‘So how did your date go with Kria the other night?’
‘Oh…I didn’t tell you about that?’
‘No you still haven’t. I take it didn’t go well?’
‘It didn’t go very poorly, but basically, we probably won’t go out again.’
‘I don’t understand. What was the problem? You seemed to like her well enough a week ago.’
‘I don’t really know what to say. We like a lot of the same things, but there just…there wasn’t a spark, I guess. It’s just a feeling I have, that it wouldn’t work.’
‘I don’t know what’s going to run out first, the travel time or the women themselves.’
‘Ha-ha. You’re a riot. I couldn’t have dated more than a dozen of them.’
‘True, but there’re still two years before we get to the site. Not to mention a good number who’ve already bonded.’
‘I’m just concerned I’ll be paired up with one of the lesbians. No wife, no family, just an impartial genetic donor for a kid some other couple raises. That’s not what I signed up for.’
‘Well, I think Jocastas would be happy with the job of donor, he’s not exactly the marrying type. I don’t think you need worry.’
‘It takes two women to make a lesbian couple, Dalper.’
Dalper laughed. ‘There are sixty-four women on this ship, and don’t forget there’re another sixty-four on the other. An untapped market for you. You’ll find some one.’
‘I certainly hope so. So what’s up with you and Laram?’
‘You know, just hanging out and stuff. She’s really fun. We spent last night together, just talking.’
‘That’s great. You think she might be the one?’
‘The one?’ smirked Dalper. ‘Why, Beeton, I have no idea what you mean by that…’
‘Oh no. Tell me you’re not still seeing Raini…’
‘And why wouldn’t I be?’
‘Dalper, if Laram finds out you’re, you know, also seeing Raini, it’ll crush her.’
‘Will it? I’m not so sure…’
‘Well it would crush me, if I found out the girl I was seeing was sleeping with some other guy.’
‘Yes, Beeton. I know it would crush you. But I wonder if it would crush Laram?’ Dalper stood. ‘I have to go. I have to be on the command deck at 16.00. See you later.’
Beeton half-waved. ‘All right, then.’
The door to the command deck slid open, and Dalper entered. Several computer stations lined the sides of the long, rectangular room. Many were unmanned, and many more would become so during Dalper’s shift. Dalper walked over to the console at which Captain Styles was standing.
‘Lieutenant Dalper, sir. Reporting for the Evening Shift.’
Styles looked up at Dalper, then turned back to her screen. ‘Take the chair, then, Lieutenant. I’m just finishing up some thing here.’
Dalper sat on the central chair, and swivelled it to survey the room. ‘How’s the course, Pouris?’
‘Holding steady, sir,’ said the helmsman, swivelling briefly in her chair to look at Dalper. ‘We had to alter course two hours ago to avoid a stellar cluster twelve light years ahead. I’m feeding the details into your console.’
Captain Styles stood and turned to Dalper. ‘With your permission, Lieutenant, I’ll go off-duty.’
‘Permission granted, sir,’ said Dalper. ‘Good-night.’
The door slid open, and Styles left. Dalper turned to look at the information scrolling across the screen on the arm of his chair. He frowned. ‘A stellar cluster. This will delay our arrival by eight days,’ he said.
‘Captain Styles felt this couldn’t be helped,’ explained Pouris cautiously.
Dalper looked up at the helmsman. ‘I agree, Officer. It’s just unfortunate.’
The door behind him slid open, and Dalper turned to see a man step in. ‘Officer Muhannan,’ said Dalper. ‘Don’t often see you on the Command Deck. What can I do for you?’
‘Can I speak to you privately, sir?’
‘Of course.’ Dalper stood. ‘Pouris, you’re in command. We’ll just be in the Office.’
Once the two had entered the adjacent Command Office, and were seated, both in front of the desk, Dalper spoke: ‘So what is it, Muhannan?’
‘I’d like to tender my resignation, sir,’ Muhannan said, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a disc.
‘I don’t understand,’ said Dalper. ‘You’re our chief agriculturalist. I’ll admit, your skills haven’t really been challenged this past year. But when we land at the Alpha site, you’ll be invaluable.’
‘With respect, sir, my skills will still be at your disposal once we land, and I can still work with the ship-board hydroponics, if you desire. But I can no longer do it as a part of the military.’
‘Where is this coming from? Why do you feel it necessary to resign?’
‘I’ve chosen a mate,’ Muhannan said. ‘Fee Torsoy and I have decided to bond.’
Dalper smiled. ‘Now I see. Fifty civilian women on this ship, and you fall for Lieutenant Torsoy. Life’s funny like that, I guess. Now, you’re sure she feels the same way? It’s a lot more difficult to get re-instated.’
‘Absolutely. Fee’s asking the Captain for her blessing to-morrow afternoon. I just wanted to get this out of the way first.’
‘Well, Muhannan, there’s only one thing I can say: no civilians are permitted on the Command Deck.’ Dalper smiled. ‘Get out of here. And congratulations.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ said Muhannan. And then he turned and left.
‘We had another one quit, to-day,’ typed Dalper, resting at the computer terminal in his quarters. ‘Our Chief Agriculturalist. That makes nine resignations since we took off from Mars-3. How have you guys done?’
‘Thirteen,’ was the answer that appeared on the screen, ‘but no one as major as the Chief Agriculturalist. Our Assistant-Chief of Astronomy was one of them, though.’
‘That’s right,’ responded Dalper. ‘She bonded with your Captain, right?’
‘Thanks. You know, they really should revise this rule against marriage within the Military. For Colonisation missions, any way, when the whole point of the mission is to bond with some one of the opposite sex and populate a world.’
‘Why, Lieutenant,’ the words appeared on the screen, ‘are you implying any thing?’
‘I just think it would make things easier…for all concerned. Once we land at the Alpha site, there’ll be little need for the Military, any way.’
‘Well, we’ll still have Staff reports to do, I’m sure. I just finished a bunch of those up for my Engineering team. Man, those are useless.’
‘I’ve got my team’s reports coming up. I think I’m going to request Pouris for promotion. We still haven’t replaced the Assistant-Chief of Propulsion.’
‘Good luck with those. I have to go, now, Lt. Dalper. We’re doing a breach drill this afternoon, and I need to get ready for it. See you later.’
‘Yeah, sure thing, Chief Ittoran. Later’
Dalper switched off the monitor, and went over to his bed. He lay down and went to sleep.
Beeton brought his steaming cup from the mess hall’s counter and brought it over to the table where Dalper was sitting. He sat down and looked over at his friend.
‘Well?’ asked Dalper. ‘You’ve some thing on your mind, I can tell.’
Beeton smirked. ‘I found her.’
‘Found whom? Was some one lost?’
‘Please,’ Beeton answered, with a bored expression on his face. ‘Your humour is too much for me. I found my mate! The one I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.’
Dalper smiled. ‘That’s great, Beeton. Who is she?’
Beeton took a deep breath, and then said, ‘Fee.’
‘Fee? Fee Torsoy? The second-in-command?’ Dalper laughed out loud.
‘Well, yes, of course Fee Torsoy. What other Fee is there? What’s so funny?’
Dalper laughed again. ‘You got indications she was interested, I suppose?’
‘Of course,’ said Beeton. Dalper laughed again. ‘What, you don’t think the second-in-command would want any thing to do with me, just because I’m a civilian Sociologist? Let me tell you, Dalper, we have a bond.’
‘I’m sorry, Beeton. I really shouldn’t be laughing, it’s just that…well, at this moment right now, she’s asking the Captain for permission to marry Corr Muhannan.’
‘Muhannan? The Chief Agriculturist? But he’s Military…!’
‘Not any more. He resigned last night.’
Beeton sighed. He was quiet for a while, then said, ‘I can’t believe you laughed at me.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Dalper smiled. ‘So what were the signs she was interested?’
‘I hate you.’ After a moment, Beeton said, ‘Muhannan resigned? Are we going to have any Military left by the time we reach the Alpha site?’
‘He’s number nine. The other ship, though, has had thirteen resignations.’
‘What, do you guys keep in contact about that sort of thing?’
‘No, Chief Ittoran told me this morning.’
‘You still talk with her?’
‘Yeah, why not?’
‘Well, is any thing going to come of that?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe.’
‘Do Laram or Raini know you’re in contact with her?’
Dalper smiled uneasily. ‘Well, no. What does it matter? I have a lot in common with Ittoran. More than I do with any one on this ship.’
‘Well, why don’t you bond with her, then? If she’s so perfect for you.’
‘I never said she was perfect for me, just that we have a lot in common. I wouldn’t want to do any thing to jeopardise my relationships with Laram or Raini.’
‘You don’t think that having three different lovers jeopardises any thing?’
‘Look, Dalper, it’s your business, but if you have a lot in common with Ittoran, then you should pursue it.’
‘There’s more to compatibility than just that, Beeton.’
‘But it’s a start. Maybe you’ll find that Ittoran is perfect for you, if you give her a chance.’
‘It’s likelier, I’m sure even you’d agree, that I’ll find she’s not perfect for me. And then I’ll have left behind two great women I care about a lot.’
‘Suit yourself,’ said Beeton. After a pause, he said, ‘Muhannen. Huh.’
Dalper sensed movement. He felt an unmistakeable tug at his ear. He slowly opened his left eye. At this, Raini put her hand on Dalper’s bare chest. She leaned her head over, into Dalper’s view, and then kissed him at the top of his neck. Dalper felt a little teeth in the kiss. Raini was running her fingers through Dalper’s chest hair.
‘SOME one’s ready for another go,’ Dalper commented, smiling.
Raini swung her leg over Dalper’s hip, and sat up over him. Then she brought her face down close to his. ‘If you’re not, I’m sure I can convince you otherwise,’ she said.
‘Oh, I’m ready,’ confirmed Dalper. ‘But how about you try to convince me any way?’
Raini laughed knowingly, and ran her fingers down Dalper’s chest. She lay down over him and brought her mouth to his ear. ‘I want to have your baby,’ she whispered.
‘What?’ jumped Dalper.
‘I want to have your baby,’ Raini repeated, this time looking into Dalper’s eyes. ‘I want us to bond and produce children.’
‘Uhm…’ said Dalper, slowly sitting up and pulling his legs out from under Raini. ‘I think that’s a little sudden…’
‘Sudden? We’ve been seeing each other almost since we left.’
‘I know, but…I’m not ready to think about that sort of thing, yet.’
‘Do you not love me?’ asked Raini. At this point, they were no longer in physical contact, and were each sitting on opposite sides of the bed.
‘Of course I love you, Raini. Of course I do. But I don’t know…’
‘What? What don’t you know?’
‘I just don’t know if what we have is enough to bond. I mean, we’re really great together, but bonding…we’ll be living together for a long time, raising a child…I don’t know if we’re compatible in that respect.’
‘I don’t understand what you mean.’
‘Well, what do we really have in common, you know? I mean, how would we be when we’re not being intimate, when we’re just running a household? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I think they might be important when deciding whether to bond. What we have is great, but is it enough to form a solid relationship in which to raise a child? Maybe, but I need to know for sure before I agree to any thing.’
Raini reached out and put her hand on Dalper’s. She said, ‘you need time? I’ll give you time. We’ve still two years to think it over. There’s no rush.’
‘There’s not much time before your next shift,’ continued Raini. ‘Why don’t you get some rest?’
‘All right,’ said Dalper, kissing Raini lightly on the cheek. He lay back down, and began to doze.
He wasn’t sure how long he was asleep before he heard Raini say, ‘wake up.’
‘Is it time for my shift already?’ asked Dalper, sitting up on the bed. He looked at Raini, she was sitting severely next to the bed.
‘So you’re meeting Laram, to-night, are you?’
‘Don’t play dumb with me, Stefan Dalper. Who’s Laram and what’s going on between you?’
‘Laram is one of the Civilian Geologists. She’s my friend, we hang out.’
‘Is she the reason you don’t want to bond with me?’
‘Raini, I told you why I’m not ready to bond with you.’
‘Do you love her?’
Dalper sighed. ‘Laram and I… we don’t have what you and I have. I’ve never slept with her.’
‘That’s not an answer.’
‘Look, love, I’m just trying to keep my options open. Laram and I get along really well together. Is that enough to constitute a bonding, I don’t know. Is our relationship, yours and mine, enough to constitute a bonding, I don’t know. I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m not ready to commit to you yet. I’m not ready to commit to any one.’
Raini stood up then. ‘Well, you needn’t worry about whether you can commit to me, any more,’ she said, as she stormed out of Dalper’s quarters.
‘I can’t believe she dumped me.’
‘Well,’ Beeton said as they sat across from each other in the Commisary. ‘You did treat her sort of badly.’
‘How?’ asked Dalper. ‘How could you say that, what did I do that was so wrong?’
‘Are you kidding me? You were seeing another woman…two, if you count Ittoran…behind her back.’
‘But it’s not like we’d bonded or any thing. We’re still able to date other people.’
‘Technically, yes, you’re able to. But you’re really not supposed to.’
‘It’s just the way.’
‘This totally doesn’t make any sense. If I’m supposed to be exclusive to any one I’m seeing, then what’s the difference between dating and bonding?’
‘Two differences. One, the finality of bonding. Two, children.’
‘Quite honestly, Beeton, before this I thought that all these rules you had about dating were just in your head. That they were just crazy things you’d invented yourself. With that in mind, please don’t take offense when I say, “what’s wrong with this world?”. This doesn’t make any sense. You’d think that in this day and age, we’d progressed beyond this grade school behaviour. Does every one think this way?’
‘I guess so. What are you going to do, find another intimacy partner?’
‘No, what do you think I am, heartless? I miss Raini…’
‘So what are you going to do, then?’
‘Well, what do you think I should do?’
‘If I were you,’ said Beeton, ‘I would make sure that Ittoran and Laram know what you’ve been doing. Be up-front with them, and maybe you’ll be able to discuss it with them, instead of having them walk out, too.’
Dalper stared into the blackness of space. The stars stood still, he thought he could almost reach out and touch them. He looked down at the exterior of the ship he was in, and then, below it, the other ship. Both ships were stopped, floating in space.
Suddenly, Dalper felt two hands grab his back, and push him out into space. Dalper flung his arms out in front of him, and they hit the window. He wasn’t falling out, he was safe in the corridor. He turned around and saw Laram standing behind him, giggling softly.
‘Scared ya,’ she said.
‘I hate you,’ Dalper said, smiling.
‘Oh really,’ taunted Laram. ‘I know you’d be lost without me.’
‘You seem to over-estimate your importance. Come here.’ Dalper put his left arm around her.
‘So what were you thinkin’ about?’
‘Don’t play dumb with me, Stefan Dalper. You were staring out into space, lost in thought just now.’
‘Oh, it was no thing.’
‘So it had no thing to do with, say, stopping for engine repair?’
‘I don’t remember,’ said Dalper. ‘That must have been it.’
‘Must of,’ agreed Laram. ‘So what did you wanna do to-night?’
‘I don’t know. Any ideas?’
‘Well, I definitely think it’s time I introduced you to Squash.’
‘Ha ha, Dalper, you’re soo witty.’
‘I thought we agreed that Racquet sports weren’t my thing.’
‘YOU agreed, you mean. Trust me, you’ll totally love this. Forget about that Tennis incident last month. This is the thing.’
‘Stefan, are you all right? You seem like you’ve some thing on your mind. Which is unusual, I don’t think there’s normally any thing going on up there.’
‘Silly, that was a joke. Geez, you’re really out-of-sorts, to-day. Any thing you want to talk about?’
‘No. You know, I think I’m going to have to cancel to-night. I’m really sorry Laram.’
‘No, that’s fine. If you need to, I understand. I’ll call you to-morrow and see how you’re feeling.’
Dalper nodded. ‘Okay, thanks. See you later.’ He squeezed her hand and turned back down the corridor.
Dalper sat before his computer. He looked at the time, then sighed. ‘Connect me with Chief Ittoran,’ he said. The computer made some beeps, and then indicated that connection had been made.
Dalper stretched his fingers, then typed, ‘hey.’
‘Good Afternoon, Lieutenant,’ appeared on Dalper’s screen. ‘How have you been?’
‘Fine,’ responded Dalper. ‘Listen, there’s some thing I need to tell you.’
There was a pause, before the word, ‘okay,’ appeared on the screen.
‘I really care for you, Ittoran, and I hope you feel the same for me, but I want you to know that I’ve been seeing two other people on this ship.’
There was a long pause. Dalper was about to ask if she were all right, when Ittoran typed, ‘I see.’
‘I’m sorry if this upsets you,’ continued Dalper. ‘I’ve been trying to determine with whom I would wish to bond. I haven’t decided, but I wanted to make sure you knew what was going on.’
There was another pause, then Ittoran wrote, ‘well, I suppose that I’ve no right to be upset, if I am. We’d not really defined our relationship, and because we’re both military, we’d be unable to bond any way. I think it would be best, how ever, if we kept any future communication professional.’
‘I’d rather not lose you,’ wrote Dalper.
There was a pause. Then, across the screen, appeared the words, ‘I don’t wish to discuss this now, Dalper. Good-night.’
‘Hey, there.’ She was smiling.
‘Do you want to sit down?’ Dalper was not.
‘What’s wrong, Steffie? Why are you being all serious soldier?’
Dalper took a breath. ‘This isn’t easy to say.’
‘That much is evident. What is it?’
The two were sitting in Dalper’s quarters. He’d made them each a cup of tea, and they seated themselves at opposite ends of the dinner table.
‘I’ve been seeing two other people,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry, it was wrong, I hope you can forgive me.’
Laram said no thing. Dalper waited, trying to guess her thoughts.
‘You do realise,’ she began. ‘You do realise that I’ve also been seeing two other people.’
Dalper’s mouth opened. ‘You have?’
‘Oh sure,’ said Laram. ‘I mean, I like you a lot, we get along really well, but I don’t really have any thing in common with you, and, quite frankly, I don’t find you especially physically attractive. You see, Dalper, this whole ‘bonding’ thing, this whole one-mate-for-life, it just seems so unnatural. I don’t honestly think I, or any one else for that matter, can find one person who is perfect in all areas, so I pick several people, each with their own things I like about them. I don’t know what I’ll do when I finally have to find a genetic partner to bear children, but for now, at least, I’m not limiting myself to any one person.’
Dalper smiled. ‘I know exactly what you mean,’ he said.
‘Do you?’ asked Laram. ‘You just told me you were sorry for having been seeing other people. You told me it was wrong. I don’t think you understand what I’m saying at all. I’m not sorry for seeing other people, Dalper. I don’t want to choose one person, and I’m not being deceptive about that. I see people that I’m attracted to, in one area or another, but I’m not holding out for one person who has it all, because that doesn’t exist. And I’m not just trying to get as many guys as I can, I only want certain people. People I love. I thought that you of all people would understand that. But I guess not.’
Laram stood. Dalper stood too.
‘I do understand,’ he said. ‘Your reasons, and mine, they’re the same.’
‘Maybe,’ said Laram. ‘I really like you, Dalper. I hope we can work this out.’
And then Dalper watched as Laram turned, and left his quarters.