Ten minutes after the incident that forced the Sooloo to cease its egress of the solar system, Dave was sitting in his Ready Room when the door chime rang. "Enter." He did not seem in a good mood.
The door opened and Connor Marlin, accompanied by Kyle Robinson, entered. Dave was facing away from them looking out the window in his Ready Room. The way he addressed them told them everything they needed to know.
"Commander Marlin, Commander Robinson, take a seat."
Dave then turned, facing the two, he looked at each in turn and said, "You two have one task. You are to take a shuttle out and assess the damage. Once you have been able to determine what repairs are needed, contact me; don't worry about how it happened, I have others looking into that. Commander Robinson, you will be in command of this mission. Good luck, gentlemen. Dismissed."
The two boys, knowing Dave was in no mood for discussion, stood, saluted and said, "Yes, Sir!" They then left the Ready Room. As they were leaving Aiden and Jace entered, the pair assumed they were there to receive a briefing on what the Captain wanted them working on.
Connor turned to Kyle and said, "I don't think I've ever seen him as angry. I don't want to be the person who was responsible for this."
Kyle looked at his friend and said, "I know what you mean. I have seen him angry and I'm just glad this wasn't something I could have prevented."
They remained in relative silence as they entered the lift to take them to the deck where the shuttle bay was.
"I still can’t believe what happened," Kyle said as he and Connor strode down the corridor to the shuttle bay. "How can any kind of meteor or meteorite, or anything like that get through our shields?"
"Dave’s got someone checking into that," Connor said. "And we know what our job is."
"Yep, Dave made that perfectly clear."
Connor and Kyle entered the shuttle bay where they were greeted by Hal. "Your shuttle pilot is on the way," Hal assured them. "I know Dave briefed you. Any questions pop up in your mind since the briefing?"
"I think we’re ready to go," Connor said. He and Kyle boarded one of the smaller shuttles and strapped themselves into their seats.
"I wonder who our pilot is," Kyle said. They felt the shuttle vibrate just a little as somebody entered the passenger compartment.
"Ensign Harper reporting, Sirs." The combination of the familiar high-pitched boy’s voice and the familiar tone had Kyle jerking his head back. What he saw started his heart racing out of control. "D—D—Danny?" Kyle's voice was barely above a whisper.
Danny’s face broke out in a huge grin. "Kyle! Um… I mean, Commander Robinson. I..." Danny stopped and looked down at his old friend who was still strapped in his seat. He knew Kyle was on board the Sooloo and he knew he was going to meet him soon, but that didn’t stop the actual face-to-face meeting from choking him up.
Kyle, on the other hand, had no idea that Danny was on board the Sooloo. A thousand different thoughts ran through his head at once. He tried to slow his brain down so he could grab onto a thought that made sense, but was unable to do so.
Kyle wanted to unbuckle himself, leap out of his seat and give him a hug so tight that Danny would know right then how much he’s missed his friend over the past two years. Danny wanted to drop on Kyle’s lap, facing him so he could plant a huge kiss on his friend’s beautiful lips.
Connor saw the interplay between the two boys and knew instantly that this was more than two old classmates having a surprise meeting; there was something much deeper here. He knew that Danny had been transferred to the ship at virtually the last minute. Obviously the two of them hadn’t bumped into each other yet.
"What are you doing here?" Kyle asked. He knew he sounded stupid beyond belief, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
"I think I’m here to pilot your shuttle." Danny replied as Connor’s jovial laugh helped to break the tension in the cabin.
"We have to talk."
"But we can’t now. We have to wait because we have a mission." Kyle was going by Dave’s admonition. "You are a senior officer, Commander, which means you put your duty above yourself..."
Danny nodded, feeling disappointed that the meeting he’s been so looking forward to was turning into a dud. Deep down, he understood where Kyle was coming from, but he wanted so much more. He fought back a tear and turned toward the pilot’s seat.
"Danny," Kyle called out. Danny stopped, but didn’t turn around. "We’ll talk as soon as possible after we get back." This time, Danny fought a slight grin instead of a tear. He turned, gave Kyle a thumbs-up, and then took his seat.
Kyle was finally able to focus his thoughts. He knew the mission had to take priority over everything, no matter how much it hurt. But, he also knew they wouldn’t be away from the ship for long. In a very short time he could be Kyle instead of Commander Robinson. He wondered if this was what being a senior officer was about and if his dad had to deal with these kinds of internal conflicts.
Once Danny moved the shuttle out of the bay, the actual mission became routine compared to the drama at the beginning. While Danny was twelve and looked even younger, he was a proficient pilot. He deftly moved the craft to where sensors indicated the damage was.
When they had arrived at the first point of damage, Kyle turned to Danny and said, "Ensign Harper, please open a com-link to the bridge so we can give them our assessments in real-time."
Danny replied, "Link open, Sir."
"Robinson to Captain Bowman, we're about to survey the damage and wanted you to be able to listen in as we do so."
"Proceed, Commander. Thank you."
As Connor surveyed the damage to the sensor array, he was happy to find that the damage was fortunately very minor. He said, "Sir, the damage to the sensor array will not take much to fix. We have spares of the entire array. I was happy to see that my fears weren't realized that there would have been damage to the hull that the array attaches to." Danny then changed the attitude of the shuttle to allow Kyle to inspect the main telescope.
Kyle noted that two panels on the main telescope had been penetrated by the micro-particles. "We should be able to make the panels on-board the ship," Kyle told Dave, even though he knew that Dave knew that. He was trying to be complete in his report.
"Excellent job, gentlemen," Dave told the three-man crew.
"One more thing, Captain," Kyle said.
"I would like to suggest that we replace the main lens as well."
"I would think it likely, from the damage you described, it wasn't damaged."
"We don’t know that, sir. I can’t use the telescope until the repair crew gets it back on line and I get it re-calibrated. The penetration of the side panels might have sent some shrapnel against the lens. Even the slightest distortion can offset my calculations."
"If it is damaged in any way, then we can replace it."
"With all due respect sir, why not replace it while the telescope panels are off and the lens is easy to access? If there is no damage, then that lens becomes one of the spares. If we wait and I see any kind of a flaw on the lens, then maintenance has to go back out and replace the lens and that will cost us more time and another re-calibration and…"
"I get the picture, Commander," Dave laughed. Bowman knew that Kyle was doing his best to get his point across and to prove his competence, not that he had to impress the Captain. Dave Bowman knew how competent Kyle Robinson was when he was on top of his game. "I agree with your assessment of the situation and will have the repair crew replace the main lens as well as replace the damaged panels. Good work, Commander." Kyle glowed from the praise, especially since Danny had been there not only to hear it, but to see that he was as good with telescopes as Danny was with a shuttle.
Changing the lens would be a major undertaking, but with the panels removed it would go quicker than if the panels had to be removed again later. The ship had two backups for the big lens on the main telescope. The lenses were precision instruments. On-board manufacturing could create the framework for an auxiliary lens, but it did not have the capability to replicate the main lens.
"We’re ready to return to the shuttle bay, Ensign," Kyle said. Kyle’s formality grated a bit on Danny’s nerves; to him this wasn’t the Kyle he had known as a friend.
"I have a question, Kyle," Connor said. "How can you determine if there is a flaw in the lens of the currently installed telescope if you can’t really see through the lens? Don’t you need it to be attached to the telescope?"
"Things like that are what we learned in our training seminaries," Kyle replied.
"Seminars," Danny corrected, wondering how Kyle could make such a basic mistake.
"Yeah, that. Anyway, John Luke knows to set up one of the spare lenses into its frame in the hold." Kyle went on to tell Connor and Danny how the lens had two foam caps with silk linings to protect both sides of the lens. John Luke and two assistant Astrogators would set the lens on the frame, remove the caps, and use a special laser to test the integrity of the lens. "The lens can have a flaw that you can’t see with your naked eye. The only way we can discover one is to use the laser on it while it's set up in the frame," Kyle went on to explain. He said that the lens should pass the test since it actually has never been touched by anything but the silk lining. John Luke and the assistants would re-wrap the lens and transport it to the shuttle bay. Kyle would test the lens being replaced in the same way John Luke tested the new lens.
"Whoever you assign to lead the repair team should know how to replace a main lens," Kyle told them as they watched the shuttle bay doors open ahead of them. "Replacing one was covered when the maintenance team practiced on the ‘Becker’." The "Vernon Becker" was a simulated starship in orbit around Earth for the purpose of training the teams that would have to do work out in space. Vernon Becker was a noted ship’s architect whose design work was used for the Sooloo and her nineteen sister ships.
With their mission accomplished, Danny piloted the shuttle through the shuttle bay doors and eased it into docking platform #2 just like an old pro.
"Great work, Ensign Harper," Connor said as Danny shut down the engines. "Good working with you Kyle. We made a good team."
"Yeah, we did," Kyle grinned. A red light over the exit changed to green, meaning the shuttle bay was pressurized. Connor opened the door and left the shuttle. He was not surprised that Kyle stayed behind. He knew there was a story there and was very curious to find out what it was.
Kyle and Danny unstrapped themselves and left their seats. They stepped toward each other and stopped, knowing what they wanted to do next but unsure of how to initiate it. Like Kyle, Danny was a little shorter than an average twelve-year-old, but was just over an inch taller than Kyle.
The two preteens looked at each other, taking in how much the other had changed since they were ten. They ignored the pain of the humiliation suffered at the hands of Kyle’s father. They simply stood and peered into each other’s eyes.
Kyle made the first move. He took two steps toward Danny and Danny took two of his own. Their bodies were touching, both boys trembling from the touch. Kyle felt a flooding of emotion that overwhelmed him. He wrapped his arms around his long-time friend and dropped his head onto Danny’s shoulder. The tears that had been held back by Kyle’s training and professionalism gushed out on Danny’s uniform as sobs wracked his body. For the third time, he was crying on a Space Fleet uniform shirt and as Danny buried his head into Kyle’s chest, for the first time, somebody was crying on his.
Kyle and Danny finally broke their hug. Swiping his right hand across his face, Kyle attempted to wipe away the tears still dripping down his cheeks. Even though the tears embarrassed him, he was not ashamed of them. "Danny, can we have dinner in my quarters tonight? We can talk and pretty much be assured that we won't be disturbed."
Danny, who was getting better results wiping his tears with his uniform sleeve, smiled back at Kyle. He gave Kyle a shaky grin. "I'd like that. 1900 sound okay?" he sniffled.
Kyle's smile was the only answer Danny needed.
Hal had been organizing the efforts subsequent to the incident which caused the ship to have to stop on its way out of the solar system. At every turn, as he tried to get things going to investigate how this happened, he found that the individuals and departments he was going to organize had already begun the process.
He went back to the bridge and found Jordan Rivers sitting there at his station, coordinating the investigation. Hal sat across from him and said, "You're too damn efficient, Jordan. I just spent the last fifteen minutes chasing around the ship finding that you'd already gotten things going. Good work!"
"Thank you, Sir. I merely did what I assumed you'd want me to be doing. To recap, I have Jace and Brad working on trying to determine if there was a computer malfunction that caused the micro-meteor to penetrate our navigation shields. I have Connor coordinating efforts in Engineering to a) get the repairs completed, and b) to determine if there was anything done in Engineering to cause the nav-shields to be turned off. Typically that can only be done from Engineering and there are automatic fail-safes to prevent that from happening when the ship is not at 'all stop.'"
"Aiden Douglass is working on reviewing the Tactical logs to see if anything anomalous can be seen there. Kyle and John Luke are testing the lens that will replace the current one which can then be tested to see if, in fact, any damage has occurred to it. We have three shuttles prepared and ready to effect the repairs. Initial estimates are that the repairs can be completed in about twelve hours."
Hal appraised Jordan, pride in what the 3rd in command had accomplished evident as he said, "Excellent, Commander. I guess you have everything in order. I will be in my quarters should you need me."
"Thank you, Sir."
Aiden Douglass had been working on reviewing the Tactical logs when his boyfriend came over to talk for a moment. "How's it going, Babe?"
"Slow, but I'm only up to ten minutes before the incident. I should be up to when it occurred in thirty minutes or so. Eleven logs in real time take a bit of coordination to review and collate."
"I think there was a bit of a history between Kyle and our shuttle pilot. The way they were talking to one another gave me the impression there was more there than two classmates in a chance meeting."
"What was the pilot's name?"
"Danny Harper… Wait! Isn't that the name of the boy that Kyle's dad caught with him when they were messing around? I remember Kyle telling us about it."
"I think so, I wouldn't doubt that if it is the same boy, he and Kyle might get as close as we are!"
Little did they know that they had been overheard. Richard Head, Assistant head of the Security Department was at his station reviewing the latest reports of thefts on the ship. In addition to the senior staff, there had been fifteen reports of items missing.
At that moment though, Richard's mind wasn't on his investigation. It was focused on that piss-ant Kyle Robinson. Head remembered that time in the mess hall that he and Kyle crossed paths and vowed that he'd make his life hell.
Dave was sitting in his Ready Room. Repairs were about to commence and Dave was having a bit of a 'pity-party.' As he sat there staring out the window wondering how this could have happened on his ship, all of a sudden there was a small boy on his lap. The boy had purple hair and purple eyes.
The boy wrapped his arms around Dave's neck and said, "RANDOM HUG! Levi said you could use some chocolate-chip cookies. Cookies always make you feel better." As quickly as he appeared, the boy vanished. Dave turned his chair around and noticed a plate of chocolate chip cookies sitting there. Taking one while they were still hot.
Dave shook his head and wondered if he was losing his mind. He decided to head to his quarters and relax as his crew did what they did best. Copyright ("[Author's Note: I wanted to send a sincere THANK YOU to ACFan for generously allowing one of his characters from his Memories\/CSU stories to pop into the Voyager's plane of existence to brighten up Dave Bowman's day. Peter and Levi are (c) Memories\/CSU Productions 2002. You can find all the CSU stories at <a href=\"http:\/\/cornercafe.us\">http:\/\/cornercafe.us<\/a>]<\/p>\r\n<p>Editor's Note: To clarify just a bit, Peter first appeared in a CSU story By D&B, and eventually appeared in Memories II By AC Fan. ")
The shuttles began their repairs and things had been going well. The team that had replaced the lens on the telescope brought that lens back into the hold. John Luke was happy that Kyle had finished his other duties in time to assist him with the testing of the old lens. Kyle and John Luke mounted it in its testing frame and Kyle started the automated inspection laser.
About ten minutes later the computer beeped. Kyle went to the display and felt a level of satisfaction he rarely allowed himself. John Luke, looking over Kyle's shoulder exclaimed, "Well I'll be fucked! There was damage to the lens. Nobody would have caught that and we'd be off on our calculations."
Kyle went to the comm-unit and contacted Dave. "Sir, we found a single microscopic chip in the lens that had been in the telescope. That flaw would have been sufficient to place us light-years off course and we'd have no way of knowing why. This 'accident' may have been a blessing in disguise, Sir."
"Thank you, Commander. I am now very happy you were so insistent. Good job!"
As Kyle was walking away from the comms, he had a feeling that this discovery could be more far-reaching than anyone ever anticipated.
Sitting on his couch in front of the big window in his quarters, wearing nothing but his boxer briefs, David Bowman was allowing himself an opportunity to just relax as he watched the shuttles going back and forth as they completed the repairs to the ship.
A few minutes later, the door opened and his husband entered. Hal walked over to where Dave was sitting and began rubbing Dave's neck. "Babe, you're tense. I know just the thing to relax you."
Hal then walked around the couch and dropped to his knees in front of his man. He slowly lowered Dave's underwear and began to service his husband.
Dave was enjoying this immensely. As he built up to his climax he failed to realize that, with the lights in his quarters up at full, anyone outside would have clear view into his quarters.
As Dave reached his climax, his eyes opened, he saw a shuttle turned so it's front windows were facing his quarters. Inside he clearly saw the pilot and two members of the repair team applauding him.
Dave's face turned red, but he took it in stride, flashing the crewmen a big thumbs-up.
Right at 1700z, there was a senior staff meeting scheduled to review progress of the repairs.
All the senior staff were present ten minutes prior to the meeting's scheduled start. Each of the senior staff reported the progress made. When it came time for Information Systems to give their report, Jace told those assembled that Brad Kanye had found an anomaly that could explain not only how the accident happened, but why. He turned the explanation over to his department chief.
"Sirs, as I was reviewing the code that runs the navigation shields, I came across a gap in their coverage. From the size of the holes left in the panels of the telescope it was determined that the size of the micro-meteor that impacted with the ship was 0.0336 nanometers in size. When reviewing the algorithms that manage the sensors, I found that a gap from 0.0335 to 0.0340 nanometers existed. Anything within that very small gap would easily go undetected. This small a particle is too small to trigger our tactical sensors… at least it was too small. With the approval of Commanders Douglass and Blackwell, I have modified the software for our tactical systems to detect any particle of any size or density to trigger a collision alarm at the tactical station."
John Luke asked, "That explains how the sensors failed to pick it up, but it doesn't explain why it wasn't deflected by the navigation shields; can you explain that?"
"Well, there is only one explanation, and it's a very unlikely occurrence, but if that particular micro-meteor was vibrating at the same frequency as our shields it could pass through it. Being that the navigational sensors didn't register even a collision, that's the only logical explanation. I have set the program for the shields to rotate every other nanosecond; all I need is approval to initiate that subroutine."
Dave was very pleased. "That's excellent work, Brad. There is one other thing I need to take care of as far as you are concerned. When you were promoted to Chief of Information Systems, an oversight caused us to fail to take into account that the minimum rank for a Chief of Department is that of Lt. Commander."
Brad looked down, assuming that he was going to be demoted back to Assistant Chief. Dejectedly he said, "I understand, Sir."
Dave smiled and said, "I don't think you do, Commander."
Brad couldn't believe his ears. "Sir?"
Jace interjected, "Brad, you've done an exceptional job taking over with very short notice. I discussed this with Dave, Hal and Jordan and it was agreed that you would, retroactively be promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander. Congratulations. Now that you've had a chance to see your team in action, we need to discuss who will be your assistant."
Danny Harper had just gotten off duty and was rushing to his quarters to get ready to have dinner with Kyle. He had been looking forward to it all day. After that initial inspection mission where he and Kyle had been reunited, he'd had to fly three more missions to aid in effecting the repairs.
As he was leaving the shuttle bay, the Assistant Chief of Security, Richard Head (Dickless Head to most of the crew) was waiting for him.
"Ensign Harper. I'm in the middle of an investigation and I need these reports taken to Lt. Boyer in Ops. I need you to drop whatever you're doing and take them there."
"Sir, with all due respect, I'm off duty and I'm expected in Commander Robinson's quarters for dinner."
"I don't care if you're having dinner with the Captain. You will bring this report to Lt. Boyer now. Is that understood Ensign?"
"Yes, Sir." Danny left with the report and headed toward Lt. Boyer's office. On the way, he informed Kyle that he'd be late.
Richard Head watched as the boy left, satisfied he'd gotten back, even if just a little bit, at that little brat, Kyle Robinson.
After the meeting, everyone dispersed to either their duty stations or to some other activity if they were off duty. Aiden and Connor were going to go to the mess and get something to eat. They called over to Kyle as he was leaving the meeting and invited him to join them.
"Sorry, guys. I'm meeting Danny… Ensign Harper for dinner in my quarters tonight." Kyle replied with a blush.
Aiden and Connor smiled and said, "That's great, have a good time!"
Kyle then rushed away to get ready for his dinner "date." The ringing of the door buzzer startled Kyle. He had been working hard to steady his jangling nerves. He’d been wondering if inviting Danny Harper to his cabin for dinner had been a good idea. Good idea or not, Danny was now at his door and would have to be let into the cabin.
Kyle got up from his couch and went to answer the door. He was surprised that Danny was already at the door when he had just informed him he had been asked to run an errand by a superior officer and would be delayed.
But Danny was not the person at the door; instead it was Randy Jenkins delivering the dinner. "Sorry to be early, Sir, but chaos is ruling the galley, which is nothing new. I needed to get your dinner delivered while I could. In case you didn’t know, Ensign Harper is going to be a bit late." Randy pulled his delivery cart into Kyle’s cabin.
"Yeah, he called me on his comm. Something about having to run an errand."
"A bogus errand if you ask me, Sir," Randy said as he parked the cart next to the small, fold-out table near the wall.
"Randy, you can call me Kyle here, you know."
"I just wasn’t sure since this was your cabin and all." He plugged the cart into a wall socket.
"So, why do you think the errand is bogus?"
"Because Dickless, umm… Lieutenant Head," Randy turned red with embarrassment as he caught his slip of the tongue too late, "had him take something to Steve Boyer that he could have taken himself."
Kyle let the slip of the tongue ride, pretending it had slipped by him. Lieutenant Head’s nickname was well known to the senior officers. Kyle decided not to ask how Randy had learned what he just told him.
"Everybody says you and Danny used to be friends when you were little kids," Randy said.
"I hope we still are," Kyle muttered.
This time it was Randy’s turn to be discreet. He showed Kyle how to turn off the warming plates. "Everything should stay hot and fresh for a half-hour," Randy said after he finished. "Dishes, silverware, and glasses are at the bottom of the cart. I’ll put the drinks in your fridge." Every cabin had a small refrigerator for drinks and snacks.
"Thanks, Randy. You’ve been great." In leadership training, Kyle had learned the importance of thanking and praising junior officers. It was something Kyle used to think about, but his taciturn personality would take over and he didn’t express those thoughts.
After Randy left, he sat back into his little couch. He didn’t give Danny’s errand another thought. As much as he didn’t like Lieutenant Richard "Dickless" Head, it was not unusual for junior officers to be assigned to mundane tasks like completing an errand. Still, he knew that Lieutenant Head didn’t care much for him either, but in this case, it was doubtful he waylaid Danny just to make him late for dinner. After all, how would he know where Danny was going?
As he smelled the aroma of the warming lasagna on the cart, his stomach started to rumble while at the same time it was being hit by shock waves of nerves. Kyle wondered if this was what inviting somebody on a date was about? But Danny wasn’t really a date, he was his one-time very best friend in the entire world until his father had wrecked the friendship. A wave of resentment hit him, which he fought down. After all, his father had apologized—what more could he ask?
Kyle thought about Danny and him on the shuttle after Danny had docked it in the shuttle bay and Connor had left. He thought about their holding each other and crying. He thought about the swirl of emotions that struck him then—sadness of the past, joy for that moment, and unknown feelings of wonder and pleasure and happiness. He had never felt anything like that before and more than once since then had asked himself if that was what love felt like.
Kyle also pondered Danny’s presence on the Sooloo. His last-minute transfer after Kyle and his father had made peace was an incredible coincidence. He had read a mystery story not long ago in which the detective declared that he didn’t believe in coincidences. What if Danny’s presence was not a coincidence?
Before these confusing thoughts threatened to overwhelm him, he once again heard the door buzzer. This time, it had to be Danny. Once again he got up and walked to the door. He opened it and stood face-to-face with the beautiful blond who had been his best friend. His knees started to shake as he tried to think of what of all the words he had rehearsed for this moment. All he could say in a shaky voice was, "Hi, Danny."
Danny stood at the door giving his old friend a shy grin and wondering when he would be invited in. Kyle’s brain and mouth finally connected. "Our dinner is already here, so come in." He stepped aside and gestured for Danny to move into the cabin.
Like Kyle, Danny had ideas of what he wanted to say, and like Kyle, his brain froze on him. "It smells good," he finally said, hoping Kyle wouldn't think he sounded totally lame.
"Lasagna and salad and ice cream for dessert and juice to drink," Kyle said.
Danny nodded—it was the dinner they had agreed upon, after all. Danny watched while Kyle took the lids off the warming plates. They filled their plates and sat at the small table, facing each other, silently digging into their food, each of them waiting for the other to say something beyond the mundane. The tearful hug on the shuttle told them they had strong feelings for each other. Neither of them understood those feelings, but they knew they were there.
It was Kyle who finally broke the ice. Eating seemed to ease the tension inside of him, as did simply looking at Danny. Kyle wondered what made him so lucky something so gorgeous could be sitting within a few feet of him. "I missed you. I thought about you a lot. I wondered what happened to you and why you never answered my emails or anything."
Danny swallowed his lasagna. "I cried so much after that day," he said quietly. He was referring to the day that Kyle’s father caught them naked in Kyle’s bedroom. They were ten years old and sexually curious. They were eagerly engaged in mutual masturbation and not for the first time. They were talking about doing something they had never done before, to suck each other’s dicks, but were afraid to do it. Looking back on that afternoon, Kyle was glad they had never gone further than they did—who knew what would have happened if they had given in to their boyish curiosity.
"I did too," Kyle told his friend. "I hated what my dad did to you."
"My dad hated your dad," Danny said quietly. "And I hated your dad because my dad hated him and I hated you because I was naked and had to put my clothes on right there in your front yard and you were in the house where it was safe. I never wanted to see you ever again."
"But we saw each other in school," Kyle pointed out.
"And you never said you were sorry and I never said that I hated you, but we told each other how our dads said we could never see each other again except in school."
"But then my dad sent me to the Space Academy Prep School and I never saw you again."
Danny took another bite of lasagna thinking of what to say next. He swallowed and looked down at his almost empty plate. "I hated you for going away and leaving me and….and…shit…and I missed you so very, very, very much. I missed you every day; you were my best friend in the whole world. Then I hated me for hating you and I didn’t know what to do. My dad blocked you on my phone and my computer and on everything he could think of, so I hated him, too. I tried using Rodney Parrish’s computer to email you, but your email was closed and then I cried and Rodney called me a sissy and I hated him, too."
Kyle sat quietly eating, wondering how he could get Danny off his obsession with hate. This wasn’t the sweet Danny he remembered. It wasn’t the Danny who had everything a boy could want in a best friend. He decided a change of subject might do the trick.
"How did you end up on here, on the Sooloo?"
"Summer Camp. I begged my dad to let me go to Summer Camp." Kyle and Danny had talked about going to Summer Camp at the State University. The minimum age for attending was ten, and they were ready to go there, together.
Both boys loved space and thought that the best thing two boys could do at night was sit in the open field near their houses and look at the stars through Kyle’s telescope. It was even better than jerking off together, but then they hadn’t reached puberty yet.
Kyle told Danny how the stars talked to him. Danny never doubted him or laughed at him. Instead, he would sit quietly at Kyle’s telescope and look up at the sky trying to hear something, anything from the twinkling lights in the black void.
"I can’t hear a word," he would tell Kyle.
"Someday, you’re gonna—I just know it," Kyle would reply.
Danny told about how he became the top achiever among the under twelve campers. He told about how he made new friends at the camp and started feeling better about things. "But I always missed you. I remember how much we used to talk about kicking ass at Summer Camp because we would know more about space and the stars than anybody."
After camp was over and he returned home, he heard from the organizers of Summer Camp about coming next year. He received lessons that he could work on and books that he could download and read. When he returned as an eleven-year-old he was recruited for the Prep School. "But my dad said that as long as you were there, I couldn’t go. And then this guy came talking about the space project and asked my dad about me going into space on the thirty-year mission."
"I can’t believe your dad let you go," Kyle said. "I mean, I was there, too."
Danny laughed for the first time since Kyle had seen him on the shuttle. "My dad was so stupid, he thought your dad would never let you go into space on the project so he said I could do their training. When I never saw you anywhere, I figured he was right—you weren’t in the project." It was dessert time and Danny scooped up some ice cream.
"How did you get to go?" Danny asked. "I mean, how did you talk him into it?"
"I didn’t," Kyle told his friend. "I just told him I was going and he could fuck himself if he didn’t let me do it." Danny looked at Kyle wide-eyed. "Well, I didn’t say that exactly, but it was what I meant. And I had some people, like Admiral Mirah, who were on my side and they helped me."
"I found out you were at training, but in senior officer training. I was a shuttle pilot because they said I was quick and coordinated." Kyle knew that was true; Danny was the best player on their baseball and soccer teams. They acknowledged that Danny wasn’t quite as good as Kyle was in basketball, however. "But, I wasn’t going to go into deep space. They said I could enroll in the Prep School and go to the Academy, but I wasn’t going into deep space.
"Then, somebody got sick or hurt or something and got assigned to a ship. I was so excited. I was hoping it would be your ship. And at the last minute, I got assigned to the Sooloo and I found out you were on it and I couldn’t wait to see you."
This time it was Kyle’s turn to busily eat and say nothing. He had squeezed some chocolate sauce on his vanilla ice cream and was enjoying the flavors as he thought about what he would say next. "I’m glad you ended up here," he said, knowing he should be saying more.
"I couldn’t believe that you were a senior officer," Danny gushed. "I mean, you’re the Chief Astrogator and you’re just twelve like me. I was so proud of you and so proud you were my friend and so happy I was going to go into deep space with you and now here I am having dinner with you."
"You’re still my friend. You will be my friend forever, and it doesn’t matter what our ranks are and what our jobs are."
"How did you get promoted?"
"I can tell you my dad had nothing to do with that. I did it on my own. Well, almost on my own—the stars still talk to me and they helped me, but so did Admiral Mirah and Commander Hanson. I don’t know if I’m good enough to do this, but I’m going to do the very best I can."
"Kyle, I’m sorry I said I hated you. I never really hated you, I loved you, but I’d get mad about what happened and so I would get mad at you, and then I’d get mad at me for getting mad at you, so I’d just say I hated everybody. Summer Camp really helped me because I got some really good friends and I told one of them what happened with us. He told me that it wasn’t your fault and maybe someday we’d get to be friends again, so I had to quit being mad at you."
"He was right; we are friends again."
"His name was Bryce Turner. He was almost a year older than me. He was really smart about space and about people—he was almost as nice as you." Then Danny giggled the giggle that always made Kyle think that Danny was the cutest, sweetest boy in the entire world. "We messed around a little. But we just jerked each other off like you and me did. I suppose you did more than that at the School."
"Nope. I jerked off a little with an older kid, but I never did more either." It went unsaid between them that when they were ready for the next step sexually, it would happen with both of them together.
"You’re my best friend in the world." Kyle laughed as he amended his statement to, "…and my best friend in all of deep space."
"You’re my best friend, too. Always and forever and I’ll never ever say I hate you again. I’ll say I love you."
Danny’s smile melted Kyle’s heart. "I love you too, Danny," Kyle said with a quiet, solid sincerity that he felt right into the heart of his young soul.
The boys cleaned up the cabin and loaded everything onto the food cart. Danny said that he would return it to the kitchen. The two boys faced each other at the door, feeling almost as uncomfortable as they had when Danny arrived. Kyle had an almost irresistible urge to kiss his best friend. Danny wanted to do the same thing to Kyle. They were so ready to do it, and so held back by the awkwardness of young adolescence. Senior officer that he was, Kyle was still twelve years old, something he could deal with on the bridge of a starship, but could not yet handle standing next to the boy he did not yet know he was in love with. That kiss would come soon, but they weren’t ready for it on that first "date."
As he walked out of the door to Kyle’s cabin, Danny turned to face his best friend. "You should know I got a note from your dad with the mail that came before we left."
"Yeah." Danny castigated himself for not keeping his mouth shut. "I gotta go now, though. I have a watch coming up in the shuttle bay," Danny said, stretching the truth by quite a bit. While he did have a watch coming up, it was hours away. Danny was confused by the feelings coursing through his gut and felt he needed to find time alone to sort through those feelings. Having a watch was the first excuse he could come with, even though he knew that Kyle would see right through his little lie.
Kyle said nothing. Like Danny, he desired time alone to deal with what he was feeling, so he accepted Danny’s excuse even though he knew Danny had gotten off watch just before dinner. He was confident Danny would fess up later and would also tell him what the note said. He watched Danny as he pushed the food cart down the corridor, unable to take his eyes off his friend’s cute ass.