To recap the story so far, Devon is a sarcastic and witty college kid who finds himself on a ship on an 18-year voyage to a new home planet after the destruction of earth. The mass majority of the passengers on Devon’s ship guys from the boy’s college he attended. Devon begins questioning his sexuality after spying on two friends, Sean and Dog, mutually masturbating. It makes him realize he may either be gay or turning gay because of the demographic makeup of the ship. He gets a chance to explore more when he discovers that his friend, Charlie, has wandered off drunk. He goes searching and finds him passed out in one of the unoccupied dorms. He can’t resist feeling him up, and although Charlie wakes up halfway through, Devon wanks him off. The next day, Charlie doesn’t remember anything, and Devon thinks he’s off the hook. But then he discovers that someone had been watching him and Charlie through the vent. Who could it have been?

While pondering his sexuality, Devon is trying to fix his friendship with Conner, a friend he’s neglected since leaving earth. He spends an afternoon with Conner, and realizes this is a great friend that he can entrust with anything. But he doesn’t think this is the appropriate person to talk about his sexuality with. Neither is the lovable slacker and Devon’s co-worker, Zane, who is openly bisexual. And he doesn’t want to talk to his best friends, Reid and Patrick, lest his experimenting damage his relationship with either of them. He determines to try and just live a normal life when things take another sexual turn. Accompanying Reid for a lengthy scan in the medical bay, Devon is approached by a mystery intern who ends up jerking him off. It’s a great experience for Devon, although a little weird since he is never able to see the intern’s face. Reid, drugged up and tranquilized because of his claustrophobia, is oblivious to everything. When they leave the medical bay, Devon discovers that his anonymous intern and the phantom wanker who spied on him are one and the same. It’s exciting for Devon, but also a little weird. He resolves to talk to someone about it, and after putting Reid to bed runs across Patrick alone in the dorm. Instead of formulating a plan, Devon just blurts out that he thinks he’s gay, opening a whole can or worms. Patrick stops to think about that for a moment…

And that brings us up to chapter five. Enjoy!



Space Ship Boys

Chapter 5 – The Party


i

An uncomfortable silence hung in the room, the only sound the slight whir and click of the environmental unit pumping air into the space. It gave me time to briefly think about two personality traits of mine that I might consider working on in the future, one being that I tend to impulsively rush into things without really thinking them through, the other being that I get really nervous when confronted with conversations about unpleasant personal subjects.

The all-time best example of the first was the time I committed myself to violin lessons. I was eleven, and had just seen a movie about a violinist, so when I got home I announced to my parents that I would be taking up the instrument. They didn’t take me seriously, but after three months of begging and whining, they agreed to my request. As one might expect, I got my violin, took one lesson and realized I hated the damn thing. I tried to get out of the lessons under the argument that this would save my parents a good deal of money, and this stance seemed to have weight with my father, who I could tell was wavering, but my mother was immutable and demanded I take lessons for at least a year. I guess they figured the cost of classes was worth the life lesson I was being taught about ‘stickwithitness’. So I struggled through fifty-two weeks of excruciatingly boring practice sessions before dropping out, and I can play you a really scratchy god-awful rendition of ‘Old MacDonald’ if you want proof, but trust me you don’t.

However, I’m gonna have to say that my current situation might have to replace the violin catastrophe as worst idea ever. After weeks of worrying that being gay or bisexual it would mess up all my friendships, particularly with Reid and Patrick, I decided to talk to someone about it, and instead of waiting and doing it in some logical manner at an appropriate time, I just blurted it out to Patrick. Maybe I should have asked someone else’s advice, because now I realize that either Patrick will be cool with it, in which case I didn’t have anything to be worried about in the first place, or that he won’t, in which case I’ve now provided the catalyst for what I was worried about.

And that line of thought kicks in personality flaw number two. I think about all the worst case scenarios – me getting kicked out of the flat, losing Reid and Patrick as friends, ending up alone on this stupid space ship for the next eighteen years. I’m all at once nervous, excited and scared, and I can feel my stomach turn. I’m also starting to get shaky – I can feel my fingers trembling against the paper pages of the book I’m holding, so I set it down on the side table and try sitting up straighter with my hands in my lap, although then I consider I look a little like a haughty child awaiting admonition, so I try draping an arm over the side of the couch. Nope, that looks a little dorky, like I’m trying really hard to unsuccessfully play it cool. I return the hand to my lap.

And so we sit there, me on the couch fidgeting and Patrick in the chair next to me. I’m getting more and more freaked out, and he just seems to be as calm as ever. It seems like an hour goes by like that, but in actuality it’s only twenty seconds or so before he speaks again.

“Yeah, Devon, you know, I figured that,” he says quietly, clearly weighing his words. Wait, what? He figured what? He figured that being on a space ship with all guys was going to make me gay? Why’s he agreeing with me like that? And all at once I have a new fear about how people perceive me. Maybe Patrick already knows I’m a little weird and already dislikes me a little, and this will be the final blow to the friendship.

While I ponder this I get even shakier, and my chest muscles start trembling uncontrollably against the cotton fabric of my shirt. This is my typical reaction to conversations like this – all of a sudden my body acts like I’m immersed in ice water. Patrick must have noticed that his comments are causing a monumental reaction because he gets a really concerned look, almost like he’s scared, and then walks over to where I’m sitting.

“Wait, whoa, hey, I didn’t mean that in a bad way.” He sits down right next to me on the couch and I’m both relieved and alarmed by his proximity. On the one hand, it’s reassuring to feel the warmth of his body close to me, but on the other I feel like I’m about to lose it and start bawling, and I don’t really want anyone around for that. I’m a little old to start crying like a little girl, and the thought of that makes me angry. Angry at myself for opening this can of worms in the first place, and angry at Patrick for having the audacity to be present for this horrendously embarrassing show.

“Look, Devon, what’s the matter? You can talk to me about this.” But suddenly I don’t feel like talking. That’s what got me in trouble in the first place, and it was a dumb idea to broach the subject with anyone, least of all Patrick. So instead, I figure I’ll clam up and sit here without saying anything until Patrick gets bored or frustrated and leaves. I turn away from him and stare down at the arm of the couch. It has a stain on it that looks suspiciously like old cheese spread.

And there we sit for a good five full minutes, maybe longer, me staring sullenly at the couch and Patrick staring compassionately at me. It doesn’t take me long to figure out that I was being a little silly in thinking that he didn’t like me. We’re good friends, and his expression is all I need to see that he’s genuinely concerned about me. Still, I’m a little pissed at myself for getting into this conversation at all with him, and even if he doesn’t care whether I’m gay or not, it also pisses me off that he’d say he always thought I was. And besides being angry, I’m still totally nervous, and I can feel all the adrenaline and stomach acid sitting right below the surface. It’s fucking up my emotions on every level, and I feel like if I start talking I may throw up. God, I wish I could go crawl into my bunk.

But Patrick doesn’t get bored or wander off, and after we’ve been sitting here for a while he starts talking.

“Ok, here’s the deal,” he begins, “If you don’t want to talk, I will. If you want me to stop, just tell me, otherwise I’ll babble on.

“The first thing is, you know I’m an open-minded guy. I don’t judge people, and when I say you can tell me anything I mean it. You could tell me you were an ax-murderer and I’d still be your friend. I might not go into a dark utility closet with you, but I’d be your friend.” His attempt at humor doesn’t work and when I fail to smile even a little he continues on.

“Erm, anyway, obviously you seem a little angry or scared about talking to me about this, and maybe I should have responded differently. What I maybe should have said was that you are a great guy. You’re funny and sarcastic and smart and energetic, and those are things I noticed in you on that first day we met at orientation.”

I thought back to that weekend, almost a year ago now. Prospective students had come to JDU for a week to see the campus and pick a course of study and meet one another. That’s where I’d met Patrick, and we did hit it off right away. We’d been through a couple of developmental sessions together – at least that’s what they called them. You broke off into a group of like twenty students and completed these lame assignments. Like in one we pretended we had been stranded in Newfoundland. We had a list of fifty items we had with us and had to determine a course of action as well as categorize the supplies and rank them from most to least important. Patrick had been the nerdy guy that tried unsuccessfully to convince everyone that we should stay put and wait for rescue, and he also tried to explain that the compass should be put in the ‘useless’ category because it wouldn’t work when we were sitting on top of the magnetic pole. He was shot down by a know-it-all fake-boobed bimbo named Traci who took over the group and started bossing everyone around. Three or four of us paid attention to Patrick, but we were outvoted and in the end everyone died. I, of course, didn’t take the game seriously, and when we turned in our cards and mine stated ‘make a raft out of breast implants and float to safety’, thereby putting the bossy Traci in her place, I derived some scorn from the group but made an eternal friend in Patrick, who came up to me later and thanked me. We’d been fast friends ever since.

Patrick continues talking while I reminisce about better days, “And then as we got to know one another, I found out you liked reading and architecture and cooking, and those are things I was interested in. But that sets us apart a little, because they’re not necessarily what your typical 16-year old thinks about. And that’s when I started to realize you’re different…well, maybe different isn’t the best word…that’s when I realized you’re, hmm, an individual, and that made me like you more because it’s always easier to try and fit in than to stand out as unique.

“But you’ve always stood out, Devon, with your hair-color-of-the-month and neon t-shirts, and as we got to be better friends, I realized that I was never going to be able to guess what you’d do next. One moment I’d think I had you pegged, then you’d come home and tell everyone you had started a dodge ball league. Or that you were going to learn how to make soufflés.

“You know me, I read a lot, and I had to consider that as, hmm, quirky?...no, maybe eccentric? Anyway, whatever we’d call it, as unique as you were, I had to consider that your life could go in any one of a million possible directions, and yes, early on I did consider that maybe you could be homosexual, or at least the kind of guy that would experiment before making a final decision on that.” I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.

“I mean, you’re not girly or anything, but definitely a character. And for a while on Earth I was sure you would come home someday talking about some boy or other in class, and that a couple of weeks later you’d be dating him. If you had, I would have been completely excited for you. But you surprised me again, and when you did come home pining over someone, it was over a brown-eyed girl down the road. Classic Devon. You proved me wrong again, and I adopted a whole new opinion of you. Now you’re doing it yet again, because I think the last thing I expected from you tonight is this.” I cringe again. “Not that this is bad, in fact I think it’s good that you’re thinking about these things. I thought you were going to want to talk about something else. I mean, I know you’ve been having nightmares all the time, and I was worried something else was wrong, something about being here. I thought you were going to say you’ve been contemplating suicide because you’re depressed about earth or something. If all you’re concerned about is that you might start liking boys, that’s not a big deal.”

“Oh,” was my feeble reply.

“Well, ok, it is a big deal,” Patrick pattered on, clearly capable of filling the void with conversation even if I didn’t pitch in. For a guy that was usually quiet, he had a lot to say tonight, “It’s a big deal because it means you’re finding your way, learning about yourself, which is something a healthy teenager should be able to do. Sometimes I get scared that living like this – all of us crammed in this metal ship in space – will mean we can’t have normal lives, but here you are being as normal as you possibly can. You’re growing up – like how you took your natural talents and found a job here that suits you. That took a certain amount of confidence and maturity. Maybe figuring out your sexuality is another step you need to take right now. You’re clearly upset about this process, and growing up can be painful at times, but I think you need to understand that what you’re going through is a good thing. And not something to fear or blame on our weird situation. I don’t think you’re starting to like boys because of being on this ship, I think you’re finding out you like them despite being here.”

I thought about this last part. He was probably right. I had, after all, started down this path before we left earth, and had the catastrophe never happened, I have to admit I’d probably still be curious about guys. Putting it in that perspective, I started to think that maybe talking to Patrick was a good idea. He clearly had some insight that I lacked, even after weeks of wandering around the hallways mulling these things over in my head.

“Maybe,” I answered, “but the thing is, I’m not worried that much about whether I’m gay or not. I mean, I am a little, but the I’m not, you know? I’m more scared that if I am I’ll lose my friends.”

Patrick then did something completely unexpected and wrapped his arm around my shoulder. This was completely out of character for him – I don’t think he’d ever hugged me or even shook my hand in the year I’d known him. He was one of those guys that was physically distant, and one whose personal space I always instinctively respected. It was comforting to have him close now, but also a little awkward.

“Devon, look, I wish I could tell you that no matter what you decide to do with your life everyone would be ok with it. I’ve already told you that I am, but I’m the only person I can vouch for. You know how it is, how it’s always been. Gays are equal and accepted, but that’s the big picture. In the ‘real world’, teenagers have a lot of emotions wrapped up in their personal identities; I don’t know how everyone will react if you announce that you’re going to start dating guys. Most people will probably be fine with it, but on the other hand you’ll probably see some difference in the way you’re treated. Like, for example, you might have a friend you play rugby with all the time, and before you might always grab a shower together afterwards. If you come out as gay, you might notice that all of a sudden that changes. Maybe you notice he starts heading back to his room to shower. Most people our age, and especially most people at our education level, are absolutely fine with homosexuality, and in this scenario you might be tempted to think this hypothetical friend is one guy that isn’t. But maybe that’s not true. Maybe your friendship changes because even though he’s fine with gays, he’s scared of being labeled as such. Maybe he’s afraid that if people start thinking he’s with you, he’ll lose his friends, the same way you’re afraid right now. Fear is a really powerful thing, especially when it comes to sex and teenagers. When you think about it, maybe all of adolescence is about overcoming our fear. So anyway, my point is that I want you to understand that I will support you one-hundred percent, and I’m sure your close friends will as well, but you also have to prepare yourself that being openly gay or bisexual may mean that some things change. Some for the better, some not so much. But I think guys coming out on this ship is something we all need to get used to.”

I didn’t quite get what he meant. “Get used to?”

“Yeah. I mean, think about it. Approximately 2.3% of the population is outright homosexual, and another 4.4% is bisexual. We’re on a ship with what? Six thousand people?”

“Five-thousand nine-hundred forty three,” I correct him. Patrick loves numbers, and I assume he’ll appreciate the factoid.

“Ok, yeah, so let’s just round up so I can do the math in my head. With those numbers, if all the homo- and bi-sexuals end up going after guys, that’s like four hundred gay guys on board. So it’s not like you’re alone. And then we have to consider the portion of the population that will choose to live a gay lifestyle even if it’s not their inclination, just because people our age are a little more flexible, and we’re also more hormonal, so for a lot of people it may be preferable to celibacy. I have no idea how to estimate how much of the population will adopt homosexuality as long as we’re in this situation, but I’ve thought about it. I supposed I could do research on all-male communities historically. Or maybe in prison populations. Or maybe…”

“Enough, Enough. Uncle!” Patrick usually figures out a way to turn any conversation towards math and research, and somehow I’m not surprised that this conversation heads in the same direction. Calling uncle is our inside joke about him being too scientific for me. He’s predictable, and it’s one of the things I love about him. Realizing this makes me chuckle…well, normally I would have chuckled, but all the nervous energy and adrenaline makes it come out more a silly giggle.

“Sorry,” he replies, “you know how I get. The perpetual nerd.”

“I know, I know. It’s what we like about you.” He’s kept his arm around me, and almost unconsciously I lay my head on his shoulder, feeling somehow that this contact will convey my appreciation for him as a friend. He doesn’t move away or flinch, and I take this as a sign that he’s either ok with the physical contact or too concerned about me to push me away. Not that he has anything to worry about. Patrick is a good looking guy, but he’s a friend and that’s all I’d ever think of him as. In fact, it was hard to imagine him being sexual with anyone.

“Um, but I guess we should maybe talk about what’s been going on with you. I mean, you wanted to talk, and here I’ve been babbling and being a total geek. If you want, I’d like to hear about why you suddenly think you’re gay.”

And somehow, sitting here with one of my best friends, the surge of adrenaline and nerves past, I feel like I can talk about anything with this guy. And I do. I tell him everything – I tell him about accidentally spying on Sean and Dog and how that made me wonder about sex with other guys, and I even sheepishly tell him I got off on it; I explain about trying to find other guys fooling around and how I ended up seeing Mike and Chris masturbating (albeit separately), and then the late night tomfoolery with the drunken Charlie and the phantom wanker who spied on me and then later returned to jerk me off in the medical bay. I censor out the part about looking up Reid’s shorts, but I do honestly talk about looking at all the guys in my life in a new light and wondering what it would be like to go to bed with a fair number of them. By the end I feel like I pretty big pervert, actually, although I’m also relieved to have it all off my chest. I eventually stop talking, and we just sit there for a moment before I pitch in again. “So, I guess some of that may have you rethinking the no-judging thing, huh?”

“Nope, sorry kid, you’re stuck with me.” He shifts and pulls out from under my head, turning to face me with a serious expression on his face, “But look, Devon, if I’m not going to judge you, can I at least talk with you honestly about this? I mean, even if it means giving you some advice you might not like to hear? You never have to take it, but I think I should say it.”

It seems like a fair bargain. “Yeah, of course. What is it?”

“Well, the thing is, I wonder if maybe you should think about your experimenting. Some of the stuff you just told me about seems a little, hmm, I don’t know, dangerous maybe? Spying on Sean and - what did you say his name is? Dog? – spying on them was an accident, but even if it was they might not appreciate being watched. And I know Chris wouldn’t. If you haven’t noticed, this whole being in space end-of-the-world thing has made him a little crazy and on-edge. He gets angry about everything, and I can’t say what he’d do if he caught you, erm, beating off to him beating off. And Charlie is pretty fragile lately. He might like you jerking him off, but it might also push him over the edge…”

“I know, I know. God, I’ve been such an idiot. Running around, scared of you guys and then acting like a weirdo.” I put my head in my hands, a little ashamed.

“No, don’t start that. I don’t mean to chastise you. I just think that all of that was part of you figuring out what you want in life, and maybe now that you seem to know you can experiment in ways that are a little more, hmm…mutually voluntary?”

“Yeah, yeah…”

“No, hey, don’t be sarcastic. What I’m saying is that you should go out and find another gay boy and experiment to your heart’s content. Hell, go out and fuck all four hundred of them,” I laugh out loud at his uncharacteristic profanity, “but I think it would be advisable to knock off the non-consensual stuff. I’d hate for that to come back to haunt you.”

“Yeah, you’re right, and I’m being serious now. Talking with you, I realize that I’ve been scared to go out and try anything. I mean, how do you walk up to a dude and say ‘hey, want to go to bed together and see what happens?’ That’s really scary, and I think I’ve been hiding from that by doing all this spy shit, and it needs to stop. I promise, no more peeping tom stuff. And for real this time.”

“Good, I’m glad to hear it. But I also want to talk to you about the whole scanner thing. This other guy seems kinda creepy. It concerns me. I mean, he’s following you around. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Well, you know, yeah, maybe. But I’m not sure. It was a little weird at first, having the guy spy on me and Charlie and then come track me down. But you know, he’s really just doing exactly what I was doing to other people, and it was fun to have him mess with me, you know, like exciting in a way I’d never thought of before. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well,” Patrick replies, “if you’re sure it doesn’t bug you. Still, it doesn’t seem like that’s something really healthy to pursue. I’d tend to recommend finding someone you can be open with and get to know each other and explore things together. Like in the same room and not on opposite sides of a vent.”

“Oh, ha ha, very funny.” I guess I deserved that.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find you a hot not-co-ed and then I’m guessing we’ll never hear from you again. Hey, Reid is available, what about him?” It was a joke, but one that hit in just the wrong spot. My heart thumped a double beat in my chest and somehow I could sense that I had just gone pale. It’s especially weird since Reid is sleeping in the next room, which all of a sudden is almost terrifying for some reason.

“Um…”

“Look, god Devon, don’t be so freaking sensitive. I was just kidding.” He drops into a hushed whisper, “But I know you have a crush on him, whether it’s an ‘I want to be like you’ or an ‘I want to bed you’ crush. And don’t worry, I’m sure he doesn’t know. Just me, because I watch people. But even if you tell him everything you told me tonight, you know that he’ll be your friend no matter what you do with your life, just like you know you’d always support him no matter what.”

“Yeah,” I replied thoughtfully and then pondered for a second how I’d handle the whole Reid thing. I didn’t feel like I had the balls to outright talk with him about it like I had with Patrick, but then I also felt like I needed to let him in on the situation lest he find out some other way and feel betrayed. Then an idea struck me. “Hey, Patrick, can I ask you for a favor? Do you think maybe you could talk to Reid for me? Like, you know, don’t tell him all the details and pervert stuff, but maybe bring up the gay thing casually? You guys have been friends for a lot longer than I have, and I think it would help if I didn’t have to tell him from scratch.”

Patrick pondered for a second before replying. When he did, I could tell he was really uncertain and a little uncomfortable with my request. “Jeez, Devon, I don’t know. I mean, you know I’ll do anything for you, but I don’t think that would work out that well. You could go tell him now. Or tomorrow morning.”

But I don’t like those options. I like the idea of Patrick breaking the ice, and I quickly formulate a plan.

“No, hey, look. Here’s the deal. Tomorrow we have that big party, and you’ll be hanging out with him all day helping with the preparations, right? So maybe when you have a moment you bring up that you think I might be, well, you know, and see how he takes it. If he seems cool, then fill him in a little more (but again, leave out the perverted stuff) and then he and I can talk right after the party. I want him to know too - I mean, we’re best friends and I’d never keep something this big from him, but there’s no way I can approach him and just start talking about this stuff. What he thinks about me means a lot, and if he responded negatively, and you have to admit that’s a possibility, it would kill me. I mean, I don’t think I could take it. So c’mon, please talk to him?”

He thinks about it while I stare imploringly at him. “Yeah, yeah, ok look Devon. I think it’s a bad idea, and it feels kind of like you’re asking me to gossip about you, albeit with your permission. But if it’s that big a deal to you, I’ll feel him out and if, like you say, he’s cool, then I’ll tell him more. But then you have to promise to take it from there. I don’t want any weirdness because of this.”

“Definitely,” I agree, “No weirdness. Right after the party, I’ll talk to him and then we can get past all this. You have no idea what that would mean to me. I’ve been scared of what others would think if I were gay, yes, but mostly freaked about the two of you. I feel like throwing up all the time, I can’t sleep. I mean, even before most everything else in my life blew up you two were my best friends, and with everything else gone the idea of losing you has been terrifying. I think that’s why I’ve been such a weirdo, now that I think about it.”

He stands up, putting his hand on my shoulder, “Yeah, you mean a lot to me too. And I’ll talk to Reid, I promise, and I promise everything will turn out ok. But for now I have to go to bed. I’m sorry, but I am exhausted. You have no idea how much dirt I hauled around today.” And with that we said our good nights and Patrick slumped off to bed, his fatigue evident in his belabored stride. I sat up for another two hours, replaying my conversation with Patrick in my head over and over. He had made a lot of good points, and I needed to think about them. He’d also taken things really well. Maybe everything would work out and things could be just like before. Maybe I could have Patrick and Reid as best friends and go out and find a boyfriend from the supposed four-hundred candidates. When I finally turn in, I fall asleep immediately, cocooned in my covers and warmed from a mote of happy, joyous hope deep within.

Little did I know, the following day things would begin to fall apart, and in more ways than one.


ii

The next morning, I wake up early to an overly bright room shining with simulated sunlight. I hide under my covers for a few minutes, reluctant to give up my cozy warm spot and not wanting to face the fully lit room. Once my eyes do adjust, which takes a painful couple of minutes, I discover that I’m the last one in the room to get up, and when I finally drag myself to the bathroom to pee and shower, the whole flat seems empty. Jeez, everyone must be excited about this party to be up and out at freaking dawn.

As I shower, I thought about the day before – the weird incident in the medical bay and then my long conversation with Patrick. In classic ‘Devon style’, it wasn’t long before doubt begins to creep up into my stomach and make me feel a little nauseous. I’d talked to Patrick, and that turned out great. So I was happy about that, but then I had to go and do something stupid and ask him to talk to Reid for me, and I honestly had no idea how Reid would take things. And that’s what was bothering me now, and why my plan was stupid. For all I know, Patrick has already talked to him. Or maybe he hasn’t – maybe he won’t. Now the whole Reid thing is like some obnoxious time bomb, and I imagine a variety of scenarios, one of which envisions Reid storming into the dorm, punching me, and telling me to never talk to him again. That gets my stomach acid churning, and then two seconds later I imagine scenario number two, which has Reid storming in to push his hands down my pants. That fantasy gets my hormones churning, and here it is barely eight a.m. and I’m nervous, about to throw up, horny and boning up. Ugh. Life as a gay teenager in space.

Out and about, the ship is alive and buzzing, particularly for a Sunday morning. I guess everyone is excited about the party tonight. It was only announced three days ago, but it’s pretty much all every has talked about since Captain Bianchi popped up on the intercom system and told us we’d be having a special celebration for our hundredth day in space.

The Commons is totally packed, especially the main lobby. I run into Jacob, Nick and Ian there – they’re playing wall-z, an electronic game we discovered on the ship that had become quite popular. Between rounds of throwing brightly glowing orbs at one another, they tell me Reid and Patrick and some of the other guys had already headed down to the Rear Observation Deck to assist in setting up. I knew they’d be there all day, right up to the party, and I needed to get to work anyway, so I declined an invitation for a couple rounds of wall-z and headed over to the cafeteria, although I do take a second to take in how alluringly Ian’s t-shirt clings to his lanky frame since it’s all soaked in sweat. But then he almost catches me looking at him and I take off awkwardly. ‘No more spying, no more spying,’ I tell myself along the way.

I was actually looking forward to work today – we were getting to cook with some actual food for once. Captain Bianchi had authorized us to use some of the frozen stores, as well as some of the fresh fruits and vegetables that the ship’s gardens were starting to produce. So although we had limited supplies, we at least had some leeway to get creative and come up with something for the party.

When I get to the main kitchen, I find that Zane is already hard at work, his floppy hair concealed under his usual faded ballcap. And the guy isn’t scheduled for another hour. Good grief, does this party have everyone hyped? Zane’s never shown up for work on time, let alone early. We partner up right away, partially because we like working together and partially because we dislike most of our coworkers. Zane explains that he’s gathered up like fifty pounds of fresh tomatoes and that we should figure out how we want to serve them. I’m pretty sure we could serve them raw – most of us have had like one piece of real fruit since coming on board, and I’m sure they’d be popular no matter what we did to them. However, we want to make the party special so we brainstorm while prepping. In the end, we decide to garlic and toast some ration bread and make a bruschetta with it. While we’re dicing the tomatoes, we get into a conversation with some of the other cooks.

“So, Brian, today’s the big day, huh?” Zane poses, grabbing a tomato, tossing it in the air and catching it before taking it to the knife. Brian Fervson has been in our training since the first day, and he belongs to an exclusive group on the ship I usually refer to as ‘the dicks’. Brian isn’t such a bad guy, but his friends, all upperclassmen, tend to be, well, dicks. This guy, Steven, is kind of the leader, and somehow when we took off from earth he felt that his rank should somehow be preserved in our new little microcosm. After all, he and his friends are like three months older than anyone else, why shouldn’t they run the show? Steven and four or five of his lackeys were the guys who refused to take shit detail, and they’re the ones now finishing up thirty days in the brig. Needless to say, Steven’s ideas of governmental systems in space didn’t hold a lot of weight with Captain Bianchi or the security force. They were slated to get out in two days, but it had recently become common knowledge that their sentences had been reduced so that they could attend the party.

Although Brian hadn’t refused to work, he was still something of a dickwad. Brian Fervson had been a business student on earth, and that fact had probably made him realize the economics of the ship made cooperation essential. Still, he was arrogant, obnoxious, and had an over-inflated opinion of himself. He looked a little like a weasel to me, and I always imagined that if all of this hadn’t happened he would have graduated and taken a position in some corporation laying people off to cut costs or something. If I had to spend the next eighteen years cleaning toilets, one of the benefits was that a guy like Brian would too.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever Flynn,” Brian rudely retorts, referring to Zane by his last name, something the dicks seem to do a lot of.

“Hey, I’m jus’ saying. It must have been tough these past few weeks, your boyfriend in jail, no one telling you how to dress and what to say. I’m surprised you remembered how to zip up your pants. Except, oops, you didn’t.” Brian looks down hurriedly and turns his back to everyone in order to examine his fly. I can’t tell if his zipper was really down or not, you never know with Zane, who is a funny guy, but one who can ruthlessly cruel in his silliness. Zane loves baiting Brian, and although Brian is reluctant to get into it with Zane today, eventually the two end up bickering back and forth while the other fifteen cooks and I prepare the party food. It makes the time go faster, and as always Brian comes off looking like something of a jerk.

We finish up after a couple of hours and the head chef sets us all free to spend the afternoon getting ready for the party. I tell Zane I’ll see him later and head off to hang with Conner for a while. On the way to Conner’s room I pass Sean and Dog in the hall – you might remember that I once caught them jerking each other off. Well, I didn’t catch them so much as I watched them. I can’t help but imagine that they’re coming back from some afternoon tryst and I have to giggle a little. They look at me curiously as we pass.

Conner, who challenges me to another round of his racing game as soon as I enter the door, doesn’t have any duties today and has had the whole morning to himself. Hmm, I wonder what he did with his time? While we play, he asks me why I smell like oregano and I explain the bruschetta to him. He gets excited at the prospect of fresh food, and I consider telling him about the stuffed mushrooms and ham tarts we came up with, but I figure I’ll let it be a surprise.

While we play, one of Conner’s flat mates, Eden Stratton comes in. I know Eden the way everyone knows Eden – he was associated student body president at JDU and just about the most popular guy at the school. He played like four sports, performed violin (and a tad bit better than me, I can tell you) and was one of those guys everyone liked. At first this made me hate him, but then when I met him and actually got to know him I discovered that he was the nicest, most genuine guy in the world. And now that I was gay, or at least open to experimenting, I had to consider that he may be the best looking guy in the universe, tall and dark with perfectly browned flawless skin and these awesome bulging pectorals (I had never seen him naked up close, but he tossed his shirt off after every soccer game) and baby blue eyes. He had a smile that could win anyone over in a half second, and although he didn’t need it considering every single one of his other features was perfect, it sure helped. He even had bushy eyebrows, and where mine looked a bit stern and untidy, his were perfect and framed his face so that you knew right away that he was intelligent, kind and someone you’d want to be friends with.

“Conner, hey, finally taking some time off work, eh?” he asks as he walks into the room. He’s carrying a large box of something, but when he notices me he puts it down on a nearby table and walks over to the couch, offering me his hand. “Hey, Devon, right? Good to see you.”

We shake hands – Eden is the kind of guy that shakes hands with just about everyone every time he enters a room. “Good to see you too,” I reply, making an effort to stop staring at this upperclassman god and trying to think up some small talk, “So, is that something for tonight?” I nod in the general direction of the box he’d come in with.

“Nah. Well, I guess sort of. It’s actually something for James.” By which he meant Captain Bianchi. He called most people by their first names. He gets a conspiratorial smile on his face and sits down in the chair next to the couch. In a hushed tone he leans over and asks us, “Hey, can you two keep a secret?”

It’s the kind of question you have to answer yes to, and we both immediately agree, which Eden accepts but qualifies with a longer explanation that rumors have a way of getting around on this ship and that we absolutely have to keep quiet until after tonight; again we both agree.

“Ok, I trust ya. What I have in here is the last part needed to get the ship-to-ship working.” Conner and I stare back in wide-eyed amazement, not really knowing what to say to that. Ship-to-ship communication would mean we could find out who else survived from earth. It would mean finding out about our families, and there wasn’t a passenger on board who didn’t think about that forty times a day.

“You’re kidding.” I finally manage to say.

Eden smiles hugely and slaps me on my chest. There’s a painful tingle where his hand hits, but also a residual excitement that runs down my spine in a shiver. “No, I know, wild huh? Once this is installed, we’ll be able to send data packets back and forth, and that should be as soon as I carry this baby upstairs. It’ll be announced at the party. Should be quite a night.”

The problem with ship-to-ship contact was that we were already travelling at near-light speed, so sending communications back and forth was tricky at best. Add to that the fact that the explosion and subsequent implosion of our sun had generated a massive radiation burst, which was now all around us, moving slightly faster. It wasn’t dangerous to us here in the ship, but for a couple of years sending messages would be like sending a message between two oceanic vessels by lantern in the middle of a hurricane. Still, the original DENON “think-tank” had “thought-tonked” of everything, and there was a plan for fleet communication in place. Over the past three months, all the ships had been lining up in a huge caravan – thousands and thousands of them. Once in place, we could send data packets to the nearest ship in front of and behind us. The vessels would then begin piggybacking data up and down the chain in large packets, first priority being a complete census. We’d never be able to have a live conversation back in forth between one individual to another, and it would probably be a year before the lines were freed up for personal or non-essential messages, but this would at least let us know where all our friends and family were.

We congratulate Eden over his accomplishment – it would seem he had figured out how to modify the frequency components to adjust for some issues the equipment hadn’t been designed for and was preventing the system from working – and he took his leave to go test his equipment in the command center. We swore complete and utter silence again as he was leaving.

The rest of the afternoon passes quickly, and as party hour approaches even I can’t help but get a little excited. We sometimes get everyone together in the large auditorium up in topside for stuff, but there hasn’t been a social event that included everyone on the ship since we took off. As seven rolls around, I convince Conner to head down to the commons with me a little early, my anticipation palpable, and as I get more and more hyperactive Conner becomes amused and gives in to my request.

We take the long way around, passing up the elevator in lieu for a leisurely stroll through the upper areas of the ship. Although we pass someone now and again, for the most part everywhere is deserted, which would be a little creepy if I didn’t know they were all congregating in the commons. Once we get there, the high overhead dome as spectacular as ever, we’re greeted by the noise of a couple hundred rowdy college guys. There’s an energy in the air, not unlike a pep rally before homecoming. Groups of ten to fifteen guys are spread around the open space, some of them talking, some of them playing games of wall-z or cards or just horsing around.

At the rear of the large room is the entrance to the tunnel leading to the rear observation deck, where the party will be held. Hundreds and hundreds of people are all crammed into the space in front of the entrance, and as far as we can make out they aren’t letting anyone in yet. They said 7:30, and it’s a little early still. Conner says that it’s too crowded and noisy for his tastes, and I have to agree, although I sure am excited to go in. We decide that even after they open the door it will be a while before everyone can filter down the hall, so in the meantime we decide to go hang out in the library.

As I’ve said before, The Commons sits in a massive sphere in the exact center of the ship. The lobby is the half of the sphere facing ‘up’. Sitting on the other side in the opposite direction is the library. It’s a little confusing at first, because you’d expect that the library ceiling would be the floor of the commons lobby. However, the ship can program any plane to be gravitational ‘down’, so the library actually faces the opposite direction – the domed ceiling being the other side of the sphere and facing ‘down’. It’s a little wacky to take a stairway down there and come out the other side ‘upside down’, but you get used to it, and in this case it’s only these two huge areas that are off kilter. Some rooms have both the floor and ceiling programmed to be ‘gravitational down’ so that you can have people working on both planes. Now that’s a little nauseating!

We take the main stairway that sits next to the main lobby elevators; it’s narrow and twists at an improbable angle, but once we reach the end we’ve been ‘repolarized’ so that gravity pulls us towards the floor of the library. Like the main lobby, the library is a rather stunning space, although not quite as open. A series of mezzanine floors ring the dome and extend up to the ceiling, each floor containing stacks of books, amongst other things. Unlike traditional libraries, the books here are not paper, but miniature data servers that store information from earth. Books, music, newspapers. Thousands of years of the human experience lie on the drives here. There is also a gene bank, as well as a section of works of art from earth. Most of whatever is left of our home, whatever we managed to save, is stored in this and a thousand rooms like it.

The library is not as noisy as the lobby, but it seems a lot of guys are congregating here so it’s not exactly quiet either. I run into Peter and Bronwyn, who are oddly without Chris this evening and causing some trouble on one of the computer stations. I’m not sure what they’re doing exactly, but it appears to me they’re putting together some weird Mip file to send to Beck to annoy him. From what I can gather, they’re mislabeling some lame light jazz song as one of Beck’s favorites and trying to get him to play it tonight. Ok, that is kind of a funny prank, and I imagine Beck spinning up some god awful sax cover of a Billy Joel song at the party. That would irritate him, to be sure.

Right at 7:30 there is a general cheer from upstairs (downstairs?) that we can hear through the floor, and we take that to mean the doors have opened. Everyone who had opted to hang out in the library cram up the narrow stairway back to the lobby, and then we join the crush to get into the rear observation deck entrance.

The rear observation deck – the only place you can see out of the ship through an actual window – is located in the exact rear of the ship (hence the name). However, there really aren’t any other passenger areas back there – pretty much the entire rear third of the ship is taken up by the two massive Rolls Royce fusion engines that provide the thrust to get up to near light speed. So, the passage to the deck is a single hallway extending the 2,500 or so feet from the commons. The entry to the hallway is a large proscenium arch at the rear of the commons lobby, which is actually one of my favorite things on the ship. The arch features a gigantic white art deco carving that depicts the launch of hundreds of ships like the one we’re in now – they look almost like angels flying upward to heaven and they remind me of some pictures of Roman statues I’ve seen in books.

We enter the hallway with a bazillion other people and start the somewhat lengthy hike to the deck. Unlike most of the halls on the ship, which are plain and utilitarian, the ship designers went all out on this space. Although essentially a long steel tube stretching along a radian in the ship, the walls have been decorated in elaborate mosaics depicting scenes of earth and our voyage, as well as historic scenes from earth. They’re all done in oranges and blues with contrasting greens and yellows, and each time I see them I’m reminded of the stained glass windows in the departure station on that last day of earth. I wonder if the same artist designed these, and if they did, it makes me happy to think that some of their work survived the end of the planet.

We opt to walk down the center of the room, which is slow going because of the crowd, although there is a moving sidewalk to either side that will shuttle you down the hall a little faster. We pass my favorite mosaic, a scene of sailors dancing in the streets of New York on V.E. day at the end of world war two, President Roosevelt (or is it Lyndon Johnson? I can never remember) looking serenely down at the revelry.

It takes a bit longer to walk the hall than usual tonight, but when we finally get to the end we emerge from the claustrophobic tunnel into another of the ship’s most spectacular spaces.

The Rear Observation Deck (R.O.D.) is designed to be a multiuse gathering place. It’s essentially just one huge empty room, but on a space ship ‘big and empty’ is something of a novelty. The room is over eighty feet high, which feels like a lot after walking the packed tunnel. Both the walls and ceiling are covered with a dark carpet-like material, which helps keep down the glare as well as filter the sound from the engines (which are currently offline, but when they’re firing it can be loud in here). But the main feature of the room, and what makes it so special, is the transparent section of the hull, which stretches over two hundred feet wide and twenty feet tall along the back wall. It’s here that you can look out into the endless star fields of space, and while the newness of that wore of pretty quickly after we launched (you can only stare at stars for so long before they get boring), I still come here every once in a while.

“Remembering launch day?” Conner asks. That first day after we emerged from our protective lift-off pods (and after Reid and I had paid a first visit to the sarcastic Dr. Moreno, who patched us up), everyone had gathered here to watch as we bid our home farewell. Now that I think about it, I’d run into Conner here, although the pain medications for my broken fingers had left me a little loopy.

“Yeah, it feels like a million years ago,” I reply. That day everyone had gathered silently, as if at a funeral or wake, and you could hear every little cough and snuffle in the room.

Today, however, was quite a different picture. The deck, which was normally kept dim to make the most of the viewing windows, was brightly lit with holo-laterns that were intermittently erupting and sending showers of orange and blue sparklers into the crowd. Lasers decorated the large rear wall of the room in shifting patterns, stopping every couple of seconds on an animated version of the ship that had the label ‘EV5997’ dancing around it. Loud music filled the space, echoing off the walls in the deep thump-thump of electronica. Off to the side of the windows, I could see Beck in his makeshift dj station. He’s volunteered to provide music for the celebration (of course), and surrounded by holo-copters, a discet ball and all the flashing lights he could muster, he looked right at home. His selection for kicking off the evening wasn’t exactly dance music, but it had a funky groove and added to the positive energy of the party.

The room is large enough to hold everyone comfortably, although it’s packed, and I’d guess just about everyone opted to attend. There’s a large dance floor in the center where several hundred people have started working off some of the excess energy that gets pent up being on a space ship, although the majority of the partygoers have congregated in small groups throughout the room. We wind our way through, saying hello to the friends and colleagues we run into here and there.

There’s a large square object off to the side of the room covered by a tarp, and I wonder what it could be briefly before spotting Reid and Patrick working next to it. They’d been drafted into helping set up for the party, and I have to say they did a bang-up job, although I wasn’t sure what they were working on now. I wave to them across the room and they both look up, Reid giving me an odd look that seems somehow curious and cross at the same time. Although I’m excited to be at the party, instantly I get that old sinking feeling in my stomach and wonder if Patrick has talked to him. Well, of course he has, he promised he would, and now I had to consider that the next time we talked in private it would have to be about my blossoming sexuality. Well, I think to myself, no need to worry about that now, I’ll run into him after the party and straighten things out. Besides, he’s probably just busy, that’s probably why he looks flustered.

In the meantime, Conner and I check out the refreshments table – partially my proud creation. I’m happy to see that people are wolfing down most of the appetizers. Like I said, there haven’t been that much ‘real food’ since liftoff, so I’m sure their excitement doesn’t indicate much about the quality of the cooking. But when Conner tries a slice of my bruschetta and comments on how delicious it is, I beam a little.

Suddenly a pair of strong arms are wrapped around my neck and holding me in a makeshift wrestling lock. I struggle at first before hearing, “Is Devon taking credit for my cooking again, the little punk?” It’s the familiar voice of Zane, who is surprisingly strong actually.

“Hey, I came up with them too,” I laugh, struggling out of Zane’s hold and punching him lightly in the kidney.

“Ok, ok!” he squeals, “Easy there, let’s go with co-creators on this one.”

“Deal,” I extend my hand and we shake. Conner is standing there with a confused look on his face, munching on his food. I introduce him to Zane and explain about the afternoon’s cooking experiments. He warmly compliments Zane on the grub as well.

It’s while we’re sharing small talk about the food that the newly released Dicks make their grand entrance, an event that instantly captures the attention of everyone in the room, as if we all sensed a disquieting metamorphosis as soon as they crossed the threshold from the entrance tunnel.

In front was Steven Caine, the leader of the little coup, who after liftoff so eloquently stated his case that he and his group should have their pick of quarters, jobs and pretty much everything else on the ship due to their seniority. Like every pundit and special interest and politico that had come before, he had a myriad of reasons why a hierarchy should be immediately established and why he should be at the top. When the crew had explained marshall law to him he’d gotten several of his buddies to go on strike and refuse to work some of the shit details. This eventually got worse, with Steven’s followers passing up any job they viewed as ‘beneath them’, and after about two months in space they had succeeded in becoming a pretty big nuisance. Considering that the crew needed everyone’s help to ensure our survival following the evacuation, they had rounded up Steven and his lackeys and sentenced them all to a month in the brig. They’d been let out this afternoon.

I see that none of his sycophantic turd-eating friends have abandoned him after their incarceration – they all march in with him, smug grins on all of their faces. Johns Rockwell, Sandor Lewis, Paul Eigeberg, even Brian, who didn’t join the revolt and end up in jail, is with him. Wonderful.

The crowd kind of parts to let them through. There is a general animosity towards these guys – after all, any jobs they refused to do had to be picked up by us. In general, I get the sense that Steven thinks we’ve fallen for the argument that his actions were supposed to benefit everyone, even though it’s blatantly obvious his own self-interest was at the heart of his lame revolt. He’s not going to find many fans here tonight, and as they make their way past more than a few cold stares you can see doubt creep onto their faces.

They head over to the food table, much to my chagrin, and Steven picks up one of the stuffed mushrooms we’d made that afternoon, eyeing it dubiously.

“Who’s responsible for this food? It looks like shit.” he asks. I know I shouldn’t care what he thinks because he’s a total cum wad, but I still get instantly defensive about my cooking. Still, I’m not really going to confront the guy.

“Well, you clearly aren’t,” a voice chimes in behind me, “since you’ve been spending the last thirty days sucking your boyfriend’s ass.”I turn to see Chris scowling at the obnoxious Steven, and although I can’t get behind the mildly bigoted and nasty remark, I smile at his brashness. He gives me a small nod back. He’s accompanied by Peter and Bronwyn, his ever-present posse, as well as Arlo Johnson, Grant Scathman and Diego Redosa, three other guys from our flat who spend more than a little time lifting weights in the gym with Chris and company.

Steven eyes them for a second, clearly judging whether to make a comeback, start a fight or let it go. Perhaps tempered by the time in the brig, he drops it. “Yeah, well, it sucks.”

“But not half as bad as you,” Zane retorts, which gets a general laugh from everyone around (even though it’s not overly witty).

Steven is a jerk, but he’s not dumb, and he knows that the general opinion of him is low. “Whatever,” he sneers, slinking off with his entourage.

“Well, that was tense,” Zane says, pointing out the obvious. As usually, he draws a laugh from the crowd and the atmosphere around the table lightens significantly.

A little while later I’m talking to some of the farm coordinators about the progress with the crops when I spot Reid over by the dance floor. My stomach is instantly in knots again, and I consider walking the other direction, but something about the past couple of days has made me want to be a little more mature, so I decide to talk to him. Whether Patrick has told him anything or not, and whether he accepts it or not, he’s still my friend.

“Hey,” I say cordially, “You guys did a killer job in here. It looks awesome.”

He shifts around a little nervously, looking this way and that. Ok, well that’s a dead giveaway that something’s up, and I’m pretty sure I know what’s on his mind. “Yeah, thanks,” he replies quietly. Something off to the side of the room seems to catch his attention, or at least it seems a lot more interesting to him than I am right now. “Hey, look, I have to go do something. See you later?”

“Yeah. Hey, wanna get together after the party?” I ask. It’s kind of a lame question, considering that we live together and everything. Still, like Patrick advised, we need to talk soon so that things don’t get awkward. Well, more awkward than they already are.

“Uh, maybe. I don’t know, but maybe,” he quickly replies before heading off. What the hell? He was all tense, and I have no idea what that’s about. Well, ok, I do, but I was hoping he’d react better than avoiding me and making up some lame excuse to ditch me. That more than anything pisses me off, and I consider going after him and having the whole fucking horrendous conversation right here, right now. Yeah Reid, I’m attracted to guys, what the fuck is it to you? And I actually start walking after him when all of a sudden the music stops and the lights come up a little. Everyone stops what they’re doing and turns to the front of the room to see Captain James Bianchi taking the stage. Well, there’s no stage really, but he has a mike and makeshift podium. Reid ducks off to the side of the room and I end up trapped in a compact group of guys.

“HELLO!” his voice booms into the room at about ten times the necessary volume. He gives Beck a scolding look, who shrugs comically and makes and adjustment on his board. When he begins speaking again it’s at a more appropriate level, “Er, hello. I just wanted to welcome you all here tonight and say that this social event…”

“PARTY!” Someone yells from the back of the crowd, resulting in a murmur of laughter throughout the deck.

“Yes, well, this party,” Captain Bianchi continues, “is being thrown for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, we have now been in space for one-hundred days, and although there is a long journey ahead of us, we have made it successfully through the most dangerous part of our voyage – our exodus.” Mild clapping fills the chamber.

“Secondly, I wanted to take the time to reward all of you for your hard work. As you know, there were less than 100 crew members when we took off from earth, hardly enough to keep a ship like this running. Today, I’m happy to say that I consider each and every one of you a valued member of my team.” Another round of polite applause.

“And while I have you here, I wanted to mention the significant contributions made this afternoon by one of your shipmates. Aden, are you in here somewhere?” Everyone mumbles and looks around for a second before someone spots him in the center of the room. “Ah, there you are. Could you come up here a minute?”

Aden shakes his head, but the crowd pushes him forward nonetheless until he’s standing at the front of the room next to the captain. He awkwardly smiles and waves to the large crowd. Captain Bianchi puts his burly hand around Aden’s shoulder, as if the two are fast friends. “This young man, you will all be happy to know, has successfully repaired a modulator problem we were having with the com system, and as of about an hour ago, his efforts have resulted in the establishment of ship-to-ship communication. We are now broadcasting and receiving.”

It takes a moment for the news to register, but when it does the reaction to the announcement is instant, excited and noisy. All at once about five thousand college kids let out an ear-deafening roar, filling the chamber with cheers and hoo-rays and applause. Beck adds to the effect with a little trumpet riff on his keyboard.

Captain Bianchi goes on to explain what we all already know – that data will begin pouring through the com system shortly and that lists of survivors on other ships will become available. He has to stop every two minutes to wait for the applause to die down again, but he doesn’t seem at all annoyed by our excitement, grinning widely at the group. It’s a good day for us all.

To finish his speech on a high note, he announces that a large portion of the alcohol reserves have been ear-marked for the party tonight, and with great panache a couple of guys pull a large tarp off the mystery shape on the side of the room to reveal a fully stocked bar. This off course gets another round of rowdy cheers, which Captain Bianchi takes advantage of to wave to the crowd and take his leave, but not before inviting us to all get completely hammered (I supposed a father figure would have asked us to be responsible, but he is a sailor after all).

But I’m not amused by the speech, and even the announcement that the communications system is now operational can’t lift my spirits. All through the announcements I keep thinking about Reid and how his whole attitude towards me changed after one little conversation with Patrick. I mean, Reid is my best friend. I don’t know, maybe I messed things up by sending Patrick to break the ice and not telling him outright myself. Or maybe, like Patrick said might happen with some people, Reid is one of those guys whose identity is so wrapped up in who they hang out with and who they sleep with that being associated with a gay guy is too much for them. Maybe after tonight we wouldn’t be friends any more.

And so, what should have been the best night on the ship ever quickly turns sour, and I find myself mulling over past conversations and hypothetical future conversations with Reid and hypothetical past conversations about future conversations, each one echoing around in my skull and making me more and more worried about things, each one presenting a new possible outcome to this situation, and each one progressively worse than the last.

I don’t know if anyone else does this, but sometimes when presented with really annoying personal issues I get all obsessed and can’t stop thinking about them. It happened one time when I got an F in history and had to tell my parents. I almost gave myself a heart attack in the three hours I had to contemplate things. I knew that I was going to be messed up all night, and that in the end I would probably end up awake at six am feeling like a strung out junkie who’d just had forty-three cups of coffee and a shot of heroin, and I’d probably puke once or twice between now and then, just as soon as my stomach acid had time to eat into the lining of my innards. To prevent this, and to stop my worries about Reid from continuing their horrid cycle through my skull, I decided to turn to the one thing that had been helping adolescents through their problems for hundreds of years.

Alcohol.

Yep, perhaps not the wisest decision, but then again, neither was wrecking your whole life by telling your friends you were going gay. Not really caring, I walk over to the bar and order a shot of vodka, which I quickly down, ordering another. I down that and two more in the space of five minutes, which again wasn’t the best idea, but I was starting to understand the phrase ‘drown your troubles’. I was about to get another when someone taps me on the shoulder.

I turn around grumpily to see Charlie standing behind me. “When he said to go get drunk, I don’t think he meant right away.”

“Yeah, whatever Charlie, go away,” I brush him off rudely. I like the guy, but I kind of want to be alone right now. And hey, besides, it’s kind of Charlie’s fault I’m in this mess. Well, not really, but I figure I can reasonably lump some of the blame on him.

He looks genuinely hurt and tersely responds, “Well you don’t have to be such an asshole, I just wanted to say hi.”

Charlie always has a hurt puppy dog look about him, particularly right now, and I feel bad about snapping at him. He’s about to leave, but I stop him, “Look, Charlie, I’m sorry. I’m just having a really crappy time.”

“Yeah,” he sighs, “me too. You know, usually I hang out with Beck, but he’s stuck behind that stupid music machine, and I think he’ll be there all night. I told him to just program the a.i. to DJ, but he says there’s no substitute for a live jockey. Hey, I have an idea…”

I turn my head towards him, my vision streaking a little, and I realize that all four vodka shots are hitting my bloodstream at once. “Yeah?”

“Well, if you’re looking to get wasted, you can either do it here, puke in front of everyone, and wind up looking like a total retard, or we can go hang out upstairs. I have some good stuff, and I don’t judge when someone passes out in a puddle of puke.”

I considered those alternatives and had to admit that leaving sounded like a good idea. On the other hand, I was supposed to talk with Reid tonight. Wait a minute, I thought, getting increasingly drunk as time went by, Reid was the whole reason I was in a bad mood to start with. If he wanted to be all weird and manly and homophobic around me, let him. I didn’t have to listen to his excuses on his schedule, there would be pretty of time to hear his b.s. later. Suddenly the whole party is spoiled for me, and I find that I do want to leave.

“Yeah, you know what, you’re right. Let’s go do that.” Charlie smiles at my answer. He doesn’t have a lot of friends on board, and I can tell he’s a little uncomfortable hanging out in a room with five thousand reminders of that.

And so, as with many guys exiting parties throughout the ages, we’d entered in high spirits looking for the time of our lives, and ended up leaving angry, depressed, and a little too drunk.


iii

I expect Charlie to take me back to our room in SEC 23, but instead we make our way back to the unused dorm area in section twenty-four, to the same room where three nights earlier I had gone to ‘rescue’ the inebriated Charlie and ended up jacking him off, although due to his intoxication he didn’t seem to remember anything.

The empty flat is still stale, creepily empty and devoid of life, but now it has a familiarity for me, and I guess a sentimentality. This is, after all, the scene of my first boy-on-boy encounter, one-sided though it was, and also the place where the phantom wanker, my tattooed stalker, had first spied on me. After entering the flat I head to ‘B’ room, the counterpart to Charlie’s room downstairs, which is where I found him last week.

He stops me as I enter the door. “No, hey, over here,” he points to ‘E’ room. The flats are shaped like a horseshoe, with two rooms on either side and one at the end. The end room is generally more desirable, as the beds are slightly larger and there are less of them. Four guys, Arlo, Grant, Mark and Micuel, all upperclassmen, share the E room in our flat. Charlie opens the door for me, and when I enter the dark room I notice a couple of things. First, it’s considerably warmer than the rest of the section, which is not temperature controlled for habitation since no one lives here. Secondly, the stale smell is gone.

Charlie flips on a light and I see why. Someone, presumably Charlie, has decorated the room and turned it into something of a private sanctuary. The upper bunks, and in fact all the bunks on the west wall, have been permanently stowed, opening the room up significantly. Where they would normally protrude from the wall several black and white framed photographs hang – all of them seem to be scenes from oceanic and Mediterranean climates, but they’re artistic, not tacky tourist snaps. One bunk has been left out, and is made with cotton sheets and a big fluffy blue comforter. And perhaps most conspicuously, the rear bunk has been left down, but the mattress and sheets removed. Bottles, cans and glasses sit out in rows – I laugh a little out loud – it’s a makeshift bar. So this is where he stores all his liquor. I also notice that he’s placed a large framed photograph on the hatch to the emergency access tunnels. It doesn’t completely cover the door, but it does hang over the vent, which should prevent any repeat of last week’s spying incident.

“Nice,” I say, making a beeline for the large bottle of vodka sitting prominently on the bunk-bar.

Even though I’m referring to the alcohol, Charlie takes my comment to mean the place. “Thanks. This is where I come when things get, you know, too much. I used to sit down here in the cold, then I figured, why not decorate it? It’s a good place to come and think.”

If I’d been sober, I probably would have picked up on Charlie’s sullen attitude, and wondered why he’d want to spend time in an uninhabited dorm alone. But I wasn’t sober, and as I poured myself another drink (which I didn’t really need), I became significantly more carefree and happy than I had been at the party and started talking about silly stuff. Charlie seemed happy to comply, and immediately popped out of his dour mood as well. We talked about where he got all the alcohol (the stores, which seemed obvious) and where the photographs had come from (they were a collection he had ‘borrowed’ from the library. Hey, as long as we were stuck on this boat, he says, we might as well get to look at the treasures we’re transporting across the galaxy).

Ah, Charlie was a good friend, and as often occurs when one is drunk, he quickly became my best friend. And I loved him. I loved him for sitting around talking about art and booze with me, and I loved him for being the vulnerable little lonely cutie that he was. I loved him for having a crooked smile and for being somehow simultaneously childish and mature. It was like he was too young to take care of himself or tie his own shoes, but he also had a wisdom about things that seemed beyond his years. Like the party. If he’d left me there, he was right, I would have puked and caused a scene and had to become a hermit until the shame wore off. But he knew I needed to leave, and now I realize he took me out just in time. I wasn’t grown up enough to know it was time for me to go, but this kid was. But then, he’s not a kid, and I make a note to stop thinking of him as such. After all, he’s only like four months younger than me.

We’d been talking for a while, and it was a good couple of hours, when I had to let out a groan. Charlie, concerned, asked me what was wrong. I had to admit to him that a vodka migraine had crept up on me.

A ‘vodka migraine’ is my term for the grey-matter-in-a-vice-kicked-in-the-balls-nuclear-explosion headaches I sometimes get when I drink. I don’t usually get sloppy fall-down be sick everywhere drunk, but I do often get headaches that feel like the end of the world. They usually start with the room spinning, which it was, only I hadn’t noticed because we’d been chatting, and now it was like world war three was going off in my skull.

xes

“Here, come over here,” Charlie suggests, sitting down on the large double bunk. I look at him questioningly, squinting a little as my headache takes full effect. “I know an old remedy that might work. Lie down next to me.”

Under normal circumstances I might hesitate lying next to him, if for no other reason than the fact that I might get a boner and offend him, but I’m in extreme pain and still a little drunk, and I figure whatever he can do to make the headache go away might save me from cerebral hemorrhage, which is what it feels like is about to happen.

So I lie down on the bed and he guides me into a position with me on my back, my head in his lap. “I drink a lot,” he explains, “and this seems to help stop the headaches.” I consider telling him that what would really stop the headache is a shot of morphine, but before I can say anything he reaches down and puts his hands on either side of my temple, massaging deeply with his forefingers into the soft tissue there. It hurts a little at first, but it also feels like it’s relieving some of the pressure. Hmm, maybe he does know a thing or two about drunken headaches. I close my eyes and try to concentrate on stopping the room from spinning, something I have limited success with.

I’d been lying in that position for who knows how long, maybe a half hour, maybe longer, Charlie massaging either side of my temple with varying degrees of pressure, and I have to admit it was helping. Once my headache started to abate I returned from semi-consciousness. The room was no longer spinning out of control, and the threat of nausea was slowly fading. However, I couldn’t help but notice that his hip bone was uncomfortably digging into the bump in the back of my skull, so I shift position a little and moved my head further down into his lap. I was worried that he might be offended by my being such a baby, and in particular a lightweight with the vodka, but he just smiles his cute crooked smile at me and continues rubbing my head.

We chatted a bit about the party and other inconsequential things; how Charlie had taken to spending afternoons in one of the garden bays and how it was maturing nicely. It was warm and humid there and he tell me it reminds him a little of home. I talked about how I sometimes went to the wet farms to see the dolphins, and that sometimes I would pretend I was back on earth at the pier in San Diego staring out into the Pacific Ocean. It was the kind of talk you share when a little drunk, uninhibited and romanticized; talk that might be too embarrassing to share under other circumstances, but which seemed perfectly socially acceptable under the warm glow of one too many shots. We both missed earth, and the conversation made me realize that Charlie and I were quite alike in many ways. We seemed to miss the same kinds of things about earth - not so much cheeseburgers and electronic billboards and racecars, but the quiet green places and the ocean and the mountains.

That may sound like a sad conversation, and it may have been under other circumstances, but the alcohol helped remove the melancholy as well as the inhibitions, and I was actually feeling happy about reminiscing with my friend. It also got us talking about what the new planet might be like. Would it be lush and green and tropical, or arid and warm? Would there be alien animals? Charlie said he’d been studying the stats on all the possible relocation planets since taking off (there were seven), and he’d sketched some hypothetical animal life on a drawing pad. I told him I’d like to see it some time and he smiled down at me again. He’d stopped rubbing my temples some time ago and had been scratching his fingernails through my hair, which was having the effect of making me really sleepy. We weren’t drunk at all anymore – I’m not sure he had been in the first place – but the closeness felt comfortable and natural and nice, so I remained in his lap.

That’s when I noticed that I wasn’t in the most comfortable position, either for myself or Charlie. Something from his pocket was pressing into the back of my head, and I figured it must be pushing into his leg painfully. It was the stupid metal flask he was always carrying around (the drunk). I lifted up a little and settled more central in his lap. He kept talking on about the various hypothetical animals he’d imagined occupy our new home planet; a bird with a long blue beak that fed on tree mice at night, and a catlike creature that could hide in the shallow water of riverbanks waiting for prey. I could still feel the shape in his trousers against my head, it seemed firmer than it had been before, and I started to wonder if it was really his flask at all.

That alarmed me a little - I didn’t want to embarrass the guy, and I figured it would if it weren’t his flask,
but on the other hand I was really comfortable in this position. And I was pretty certain it was his flask, so I just stayed there listening to his talk. Surely he would have moved out from under me if my noggin was lying against his manhood.

Except that curiosity is a problem of mine, as I’ve said before, and I was intrigued by the shape in his trousers, so I moved my head around a little, trying to get a feel for the exact size, shape and makeup of the mystery object. I couldn’t exactly reach up and squeeze his crotch (which would have solved the enigma immediately), but I figured if I shifted my head right I’d be able to tell if I was pressing against metal, plastic or flesh. Plus, being a little inebriated I was enjoying the feeling of the fabric rubbing the back of my head. I get like that when drunk – I can spend a half hour examining the feeling the carpet between my toes. If I hadn’t been tipsy, I probably wouldn’t run a tactility experiment on Charlie’s lap, and I’d also probably have noticed that Charlie’s speech about the horned guanosaur, another of his imaginary animals, was getting a little ragged and intermittent. The shape under my head felt a little larger before, and had more give when I pushed down with my head. Well, oops, that probably isn’t a metal flask.

“That feels really good,” Charlie says in a husky whisper.

“What, that?” I ask, raising my head up and letting it settle back against the lump in his jeans. I could feel his body throb a little in response under me.

“Yeah.” He’s stopped talking about animals, and lays his head against the back of the sofa, but he continues to twirl and play with my hair.

Now, I’ve been in this position with Charlie before. Well, not this position exactly. Last time he was asleep and drunk and I made the irresponsible decision to feel him up. I agreed with Patrick that it was time for me to experiment with a willing partner, but I was torn. I figured if I got Charlie so amped up we could fool around a little and not acknowledge the situation, but on the other hand this was a chance for me to be a little more mature and treat the people around me a little better than I had been.

I decided to go ‘middle of the road’ on this issue. “I can stop if you want me to,” I said, not stopping, but instead moving my head a little side to side. Charlie sharply breathed in, signaling that he rather liked the sideways motion.

“No, please,” he groans, “I’d hoped we could finish what we started the other day.”

Wait, what? He had told me he forgot all about that, and now I realize that had all been a lie. The little prig. Well, I couldn’t be angry with him, I was the one that had started it, and I figure he had said he forgot it because he was embarrassed. I guess I do owe him an apology. I stop moving my head around, but I remain lying in his lap.

“Look, Charlie, umm, about that, uh,” I stutter, looking up at Charlie and feeling a little exposed in this position.

“No, hey, Devon,” he says in a more serious tone as he sits up a little straighter, “I’m not angry with you. I liked it.”

I’m not sure what to say to that, but I should finish my apology, even if he doesn’t seem to require one, “Well, yeah, I could tell you liked it,” Charlie smiles, obviously slightly embarrassed, his cheeks flushing a little and contrasting his big deep brown eyes. I continue on, “The thing is, it was wrong for me to start that while you were sleeping and drunk. I’ve been in this experimental mode lately, and I saw you lying there passed out with your dick flopping out and I couldn’t resist feeling it, and then things got out of hand from there.”

“My dick was sticking out?” he laughs. I explain how I’d come across him, passed out on a bed in one of the unused dorms, shirtless, his pants halfway down his thighs with his flaccid penis popping out the hole in his flannel boxers. The picture I paint is pretty comical, and we both laugh about the silliness of stumbling upon someone in that condition. Charlie is really embarrassed now and swears me to secrecy forever about the whole thing. I agree, not telling him I’d already confessed the scene to Patrick.

“The thing is, I still shouldn’t have molested you. Especially since, well…since I’m probably gay and experimenting with drunk sleeping boys isn’t the best way to express that.” There was that word again, hanging in the air like some garish neon pink balloon. Funny, I could never have said that to Reid, but with Charlie it just came blurting out and I didn’t feel nervous about it at all.

“Well, yeah. I mean, grabbing a guy’s package while he’s sleeping isn’t a good idea. It’s a good way to get a punch in the nose or thrown down a garbage chute, but it’s ok if you’re gay and want to experiment. I figured.”

“You figured what?” The tone of the conversation had shifted, and where talking with Patrick had made me uncontrollably nervous, I could tell that Charlie had some valuable insight to share and I was really at ease with him. Again, lying in his lap having my head stroked after drinking all night was probably helping with that.

“I always figured you might be. You know, gay. Or bisexual. I mean, your hair is always a different color and you just seem like that kind of guy. It’s ok, definitely not a big deal.”

So I’ve learned several things today, one being that people are a lot cooler with gay friends than I had suspected, and the other that I apparently have really bisexual hair. Charlie goes on to surprise me again. He tells me he figures he falls in the ten percent of the population that has somewhat flexible sexuality, and would have gone after a girl if he had the choice, but given the circumstances he’ll probably end up shifting to adapt to his surroundings. Did everyone in the world but me read the same book on sex? I mean really.

“So what does that I mean?” I ask.

“Well, I guess I’d say that we’re pretty good friends and I like you a lot. If we were still on earth, I’d definitely fool around with you, and I’d probably even do it if I had a girlfriend, and now that we’re stuck in space with five thousand undersexed guys, I guess it makes even more sense. Just one thing, though.”

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“It has to be on condition that we do it as friends. I mean you can have sex with someone you’re dating, or someone you love, but you can also have sex with friends, and that could be with close friends or acquaintance friends. I guess you could even have sex with enemies, but I’m not sure how that would work out,” Charlie chuckles a little at his semi-joke, which isn’t very funny but perhaps a good observation, “But anyway, if you are totally gay and would always have been, I think that’s awesome, but it would be unfair for me to do anything with you without saying it would always be as friends. When I was twelve a guy in my school fell in love with me, and that got messy.”

“Yeah, I can see how that would be a problem. But as for you and me, I completely just think of you as a friend, and if it weirds you out that I’m gay and could get a crush I’d rather stay friends and not fool around than mess things up. That’s something I’m learning a lot about lately, apparently.”

“No, hey, if you say we’re friends and always will be, I’m happy to, erm, take a tumble and help you figure things out. And you don’t know how much it means for you to say I’m your friend. I have to admit, it’s been kinda crappy for me on this ship. I’d really like to hang out with you more, and hanging out like this is especially cool.” He runs his fingernails through my hair and plays with one of my ears gently, it feels really good and I get goose bumps on my arms and down my back.

And there it was. Where I had been sneaking around for weeks acting like a total creep, Charlie had just stated everything in a calm, collected manner. I had previously thought of him as a little immature, which given his drinking habits maybe he was, but in the area of sexuality and relationships I think he’s more than trumped me. Taught me a lesson too - just say what you want and wait for a yes or a no; no need for stress and throwing up, and especially no need for crawling through emergency ducts.

“Cool,” I smile up at him. I don’t smile all too often, but this time it’s earnest, and so is the wide grin he’s giving me back.

And that’s when things get awkward.

I guess we’d just agreed to be sex buddies, and I’m lying with my head in his lap all alone in a room where no one will disturb us. Given that he’s very explicitly said that he wants to fool around, you’d think I’d have gone at it right away. It is, after all, the kind of opportunity I’ve waited weeks for. However, although the frank conversation was probably the right thing to do, it’s kind of broken the mood. Charlie must feel the same way, because he’s staring uneasily at the blank wall on the opposite side of the room and the mystery object in his pants seems to have shriveled off into oblivion, I can’t feel anything against the back of my head any more.

Thinking that doing what I had done before would get things moving in a more sexual direction again, I lift my head and rub it around Charlie’s lap a little, but I hit the wrong spot and stray a little too far south. I think maybe I pressed his balls into the side of his leg.

“Owch,” he yelps uncomfortably and shifts his weight, involuntarily knocking me in the face with his bony elbow.

I mirror his sentiment, “Ow!”

He laughs at me, a little pain still in his voice from the testicle press. “Ok, well that’s not overly erotic.”

“Yeah, now that we’ve agreed to have se…uh, fool around,” I stumble, not wanting to scare him off with the ‘s word’, “this must be the part where we discover that we both suck at it.”

“Yeah, no kidding. Maybe you’d have an easier time if I were, I don’t know, asleep or something,” he laughs, the bastard.

“And maybe you’d have an easier time if you got me drunk again and came up with another retarded home remedy that involved putting my head in your lap.” Take that.

“Oh, you are just so dang mouthy, you know that?” And in retribution for my comment he starts tickling my sides, which has the immediate effect of sending me into giggling convulsions. I claim a direct violation of the Geneva Convention with that one, but I can only get my argument out in gasps and he doesn’t seem overly concerned about the fairness of this torture anyway. Under normal circumstances I might make him stop, but I’m happy - happy to be really laughing, and happy to be sitting here next to him, and just happy that all the stress of the past several weeks is out of mind for once.

Eventually, Charlie stops tickling me, probably because I shouted out that he was about to give me a hernia or embolism or something. He lets me catch my breath a little, and while I lie there panting, he says, “Here, maybe this will help a little.” I’d slipped down onto the mattress of the bed, which gave Charlie enough maneuvering room to unbutton his jeans and push them to the floor. He’s foregone the boxers tonight for a pair of bright orange briefs with white striping (and he says I’m the gay one). Then he reaches over, which makes me flinch a little because I’m sure he’s going to start tickling me again, but instead he tugs upward on my shirt, revealing my bare belly. He pulls a little harder with both hands, and I get the point. I raise my torso a little so that he can slip it up and over my head.

Discarding the shirt on the floor, he pulls me towards him a little and puts my head back in his lap. His legs are warm and soft against my skin, and the sensation of the downy brown hair of his thighs against the back of my neck is far more pleasurable than that of the fabric from his pants. Suddenly we’re not just two drunk friends sitting on the sofa, and I feel a wave of tingling pass through my chest as I settle into this intimate position. Charlie’s legs are warm and soft under my head, his lap humid from the recent confines of his pants; I can smell his sweet scent wafting up from under me, it’s a boyish smell that reminds me of summertime play in the garden and locker rooms and freshly dug earth, but also a manly smell with the tangy scent of pheromones and testosterone and sex dangling in the background. My head is now lower in his lap that it was before, and when Charlie scoots down in his seat a little the front of his orange undies rest against my cheek.

The air of the room is cool against the bare skin of my chest, although between the alcohol and the conversation I feel like my body is radiating a fair bit of heat, and thoughts of what we’re about to do send my metabolism into overdrive - for me alcohol combined with horniness results in wave after wave of warmth emanating from my core. This time, instead of playing with my hair, Charlie reaches down and strokes my side just above my rib cage. I recall that this is how I first touched him that first time a couple of days ago.

His hand runs up my side and over my smooth chest. I don’t have a lot of definition there, and that’s always been somewhat embarrassing for me, especially on a ship of well-built college guys, but right now it feels so good to have someone touching me that I don’t really think about it, especially when his warm fingers graze over my right nipple. This one feathery touch is enough to bring all my roiling hormones to full bore, and sensations of pleasure streak through my chest, over my stomach and deep down into my groin. I gasp as all my sexual engines rev at once, and I can feel the blood immediately flood into all my secret places. If I were naked I’d probably be hard in two seconds, but my tight white briefs and jeans keep me somewhat confined, although I immediately begin conspicuously tenting my shorts.

Apparently I’m not alone, because I can feel Charlie responding the same way against my flushed cheek. This time, his pants long shucked, it’s clear that this is no pen or flask. The pouch of his orange undies has filled out a little, the shape of Charlie’s hardening manhood becoming more apparent and defined against my face. Instead of putting my head back up on top of his crotch like it had been before, I decide to rub up and down against him, allowing my cheek to stroke him gently through his shorts, moving up and down in the same slow throbbing rhythm I can feel coming from him as blood engorges his dick. Charlie groans, it’s a cute whimpering noise, a kind of surprised gasp, and it’s oh-so-sexy. He looks down at me and smiles, his eyes starting to glaze over a little from the hormones, and I smile back.

The scene is all at once intimate, comforting and erotic, although I feel a little clumsy and inexperienced at this point. We hadn’t discussed exactly what we meant by ‘fooling around’, so I wasn’t sure where all the boundaries were, and even if I did, it’s not like I have all that much practice with guys, so I wasn’t clear on what should come next.

“What’s the matter?” Charlie asks, having noticed my hesitation.

“Um, it’s just I don’t know exactly what, erm, to do,” I reply, worried that I was going to break to heat of the moment again. Not that there’s much of a chance of this, Charlie is stroking my stomach with his long fingers, and slips one under the waistband of my underwear coyly. Another surge of passion flows through my body and deep into my balls.

“Here,” Charlie smiles, shifting his body and sliding out from under me. He pushes me over slightly and rotates his body so that he’s lying in the opposite direction as me, then pulls my hip so that I turn on my side to face him; we’re now flip-flopped belly to belly, me staring into Charlie’s inviting tangerine y-fronts. “I’ll do whatever you do to me to you. So just do what would feel good on yourself.”

It was an intriguing game, and one I caught onto very quickly. Somewhat meekly at first, I reached out and ran my hand over the back of Charlie’s thigh. He did the same to me on the opposite end of the couch, and although I was touching soft fuzzy skin and he was stroking my leg through my pants, I was immediately energized by the notion that anything I did, any little exploration I made, would be reciprocated. At first I stuck to feeling the tender skin between his legs, running my fingers up and down his leg from knee to thigh. I kept my touches light, intrigued at the connection between what I was doing to Charlie and how it related to the sensation of him reciprocating. Experimentally, I tugged a little on the soft downy hair that became somewhat thicker higher up on his leg – not hard, but gently, feeling the thin wispy quality of the fine hair there.

“That’s not really fair,” Charlie says, “here, let’s get on equal footing.” I feel him grab the waistband of my jeans and begin feeling around the fly, working the button and zipper to remove my pants. It’s an erotic thing, having another boy take off your pants, but I was struck that it made me feel something else too. I think it was happiness. Happiness and excitement. I was energized and joyful at what we were doing. This was fun, dang it. Eager to continue our game, I assist him in getting my clothes off, pushing my pants down over my knees and quickly pulling them off, grabbing at my socks at the same time and removing them as well. While I did this, Charlie removed his t-shirt, baring that beautiful brown torso I was so drawn to a couple of days ago. We settle back into position, two mostly naked boys lying face-to-crotch, me in my white briefs and Charlie in his carrot-colored underwear with the sexy white striping.

For the first time this evening, Charlie’s sexy tummy is exposed, and resuming our game I reach up and feel the smooth skin there. He responds in kind, and I feel his fingers graze the flesh of my abdomen. I run my fingers up his side and he giggles a little, and as he does the same to me I get gooseflesh at the sensation. I’m looking right into his crotch, and it’s apparent that all of this has him aroused, although the confines of the briefs appear to be keeping him from going fully erect. He’s filling them out quite a bit, but they seem stretched to the max, and unless removed I don’t think he’ll have room to develop a full erection. I can feel the same thing happening in my shorts, and at first I consider relieving Charlie (and therefore myself) of this pressure by pulling down his underwear and allowing him to spring free, but I want this game to last a while, and I’m in no hurry to get to the hot and heavy part, although every fiber of my being is screaming out for that.

Instead, I reach around Charlie’s body and run my left hand over his back. I can feel the muscles there, warm and meaty against his frame. Charlie, like me, is somewhat thin and lanky, but he’s by no means scrawny. Reaching a little higher, I feel around his shoulder blade and run my palm over the width of his back. I feel a throbbing and wonder what it is for a second before realizing that I’m feeling his heart beat; I notice that my heart is also beating very strongly, not fast, but throbbing intensely in a slow steady rhythm. Everything is exciting to me, and although I’ve felt Charlie’s body before, this mutual experience is starting to drive me wild. I move my hand down Charlie’s back, feeling him doing the same to me, and pause briefly at the waistband of his shorts. I consider lifting my hand and passing over his butt, but the entire point of this game is to explore one another’s hidden places, so I keep on going, feeling the round, smooth flesh of Charlie’s buttocks at my fingertips. It’s intimate and exciting and erotic, and as Charlie does the same to me I feel electric sensations surge through my body. I dig into Charlie’s rump with my fingernails, scratching lightly at his skin through the fabric. His softness under my fingers feels so good, and it feels even better to experience him doing it to me. And yet I immediately want more, and despite fearing this may be going too far (although deep inside I suspect there’s no line to cross with this guy, so I shouldn’t be too worried), I push my hand under the waistband of his shorts to feel the skin of his rounded boy butt directly against my fingertips. It’s soft and muscular at the same time, perfect mounds for my exploring hands to cup and stroke.

At first I stick to feeling the one cheek I can best reach, but as Charlie groans in pleasure I grow more brazen and brush my hand across the breadth of his ass; the skin of his crack is moist and tender, and I run my fingers up and down the spongy flesh there, allowing my fingernail to gently scrape between his cheeks. He does the same to me and it instantly drive me wild; it seems like a forbidden touch, but one that I long for. It’s unbelievably hot, but at the same time comforting, to be lying in this position, cupping one another’s buttocks in our palms. Keeping my hand in his briefs, I feel along his body to his hip bone, and explore the firm boniness of it. I can feel the beginning of the thicker, wiry hair of his pubis tickling my knuckle, so I press further into it and finger the patch of hair there. Although I am not yet touching his penis in any way, Charlie lets out a gasp and thrusts his groin in my direction. He loses concentration for a moment and pulls his hand out of my shorts, and I can see that his erection is now fighting furiously with the taut fabric of his briefs, and is stuck pointing straight down. I’m also about as hard as I can get, but fortunately because of the way I’m lying with my legs slightly bent my own boner has managed to go erect in a more comfortable position, pointing straight out from my body into the slightly roomier pouch of my briefs.

I can tell that Charlie is heading deep into boy heat - he’s squirming a little more at every touch and thrusting at me every once in a while. I know that what he wants is release – that the sexual energy is building up and becoming more and more unbearable. The nice thing to do might be to grab him and move on to the heavier petting, and my body is screaming out for that as well, but I still want this to last, and I’m enjoying the prospect of torturing the poor guy a little. However, I think he’s right that it’s time to move this forward.

First things first, I decide not to cause him permanent boner injury by keeping him pointed uncomfortably towards his feet. I hate waking up in that position (it can really hurt!), but I’m not quite ready to touch him there, so I grab the waistband of his shorts and pull away from his skin. “Here, let’s make a little adjustment,” I tell him, but his erection is a bit stubborn and is still stuck pointing down despite the additional room. Dang it. “Ok, here, let’s try this.” With my other hand I grab the lower part of his undies and pull downward. It results in my grazing the head of his cock a little through the shorts, which makes him gasp and jump, but it does the trick and provides enough space so that his turgid penis flips upward in an arc and slaps against his abs. I’m not quite ready for that particular toy, however, so having repositioned him successfully I gently place the fabric of his underwear back over him. He’s still tenting the shorts, and he’s just about long enough to be popping out the waistband, but he’s more or less completely covered, although a little crooked. I slide the shorts around, rubbing the waistband along the head of his cock.

“Ugh, wow, man, that feels so good,” Charlie groans below me. At this point, he’s excited enough to forget he’s supposed to be doing the same to me, but I can forgive him this once. I know if I don’t move this along to being more genital oriented soon he’s going to pop, so I focus on his package.

Unlike the other night, when he was lying in the dark mostly clothed, Charlie is now about four inches from my face, stripped down to his undies, and definitely in some serious lust. I was pretty seriously boned then too, but having this smooth brown boy laying next to me with an open invitation to feel every inch of him, and to have him feel me back in return, has driven me into a sexual frenzy. My erection is throbbing uncomfortably against my underwear, which is feeling smaller and tighter all the time, and the thing I want most in the world is for Charlie to haul my rock hard dick out and go to town. I consider moving things immediately in that direction, but then I pause and consider that this is my first time messing around with another guy – I should make it last. I don’t have a lot of willpower, but I have some.

Instead, I decide to tease and play with Charlie a little more. His cock is completely erect and straining against the fabric of his orange shorts, and I can see a wet spot forming in a dark patch above his glans. I move into position and put both my hands on his thighs between his legs, which causes another involuntary hip thrust from my overly excited companion. He seems to sense what’s coming, and I can feel his entire body go a little rigid next to me. The room is suddenly conspicuously quiet, and our breathing seems almost a roar, particularly Charlie, who has started panting a little in his sexual frenzy. I can feel each exhale as a hot breath between my thighs, and I grow more excited knowing that I am the one doing this to him, driving him to this point of physical exertion and extreme pleasure.

Slowly, I move my hand up his thigh towards his crotch, just inches from my face, tickling the fine hairs of his groin with my fingertips. And then, ever so gently, I brush all five fingers over the prominent bulge of his scrotum, rubbing them along the satiny fabric of his underwear. His reaction is immediate and intense – Charlie lets out a guttural husky sound that can only be described as part gasp and part groan. Rather than mimicking my fondling, which is what he’s supposed to do, Charlie scrunches closer to my body; I feel him wrap his arm tightly around my waist and butt and pull me into him so that his face is now cradled deep in my boyhood; I can feel his chin pressing against my turgid penis and I instinctively press back in a slow thrusting motion. I continue fondling Charlie’s balls through the fabric, one minute, then two, then three, taking my time in stroking the ever more excited boy. I watch intrigued and delighted as each time I make contact he throbs in his shorts; a darker wet patch is growing around his head as my ministrations result in enough excitement to start producing spurts of precum with each stroke. Our actions are quickly going from game to full on sex, as we both thrust our hips eagerly towards one another.

Moving another step forward, I run my forefinger up Charlie’s hard shaft, and get another positive response. Each time I touch him, Charlie groans, and since his face is tucked in so close to my body I can feel each exclamation of pleasure vibrate through my balls, the warm air from his throat landing hot and moist against my package. I consider teasing the poor guy for a while longer, but I’m not sure he can take it, and to be honest I might not be able to either. Slowly, I grab the waistband of his shorts and pull the elastic away from his body. I start to pull the underwear off slowly, but Charlie grabs them with his hand and kicks them off in a couple of rapid, jerky motions that almost throws me off the couch. I make a note to experiment with torturing him to the point of insanity later, but for now I’m happy to oblige him and let him get naked. I’m a little sad that his warm face is no longer nuzzling my crotch, but he makes up for it by stripping me in the same desperate fashion so that we’re both naked.

I take in the scene, two completely nude and completely erect young guys lying side by side, head to toe. It briefly hits me that you don’t spend even close to enough time in your life naked, and especially naked with someone else, and for sure you don’t spend enough time naked doing this. I’m glad that I took time to savor this, and judging from Charlie’s drooling cock he’s enjoying it too. The other night I felt him up through his fly, but now he’s totally exposed and I take in his beautiful young body. He’s smooth and hairless other than a line of light brown fuzz descending from his navel into a thick patch of pubic hair. His dick stands proudly at attention, pointing outward at me and slightly upwards towards his face. Now that he’s naked, I realize he may be a little longer than I gave him credit for before. His hard dick stretches most of the way up his abdomen towards his navel, probably a full hand-width and a half. Whether it’s that he’s really super excited tonight or that I didn’t get a good look last week, the kid must be pushing seven inches, his rosy pink helmet throbbing wet and cute at the end of the shaft.

I’d say that I could have sat there all night staring at my nude friend, but that would be a lie. The truth of the matter was that the hormones and the adrenaline and the excitement were all pushing me deep into sexual lust, and I was getting to a point where I would soon need release. I could tell Charlie was too, and while I might take time in the future to explore and play with him until he was begging for release, for tonight it was time to take things down the home stretch. I slowly wrapped my hand around Charlie’s wet shaft and felt the hot, hardness of his penis. He bucks and kicks a little – I’ll have to remember to take it easy with this guy or I might walk away with some serious bruises. I stroke him up and down, slowly but firmly. He’s produced a decent amount of precum, and my hand glides effortlessly over his tool. As I’d noted the other night, Charlie was a little longer than me, but about the same girth, and his cock feels comfortable and large in my fist.

I play with him like I play with myself, holding the shaft hard in my fist and running my thumb up over the wet head. Each time I do this Charlie groans until he starts making these cute chirping sounds with each intake of breath. This encourages me to stick to solely running my fingers around the sensitive glans, which gets him squirming and writhing. “You like that?” I whisper rhetorically – his body language tells me everything I need to know without feedback.

“Uh, god Devon, that feels so good,” he grunts. Suddenly, realizing that he’s left me out for a couple of minutes, he grabs my dick and starts stroking me as vigorously as I am him. Waves of pleasure shoot throughout my body and I swear for a second that I’m seeing stars. It feels so good I rub Charlie harder and faster and he groans, responding by stroking me off even faster. And so we go on, each beating the other off at an increasing rate until my hand is sliding all over his wet tool, slapping it in jerky motions. I am now completely absorbed by the pleasure and lust, each stroke takes me further and further into a sexual frenzy and I can feel the climax building in my loins. I grunt and press as close to Charlie as I can while still remaining in position to have enough leverage to masturbate him. I feel like I am only seconds away when he pauses, to my immense frustration, although I continue fisting his turgid slick cock as quickly as I can.

And then, quite unexpectedly, I feel something I had never felt before. All of a sudden I was enveloped in hot, wet pleasure, the nerve endings in the very core of my being firing at full capacity. I look down to see that Charlie has taken my dick into his mouth – oh god, he’s sucking me. He’s sucking me and it is the most wonderful thing I have ever felt in my life. Either because this felt really good or because seeing someone sucking you off is hot, all at once I feel my balls contract as my inevitable orgasm builds. “Holy fuck, ugh!” I exclaim. My instinct is to push against Charlie with all my might and blow right then and there, but I don’t want to cum in his mouth and offend him. Gasping and about a millisecond from the end, I manage to grunt out an nearly incomprehensible, “Charlie, ugh, I’m cumming, gawrk…”

He gets the message and pulls my dick out of his mouth, smiling up at me right as my penis convulses and starts spraying cum, the first shot audibly splatting against his neck. This time I do see stars, as every muscle in my body tenses and the orgasm overtakes me. In my ecstasy, I feel Charlie tense up next to me and then all at once he’s also cumming. His first shot lands on my upper lip, which I might have found gross if I wasn’t deep in boy heat, and the double pleasure of having an orgasm while giving someone one became so intense that I grab Charlie’s dick even firmer and continue stroking him as hard as I can. He’s bucking around and gasping and making sounds that I take to mean he wants me to stop because it’s too much for him, but I don’t care and keep on going. His cum lands on my chest and neck in hot sticky globs, and I stroke him through the entire orgasm until he physically reaches down to pull my hands off of him.

“Jesus, ok Devon, enough,” he’s laughing and panting, clearly happy, but also a little in pain from being overly sensitive at the end. I reluctantly stop stroking him.

“Sorry,” I say somewhat sheepishly.

Charlie swings his feet off the couch and sits up a little. At first I think he’s going to get up and leave, which is almost never a good sign, but instead he rotates around and lies back down so that we’re face to face. We’re both still a little out of breath, and I can feel him panting against my face in warm puffs. He’s looking right at me with those huge brown eyes, and for the first time this evening I feel a little exposed. Funny how that doesn’t happen until AFTER I’m covered in sweat and cum lying next to a guy in post-coital glow. “No problem at all,” he answers, reaching out to swirl his finger in one of the globs of cum oozing down my chest. It’s sticky and tickles a little. “You’re really good at that. If you want my opinion, I think you’ll have a long and illustrious career as a gay man.”

“Well, I’m glad you approve.” I laugh a little. I’m tempted to reach out and kiss the smiling boy on the lips, but I’m afraid that might be taking things too far. Although we’re now clearly sexual partners, and yes, I would be taking Charlie up on his offer to experiment again in the future, there were still boundaries and rules to feel out with him. Still, as we lay there in our masculine glory, I couldn’t help but feel that this was about a thousand times better than any of my experiences with the opposite sex. Any time I did anything sexual with girls, it always felt awkward and uncomfortable later. I mean, not like gross, which I know a lot of gay guys say, I always enjoyed it, but it never felt simple and uncomplicated afterwards. With Charlie, I understood what he was feeling, and I liked his warm, muscular body pressed up against me.

At least, I liked it until I realized we were smelling a little ripe – all boozy and sweaty, and Charlie must have felt the same way because just about the same time we looked at each other and mouthed a single word, “Shower.”

Leaping up from the couch I ran into the bathroom, Charlie following close behind. Unlike most of my sexual experiences, for some reason my boner had not abated immediately after cumming and swung defiantly in front of me. Charlie’s hadn’t either, and as we rinsed off in the communal column showers he announced that it looked like we both needed ‘seconds’. Asking what this was (although I suspected I knew), he explained that often one cum wasn’t enough for him, and apparently it wasn’t enough for me either. Emboldened by our sexual experience, Charlie began rubbing soap all over his body and erect member, which of course got me excited and had me doing the same.

“Why Mr. Chasen, that’s not the type of behavior that is at all appropriate in a communal shower,” Charlie chided playfully in a deep voice.

“Really, Mr. Barrett? Because I couldn’t help but notice that you missed a spot. Here let me help with that.” I press up against Charlie’s slick body, our erections making contact for the first time. Apparently not at all constrained by needing to feel out the rules of this relationship one by one, Charlie pushes his face closer and kisses me gently on the upper lip, his tongue soft and silky, then laughs and runs to the opposite side of the shower room. I give chase, and we play like this for a while, grabbing at each other’s boners and sneaking small kisses, and eventually Charlie turns to me, smiling slyly, and starts masturbating his ever-engorged cock again. I follow suit, and before long we’re furiously beating off side by side, our wet bodies glistening in the soft light of the bathroom. This time Charlie comes first and almost completes his orgasm before I started spraying. I’m amazed that I produce a second almost-full load.

As ridiculous as it sounds, we repeat this scene again back out in the living room, Charlie initiating it by grabbing my butt, which results in me getting instantly hard, which results in him getting instantly hard. We stick to jerking ourselves off side by side on the bed, this time coming with some effort and audible grunting. By the time we’re done for the third time it’s extremely late, and although we discuss going back to our real rooms, we decide to stay here for the night, both of us reluctant to give up the newfound closeness with one another. Charlie pulls me into bed with him, and although I would have been shy about initiating the same invitation, feeling him warm and soft next to me make me instantly sleepy. He moves close to me, wrapping his naked body around mine and pulling a thick blanket over our heads, it’s only about twenty seconds before I am contentedly asleep next to him.

The next time I open my eyes the room is pitch black and cool - it’s clearly the middle of the night; night as simulated by the ship’s environmental systems, which regulate light levels and temperatures to mimic a regular earth cycle. For a second I don’t remember where I am, and am disconcerted that my bunk seems to be totally out of place in my room, then I realize that I’m not in my room. Then I realize that something is jabbing me in my side.

“Hey Devon,” Charlie jabs me a little harder and I squirm groggily, “Hey, Devon, you awake?”

“Mrmer, whas, hrmen,” is the reply I manage to make. Charlie and I are still intertwined naked in bed together, and as I am snapped out of slumber by his rudely poking me in the ribs, I become conscious of the heat of his body and smoothness of his skin against mine. I’m guessing that he’s ready to go again, and although I am exhausted and groggy my body begins to react to the notion of another romp. I grab at Charlie’s crotch and say, “Geez, Charlie, don’t you ever tire out?”

He pulls away from me a little and replies, “No, hey, that’s not what I meant. I need to talk to you, it’s really important.”

Something in his tone conveys a sense of seriousness, and this more than anything snaps me fully awake. I turn over to face him – there’s not a lot of room in this bunk, and I suppose if we sleep together in the future we should convert it to a double. Still, it feels really comfortable to be all snuggled up like this. “Yeah, ok, we can talk. What’s on your mind?”

I can barely make out his features, but I can see him well enough to tell he’s looking at me a little sheepish. “It’s just, well, I think I owe you an apology. You know, for what we did, uh, what we did together last night.”

“If that was something that requires an apology, I’d hate to see what it would take for you to thank me,” I chuckle and make my smartass retort before thinking about what I’m saying. Whoops, maybe I should treat this more seriously.

“Yeah,” Charlie feigns a smile, “It’s just that I think I was unfair to you, and I started thinking about it, and now I can’t sleep and I didn’t want to wake you up, but I figured it’s better to get it out now before I rethink things and get scared to talk to you later.

“The thing is, I don’t think it was really cool of me to do that with you last night. I think I was kind of taking advantage of you and I don’t think I should do it again.”

Fuck, I’d heard that gay relationships went by fast, but this was ridiculous. We seemed to be going from hookup to breakup in a little less than four hours. My heart started thumping in my chest. I wasn’t enamored with Charlie or anything, but I did like the guy and I didn’t want the night to end like it seemed to be about to. Maybe I could save things. “Well, I don’t see how you took advantage of me,” was all I could come up with, and it sounded like a pretty feeble response.

“Devon, you know, this is tough to talk about, but the thing is that you’re gay. Or you’re bisexual. Whatever you are, and I’ll always be your friend no matter what, but whatever you are you confided that in me and my first response was to suggest that we fool around. I wasn’t thinking straight. Well, I was thinking with my dick to be honest, and I gave you that lame speech about staying just friends and fooling around, and I don’t think that’s really fair to you.

“I mean, where would that go? We could do this every night, and end up in bed together every night.” Charlie smiled a little wistfully, and I had to as well at the thought of curling up with this sexy boy night after night rather than spending them alone in my bunk with my bad dreams of a dead planet, “That would be fun, don’t get me wrong. But it seems like eventually that arrangement would make you think of me as your boyfriend, and if I were attracted to you like that I’d love to be your boyfriend, but I’m not, and I’ll always think of you as just a friend. What if you develop feelings for me? That wouldn’t be fair to you, to spend your time with me when you could be out looking for someone to love you back. It could wreck our friendship – like I said I’ve had that happen before, and I don’t want to mess things up. Getting to know you better has been about the only good thing to happen to me on this fucking ship.” Charlie seems on the verge of tears, and although I feel like I’m about to get dumped my heart feels for the guy. I don’t want to lose him either.

I’m not sure what to say but I start speaking, “Look Charlie, I’ll always be your friend. And you’re right, that’s more important than fooling around. So if you tell me you don’t want to have sex with me anymore, we can leave it at just tonight.”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. Well, not exactly.”

What the fuck is he talking about?

“So if you don’t want to have sex with me and you do want to have sex with me, what does that mean?”

“Well, uh, I guess what I’m saying is that fooling around with you is, erm, good practice for us both. It’s just that I’m concerned that if it’s just you and me fooling around things will eventually get weird. I think that we need to agree to mess around with other people,” he explains, although I’m still not sure what he’s getting at.

“So you want to have sex with me sometimes, and then you want to go out and have sex with other people so we don’t get too attached?” It feels like a little bit of a rude request to make right after a night of passion, but I guess I can kind of see where he’s coming from. Maybe I would develop a crush on him. Maybe I had already. That can happen when you jerk another guy off, particularly when he’s adorable and single and well hung.

“No, I’m not saying that we go out and fool around with other people. Well, I mean, we can do that too. I’m not saying we don’t do that. But what I’m talking about is that we bring other people here to fool around with us. Like actually with us. You know, like all together.” He smiles sheepishly, and although it’s too dark in here to tell, I’d bet he was blushing. I may be a little too – I didn’t see that one coming at all.

“So you want to have group sex, rather than doing it solo with me?”

“Yeah! I mean, wait, no, not like that. ‘Group sex’ sounds so tawdry. What I mean is that I like doing it solo with you, and I think we should sometimes. But I think we should also find some other guys like us who like to have a good time like that and bring them here to, well, not really to have sex, but to fool around. You know, all together. Then it’s more like as friends and I think we’d be less likely to mess up our friendship.

“I know that sounds kind of weird, and maybe it’s a stupid idea. It just seems like there’s probably a lot of guys on the ship like me, open-minded and eager to fool around, and there’s probably a lot of guys like you, bisexual or gay or whatever you end up deciding you are, and it might be fun to get them all together.”

“You mean for like a jerk off club?” I’d heard about them, of course, and even wondered in high school if my boring friends would be more interesting if we got together like that. But I’d never dreamed of actually initiating anything.

“Yeah, something like that.” And Charlie goes on to explain exactly what he means – that we should find several guys like us who have flexible sexualities, and form a group that meets on occasion to have some fun. It’s not the most uncommon fantasy, and although I’m surprised to hear it coming from Charlie I have to say it sounds like something he’s thought about before. I’m not sure whether I should be offended that all of a sudden I’m one of several sexual partners the guys wants or grateful I don’t seem to be losing my sex buddy, and while I think about that I ask him how we would even do something like that.

“Well, that part seems simple,” he explains, “we make a list of people we know who would be up for it, then have five or six of us meet down here some Friday night for a poker night or something. A little booze, maybe some ViCia tabs in their drinks to get them horny, then we pop out some porn and see what happens. They either get huffy and walk out, in which case we blame the alcohol and apologize, or we have some fun.”

“I don’t know, Charlie,” I sigh, rolling onto my back, “I’m not sure real life works like a vintage porno. It could totally backfire on us. I mean, maybe it would be fun…” I trail off, thinking about Sean and Dog and how their little twosome might be a thousand times sexier if it were a foursome. The guy had a point – if I’d come this far and accepted that I liked guys, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to experiment a little.

“Well, just promise you’ll think about it.”

“I don’t know, maybe I’ll think about it. Maybe,” I reply, not wanting to commit to anything.

“Aw, c’mon Devon, for me,” he begs in a puppy dog voice while reaching in between my legs and stroking my still naked thigh. All at once I become extremely aware of his warm body pressed against me and his boyish chalky smell. Oh good lord. How am I ever going to be able to say no to this guy?

“Ok, ok,” I reply, pushing his hand back to his side of the bed, “I promise I’ll think about it.”

“You’re the best, Devon.” And with that he leans over and pecks me gently on the cheek. Like I said, how could I ever say no to him? We wrap our bodies around each other and drift off into sleep once more. Charlie seems like he’s unconscious in two seconds, and I’m not far behind, falling into a deep slumber with pleasant dreams of naked bodies and sunny afternoons and ice cream and skinny dipping. When I wake up in the morning I’ll find myself alone, Charlie off to work or something, and my problems with Reid will begin gnawing at the back of my mind, but for now I’m warm and happy and sated lying here with Charlie in my arms.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                            Back        Forum Discussion        Next