Chapter 1: Circles
Actually working together, they often disagreed, mainly about the endless list of crazy ideas that spilled out of Colin’s mind, that David thought were impossible or too dangerous. But whenever a discussion threatened to turn his intern away, Colin changed.
Subtle at first, but after a few disagreements, David learned the pattern. No longer feverishly arguing on behalf of whatever project they were working on, he shifted his focus, from appealing to David’s scientific curiosity, to trying to appeal to David. He’d start joking and smiling, ruffling his hair, or start a tickle fight.
And David never struggled too much then, not even when his laughter made his body ache and tears welled up in his eyes, unwilling to push Colin away, relishing a feeling he didn’t really want to describe back then. But the longer they were toge- were working together, the stronger his doubts became and with that, his desire to please.
If Colin did this, it meant that he really needed him, right?
If David wasn’t important, he could just get rid of him, not try and keep him by his side, right?
Chapter 2: MYIP
“Ah, David, there you are.”
David froze, clutching his MYIP application in his fist. He stared at the man behind the booth, who had spotted him effortless in the crowd.
“Come on, buddy, I told you I don’t bite. Don’t you have an application form for me?” As always, he was wearing a smile that was just as perfect as his crisp white lab coat.
Even though they had now talked quite a few times, David was still nervous. He stretched out his arm, handing Colin the slightly crumpled piece of paper, the man making a show of studying it intensely, accompanied by an array of frowns, raised eyebrows and thinking noises.
It could have only taken a minute to read it, but for David time seemed to slow down. He didn’t move one bit, intently watching Colin’s face, and as his eyes wandered lower and lower on the page, he debated if he should just run away and hide. Maybe he could become a … whatever people do when they don’t like science.
He knew it would be over. When he was finished reading his horrible application, Colin Denham, the Head of the Science Department would laugh at him and no one would want him as an intern after that.
Suddenly Colin looked up. David tried to read the expression on his face, but that was something he was never really good with. Slowly, Colin put the form down between the display experiments in front of him and stepped out from behind the booth, the other students quickly moving out of his way.
“Well, I know that that’s not really how the selection process works, but I think I can tell you right now that we would be glad to have you as our intern. Congratulations!”
He slung his arm around David’s slim shoulders and lowered his voice conspiratorially, “Or should I say, my intern and personal assistant.”
Chapter 3: Staying Late
Partial transcript of Colin's lab recording #25050203.
“David, could you come over here and recount the mitotic cells on this slide?”
“Just a second.”
The sound of a chair, footsteps, then silence.
“Can I sit in front of the microscope please?”
Instead of movement, a dull sound, a hand patting something heavy, yet soft.
“Come on relax, no one’s here.”
A heavy exhale, the shuffling of bodies and maybe half a minute of David counting under his breath.
“Colin.” A warning, spoken without malice.
“Colin, hands.” This time, a hint of amusement in David’s voice.
“We’re alone, don’t worry.”
“Did you really call me over to recount?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” A voice dripping with mischief.
“I have work to do.”
“It can wait.”
Chapter 4: Zucker
“… And that’s why it couldn't work in the first place!”
David crossed his arms over his chest, the recounting of Today’s Big Mistake apparently concluded. He was stretched out on the couch, his head lying on a pillow in Colin’s lap. He’d put his arm around David and rested his hand on the oversized hoodie he had stolen from Colin’s wardrobe.
“Yeah, but it sounds like it was totally her fault, so you don’t have to worry about it. I’ll take care of it.”
Colin started to stand up, resulting in a displeased groan from the boy in his lap.
“Come on, I’ll be back in a sec.”
David begrudgingly moved and let Colin dart across the room to the small kitchen for some final touches on tonight’s snack. Popcorn, just like David liked it: covered in sugary butter, and then sprinkled with colourful sugar crystals – curtesy of Jonathan Kingsley. Sweet enough to make your mouth tingle.
He crossed the room slowly, ceremoniously holding the big bowl in his outstretched arms, as if to present it to David, who merely giggled and waved at him too hurry. Colin dropped back down in his spot, and put his feet on the table. After his usual minute of shifting, David settled into a comfortable position, curled up on the couch, his head back on the pillow in Colin’s lap, glasses slightly pushed against his temple. Colin had picked up a film from the Culture Department, whose title card was just now flickering across the screen.
Alternately eating a piece of popcorn and feeding a now unmoving David, he felt his lips brush against his fingers, delicately at first, but the more his fingers were coated in the sweet, buttery popcorn syrup, the further David took them into his mouth and licked them off as if forgetting they weren’t his own.
Colin didn’t shiver easily, but the feeling of David’s tongue on his fingers soon claimed his full attention, the movie fading into the background, dull compared to this much more appealing scene.
A hunger started low in his body, all the possibilities of these sweet lips and that curious tongue running wild in his mind and over his body.
So what if Colin dipped his damp fingers deep into the loose sugar that collected at the bottom of the bowl. David was always shy and hesitant about his wishes, so Colin had learned how to take hints. And this? This was as blunt as David could get.
Revenge is a dish best served sweet - ancient Martian proverb
Chapter 5: Incompatibility
It was David’s 16th birthday, but he hadn’t exactly been looking forward to it. He had nothing to celebrate, no friends to invite, no presents he wanted. At next month’s MYIP celebration he would graduate early and top of his class, and immediately start his internship in the Science Department. So, 15-year-old David Knight was almost perfectly happy. The only thing to look forward to was what every person his age was looking forward to: the complete activation of his dating profile.
He already had his student profile from when he was 14, but that only included other students, and for the last two years he had already gone through enough dating that went nowhere, with people that he might have been compatible with, but who didn’t really like him, or at least not for long.
To better understand his situation, he had even calculated MarsCorp’s population distribution, and found out some interesting but frustrating numbers. Of the 14.387 MarsCorp employees, 42 % were under 14 years old, and were therefor too young. After deducting people over 21, those would only be added after his 16th birthday, he was left with the few hundred potential partners that were in his age bracket. Which didn’t sound bad at first, but then of course he had to consider that only a handful were his compatibles.
He didn’t understand how many of his classmates had literally dozens of compatibles, and no interest in dating someone that they were not compatible with, or as they called it, ‘wasting their time.’ He had concluded that the reason he was not compatible with almost all students was that he must be too mature for them, he would finish school early after all, and had no great desire to spend any more time with students that would only talk about school anyway. Which is why he had started focusing on interns and kept an eye out for slightly older employees, in hope of finding someone without help from the dating algorithm.
But now, that his upgrade lay imminently before him, his focus had shifted. He was no longer searching for a compatible partner, but looking for validation that the person he had picked was truly his compatible.
David had also managed to get confirmation for something everyone considered an unspoken truth. The average Martian life expectancy was just over 53 years. Which means that by the time he was 20, a third of his life would probably be over. So maybe his classmates were right, there was no time to lose on Mars. He had read that Earthlings used to live much longer because they didn’t work hard enough.
So when his profile was activated at midnight on his 16th birthday, he immediately started filling out the additional details, correcting his somewhat childish answers from two years ago, and updated his picture and physical details.
When he was finished, a green window started blinking at the bottom of the screen. ‘Check compatibility’ it said.
He tapped his fingers nervously, a name floating to the forefront of his mind. The name of a person he couldn’t get out of his head recently. His future boss, the Head of the Science Department, Colin Denham. He had helped him with his graduation, well he had basically made it possible, and he was so interesting, and smart and amazing. And, David just wanted to know, because he was curious, and Colin had told him that curiosity is one of the most important traits for a scientist.
He typed Colin’s name and took a deep breath before hitting enter.
The calculation took mere seconds, before the screen changed into a disgusting red.
Everything below seventy was not considered a match.
No, it was wrong, it had to be wrong. With all the horribly outdated tech on the base, how could this stupid algorithm presume to tell him that his feelings were wrong? He just knew that Colin was … he was so nice to him, treated him like he was a real person and not just some kid. And during all the preparations for his internship he had been so cool and David felt like there was something else between them, like Colin maybe liked him, too?
So there was no way 52 % was the correct result. He restarted the dating application and tried again. And again.
David was still sulking at the breakfast table, when his mother sat next to him. “What is it, honey?”
He sighed. He couldn’t tell her the truth, he had to think of something, and fast. Who was the last person he dated that his mother knew about?
“Mhm, Maxamillian and I had a fight, and I think we broke up.”
They had actually stopped dating weeks ago, well, they had never even changed their relationship statuses, as they didn’t officially date, but his mother didn’t know that.
She frowned. “Aw, I’m sorry. Who, hm, who was he again?”
“He’s interning for the Culture Department. I told you about him.”
Suddenly his mother’s expression changed from a pitying look to a haughty silence. “Well, then it’s good that you don’t see him anymore. You know I don’t like him and this whole obsession with Earth culture. It’s inappropriate!”
David rolled his eyes. Avoiding his actual problem had turned out to be easier than he’d expected. Now that she was retroactively mad, she would at least stop bothering him. He quickly ate the rest of his breakfast and got ready for his last month of school.