness of Kyle and him being naked together drifted forward in his mind… the two of them, fucking hard in a bed in an empty field, like they’d done in a story he’d read once… untold time exploring each other’s bodies, memorizing every curve with hands and lips and tongues… lazy hours curling up together in his home on Elgon III, laughing under the sheets as a storm raged outside… the two of them wrapped contentedly around each other, kissing and holding each other forever

Rick wanted that, but he knew—he knew—that it could not be, at least not now, not until the ship and hands that were his responsibility alone were saved. There was no one else. It was down to him, and he must be strong. It took all the stubbornness and resilience he had in him, from his deepest reserves, to wrench his lips free from Kyle’s. His heart battered itself against his ribs, and his dick was still begging to explode with cum. Even so he didn’t get very far. Their tender, slightly bruised lips were only an inch or so apart. His hand stayed where it was, grasping Kyle’s bulging shoulder and feeling his hot flesh through the minutely expanding tear. Rick let himself feel Kyle’s breath on his mouth and chin as he tried to control himself. He let Kyle feel his breath, too, hoping deep down he liked it.

Slowly, Rick lifted his eyes from Kyle’s sweet lips. Kyle did so too, his lashes rising as he met Rick’s gaze. Rick saw so much feeling there, so much desire and awe in Kyle’s green-gold eyes, that his heart very nearly broke. “Don’t stop,” Kyle begged, his voice barely a whisper.

Rick almost whimpered. Instead he mustered his tattered willpower. Keeping his face close, he said softly, “I wish I didn’t have to, buddy. But we’ve got work to do.”

The conflict in Kyle’s unbearably beautiful eyes was so obvious it was almost like watching a storm. But Kyle quickly found a way to master himself, too, if only to emulate Rick’s resolve. “Okay,” he said quietly, the barest quaver discernible in his voice. “I’m ready.” Then a couple lines appeared between his brows and he seemed to suppress a wince. “I might need to remove my trousers, boss. Is that okay?” the tiniest curve of one corner of his lips tipped off Kyle’s awareness of the unusualness of the request.

Understanding the reason for this—namely, the strain his enormous and still-swelling dick was putting on Kyle’s trousers—nearly hurled Rick’s still-edging junk into the mind-obliterating orgasm that was quivering in every inch of his body, waiting to erupt. Rick screwed himself harder, steeling his resolve and inwardly shouting down his emotions. Duty. The ship. He let his own lip quirk, to show Kyle everything was okay, and he could see the relief in his eyes. The changes he was undergoing weren’t strange in themselves, but the need to accommodate them stretched the usual protocols, and Kyle was more cognizant of the value of standards and regulations then most of the rest of his snark, jovial, and altogether stellar crew.

“Do what you need to do, cadet,” he replied drily. Then, more seriously, his face still an inch from Kyle’s, he explained in a low, quiet voice about the sleeper subroutine that had negated helm control, and the possibility that there might be more such tricks ahead, depending on the results of Mikey’s diagnostic.

Kyle nodded. “I should be able to bypass it or kill it,” he whispered confidently.

“That’s what I’m counting on,” Rick said with a smile. Then, for no other reason than because he could, he leaned forward and shared a short, pulse-quickening kiss with the godly geek officer before pulling away with a nod and a mock-stern, back-to-work expression. Kyle blinked away the dazed expression that had come over him and managed to nod back, though the second Rick started to turn away from him, wondering about whether kissing Kyle might potentially be a routine part of the way the bridge functioned now and how terrible/awesome an idea that might be, he sensed Kyle already scrabbling for the fastenings on his trousers, no doubt needing to free his oversized tackle (not to mention his flourishing thighs) from the constraints of his uniform pants at the earliest possible moment.

As he reluctantly straightened up and finished turning away from Kyle, Rick caught sight of Jode and felt a pang of sudden guilt. Jode was looking bigger and more stunningly sexy than ever, not alpha-massive like Kit but powerful and ready, like he would be a phenomenon in any fight, like he could run forever, shift anything, throw any challenger across the arena and mop the floors with him afterwards. His not quite hairless pecs were large and firm, his dark nips hard and tipped downward from tan skin, and his arms and shoulders had any raw recruit beat by a parsec; but the overall impression was not mass but power, and unmeasurable physical competence, and unseen, giddy potential. For the first time, a stray through flitted across Rick’s consciousness that his crew, exploring the hazards and threats of the unknown universe like this, would be unlike any starship crew ever seen.

Jode was still standing at his station, turned half toward it with one hand still on the panel, but he was staring up toward the back of the bridge,toward Rick and Kyle. His mouth was agape, and his cock… Xerg’s testicles, Rick swore to himself. Before, the Latino nav officer’s heavy, chubbed cock had been falling down out of his regulation boxers and stretching downward is if it wanted to kiss Jode’s ankles. No longer. Jode was now rock hard, his massive erection jutting out in front of him like an extra arm shoving out from his crotch, rigidly positioned at maybe ten degrees above the horizontal, hugely long and thick and flushed with red. Rick observed with that detached part of his brain that somehow Jode had managed to reposition his cock, presumably while it was still mostly soft, so that it was erupting not from the leg but straight out of the fly, the opening barely big enough to accommodate the massive erection, and the plackets on either side were wrapped tight around his shaft like an eager mouth. In fact Jode had grown so much since the start of this crisis that every inch of those boxers was plastered to him. The growth in his thighs, only sparsely hair-dusted like his chest and abs, had already forced a small tear low on the side facing Rick, like the shorts were at any moment going to start to rip straight up the side of Jode’s leg if things progressed much further. Consciousness of all that fell away, though, as Rick let himself take in the size and mesmerizing potency of Jode’s colossal, unstoppable erection…

Rick realized he was staring at at Jode’s cock—worse, he was letting his mind fill with thoughts of wrapping his mouth and hands around as much of it as he could manage. Quickly he tore his eyes up to meet Jode’s. He half expected to see anger there, or jealousy—after all, Rick had kissed Jode only moments before, and now there he was, kissing anyone he liked on the bridge like a common tramp. But there was no censure in Jode’s bright, brown eyes. What Rick saw there was pure, raw, undeniable arousal. Jode had been watching Rick and Kyle making out, and the sight of it had turned on Jode so much that his twice-too-big cock had swollen to total hardness, and now Jode was sporting a dick more rigid than the ship’s macrotitanium struts. Holy testosterone, did he want to look at it again, to move toward it, to lick it, smell it, feel its heat against his hands and cheeks… but he kept his gaze firmly locked with Jode’s. Swallowing, he said a little hoarsely, “Any luck with the helm?”

Jode seemed to surface from whatever thoughts he was thinking. “Luck,” he repeated. “Yes. Yes, and no.” Jode seemed to take a deep breath and steady himself. He glanced down at his panel, then back up at Rick. “Propulsion and thrusters still won’t answer, but I was able to trigger and explosive vent on cargo hold 7 that mitigated most of our forward momentum. We’re not at station-keeping, but our forward motion has been reduced to point oh two milliroffs.”

Rick nodded. Point oh two—hopefully that was enough to slow things down, at least until they could sort out the software sabotage and work out some kind of plan of escape. “Good work, Jode,” he said.

Jode’s cheeks colored at Rick’s praise, something that had never happened before. These growing, evolving adonises were sure having an effect on him, Rick thought; but somehow, he was having at least as powerful an effect on them. And…

He paused, turning away from Jode and heading for Kit’s station—they needed communications before engineering, he wagered. He considered the calmly unconscious form across the bridge at the comm station, a figure of untold beauty radiating palpable carnality even at this distance, every inch of him as sensual and erogenous as the unnaturally massive, round, wrist-thick cock spilling from his boxers. Kit would be a handful, both while waking up and especially after Kit realized he and Rick were making out. But Rick could handle Kit, even an oversexed, impossibly muscled, overstimulated, and hyper-aroused Kit. Rick knew that the adoration he saw in Kyle and Jode was going to surface in Kit, too, even if it was expressed as aggression; and that would give Rick some kind of leverage to control the helplessly deep feelings he’d been breeding in his heart and guts (and balls) for the cocky comm cadet since the mission started, and that had only worsened with every day of twinkling eyes, and crooked grins, and the casually expressed sexual swagger of his already stunning body and features… a total package now stepped up beyond anything Rick could have dreamed of. On any other day Rick could have drowned in this man, maybe willingly. But today—today, they were going to fight to a draw.

Rick moved slowly around the outer circle of the bridge toward Kit’s station, his eyes cast carefully down so the man wasn’t flooding his sight and senses. He made himself brutally shove all thoughts of Kit aside. He needed to gather together the threads of what he’d been considering just before, to nudge his logic centers into firing on all cylinders, like he was used to in an emergency situation. There was a method to all this—a reason and a plan. That was what he had been thinking.

He reached a spot between Ted and Kit and paused, wanting to marshal his logic before Kit started twisting his thoughts and feelings all up in knots. Method. Purpose. Plan. The growth effect of the micronebula might have been an accident: just a weird phenomenon, stumbled across in uncharted space. Weird shit happened in the dark between the stars. But leaving him immune, and with the key to reviving the crew, didn’t feel like random chance at all; and the sleeper subroutine clinched it. There was a plan, and the trick to getting out of this was probably figuring that plan out before it was too late.

“Boss! Boss!” Jode said suddenly, sounding alarmed.

Rick whipped around toward him. “What is it?”

“Vree warships, dead ahead,” Jode said. He touched a few controls on the console before him and looked up at the main view screen. The swirls of the micronebula shifted focus, and suddenly Rick’s stomach sank as he beheld not one, not two, but four blood-red Vree F-class battleships, each half again the size of the Fortitude and diamond-arrayed to stand directly across their path out of the cloud. Rick had always though Vree ships looked like ugly, lethal insects, and these latest battleship designs were no different. The gyrating light patterns of the phenomenon made them appear eerie and alien, even more than usual.

Jode watched the readings on his panel closely, tapping a few controls to bring up new readings. “Sir, they’re charging weapons,” he said suddenly, turning to look over at Rick in dismay. “All enemy ships are preparing to fire!”

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