[personal profile] lit_gal
tapdancingThis is an original I'm working on, although it does take big pieces from a fanfic of mine. This chapter should (hopefully) set up this world.

Tap Dancing the Minefields

George “Tank” Tanki started fighting when he was fourteen and his high school classmate had her estranged father show up and want to reclaim his daughter for her demonic heritage. Since that time, he helped fight the forces of darkness. They won that war, but Tank felt like he lost himself. Searching for meaning in life, he joined the Army. He hoped to find a normal war and a way to connect with normal people. Instead he found the government had a few secrets of their own.

Lev is an engineer, and a damn good one. He serves in a secret government agency dealing with aliens that have been exploring and exploiting earth for generations. He’s also a geek in a world of soldiers. He never expected that the addition of one more emotionally damaged man to his base would change everything. While Lev’s heart warns him to avoid getting involved with someone already so young and his common sense tells him that on-base romance is trouble, he finds himself falling for the young man with sad eyes. But in their line of business, love sometimes takes a backseat to saving the world.


Link to chapters one and two


Chapter Three

“So, this is…” Tank looked around at the unnatural shapes and angles, although technically the room was natural, but Tank preferred drywall and ninety degree angles. This part of the downed ship had walls that resembled leathery skin, and in places it stretched over bonelike structures. Instead of being a square, the room was actually shaped like an oval with the narrow ends pinched.

“The bed is really comfortable.” Lev climbed up a ladder that looked more like a tree and crawled into a bed that was about as wide as a full size but twice as long.

“The aliens must be freakishly tall,” Tank said as he considered the dimensions. After he’d signed a mile of non-disclosure agreements, he’d gotten the full rundown. Post WWII jets were the first planes to spot the aliens. Apparently the aliens hadn’t expected humans to develop that technology so quickly, so they were caught off guard. The US, Russian, China, and India all had units to deal with aliens, who still had a bad habit of showing up and either grabbing a bunch of people for experiments or just setting up shop in some small town and running research there.

Current thinking was that the aliens were scientists, only researchers with really scary technology that could kick ass. The American government had created the Incursion Force to protect civilians as best they could without open warfare or killing. The fear was that if humans proved too dangerous, the scientists might show up with alien armies, and no one knew how that might end. So the president had charged the IF with deescalating conflicts, capturing and studying technology, and protecting civilians, in that exact order. Given some of the incidents, Tank would rather shoot some aliens between the eyes.

The aliens had released a chemical that led to aggression in a small town in Kansas. In Montana, they were taking blood samples from newborns. Texas had some alien asshole who picked people up at night, and returned them drunk. In the 1970s, aliens had revealed themselves to one small cult and then tracked all the members. However, in the 1980s, they had used a cloud of vaccine to stop an outbreak of smallpox after an ecoterrorist had released it in a populated area in Ohio. Tank didn’t see the logic, not that he was big with logic anyway, but still. The pieces he had didn’t fit together, and if what Tank had experienced for five years of his life was one more experiment, he was going to hunt down Marie’s father and gut him.

But Tank couldn’t make the idea of alien experiments jive with what he’d experienced. Marie and Zhu did have supernatural abilities, and Tank had met their fathers. Okay, their fathers had tried killing him, but Tank had seen their very human looking faces and normal sized bodies. And when Mr. Peterson and his wife used spells to conjure and banish demons, the demons were actually conjured and banished. If these were all aliens, then why the hell would a spell work? Ellie had been the thinker of the group—Ellie and Zhu. Tank didn’t have the tools to understand any of this. So right now he was trying to keep two separate boxes in his head.

In box one he had his entire high school life complete with demon ceremonies, back alley sword fights, kidnappings and demonic possession.

In box two he had alien scientists using Earth as their Petri dish and sometimes poking part of the dish with a stick to see what happened.

Lev sat cross legged in the middle of the bed. “You’re taking this better than most people. I think Clyde’s actually a little suspicious of your whole attitude. He mentioned looking for marijuana in your bags because no one was this calm without chemical assistance.”

Tank snorted. “The colonel is suspicious of everyone as far as I can see.” That is, everyone who wasn’t on his team. Tank could respect that. Actually, Tank kinda had been that—the asshole who glared suspiciously at any and all strangers who got too close to the group. Yep, Tank got it. Every once in a while he suspected he might even need a scowl or two aimed in his direction. Besides, privates did not get to tell colonels how to treat people.

“Yeah, he is, but he has precedent on his side.” Lev made a face.

“I’m assuming ‘precedent’ means alien invaders.”

Lev looked at him oddly.

“Or not. Vocabulary is not my big strength.” Tank blushed. Nothing like showing off your ignorance in front of a man with a PhD in engineering. Dr. Lev Underwood. That’s who Tank had nailed in a closet, and it didn’t take any special brains to know that Lev was way too good for Tank, but it was hard to keep it professional when Lev was sitting in the middle of Tank’s bed. “I’m not exactly brilliant.”

Lev rolled his eyes. “Says the man who blew my aptitude test out of the water. Campbell had better improve or I’m going to replace him as my second.”

“Campbell has a PhD.” Tank really didn’t need Lev to lie just to make him feel better.

“Campbell took two weeks to figure out a creative solution to the leaking snot conduit problem.” Lev sounded disgusted.

Tank didn’t tell Lev that he’d spent a good chunk of his high school years playing with this sort of tech and trying to get pieces to work. It gave him an unfair advantage. Tank imagined calling up Zhu and explaining that the government thought he was brilliant with demonic toys. The man would laugh until he broke a rib.

Lev climbed down from the bed. “So, are you going to take these quarters?”

Tank did like the idea of privacy. A bunk in the enlisted quarters meant living under the constant gaze of others. Given that most of the base knew Tank was an involuntary recruit, that felt a little like being guarded. “What’s the bathroom like?”

“A little gross, but the biologists insist it’s far more hygienic than toilet paper. On the counter you’ll find an informal brochure they give to new people to explain how to use the various bits.”

“It’s going to involve alien goo, isn’t it?” Tank asked.

“Maybe?” Lev gave him a boyish smile, and Tank found most of his aggravation fading away. Lev was clearly older, but he still had a charm and youthfulness about him that made him cute. The way he was always adjusting his glasses and looking down as though not sure what to say was a major turn on. Tank was used to being overpowered by bigger personalities, and with Lev, he felt like there was space for him in the room.

“It’s really fascinating, but if you think of this entire ship like a body, you’ll see why it’s a rather wet place to live. Living tissue is in constant need of feeding, and the various conduits and goo around here help make sure that all the parts receive nutrients, and that’s important because, like a body, all these parts have to stay in balance. I’m actually halfway through a masters in developmental biology and embryology because you having to know the medical side of the systems as well as the mechanical one. I can’t even imagine the skill required to genetically engineer bone to take on the structure of interior walls or convince a mucus membrane to form around the working gears of a ballast system in order to function like lubricant.” Lev sounded so excited, but then he stopped. “I’m boring you, aren’t I?”

“Um. No. I only look bored. It’s like resting bitchface, only more lethargic and likely to piss off teachers and drill sergeants.” As far as Tank was concerned, anything that helped him understand this new reality fascinated the hell out of him. They’d barely won their fight against Marie’s father, and now Tank was having to reconsider every moment that had led up to their last fight—up to Ellie’s death. Every piece of information he could gather was one more puzzle piece and he needed all the clues he could get. “I’m totally into hearing about mucus membranes.”

From the suspicious look Lev gave him, he wasn’t buying it.

“Hey, if you’re boring me, you'll know it. Trust me. I’ll be making inappropriate jokes and trying to convince you that I have a sudden and undeniable urge for donuts.”

“So, if you go for donuts, I should take offense?” Lev sounded amused. “We might have a problem because I really like donuts.”

“Most people do. I guess I shouldn’t have told you that, huh? Marie never did figure out why I kept running for the donut shop.”

“Marie?”

Tank hesitated. How did he describe how important Marie was to him? She was way more than a friend, but a lot of that bonding and love came from a mutual dedication to surviving. Until he left New York, Tank had no idea how difficult it would be to explain things to normal, sane people, and it wasn't even like Lev was in the deep and committed end of sane. “You know how I described Zhu?”

“The guy who took everything apart, down to the last screw,” Lev agreed. “And the guy you think is better than you with machines, although I still maintain that you are amazingly gifted at working with this technology. You should think about studying engineering.”

“Seriously, stop saying that.” Tank straddled one of the alien beam and propped his foot up on a conveniently placed ledge. “I am not into engineering, and if you keep implying I’m smart, someone is going to believe you.”

“Tank, you blew through an assessment I use on people with PhD’s in engineering. You figured out how to redirect biological systems in order to get them to integrate with the mechanical parts in ways that allow both to function. What would you call that other than being naturally talented at engineering?”

“Being lucky,” Tank said. “It just seemed like some things fit together better than others.”

“They seemed to fit?” Lev gave him a sharp look, and Tank remembered too late that the goal was to play dumb. Sure, with demon toys the blues always went on the right with the reds going to the left, but Tank wasn’t prepared to explain that they had figured that out by screwing around with a briefcase they’d stolen from Marie’s father. And that briefcase up blew up and covered them all with demon slime when they crossed green with yellow. Never cross green with yellow. Tank had learned to just run at the mere sight of yellowish green.

“I can’t explain why some things looked more right.” He gave a helpless ‘aw shucks’ shrug.

“That’s called an inarticulate expert. It means you understand systems, but your understanding is incomplete so you can’t explain it or put all the puzzle pieces together, but you still know the right answer because your subconscious gets it.”

Tank could feel the weight of Lev’s high expectations like a lead vest as he tried to swim. “Let’s just leave it at me being the part time dishwasher and part time prodigy who doesn’t plan to do much but sit in the back of engineering and learn.”

“Yeah, yeah, but the second you see some of the people I work with, you’re going to understand why I want you with your hands in the systems around here. I have biologists who get the living part and engineers who get the mechanics, but people who can cross that bridge and get how animate and inanimate parts work in tandem is frighteningly rare. You watch. You’re going to get frustrated with someone who is obviously doing something wrong and jump in. I give you three days of watching before one of my incredibly well-intentioned staff members has you pushing them to one side so you can fix something.”

“And if you let me touch anything, I’m questioning your judgment,” Tank shot back.

Lev laughed. “Three days. A PhD doesn’t mean anything when none of your classes teaching you the systems involved. I trust you and your gut more than a lot of my mechanical engineers. Besides, this is a reverse engineering project. We disabled the dangerous systems years ago.”

“Like the mating pheromone system,” Tank asked dryly.

Lev blushed and dropped his gaze to the floor, which made his hair flop in front of his eyes. “Okay, maybe there are a few systems that might prove problematic.”

“Problematic?” That was one word for it. Tank had never seen so many military people embarrassed at one time. But it had given Tank some very happy memories. “Then again, it wasn’t all a problem.”

Lev smiled. He was painfully cute for a grown man with a doctorate. And Tank was feeling insanely proud of the fact that he had gotten that expression out of the man.

“So, Marie.” Lev sat on the second step of the crooked ladder leading to the bed, his elbows on knees as if he was waiting for storytelling hour. The problem was that Tank hadn’t quite decided how to edit his stories. He hated lying to a lover, and Tank was seriously hoping they were lovers as opposed to people who had randomly had really hot sex in a closet before living in denial until the powers that be decided to let him off this base. That would suck. Tank wouldn’t even mind being the secret closet buddy.

“Marie is part three of the three musketeers.” Tank felt the familiar stone in his heart when he said that. There had been five of them, but Roger… Tank couldn’t go there even in the privacy of his mind, and Ellie was a pain too vivid to share. So that left three. Tank, Marie and Zhu. He edited his story to tell as much of the truth as he could without betraying either his friends or his grief. “My father walked out when I was in diapers. My mom… well, feeding me wasn’t easy. She worked more than she was at home, and Marie and Zhu became my family.”

“I could arrange for you to get a call through to them.” Lev offered.

“The security around here is a little on the hyper-paranoid side, which makes sense considering that technically this is like huge black-ops, covert world secret stuff. However, Marie and Zhu are not big with the trusting of the government and are even less big with the secret government stuff.”

“What do you mean?” Lev leaned forward. Keeping secrets from him was not going to be easy. The man was sharp, and Tank... not so much. Some days Tank really wished someone would hit him hard enough on the head to make him forget all the stuff he didn’t want to know so he could have a normal life. Then again, his first shot at normalcy had landed him in the middle of an alien conspiracy, so clearly that wasn’t going really well for him.

“Marie has had a few… troubles. Not troubles, more issues. Or issue-like points of contention. There was a bodega and a fire and these gang members who made some accusations that may or may not have been true.” Tank watched the growing shock on Lev’s face and tried to change verbal directions. “And Marie is the sweetest woman in the world, assuming you don’t get between her and any clearance shoe sales, which is not smart. Trust me. But she has the worst luck. I mean, the one day I show up here you have a hormone bomb go off. If Marie ever visited, the ship would spontaneously combust. That’s just Marie’s luck.”

Tank didn’t add that most of her luck came down to her father trying to force her to his side. The police would accuse Marie, and her father would offer to sweep in with a big name law firm, if she would only sign her soul over to him. At least Zhu’s father had only been dismissive and murderous. Trying to steal your daughter’s soul was particularly slimy.

“I’ve known a few people with shockingly bad luck,” Lev said.

“We had this gang break into our school, and Marie just happened to be in the library and the police said that the gang members weren’t on the surveillance tape. I guess they came in some other way, but the police tried saying that Marie had set off a bomb in there and they called it terroristic. It was a mess.” The look on Lev’s face was getting worse. Tank rubbed his hand over his face. “I just made her sound like a psycho, didn’t I?”

Lev cleared this throat. “Maybe a little.”

“Yeah. That’s why she usually doesn’t let me describe her. She knows I have diarrhea of the mouth.” At least Tank had stopped before describing the nasty bit of demon summoning and blackmail required to get her father to call off the prosecution.

“Logorrhea.”

Tank squinted at Lev.

“Diarrhea of the mouth is logorrhea. The root is logos meaning word or discourse, but the rhea actually comes from Latin through the French rheum, meaning flowing or stream.”

"Either you like your words or you really know how to lie really, really well."

Lev's small little smile broke out into a wide grin. "A little of both," he admitted. "So, why aren't you calling Marie?"

“Well.” Sitting up, Tank tried to figure out how to explain this right. “To use the phone system here, the sergeant said that they have to run a security check on the person on the other end. If Marie found out that I put her name in front of a government agency after all the trouble she’s had, she’d pretty much kill me. I try to avoid death whenever possible. It has a really crappy retirement plan.”

Lev didn’t even try to hide that he was laughing at Tank. “Okay. So, you’re never calling them again?”

He gave Lev a dirty look. “Four months. I really hope that even if the colonel keeps me stationed here that in four months I will qualify for some leave.”

“He is only pretending to be an asshole,” Lev promised, which wasn’t the same as promising that Tank would ever get his life back.

“Good pretending skills.”

Lev laughed. “More than you know. So, what do you think of the quarters?”

Tank looked around. He liked the privacy and he could deal with the alien life form around him, even if his gut still wanted to scream ‘demon.’ “It’s a lot better than barracks. Does the quartermaster have sheets big enough for that bed?” Tank was also going to have to figure out how to make it. Because the bed was like a nest tucked into a niche, he could have to crawl around on the sheet while tucking it. Hopefully no one would expect military corners.

“The bed has temperature controls on the wall. I could show you how to use them,” Lev said. His tone was low and soft, and the hairs on the back of Tank’s neck stood up. Either that was one hell of a good “come fuck me” voice or all Tank’s wires were crossed.

“You’d show me how to use the bed?” Tank really needed to make sure he wasn’t getting this wrong because he had misinterpreted interest in some painful ways in the past. “I don’t want to annoy you by pushing in where I’m not wanted.”

“Oh, you’re wanted,” Lev assured him. “You helped save the base, and we’re going to be working together closely, maybe for years. I think we can make arrangements without annoying each other.” Lev got a wide grin on his face that made it very clear that he wouldn't mind a longer term arrangement. Tank had a fantasy of jumping the man right then and there.

“Okay, so…" Tank answered.

Lev stood up. “So medical said you needed a good night’s sleep since John wants you to start with the trainees tomorrow, evaluating your fighting, and after you’re finished, I’ll show you how to control the temperature on my bed.”

Tank’s cock almost drooped in disappointment when he realized he wasn’t getting an invite tonight. Yeah, he should probably rest up for tomorrow’s evaluation, but he was the official dishwasher and floor mopper. He didn’t exactly have to do more than show up at a combat evaluation so that the trainer could certify that he wasn't likely to shoot himself in the foot. Lev, however, was already heading for the door. “So, when you and John are finished tomorrow, I’ll see you then. Okay?”

“But…” Tank didn’t want to agree--he wanted to go with Lev right now--but Lev almost dashed out of the room, his pants showing a suspicious bulge.

Tank cursed adulthood. He hated having to be responsible and boring and not have sex when he had to get up early in the morning. Stripping off his shirt, he threw it at the corner before heading into the bathroom. Now he had to deal with slime in his bathroom and blue balls. The main barracks sounded better with every passing second; however, Tank didn’t like going back on his decisions. So he picked up the black and white brochure and started reading about how to use an alien toilet.

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