Layla Kosajh is a professor of Interplanetary Diplomacy at Starforce Institute, a training school for aspiring military officers. Graduation is quickly approaching for the current crop of seniors, and one in particular is occupying her thoughts. Jaret Thek has already distinguished himself as a top cadet with a bright future. Ever since he took Layla’s course in diplomatic history, the two of them have experienced a burning attraction in spite of their 20-Earth-year age difference.
Meanwhile, an interplanetary crisis is looming. Space brigands have been targeting nearby Earth colonies, and the Institute is preparing for war. Most of the graduating cadets, including Jaret, will be shipped out to fight, and Layla fears that graduation day will be the last time she sees Jaret, who has already been assigned a post on a warship. The two must resolve their feelings for one another before their last chance slips away forever.
She couldn’t allow herself to dream about him. The entire exercise was worse than pointless—it was madness. Soon he would graduate, take a position with a military vessel and she would most likely never see him again. Instead, she would return to her teaching duties and her research, thinking about sex only in terms of automated pleasure-giving devices and the leisure planets where she could get her physical needs attended to without strings.
For the rest of the workday, she busied herself in her office putting the finishing touches on her exams, reading the messages on her communication device and ordering a set of digital textbooks for the following term. Later, back at her quarters, she removed her white-and-silver instructor’s uniform and changed into a wispy, smock-type house garment. She had just programmed an evening’s worth of soft music and chosen her entertainment files when her door buzzed. She turned toward the one-way glass that made up her door.
Jaret stood there.
“Come in,” she said. She noticed that the jacket front of his uniform hung half-open, an odd breach of etiquette for a fastidious student like him and his cheeks looked a bit flushed. He was young, she reminded herself, so young. Though his people measured years differently than they did on Earth, he was still half her age. Yet, no matter how hard she tried to control it, each time he came near her, her desire returned in full force.
“I must be completely honest,” he blurted out, not meeting her gaze as he stepped into her room. “I did not distinguish myself at my review session this afternoon. I was of no help whatsoever to my study group. Eventually, I had to plead illness and excuse myself.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, surprised at his confiding such a personal matter to her. “Perhaps you’re just nervous. I’m sure it won’t matter in the end.”
“Perhaps not, yet I prefer to maintain a clear head at all times. Today I could not. I found the experience most disconcerting.”
“I wouldn’t dwell on it. Things like that happen to everyone.”
“Yet not everyone is as certain of the reason as I am.” He turned and gazed directly in her eyes, his expression so intense that it startled her. “I am not suffering from the ordinary anxieties surrounding exams.” He leaned closer. “I have felt for some time that an unresolved issue lies between us.”
“Yes. I’ve felt it, too,” she admitted, regretting her frankness the moment the words left her mouth. Hastily she tried to redirect the conversation. “You are a brilliant student, Jaret. I have no doubt you will be one of Starforce’s finest officers. What you’re experiencing right now is simply the effect of nerves.”
He shook his head. “Seeing you this afternoon brought back many feelings. I experienced them in your class last term as well. At the time, I remained unconcerned, as my desire to please you motivated me to excel in your course. Now the distraction is more problematic.”
He shifted a little, his thoughts apparently disturbing his usually perfect balance, his expression growing haggard. Layla glanced down and saw his uniform pants tent with the evidence of his desire. Her own nipples hardened in an immediate response. He noticed it too. His tongue darted out and circled his lips.
“I’m glad you brought this to my attention,” she said, feigning control over the situation. “My experience and training suggests that directly confronting a problem yields the best results. Perhaps that is what we should do in this case, as well.”
“Yes,” he said, his voice rasping. “I agree. Physical attraction…should be no cause for shame.”
Privately, she felt a thrill at his admission. She was careful not to betray her feelings, however. She had to maintain at least the semblance of professional restraint. “That’s true. We are all subject to normal biological imperatives, however intellectually driven our societies have become over the aeons. Living in an isolated mini-society like the Institute only amplifies those urges.”
His throat quivered. She stepped closer, lifting his hand and holding it between both her palms. What she was doing was nothing short of madness, she knew, but her body seemed to move without seeking permission from her mind. Slowly, she guided his outstretched fingers toward her left breast.
“Touch me,” she whispered.