Alternatives, Chapter 14


Mark Apoapsis

“Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!”
— Ishmael, “Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville, 1851

He had him down to his shorts now. He already knew the sight of Frank’s body very well, but it was still exciting to see him like this, tied up, spread-eagled. When he finally tired of the interrogation game, he spent a long time just admiring his willing captive.

Now it was time for the last scrap of clothing to come off. Dave gave some careful thought to this, wanting to come up with an interesting way to do it. It wasn’t as if he were jaded; the mere thought of stripping Frank of his shorts made him ache with arousal, and any way he did it would be a thrill. The look of anticipation on Frank’s face as Dave eyed his shorts suggested that he would enjoy it too, whether they were pulled down slowly and seductively, or ripped off roughly. But it seemed worth taking his time about it, and savoring the anticipation of getting him completely naked. As he considered his options, he “stood” between Frank’s outstretched arms, stroking Frank’s rough chin, with one hand, toying with his armpit hairs with the other. Just for fun, he lifted up his own T-shirt and pulled the hem over Frank’s eyes as a temporary blindfold. Now he was floating with the mussed-up hair at the crown of Frank’s head mingling with his own chest hair. Occasionally it brushed lightly against the bare skin of his sensitive belly, but this time he was in control.

Finally getting an idea he liked, he ducked under Frank and “resurfaced” between his bare thighs, with his face at the level of Frank’s crotch. He’d need a good grip for this. He put his hands around Frank’s knees, with the thumbs underneath. Frank jerked and gasped. “What’s wrong, Frank?” he asked in alarm. “Is one of your knees sore? Did I hurt you when I tackled you yesterday? You should have said something, man.” It would be just like Frank to hide an injury, especially to avoid letting Dave feel guilty about it.

“No. Tickles!” Frank gasped.

“Where? The backs of your knees?” Dave asked, running his thumbs lightly against the silky skin there.

“Urg! Yes!” came the strangled reply.

Dave spent a few minutes on controlled experiments and determined that the backs of both of his knees were highly sensitive, and that the right one was a little more so than the left. He filed that information away for use in the immediate future; he’d gotten enough satisfaction out of tickling for awhile. He waited while Frank recovered.

“What are you gonna do to me now?”

Dave turned his attention back to the seam a few inches in front of his eyes, at the bottom of the white shorts. He leaned forward and took it in his mouth, then used his tongue and lips to adjust it so that the fabric was between his teeth and Frank’s balls were free of his mouth again. He barely heard Frank moan something softly in response. He breathed deeply, enjoying the musky aroma Frank’s body had been producing in response to all this stimulation. The scent, headily masculine, was akin to his own, but unmistakably individual. A low level of his brain was responding to the pheromones, helpfully warning him that he had entered another man’s territory. No shit, brain, he thought. He knew that this other man welcomed his invasion. That he was, in any case, helpless to do anything about it. He had the other man completely under his power. His high-level consciousness knew that Frank could rip free pretty easily, but he was certain parts of him were fooled by the illusion, and he was amazed at how excited they were about that.

He began inching, hand over hand, backward toward Frank’s feet, using his teeth to tug the shorts with him. The waistband offered some resistance sliding over Frank’s narrow hips, and a lot more when it hung up on Frank’s erect cock, but once that popped free it was easy to get the shorts down almost to his knees. Then he switched positions, straddling Frank’s rib cage upside down, stretching up to free one foot from the restraints, and used his hands to push the shorts up past his knees and around his ankles. Finally, he pulled them over first one foot and then the other. He got both feet securely fastened again and returned to his position between his thighs, to experiment awhile with the kinematics of testicles drifting weightlessly within their loose scrotum. He provided a gentle nudge now and then and admired the result. His handsome subject, naked and immobilized here in the sinister Dr B.’s isolated zero-gravity laboratory, far from any hope of rescue, was bravely trying to steel himself for whatever diabolical procedures were to come.

This was even better than pouncing on him yesterday — although that had been fun in its own way, since he’d defeated Frank fair and square by his own cleverness and strength. Today, he had Frank even more completely at his mercy, but only because Frank had willingly submitted to it. Still, when he’d woken up this morning, he’d been afraid Frank would be furious at him. At best, he hoped Frank would be eager to wreak some playful revenge. He had not expected to wind up with Frank floating utterly naked before him, in the absolute privacy of the pod.

HAL noted that more than ninety minutes had passed since the crewmen entered the pod. This was far longer than he had expected the repair to take. It was plausible that a complete overhaul might take this long, and there was no evidence that there was any problem with the air supply. Still, he would long since have rotated the pod back to check on them if he had not been explicitly requested not to. He was now wondering whether it was time to do it anyway.

Dave reached out and lightly touched Frank’s balls, and stroked the underside of his cock, then ran his hand through his pubic hair and drew it lightly down his thigh. He watched Frank’s diaphragm do interesting things in reaction to his every move. Then he swallowed a sip of water in preparation, and moved down to his ankle, placing his mouth just above the strap that bound his foot. He began licking the inside of Frank’s leg, following his inseam all the way up to his crotch, over the musky underside of his balls, and down the other leg all the way to the ankle. Frank made small sounds of pleasure between ragged breaths.

He moved up to Frank’s ear to whisper, “Did you like that?”

“Oh, yeah.” Frank murmured back, his eyes closed, a smile playing across his lips. “Even better than coffee.”

It occurred to Dave that he had never really been skin-to-skin with Frank. Not full-length, anyway. He pulled off his own T-shirt. Frank opened his eyes to watch this appreciatively. He apparently never got tired of looking at Dave’s chest. Maybe it was the new muscles. Dave flexed them deliberately, and Frank smiled and licked his lips. Then Dave pressed his nearly naked body full-length against Frank’s entirely naked one, wrapping his arms around his back, pressing their chests tightly together and locking his bare legs around Frank’s.

Frank whispered into his ear, “I’ve always wanted to have that much hair on my chest.”

Dave laughed and said, “Well, now you do, for a while.” Using his fingertips to push himself back a few millimeters until only his chest hair was in contact with Frank’s skin, he carefully slid around in circles, chest against chest, using Frank’s shoulders as grips. Frank threw his head back and groaned softly.

Having finally run out of ideas for pleasuring Frank in other ways, Dave slid down until he was looking at Frank’s crotch, and the already moist head of his cock. “I don’t know if I can do this, Frank, but if you want me to...”

Frank said, “Hey, I have a better idea. Let me go for a minute.”

“When I’ve got you right where I want you?” Dave teased, raising himself back to look Frank in the eye. He kissed his unshaven throat.

“Please, Dave. I swear I’ll do anything you want, man. But let me go, for a little while. There’s something I just have to do to you. You can stop me anytime if you’re uncomfortable with it.”

“Well, okay.” Dave helped Frank free his limbs.

“Just hold on to the handhold here, if you don’t want to be bound.” Frank ran his fingers through the black hairs covering Dave’s chest, then briefly touched them with his lips. Finally, he carefully positioned himself, with his feet hooked around Dave’s knees, his own knees straddling Dave’s hips, and his right hand gripping Dave’s shoulder, in such a way that his crotch was at the level of Dave’s chest. He took his own erect cock in his left hand and held it so that Dave’s chest hairs were lightly brushing its underside, which Dave realized must be incredibly sensitive if the other man’s body was anything like his own. He moved it slowly. Dave could feel a light tickling sensation from the motion of his own chest hair, and the occasional brush of the spongy flesh against his own skin. He moaned in pleasure as Frank used his cock to brush hair away from a nipple, which turned as hard as if ice water had touched it. Then he returned his attentions to the center of his chest, moved lower, and followed the thick line of hairs down his stomach.

Frank was breathing rapidly, eyes closed, lips parted. But the physical stimulation from the hairs couldn’t be strong enough to let him come, and he was beginning to stroke himself with his hand as well. Dave grabbed his wrist. “Okay, time’s up.”


“You’re forgetting the first two laws of weightless sex, pal.”

“The laws of— okay, I’ll bite.”

“Later. First don’t you want to hear the laws? Ow! Number One: For every action ...”

“ ... there is an equal and opposite reaction,” they finished together in chorus.

“Number Two,” Dave continued. “For every ejaculation, there is an equal and opposite inhalation.”

“Ewwww! And the third law?”

“I haven’t thought that far.”

“How about,” Frank said, drawing him close again, “objects of desire are closer than they appear?” They kissed each other — gently this time.

“Don’t think you can sweet-talk me out of doing this my way. I think I want to make you wait for it, and do it for you. Let’s get you back in the restraints. Tell you what. You can pull my shorts off first if you want.”

Frank brightened at this. Holding onto Dave’s shoulders, he brought his feet up to Dave’s waist and stuck the big toe of each foot into his boxers, gripping the waistband between his toes. A few quick tugs, and Dave’s shorts were around his knees. Then around his ankles. Then they were gone, drifting among the other clothes, and Dave found himself floating naked in front of his shipmate. Frank grinned at his erection, out in the open at last, and touched it lightly with his fingertips. Then he meekly allowed Dave to return him to a spread-eagled position. This time, Dave left room for a little more flex at the elbows and knees. Once he had Frank secured, he took advantage of the opportunity to rub their cocks together, underside to underside. This quickly brought him dangerously close to climax, and Frank too, judging by his breathing. He forced himself to stop. He had something more unusual he wanted to try.

Anchoring himself by grasping Frank’s foot, he held himself behind Frank’s legs, their bodies crossing at a ninety-degree angle. He used the head of his cock to lightly tickle the soft skin on the inside of Frank’s right knee. Frank gasped, and bent his knee in involuntary reaction, clenching the head of Dave’s cock. There was probably no name for this type of sex, if it counted as sex, but it could catch on. Soon Frank was laughing helplessly at the stimulation, and Dave was near orgasm from the repeatedly clenching.

Realizing he was on the verge of making the same mistake he’d stopped Frank from making, he snagged a T-shirt out of the air.

“Is that mine or yours?” Frank asked between gasps.

Dave buried his nose in the black cotton and breathed deeply. “Mmmmm! Yours.”

“Good. I like the idea of your using mine.”

He wrapped it around Frank’s knee and his own cock, and somehow managed to hold onto it as an orgasm took hold of him. It was one that was worth the wait. All three months of it.

He felt like wrapping his naked body around Frank’s and drifting off to sleep, but he needed to put Frank out of his misery, after keeping him on the brink for so long. Besides, there was something very tempting about being in control, with Frank still bound and helpless and his cock exposed and undefended against Dave’s tongue. Frank whimpered as Dave brought him to the brink of orgasm several times, although the turth was that he was doing it less from skill than from a lack of nerve to finish the job. Finally, he took the whole cock in his mouth, but was ashamed to find himself gagging. He felt ashamed to be acting as though the body of his closest friend were something loathsome, but he couldn’t help it.

“Don’t worry, Dave, it’s perfectly normal to have a gag reflex. It just takes practice and patience.”

Dave tried again, with the same result.

“And right now, I don’t have the patience to let you practice on me! Hell with this.” Frank twisted around and managed to rip the Velcro restraints free. “Your turn.” He strapped the restraints on Dave’s unresisting limbs and stretched him out.

“What are you gonna do with me?” Dave was no longer seriously worried that Frank would do anything to him that he really didn’t want. He trusted him enough to give him control over his body.

“You did it to the back of my knee, which is one of my most ticklish spots. Now I’m gonna get even.” Grabbing a handhold somewhere, Frank rubbed the head of his cock against Dave’s exposed armpit. Dave cried out and writhed, but couldn’t escape. Then finally, after several seconds, he managed to get his arm free and reflexively brought it to his side, trying to protect his armpit. He felt it close around Frank’s cock. Frank grabbed his elbow, holding them in this position. He felt cloth draped over his shoulder. The cloth felt moist in one spot; he realized that Frank was about to mingle his semen with Dave’s, in his own T-shirt. A few seconds later, his grip on Dave’s elbow tightened painfully, and warm fluid erupted against the sensitive skin of his armpit. Frank gently wiped most of it off with the T-shirt, then brought his lips to Dave’s armpit and began licking it clean of his own semen. When Dave struggled against the intense sensation, Frank forced his arm back into the outstretched position and resecured his wrist to the tie point. He continued his licking unimpeded.

“Now I’ll never get a chance to find out what it tastes like,” Dave complained half jokingly. Frank brought his mouth close to Dave’s. Despite himself, Dave opened his mouth to admit Frank’s tongue.

“Well, now you know. What do you think?” Frank asked teasingly.

“Hmm. I think it would make a perfect creamy topping to complement Orange-Brown Dinner Mush Number Seven,” Dave said judiciously, licking his lips. “Which always did need salt.”

“Now you’ve done it. You’ve got me feeling hungry.”

“What are you doing?”

“I promised you some ’lower body negative pressure,’ remember?”

That seemed like an eternity ago. It predated the invention of two new forms of sex. “I’m satiated, Frank. I can’t.”

He felt Frank’s fingers on his erect cock. “Looks like you’re outvoted, my man. Two to one.”

“Cocks don’t get a vote!”

“Ah, and wouldn’t the country be a better place if that were true! Actually, make that three to one. Mine is standing up to be counted too. See?” He held his own penis, already semi-erect again, against Dave’s. “Anyway, how are you gonna stop me? I’ve got you bound and naked. Just like you had me a little while ago.”

Somehow the words made it seem even more erotic than the reality of it alone. He felt himself harden further, and apparently Frank’s hand felt it too.

“That’s right. You’re mine now, buddy!” Frank said, nibbling at his throat. “Nothing you can do about it.” He continued downward, pausing to lick at the hollow above his collarbone. On the way down, he seemed to get lost for awhile in Dave’s chest hair, lingering with his face buried there and his fingers interlaced behind Dave’s back. Finally he continued downward, kissing the sensitive skin on Dave’s belly, all the way down to the navel and beyond. When he took his cock in his mouth, the warmth that enveloped him was like nothing Dave had felt in his life. Dave relaxed completely, feeling his body drift weightlessly as his shipmate expertly devoured him.

“I could hold you like this forever,” Frank murmured into Dave’s neck.

They were drifting around the pod, legs entwined, arms around each other, naked bodies pressed warmly together. Dave could feel the other man’s slow, strong heartbeat as though it were his own, and every breath tickled warmly against his own throat. He couldn’t remember ever having felt so relaxed and contented. He wanted to hold Frank for hours, and watch him drift off to sleep in his arms. In fact, he saw no reason he shouldn’t do just that; it wasn’t as though their arms would fall asleep. He told him so, and added, “And there’s always tomorrow. And the day after, and— what’s wrong?”

“Dave, don’t you see? We can’t do this again!”

“What do you mean? Now that we both know where we stand, what we want, why shouldn’t today be just the beginning? We’ve got more free time for the next few months than I’ve ever had in my adult life.”

“And just how many times do you suppose can we fix the same radio before HAL starts getting suspicious?”


“I can’t believe how much he’s been letting us get away with under his nose for the past few weeks. I think we’ve been pushing it.”

“So? What’s he going to do about it if he figures it out?”

“Report us.”

“So what? Whatever Mission Control thinks about the way we’re spending our off-duty time together, they can’t do a thing about it. They have to let us complete the mission. We don’t have the fuel to do anything but continue on to Jupiter. Nothing can bring us back until they send Discovery 2, and we’ll have accomplished our mission by then. And being one of the first five men to Jupiter is so important to me that I don’t care what happens afterward. We’re heroes, anyway; they can’t do anything to us.”

“I don’t think the public is ready for homosexual heroes.”

“Which means they’ll have to hush it up, even if they do figure it out,” Dave argued.

“The public is always ready for dead heroes,” Frank observed darkly.

Shocked, Dave said “I think you’re being a little paranoid, Frank.”

“Maybe they wouldn’t go that far. But look, Dave, if you knew how many careers I’ve seen ruined... Good men! Lots of women, too, from what I’ve heard. You and I are gonna have to be—”

Suddenly the motor of the pod pedestal started up and they were thrown, not hard, against the curved wall. Dave hit first and felt a little of Frank’s weight settle against him, for the first time today.

Frank pushed away from him and scrambled for his clothes. Was he feeling ashamed? No, there was no trace of shame on his face, but he looked genuinely scared. Dave couldn’t remember having seen fear in his shipmate’s eyes ever before.

Quickly, Dave reached over and flipped the switch to open one of the radio channels. “Stop pod rotation, HAL,” he said. Somehow, his voice came out calm and steady.

Two agonizing seconds went by, and then the rotation stopped. “Are you and Frank all right in there, Dave? I was becoming concerned.”

“Yes, we’re fine, HAL. We have some loose articles in here.” he said truthfully, and grinned at Frank, who had his flight suit clutched under one arm. He’d already stuck both his legs into his shorts, and had been moving with the same kind of controlled panic Dave would have reserved for donning a spacesuit during a catastrophic pressure drop. Now he was frozen in place, or rather, drifting slowly away from Dave, as though he thought the merest rustle of cloth against skin would be enough for HAL to reconstruct what they had done. He didn’t smile back.

Dave had seen Frank facing danger before. When their Pan Am flight up to the station had lost an engine, he had only looked serious as he turned to Dave and said, “I hope the pilot doesn’t screw up the abort to LEO. I’d hate to die on a routine shuttle flight before even leaving home. Though I would have no complaints about the company.” When the time had come to ignite Discovery’s nuclear fires — whose power, unshielded, could have torn the ship to shreds and vaporized all the men aboard — he had only looked alert, and eager to get underway. When that power had been unleashed an hour later, to fling the fragmented atoms behind them at unthinkable speeds as an eerie blue glow, pushing them away from the warm Earth and the familiar moon, he had looked excited to be racing toward the unknown. And when he’d been trapped in a room with the last of his air hissing out between his numbed fingers, he’d looked grim and determined. Never afraid.

The fact that someone should have the power to reduce such a man to near terror, that someone on Earth who had never faced danger would dare do that to Frank, filled Dave with more anger than he had ever felt in his life. But it wasn’t HAL’s fault; he was just doing his job. He took two deep breaths, got his temper under control, and added evenly, “Please don’t move the pod again until we tell you we’re ready.”

“Of course, Dave. Will you be able to keep this channel open?”

“I’m afraid not, HAL. We’re not quite finished in here yet. Out.” He flipped the switch off. “Whew! You okay?”

“Let’s get dressed,” Frank said urgently. “I don’t trust him not to open the hatch.”

Another few seconds could bring the hatch into direct view of HAL’s eye, Dave estimated. Much as he’d miss the skin-to-skin contact, he knew Frank would feel safer once they were dressed. It was the best way he could protect him. Together, they sorted out their clothes.

Frank scowled at the T-shirt Dave handed him and said ruefully, “When I said I liked the idea of your using my shirt, I didn’t mean I wanted to wear the wet spot afterward.”

“It’s me or you, buddy. I’ll swap shirts with you if you want, but one of us has to wear it. Think about it.”

Frank pulled the shirt on, and hurried to zip the flight suit over the evidence.

As he donned his own T-shirt, Dave said, “I don’t see why we can’t just level with HAL, and ask him to respect our privacy. He seems like a reasonable... entity.”

“He’s programmed to seem reasonable. He’s also programmed with the social views of the society that created him. You know he was initialized with detailed models of human behavior. A few years of real-world experience can’t have modified those models much.”

“Well, sure, but—”

“Where do you think NCSA got those psychological models?”

“From psychologists?”

“Right. Government-funded psychologists. The same people that started getting huge amounts of DoD money during World War II, and justified their existence by inventing ways to screen out servicemen who weren’t fit to serve their country.”

“The same people?”

“Well, the students of the students of the same people. Anyway, when the war was winding down and the country didn’t need so much cannon fodder, their pseudo-science made life hell for homosexual servicemen. Especially in the Navy. It still does. More than one of my friends got stuck with a dishonorable discharge and still can’t find a decent job.”

“I didn’t know about any of that. I’m sorry.”

“Dave, just because you’ve never had to face persecution doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Well, okay, sorry, I guess you made up for it by persecuting yourself. Anyway, the fact is, the APA classifies homosexuality as a mental illness, and that’s bound to be what HAL is programmed to believe. The average person, and most psychologists, would say that homosexuals are unfit to command a hundred-billion-dollar ship, let alone one on such an important mission. What if HAL decides that the presence of homosexual crewmen jeopardizes the mission? What do you think he’d do, Dave?”

“It’s hard to think of HAL as being a slave to his programming. He seems intelligent.”

“Well, like some intelligent people, he sometimes seems to me to have trouble admitting that what he thinks he knows could possibly be wrong. Anyway, he’ll follow the rules. Did you know that the government has been firing employees for homosexuality since the 1950’s? Officially, I shouldn’t be here, and maybe you either, no matter how good our qualifications. When a Navy submarine discovers a crewman is homosexual, they surface immediately and evacuate him by helicopter. We’re going to have to be really, really careful every minute of every day.”

“They can’t fire us in the middle of the mission,” he pointed out again. “It’s physically impossible to stop us or bring us back early — like it or not, no matter what HAL does.”

“They can get back at us in other ways. I don’t know about you, Dave, but I’ve got people I care about back on Earth that could get in a lot of trouble if the FBI starts investigating them. My... my ex wouldn’t stand a chance of getting tenure if there were even a rumor that he was homosexual. Hell, my mother could lose her job. After all, if she couldn’t raise her own son to be normal, why should other parents trust her with a whole classroom of second-graders?”

“You’re homosexual because of the way your mother raised you?”

“No, of course not. But that’s how most people think. Or they could order us both into hibernation for the rest of the mission. Threaten to investigate our families and friends if we don’t cooperate. Or order HAL to wake up the survey team while one of us is asleep and the other is upstairs working. Order the awakened crewmen to overpower us as soon as they’re on their feet. Sure, it’s unpleasant and risky to come out of hibernation with no one to help, but they’ll put them through that if they’re desperate. They could even gas one of us while he’s sleeping, so he never knows what hit him until he wakes up on Earth.”

The thought was chilling. To come this far and then miss seeing the Jupiter system...

“Look, Dave, I would lay down my life to save yours. But I wouldn’t risk my career in order to be able to fondle you. You’re almost irresistible, and, and, damn it, I love you. But I loved Bill, too, and I still left him behind to go on this mission, knowing I might lose him. I’ve wanted to be an astronaut as long as I can remember.” His voice actually broke, and his eyes were glistening as though coated with unshed tears. “I was learning to walk when I was watching the first men walk on the moon.”

Dave reached out and gripped his shoulders at arm’s length, the two men slowly revolving around their common center. “Me too,” he said. “I think I even remember the Apollo 11 landing, but I’m not sure. I definitely remember them still having to wear space suits the whole time, so I couldn’t have been more than a few years old. But look, buddy, we made it! We’re here! Never mind learning to walk. We’re flying!” He hugged Frank tightly to him, with dizzying results as the world suddenly spun around them. Frank buried his face against Dave’s shoulder and clutched him tightly. Dave stroked the back of his neck and asked gently, teasingly, “Is the spinning too much for you, or are you just madly in love with me?”

“You should know me well enough not to have to ask that, Dave,” Frank said, and kissed him. Then he sighed. “Yeah. We’re out here. We made it this far. But look, Dave, being one of the first men to Jupiter is really important to me. I want to get there as crew, not as cargo. And to be able to do it with you at my side...” Words seem to fail him. Dave had never seen him so emotional.

“I guess I feel the same way,” he said softly. “This mission is really important to me, and if you think we’d be putting the mission or our participation in it at risk... well,” he squeezed Frank hard and continued reluctantly, “I would rather never touch you again than lose this chance. Let alone lose it for both of us, when I can see it means so much to you too. I would sacrifice almost anything else to have you, but not that. Damn them for making us choose! But at least we’ll be together. And we’ll know.”

Frank hugged him tightly in return. “We don’t have to completely give up touching each other, but we’ve got to be really, really careful.” He pulled back, and said grimly, “In fact, I got a message from an old friend of mine at Mission Control that I think may be a veiled warning that they’re watching us, or trying to. I analyzed the downlink stats, and I suspect there may have been some video queued up without our knowledge.”

“My god.”

“Fortunately, as far as I can tell, none of that video has been sent; it’s in the low priority queue and it keeps getting bumped by other stuff. That asteroid encounter was lucky in more ways than one; all the stuff we were doing before that was deleted to make room. On top of that, I was tipped off to send as many personal messages as I could, to fill up the queues. But it may just be a matter of time before the Flight Psychologist, or Office of Personnel Management, or the FBI, or whoever the hell’s behind it, gets tired of waiting and demands a higher priority. Depending on how good HAL is at selecting the juiciest scenes, we could be okay, or we could be in big trouble if they ever see it.”

Both men were silent for a minute.

“Look, Frank, we can work this out. If you don’t want to risk trusting HAL, fine, I’ll go along with that. We can go on finding reasonable-looking excuses to touch each other. I’ll bet I understand how they think. They don’t want to believe we could be homosexual. We passed their psych tests and the physicals; they’d be admitting they made a mistake. If they’re half as dense as I was, they’ll interpret it as anything else, if we give them half a chance. And maybe we can find some pretext for screening off a private area — block one of HAL’s cameras, or move it somewhere else for some invented need. We’ll think of something.” He nuzzled Frank’s neck.

“Okay,” breathed Frank into his ear. “Or, who knows, maybe one or two more pieces of equipment in the pods will need ’repair work’ before J.O. insertion.”

“It could happen. You never know what those pieces of equipment will decide to do,” he said, rubbing Frank’s through his flight suit.

“Yeah. Now, one last thing, before we go out and face that ungrateful grandchild of Alan Turing.”

Momentarily safe in their fragile warm bubble of privacy, surrounded by the cold uncaring universe, the two men’s mouths met for one last, long, lingering kiss.

The End