Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any people, real or fictional, is entirely a coincidence. In addition this story involves homosexual thoughts, feelings and actions. If this is not what you want to read, please visit another website. In addition if reading this story is illegal in your area you need to go to another website now. If you want to contact me my e-mail address is below.

Love From the Printing Press

By David Cross

Chapter 4

Lunch at Vadil Prep wasn't the stuffy, formal affair that dinner was, so there was a greater sense of freedom and horseplay. Conversations flowed more openly, and Derek often heard the yells and shouts whenever a group of friends passed around some good news or some piece of gossip or rumor. Derek, for his part, sat quietly at the table unofficially reserved for the riff-raff, the scholarship kids. He couldn't remember a single time one of the rich kids had ever invited anyone from that table to come to another. Yet, strangely, he barely knew any of his comrades at that table. Why that was, he wasn't really sure. After all, they were in the same boat as he was.

Then again, Derek reflected, nobody else at the table really bothered to make overtures either. Social conditioning, a voice in his head echoed. It was rapidly inculcated that scholarship students should be seen and not heard except under specially-defined circumstances - i.e. in class. So the instinct took root never to talk even to one's peers. He found it odd, this discovery that even as he regularly thought heretical things about the world he lived on, he was regulated and channelled just as effectively by the control mechanisms he recognized. One person thinking by himself or herself hardly has an impact. It is when those thoughts are communicated that an individual becomes a threat to the community at large if the status quo is seriously threatened.

Derek was playing with these thoughts as he mechanically ate and swallowed his food. Unlike at dinners, where the boys and girls were seated alphabetically within each grade and served by actual waiters, lunches were a grab-your-own-food affair from a central smorgasbord filled with food intended to be as palatable as possible to a wide variety of people. A voice a few tables down broke into his thoughts.

"No way, Randy! You're kidding me. Tell me you're kidding me!" A skinny black-haired guy was speaking to the blond-haired guy who'd stared at Derek at the media circus a few days before. So that's his name, thought Derek. But what were they so excited about?

Randy was seated such that Derek could easily see his face, and the guy had the self-satisfied smirk of the proverbial cat that ate the proverbial canary, although Derek had never seen a canary except in encyclopedia presentations. Randy was bragging, and rather loudly. "Nope. It's all absolutely true, guys. My parents booked a one-month vacation at the Sahlstrom Resort on Delisle! Low-grav sports, anyone?" That last was punctuated by a sharp thump on the table.

Derek had never seen a bunch of more envious guys in his life, but he knew he'd seen them now. But their envy paled next to the near-rage that coursed through his veins. This self-satisfied ... snot would get to go on a vacation off-planet that few could afford! Yes, space travel was universal, but the only way someone of Derek's father's status would get to go to the moon of Adrel, Delisle, would be to get a job with a space-liner company, or take a mass-transit spaceship and a cheap pre-packaged tour that would last less than a week and barely live up to the name. Yes, it could still be fun, but it just wasn't the same when you couldn't just decide to go as a reward for a child's enthusiastic interest in what amounted to an expensive hobby.

Yet this kid would get to spend a whole stinking month doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Derek felt sick to his stomach. He'd had the chance to play low-grav sports when the school had gotten that grav neutralizer for the gymnasium, and it had been the most exhilarating month after he got used to the gravity changes. What wouldn't he give to do that any time he wanted!

The funny thing was, what really had nailed Derek wasn't so much the envious looks of the guys at Randy's table, but the fact that a few of the girls sitting at nearby tables were casting appraising looks in Randy's direction. Just for a moment, Derek's stomach was clenching with jealousy, not because of Randy's wealth, but because the girls were looking at him. He decided it wasn't worth staying around any longer getting physically ill as the swirl of emotions engulfed him until he wasn't sure anymore why he was sitting in that dining hall in the first place.

Derek was so preoccupied with bolting the rest of his lunch as fast as manners dictated, and then leaving the lunch area a few minutes before classes resumed for the afternoon, that he hadn't noticed Randy staring at him like he had the other day.

Randy was basking in the attention he was getting as he and his friends excitedly discussed who could join him on the trip to the resort. He was riding high on the added prestige this gave him, as though the status afforded him because of his father wasn't enough already. Even some of the girls were looking at him with new eyes. This, of course, was the cheap thrill of bragging that his father had been trying to warn him about, but his judgement was dulled by excessive enthusiasm.

Yet there was a cloud that lay on the horizon. Out the corner of his eye, he noticed the brown-haired guy he'd been staring at a few days before. The kid looked sick. His face had lost any color it should have had, and his hands shook as he wolfed down the remains of his lunch. Randy couldn't help but wonder why the guy looked so ill at ease, and his eyes fixed on the guy as the latter put his empty plate in one of the bins reserved for the purpose, and then walked out of the dining hall. Randy looked away, and was surprised to find that he wanted to know why the kid had been so upset.

That's it. I've got to find out more about that guy, Randy thought. And then he found himself puzzled at the notion that he would even want to get to know a scholarship student in the first place.

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