The Right Genes

by Nigel Gordon

The sun was just starting to set when the two boys came out of their kissing embrace. Steve looked over Lee's shoulder and there, in the distant south, he could see the golden glow of a thread stretched high in the sky. He knew of course that it was the light of the setting sun reflecting off the cable of the American Federation Space Elevator; you could see it around this time whenever there was a clear sky, but somehow it always filled him with a sense of magic. This time, though, there was another feeling which went with that sense of magic: he wondered if he would ever be allowed up there.

Lee, sensing he no longer had Steve's undivided attention, rolled off him and put his arm around him, drawing the younger boy tight into him. "Worried about the morning?"

Steve nodded. Lee kissed him on his forehead, adding, "Look, there is nothing we can do about it. Our genes are what they are, we'll just have to accept that."

"Yeah," Steve replied, "there is nothing we can do about it, but can you cope with everybody knowing you're gay?"

"Christ, Steve, it's not like we are in the 2020s still, or even the 2030s. Everybody knows that being gay is not something you have any control over, it is all down to your genes."

"There are still some who think we are an abomination, Lee."

With this Lee had to agree. That view was still held by some, especially the Church of the Unified Prophets of Allah, which had quite a strong following in some parts of the American Confederation. Fortunately it had little or no influence in the area where they lived.

After the Jihadist wars of the early decades of the twenty-first century there had been a major disillusionment amongst the majority of followers of the Abrahamic religions. The finding of Koranic texts in the carbonised scrolls from the Villa of the Papyri had also been a blow to Islam. If these verses had been known in 79AD -- half a millennium before the Prophet -- how could the Prophet have received them from God?

The fundamentalists on all sides who still clung to their beliefs found that they had more in common with the believers of the other side than they did with people on their own. Ali ben Israel, as he was known (Peter Schmit being a bit too common for a new prophet), had preached the doctrine of Unification, that all the followers of the God of Abraham should unite in one movement. So it was that the Southern Baptists, Ultra-Orthodox Jews and radical Muslims found themselves united in a common cause, which appeared to be to upset everybody else as much as possible.

The work of Mitchell and Clay in the 2040s had really overturned a lot of ideas, for not only had they found the final evidence proving that homosexuality is passed down through the generations, they had also shown the evolutionary reason for its existence. Not that their views were new -- Bryan Magee had touched on the same ideas in the 1960s. What was new was that Mitchell and Clay had found positive proof of the evolutionary role of homosexuality.

"I know, Steve, but there is not much we can do about it. We are what we are," Lee responded, looking up through branches of the tree above.

"Yes, but what are we? We're lovers aren't we? So we're gay, that's it there is nothing we can do about that?"

"Do you want to do anything about it?" Lee asked, a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

"No, it's just…"

"It's just what?"

"Well at times I find myself thinking about girls."

"What do you mean, 'thinking about girls'?"

"Well, you know, sometimes I think about girls, like I think about what we do."

"I don't know, I never think about girls that way, just boys."

"Oh shit! That probably means I'm not gay."

Lee stood and held out a hand to Steve. "Come on, we need to get back for tea. You know the old lady will be upset if we're late again." Steve took Lee's hand and allowed himself to be pulled up. The two of them started to walk down the hill back towards town.

They walked in silence for a bit, Lee placing his arm across Steve's shoulders, Steve responded by putting his arm around Lee's waist. "Steve, this test tomorrow has seriously got you worried hasn't it?"

"Yeah, I don't know why they have to do it. All of us were genetically scanned at birth, so they know what our gene maps are. They should know if we are gay or not."

"Remember what Miss Simmonds told us in Social Biology last year, when we did the module on genetic testing?"

"I didn't take that much notice of it, it did not seem important at the time, as we knew it was not in the exams. It was being taught too close to the end of term."

"You should have done, Steve; it was important." Lee paused to see if Steve would have any comment on the rebuke.

"I suppose I should have, you'll have to recap it for me."

"I'll try to, but I'm not Miss Simmonds. I can't explain it like she did."

"I should hope you're not. Don't fancy being in love with Miss Simmonds, even her girlfriend avoids her."

"Steve, that's not very nice." Despite that, Lee had to smile at the idea. "Anyway to summarise the lesson, we all have a unique set of genes. If we have a certain set of variants, especially the GIG on the X chromosome…"

"What's the GIG?" Steve asked.

"Didn't you listen to any of the lesson? It's the Gay Indicator Gene. You have to have that gene variant in place to be gay. Without it there is no way you can be gay. With it you might be.

"The GIG is only an indicator that you may be gay. You also need to have a number of specific gene variants in your DNA. That is still not the end of things, though. Even if you have all the gay gene variants -- and very few people have them all -- you still might not be gay. You also have to have the correct epigenetic characteristics to be gay."

"Epigenetics... aren't they the switches on the genes?"

"Well, it seems you listened to something! Yes, they are like a set of switches on each gene, which tell the gene if it is switched on or off, and if it is switched on which mode it is operating in. They are an important factor in the operation of the genes.

"Your gene set is determined at the moment of conception; you either have a certain set of genes or you don't. However, the epigenetics can be, and are, influenced by environmental factors. For instance, if your mother experienced famine during the early stages of her pregnancy that might result in some changes to the epigenetics of the baby."

"Come on Lee, how likely is that?"

"Actually, if you had been paying attention to Miss Simmonds you would have known it was a famine, the Dutch Hunger Winter, that gave rise to the first set of results that indicated the existence of epigenetics. A large proportion of the children who had been in the womb during that period showed the same set of characteristics in a way that appeared to be genetic, but which researchers knew could not be. After the structure of DNA was worked out and then DNA Fingerprinting came in it became clear that there was something else at play. A major area of research was studies of identical twins, who have identical genes but can still have different outcomes with respect to factors that are considered to be genetic.

"Why does one twin go down with a hereditary disease whilst the other, who has the same set of genes, doesn't? Actually, that was something that puzzled the medical profession right up till the 2050s. The fact that one twin in a pair of identical twins could go down with a medical condition whilst the other didn't was regarded as proof that the condition could not be hereditary. It was only when they started to fully understand how epigenetics work that they realised that a lot of conditions that they thought weren't hereditary in fact were."

"So, Lee, what you are saying is that we may have the genes to be gay... but unless the right switches are turned on, we won't be gay."

The two boys got to the bottom of the hill and climbed over the fence onto the tramway. Steve pulled out his communicator, looked around for a station pole and spotted one about twenty meters down the line. They walked along to the pole and scanned its identifier into the communicator, then entered their destination code. A message appeared saying that a carrier unit would be with them within ten minutes.

"Steve, it is a bit more complicated than that but you have the gist of it. When they tested your genes at birth they would have identified the potential, now they want to find out what has actually developed."

"So they'll find out about us in the morning, and tell us if we can to go into one of the designated professions for gays?"

Lee dropped his head in despair, wondering exactly what Steve had been doing in Social Biology classes.

Steve continued, "What I can't understand is that, if they can tell that we have the potential to be gay at birth, why didn't the Unifiers wipe us out when they had control of the old United States in the 2040s?"

Lee looked at Steve with a sense of bemusement. Then he remembered that Steve was not doing modern history. "They tried but hit a problem." "When? What problem?"

"In 2041, just after they seized power, they brought in the compulsory genetic testing, but they got a shock …"

Just then they heard the hum of the approaching carrier. Lee was disappointed to note that it was a multi-occupancy unit. "Look Steve, we can't discuss this on the carrier; let's go to my place, we can talk about it there."

"OK, Lee, but can we do more than talk?"

"Maybe." Lee responded, jumping onto the carrier and pulling Steve on with him.

The vehicle accelerated away from the stop. Lee looked around and saw that it was a ten person unit. There were six on board already, including himself and Steve, so he guessed there would probably be two or three more pickups. The trip into town took just over fifteen minutes, then it was a ten-minute walk from the drop off point to Lee's house.

Unsurprisingly, Lee's mother was not at home when they got there. The auto-concierge let them in, Steve's profile having been entered long ago, and informed them that there was a message for Lee. They went through to the family room and Lee pinged the information centre. "Hi Lee," his mother's voice announced, "I've gone over to your Aunt June's for an afternoon with the girls. I don't know when I will be back. No doubt you will have Steve with you so I have programmed the fridge to stock up on some pizzas for you."

"Fucking pizza, why does she always leave us pizza?"

"Probably because she thinks it is what we want, Lee."

"Well, I don't like pizza and I have told her that enough times."

"Yes, Lee, but you're not a normal sixteen-year-old."

"No I'm not, I'm seventeen, I suppose you are?"

"Yes, I'm sixteen and I love pizza!"

"OK, you can have mine later. How about we go down to my room and continue where we left off before the carrier unit arrived?"

Steve followed Lee down the stairs to the lower levels of the house. He had always envied Lee in having parents rich enough to afford a house with an above-ground presence. Steve lived in an apartment in a multi-level underground complex closer to the centre of town, where only commercial buildings were above ground level.

Being close to the surface, as it was, Lee's room was illuminated by light pipes that channelled light falling on the roof of the house down to the lower rooms. Steve was aware that the simlight found in most homes was, as its name suggested, an accurate simulation of the wavelengths and tones found in natural light, but there was something different about sunlight, even when it was piped twenty feet down.

One problem with being underground, even if it was only one level, was the ambient temperature. At this depth the surrounding substrate was at a constant five to ten degrees Celsius and any unoccupied room quickly dropped to that temperature. As they entered Lee's room he commanded the house manager to raise the temperature to twenty degrees.

"Sorry, Lee, that option is not currently available. Your mother put the residence into energy saving mode before she left. I do not have sufficient energy capacity to raise your habitation area to twenty degrees; the maximum I can do seventeen degrees.

"I have logged your arrival and notified your mother that you are back in the residence."

"Thanks," Lee responded, quietly cursing his mother. At least she could not complain about his being out late, because she had been notified that he had returned. He just wished the old lady was not quite so paranoid about where he was and what he was doing. He turned to Steve. "Well, it looks as if we have to keep each other warm for a bit."

Steve smiled and nodded. Lee led him over to the bed and pulled him down onto it, then drew the thermosheet up over them.

"You know, Lee, sometimes I wonder if you have not hacked the house manager to report power restriction whenever we arrive here and your mother is out -- just so you can get me into bed with you."

"You know, that might not be a bad idea! I'll have to think about doing that."

"You had better not, Lee. My security systems would certainly catch you and you know what happened last time."

Steve was startled by this interjection. He had forgotten that Lee's parents had a top-of-the-range house manager -- one with full AI capabilities. Most people avoided these, fearing that they might take over as Hawking had predicted about a hundred years earlier. It had not happened, of course, but there was still a feeling that if there were enough full AI units around it could, so most people preferred to avoid them.

"So... what did happen last time?"

"You don't want to know, Steve."

"Yes I do."

"No you don't. You want to know about the problem the Unifiers faced in the 2040s."

"If you say so," Steve responded, making a mental note to raise the matter again later when Lee did not have an excuse to wriggle out of it.

"Well, Steve, with the destruction of both Jerusalem and Mecca in 2029 the Jihadist war fizzled out. There were certainly no winners and an awful lot of losers. Ali ben Israel started to preach his doctrine of unification and the Unified Church of the Prophets of Allah was born.

"The collapse of the Jihadists was seen by some of the Christian Fundamentalists as proof that God was on their side. As you know, from the mid-twentieth century there had been a strong evangelical movement in the old United States. By the start of the twenty-first century about a quarter of the population of the U.S. was part of one evangelical church or another. By that time most of the evangelical churches had taken something of a extremist line.

"The collapse of the Republican party due to the split during the third Bush presidency resulted in the formation of the Christian Alliance. Nobody gave them any chance of success, but by 2039 the infighting in both the Democrats and the New Republicans meant a whole mass of the population was disillusioned. The result was that the Christian Alliance managed to get control of both the Presidency and Congress in 2040 on a vote that represented just over fifteen percent of the population. It turned out that the majority of people had just not bothered to vote.

"The first thing they did when they took office was to introduce compulsory genetic testing to identify 'those morally at risk'. It came as quite a shock to them when it turned out that not only their President but half of their members of Congress qualified as being 'morally at risk'."

"What!" Steve interjected, "you mean those religious bigots were gay?"

"No, but they carried the same gene marker sets as the gays."

"I don't understand. If they had gay gene sets, surely they were gay?"

"That's the problem they ran into. The set of markers that indicate you might -- and I mean might -- be gay is the same set of markers that indicate high achievers and risk takers. It seems the two sets of characteristics are closely linked. Haven't you ever wondered why it is that whilst we only represent about five percent of the population we make up over twenty percent of the high achievers?"

"No, I've never thought about that."

"You should, Steve.

"Anyway, as I was saying, the Christian Alliance got a shock, although they did try to turn it around and argue that it was proof that being gay was a lifestyle choice. Epigenetics disproved that, though. The thing is that, although your epigenetic potential is established at birth, it is not fixed, and many factors can change it. Research done in the 2040s, showed that everybody with the gay gene set is essentially gay, but in some people the gayness has been switched off. Worse still -- they found out that it can also switch back on. The Christian Alliance were not very happy with that result and tried to stop publication of the research, but it got out. It might explain the sexual antics some of their ministers got into at middle age."

Lee got out from under the blanket and moved over to his bookcase. Steve had always been intrigued by Lee's love of physical books; nobody else he knew owned a physical book."This," Lee said as he pulled an old book from a shelf, "is over a hundred and fifty years old." He returned to the bed and crawled back under the thermo blanket, putting his arm around Steve. "It contains a reference to a study done almost two hundred years ago, on rabbits."

"What has that to do with us?"

"A lot, Steve. It showed that there were identifiable rabbits within the warren population that showed a clear orientation to same sex activities. Up till then it had been argued that homosexual activity in animals was simply instances of mistaken mounting . This study showed that there were specific individuals in the rabbit population that were constantly homosexual.

"What is more important is that it was realised that these individuals were also the ones taking on the more risky activities in the warren. They would be the first to come above ground and, when an alarm was given, would be the last to go below ground. It was hypothesised that having a group of individuals who were not part of the breeding community was of evolutionary value to the warren in that by taking risks they provided a benefit to the warren, but their loss did not impact on the breeding ability of the warren."

"You mean, we are sort of sacrificial goats for the good of the community?"

"I'm not sure that is a very good analogy, Steve, but you could think of it that way. The thing is, Mitchell and Clay started a research program to look into the gay gene and its purpose. Their research was initially funded by the Christian Alliance, who wanted to prove that being gay was a lifestyle choice. However, that quickly backfired on the Christian Alliance because early on Mitchell and Clay showed there was an evolutionary advantage to social animals having a gay population within them. In fact their work went further; they were able to show that if you removed the gay element from a population of social animals the overall population suffered.

"They ended up showing that, not only was a gay presence within any group of social animals -- and man is a social animal -- useful, it was in fact essential to the survival of the group. Mitchell and Clay's research also showed that anyone born with the gay gene set was essentially gay, but that in some people the epigenetic set they were born with was switched in such a way as to disable the gay gene."

"Surely," Steve asked, "that meant they had a way to switch the gay gene off? They could stop us being gay."

"They tried it, but there were problems again." Lee responded.


"When some doctors, sponsored by the Christian Alliance, experimented on volunteers, they ended up changing some of the subjects into psychopaths. It turned out that the incentive to lead, to take risks, etc., that was conferred by the gay gene set was limited by the emotional aspects of being gay. If you turn off the 'gay switch' that limitation is removed and you get a very anti-social person. That might also explain the behaviour of some of the Evangelical ministers, in their ranting against sinners, especially gays, and their misuse of power."

"Sounds like they had a problem."

"They certainly did." Lee leaned over and kissed Steve, then pulled back. "Suppose I better sort out those pizzas for you." Steve reached up and pulled him back down, "Leave it, I have a better idea."

The following morning Steve and Lee joined the mass of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys making their way towards the civic centre. On the way they passed mobile offices of firms that employed people in the prescribed occupations. Steve looked at them with a sense of foreboding. "Don't worry Steve, you'll be OK," Lee commented.

"But what if I'm not?"

"You will be, let's get it over and done with."

Entering the building the two boys passed through the main concourse and into the clinic, to join the queue of boys waiting to be tested. Fortunately there were plenty of testing stations and they didn't have to wait long. Each boy in turn went forward and his identification chip was scanned. Once his ID had been confirmed he was given a numbered ticket and asked to provide a sample of DNA, which was placed in a sample tube. That was sent by conveyer belt to the processing systems at the back of the clinic.

Lee remembered reading that in the old days it took five or six days to generate a complete DNA profile, but now it could be done in as many minutes. Hence, he was not surprised when his number appeared over one of the counselling booths. "Well, Steve, now I find out what I already know. Meet you outside in a few minutes." He walked across the room and entered the booth.

The counsellor was an elderly woman, her silver hair pulled back and fixed in a bun at the nape of the neck -- a style which Lee thought had gone out of fashion a hundred years earlier. The woman looked up as he entered. Once again his identification chip was scanned, then he took a seat opposite her. She looked at him with a hint of disgust in her eyes. Lee noted the small pin in her lapel indicating she was a member of the Unified Church of the Prophets of Allah. He wondered how such a person could hold a counselling job.

"Well, young man, it appears you are another deviant." She almost spat out the words.

"Yes, I am."

"You don't seem surprised."

"Madam, I am a seventeen-year-old fully functional male. It would be surprising if I was not aware of my sexuality."

"You people disgust me! Here," she pushed a sheet of printed information across at him, "these are the prescribed occupations. Your classification makes you eligible to enter any one of them."

Lee took the list, although he knew it off by heart already, and thanked her. She did not seem very happy to be thanked. With that he left the booth by the exit door and made his way out to the main concourse.

There was no sign of Steve, so Lee sat on a low wall by the steps down to the main concourse and waited. He had only been there for a few seconds when Martin, a classmate from school came out, tears pouring down his face. Lee stood up and walked over to him. "Martin, what's up?"

"This is fucking up," he held up a copy of the notice he had been handed. "I can't be a space pilot. Both my dads are pilots on the lunar run, and I wanted to join the family business. Now I can't." He started to sob even more. Lee put his arms around the boy and pulled him into a hug.

"Listen Martin, it's not the end of the world. There's a lot of things you can do." Lee tried to sound convincing.

"I know, but I can't work with my dads."

Just then Steve came out and saw the two together. He looked at Lee, a question in his eyes. Lee looked back with his own question; Steve nodded.

"Look, Steve, can we take Martin somewhere quiet? He's a bit upset, he just got some bad news."


"Yes, I'm fucking bi. A bloody breeder!"

"I thought you and Phil were a couple?" Steve asked.

"We are -- or we were -- don't know if he will want to stick with me once he knows I'm bi."

"I'm sure he will," Lee commented, guiding Martin off the main concourse and down a side passage to a smaller atrium where he knew there was a decent coffee shop. Inside, he sat Martin down at a table and slipped Steve ten credits with an instruction to get three hot chilli chocolates.

Once Martin had sipped his chocolate for a bit he calmed down, and Lee was able to get him talking. The first question was how had Phil done?

"Don't know, he'll not get tested till next year. He missed the cut-off date by one day. You knew he had been jumped ahead at school by a year?"

"No, I didn't," Lee responded. "So... Phil won't know for another year what his classification will be?"

"Right, and do you think he will stick around with me once he finds out I'm bi?"

"Don't see why not; you're still the same person.

"Look, Martin, you are bi so you are classed as a breeder. All that means is that you cannot enter the prescribed occupations. It doesn't really affect the way you interact with Phil. You still love him, don't you?"

Martin nodded.

Lee continued. "I don't think you have any interest in girls at the moment."

"No fucking way, tried it once with Tracy Simmons to find out what it would be like. It made me feel sick."

"See, Martin... you might be classed as bi, but I think it is clear you are on the gay end of the bi part of the spectrum. In fact, if you are that far on the spectrum it might be worth getting a second opinion on your test results. It is not totally automatic; there are some manual judgements made on the borderline cases, and they tend to err on the safe side. Ask for a re-evaluation of your results, and see what comes out of that. Who knows... they might decide you're gay."

Martin looked up and smiled. "I can ask for a second opinion?"

Lee nodded.

"I did not know that. Thanks for telling me."

"Didn't you read all the bumf they sent us about the test?"

"No, I was so certain I was gay I did not think there could be any doubt about it."

"Well, go home and download it and go through it with a fine-tooth comb. With a bit of luck it will turn out that you're gay after all. I read somewhere that about thirty percent of borderlines that are re-evaluated are determined to be gay. Of course, in few cases, where someone is really on the border they might ask that you confirm your non-breeding status by having a vasectomy, but you have to have that if you are going into space anyway so that is not a problem."

The boys left Martin outside the coffee shop and made their way back to the main concourse, where they decided to grab some lunch. Over lunch the pair of them started to discuss their plans for the future. Steve told Lee that now his gay status was confirmed he would think about signing up with one of the prescribed occupation employers who would offer to fund his college course.

"There's no need, Steve," Lee responded. "Dad's already agreed that he will fund you to go to the same college as me, so we can be together."

"You never told me that."

"Was going to tell you tonight. The 'rents want to take us both out to dinner to celebrate our gay status, now that it's official and we have a choice of jobs."

"Lee," Steve asked, "why is it that the prescribed occupations are only open to homosexuals?"

"Steve, didn't you listen to any of Miss Simmonds's lectures?"

"No, not really."

"Oh... well, if you check the list you will see that most of the prescribed occupations are associated with space work -- specifically, space work which requires activity in low-shielded or unshielded environments. Back in the 1950s there had been suggestions that exposure to radiation in space could have damaging effects on a person's DNA, especially in the reproductive cells. Early space flights seemed to discount this, as no such damage was observed.

"However, those early space flights, even the ones to the Moon, all took place within the Earth's magnetosphere. That provided a measure of protection from solar and cosmic radiation. The 2020 flight to Mars threw up a whole new set of problems. Although tests showed no damage to the DNA in the sperm or ova of any of the crew members on those missions, when they later had children all types of problems arose.

"As a result of this, by the 2040s space flight work was restricted to mature men or women who were either sterilised or past breeding age. However, this meant that the pool of men and women available were not at the top of their physical abilities, which was often required for space work. Mark Clay pointed out that there was a group of young fit males and females who were not part of the breeding population and who had the psychological aptitude to take the risks involved in space exploration. In 2055 space work was opened up to the under 40s who were homosexual, on the condition that they were sterilised and therefore unable to pass on any mutations which might occur as a result of their exposure to cosmic radiation. That's why space jockeys deposit their sperm or ova before going off into space. They can have children later using uncontaminated material.

"The rest is now history. If you want to be a space jockey you must be gay. Let's admit it... what boy does not want to pilot a space transporter, or fly one of those fast courier ships? We gays can live and work in the low-shielded areas of the ship, and any damage to our DNA will not be passed on. The poor breeders have to be packed deep inside the shielded cores. Because of the need to tightly pack them they are put into suspension before being taken on board, and not woken until after they are unloaded at their destination.

"Over 70% of the GDP of the Earth system is generated by space activity, which means that it is generated by gays and lesbians, just five percent of the population. We are important to the system. Without us it would not work. You know what the space jockeys call breeders don't you?"

"No, what?"


Their lunch finished, the two boys headed out of the civic centre into the town square. The moment they stepped outside they were surrounded by touts wanting to know what their status definition was. Lee told them it was gay for both of them, putting his arm around Steve. The moment he said it voices all around him started to call out the details of jobs and benefits they could offer. The crowd of touts pressed around the two boys until a security guard came down and pushed the touts back.

"Come on now, you lot, you know the mayor's instructions about not mobbing the boys," he stated.

"But they're the first gays of the day," someone commented.

"Yes, and if you are lucky there will be some more," the guard responded, guiding the boys through the pack.

Once they were clear Lee and Steve jumped into a carrier that had stopped at the edge of the square, not noting where it was going. It moved off quickly, leaving the mob of touts behind.

Steve looked Lee and smiled. "You know, Lee, one thing about being gay is that it is nice to be wanted."

Lee returned Steve's smile and leaned over to kiss him. "Steve, you are always wanted."

"I know that, and no doubt you will prove it when we get to your place. However, first you have to tell me what happened last time you tried to hack the AI unit."

Lee looked at him and groaned. "Do I have to?"

"Yes you do! I want to know everything, in detail."

"OK, but you mustn't tell anyone else."

Steve nodded and leaned against Lee, smiling to himself. It looked as if he was going to have an enjoyable afternoon, and he now knew he could be a space jockey. It was so nice to be gay.

My thanks to Alien Son for editing this – any errors I probably added after his final edit. Sorry.

Copyright © 2015-2023 Nigel Gordon

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