Daniel stood up and flexed his knees to test the light gravity. The ship would be accelerating or decelerating for most of the trip so there would always be light gravity. Before Daniel could walk over to the porthole, a hatch opened to admit Peter and Zareda.
"We're on the way!" Peter shouted. "I call first out on the moon!" he stepped to the porthole to put his arm around Sarah's shoulders. "You can be second," he assured her.
Sarah stiffened a bit and looked back over her shoulder to see Zareda's reaction; Zareda was ignoring it.
Daniel felt an urge to slap the young man on the back of the head. It had been obvious from the beginning that Sarah was interested in Zareda and that Peter was interested in Sarah. Daniel also suspected that Zareda was interested in Sarah but didn't know what to do about it. The whole thing had the potential to turn ugly. Since they were all stuck together for at least the next two years, that could mean "very ugly".
Daniel was wondering if he should do anything about it. Of course he shouldn't. He should just stay out. It was really none of his business. The young people didn't need an old man meddling in their romantic affairs.
Daniel cornered Zareda the first moment he could get him alone and asked pointedly, "Hey, Zareda, why don't you like Sarah?"
Zareda was understandably startled at the question since Daniel had said that he wanted to talk about defense tactics.
"Why would you say that?" Zareda asked. "I like Sarah."
"Well, you act like she has leprosy or something."
"I treat her just like I treat everyone else." Zareda said mildly.
"Yes, and when a girl flirts with you and you continue to treat her like you treat everyone else, it counts as a rejection."
"She was flirting with me?"
Daniel felt the urge to slap Zareda on the back of the head again. "She's trying, you idiot, but she's getting no response."
Zareda stared at him for a long moment. "How do I know when she is flirting with me?"
"Well, she's not going to do it any more." Daniel told him sternly. "You've rejected her enough that I'm sure she's given up by now."
"Can ..." Zareda paused. "Can I do anything to ..."
"To get her to flirt with you again?"
Zareda looked away, embarrassed.
"No." Daniel answered firmly. "It's too late. She took her best shot and you rejected her." It was hard to read Zareda, but Daniel thought the young man looked suitably depressed.
Daniel paused for a moment to let his words sink in before continuing. "No, you can't do it the easy way now. If you have any romantic interest in Sarah, you're going to have to do it the hard way." Yes, there was a spark of interest, quickly covered up.
"What makes you think I have any romantic interest in Sarah?"
"Well, because you are a young male and she's a young female. A very attractive one too. Her I mean. Not you."
"But would it really be a good idea to have romantic entanglements on the mission?"
"Probably not. You two aren't going to be at your peak performance with hormones raging. But we have two months aboard ship. If you get started now, maybe you can get the hormones under control by the time we get to Moon 3."
"But wouldn't it be better to wait till after the mission?
"Look, Zareda. Sarah made an effort to get your attention and you shot her down. For some women, that might be no big deal, but Sarah is a bit shy, she really put herself on the line by taking the initiative, and I think your lack of response hurt her feelings..."
"I didn't mean to ..."
"Yes, yes, you were just dumb, and if you work quickly, you may be able to overcome that bad start. But if you continue to ignore her for the next two years, you can kiss any hope of a relationship goodbye. Also, I think Peter is going to be a problem."
"Peter can be a dick sometimes." Zareda offered quietly.
Ah, hah! So Zareda had noticed that Peter was flirting with Sarah and that Sarah didn't seem to appreciate it.
"Well," Daniel said reasonably, "If you and Sarah became an item, then Peter would have to lay off. I would appreciate that, because then I won't have to confront Peter."
"OK," Zareda said, "I'll ... I'll ... I don't know what to do."
Daniel suppressed a sigh. "You've never had a girlfriend?"
Zareda started to lie, Daniel could see it in his eyes, but then he lowered his eyes and shook his head. "No. It's not that I haven't wanted to, but ... the whole process always seemed very mysterious to me. How do you tell a girl that ..."
"Well, you are in luck." Daniel told him. "I was older than you before I had my first girlfriend and I'm going to give you some advice. You are an introvert like I used to be. You have two major handicaps in social situations: first, you are too self-conscious. You have to think about everything you say or do, wondering if it was the right or wrong thing. That's bad. Don't do that.
"Second, your analytical approach to socializing is compounded by the fact that you really aren't very interested in having a social life, so you don't analyze it. You never do anything without analyzing it first, and you have never bothered to analyze social interactions. That leaves you helpless because you have neither social instincts nor social knowledge. and your lack of interest prevents you from ever developing either.
"Basically, you are a moron. Socially of course. Intellectually, you are a genius, but in social situations you are underdeveloped. Culturally handicapped. In short, you are socially retarded."
Zareda grinned and Daniel smiled back, "You know, that's the first time I've ever seen you smile?"
"No," Zareda said, "I smile all the time."
"You never smile." Daniel said firmly, "And that's part of your problem socially. Let's see your polite smile."
Zareda remained stone-faced.
"Are you smiling?" Daniel asked.
"Of course. Can't you tell?"
"No, I can't. You need to practice your smile in a mirror."
"I can't do that." Zareda protested, "I would feel stupid."
"Yes," Daniel said, "But you are stupid. Socially stupid. Or have you forgotten already?"
"If you are so self-conscious that you can't even do something like practice smiling in a mirror, just because it would be embarrassing if anyone knew about it, then you are a hopeless case and you may as well resign yourself to life as a hermit."
"Sometimes that doesn't sound so bad."
"I know," Daniel said seriously. "For people like us, socializing can be very hard. Painful even. But take my word for it. Once you make the effort to learn how to do it, you will find that it comes much easier, although it is never effortless. And it is very rewarding. Trust me."
"OK," Zareda said, "I'll give it a try."
"Your next assignment is to use your newly practiced smile while you strike up a pointless social conversation with Jackie."
"Jackie? Not Sarah?"
"Jackie. You need to learn to walk before you fly, boy. First learn to talk to women when there are no hormones adding to the stress. I did it by striking up conversations with waitresses, female barbers, and other women I encountered in non-social settings. I'm afraid that you won't have those opportunities, so we will have to make do."
Zareda stared at him for a moment. "Are you actually proposing to give me socialization lessons?"
"Well, " Daniel laughed, "More like tutoring than lessons. I just want you to know a few things: pay attention to social situations so that you have a better idea how to act, don't worry so much when you don't know how to act, and like any other skill, you have to practice social skills. If you take that advice seriously that's all you really need."
Zareda nodded. "I'll think about it."
Daniel nodded and started to leave but he turned back, "Oh, and for future reference --you won't need this for a while-- when you put your arm around Sarah, put it around her waist, not her shoulders. The shoulders are too awkward. Just slip your arm around her back and put your hand on her floating ribs on the other side. If she kind of melts into you, then you need to give her a little squeeze as a response."
"What if she doesn't melt into me?"
"Then you blew it." Daniel said. He opened the hatch and ducked out.