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Rated: E · Short Story · Gay/Lesbian · #2272070
(April 2022 Entry for -The LGBTQ Writing Contest)
"Dennis, couldn't you just go and handle this meeting? You know I don't like leaving the shop," Ralph begged his partner.

"She said she wanted to speak with both of us!"

"Couldn't she come here?"

"She is the Chief of the entire Preserve. As such we kind of owe her for rescuing us from the end of the last omniverse. We can't expect her to take time out of her busy schedule to cater to your whim," Dennis answered. Dennis reached up and laid a hand on Ralph's cheek.

Ralph leaned down into his hand for a moment before pulling away. "I feel like we owe Angela more! If she hadn't mistaken us for our parallel universe alternates, nobody would have thought of us as worth rescuing." Not to mention, her gentle questions had revealed to the both of them that they shared a mutual attraction. The pair had never spoken about romantic feelings, for anyone let alone each other. It turned out that Dennis had been just as afraid as Ralph that asking for more might ruin their business partnership.

"We do owe Angela, more than she will ever know, but Mae Amante is the one who welcomed us to this place of refuge from annihilation," Dennis lowered his hand awkwardly.

"But what could she possibly want from us? I am still trying to catch up on all the devices and technologies our parallel selves created for the Factors. Surely she doesn't have a problem they couldn't solve."

"They died centuries ago in the attempt to prevent the destruction of Sanctuary. Which they apparently succeeded at since..." Dennis gestured aimlessly around them. They had settled in the civilian area of Sanctuary, living and working out of a faux storefront. Sanctuary was a network of tunnels carved into a planetoid. It was also the capital of The Preserve and much larger than it had been back when their alternates had been alive.

"Den, what if she asks us to solve a problem that I can't! I don't want to disappoint her, or ruin our perfect record."

"If you can't solve it I am sure we will be able to when we put both our heads together." Dennis embraced Ralph. The hug was a simple hug of reassurance, but Ralph wondered if the close contact was as much a thrill to Dennis as it was to him. For so long he had suppressed even the hope of that kind of affection from the man who completed him both professionally and personally. "I don't just make your devices pretty, I do at least a little to make them more practically functional."

"Granted, but any problem she has would probably be so far outside of our realm of experience that..."

"Oh, my darling, you are underestimating yourself. You are a genius! Now come on, we don't want to be late for our appointment. She is a very busy woman! Oh, and I think you'll find a kindred spirit in her. She works out of the home too. I bet she barely leaves her office!"

Ralph chuckled, "Ah, a sensible woman!"

Dennis held out his hand for Ralph, and said, "I'll teleport us there." Ralph gave Dennis his hand and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, they stood on the catwalk of the residential level above the shops and the fake cityscape of the main section of Sanctuary. Above them a holographic projection gave the illusion of a sky, hiding a stone ceiling. It had been tech developed by their parallel universe alternates. Dennis released Ralph's hand and knocked on the door in front of them.

It opened and a woman stood on the other side of the door. She wore a heads-up display and earbud combination. "Yes?"

"We're here to speak with the Chief. She requested a meeting?"

"Oh yes, right here on my schedule. Please come in gentlemen have a seat at the conference table."

Dennis followed the woman into the office/ apartment. People worked at small workstations set up around the apartment's great room. A long conference table took up most of the center of the room. At its head sat Mae Amante; the most instantaneously recognizable person in all of the worlds of the pocket universe that made up the Preserve.

Dennis returned to the doorway and hooked his arm through Ralph's and proceeded to pull him into the apartment. Ralph allowed himself to be led to the conference table. Dennis pulled a chair out and seated Ralph, before sitting next to him. "So Chief, what do you need from R&D Tech Development?" Dennis began.

Mae smiled at him and gestured to a short balding man seated next to her at the head of the table, "Gentlemen, this is Sinclair Chavez. He is the head of Research and Development for Factor technologies. Your parallel universe alternates started out as his bosses. When they died he took over the department. The thing about it is that Mr. Chavez has served in his current role through every chief's administration, centuries of service. He is desiring to retire. He considered promoting his replacement from within, but then he heard you gentlemen had joined us."

Sinclair spoke up, "I have been quietly observing you two. Gathering reviews from your clientele. I believe you are just as capable as your alternate selves. That being true I could see no individual as capable as you are to take over for me."

Ralph sat blinking. He didn't know how to react. Dennis seemed speechless too. Ralph had been almost prepared to accept a technological commission from the Chief Factor, but he couldn't begin to react to the idea of becoming the head of Factor Research and Development. The idea blew his mind and left him feeling more than a little anxious.

"We couldn't possibly be technologically qualified for that position! Let alone the fact we no nothing of the procedures or personnel of the department!" Dennis argued.

"Mr. Chavez isn't suggesting he would just quit and leave you to jump in unprepared," Mae assured them.

"Of course not. I would have you work under me for a few months or years even. Once you feel ready, and I think you are ready then we would make a gentle transition into the job." Chavez added.

Ralph turned to Dennis, their eyes locked, and silent communication passed between them. Den, you know I could handle the tech, but the people...

Ralph, when have I left you hanging with people. Even when you say you'll take a client interview I am always there! Dennis squeezed Ralph's hand beneath the table.

Do you think we can do this?

Dennis flashed the winning smile that had stolen Ralph's heart when they met. Then he held his hand across the conference table to Mr. Chavez. "You have found your replacements!" Chavez looked to Ralph.

Ralph knew his face held a queasy look. He forced the anxiety deep into his gut and nodded. "When do we start? And do we get an office?"

"Immediately, and yes I had planned on giving you the office/ quarters your alternates had occupied. I understand your personal limitations and hope that you will come to welcome the entire department as your family and home."



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