For Michael Dubane, the tiny room that made up the totality of his private space in the entire universe was a comfort. For some, it might have been a source of distress, but Michael had come to view it as a cocoon; confined but concise, drawing strength from its limitations, much like highly formal poetry. Even, he sometimes thought, as he lay with a sheet wrapped around his otherwise nude body, his little room was almost womb-like. A place of retreat for his soul to be nurtured in silence, and amongst the earthy smell and feel of his wonderful books.

The scariest thing for him about their pending arrival at the colony was the thought of giving up the personal space that had come to be so important in his life, not just aboard the Hi'iaka, but in his previous life as well, where he maintained a solitary existence in a tiny downtown apartment. In fact, so profound was this fear that for a year or more it had manifested in a recurring nightmare: The sky was red, the ground, yellow sand; as far as the eye could possibly see, in all directions, nothing but red sky and yellow sand. The meaning of the color was obvious enough; it was the vastness, the uninterrupted magnitude of the scene, that piqued his anxiety.

Normally at this point in the dream he would awaken in a cold sweat and a state of agitated fear at the horror to which he has condemned himself.

But this time, this night, this instance of the recurring dream, as he turned in a full circle to look at the red and yellow horizon, he saw that there was a person with him. A child. And then he saw another, and another, they seemed to be appearing out of nothing until there were several, a whole brood of children around him in the yellow desert. The children did not look frightened, nor unprepared and overwhelmed--the usual reactions he felt in this dream. No; they looked hopeful, confident, expectant.

He awoke from the dream this time with a smile on his face, and in need of a drink of water. He pulled on his pajama bottoms and hurried out into the common room. The room was dark, but a glow from the television illuminated the silhouette of a person sitting at the couch. He heard the voice of a young girl quietly whisper,

"Hi, Mike."

"Maggie?" he said. "What are you doing up?"

The TV was playing a cartoon, with the sound very low. "I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep," she said.

"You should try to get to sleep, sweetheart," he gently whispered.

"I know. But I can't." In the glow of the TV, he could see her look up at him. "Can you tell me a story? That's what my dad always did, when I couldn't sleep."

Well, he couldn't rightly turn her down, not after that explanation. So he walked over and sat down on the couch next to her, her round cheeks glowing in yellows and blues from the light of the television, and reminding him of her mother's face. She snuggled up against his bare chest.

"What kind of story?" he asked her.

"I don't know," she said, very quietly, almost a whisper. "Maybe about a princess?"

He liked the way it felt to have the girl press her face to his chest, the softness of her cheek against his skin, the humid warmth of her breath. He picked up the remote and turned the television off, and the room was completely dark. She reached her hand across him and laid it on his opposite side in a little hug, her arm across his belly and her hand on his lower ribs.

"Once upon a time there was a princess," he began. "What's your favorite animal?"

"My favorite animal?" she repeated softly.

"Yes," he answered. "The princess needs to have an animal with her, don't you think?"

"Um..." she said in almost a sigh, "I guess, a wolf."

"Okay. The princess had a wolf as her companion, a big wolf, dark and fierce and beautiful, and together they would walk in the woods and play games."

The girl's breathing had become soft and regular.

"One day when they were out playing, they came upon a group of bandits who were counting the gold that they had stolen from travelers the day before.

"'Ho ho!' one of the bandits said, 'what have we here? A little girl!' Because you see, they couldn't see the wolf in the trees.

"'Not just a girl,' another bandit said. 'She's a princess! We can kidnap her and hold her for ransom from her father, the king!' All the bandits agreed with this plan, but the princess would have nothing to do with this and unsheathed her bow and an arrow. Did I mention she had a bow and arrow?"

"N..." Maggie's little voice answered, barely more than the sound of her breath.

"Oh, sorry, I guess I'm not a great story teller. So yeah, she had a bow and arrow and was skilled at archery, having been taught by the finest bowmen in her father's army. The bandits laughed, they were drunk, and didn't think the girl would ever shoot them, until they heard the ring of her bowstring and an arrow struck a bandit between the eyes and killed him. Is this too violent? I'm sorry, maybe I should tell a different story."

Maggie made no response, just lay with her head to his chest and her arm across his belly, her breath measured and deeper now. Michael knew that she had fallen asleep, and he wondered briefly if he should awaken her and take her back to her own bed. But he didn't want to disturb her, she seemed like a sleeping angel against him. And so he sat there quietly, enjoying their closeness, until he himself faded off to sleep.

He was awaken several hours later by a soft voice saying, "Maggie, Maggie dear." He opened his eyes as the girl stirred against his chest, and he blinked, forcing his eyes to fully absorb what light was available in the dull morning dimness of the room, the ambient lighting programmed to mimic the arrival of dawn. The girl's mother helped the child to her feet, and Micheal stood himself as well.

"I..." He stammered, shaking his head briefly to clear the sleep from his brain and having difficulty forming a coherent thought. "I was just going to get a glass of water, and..."

"Shhhh..." Robin said, then gently put her arm around her daughter and escorted her into the family's berth. When she returned, she went directly to the kitchenette and began a pot of coffee brewing, then brought two fresh cups with her to the couch. She sat down next to Michael.

"She wanted a story," he began an explanation. "She was watching TV when I got up to get some water, and..."

"Maggie hasn't been sleeping well since her father died," Robin said. "I was glad to see her sleeping so peacefully."

Michael nodded, and Robin smiled at him. "I really didn't want to disturb her, or you, but I figured it wouldn't be so good if someone else found you. They might wonder. It was a little, well, intimate..."

By now, a couple sips of coffee in his system, his brain was finally working and he understood what she meant. "I was just..." He stammered, suddenly aware that, quite unintentionally, he might have hurt his chances for courting the girl's mother. "I just started telling her a story, and she fell asleep almost immediately. I wasn't sure what to do, and I guess before I figured that out, I just fell asleep, too."

"It's very sweet, how comfortable she is with you. How much she likes you."

He nodded, glad that the woman seemed to recognize that his motives were innocent.

"I think I told you how close she was to Jordon..." she continued.

"Right," he said, "her father."

"I think that ever since he died, she's been searching for someone to replace him. I haven't helped much, since I've been distracted with this whole mission thing."

He nodded his understanding.

"But it seems she's found the man that she's been looking for. At least she thinks she has."

He nodded again.

"I know that's unfair to you. Way too much pressure to put on a man who just met us a couple of days ago. But that's what she's like, I guess. She's a very passionate girl. I'll tell her to give you more space."

"No, no need to do that. I'm glad that she likes me."

Robin smiled sweetly, but pensively. "I'm worried that she sets her expectations too high."

Though his brain was still sleep-clouded, Michael was a bit taken aback by this comment. Did she mean that she didn't think him capable of performing this role for the girl? Lacking any appropriate reply, he said nothing. Robin seemed to understand his concern.

"That maybe sounded wrong," she said. "I don't mean that I think you'll disappoint her, just that... well, we've only just met, and it's too much pressure to put on you, so early in our relationship." Then she added quickly, "I mean, in our friendship."

He smiled at her this time. Her mention of their "relationship" had caused a certain unexpected stirring in his heart, a feeling that he had not experienced in many years. "Well," he managed to say, "I promise not to let her down. Or you, either."

This brought a genuine, squinty-eyed, cheek-flushed smile to her face. "Now," she said with the authority of someone who was changing the subject of the conversation, "I was thinking of going for an early morning swim in that pool you showed me yesterday. I could use some company."

It was a small pool, too small to effectively swim laps, but they did their best, Michael at his usual slow and prodding rate, Robin at a brisk speed that indicated that she probably swam competitively when she was younger. After, they sat together at the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the water. Although she was wearing an athlete's suit, he nonetheless couldn't help admiring the woman's fine physique. Strong and sleek, thin but well-proportioned. This was the second time his heart stirred that morning, somewhat less unexpectedly this time. But when he felt another stirring, beneath his swimming trunks, that was more surprising, and also more apparent through the tight fabric of his suit, which left little to the imagination. He slipped back into the water, in the hopes of concealing it and also making it go away. But Robin, apparently, had already noticed or at least could guess why he'd gone back in the pool. With a giggle, she lifted her foot and splashed water in his direction. He responded by splashing back at her, which brought her into the poll as well, and the two of them played chase for several minutes more before she finally climbed out again, breathless and smiling broadly. Michael hesitated to join her at first, since the game had done the opposite of what he had hoped more time in the pool would do, and his unwanted animalistic excitement would surely now be perfectly visible.

"I better get back to the kids," Robin said. "They'll be up soon, if they're not already. Maybe we can swing by the cafeteria and grab them some breakfast on the way back?"

"Sure," he said, resigned now to his fate and pulling himself out of the pool. He moved as quickly as he could to the changing room, but he could see from the gleam in her pretty eyes that she'd most certainly noticed.





Several hours later, he was sitting on the couch with his tablet open to a book, trying to concentrate on the dry text and not altogether disappointed to find the video game that Jake and Charlie were playing to be a distraction. Maggie walked into the room and sat down on the couch next to him. A respectable distance away from him, he noticed. He also noticed that she didn't say anything to him. She balanced a sketch pad on her knees and began drawing.

"What're you drawing, Maggie?" he asked her after a couple of minutes.

"Nothing. Just stuff."

"Oh, okay." When she didn't follow up with a further reply, he offered, "I'm reading a very boring book about macroeconomics."

"Macroeconomics?" she said. "What's that?"

"It's about how to run the economy of a country, or the whole world."

"Oh."

"It probably wouldn't make a great book for me to read to you."

"No," she said. "That's okay, though." She looked at him with a slightly sad expression. "Mom says I should maybe give you a little more space."

"Oh? What does that mean?"

"I don't know."

"I think she means that she's worried I might feel obligated to do stuff like read to you and tell you stories, rather than just doing it because I want to."

"Yeah," Maggie said.

"So if I tell you that I want to read you a book right now, not because I feel obligated, but just because I want to, then that's okay, isn't it?"

She bit her upper lip, the whites of her lower teeth showing. Then she grinned conspiratorially. "Yeah! Mom can't complain about that!"

"No, she can't. But first, let me see what you're drawing!"

Maggie turned her drawing tablet to show him her sketch, a nicely executed dragon sitting on a pile of treasure.

"Oh, cool," Michael said, taking the drawing from her hands to investigate closer. "This is good! It looks sort of like Smaug."

"Smaug?"

"Yeah, you know, the dragon in the The Hobbit." When she responded to this with a blank stare, he said, "Don't tell me you've never read The Hobbit!"

She shook her head, no. "I think I saw the movie once, but it seemed kinda dumb."

"Oh, the book is way better than the movie! I know we have a couple chapters left from the book we've been reading, but..." He stood up and dashed to his room to retrieve a copy of The Hobbit.

Maggie snuggled up to him again when he returned, with her sketchbook on her lap, and he began to read to her. When Robin came by a few minutes later, Maggie declared defensively that "It's okay, Mom, Michael said he wanted to read to me. I didn't ask him or anything."

This brought a smile from her mother, and she sat down next to Maggie. "The Hobbit, huh?" she said, looking at the scene from the story that her daughter was sketching while Michael read.

"Yes," Michael said. "I consider it almost parental abuse that Maggie has gotten this far in life without having read it."

Robin laughed. "Yeah. I guess it wasn't our thing."

They spent the better part of the day reading the story, with Maggie sketching, then taking a turn reading out loud herself, and Charlie joining them for much of it as well. But the kids did spend some more time exploring the ship, while the grown-ups shared a bottle of wine on the observation deck--he'd finally managed to convince Robin to join him there, since Earth was barely recognizable now--and talked about what the future looked like, four months away at the colony.

"It's hard to imagine, isn't it?" Robin said. "Only four hundred people, and no supplies or anything from Earth for another year."

"It's hard to even conceive."

"It's nice to have a friend, though," she said. "It makes it seem like less lonely of a prospect."

"I agree," Michael agreed, his heart going a little light.

They both stared out at the stars in silence for a moment. Three days since the launch, Earth was still visible behind the ship, though now only an undifferentiated bluish ball, and mostly obscured by the light of the Sun. But Robin preferred not to look at it anyway, so they'd spread a blanket on the floor in front of the starside windows instead. Because the only other people in the observation deck that afternoon were at the back windows, looking out at the disappearing Earth, they were relatively alone.

"To friendship," he said, holding up his glass in a toast.

She smiled and licked her lips. This motion, this small and delicate movement of her tongue, suddenly made him want to kiss her again. He regretted his inaction the night before, when he wanted to kiss her goodnight and she seemed to want the same, so he steeled himself, determined not to make the same mistake a second time.

"This is good wine," she said nervously, like she could read his intentions. She probably could. He wasn't good at this courting game, and tended to wear his emotions on his sleeve in any case.

"It is," he said, as he moved closer to her. She took another drink of the wine, a big nervous gulp this time, but by the time she'd swallowed it down, he was already pressing his lips against hers. They quickly broke the kiss, but neither moved away; they both just breathed excitedly with their mouths no more than an inch apart.

"I... I..." she managed to stammered, before he stopped her stammering with another kiss. This time their lips were together much longer, and their tongues ventured out in a small but intimate greeting.

"I'm sorry," he said, when he pulled his head away again. "Is it too soon? It just seemed right."

"No!" she said in a breathless whisper. "It's not too soon!"

They immediately went back to kissing again.

They didn't realize until too late that they had acquired an impromptu audience. Maggie made her and her brother's presence known to the adults with a polite clearing of her throat.

"Oh!" Robin said, pulling away and looking up at her children. "Oh! Hi!"

Charlie looked a bit confused, and maybe a little disgusted. But Maggie had a great big smile on her face.





"I told you," Maggie said to Michael with that same big smile on her face as they walked back to their pod, Robin walking ahead of them a few steps with Charlie by her side, explaining to him that it's okay for Mommy to have a boyfriend, it doesn't mean she loves Daddy any less. Charlie seemed mostly bored with the conversation.

"Told me what?" Michael said back to Maggie.

"That you and Mom are gonna get married."

"You're silly. It was just a kiss."

She smiled some more. "But you like her, don't you?"

"Well, yeah, she's very nice."

"And pretty."

"Yes," Michael agreed. "She's very pretty. In fact, she looks a lot like you."

This caused Maggie's face to flush a bit, but then she smiled broadly back up at him, and, in a moment of spontaneity, reached over and took his hand. "Will you like having me as your daughter?"

He smiled and shook his head a little. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Maggie. But if it were to come to that, I suppose I could tolerate it."

She grinned, big dimples forming in her little chubby cheeks. "You're teasing me!"

"I am," he said. "The truth is, I'd be extremely proud to have you as my daughter."

He could feel her fingers tighten against his. "I would be really happy to have you as my daddy."

He could see Robin looking back at them, taking specific note of the fact that Maggie and he were holding hands. "Understand, Maggie, we're still a long ways from that."

"I know. But I just want you to know that it'll make me happy."

It was the third time that day that his heart stirred.





After a late dinner that night, Robin insisted that the children get ready for bed before any further story-reading. "Okay," Maggie agreed, "but only if Mike reads to us in bed!"

This brought an admonishing shake of her mother's head, but a smile, too. Michael quickly and emphatically assented to the idea. He wanted to read more of The Hobbit himself.

Maggie was wearing a nightgown, pink with Disney princesses; Charlie, Superman pajamas. The girl insisted that Michael sit with her, in her tiny bed, and the boy climbed onto his own bed nearby, and Michael began reading The Hobbit again. Maggie snuggled up tight to him, her head on his chest just below his shoulder, his arm around her to hold the book. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but when Robin left the room, Maggie immediately set her little hand across Michael's chest as well, just below his pectoral muscle, her breath becoming a slow, deep, steady beat.

As Michael read, Maggie's little fingers began moving absentmindedly over the muscle of his chest, nothing more than a tender little innocent touch, a young girl getting close to the man she felt would soon be her father. Several times, as she lay quietly exploring his chest and listening to him read, her fingers passed over his nipple, which stiffened to the touch. He was surprised, shocked even, at the electric feeling her small fingers imparted on his nipple. And even more surprised, and definitely shocked, by the sudden swelling between his legs. He stuttered, losing his place on the page, closed his eyes to try to clear the reptilian parts of his brain of whatever evil thoughts they'd unwittingly conceived.

His body's physical reaction to the young girl's touch concerned him greatly, but he couldn't bring himself to tell her to stop. That seemed wrong; it's not her fault, and most certainly not her intention, that his body was reacting this way. She was just being close--intimately close, to be sure, but innocently so as well--to the man she presumed to be her future father, and he didn't want to discourage her or make her think that there was anything wrong, or especially anything sexual, about her desire for closeness to him.

And so, briefly shaking his head before opening his eyes again, he located his place in the book and simply tried to concentrate on the story and to force his body to temper its ridiculous reaction.

A half an hour later, her fingers now resting directly on his nipple, she had fallen asleep, her deep measured breath giving his own heart and lungs a hypnotic calming. He saw Robin sitting in a chair across the room--When had she come in? How long had she been watching them?--looking over the top of a book she was reading, or at least pretending to read, her eyes smiling at him.

"I think the kids are asleep," he whispered to her.

The woman nodded, then put down her book and walked over to Maggie's bed. She gently removed the girl's hand from his chest and kissed her on the top of her head. The girl briefly opened her eyes and mumbled something, then rolled over to her side, and Michael quietly slipped from her bed.

As Robin moved to Charlie's bed, to give him a goodnight kiss as well, Michael whispered "Goodnight Maggie" to the girl.

"Goodnight Daddy," she sighed, without even opening her eyes.

Robin turned to him then. "I think you and I have a bottle of wine to finish."

He smiled at her. "I think so."





The wine was largely forgotten. The bottle stood, a quarter full, two glasses beside it, on the little fold-out table in Michael's berth. The new lovers sat together on the bed, Michael's heart pounding when he put his arm around Robin's back, when she smiled up at him.

"Maggie has such a crush on you!" she said, with a happy teasing grin.

"You're crazy!"

"Oh com'on, you must have noticed." She leaned into him and gave him little kiss. "And I don't blame her. You're crush-worthy."

He kissed her back. "I'm sure she just sees me as a father figure."

"Yeah..." Another little kiss... "...and a girl's first crush is always her daddy, you know."

"It is?" His arm wrapped around her, pulling her into him. Their faces were together, her breath warm and sweet. In a moment of unaccustomed bravery, his hand moved to her breast.

She just smiled, and kissed him. "I suppose Maggie was too young when Jordon died. She adored him, but that's not quite the same thing. I hope it doesn't bother you?"

"Bother me?"

"Yeah, you know, when she calls you 'Daddy'...'"

"No..."

"...When she touches you like..."

"No, it doesn't bother me," he said quickly, interrupting her, not wanting to hear what she thought Maggie's touches were like. He couldn't help remembering how his body had responded to the girl's soft caress.

"Good." She kissed him. "And you know, Maggie's not the only one with a big crush on you." Her hand was on his leg, his thigh, moving up, while his hand gently massaged her breast.

"Oh?" he responded, the word lost as their lips joined again and her fingers found their mark, sliding along the warm thickness inside his pants.

"Daddy has a nice big cock," she whispered with a teasing grin.

"Oh..." he responded again, this time a long low groan.

Robin smiled and slid off the bed, kneeling in front of him, tugging impatiently at his pants. He helped her, quickly and fumblingly unfastening his belt.

A moment later, his pants were at his ankles and his cockhead was in her mouth.

"Jesus," she said, pulling off after a few little sucks. "I haven't tasted cock in years. I've forgotten what it's like to have a man in my mouth."

Michael would have responded that he'd forgotten what it was like to have his cock in a woman's mouth, if he could have spoken at all right then. Whatever small possibility there was that he might have responded was lost to another groan as she dove back down, engulfing his head entirely in her mouth, and bringing a hand up to stroke his balls.

Two minutes later, one hand wrapped around his shaft, the other cradling his balls, she pulled off again and looked up at him.

"What a beautiful cock you have, Mr. Dubane." She leaned in and licked him, base to tip, still staring up at him.

"Oh God," he whispered shakingly.

She grinned some more, and licked some more, then took him back in her mouth, sliding her head forward until she was half-way down his shaft, his glans burrowing into her throat.

"Oh shit..." He stammered, "...you're so good, Robin, you're so good at giving head!"

She pulled off, leaning back cheek-flushed and staring at his cock as it pointed right at her face. "Thanks," she said. "I had a good teacher, when I was young."

"Really?"

She looked up at him and nodded.

"It's important for a girl to have a good teacher," he said, wanting to know more, but unsure that he should ask.

She smiled. "It is. And lots of practice. That's what he told me, anyway."

Michael nodded. "Lots and lots of practice."

She had a big dimple-cheeked grin. "I'll practice lots and lots, I promise. But right now..." She stood, and he put his hands on her hips, pulling her into him.

And thus did the conversation end. The next words that were spoken, a minute or two later, their clothing piled together on the small patch of floor to the side of Michael's bed, the man on top of the woman, his cock sunk deep into her luxurious wetness, were a hoarse, whispered "Oh, Daddy!" as the forgotten wine glasses begin to slosh.

Michael hadn't been with a woman in, God, it must have been three or four years by now. He'd forgotten the wonderful feeling of a lady's velvety insides. He'd forgotten the comforting warmth, the welcoming wetness, the intoxicating aroma. But thankfully, he hadn't forgotten how to set a measured pace, and as their bodies intertwined, he made sweet love to her. Eventually, mindlessly lost in the joy of their passion, he finished inside her.

They lay naked together after, the forgotten wine now enjoyed.

"I'm not on the pill or anything," Robin said.

Michael nodded, feeling guilty. "Sorry, I was just..."

"Oh, I understand," she said. "I wouldn't have let you stop if you'd tried."

"I'll get some condoms at the commissary tomorrow."

"You really don't have to. Jordon and I had a lot of trouble getting pregnant, and it wasn't because he was firing blanks."

"Oh..."

"I'm sorry I'm always talking about him, even now."

"It's okay, I understand."

"And I'm sorry, I know it's stupid, to have an infertile woman on this mission. I'll understand if you want to find someone else."

"I don't want to find someone else," he said. "We'll just have to try really hard. Several times a day."

They both laughed. "I like the sound of that!" She reached her hand down to his cock, which began swelling again to her touch. "Hopefully Maggie didn't inherit her mother's fertility problems," she said, stroking him to fullness.

"Right, we can find her a nice man at the colony in a few years, and..."

"I think she's already found the man she wants." She grinned as she said this, then rolled over onto her belly and lifted her ass in the air.

"You're crazy!" he said, kneeling behind her.

She moaned into the pillows as he entered her. "Oh, Daddy!" she said. "Oh, Daddy, fuck me! Fuck me hard!"

Michael couldn't help noticing that her voice sounded remarkably like Maggie's right then, and while he'd never admit it to himself, the thought brought forth a sudden surge of endorphins, and he grabbed the woman's hips and began slamming in and out, with a vigor he hadn't experienced in many years.


For the next chapter in this story, see The Voyage of a Lifetime, Chapter Three.


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