Alternatives, Chapter 03

Sample Collection

Mark Apoapsis

Dave ran his fingers through his crewmate’s soft brown hair. Whatever vitamins were in the tasteless mush they had to eat, it seemed to be making Frank’s hair silkier as the voyage wore on. Or was Dave just imagining it? First perversions, now delusions. How had he ever passed the psych tests?

“Uh, okay, so how much?” he asked.

“An inch or two, I guess,” replied Frank.

“Um, will you be satisfied with that? Won’t that mean we have to do this again in a few weeks?”

“I’m sure you can fit me into your busy schedule somehow,” said Frank pointedly. “I figure that neither of us is used to doing this yet, and we’ll get more skilled as time goes on. If we limit the damage you can do while you’re learning, I’ll be better off. Same goes for when I do you.”

Dave adjusted the bedsheet nervously.

“Should I take off my uniform?” asked Frank suddenly.

Dave opened his mouth to speak, and tried several times before he could get any sounds to come out. “Uh. What for?”

“Just that I hate getting hair down my back. My T-shirt is snugger than the collar of my flight suit, so maybe it will bounce off. Anyway, I’m too hot with this damn bedsheet around me.”

“HAL, please decrease temperature five degrees,” Dave requested hastily. “Maybe we should do this in zero-gee,” he said to Frank. “That would make it easier for me to get to you at all those awkward angles.”

“Even worse. You want my hair getting in your nose for the next few days?”

Not unless it’s still attached, thought Dave. “We could use a hand-vac. Even my barber on Earth uses one.”

“Let’s do this the old-fashioned way for now, okay? We can get fancier when we’re more experienced.” Frank began unzipping his flight suit.

Dave felt uncomfortable enough being this close to the other man for such an extended period. He was used to hiding his feelings, but in this case he was afraid of making such a mess of things that Frank wouldn’t trust him again. If he got really careless, he could even hurt him.

And this was an unaccustomed degree of intimacy for them. He was standing so close behind Frank that he imagined he could feel the warmth of the other man’s body radiating through their flight suits. He could smell his faint masculine scent under the clean smell of soap and shampoo. If Frank stripped to his underwear, it was likely to drive him wild with unfulfillable desire. He didn’t want his hands shaking while they were holding a pointed blade just inches from his friend’s neck! He just wasn’t fit to be a barber, not with this unnatural secret passion. Now that he thought about it, it made him wonder how normal men who worked as hairdressers could possibly stand the strain of styling women’s hair every day for a living

“I’ve got an idea,” he said wildly. “Um. Would it be okay if I just tucked a cloth around your neck and over the blanket?”

“Sure, sure. Let’s just get started. I’ve got a work shift in an hour.”

“Um, it just occurred to me that I can’t think of what we could use for a cloth. I guess I was thinking of a towel, or even a T-shirt, but I just stuck all of mine in the laundry, and you gave me a bunch of yours to put in with them. Do you have any left?”

“How about the shirt you’re wearing, Mr. Resourceful?”

“Uh. I’ve been wearing it all day, Frank.”

“So? I don’t mind.”

“Wha— Are you sure?”

“Just get on with it. I don’t want you to have to rush at the end. You’re not used to this; you need to take it slow.”

Reluctantly, Dave unzipped his flight suit. Topology forced him to pull his arms out of the sleeves before he could take off his T-shirt, and the “gravity” of the spinning carousel kept the open flight suit from covering him; it was hanging around his waist by the time he finished pulling the shirt over his head. He quickly pulled it back over his shoulders and rezipped it with his right hand, while holding the shirt in his left. “Would you face forward again, so I can tuck it in?” Licking his lips, he pulled the shirt over Frank’s head and arranged it around his neck.

Frank seemed relaxed and trusting, and as Dave’s hands worked the shirt past his ears and nose, he actually breathed a deep sigh of contentment. But then, he had no way of knowing what kind of a monster his crewmate was. “Did you eat a lot of vegetables when you were a kid?” Frank asked suddenly, as Dave tucked the black T-shirt securely under the collar at the back of his neck. “I’ll bet you did,” he mused.

Dave reached around to gently tuck it around his throat. “Are’t we supposed to talk about sports or something while I’m cutting your hair?” he replied absently, as he forced himself to withdraw his fingers from inside the open front of his friend’s flight suit and straighten up.

“My mom always told me, if I ate my vegetables, it would put hair on my chest. Or was that Wonder Bread?”

Dave didn’t comment. He wasn’t willing to admit that he knew the sparse patterns of Frank’s chest hair better than he knew the hairs on the back of his own hand. He’d also noticed that, even if Wonder Bread had left his chest fairly smooth, Frank had certainly built a strong body in the other eleven ways.

“Who would have thought it?” Frank continued. “Your chin is so smooth. You’re almost baby-faced.”

“There’s this useful piece of technology called a ’razor,’ pal,” he teased. Actually he liked the way Frank looked with a day or two of dark stubble. “Someday maybe I’ll show you how to use it.” Oh, bad idea! Now he was fantasizing about running a razor lovingly over Frank’s throat — not his own electric one, a real one — while Frank relaxed trustingly, head leaning back against Dave’s chest, throat exposed to the strokes of the sharp blade. The intimacy of that was worse than the reality facing him.

“I know one easy way to get more hair on my chest.”

“What’s that?” asked Dave uncomfortably.

“I could just take off this damned sheet and strip to the waist before you cut my hair.”

“Don’t move!” Dave requested nervously. He picked up a pair of scissors from the kit, gingerly lifted a lock of his buddy’s hair from the back of his neck, and snipped. Nothing happened. He tried again, then tried a smaller lock, with the same results.

“Uh, Frank...”


“It’s not working. I know I’ve never cut another guy’s hair before, but I thought I could at least get a pair of scissors to work.”

Frank sighed. “What color are the handles, Dr. Bowman?”


“That pair is for me, Dave.”

“Why did they waste payload giving us two pairs of... oh.”

“Right. When you’re in the majority, you keep forgetting the whole world isn’t like you,” Frank said with a surprising amount of bitterness.

“Sorry. I knew that. I’m just not thinking straight.” He found his own red-handled scissors. “If I’d thought about it, I’d have realized you need special scissors.”

Frank turned his head so violently that Dave was glad he didn’t have the scissors anywhere near him yet. “They are not ’special’ scissors,” he said tightly. “Your scissors are only designed to work for right-handed people. That makes them just as ’special’ as mine.”

“Okay, okay! Take it easy, Frank! You’re right. I see your point.” It wasn’t like Frank to be this touchy, let alone over something so trivial.

“That’s okay, don’t worry about it,” Frank said, willingly accepting his apology and calming down. “Ready when you are.” He offered Dave an encouraging smile.

Dave took a deep breath, and tried to be professional and see his handsome friend as just a head of hair to be trimmed.

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