The tale so far:

Although Devon continues to enjoy and explore his new relationship with Conner, the tensions between Steven Caine’s group and Eden Stranton’s office threaten to disturb the otherwise peaceful daily operations on the ship.

Devon also continues to deal with his best friends – Reid is working for security force, and Patrick is undercover with Steven’s group. The two boys still believe they can work to resolve the differences on the ship, but the recent revelation that the information they’re passing up the chain of command makes both uncomfortable with the idea there might be a mole in their midst.


Space Ship Boys

Chapter 18 – The Approach


“It must be pretty fucking small,” I remark, squinting.

Conner sighs. “It’s not that small...look right there. No, get up on your knees a little higher. There...no, over...stop squirming so much!”

“Well, then stop putting your hand there...your thumb is pushing my underwear up my hole!”

My protest may be a little overly dramatic, but Conner really was making my undies to jam uncomfortably into my rear. All this just to catch a sneak peek at EV1985? Whatever.

“Ok, fine,” he grumbles. “I’ll let you down.”

Somehow, we’d ended up in a ridiculous position. Conner had brought me to the rear observation deck, insisting that EV1985 was now close enough to see with the naked eye. Unfortunately, the other ship was still far away, mostly black in the inky darkness of space, and way off to our starboard side, so that Conner had to hoist me up, smushing me against the very last glass window on the deck, just to catch a glimpse of the other ship. It hadn’t worked so well.

“Whew, that was an ordeal,” I laugh, shaking my head. I’m a little dizzy.

Conner looks disappointed. “We should be able to see better tomorrow. They’re on a slow approach, but the docking is close – we should be able to see them better soon.”

I sit down on the window seat, looking out at the massive void. I suppose Conner is right – there’s something cool about being able to look out these windows and see something. “It’s okay,” I say. “For now, just sitting here looking at the stars shimmering away...that’s enough.”

Conner places a hand on my shoulder. “Um, Devon? You know that stars don’t shimmer unless you’re viewing them through an atmosphere, right?”

I look up at my boyfriend. “I was wondering...do you think you’ll want to fuck me later? Like really slow until we’re both dying to climax?”

Conner smiles and turns a little red. I love that he’s still shy about talk like this. He giggles and stutters, and then says, “Yeah...that sounds pretty good to me.”

I look back out the window. “Then I say those stars out there are pretty shimmery.”

Conner gets the message. “Yeah, ha ha. I think so too.”

I stand up, and then pull Conner closer to me, feeling particularly close to him because of where we’re standing – the room where we first got together. I kiss him, making him sigh into my mouth. I feel his body relax as my tongue grazes his lip. When I release him I gaze into his kind green eyes, always full of fire and shy intelligence.

“That’s my boy,” I say, smiling slyly.

With December came lighter moods, or so it seemed. People on the ship seemed happier, despite the fact that there was no real movement in the investigation about the fire. The military had determined that incendiary charges had been used, so it was definitely an act of arson. But analysis of the video surveillance turned up nothing, and there were no viable suspects. Still, things had been relatively quiet, and while everyone was wary, people were generally a little happier and the conversations lighter.

My mood was always pretty light, largely because of Conner. He and I were together at every opportunity, and when our schedules pulled us apart, which frequently happened, I’d resurface from “boyfriend land” and spend some time with my other friends.

On Friday, Conner drags my ass out of bed at five a.m., looking a little like a kid on Christmas morning. He’s already dressed in a pair of baggy blue workout shorts and grey tee; a rolled up mat is slung over his shoulder.

“They open the yoga farm?” I ask, my blue bangs sticking every which way. Conner nods and pulls the sheets off my body. The cold air is shocking and unwelcome against my skin.

“C’mon, we’re going to be late! I need you flexible, especially with what I have planned later.” He’s tugging on my arm lightly, apparently hoping this will motivate me to get up. I guess it works, because fifteen minutes later we’re headed to the farm where Conner hosts his morning exercises.

Yoga is relaxing, even at this ungodly hour. Dog has somehow managed to drag Sean along, who is looking about as caffeine-deprived and cranky as I feel. It’s his first time at yoga, but he does well. When his boyfriend prances off with him after practice looking a little flush and horny, I get the feeling Sean is about to learn what the big deal is with yoga.

Ian walks out with Conner and me. “You guys mind if we go by the observation deck?” Conner asks. Ian shakes his head, and I inwardly groan. Conner is really into this whole docking thing.

When we arrive at the deck, I’m somewhat surprised to see fifteen or twenty people milling about, most of them looking out the windows to the starboard of the ship. Conner joins them, and when he apparently locates the other ship he smiles, saying, “There! See, Devon? Over in that corner? That’s it!”

I’d had a good time at yoga, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t my normal sarcastic self. I yawn. “Yeah, great. Grey dot on a black background. Awesome.”

Ian chuckles. “You’re such a tool.” It isn’t meant to be mean, and I don’t take it as such.

“Well I think it’s cool,” Conner says.

We stare at the little grey dot, which is either EV1985 drawing ever closer or a piece of lint on the window. Ian turns to us and asks, “You guys off work for the summit? I’m not – lame.”

The summit, as it was being called, was what everyone was currently talking about, and why ninety-five percent of the ship’s population had the day off. Ian apparently wasn’t one of them, but Conner and I were.

Following the fire on the wheat farm, Steven Caine had been investigated thoroughly. There was no evidence to connect him to the farm, nor anyone in his growing political movement. But this didn’t mean there wasn’t an obvious connection – Steven was stirring up angst, and it seemed clear that this had resulted in the fire whether he was involved or not, although I still suspected that he had been.

Regardless, in response to the friction on the ship Eden had made a proposal – he and Steven would sit down and discuss things. There were no promises and no guarantees made, but Eden said that he believed this to be an important first step in stabilizing things. To many people’s surprise, Steven agreed to the talks. His only caveat was that his meeting with Eden needed to be televised, something that Eden immediately accepted as a good idea.

Once the summit was announced, the tension on the ship seemed to morph into anticipation. I look at my watch – Eden and Steven’s meeting is scheduled for this afternoon. In only a few hours we may know whether to expect things on the ship to get better or worse.

“Yeah, Conner and I both got off today,” I answer; Ian immediately snickers at my phrasing. “I mean...er...we don’t have to go in. A bunch of the guys are getting together to watch. Too bad you have to work.”

Ian sits down on the window seat where Conner and I first fucked. For no particular reason it makes me a little uncomfortable. He says, “Yeah, it would have been nice to get today off. But I’ll see most of the talks in the hospital. We just released our last patient from the fire, and things are slow.”

That afternoon everyone gathers in the unoccupied flat a couple of hours earlier than our usual Friday time. When Conner and I arrive, Charlie has set Mike, AJ, Nick, Sean and Dog to work cleaning up a mess they’d made in the club room the night of AJ’s birthday party.

“I mean all the paint. Clean it all up this time,” he says in his best demanding voice. He’s standing in the doorway to the club room – I assume enforcing his iron will on the group.

I plop down on a couch next to Zane, who’s drinking a beer. “I didn’t make the mess for once, so I’m off the hook for cleanup duty,” he explains.

I laugh. “I’m sure there’s a stain or two in there you’re responsible for.” He responds by tossing a pillow at me; I duck and it soars over my head, hitting Charlie in the back of his.

“Hey!” he exclaims. “If you two start, I’m going to put you to work too.”

I look around – the flat is actually clean for once. The clothes and miscellaneous things we left lying around are put away, and the floor is swept. Apparently the paint war in the club room had pushed Charlie over the edge and initiated a flat-wide cleaning effort.

“Where do you want the food?” Conner asks, standing in the middle of the living room with two large parcels under his arms. Oops, I’d forgotten he was carrying those.

I get up and take one from him. “Let’s reheat them now, then they should be perfect for dinner.” The televised summit is scheduled for seven, so Zane and I figured we’d make dinner for the guys. I’d gone with a simple dish – pumpkin gnocchi with crispy sage and pancetta. And yes, I was very aware that the pumpkin themed food was going to score me some sex later. Zane made dessert, but I wasn’t sure what he’d decided on.

Conner and I put the dinner in the heating unit and return to the living room. Charlie, apparently satisfied with the condition of the club room, is corralling the helpers toward the showers, demanding that they wash up quickly so that they’ll be fresh and clean when the event starts.

“Wow...I guess you’re den mother now,” I joke.

Charlie tries not to smile at this, but does. “Whatever. Maybe I’ve been spending too much time with the scrubs. Either way, this place was getting messier than their flat, and that’s pretty bad.”

Charlie’s cleaning troupe emerges from the showers in towels. AJ is blushing furiously and sporting a tent, causing Zane and I to flash the boy a quizzical look. Zane offers Conner a beer and he accepts. I decline, saying I’d rather have a raspberry mango mojito. “Dude, you drink the silliest stuff,” Zane says.

Conner sips his beer. “So, what are you guys going to do tonight?” he asks Zane, meaning after the summit ends.

Zane shrugs. “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. We’re going to try to take over the world.” Conner offers a blank expression, not getting the reference. Zane adds, “Oh wait, that’s someone else. I think we’re going to have lots and lots of boy sex.”

Conner offers an unenthusiastic “Oh.” before saying he wants to check on the food and heading back to the kitchenette. I follow him, sensing a change in his demeanor.

“Everything okay?” I ask in the privacy of the small kitchen nook in the rear of the flat.

Conner starts pulling the food out of the heating unit. We’d packaged everything in individual serving cartons already; he places these in a row on a tray. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he says, not offering any real insight into his mood. I pinch his side playfully, but forcibly. “Ow!” he yelps. “Ok, ok, ha ha, stop that. I’m okay...I knew we’d be hanging out with your friends this evening, it just didn’t really dawn on me until now that it meant all your...you know...special friends.”

I feel a sickly bit of something down in my tummy. “Okay,” I say slowly. I really want Conner to get along with my friends, so I measure my words carefully. “We don’t have to hang out with them. And any time you start to feel like our arrangement isn’t working...just tell me.”

Conner stops what he’s doing and looks confused, then he gets what I’m saying. “No, it’s not that. Sheesh, it’s not that at all. To be honest, knowing that you’ll be...taken care of when I’m busy is reassuring. And the idea of you fooling around with those guys is sexy, as long as there’s no penetration. We said no penetration, right?”

The look he’s giving me tells me that he knows full well the terms of our golden gate agreement, which allows for extracurricular play short of penetration. But his mentioning it, although done in a joking manner, reinforces his expectations.

“Yup, no penetration,” I answer. “I never did that with any of them anyway, and I wouldn’t, even if you and I weren’t boyfriends.” I’m not sure this last part is true – I’d never fucked or been fucked by any of the guys, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t have eventually tried it. But Conner looks reassured by the comment.

“Anyway,” he says, “it’s not that. Just when Zane mentioned sex...they are going to behave tonight, right? I mean...at least until the summit is over?”

I laugh. You’d think Conner’s worst nightmare was being assaulted by eight horny boys. “Yes, they’ll behave. Since our last...incident, we set some rules. Naked games in the bedrooms only, no bringing people here without full disclosure first, plus some others. We call them our ‘Conner rules.’”

“Great,” my boyfriend sighs. “I’m such a prude I had to have a whole set of rules named for me.”

I give him a hug, and then pick up the tray of food. “Not at all. It’s just – I nearly wrecked our friendship when I invited you here without telling you everything. In another world, maybe we never got together after that. It made me think...and the other guys too. We’re all a little more mature now.”

Conner arches an eyebrow. “Mature about how you go about getting boys to participate in sex games and mutual masturbation, you mean.”

“Exactly,” I say, flashing a wide smile before prancing out of the kitchenette with my butt in full “Devon waggle” mode.

When it’s nearly seven I pass out the food and everyone claims a spot. Zane turns on the display, revealing the smiling face of Eden Stranton on the screen. He’s seated next to Steven Caine, a small side table with two glasses sitting between them. Both boys are slightly dressed up.

“Good evening,” he says. “You’re all aware why we’re broadcasting today, so I’ll begin by briefly discussing what we hope to accomplish at today’s meeting. I would also mention that I went over these comments with Steven beforehand, and they have been agreed upon by both of us.

“We are living in a unique situation at a unique time. The vessel that we currently occupy is much more than just a ship – it’s a lifeboat, and a community. It is sovereign U.S. soil. It’s a military base, and a thriving co-op of farms. And above all, it’s a biosphere, one that is capable of sustaining the human, animal and plant population for years to come.

“But for the ship to meet our needs we must have a stable, functioning society. We cannot have unrest, and we cannot have resources wasted or destroyed. To tolerate this would put us all at risk, and that is not acceptable – neither to me nor to Steven.

“After both the riot in The Commons and the fire, I spoke with Steven, both in the capacity of mayor and commander of the security force, and then later as...well, as just a guy on the ship. In speaking with him, I came to believe that while our political views may be different, the welfare of the ship and its passengers is forefront in our minds.

“Furthermore, it is my belief that Steven Caine is being truthful when he says that he didn’t have anything to do with the fires, and I believe him when he says that the riot in The Commons was not intentional. As a first gesture of goodwill, I wanted to make this clear to all of you, and I wanted to apologize to Steven for the incarceration that occurred following the fire. I also would like to thank him for agreeing to this meeting.”

Eden looks over to Steven and extends his hand. Steven nods, standing and accepting the mayor’s gesture. “Thank you, Eden. I appreciate that. And I appreciate you having me here today.”

“This is a huge mistake,” Conner says next to me. He takes the cover off his plate and eyes the pasta hungrily. “This looks great, Devon,” he whispers.

“What’s a mistake?” Mike asks on the other side of Conner.

Conner takes a bite and then swallows it. “Wow, this is so good,” he says. “It’s a mistake for Eden to appear with Steven like this. The talks are a good idea, but look at them – Steven is presenting himself as a legitimate voice of authority on the ship. It makes him seem like a political opponent more than a troublemaker.”

“That’s really true,” Zane replies thoughtfully.

Conner’s opinion seems even more astute when Steven makes his opening remarks. After apologizing for any trouble caused by the riot and the later fire, he lays out what he wants to accomplish through the talks. “As Eden said,” he continues, “there needs to be a thriving, functioning community on the ship. It is my hope that these talks will bring us closer to this.”

The two leaders sit down and Eden picks up a tablet, glancing over some information before speaking. When he does, he looks to Steven and says, “Okay, so let’s begin.”

The two leaders speak about a variety of subjects, ranging from moderately important to slightly inconsequential. Regardless, Eden listens to Steven’s opinion on each, weighing in from time to time and asking questions when necessary. They first talk about room assignments.

“I think what a lot of us are upset about,” Steven says, “is the manner in which we’re packed into the flats while floor upon floor remain vacant. This makes little sense to me, and to a lot of my supporters.”

Eden shifts in his seat. “I understand what you’re saying,” he replies. “When we first occupied the ship, there was no civilian government and little crew oversight regarding accommodations. As a result, the initial flat assignments were random, but I think they generally favored the older students from the college...and that’s largely your group, Steven, who by and large took the more favorable rooms in Bottomside.

“Shortly thereafter, the crew stepped in, and while they didn’t move us around too much, they did increase the population density on a per room basis. This was done so that we could establish a viable biosphere on the ship, although I should mention that the crew did override the standard protocols, which require six to eight adults per bedroom, allowing us the lower density of four to five per room.

“We currently occupy about eleven hundred rooms in two hundred thirty flats. We have an average per room residency of just under five persons. As you know, the individual bedrooms are designed to house eight as a ‘standard load,’ but they’re capable of housing ten or twelve if required.

“There are about six hundred empty rooms in...let me look it up here...one hundred sixteen unused flats – please keep in mind I’m rounding these numbers off. We’ll make exact figures available in the post-summit notes. Anyway, in addition to these rooms, which are ready for immediate occupation, we have the capability of converting space onto the ship into another hundred or so flats.

“To stick to the point, housing is something my office has been working on for a couple of months now, and it’s something that the entire population should have an equal voice in. But before we start reassigning rooms on a large scale, I do need to announce something that will impact any proposed changes.

“As you all know, we will soon be docking with EV1985. We’ll be docked for several weeks, during which time we’ll be trading resources. A big part of this will be offloading some of our excess oxygen – you guys really go bonkers on the farming, which is great – this will enable us to supply the other ship, which has had difficulty maintaining an ideal atmosphere.

“I’ve just in the last day been made aware that there is another reason for the docking – we will also take on additional population. I don’t have specific numbers or information yet, but what I do know is that the other ship is vastly overcrowded. We will be helping them with that, and I’m afraid this all falls under the purview of the captains and the larger governing bodies...I’m not really ‘in the loop’ at this point in time. But with the other ship only a couple of days away, we should be getting info on that soon, and I’ll distribute it to you as soon as I have any news.

“So anyway, my point is that, yes, we’ll look at any room assignment plan you bring to us, Steven, but it probably makes sense to do this once we have an idea of the total post-dock population. And I’ll even go one better for you...instead of just having my office ‘look’ at any feasible proposals, I’ll be happy to put it up for a general vote. So long as the crew says it won’t endanger safety, I think we’re at a point where we can move to a more democratic model.”

Steven responds by thanking Eden and making a few comments, but we largely ignore him, talking amongst ourselves.

“Wow, new passengers,” Sean says.

Dog nods. “Yeah. That’s big news,” he says. “I wonder how many people they’ll transfer...and what they’ll be like.”

“They probably won’t be college guys,” Charlie points out. Everyone gets what he’s saying at the same time. We’d enjoyed our little college microcosm for so long that most of had forgotten that the world at large was considerably more diverse.

“They’re not,” Conner says. Something in his tone tells us that he isn’t just speaking from conjecture. Mike asks him what he knows, and when he refuses to say anything he falls prey to a quick round of “tickle torture.”

“Okay, okay,” he laughs. “Jeez, I’ll talk.” On screen Steven is going over some of his other residency concerns, but we’re all attentive to Conner. “It’s not confidential anyway...I was going to tell you guys later. Yesterday I started getting medical files from the other ship. Some were for me to go through and note which medical supplies should be moved over during the docking, others were for me to put in our resident files. I was told these were for people who were coming to live here.”

“Wow,” AJ says. “And? Who are they?”

Conner shakes his head. “I can’t tell you any of their private info or anything – confidentiality and all. But I can say they aren’t college guys. A lot of them aren’t even American – I got a lot of files for French nationals.”

Charlie’s eyes light up. “French boys are cute,” he says. Somehow I get the notion that Conner could have said any nationality and Charlie would have responded that their boys were cute...but I guess we have no way of testing that.

“Anyway,” Conner says, “I shouldn’t say too much more. And actually...I don’t know much else.”

“Did they say how many?” Nick asks.

Conner shakes his head. “No. I got about a hundred files for future residents, but these may not be all the files we get. Also, only people who need us to review a medical condition...things like wheat allergies and all that...will even have files sent in advance, so that we can be ready for them. Anyone without a medical condition that needs my review will have their records transferred when they physically come over.”

“And now we come to work assignments,” Eden says on screen. “This is something I know lies at the heart of many of your issues, Steven, so let’s get into these. We have ninety minutes set aside for this, so let’s see if we can’t make some progress.”

We turn our attention back to the talks. Steven outlines seven points of concern with the way jobs on the ship are currently handled. “Overall,” he says once he’s addressed each, “I think the core issue here is the practice of assigning tasks randomly, not according to capability. Most of us were students before leaving Earth, so while we didn’t have jobs exactly, we did have areas of study. I think a lot of us would like to see this reflected in career assignments.”

Eden chuckles, which draws an immediate suspicious glare from Steven. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I was just wondering how my studies in international finance, or your studies in marketing, would be used on the ship.”

“Well, I’m not saying that there are exact parallels, but...” Steven starts.

Eden cuts him off. “That’s the problem, Steven...there aren’t exact parallels. There aren’t even slight parallels. The careers we were preparing for were left on Earth. Back home, something like three one-thousandths of one percent of the population worked in agriculture, which was a largely mechanized industry. Here on the ship, about half the jobs relate to growing and processing food.

“So we hit a snag. You’d like for people to be assigned work that pertains to their former studies. The problem is, no one on this ship was studying to become a farmer...or learning to clean dangerous mold from ventilation tunnels, but these are the jobs we need to fill. This is our new reality, and we all bear the responsibility of adapting to this.”

Steven is quick to respond. “We understand this – we really do. The idea of working together is important to me. But I have guys come to me all the time – some of them have eight, ten, even twelve hours of shit detail assigned to them in a day. We understand that these duties are important, but how is this fair? Some people get out of shit detail all together, did you know that?”

Eden rolls his eyes. “I did, Steven, as you know. And we’ve talked about this. Essential personnel aren’t always assigned secondary detail. My roommate is a good example. As one of the few doctors on the ship, we want him learning his craft. And I’ll tell you, he puts in more hours than anyone I know.”

“Great,” Conner says, sounding a little annoyed at being mentioned, even if not by name.

Eden continues, “So the agreement I can make today is that we’re willing to look at any work assignments on an individual basis, and I can provide a list of skill sets we really need for anyone out there who’s interested – but I can tell you that if you’re willing to go through medical school or learn to design and maintain fusion power generators, you’re going to have better luck getting out of shit detail. For work assignments on the whole, we’re also willing to put a new system up for vote if you have something in mind...but shoving all of the shit detail off onto a minority of the population is not something we’re going to be willing to do.”

The two guys talk a little more about work assignments, and about the problems Steven’s group has with the current system. And then they move one to the topic of the security force. Zane disappears for a few minutes, and when he returns he’s carrying a tray of dessert dishes. The smell of cinnamon wafts into the room behind him.

“Dessert – if anyone wants any,” he says. We all grab a plate – he’s made individual apple crisps with vanilla ice cream. They look great and we all tell him so. He smiles politely and wanders back to the kitchenette for spoons, which he’d forgotten.

“If we can talk about your army for a moment....” Steven starts.

“...police force,” Eden corrects him politely.

Steven’s frustration is evident in his reply. “Well, what you call a police force I call an army. And either way...an armed guard of any kind is prohibited from being centralized in the civilian sections of the ship. This has been one of our major concerns from day one, and it’s at the heart of why there is so much discontent.”

The discussion is now more fervent, both men slightly agitated and resolved in their positions. “You know the law as well as I do, Steven. A police force is allowed, particularly when events demonstrate that one is needed. And here we run into a problem – you and your guys are upset about the security force, but us forming one and growing it has been a direct result of your actions.”

“Is that supposed to make us feel less threatened?” Steven snaps. “Telling us that the security force is around just to police us...to spy on us?”

I think about Patrick, who is in fact spying on Steven for the security force. I feel a tingling of dread – did Steven suspect that there were people amongst his supposed followers passing info to Eden? Did he suspect Patrick specifically?

Eden scratches his head and then replies, speaking in a calmer tone with more measured words. “Steven, let’s be reasonable here. The security force isn’t around to spy on anyone. This is a big ship, and there are sometimes incidents. Usually it’s small stuff, like ‘someone stole my peanut butter,’ but sometimes there are bigger issues. We need law enforcement, and I’m sorry to say that your activities...the protests and demonstrations...these necessitate a larger force.

“And we also have the fire to contend with. Now I know I said you were cleared of any involvement with that, and I’ll reiterate that right now to everyone watching – Steven and his group had nothing to do with the fires. But this does not change the fact that someone placed incendiary devices in an area responsible for growing our food. The use of these not only threatened the crop planted at the time, but also the lives of anyone who might have been in the area when the charges went off. The security force is necessary to stop events like this from happening, and investigating them when they do in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Steven shakes his head. “This still doesn’t make it legal, Eden. No police force is to be headquartered in the civilian sectors. This is the law – you can’t dispute that fact.”

“This is true...technically,” Eden replies. “The law allows for a security force, and it also states that such a force should be headquartered in the military sector, even if it’s made up of civilians. In most cases, a ship’s security force would be assembled from the crew. But on this ship, which was manned with a very small permanent crew, they don’t have the personnel to spare. So we assigned civilians, and we stationed them in Topside, near my offices.”

“Which is in direct violation of the law,” Steven comments smugly.

“Yes,” Eden agrees thoughtfully. “The rules do state that any police force should be stationed in the military sectors, so...one floor above me. I have to ask, Steven, does this really matter? Does it make a difference whether security force is located on the base or next to my office? We need to have one, either way.”

“It’s a huge deal,” Steven says emphatically. “It may just be one floor, but that line is a symbol of an unacceptable encroachment on our rights. We’re here today because we both want order on this ship. I can try to put a stop to the protests and the demonstrations, but to do that we need to establish a system that is fair and just. Laws need to be obeyed...even if it’s just a matter of room assignments.”

“I’ll see what I can do about moving them upstairs, then,” Eden says curtly. “But I want to be clear – they’re here to stay.”

The two continue the discussion, speaking and debating on a range of issues. Steven gets to air his complaints publicly, and Eden gets to respond. The mayor offers concessions on many things, in some cases agreeing that Steven’s ideas are good. Others he says he’ll be looking into, and still others he suggests would be best handled through a ship-wide vote. But then on some he stands firm.

The summit runs about four hours. Once everything on the agenda has been discussed and debated, they wrap up with closing comments. Both Eden and Steven look tired, but also like they’ve found some common ground. I can’t speak for everyone in the room, but I feel a certain sense of...something feels lighter, like maybe progress has been made.

Once Eden signs off and our display has gone back to the ship wide announcements that continuously scroll when the channel isn’t in use, I find myself a little glad. I’m hopeful that these talks will help things get better, but politics are really, really boring, and I’m hoping not to have to sit through too many four hour debates.

“So, what did you think?” I ask Conner, sounding a little groggy. My ass is sore from sitting on the couch for so long.

He looks at the pile of empty dishes on the coffee table. “It was great...but I always like your cooking.”

I laugh at the way Conner shifts my question about the summit into a compliment about my cooking. He’s such a good boyfriend, but I have to razz him about this one. “And you thought Steven was being political,” I say.

Mike stands and stretches, looking about as bored as I am. Charlie stands and rubs Mike’s shoulders, which makes him sigh.

“Hey, where’s Zane?” Dog asks. No one had seen him since dessert.

“Must be in the club room,” Nick yawns.

Almost as if on autopilot, the group migrates there and Conner follows. I hesitate for a moment, remembering the scene Conner had stumbled onto the last time I’d brought him here. And then I realize that Zane had been gone for a really long time...crap. I rush to the room, half expecting him to be completely naked, lying on a bed with a red ribbon tied around his cock.

He’s not, though. I find him typing away on one of the terminals, looking slightly annoyed. The other guys take seats in the recessed area we’d assembled. Conner starts up a conversation with Sean and Dog about working on the farms, asking questions about some of Steven’s comments.

The club room is really clean; the guys did a good job clearing up the paint. A purple smudge on the ceiling in the far corner of the room is the only evidence I see of the former mess.

I walk over to where Zane is seated. “What are you up to?” I ask.

“Hey,” he says. He doesn’t look up from the screen, nor does he stop typing. “I just wanted to e-mail some friends about the summit. You know...check in, see what people thought. I’ll be done in a minute.”

“Okay,” I reply, not really interested in more political talk. I walk over to where Conner is seated and plop down next to him. He’s entered into a rather spirited discussion with Charlie, Sean and Dog about the evening’s events. Great – more politics.

The four boys don’t notice when I offer a laborious sigh, which I mean to be a sign that I’d like to talk about something else. When a second annoyed sigh garners no reaction other than an annoyed glance from Conner, I move to the other side of the horseshoe shaped seating area.

“Well you have no one to blame but yourself,” Mike is saying to Nick.

The other boy looks defensive. “What? It’s not my fault I drew double shifts all week.” Nick explains that long days have left him rather sore. I think we’re all a little dubious as to how true this is, but Mike takes the bait.

“Well lie down, then. I’ll give you a massage.”

Nick does as he’s told, wincing. Maybe he really is sore. AJ joins in, saying, “Here, take your shirt off. I’ll help.”

Mike and AJ rub the boy’s back for a few minutes, starting with lighter, feathery strokes and then moving on to a firmer massage. “Whoa, you really are tense!” Mike exclaims. “Hey Devon, come here and feel this.”

Doing yoga with Conner had gotten me interested in massage. I’d pulled up a bunch of instructional books and videos from the library, and Mike had been one of my first test subjects. I move over to where Nick is lying. Mike takes my hand and directs it to a spot just below the boy’s left shoulder blade. I immediately feel what Mike is talking about – there’s a massive knot in the muscle there.

“Holy crap Nick. What the hell did you do to your shoulder?” I ask.

He grunts when I press the knot firmly. “Don’t know,” he replies. “I guess I lifted too much. That kinda hurts,” he says about my probing.

“Sorry. You’re all messed up right here. It needs to be worked out, but gently.”

Mike puts his hand next to mine on Nick’s back. The skin is smooth and warm to the touch. Nick has significantly more muscle than Mike, I notice, but his back isn’t quite as developed as Conner, who had great shoulders from years of swimming.

“How do we fix him?” Mike asks.

I hesitate. I’m only a novice masseur and I have very little experience. I know that a bad massage can make something like this worse, and I don’t want to do that. Still, I think I know what will help.

“Ok, let’s try this,” I say. “We want to work out the knot, but we don’t want to use too much direct pressure. Here, give me your hand.” Mike does as I request, and I place his hand palm down on Nick’s lower back. “Press down firmly, but not too hard. Using the heel of your hand, follow the curve of his back and push up all the way to his shoulder.”

I demonstrate the recommended stroke, guiding Mike’s hand. Nick grunts when we rub the sore area, but it doesn’t seem to hurt him. “I think I got it,” Mike says.

“I’ll do the other side,” AJ offers, smiling at me. His gaze is intense, full of curiosity and fire. I wonder if he’s thinking more about the massage or fucking Nick, something I’d heard had happened recently. As if he can read my mind, AJ blushes and looks away, which makes me feel a little shy too. The idea of AJ participating in the club is still a little new to me. He’d been hanging out with the guys for a month now, but he’d been absent the few times I’d participated since I’d started dating Conner.

Mike and AJ take to stroking Nick’s back, the third boy sighing in approval at having two dedicated masseurs working on him. Mike proclaims that it’s a little hot in the room and pulls off his shirt, and then returns to rubbing Nick’s back.

I’m conscientious of the intimacy of the scene, especially with Conner sitting two meters away. I rejoin the other group, leaving Nick in Mike and AJ’s capable hands.

“He doesn’t have the worst ideas in the world,” Sean is saying. “I mean, yeah he’s a total asshole...but some of what he says is probably right.” From the context, I assume he’s speaking about Steven.

“Well I don’t trust him,” Dog says. “He can dress up and talk all sophisticated, but I don’t buy that the riots weren’t his fault. He says they just got out of hand, but I think that’s bullshit.”

“But the riots totally undermined him,” Sean responds. “People really turned against him after that...you missed that, Devon, being in the hospital. If it was going to hurt his popularity like that, why would he plan something like the riot?”

“Unless he didn’t know that was going to be the result,” Conner says.

“You guys are still talking about Steven?” I whine. “Can’t we stop talking about him for a while? How about drinks? It’s Friday night.”

“I have a new crop,” AJ announces, overhearing me.

Zane pivots in his chair. “No,” he says, firm and simple. This gets everyone’s attention. He points to Nick, AJ and Mike. “These three do not get alcohol and pot. I think we all saw what happens when they overindulge.”

He smiles and the rest of us laugh. Mike blushes and tries to make excuses as to why the club room had been desecrated the night of AJ’s party, but then he agrees that he should probably be denied marijuana for a while.

“It was a great party, though,” AJ says. He pulls off his shirt before rubbing Nick’s back some more. And then he says he’d like to work on the boy’s legs, but proclaims Nick’s pants to be in the way. Nick raises his hips, protesting when AJ pulls off both his jeans and underwear.

“Hey!” he exclaims.

“Sorry,” AJ replies. “I want to be thorough.”

“I’m sure,” Nick replies sarcastically.

I laugh, but then look at Conner, who’s staring at the now-naked guy. “Um...we can go if you want,” I say. I don’t want him to be uncomfortable, but then I don’t want to make the other guys uncomfortable by asking Conner if Nick being naked is making him uncomfortable...and that’s making me a bit uncomfortable. Dammit, Devon...stop saying “uncomfortable.”

Conner shakes his head. “No, I’m good. We can go in a little bit. You have drinks?”

“Um...yeah. I think. Let me go see,” I say.

Thanks to Charlie, the flat is almost always well stocked with alcohol. He doesn’t disappoint me tonight, and a quick survey of the kitchenette uncovers two bottles of tequila and some margarita mix. I return to the club room with these and a stack of cups.

“Tequila – sweet!” Sean says when I return, taking one of the bottles and inspecting my find. We mix up some quickie margaritas and offer them to the group. Conner takes one, as does Dog. AJ and Mike seem intent on massaging Nick, however, who’s enjoying the attention.

I sip my drink – there’s way too much tequila in it. “Wow, these are strong,” Dog says.

I shrug. “Sorry, I’m a better cook than bartender.”

“So this is the infamous club on a Friday night,” Conner says when I sit back down next to him. I look around the room. It’s a pretty tame Friday by our standards, and I tell him so.

“I think they’re all on their best behavior because you’re here,” I whisper. Across the couch, Mike shimmies out of his pants, revealing that he’s wearing a pair of low rise red briefs...very cute. He sits on Nick’s butt so that he can offer the boy a deeper back massage. “Or maybe not,” I add.

Conner laughs and says that it’s okay.

Across the room, Zane makes a disgusted noise and shuts off the terminal. Without saying anything to the rest of us, he goes back to the living room. It makes me wonder what’s up. “Uh, I’ll be right back,” I tell Conner.

“Everything okay?” I ask when I locate Zane. He looks worried, which is odd for the guy.

He’s packing the used dinner cartons into a small box. “Oh, hey Devon,” he says. “I thought I’d take these up to the kitchen. Charlie’s on this ‘clean flat’ kick.”

“Zane Flynn cleaning. He must have really chewed you guys out,” I laugh. “Or is something else the matter?” Zane seems off tonight.

He thinks about this before answering. “Yeah, I’m okay, just a little pissy I guess.”

“About the summit?”

He shakes his head. “No. Well, yeah, maybe. How much do you know about the docking?”

EV1985 was growing closer every day, as Conner had been sure to point out to me at every opportunity. I tell Zane how he keeps dragging me to the observation deck to see the approaching ship.

Zane closes the top to the box containing the dirty dishes. “They’ll be here in a couple of days,” he explains. “Usually when ships dock you can request leave to visit the other one. I’ve been requesting it since I heard we’d be docking, but I just heard back that because of the problems here, they might not allow leave except for special cases.”

There was a lot of conjecture about visiting the other ship, of course, but I hadn’t heard anything other than rumors yet.

“You have family on the other ship?” I ask. It seemed the most plausible reason why he’d want to visit.

“No, nothing like that,” he says, thoughtful. Then he gets a big, goofy grin. “It’s just the other ship has about the best thing in the world...oh, shoot...I promised Conner I wouldn’t say anything.”

This gets my attention. “Say anything about what?”

Zane laughs at me. “Nice try, dude. But forget it...I’m good about keeping all my promises, but especially to Conner. He’d have no problem making me stand in the middle of the lobby and jerk off forty times in a row.” This makes me grin – Zane’s pact with Conner was kind of funny.

But still, I want to know what Zane’s talking about. I huff. Well, if Zane won’t tell me, I have other means. “Fine, I’ll ask Conner then.”

Zane sounds very sincere when he speaks. “Dude, don’t...please. It’s not that I’d mind jerking off forty times in the lobby – might take a while, but whatever. Anyway, okay, so I’ll tell you one little thing, but then you have to promise to drop it.”

I’m skeptical, but I bite, promising not to tell Conner I’d heard anything. Zane steps closer to me and whispers, “Okay, so this is the deal. Conner is planning something for you...sort of an early birthday present. And that’s all you should know. Trust me – it will be better if you let him surprise you.”

“Conner is doing something for my birthday?” I ask, intrigued. A million ideas flash through my head.

Zane gives me a weird look and then thumps me on the nose. “Dork...of course he’s doing something for your birthday. And I see the wheels turning in there, but do me a favor and try not to figure it out.”

“Fine,” I say. Birthday surprises are fun. I can abide by Zane’s request...I think.

Zane picks up the box of used dishes. “Anyway, I want to take these back up to the kitchen. Then I was thinking about going to the gym. I’m a little off today...lifting might help.”

“But it’s Friday night,” I point out.

Zane sighs. “Yeah, I know. But I’m cranky tonight, and not really feeling very social. Maybe I’ll stop back by later.”

Zane passing up an opportunity to get off with a room full of willing partners is definitely not his normal behavior. When he leaves, I’m forced to wonder if he hadn’t used the news of a birthday surprise to misdirect me from something else.

If so, it works. I return to the club room, plopping down next to Conner, a huge grin on my face. I offer him a sloppy kiss on the cheek.

“What was that for?” he asks.

“Just ‘cause,” I reply.

In my absence, the boys apparently decided to continue with the massages. AJ is receiving a thorough rubdown from Charlie and Sean. He still has his briefs on, but I have a feeling that won’t last long with these guys. Mike and Dog seem to have finished up Nick’s massage, the third boy looking quite content and sleepy, still lying face down on the couch.

“You want to go?” I ask Conner.

He shakes his head. “I don’t have work tomorrow. For once I’d just like to hang out, drink, and not worry about getting to bed on time.”

I reach over to scratch his back – he loves this. “We can stay up all night in our room,” I point out. “The guys are probably going to get frisky eventually.”

“They’re fine,” Conner says. “And they look pretty good at that. You guys could open a massage parlor.”

Mike’s eyes light up. “Yeah, that would be awesome!” he laughs.

Dog agrees, and then says, “I think that was Conner’s way of asking for a massage.”

“No, no,” Conner laughs. “I was just saying that you look good at it.”

His refusal isn’t taken seriously, and Conner finds himself approached by the two boys, Mike in his little red briefs and Dog in a jean and hoodie combo. They may very well be planning to pounce my boyfriend, so I shoot them both a warning glance. I’d talked to them about Conner coming tonight, and they’d agreed to behave.

Mike stops in his tracks. He puts on his best “unabashedly cute” routine, balancing on one leg while running the other foot up and down his calf. In his sweetest, most innocent voice he says, “Conner...Devon is very, very protective of you, and he said that we had to be extra good around you. If you want to go, that’s okay. But if not, we’d like to give you a back rub.”

He looks like an angel – an overly sexy one. Given the red briefs I suppose he could be one, just of the fallen variety.

“Devon told you that, huh?” Conner asks, eyeing me. I offer a guilty smile.

Dog nods. “Yeah. And we all still feel bad about the first time you came here. But if you’re not still mad about that, Mike is right – we’d love to give you a massage.”

I roll my eyes. Conner is a big boy, and asking his permission is well within the rules. He looks over to where Nick is lying, the boy’s round, perfect butt exposed to the open air of the room. “Um...I don’t know,” he says. “I’m a little shy about getting...uh...you know....”

Mike looks at Nick and gets what Conner means. “Oh, sorry,” he says. He walks back over to Nick, who seems to be falling asleep. Taking the other boy’s discarded underwear, Mike places it on top of Nick’s butt, succeeding somewhat in covering him. Then he says to Conner, “You don’t have to take off your pants. We’ll just do your back.”

This seems like a perfectly reasonable idea to Conner. “Uh, yeah, that sounds okay,” he says.

Mike and Dog look to me for approval before proceeding. I shrug and nod at them, figuring that if Conner doesn’t want them playing games he’ll tell them. They smile and make a spot for Conner on the couch. When he goes to remove his shirt, they help him out of it, pulling it over his head and causing his sandy locks to flop down into his eyes. “Thanks,” he says shyly, looking a little uncomfortable at being topless.

“See, I told you he had muscles,” Dog says. “And way more than me.” Mike agrees that this is the case and Conner blushes.

“I swam a lot,” he explains.

Mike reaches out and grazes Conner’s now-naked back with his fingertips. “Apparently,” he says, feeling the firmness of his lats. “You have a really nice torso.”

“Yeah, nice build,” Dog says. “I’m skinny, no matter how much I eat.” As if to prove this statement, he pulls of his hoodie and then slips off his jeans.

“Okay, okay,” I grumble, “That’s enough with the stripping.”

Dog looks confused. “What? Mike is in his underwear.”

It may be a fair point, but I shake my head. Dog is wearing a pair of baby blue trunks with a grey numeral ten printed on the fabric right by his right hip. I don’t mind him being comfortable, but my attention is immediately drawn to the fact that the underwear leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. Dog’s assets are nestled in a pouch of extremely sheer fabric; they might as well be completely exposed.

Conner vetoes my disapproval. “He’s fine,” he says. “Nice trunks. And you’re not that skinny. I bet we could get you a little bigger with some supplements and the right foods – you should come by the hospital some time and we’ll put together a nutrition plan.”

Dog beams. “That would be great!”

The boys set about massaging Conner – under my watchful eye, of course. They ask him to remain sitting up, which isn’t the most conventional position, but allows them to rub down his back and chest at the same time. Mike retrieves a small bottle of massage oil and puts some on his palm before applying it to Conner’s back.

“Oh!” Conner exclaims when the slippery oil is rubbed into his skin.

“Cold?” Mike asks.

“Um...no. It just feels really good. I didn’t realize how sore my neck was. I guess I need to sit better when I’m at my desk.”

“Or come to us for massages more often,” Dog suggests. He takes the oil from Mike and applies some to Conner’s chest while Mike works on Conner’s neck and shoulders.

Across the couch Sean has followed Mike’s example and is applying oil to AJ, who he’s stripped naked, dropping the lean boy’s blue, green and yellow low-rise briefs onto the floor next to the couch. Sean takes the opportunity to lose his pants too, revealing a cute pair of lime green briefs with a black stitching pattern. AJ moans when Sean reaches the boy’s butt and massages an ample amount of oil onto the rounded flesh.

Charlie lets Sean work on AJ and moves over to our group. “We get to massage Conner tonight? I’ll do his feet.”

When I’d started teaching the boys massage, Charlie had quickly developed a thing for feet. When Conner gives his permission, he slides off my boyfriend’s shoes and then removes his socks before oiling his hands and rubbing Conner’s feet, starting with long, firm strokes moving from heel to toe.

“Ah,” Conner sighs, enjoying the benefits of what I might term a “massage a trois.”

Encouraged, Mike presses his palms into Conner’s back and runs his hands all the way down, letting his fingers slide down into the waist line of my boyfriend’s pants. I shoot him another warning glance.

“Um...Conner?” he asks.

“Yeah?”

“Devon’s giving me a nasty look again.” He applies more oil and runs his hands up Conner’s sides.

“Oh?” Conner asks.

Mike smiles. “Yeah. It’s a particularly Devon-y look. It either means he thinks we’re trying to seduce you, or he’s constipated.” He sticks his tongue out at me, which Conner can’t see with Mike positioned behind him.

Conner opens his eyes. Looking at me, he asks, “Is this annoying you?”

He’s not being sarcastic – Conner is usually by default genuine. I shake my head to indicate that I’m not upset. On the contrary, I want Conner to get along with my friends. Watching three of them run oil-slicked hands over the naked parts of his body – they seem to be getting along pretty damn well.

“Um...Conner?” Mike asks again.

“Yeah?” Conner laughs.

“Devon is sort of right. I mean, we’re not trying to seduce you, but we’re not trying not to either. Can we make a deal?”

Conner offers a bashful smile, his eyes closed. “What kind of deal?”

Mike thinks for a moment and then answers, “Well...on Friday nights we usually get a little...sexy. How about you lie back and enjoy the massage. The boys and I won’t worry about crossing any lines, but if we do, just say ‘wait’ and we’ll stop right away. Maybe that will help Devon relax a little.”

“He does look tense,” Charlie agrees. He moves from Conner’s feet to a position behind me, where he runs a hand up beneath the back of my t-shirt. Looking at how content AJ and Nick seem, it doesn’t take much convincing for me to lift my arms and allow him to slip my shirt off. “That’s better,” he says, putting more oil on his palm and rubbing it roughly into my back.

Sean abandons AJ and slides over to our side of the horseshoe. He pulls off my shoes and socks and massages my feet using the same technique Charlie had on Conner.

“I want to get your calves,” Mike says to Conner, who has a rather goofy look on his face, clearly enjoying the attention he’s suddenly receiving. Then, when Mike slides down off the couch and crawls between Conner’s legs, placing two hands on the button to his jeans, Conner’s eyes go wide.

“Um....” he says, blushing.

Mike looks at me and I return a slight scowl in warning. “What?” he asks defensively. “He didn’t say ‘wait.’”

Mike is right, he didn’t. Conner closes his eyes and leans back against the seat, raising his hips a little in the universal boy gesture that means “Hell yeah, take my pants off!” Mike does just this, sliding Conner’s jeans down and off his muscular legs. “Wow, nice underwear!” he says. Conner is wearing a blue and white plaid patterned trunk, which is really sexy on him. Well...to be fair...everything – and nothing – is sexy on him. But Mike is right – these trunks are especially sexy.

Conner chuckles. “You act like you’ve never seen this pattern before. You guys made them.”

Charlie looks Conner over appreciatively. “Yeah, but they never looked this good. I think these should be called the sexy doctor trunk from now on.” Conner blushes at the compliment.

Sean and Charlie decide to remove my pants as well, and I let them. Conner watches as they expose the black jock strap I’m wearing tonight. “How do you like those?” Charlie asks. “The design was an experiment.”

He’s referring to the waistband, a strip of snugly fitting fabric that is easily seven centimeters wide, considerably thicker than anything he’s ever made before. “I like them,” I answer honestly. “At first I wasn’t sure, but the way the waist is super big makes them feel really different, but cool. When I’m in the gym, they sit really snug. They’re great for running.”

“Cool,” he says, running an oily palm up my thigh. I sigh at my friend’s touch. Charlie, perhaps above all others, always seems able to read my mind and touches just the part of me that is craving contact.

His touch makes my dick twinge, and when I look at Conner I see that he’s filling his trunks out a little more too. “You okay with this?” I ask. “Because it’s fine if you’re not – we can go.”

He sighs lightly, and for good reason. Mike has reached around him to massage his lower abs with slick hands. “Ah...um, we can go in a little while,” he says. “Come sit over here by me.”

When he pats a spot on the couch next to him, I scoot over. He lifts his legs up onto the seat and pivots around to face me, directing me to face him and do the same. We scoot closer, his legs sliding over mine until we’re in the lotus position.

“How are you?” he asks me, his green bedroom eyes looking relaxed and sexy.

I’m sure he can tell that I’m a little nervous about this situation. Can he blame me? Last time I invited him here...well. I force myself to relax. “I’m fine,” I answer.

“Good.”

We find ourselves attended to by four would-be masseurs – Charlie and Sean sit behind me, rubbing my back and Conner’s legs, where Mike and Dog continue massaging my boyfriend.

“Do you like your scalp massaged?” Dog asks Conner. When he receives an uncertain nod in response, Dog puts a little oil on his fingertips and then begins working it into Conner’s hair.

“That’s going to make a huge mess,” I protest.

“Yeah...but it feels amazing,” Conner replies. I feel a sudden dampness on my head, and then I feel Sean’s fingers running through my hair. I shift in my seat. It feels amazing, but I’m a little protective about my hair.

“We still getting cuts this weekend?” Charlie asks, as if he’s read my mind and knows I’m thinking about hair.

“Yeah,” I answer. We’d made plans to go together – we’re both a little shaggy.

“Hey!” Conner exclaims in surprise; the sound comes out like a surprised squeak more than an actual word. Mike has squirted a copious amount of oil on his head, so that it starts running down his neck and shoulders in little streams.

“Sorry, got carried away,” Mike apologizes, scooping up as much of the oil as he can. Not really having any way of containing it, he rubs it on his own chest, and then spreads some onto Dog.

Conner watches Sean try to wipe up some of the oil that’s trickling down his chest. Sean giggles, and then slathers some on my chest. And then, sounding not at all shy about it, Conner says, “You guys are going to stain your underwear with all this oil, and they’re really nice. You should take them off.”

I’m not completely shocked by this suggestion, but almost. “What’s got into you tonight?” I ask, trying not to giggle lest I offend him.

Conner shrugs. “Nothing much. There was that huge fire. Life is short, you know?”

I smile and nod. I did know. After my injury, I’d come to the same conclusion, and any fear or apprehension I felt about freely loving my friends, both physically and emotionally, had been washed away. I feel a little bad, I’ve never talked to Conner much about the fires. I guess the incident must have affected him more than I realized.

He reaches over to Dog, who’s standing next to him. “Here...I’ll help,” he offers, fingering the waist band of the lean boy’s blue trunks. He pauses and gulps, perhaps wondering if he’s gone too far. Then, taking a deep breath, he pushes Dog’s underwear down; Dog does a little shimmy and helps them fall to the floor, and then steps out of them, naked.

“See...too skinny,” he says as Conner looks at his newly denuded body.

“U-Uh...not really,” comes the reply. “Like I said...If you’re sensitive about it we can work out a plan for you to...um...er...bulk up.”

Conner’s stuttering is a response to Dog’s involuntary response to being naked. We watch as Dog’s dick grows in length and girth, rising to take its customary place snugly against the boy’s stomach. Dog blushes profusely. “Sorry...being naked makes it do that,” he explains, as though none of us know how boners work.

“It’s okay,” Conner says.

Mike glances at me and I nod, giving him permission to get naked. He does this expeditiously, shucking his cute red and white briefs with the skill of a boy who likes to get naked. We smile at each other; there is no reason to wait for Mike’s dick to grow, it is already curving toward the ceiling, fully boned.

A pair of green undies fly over my head and across the room, landing on AJ’s ass – Sean is naked now too. AJ stirs; he may very well have fallen asleep from the massage. He looks over at us, mild surprise registering on his face when he sees that three of our friends have lost their clothes.

Charlie is the only one in the room still fully dressed, something that Mike complains about. “Fine, fine,” he mutters, as though being asked to strip is some huge inconvenience. He slips off his shirt and then pulls his jeans down to reveal a very cool pair of briefs. The striping is black, with a floral pattern printed on the white fabric of the butt and crotch. Stenciled flowers and spirals of green, red and blue seem to dance across his ass.

“Wow, cool undies!” Dog exclaims.

Charlie smiles. “Thanks. I thought up the pattern in a dream,” he explains. “These are a prototype.” Somehow, the idea that my friend dreams of wild colors and prancing flowers makes me tingly in my tummy, I don’t know why.

“Better not mess them up, then,” Sean says, always the concerned gentleman. Being careful not to get oil on them, he helps Charlie step out of them. The two boys face one another, boners pointing in an excited exclamation of their youth and vitality; they giggle at their nudity. And then they kiss.

“Are you sure you want to stick around?” I ask Conner, still feeling protective.

He sighs. “Yeah, I guess we can get going.”

“Really?” Mike asks, sounding quite disappointed.

Conner laughs. “No, not really. But Devon keeps asking me to leave...I’m not sure he wants me around.”

“Dork,” I mutter under my breath, but where he can hear me. “You know I always want you around.” I lean into him and kiss him lightly on the lips. He tastes like massage oil. How’d we get it on our faces?

“Then I’m good,” he says.

“Lift up your butt,” Mike says in Conner’s ear.

Conner looks bashful, and then says, “Uh...I’d rather not. I’m sorry, I can leave if that’s a problem.”

He makes to stand up, but Mike leans on his shoulders so that he can’t. “No, no, no,” he says, “it’s not a problem. Sit down. We’ll finish the massage.”

“Undies aren’t optional for you, though,” Charlie says to me, tugging at my briefs. I lift and let him slide them off. Then I cozy back up against Conner, wrapping our legs around one another. He looks down at my naked body and then into my eyes.

“I have a boner,” I say, sounding like a toddler who’s proud of something silly he’s done.

Conner’s eyes are lustful. “I can see that,” he says. And then he reaches out to stroke it, massage oil coating my shaft. I moan, not at all lightly.

Seeing Conner take the initiative to make things overtly sexual energizes the group. Mike and Dog go back to massaging Conner, while Charlie and Sean work on me. It’s...it’s amazing, hands all over me, rubbing oil into my body, Conner lightly stroking my cock.

AJ, apparently not wanting to be left out, crosses the couch. “You know...you invited me to join the club, but then you got a boyfriend and I’ve never even seen you naked,” he says to me.

He’s right. “I’m naked now,” I point out.

AJ laughs. “Yeah. And to be fair, you offered before.” He reaches out and touches my chest, pulling back slightly at the moment of contact. I lean into him so that his hand once again grazes my skin.

“I don’t bite,” I say.

Conner contradicts me. “Not true – he totally bites.”

Whether reassured that I won’t snap at him or excited by the prospect that I might, AJ reaches down and lightly takes my cock from Conner’s hand. His own erection is sticking straight out; not wanting to be rude I reach over and stroke him in return.

“You need some oil,” Sean says, squirting a stream of the slick substance onto AJ’s back. He then gets behind the other boy, rubbing it in with circling palms on tan skin.

Mike gets up on his knees behind Conner and wraps his arms around my boyfriend’s chest, enjoying an oily hug...which almost immediately turns into oily humping. Mike starts pressing into Conner’s back. My view is obstructed, but I can tell what he’s doing. “Ok, calm down,” I say.

Conner shakes his head. “No, he’s okay. Ha ha, but I don’t think I ever got a hug like that before.”

Mike smiles boyishly, and presses his curved dick into Conner’s back, making a goofy face of pleasure that I assume indicates that he is really enjoying the way it feels to rub up and down against it. He hugs Conner tighter and leans into him, allowing his curved shaft to move up and down the smooth skin of Conner’s back.

Charlie does the same behind me, and I like how it feels to have his hardness pressed up against me like this. Sean leaps off the couch onto AJ. The two boys wrestle a bit, spreading oil all over one another. AJ laughs when Sean drips the lubricant all over AJ’s thighs. “Charlie’s gonna kick our asses!” he declares. Dog and Mike look on from behind Conner, massaging him as they watch their friends get frisky.

For his part, Charlie seems more intent on rubbing his cock against my back than keeping the room clean. “Don’t care,” he moans, confirming my suspicions, “as long as we wipe it up after.”

“Your dick feels huge,” I marvel. And it’s true, the way Charlie is pressing into me make it feel like he has the biggest cock ever.

“Speaking of huge dicks...” Conner says, looking across the couch. Nick has woken up and is stretching, his oversized boner pointing proudly upward.

“I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy,” he says. And then he looks at his cock. “Oh, that.” He smiles at his own joke and then joins us on our side of the couch.

What ensues does, in fact, make a mess, but we all happily clean it up the following morning.

With the slightly perfumed scent of the massage oil floating on the air, along with what I assume to be a bazillion times the normal level of boy pheromones, the eight of us eagerly take to our oily play. I scoot closer to Conner, and it isn’t long before we find our arms, legs – everything – coated in body oil. The other boys end up in the same condition, bodies sleek and smooth and shiny from the lubricant.

AJ lies between Mike and Charlie on the couch, his lean body sliding and slipping against those of the two boyfriends. “This feels...this is awesome!” he moans. Mike smiles and slips his erection between AJ’s thighs, sliding it around the slick flesh there and humping AJ in a move I’m sure feels quite close to actual penetration.

No one dares get too frisky with Conner – they touch and caress and massage him, but no one goes near his underwear. It is therefore highly suspicious when his shorts wind up an inch lower than usual, and then below his hips, and then low enough so that my boyfriend’s round ass is sticking out. And then, their owner ever so slowly pressing them downward, they become low enough on his body so that Conner’s long cock pops out into the open.

“Oooooh...long,” Dog says, the first one to notice Conner’s exposed erection. This draws everyone else’s attention, and they all stop what they’re doing to stare.

Conner blushes profusely as he pulls the trunks off his slender legs, dropping them to the floor. He half-heartedly covers his cock with one hand. Seeing as how it’s about twice as long as his hand is wide, it’s a pretty weak attempt. “Jeez you guys – you’re making me shy,” he laughs.

“Sorry,” Charlie says. “Hey, the ceiling in here is really nice.” He looks up and the other guys take the cue, pretending there is something of great interest up there.

“Dorks,” I laugh. I reach out and put some oil on Conner’s shaft. What? I’m his boyfriend – I’m entitled. He moans and everyone drops the charade of finding the ceiling fascinating.

“It is long,” Sean says to Dog.

“Way long,” AJ agrees.

Conner takes the compliments modestly, still blushing at the attention. “I bet he’s longer than Zane,” Mike says, moving down to the floor in front of the spot where Conner and I are seated. Charlie disagrees with his size assessment politely, but since the other boy left early they have no way to test the theory.

“Okay, okay,” I say, “enough with the penis inspection. Yes – it’s long. And yes, it’s great.”

Mike, getting onto his knees, rests his chin on top of his hands on the edge of the couch. He looks like a greedy little chipmunk. “Can I feel it?” he asks. He looks at me, as though expecting to get scolded, and emits a nervous little giggle.

“Uh...okay,” Conner says. “Yeah, sure.”

Mike doesn’t ask twice. He reaches out and takes Conner’s dick into his eager fingers, running a forefinger up the long shaft and then around the pink helmet. “Oh!” Conner gasps involuntarily.

Mike continues stroking the oily tip; Conner’s shyness seems to melt away and his eyes glaze over a little. “It’s neat...it’s long, but way harder than Nick or Zane. Like...it’s still hard like a rock, like Dog’s...or Devon’s. Cool.”

Mike’s observations are accurate. Since becoming a massive pervert, I’d noticed that there are a wide variety of boners. I’d formulated a couple of theories, one of which was that bigger, thicker dicks meant slightly floppier erections. Zane’s got hard – there was no question about this – but it was fat and spongier than the smaller guys, who always seemed harder. Dog got so hard it felt like it would break if you weren’t careful. Of course, I was never very careful and it never broke – mostly it just sprayed boy goo everywhere.

But Conner was an exception to the rule. His cock is long and not overly thin, but it gets as hard as steel.

“Is it always this hard?” Mike asks, genuinely curious.

Conner’s response comes in a lusty, gasping voice. “When a naked guy is massaging it like that...yeah.”

“He always gets that hard,” I affirm.

“I want to feel!” Dog says, scooting closer and, once he has permission, grabbing Conner’s dick. “Wow, it is hard. How do you masturbate? The normal underhanded style, or overhanded, like this?” He demonstrates a long, slow overhanded stroke.

“Ah! Oh...um...I...regular I guess...ah!” Conner’s eyes roll back and he closes them, his body clearly awash with pleasure.

The other guys all take turns at feeling the new cock in the room, each of them stroking it, feeling the weight of it, fingering the helmet gingerly. Nick tickles Conner’s balls and comments on how big they are. He proclaims them “really good for holding.”

“Ah...oh...you guys are going to make me come,” Conner gasps as Charlie takes his turn.

“Do you want to?” he asks. Charlie is really good at hand jobs, and although this is his first time offering Conner one, there is little doubt that he could either make my boyfriend spray right away or keep him writhing in pleasure for hours, depending on his whim.

“Uh...uh...no, that’s embarrassing,” Conner says, his breathing elevated and his face and chest red. He moves Charlie’s hand off his dick and makes a funny face, which I take to be him trying to stave off an impending climax. It seems to work.

Charlie smiles. “Kay,” he says cutely. “But we’re all going to cum.”

Charlie and the guys set about doing just that. They climb into a naked boy pile at the base of the couch, rubbing and touching and massaging one another. Hands caress naked pectorals, and then find their way down to exposed crotches. The room is filled with gasps and moans and the sounds of hands stroking oily, well-lubricated cocks.

“I’m there, I’m there!” AJ gasps, the first to climax. He tries to point his dick away from anyone, but he’s in the middle of the pile, and a long, white stream of boy juice erupts from his tip, landing on the small of Nick’s back.

This sets Mike off. “AHH! Fuck! Fucking fuck!” he moans, sitting up on his knees as a load of semen shoots from his cock, coating his belly in semen.

“I’m going to shoot too!” Charlie announces, flogging his own cock to orgasm.

Nick comes at the same time, spraying a hot load into his awaiting palm. Dog has climbed up next to me and starts stroking my cock vigorously, making me squeal and moan. Conner watches, slowly stroking his own turgid erection.

Sean comes up behind his lover and, reaching between Dog’s legs, he grabs onto the boy’s boner. Dog loses concentration, gasping and pulling my dick in a funny direction, but then he apologizes and continues masturbating me. He widens his stance, spreading his legs a little farther apart. “Oh...Seanie...wow...ah, yeah,” he grunts.

I smile – it’s cute that he doesn’t even have to look to know his lover’s touch. I’m thinking about this when Dog hits a very good spot on my dick. My balls twitch and I feel the onset of orgasm.

Below me, Sean has used his free hand to insert his thumb soundly into Dog’s ass. The lean boy moans, a gutteral, sexual cry of pleasure. It sets my climax in stone – I cross the point of no return.

“Ahhhhhh...Ahhhhhhhhh...ERGH!” I exclaim, my body tensing as I start shooting. Four spurts of cum spray out, landing on my leg and the couch. When I open my eyes, Dog is spraying too, his face red and his eyes scrunched shut.

“SEAN!” he screams, Sean’s finger still massaging his boyfriend’s deep, dark places. Dog’s semen lands hot and sticky on my side.

“Devon,” Conner whispers, his eyes filled with lust and pleading. “C-can you make me...can you make me cum?”

I smile. “Anytime...everytime...always and forever.” I grab hold of his shaft, knowing just how he likes it, and I start stroking away.

The other boys watch, all coming down off their orgasmic highs, tummies moving in and out as breathing slows and endorphins course through young bodies. Conner doesn’t seem to mind the attention, putting on a bit of a show for them by moaning and gasping away.

And then he’s there. “Devon...Devon...Devon!” he exclaims, grabbing my shoulders and digging his fingernails into my skin. It breaks my concentration, and I don’t pay attention to how I’m holding his dick. The first spray of semen shoots forth, hitting Conner right in the face. My reaction is to pull down on his bone, which succeeds in preventing him from hitting himself again, but results in me taking a spray of hot, sticky jizz in the face.

“Oh! Oh!” Conner moans. My eyes shut tight, I decide to just let him shoot wherever he will. I feel cum land on my right nipple and then my left shoulder, and after six or seven spurts the deluge seems to be over. I hear Conner panting and moaning, slight laughter in his cute post-coital sounds.

“That. Was. Awesome!” Dog says. I laugh – Dog loves his money shots. Some of Conner’s sperm drips down onto my lips. For semen, it’s actually really light and refreshing. I lick at the salty spunk.

“When you shoot, you really shoot!” Charlie marvels.

I feel someone move close to me, and then my face is being wiped clean. “Thanks,” I say to Mike when I’m able to open my eyes. He likewise wipes the semen from Conner’s face.

“Yeah, thanks,” Conner repeats.

The group seems to sigh collectively. The thing about Friday nights is that it’s not all about the sex. Well, it’s not just about the sex. The group orgasms we experience seem to be a way of washing away our stress and tension, and I know that all of us feel lighter and happier than we did a little while ago.

It’s at exactly this moment, when everyone is quietly coming down from their orgasmic high, that I hear a slight clanking noise. At first I ignore it, but then it dawns on me what it might be. I sit straight up, surprised, trying not to look conspicuous. I look over my shoulder at the ventilation grate on the rear wall. I can’t see inside the tunnel beyond, but I swear I can make out a shadow moving across the slats of the grate.

Is Sneak back?

Sneak had officially “retired,” or at least taken a break from spying on our weekly get togethers. I hadn’t seen or heard him since he’d left me a final message saying that he was going to take a break from coming around. But then again, when I think about it, I’d never really seen or heard him when he was coming around. It was uncharacteristic of him to make any noise at all. Could he be trying to get my attention?

I figure that he must be. Knocking lightly on the grate is something he’d never do by accident – he’s a pro sneaker. He must want me to know he’s leaving something for me.

“I’ll check later,” I announce to the room. If it is Sneak back there, this should alert him that I’ve heard him and will check our hiding spot later. But for everyone else my comment makes no sense. Charlie cocks his head, looking at me funny. “Sorry,” I say, coming up with an explanation on the fly. “I was thinking about how Zane left earlier, and how he seemed upset. I was thinking I should check on him, but then decided to check later. Sorry...talking out loud to myself.”

“Freak,” Dog laughs, shaking his head.

Mike puts the cum rag over Conner’s deflating dick, wiping it clean. “I hope this was all okay,” he says to him. “I mean...if you want to pretend this never happened...you know, later...that’s okay.”

Conner tousles Mike’s hair. His chestnut, oily, oily hair. “It was fun,” Conner says. “I never...I never had friends like you guys before. I guess I’ve been stressed out by everything that’s going on, and all of a sudden I understood why Devon...all of you...play like that. It was fun. But what I really need now is a shower.”

We all agree with this assessment. The after effect of our play is that we’re all really messy, and to be honest the oil feels considerably less sexy now, bordering on gross. Conner smiles, blushing slightly. “And then after we’re clean...if you guys are up for it...I say we come back in here and do it all over again.”

The boys all smile. Dog nods and then announces, “Cool – but I get dibs on the next Conner facial!”

This garners laughs, and then thirty seconds later eight naked boys are running for the showers, where we do, in fact, do it all over again.


* * * * *


I sleep well that night, but wake early thinking about what I'd heard the night before. Was Sneak really back?

Conner is nestled up against me, his naked body smooth and warm. I'm reluctant to leave the sleepy, soft confines of our bed, but I want to investigate the emergency access tunnel before people are up and about. So I slide out of the covers, being careful not to wake my boyfriend.

After sliding on a pair of briefs – a pair of Conner's actually – I tiptoe over to the club room, planning to climb up into the tunnels there. Unfortunately, I discover that Nick and AJ have elected to spend the night in the flat. They're camped out on opposite ends of the horseshoe couch, each cuddled up in a blanket. Morons. They should know by now it's more fun to cuddle each other.

Back in the living room I weight my options. Sean and Dog are almost certainly sleeping in their room, and Charlie and Mike in theirs. This leaves the fifth and final bedroom of the flat – a space that had thus far been utilized as Charlie's workshop. It was mostly empty now that he had a shop in the concourse.

I retrieve my key to the tunnels from its hiding spot in my wristcom and look at it nostalgically. It's been so long since I've gone sneaking that I feel a certain sense of sentimentality as I climb up into the grate at the top of the rear wall.

The air in the tunnel is cool, and has the slightly musty smell I remember. I walk the tunnel that loops our flat, passing by the other bedrooms as I make my way to the hatch leading into the club room.

Conner is still sleeping contentedly when I look through the vent into our room. Aww – he's so cute. I should have spied on him back when I was a professional sneak.

Next I come to the room Sean and Dog use. I was right – they’re in there, the two boys sleeping together, Dog's head nestled up against his boyfriend's strong chest. I pass by the flat's kitchenette and then arrive at Charlie and Mike's room, where I discover I'd been wrong about them – they aren't in there sleeping. They're in there fucking.

Charlie is bent over doggie style, Mike slowly penetrating him. Conner and I were just discovering the delights of an early morning fuck – the sleepy, slow orgasms followed by drifting back to sleep. I smile, thinking about the first time I'd spied on Mike and the first time I'd molested Charlie. A lot had happened since then. My dick starts to throb slightly at the sight of my two friends. I resolve to give Conner a special wake-up call later, but first I want to check out Sneak's hiding spot.

I arrive at the hatch leading to the club room and see that Nick has woken up – he's sitting on the edge of the couch, looking groggy. He has a funny expression on his sleepy face, as though he's wondering what he got up to last night. When he spies AJ and grins broadly, I assume he's remembered.

But the boys aren't my quarry this morning. Last night I was sure I heard someone up here, and that someone would have almost certainly been Sneak, our resident voyeur. I check our spot, an out-of-view crevice between a column and the wall of the tunnel.

"You were here," I whisper when I discover a small bundle in our hiding place. It's a cloth napkin; wrapped inside I find a data chip, the preferred means of communication between anonymous voyeurs like Sneak and myself.

I quickly make my way back to Charlie's work room, wanting to immediately view the contents of the chip. When I climb down out of the tunnel, I activate one of the terminals in the room and plug in the chip. I find a single text file on it, but when I go to open it I'm asked for a password. I type in the password we’d used before, and a message pops up on my screen.


Devon,

I'm sorry I've been away for so long, and I'm sorry about my last message. Things were a little intense for me back then, and I hope it didn’t hurt your feelings that I went away.

I've been really good. In a lot of ways it was a good thing for me to stop spying on people. It was fun, but it wasn't...I don't know the right words...it wasn't healthy for me. Anyway, that's not why I decided to write you, but I wanted to first say that I'm not going to start coming by on Fridays again, I just needed to leave you this message and make sure you got it.

I hate to bring you into this, but you're the only person I feel like I can trust. There is something going on that I have a bad feeling about, and I think you can help me learn more about it. There’s a drug called Zupertol. A few weeks ago, I discovered that a substantial amount of it was listed as delivered to the hospital, but it seems like way too much for a ship our size. When I went to investigate this, I couldn’t determine if we’d really made that much or not, and if so where it went. With the riots and then the fire, it seems like a red flag.

I know that you're dating Conner – congratulations, by the way. I also know that Conner works at the hospital. It would be a huge favor if you could have him check the records there. Does the hospital really have the Zupertol, and how much? How much do they use? This isn't anything he'll get into trouble for – he'll confirm this when you ask him. The public records list this information, but the problem is I'm not sure I can trust them.

If the records are accurate and the Zupertol is really being used by the hospital in those quantities, then we can call this a done deal and chalk it up to an overactive imagination. If someone is stealing the drug...I don't know what I'd do with that information. But let's take things once step at a time.

Thanks in advance for helping me out with this.

Sneak


PS: I'm writing this post script later, right before leaving you the chip. I told you I didn't plan to start sneaking again, but I happened onto you and your friends. Fuck – I do kind of miss spying on you guys – that was hot! I guess I need to go talk to my sponsor and give up my three month chip, ha ha. Anyway, it was good to see you. Leave me a message later in our hiding spot. If you don’t want to get involved, that’s fine, just tell me and I won’t pester you with this anymore.


I read through Sneak's message twice before closing the file and removing the data chip from the terminal. Great – is everybody on this ship getting into the whole espionage thing?

I'm relieved to hear that Sneak is doing well. It had been a weird friendship – us exchanging the occasional data chip with a message or video, Sneak never divulging his identity. Still, when he'd written me saying he was cutting off communication with me, I'd felt a certain sense of loss. It was good to hear from him.

I think about Sneak's concerns. Everything produced on the ship was generally recorded and tracked. Most items, like rice or pine cones, were only loosely monitored. Ownership on the ship was a little different than it had been on Earth. Picking an apple on a farm and eating it was commonplace, and acceptable. Taking medical supplies seemed a little different – I could see why Sneak was concerned. I sigh, resolving to ask Conner about it later.

A sly smile crosses my lips when I enter my bedroom. Conner is still sleeping, but he's tossed around so that his torso is tightly wrapped in the bed sheets. This has exposed his naked lower half, his flaccid cock draped over his left leg. It twitches slightly, and I wonder if this is a result of me making a guest appearance in his dreams. Or maybe he's fucking the dauphin d'marquis in a bathtub full of pudding – it is a dream after all.

I place a blue sticker just above the door handle outside the room before closing it, the club's universal symbol for "stay the fuck out." Then I move silently back to the bed. This is a rare opportunity, one which combines the nostalgic naughtiness of my sneaking days with the love and lust I feel for Conner.

Leaning down close to my boyfriend's body, I take in his scent. He smells sweet and slightly floral, with a slight tinge of last night's sex. His face is beautiful when he’s asleep, even though it’s absent its usual wide smile. I reach up and brush a lock of sandy brown hair from his forehead.

I can't help but wonder what last night meant for him. Had he decided that a one time experiment with my friends was called for, or had being my boyfriend opened him to the possibilities of a more promiscuous lifestyle? Would he join us again, or had he merely wanted to forge a bond with my friends? There was no doubt that he was now a member of our little secret society, but I wasn't sure in what respect. I suppose ultimately that will be up to him, and a question for another day.

The question for today, however, is to ask how I could possibly resist the situation. Conner still completely asleep, I move down to his naked crotch. His dick is long and beautiful, and his balls are cutely nestled one against the other between his legs. When I very lightly stroke the smooth skin of his scrotum I get no reaction. But when I take him into my mouth, I'm pretty sure I send his mind dreaming about warm wetness and lust.

It's not very long before he wakes up moaning and writhing and smiling.


* * * * *


“It’s so big now!” Conner exclaims later that day. He’s right – it is way bigger than it was before.

Conner decided to spend some of his free time taking me to the observation deck (again) where we (again) view the approaching ship. This time there are about a hundred other people on the deck, most of them looking out into space at the approaching vessel.

When we locate it, EV1985 is no longer a tiny fleck in the sky. It now looks like a little model of our ship, albeit one that is almost completely invisible in the sky. In movies space ships look bright and clearly distinguishable, but out in the middle of nowhere, with no sun to light them, they’re pretty dang dark.

“Here, this might help,” Conner says, pulling up a program on his com. It projects a one meter square display on the window, quickly analyzing and enhancing the image. Text appears under several stars, providing names and data for the important ones. The image of EV1985 is altered, the computer enhancing it and giving us a better idea what we’re looking at.

“That’s so cool!” Jason exclaims. The scrub had been hiding out in the cafe next to Charlie’s shop. When Conner and I had walked past, he’d followed us, and soon we found ourselves with a shadow. It was alright – Jason was an okay kid, and I didn’t mind letting him hang out with us on a Sunday afternoon.

Conner’s wristcom app draws attention to us, and soon there is a small crowd asking him which program he’s using. Jason and I step aside to give others a chance to see.

I walk over to a nearby water fountain and Jason follows. “Hey Devon?” he asks as I take a drink. “Can I ask you something?”

“You just did,” I joke as I wipe my face with my hand.

He laughs and calls me a dumbass before continuing. “No, I mean...if I ask you something, will you promise not to tell?”

“As long as you aren’t planning to tell me you were the one who set the fire...I promise to keep any secrets.” I knew the scrubs didn’t have anything to do with the recent fire, but they were often prone to smaller acts of accidental vandalism. Never let them make cookies with you unless you’re absolutely sure they know the difference between a cup of sugar and a cup of salt – that’s all I have to say about that.

He smiles. “No, it’s not that,” he says. “It’s...I want to go out on a date.”

I laugh. “Well, I’m a little old for you, but....”

“Devon!” he protests, actually stomping his foot as he does so. “Can you stop joking? I’m being serious.”

I fear that I’ve hurt his feelings, and remember that I’m dealing with a twelve year-old here, not one of my peers. I should be less facetious. “Okay, sorry,” I say. “No more jokes. So you want to go out on a date – anyone in particular, or you just want to start dating?”

“Someone in particular,” he answers, sounding a little uncertain about talking about this.

“Okay,” I reply. “So – what’s your question?”

Jason shuffles his feet, and then seems like he’s going to drop the topic all together. But I get the sense he really wants to talk, so I encourage him to be open with me. “Well,” he says finally, “I want to go on a date...and maybe have sex with him...and maybe be boyfriends. I don’t know how to ask, or anything like that...you know?”

An alarm bell goes off in my brain at the mention of sex and boyfriends. For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me until this moment that he was talking about dating another boy. But then, who else would he date? The scrubs were all boys, their female classmates off on another ship somewhere.

Gay relationships aside, I’m also immediately uncomfortable with the idea of talking about sex with Jason. He wants to have sex with this other boy? Is he even old enough to get an erection? I think back to my own childhood...yeah...Jason turns thirteen next week. I guess that’s about the age I started popping boners and jerking off. And Charlie and I had overheard some of the scrubs doing what sounded like just that at the end of their campout weekend.

“Um...wow,” is all I can say. “Isn’t this maybe something to talk with Charlie about?” As one of the counselors, I was sure that Charlie would be a better candidate for explaining to Jason how to date, and especially how to have sex.

Jason looks really disappointed. “But I wanted to talk to you,” he says, sounding a little whiney. “You know what you’re doing.”

Without thinking I reply, a laugh in my voice, “Charlie knows what he’s doing.” Then I blush, realizing that I’d just virtually copped to having sex with Charlie in front of Jason. Also – I think the younger boy may have just called me a slut. I try to recover. “I mean...well...I meant, he’s one of your counselors and all.”

Jason looks quite upset. “Fine. I won’t talk to anybody about this. Whatever, Devon...I thought you might be help. It’s really confusing, you know? Asking out your friend. And really scary. But whatever.”

The boy looks like he might start crying, and I suddenly feel really crummy. I think back to when I was first coming into my sexuality. Things were really scary and confusing, and I was way older than Jason is now. I feel bad for trying to pawn him off on someone else, even if Charlie was better at this sort of thing.

“Look, Jason...dude...I’m sorry. I was just saying...because Charlie is usually the one you guys talk to. But hey, if you want to talk to me...let’s talk.” I figure I can take him to lunch some time and answer any questions he might have.

“Now?” he says, looking extremely anxious and agitated.

I look over to where my boyfriend is chatting with several other ship watchers. I get the feeling that he won’t miss me for a little while. “Um...yeah, sure. Let me just tell Conner.”

As I expect, when I ask Conner if he minds if I take Jason for an early lunch he doesn’t mind at all, electing to remain behind and watch the approaching vessel with the others. As I’m leaving, I notice that it looks bigger now than it did even when we came in here a little while ago.

Jason and I walk the long tunnel leading back into the ship proper. I think about taking him to the cafeteria, but he’ll probably want privacy. So I take him to the empty restaurant space next to the entry to the observation deck tunnel.

“Wow, this place is cool,” he says, his eyes wide.

“Yeah, it is pretty cool,” I reply. Jason is impressed that I have a key. I don’t tell him that anyone with kitchen access is able to open the door. We go upstairs to the smaller secondary dining room. Conner and I had cleaned up our mess, but we’d left the one table out in the center of the room. Jason and I sit down.

“Sorry,” I say. “I guess we should have coffees. Or do you like hot chocolate?”

“I like mint chocolate chip lattes,” he answers.

I smile. “Refined taste for one so young,” I say in a silly voice. “I’m game. I’ll be right back.”

I go downstairs to the kitchen. It wasn’t stocked with food, but since it had been used a couple of times for...er...”private events” there was a carton of coffee pods. I’m able to whip up somewhat decent lattes for us, which I take back upstairs.

“Lukas’s are better,” Jason says after sipping his. Everyone’s a critic.

“He has a whole cafe, and fresh ground beans,” I say defensively. “Anyway, these will do. So...you want to ask a friend out on a date. Adam?”

Jason looks shocked at my guess. I don’t know why – it wasn’t the psychic event of the century to figure out that he liked the other boy. Jason and Adam were always together, always laughing, and there was just something about both of them. I explain to him how I’d reached the conclusion that he’d been talking about Adam.

“Do you think other people know?” he asks, sounding a little scared.

I shrug. “Probably not. But who cares if they do? You like him, right?”

“Um...yeah. A lot,” he replies, grinning sheepishly.

“Ok, so then I guess my next question is...do you guys do stuff together? Like sexual stuff?”

Jason blushes, enough that I can see it despite his olive skin. “No,” he says shyly.

“Okay...if any of this makes you uncomfortable tell me, but I swear that I’m going to help. I just need some info first. You like Adam but you don’t have a sexual relationship yet. That’s important because Charlie and I thought you might.”

“You guys...talk about us like that?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I nod, then realize this might scare him off. “I mean, no. It’s like...the second night of the campout we thought that some of the scrubs – some of you guys – were fooling around, or at least that’s what we thought we heard. That’s why I asked.

The explanation apparently seems reasonable. “Oh,” he says, and then adds matter-of-factly, “Yeah – that was all the guys jerking off. I missed it. I hurt my ankle, remember?”

I did remember. Conner had insisted that Jason spend the night at the hospital when he’d hurt his ankle. Poor guy, he had to go and hurt himself within earshot of my boyfriend and his penchant for hospitalizing people.

Jason explains to me the events that transpired following the campout. Apparently, from what I gather, Adam had confided in Jackson that Adam liked Jason, and Jackson was supposed to approach Jason and ask him whether he liked Adam, but in a manner that precluded Jason figuring out that Adam wanted to know. Jason had told Jackson not to tell Adam anything, requesting that Jackson first confirm with Adam that Adam liked Jason in the way you like a boyfriend before Jason would commit to addressing Jackson’s questions about his liking Adam.

“Freaking hell, that’s complicated,” I say when Jason stops explaining, my head spinning. I think about things for a moment, and then offer Jason some advice.

“Here’s the thing, dude. You sound like you’re just now becoming sexually active, and from what we can tell Adam is too. It sounds like he likes you – at least that’s what I gathered from all of that. And you like him?”

“Yeah,” Jason nods.

“So...all the scary stuff is over. You guys like each other – great! I say you do this as simply as possible. Go up to him and say ‘Hey, I hear you like me. I think you’re cute too. Do you want to go on a date some time?’” I do little voices and everything.

“That’s kind of...hard,” Jason mutters.

I shrug. “Dating can be hard. But sometimes you have to take a leap.”

“Is that what happened with Conner?” he asks. “Did you just go up to him like that?”

I laugh. “Um...no. Conner and I collided like two out of control cars on an icy road. And trust me, what I recommended for you is way better.”

“Should we have sex?” Jason asks.

I look at my feet uncomfortably. I have trouble figuring myself out, much less advising a kid who seems too young to be thinking about sex. But is he too young? I have no idea. I try to decide whether it makes sense to treat him like a kid or like one of my friends. I decide that he gets treated like a kid enough. He’s come to me for adult advice, so I’ll treat him like an adult.

“It all depends,” I start out by saying. What follows is a frank, friendly conversation about the birds and the bees. Jason gets over his bashfulness and asks questions about everything that crosses his mind. I try and clear up some of his misconceptions and allay his fears on other things. Overall, the kid seems pretty together, all things considered.

“I have another question,” he asks once we’ve covered what everything does and where all it can go.

“Okay, shoot,” I say.

“If Adam and I start dating, can we come to your jerk off club?”

The question leaves me a little slack-jawed. “Uh...what?” I ask. “How do you know about that?”

Jason rolls his eyes. “Everyone knows,” he says, sounding quite certain. “So...if Adam and I were dating could we come?”

“I don’t really think that would be a good idea,” I say, returning to the role of older, wiser big brother figure.

“Why not?” he asks.

I think about it. “Well, you guys are really young,” I say. “Jason...the fact that you’re getting to the age where you’re going to want to have sex is great. The things we’ve talked about, they’re part of growing up. But there are rules and limits...usually it’s not really kosher for someone my age to...you know, jerk off or do anything sexual with someone your age.”

Jason huffs. “But you’re only five years older than me,” he says defiantly. “Zane is almost five years older than you. Why is it different?”

The conversation that follows is a delicate balance. I try not to sound too authoritarian, while at the same time making sure that Jason knows he and Adam can’t come hang with us on Fridays. As a concession, I tell him that I’ll advise him on starting his own club with the other scrubs. It sounds like they’re already off to a decent start.

“Okay,” he finally agrees. “But when I’m seventeen, I’m transferring to your club.”

I laugh, imagining a future where there really are official wank club assignments, duties and transfers. “Deal. But when you’re seventeen, I bet you think we’re all gross old men and stick to Adam. Or stick to sticking it to Adam...hey, I’m not judging.” I raise my hands in mock defense and Jason giggles.

When I tell the younger boy that I need to get back, he shuffles off to his flat, promising me that he’ll consider asking Adam out in the manner I’d suggested.

“Everything okay?” Conner asks when I arrive back at the rear observation deck.

“Yeah,” I nod. “Jason just wanted to ask me something. Er...birds and bees talk, you know?”

He laughs. “Good luck with that. Anything I can help with?”

I shake my head. “No. I think we got it covered. I think he’s going to ask one of his friends on a date, and it sounds like the friend will say yes. From what he tells me, the other guy likes him...so.” Then I remember the message from Sneak. “There is something else I wanted to ask about, though.”

I tell Conner about Sneak’s message. Conner was one of the few people I’d confided in about the existence of Sneak, and I’d done that when we first started dating. I felt getting everything out in the open was best, and it had been.

I do omit one fact, though. I don’t tell Conner that Sneak left the message after witnessing my boyfriend’s first visit to the club. I’m not sure how he’d feel about that. I tell him that Sneak stopped by in the middle of the night, leaving the chip outside the flat.

“Well he’s right about one thing,” Conner says. “Someone stealing pharmaceuticals sounds like a red flag. Zupertol isn’t a dangerous substance though, and it can’t be used as a narcotic. Still, with everything that’s happened recently....”

“You think you can check on it?” I ask.

“I’m totally going to check on it,” he replies. “And your friend is right, there’s nothing weird about me doing so. I can give you the info as soon as I’ve had time to do some research at the hospital. But...Devon, if I might offer some advice?”

“Yeah?”

Conner looks uncertain, and then continues, “We don’t know a lot about your friend...Sneak. I’m not sure whether that was wise when you were just fooling around, but this...this is something new. It may be time to ask him for some trust. You might consider asking who he is.”

I think about this. “That’s probably true,” I say. “But it might push him away. Still...if I phrase it right, he might understand.”

“I also think you should go to Reid with this,” he says. I sigh. I’d hoped the summit meant the end of politics and espionage. Going to Reid with more secrets and data chips wasn’t my first choice. But Conner was right. I agree to take Sneak’s suspicions to Reid, along with any information Conner got from the hospital.

“But let’s not get carried away,” Conner says. “Zupertol is a relatively mild drug, and I can’t think of anything bad you could use it for. We’re probably looking at a clerical error, but if not, it’s probably nothing. I’ll do some research.”

Later that afternoon I arrange to meet Reid in the small farm where we do yoga. I figure there’s no need to involve Patrick, who’s still undercover with Steven’s group. When Reid arrives I greet him.

“You guys did a bang-up job with the summit,” I say. Reid and Patrick had been secretly garnering information from Eden and Steven for weeks. Although for the most part they were passing the intel on to security force, they were also using what they learned to try and move the two parties toward common ground, part of what had led to the summit.

Reid shuffles his feet, looking pleased at my compliment. “Thanks,” he says. “It was Patrick, mostly. He got Steven to bend on a lot of the more extreme stuff – I think it left us with a foundation we could work with.”

We discuss the progress that had been made, and I’m eager to hear what Reid thinks. When he says that he’s hopeful that the summit has put the worst of the tension behind us, I feel lighter and happier. But then I think about how the info Patrick had passed on to Reid – info that should have prevented the attack on the farm – had apparently been intercepted and relayed back to Steven.

“Any more news on the mole?” I ask. No one else knew that Patrick, Reid and I were the only people in the chain of custody before it went to security force, so they also didn’t know that we knew there was a mole working in security force.

Reid shakes his head. “No…it’s been relatively quit. I’m kind of hoping the summit will help put all this behind us.

“Me too,” I agree. But then I’m troubled, remembering why I asked Reid here. “I need to tell you something,” I say, looking serious.

I tell Reid mostly everything. I give him a brief rundown on who Sneak is and how we met, and then I explain about the Zupertol. “So that’s it,” I finish. “Conner is going to do some more research, and we’re really not sure what all of this means. I wanted to let you know right away, though.”

He looks thoughtful, and after thinking for a moment answers. “Yeah,” he says. “There is something odd about this…if this Sneak person is right. Let me know what you find out. And thanks for telling me.”

I proclaim that my praiseworthy spy craft has earned me a round of six wall against Reid, one of the only opponents who ever presents me a real challenge. He agrees, and although we’re both bothered by Sneak’s information, it feels like old times when we head to Bottomside for a six wall melee against one another.


* * * * *


Two days later, I meet Conner in the main lobby. There are butterflies in my tummy – it’s a really special day.

"You look adorable!" he proclaims – to my general disdain.

"I look like a plonker," I reply, quite certain that I do.

He reaches over and runs his fingers through my hair, which for once is neat and combed. "It's a big change, I like it."

He's referring to my hair. Gone are the multi-colored streaks of blue in my bangs and the platinum blonde, as is the general shagginess I'd obtained by leaving my hair uncut for over two months. Charlie and I had visited the barber shop in the commons the day before, shortly after I'd dyed my hair back to its original and actual color – a darkish medium brown that I was never overly fond of. Then I'd had it cut short and neat.

Add some new clothes – a short sleeve white button-up shirt under a sleeveless blue argyle sweater – and you have a whole new Devon. Devon the plonker.

"You don't look like a plonker," Conner insists. "You look cute, like a sexy schoolboy if anything. I think it's perfect, and it was a sweet idea to dress up for your parents. Your mom is going to love it."

The whole boyfriend thing is still somewhat new to me. Conner always took it upon himself to reassure me, and I found that very...um...reassuring. But then, I did that for him too, and when I thought about that I reached the conclusion that this was a big part of what being boyfriends meant.

"She's going to love you even more," I say. Conner stops smiling and looks really nervous. "Oh stop it," I grumble. "You'll be fine. It's almost noon...we better get going."

Yep, Conner was meeting my parents. Two day before, I'd received an email from them. The ships were always moving around in these long lanes the fleet had established, and the San Diego ship they were on was close enough to broadcast video between our two vessels without any major lag. Apparently, my parents’ ship, EV1888, had moved closer to us as a result of EV1985 moving across lanes. So I guess I had something else to be happy about the impending arrival of the Orange County vessel – it had resulted in an opportunity to have the first live conversation with my parents since we’d left Earth. It was a really nice birthday surprise.

I did feel a little bad when I learned how much it cost. We could earn credits on the ship, and although most necessities were free there were luxuries that could be purchased with them. My parents’ call was going to cost about twelve million doobers…I think about paying for a call with doughnuts and laugh to myself.

I’d been really excited, of course; Conner was too at first, then less so when I insisted that I introduce him to my parents. Eventually I'd come to convince him that this was one of his sworn duties and that he's just have to bite the bullet.

Conner and I, me in my plonker vest and him in the dressier clothes he'd worn on our dinner date, make our way to the administration offices in Topside. My appointment time isn't until one, but I'd insisted we arrive an hour early, just in case.

The civilian areas in Topside sat directly beneath the military base. This was where Eden had his offices, and it was also where most of the training classes took place. Zane also liked coming up here to sleep in the oversized leather chairs of the Topside lobby when he was shirking his duties elsewhere, but that wasn't really an official capacity of the area.

Conner and I walk past the mayor's office on our way to the administration building, the bureaucratic core of the ship. It was here that living and work assignments were made, and it was here that inter-ship communications were handled. We wait in a short line before being seen by a bored looking guy at the main desk.

"Devon Chasen," I tell him when we get to the front of the line. "We have a video conference at one."

He looks me up on the list and finds our appointment. "Take room three," he says, offering me a key card. "You can go on in. I don't have anyone scheduled before you."

I take the key and thank the guy. Conner and I easily locate room three. I expect – I don't know – a room filled with busily beeping communication equipment and radar screens or something, but we enter the small room to find nothing more than a silver display encircled by a number of empty chairs. A small couch sits lonely and dilapidated next to the door.

"Well this is a letdown," I say.

Conner smiles. "You were expecting radar screens and lasers, weren't you?" Wow, he knows me pretty well, and I tell him so.

The display in the room is scrolling white text across a plain blue background. It reads: Initiating communications with EV1888. Conference parties: Chasen, Mark; Chasen, Devon. Status: EV5997 connected, awaiting transmission from EV1888.

"I guess we came a little early," I say, looking at my wristcom. We're about forty minutes early.

"That's okay," Conner replies. "Better early than late."

I eye the couch by the door. "We could have sex while we wait," I joke. Well...kinda joke. What do you call a comment where if the other person takes you up on an offer you jump at the opportunity, but if they don't you pretend it was a joke?

Conner rolls his eyes. "Yeah...because that's the first impression I want to make with your parents. They sit down to talk to their kid for the first time in a year and up pops an image of some heathen violating him."

"Wow, are there violating heathens around here? I want to be violated!" Conner laughs at me and it seems to help relax him.

Ultimately, we don't have sex in the call room, of course, but instead pass the time in a more mundane fashion, Conner reading a book on the couch and me waiting impatiently for the call to come through. At one point, about twenty minutes to my appointment time, he looks up from his book.

“Oh, I nearly forgot,” he says. “I did some research about the Zupertol today. But we can talk about that later. I don’t want to get you agitated before your big call.”

I roll my eyes. “Well now I’m going to be agitated either way,” I say. “Just tell me – what’s the story?”

Conner leans into me and whispers. “Well, like I thought, Zupertol has no real uses as anything but it’s primary purpose, which is a mild sedative. It’s actually a little outdated, in fact. There are better alternatives. But regardless, there is something going on with it – I show way more deliveries of it to the hospital than there should be. And then when I looked, there’s none in our pharmacy. And that’s not the weirdest thing.”

“Oh?” I ask.

“Yeah. When I started to investigate the paper trail, I found even more shipments of Zupertol listed, but going places that make no sense. Like I show a shipment going to W4.”

“But what does that mean?” I ask.

“No idea. It’s a moderately inert drug. It seems like the ship is producing more than it should be, and that it’s being shipped off to nowhere. I have no fucking clue what it means. But I think this is enough to go to Reid with, obviously something suspicious is going on.”

“I do too,” I say. “And I’m going to leave a message for Sneak. I know we talked about it being weird and all – I’m going to let him know what we found out, but tell him that if he wants us to trust him he needs to think about coming out...at least to me.”

“I can deal with that.” Conner shifts in his seat, looking uncomfortable. “Devon, there’s something else. Ian may be involved.”

I look at him curiously. “Ian? How do you mean?”

Conner lowers his voice so that even I have trouble hearing him. I don’t know why he does it, but it seems appropriate. “When I was researching this, I discovered something – Ian has been logging into the system and looking into the Zupertol reserves.”

I ask him if this means people will be able to see that he researched the same issue. I don’t want Conner getting into any trouble. He shakes his head. “No. There’s a difference in our system between doctors and nurses. Ian’s access is more limited, and also tracked. Mostly so that we can monitor any orders the nurses issue, things like that.”

“Okay,” I sigh. “So no one will see that you looked this up and we now know that Ian is interested in Zupertol.”

“Yeah, but what any of that means...I have no idea,” Conner says, leaning back in his seat.

“Should we ask him about it?”

Conner thinks for a minute before replying. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he says, shaking his head. “Ian and I are...I guess you’d call us acquaintance friends. We get along at work, and we do yoga and stuff, but I don’t know him that well.”

“But you think he might be capable of stealing drugs?” I ask.

Conner shrugs. “I wouldn’t think so, no. But then, you can never tell, right? I mean, you and I have talked about this – we both believe that the fire is definitely linked to Steven’s group, even if the investigation doesn’t seem to reflect this. For all we know, Ian could be working with Steven...or maybe someone else. Or maybe he was just looking up inventory...it’s impossible to say.”

I sigh. The business of people on the ship not trusting one another was really annoying. Put another entry on the list of why I fucking hated Steven, even if he was dressing up nicer lately. I’m reflecting on this when the display flickers and the scrolling text is replaced with a message telling us that the call is being connected. A thirty-second countdown begins.

“Thanks for telling me,” I say. “We’ll talk about it later. In the meantime, here comes the call.”

"Uh...I think now is a good time to chicken out," Conner says, reaching for the door handle. He's just kidding – I think.

"You'll be fine," I say. For some reason I'm feeling a little nervous myself – not about introducing Conner to my parents, but generally. I don't know why. Probably just the excitement...I'd been emailing my mom and dad since the inter-ship communications were established, but this was the first live conversation I'd have with my parents since the evacuation.

Conner sits down on the couch, out of view from the camera. We'd agreed that he could hide on the sidelines until I introduced him. This was a compromise I'd made after he'd threatened to bow out after I informed him that I hadn't yet told my parents that I was dating. Well...things had been busy...it had slipped my mind.

The display flickers when the countdown reaches three, and then a live image of my parents appears on screen. They look happy, but eager. I assume I’ve popped up on their screen when they both smile widely.

"Harold!" my dad exclaims in greeting. He likes kidding me about the second choice for my name.

"Hey," I reply, suddenly really not sure how you greet someone in this situation.

It takes a while for a reply to come, and at first I'm concerned that there's a problem with the feed. But when my dad answers it makes sense. "Okay," he says, "so the computer is showing a current lag of twenty-two seconds. Not too bad, all things considered. I've sat through a couple of business conferences with twelve minute lags...really annoying. But what we find is that it's a little easier to talk a bit on one end, then let the other person talk for a bit...if that's okay. So I'm going to let your mom talk now, then once she's done we'll wait for your reply."

I understand what he's saying. With the lag, a result of the time required for the light-speed signal to travel between vessels, video conferences were probably like IM chats, where eighteen conversations could become a jumbled mess if you weren't careful.

My parents look good. I don't know what I expected, it had only been nine months since I'd last seen them. God, it felt like years. They’re virtually the same – maybe I expected them to seem older. They both appear really happy, obviously, but my mom also looks like she might break out crying at any moment.

"Hi honey," she says. I cringe – I don't really like being called "honey," but I always let her get away with it. "Your father and I are really, really excited to be able to talk with you. We've been hoping for a while that we'd come within range, and now we're glad we saved up all our communication credits...but enough about that. I want to hear all about you, and how you're doing. You look really nice, by the way...."

My dad interrupts. "...he probably thinks that outfit makes him look like a plonker." It makes me laugh.

My mom slaps him on the shoulder. "It does not," she says.

My dad shakes his head. "No, no, it doesn't. Quite right. I was just saying that he probably thinks that. Anyway, do go on."

My mom looks back at the camera. "Anyway, dear. We'd like to hear all about what's going on with you...we'll wait for your reply."

It makes me a little dizzy, thinking about how this last sentence was spoken almost a half minute ago. Somewhere, out in space, my parents were sitting quietly in a room, just like the one I was in, waiting for the image of their son on screen to start speaking.

And that's what I do, talking for a couple of minutes about the most recent events in my life. We email frequently, so they know a lot about my life on the ship, but I fill in some of the details. I tell them how in many ways living on EV5997 is like college just kept going, and then I tell them about the whale tank and how I go surfing there, a detail I realize I'd never mentioned. I talk a little about my cooking, trying to say that I'm getting really good without sounding immodest. "I just perfected this whole four course pumpkin-themed meal," I tell them. "It was great. Wow, I guess I've been talking for a while. I'll wait for your reply now...that's what I'm supposed to say, right?"

The conversation is a little disconcerting. On screen my parents are smiling and sometimes laughing, but their reactions are behind my talking, so that sometimes I stutter, my brain confused about why they're reacting to my current words the way they are. "Talking like this can be confusing," I say. "Oops, I'm talking out of turn. Sorry."

"Well...we have a little surprise for you," my father says, apparently after they're done listening to my little speech.

"Oh yes!" my mother exclaims. "And let's do that now, in case we lose the signal. Do you want to get the thing Mark?"

My dad stands and is about to move off screen when he pauses. My parents both look at the screen, and I'm afraid the call is about to end unexpectedly. But then my mom says, "Yes, dear...it can be a little confusing. But I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see you. Go ahead, Mark." My dad steps out of view. "Well, I don't want to waste any time, so while he gets that I'll tell you a little about life here. We're doing very well. I think in our last emails I was telling you how much your father hated his new secondary detail assignment...well, that's over with...the tanks are all mold and mildew free now."

"And thank god for that," my dad says, sitting back down. I laugh, partially because my father had been assigned to clean their ship's version of W4, and partially because I'd totally forgotten that there were places where "shit detail" was referred to as "secondary detail."

My dad reaches down and picks up a potted plant. "Hey, bougainvillea!" I exclaim when I recognize the viney plant by its green leaves and purple flowers. "We have some here too...that one looks great, thought. Did you grow it?" Then I clamp my hand over my mouth – I'm speaking out of turn again and apologize.

"This, as I'm sure you noticed, is a rather healthy bougainvillea plant. But what you might not realize is that it's a little special. This plant...."

He stops speaking for a moment and both my parents listen. And then my mom laughs. "Yeah, he noticed," she says. "We did grow it, dear. And don't worry about speaking up whenever you like...it's really good to hear your voice."

"Yes, it is," my dad agrees. "Anyway, as I was saying before Harold so rudely interrupted me...this is a very special bougainvillea. If it looks familiar, it's because this is a clipping from your San Diego plant."

I'd grown up in a little house in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego. Bougainvillea thrived in the area, and my parents had planted one in our backyard when they'd moved in, about a year before I was born. By the time I headed off to college, it had grown up the trellis they'd built for it and taken up about a quarter of the small yard, almost completely engulfing a storage shed in its apparent quest for domination over the yard. It created a canopy of green and purple vines that looked amazing in the afternoon sun, dappled light falling on the concrete in green and purple shadows. As a child I'd often played under the plant, thinking that it might very well be magical.

"Wow, that's so great!" I exclaim. "It's so big already!" And it is – my dad is struggling to hold the plant in his lap, the purple leaves slapping at his face. I laugh, knowing that they had to really want to show me this to drag the thing to wherever their video rooms were located on their ship.

After the pause, my mom laughs and says, "Yes, this one is getting along well. But this is not the original. We planted the first clipping in a park near our forward mall. It's about twelve feet tall already!" It's wonderful to hear my mom laugh. It brings back memories of afternoon television and string cheese and school projects constructing models of the sun and eight planets.

"Speaking of growing," my dad says, "you look bigger. Maybe taller, but definitely more muscular. You've been working out? We'll wait for your reply."

I nod and tell my parents that I had been getting a lot of exercise, both in the gym and on the farms. "And then like I said, we've started surfing on one of the wet farms. It isn't quite like the real thing, but it's nice. There’s a whale there that I’m friends with...I’m not kidding. Oh! Before we run short on time, I need to introduce you to someone – not the whale, though. Conner, come over here," I say.

Conner looks a little pale and shakes his head. I laugh at him, knowing very well that he'll comply with enough goading. "Knock it off...you're wasting time," I chastise him. He gets up and takes a seat in a chair next to me. "Dork," I say to him. And then I turn back to the camera. "As long as we're doing 'show and tell,' I wanted to introduce you to someone. This is Doctor Conner McLaglen."

"Well, Junior Doctor, officially," Conner says bashfully, correcting me.

"Yes, yes," I say, and then joke, "Junior Doctor Pri Priori Junior Factotum, Physician to the Undersecretary of France." I laugh at the silly title. "No, just kidding," I say to my parents. "It's just Junior Doctor Conner McLaglen."

We wait for the reply, Conner shifting in his seat nervously next to me. My mom's face lights up as she listens to me speak on her end. "Oh!" she says. "Is this the young man who treated you when you were hurt? If so, it's very good that you brought him by...we owe him our deepest gratitude for everything. You wouldn't know, but hearing that a child is hurt...well...we just owe you our deepest gratitude."

I'd told my parents when I'd broken my arm and shoulder, and as expected my mom had blown things out of proportion, even when I went to the trouble to omit that the injury had happened during a riot, and not from six wall as I'd claimed.

I blush when my parents stop speaking on screen. Suddenly the moment is upon me, and I decide to dive right in. "Um...no," I say to my mom's question about Conner being my doctor. And then I realize that he actually was. "Well, yes," I correct myself. "Conner did treat me...he is my doctor, I mean. Uh...but then...well, now I'm all stuttery," I mumble to Conner, "Um...Conner and I are in love...he's my boyfriend."

The announcement hangs in the air, making both Conner and me a little uncomfortable. And then I giggle, my usual involuntary response to tension. I immediately regret it, feeling like a little kid. "Oh my god, I'm such an idiot," I say.

On screen, my parents are smiling, politely waiting. And then their eyes flare and I can tell they're receiving my message about Conner. They smile and then both start speaking at the same time.

"Well, that's wonderful!" my mom exclaims.

My dad puts on a sly smile. "You mean boyfriend, boyfriend, right? Not like how the kids these days say 'Hey, wanna catch a movie with me and the boyfriends?"

My mom slaps my dad's shoulder lightly. "Mark! No one says that."

He laughs and rubs his arm defensively. "Ouch, woman! What? I totally said that all the time. 'Hey, me and the boyfriends are going out for malts.' You know...yeah, okay, no one says that."

My mom rolls her eyes. "Anyway...that's very exciting news. We want to hear all about you, Conner. Tell us, how did you meet Devon? Where are you from? And Devon honey, let Conner have a turn talking now."

Wow, it didn't take long for me to be replaced, did it? Conner is immediately the center of attention. It's a role I know he abhors, but he's getting a special treat later as payment for putting up with all of this.

"Um, I don't really know where to begin," he says shyly. And then he tells my parents a little about where he's from, and how he moved all over as a kid. He tells them about how we met at school and how we were just friends until recently. He even tells them about the pigeon that ate my doughnut – stupid fucking bird. After a few minutes he pauses. "That's it, I guess."

After a pause, my mom says, "Well, it's so very nice to meet you, Conner. I would offer to have you over for dinner, but I guess that will have to wait. Well honey...dating a doctor, and such a cutie...you have beautiful green eyes, Conner."

"They're blue," my dad says.

My mom looks at him questioningly. "Do we need to have yours checked? They're green."

My dad studies the monitor, making us laugh when he presses in close to it, apparently to get a better view. Getting that close to the camera makes him look like he has a huge forehead. "Nope, I still say they're blue."

"They're green, actually," I correct him.

"You two make a nice couple, even if Devon is dressed like a plonker," my dad kids. "We wondered when you'd start dating. I think you two should give us a little kiss, just so your mom can get all fluttery."

"See, I told you they were green!" my mom exclaims when my reply comes through.

My dad smiles slyly. "Maybe Devon is color blind," he suggests.

"Oh he is not," my mom says. The constant playful banter is something I grew up with, and it's making me feel all warm inside. Mostly because of this, I turn to Conner and say, "Will it bother you if I kiss you now?" I ask. He blushes but shakes his head.

I lean over and offer him a delicate kiss right on the lips. On screen my father yells, "No tongue! No tongue!" I immediately laugh, breaking off my kiss with Conner. My dad had clearly tried to time that exactly right, and given the lag he did a pretty good job.

"Dad!" I protest. Conner wipes his lips; I'd inadvertently spit all over him.

"Now I see where you get it," he laughs.

Once the whole kissing prank has run its course, my dad proclaiming triumph, my mom asks him to settle down and then turns to the camera. "So, Conner honey" – yes, Conner had apparently been elevated to the status of "honey" – "what about family? I would love to get in touch with your parents...just to say hello. If you don't mind, of course."

My smile immediately fades, and I wonder about the wisdom of introducing Conner to my parents like this. I didn't really think about this topic coming up. Conner shifts in his seat, but when he replies he doesn't sound at all uncomfortable.

"Actually, my parents didn't make it out," he says, then explaining a little about his mother's medical condition, and about how he didn't have any family anymore.

On screen my parents' smiles fade and my mother looks regretful about her inquiry. "Oh...honey...I'm so sorry to hear that. I should have thought before asking." She reaches out so that her forearm obstructs a great deal of the frame. I think she's stroking the image of Conner's face on the screen.

When she sits back, she says, "Dear, I hope it doesn't bother you for me to say this...I know we've only just met. But no matter what, I don't want you to ever feel like an orphan. I know you're a grown man, so if this is offensive just chalk it up to a mother's sentimentality, but Mark and I, well, being with Devon makes you a part of the family...both now, and in the future, no matter how long you may be dating my son."

"And let's face it," my dad says, joking to cut down on the seriousness, "he's bound to screw it up eventually." And then he adds, probably partially due to my mother’s elbow in his ribs, "But in all seriousness...Devon, we're very happy to hear that you have someone...and Conner, that does make you a part of the family – if you want us, that is."

My mom nods. “Yes...well this is great...we called to talk to one son, and if it’s okay with Conner I guess we can tell people we have two now.”

"I'd like that," Conner immediately says. "I...I don't really know what to say. I knew that you were great parents...Devon talks about you all the time. But I didn't expect you to be so...I don't know what." He does a cute little shuffle in his seat and then says, "Sorry, meeting the parents and all. Medical exams, no problem. Meeting Devon's mom and dad...well, at least if I have a heart attack I can treat myself."

We talk a little more about various things, the conversation lighter now. But then, all too soon, my dad says the remaining time grows short.

"But we'll start saving up our communication credits immediately," my mom says. "And hopefully we'll be in range again soon. Oh, but it's never enough is it? It's been so good to see you and talk to you...my baby all grown up...eat well, and be safe."

My mom is tearing up, and I realize how hard this is for her...saying goodbye. Then I think of something. "Wait! Hopefully this won't cut off, and I'll talk fast. I hope I've always been appreciative of you, but if I haven't shown it enough – thank you for being so cool. You know...about me being gay and all. When I figured it out...I knew you'd be good about it, but I didn't realize how much it would mean...how awesome it is to have parents like you. I mean...thanks...I guess that's what I want to say."

After the lag, my mom replies, "Oh, Devon. We have about twenty seconds left, so by the time you get this we'll have already hung up. We both love you very much, and the fact that you've found someone to love is wonderful. You are the man we always wanted you to be...oh no, time is almost out...we love you very much. Email us later...we want to hear all about Conner...be safe...be good to each other..."

"...have lots of sex," my dad adds, making me feel distinctly uncomfortable, which was probably the point.

"...Mark! Devon, we love you. Conner...oh, we love you too...you boys be...."

And then the screen goes back to a blank blue slate. I stare at the display, feeling a sense of loss that the call is over. Conner turns away from me, picking up the jacket he'd shed while we were waiting earlier. From his body language I can tell something is wrong. My dad was a little...maybe he's uncomfortable about everything.

"Conner, I'm really sorry about making you do that," I say. "I mean...thanks. I know it was a big deal for you. I really appreciate it. I'm sorry if it made you uncomfortable."

He turns around, and I discover that the real reason he'd turned his back to me was because he's started crying, two tear tracks staining his cheeks. "I'm sorry," he says, "I'm trying not to be overly emotional. It's just...it feels...it feels really good to have family again."

And that gets me teary too. I cross the room, first hugging my orphaned boyfriend and then kissing him passionately, tasting the salt of his tears and trying to tell him with a kiss that he'll never, ever be alone again.

Speaking with my parents...wow. It was an early birthday gift, that was for sure. I feel...I feel really light and fluttery, despite the happy tears I’m sharing with my boyfriend. I feel...great. In a situation like this, there’s really only one thing to do.

“Conner? Can we go upstairs and make love for like ten hours?” I ask, hopeful.

Conner wraps his arms around me and then picks me up, spinning me and making me laugh in surprise. And then he eagerly takes me by the hand, leading my upstairs, just where I wanted to go.


* * * * *


The following morning Conner drags my ass out of bed. Why is he always dragging it so early in the morning, and not pounding it?

“You’d think you’d have the courtesy to do at least a little pounding,” I grumble sleepily.

He laughs. “Half the time I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, know that?”

“Mrftf mrmmm,” I reply.

Once he manages to get me up and dressed for yoga, we’re off, but not before stopping by the rear observation deck to see EV1985.

I’m leaning on the railway next to the moving sidewalk, trying not to fall asleep on my feet. “Aren’t you ever going to get bored of looking at a little black dot on a black background?” I ask. And then we enter the deck. “Holy shit!” I exclaim.

The deck is almost completely packed with people – and it’s barely six in the morning. There’s no need to question why, though. The massive windows facing out into space are almost completely filled with the view of the approaching vessel, the ship no longer a little dot in the sky but a massive obstruction. I can see lights blinking on the hull here and there, probably turned on now that it’s drawing so close to us. I’m suddenly dizzy, my brain a little uncertain whether I should be falling down toward the other ship or whether it might be careening slowly into us.

There is a shared sense of awe amongst everyone looking out at the other ship. It’s an amazing thing...we’re traveling through space so fast, very close to the speed of light. EV1985 is too, going about a kilometer per hour faster than us. If I didn’t know better, though, I’d say both ships were sitting virtually still.

“It’s huge,” I say of the other vessel.

“Way bigger than this ship,” Conner agrees. “They should be docking this afternoon sometime.”

I whistle. “Guess who’s coming to dinner.”


To be continued.


Author’s End Notes:

Soundtrack: If you check on the group site, I’ve associated a song with each chapter. Putting them together forms a soundtrack to the story. In fact, I format the files on the group site so that you can play them on an iPod (or whatever) as a playlist, complete with sexy album art and everything. Check it out. The song for 18 is The Way We Get By by Spoon. Club chapters have a certain energy in my mind, and I really liked how this song fit with the other club chapter songs (chapters 7, 9 and 14).

The paint mess in the club room is the result of the events detailed in Chapter 17b, a side story entitled Splat! Coming soon to the side stories section.

Zane references Pinky and the Brain before the summit.

The underwear described is almost always based on real designs, just for fun. You can see photos in the underwear folder in the photo section in the group. Usually I use freshpair.com or internationaljock.com to find samples. In this chapter, the boys are dressed in:

AJ – AussieBum Patriot Brief, Brazil edition; Charlie – Macho Sport Flowers Low Rise Brief; Conner – AussieBum Lightening Hipster; Devon – Cin2 black wide band jockstrap; Dog – Tulio Power Pouch Slinky Ten trunk; Mike – Piss & Vinegar Cany Red Low Rise Brief; Sean – AussieBum Lockerboy brief.








 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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