Sociopaths and Osteopaths

This is a stand-alone chapter from an unfinished SF novel set in 2217 and assuming a largely peaceful future and colonisation of the galaxy.  But not everything is smooth.

Like the early space probes that first got a close look at planets beyond Earth, and unlike the gleaming creations of 20th century science fiction, the Ludwig Feuerbach was a half-random collation of girders and boxes that would only look beautiful to an engineer.  The basic frame was four gigantic girders arranged to make the outline of tetrahedron; a solid with four triangles for faces and one of the five Regular Solids of normal three-dimensional space.  But it wasn’t actually that: the ‘faces’ of the tetrahedron had been left empty, and various things had been bolted onto the girders, the edges of the tetrahedron.

Each girder was 750 metres long, and the bulk of the ship was at the four corners, as was normal for a relatively small Transporter-Starship.  One corner held the hyperdrive: a deceptively small cluster of glowing rods and glassy but opaque boxes that was vastly more massive than it looked.  Also a source of weird radiation, some of it alien to the normal universe, so it was best placed tens of metres away from anything else.

Another corner held a cluster of three gigantic Gravitic Engines, used for movement outside of hyperspace and also dangerous for humans to get too close to.  The linked engines had their own unwelcome byproducts, so all that was visible was a cluster of three metallic-green hemispheres, each 30 metres across, plus a silvery branching extrusion 40 metres long that stuck out from the corner into interstellar space.  The extrusion looked strangely like a tree stripped of its leaves, and would pulse with mutli-colour lights when the engines were out of balance.  But for this trip, the balance was superb and the array was dark and not visibly active.

The third corner held the bulk of the cargo, including whatever passenger luggage was not needed until arrival.  This cargo was mostly stored in a safe but unbreathable pure-nitrogen atmosphere.  It was a cluster of boxes, variously attached to small girders stemming from the big main girder.  The boxes were painted vivid bright colours, often different colours for different sides of one box.  The crew called it “the Fauvist quarter”, after an early 20th century French art school noted for its use of vivid colour

The fourth corner held crew and passengers, along with gardens and parks and the more delicate or living cargo.  It too was a cluster of boxes, variously attached to small girders stemming from the big main girder.  But each had at least three points of attachment, and some of them had visible tubes holding corridors linking one box or room to another.  Colours were varied, but all were bland pastel shades.  This made it a pleasant view out of the various small round windows, most the size of portholes on ship at sea.  Life support units clustered round the interior and were mostly out of sight.

Crew and passengers were all together because it was not a tourist ship, nor a ship for mass migration.  Passengers and crew were similar types of people and liked to mix.  Besides, it saved money and effort to have all of the life support in one small corner of the ship’s vastness.

This fourth corner also included several different types of vehicle that could move independently of the main ship.  No one from the habitable corner of the ship went in person to the other three corners: any necessary engineering work would be done by ‘robotars’, robotic ‘avatars’ operated remotely by someone in a motion-capture suit, and sometimes much bigger or smaller than their human controller.  Work by humans in spacesuits was seldom needed, and was also viewed as dangerous and a task for specialists.  There were no spacesuits on the Ludwig Feuerbach, a mere Medium-Light Transporter-Starship that hardly ever needed engineering work away from the gigantic engineering yards in the Old Solar System.

Within the Habitable Quarter – a three-dimensional complex of some two thousand rooms of various sizes and with various purposes – there was a large chamber with a wall of humming machinery that displayed complex patterns.  A large man was seated working at an Engineering Workstation, and there were several stools nearby.  A small woman entered.  Both had crew uniform: soft deep-blue jumpsuits made of high-tech ‘smart material’ that gave protection against fire, electric shock and several types of deadly radiation.  The suits could even extrude a hood and give brief protection against vacuum in an emergency.  For now they were just clothing and indicators of rank: each uniform had a yellow shoulder patch on the right arm showing Earth as a globe centred on Europe, and bright yellow piping outlining the body, legs and left arm.  But the piping was different: both showed a single unbroken line, but the man’s was a solid broad line while the woman’s was a thin one.  This was the current uniform of the EIC Colonisation Service for its non-military starships, and the difference in piping indicated rank.  Each also had a Function Patch across their bellies: a yellow oval about the size of their head, with sigaldry on it to identify both their main function and any additional skills.

The man was Paddy Doyle, Chief Engineer and 4th Officer.  He was in his mid-30s and had been enjoying a successful career as a Spacecraft Engineer on various space vessels, not all of them starships.  But now he wanted to get married to a woman who has no wish to leave Earth, not even to get a job with her future husband on one of the many spacecraft that travelled within the Old Solar System.  So he had got it agreed that he could move to the EIC Colonisation Service’s Earth-based section of the Engineering (planet-based) Division, the people who maintained the gigantic Gravitic Engines that helped transfer people and cargo between Earth Low-Orbit and the surface.  This was his first trip on the Ludwig Feuerbach, a much smaller ship than his previous one, meaning that his Acting Rank adjusted for size of space vessel was rather below what he’d been used to.  But this didn’t bother him: status within EIC’s bureaucracy had never seemed important to Paddy.  He was also half amused and half annoyed at the need to wear on duty a uniform that defined both his rank and his function.  The Function Patch showed a blue cog about the size of one of his large fists, indicating that he was part of Technical Grade / Engineering Function (even though modern machines seldom had cogs).  Much smaller, about the size of an eye, the Function Patch also showed a small Sword to indicate he had training in the heavy weaponry that some spacecraft and starships carried.  Also a Stethoscope, to indicate enough basic medial training to help if a real medic were somehow not available in an emergency.

The woman was Denise Wilde, Junior Hyperpilot and in her late 20s.  She had been with the Ludwig Feuerbach on five previous round trips to Planet Statis without getting promotion.  She had also failed in several applications for something more interesting, so she too had arranged for a transfer, moving from spacecraft to the Habitable-Planet Exploration Division of the Colonisation Service at Statis.  She had already been accepted as a Trainee Atmospheric Pilot to fly one of the new SkyShuttles that the ship was bringing.  But during the trip, she had worked hard on simulators and had qualified as an Advanced-Trainee Atmospheric Pilot, authorised to fly on her own.  Her own Function Patch was dominated by the Mobius Strip of Hyperpiloting, with the little extras being a Compass for navigation and a Seagull-in-Flight for atmospheric piloting.  She thought most of it silly; the Mobius strip had absolutely nothing to do with the geometry of hyperspace, while compasses were no more useful than weegee boards amidst the weak and fluctuating magnetic fields of interstellar space.  She did rather like the seagull, which she had only earned this trip, even though she had for many years taken part in air-piloting art-sports like hang-gliding, body-kite soaring and gale-surfing.

She and Paddy were currently lovers, which Paddy was sometimes guilty about.  He and his lady back on Earth had been serious enough about each other to have agreed to undertake an old-style marriage, with the classic understanding of “forsaking all others”.  He hadn’t raised the matter of whether this applied on his final trip, which she’d agreed he should take before beginning a complete new life with her.  But he rather felt that his future wife had assumed this, and it had also been his intention.  Yet Denise had been highly tempting, calmly undemanding, and after Statis he would be unlikely ever to see her again.

Denise walked in with deliberately shuffling footsteps, in the hope of attracting Paddy’s attention, but he was intent on his work.  So she quietly said “Can I interrupt you, Paddy?”

Paddy took a few seconds to disengage from the intricacies of his diagnostics, then said “Sure, love.  Just doing a bit of fine-tuning.”  He stood up, turned, stooped to her level and they hugged.  He then sat down again, but was large enough to be level with her standing (which was one of the things she liked about him).  And now she wanted a favour.

“Paddy, I am stuck with three teenagers who won a shipboard raffle and now have the right to infest the Hyperspatial Piloting Control Room when I take us out of hyperspace.  I’d like to have you there to keep them in order: at least two of them are bigger than me.  But a lot smaller than you, so I’m sure you could cope.”

“Not hard.  Any misbehaving, I give them a friendly warning, and then pick them up and shake them if they don’t listen.  I don’t often need to.”

“Obviously.”  But then she looked closely and exclaimed “you look short of sleep.  And it’s not like I’ve been keeping you awake.”  Since their liaison was not intended to last nor taken that seriously or emotionally, each slept in their own quarters and met for chat and sex only when both were off duty.  And Denise had lately been busy, working over the charts as they came up from the relative safety of Deep Hyperspace towards the Goldspace of their destination.  She’d not seen Paddy lately and now she was concerned.

“I’ve been sleeping badly, but work calms me” he replied.  “More than once, I have had a nightmare, in which somehow I had to cause the death of an innocent or other lives would be lost.  Once it was a mad fairy take, in which I had to save Paddy McGinty’s goat from a rampaging princess with a butcher’s knife who wanted it for a feast for her lover.  She had to be stopped, because if the goat died a dragon would be set free to ravage the land.  That was almost comic at first, but then I saw a child in trouble in a stream and perhaps drowning and I could not help because I was chasing after the princess and the goat.”

“Weird.”

“Some of the others were much worse, set on a realistic starship and involving choices I might just possibly have to make in my role as Chief Engineer.”

“Poor love.  It’s a pity you’re not like me and disengaged from such things.

“You’re not?  A drowning child wouldn’t bother you?”

“I’m sure I told you already, I am S-type, under Judicial Supervision by Precrime.”

“S-type?”

“Also known as sociopathic, but there is a scale for it.  I come dangerously high: within the range that might be judged ‘criminally insane’ if I did something bad.  I’m quite sure I did tell you about it, when we first linked up at the Launch Party.”

“Oh.  The music was loud, and I am a bit deaf after working with noisy machines all the time.  I thought you said you were an osteopath!”

Denise sat down and started laughing.  And then said “you didn’t ask to get your joints fixed?”

“My joints are fine, as you well know.  Also I wasn’t sure what it meant at the time, just looked it up later.  Sociopathic – you mean, you’d like to kill someone?  Does that make you a danger?”

“Unsupervised, I might be.  To be judged safe to work on a starship, I have to take a regular ‘Kitten-scan’, where I get carefully asked by experts about any questionable actions I might have done since my last scan.  I could never hide it if I bent the rules.”

” I thought they only did that for serious criminal suspects, and then only with a Court Order based on Reasonable Suspicion.”

“For most people, yes, but not me.”

“So you’d like to kill someone, but don’t because you know you’d be caught?”

“No dear, someone who actually likes killing is a psychopath.  Or rather, both terms were used loosely and with overlapping meanings, until the mid-21st century, when psychometrics took off.  When it got good enough to read personalities without human bias or spouts of dogma from demented psychiatrists who were convinced we all had a secret desire to cook and eat our mother-in-law, it all got much more coherent.  As the terms are commonly used nowadays, psychopaths have a need to kill or an uncontrolled enjoyment of killing, or else a habit of utterly losing their tempers at some small or imagined insult.  Whereas sociopaths have above-average self-control and don’t get any pleasure from harming someone who’s done them no harm.  But it also does not upset us the way it would a normal person.”

“Would that be like Richard the Third, ‘for I can smile and murder while I smile’?”

Denise smiled, a very nice smile, a smile that had charmed many and led some of them to disbelieve her when she explained what she was like inside.  If she explained: she did that only when she figured that someone she wanted as her latest lover was close enough to authority to be told the truth about her if she did not admit it first, which got negative reactions for reasons she had never quite fathomed.  But she was excellent at predicting how people would react, and so she answered honestly, according to her own opinions, saying “As Shakespeare drew him, Richard the Third is a bit of both.  In real life he was probably coldly calculating rather than full of malice.  And most likely made callous rather than born that way.  The so-called Wars of the Roses were a series of brutal mob-wars between knights and barons that started before he was born and happened around him as long as he was alive.  Had things gone differently he might have spent his entire life in a prison cell, as did happen to other children with a dangerous hereditary right to the English throne.”

“Almost makes one feel sorry for him.”

Denise looked thoughtful, while smiling inwardly.  If the man wanted to talk mediaeval history, which she knew well and felt quite at home in, she could draw a background that would make her own small faults look highly forgivable.  So she played to the point while keeping up a debate, saying “no, he became monstrous and he certainly stole his nephew’s throne, even if he arguably didn’t kill that nephew or the younger brother.  But he might have been quite decent in a better age.  War was all around him, and cunning ruthlessness was the key to survival for the whole of his short life.  And if there was one moment that made him cold, it was probably when his father was killed after losing a battle and being taken prisoner.  Richard then was just a kid, only eight, and the other side disrespected the man’s corpse – not a smart thing to do.”

“Are you saying that traditional honour stuff paid off?”

“Not always, but more often than cynics think.  Mercy also.  Exemplary punishments and extreme acts backfire more often than they succeed.  Harbinger has a good case: he points out the case of a young man in pre-Bolshevik Russia who was executed for a plot to kill the Tsar.  Since no one had actually died, a little mercy would have been a smart idea, speaking generally.  Speaking specifically, that young man was Vladimir Lenin’s elder brother.”

“And Lenin had the Tsar’s family killed when it was his turn – I saw a drama about it once, but that had Bolsheviks just as comic-opera villains.  A vendetta makes more sense.  A bit over the top, but still…”

“Actually it was regional Bolsheviks who feared the royals were about to be captured and become potent symbols by the White forces.  Lenin did try mercy at first: the Bolsheviks initially abolished the death penalty and only got harsh after the other side began the mass killings.  And it’s perfectly possible he wanted to keep the Tsar and his family as unimportant people symbolic of the triumph of the new order.  That’s what Mao actually did with the final Chinese Emperor of the Manchu dynasty, despite the little shit having willingly worked with the Japanese to help conquer China.  But Lenin also refused to make any fuss when the Tsar and his family were killed to stop them being useful to the enemy.”

“A dull old man, a neurotic woman, a sick boy and several girls?”

Symbolic.  With the boy sick, the girls could have been wed to European princes with the prospect of a new dynasty, in an era when monarchs still had real power.  And it seems the Bolsheviks thought even the dead bodies might count, so they moved two of the bodies to confuse any possible body count.”

“Pretty grim.”

“You start seeing a few of your friends killed by people you see as your worst enemies and the foes of all you value, you’d get pretty grim yourself, I’d fancy.”

“Didn’t one of the Tsar’s girls survive?”

“Anastasia.  But no, her body was with the rest, and her best impersonator was definitely not a relative.  After the Soviets fell, some interested parties did DNA testing and settled it.

“But the point I was making was, extreme actions can backfire.  The Bolsheviks did themselves no good later on by sticking to the ruthlessness that had once been a necessity for survival.  Exemplary punishment don’t work unless you’re going for complete genocide or sociocide.  The repressor may deter the weak, but they also risk producing a breed of extremely tough and almost unbreakable opponents, people who will accept no compromise and show no mercy.”

“Didn’t the old USA do that with the people who became House of Islam?”

“Disputed.  The Late USA was certainly not merciful to its own, locking up astonishingly large numbers of its citizens, and sneering at anyone who failed to make abnormal amounts of money.  Setting a bad example by praising monsters and emotional screw-ups if they were rich.  And had a brash and noisy version of Christianity, but one that didn’t dare raise its voice against the power of money.  Brayed loudly about homosexuality but much less about adultery or usury, since people who were doing either or both fed the loud preachers most of their funds.

“Speaking more generally, elements of mercy are always needed for modern life.  That applies even to religion, for as long as it counted in the West – and even House of Islam look after their own and are kindly for as long as you stay within the rules.  Primitive religions were vengeful.  But the last wave of religions before most of us lost faith all emphasised mercy as a virtue – Buddhism especially, but Christianity was a lot better than the paganisms it replaced.  And during the decline, a lot of silliness re-surfaced.  Nietzsche and others whinged a lot about the triumph of these supposedly weak religions.  Harbinger said – and I agree – that if a supposedly weak person gets the better of a macho posturer, then they were actually the stronger.”

“Damn right.  When I go in for Competitive Brawling, I do sometimes get floored by small delicate people who are smart and skilled.  I never complain: not sporting.”

“True” she replied, though she actually had small liking for ‘sporting behaviour.  “And looking back at history, Leninism was never so bad as the Hard Right, but definitely underdid the element of mercy.  They lived through traumatic times, but learned ruthlessness too well.  As indeed did most of their rivals, and it took a long time for humanity to unwind from the violence that had come from prolonging the First World War beyond the obvious stalemate of 1914.”

“Wasn’t there some sort of Christmas truce, with the rival armies playing football?”

“Indeed, Harbinger says a lot about it, and notes that without major political backing, such things tend to fade and die.  That happened with the Christmas truce: an event for Christmas 1914 that never happened again.  No one who was strong enough wanted a peace that was not a victory.  Only a scattering of marginal figures, mostly pacifists or socialists or both.  And the very long and brutal war traumatised everyone who went through it, made them a ‘lost generation’.  Made High-S, or were made stronger in it by all of the traumas.

“In my case, Paddy, I had a very nice home and no significant traumas, but there were also quite a few high-S individuals in my family history.  I was tagged early and given some kindly advice by a governmental supervisory outfit called Precrime, which I listened to with a show of politeness and then ignored.  As a teenager I did several smart cons, at least I thought they were smart, and my kind are very good at deception.  But they caught me and then I was tagged.”

“What did you do wrong?”

“Technically or ethically?  Actually I was way out on both.  I thought of myself as a clever little Stainless Steel Mouse, working in a society full of fools.  And was shown to be a shameless stealing rat, really.  Also not so smart, because thought I could wipe out data once I hacked into it.  No one had told me that all important data is backed up in at least three different places, and also has ‘hash totals’ to highlight tampering.  Or that it’s a lot more subtly protected than that and much more secure for stuff that’s significant financially or criminally.  What I was working on to cover my tracks was a database that was left intentionally vulnerable to lure in a semi-smart hacker.”

“It’s known as a ‘honey pot’.  We have them in engineering: stuff to interest an intruder and keep them there while you trace them electronically or physically.”

“Yeah, they have them all over, I know that now.  So I was caught, though it wasn’t vastly serious since it was only money.  No immediate penalties beyond paying back what I had stolen, and my parents covered that and would have liked to see it as a harmless prank.  Sadly, the authorities saw it otherwise and may well have been right.  And right or wrong, they had the power and I had to dance to their tune unless I wanted to emigrate to some nasty and impoverished new colony.  So from then on for the next three years I had to let Precrime do a monthly Scanned Interrogation, a ‘Kitten-scan’.  As you said, it mostly needs a Court Order based on reasonable suspicion of a Serious Arrestable Offence.  Or else you can voluntarily register with Precrime.”

“Prying into your innermost thoughts?”

“Mostly not.  Normally it is just a few questions: ‘ have you done anything since your last scan that we would view as either criminal or a major breech of ethics as we define them?’  They can’t get unreasonably personal.  And the Scan Team is always watched by at least three Outside Observers, chosen at random and independent of the Scan Team, not even allowed to socialise between departments, since they are meant to be suspicious enough of each other never to do a cover-up.  Questions are designed to be non-intrusive if you’ve not actually broken the law.  They can’t go asking about your sex life – which I personally am very happy to discuss with any interested listener, but not everyone feels like that and even I would hate not to have a choice in the matter.  But it is all done decently, the Outside Observers are separate from and mildly suspicious of each other, even.  Nothing so bad.  SO after my three years were up, I decided to carry on with it.  Much better than being an ‘unsupervised High-S’ and being discriminated against.”

“Discriminated how?”

“Excluded from quite a lot of jobs, including everything involving space.  Which makes perfect sense: you and I and at least a dozen other people on this ship know enough to kill everyone on board if one of us were mad enough to want to.  Or more plausibly, to rig some high-energy system to kill a particular person we might want to murder, or could have been hired to kill.  You and most of them are decently inhibited: I need to be checked.  And each time I can say, truthfully, that I think EIC Colonisation Service are doing a wonderful job and that I would never harm the ship.  Would lay down my life if my duties pointed that way.  And that while I might conceivably arrange little accidents for inconvenient or dislikeable colleagues if I thought I could get away with it, I am well aware that I could not and so have not and will not.”

“Kevin?”

Denise gave her charming smile once again.  “He is blocking my promotion.  I don’t exactly dislike him: I am one of those women who find camp gay males rather nice company.  But his existence is inconvenient – and for a sociopath, that can be enough.  My kind are also calculating and rational, and I had thought you knew.  Though as I recall, you mostly wanting to be sure that I didn’t mind you being engaged to be married back on Earth.  Which was and is fine by me: I’m stopping in this solar system regardless, and I hope the two of you will be very happy together.

“But you’re bothered, I can see that.  If you want to break up, I won’t make a fuss.”

“I’m still trying to grasp this.  I mean, you mostly seem quite normal.”

“Part of it is an act.  But I think you’re still confusing my condition with the one that makes for bullies and sometimes serial killers.  Psychopaths like killing and get a quasi-sexual pleasure from unreasonably causing pain, even to someone who’s done no harm.  They may even prefer an innocent victim.  Sociopaths are different: we don’t like causing pain or killing, but also we don’t dislike it either.  At least not the way neurotypicals do.”

He looked doubtful, and Denise knew she was on weak ground.  By some definitions, including those favoured by many psychiatrists, she’d count as a psychopath.  Paddy might go wondering and then looking it up if she let him, so she decided to divert him and upset him in a way he ought to see as legitimate.

“To make it concrete, Paddy, imagine there is some engineering emergency, a variant of those nightmares you’ve been having.  But it is worse than just having to choose who you help and who you leave at risk.  To save the ship, you have to send one of your colleagues to do a job that will most likely kill them.”

Paddy shuddered and Denise laughed.

“You feel pain at just the thought of something you’ve not done, and which it would be right to do if it ever became real.  Entirely standard.  Now supposing after sacrificing a life, you suddenly saw another way that could have avoided it?”

Paddy grasped his head and shows signs of pain.  Denise put her arms round him and stroked his hair to comfort him.  She really didn’t like causing pain except in retaliation, and Paddy had always been nice to her.

“All imaginary, remember.  You probably never will face such a choice.  But you have the normal human reactions, and that’s missing in me.”

“You think it makes you better?”

“Certainly not.  I’m an incomplete human: there is a hole in my heart where sympathy should be.  I do also have good points: I am rather above average for idealism even in this kindly but highly idealistic world of ours.  But do you think I’d like to live among people as cold and potentially lethal as I am?  I feel much safer in a world where neurotypicals dominate.”

“You do?”

“Think it through, Paddy.  For instance, why am I not scared of you, despite your enormous size?  Because you’re a civilised man!  You do Rugby, Hurling, Wrestling, Competitive Brawling and maybe the occasional free-style bar-room brawl.  But you’d never hit me or any other woman unless they actually told you they’d like a fight and would chance it.  Everyone has come on immensely since the 20th century, which in itself was a huge advance on the mediaeval past.  We live in an improved society, but also one that relies on ‘the better angels of our nature’ to keep it nice.  With me, one of those ‘angels’ is missing, the one that forces you to feel another’s pain.  But I do have a sense of justice, and a respect for higher purposes.  Still, if there were some way to fix my brain, I’d take it.

“As things are, I was good enough to be acceptable for non-military spacecraft for as long as I continued to accept Judicial Supervision by Precrime.  Having never committed another crime after my teenage venture into fraud, I could quit the Judicial Supervision any time I liked.  But then no one decent would employ me for any sort of piloting – too many ways to abuse that sort of expertise.  As things are, I am in many ways a model employee.  I am high on the S-scale, but also the D-scale, devotion, believing in something larger than myself.  And high for both C1 and C2, physical and intellectual courage, which aren’t always the same.  Some people have a name for this mix, Macaroon Syndrome, something like that.  But I’m not sure it is anything very distinct.”

“Macaroons are cakes, biscuits.  Never mind.  I suppose that the mix you have makes you an admirable person apart from the risk that you might casually kill someone.  And they’ve got that covered.”

“‘Admirable’ – sounds like you’ve gone off me.”

“Well, I’m…”

“Make up your mind – and show it to me with your body – sometime within the next 24 hours.  Or else I dump you.  Clear enough?”

Paddy nodded.  “Luminously so.  And I’ll still cover for you with the teenage menaces.”

“Damn right you will, or it is over right now.  I’ll be there at 14:15 and you should join me by 14:25 at the latest.  A young woman called Anna will also be there, Anna the teenage genius if you’ve come across her.  But I’ve told her to be very quiet and sit out of my way, and I suggest you ignore her completely.  The poor girl has a crush on me, but I am not letting it get anywhere.  But I will let her watch me effortlessly ease us through the risky transition through Goldspace back into the normal universe.”

“Effortless?”

“OK, it will look effortless, or will unless something seriously bad happens.  I know the local Goldspace, which is almost always bland outside of known and avoidable dangers in the regions we’ve mapped.  But I also hope to impress her: in a few years she is likely to be a ‘big noise’ in Uninhabitable-Planet Exploration, in a position to get me jobs piloting Runabouts and maybe Hop-Alongs.  Those would be nice extras along with the SkyShuttles which will be part of my regular Statis job.

“Now as for you, I will place you next to my work-station and I will be leaning against you when the teens arrive some time after 14:35, to let them know that we are an ‘item’.  No likely need for you to do more.  Teenagers can act like a bunch of baboons, if they think they can gets away with it.  But you make a neat Alpha Male, so I’d expect them to be polite baboons.”

Paddy laughed, slightly nervously.  Denise left and Paddy tried to get back to his work.  But he was full of uncertainty.  On a planet, he might have used this unexpected revelation as an excuse to walk away and forget Denise.  But here, he’d be continuously seeing her before him until she finally quit the ship.  Kevin had joked with him about it, saying he was another heterosexual male responding to ‘the call of the Wild’: and it had been true.  Breaking off a relationship he should really never have started would probably be the right thing to do.  But between deciding that and actually doing it there was a long gap.

Copyright Gwydion M. Williams

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