The Gravity Fetishist
by Annalee Newitz
No amount of atmosphere purification could erase the smell of partially-metabolized alcohol. The stench, wafting from doors frenetic with disco light, turned the entire street into a chemistry experiment its inhabitants were doomed to repeat, despite knowing the results.
Chris checked out the bars while maintaining a brisk walking pace at the same time. This counter-intuitive cruising strategy might have caused him to trip and fall in another part of town. But this area, in a tented bubble of atmosphere south of the downtown dome, was emitting Martian gravity. It felt like home. Everybody in Bachelor City called the neighborhood SoDo. But his family and colleagues would probably call the place by another name, if they bothered to acknowledge it at all. This neighborhood was the dark sore on the crotch of decadent planetoid Ceres.
He wondered what Shel and Mikel were doing right now, back in New Maghreb. They were probably in the lab, slightly pissed that he’d gotten a free trip to the Belt just because he was first author on their paper, “A New Algorithmic Approach to Reverse-Engineering Protein Folds.” And here he was ditching the prestigious ProTech conference during a meal break.
A chill worked its way up his spine as he contemplated how easy it had been to leave the convention center and follow a path that could mean the end of his career.
Whether by local tradition or deference to some idea of duplicating the Earth day, SoDo’s bars and clubs tended to light up with activity at roughly 24 hour intervals, after people got off second shift. Chris had timed his visit to fall exactly 12 hours after peak time, when he reasoned that the place would be as vacant as it would ever get.
But SoDo wasn’t exactly dead. Men in armor and fur groped each other in the doorway to a bar called Bear Hug. Dance music blared from a warehouse across the street; painted on its door was a glowing heart hung with chains. Chris slowed and allowed himself to stare in the window of a fetish shop at the costumes, uniforms, and fanciful instruments of torture and restraint. Two women walked out of the shop, their medieval princess dresses elaborately tattered. Thorny roses erupted from their heads instead of hair. One remarked to the other, “It’s so annoying trying to find cisgender men who want to have sex with my new cock.”
The pubnet hadn’t lied about this neighborhood. The creased map Chris pulled from his pocket lit up with party notices people had posted here. His ears rang with blood as he gestured through search results, but he’d been planning this for so long that he felt no hesitation. If he could find what he wanted anywhere, it was going to be here, among the bear men and women with thorns.
* * *
The next day, Chris’ paper generated enough interest that he got an hour and two cocktails into the Computational Proteomics Group Cash Bar without buying himself any drinks.
“I’d really like to use your method for some research my students are doing with nitrogen uptake in fir trees,” said an AgEng whose name he’d already forgotten. Chris datadumped for a few minutes about where the AgEng’s students could download his group’s software, but he was distracted by thoughts of SoDo. The AgEng kept nodding, her fingers twiddling notes in the air between them, which she occasionally waved into the mobile on her wrist.
Her scribbling reminded Chris to check his own mobile, which he unpocketed briefly as two more people approached. Apparently they were colleagues of the AgEng, and they wanted to discuss a paper he’d missed on lipid engineering. Tuning them out, he let his eyes linger on the calendar he’d cobbled together out of yesterday’s walk in SoDo. He was hoping to catch a variety show early in the evening and then go to a club called Basement Dungeon. If he left now, he’d have enough time to wash up and eat before taking a circuitous route out of the dome, through the air tunnel and into SoDo.
“Nice meeting you – I’m going back to my hotel,” he announced with a polite nod to the group.
“Not coming to the banquet later?” one of them asked. A brown-skinned man with a petulant face, he had a short, stocky frame that pegged him as an Earther. But his name tag identified him as Sal Patel, Patel Lab, Ceres University. Chris revised his snap judgment. Sal might originally be from Earth, but he lived here now.
“No I think I’m going to walk around town.”
Sal cocked his head, looking up toward Chris’ face, assessing him with a grin. “I see you’ve got a flyer for Basement Dungeon. Are you tunneling to SoDo tonight?” It was a strange sentence from every angle, but Chris knew exactly what he meant. Things were liberal out here in the Belt – more liberal than he’d bargained for, if Sal’s frank question was any guide. But terror locked down Chris’ ability to reply.
Sal’s eyes slid across his nametag, assessing power and connections. Maghreb Institute of Biotechnology was one of the most prestigious technical schools on Mars. In the academic hierarchy, Sal was Chris’ superior, but Ceres University was a second-tier school. Perhaps, Chris reflected, that made them equals in a sense. But at his university, professors simply didn’t address researchers as if they were buddies. Sal’s behavior struck him as extremely impolite.
“I want to see as much of Ceres as I can while I’m here,” he replied, trying to change the subject.
“They don’t have anything like SoDo back there on Mars, right?” Sal was practically leering. “It’s illegal under the Brotherhood?”
“There’s no law that would prevent people from creating a neighborhood like SoDo. It’s more like – custom.”
“But wasn’t a man airlocked last year for buggery?” The professor arched one eyebrow.
Sal was referring to an incident in one of the remote ice mines, which foreign blogs had trumpeted as an example of the “repressive Muslim-Christian Brotherhood government of Mars.” Chris stifled a tart remark. One ice miner murdered by ignorant villagers on Mars and the System Parliament talked sanctions. But when the Earth military executed hundreds of people organizing peaceful pharma co-ops, nobody ever seemed to report on it.
Time to get out of this conversation before things got worse. “It was nice meeting you, but I should let you get back to your colleagues,” he said, gesturing at the AgEng and her friend. Mercifully, they had missed the entire exchange and were still talking about lipids.
Before Sal could protest, he ducked away through the crowd.
“Maybe I’ll see you tonight in SoDo!”
Chris refused to turn and acknowledge the professor’s parting cry. He’d passed beyond the dome of the convention center before he allowed himself to look up from the mossy ground. Trailing fingers along the yielding material of the pedestrian tunnel, he hummed an old song about the Periodic Table and tried to forget everything that had happened to him in the last hour.
* * *
The stairway down to the dungeon was painted in reflection-canceling material which gave the illusion of unknowable depths, as if he were walking into a volume of space that improbably contained no stars. Rank air wafted up, a combination of sweat, piss, and amped pheromones. Chris followed two Martian expats, Ahmed and Tod, who had taken a shine to him in the bar upstairs. When they heard he was only in town for a week, they vowed to show him what the Belt had to offer that Mars didn’t.
Bioluminescent red curtains suffused the room at the bottom of the stairs with flattering light. A woman standing behind a long, wooden bar waved to Chris’ new friends and then appraised him with a glance.
“Clothes check,” she said matter-of-factly. “And fill out this form.” She handed Chris a box and swept her hand across the counter. A document materialized over the projector she’d activated, headlined “consent form.” Hiding his bemusement, Chris began reading while Ahmed and Tod took their boxes into a corner and began, without any ceremony, to undress.
The form was a list of rules about the use of viral barriers, contraceptives, and equipment in the dungeon. It reminded him of the documents he had to sign when he first got a key to the sequencer room: Don’t misuse the equipment; Maintain a sterile environment where indicated; Do not make copies of patented sequence. Unlike the lab form, however, the Basement Dungeon documented ended, in unpunctuated caps: “NO MEANS NO IF YOU BREAK THIS RULE YOU WILL BE BANNED FROM THE PREMISES.”
“You can use any ID you want,” the woman behind the counter said, her attention halved by the spectacle of Ahmed’s glowing spine. He was changing into a polymer wrap that clung to his hips and fell in a shimmering, asymmetrical cascade of fringe around his knees.
Chris was torn between feeling too embarrassed to ask what the final clause meant, and believing that he should never sign anything he didn’t completely understand. Luckily Ahmed rescued him. “That just means you can’t force anybody to do anything,” he explained. “If I say no, you back off.”
Rolling this unenforceable rule over in his mind, Chris signed with a free public ID that wasn’t linked to his professional profile.
“You can’t go in like that,” the woman behind the counter said with a hint of irritation. “Take off your clothes and put them in here.” She pushed the box toward him under the consent form’s evaporating light.
“Chris has never been here before,” Ahmed explained. “He’s from Mars.”
The woman’s attitude changed instantly, her annoyance replaced with a pity that was worse. “I’m so sorry! I heard they execute gay people there.”
Before he could reply, Ahmed steered Chris to a low bench where Tod was still shedding his street clothes and donning elaborate metal face gear.
“Just strip down to your undershirt and it will be fine,” he said.
“She’s the fourth person today to bring up that airlocking in the ice mine,” Chris grumbled.
Tod shrugged into a chest harness. “Nothing like being in the middle of nowhere to give you a sense of superiority.”
They walked through the curtains together. A maze of rooms and cages emerged dimly around them, filled with the sounds of slapping and moaning. In a parlor to their left, a woman modded to look like a dragon was straining against her bonds, her reptile skin rippling into bulges, crying out, “Free me! Please free me!” A group of five people in armor stood around her, spanking her legs with short whips and taunting her still-human sex with a fat dildo. Tod sidled up to the group, murmured a question in the ear of one of the knights, and soon was pinching the dragon’s nipples.
“Want a quick tour?” Ahmed asked.
Chris nodded gratefully. He had no idea what to do next.
Ahmed led him past room after room, some full of complex, electrified equipment and others littered with just a few mattresses and padded tables. Finally they entered a parlor with nobody in it, though he could still hear somebody in the hallway outside growling with ecstasy.
“So what’s your kink, anyway?” Ahmed asked. “Are you just trying to hook up with a cute boy or do you need me to tie you to this?” The expat pointed to a large device in the corner that looked like a trebuchet.
“I’m not really . . . sure.”
His companion twitched a grin. “Well, do you like dangling upside down while somebody tickles you?”
“No.” Chris emitted a nervous giggle.
“Do you like fucking those giant triffid things they grow in vacuum farms?”
Ahmed’s teasing put him at ease. For a moment, it was as if they were at a regular nightclub instead of the most forbidden place he’d ever gone.
“I think the gravity here is better than in a vacuum farm,” he joked lamely.
Ahmed grabbed the back of Chris’ neck and pulled him in for a kiss. “Do you like gravity?” he whispered.
Chris’ body answered: He was instantly so hard the muscles in his stomach were straining. Ahmed kissed him again. This near-stranger’s mouth, which had spoken words he’d only imagined, was suddenly the only thing Chris wanted to taste. “Oh you are a little gravity fetishist, aren’t you?” Ahmed chortled, his voice getting deeper as he stroked Chris through his dampening underwear. “I’ll bet you’d like to feel heavier, wouldn’t you? Do you want to visit the gravity chamber?”
“Yes, yes – that’s my – that’s what I want.” Chris’ ragged mumble did not do justice to the magnitude of his desire. He’d wanted this ever since building a tiny gravity bulb in elementary school and marveling at the feel of it moving over his skin. Soon the childish fascination had evolved into something he couldn’t talk about in physics class.
“Follow me.” Ahmed held out a hand, fingers spread to admit Chris’ between them. Down more stairs, and at last through a heavy door into a dimly-lit room full of benches and harnesses ringed with ornate gravity bulbs. In one harness, a woman struggled to lift her long, slim legs – a low-gravity body fighting forces it could not withstand. In a corner, a man on all fours crawled toward a barrel-chested Earth man, nearly unable to propel himself forward. The Earther let out a theatrical laugh and flicked a whip at the man, now groveling under gravity’s tug.
It wasn’t quite as transcendent as Chris had hoped it would be. All these other people and the machinery reminded him that he wasn’t surrendering to the pull of a gravity field that streamed suddenly out of nowhere and captured him, naked and trembling, in its invisible clutches. Ahmed led him to one of the padded tables and kicked on the gravity bulbs from a floor panel. They went into near-freefall, and Ahmed scooped him up onto the table easily, tugging down his underwear.
“Lie down here my lovely,” he said. “Close your eyes and pay attention.”
With his eyes shut, the scenario felt more like his fantasies, especially as the gravity began to seep into his limbs, pulling him against the table, settling against his chest, anchoring his arms like bonds. Ahmed had already taken him deeper than Martian gravity, and panicked desire raced across his skin as he realized he had gotten so heavy he could barely lift his arms. He wanted so badly for Ahmed – or anyone – to touch him, release him even as he was held prisoner by a stream of subatomic particles.
“Look at this delightful scene,” said an oddly familiar voice near his right shoulder. “Ahmed, you always find such nice boys.” Chris was pulled so tightly against the table now that it was a great effort to tilt his head back and see who had interrupted them.
Vision blurred by the salacious images piled up in his mind like sand drifts, Chris at first could not place where he’d seen the squat Earth man before. Was he someone from the bar upstairs? A person whose picture he’d seen online?
“Isn’t he hot?” Ahmed responded appreciatively, stroking Chris’ hair. His arousal subsided: Chris liked feeling helpless in the gravity field, but not if it meant being reduced to a humiliating third-person role. As that thought clicked into place, he realized who the man was: Sal Patel, Patel Labs, Ceres University. Now wearing nothing but a black corset with half a dozen whips tucked into fabric loops above each hip.
The professor licked his lips and kicked the gravity up higher. “You want to feel like you’re on Earth, Martian boy?” he asked. Chris’ joints began to ache, but his pleasure in the sensation was undermined by a panicked wave of repulsion. Ahmed laughed and reached inside the field, teasing Chris erect again with lubed fingers.
“Oh the Martian likes that, doesn’t he?” Sal taunted. “All that praying makes them so kinky.”
“It’s definitely good training for submissiveness,” Ahmed agreed, giving Chris a wink. Apparently, snide patter was par for the course in the dungeon. Chris closed his eyes again and pondered his options: He could call off the gravity game and somehow excuse himself, possibly bringing further humiliation and who knew what else from Sal; or he could just give in, give Ahmed and Sal what they wanted to see, and never come back to this club again.
Screwing his eyes closed more tightly, Chris focused on Ahmed’s hand, stroking faster. If he just erased everything but that from his mind, it wouldn’t be long now. They would shut off the gravity bulbs and he could change back into his street clothes, take a train downtown, grab a late night snack, check his mail, maybe watch a video. Never see Sal or Ahmed again. Never come back to this bar, this gravity room that turned every fantasy into something banal.
He came suddenly, writhing under his own weight. Voluptuous gravity, sucking him in like a vast, urgent mouth, became nothing more than a physics equation.
Ahmed kicked the bulbs off and handed him a towel. As Chris sat up shakily, Ahmed crowded against him, nibbling his ear; Sal insinuated himself against Chris’ other side, squeezing his still-damp cock lightly. “Nice show, Martian boy,” he said. “Much nicer than talking about proteins with a bunch of straight people.”
Queasy, Chris managed to propel himself off the table and toss a wry smile over his shoulder. “Glad you liked it,” he replied lightly. “Now where did you put my underwear?” For a moment, he felt a flash of triumph: He’d done it. He’d had sex at a club in SoDo, and now he was so jaded that he could joke about losing his underwear in a roomful of sweaty, half-naked people, rutting under gravity bulbs.
Ahmed plucked his underwear off the floor, and offered them from one crooked finger. Perhaps the rush of goodwill Chris felt was simply gratitude that he’d survived.
“Well I should go,” he said. “I’ve got a long day tomorrow.” Ahmed gave him an elaborate sad face, which Chris kissed away for a long minute. Why not just give the man what he wanted, after all? It was easier than saying no. Easier than shoving away Sal’s hands, squeezing his ass while Ahmed’s tongue slid between his lips.
* * *
The rest of the conference was a smear of lectures and shop talk in downtown bars. For weeks afterward, Chris tormented himself by worrying that Sal would post something about him online or send him a mail at work. There would be no repercussions for Sal, out there in the Belt with his already-established lab and nonchalant perversion. He might even think Chris wanted to hear from him, might think he was doing Chris a favor.
But he never heard from Sal, nor Ahmed, nor even the AgEng who seemed so intent on using his lab’s software. He did get a promotion to senior researcher, and was given a few students of his own. Shel muttered grumpily that Chris’ “special opportunities in the Belt” had gotten him “fast tracked.” Maybe it was true.
At night in his bed, situated in a slightly larger room now that he’d been promoted, Chris had ample time to edit and reconfigure what happened to him that night in SoDo. Over months, loneliness ate away the humiliation, robbed the room of its odor and silenced Sal’s arch commentary. Instead, he remembered only the heat of Ahmed’s hands and mouth, the way he had asked unbidden, “Do you like gravity?”
He imagined with an ache that somewhere far away, on a tiny planetoid with 12-hour days and cheap atmosphere bubbles, Ahmed was still living in SoDo. That Chris could still find him in Basement Dungeon making jokes about being a Martian expat, could still kiss him and follow him down the stairs, though the maze of rooms, into their private chamber where gravity bent to Ahmed’s will and ripped the clothing from Chris’ straining, restrained body. As years passed, he became more and more certain that man and that place were still there. But he would never go to find them again.
About the Author
Annalee Newitz is the editor-in-chief of the SF news site io9.com. Her fiction has appeared in HiloBrow, and her nonfiction in Wired, New Scientist, 2600, and The Washington Post. She's the author of Pretend We're Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture, and co-editor of the essay collection She's Such a Geek. She used to be a professor, but now she's a giant monster.
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