Author’s note

Thanks for following our tale this far. I strive to keep it fresh, interesting and funny, and hopefully the pages that follow live up to these goals.

I always love feedback, whether you’re reading this when the chapter is first posted or months later. I can be reached via email at erikritler@yahoo.com.

And with that, I’ll leave you to slip back into Devon’s world…

erik


Previously, on Space Ship Boys:

In an effort to quell tensions on the ship, Eden Stranton, mayor of the civilian population, and Steven Caine, resident troublemaker, sit down to discuss the issues, coming to agreement on several topics.

In an effort to quell his horniness, Devon has a lot of sex with Conner, who, to everyone’s surprise, joins in on the wank club fun one Friday night.

Meanwhile, Sneak has returned, revealing to Devon that a benign drug called Zupertol is listed as being delivered to the hospital, although there doesn’t seem to be any in stock. When Devon discusses this with Reid, no one is able to figure out why this would be the case.

And there is considerable excitement about the docking – EV1985, an escape vessel from Orange County, California, has spent weeks coming into alignment with the boys’ ship – and now it’s here.


Space Ship Boys

Chapter 19 – A Day With Zane

There’s a palpable excitement aboard the ship for the forty-eight hours leading up to EV1985 docking with us. During this time the ships continue coming into alignment and preparing to extend a one mile "space bridge" between the two ships once they’re side by side.

While this is happening, things on the ship get...better.

Following the summit between Eden and Steven, tensions really do feel lighter. Security Force begins moving their operations up to the military base, as mandated by protocol. Other changes start happening, including a new method of assigning shit detail. A survey circulates, asking about personal preferences regarding these jobs. Everyone participates, because once completed, the ship’s computers will compile the data and devise schedules that are more in line with individual preferences. Eden may not be able to do away with shit detail all together, but he says he can at least try to distribute the work more fairly, and try to give people the jobs they least mind doing.

For my part, I ignore most of the political stuff going on. As long as no one was setting fire to the farms or rioting, all I cared was that things seemed to be getting better. The rest of my attention was focused on the fact that my birthday was only a week away.

My birthday was only a week away!

Everyone else was buzzing about the docking, but I was focused on something that seemed far more important – me. Zane had mentioned that Conner had a surprise planned for me, and I spent my days obsessing over what this might be, although I did as I’d promised Zane and didn’t ask my friend about it.

I did ask them about a party, though. With AJ’s recent surprise party behind is, it seemed self evident that my friends would throw a bash for me too. I went to Charlie, our resident event planner, and explained that seeing as how it was only logical there would be a party for me, I might as well have some say in it. He just sighed and pulled out his tablet, after which we spent an hour going over my demands…er, requests.

I do take some time to think about more serious things. I speak with Reid more about the Zupertol. Sneak had led us to discovering that large quantities of a benign pharmaceutical called Zupertol were listed as being manufactured, although there was no record of the hospital ever having much on hand. This was suspicious, although no one could make more if it than an odd record-keeping error. Reid suggested this might be all it was, although he said he and Patrick would look into it further. I get the feeling that the boys are trying to keep me out of their spy games, which I appreciate.

Sneak was more suspicious about the Zupertol than Reid. We message back and forth regularly, me often stopping by our hiding place to find the data chip stashed away. In a way I was relieved to be communicating with Sneak again. Even if it were over a weird supply problem, he was back in my life. I’d felt bad when he’d cut things off before.

But mostly everyone’s attentions remained focused on the other ship, which grew larger in the windows of the Rear Observation Deck, every hour taking up a little more of the view until EV1985 appeared alarmingly huge. When we’re twenty-four hours away from docking I visit the observation deck, leaving with a newfound appreciation of just how much larger the other ship is than ours.

"I may be rethinking visiting the other ship," I say to Mike, who’d accompanied me to see how much closer the other ship had come since breakfast. We weren’t the only ones with that idea, apparently – the observation deck is packed.

The visit that I’m referring to came about due to Conner’s position in medical. He’d been assigned the task of coordinating all of the medical supply trading that would occur throughout the docking. Apparently he needed to physically visit the other vessel, something he’d been telling me for weeks, although it was just recently that he revealed he’d be taking me along as an assistant.

The idea of visiting was great, but walking the mile-long space bridge between the ships seemed – concerning.

"Really?" Mike asks next to me. "I'd give anything to be able to visit. I wonder what it's like."

I stare out the window and try to imagine a tiny white umbilical cord stretching from our ship to theirs – it makes me feel like I’m falling and I have to close my eyes.

I think back to when I was ten and my parents took me to San Francisco for the first time. We'd walked the Golden Gate Bridge, that majestic two-mile span stretching the Golden Gate, connecting the magical city with the north. That had been – well, I'm not afraid to admit it – that had been a somewhat nerve wracking experience, the bridge thrumming and throbbing as traffic whizzed past. The idea of a mile-long space tunnel seemed worse.

"You okay?" Mike asks. I nod and tell him I'm a little nervous. "Well, if you don't want to go with Conner, I will," he offers.

His offer is tempting. We hadn't received any new information about whether free leave would ever be allowed. If it was, it would be at the end of the docking – once everything else had been settled. It was questionable if free leave would ever be allowed, though. The recent violence on our ship made it doubtful. Regardless, for now the only people traveling back and forth between ships would be those who were involved in the transfer of goods and resources while we were docked, Conner being one of these.

I decide to suck it up and be a good boyfriend. I tell Mike that I'll go – Conner is very excited about the trip and I don’t want to let him down. Besides, I have two days to deal with my fears about crossing over.

Sadly, Conner’s responsibilities mean that he’s spending a lot more time at work. While he insists that he’ll never miss “Devon night,” the mandatory night I get each week, no questions asked, the other hours seem to see him holed up in the hospital, trying to deal with everything involved in the docking. I try and let him work, resisting the urge to constantly pester him.

Still, when I stumble into bed late on Wednesday night, I silently curse having a busy boyfriend. I could really use a tumble.


* * * * *


That night I dream that I’m walking the Golden Gate Bridge, but that it’s been placed between Earth and Chiron. I nervously set out, excited to get to Chiron for some unknown reason. About halfway across, a little golden monkey comes skittering down the walkway.

“What are you doing here, space monkey?” I ask.

The little monkey looks at me curiously. “Devon?” he asks.

“Hey, how do you know my name?”

The monkey walks over to me and kicks me in the shin. It doesn’t hurt – he’s a little monkey. And then he screams. “Devon, Devon, Devon!”

I open my eyes, jumping when I see that Zane is standing over me, shaking my shoulder vigorously. “Devon, Devon!” he’s saying.

“Whasit? Zane? Whas da leggo,” I mumble, not even remotely awake.

“Holy crap, I’m so fucking late!” Zane exclaims when he sees that he’s woken me up.

He flips the lights in the room to full brightness, and I clamp my eyes shut as tightly as I can. “Mmmm!” I grunt in protest.

“Sorry, Dev,” he says. “I need your help with something. Dammit, I’m so totally screwed.”

I roll over, annoyed at being woken up this way. “So?” I ask, sounding a little bitchier than I intend.

Zane thwaks me on the ass; I grunt in angry protest. “Well good morning to you too,” he says sarcastically. “Look…I know coming in here and waking you is really lame, but I need your help. I was supposed to report for duty a half hour ago.”

“That’s what you’re pestering me with? No one will care, just go late then stay and help with dinner.” While we tried to keep to the schedule in Food Services, we were a little more lax than most departments on the ship. If you came late you could leave later, and vice versa. I wasn’t sure why Zane was stressing.

“It’s not that – I’m not working today,” he explains. “I have a side assignment today – one that I signed up for to get bumped up the wait list for leave to the other ship. If I do it, I’ll have priority to go over, which is a big deal for me.”

“Oh,” I say, snuggling back into the covers. I wonder if Zane will go away if I ignore him.

Zane shuffles around in the room; I resist the urge to see what he’s doing. I’m almost back to dreamland when he interrupts again. “Hey, Dev – are you awake yet? I really need your help today.”

“Hrmm?” I groan, more than a little annoyed.

Zane steps over to the bedside. “The thing is,” he says slowly.

Great. Nothing good comes from a request that starts with “the thing is,” especially one from Zane. He continues, “I promised to get someone else to help with the assignment, but I kinda slacked off. It’s just a couple of hours, nothing major. I was wondering if maybe...do you think you have time to come along? I would owe you big.”

Ugh. I slip down deeper into the covers, sensing that my plans for additional sleep are quickly eroding away. “Ergh...meybe sleep erm hrmmm,” I mumble, hoping that my nonsensical grumbling will shoo Zane away.

He sounds a little annoyed when he replies. “Oh come on, Devon – it’s not that early. And I’d totally owe you a favor. I could pick up one of your shifts in the kitchen.” He reaches down and tickles my foot, which has somehow escaped the protection of the covers.

I sit up, wincing as the blanket slides off my naked chest, exposing my torso to the uncomfortably cool air of the room. I smack my lips, my mouth dry and tasting a little nasty. I rub some sleep from my eyes, and then look at Zane sarcastically. “By my count you already owe me about twenty-seven favors. How long has it been since you’ve shown up on time for the breakfast shift? Tell you what, take three of my shit detail shifts and you have a deal.”

“Three!” Zane exclaims, and he’s right to do so – asking him to report for three six-hour shit details in exchange for helping out for a couple of hours isn’t entirely fair. But he’s not in a position to argue, and to be honest, I’m sure the time I’ve spend covering for him at work adds up to way more than eighteen hours.

“Okay, fine,” he grumbles. “But don’t think I won’t overcharge you for the next favor you ask of me.”

I stick my tongue out at him, expressing my feelings about the threat. And then I smell myself – yuck. “Let me grab a quick shower, then I’ll be ready. Hey, what the hell are you wearing?”

Zane is dressed in a most uncharacteristic manner – he’s wearing a pair of black slacks and a short-sleeve white button-down shirt. It’s not the dressiest outfit in the universe, but for Zane it’s the equivalent of me wearing...I don’t know...a tuxedo or something. I consider going back to sleep and dreaming about undressing a tux-wearing Conner. Mmm, Conner in a tux…hey, I have a morning boner!

Zane looks down at his outfit. “They wanted us to be presentable. I have an extra set for you. No time for a shower, just put on some deodorant and then we have to go.” Zane points to a stack of clothes that he’s apparently brought for me.

“Aw, Zane, no way...I stink,” I protest.

Zane sighs. “Just put on the pants and some nice shoes, I’ll be right back.” He rushes out of the room, and for no good reason I get up and then do as he says, sliding a clean pair of underwear on before putting on a pair of black slacks that Zane has left sitting next to a neatly folded shirt identical to the one he’s wearing. I can’t help but notice they’re both my size, which causes me to wonder about the veracity of the last-minute favor that Zane claims was an honest oversight.

He returns to the room with a wet washcloth in hand. “Oh come on,” I gripe. “That’s not going to help.”

He shrugs. “Works for me.” And then I’m attacked with the wet rag, Zane running it all over my torso to clean me up as best he can in less than five seconds. “There,” he says when he’s “done.”

“Great, I’m springtime fresh,” I remark sarcastically. Then I make a mental note that the next time Zane and I are getting sexy I need to make him shower first – the washrag maneuver very well may be his preferred method of bathing. Blech.

Zane pinches my nipple playfully and tells me to hurry. As soon as my shoes are tied he pushes me out of the room and then the flat as I try to don the shirt. We arrive in the hallway with me feeling dirty, dizzy and confused.

Zane sets a rushed pace, encouraging me to keep up by pulling me along. “I’m supposed to show a group from EV1985 around the ship today. I’m almost a half hour late...dammit. Anyway, thanks for helping out.”

I feel both grimy and sleepy, and it makes me a little cranky. “Yeah, whatever,” I grumble.

We walk downstairs and then through the starboard concourse. The other ship had docked on our starboard side, and we make our way to the appropriate docking bay. A dull, throbbing knot of fear tenses up in my tummy, and again I wonder if I’m going to be able to walk across the spacebridge tomorrow. If not, I have a feeling that I’ll have a very annoyed Conner on my hands, so I try to suck it up and resolve to do it no matter how scary it may seem.

We reach the docking bay, which is essentially a small warehouse adorned with a makeshift reception area. At the far end, a large grey metal door sits closed. It leads through a series of two airlocks, which, when opened, connect to the pedestrian bridge now extending between the ships. To the door’s right lies what appears to be a smaller replica of the airlock door with a conveyor belt extending from under it. Once the ships begin trading supplies, this is where crates will be loaded and unloaded in an almost continual procession of goods.

Unseen, there is also a series of pipes running from ship to ship, pipes capable of carrying both gasses and liquids. The other ship is low on oxygen, their farms not as capable of sustaining the human and animal population as ours are. Liquid oxygen would be sent over in exchange for carbon dioxide, which our very productive farms could then convert, perhaps resulting in a future docking with this or another vessel.

“No one’s here,” I say as we make our way to the center of the empty room.

A voice echoes throughout the empty space, startling me. “I wouldn’t say ‘no one.’” I jump, and then spin around to see Lukas Raines sitting in a chair propped against the back wall of the bay. Lukas is the Australian surfer guy who works in the cafe next to Charlie’s shop, a café I found myself frequenting more and more often. He seems to be trying to balance his chair on the rear legs; he looks very bored.

“Did we miss them?” Zane asks.

Lukas shakes his head. “No, mate – they’re running late. But thanks so much for showing up on time nonetheless.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Zane replies crankily. He’s never seemed fond of Lukas. I find him to be a good surfing buddy, personally, and he’s relatively cute to boot.

We walk over to where the other boy is sitting. I ask what Lukas is doing here, and he explains that, like Zane, he’d volunteered in the hope of scoring priority on the ship visitation list.

“No reason, really,” he says when I ask why he wants to visit. “I just think it would be cool to see it. You guys hoping to go over?”

I nod. “Actually, Conner has some medical duties over there tomorrow. I’m going along to help.” I notice that Zane looks a little forlorn when I mention my impending trip with Conner.

Lukas informs me that I’m an illegitimate child of good fortune, or “lucky bastard” as he actually phrases it, and then we chat for a bit. I learn that several groups from EV1985 will be visiting today, and each has been assigned a pair of “guides” from our ship to show them around. Lukas drew the assignment of matching up the duos with their groups as they came over.

“Has it been busy?” Zane asks.

Lukas shakes his head. “Nah, not really. Yours is the second group. There’s a lot scheduled for later this afternoon, but it’s been quiet so far. The military checkpoint is over on the other ship, so it’s quiet on our end. Not much to do but open the doors when you hear knocking.”

“Cool,” I reply.

We make small talk for another ten minutes before a green light begins flashing over the main airlock door. “That would be your guys,” Lukas says. He walks over to a control panel next to the hatch, explaining that he’ll be opening the doors one at a time in sequence, only one opening at a time as a safety precaution. There is a small clear window in the center of the hatch. I look through it to see another door with a similar window on the other side of what looks like a small room, and through that yet another door. When Lukas enters a command, the final door slides open. I can make out the space bridge extending beyond, but I can’t see much from my vantage point.

After a couple of seconds, I see several people stepping into the last airlock bay. Once they’re all in the second space, someone in their group closes the hatch opening to the bridge. This allows Lukas to open the middle door, and the group enters the next airlock. I move to the side, more because I don’t want to get smacked in the face when the door opens than out of courtesy. Once everyone is in the final airlock they close the middle door and Lukas’s console beeps.

“Okay, and with the second door closed we enter the authorization code.,” he says, speaking to himself as he punches in the command to open the door. “Et voila!”

With a hiss the final door opens and the group steps into the docking bay one at a time. “Welcome to EV5997,” Lukas says in a tone that conveys little pomp or circumstance.

About a dozen people file into the docking bay, most of them looking around curiously. I’m sure our ship looks almost exactly like theirs, but there’s probably a novelty associated with traveling to another vessel, especially after so many months in space.

At the head of the group is a forty-something looking man wearing a worn black suit. He’s clutching a small parcel under his arm. To his left and right stand two other men approximately his age; they stare vaguely in our direction. One is tall and thin while the other is quite fat, and I have to stop myself from giggling at the fact that they look like a comedy team of some sort. They are dressed in a similar fashion as the first man, as is a boy roughly our age, who’s standing behind the trio looking curious, but slightly perturbed. Almost the entire group is made up of men like the first one, all of them in black suits and all of them looking slightly dour.

The fat man steps to the side, and I immediately notice a member of the group quite unlike the others. A girl with feathery blonde hair smiles warmly at me. She’s wearing a tank-style dress that sits low on her chest and high on her legs, a bright floral pattern of blue and purple blossoms presenting a bright contrast to the drab clothing of her companions.

The man at the head of the group approaches us. Looking our little trio over briefly, he smiles and then speaks in a deep, grumbling voice. “Well, hello there. I’m Doctor Joseph Oldham. Would one of you be Zane Flynn?” I detect a slight southern drawl to the man’s speech.

Zane replies in a friendly voice and I immediately consider how good he is with people. “That would be me, sir,” he answers; I swear that I hear an almost identical accent crop up in his voice. I arch an eyebrow at my friend curiously.

Doctor Joseph Oldham smiles a little wider. “Ah. Very good. Then before we proceed with our little tour, I have just one question for the three of you.”

Zane cocks his head curiously. Doctor Oldham removes the parcel from under his arm and I see that it’s actually a very large leather-bound book. This strikes me as odd – there aren’t many printed books around anymore. Doctor Oldham smiles at us, then ask in his baritone voice, “Have you boys accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”

“Uh,” I answer dumbly, looking down to see that the book is emblazoned with gold foil lettering reading “Holy Bible” in a fierce looking script. The question catches me completely off-guard. I’m about to mention that I don’t belong to any religion in particular when Zane answers for us.

“Well of course,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons we requested your group. Should we get started, then?”

Doctor Oldham smiles at this answer and I shoot Zane a confused glance. Before I can say anything, he steps into the newly arrived group and formally introduces himself to them, and then he introduces Lukas and me. This is followed by Doctor Oldham, who informs us that he is the pastor of The Reformed Calvary Church of Christ, Reformed, introducing the rest of his group, starting with the fat man and the skinny guy, who he says are his deacons.

“And this is my son, Jacob,” he says, patting the younger boy on the back in a somewhat rough manner. Joseph and Jacob? Give me a break. Jacob says hello to us in a quiet voice before stepping back to the rear of the group.

Doctor Oldham smiles, apparently done introducing the people he’s brought over. I look over at the young woman, who hasn’t yet been introduced. “Hi, I’m Devon,” I say, extending my hand. The girl flashes me a wide smile, her white teeth looking like perfect porcelain. She accepts my hand and shakes it; her skin is warm and amazingly soft.

“Hello,” she says, a French accent immediately noticeable in her voice, “I am Léna Binoche. It eez a pleasure to meet you.”

The lilting, seductive way Léna speaks affects me almost immediately, I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the gentle buzz her accent makes whenever she pronounces an S sound, causing them to sound like Z’s, or maybe it’s the way her words seem to float as they escape their lips, drifting on the air like a catamaran on a lazy summer day at Bora Bora.

“Hi, I’m Devon,” I say, repeating what I’ve just said. Léna just smiles warmly, as though circular introductions are quite common. Doctor Oldham sighs and I swear I catch him rolling his eyes at the girl.

Introductions completed, Zane suggests that we begin the tour. “I’ve been asked to show you the main areas of the ship,” he explains to the others. “But this is your tour, so if there’s anything you’d like to see, please don’t hesitate to ask. If you’ll follow me, I think the main lobby is a good place to start.”

He leads the group out of the docking bay and toward the center of the ship. Doctor Oldham and his deacons push their way to the front of the newcomers, where Léna moves to the rear of the group. She seems the only one of them who’s approachable, so I decide to take up the rear as well.

We walk down a long hallway toward the center of the ship. Most everyone remains silent, which makes me a little nervous. I decide to strike up a conversation. “So, how long have you been a member of the Reformed Calvary Reformed Church of Jesus Reformed, or whatever you call it?”

Léna tilts her head back and laughs, a sonorous, gentle chuckle the carries both joy and grace. It makes me feel immediately warm inside. “Oh, I am not wiz zem,” she explains. “I am just here for zee tour.” She glances at Jacob, who shoots her a disgruntled look. “I don’t believe in zee churches, you know? In France we don’t have so many like zis one, I don’t think.”

Her accent is thick, but not terribly so. “So – you’re from France?” I ask. “I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

Again Léna laughs, and again it sends a slight shudder of pleasure through my body. “You are very cute,” she says, reaching over to tousle my hair. I immediately feel like a little boy. “I think that my accent will to give me away, although I am getting much better at English.”

“Your English is much better than my French,” I reply.

Léna’s eyes light up. “You speak French? It is not – how do you say? – common? Yes...it is not common for an American boy to learn French.”

I shake my head. “I’m not American, I’m American-British – I’m from California. But no, I don’t speak French – I just meant that you speak English and all I know are a few French words.”

I feel a little foolish at the misunderstanding I’ve caused, and then think of something that might redeem myself. I smile at Léna and say, “But my friend, Conner speaks French quite well.” I glance at Jacob, who’s taking the conversation in, but not adding to it. There’s something surly in his demeanor. For this reason, and because he belongs to some whacky church I’ve never heard of, I refer to Conner as a friend and not a boyfriend, which I almost immediately regret doing. Regardless, the fact that Conner speaks French is true – since learning this I’d made him use the language in the bedroom on more than one occasion.

“Ah,” Léna replies. “And zis Conner, ez he as cute as you, Devon?”

I blush at the compliment. “Cuter, I think,” I immediately reply. “Er, I mean....”

Léna just laughs, and somehow I feel like making her laugh three times in one day makes us friends of a sort.

“The starboard concourse is largely unused,” Zane says from up ahead. Our group was marching through the said concourse, its three story space feeling open and large, as it always does. “This might change,” he explains, “but right now there isn’t a need for the space.”

“The entire thing is empty?” Jacob asks next to me. I nod at his question and he looks rather bewildered by this.

We come to the main lobby, which is moderately uncrowded. Zane leads us to the center of the room and the group gathers in a semicircle around him. We instantly become something of a spectacle, everyone else in the lobby staring at our direction, curious about the visitors. I spot Mike and Charlie up on the third floor balcony and wave to them. Charlie gives me a shrug in return that conveys the question “what are you doing, and what the hell are you wearing?” I shrug back and then stick a thumb in Zane’s direction, which seems a good enough answer for the boys, who nod understanding and then laugh at me, probably because of what I’m wearing. I pretend to scratch my head while covertly offering them a rude gesture with my middle finger.

“This is, of course, the main lobby,” Zane says, speaking to the group. “I thought it would be a good place to start our tour. But before we proceed, is there anywhere on the ship you specifically want go? I want to make sure we have time to take you by everything you’d like to see.”

Léna raises her hand as if to speak, but Doctor Oldham ignores her. “Well, I can’t speak for the whole group,” he says, doing just that, “but I was wondering where y’all hold services.”

Ah, my area of expertise. Without deferring to Zane, I reply, “Well we haven’t really had the need to move Food Services out of Topside. I’m actually one of the head chefs there. We use the cafeteria and adjoining kitchens for most meals, although there are a couple of small cafes open now.” I smile at Doctor Oldham.

He smiles back curtly and then frowns, causing me to wonder what I’ve said wrong. “No, young man,” he says, “I didn’t mean to ask where y’all served your meals...well, I suppose I did, but I was referring to the spiritual meal that only the Lord Jesus can provide. Where do y’all hold church services?”

“I...er,” I stutter.

Zane answers for me. “What Devon means to say is that we don’t have any one specific place designated for religious services, but there are so many open areas we can move them from place to place as needed.”

“That’s interesting,” Doctor Oldham replies. “Usually we find that a single location works best for worship, so that that location can be set aside as sacred. Don’t you agree?”

Zane smiles and shakes his head. “No sir. Well, not to contradict you or anything – you’re the expert, but I find that you can experience sacred things most anywhere, or with anyone.”

“Well I suppose that’s true,” Doctor Oldham says uncertainly. “But you don’t find consistency in your worship necessary?”

Zane again smiles. “Well, again I’m sure you know more than me in this area, but I guess I don’t. Worshipping in different locations, and with different people can be very enlightening. For example,” Zane steps over to me and wraps an arm around my shoulder, “Brother Chasen and very much enjoy worshipping together, but because he was working late last night, you would have found me worshipping with Brothers Albers and Barrett.”

I turn a little red and eye Zane dubiously. He certainly sounds like one of the reformed Jesus church people, with his white shirt and slight accent, except that he’s toying with them through his words. What the hell is he up to?

“It’s great to hear that you hold services so frequently, young man,” Doctor Oldham says. “And I suppose...as the good Lord Jesus said, ‘wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there also am I.’ So as long as you’re gathered in his name, I’m sure his spirit is there too.”

Zane nods. “Jesus is always mentioned at our meetings, let me assure you.”

I blush, but Doctor Oldham laughs, a deep, genuine bellow that echoes up against the domed ceiling of the lobby. “Well that’s wonderful to hear,” he says. “I have to say, we were a little concerned about visiting a ship we knew to be mostly college students. It’s such a treacherous age, morally. It’s great to hear that you are leading by example, Mister Flynn. I have to ask you something, though. How do you think your shipmates would feel about converting this space into an auditorium?”

Doctor Oldham waves his hand in the direction of the main lobby in general. Suddenly I’m envisioning a large altar at the head of rows and rows of ugly wooden pews sitting in the center of the lobby, like those I’d seen in the churches I’d accidentally wandered into over the course of my life. Usually wandering in was instantly followed by fleeing out.

“What space?” Zane asks. “The whole lobby?”

Doctor Oldham’s deacons smile wistfully as he continues speaking. “Well, yessir – the whole lobby. There’s a scent on the air – do you know what I smell?”

I step back from the group a little, knowing it’s probably me, I rather reek – I wish I’d had time to shower.

“What’s that, sir?” Zane asks.

Doctor Oldham grins, an odd glint in his eye. “I smell revival.”

Doctor Oldham outlines a plan to turn the main lobby into a twenty-four hour evangelical fundamentalist revival over the course of the docking, converting the space into a massive auditorium of daily morning services, prayer meetings, fellowshipping and nightly sermons, all of which he says will ultimately result in the salvation of every soul on board.

“Wow,” Zane whistles. “That’s some vision.” And then he suggests we continue the tour, Topside next on our list of places to see.

During the tour, we hear far more about The Reformed Calvary Church of Christ, Reformed, including a brief lecture on how the original Calvary Church of Christ “backslid,” requiring a reformation to return to fundamental teachings. This second group also seemed to have backslid, whatever that was, requiring a second reformation. It causes me to wonder why these nutjobs keep building their churches on what I assume to be very slippery and geographically unstable ground.

We’re also informed how a large group of RCCCR’ers ended up on the Orange County ship. It seems that the church, a group headquartered deep in the bible belt of Missouri, had been holding an annual convention in Orange County the day of the evacuation. “In a way this was an important part of God’s plan,” Doctor Oldham explains. “We were together when we needed to be. This was a great blessing. My father lived in Alabama, but because of the conference he and my mother were with us and able to evacuate onto the same ship.”

I interrupt. “I’m sorry – you said your parents are living on EV1985?” I ask. “Aren’t they...um...over forty-five?” I stumble on my words, realizing my question may be a little indelicate. But I ask it anyway – evacuation had been a Darwinian process. Any one of hundreds of parameters could keep you from earning a spot on the evacuation ships, and one of the primary qualifiers had been age. No one over forty-five had been allowed to evacuate Earth unless they possessed a skill set deemed necessary.

Doctor Oldham takes a deep breath. “You’re referring to the evacuation codes, I believe.” His expression becomes quite serious and contemplative. “Very troubling things. Fortunately, as a Class B religious organization, the evacuation codes apply differently. Any that went against our fundamental religious beliefs didn’t apply, and we are very much opposed to the euthanasia of our elderly, as I’m sure you know.”

“I don’t quite follow,” I say.

Doctor Oldham tries to explain. He says that for his congregation to evacuate knowing that anyone over forty-five would be left behind would be tantamount to euthanasia, and therefore murder. Because of this, his church had filed for and received an exemption to the age restrictions.

Having finished a brief tour of Topside, Zane leads us down through the forward concourse toward the dorm areas there. I find myself unable to drop the topic of evacuation. I move to the front of the group, walking alongside Zane and Doctor Oldham. “I don’t get it,” I say. “You’re saying that it would be ethically wrong to evacuate and leave the elderly behind, although that’s what largely happened.”

Doctor Oldham sighs. “Yes, and that was a great tragedy. We don’t always know why such things occur, but we do know it’s all part of His divine plan.” He looks upward, and for a moment I half expect to see Jesus sitting on the railing in front of Charlie’s shop, which we’re passing under now.

“Okay,” I say, finding this argument a bit silly. “But by asking for a waiver and taking up slots on the ship, weren’t you effectively euthanizing the people who didn’t get a spot because you’d taken them? I’m not trying to be rude, it just all seems like a wash to me where older people get spaces that would have otherwise gone to younger people. Isn’t that the same thing, ethically?”

Doctor Oldham shakes his head sadly. “Well, we have to say that the Lord works in mysterious ways. We can’t fully understand why He allowed what happened to the Earth to happen. But in answer to your question, this is an interesting theological area. For us to use our exemption to get our elders on board was our way of honoring the sanctity of life – it was necessary morally. The fact that they took up spots that might have otherwise been occupied...I don’t believe anyone would suggest that there was anything immoral about this – their deaths were the result of the larger situation, not our actions.”

I’m about to say there is someone who would suggest that it was immoral to seek an exemption of the age rule – me. The idea of kicking some college kid off a ship to make room for a seventy-year old seemed wrong, and using your religious beliefs as a reason to bend the rules in your favor seemed worse. I don’t get a chance to say any of this, though, since Zane interrupts.

“If we can pause the tour here,” he says, “I was asked to pick something up from upstairs. Devon, can you help me out? We’ll be back in two minutes, folks, I promise. Feel free to check out the park.” He’s referring to a small park we’ve come upon in the concourse, the same park I pass everyday when returning to the dorms. “Devon, if you’ll assist me?”

“Er, sure,” I answer.

Zane leads me up to the second floor of the concourse. “What are we picking up?” I ask as we climb the stairs.

“Nothing,” Zane says matter-of-factly. “I just wanted to get you alone so that I could ask you to play nice.”

He gives me a little smirk that he often does, and it comes off as a little condescending, as it always does. I get annoyed instantly. “Zane, what the hell are you up to?” I ask, a little tired of the weirdness.

Zane laughs. “What am I up to? Nothing. Just giving a tour, like I was assigned to do.”

I look him up and down. “But you’re pretending to be a Christian. What’s the deal with that?”

He shrugs. “Who’s to say I’m not a Christian?”

I involuntarily reply with a short, sharp laugh. “I do,” I ascertain. “Last time I checked, you’re a gay hedonistic atheist physicist skater chef horn-dog with a taste for butt sex.”

Zane responds with a half smile, brushing his floppy hair from his eyes. “Okay, yeah,” he laughs. “But maybe I’m an evangelical Christian too.”

My voice sounds annoyed when I reply. “Zane, knock it off. You’re not an evangelical Christian, and you’re not about to help set up a fundamentalist revival in the main lobby. So what are you up to? I know you, and I know how this ends. You’re up to something.”

Zane laughs earnestly. “Jeez, Dev – so paranoid. I’m not up to anything. I just don’t like labels, and I thought it might be nice for these guys to have a nice, respectable young man as their tour guide. From what I hear, living on EV1985 isn’t always the best thing in the universe. I thought I’d talk their talk and walk their walk and show them a nice time. You should try it – it’s good to see how other people live and think.”

I shake my head. “I don’t need to act like them to understand how they think. And I’m sure if you asked them, they’d prefer that you not pretend to be a Christian just to blend in. You’re so weird sometimes.”

Zane tousles my hair. Why does everyone do that? “I am,” he admits. “But you’re not considering the alternative.”

“Which is?”

He smiles. “Well, we can go down there and tell them that neither of us are Christians. Then for the next two hours, I can pretty much guarantee they’ll spend every minute trying to convert us.

I think about this. When I was fourteen I’d earned permission to take the trolley with a friend to Old Town in San Diego. My parents didn’t often let me wander off on my own at that age, but I’d gone a couple of months without blowing anything up or causing any trouble. Anyway, my friend Jake and I had walked around the district, eating rolled tacos by the dozen and checking out the shops.

We’d ultimately stumbled on a museum called the San Diego Mormon Battalion Center. It sounded cool, seeing as how the word “battle” was essentially in the name. We’d gone in, excited when the first room turned out to be a little theater with a holographic projector. I expected a long, violent story of war, greed and – I hoped – treasure.

Instead, we were treated to a re-enactment of one of the most dull aspects of the Spanish-American War. Not feeling quite American enough to participate in an American war, the Utah Mormons had arranged for their drafted youth to build a road from Salt Lake City to San Diego instead of fighting, which they proceeded to do in a rather clumsy and not-awe-inspiring manner.

After the show, we were led into a second room with a giant mural of Jesus ascending to heaven. Another show ensued, informing us how great Mormonism was, and when it was over an old, bald man who smelled like cloves cornered us, trying to get us to agree to a series of meeting with missionaries or something. It had taught me an important lesson – never let religious people corner you in a small room with a huge mural of Jesus. It won’t end well.

“I see your point,” I tell Zane. I agree to play along with him and act nice and non-confrontational for the remainder of the tour.

“Thanks,” he says. “Ha ha, you’re so cranky when you don’t get enough sleep.”

“Whose fault is that?” I ask sarcastically.

Zane laughs, looking down into the concourse, where our group is exploring the small park, as he’d suggest. “And you’re sarcastic too,” he says. “But I’m not complaining. Just do me a favor, okay?”

“Besides touring the ship with a bunch of boring religious dudes?”

“Yeah, but this one is easier. When we get done with these guys, go grab a shower and a nap.”

“Fine,” I agree, yawning. I don’t like being told I need a nap, but he’s right to suggest one.

We return to the group. “If you’ll follow me,” Zane says, “I was asked to show you one of our housing areas.” He leads the group to the floor where our unoccupied flat is located. I cringe, at first thinking that he’s going to offer the group a tour of our...well, I suppose you could call it a sex den. But he doesn’t, stopping at the main door of a flat before ours.

“Most flats on our ship have four to six bedrooms. If you’ll follow me, this one has a typical layout.”

Léna interrupts. “No...it eez okay. We do not want to interrupt if people are sleeping.”

Zane smiles and pushes the door to the flat open. “Oh, that’s not a problem – this flat isn’t occupied,” he says. The group begins shuffling into the space.

“No one lives here at all?” Jacob asks. “That seems like a waste.”

I keep in mind that I’d promised Zane that I’d be courteous, and I do my best. “There are minimum occupancy regulations,” I explain. “The crew mandated that we have at least four people per bedroom, so a lot of flats aren’t occupied.”

Jacob snorts. “Four per bedroom? All over the ship? That must be nice.”

Zane shows the group around the empty living area. Léna, who seems to have taken to me, follows me from room to room. “Are these rooms like the ones on your ship?” I ask.

Standing in the center of an empty bedroom, Léna extends her arms and does a little twirl. “Yes and no,” she says cryptically. “We have...our ship is full, no? We do not have empty space like this. I share my bedroom wiz fifteen ozzers.”

“Fifteen!” I exclaim, wondering how this is even possible.

Léna laughs. “Yes. But they are all like my sisters, and it eez not so bad.”

“But how do you fit sixteen girls in one room?” I ask, imagining a small space stuffed to the ceiling with unhappy French girls.

“Léna walks over to a terminal on the far end of the room and looks it over, absent-mindedly pressing keys at random. “We have zee – what do zey call it? – room sharing on zee ozzer ship. Eight of us have zee bedroom for half zee day, the ozzer eight have it zee ozzer half. So while I am working, my friends, they are sleeping, and while I sleep they are on shift. You do not do this?” she asks.

“Um, no,” I reply.

“Ah,” Léna says. And then she laughs her melodic laugh.

Once the flat has been shown to our guests, Zane leads the group to see some of the farms. He starts with Area T4, the massive forest farm that was the largest and most spectacular on the ship. “This is truly the Lord’s bounty,” Doctor Oldham proclaims as we stand along the rail looking down into the forest. I have no idea what he means, nor do I ask. I just roll my eyes, which Léna catches, causing us to smile at one another at our unspoken joke.

Once everyone has had a good view of the forest, Zane leads the group toward W4, the whale farm. On our way, we’re passed by two boys heading in the opposite direction. They’re soaking wet and dressed only in board shorts. I recognize them as two of the guys who surf in the farm from time to time.

“As you can see, some of our shipmates utilize this as a pool as well as an aquatic mammal farm,” Zane explains, laughing. “The surf is always up.”

“I can’t say I appreciate the lax dress code,” the fat deacon says in a disapproving tone.

“What do you mean?” I ask, earning a warning glance from Zane.

“Well,” the fat man continues, “swimming is fine and good, but young men should be fully dressed when they’re in a public, don’t you think?”

I give him a dubious look. Board shorts aren’t exactly scandalous dress. “I don’t think the ship rules disallow it,” I say, trying to be as placating as possible. Both Zane and I know very well that the standard ship regulations allow for quite a bit less to be worn, even in public.

Doctor Oldham answers for his deacon. “They may not,” he says, “but we’ve had a lot of success in establishing rules on our ship that allow us to live in a more moral environment. Swimming for fitness is a very Godly thing to do, but one should not put their body on exhibit for others to see like that. I am sure that Zane here agrees with what I’m saying.”

I almost burst out laughing, thinking about Zane’s Halloween costume, which consisted of far less than a pair of board shorts. Zane ponders for a moment and then replies with a barely discernible sly grin. He looks me in the eye and says, “Yes, if I were in charge I think I’d like a rule that got rid of the shorts.”

Doctor Oldham claps Zane on the shoulder, completely missing the hidden meaning in his wording.

I shake my head and step back to the rear of the procession, plowing into Léna as I do. For her part, she certainly doesn’t seem offended by the boys in swimsuits, so much so that she’s watching them walk away when she runs into me. “Oops, sorry Devon,” she apologizes. I offer a knowing smile and she blushes slightly before laughing at being caught looking. Jacob shakes his head and sighs.

Our tour ends back in the main lobby. Doctor Oldham extends his appreciation for our time, and then looks out across the open space. “Yessir,” he says wistfully, “I sure can see a full-time revival running in here. We’d love to do the same on our ship, but as you know the space has been converted to more idolatrous uses.”

“Yes, yes, we have all heard your – how do you say? – inane opinions about zee park, Monsieur Oldham. I think that Devon and Zane have been wonderful guides, and perhaps we can spare them zee diatribe.”

Doctor Oldham, who for the most part seems very genial, looks perturbed. “Miss Binoche, as I’ve said many times, I appreciate being referred to as ‘Doctor Oldham,’ not ‘mister’ and certainly not ‘monsieur.’”

Léna laughs, the same laugh that seems warm and inviting when directed at me, but takes on a slightly condescending tone when directed at the pastor. “Zen you will have to get a degree zat we would recognize as deserving of a title. I respect your beliefs, but I am not so sure zat years of studying zee mythology makes you a doctor.” And then she turns to me, her smile resuming its warmness. “Devon, I believe I spotted zee most charming looking cafe up there. Would you be so kind to show it to me before we return to zee ozzer ship?”

She’s referring to the cafe on the third floor of the forward concourse, which we’d passed below on the tour. “Uh...sure,” I reply.

We take our leave of the group and make our way to the third floor. The cafe is busy, but not crowded. “On our ship, such a place would be forever packed,” Léna says as we order drinks. I ask for a decaf raspberry white chocolate hazelnut latte with soy milk and extra whipped cream. When she asks for a coffee, black, I feel a little silly.

“This is a nice cafe,” I answer, not really sure what to say. “And it’s a nice ship.”

“So I have seen,” Léna says. “You would advise us to proceed with moving here?” she asks, her blue eyes wide and curious.

“Er...move here?” I sip my drink, putting two and two together as I do. Conner had mentioned that some of the potential immigrants were French. I hadn’t thought about that until just now.

“Yes,” Léna replies. “We have been asked if we would consider moving over, and I am here today to see what your ship is like so that I can make a recommendation to my fellow students. Everyone seems nice, and having more space would be nice. Zey really would like our group to agree to move.”

I take another sip of latte. “You and your roommates?” Wow, sixteen sexy French girls on board this ship – that’ll cause some commotion. Maybe not amongst my friends, but definitely amongst the five thousand non-gay college guys. Léna seems a little older than Zane...she’s probably in her early twenties. Whatever her age, it’s certainly within reason to assume that most of the heterosexual boys on the ship would do a lot for a shot at a date – or more – with her.

Léna laughs and then sips her drink. The steam from the coffee wafts seductively up and around her blonde locks. “No, Devon. Well, yes...my roommates would be among those who move. But my whole group has been asked if we would like to move togezzer. We are from Paris, you see, and were far away from home when zee evacuation occurred. We have no family on zee ozzer ship, and so it may be good sense for us to move.”

I’m finding Léna’s accent to be almost hypnotic. This and the warm beverage might lull me off to sleep. I realize she’s stopped speaking, and try to fill in the silence. “Oh, really? You were studying abroad or something?” She’d mentioned that she was a student.

Léna explains that they were part of a graduate exchange program between France and British California. France had contributed a fair amount of the funds necessary to buy the state from the US, and in return they had a five percent stake in the territory. It was common for French or English students to study abroad there. Léna explains that she was the head student of just such a program, one originating from a girls’ graduate school near Paris.

I drink my latte as she tells me about traveling from Paris to Los Angeles, and then to the campus at UC Irvine. “Sadly, not all of my schoolmates were able to evacuate,” Léna says sadly. “But most did.”

“How many are there in your group?” I ask, curious. If there are more than a hundred, it will probably mean opening up one of the unused dorm room floors.

Léna thinks about this for a moment. “Let’s see...zer are my classmates and zen some girls from our Marseilles campus. I think all togezzer...about three thousand.”

I choke on my drink, sputtering and coughing as a result. “Three thousand?” I ask when I can breathe again. “Three thousand? All moving here?”

Léna looks worried. “Perhaps,” she says. “Does zis trouble you? To have your ship invaded by France in zis manner?” She smiles slightly at what I presume to be a joke about invasion.

Not wanting to offend her, I backtrack. “No, not at all,” I insist. “And I think most everyone on this ship would welcome...well, three thousand French girls. You know this ship is mostly college boys, right?”

Léna laughs. “You are so adorable, Devon. Yes, we know that zis ship eez mostly college boys. I think this is part of why we’ve been asked if we want to move over. Sadly, we did not evacuate to the college ship near us...in zee confusion we chose a ship zat is mostly families. There are not so many young men on zee ozzer ship – I think the prospect of coming here is attractive to many of my classmates, as I am sure it is to yours.”

“Yeah, I’m sure the guys on this ship are all dying for some girls to do things with...like parcheesi and tea parties. You know, that sort of thing.”

Léna laughs. “You are so funny,” she says. “I am what some would call a beautiful French girl...whezzer I am beautiful or not, you may decide zis, but regardless, I know what college boys like to do wiz college girls, and what my classmates would like to do wiz the college boys. We are French, as you know.”

She offers a knowing smile and I involuntarily blush. She sips her coffee and then leaves the oversized mug in front of her face, as if to hide behind it. “Yes, us moving here would – how do you say – excite zee boys. But not you, Devon, I do not think. Do you have a boyfriend?”

I stare at my new friend. “I...uh...yeah, I do,” I answer. “How did you know?”

She smiles and jokes in reply. “You are very attractive. To not have a significant ozzer, this would be a great tragedy, no?”

It relaxes me and makes me smile. “No, I meant how did you know I preferred boys? I’m just curious.” Do I come off as gay? My hair isn’t blue anymore.

Léna shrugs. “I have some experience wiz zee young gay boys,” she says. “You just seemed that way...I hope I did not to offend you, Devon.”

I shake my head. “No...no, you didn’t offend me. You just surprised me with the question. Yeah, I have a boyfriend – Conner, who I told you about earlier.”

She’s instantly intrigued, and asks all about Conner. She marvels that someone so young could become a doctor, and then asks some questions about our sex life, which makes me blush, although I answer truthfully.

“So you are very lucky, Devon,” she says. “Many thousands of boys on this ship ended up wiz no girls, and many thousands of girls on my ship ended up wiz no boys. You found your true love, zis is wonderful for you.” Although I will later razz Zane for making me hang with the wacko Christians today, I have to admit that meeting Léna has made it worth it. “Thanks,” I reply, blushing.

We finish our drinks and discover it’s about time for the tour group to return to their ship. We make our way back to the main lobby. “Zee ozzer boy, Zane, he seems like something of an ass,” Léna says as we walk. “I am sorry if he is your friend...we have had nothing but trouble wiz zee church people on zee ozzer ship.”

Now it’s my turn to laugh. “Zane might surprise you,” I inform Léna, then going on to try to explain that he was by no means a fundamentalist Christian. I tell her about some of our adventures, leaving out the dirty bits.

“Well, if you say he is like zis, I must to take your word for it,” she says, smiling. “And now I see how he has been joking all day, using zee – what do you call it? – ozzer meanings of things.”

“Yeah, he does that a lot,” I say. “He’s a good guy. Brilliant, too. He studied some sort of astrophysics or nuclear physics before we left, I’ve never been quite sure what. He wrote a thesis predicting the end of the Earth...and, well, he was right.”

Léna seems intrigued. “But zis is what I study,” she says. “Now you have totally convinced me that I must get to know zis Zane. He sounds very – how should I say – interesting.”

I nod agreement. “He’s definitely that.”

When it’s time to send the visitors back to the ozzer – oops, I mean other – ship, my head is spinning. I’d been roused from bed early, shuffled off to offer a tour to some religious weirdos, learned our ship was about to be beset by French girls, and I hadn’t even had a chance to shower.

Léna is the last of the group to step back into the first of the airlock chambers. Before she does so, she turns to me. “It has been a pleasure meeting you, Devon. I hear you are to come visit tomorrow. Perhaps we will have a chance to see each other again.”

“I’d like that,” I say, smiling at the French girl.

She steps into the small space, squeezing in with the church guys. Zane steps over to the control panel. Doctor Oldham pulls his bible out from under his arm. “Perhaps before we leave we can all join together in a short prayer?”

Léna rolls her eyes. Zane pushes a button on the console. “That sounds great,” he says. “Just let me hold the door open.” He presses the button that does exactly the opposite. “Oops, wrong button. Sorry!” he calls to Doctor Oldham as the airlock hatch closes in front of the pastor’s dismayed face.

Prayer time canceled, the visitors move into the second chamber, closing the second door behind them. Zane looks at me and shrugs, sticking his tongue out a little and offering a goofy grin. “Well that was fun, but thank god it’s over,” he says.

“Amen,” I agree, and then laugh at the whole experience.


* * * * *


I yawn sleepily upon returning to my bedroom in the unoccupied flat. Zane was on to something, I think to myself, peeling off the ridiculous clothes he’d made me wear. About ten seconds later, I’m cuddled up in my bed, and a moment later I’ve dozed off.

When I wake up, I discover Zane in the living room. He’s sitting on one of the couches, looking rather mopey.

"Long shift?" I ask politely. I had the whole day off, but I knew he’d been up in the kitchen doing a half shift.

Zane shrugs. "I guess." His tone is flat and indifferent, which is odd. He points to a container on the table. “I brought you some dinner – you know, to say thanks for helping earlier. It’s not as good when you make it, but it should be okay.”

I pick up the container and open in. It’s filled with mac and cheese…yay! "Hey, thanks!" I say. When Zane just nods blankly I add, “You look tired.”

Again he shrugs. "Not really, just cranky. I'm going to take a shower." And this is just what he does, heading into the bathroom without another word.

I'm curious about Zane's demeanor. Cranky is not really a mood he seems capable of. But now that I think about it, he's been off since Friday. He eventually emerges from the bathroom, his long locks dripping wet, a towel wrapped around his otherwise naked body, tied seductively right below his "oh my holy fuck" abs.

I think about asking him what's been bothering him, but then I waver, somehow feeling awkward about broaching the subject. Zane hovers in the doorway to the bathroom for a moment, and then crosses the living room to take a seat next to me. Again I consider asking him what's wrong, and again I keep my mouth shut, not certain he wants me bringing it up.

We watch the movie together in silence for a few minutes. The entire time I'm focusing on Zane more than the film, although I try not to show it.

Ultimately it's Zane who breaks the silence. "Hey, Devon?" he asks.

I look over to him. "Yeah?"

"This may be a weird question, so don't get angry if it is. I'm kind of...I'm feeling a little down, I guess. I found out that the voluntary assignment might have just been a big waste of time – they’re saying they probably won’t okay free leave. I came down here to mope all by myself..."

I interrupt him. "I can go…if you want," I offer, sitting up as though to leave.

He shakes his head. "No, you don't have to do that. What I was going to say was that I'd planned on moping all by myself, but now sitting here I'm thinking about how – I know you're with Conner now, that's why this may sound weird – but I was thinking about how you used to spend the night sometimes."

This was true – before Conner and I had become boyfriends there were nights where I'd sneak off to Zane's bed, sometimes for a tumble and sometimes just to cuddle. That had strengthened our friendship, and although our friendship still continued to grow stronger, once I was with Conner I stopped hanging out with Zane in that way.

"I miss that too," I reply. Zane hadn't said he missed it exactly, but he didn't have to.

He smiles. "Okay...cool. Well, I guess I'm saying that if some night I was sleeping and all of a sudden there was a Devon crawling into my bed...that would be okay."

I offer a smile, blushing a little. "Okay," I say. "Tonight? Conner's working really late...I'm free...I mean...if that's what you're asking."

Zane looks happy about the idea. I think about something, and then say, "There is one thing I have to ask, though – what happened to Zane Flynn seducing my pants off? It’s not like you to quietly ask permission – usually you’d just pounce, or trick me into getting really horny."

He smiles bashfully and shrugs. "Don't know," he replies. "I figured I could try that, but I'm extra careful around you now...because of Conner. You guys are really good together...I don't know...it makes me think. Maybe someday I should try the whole boyfriend thing."

We look at each other intently for a second, and then I can't hold it. I break out laughing, which makes him smile defensively. "What? What? I think I could be a good boyfriend."

The fact that he's sensitive all of a sudden make me laugh harder. "I know, I know. Yeah...ha ha...you would be, but it just struck me as funny. Sorry."

"It's okay," he says. “I guess the idea of me as a boyfriend is a little funny.”

"Yeah," I agree, “but not in a bad way.”

Zane turns to me, clearly thinking about something, and then he says, “You know Devon…of anyone in my life there are only three guys I ever considered as potential boyfriends.”

“Oh?”

Zane nods. “Yeah. The first two are…the first two are a story for another time. And I hope it’s not weird for me to say, but you were the third.”

This revelation is a little shocking. Before dating Conner I’d spent a lot of time thinking about what Zane would be like as a boyfriend, often rubbing one out late at night, pretending it was him touching me. But I’d never thought he did the same about me. In fact, there were times that I felt like he forgot all about me the moment he walked out the door and off on other adventures. Zane was just that kind of guy, and I mention this to him.

He looks a little hurt. “Forget about you? No way, Dev.”

“That’s what it always seemed like,” I say. “But that was a while ago – everything is different now.”

Zane sighs. “I may have distanced myself from you,” he suggests. “I don’t know if that was a good idea. I think I did that because I thought it was for your own good – I thought I was motivating you to go out and find someone…someone like Conner. And you did, but that made me consider that I was a shit to you sometimes.”

He really had been. “No you weren’t,” I lie, then I laugh. “Okay, maybe a little. But I always knew you had good intentions. And you were right – you and I would have made a terrible couple.”

“Really?” Zane asks, sounding a little hurt by my proclamation.

I look at my friend in a new light. Something has him feeling vulnerable, and although I might have never thought it possible, our roles may be reversed tonight – he may be the one needing comforting. I try my best.

“Well…maybe not terrible,” I suggest. “But you were right when you said that our maturity difference was a big deal. I didn’t think so at the time, but now I realize it would have made things challenging. Anyway, why are we talking about this? Are you going through some sort of boyfriend phase or something?”

Zane laughs, then looks reflective. “Maybe,” he replies softly. “And anyway, I guess my point was that if I were to want a boyfriend someday, I hope to find a guy half as good as you, Dev.”

“Wow, thanks Zane,” I say, feeling that little boy thrill you get when complimented by the cool older brother.

I see an opening and take it. "Hey Zane, can I ask you something? You seem really off lately – is everything okay?"

Zane sighs and sinks back into the couch. "Yeah, I'll be okay. I just really wanted to go over to the other ship. Hearing it’s probably been canceled has me all messed up. It fucking sucks."

I consider asking Zane why he wants to visit EV1985 so bad, but something keeps me from doing so. I remember accidentally treading into a sensitive issue when I’d first pressed Conner about his parents, and it makes me a little wary of broaching the subject with Zane. "I'll be right back," he says, getting up. "Gonna put on some clothes."

“Now that’s a change – Zane Flynn putting clothes on when alone with a boy.” He continues walking out of the room, but pulls his towel off to flash his perfect ass at me; I smile at the gesture. Once he’s gone I think about Zane's predicament. It gives me an idea. I dial Conner up on my wristcom.

"That didn't last long," he answers.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," I mutter. I owe him a blowjob now – he’d bet me that I couldn't go the whole night without calling or texting him. It's not the worst bet to lose. "Hey, I have something weird to ask you," I say. I explain what Zane has just told me. I ask if maybe Conner can consider taking Zane over as an assistant rather than me.

"You don't want to go?" he asks, sounding really disappointed.

I shake my head, for no reason, really, since he can't see that. "No," I answer, "I do...it's just that Zane is really bummed about not being able to go over, I don't know why. I'm happy to spend the day going through medical records with you, but it seems like it means a lot to him...."

"Well...to be honest I had more planned than work over there, but..." he trails off.

I laugh. "I have a pretty good idea what else you might have planned." We were scheduled to come back the following day, spending a night on the other vessel. From the moment he'd mentioned this to me I'd assumed he wanted us to join the – er – “mile over club.”

"No, not that, dork," he chastises me. "But I think I have an idea. Give me like ten minutes...I'll see what I can do to get Zane added to my detail, then you can both come. But he’s going to have to help out if he comes."

"Wow, that would be great," I reply. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind working.”

I hear some commotion on the other end of the line. Conner pauses, but then comes back on. "Sorry, it’s really busy here. I'll text you in a bit. It shouldn't be a problem to take Zane, but let me make sure. Don't tell him anything yet."

"Okay, I won't,” I promise. And then I consider something. "Conner...he said he's really lonely and he wants me to spend the night. I know we have our whole arrangement, but it's Zane...you know?"

There's a brief silence on the other end, during which time I'm pretty sure I've pissed Conner off. "What? Sorry...it's really busy here...Ian just piled a bunch of crap on my desk. Anyway...yeah, Devon...go ahead, it doesn't bother me, that’s why we worked the whole thing out. I'll see you tomorrow."

I back peddle quickly. "You know what...forget it...I won't hang out with him tonight. I don't want to piss you off, forget I even said anything."

Conner laughs at me, that genuine, endearing chuckle that always tells me that he finds me both lovable and amusing. "No, I said it was okay because it's okay. Last Friday I saw how you are with your friends, and I'm even more comfortable with it now. If Zane is having a bad day, go give him a massage or something. Really, it's okay. I have to work all night...jeez...I wish I had time for a Devon massage too. Holy crap, Ian, stop bringing those in here! I said the transfer files go next door! Sorry Devy, I'm really sorry, it's a zoo here. Did you need anything else? If not I have to go, but I'll text you in a little bit."

I tell him no and let him get back to work. Zane returns wearing a pair of athletic shorts. He collapses back onto his spot on the couch, looking a little less moody, but not much.

"Want to watch something else?" I ask.

"Nah, this is good," he says, and we settle into the movie I'd selected. It turns out to be about the worst movie ever, which is sad – you expect quality in a space werewolf movie, you know? About twenty minutes in, my wristcom buzzes. Conner's sent a message saying if Zane agrees to help out, he's okay to go over with us.

"This movie sucks," I gripe. On screen a werewolf has wandered into an airlock, which then opens to expose the hapless beast to space. He promptly explodes. Ugh – why’d I pick this movie to make me feel better about walking the spacebridge? Way to go, Devon.

Zane agrees with my assessment. "I didn't want to say anything – you picked it."

"I have some good news," I say.

"Space werewolves are allergic to cinnamon?"

I shake my head, playing it low key. "No...I just got a text from Conner. Are you free tomorrow afternoon? Because he says you can come with us if you want."

Zane cocks an eyebrow. "Like, I can come see you guys off?" he asks.

I laugh. "No." And then I add sarcastically, "I mean...yes, you can have the honor of coming just to watch us walk the bridge, then just as we're almost out of sight we'll flip you off. No, doofus, I meant you can come over to the other ship with us. Conner got you on the list as one of his assistants."

It's hard to describe Zane's reaction as anything other than profound and nuclear. "What? I get to...you got me...oh my God...thanks, Devon...I just told the guys I didn't know if I'd get to go over at all, we were so bummed...oh man, this is killer!"

I laugh at his reaction, feeling relieved to see the old Zane. First he sends out a series of texts, the whole time thanking me profusely. Then he makes an audio call. I sit back and watch him with a certain sense of satisfaction as he dials. When he connects, he says, "Hello? Oh my god, thaaaaaaank you so much for letting me tag along tomorrow. I'll totally...what? This isn't Ian, it's Zane. Oh. Uh-huh...just a second."

Zane hands his com to me, and when I answer I get a brief chewing out about letting Zane pester Conner at work. "I didn't know he was calling you," I protest. "No, I’m being totally honest. Whatever, he’s just really excited. Okay, okay...sheesh." I hang up. "He says we have to let him work, or nobody's going."

Zane agrees to this, laughing at the way Conner scolded me, and then gets visibly happy about the development. He's fidgeting around in his seat like an excited little kid. I always look up to Zane as an older brother; it's funny to think of him as a little boy.

After two minutes of trying to sit still he begins speaking, his words bursting forth as if he can't contain them any longer. "Okay, okay, okay," he says, making me jump. "I can't hold it in any longer. I'm just so...wow, Devon – you guys really made my day. I know you're into this werewolf space movie shit and all, but I vote you and me...bedroom...now."

I give him a sideways smile. "Well...the movie is crap," I admit.

This seems to be all the invitation he needs. In a flash I'm being pulled up off my seat and toward the club room, a quick "erk!" escaping my lips as Zane almost dislocates my shoulder. Once the door to the room is closed, Zane is naked in about a tenth of a second, his muscular body on display.

He’s totally giddy – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him quite like this. He scratches at his calf with his toes, and then says, "I owe you, Devon...any hole...anywhere you want it. Anything you want tonight, buddy." To emphasize the point he turns around, presenting his muscular ass to me. It's supposed to be sexy, I guess, but it makes me laugh.

"You're such a nut," I giggle as he waggles his butt at me. "Um...I'll have to think about that. But what's with you tonight? What's so important about going to the other ship?"

Zane turns around. He's sexy front and back – turning around deprives me of the view of his rear, but has the benefits of displaying his long, low hanging cock to me. "Oh...you're gonna flip," he says, then stops himself. "No, I better not say anything. Let's just make it a surprise. I don't want to jinx it."

I'm still laughing. "Okay, deal, but you have me really curious."

"So?" he asks.

I shrug. "So, nothing. I'm really curious, that's all."

Zane shakes his head. "No, I mean...so, what's your pleasure? I was serious – I owe you huge. What do you want?"

I sigh, pretending to be a little more frustrated than I actually am. "Do you ever think about anything other than sex? C'mon, I was serious. You've been talking about the other ship for days. What's over there that has you so wound up?"

Zane rubs his tummy sensually with one hand. "Wow. This doesn't have you turned on? I must be losing my touch." In truth, I can't help but be a little aroused. Zane is as toned and beautiful as ever, his body proportioned just right, slender in some places and muscular in others.

"It's not that," I answer. "You're hot and you know it."

"Thanks." Zane smiles, almost as if my saying this holds special meaning. "Can I tell you something personal?" he asks.

I return a short laugh, finding it funny that Zane would even consider asking before saying whatever was on his mind. "Of course."

"I would tell you all about the other ship and why I want to visit, but I think it will be more fun as a surprise. And in all honesty – I really am afraid I could jinx it. I know that doesn't make any sense, but if I talked about it with you now and then tomorrow something happened and I didn't get to go, I'd be really bummed."

I agree to drop the subject. Whatever Zane's secrets, I can respect his desire to reveal them in his own time and in his own way.

Zane looks me up and down and then says, "Aren't you going to get naked?"

I roll my eyes and reply, "Don't know...I wouldn't want to jinx it."

Zane smirks before lunging in my direction, causing me to yelp in surprise. And then he's tickling me relentlessly as I squirm and try to get out from under his grasp. I fail to, and find my shirt and pants promptly removed. Only then does my friend stop, allowing me to catch my breath.

"Ha ha...sheesh...ha...." I pant, looking down to see that I’ve been stripped to my undies during the tickle torture.

"I missed this," Zane says, looking me over.

"Missed what?"

He sighs, as though my question is a stupid one. "Hanging out with you...sexually. It's awesome you're with Conner, but I miss getting together with you."

"I'm so sure," I reply, trying to sound dubious. “Somehow I’m betting you have sex partners scattered all over the ship.”

Zane steps closer to me. I raise my arms defensively, but lower them when I realize he's not going to start tickling me again. Instead he reaches up and runs his fingers through my bangs. "Like the new hair," he says of my plain, parent-friendly cut and color. "If I do – have lovers all over the ship, that is – none are quite like you."

"Flatterer," I say, trying not to blush or give away that his compliments are very effective.

He shrugs. "I told you before that I never lie to anyone I go to bed with, and I’m being completely honest when I say that you've grown up into a heck of a gay guy, Devon. And I'm not just talking about sex. Conner is lucky – way lucky."

"Thanks," I say, smiling shyly. I idolize Zane a little, and compliments from him make me feel all fluttery. "But I think I'm the lucky one...to have Conner," I add.

Zane smiles, twirling my hair between his fingers. I watch what he’s doing, going a little cross-eyed as I do. Zane laughs. "You're both lucky," he says. "And hot. Can I take your underwear off now?"

My reply comes in a bit of a whisper. "I don't know...can you?"

Zane gives me a sly smile and takes my response to be permission to undress me, which it is. He gently slides my briefs down; they fall to my feet and I step out of them.

I guess I hadn’t thought about it, but I haven’t been naked and alone with Zane for weeks. It makes me feel a little nostalgic, like it makes me recall a time in my life when things were really different. Even though it wasn’t that long ago, the days before Conner seem like an entirely different era. Back then Zane provided some guidance and stability, possibly keeping me from spinning totally out of control. Being with him now makes me realize how much more comfortable I am in my own skin and puts me at ease, like meeting up with an old friend for coffee might.

“Where’d you go?” he asks.

I return to reality. “Huh?”

“You zoned out there,” he smiles.

“Oh. I was just thinking about...I don’t know...a lot of things, I guess. You, the club, how things have changed over the past couple of months. Conner.”

Zane steps close enough to me so that I can feel the heat radiating off his naked skin. “We can just be friends, you know. I mean, non-sexual friends. You being with Conner is more important than us playing around.”

I shake my head. “It’s not that. Conner is okay with everything, and I think he may actually come to the club more than I might have thought,” I laugh. “I was just thinking about how I really owe you...you really helped me grow up.”

“And out,” Zane says slyly, looking down to where my cock is slowly starting to extend up and away from my body. He reaches over and touches my chest; he lets two fingers graze my left nipple, and pleasure explodes throughout my body. Freaking hell – how can one little touch feel so fucking good?

I smile and reach over to Zane, touching him in return. I run my fingers lightly down his side. I love the feel of his hard abs – all the lines and contours that are carved into his muscular body. Most of the guys I fool around with are firm, but Zane has all these sexy “extra features,” like the ridges of muscle along his sides that look something like gills, or the very defined v-shape leading down his tummy. I feel these areas now, firm and warm against my fingertips.

“Remember the time on the farm? In that storage shed?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I reply, my voice low and husky. “How could I forget?”

Zane looks directly into my eyes. “That was the best time I ever had since coming on board the ship. I don’t think I ever told you that.”

"Flatterer," I say, laughing as I repeat the accusation from moments ago. And then for no real reason at all, I lean in and lick Zane’s strong chest, running my tongue up his right pec. He sighs, still fingering my nipple gently. Below us, two cocks begin filling with blood. Mine, as is its custom, throbs slightly, rising a little higher with each pulse. Zane’s, longer and thicker, seems to almost fill like a water balloon, drooping heavy and full before growing full enough to begin its ascent.

I think back to the afternoon Zane is referring to. We’d had a fight, which led to us making up in a storage shed, leading to us fooling around in the storage shed. I smile at the memory – it had been really sexy.

“Ok, so I’m going to tell you what’s hot about you, Zane, and I want you to listen,” I say, mimicking the slightly condescending tone he’d employed that day.

He gets it and chuckles. “Okay.”

I run my hands over his chest. “You’ve been working out a lot. Your chest is like a giant tri-tip steak, just ready to be torn apart by greedy teeth.” I bite at his nipple playfully. He pulls away a little, but then lets me, knowing I won’t really hurt him...much.

“And your stomach is like the Mediterranean Ocean,” I continue, making my analogy silly on purpose.

“You’re such a goof,” he asserts, smiling.

“I am,” I laugh. “But in all seriousness, you’re about the hottest guy in the history of the world, you know? Your body totally rocks, and I...um...and I....” I become distracted when Zane’s cock, now almost fully hard, starts poking me in the leg. It makes me laugh – god I love sex! I compose myself and say, “Just a sec...I’ll be right back. I want to test something.”

Zane tilts his head, assuming an expression of curiosity, probably wondering why I’m leaving. I catch him by surprise, dropping down to my knees and rapidly taking his hard cock into my mouth. I go to work on it, sliding it vigorously and quickly in and out of my mouth.

“Ah! Ah ha, ha,” he laughs, enjoying the unexpected sensation.

His taste fills my mouth, tangy and familiar. Often I’ll start a blowjob slow and easy, but in this case I make as though Zane is fucking my face with short, rapid stabs. He seems to like it.

After a few minutes I pull off. “You said you were testing something?” he asks, his voice tinged with lust.

I shrug. “Yeah...I just wanted to see how you tasted right then. Don’t ask why.” I laugh, feeling a little silly. I like being with Zane, it’s always sexy, but never too serious.

“Hey,” he laughs, “when a guy drops to his knees for me, I never ask why. But if you’re not going to take my up on my ‘any hole’ offer, can we at least lie down so I can taste you too?”

I smile broadly – sixty-nine is fun. Zane sees my daydreamy reaction to his request and sweeps me off my feet, tossing me down onto the bed as I involuntarily whoop in surprise. He takes my dick into his mouth, pleasure immediately shooting through my body. In another second his dick is between my lips, the two of us connected in the intimate act of giving and receiving the same type of pleasure.

It isn’t long before he has me writhing and moaning, and I him. I grab his balls and play with them; I always love how his feel so large and hot in my fingers. He does the same to me and I whimper. He smiles – I can’t see this, but I can feel him doing so because of the way his lips are pressing against my shaft.

We go back to work. “Mmmm...Mmmmm...Mrff!” I moan, becoming increasingly excited, but not wanting to release my oral hold on his cock. A salty slickness against my tongue tells me that he’s precumming, and I can feel that I’m doing the same.

We blow and suck each other for a good half hour. We speak no words, but somehow communicate through our touch that we want to make this last. I run my fingers over every part of him that is within reach, feeling his strong belly and muscular chest. At one point our hands meet and we clasp our fingers together, an act that feels even more intimate than the oral contact.

“Ah, oh, you’re so good at that now,” Zane gasps when I move on to a swirly maneuver Mike taught me.

It makes me feel good that he thinks so. “Thanks,” I reply.

I go back down on him, trying to get his cock as deep into my mouth as possible. I’ve just barely started deep throating Conner – an act that was going to take some practice to master. I was nowhere near ready to slide Zane’s dick that deep, but I take it pretty far, trying to massage the entire shaft with the length of my tongue.

Suddenly, I feel two distinct sensations. First, Zane begins swirling his tongue over my tip in a maneuver he knows drives me crazy. But then I also feel pressure against my hole, and then suddenly there’s a saliva-slicked finger deep inside me. Zane finds “the spot” immediately, pressing against it deftly.

“Zane, no!” I yelp, releasing his erection from the confines of my mouth. “I can’t...I’m gonna...that’s too intense...Zane...Zane...Oh fuck fuck fuck, Zane!”

As is his way, he doesn’t do as I ask, sucking and fingering me harder, forcing far too much pleasure on me all at once.

“Augh...I can’t...I can’t...slow down...fuck...wait...Zane...” I pant and moan. He strokes my prostate with his finger and teases my tip with his tactile tongue. I want him to stop; I need him to stop. I feel like I’m looking through space and time. Oh, wow, that feels so good. And then I’m there, a white light blinding the back of my mind. “OH FUCK!” I scream, my voice filling the room with a guttural cry.

My hips buck and Zane releases me from his mouth – thank god – but he keeps his finger inserted deep in my ass. My first shot erupts, hitting me in the chest squarely. I’m about to breath a sigh of relief – the worst is over, thank god – when Zane hits the spot again, just as my second spurt is coming.

“AUOGHF!” I scream, or something that sounds like it. I think I yell louder than I’ve ever yelled during sex before. I feel like I’ve been hit with a train...a pleasurable train, but a train nonetheless. And then I feel like I’m about to pass out. I thrash and scream through my orgasm, and then involuntarily – almost – I lean over and bite Zane on the leg, taking the tan, muscular flesh between my teeth. I bite hard.

“Yowch!” he exclaims, laughing. I bite a little harder, the sensation of clamping my jaws down on him somehow feeling really, really good to me now. “Ow, ow, ow!” he yelps, pulling his finger out of me and gently prodding my mouth away from his leg.

“Sorry...sorry,” I pant, suddenly realizing that I’m hurting him. I gasp and wheeze, taking a full three or four minutes to catch my breath. My body is covered in sweat, and the sheet under me is soaked.

“Wow, I guess you liked that,” Zane says eventually.

I laugh and roll over onto my front, collapsing into the pillow. “Yeah...sorry about the biting. Wow. Everytime, Zane. Just...wow, that’s all I can say.”

I feel a gently drifting sleepiness descend on me. I know I should get up and finish Zane off, but somehow my body refuses to cooperate. I snuggle into the pillow, perversely enjoying the way the semen is making my skin stick to the sheet.

Zane reaches over and gently massages my ass. After a moment, he says, “Hey, I know you and Conner have rules. You can totally say no to this, but do you think it would be okay if I fucked you just between your legs...no penetration.”

This is well within the agreement Conner and I have with each another. In fact, we’d spent an entire day going over every conceivable scenario. In truth, we’d actually spent a small part of a day going over the scenarios and the larger part of it fucking like bunnies, but still. Leg humping was allowed. “Yeah...totally...go for it,” I say sleepily.

Zane climbs on top of me, his weight somehow comforting. I feel him maneuver around, and then his still rock hard dick is pressing between my thighs. I open them a little to let him in, and once there I squeeze my legs together tightly.

“Oh, yeah, just like that,” he sighs.

Zane begins faux-fucking me, humping between my legs. I almost want to fall asleep while he’s doing it, hoping I might wake up in several hours to discover him still at it, but I don’t. I just enjoy the feeling of him pressed into me, and that of his cock sliding between my legs.

After a little while, Zane’s actions become more intense and primal and I can tell that he’s getting close. I lift my chest off the bed, coming up onto my elbows. This is a better position for both of us and he wraps an arm around my chest, offering more leverage.

I start grunting with each thrust, the bed now shaking violently. Zane’s body is growing warmer and sweatier; I feel several cold drops land on my back – sweat falling from his soaked hair.

“Ugh...ugh...ugh,” he grunts. This is the closest we’ve ever come to Zane fucking me, and it really excites me. I feel my own cock fill out under me, stabbing uncomfortably into the mattress.

“Devon...you...are...so...fuckable,” he grunts, his thrusts becoming slow, long and deliberate. And then he’s there. “UGH!” He pushes his cock between my legs in short, stabbing motions, gasping. I feel him nip and lick at my ear; between my legs a warm, wet sensation spreads, making squishing sounds as my friend sprays his boy juice there.

“Ahhhh,” he sighs, rolling off me when done.

“Have fun?” I ask, smiling into my pillow.

His breathing is still elevated and ragged. “Always,” he answers.

“I’m kinda jealous,” I say. “The blowjob and fingering was great, but maybe I should have opted for the thigh-fucking. It sounded hot.”

Zane gives my ass a solid slap, making me squeal. “Then let’s get at it,” he says. When I look up at him he’s smiling widely, his sweat-soaked hair hanging from his head in the most sexy manner imaginable. “What?” he asks, “You didn’t think we were done, did you?”

Flipping over onto his front so that he’s lying on the mattress face-first, Zane proclaims that I’m ready for another go, and suggests that I fuck him between the legs. And how can I argue? My drowsiness subsiding, I climb up onto my friend, not aware at the time that we hadn’t racked up even a third of the orgasms that would occur that night, orgasms that eventually threaten to kill us, or at least it seems, before we collapse in a nasty, sticky, smelly pile together, not caring and falling immediately asleep.


* * * * *


When I wake up, I find the bed next to me empty. I toss on some shorts and a t-shirt, planning to stumble downstairs for a cup of whatever Lukas had on special today. Again I run into Zane in the living room – is he living in there now? He’s carrying a black overnight bag, looking very excited.

“Are you packed yet?” he asks excitedly. “I want to make sure we show up on time. I don’t want to miss going over.” He seems hyper – like crazy hyper.

I laugh. “It’s only seven,” I say, checking the time. “Conner said to meet him in the docking bay at ten. And I’m not packed, but it’s only one night. I was just going to throw some stuff together and then grab some breakfast.”

Zane leaps up from his seat, causing me to jump. He slaps me on the ass and I yelp playfully. “Well get moving!” he demands. “Maybe we should take our breakfast to the docking bay...just in case something happens so that we have to go over early.”

I tell Zane that if he wants me to move faster, he needs to get me coffee while I shower. He agrees, telling me to hurry up about it. “Okay, okay,” I acquiesce, running off to my room to get my towel, my little Devon rear in full retreat.

Once I’m showered and dressed I toss a change of clothes into a small overnight bag of my own. Zane returns with my coffee, seeming a little calmer – although he still molests Dog when he emerges from the bedroom he and Sean use here.

“Whoa!” Dog exclaims when he find an eager hand shoved down the front of his boxer briefs. “What’s your deal?”

“I’m just happy to see you,” Zane flirts, and then he tells Dog about his pass to travel to EV1985 with Conner and me.

While he’s speaking, Sean emerges from the bedroom. Apparently he wasn’t planning on running into anyone other than Dog on the way to the showers – he’s totally nude, and slightly boned. I watch as he considers ducking back into the bedroom, but then he shrugs and walks up behind Dog, grabbing him in a fierce naked boy bear hug.

“You’re going over today?” Sean asks Zane, sounding sleepy and very groggy. “That’s cool. Are you going with Conner and Devon to....”

Before he can finish his question, Zane shushes the other boy, which isn’t remarkable except that he does it by clamping his lips over Sean’s in a full, wet kiss. When he pulls back he scolds Sean for what he was about to say.

“Oh yeah, right..surprise and all,” he says, looking a little dazed and bewildered. “Sorry…need caffeine.”

Zane tells the boys that we need to get going and then pulls me away. “What was that all about?” I ask, meaning the kiss and the secrets and the shushing.

“No time,” he replies excitedly. “We should get going.” He questions whether we can truly make the ten-minute walk to the bay in the hour and a half we’ve allotted for it. And so it is that I find myself once again being tugged by the arm and pulled away from the flat by Zane.

He gives me permission to grab breakfast, which we do before making our way to the docking bay. We find Conner already there, a clipboard tablet in hand.

The room is now stacked with dozens of plastic crates, several of them lined up on the conveyor belt leading up to the smaller hatch. This system seems more automated than opening the hatches for human visitors – with a whir and a hiss the first cargo hatch opens and three crates slide into the second compartment, which I can now see is totally independent of the room visitors come through. When the smaller hatch closes again, I can hear the second one open on the other side of the crates, and then the sound of them moving into the second airlock. I assume this process is repeated a third and final time before sending the cargo along the one-mile bridge to the other ship.

When Conner notices us he laughs, probably because I look rather harried, suitcase in one hand and uneaten lunch in the other. “What are you guys doing here so early?” he asks. “I thought I said ten.”

“Zane didn’t want us to be late,” I answer. And then I drop my bag on the floor, crossing the room toward my boyfriend. Our relationship is still new enough that anytime we’ve been apart for more than a couple of hours, seeing each other again is a cause for a celebration – and a kiss, which is what I give him now, putting in a little extra effort to make it sexy.

“Wow,” Conner says when I allow him to surface for air. “That was...uh...what was that for? Did you miss me?”

I smile at my boyfriend and pinch his nipple playfully through his shirt. “As if you have to ask.”

He smacks me on the head with his clipboard before putting on his “serious Doctor Conner” face, which instantly puts me on good behavior. “Okay, before we go over, there are a few ground rules,” he says.

“Aye aye, captain,” I say, saluting. This causes him to put on his “annoyed Doctor Conner” face, to which I reply “Sorry,” trying to be cute about it and then shutting up.

“Anyway,” he continues, “conditions of taking you two – first, I kicked a nurse off this assignment to make an open slot. I don’t want to suffer because of that, so we never mention to anyone that Zane replaced him.”

“I’m cool with that,” Zane says. “Thanks, by the way – for taking me over.”

“It wasn’t Ian, was it? The nurse you kicked off?” I ask. Ian is cool, and becoming a pretty good acquaintance friend. I wouldn’t want him to miss out on fun just so we could do Zane a favor.

Another trio of crates moves into the airlock, the hatch closing with a hiss and a clank. Conner glances down at his tablet and punches in some information, apparently something to do with the crates that have just left. His answer sounds a little distracted and absent-minded. “Uh...no,” he says. “It was Nurse Johansson.”

I know the guy Conner is referring to – he’d been on night shift when I was hospitalized. He was a little stern and dull. I hadn’t liked him much, to be honest. “Oh, that’s okay then,” I say happily.

Conner finishes his notation and then continues with his instructions. “Okay, second condition – from what I hear, things over on the other ship are a little stricter than they are here. So no wandering off, and we need to get our work done. This afternoon we have to reconcile our medical supply manifests with theirs, and you’ll be helping with this. It’s boring work, and I’m sorry about that, but it’s the price of getting to go over today. If we muddle through it this afternoon, we should be done before it gets too late.”

“I can cope with that,” I say.

“Me too,” Zane agrees.

“Then tonight we have a room assignment, and tomorrow we’ll have the whole day free. Devon, you’ll be with me; Zane, you’re free to go off on your own, but please review the policies in place on the other vessel – you can’t wander around quite as freely as you can here.”

“We’ll be role-model visitors,” Zane promises.

Conner gives the boy a dubious glance. Freaking hell, he’s so adorable when he does that! I get a boner watching my hot, slightly nerdy boyfriend trying to wrangle Zane into behaving.

Conner looks at the time and then announces that although it’s a little early, everything is in place and we may as well cross over. My smile instantly fades and I gulp. What was until this moment a hypothetical trek to the other ship is now very real. In moments, the three of us will be traversing a narrow, mile-long bridge connecting the two vessels. Freaking hell – why did I agree to this?

“You okay?” Zane asks. “You look a little pale.”

“I’m...okay,” I reply slowly. Then I try and put on a happy smile, which I think comes off more looking like I have gas. “The whole space bridge thing is a little scary, I guess,” I admit.

Zane pats me on the back. “You’ll be fine,” he insists.

Conner completes some final paperwork on his tablet, and then announces that we’re good to go. We step up to the first door and I take a deep breath. Ugh. Conner punches in the appropriate command, and the hatch slides open. Conner and Zane immediately step into the small airlock chamber; I hesitate.

“C’mon, Devon,” Conner says, motioning for me to follow. I step into the chamber slowly, a sleek strip of uncertainty spreading across my chest as I do. Conner presses some commands on the control panel by the door, and the first hatch slides closed. The room is the size of a large elevator – probably large enough to hold more than twenty adults. Still, I feel rather encased, which is making me fidgety. I have a sudden newfound appreciation for how Reid feels in small spaces.

The second hatch opens and we move into the secondary airlock. Again Conner enters a command on the door, and again the hatch slides closed. When the third and final hatch opens, I can’t help but consider that under normal circumstances, when the ship isn’t docked with another, it would be opening into the vacuum of space. I think I might throw up.

I stare out the final hatch. A long, white hallway extends as far as I can see, brightly lit, without windows, seemingly infinite. Conner steps across the threshold, effectively leaving EV5997 for the first time in eight months.

“You guys coming, or what?” he asks, looking to me and Zane. I take a deep breath and step through the door – there, that wasn’t so bad, right?

The first section of the space bridge passes through the outer hull of the ship – some ninety meters or so. Once we’ve traveled past the point where the bridge extends out into space proper, the tunnel widens a little. To the left of a long pedestrian walkway we find a series of pipes running down the space tube, and to our right a conveyor belt is slowly moving a line of crates toward the other ship.

“Well this is weird,” Zane says of the passage. And he’s right – I’d thought that the tunnel would be one long stretch extending the mile between the two ships, and that if you stood on one end you could see to the other. Now, standing in the passage, I can see that it’s not entirely straight – the walkway seems to have an incline to it slightly, so that it appears to crest at the peak of a hill somewhere ahead. It’s difficult to tell whether this point is a hundred meters or a thousand away, everything is white and there is little to offer perspective in the passageway.

“It is a little weird,” Conner agrees. “Well, shall we walk?”

Zane and I agree and we start down the tunnel. The first part isn’t so bad. I try to put it out of my mind that we’re walking down a tiny tube of life that is barely protecting us from the harsh environs of deep space.

“So, all this stuff is going over to the other ship?” Zane asks. There is a line of crates extending the entire length of the tunnel. He seems conscientious of the fact that I’m nervous, and I think making small talk is his way of trying to set me at ease.

Conner nods. “Yeah. We’re starting with the most important supplies. The other ship seems to be having trouble making stuff – from what I hear they’re always running low on basic resources. I guess that’s due in part to overcrowding. But that’s part of what the smaller ships were designed for – we make the oxygen, then they breathe it and we trade all over again.”

Zane asks a couple of other questions about what Conner knows about the docking; I don’t pay much attention to the questions or Conner’s replies. Instead, I notice that my hands have started to shake. When we reach the halfway point, which is unceremoniously marked “halfway point” with a small hand-written sign, I suddenly feel dizzy. Like really dizzy. Which way is even up in this fucking hallway? How can we tell we’re not free-falling through space? Suddenly my pulse shoots up and my breathing becomes elevated.

Conner notices and slows his pace. “Hey...are you okay?” he asks.

I feel lightheaded. “I-I’m okay,” I stutter. “Just a little nervous. I-I think I should go back. I don’t like being out here.”

I turn to head back toward EV5997, but Zane grabs my arm. “Hey...hey, wait a second,” he says gently when I try to pull away. “Take a deep breath – you’re okay.”

Rather than do as he says, I freak out a little. “I don’t want to be in here anymore,” I protest. “It’s making me really dizzy. What if the bridge breaks? I don’t want to be in here anymore.” I try and suck it up, but that only makes me feel like I’m suffocating, so I increase my breathing to short, jagged puffs.

Conner steps in front of me and takes my hand. “Devon, I need to you look at me, and listen.” His voice has a calming effect and I do as he asks. “Okay, good,” he says soothingly. “I want you to take deep, steady breaths. You’re going to hyperventilate.”

I try this and feel a little better, although I can tell that my pulse is way over one-fifty. “Is he okay?” Zane asks, probably concerned something is really wrong with me.

Conner runs his fingers through my hair. “He’s okay,” he replies. “Just a little panic attack. Devy, why didn’t you tell me you were scared of crossing over?”

“I-I didn’t know,” I answer. Okay, okay, it’s not entirely truthful, but I didn’t think I’d get this weird about it.

Conner embraces me in a warm hug and then continues, “Okay, buddy. We can go back if that’s what you want. But we’re halfway there – we can also continue on. It’s your call.”

I don’t really like either option. My instinct is to lie on the ground and roll up into a little ball. But I don’t suggest this. “I-I think I’m okay,” I say. “We can go on. Hold my hand?” I request meekly.

He smiles and takes my left hand into his; I feel a little better almost immediately. “Tell you what,” Zane says, “unless your boyfriend protests, I’m gonna hold the other one.” Conner nods his approval and Zane takes my hand. “We’ll start walking – you just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and before you know it we’ll be there.”

I feel really embarrassed and a bit like the little kid that’s afraid to take the escalator, but I do as Zane suggests, even closing my eyes occasionally as we walk along. The feeling of vertigo doesn’t abate, but being tethered to both Zane and Conner helps.

“Almost there,” Conner says eventually; I’ve closed my eyes, allowing the others to lead me. I open them and see that we’re finally in sight of the exit.

“And we’re here,” Zane says when we reach the door. He punches in a command and it slides open. I step into the first airlock and breath a sigh of relief.

The door closes and Zane goes to open the second. Conner looks me in the eye. “There, that wasn’t so bad, right?” I shake my head. “Aw, Devy...you’re shaking all over. Come here.” He holds me tight in a firm hug, and I feel instantly comforted. I also feel myself start to cry; trying to stop only makes it worse.

We enter the next airlock and Zane closes the door. And then he opens the primary door and we’re able to exit the space bridge.

“Gentlemen, welcome to EV1985,” a uniformed officer says once we’ve entered the docking bay of the Orange County ship. “Is everything okay?” he asks, probably having noticed my cadaverous pallor and trembling limbs.

“He’s okay,” Zane answers the officer, “just a little nervous about crossing over.”

“Ah,” the officer replies. “That’s understandable. The first time I did it I puked. Can I get you some water or something?”

“I’m okay,” I say, my voice hoarse. “I just need to go to the bathroom. Where is it?”

“Just exit the bay and hang a left. You can’t miss it,” the officer replies. “I’m to take you to medical, so I’ll wait here until you’re all ready to go. Please...take your time.”

“Come with me?” I ask Conner, trying to look as pleading as possible.

He smiles. “Of course.”

Zane elects to remain behind, probably assuming that’s what I want, which it is. Conner and I exit the bay and find ourselves in an empty hallway. As the officer instructed, I turn left and almost immediately run into a unisex bathroom. Conner follows me in.

“Try splashing some water on your face,” he suggests. “Do you need to puke? It’s okay if you do.”

Water and puking sound about right, but it isn’t what I need right now. As soon as the door to the bathroom closes I leap on Conner, pulling him into me and kissing him roughly.

“Devon, what the....” he exclaims between kisses.

“Need to feel you...need to feel you now,” I answer. I thrust a hand down the rear of his pants, pushing my fingers all the way down his crack to that place where his glorious hole provides entry into his body. Conner moans, seeming to understand my weird behavior. He responds by running a hand up my shirt and pinching at my nipple, which I love.

And then he tickles me.

“Ah! Ha ha...oh my god, stop that!” I exclaim, laughing uncontrollably. “Foul! Foul! No sneak tickling!” I protest.

He smiles. “I thought you needed to giggle.”

I pull my hand out of his pants and nod. “I did. Oh my god, I feel like such an idiot!” I walk over to the sink, and this time I do splash some cold water on my face.

“Nah,” Conner replies. “You just got a little panicked. It happens. Are you okay to work this afternoon, or do you need a break?”

It’s endearing that he’s concerned about me. I take a deep breath. “Actually, I think I’m good,” I say truthfully. “I mean, now I’m horny and I’d love to fuck you. But I’m okay to work too.” I flash Conner a wide smile and I can see in his eyes that he appreciates the fact that I feel better.

“I’d love to let you fuck me too, but I don’t think we want to keep the Ensign waiting.”

I shrug. “Dunno...we could ask him if he wants to come watch.” Conner slaps my ass. “Ow! Hey! I’m panicked, remember?”

The two of us return to the docking bay. I offer a silent string of curse words in the direction of the door to the space bridge. “Everything okay?” Zane asks.

Conner nods. “Yeah, he just needed a moment.” And then he steps over to the officer who’d greeted us when we came aboard. “You must be Ensign Rex. I’m Conner McLaglen. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“That’s not a problem,” the officer replies. “And please...call me Simon.”

“Of course,” Conner says, smiling.

Ensign Rex looks at our little group. “Well, if you’re ready – what say we get you up to medical? I hear you have quite the pile of paperwork waiting for you.”

Our walk through EV1985 is uneventful, but slightly confusing. It’s much larger than our ship, so every hallway seems slightly too long, and corners cut too sharply. And yet, the byways are all narrower than EV5997, so that in most hallways it’s a challenge to squeeze past people coming in the opposite direction. It reminds me of the time I visited an antique aircraft carrier berthed in the San Diego bay.

Squeezing past people is something we almost immediately find we need to do a lot of – once a few levels above the docking bay we find the hallways to be quite crowded. This strikes me as very different from our ship – typically the farm and more industrial areas are quite empty.

“I’m going to take you the long way round,” Ensign Rex says as we walk. “The promenade will be packed today, and there’s no reason to get in the middle of that mess.”

Ensign Rex leads us along. For the most part, the layout of the other ship seems somewhat similar to ours – farms located down in the lower decks, housing situated around the concourses. We learn that on this ship what we refer to as “the commons” is called “the promenade,” and that being a much larger ship there are more than three concourses extending from their main lobby. From the way Ensign Rex describes it, it sounds like there are several six-story concourses leading forward from the main lobby, and several others extending to the port and starboard sides of the ship.

“Of course, we converted some of these into housing,” he explains. “But if you want to grab some food, head to Concourse B in the forward section. It’s close to medical and there are a lot of food service stations there. Just try not to get lost.” Conner assures the Ensign that we probably won’t do much wandering during our stay.

Our path to medical services takes us through one of the forward concourses – one designated Concourse C. All six floors seem totally packed with people – every seat and table along the bottom floor are occupied, and a fair amount of the open floor space too. We arrive at the end of what appears to be an endless line stretching off into the concourse.

“What’s the queue for?” I ask.

Ensign Rex answers as we continue following him. “About ten percent of the civilian population is assigned to rotating housing. They don’t have permanent quarters, and when they’re off shift they have to wait for a bunk. That’s what the line is for.”

“Wow,” Zane whistles. “That must suck.”

Ensign Rex nods. “Yes, but we try and keep the time anyone spends in rotating housing to a minimum. In most cases those who qualify for being placed in rotating housing get one month rotating and then six months in permanent quarters. It’s not so bad.”

Judging from the tired, sour faces of those standing in the long line, I would assume that the Ensign is understating the undesirability of not having an assigned room. “Couldn’t the rotating housing people be put, I don’t know, on the floor in flat living rooms or something?” I ask.

“We do that too,” Ensign Rex answers. “The floorspace in the flats is designated as sleeping space for eight hours when the ship is set to ‘night.’ This provides about thirty additional beds per flat. During the day the space has to be used for a living area. We can’t accommodate the entire civilian population out in the common areas all at once, and those who are lucky enough to be assigned a permanent bedroom have to share their bunk with two others in rotation, so they need to have living space during the rest of their day.”

Suddenly I feel very grateful for the two bedrooms that I enjoy twenty-four hour access to.

“Well, here we are,” Ensign Rex says when we arrive at medical services. It’s apparently a side entrance on the other side of the main hospital.

We thank Ensign Rex for guiding us through the ship, and assure him that we have everything we need to complete our assignment. Conner then leads us into the medical services area, which for some reason I’m expecting to be mostly empty. It’s not, however – we find the halls to be packed with people, some laid out on hospital gurneys. Only the bare minimum width is left open through the winding halls, so that if two rolling gurneys meet in the middle the nurses have to stop and move people around until one can “parallel park” to allow the other through. It reminds me of a game on my wristcom where you have to try to get a series of boats through a jammed marina.

“Well this is a mess,” Conner says, sounding confused and slightly disgruntled.

“What’s that?” Zane asks.

“Well, I’m supposed to be meeting with a Doctor Hardy. That may be easier said than done – I didn’t expect it to be this crowded in here.” Conner looks down at his tablet, as though it contains some secret information about Doctor Hardy’s location.

“Maybe the nurses’ station?” I suggest, nodding up ahead where an octagonal workstation sits at the intersection of several long hallways.

“Good idea,” Conner replies. We make our way down the hall to the nurses’ station. Conner steps up to the barrier between the hall and the station; a somewhat tired looking woman with a streak of grey through her otherwise black hair sits at a terminal. Conner stands silent and polite, waiting for the nurse to acknowledge him.

When she doesn’t after a full two minutes, he clears his throat. “Um...excuse me,” he says politely.

The nurse looks up, as though completely unaware that three boys were standing right in front of her until he spoke. “This better not be about a request that doesn’t have an appointment card or case number,” she says flatly.

“Uh...I don’t know what those are,” Conner says politely. “I’m Doctor McLaglen – from EV5997 – I’m supposed to be meeting Doctor Hardy, but I’m not sure where to find him.”

The nurse’s demeanor lightens a little, but not much. “You’re doctors?” she asks, looking the three of us over.

Conner answers for us. “Um, no. I’m a doctor, they’re just here to help. Here...I have an ID card here somewhere.” He searches through his pockets, ultimately producing the mentioned card. The nurse looks it over with a bland expression on her face.

“Fourth floor, room twenty-seven,” she says unenthusiastically.

“Wow, it’s friendly around here,” I say sarcastically once we’re out of the nurse’s earshot.

Conner nods. “Yeah, but remember that these people are all overworked. Wow...when I saw their medical supply needs list I knew they must be busy, but I guess I never put two and two together that needing a million units of medicine meant that their hospital would be packed like this.”

We discover that a purple stripe running along the floor – one of a dozen colored stripes – will lead us where we need to go. We follow it and find the correct room, a space that appears to be a small office converted from what was intended to be a broom closet; we find it empty.

“Uh, no one’s here,” I say, stating the obvious.

“I guess we should wait,” Conner says, sounding uncertain. The office is tiny, and with the three of us standing in it, it feels even smaller.

“Maybe we can page him?” I suggest. “Do they do that in real life? Paging Doctor Hardy. Doctor Hardy to the fourth floor, stat,” I say in my best serious announcer’s voice.

“Doctor Hardy reporting for duty,” a feminine voice says from the doorway. We turn to see a middle-aged woman with bushy brown hair standing behind us. She’s dressed in a rather nice looking lavender suit and white physician’s coat, a name badge reading “Doctor Eleanor Hardy” pinned above her jacket pocket. “Wow...it’s raining men,” she says as she presses past us toward her desk. “I’ve been asking for a tall, dark man to come into my life...didn’t expect three.”

Doctor Hardy makes it behind her desk, which is only about eighteen inches from the rear wall of the office so that she has to squeeze herself into her chair. “Gotta love this office,” she says warmly. “It keeps me motivated to stick to my diet. If I gain ten pounds I’ll lose my figure and my workspace, ha!”

“Uh...” Conner says, sounding a little shy.

Doctor Hardy leans back in her seat – well, as far as she can lean in the confined space. “So...what can I do for you boys? Are we here for prostate exams? Oh please tell me it’s for prostate exams – especially you.” The doctor turns to Zane, offering him a sultry look.

Zane gets that look in his eye and responds in a mischievous tone. “Well, it’s not what we came for, but why not?” He turns as though to bend over and present his ass to Doctor Hardy. The room is so small he nearly knocks me over. Doctor Hardy laughs at his behavior, but Conner doesn’t look amused.

“Zane...knock it off,” he says before turning back to the doctor. “I’m Conner McLaglen...Doctor McLaglen, that is. This is Devon and Zane; we’re here to work on the supply records.”

Doctor Hardy looks confused for a moment, and then seems to understand what Conner is saying. “Ah yes,” she says, “I think I remember that you were coming over today. Let me see here.” She activates the worktop on her desk and the surface lights up in response. Where Conner’s desk is usually very neatly organized, we’re immediately greeted by what appears to be a massive virtual mess on Doctor Hardy’s. Folders and open documents are strewn everywhere, piled in a seemingly random order. Doctor Hardy uses the touch screen surface to move items about until she accesses what appears to be a very jammed calendar.

“Here we are,” she says. “Now I remember – you’ll need access to the supply warehouse.”

“Er...yeah,” Conner replies.

“Let’s do it to it, then,” Doctor Hardy says, laughing at her phrasing. “I’ll take you down there.”

The four of us squeeze out of the tiny office, returning to the crowded corridor. Doctor Hardy leads us to the rear of the hospital and then into a small elevator. She punches in an access code and we descend several floors. When the doors open, I’m happy to see that there is no one around – the crowds are becoming annoying. We enter a moderately large storage facility. It’s clean and neat – I guess that Doctor Hardy hadn’t been the one to organize it – with long rows of shelves stacked high with supply crates. A similar but smaller facility houses all of the medical supplies on our ship, but I’d never visited it.

“So here we are,” Doctor Hardy says. “Whew...it’s nice to be away from all the people, isn’t it? I may have to start taking lunch down here. I never considered that before.”

Conner and Doctor Hardy go over a few instructions before she leaves us to return upstairs. We’re told not to let anyone else into the warehouse, and asked not to disturb the order of the supplies in the course of our work. Zane and I listen in, not really certain what it is we’ll be helping with this afternoon.

Once Doctor Hardy is gone, Conner turns to us and says, “Whew, I’m glad we left early. This ship is a zoo.”

“No kidding,” I agree.

“Okay, so here’s what we’ll be doing,” Conner explains. “I’ve organized the supplies that this ship has requested from us, and the supplies we want from them. What we’ll be doing today is a physical ‘reality check’ on some of their inventory. We need to verify this so that the supply transfers can be authorized. I can’t send ten thousand units of antibiotics over if they don’t really need it, and we have to make sure we’re not taking supplies they can’t afford to send over. It’ll be a little boring, but I think we can plow through it relatively quickly.”

Zane and I put on our “helpful faces” and set to work assisting Conner. He pulls up a long list of items we’ll need to locate and count. At first we try setting about together finding the location of the first item. This proves to be somewhat ineffective, though, and results in a lot of backtracking and aisle wandering.

“Ugh, this is going to take forever,” Conner complains.

Zane pulls up a program on his wristcom. “Here, how about this?” he suggests. “You give Devon and me like five or six items off your list. We’ll wander around looking for them, and when we find one we’ll tell you the location. Then you can go right to it and do your counting.”

Zane’s plan does work better. Conner has me looking for Ritaminicin, Plebotox, Scandanin, Chloroplon and Bee’s Wax – wait...Bee’s Wax? Yeah, that’s what he wrote – so I set about walking the aisles. Actually, I jog along – it feels nice to stretch my legs.

“I found Genephenerine!” Zane yells from a couple of aisles over. I yell back, calling him a cheater. A game ensues with Zane and me competing to see who can locate the most supplies.

The work is dull, but we make it as amusing as possible. “Hey, check it!” Zane says, holding up a supply box to show us. “Soylent Green, now with forty percent more people.”

“Dumbass,” I laugh.

Before long we grow hungry, and send Zane out for lunch. “Want to do it while he’s gone?” I ask Conner, who shakes his head and tells me that I’ll have to wait until later, no matter how much I pout.

Zane returns with Fish and Chips, and we eat before continuing the work.

At one point I locate a particularly hard to find item on my list and count the stock. When I return to Conner with the information, he has a concerned look on his face.

“Everything okay?” I ask.

“Um...yeah,” he says, thinking about it. And then he says, “Well, actually, I’m not sure.”

“What’s up?”

He punches some buttons on his tablet. “Well, there’s something weird here,” he says. “I’m going through which supplies are to be transferred over to us, and I have a request for a ton of Aderalan.”

“What’s Aderalan?” I ask.

Conner looks over the info he’s pulled up on his tablet. “Well, that’s the weird thing,” he says. “It’s a drug used to relax the intestines – it would be prescribed for irritable bowel syndrome, Celiac Disease, things like that.”

“And it’s weird that we’d want it?” I look over his shoulder at the tablet, reading over the information.

“No,” he says. “Well, I mean, yeah, sort of. We can make Aderalan ourselves, not that we really need it. Mostly you would expect it to be needed by older patients – I don’t think I’ve seen it ever prescribed on our ship.”

“Maybe the people who are moving over need it?” I suggest.

“Maybe,” Conner says, sounding doubtful. “But there’s a huge surplus here, and the amount that’s been requested to be moved over is...massive. I could put everyone on our ship on the drug for weeks. Why would we need that much?”

I shrug. “Cancel the order, then.”

Conner shakes his head. “I tried that...I’m locked out of the order.”

We look at each other. We’re bright guys, and this isn’t the first weird issue we’ve seen with the medical supplies. “This has something to do with the Zupertol,” I say. “It has to. Are the drugs, I don’t know, compatible? Related?”

Conner shakes his head, his bangs flopping about cutely. “They’re totally unrelated,” he says. “They don’t interact, and they’re for different disorders. I could prescribe both for a patient and there wouldn’t be any additional side effects, so...yeah, they’re compatible.”

“Weird,” I say.

Conner looks over at me, his curious expression changing into one of annoyance. At first I think I’ve done something to upset him, but then he says, “Dammit. Here we are getting into this stuff again. You know what? I think you should tell Reid about this, but I’d really hoped we could just have a carefree vacation over here. Let’s not talk about this anymore.”

He seems frustrated, so I agree to put it out of my mind, adding, “And I’ll tell you what – I’m sooooooo glad to have the boyfriend who thinks of cataloguing obscure pharmaceuticals as ‘a vacation.’”

“Shut up,” he laughs, knowing I’m just being silly.

We continue cataloguing well into the evening, breaking for a dinner of turkey sandwiches before returning to work, which we wrap up just after midnight.

“Whew...well, I’m beat, but it’s done,” Conner says, punching the final data into his tablet.

“Me too,” I agree.

We make sure we’ve returned everything to its place before taking the elevator back up to the hospital. Although it’s late, the halls are almost as crowded as they had been earlier. We leave the hospital, finding the walkways through the concourse similarly crowded.

“Wow, too many people,” I say.

Zane nods agreement. “Yeah, but it sure beats the alternative.” By which I presume he means remaining behind on a doomed planet.

Conner checks his wristcom. “They were good enough to give us space in one of the flats tonight. Sorry Zane, I think you’ll be on the floor. Um...looks like we need to get to area four fifty-one.”

We have no trouble finding someone to ask for directions; a kind-looking man in a green hat explains the shortest route to our destination. When he discovers that we’re from the other ship he takes a keen interest in us, asking all about life on board the other vessel. Conner answers politely, but I can tell he’s tired and getting cranky.

“Sorry,” I say, interrupting the man’s musings, “we’re kinda running late to meet someone.” He apologizes and sends us off on our way.

We locate the correct area and then find the flat. When we enter the housing sections I’m astounded to see people sleeping along the hallways on makeshift cots. We try to move along as silently as possible.

“Here we are,” Conner whispers when we located a door marked forty-two. It opens for us and we enter.

The flat looks similar to the ones on our ship – more utilitarian, perhaps, but it’s similarly laid out. We take a short hallway into the living room, wrapping our way around the bathroom, Conner in the lead.

“Oh...uh,” he says uncertainly when we enter the living room. The space is dimmed considerably, but we can make out several dozen sleeping bags laid out all along the floor. Small paths to the separate rooms have been left open, so that the living room resembles an odd campout version of a hedge maze.

When our eyes adjust we see that most all of the bags are occupied. A man is sitting on one of the four couches in the space reading a book. When he looks up from it and notices us, he stands and approaches Conner.

“You must be our visiting doctor,” he whispers. “I was expecting you. My name is Martin.”

Martin seems nice enough. I judge him to be in his late twenties; he has auburn hair and a slight build. “Hi, I’m Conner,” my boyfriend replies in a soft whisper. “Sorry we got here so late. If we’re disturbing people we can go elsewhere.”

Martin smiles. “Not at all, not at all,” he says reassuringly. “It’s like this from eight p.m. to six a.m., so don’t worry about it. You must all be tired, but would you like some tea before bed?”

I’m not sure any of us really want tea, but accepting someone’s hospitality seems like the polite thing to do. “That sounds great,” I whisper.

Martin smiles and gestures for us to follow him. He winds his way through the sleeping people maze and back toward the flat’s kitchenette, which we find to be empty. Martin pulls a Japanese screen across the entry to the kitchen and then turns the lights up slightly.

“There we go,” he says. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your friends’ names.”

I introduce myself and then Zane does the same. Martin smiles and sets about making tea, filling a pot with water and then heating it. He offers us a selection of tea bags and we each choose one, which we place into the mugs we’re subsequently given.

“So...you’re all visiting from the other ship?” Martin asks. He raises his voice a little, so we do the same.

“Yeah,” Conner says, and then explains our assignment in the medical services sector.

Martin smiles warmly. “Well, I can tell you that the folks over here sure appreciate it. I know we’re low on a lot of stuff, and from what I hear you boys have a surplus.”

“Yeah, I think we’ll be able to provide you with most of the more urgent things,” Conner replies, “along with a fair number of the less important ones.”

“Excellent,” Martin says. “So, how do you like EV1985 so far?”

“It’s nice,” I say. “Crowded, though. But we haven’t seen much else besides the hospital.”

Martin laughs. “Well, I’d have to agree with that assessment. They have us packed in here pretty tight. We’re not the worst off in the fleet in that regard, but it can get old sometimes.”

“I bet,” Zane says. “Do you live in this flat full time, or are you on that room sharing thing?”

Martin sips his tea. “No, no, I’m not on rotation for housing. I live here...with my wife and son.”

“Oh, you have a kid?” Conner asks politely.

“Sure do,” Martin replies. “He was born here, too. Here, let me show you...I know I have pictures here somewhere.” Martin accesses him wristcom and pulls up some photos of his six-month old son.

“Wow, cute,” I say, laughing at a picture of the kid covered in whipped peas. “It must be cool having a new baby.”

Martin laughs. “It is, but you might not feel the same way after bunking in our room. I have to warn you – he’s not quite sleeping through the night yet.”

“I hope we’re not putting you or your wife out,” Conner says, concerned.

He assures us that we’re not. Apparently, some of the work shifts amongst those living in the flat were altered in order to make space for us, freeing up a bed.

“So you share a bedroom with others?” I ask. “Even with a newborn?”

Martin nods and tells us that there are twenty adults assigned to that bedroom. “It’s not as bad as it sounds,” he insists. “We worked out three sleep shifts for the room, so it’s not like everyone is in there at once. And you’d be surprised how quickly people opted for other shifts once the baby arrived, ha ha.”

As we’re drinking our tea I mention meeting Doctor Oldham, Léna and the others earlier. Martin digs around in a cupboard and produces a packet of digestives, the delicious wheat cookies I remember fondly from my childhood. I eagerly accept one, dipping it into my tea before eating it.

“You met the bible beaters, eh?” Martin says, a frown crossing his face. “How was that?”

“It was weird,” I reply. “I think they’re going to try to build a church or something on our ship.”

Martin huffs. “Wouldn’t surprise me. Those guys are idiots.”

I look around, suddenly concerned that someone might be listening in. I think the crowded nature of the ship is making me paranoid. “None of them live here in your flat?” I ask.

Our new friend shakes his head. “No way – they live in their own little group upstairs.”

“Well, that’s something, at least,” Zane suggests. “That way you don’t have to put up with around the clock prayer time. Being crammed into a flat with fifty of those guys doesn’t sound like much fun.”

Martin grunts, and when he continues speaking he sounds annoyed. “Living in separate areas doesn’t do a lot to stop the prayer meetings, let me assure you. They’re out in the halls most days, preaching and praying and doing whatever it is that they do. Morons – if I have to listen to that ‘gather at the river’ song one more time.”

I feel like stating the obvious, so I do. “You don’t seem to like them much.”

Martin shakes his head. “I’m sorry. You’re guests and I should be more polite. It’s not that I don’t like them...there are just challenges to living in high density, and they can be annoying sometimes. The special treatment doesn’t help.”

“Special treatment?” Zane asks.

My tea is cool enough to drink so I gulp it down, feeling warmth spread through my tummy. I guess I must make a goofy face as I do because Conner laughs at me. Martin nods. “Yeah...they nabbed some of the more preferred flats, and there are fewer assigned per bedroom.”

Wow, that sounds familiar. “How does that work?” I ask.

Martin explains that the church people have some idea or other about the sanctity of marriage, and therefore sex. Apparently rooming with a dozen others affects their ability to procreate morally, and is therefore a violation of their religious freedoms. From what I can tell, somehow the church people managed to wrangle their way into housing where their married couples more or less get their own rooms.

“Wow, that really sucks,” I say, thinking about how I’d feel about sharing a room with forty guys while Doctor Oldham and his followers got the best housing.

“Yes,” Martin agrees, “but it’s a small price to pay for the survival of the species.” He then looks alarmed, as though something pertinent has just dawned on him. “I’m sorry,” he apologizes, “I totally forgot that you guys are on a regular Earth time schedule – you must be exhausted. I’m slotted to sleep between four a.m. and noon, and sometimes that makes me overly talkative when others need to sleep. Let me show you to the room.”

I consider arguing, but notice that Conner does seem about to fall over. Even Zane is looking a little droopy-eyed. So we just nod and follow Martin out of the kitchen once we’ve cleaned our dishes.

We make our way through the maze of sleeping people and arrive at the appropriate room. Inside we discover...more sleeping people. But one of the beds is empty and a sleeping bag has been arranged on the floor under it.

“Sorry, two of you will have to share a bed, and the other will be on the floor,” Martin says. We assure him that this isn’t a problem. He informs us that we’re free to get up any time, but that we have to vacate the room no later than nine.

Martin leaves, the room now silent save the sounds of several sleeping people. I can tell Conner feels a little awkward about sleeping in a room filled with strangers, and I do too. But we make the best of it, Conner sliding into bed fully clothed. I follow suit, snuggling in close to him. Zane doesn’t seem as modest, however, and strips down to his undies before climbing into the empty sleeping bag.

“Wow, and I was hoping to get lucky tonight,” I whisper into Conner’s ear, being mindful to speak so lightly so that even the two of us can barely hear what I’m saying.

Conner stifles a laugh and then whispers back, “Me too.”

I look over the edge of the bed to where Zane is lying. “How’s the floor?” I whisper.

From the darkness I hear him whisper back, “Cold. And hard. It’s horrible, but I’ll survive.”

I sympathize with Zane. The floors aren’t carpeted, they’re that metallic tiling found all over the evacuation ships. “At least we have a bed,” I whisper to Conner. “Zane’s dying down there.”

My boyfriend looks up over me and down toward the floor, although I’m sure he can’t make Zane out in the darkness of the bedroom. He lies back down on the pillow, and then after a moment he sighs. “Tell him to get up here. There’s room for three.”

Conner is right – the bed has been configured as a queen and can accommodate all of us. I lean over the edge of the bed and reach down to tap Zane on the shoulder. Instead I accidentally stick a finger up his nose. “Oops, sorry,” I whisper, trying not to laugh. “Conner says you should come up here.”

“Kay,” Zane replies, not requiring much convincing. Conner and I slide over to make room for our friend. He slips into bed with us – it’s a tight fit, but not horrible so. I nestle up to Conner and Zane slides in closer to me.

Conner puts his forefinger on my nose and whispers, “If you get a boner because he’s in bed with us, I’ll castrate you in your sleep.”

I’m pretty sure he’s joking, but I hide my erection between my legs nonetheless.


* * * * *


If there was any question about us waking on time, there needn’t have been. Around four a.m. the sleeping shifts change, and several people sleeping in our room get up and amble out, replaced by a small group who enters the room after they’ve left. I sleepily watch across Zane’s slumbering chest as the newcomers punch in commands for their bunks to change the linens before climbing into a freshly made bed.

Then, around six, we get a wakeup call that is not so common on our ship – that of a screaming baby.

All three of us jump when the infant lets out a mighty whale. “Wha?” Zane exclaims sleepily.

A woman, presumably Martin’s wife, gets up and takes the baby from a crib in the corner. “Sorry,” she whispers to the room. When the child doesn’t stop crying she scoops the boy up and takes him out into the living room.

Conner, Zane and I try to go back to sleep, but we all have limited success. After an hour Conner whispers that we might as well get up, and I agree. Sleeping in on this ship isn’t very fun. We groggily make our way to the bathroom, which we find divided into two sections. We enter the men’s side and discover it to be relatively crowded – there’s a line of five men waiting to use the showers.

“You must be our visiting doctor,” the man in the back of the line says to us when we join the queue. He extends a friendly hand to Zane.

Zane shakes it and says, “Actually, I’m the visiting slacker. Conner here is the doctor.”

The man apologizes for his mistake, remarking that Conner seems very young to be a doctor. I’d take that as a compliment, personally, but I get the sense Conner is tired of being proclaimed “too young to be a doctor.”

“I’m Alejo,” the man says. “Are you boys in a hurry this morning? We could skip you to the front of the shower line if you are,” he offers. The others in front of him grumble and shift their weight from foot to foot, expressing their feelings over the idea of allowing line cutting, even for guests.

“Oh no,” Conner says. “We couldn’t do that. We have some free time today, actually. We’re not on any particular schedule.”

We chat a bit about our work on the ship while waiting. Alejo asks about life on EV5997, and although he’s the only one in the bathroom to speak with us, I can tell that everyone is listening as we talk about our ship and what it’s like there.

When it’s Alejo’s turn for a stall, he turns to us and says, “Word of advice – there’s a time limit on the showers. Use your wristcom ID to activate it. After seven minutes you’ll get twenty seconds of freezing cold water and then nothing. Just so you know...first-timers sometimes get a shock.”

“Thanks,” we say as Alejo wanders into the available stall.

After a few minutes another stall opens up, a towel-clad fat man emerging from his shower. “Man am I ready for a twenty-one minute steaming hot shower,” Zane says, stretching.

I look at him curiously. “Alejo said we only get seven...oh,” I say, getting what he’s saying halfway through my sentence.

Zane smiles and Conner rolls his eyes. And then he says, “That’s fine, just no funny business.”

I have to admit, Conner seems to really be coming out of his shell. If you’d asked me a month ago whether I thought he’d ever invite another boy into bed with us, much less the shower, I’d have said no way.

The three of us enter the open stall, earning curious gazes from the small group of men standing in line behind us. I enter last, offering the line-standers a coy shrug and a smile before pulling the curtain closed.

We undress together and then Conner waves his wristcom over a control panel outside the shower. A seven minute timer appears, along with a green button reading “Start Shower.” I try waving my com across the panel and the timer increases to fourteen minutes. “Cool,” I say as Zane does the same.

Showering with Zane and Conner is less sexy than it may sound. Sure, I get a boner, and sure, it results in an eye-roll from Conner and a wide smile from Zane. But for the most part we focus on soaping ourselves up, wary of the time limit.

“Wow, living here kind of sucks,” I say while washing my chest. “I think this is the most personal space we’ve had since arriving.”

“It is crowded,” Conner agrees. And then he adds in a flat, sarcastic voice, “I can wash my own butt, Zane, thank you.”

“Sorry, thought it was mine,” Zane replies playfully, causing me to giggle, which I immediately stop when Conner shoots me a glare. I point out that Conner is the one getting a boner, not me, to which my boyfriend mumbles something about working all week and not having time for wank breaks, let alone some time with his boyfriend.

I decide to ignore this. Under other circumstances I’d kick Zane out and fuck Conner…or just fuck Conner without kicking Zane out, but we only have a few more minutes in here. “So what are you up to today?” I ask Zane. Conner had told me that he had a special surprise for our free time, and that Zane would be going off on his own.

Zane shrugs, rinsing off under the hot, steamy water. “I’m supposed to meet someone,” he says. When he doesn’t add anything else I question him about this mystery liaison. His mood seems to shift and I’m at first afraid I’ve hit a sensitive topic.

But then when he answers I understand that he’s just upset by the general bureaucracy on this ship. “It’s ridiculous,” he explains. “I thought when I came over I’d be able to visit whomever I liked, but you have to fill out these reservation papers saying where on the ship you’re going and what time...they put my request at the front of the line because I’m a visitor, but still. Now I found out that who I wanted to see is working down in the lobby, and I don’t have tickets for...oh…I’ll be quiet now.”

Conner has given Zane’s butt a firm squeeze, which I take to mean that Zane was getting too close to ruining whatever surprise Conner has planned. I just smile and pretend not to notice.

“We have an extra ticket,” Conner says, rubbing conditioner into his hair. “I’d requested them for everyone coming over to help me out...you can have Nurse Johansson’s.”

Zane’s eyes light up. “Really? Wow, that would be awesome!”

Conner sets a couple of conditions, primarily that if Zane wants to accompany us he has to go off on his own for part of the day, and something in the way Conner inflects the word “part” leads me to assume he actually means “most,” if not “all.”

“No prob,” Zane happily agrees.

It’s about then that the shower sprays us with freezing cold water, causing all three of us to yelp and promptly evacuate. “I so love this ship,” I comment sarcastically.

We make our way through a pile of people in the living room, which has been converted from sleeping to living area, and then we make our way through a pile of people in the bedroom. We dress, trying to be as quiet as possible in consideration of those trying to sleep, and then take our bags back into the living room. We find a sleepy-looking Martin cradling a snoozing infant in his arms.

“Fatherhood is great,” he ascertains, “but it comes with a guaranteed lack of sleep.”

We say our goodbyes, Conner mentioning that we should get going, and thank Martin for his help during our stay. Zane leads us out of the flat and into the hallway, which is busy, although the sleep cots that had lined it last night have been rolled and stacked neatly in piles next to the columns interspersed throughout the space.

“So what’s the big surprise?” I ask Conner, becoming really curious about what he has planned for today.

“You’ll see,” he replies mysteriously.

My curiosity piqued, I get whiney. “Aw, c’mon guys – you’ve been telling me there’s some big surprise over here for weeks. Tell me already!”

Conner looks at me suspiciously. “Who’s been telling you that for weeks?” He arches an eyebrow in Zane’s general direction.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Zane says defensively, “I told him not to ask any questions and then shut my mouth – he’s been asking everybody.”

“Have not!” I grouse.

This seems to placate my boyfriend. He puts an arm over my shoulder and says, “Just wait another ten minutes...I promise that it’ll be worth it.”

“Fine, fine,” I relent, being a little dramatic about it.

We walk through the ship, making our way to Concourse B, the central one running from the center to front of the ship. Here we pass a series of cafes and restaurants, which actually resemble food lines more than cafes and restaurants. “Should we get in line for breakfast?” I ask.

Conner shakes his head. “Nah, let’s wait until later. There’s food where we’re going.”

Walking the concourse from end to end is a sort of head trip. It’s wider and longer than the forward concourse on our ship, not to mention taller and more crowded. It makes me a little dizzy, and I can’t help but feel like the space is both familiar and foreign.

Unlike our ship, the concourse doesn’t culminate in a dramatic opening into the main lobby, but rather leads to a glass wall extending to the ceiling. It’s very pretty, I notice as we join a crowd piling through a wide archway in the center of the wall. We find ourselves amidst a throng of people pressing toward the entrance to the main lobby. Conner takes my by the hand so that we don’t become separated, and we make our way through the glass arches.

Entering EV1985’s main lobby, I find myself involuntarily gasping. The domed ceiling sits high above us, at least twice as tall as the ceiling to our lobby, and I get the instant impression that this space must be at least ten times larger than ours – maybe a lot more. It’s hard to tell, partially because the ceiling is hard to see, not because it’s far away, but because it’s set to simulate a real sky – an artificial sun and a few puffy clouds sitting on a massive expanse of blue.

“Wow,” I say, looking overhead. “This is amazing.”

When I look to Conner and Zane they’re smiling at me. “What?” I ask, wondering if they’re laughing and my childlike wonder over the ceiling. “What?” I say a second time, this time a little more defensively.

The two boys laugh, standing to either side of me. They step apart and nod in the direction we’re walking. I look to see what they’re motioning me towards.

“Wait...what?” I ask in total confusion. About a hundred meters in front of me sits a gazebo-like structure covering a row of turnstiles. Behind it, I can make out a flower-covered berm, and behind that the roof and clock tower of one of the most famous train stations in the history of the world.


To be continued…



Author’s End Notes

Soundtrack: I assign a song for each chapter. If you put them together, you have a soundtrack for the story – the same soundtrack I listen to when running, which is where a lot of the ideas for the story develop. The song for this chapter is When You Are Near by Carolina Liar. I’m really into this album, and I liked the tone of this song for the chapter. It matched Devon and Zane’s interactions to me.

Speaking of Devon and Zane, I’d originally planned to have a lot less of them together in this chapter. But as I wrote, I thought about these two, and about how we hadn’t seen many private moments between the boys since chapter 13. In 13 I felt like Devon reached a certain point of closure with Zane, who’d been a potential boyfriend earlier in the story. I thought it would be nice to check in on the boys to see how they were dealing with that, and I was happy to discover that they’re both okay.

Anyway, I’ve already written the next chapter, which was originally going to be a part of this one. All I need is to edit it, so I’ll stop jabbering and get to work on it.

Thanks for reading!

erik
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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