by Margaret Fieland
When fourteen-year-old Martin lets Tom, a charismatic bully, persuade him to bring down the spaceport computer network, he never considers someone will place a bomb resulting in the death of his friend’s father. Nothing will bring Captain Frey back, but if Martin can help locate the terrorists’ drug lab, perhaps he’ll be able to forgive himself.
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“Are we able to wash up?” I asked after the all clear sounded. “I stink.”
“Come on,” Beram said. “I’ll show you the shower.”
“Come on, Alan, you too.”
Alan climbed down, and we followed Beram to the end of the corridor. A shower proved to be a popular idea, as the rest of the crew assembled behind us. Low laughter reached my ears, and I turned around.
“What do you bet they both run off?” Gamal asked in Aleyni.
Suresh threw an arm around Gamal’s shoulder and planted a big kiss on his mouth. A grin split his face as he glanced at me.
Some joke. Ha, ha. I was laughing my head off—not. Sure, he wanted to make me and Alan uncomfortable. Expected us to be uncomfortable. None of the Aleynis displayed either surprise or disgust, and my gut clenched. My father would have backhanded me if I’d kissed a man in his presence. I would have given every last credit I possessed, assuming I owned any, to make my father react the way the Aleynis did.
Gamal’s gaze bored into me, eyebrows raised, waiting for some kind of response, but the Aleyni word assembly line broke down, and my brain froze solid.
Here’s something weird. Or maybe not; I don’t know. When I spoke Aleyni, I needed to think in Aleyni, so sometimes my thoughts would stop because I couldn’t yet formulate the thought in the alien language.
Hoping to unstop the dam, I opened my mouth to tell him he could go ahead and kiss all the men he wanted, with or without me around. No go. Pathetic.
Gamal touched the door, and it retracted into the wall, revealing a synglass-coated chamber with shower heads suspended from the walls and ceiling and a spigot on one wall.
After a minute, the log jam eased up. Showers were a much safer topic than kissing guys. “How does it work?”
“You soap up, then steam to rinse off.” Beram grinned, his gaze traveling up and down first my body, and then Alan’s. “I’ll show you. The shower is big enough for three. In order to save water, we shower two or three at a time.”
Alan gulped and backed away from the door. “I’ll pass.” He ran down the corridor.
“How about you?” Beram asked.
Inside my head, the vidi of me and Beram naked together in the steamy shower played two or three times. I nodded. “Who goes first?”
Suresh grinned.“You two may have the honor of the first shower this time.”
Gamal crossed his arms and stared at me.
Remove my clothes here, with Gamal and Suresh eager to examine my every move? The air stuck in my throat. They’d have a clear view of my naked body’s reaction to Beram.
Gamal poked Suresh with his elbow and whispered something in his ear.
I’d probably been broadcasting my thoughts again. But lust overcame my fear, and Beram and I stripped and stepped into the shower. We soaped up, and I couldn’t help staring. Beram’s smooth skin showed no body hair at all.
“No Aleyni has body hair,” he said. “You didn’t realize?”
I shook my head. “How would I?” Did he find body hair repulsive? Mildly distasteful? Intriguing, the way I found his smooth skin?
Beram touched a control on the wall and blasts of steam washed us clean. While I hesitated, wondering what to do, Beram pulled my head toward him and kissed me. I kissed him back.
His warm lips pressed against mine, smooth and soft. I breathed in the fragrance of citrus soap and musk, Beram’s odor and mine. Our mouths were closed, and it lasted only a moment, but the universe tilted; and when it tilted back, everything changed.
No question remained: I loved men, always would. Period, end of sentence. The recognition started in my gut, in the center of my body, and radiated outwards.
I took a step back and grinned at Beram. He placed a hand on the side of my face, only for a moment. It was the most intimate thing I’d ever experienced .
Gamal and Suresh waited outside the shower, both leaning against the wall and grinning. Suresh poked Gamal, whispering something like, “Pay up.”