Dream Command: A Kinky Queer Sci-Fi Thriller

Updated March 27, 2016 11:38am PDT
Dream1

illustration by Ben Passmore

For Serra and Natalie, who delight; for afishtrap, the soul of kindness.

General Kanjanut has the kind of physique that fills women with a certain thirst and strikes a blow into the hearts of men (a threat to masculinity being much like an ischemic event). 

When she walks into a room, you notice her, sure as Earth notices the sun. All muscle, all presence, and a face like artwork. I've a few times fantasized what she's like in bed, but one doesn't proposition superior officers, especially that high up the chain of command.

Her career has been exciting: the kind that inspires, the kind that drew me to enlist in the first place–plain stupid hero worship. General Kanjanut has seen more assassinations than a history textbook, more deep cover ops than spy thrillers, more negotiation deals than your average regime. We think of her as an omen: a herald of the momentous, of historic turning points.

Which makes her showing up at my apartment something of a special occasion.

Her arrival is announced by an engine rumble, the kind you don't hear much anymore. I don't recognize the sound for what it is at first–it is that unusual–and out of habit I edge to the door with a gun in hand. Can't ever be too safe. Most officers of my pay grade live in army compounds. Bases, really. My wife doesn't like being surrounded by that much military. I agree. I strive for a separation of work and life. But then, no security.

It's raining that day. Enough to put chill and ice into the afternoon. When I was a kid, stuck in the frilly dresses that are the lot of little girls, Krungthep never got cooler than twenty-five degrees. Rain meant humid damp. After the world broke, things got rather different. Officers get the perks: access to electricity, heating and dehumidifiers. Far cry from my teens, lighting by lamp and candle.

I hastily holster the gun. Do my best to look presentable.

It's tricky to open the door and salute immaculately at once. I try. The general's mouth twitches slightly as she steps in and pulls off her boots. "At ease, Lieutenant Sitiporn."

She's in uniform, slightly damp. One arm clasped around a bottle. Imported sake. A plain silver band circles one of her thumbs, gleaming with stray raindrops.

Her fingers beguile. They are blunt but long, nails trimmed to regulation standards. Those calluses on sensitive nerves. Those thick digits moving, crooking, filling. In the fantasies–those dangerous, occasional fantasies–it's her hands that feature the most, the strength of their grip and the deftness of her fingers. Kissing doesn't come up, somehow. Kissing on the mouth is what I do with my wife.

"Don't stand in your own home. And no need to fret, I don't expect officers to be in uniform off-duty and in the privacy of their own apartment. Khun Deepika isn't here?"

Desultory conversation. It’s getting surreal. Save for the starkness of the general's tone and poise, this could have been a pornographic scenario tailored to my libido. "She's at work, General." Teacher, in this day and age. Pay isn't great. She does it for the love of education. "I, ah, you're always welcome here of course–"

She puts the sake bottle to the side. "Keep this for special occasions." Crosses her legs. Powerful calves; muscled thighs. I imagine for a moment what those thighs would feel like at the sides of my head.

"Just as well. I've got something to discuss with you."

Code for classified. Deepika doesn't much like it when I'm involved with that sort of thing, but she understands that, though we share nearly everything else, my job isn't part of the 'two bodies, one soul' deal.

"How may I serve you, General?" A touch on the obsequious side, but a safer bet than the alternative.

"Tell me what you think of this woman." The general draws a laminated photo from her pocket, lays it down flat on the table.

The photo is grayscale, the gradients fine enough to show that it's a tasteful edit rather than the camera being that archaic. The woman has up-tilted eyes, a tiny nose, a pointed face. Small bones and, at a guess, no taller than one-sixty. Delicate and pretty in a nondescript way. If you like that kind of thing. 

Me, I like women a bit more. Harder features, more breast, and so on.

"She'll blend in most places."

The general nods. "She rather does. Makes a point of doing so. You'd never pick her out of a crowd, probably won't remember her face. Her name's Jiraya Anderson. Thai mother, farang father. I sent her to infiltrate an American base in Palangkaraya. She came back last month and I have reasons to believe that she's been suborned."

I begin to see where this is going. A chilling notion: one of our own turned to American allegiance.

"That's where you come in," the general continues. "Not to belabor the obvious as to why I'm not sending her former colleagues to catch her. Division tribalism, old camaraderie. I want you to work with her on reintegration; it's a process returning infiltrators have to go through. Catch up on current events, and so on."

Normally you never admit you aren't good enough or the most suitable for a mission, especially not to a superior officer, but… "Covert ops aren't quite my forte, General."

"Jiraya is used to working around scalpels; you are a blunt instrument. Like most intelligence officers she will underestimate a rank-and-file soldier and therefore make missteps in front of you. You are to observe her."

Her hand moves, animated again. Hypnotic, really. The idea of what that hand could do. Whether it'd leave bruises on your skin. 

"I'm interested in how you perform in a different environment. Unconventional operations are a good test. I can never have too many good soldiers close to my side."

There's an offer: career acceleration, and something more. The general has taken on protégés before. What goes on behind closed doors is a matter of rumor and myth-making. The officers that emerge from it either quit the army entirely or go on to be brilliant commanders in their own right.

It's hard not to be tempted. Promotions mean a bigger apartment, nicer fridge and blackout curtains, beds that don't hurt to sleep on. Higher allotment of foodstuff and maybe, eventually, a parental license that Deepika has always wanted. At my pay grade we don't qualify for that. "I'm beyond grateful, General, that you would consider me. I'm in."


In person, Jiraya is uncannily like her photograph. Neat and well-groomed as a glamor shot despite the flight, but also peculiarly monodimensional, a cultivated flatness. I'd expected to see more of the farang side in her, though for the most part she could pass easily as simply Thai.

The first thing she says to me is, "I didn't think you would wear makeup." Her Thai rattles slightly, the tones snagging from too long with Angrit, but mostly it is arithmetically precise.

I concede: “Most toms don’t.” When there's time, I put on at least eyeliner, mascara, a touch of lip tint. Incongruous with the haircut, masculine shirt, and breasts bound beneath my uniform. The effect amuses me, as it does Deepika.

We are meeting in Suwannaphum, a whittled phantom of its former self. To a child it looked enormous, roofs high and lambent, escalators winding through like sharp-scaled gunmetal snakes. 

We're shielded from the post-war waste and glass storms, quite literally, by a network of hope and prayers: when we sleep, when we zone out, we all contribute in some way to powering the dream-machines. I've never figured out the science. I hear Yeepun struck a pact with the mountain gods and snow women, kappa and kamaitachi, to keep the nation safe. Their highest authorities make bargains with mermaids to stay ageless.

"I've been away five years."

I push her suitcase overhead. First-class carriage, though that doesn't mean much; mostly designated for state use. "How do I address you?"

"My formal rank's complicated. Colonel, technically. Do you know," Jiraya says, musingly, "that it was General Kanjanut who came up with this rehabilitation program? Even ambassadors and diplomats have to go through it. Sometimes it feels like the general's running not just soldiers' lives but the country entire."

An odd thing to say.

We get Jiraya settled in a penthouse, which is to say I do most of the settling–hanging her clothes up in the wardrobe, checking that each power socket works–while she lies on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Limbs spread, long hair a corona.

"Deep cover's an interesting thing; it's easy to lose your sense of self to the role. You think it's like in the movies, only it's much more mundane, more like setting up props, so much legwork. Never thought, though, that I'd get to play femme fatale."

"A what?"

"Farangset word. Angrit borrowed it. Translates to something like lethal seductress, the constant in every noir movie. He liked those, you see, the Canadian officer. My husband. My prop."

She stretches, one hand lifted lazily; she peers through her fingers as though between them there's a secret to divine.

"Have you ever killed someone, Lieutenant? Some soldiers never see combat."

"I have." Something about her unsettles. An unmoored quality. Like she's not entirely here. "With all due respect, should I be hearing all this?"

"The general cleared you. You can hear whatever it pleases me to tell you." She laughs. A dead, flat sound. "Has she told you when she might deign to see me?"

"She hasn't mentioned it." 

"He's dead now, the Canadian. I took care of him when I left, plus a few extras. His family. His children. I'd like her  to listen--to see--what I have become. What she's turned me into."

Abruptly she sits up, eyes alert.

"Take me out shopping."


At the train station, she stops me when I map our tickets for Central Westgate, one of the glitzier malls for higher-ranking officials. "Siam Paragon," she says. "Where normal people go."

"It won't have everything you might want, Colonel."

"Do you have any idea what Palangkaraya is like?"

I don't, and so do not comment, even though I get the niggling feeling that I should be commenting, probing. Vivisecting her until her core is exposed and we can determine whether she is corrupt, turned to treason. The colonel is talking plenty. Why am I giving pause? An intuition, perhaps. Behind her nondescript face fatal wildness lurks: puncture that and what spills through will be what I don't want to see, to hear.  It will infect me.

Decades ago, Siam Paragon was fancy, marble and luster and luxury, expensive storefronts. Today its walls have been blown out for ventilation. Its floors have turned into indoor markets, stalls selling sticky rice and curries, north-eastern and northern sausages and roti. 

The colonel picks out toothpaste and toothbrush, holding them up reverently. "You can't get these in Palangkaraya unless you belong to the absolute highest echelons. Toothpaste! The Americans reserve toothpaste for the powerful. The food rations, it's gruel all the way down. Gruel's all I ate when I first arrived and burlap's all I wore. Everyone's watched there, every minute of every hour. Who you talk to and who you fuck and who you don't fuck, because the Americans--it's a Christ thing--only let women fuck men. More babies, more warm bodies to work until they break."

I'd heard it was bad. I had no idea it was that bad. "That's–"

"Shocking? Yes. But there were, there are, human beings in there."

We sit down. She buys liquor; a knock-off of the brand she truly desires but it will do in this place. She pours. One for herself, one for me. Over the styrofoam cup she looks me in the eye and asks, "Tell me, Lieutenant Sitiporn. Was what I did right? Was it righteous to end lives bound for corruption? Was it mercy killing to terminate lives bound for misery?"

But she doesn’t wait for an answer. All she does is take a polite sip. As though she was asking about the weather.

That night, the colonel sends me away to get her more alcohol.


In the dark, General Kanjanut looms: she is without her accoutrements, her car and chauffer, her medals and aides. Distant street lights limn her–she beckons me close. When I'm in reach she grabs me--a delirious instant in which I have to fight off my reflex. She presses me against the rough concrete wall. As the aggressive instinct subsides, something else replaces it, a rush of warmth so far removed from professionalism no unit suffices to measure the distance.

It also puts paid to the question of whether the general's aware of the effect she has.

Her face close enough that her breath rustles my eyelashes, she says, "I smell whiskey, Lieutenant. You're technically on duty."

My pulse percussive and feverish with arousal, I swallow once past a dry constricted throat. "Apologies, General. I won't let that happen again." I don't bother with excuses. Every muscle in me is coiled for the moment she does more than pin me in place, even as my lucid mind knows she won't.

"Report."

One of her knees is lodged between my thighs. The urge to rub myself against her is ridiculous, obscene, alluring. From my end her face is made unreadable by shadow; from hers, my expression is quite well-illuminated. "She seems...unstable."

I’m let go. Almost at once her absence is felt, the heat and pressure, the sheer hard physicality. "It wasn't an easy mission. She may also be giving the impression of instability, though she is open about her experiences. You are to continue. I'll check on you periodically."

As she turns to leave, I square up my courage. "What do you think could have turned her to American interests?" If at all.

She glances over her shoulder. "Who can tell? Sometimes, Lieutenant, you discover that a person you knew well—whom you trusted utterly—turns out to be quite the stranger after all."


It's one of those dreams where I know I am asleep: I remember going to bed on a hard bunk, under a fresh sheet. But now I'm cuffed to a chair. An antique or at least fancy, charred teak wood, pressing into the small of my back—rough grain sure to leave imprints. My wrists immobilized, my uniform grimed and ripped. Footfalls behind me. I can tell without looking to whom they belong: boots polished to a high luster, patent leather encasing powerful calves.

A hand on my shoulder—in the dream, in life—and I wake up.

The colonel is kneeling by the bed, looking down at me, her chin propped in her hands. Her gaze is speculative.

I sit up, alert, embarrassed that she could sneak up on me. Goes to show you can never tell—Jiraya may be all package, petite and nondescriptly pretty, but evidently she has no trouble sneaking up on a trained combatant. 

"Colonel." I grab the water bottle I keep by the side to clear morning breath.

"I looked you up." She has a cell cradled in one palm, a gently used rectangle of plastic and slate-gray polycarbonate. "You've got a wife, yes?"

"Last I checked." Between my legs, my nerves are swollen with blood. The dream has left me wet and wanting, far more than its contents should warrant. I edge a window open; breathe in the chill. Krungthep air is pure, tasting of rain and dreams.

"Indian girls are so intoxicating, they have the loveliest eyes, the smoothest skin. I went out with one in university—exchange student—she had these sensitive nipples. Could come from having them sucked alone, would you believe it? With the right foreplay, anyway." 

She puts her head to the window. "I miss being with another woman."

Whether that is merely a statement or a proposition I can't tell.

The cabin we share is compact, sparse. This is our sixth hour on the cruise. The Chao Praya isn't that large, but the boat goes slow, leaving behind a pale froth, churning pale steam into the leavening sky. Not the most efficient transport, but the cruise is frivolity. Well appreciated, though—this cruise has a full load. We can still see shore, to be sure, but the twelve hours spent on the river gives you a sense of journey. 

Most of us, and me too, will never board planes or see the world beyond.

The water laps against the ship's flanks. It glitters, pretty and faceted, as though it's full of jewels, and it is—glass from the storms that thrash and rage still, outside the dream-engine's protective reach. The Chao Praya does not give us useable water; we get water from above, or from underground. Krungthep exists on the precipice of possibility.

Jiraya drinks with her breakfast, with her lunch, and with her snacks. For someone her size she can hold her liquor exceptionally, despite her claim that she could procure barely a drop in Palangkaraya. Last night she had a lot of whiskey;today there's not a trace of hangover. On one hand I should encourage her; on the other, sober or inebriated she is equally loose-lipped. As she moves to pour her second of the day—and the sun hasn't even risen all the way—I pause applying lipstick, liberate the bottle from her hand, and stow it in my cabinet.

"Oh come on," she says, voice pitched this side of a whine. "Take my only fun away, will you? Unless you are stepping up to offer something better, that's just cruel."

"We could mingle, Colonel. You seemed to enjoy it last evening."

She makes a noise, derisive, but follows me out onto the deck.

We are early risers, but not the first. A family we met yesterday has preceded us: grandmother, two fathers, and one girl. Seven years old—adopted—and giddily delighted with her first trip, leaning over the rails as far as she can. One of the fathers is beside her, slightly nervous, ready to steady or catch his daughter. 

When she catches sight of us she spins around, clapping. "Aunties! You promised you'd show me your guns."

The colonel glances at me sidelong. "Did you?"

"You did, Colonel." While she was drunk out of her mind, at any rate.

Jiraya raises an eyebrow before shrugging—the most farang thing from her I've seen yet—and drawing her .40 S&W. Smaller than anything I'd use as sidearm, but then concealed carry would be her stock and trade. She unloads the gun and offers it to the girl, who clasps it in both hands, reverent and cautious, testing the heft and feel. 

"It'd be heavier loaded, right?"

The colonel makes an affirmative mmm while I observe the fathers. We'd exchanged a few words upon boarding. The older husband is ex-police, which is how he had sussed out we were soldiers, an idea that excites the girl immensely. She's saying now that when she grows up she'll be an officer too so she can protect Papa and Papa. Adorable. There's one little girl who won't be subjected to frills and pink bows unless she wants them, though I'd like to hope someone steers her toward safer career paths. Not that I'm one to talk.

The boat emerges from a canal, gliding at a pace sedate as our ship's. Small scorpion-tail, feudal-looking and charming, nothing extraordinary. Hobby craft, the sort you'd use for river markets or to navigate a flood. Intuition pebbles my skin regardless; I might have seen something off—a tripod peeking through maybe, the glint of a muzzle.

"Down!"

Nearly everyone here has had tactical training. Down we all go, or push someone down with us.

Machine guns make their own rhythm counter to reality, the firearm equivalent of a bad singer going at the top of their lungs. A sort of music, some insist, but they also insist metal is music rather than noise.

This moment stretches, elastic, even though I know it can't last more than a minute and a half. Rate of fire factored in, a full load can go on only for so long before the thing overheats. I have all the time in the world to think, calculate: combat gives a space of clarity, pure.

It stops. Through the deafening echoes I make out the growl of revving motor. The scorpion-tail is modern enough after all. Coming out of cover, I decide in an instant. Aim, fire.

There might have been a cry. A drama of hemorrhage on the tail, making its jaundiced yellow abruptly colorful. The body slumps over, if not dead then not due to recover any time soon, and then the scorpion-tail is out of range. 

In its wake, water churning white and glass shards threshing, a spray of light.

The older husband is bleeding, arterial spread all over the grandmother's lap. He'd put himself between her and enemy fire; enemy fire won.

Jiraya is yelling for a first aid kit, medical attention, though she must know it is too late.

On her part, the girl doesn't cry. She just holds her surviving father's hand and stares at the dead one like she means to etch him onto the curls of her brain forever: not any other memory, just this one. Her eyes are bright and hard. Seven years old.

There won't be turning her away from growing up to be a cop or soldier now.


That very evening we go chasing up a trail.

Say what I might of Jiraya, but she's quick to act—like this attack was a personal offense, some insult. 

First she visited Khaosan Road, me in tow, to ask old informants hard questions.

(In an act of empathy I'd have thought her incapable, Jiraya brusquely told the surviving husband that she will perform a bureaucratic miracle that makes his daughter Jiraya's dependent. Meaning that legally, the daughter can draw from the colonel's arsenal of privileges, guaranteeing her a choice of placements in the best university and considerable funding. Maybe even an exchange program to Peking. A future unfurls before that girl, full of promise.)

This brings us, by and by, to Assumption Cathedral.

I don't know much about Yesu Christ; the religion has gone out of vogue after it's become the symbol of American ambition. Those openly faithful congregate here, all twenty-six or so of them. We walk in mid-prayer—after five years in Palangkaraya, the colonel is probably well and truly sick of the cross.

The Latin intonation pauses, sonorous and off-key voices juddering to a stop. Jiraya points her gun at one of the parishioners. 

"I'm Colonel Jiraya Anderson. I just need Peter here," she says flatly. "The rest of you upstanding citizens can go."

They go, either in respect of the rank or in respect of the gun. Probably the gun.

The stained glass panes are pristine and in good repair, but there are columns that have swollen with moisture, paint that's chipped or melted off the ceiling tiles. I don't think any of the plumbing works, to judge by the stench. They don't have the means to restore structural damage and the state doesn't bother—this isn't a populated area and the church is no one's municipal priority.

Peter continues to stay where he is, not so much as a muscle twitching. No hero, this fellow. 

"Colonel Anderson."

Gun still trained on him, Jiraya takes a seat. Smiles. 

"You can get rid of the accent, but that is a dead giveaway. Calling people by their surname is so farang. How are you, Peter? That was my husband's name too. God, you all have such generic names, there were at least four Peters in the wretched place."

He doesn't respond. Afraid, maybe, that saying anything at all or breathing wrong would set her off. I bolt the church door. Churches are irritatingly huge. Plenty of cover, at least.

Jiraya goes on, "Nothing to say? By the way, this is Peter. My former coach for the American way, a refugee from New York." You'd think smiles can't sharpen. The colonel's does. From soft curve to razor edge in a blink. 

"He knows about the boat."

"Colonel, I haven't done anything wrong. To you or anyone else." He is enunciating with care, slightly stiff. 

"There's no reason for you to be hostile. If I hadn't been there someone else would've been found to acclimatize you to American culture."

"Yes, yes, you're just a hapless cog. I hate you entirely, though." The colonel idly angles the gun away from the center of his body, aims it at his chin. 

"I can't do anything to everyone responsible for sending me to Palangkaraya. You, however–I've had five years to be very, deeply unhappy. You must understand, Peter, I had a terrible time of it. Traumatic even! My psych would agree. While nobody'll be happy with me much, you aren't really a citizen."

I'm sure she can convince him she is crazy—it doesn't take much convincing. 

"The girl's very brave," I say bleakly. "Seven is very young."

Peter flinches. "I didn't tell them where you'd be or arm them, Colonel."

"Hid them? Helped them around the city? And to think just a minute ago you had to gall to say I have no reason to be hostile."

He shuts his eyes. I'd left out details; his imagination is probably more gruesome. 

"When I made the decision to seek asylum here, I thought it was the right one. I was wrong. They offered to take me back. But I'm—I'm not all right with innocent bystanders just…"

Before Jiraya can needle him some more or threaten to blow off his brains, I say: "I think you just want to be left alone, Khun Peter. The colonel will try to make sure you are; just tell us a few things."

I can tell from the look in the colonel’s eyes that she’s not going to let him go. She’ll have him dead, simply because of what he represents. No fault of his own. For the first time—or not the first time, maybe—I pause to think, really think, what I’m doing.

But Peter is talking, and after all, I’m following orders.


"Why am I being excluded from this, of all things, General?"

"For obvious reasons, Jiraya." 

"After all this I deserve to see you!"

"Of course you did well, efficiently. That is always praiseworthy." Click. Jiraya shouts into the dead line. Her voice cracks at the end, near tears. She swallows them back, glares at me sideways as though I made her turn on the speakerphone instead of allowing her the privacy. 

"Have you seen your family, Colonel?"

She grips the phone, seems on the verge of flinging it across the room. Puts it down, loosening her hold on it finger by finger. "My parents are dead. My relatives were outside Krungthep when the shield went up. Lucky me, they left me quite a bit of money. The general's aunt all but raised me. We didn't quite grow up together, but close."

I try to visualize the general as anything but she is now: a teenager, a child. I can't--General Kanjanut, in my mind, sprang fully adult (lethal, intoxicating) from some blessed lotus, or a beautiful but deadly tree of myth. 

"Talk to her. You're her new favorite."

My pulse judders. How powerful this woman is, I think suddenly. The general exerts her pull even from a vast distance, like the sun. "I don't think I am, Colonel." Is there a note of hope in my voice? I can't be this simple. 

"I know the signs. I've seen her make her picks, the way she marks them and the way they bend for her. Her protégés, her tools, her…" Jiraya laughs, brittle. 

"You want to be in her bed. Doesn't everyone."

Heat licks at my cheeks. 

"I get the draw. I do. So naturally magnetic, is our general, like a seductive war god. Effortless to fall into the gravity well that she is. But you won't get her notice, her attention, unless you do something special--prove yourself special." She presses the heel of her palm into her brow, breathing shallowly. "Report to her. Ask her the right question. Then you'll have what you want, and maybe so will I."

I give it three days before contacting her. The entire time I obsess over what question it is that I need to ask. 

Jiraya is unhelpful. She's gone back to drinking heavily. Now and again she phones up the little girl she's decided to semi-adopt, though the calls are short and she is not good with children.

The general arrives in a car, gray-blue. Spacious backseat. When I make to sit by the driver's side, like a good subordinate should, she tells me to sit with her instead. A partition, blackened glass, separates us from the chauffer. Part privacy, part a matter of status: the chauffer is a sergeant.

The air conditioner hums, just this side of audible. Hard balance to strike: to make that distance seem respectful rather than terrified. Which I am, heartrate yoked to low-key fear and want. 

"Go on," the general says. "We're taking a drive. No particular destination—I find it relaxing. I've made time."

For you, goes unsaid, so you better have something important to report. I debate whether staring out the window would seem insubordinate. The experience is luxurious, I should as well enjoy it. We're coasting along one of the highways, half the lanes cordoned off for pedestrians and vendors. A few water stations. 

"General, permission to inquire?"

"Normally, no. Considering what you're doing though, granted."

"What do you intend to do with Palangkaraya?"

The flicker in her expression tells me that I've either asked the right question or earned myself a dishonorable discharge. Then it smooths over and she smiles, thinly. 

"It's a menace. To us, and to Muangjeen."

Meaning that the information has been packaged and diplomatically passed on to the country equipped with both the means and motive to crush American military vestiges. Given the difference in power, it'll be a massacre. 

"The colonel has improved." After a fashion. "The attack galvanized her, in more than one way, General."

"I heard about the child. It's good of Jiraya to take some responsibility, better than I would have thought. But the terrorists were able to enter Krungthep only due to Jiraya being lax when she came home. That's how she traced them back to that refugee so fast. I am satisfied," the general adds, "that she isn't a double agent for the Americans. But she's too erratic to keep in active duty."

"Hm. Not a solution I would have produced, necessarily. Tell me, would you like to be rewarded the conventional way, or something else?"
Several seconds flit by before I understand what she's saying. That she approves of my suggestion, and that she's offering—
"Perhaps both, General." 

Said without thinking, the dream of being cuffed to a chair swelling thick and sweet on my tongue.

"I do like," she says, "that you're direct."

Before I can ask "Here, General?"—the chauffeur is separated by nothing more than a pane of metal and glass, and is the backseat not undignified for her—she's peeling my uniform off. 

Enough legroom for her to straddle me and pull my jacket tight, knot it around my wrists. Awkward positioning, but she must've had practice, perhaps in this very car.

After exiting puberty, I didn't think it was possible to go from jittery to utterly aroused in this short a time. Short of breath abruptly. Pulse all thunder as she unbuttons her own shirt. Her nipple is brown, hard, and her skin tastes lightly of soap.

"It seems I made the right pick." Her hand is not one for preamble: a pinch on sensitive nerves that makes me go rigid, then in. 

"Select an unlikely officer, put her in an unlikely assignment. The result always surprises both me and the officer."

"Yes," I say, mindlessly. The air is musk, her smell and mine. Does the chauffeur notice or care? Maybe this is normal. The thought of a third woman watching, though—I rock against her long, thick fingers; against her thumb and its pressure. 

Some intelligent part of me is thinking that everything about this is beyond inappropriate. The rest of me is rejoicing at the crack of reality and fantasy, colliding at last.

"Your intuition is good. You're capable of command, and had you climbed the ranks the usual way you would never have had the opportunity. There's the flaw in any system of hierarchy…"

The weight of her body on mine is gone. She wipes her hand on my trousers. She buttons up.

Her chuckle is low, thrums along my skin. "There are things I want to do with you that demand rather more space. Until we're at my house, shall we discuss your promotion?"


The general's bed immense, the sheets dark, the air thick with sweat and salt. I'm blindfolded, or gagged, or not—but always bound: wrists and ankles, spread-eagled and aching. The act happens in strobing flashes, sharp and intense as surgical strikes. Blunt or not; pain, pain every time.

Today it is a knife nearly thin as paper tracing a path up the inside of my thigh, then down, the edge wielded expertly. Just this side of breaking skin. It rests on an artery.

When I come, it is on a whispered command, result of practice and nerves taut to the threshold.

The orgasm lets go of me in stages, leaving me pliant under the general's hands, my mouth full of her taste, my cunt sore. She murmurs her satisfaction that I didn't climax without permission; unties me. Stands. She doesn't stay—sex with her doesn't end in cuddling or even staying the night. Intense, done, gone. 

Perhaps she has someone else for pillow talk and softness. Works for me; being with her has been a discovery.

For a while, I lie there, alone. No glimpse of sun; she takes her blackout curtains seriously. Despite the session, there are no bruises or teeth-prints on my skin. My wife doesn't like the general's marks on me, like brands. Deepika and I have come to an agreement and she has a second lover of her own, an arrangement begun last year—one that made me hypocritically jealous at first, but it also made me take a long hard look at myself. 

In the end, I reconciled with the new normal.  I've left out the fact that the first time the general fucked me was before we'd had the talk, but that was a while ago and I try not to dwell.

Four years, since then.

A small selection of my toiletries have joined the general's in her bathroom: it's more domestic than I would have expected, but she doesn't seem to mind, and having my toothbrush here makes me feel more like partner than kept woman. After a quick shower, I turn on my phone. One text message from Colonel Jiraya, timestamped fourteen hours ago: she's in Palangkaraya, part of a joint salvage project with Peking. Her message instructs me to make sure her adopted daughter is keeping up with homework, a gesture typical of Jiraya in that it's nonspecific—even now she still doesn't connect too well with the child, despite her efforts—but meant well. 

She hasn't changed much, at the core, for all that she's gotten much more stable. Her regard for General Kanjanut remains uneasy, but they have reached a compromise. And her talents continue to serve Muangthai, channeled to good use. Her Jeen colleagues take some issue with her personality, but some of them are fond of her in their own way. Jiraya has a particular charm. She jokes about marrying a Jeen scientist, saying she's always wedded foreign; has been foreign everywhere her entire life.

When I'm dressed, I step out. Leave the general's gracious house, her discreet staff. The sun is high, the weather glazed with a glittery chill. It promises to be a fine day.

"Major Sitiporn."

Hearing the rank is still odd, for all that I've been holding the title for close to two years. I never expected to make it past lieutenant, given that I don't have relatives or friends in high places.

Though that, I suppose, has changed.

Colonel Jiraya.

She is sitting outside my door, one leg tugged under. Cuts a girlish figure, as ever she does. One of her hands is open and loose by her side, the other clasped around a whiskey bottle. Jeen whiskey. Someone let that through customs; when she flashes rank most customs officers are hardly going to make a fuss over a little alcohol.

"You're supposed to be in Palangkaraya," I say, the obvious. Key in hand, but not lifting to the doorknob.

Jiraya stands, unsteady. "I got homesick."

When she teeters I catch her; there's whiskey on her breath and a tiny, brief impulse makes me want to press her hard against the wall, but I let go of that. Even if I'd found her attractive in that way—and even if she were sober—she's too much of a mess. 

By and by I maneuver her inside, where at least we wouldn't be a spectacle for the neighbors. I deposit her on a sofa then step away, put a good distance so she doesn't misconstrue.

Sure enough, she cants her head at me. "Loyal to her, aren't you? More than to your wife, anyway."

"Deepika doesn't mind, actually."

"Forward-looking. So how are you enjoying the general's bed?"

"Very nice mattress. Even better sheets." I might have offered her water, but think better of it. "You had a fling with one of your Jeen co-workers, Colonel, I thought."

"Didn't work out. I fucked it up." She wipes at reddened eyes; she's been crying. A gun materializes in her hand—surreal that she can draw so fast inebriated—and she tosses it at me. 

"Do me a favor."

Instinct makes me catch. The safety is, fortunately, on. "At your age a soured relationship really isn't—"

"I fucked it up because I miss Kanjanut. I've been missing her for four years and she's ruined me for pretty much anything else. No one's her. No one is like her or could be like her. Happy?" Jiraya jerks her head. "She's wrung me for all I'm worth, gotten all the use I could ever give. I want out. I've included a note so you won't be convicted for murder. Everything under my name will go to my adoptive daughter when she's twenty-one. So all that is sorted out."

The idea of shooting someone in cold blood, as assisted suicide, makes me unexpectedly nauseated. "Why not do it yourself, Colonel?"

"Not even trying to dissuade me, are you?" She leans back, head lolling. "I like poetry. A puppet killing a puppet. Besides, it'll piss Kanjanut off if you're the one to do it, but she won't take it out on you. She'll curse my ghost. There's revenge."

A long silence, then. What do you say to that? No rejoinder suffices. What she needs is help and she's never sought it, and we'd all thought—well, I'd thought—she had gotten better. Found a new purpose, moved on.

 I try to imagine what I'd be like if the general had discarded me.

I make a decision, then. One to keep her alive. Two? How better to prove, if only to myself, that I'm not like Jiraya.

Two quick steps: confidence is the key, the utter and total assurance that the world is a ripe fruit, mine for the picking. When I take her face in my hands, I'm almost straddling the colonel. My grip is this side of hurting. "You say no one is the general." I turn her head up, make her meet my gaze.

"I disagree."

I've known, from four years ago, that she wants me. Her eyes have widened slightly, the pace of her breath stepping up and for an instant I know what it feels like to wield power. It isn't even about attraction.

"Do you?"

"Yes." My hold on her tightens. "And I can show you how."

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Benjanun Sriduangkaew writes love letters to strange cities, beautiful bugs, and the future. Her work has appeared in Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Phantasm Japan, The Dark, and year's bests. She has been shortlisted for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and her debut novella Scale-Bright has been nominated for the British Science Fiction Association Award.