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A Solid Core of Alpha [MultiFormat]
eBook by Amy Lane

eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: In an act of heroism and self-sacrifice, Anderson Rawn's sister saved him from the destruction of their tiny mining colony, but her actions condemned the thirteen-year-old to ten years of crushing loneliness on the hyperspace journey to a new home. Using electronics and desperation, Anderson creates a family to keep him company, but family isn't always a blessing. When Anderson finally arrives, C.J. Poulson greets him with curiosity and awe, because anyone who can survive a holocaust and reinvent holo-science is going to be a legend and right up C.J.'s alley. But the more C.J. investigates how Anderson endured the last ten years, the deeper he is drawn into a truly dangerous fantasy, one that offers the key to Anderson's salvation--and his destruction. In spite of his best intentions, C.J. can't resist the terribly seductive Anderson. Their attraction threatens to destroy them, because the heart of a man who can survive the destruction of his people and retain his sense of self holds a solid core of alpha male that will not be denied.

eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2011


35 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter 1

Darkness

The meteor shower that destroyed the tiny mining colony that existed right outside of the Crab Nebula was so thorough that it left only one survivor, and for ten years, not a soul knew about him.

All Anderson Rawn knew was that about three minutes before the alarms sounded, indicating something large crashing through the atmospheric shields on their tiny planetoid, Anderson and his older sister Melody were exploring one of the many escape shuttles that the mining colony possessed. They watched in horror as the destruction began to rain down, and then Melody started shouting at Anderson, and Anderson, for once in his life, listened.

"I'm going to go get our family!" Melody said, her voice so certain that it left no room for doubt. "Stay here. I'll be back, okay?"

"Mel, don't leave me!"

"I'm going to get Jen and Mandy and Mom and Dad if I can! Stay here!" she shouted as debris crashed around their ears. Anderson, who was five years Mel's junior, followed her directions because that was what Mom and Dad had taught him, and he was afraid, so that was what you did when you were afraid, right? You followed what your family taught you. You sat in the ship while your sister took off running, expecting your family to show up at any moment. You belted in when the vast shuttle, as big as a soccer field, remote started and fired up around you, and you hoped that Melody was putting the family in one of the other ships while your own ship began the pass down the runway that would take it up.

If you didn't know how to set coordinates to the closest space station, you trusted that you'd be able to make it to the station the coordinates were set for. Anderson had faith in his fellow colonists--they were hardy. Self-sufficient.

And completely unprepared for the car-sized shrapnel of meteor annihilation. The colony exploded into a vaporized wheel of mercury gas less than ten minutes after the alarms began to ring.

Anderson watched the explosion as the shuttle reached the smaller asteroids that surrounded the larger one that made up the mining colony. The ship was preprogrammed to avoid them, so he had nothing to distract him from the gigantic ball of black-orange destruction that signaled the end of his family, his friends, of every soul he'd ever talked to, ever seen, or who had ever known of his existence.

He sat there, his face pressed up against the tiny rear window of the shuttle, and searched the blackness around the ship for another, a sister ship, a friend, a fellow colonist, his mother, his father, his three sisters, the boy who used to help him remember to charge his electronic tablet for school... anybody. Please, God? Anybody?

Anybody?

The explosion of his world was still pouring into the vacuum of space to be extinguished when it disappeared from the tiny foot-thick window.

Anderson kept his face pressed up against it until his eyes were wept dry, until his screams faded in the compartment of a ship meant for thirty people, until he fell asleep and he slid, boneless and unconscious, into his seat.

He awoke when the ship's automated voice told him to make sure he was buckled in and to get ready for the jump to light speed. The automation was very thorough--it told him that there were fluids and vitamin supplements in the compartment in the seat in front of him. It told him that these were the only things he would be able to keep down for the first few days in hyperspace. It told him that there were barf bags in the same compartment, and that his headrest was set to play music or a book or a vid or whatever entertainment most suited his needs.

It told him that he would be in hyperspace for ten years, unless the current heading was changed within the next ten minutes.

Even if he had known how to reprogram the ship's course at that point, he wouldn't have had a clue where to go. He looked around the empty shuttle and at all of the empty seats. There was a small holodeck to his left, and the bulk of the mass of the shuttle was food, which could be accessed through ports underneath his feet. For a moment he struggled with the math. Enough food for thirty people for one year--that was the specification for the K-3-458, right? That meant that one person would still have food after ten years.

He had food. He probably had clothing. He had entertainment.

He looked outside his window and realized he hadn't moved from his seat in sixteen hours, not even to go to the bathroom.

He really had to go to the bathroom. He would have a hard time walking for the next three to five days, as he accustomed himself to the hallucinogenic oddness of hyperspace. It would suck if he had to pee an hour after that started.

That was what he told himself repeatedly as he stood up and ran helter-skelter toward the multi-unit head, the kind with the tiny bathing recycler and enough hand sanitizer and soap and a small body drier so the thirty passengers with the small holodeck for exercise wouldn't all stink before their one year was up. So he peed like it was a holo-sport, and finished and cleaned up and ran back to his seat, buckled in, and plastered his face up against that window again.

What if he'd missed them? What if he'd missed them while he was taking a leak? Oh God. His mother, Caitlin; his sisters, Melody, Jennifer, little baby Mandy... how could Melody have just thrown him in this shuttle and sent him off to space? Wouldn't someone else have needed a ride? Why couldn't she have come with him?

It wasn't until the sudden magnetic space-warp of hyperdrive swamped the cabin of the shuttle that the truth--the entire truth--hit him.

Melody had gone to find their family on the off chance that they'd still been alive. But the destruction was so fast--she'd seen it. He'd seen it. They'd seen part of their planetoid cleaved off even as she threw him into the shuttle. She'd remote activated the shuttle for a reason. Probably because she had known she'd be dead before the shuttle had cleared the atmosphere. Their sisters, who had been waiting for the two of them to walk by and take them home, had probably died when the first of the projectiles had hit.

Melody had the heart of a steady soldier, and she would not have deserted her family. But she would have made sure one of them survived if she had the chance.

Oh, Melody, why didn't you come with me? We could have talked or fought or sang or quoted vids or played games or... or something.

He fell asleep in that first hallucinatory hour and dreamt that his sisters had all boarded the shuttle with him, and his mom and dad too. He woke up and wondered why little Mandy wasn't sitting on his lap, and where Mel's comforting arm had gone, and why Jen wasn't scolding him for drooling all over himself. He squinted at the seats in front of him for Mom's golden braid with that smattering of grey and Dad's sandy-silver-brown head. They were always together when he saw them. Always.

But none of them were there.

Anderson blinked hard at the seats in front of him and then looked around the shuttle, at the closed door to the holodeck and the clear glass into the biosphere. Even the fact that they took up over half the shuttle space couldn't erase the total emptiness of the twenty-nine other seats/cots in the shuttle or the empty swiveling seats at the bridge console. From there, he looked outside of the shuttle, the billions of stars holding steady in the light-years' worth of distance, and felt the emptiness in his arms again.

He didn't cry this time. He screamed until his throat was raw, until he was too exhausted to move, and then he passed out.

When he woke up, he looked out at the banks of empty seats humming whitely in the beige space of the shuttle and wondered if he could hear the sound of his own heartbeat in the silence.

* * * *

By the

time the oddness of hyperspace began to feel normal, the initial shock of Anderson's grieving set itself aside and the normal inquisitiveness of a twelve-year-old boy asserted itself.

Anderson had never been on a shuttle before. He'd never left the surface of his tiny mining planetoid, actually.

He started with the biosphere and set the controls to start the cycle--to use the water reclamation to keep the food plants growing and to convert his waste into plant food. The biosphere served two purposes. It kept the air fresh without putting too much strain on the recycler, and even if the plants didn't thrive or Anderson didn't like the food, the organic matter could be easily converted in the food synthesizers into something tastier. Anderson's mining colony was small and self-contained, and Anderson had learned early on the importance and function of the biosphere.

After that, he focused on the entertainment package, and as he matured, this focus became the root of an ongoing project. He didn't consciously decide to become the cultural repository of the mining colony--it simply happened. He listened to the music (and the library was as huge as anything on one of the home planets--Regulus, Rigel, Earth), read all the books (often while listening to the music), and watched all the vids. He raided the entertainment supplies and used the vids to teach himself how to knit, how to crochet, crochet Tunisian style, tat, embroider, and crewel. Before the journey ended, he knew every story ever penned by a member of his colony, every design ever stitched, every song ever sung, every picture every sketched.

But that was his spare time. Anderson had been an active boy--he'd had school, family duties, soccer, and jai alai. He could only listen to music or read books for so long without direction, and after a couple of days of watching comedy vids, he found his way to the holodeck.

At first, he only used the holodeck to exercise. The deck was programmed to call up humanoid forms made of air pressure and electrical currents to act as sparring buddies, spotters, and competitors. At first, Anderson simply looked past the energy-created drones and used them as their function indicated. Like most of the children at the mining colony, he was accustomed to using holograms in a purely utilitarian way.

It didn't take him long, though, to start talking to them.

That scared him at first, but what really frightened him was that one day, after a one-on-one squash game that he was quite proudly winning, he started making up a response back.

That evening, after sitting quietly through the course of school work that was in the computer system for his grade, he requested a book on elementary hologram programming and read it until the computer in his small corner of the shuttle pinged that it was rest time. Even after that, he pulled out a cover from the stockpiles of fabric and clothes stored within the seats themselves and a small rechargeable light and read the book after the lights aboard the shuttle had dimmed. He did not stop to think too hard about the fact that none of these precautions were necessary, because no adult would protest that he was staying up past his bedtime. Anderson liked routine--the computer said it was time to sleep, which meant that in order to stay up, he needed to quietly violate the rules. There was no abandoning the rules. It had to be a violation. And he had to have that clear to himself, as well as to the deadened hum of machinery that surrounded him.

The next day, he started programming elementary features on his hologram.

The day after that, he stayed up reading a book about sketching so he could sketch better features to use in the holo-program.

The day after that, he tried melding features from faces on the computer logs with the hologram's, as well as his own rudimentary sketch work.

And so on.

By the time he'd been on the shuttle for a year, he had the holograms programmed to start talking back.

For a moment--a mere moment--he'd thought about making them look like his mom and his dad and his sisters, but he couldn't. He tried--he started with Mel and had programmed her long blonde braid and was working on her intense vulpine features when he left the holodeck to use the bathroom and came back and thought, for a moment, that it was really her.

He'd had to stop programming and had spent the next six hours watching his favorite comedy vids and trying to stop the tears.

He decided to program new people from scratch after that. Heaven knew he'd watched enough vids and read enough books, so he could imagine himself a peer group. He started with an older girl--like Mel, but different, with short-cropped dark hair and a permanent scowl. Mel had often been laughing, and this girl was decidedly not like Mel. He went on to a boy like Bren, the boy in his grade at school who used to bring him special wraps for his electronic stylus, the kind that made it look all holiday and pretty. He'd learned his lesson, though, and this boy looked nothing like Bren, who'd had vaguely colored sandy hair and light-gray eyes. This boy had dark sandy hair and dark brown eyes that were wide set and perfectly symmetrical, as opposed to Bren's, which had been charmingly uneven. Bren's left eye had also had a tendency to wander, and Anderson made sure that the hologram's eyes would stay front and center at all times.

At first, he was not satisfied with the results. There was something... artificial, something too perfect about their faces.

He spent a couple of days trying to give them random freckles or fractal-generated lines in their hands and at the corners of their eyes, but the more he tried to generate randomness, the more they looked like older people and not people his age.

He finally went with programming less in the way of appearance and more in the way of texture. He even experimented with scent and managed a vaguely human, organic burst of airflow to pass over their skin when they were on the holodeck with him. He realized after interacting with them for a day or two and discussing the modifications he was making that the less-is-more approach actually worked. One blink, and he was talking to a hologram. In another blink, he was talking to a friend.

He stopped there for a while. These two people, Kate and Bobby, made him happy. They played games and bickered over movies and discussed books. He gave their programs access to everything he himself had accessed and then gave them personal characteristics that were not his own.

He liked order, so he made Bobby a slob and Kate the sort of organic personality that could function in chaos.

He liked jai alai, so he programmed Bobby to like baseball so they could trade off teaching each other sports they didn't know. Kate preferred Frisbee golf and basketball and would often argue or mother Bobby and Anderson into playing the things she liked.

Of course Anderson could always backtalk to her or change her programming--but he didn't. He gave her characteristics that he thought would benefit him and contrast with his own. To change those tendencies when they didn't please him naturally seemed like cheating. He and Melody had argued all the time, but at the end of the day, she had kissed him on the forehead and said, "I love you, Squirt," and then, when his mom or dad came in, he wouldn't feel like ratting her out for the mean stuff she said sometimes.

He had to concede, there in the silent hum of an empty shuttle, that he said mean stuff too. Very often, he said it first.

So he programmed his friends to be different, in the same way his sisters had been different and his mother and father had been different from each other. And then he stuck to that--he would not change them, no matter how bad the argument, because that would be cheating.

Bobby and Kate ate breakfast with him and worked out and played Frisbee with him on the holodeck. It was Bobby who gave him the idea of expanding the holodeck, of cannibalizing parts of the seats--which all had the fiber optics and screen components--to make the deck longer, to make it wider, to make it more accommodating for a family of three. It was Kate who told him to take some of the seat covers and stitch them together into a large mattress and then use the seat parts to make a bed, so he might sleep there at night, and to program sleeping quarters for them so he could listen to other people breathing as he slept. It was his own idea to make sure the synthesizer was inside the holodeck--that way, he could stay in there and have his meals and generally create anything his little world needed to remain self-sustaining.

He hardly ever needed to go outside the holodeck to see the big blackness beyond his little shuttle, because after his first two years, the holodeck was the shuttle.

He incorporated the biosphere as part of a park program for him and his friends to play in, and programmed a house, with a sleeping room and a kitchen, and--this surprised him too!--a school.

Five out of seven mornings, Kate woke them up by coming into their bedroom and singing some random song she fancied, then throwing their clean coveralls at them and telling them that if they didn't wake up soon, she would program the food synthesizer for something really noxious, like sardines.

"You always threaten that," Bobby would groan. "Then we run in there, and it's fresh fruit and pancakes." Bobby liked pancakes. This was not a preference Anderson had given him, but he didn't mind, so that was fine.

The boys would dress rapidly, and then Kate would chivvy them about brushing their hair, washing their faces, brushing their teeth--big sister things, in general, before they started their day.

On their rest days, the three of them would sit down and hash out a plan--would they play Frisbee golf at the park? Would they swim in the surf? Ski down a mountain? Would they watch a vid and eat popcorn or go to an amusement park? Amusement parks had been foreign to Anderson until he'd opened the shuttle files and done his research. He found that he and Bobby liked them very much, although Kate often complained that they made her stomach hurt and her neck ache, so they didn't go every weekend.

Whatever they chose, Anderson would go to the console in front of the bridge and bring up the program they wanted. They spent their free time imagining things they wanted to do based on the archives of books and movies they accessed and created new environments, new diversions, or entire new worlds.

During the other five days of the week, they went to school. There were students there--faceless at first, like the workout drones that the holodeck was supposed to have, but Anderson and Bobby got creative, and watched more vids together, and read books, and soon, all of the material that he'd read and digested on his own in his first two years was being discussed by a teacher who looked a lot like the young action star in one of his favorite vids.

Kate didn't go to school with them. She attended a class with slightly older students, and every now and then, as Anderson and Bobby were chafing in the class that they'd created, they would see Kate, sitting under a tree and reading a book or riding a hoverboard over one of the meandering walks that made up the campus that she'd helped program, and they'd wave.

In the months approaching Anderson's sixteenth birthday--Bobby was a few months older than he was, but not many--Bobby would frequently blush when they waved at Kate. Anderson had a hard time figuring out why.

Anderson didn't raise his hand often in school. He liked to watch the other kids do that, and watch the teacher, Mr. Kay, answer questions instead. Mr. Kay had dark hair and green eyes and grooves around his cheeks when he spoke. He was animated and had the sense of humor from Anderson's favorite comedy vid of all time, and he was kind--so kind, just like Anderson's father, but much younger, and very, very attractive--and he made all of that dry information that Anderson had read fun and relevant, and he was so very good at applying all of the technical sciences into ways a person could program a holodeck that nobody had ever thought of.

Anderson liked him immensely.

One day--because Anderson had programmed the holodeck to have the same twenty-four hour night and day cycle that had been present on the artificially spun colony--Anderson was staying late after class. Bobby had already left, since he and Kate were scheduled to fix dinner that night, even if Anderson was the only one eating real food, and Anderson was trying to access some files he'd discovered in the shuttle's education program that had been mysteriously locked.

"Whatcha up to, Anderson?" Mr. Kay smiled, and those grooves popped out on his cheeks, and Anderson blinked hard, like he'd programmed the park program with a sun that was too bright and it was bothering his eyes.

"Why are there locked files, Mr. Kay?" Anderson asked. They were alone. There weren't any other students there, not even the troublesome ones. Maybe Mr. Kay would trust him enough to tell him.

The teacher grinned a little and rolled his eyes. "Those are the health and hygiene files, Anderson. You'll gain access to those when you turn sixteen."

Anderson gnawed on his lip. He'd been hoping for some sort of science file or star chart that might help him cut his stay in hyperspace a little shorter--but still. Health and hygiene? Why would that be age-classified information? "How will the shuttle know I'm sixteen?"

"It scanned your ID when you came aboard. If someone over sixteen wanted to access those files, then I could help instruct you on them, but otherwise...." Mr. Kay shrugged, and Anderson gnawed his lip.

"Can Kate access them?" he asked, still hoping that maybe the star data had been misfiled. He was absolutely mortified by the look Mr. Kay sent him.

"No, Anderson. And I can't access them until you can. Do you need to make me say why?"

Anderson bit his lip and shook his head. No. No--it had been a while, months, probably, since one of his friends or Mr. Kay had needed to remind him that they weren't real. He'd stopped thinking about them as programs or holograms. He'd simply begun living his life with certain proscribed rules in order to interact with the people he loved. It was like... like having to put on a wet suit if he ever wanted to be friends with someone from Hydra-Six. Just a requirement, that was all.

Mr. Kay had smiled kindly then and put his hand on Anderson's shoulder and given it a squeeze. It was a simple interaction of electrical and air currents, that was all--it was how all touch on the holodeck worked.

It should not have caused such a startling physical reaction in Anderson, that was for darned sure.

His stomach tingled, and then his groin began to ache and swell, even as his face flushed. He kept his eyes and his unhappy smile on Mr. Kay's face and tried very hard not to look to see if his penis was as tight against his shuttle-issue coveralls as it felt.

Mr. Kay wasn't fooled for an instant. "Is anything wrong, Anderson? You look very uncomfortable."

Anderson swallowed and shook his head. "No, sir. I think I should probably go out and exercise. My biorhythms are probably just out of whack because I've been working on this."

Mr. Kay smiled kindly and squeezed his shoulder again--Anderson ignored the vicious throb in his penis when this happened--and told him to go play.

Anderson did.

The holodeck was planned to segue seamlessly--when Anderson walked out of the classroom, he walked onto the campus, which was designed much as the one on the colony had been. He had made plans, and there were probably unexplored nooks and crannies on the campus that he hadn't seen yet, but he didn't go to any of them. Instead, he walked across the campus to the dorm that he and Kate and Bobby occupied. There were probably rules about boys and girls in the same dorm, but by the time it had occurred to him that this living situation wouldn't happen in real life, he'd already decided subconsciously that if it was his choice, it really was going to be his choice.

He was thinking of simply leaving his stylus and electronic school pad in his desk and dressing for a run, but when he went to take off his coveralls, there it was.

His penis.

It was large and engorged, thick and sensitive, and, well, Bobby and Kate weren't there, so why not?

Standing in front of his bed, he started to investigate it.

It was still semi-erect, and the head was starting to poke out of the little cowl formed by his foreskin. Gingerly, he pulled back his foreskin to find that the pink flesh underneath was especially tender, which he knew from cleaning it, but now in its erect state, the touch around that tenderness caused the engorgement to increase. He continued his two-finger exploration and found that the ridge of the large-sized, off-center, mushroom-shaped head was particularly sensitive when the foreskin was back. There was a place that felt like a stretched string on the underside, and when he tickled that, his entire body quivered, and he had to sit down. He put his thumb and fingers on either side of it then and began to play with the stiffness, stroking his foreskin up to cover the sensitive head and clenching tightly down because the counterpressure seemed to ease the ache at the bottom. That felt so good he shuddered, spread his thighs on his bed, and did it again.

This time he whimpered and then wrapped his fist around it and did it again.

He was surprised when a little bit of fluid spurted out the end, but it felt good when he used his thumb to play with the hot wet as it spread over the head of his penis. There was a building sensation then, down underneath his testicles, and they seemed to tighten, to draw up to the underside of his body. He brought his other hand down to cup them, to squeeze, and something amazing was happening, something truly fantastic that threatened to stop his heart and open his world, and he was reaching, and reaching, and reaching--

When Bobby, who was programmed, with Kate, to simply come and go randomly like real people opened the door to their bedroom and caught him.

Anderson's penis gave an abortive little twitch in his hand and then went limp as all of Anderson's blood rushed to his face.

He looked at Bobby, and for a moment, he knew his face held... longing.

He would have liked for Bobby to come help him with what he was doing. His testicles needed massaging, and his nipples tingled, and he couldn't touch all these places at once, and... and it would just feel so much better if someone was there to help him.

But Bobby simply gaped at him, opening and closing his mouth and then, unbelievably, blushing. He cleared his throat then and said, "I can step out of the room until you finish...." And he left the sentence hanging.

Anderson yanked his shorts and coveralls up to his waist and shook his head. "I'm finished," he said gruffly, keeping his head turned away. "I didn't mean to embarrass you."

"No." Bobby's voice was thoughtful, which meant he was probably accessing the files on etiquette that Anderson had made available to the programs on the deck. Anderson had actually made all of the programs available on the deck. Whatever he knew, his holos knew, but they got to choose how to use it, according to their programming, and they could reliably remember it. "I mean," Bobby said slowly, "I am embarrassed, but mostly because...." Bobby stopped then and assessed Anderson thoroughly. "You would like me to participate. I don't think you programmed me that way."

Anderson stopped dressing and swallowed hard. "I would like you to participate," he said roughly.

"Would you like me to get Kate? She might find this in her programming."

Whatever had been left of Anderson's erection shriveled completely, leaving only a damp spot in his shorts.

"No," he said, so full of realization that he couldn't put a voice to it, even to Bobby, who had always accepted him perfectly as he was. "I don't think Kate... Kate doesn't... she's not the person I want to participate."

Bobby? Yes. He would have liked that. Bren? His heart gave a slow, agonizing thud. Yes. His charm with Bren had probably been leading up to a moment just like this.

There was no stigma attached to his choice, not on his mining colony. It was just... just that Bobby didn't want him. Not that way. And for a moment, he felt incredibly lonely.

But Bobby had been his friend for... well, he'd come online nearly two Earth years before, and as Anderson's friend, Bobby smiled encouragingly. "I'll talk to Kate. She'll have an idea of what to do."

Anderson knew he turned a dull red. "Do we have to talk to Kate? I don't think I want Kate to know what I was just doing." He couldn't help but think of Melody and how he would not have wanted his older sister to know about anything that he was doing to his penis.

Bobby continued to look thoughtful. "Kate will probably react as I did," he said reassuringly. "And she may have some ideas for your--" process, process "--dilemma. I really think sharing information would be a good idea, don't you?"

Anderson gave a little groan and buried his face in his hands. "Yeah. Yeah, Bobby. That's fine. Just don't do it while I'm there, okay?"

Bobby smiled a little. "I think that could be arranged."

Anderson had a sudden thought about Mr. Kay and the touch that had started this entire conversation. "And, could you, I don't know. Maybe keep this secret from everybody else?"

Bobby simply nodded in complete acceptance, and Anderson had a moment to think that maybe privacy was not a concept that would be programmed into a holodeck program. It didn't matter. Privacy had suddenly become important to Anderson, and Bobby and Kate took their cues from him.

It was a satisfactory arrangement, because Anderson didn't hear another word about a friend to help him massage his penis for a couple of months. That didn't mean that he didn't continue to explore this new development, but he had asked his roommates, and they had all agreed to a newly instated house rule about knocking before entering the sleeping quarters.

The fact that his roommates were both programmed to forget or ignore this rule within a standard deviation of the number of times Anderson himself forgot or ignored this rule kept Anderson very conscientious about knocking. It didn't matter that he was highly doubtful he would encounter either Bobby or Kate in such a compromising position. What mattered was that he now understood that privacy was a two-way street.

* * * *

In all likelihood, Anderson would have eventually discovered the ins and outs of the magic in his penis--he certainly explored it an awful lot in the privacy of his holodeck quarters. He learned that if he continued what he'd been doing--simply lying on his back and stroking it until the wonderful, terrible pressure built up in his testicles, his spine, and his clenching buttocks--he would experience the most wonderful explosion, a climax of sorts. It was messy and sweaty, and embarrassing afterward, even if he was alone, but very often, the quest for privacy, the mess and the sweat, and even the embarrassment, were all worth it.

He still wished for more knowledge--and for help. For, as Bobby called it, "participation."

He wasn't stupid--he knew what "participation" meant. Melody had been thinking very seriously about taking a lover before... before. Anderson had liked the young man--liked him well enough to not dump worms on the two of them when he'd caught them kissing under a tree and he'd had a bucket of worms handy... well, because a twelve-year-old-boy never knew when a bucket of worms might come in handy when he knew his sister wanted privacy in the colony orchard.

(He still could not bring himself to think about what a wretched child he had been. The knowledge that he'd almost dumped those worms on Mel was not as painful as the thought of the things he'd more than almost done, like, say, left a couple of them in Jen's bed and given Mandy one to eat. He wasn't that kind of boy. He wasn't. He couldn't be. If he was that kind of boy, then his sisters might not have known... they may have thought that he was mean and evil and that he wanted to leave them behind. Dammit, Melody! I could have come with you!)

So he hadn't dumped the worms, and Mikey had been allowed a kiss in the orchard, and Anderson remembered that he knew. He knew what a lover was. A lover was a kiss under a tree. A yearning. The way Melody's cheeks had turned red when Mikey touched her hand, her arm, the side of her breast.

A lover was what he'd wanted from Bobby but what Bobby had not been programmed to do.

So eventually he may have figured out what he wanted from the holodeck that the holodeck didn't know how to provide, but one morning, shortly after the privacy protocols had been instituted, Bobby and Kate woke him up excitedly, both of them talking so quickly they babbled over each other's words.

"Anderson! You'll never guess--"

"I was accessing the homework tablet--"

"Bobby suddenly saw all of this data!"

"And Kate took a look at it, and it's those files--"

"The ones that Mr. Kay said were locked--"

"Today is your birthday, Anderson!" Suddenly Bobby stopped and looked embarrassed. "Happy Birthday, Anderson. We will, of course, have cake after dinner."

Kate rolled her eyes and smacked Bobby on the back of the head. "Actually, genius, I'm taking care of the dinner and the cake. Remember the last time you tried to program a food synthesizer? We ended up with hamburger that tasted like metal bolts but chewed like meat?"

Bobby turned a dull red. "That was years ago, Katy. I've grown up a little since then!"

"Taller," Kate growled, because it was true.

Bobby shook his head and muttered, "More than taller," to Anderson, and Anderson had to laugh, because it was true. Both of them had matured quite a bit in the last two and a half years, even though getting Kate to admit that was like getting her to program the food synthesizer for bug souffle.

It didn't matter. That bit of normalcy was enough to calm the little family down, and Anderson rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and pulled a T-shirt on over his head. He'd been sleeping in his underwear lately, a thing that neither of his two roommates had remarked upon and that he had done as a kid, living at home with his parents. There was no one there to offend by being out of dress, and he was between sizes in the regulation jumpsuits anyway. It was just as easy to wear the oversized ones, but he didn't want to sleep in one!

"Thank you," he said, still bemused. "Now tell me about the files. Will they help us find a closer outpost?"

Their faces fell. "No," Kate said softly. "We're sorry, Anderson. They're not about how to change direction in hyperspace or where you would travel. They're about human anatomy and reproduction." She brightened again. "You would not believe what your body can do!"

Anderson thought he might have figured some of it out on his own, but as it turned out, he'd barely touched the tip of the cloth-covered penis.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Introducing...

They did not engage the school program that day but instead gathered around Anderson's tablet and the various vid-screens and pored over the new information.

A lot of it was diagrammed, and Anderson did a lot of squinting at words like "glans" and "vesicles" and thought detachedly about what happened when he stroked himself in the privacy of his own room.

"Hey, Anderson," Bobby said excitedly, about the time Anderson had found the placement of the prostate and was tracing the gland on the screen with his fingers, wondering what practical purpose a bundle of erogenous nerves would have so deeply buried in the rectal orifice. It wasn't particularly easy for a man (because the nerves were only present in males) to access those nerves on his own.

"What did you find?" Anderson looked up, and what was playing on the personal vid screen Bobby held up made his mouth go dry.

"Oh," he said softly. "That's what sex looks like."

He'd known the basics. Even before the files were released, he'd understood that people took off their clothes and that girls had a vagina and a uterus meant for procreation.

Much like the prostate, he hadn't understood why the erogenous areas would be placed so deep in the body. He hadn't realized that males had a tab that was meant to fill every slot.

"Why is she putting her mouth on it?" Kate asked, and it wasn't Anderson's imagination. Her voice was breathy and soft when normally it was analytical and matter-of-fact.

Bobby tilted his head and looked speculatively at her. "I think... I think it would feel rather nice, don't you, Anderson?"

Anderson thought of Bobby's mouth on his penis, and his entire body flushed hot and cold, and, sure enough, his groin grew full and ached fiercely. "I think it would feel outstanding," he muttered hoarsely. "If you two could, uhm, excuse me for a moment?"

He'd read a list of words for what he was about to do--words he'd actually heard in the schoolyard but whose definitions he hadn't known the specifics of.

Whacking off, beating off, spanking the monkey, varnishing the pole, smacking the salami, jerking the chain, yanking the snake, lubing the lizard, tickling the pickle, choking the chicken, etc., etc., etc.

Now that he'd spent a couple of months "waxing his rocket," he knew how long it would take and how quickly he could clean up and be back with his friends, talking about this new and interesting influx of information.

He was in his bed, his cock (that was a new word, courtesy of the new information) in his fist, when Bobby and Kate violated their programming and did something that real friends might do instead.

Or maybe just Anderson's friends.

They violated the rule of standard deviation and intruded. They were quiet--he was barely aware that they were there, watching, as his pre-come (another good word to have) spurted over his fist. This time, because they were stealthy, he ignored them, continued to stroke, continued to squeeze, became lost in the sensation, and, when the fabulous, amazing, tremendous pressure built up, allowed himself to groan out loud as he came. (And he loved what that word had come to mean. Came, came, came, coming, come! Auuugghhhhhh... God... Come!)

When he was done, he lay there, panting, before taking a cloth he'd been keeping by his sleep hammock and started to wipe himself off.

"How was that?" he asked hoarsely. "Like the videos?"

"Better than the videos," Kate said, her voice throaty. He looked up, expecting to see her customary scowl, and saw that she was staring instead at his limp, shining cock. She met his eyes unhappily. "Bobby said you wouldn't appreciate my help with that." Kate looked away, which was unusual as well. She was the forthright member of their group--the moral center. Anderson had made her that way, and he appreciated that she was blunt and strong and open. "That's too bad."

Anderson looked at her and felt bad, and then looked at Bobby, whose gaze was fastened hungrily on Kate's face.

"Bobby would probably like the help," he offered, and Bobby turned red.

Kate turned to Bobby, her expression soft. She was older than the two of them, built tall and strong, with proud breasts and solid hips. If Anderson was going to room with a woman, he wanted her to look different from men and boys, and so she was.

She was three years older than Anderson and Bobby, but Anderson had grown in the past three years, and so had Bobby. They were taller than she was, although their wrists were still thin and their hands and feet seemed abnormally large. (According to the newly released files, that was not uncommon among adolescent males, a thing Anderson really wished he'd known before he'd started sprouting out of his coveralls like a bean plant.) She was also....

God. Was she as lonely as Anderson?

Anderson looked at his friends, who were staring at each other as though frozen, although Anderson could see a pulse throbbing in Bobby's neck and Kate occasionally licking her lips. He recalled a box he'd checked during their programming, a time he tried more and more not to think of. The box had been irritatingly vague.

The box had read "Proclivity."

At the time, Anderson assumed it had meant the things that were important to him at thirteen years old--sports, comedy vids, music, amusement parks (he and Bobby spent hours planning theirs), dogs (he and Bobby had been trying to program a dog for the holodeck since their very first sentient conversation), and playing games (they had graduated from games to three-dimensional multi-faceted jigsaw puzzles, and it was one of their favorite things to do when they were playing a vid or listening to music). He had tried to type in these proclivities in the box and had wondered why it seemed redundant along with "tastes," "hobbies," "interests," and "skills," but none of those things seemed to be what the computer had wanted. In the end, he had simply programmed "standard" and left it alone.

After this morning's reading and his conversation with Bobby months before, he thought that maybe "proclivity" meant this--this thing that had Kate and Bobby staring at each other with hunger in their eyes and skin as flushed as a red sun.

"Would you two like to...." He flushed, uncertain how to phrase this. "Would you two like me to leave the room, so you can...?"

"No," Bobby said breathlessly. "Don't leave the room."

Kate stepped into Bobby's space then and caught his chin between her fingers. Bobby was taller than she was by three or four inches, and he looked down at her with an expression that was so crushingly vulnerable Anderson doubted he would ever have the courage to show it to another being.

Their lips touched, and Anderson gasped. His own skin flushed hot, and a chill took up residence in his groin. His cock began to swell again. Bobby's bunk was across the room from his own bed, and Bobby pressed Kate there, kissing, kissing, his hands rasping on her pale skin. Bobby had a tan on his neck and the backs of his hands--he and Anderson spent time outside and in the greenhouse--and Anderson watched, his breath frozen in his chest, as those dark hands cupped Kate's pale cheeks, her chin, her neck, then unzipped the front of her coveralls, baring her breasts to the air.

Anderson could see every detail--the way Kate's nipples puckered in the air, the way her vulva glistened when Bobby spread her thighs to explore. He watched Kate's expression as she bit into her palm to keep from making sounds of arousal and then saw how frantic she was as she scrabbled to bare Bobby's skin to the air so that she could touch him the way he was touching her.

Anderson watched as she opened her mouth and pulled Bobby's cock into it while Bobby was pleasuring her own erogenous zones, and he thought of someone--a male--performing the same act with him, with the same hot desperation, and without even quite realizing it, he shuddered, convulsed, and climaxed without even touching his own body.

And still he could not take his eyes off of the sight of two people making love.

Yes, he'd read those words too, and this was what Bobby and Kate were doing. As Bobby poised his cock at the entrance of Kate's body, and nuzzled her lips, asking her to open her mouth for him, open her thighs, allow him entrance, Anderson realized that it was these two words, "making love," that had prompted his friends to request his presence.

They wanted him to see what he should aspire to.

Kate gasped, a pleasure sound, and moaned Bobby's name as Bobby moved faster. Anderson's mind both recalled and ignored the dry medical words he'd read about friction stimulating nerve endings and where in Kate's body the most sensitive nerve endings were located, and what Bobby's uncircumcised penis was doing as it rubbed against her tender inner walls. He realized that what those words said and what they actually meant were as far apart as... as planets in a solar system to a vessel without a hyperdrive. The touch of two people, skin to skin, was electric--it was the hyperdrive that powered what he was seeing in front of him.

Kate cried out, lifting her hips, wrapping her legs around Bobby's bare backside, and Bobby's expression became frightening. His eyes bulged, he grimaced--he looked frightened, angry, and ferocious, all at once, and Anderson wondered if he looked like that when his climax was upon him. At that moment, Kate let loose a sound. Anderson shuddered again, his spent member giving a pulse that indicated arousal. Even though she was a woman and her breasts and vulva did not attract him, the sound was... raw. It was passionate. It was need and hunger for the contact, for the convulsion of electricity and nerve explosions that was climax, and Anderson's body throbbed in sympathy for it.

He needed and hungered too.

Bobby gave a shout, and his buttocks clenched, and he shivered inside of Kate, and Kate moaned and gave a breathless little shriek before shuddering around him, and then the two of them grew still, after a few twitching pumps from Bobby's hips in aftershock, and their movement subsided. Bobby laughed a little and nuzzled Kate, and Kate smiled at him shyly, when Kate was never shy, and Anderson, lying sideways in his bed, simply watched them through half-closed eyes.

He was tired. His body had climaxed many times that morning, and his mind was overloaded with too many ideas to count and to catalogue. He watched as his two friends murmured, and touched, and whispered. He watched as Bobby rolled his spent body off of (and out of) Kate's and then went to get a cloth to wipe her down.

When Bobby was done, he pulled a blanket (he'd chosen a deep ochre for his bed, although it was not a favorite color of Anderson's) up around the two of them, and they snuggled down together on the narrow cot, facing Anderson.

"Do you know what you want now?" Bobby asked him when he'd checked to see that Kate was drowsing in his arms.

"Yes," Anderson said, his voice hoarse. He was unaware until that moment, but at some point, he must have shed tears.

"Do you want our help to do it?" Bobby offered, almost excitedly, and Anderson wiped his nose with the sleeve of his coveralls and smiled shakily.

"I don't think I can do it without you," he said, and this was the truth.

As it turned out, he didn't have to do it at all.


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