It had been a very long day for Brad. Captain Bowman had said that the actual launch would be complicated, with many senior officers having their own duties plus some other responsibilities on the side; however, Bowman had everything well-choreographed. Even though the launching process had been a huge part of his training over the last month, Bowman was the one who created the work schedule and made the assignments. He had assured his crew that their future launches into space would be much less complicated as they became familiar with the process.
Brad turned his station over to his relief and went to the officers' ready room to grab a late dinner. He sat with a couple of fellow officers and shot the breeze while they devoured their meals. Since they'd had a head start, Brad's colleagues finished before him, and he suddenly realized he was eating alone.
As he chewed on his meatloaf, Brad thought of what lay before him that evening. He was appreciative of Kyle Robinson volunteering space in his quarters, but after their initial introduction, the Chief Astrogator hadn't done much to make him feel welcome. Brad found Kyle to be standoffish, which bothered him, since he was a very outgoing boy.
Brad thought about some of the things he'd heard from his fellow trainees—mostly those who had taken classes with Kyle. The consensus was that Kyle was in over his head.
The week before last he had been sitting in the cafeteria with three trainees who were in his Space Fleet History class. One of them was Devin French, the Chief Astrogator on the Endurance. Devin was a sixteen-year-old redhead who called himself a primo lady's man. While he was reluctant to give up relations with the opposite sex, his sense of adventure told him to volunteer for the deep space project. It's not like he hadn't had sex with another guy; he knew he could live with it. Adventure trumped sex for Devin French.
"I heard that Kyle Robinson is your Chief Astrogator," he told Brad. Brad nodded. "Well, good luck, then. He is so over his head, it's unreal. He couldn't find his asshole with his middle finger, let alone a hidden star system. He must be sucking Hanson's cock to get a nod for that job." Devin was referring to Commander Hanson, the teacher of the Astrogation Course.
Karl Parker, who was fifteen and Assistant Chief Engineer on the Asimov, kicked in his opinion. "I heard his dad is a big-time Admiral—that will get you even more than sucking a teacher's cock."
"Well, fuck, that explains everything."
Brad decided it was time to stand up for his shipmate. "Everything I've heard says Robinson is smarter than anybody when it comes to knowing the stars."
"What you heard is bullshit. He's fucking twelve, and barely that. He thinks his shit doesn't stink and won't talk to anybody. I'm sure Hanson cooked the books to get his scores up. You guys are going to be in for a big surprise when the going gets tough."
"You have to get through a lot of hoops to become a Chief Astrogator," Tracy Bergman, of the Asimov said.
"Don't you think I know it?" Devin told him. "I at least put in my work and paid my dues." He looked directly at Brad. "I tell you, just about nobody in our Astrogation class liked the little shit. We all knew he was cheating somehow and I got proof."
Brad didn't like Devin; he thought he was an arrogant twit. "What kind of proof?" Brad asked.
"We get these really hard problems in class. If we flunk one, we have to do it over. Everybody missed at least one, even me. But I figured out my mistake real quick and got my ship back on track." Devin had actually missed four problems, but he figured nobody was counting. "Mr. Admiral's son missed three problems, and one of them he never did get right. I mean the ship he had in that problem is still lost out in space somewhere. That's the kind of Astrogator you guys got."
"Who's his assistant?" Karl asked.
"Um, John somebody. The kid they call The Bible," Brad answered.
"You mean John Luke. Well, you guys might be lucky after all. He's good—real good. As soon as the little turd shows what a piece of shit of an astrogator he is, you'll have yourselves an excellent Chief Astrogator."
"I bet Kyle will be great," Brad said, somewhat lamely.
"Don't count on it, kid," Devin told him. "I know you're standing up for your crewmate, which is cool, but the truth is the truth."
Brad's thoughts returned to the Sooloo as he tried to shake that conversation out of his head. Listening to Devin French had been very uncomfortable. Brad had a feeling deep down that he'd rather serve with Kyle Robinson than Devin any day of the week.
Brad finished his meal, bused his dishes and grabbed a piece of apple pie as John Luke entered the ready room. "Hey, Brad."
"Oh, hi John. I haven't seen you for a bit."
"We've all been pretty busy. Have you moved into your new quarters?"
"Yeah, but like you said, we've all been pretty busy. I hardly seem to be there."
"I know exactly how you feel." John Luke looked down at Brad. "Do you mind if I eat with you?"
"Sure, no problem"
John Luke was back in a couple of minutes with a tray full of food. "The meatloaf looks good," he said.
"It wasn't bad." Brad thought the meal had been quite good, but he wasn't ready to go out on a limb for it, just in case John had different tastes than he did.
"I take all of your furniture has been moved into your new quarters."
"I actually got it right after the wedding," Brad said, as he prepared to cut into the pie with his fork.
"That pie would be much better with ice cream," John observed.
"I didn't see any on the table."
"All you have to do is ask for it. I bet you didn't ask to have your slice of pie heated up, either. Damn, boy, go take care of business—you're missing out on the best part of good old American apple pie."
Brad told Randy Jenkins, one of the assistant cooks, what he wanted and Jenkins quickly heated his pie and dropped a scoop of ice cream on it, telling Brad to be sure to enjoy it. He sat down and quickly took his first bite. "That's really good." Heated apple pie ala mode had not been part of Brad's diet growing up in Kenya.
"How did you know you could ask for heating the pie and getting ice cream?"
"Number one, I'm not shy. Number two, it was in the morning bulletin that was emailed out to us. There was a section on dessert policies."
"I didn't have time to read that part of the bulletin," Brad said. John Luke stopped chewing and shot Brad a look. "Yeah, I know, Dave said to be sure to read all of it every morning. But, dessert polices? For real? Who thinks stuff like that up?"
"Hey, Brad, look at what you almost missed by not reading it. Take the time to read the whole bulletin tonight. And as for who thinks this shit up, try Steve Boyer. He seems to know what everybody needs to know, including how to do dessert."
Brad took another bite and John Luke went back to the topic of furniture. "I take it then from what you said, you have all of your furniture and gear in your room. I thought you weren't going to get it until after launch or some stupid time."
"I guess Jordan kicked a little butt and got things moving."
Jordan Rivers was the Chief Operations Officer. When he heard that there would be a delay getting Brad fully moved into his temporary quarters, he quickly let his men know that their plan wasn't satisfactory.
"I want Lieutenant Kanye's things in his room ASAP, which means an hour ago," Jordan had said calmly but firmly. "This should not have happened." The result was everything being in Brad's cabin in less than an hour.
Brad took another bite of pie as John brought up the subject of Kyle Robinson. "It says a lot about Kyle that he gave up that kind of privacy for you, even if it is only temporary. Let me tell you, he might look like a little lost boy, but the kid knows his shit. Not only that, but once you peel back his outer layer you won't find a better person to work with."
That was a much different description of Kyle Robinson than what Brad had been hearing from some of his classmates. Just the fact that he gave up space in his private quarters told Brad something, but it still didn't compensate for Kyle's aloofness.
"So, do you and Kyle get along pretty well, then?" Brad asked John.
"We work great together. We're not best friends or anything, but Kyle went out of his way to let me know I was more than just an assistant—that we were teammates. How have the two of you gotten along so far?"
"We've barely talked," was all Brad had to say as he finished his pie. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get to my quarters and kick back. It's been a long day."
"Amen to that," John Luke grinned.
"Thanks for the dessert advice—it was perfect," Brad said as he left the table, bused his tray, and headed for his quarters.
Kyle lay flat on his back on his bed. He'd been there since returning from dinner. His thoughts floated back to the launch and how smoothly the Sooloo had moved away from the dock. Putting the starship into motion had been the biggest thing he'd done in his life. Of course, there was more to the process than simply moving away from the dock, but the initial move into space was the climax for him. He had the ship moving on the proper trajectory at the proper speed. For now, it was all about constant acceleration to warp speed and staying perfectly on course.
After his watch was over, Kyle didn't want to leave the bridge, but knew that, for now, it was the proper thing to do. He went to his quarters and connected to the ship's communication system. He was pleased when his father answered the radio call. Admiral Robinson hadn't been more than arm's length from his own communicator since launch time.
"We did it dad," Kyle almost shrieked, unable to contain his enthusiasm. "We're moving in space on course and accelerating properly and I moved the Sooloo right out of the space dock just like I was trained."
Gregory Robinson felt surrounded by his son's enthusiasm even if it was all being carried by the flat sounding fidelity of his communicator. It was a wonderful feeling—the best feeling he could remember having since the day Kyle was born. It was the kind of moment every parent lived for and he was grateful he'd woken up in time to be able to enjoy it.
They talked for a few minutes about the details of the launch. Gregory was impressed with his son's knowledge, professionalism and ability to verbalize a complex subject. Then Kyle wanted to ask his father a question. He almost didn't ask it for fear it would spoil the moment he was enjoying with his father. Then he decided, fuck it, I have to be me and he is already thousands of miles away.
"I hope you don't get mad when I say this, but when it came time for me to start the Sooloo moving, I heard the stars telling me that you believed in me. Knowing that helped me so much. Do you think that's okay?"
Gregory felt a pang of guilt rip through him as he heard the hurt in his son's voice. "Son, I believe in you. I totally believe in you, and I am proud to know the stars agree with that." Gregory didn't know what the relationship between Kyle and the stars entailed. Since it was important to Kyle, Gregory wasn't going to stand in the way of what his son believed.
"Thanks, Dad. You've become the best." On that note father and son disconnected for what they knew would be the last time over the next thirty years.
Kyle not only felt good about his talk with his father, he was also feeling incredibly horny. He pulled his boxer briefs down to his ankles. He didn't know when Brad would be returning to the room and didn't want to be caught naked with his boner in his hands.
He grabbed a tube of skin lotion and lubed his three-and-a-half cut, hairless cock. He couldn't help but admire how much it had grown since he had first entered the Prep School—he was definitely growing up in many ways.
He hadn't gotten far along when he heard Brad punching in his door code followed by the sound of his access card sliding through the door lock. Kyle quickly pulled up his underpants and hid the lotion under his pillow as Brad entered the cabin.
Brad's door code hadn't worked since the first time he had tried it and nobody seemed in a hurry to give him a new code. He entered the cabin and saw Kyle was supine on his bed looking a bit red-faced. He was wearing nothing but a pair of standard boxer briefs, but Brad didn't notice the bulge in the crotch. Al the Bear was hidden between his pillows and the bulkhead.
Brad sat on the chair next to his bed and took a quick glance at the slender boy across the cabin. He was one of the few crew members who was shorter than he was. Kyle's body seemed almost skinny, but Brad knew that Kyle was a strong, athletic boy. He had been a starter on the Prep School's basketball and baseball teams. Despite his skinny appearance, a close look revealed the athleticism stored inside of the small body. While Kyle's disheveled dirty-blond hair was regulation length, it somehow looked longer. His face was still that of a young boy, his cheeks completely smooth. His eyes were a piercing blue. Brad was surprised when the first word that popped into his mind was "beautiful."
What Kyle saw standing in front of him was a boy whose light brown skin was the color of chocolate. His face all but glowed under his short-cropped black hair. He had intelligent brown eyes and a face that looked as smooth as a baby's. Kyle knew that Brad was a runner—he had been a member of the Prep School's cross-country team and ran either the 1600 or 3000 meter races on the track and field team. His lanky body looked taut and well put together. Kyle wondered what Brad looked like shirtless. As he stared at his new cabin mate one word flashed through his mind and that word was "beautiful."
"Hi, Brad," Kyle said as if he didn't have any idea of how to greet him.
Brad had expected a more enthusiastic greeting than he had just received. Once again Brad was happy that his living arrangement was a temporary one. "My door code doesn't work and hasn't worked all day. I complained to operations, but nobody has sent me the right one."
Well, hello to you, too, Kyle thought to himself. "I wonder why your code didn't work," he said aloud. While each crewman had an access card good for opening certain doors on the ship, the designers felt that a coded touchpad was also necessary, since in the heat of action the access card could easily be lost. Brad had obviously gotten access to the cabin by sliding the card.
"Maybe somebody gave me the wrong code," Brad said with a bit more animosity than he meant to show. After all, Kyle was the one who had written down the code for him. But he was tired which made him quite grouchy.
Then he had been given the wrong code to the door, which was even more annoying. On top of all those issues, he felt that Kyle's greeting could have been warmer. A welcoming hug or saying, "I'm happy you're here" or something to make him feel like Kyle wanted him there. Brad wondered if Kyle was having second thoughts about volunteering to share the room.
"Why do you have a telescope in here?" Brad asked when he saw Kyle's telescope and tripod across the room.
"To look at the stars." The answer was so obvious he wondered why Brad had bothered to ask the question.
"The ship has its own amazing telescopes, like six of them—why do you need that one?"
"I've had it since before I ever came to the Prep School. My dad gave it to me. I can see out of our window or take with me on a planet's surface." Kyle wondered why Brad cared about his telescope.
"When are you going to find out why the code didn't work?" Brad finally asked as he got tired of skirting around the subject that Kyle should have brought up.
"Sorry, I forgot to ask."
Just like the little twelve-year-old fuckup some of your classmates were telling me you were, Brad thought. They were right, this kid had no business being the Chief of anything. He had no doubt that John Luke would be the Chief Astrogator before their first planet fall. Then he remembered who had put those poisonous thoughts into his head and he tried to move them out.
Kyle asked Brad if he could see the slip and Brad handed him the slip of paper.
"I don't know what this is, but it isn't even close to the code to the door," Kyle said.
"Then what is it you gave me?"
"I gave you the door code—I sure didn't give you this. It's not even in my writing. Besides, I didn't give it to you, I handed it to Steve Boyer to give to you since I couldn't find you."
"Yeah, sure, whatever you say." Kyle is not only a fuckup, Brad thought, but he even makes lame excuses for being a fuckup. Brad was certain that Kyle had handed him the code around the time he went to Lieutenant Boyer's office. "Look, I'm tired and I have to be up early for watch. I'm gonna shower now and get into my nice big bed."
"Okay." Kyle could see that he'd lost Brad somewhere. Everything he'd seen from Bradley Kanye and had heard about him was that he was a friendly, outgoing boy who was easy to get along with. That wasn't the boy who was standing in his room. He suddenly wasn't nearly as beautiful as Kyle had first thought.
That thought changed a little as Brad stripped down to his own boxers, revealing a body that was well-chiseled for a boy who was just a little over two months past his thirteenth birthday.
After Brad closed the bathroom door, Kyle wrote the proper door code on a fresh piece of note paper and placed it on Brad's bed. All Brad had to do was ask him for the code. It didn't occur to Kyle that Brad had undergone some sudden changes to his status that, along with suddenly having to move to new quarters, may have left his new cabin mate somewhat flustered.
When Kyle backed away he noticed the beaded necklace hanging from the right post of the headboard. It was beautifully put together with single color rows of red, blue, white, black, and green beads as well as a row of black and white combined and another row of orange and yellow. Kyle could tell that it wasn't something new, purchased at a shop, but rather, it was something old that had been created by a talented craftsman.
As he heard the shower turn on a surge of energy went through his groin as he fantasized seeing Brad naked. Kyle wondered where his weird thoughts were coming from, especially since he was realizing he didn't really like Brad, who acted like a stuck-up brat.
Brad's thoughts of Kyle weren't any better than what Kyle's were about him. In fact, they might have been worse since he didn't have a fantasy of Kyle being naked. The thing that was pissing him off right then was that Kyle hadn't even bothered to give him the proper door code. That's okay, he thought, I know I can get it from Hal and let him wonder why I never got it from Kyle.
Kyle used the main touchpad to turn off all the room lights except the reading lights situated above the headboard of each bed. The room might have been assigned to just one person, Kyle thought, but it was designed to accommodate two. He opened the top drawer of his dresser and took Megrez out. He then pulled off his boxer briefs and placed them under his bed covers.
He was going to sleep naked like he always slept, and he didn't care what Brad thought of that. But he didn't want Brad to know about Megrez and Al the Bear, at least not yet. He covered Megrez with his bed covers and then lay naked on top of the covers. When Brad came out, he was naked but his genitals were hidden behind his towel. Kyle walked past him and into the bathroom to pee, wash, and take care of his teeth.
Brad saw the note with the door code on top of the bed. Okay, so he's not a total asshole, Brad thought. He memorized the code and turned off his reading light. He was dead tired.
By the time Kyle came out of the bathroom, Brad was asleep. Neither boy was surprised that nothing had been said between them since Brad had gone into the bathroom for his shower.
Kyle was surprised at how quickly Brad fell asleep—it was still early. They hadn't even had a chance to talk. One of the things he wanted to tell Brad was that his alarm was set for 0215 for a special meeting. Oh well, Kyle thought, I guess when the alarm goes off, it will be just one more thing to piss him off.
Kyle was tired, but even with his strange wakeup time, he wasn't ready to fall asleep. For one thing, before he could fall asleep, he needed to finish the business he'd started before Brad came to the room. Since Brad was asleep, he thought about doing it on top of his covers, but finally decided that for now it was better for him to be discreet. He ended up using his boxers to control the small mess he made.
As soon as his alarm went off Kyle quickly hit the off button. He turned on the reading light and checked to see if he had awakened Brad. Brad looked to be asleep. Not bothering with underwear, Kyle pulled on his coveralls and walked over to his telescope. He released the brake on the cart and pulled the cart up to his bed. He put Al Bear in his top dresser drawer and removed Megrez. He set the little stuffed penguin in the cart's basket. Kyle felt viewing Mars would not feel right without his little buddy with him.
Brad sleepily watched Kyle, wondering where he was going. He knew it wasn't because he had a scheduled watch. Brad was upset with Kyle for not telling him he'd set the alarm and would be leaving the cabin—his cabin mate seemed to lack even the most basic courtesies.
Kyle hauled his telescope to the crew lounge with the largest windows for viewing. He set Megrez on a small table so that he could look out of the window, and started setting up his telescope. He heard a noise behind him and saw Aiden and Connor entering the room. Connor carried in the telescope Kyle had given him for his birthday.
"I brought my star pad," Aiden said, "but I don't think I'll get much use out of it here."
"Once we leave the solar system, you and I will start updating your charts," Kyle assured him. "But if you go to the Solar System app, you'll be able to watch us close the distance to Mars."
Aiden quickly found what he was looking for and soon a chart of the solar system appeared on his screen. He narrowed his view to Mars and saw that they would be seeing the Red Planet within minutes.
"Are we on the right side of the ship?" Connor asked.
"No, we're on the port side of ship, which is the proper side for what we want to do," Kyle grinned.
"You got me on that one. I still have a lot to learn about nautical terms."
"Get yourself set up; we don't have a lot of time."
As Aiden predicted, within a couple of minutes they could see the disk of Mars appear in one of the windows. Kyle and Connor went to work focusing on the surface of Mars, in particular, the great mountain of Olympus Mons.
Kyle reached into his carrying bag and pulled out an electronic device that Aiden recognized as a MuzikMagic player. He wondered what Kyle had in mind. He didn't have to wait long to find out, as he heard a thumping beat and the playing of a symphony orchestra. Connor and Aiden had no idea what Kyle was playing, but the music seemed to fit.
At the speed the ship was traveling, the boys didn't have much time to look at their target. The three of them traded time on the two telescopes looking not only at Olympus Mons but at the great farms and cities created by terraforming. The piece of music wasn't long, but Kyle had set his player to repeat and the quick beat of the music returned twice as they watched.
Finally, the planet slipped out of view. It was time to secure their equipment and head back to bed.
"What was that music you were playing?" Aiden finally asked. The boys had been too busy talking about how hard it was to keep the telescope focused on a certain place on Mars as the ship moved quickly through space. Kyle knew that focusing the ship's telescopes on one spot would have been a piece of cake for him, but that wasn't what this meeting in the wee hours of the morning was about. It was about taking what you had and making the best use of it that you could.
"That was from a large piece of music called 'The Planets' by Gustav Holst. He was an English composer way back in the early 20th century."
"And the part you were playing must have been about Mars," Aiden said.
"Exactly. Commander Hanson played it for my class way back when I was taking Intro to Astrogation. We ended up hearing all of the planets. The music bored most guys, but I really liked it, especially after one thing Commander Hanson said one day."
"What did he say?" Connor asked as the boys walked out of the lounge.
"He told us that 'The Planets' was more about astrology than astronomy. He said the full title is 'Mars: The Bringer of War.' Since Mars was the Roman god of war, it fits, and so do the titles of the other planets. He told us this was an example of how the planets had things to say to us just like the stars did"
"Everybody must have thought he was a little loopy," Aiden said.
"Nope, not everybody—I didn't think so. I knew exactly what he was talking about."
Kyle tapped the touch pad and turned off the room lighting. He had not slept well after returning from his meeting with Aiden and Conner. He wanted to turn over and go back to sleep. He had already done that once after Brad's alarm woke him up. Brad had a morning watch, but Kyle had no commitments until 1000 when he had to attend a meeting with the senior officers.
His first night with Brad had not gone well. They couldn't seem to connect. Kyle had the feeling that Brad didn't like him and was only sharing the room because it was the best alternative. On top of that, Kyle was certain he woke up Brad when he returned from viewing Mars and probably woke him up when he left, as well.
Kyle finally gave in to reality, crawled out of his bed, and walked to the bathroom and pissed. When he returned to his bed, he uncovered Megrez, patted the stuffed penguin, and placed him in the top drawer of his dresser, next to Al the Bear. He didn't like keeping the two stuffed animals in the dark drawer, but he wasn't ready to reveal to his new cabin mate that two of the most important items in his life were stuffed animals.
He had noted that Aiden and Conner hadn't mentioned the presence of Megrez on the table while they viewed Mars. Kyle felt that their silence was indicative of their acceptance of the presence of the little penguin.
Kyle donned his coveralls, and a pair of trainers. He left his quarters, and went to the officers' ready room for some breakfast. The only officer in the room was Richard Head, the Assistant Chief of Security. Head, whom Kyle had named Dickless Butthead in his mind, didn't even look up when Kyle entered the room. Kyle dished up a bowl of oatmeal and some fresh fruit, an item that wouldn't be on the menu for long. He sat at a table by himself and looked at the morning bulletin.
Head finally looked over at Kyle, perturbed that the little brat hadn't even taken the time to say good morning. He didn't bother taking into account the fact that he hadn't acknowledged Kyle when the young superior officer had walked into the ready room. Everything Head had seen in the twelve-year-old, so-called senior officer, convinced him that he didn't belong, no matter what most of his fellow officers had told him. The security officer wanted to know what they really thought, since they seemed to be content to spout Bowman's line regarding Kyle Robinson.
Kyle wolfed down his breakfast and returned to his cabin. He'd slept in a little too long, and he didn't want to be late for his first meeting following the launch—or any meeting, for that matter.
Kyle laid out fresh underwear along with his full working uniform and then headed to the shower. When he came back out, he opened the top drawer of his dresser to give Megrez and Al some light. He was all set to greet his two friends when he realized he was looking at only one friend, Al the Bear. Megrez wasn't in the drawer.
He ran his hand around the spare shirts and shorts he also kept in that drawer, but found nothing. He remembered clearly putting Megrez into the drawer before he left the room.
"Megrez, where are you Megrez?" he called out, as if the little stuffed penguin could answer him. He knew that sounded stupid, but he was saying it more to himself than to the penguin.
The first thought in his mind was to accuse Brad of stealing the penguin. But as far as he knew, Brad had no idea he had the stuffed animals hidden away. Besides, he was on duty. It was unlikely that he snuck away to the quarters to steal the penguin. Megrez had to have disappeared during the time he was eating breakfast, which was a very short period of time. There was no way Brad could have come back to the quarters in that time frame
Even though all the evidence said Brad didn't steal the penguin, who else would have access to the room? It would have to be somebody with the code to the door or someone with the master code, and only the Captain, the Chief Engineer, the Operations and Security Chiefs, and Number One had a complete master code.
Kyle checked the other three drawers of the dresser, just in case he remembered things incorrectly. After all, he'd been very tired and very hungry when he'd put Megrez away. He walked around the room, even checking the storage bins under his bed and in his wardrobe. No penguin. On top of everything else, he had lost track of time during his frantic search, and was now one minute late for the meeting.
He pulled on his underwear and his uniform and raced to the conference room on the bridge level. He was almost ten minutes late when he arrived and knew that Dave would be furious—he'd probably be dumping demerits or something on him.
In the conference room, Captain Dave Bowman was perturbed when he looked at the empty seat at the table at the scheduled starting time of the meeting. He wasn't furious—at least not yet. His young Chief Astrogator was not off to a good post-launch start. If he found out the boy had slept in or forgot the meeting or some other dumb thing, there would be hell to pay.
After waiting thirty seconds he started the meeting. He wasn't going to hold up a meeting for anybody who didn't check in with him first; that was not the way he was going to run his ship. He was about to go into the drill schedule when Kyle strode into the meeting exactly twelve minutes late.
"Commander Robinson, why are you la…," Bowman stared, but Kyle didn't give him a chance to finish.
"Some shit for brains stole Megrez," he blurted out.
"How can somebody steal a star?" John Luke asked.
"Not that Megrez, my penguin Megrez."
"The penguin on the table?" "Oh, that was his name!" "What the fuck is he talking about?" came the chorus of responses from some of the seated senior officers. Others had seen Megrez seated on the Astrogation Table during launch and at other times.
"Gentleman, let's get refocused." Bowman glared at his officers, bringing instant silence. The Captain wondered if he was commanding a starship or running a daycare center. His glare stopped when it reached Kyle. "You and I will discuss this incident after the meeting, Commander Robinson."
Kyle sat in his seat at the table and said nothing. He looked at Brad, trying to gauge his reaction. He looked as surprised as everyone else. Kyle decided his reaction either meant he knew nothing about Megrez and how he came up missing or he was a hell of an actor.
"Commander Robinson, did you bring your tablet?"
While Kyle's empty hands and the unfilled spot on the table answered the question, he knew Bowman expected an answer. "No, sir," he uttered, his face red with embarrassment and frustration.
"I'll let him download mine later," Brad offered. Kyle looked at his cabin mate with gratitude, wondering what prompted Brad's offer.
While Captain Bowman let the matter drop, Kyle knew he would hear about everything he did wrong all too soon.
After the meeting, Bowman invited Kyle to join him in his ready room. Kyle sat quietly, but he didn't feel like being quiet. His emotions were bubbling inside him—it wasn't even noon yet and already his day was fucked up in countless different ways.
"Thank you for deciding to attend the meeting, Commander Robinson." Being called Commander Robinson told Kyle that this wasn't a friendly chat, not that he expected it to be. Dave knew he was sounding somewhat high-handed, but leadership class didn't mention anything about dealing with immature preteens and Dave was frustrated at Kyle being insubordinate on the first full day in space.
"I got upset when I found Megrez was missing. I didn't mean to be late."
"You might not have meant to be late, but you were late, and that is the bottom line. Then to tell us you were late because you mislaid your stuffed toy was an insult to every officer in the room. Those officers are your peers, Kyle, and you disrespected them and me.
"I didn't mislay Megrez," Kyle protested. "I know exactly where I put him."
"So what happened to it? Did Brad take it? Did the ghosts haunting the Sooloo take it? Did it simply waddle out of the cabin so it could sit in the bridge?" Dave was hating himself for the way he sounded, but Kyle had started pushing his buttons the moment he walked in late for the meeting.
"I don't know who took Megrez, but I know where I put him, and I know I didn't move him."
"You could have waited to look for it. It's not like it was going to walk out of your quarters." Even though I had made a snide remark to that effect, Dave thought. "You are a senior officer, Commander, which means you put your duty above yourself, especially above your toys. So, quit making excuses for your behavior and admit you mislaid your toy."
Kyle was ready to blow a gasket. Everything he'd learned during his six months of training said for him to pause before he said anything. Kyle could see that pausing when you're madder than fuck was easier said than done. His face was red with emotion and he was fighting to control his breathing. He wanted to tell his Captain that Megrez was not a toy, that HE, Megrez, was not an IT.
He wanted to tell how there had been times when that penguin had kept him from dying of loneliness. He wanted to tell Captain David Bowman that he was full of shit because of the stupid things he'd said about his little friend. It took every piece of control his pubescent mind and little body possessed to stay quiet, but he was succeeding. Bowman took note of how Kyle hadn't yet jumped off the deep end.
"What happens now?" Kyle asked, a bit harsher than he had intended. "Do I get demerits or something?"
"This isn't school, Commander. This is the real world. What will happen is that you will learn to act as an officer and not a little child when something doesn't go your way. You will learn to accept responsibility for losing your toys (Kyle cringed when he heard that word again), you will make sure you are at all meetings on time, and you will be completely honest with me at all times."
There was another long pause before Kyle said in a tightly controlled voice, "I was honest. Totally. If you don't believe me, there's nothing I can do. I never lost Megrez." And then, with a hint of adolescent sass, he scowled at his Captain and said, "Can I go now?"
"You are dismissed Commander. Please report to your duty station on time with all the materials you need, including your tablet, and make sure you have yourself under control when you arrive there."
He watched as Kyle left the room wondering how he had talked himself into appointing a preteen as a senior officer. He had seen so much good in the boy, so much improvement. They had had a couple of wonderful chats together. And now, the first-time things don't go his way he became a petulant little boy who couldn't even take responsibility for his own failure.
But the really scary thing for Dave Bowman is that he knew he had handled the entire talk poorly. Bowman couldn't help but think that he had somehow lost control of their conference. And that brought up a very scary thought—what if Kyle really was telling the truth about what had happened?
Dave noted the time and looked over at the Astrogation table. It was seven minutes before his watch, but Kyle was right there getting a report from John Luke. He wondered if he hadn't been just a bit too harsh on the boy. His improvement deserved giving him some leeway. He could have told him that it would be a problem if it happened again, and a major problem if it became a habit.
His watch over, he turned the Conn over to Jordan Rivers and left to go to his quarters to work on some of the endless administrative details a ship's captain had to deal with.
He entered his quarters noting how good things looked now that Hal had finished his decorating. He removed his outer uniform and sat in his boxer briefs on the couch they'd set so they could look out the window at the stars. As he sat there, Hal came in and walked over to him.
"We should have an answer on exactly how long it will take to repair what, I assume will be Brad's quarters by the end of tomorrow. Right now, it looks like it will be about a week, but Jace promised he'd have his crew expedite it."
"Well, that's good news. I'll have to think of something to do for the good men in Engineering," Dave commented.
While Dave was talking, Hal had been looking over at the couch. Something was missing, but he wasn't sure what. He asked his husband to slide over so he could look behind him. That was when it came to Hal what wasn't where it was supposed to be. "Do you know what happened to the afghan my mother gave us? I draped it against the back of the couch, but it's not here."
Dave shook his head. "Not you, too. First Kyle, now this? What's happening here? Take a look around and see if it just got mislaid."
As Hal started looking, Dave was feeling a bit exasperated. He went over to the bed and something else seemed odd. The commemorative pillow that Admiral Mirah had given him in the meeting he had with him, Hal and Jordan—he had placed it on top of the duvet on the bed leaning up against the pillows, but it was not there.
Suddenly Dave felt a wave of emotion. Kyle had been telling the truth. Someone on board was a thief. He became agitated and told Hal he had to find Kyle immediately. As he headed toward the door, Hal called out to him, "I love seeing you only wearing your underwear, but is that the impression you want to make on the rest of the crew?"
Dave blushed and returned, donned his uniform, and rushed to the bridge. Upon his arrival, he called out, "Commander Robinson, I need to see you in my ready room immediately."
Kyle looked up at him, wondering what he'd done wrong this time. He walked over and into the Captain's ready room and took a seat when it was offered.
"Sir, I was on time, you saw me…" Kyle was cut off by Dave's voice. It was softer than he'd expected.
"Kyle, I owe you a huge apology. After my watch was over, I went to my quarters and before I left, I did observe you here ten minutes early, by the way. When Hal arrived, he noticed the afghan his mother gave us as a wedding present missing. I then went to lay on my bed wondering why my Senior officers couldn't keep track of their belongings. I then noticed that a gift from Admiral Mirah to me wasn't where I'd left it. You were telling the truth and I failed to treat you as you deserved. I treated you as a child and for that I apologize."
Kyle sat there, feeling relieved and said, "There is one thing you were right about, Dave. I shouldn't have been late. I will take full responsibility for my failing there."
"Let's just chalk this one up to being your 'Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free' card. It will not go into your record and as far as I am concerned it never happened. I will suggest to you that you apologize to your peers at the next meeting, but I will not force you to do so. I know you'll make the right decision. Again, Kyle, I'm sorry."
"Why don't we call this your one 'Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free' card." Kyle smiled. "Is there anything else, Sir?"
Dave looked at Kyle with a mirthful glint in his eye. "Not at this time, but when I need someone to throw a tantrum I will call on you first," he said, gently pulling the young boy's leg. "Thanks Kyle."
During Kyle's watch, he spent some time confirming that all of the astrogation calculations for the first leg of their trip were correct. He knew they should be since he and Commander Hanson had gone over them together. Hanson, or one of his teaching assistants, had worked with each of the twenty astrogators and twenty assistant astrogators on their first course setting, looking over their shoulders, double checking their work, and listening to them explain what they were doing. Kyle had been pleased that he was one of the five astrogators who had been able to work with Commander Hanson, the class instructor, himself.
Kyle looked at the empty place on the Astrogation Table where he had planned on sitting Megrez. Not having the penguin with him when he worked didn't seem right. Megrez had become a big part of his relationship with the stars. During training, he always had the stuffed penguin sitting next to the computer or the telescope he was using, where he would say nothing while at the same time Kyle felt he was saying everything.
An hour before his watch was due to end, Lieutenant Tyler Lynch reported to the bridge for duty. He took a seat next to Kyle. Kyle reviewed the ship's position and went over the course that John Luke had plotted for their exit from the solar system. In just a few days that course would convert with the star course that Kyle had plotted to the Sooloo's first destination. That course would guide the ship as soon as they went into warp. He and John Luke would both be at The Table for the conversion.
"The Table is yours," Kyle told the fourteen-year-old lieutenant after he finished. He left the bridge wondering, not for the first time, what a teenager like Tyler Lynch thought of the fact that he reported to a senior officer who not only wasn't a teenager yet, but still had a high-pitched voice and lacked pubic hair.
When Kyle returned to his cabin, he was relieved that Brad wasn't there. He and Brad had been cabin mates for a short time and already the arrangement had become a major disaster. Kyle decided to get comfortable and stripped down to socks and his red boxer shorts. He flopped on his bed and stared up at the ceiling, wondering if he should take Al Bear out his drawer and place him on the bed for comfort.
He knew his reason for not wanting the stuffed bear on his bed was that he wondered what Brad would think. Well, fuck what Brad thinks, Kyle said to himself. He got up and stepped to the dresser, pulled Al Bear out of the top drawer and sat him on the bed next to his pillow.
Kyle stared up at the ceiling again, wishing he hadn't been so generous about giving up his single room. He wondered how long it would be before Brad's room would be repaired and Brad would move into it. His meditation was interrupted by the sound of the door code being entered. Brad strode into the room saying nothing. Kyle turned his head and watched Brad, matching him word for word—nothing to nothing.
Brad pulled off his shoes and then yanked off his pants and shirt, stripping down to a pair of yellow biking briefs. He flopped onto his bed, looked at the headboard, and let out a squeal, causing Kyle to sit up in surprise. "Where the fuck is it?" Brad shouted.
"Where is what?" Kyle asked.
"It's not on the corner of your bed?" Kyle hadn't noticed the bead necklace when he had come into the room, but he figured Brad had put it away into a drawer on his newly placed dresser.
"If it was on the corner of my bed then I'd know where it is," Brad snarled. Once again the thought entered his head that Devin French's analysis of Kyle Robinson was right on the mark—a whiny, immature little pain in the ass.
Kyle turned so that he was seated on his bed with his feet on the floor. "I know how you feel, I felt…"
He didn't get a chance to finish as Brad stood up and glared down at Kyle. "You have no clue how I feel. In fact, you probably stole it yourself to make up for losing your stupid toy."
"Megrez is not any stupider than a silly necklace you can't even wear with your uniform."
Tears of anger and hurt started to flow down Brad's face. "You haven't got a fucking clue. That necklace is a piece of Masai jewelry that has been in my family for over 100 years. Your stupid penguin is a meaningless little kid toy that somebody bought in a store."
Brad couldn't believe what he was saying. He was going after Kyle to hurt him, which was something he never did to anybody. It was not how his parents had taught him to behave and was not how he wanted to act, but Kyle was pushing buttons he didn't know he had. He'd had enough of the arrogant little asshole.
As for Kyle, Brad was not the person he'd heard such good things about. He knew the time had come for him to behave like he had been trained to behave—to pause and work things out. But a surge of adolescent anger had taken control of him.
"I hate you! Megrez has been part of my life since I was a little kid—he's my friend, which is something you would never understand. I hope somebody tossed out your necklace out of an airlock."
Brad jumped out of his bed and Kyle quickly scrambled out of his. The two boys charged each other, each under the control of raging adolescent hormones. Kyle grabbed Brad, who was a bit bigger than himself, and pushed him back a few steps. Brad held his ground and stepped back towards Kyle. The two boys were nose to nose, breathing hard and flushed with anger. The next move would have escalated the shoving match to actual fight, but their foray was interrupted by their door buzzer sounding.
Kyle wanted to ignore the buzzer and let the battle play itself out, but in reality, he was not a fighter. His training and his own innate good sense gave him a moment of control and he moved away from Brad to see who was at the door.
"I'm not done with you," he told his cabin mate.
"Fuck you," Brad yelled. It was all Brad could think to say as he made sure he got the last word in.
Kyle opened the door and saw Lieutenant Boyer standing outside. Steve Boyer had heard loud voices in the cabin and had made out the word "fuck".
He was greeted by a sweaty, red-faced boy wearing just his underpants and when he saw Brad in a similar state he had no doubt what was going on between Brad and Kyle. He was surprised Kyle had even bothered to open the door.
"Ah…I…um, I hope I'm not…um…disturbing anything," Steve muttered with embarrassment.
Kyle took a deep breath. The last thing he wanted was to take his anger out on the crewman standing in front of him. "Um, naw, we were just, ah, changing to eat."
Steve gave Kyle a look that said "whatever" and then got down to business. "I just wanted to apologize to Brad for a big mistake I made."
"Apologize to me?" Brad asked.
Steve buried the urge to make a snide remark. "When I gave you your door code, it was the wrong one. Kyle had written the code for me, not that I couldn't look it up. I put it on my desk next to another note with a different code on it. When I saw you pass by my office, I ran out and gave you the wrong note. You got the wrong code and it was my fault. I just hoped you didn't have too much trouble getting into the cabin."
Steve worked in Operations. His organizational skills and normal attention to detail had landed him the job as the de facto Ship Administrator. While there was no such official title, it fit Steve Boyer perfectly. Steve knew the administrative workings on the ship, could find his way around it blindfolded, and always seemed to pop up when a senior officer needed something.
"You mean Kyle didn't write the code I had?" Brad asked.
"But, I swear he gave it to me."
"It had been a long day and we were both in a hurry. The whole thing happened quickly. Anyway, I was making a delivery to the Captain and I thought since I was close I'd stop by and apologize. I just don't make mistakes like that and I'm really glad it didn't inconvenience you."
Steve meant it when he said he didn't make mistakes. The way he saw it, making mistakes was not in his job description. But then, neither was being an all-around presence.
Kyle had stood off to the side of the door. He said nothing during the exchange between Brad and Steve.
"It was cool," Brad said a bit shakily. "The right code has been programmed into my access card. There was somebody in admin who scanned it for me."
Steve figured it had been done during a different watch than his. Steve noticed the way Brad and Kyle were looking at each other and wondered if he'd misread the bedroom scene. "Are you guys sure you're okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, we're doing pretty good," Kyle told him. "Thanks for stopping by and letting us know what the problem was. I was afraid I'd screwed up," Kyle lied since he knew from the start that the mistake hadn't been his.
"Yeah, thanks Steve," Brad said. "We've got it all worked out."
Kyle closed the door and Steve walked away, wondering about the confusing mix of emotions he saw between Brad and Kyle. At first he thought it had been about sex, but the animosity between the two became apparent the longer he lingered at the door.
As soon as the door closed, Brad dropped on his bed. He lay on his back and looked up at the ceiling, trying to avoid eye contact with Kyle while at the same time not looking like he was avoiding eye contact. The normally friendly, outgoing thirteen-year-old was as confused as he had ever been in his life. Using his peripheral vision, he could see Kyle approaching his bed. He decided he was not going to give in to Kyle's baiting and the best way to do that would be to ignore him. When Kyle got to the edge of the bed, Brad instinctively flinched as he remembered where the two of them had left off when the door buzzer had sounded.
Instead of making an aggressive move however, Kyle surprised Brad by flopping down in the space between him and the edge of the bed. As their two warm bodies made contact, Brad wanted to move away from Kyle. Instead he remained still and tense and continued to look up at the ceiling. He sensed that Kyle's mood had changed and waited for something to happen or be said.
It was Kyle who broke the tension. "I wonder who would have taken the first swing," he said quietly, looking at the same spots on the ceiling tiles as Brad.
"I don't know," Brad said, "I've never been in a fight in my whole life."
"I was in one when I was eight. This kid tried to take my bike. He was bigger than me, but I started pounding on him anyway."
"Did you win the fight?"
"Kind of. He gave me a black eye and a bloody nose but he didn't get my bike." Kyle started to giggle.
"What's so funny?" Brad asked.
"My dad saw me after I got home. He said he was proud of me, that I acted like a man instead of like a pussy."
"My dad would have been mad if I ever got into a fight. So much for my tribal heritage," Brad laughed.
"Well then, I guess I would have landed the first blow."
"But I would have won the fight," Brad laughed.
Kyle turned on his left side and faced Brad. He didn't know why he did it, but he draped his arm across Brad's abdomen. Brad looked down at the white arm draped across his brown belly and grinned. "I'm really sorry about the things I said. Especially about your necklace. When I first saw it, I couldn't help but think how amazingly beautiful it was."
Brad turned on his right side and looked into Kyle's eyes. He draped his brown arm around Kyle's white side while Kyle adjusted the position of his arm. "I bet that penguin…" he looked over at Kyle's bed, "…and that bear are as important to you as my necklace is to me."
Kyle could feel Brad's sweet breath on his face. He was confused, but not in the way he'd been after Steve arrived. What confused him was how his emotions had jumped from hating Brad Kanye to realizing how wrong he had been in how he'd treated his cabin mate, to thinking that Brad was somebody who would make a good friend. Like so many boys his age, he and Brad were riding the roller coaster of young adolescent emotions.
"I thought you really didn't like me and gave me the wrong door code on purpose."
"But, we barely knew each other and I had volunteered to give you a place in my room until yours got fixed."
"I know." Brad then told Kyle some of things he'd heard about him during training. "I stood up for you as my shipmate," Brad told him, "but I started wondering what you were really like. Now I know what you're like. I know they were wrong. And I am so happy that Steve Boyer showed up when he did, because we both know that Captain Bowman does not want any of us getting into a fight."
Brad felt an almost imperceptible squeeze from Kyle as his cabin mate held him just a bit tighter. The boys gazed into each other's eyes, and held onto each other almost for dear life. It was like they were afraid their good feelings for each other would vanish if they let go of each other. "Tell me about your necklace," Kyle said.
"Only if you tell me about your stuffed friends."
The boys heard a gurgling noise from Kyle's belly. "Only if you can wait until after we eat," Kyle said. He peered into Brad's brown eyes, and admired his smooth brown face. He pulled Brad even closer and gave him a chaste kiss on his right cheek—a friendship kiss, as he saw it. Both boys pulled back, shocked by what had just happened.
"Thanks for downloading the meeting notes into my tablet. When you volunteered to do that—well, it meant a lot to me. I think we can be friends," Kyle said softly.
Brad gave Kyle his own kiss on the cheek. "I would like that," he whispered. He stared into Kyle's deep blue eyes and flashed one of the most beautiful and genuine grins Kyle had ever seen. "But, making friends would be way easier if I weren't so hungry."
Kyle rose from Brad's bed, surprised that he was sporting wood. "Let's go to dinner," he said as he returned to his side of the room and took a pair of coveralls out of his closet.
The twelve-year-old boy sat in the crew mess eating his dinner. He was still trying to figure out who was who. He ran his hand through his light brown, almost blond, hair. He had been one of the last cuts at the end of training, barely missing being assigned to a crew. But, he had proven to be a good enough pilot to be assigned to shuttle duty, so at least he would be able to fly into space and admire the fleet of starships. He received a thrill when he was given permission to set foot on one.
Then a boy assigned to the Magellan broke his ankle while on leave for a visit to his family. He had gone skateboarding and took a hard fall. That boy's bad luck had worked in the twelve-year-old's favor. He received notice that he had been moved from shuttle duty to the Magellan. The next day he found himself getting some last-minute training. While he felt sorry for the boy who lost his position, he was almost overwhelmed by the emotions he felt—he would be going into space, not as a shuttle pilot, but as a deep space explorer.
But that all changed two days before launch. He was called into the office of Fleet Admiral Mirah, himself, the head honcho of the project. His heart was thumping with fear. He was certain that somehow they found a way to instantly fix the skateboarder's ankle and he would lose his new position and would be staying behind. Or even worse, he had done something terribly wrong and was being demoted to who knows what. The Admiral's first words didn't help the boy's frame of mind.
"Ensign, I know you've been getting used to your new position, but as often happens with last minute assignments, there has been a change in yours." He saw the demeanor of the incredibly beautiful boy drop. "Don't worry," the Admiral said as he worked to allay the boy's fears. "You're still going into deep space, but for a variety of reasons, you have been transferred to the Sooloo. You are to report to your new ship tomorrow. Here are your orders as well as the profile of the ship." The Admiral handed the young boy a flash drive.
"Son, I know your life has been turned upside down more than once the past few days, but I assure you that this is the last time. Any questions?"
"No Sir," the boy said in his clear soprano. "I'm happy that I can go into deep space." The boy stood up along with the Admiral. He was surprised when Admiral Mirah put his arms around him for a tight hug. Admiral Mirah believed that when a young boy found himself alone in a corner, a hug was one of the most important things a commanding officer could give him. "Good luck, Ensign and safe travels."
The boy went to his quarters where his bags were packed. He found ID tags for his bags in the envelope and replaced the ones with the Magellan's marking with ones with the Sooloo's. He put the small drive into his pocket tablet and read what it had to say about the Sooloo.
He raced through the description of the ship since it had the same layout as the Magellan. When he came to the page that had the list of senior officers his eyes stopped dead when he read who one of those officers was.
"Oh my God," he said out loud as he saw who the Chief Astrogator was; Kyle. "I'm going to be on the same ship as Kyle Robinson."
He knew Kyle had been assigned to a deep space ship; he just didn't know which one. In fact, he's sent a video mail to fleet express to be delivered to Kyle. It had never been answered. His body shook with emotion. His feelings for Kyle were still strong, but he never in a zillion years thought he'd be serving on the same ship with him.
"Holy crap," he said to the empty room. "What am I going to do now?"
Kyle finally set aside the time to look through the video mail that had been in the large envelope Steve Boyer had delivered the day of the weddings. For Kyle, that day seemed like it was months ago. He knew that his replies had to be sent before the Sooloo left the Solar System in order for them to arrive at Earth. That gave him less than a day to send his replies.
He knew that a dozen of the drives in the mail were from his dad. His dad had told him there would be ten drives with a printout of instructions telling him when to view them, if ever.
"Just promise me not to view them until the proper time," his dad said.
"I promise," Kyle replied, and he meant it.
"You may never have to view some of them. Look at them when you get back home for a good laugh."
Kyle did look at the instruction sheet, and smiled when he read them. From "What to do when you fall in and out of love" to "What to do the first time you screw something up" he could tell that his dad had put his heart into the videos. He wondered which one he would see first—if any. Kyle did know he didn't have to reply to those mails; his father had made that very clear.
There was video mail from Admiral Mirah, which Kyle knew he had sent out as a final bit of inspiration to the senior officers of the twenty starships. Again, there was nothing to reply to. That mail could wait a day or two until he had a better opportunity to read it. What he didn't know was that the Admiral had tacked a personal message to the end of the mail.
He pulled out the next drive. He was surprised to see it was from Derrick Lewis, his old roommate at the Prep School. After the usual good luck wishes, Derrick told Kyle that things were going well at school and that he thought he may have found himself a girlfriend. "I jerk off thinking about her all the time," Derrick said, "just like I used to jerk off thinking about you."
Damn, Derrick is a dirty minded horn dog. But that wasn't the naughtiest part of the mail. Derrick moved back from the camera, revealing the fact that he was naked and was sporting a nearly five-inch erection with a nice patch of hair above it—a lot more than Kyle remembered. "Just in case you miss our good times as roommates, here is something to remember me by."
Derrick started jerking off which led Kyle to shutting the video off. Derrick had actually been a good roommate, Kyle thought, but he was way too hung up on his cock.
He made a quick reply for Derrick. "Thanks for the vid. I'll always remember you." Obviously, he couldn't send a flash drive. He sent his reply to the video mail address that was included.
The next one was from his mother, of all people. His mother had only talked to him once since the day she walked out on the family, and that was to tell him she wished there was a way she could get him away from his evil father, but she had to think of herself first. Her mail simply wished him a safe voyage and that she was happy she found a way to get away from The Admiral, as she called him.
"I was better off being around him than around you, you selfish bitch," he yelled at his computer monitor. "You don't know what's gone on between dad and me, and I bet you probably don't even care."
"Who are you talking to?" Kyle was startled by the voice from behind him. He turned and saw Brad looking over his shoulder. He had entered the cabin without Kyle hearing him.
"My so-called mother," he replied. "It's easier to scream at my computer than to answer her mail, which isn't going to happen."
In the short time they had known each other, Brad was learning that there were a lot of layers to Kyle and was beginning to understand why Kyle could be so hard to read and to get to know.
"I sent my replies off, already. There wasn't much to send, since I saw everybody from home during my leave. I'll let you go back to your mail." Brad went over to his bed, set the pillows against the headboard, laid his head against them, and put a game on his big screen.
"I only have one more left," Kyle told him. The one drive that was left was an even bigger surprise than the one from his mother. It was from his old friend Danny Harper. Kyle hadn't had any contact with Danny since he'd been sent off to Prep School by his father. He wondered how Danny even knew where he was and what he was doing.
He plugged in his headphones so Brad wouldn't hear what was on the video. With a conflict of emotions boiling through him he inserted the drive and prepared to see how his friend had changed since he last saw him well over a year ago.
Sadly, all he got to see was a solid gray screen, but the voice he heard was beautiful—it hadn't changed a bit from when they were ten.
"Hi, Kyle. I heard you're on one of the starships. I just got on one, too, the Magellan. It's a last-minute thing. I wish I knew you were training for the star project and all. Maybe we could have met up or something. But maybe it's good we didn't. I missed you a lot. Sorry the video isn't working, but I don't have time to fix this. I just found out about you, but I don't know where you are and I have to get this to the project admin so they can get it sent off to you. They make things way too confusing around here sometimes. I hope your trip is really great and I hope mine is too. Who knows, maybe we'll see each other in 30 years."
Kyle fought off tears after listening to Danny. He wished the video had worked. He wished he could have seen Danny before they left. He wished his dad had never caught the two of them naked in his bedroom. He wished Danny’s flash drive had never made it to the Sooloo. He wished so many things and he knew all of his wishes were stupid, because you can't change what happened.
Fighting the tears didn't work. He could feel them dripping down his cheeks. He pulled out the earplugs, walked over to Brad's bed and sat next to him.
"Are you okay?" Brad asked.
"I will be. I… I just need somebody to hug me."
"Is this about your mother?"
"No. It's about a really good friend who I haven't seen in so long and just missed seeing, and now will never see again."
Brad put his arm around Kyle and hugged him against his shoulder. He realized that one more layer of Kyle Robinson had just been partially revealed to him.