It was before dawn when Kyle awoke from a troubled sleep. His room was dark and quiet. He found it strange that even though he and Derrick Lewis never became friends, he missed his old roommate. He missed having another boy in the room. He missed the sounds of Derrick's breathing. He even missed Derrick sticking his hand inside his underpants and playing with himself while he studied. For that matter, he missed listening to his roommate jerking off under his covers after lights out.
He wanted somebody in his room, even if the person never became his friend. Hardly anybody ever became his friend. One of his counselors at the training camp commented that Kyle was afraid of making any kind of a commitment. His fear was that he would never measure up to their expectations, just like he could never live up to the expectations of his father.
Kyle thought about crying. He'd done that a lot upon awakening, but it had done him no good. Besides, he was twelve and a senior officer on a starship. Neither twelve-year-old boys nor senior officers on starships cried. He had become more than being a loner—more than being alone. Kyle Robinson had become desperately lonely.
The stars hadn't talked to him in over two months. When he went to the large Metzger telescope on campus and gazed at the stars, he saw beautiful pinpoints of light, but heard nothing. He wished he could look at the stars through the Hubble (the tenth telescope by that name), but he would have to travel away from the campus to use it, and he wasn't cleared for that.
If the stars didn't talk to him through the Metzger, what would happen when he started using the McNally telescope that would be the main telescope on all of the starships? Would he hear the stars then, he wondered?
He remembered the telescope he used when he was a little boy. It wasn't even close to being as powerful as the telescopes he'd been using in school, and in training. Yet, when he saw stars through it, they usually talked to him. But over the past couple of months, while hoping for some kind of communication, all he got from the stars was silence.
He knew a roommate wouldn't understand the relationship between the stars and himself, but at least the presence of another boy would help ease his loneliness. He looked out of his window; dawn was lightening the sky, but he could still make out some of his familiar friends. "Talk to me," he pleaded. "Tell me something."
The only person who understood him was Commander Hanson, who had been his Astrogation Instructor at the Prep School. While he wasn't part of their training for the project, he did make occasional appearances to see how his former students were doing. Kyle promised himself to talk to his old teacher next time he saw him.
Kyle went to the dining hall for breakfast. Since it was Sunday, almost everyone in his dorm was sleeping in; there were only a couple of other boys eating. Kyle studiously ignored them as he went through the buffet line for a breakfast of waffles, fried eggs over easy and bacon. He filled a large glass with orange juice from the juice dispenser and sat down to eat.
He hated weekends. He liked having the distraction of class and training when he didn't have to be alone with himself. After he finished eating and busing his tray, he took care of showering, brushing his teeth and trying to put his hair in place. He knew he would eventually have to get a buzz cut. He'd hate it, but a senior officer couldn't look like a slob—at least that's what he was constantly being told.
He spent the morning in the library studying star charts. Even if they were being silent for whatever reason, the stars were still his friends and he enjoyed learning about them and how they behave. After returning to the dorm for lunch, he changed into basketball shorts and his basketball jersey. He grabbed his basketball and started for the gym. He thought he might find some of his teammates there and they could get a pickup game started.
Not finding anyone at the gym, he decided to go the Holodecks so he could shoot by himself. Sometimes just standing at the line, shooting free throws helped him clear his mind of useless crap. Unfortunately, the decks were all taken, but one had an arena running. He hoped he could talk his way into using a basket off in the corner.
Instead, he was surprised by walking into a hockey rink. Two boys whom he recognized as being in starship training were on the ice. They skated over to him, both with friendly grins on their faces.
"I came to use a holodeck, but all of them are taken. I saw that this one was listed as having an arena, so I was hoping…" Kyle told them.
"That's not a problem; I like basketball, too. We can switch if you would like to join us," Jace offered. Kyle smiled at the offer. These were a pair of boys he could like—friendly and open. They introduced themselves as Jace and Jordan. "You're Kyle, right?" Jordan asked.
"Yeah." They'd had training sessions together so Kyle was embarrassed that Jace and Jordan had remembered his name, but he had to wait for them to introduce themselves. He had been told in leadership training it was imperative that senior officers remember names. He would have to get much better at that skill, he thought.
Jordan changed the settings on the Holograph generator and soon they were standing on a holographic maple floor with a basket hanging from the ceiling. Jace learned quickly that the younger boy was an excellent hoopster, even better than he was. But Jace gave Kyle a run for his money in H-O-R-S-E and in one-on-one. Jordan played as well, but acknowledged that hockey was more his sport, not basketball.
After they finished, Jace and Jordan told Kyle they would have to play together again.
"That sounds great," Kyle told them. Jace loved the brilliant smile on Kyle's face—it was something he didn't see often from the younger boy, on campus or in class.
After dinner that evening, Kyle wished he'd signed up for time on the Metzger telescope. Instead he stood outside and looked at the stars through his small telescope. He decided he was going to swallow his pride and ask his father to send him his good telescope that was stored in the basement of his home.
He looked at the familiar Ursa Major constellation—the Big Dipper—and focused on the individual stars. The little telescope wasn't much better than looking with his naked eye, but it was at least an improvement.
As Kyle focused on Megrez, where the dipper met the handle, he heard something. "We are not your only friends. You must find more." Kyle grinned at the sound in his head, wondering if Jordan and Jace could be his friends.
He placed the cover over the lens of his telescope. A star talked and told him what he should do, just like the stars always had. He was going to sleep that night without worrying about tears.
Kyle lay naked on his bed; he had grown fond of being naked in his room. It was one of the perks of having a room to himself. Derrick Lewis, his one-time roommate, had told him once he wished he could be naked while he studied. Kyle said no way he would put up with that. Derrick, ever the nice guy, acquiesced. This is the kid who was always stripped down to his underpants with his hand shoved inside of them, busily playing with the contents. Kyle didn't even want to think of what it would have been like if he had agreed to nudity in the room.
The invitation Kyle had received from Jordan and Jace to join them in a role playing game intrigued him. Every time the pair invited him for something, it surprised him. The stars had told him he needed to make friends, but the idea of having friends still scared him. As a senior officer, was he even supposed to have friends? His leadership classes had been vague on the subject.
Plus, his father always seemed to reject what few friends he'd had at home. "An officer and a leader stands alone in front of his men," the crusty admiral had ranted more than once. When he was ten, his father had walked unannounced into Kyle's bed room, catching him and Danny Harper sitting naked on the floor engaged in mutual masturbation.
That incident changed Kyle's life. Danny was sent out of the house, carrying his clothes with him. He had to dress himself on the front sidewalk, sobbing uncontrollably, hoping nobody saw him before he could cover his nakedness.
Kyle's father put his belt to his son's bare ass, leaving bruises that hung around for a month. Not only was Kyle not allowed to have any friends in the house, he was not allowed to visit any either. The tough part was that Danny was one of the few friends Kyle had.
Kyle remembered looking out of his bedroom window late at night a week after that incident. It was the day after his eleventh birthday. Kyle watched his mother load three suitcases and a couple of boxes into her car and drove away. Kyle cried himself to sleep, wishing his mother had taken him with her.
Like his father, his mother had been somewhat distant from her son, but at least she was kind to him, and tried to protect Kyle from his autocratic father when she could. As he grew older and began to get a better idea of the dynamics of his family, he came to the conclusion that his parents had never wanted a child—that he had dropped into their lives unwanted and they were never sure what to do with him.
But the biggest change in his life was his father sending him to the Academy Prep School. "I just want you out of my life," he said. "Maybe they can make a man out of you, because I seem to have raised a 'fucking little sissy.' "
And yet, for all of his negativity, his father was often there when Kyle needed him, especially when he needed to be bailed out of trouble, or when his father felt his influence could help advance Kyle's fortunes. "He certainly isn't capable of moving ahead on his own," he frequently told Kyle's mother before she moved out.
Playing games, other than those requiring athletic skill, were forbidden. His computer was for school and for learning, but not for games. That didn't stop Kyle from sneaking peeks at games and from playing them away from home, but he was far behind the skill level of his peers. When Kyle arrived at school, he knew he was behind his classmates socially and he often felt inadequate. An older boy, Wade Bailey, took Kyle under his wing, a relationship that often led to Kyle getting into trouble. Kyle quickly developed the reputation of being an insubordinate and lazy student.
The idea of learning from the stars and finding out that they talked to Commander Hanson, his teacher, kept Kyle grounded in that class. Kyle had been fascinated by the stars since he was a toddler. He was looking through a telescope almost as soon as he could walk. His father encouraged this aspect of his son's life. Being attuned to the stars was important for someone who wished to advance in Space Fleet, but Admiral Robinson didn't want to hear anything about communicating with the heavenly bodies. He wanted his son to be smart and strong and successful, not some weirdo who heard voices.
Kyle brought his mind to the present and walked to the window of his room. The evening was clear and he knew there were going to be a large number of stars to be seen. He'd spent too much time studying, playing sports, and yes, even running around with Jace and Jordan. He hadn't spent much time at all with his friends in the sky.
He was asked to meet the two boys at 1800 hours—right after dinner. It was Jordan's birthday, and if he were going to try to be a good friend, he should join them whether he liked playing the game or not. Instead he let the clock move past 1800 and past 1900. He stared up at the ceiling, knowing that the only way he could stop feeling alone was to be with kids who wanted to be his friend—a fact that surprised him on its own. But in the end he let his fears govern him. He decided to spend his evening with what he knew—the stars—rather than what he wasn't sure about—Jace and Jordan.
At 1930 he pulled on a pair of basketball shorts and slipped into a pair of sandals. He grabbed his telescope and wheeled it outside. He would have loved to look through the big telescope on the campus, but it had to be reserved in advance. Still, his big scope was powerful enough. He wheeled it into the woods that formed a greenbelt for the campus, trying to get as far from light pollution as he could. He carried a large, powerful LED flashlight to guide him to his favorite star-viewing place. A small three-legged stool was attached to the two-wheel cart he used to haul his telescope, as was a blue cloth tote bag.
He went up a narrow trail to a flat, open area. He removed the lens caps off of his telescope and set the lenses in the direction he wanted. The sky was brilliant with stars. He pulled off his shorts and sandals and was once again naked.
Kyle opened the blue bag and pulled out a small stuffed animal that measured seven inches long. It was a black penguin with a white chest, belly and face. The penguin wore a green scarf with red tassels on the end and a green stocking cap on its black head. The cap had a red ball on the end. The penguin's beak was a bright red. Kyle carefully placed the penguin in a sitting position next to his telescope.
The penguin was the last of his stuffed animals. It was the only one he was able to save when his father threw out his two teddy bears, his monkey and his stuffed dog, after he was caught naked on the floor with Danny Harper. His father yelled that they were for "fucking sissies." Kyle knew that his mother's presence was the only reason he hadn't tossed them earlier.
Once his mother left, the animals were no longer safe. Kyle sensed it and knew once his father asked for them, he would have to give them up. Hoping his father didn't know about every piece in his collection, he successfully hid Megrez, the penguin.
He took the little stuffed animal with him to Prep School and made sure nobody saw him, including Derrick. Sometimes, after lights out, he reached into the bag tied to the front post on the inside of his bed and pulled the penguin out of it. He never knew that Derrick was aware of the bag and its contents, but never mentioned it. It would be many years later before he realized what a special friend his roommate had been. At the time, he was too arrogant to acknowledge the positives of the boy he shared his room with.
Pulling Megrez out of the cloth bag and sliding it under the covers gave him a calming quiet when he needed it. His stuffed animals didn't talk to him like the stars did, but in their own quiet way, they gave him comfort and friendship when he needed it most.
Putting his eye to the viewfinder he focused on his favorite stars, hoping to see something new in them. His three-inch, hairless cock was erect and he fondled it with his left hand, slowly masturbating as he looked at the heavens. He loved standing outside, naked and hard and looking at his friends in the sky.
Kyle stargazed and slowly masturbated. He felt happy and at peace until he heard a message he'd heard before. "We love you," the voice said, "but to find us, you need to find your friends."
The troubled preteen knew that the voice was right. The voice of the stars was always right. He should have met with Jace and Jordan. He'd skipped out on them before, but this was different—this was Jordan's birthday and he'd been invited to join them. Kyle was certain that the two boys probably hated him now.
Kyle sat on his three-legged stool looking into the heavens, but with his naked eye, not his telescope. His hand moved faster as he looked at the twinkling lights that had talked to him since he was a toddler. He spilled his young seed on the ground as he imagined Jace and Jordan celebrating a birthday the way lovers would. His somewhat unsatisfactory orgasm finished, Kyle's mind returned to Earth. Just twelve days ago Kyle had turned twelve. The only acknowledgement of his birthday was a card that was sent by his father. It simply said, "Happy Birthday, son," with his father's full signature at the bottom. Kyle decided that his father had some junior officer take care of the birthday card. Actually doing it himself, or calling him, or texting him, or just letting him know he knew his son was alive and well, was probably asking too much. The stars didn't lie—for friends to say happy birthday, he needed friends. Kyle rubbed his softening cocklet. He had taken care of what he needed to take care of in a way that was more satisfying than a wet dream. Once again, he looked through the eyepiece of the telescope. He envied Jace and Jordan—not because they were gay lovers, but simply because they were lovers. He thought about how they were connected to each other in ways he was probably connected to the stars.
Jace and Jordan are lovers, Kyle thought, and I am twelve years old and still looking for my first true friend. Not for the first time in the last few weeks, Kyle Robinson wondered if he had made the right decision to accept his commission on the "SS Sooloo".
Whenever he had those thoughts about the Sooloo, he remembered his father yelling at him for saying the stars talked to him. He remembered crying on Admiral Minor's chest, telling him how the stars said they loved him, something his father never told him. He looked back up at the brilliant sky and reminded himself how his new position would bring him closer to those stars and take him further from his father.
At twelve years old he had stood up to his father and accepted the position of Chief Astrogator of a starship. He wanted his father to be proud of what he had accomplished in the short time he had been a student at the Prep School. Instead his father only berated him for volunteering for a fool's errand.
Well, if my father can't be proud of me, he thought, I can be proud of myself. Maybe someday his stars would lead him to a friend who would be proud of him, too.
Kyle loaded his telescope, tears dripping down his cheeks. They weren't tears of sadness or tears of happiness—they were simple tears of overwhelming emotion. He donned his sandals, but didn't bother to put his shorts on, as he walked down the path back to the school, letting the tears run freely.
He did have special people in his life, even if he didn't always acknowledge them. Commander Hanson, Admiral Minor, Admiral Mirah, Lieutenant Davenport, his baseball coach, and his basketball coach, Mr. James, had all propped him up and patted or kicked his ass depending on what was needed. On his slow, naked trek down the wooded trail, he thought about how those five men had faith in him, which added to his emotions and his tears.
He stopped where the dirt trail met the main asphalt path through the green belt. He suddenly felt grateful for those five men who seemed to take a special interest him, as well as others who had been helping him through training.
Dave Bowman, his superior officer, was on the cusp of manhood. Other than some Sooloo staff meetings, he had had little contact with Bowman. Kyle thought about Bowman and how he wanted the respect of the older teen who was to be his commander, or to even be liked by him. He knew men like Davenport, Hanson, Minor, and Mirah stood behind him because he worked hard and they were experienced officers.
Those men would soon be gone from his life. Dave Bowman seemed to be distant, Kyle got very little feedback from him, and his own experiences caused him to think Bowman wanted nothing to do with him because he wasn't good enough. As much as Kyle had wanted his father's respect, he never seemed to be able to earn it, so he created trouble instead, knowing his father would give him the attention he so badly desired by bailing him out. Now he felt like he was in the same position, unable to earn the respect of someone in authority over him.
And yet, he had been good enough to get the commission. Kyle had been good enough to satisfy the demands of John Luke, an older, more experienced boy who conceded that Kyle was the better choice. So, if he was good enough, why did Bowman all but ignore him?
Hal, Bowman's partner and executive officer, helped fill in the communication gaps and helped him feel better about things. But Kyle wanted more than that—he just wasn't sure what it was he wanted.
When he got to the end of the path and reached the edge of the campus, Kyle realized he was still naked. Even though it was dark, and nobody could see him, he felt himself blush. He untied his basketball shorts from the handle of the two-wheeled cart and quickly pulled them on.
At the top of the hill in the green belt park, Kyle had shown his love to the stars and had once again heard this message about friends. He still felt confusion about how he stood with Bowman, resentment against his father, gratefulness to the men who had taken a moment or two to mentor him, pleasure that Hal reminded him that he was an important member of the crew of the Sooloo, and happiness that the stars were out and their love was flooding him.
He wiped the remaining tears from his cheeks and trudged to his dorm. He had missed his friends' invitation and Jordan's birthday. Yes, he called them friends—at least that was how the stars were steering him. But he needed to experience what he'd experienced on the hill in the park. Yes, he'd cried coming down the hill, but that was okay. He felt better. For now, he wasn't being controlled by his fears.
Kyle's personal problems didn't stop him from performing what he saw as his duties. That attitude was something his father had drilled into him. Kyle wasn't about to acknowledge his father's influence. At the same time, his father felt he had failed in raising his son. The Admiral didn't believe his son was moving in the proper direction—he hadn't developed the cojones 1 ("<strong>Cojones<\/strong>Spanish slang for \"balls\". This word is often confused by non-Spanish speakers with cajones (note the different vowel sound), which is Spanish for \"drawers\" (as in, the kind in a dresser or desk), but they are in fact two very different words.") to have what it takes to grow into the man his father wanted him to be.
Kyle showed up for his training classes, daily and on time. He worked hard to master the difficult subject matter, although not always with the greatest degree of success. His athletic background, as well as his observing his father as a professional leader, gave him enough background to maintain a fairly high grade in the class.
Even though it was his most difficult class, he flew through Advanced Astrogation. He loved the subject matter and had shown an affinity for it from the time he had taken the entrance test to the introductory class.
The class Kyle had the most difficulty with was Leadership Training. He had two things working against him; his youth and his relative immaturity, compared to the other boys in the class, and the fact that he was a loner who was not adept at relating to his peers.
There was one thing, however, that helped Kyle—his participation in team sports. His coaches had pounded the concept of teamwork into him from his days in the Pee Wee leagues. As a varsity player at the Prep School, the value of being part of a team was stepped up to an even higher level.
The measurement of Kyle's success was his role as point guard on the Prep School varsity basketball team. The point guard was like a field general on the court. He was the player who ran the offense, who got his teammates moving into position, and who got himself into position to feed them the basketball. He needed to know the offense as well or better than the coaches.
When Kyle was on the court, whether in practice or in games, he led his teammates. He was vocal and gregarious, a big difference from his usual personality. His teammates respected Kyle and performed for him, thinking of him more in terms of an outgoing leader than as a reclusive loner.
While Kyle didn't realize it, his performance in athletics compensated for his failings in training. Commander Rogers, his leadership teacher, and Coach James often talked about Kyle, and began to see their role as one of schooling the young boy to take his skills on the basketball court and integrating those skills into his upcoming role on the Sooloo. Kyle's favorite times during the six months of intensive training were Astrogation Class, basketball, taking his telescope into the Academy park, and the time he spent with Jordan and Jace on the holodeck learning and playing games. While his times with those two were few, they were also special and he came to realize that the two boys truly wanted to be his friend.
One very special event was something that happened with John Luke, the fourteen-year-old who was going to be his Assistant Astrogator. He and John worked as a pair in the Astrogation class, as did all of the Astrogators and their assistants. It was imperative that the two of them work smoothly as a team on their ships.
One afternoon while Kyle and John worked on a tricky astrogation problem together, Kyle mentioned that it was going to be a perfect night for spotting some stars that were usually difficult to see from Earth.
"I think I'm going to take my telescope to the hill in the park tonight and try to spot them," Kyle told John.
"You have a telescope with enough power?" John asked. He knew little about Kyle's life outside of class other than he played basketball.
"Yeah." Kyle described his high powered digital telescope. John recognized it as a new and very expensive model that had hit the market just three years ago. It even came equipped with a digital camera. For all of his resentment against his father, Kyle had to reluctantly admit that his father had never scrimped when it came to providing him with the best equipment available.
"Wow, very impressive," John responded. "But you're going to need a really clear night to see what you're looking for."
"That's why tonight should be a good one." Kyle pointed to the constellation showing on the computer in front of them. "That's how they should line up tonight. I'll download it to my tablet and it should steer us right to Orland-3. That star was named for Vince Orland, the astronomer who discovered the star. The stars not only have to be lined up right, but the sky has to be perfect."
That was the longest speech John had heard Kyle give since he met the younger boy. His enthusiasm for the stars was quite apparent.
John showed up at Kyle's quarters about a half-hour before sunset. Kyle had already loaded the telescope and his three-legged stool on its two-wheeled cart. The two boys walked to the park, Kyle pulled the cart holding his precious telescope while John carried an insulated bag holding sandwiches and fruit juice. John followed Kyle along the dirt trail that led to the top of the hill which was the best place for stargazing in the area.
Kyle remembered his last visit there, when he stripped naked and masturbated while listening to the stars. It felt good not being alone.
"It's going to be an hour or so before the sky will be dark enough," Kyle said. He knew he was telling John something he already knew, yet he felt it was something he needed to say. The teacher of their leadership class had told him it was better to communicate too much than not to communicate enough. The boys ate their sandwiches as they waited for the sky to darken and the stars begin to make themselves visible.
It took over an hour of work, but with the use of the star chart Kyle had downloaded, the Starfinder feature of the telescope, and the stargazing app John had on his tablet, the boys found what they were certain was Orland-3.
"Not bad for a couple of kids," John boasted. "I know adults who have never seen that star from Earth. They've needed to use a scope that is out in Earth orbit." He surprised Kyle by giving his shoulder a quick hug. "We're going to be the best Astrogation team in the fleet."
Kyle enjoyed the feeling of the quick hug that the bigger, stronger boy gave him. Even though John had, in essence, handed the Chief Astrogator job to Kyle, Kyle still had moments in which he felt inadequate. To his way of thinking, the older, bigger boy should be the one in charge of the department. When he got into one of those moods, he saw himself as small and inferior.
John saw things differently. Not only did he believe that Kyle's knowledge of the stars and how they behaved was superior to his own, he also believed that Kyle's ability to lead trumped his. He could see that on their trek to their stargazing spot. Kyle had taken charge of their little expedition like it was the natural thing to do.
The boys took two more stargazing trips to the hill in the green belt. Neither of them had any real purpose other than to look at the stars. While they could apply for access to use the space based telescopes with their sharp images unhindered by the atmosphere, they enjoyed seeing space as man had looked at it for centuries—from the surface of their home planet.
They also realized deep down that their expeditions had helped instill a sense of camaraderie and teamwork between them. In other words, the two boys bonded and became friends. John's encouragement of Kyle and closeness of their relationship helped Kyle to believe that he really could handle the position of Chief Astrogator.
For Kyle, the week before the launch of the Sooloo seemed to come without warning. Things were happening quickly and stress levels seemed to rise. Kyle had received Bon Voyage cards from his favorite teachers.
The best of them came from Commander Hanson, his Astrogation teacher, and Mr. James, his basketball coach. Each of them delivered their card, along with words of wisdom and encouragement, personally.
"Kyle, you know more about the science and art of astrogation than any student I've ever had," Commander Hanson told his prize pupil. The Commander had emphasized to his Astrogation Classes that, while astrogation was a science, to truly master the subject, a sense of artistic creativity was needed as well as book knowledge.
"You're not there yet, son, but I am willing to bet that by the time you're sixteen you will know more about the science than I do. With the way you can communicate with the stars, you have already surpassed me on the artistic end."
"But I thought the stars talked to you," Kyle said.
"They do, but not often, and not the way they talk to you. The difference between you and me is that you are able to understand them."
"I don't always," Kyle confessed.
Commander Hanson gave Kyle a wide smile and hugged his shoulder. "It's a big universe, son, and no human will ever understand it or the billions of stars that make it up. You listen to their language and you pick up the important things."
"Do they really, truly talk?" This was not the first time Kyle had asked Commander Hanson this question.
"They do if you believe in them," Commander Hanson replied. It wasn't the first time that Kyle had heard that answer, either. The little boy wrapped his arms tightly around the Commander's waist. "Thank you," the boy whispered in his still unbroken voice. "I will miss you."
"And I will miss you. I plan to be around in 30 years to see how you fared."
His meeting with Mr. James wasn't quite as emotional. It focused on leadership as the coach reminded Kyle how often he showed the ability to be a leader. "Take what you learned on the basketball court and apply it to your spaceship," he reminded the boy. "You'll see how much they are alike." The coach gave his former point guard a quick hug.
While their visits were surprising, the most surprising one came just before Kyle boarded the shuttle that would take them to the Sooloo. He'd been watching Jordan and Jace preparing to board the shuttle. Feelings of loneliness hit him as he looked at the two boys who were so obviously in love. While the two Jays, as he thought of them, had become his friends during training, they weren't his very best friend.
Kyle thought about how he and John had bonded and about what a good team they were now making. John was his assistant, which didn't preclude him from being a friend. But John wasn't really his best friend. He didn't have a best friend; he'd never had a best friend. He's had friends and teammates, but not the kind of friend he could tell anything to.
He knew most of the boys on the Sooloo were gay. He knew many of them had paired up and that even some of those had messed around sexually with each other.
Other than masturbation, Kyle hadn't had any kind of sexual contact since his father caught him and Danny Harper jerking each other off. One of the last times Kyle saw Danny was as he ran naked out of the house with Kyle's father screaming at him. Danny was as close to a best friend as Kyle had ever had. Not long after that, Kyle turned eleven and was sent off to the Space Academy Prep School.
Wade Bailey was as close to a friend that Kyle had. He knew that the fourteen-year-old was a punk, but he liked how Wade led him to the edge of real trouble. Wade had made no secret that he desired sex with Kyle, and had his meeting with Admiral Minor not taken place, Kyle had no doubt that he would have had some kind of sex with Wade.
That was what was going through Kyle's mind when he felt a tap on his right shoulder and heard a man's voice behind him quietly say his name. He knew who it was and almost winced. His departure into space was about to be ruined by his father, whom he had purposefully ignored over the past month.
Rear Admiral Gregory Robinson was a proud man. He saw himself as a leader of men, and brooked no nonsense from underlings, which included his son. He had been against Kyle volunteering for the voyage of exploration, and never tired of telling him so. He considered volunteering to be for losers—real men moved up in the world through outworking, outthinking, and outfighting his rivals, not by volunteering for some ridiculous project.
And yet, even with that outlook on life, he did everything he could to make sure his son was in a position of privilege. He often gave his son what he wanted, like his expensive telescope, and often used his rank and position to bail Kyle out of trouble. The Admiral was not a fan of the exploration project. He couldn't believe that there were men of high rank, higher than his own, who thought it was a good idea to send 1500 boys into space, have them away and out of contact in the prime of their lives, and then schedule them to return when they were on the downward slide of middle age.
"But if you volunteer for this stupid project, I will not back you up if you screw up. It won't happen. You are on your own, son."
Being on his own suited Kyle just fine. He often got into trouble just to get his father's attention—it was one of the rare times his father, the great Admiral, even acknowledged his existence. Yet, just as he was about to leave his father for good, there was the man standing behind him with his hand on his shoulder.
Admiral Robinson had no intention of seeing his son off. As he had promised, while he kept contact with his son after the boy was accepted into the project, it was infrequent. Other than a couple of phone and video exchanges, they'd said nothing to each other over the past six months.
He all but ignored Kyle's twelfth birthday, which had been three weeks before, instructing Chief Petty Officer Cabrera, who was in essence his secretary, to send the boy a card. Cabrera couldn't wait for a change in duty. There was no way he could respect a man who couldn't call his son and tell him he loved him on the boy's birthday.
But things had changed the week before. Cabrera answered a call from Commander Hanson of the Space Academy. The Commander asked to speak to Admiral Robinson.
"What is this regarding, sir?" the Petty Officer asked.
"It is regarding his son."
That caught Cabrera's attention. "Is the boy in trouble?"
"It might help him if he were," the Commander muttered with a touch of cynicism that Cabrera noted. "Please tell the Admiral that I am calling on behalf of Admiral Mirah and that it is important I have a word with him."
"I will see if the Admiral will take your call." Cabrera put Hanson on hold and rang Admiral Robinson's office. Cabrera's instructions were to route all calls from those below the rank of Admiral through Robinson's Aide, Captain Chu, with a few specific exceptions or in the case of an emergency. Cabrera decided to ignore those instructions and place the call directly to the Admiral.
After all, the Commander had invoked the name of Fleet Admiral Mirah, plus he could always say he thought the call was an emergency.
Admiral Robinson reluctantly accepted the call. Before Hanson could say anything, Robinson lit into him. "If this is so important, why did Admiral Mirah elect to have an underling make this call? I assume that with a week to go before his departure the ungrateful hooligan has managed to get himself into a shitload of trouble."
Before Robinson could say any more, Hanson cut him off. He knew Robinson would be furious, but he also knew he had the backing of Admiral Mirah, who outranked Robinson. "With all due respect, Sir, your son has become one of the star students of our program, and it might be time for you to acknowledge that you respect what he has done and are proud of him."
"Commander, just who the fuck are you to tell me…," but that was as far he got.
"And maybe Sir, to tell your son that you love him," Hanson said in a calm but authoritative voice.
"Commander, I am going to hang up, right after I will call the Advocate General's office to have you court martialed for insubordination."
"Sir, you can talk to me or to Admiral Mirah," Hanson said before Robinson could break the connection. "That, Sir, is your choice. I truly believe you'd much rather talk to me."
After a long silence, Robinson said, "So, talk." Admiral Mirah was a man whom Gregory Robinson truly respected and not just because of his rank.
"I would like to do so in person, Sir." And that was how Commander Hanson ended up in Admiral Robinson's office the next day, bringing a flash drive containing Kyle Robinson's records, as well as a video message from Admiral Mirah. That was how Gregory Robinson spent an afternoon learning about the son he had all but neglected. He learned about Kyle's academic record, his training record, his athletic record, and even a little about his personal life.
"He craves your attention, Admiral. In spite of everything you've done to him, he still loves and respects you because you are his father. He is a lonely boy who is about to start active duty as a senior officer of an interstellar spaceship. You have a week to tell him how proud you are of him and to return his love."
"I can't just walk up to him and tell him I love him, Commander."
Admiral Robinson did not have an answer to that question. Without a word, Commander Hanson started the video of Admiral Mirah's talk. Mirah apologized for not being there in person, but Mirah then summarized what Hanson had already said and then added his own request.
"Unless abuse is involved, I try not to get involved in family lives. I know you are a good officer, Greg, but you are a shitty father." Hanson saw Robinson cringe at the rebuke. "I have no evidence that you've ever been abusive to your son, unless you call psychological neglect abuse.
"Greg, I know how you feel about Kyle volunteering. Because we didn't require parental approval for the mission, it was something that he was able to do without you—it was a way he could show his independence. It was also him saying to you, 'Look at me, Dad. Look at what I am doing. Please be proud of me, Dad.' In our own way, you and I went through the same things growing up, although not to that extreme.
I can't order you to say goodbye to your son, but I can strongly suggest that you do. I can't tell you what to say to your son, except to strongly suggest that what you tell him comes from the depth of your heart. There is one thing I can order you to do, however. If you should decide not to tell your son goodbye, then I am ordering you to call me and tell me why you can't meet with him over the next week." The Fleet Admiral smiled and finished by saying, "I know what kind of man you are, Greg. I know you will do the right thing."
Two days after Kyle's father had watched Admiral Mirah's video for the third time, a large package arrived in his office via interoffice mail with Admiral Mirah's return address. Gregory Robinson opened the package; inside were some pictures of Kyle working in his astrogation class, a collection of his papers, and a flash drive.
Gregory placed the flash drive into his computer. When the menu came up and he saw that the drive contained videos, he pulled it out of his computer. It was something, he felt, was better viewed at home.
That evening he placed the drive into his 60" television screen. He played the first high-definition video and watched his son's first basketball game with the Prep School team. By the time he got to the fourth game of the six on the drive, he could no longer hold back the tears.
Admiral Gregory Robinson was trained to be a leader of men. He was good at what he did, but as the tears flowed down his cheeks, he had to admit to himself that he had not been a good father. As he watched his son make a perfect pass to a cutting teammate for a basket, it occurred to him what he had missed for the last twelve years. He was Kyle's father, but he had rarely been Kyle's dad, and now he never would have the chance to play that role.
Commander Hanson and Admiral Mirah had been right—he had to see Kyle before his son left his life.
As a result, Admiral Gregory Robinson stood behind his son, with his right hand on the boy's right shoulder. But he wasn't standing behind the boy as an Admiral, he was standing behind him as a father. The emotions that had been building up in Gregory since the meeting with Commander Hanson threatened to boil to the surface.
The father massaged his son's bony shoulder. The boy was still skinny as a rail, but he had also grown an inch or two in the six months since the father had last seen his son. The events of the past week had brought to mind how little he knew about his son beyond giving him material things and keeping him out of serious trouble.
Greg had called Admiral Mirah, but not to say he didn't plan to show. Instead, he told him he would see his son before the boy left, then praised Commander Hanson for his concern and professionalism. There was no doubt in Admiral Robinson's mind that the real driving force behind his visit to his son was the Commander, who obviously thought very highly of Kyle.
He looked down at the Lieutenant Commander's stripes on the sleeve of his son's uniform. The boy had just turned twelve and had the rank of an officer. He also still needed to figure out how to keep himself looking sharp, but that thought was not for today.
"Turn around, son," the father said quietly. It was a request, not an order; Kyle turned and faced his father, wondering how this was going to play out. He braced himself for his father's displeasure. "Follow me, please."
As he followed his father to one of the buildings lining the spaceport, Kyle could feel anger boiling up in him. Kyle just knew his father had found a way to keep him from going into space on the Sooloo. He wanted to scream at the man in front of him. He wanted to pound him with his fists. As they entered the building, Kyle was ready to turn and bolt, but he didn't. The boy didn't know it, but the quiet tone of his father's voice, which was unlike him, was the factor that kept him from going into a complete pubescent meltdown. His father led Kyle into an office he had reserved. Neither of them sat down.
"Kyle, I know I haven't been the greatest father. I wanted you to meet my expectations rather than letting you discover who you wanted to be." The son looked up at his father, saying nothing and revealing little with his face, but the tears forming in his eyes revealed everything. His father was behaving strangely. What Kyle didn't understand and wouldn't understand for a long time, was that the man who looked like his father but behaving like somebody else, was actually behaving like himself. The man who was talking to him was the successful Admiral, the leader of men, not the failed father who never took the time to truly understand the boy in the room with him.
"The best thing I did for you was enroll you in the Academy Prep School. I did it to get you out of my hair, but you started to become the boy—no, the man, you wanted to be."
The tears that had been forming started rolling down the son's face as his father continued. "Kyle, I am truly proud of the path you chose. It took me too long to know that, and I needed help to be able to look inside of myself and say that. No father could be prouder of his son than I am of you today."
The son buried his face into the sharply creased uniform jacket of the father, who was fighting his own tears. He started pounding on the man's chest as the sobs rose to the surface. The father wrapped his arm around the small boy and pressed him close to himself, regretting that he had waited until the last time he would see his son as a boy to give him a bear hug of love. Kyle stopped his pounding and buried his face in that strong chest instead. "I love you, daddy," the blubbering boy said as his little body shook in his father's embrace.
"I love you, too, my dear sweet son. I just never knew how to say it without sounding… well, I guess without sounding weak." The stoic Admiral, the leader of men, made no attempt to hide the tears he was shedding.
"I learned this past week that there is nothing weak about love, my dear Kyle." The father ran a hand through the hair that was a bit longer than regulation. "Love is strong." The father took a deep breath, trying unsuccessfully to regain control of himself. Real men don't cry, the admiral had always told himself and his son. But here he was again, crying about his son, and not caring who saw it.
"I love you, Daddy," the son repeated between sobs. "Thank you for coming to say goodbye. Thank you, thank you, thank you." The son pulled his face out of his father's uniform, leaving a wet spot behind. He gave his father a smile, even as he sobbed. He then saw the tears running down his father's cheeks, which made him sob harder. Even his adolescent mind could figure out that only love could make a man as strong as his father cry. "I feel better now. I know you really, truly do love me."
"Dad, the family of the command staff can visit our ship tomorrow. I want you to see my ship. I can sign you up, if you want."
The thought that his father was an admiral and could sign himself onto the guest list never occurred to Kyle. Just like seeing his father cry was a first, so was him telling his father, his dad, that he could do something for him.
"Sign me up, Son. I'll be there."
Kyle nodded. A silence drifted over the father and son as they momentarily locked into their own thoughts. Suddenly Kyle felt embarrassed as a jumble of emotions coursed through his young body.
Not knowing what else to do, he turned to walk away; his father placed his hand on Kyle's shoulder and stopped him. "You told me once when you were little that the stars spoke to you, that you listened to them. I didn't believe you, but I do now. I heard that one of the things they say to you is that they love you."
Kyle knew that his father had to have found that out from Commander Hanson. He was ready to be angry at his teacher's betrayal until it occurred to him that Commander Hanson was the reason he and his father were locked in a tearful embrace.
"They love me and now I know that you love me. I think that I am ready, now."
"Ready for what?"
"Ready to be the man you want me to be and I want me to be," the son said with a maturity beyond his twelve years. "You said love is strong, and I am taking your love with me."
Admiral Gregory Robinson squeezed Lieutenant Commander Kyle Robinson to his bosom. "I am proud of you, Commander Robinson. Listen to what the stars tell you. If they say they love you, they are saying it for me as well." The Admiral kissed the top of the head of his son, the Commander, once again regretting the lost opportunities to watch his son play sports, to follow his son as he learned to become an officer, to tell his son he was proud of him, and to tell him that he loved him as many times as he could.
The father let the son go and the son stepped away. They both laughed nervously as they wiped away their tears. They then walked wordlessly out of the building and onto the tarmac where the shuttle was parked. This time Kyle didn't notice Jordan and Jace, who were looking at him, wondering who the officer was and why he was hugging their crewmate and friend.
The Admiral gave his son one last hug. "I'll see you when you return, young man, and I will be proud of what you have become and are becoming every day that you are gone."
Kyle stood straight and tall, looking taller than his four foot eight. "I love you, Dad." The voice that said "Dad" instead of "Daddy" was still the soprano of a boy who hadn't hit puberty yet, but to Admiral Gregory Robinson, it sounded like the voice of a young man.