Benny hopped off the spaceship one stop after he got on, making useless all my effort to manuever the ship around the planets keeping him out of the paths of intersteller traffic. The signs of trouble surfaced at the boy’s pod, when his mom came out and asked the ship to wait — holding up her index finger in the universal sign for “wait one minute.”

She went back inside to holler at Benny to hurry. She returned the garbage-strewn curb of her pod to speak with me. She said Benny is seriously troubled and she apologized for his behavior. I told her I appreciated that. She told me he was looking around for a math book he needed at the academy.

Pale, skinny Benny boarded the ship, his protective suit falling down either in youthful rebellion or lack of body mass. He was especially restless and did not fasten traveling gear. At the next stop when Other Boy got on, Benny scrambled up to the air lock and hopped out. I was glad, because I didn’t like all of his crazy energy on my ship while I’m trying to navigate the universe.

Velma, my lieutenant, said Benny was not running around at the back of his pod looking for equipment to bring to the academy. He was unlocking the alternative exit so he could get re-enter after exiting my ship, she theorized. He needed to board my ship so his mother would think he was attending the academy.

“Velma,” I said, “You know how they think.”

“I certainly do,” she said.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Benny. He left his papers on the ship one day and I saw he was studying algebra: multiplying polynomials. Somebody thinks Benny is smart enough to solve these puzzles. Yet, a smart boy like that hates his place in the academy.

Another thing about Benny stuck in my mind. He often got himself in trouble playing court jester to a bigger boy, like maybe he wanted protection from a bully.