Ad Astra chapter 1: Lucifer

10Jan12

Ad AstraLucifer dominated the sky of habitable space as it turned about its distant sun almost 3,000 light years from Earth. A murky black-red gas giant with lesser baleful mustard-brown stripes dominating among the myriad of lesser colours that some called it the ‘Devil’s Marble’ and others called home.

When the first people had come, it was to investigate the vast asteroid belt that was a feature of the system in the hope of uncovering its mineral wealth. What they found instead was that Lucifer had a Little Sister, as the moon became known; a water-bound satellite just shy of being earth sized and ripe for colonisation.

That had been before the Great Reaving.

Now that trade was returning to its corner of the galaxy, Little Sister was thriving. That was more than Dale Hanson was doing.

To a person of old Earth, Dale would have appeared no older than 25, with shoulder-length reddish brown hair and too many freckles for a woman who carried herself with authority might have wished for.

In fact she was a second-lifer with an unauthorised 21-year-old daughter and a light-transport hauler that wouldn’t pay its own way. To cap it all she was struggling to escape the custody of her elder sister Lidia.

Lidia had been her legal guardian for nearly five years now and would be for at least another 15. A circumstance that had been brought about partly by a small quirk in Sororian law, which stated that, a person was beholden to their families until the age of 50, unless they were lawfully married or held a commission in the military.

“That is not the reason and you know it,” she could hear Lidia saying even now.

Okay she admitted to herself, it was because she was a convicted smuggler under a sentence of 20 years, who had only been released to her sister’s authority on account of being under 50 at the time of conviction.

Now her sister was calling in on her promise. If she couldn’t make the Ad Astra pay within five years then she would move planet side with Jen and get another career.

Dale scrolled through the financial statements again as if hoping they would improve with reading. “Damn,” she threw up her arms when she realised that they wouldn’t.

With a sigh she sat back and eyed the two young women standing in opposite corners of the common room. What little they had been wearing before their little escapade had been removed and they were now standing in just their bras and what passed for shoes. Little trollops, she thought angrily. Out three days straight without a word and tugging at anything that moved, girl or boy. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Dale shuddered.

On their return they had been high on Phase, which was just about the most dangerous and illegal drug going. One tenth of a gram of it would have got them both five years hard and that same tenth would have got Dale’s captain’s licence revoked if they had been caught bringing it aboard. Damn and double damn, these girls had shit for brains.

Her niece Jan was quite different from Jen her daughter, although both were 21. Jan was taller and willowy with long curly white-blonde hair set against very pale white skin, an inheritance from her father. Her smooth bottom was smaller, although she sported long firm buttocks.

Jen was short and rounder with equally pale skin, but she had the same reddish-brown colouring and freckles that was a Hanson trademark. Her bottom was pert, round and rather fuller than her cousin’s, although both girls’ bottoms were a ruddy red after an initial reprimand from Dale across her knee. She had other plans for her daughter given the gravity of the offence and once Lidia found out about the full extent of Jan’s antics, she would be grounded for at least a month.

Being grounded by Lidia was… a difficult experience Dale recalled with a shudder.

Dale cast her eyes back over the balance sheets. She might have to do something drastic, something that might be best achieved if Jen was well out of it.

“Maybe it is time I left you with your Aunt Lidia,” Dale mused aloud.

Jen quailed, her eyes turning painfully wide. Oh God, please, please, please not that, she prayed.

The trouble was, Dale continued silently with her train of thought, she didn’t have much of a crew as it was and Jen, as well as being a competent enough pilot, was qualified in both GD and cargo hauling. Four was about as few as she could manage with, and only then because the Ad Astra came with its own MPSD. Darius could do the work of four or five crew, including nearly all the engineering and maintenance tasks.

She had tried training up Gail. But although her lover and best friend was one of the best medic-techs in the business and an excellent cook to boot, she was only just about useful in GD and tracking and very little else. With a civilian rating as a warrant officer she was barely qualified as a second mate, let alone an acting first.

Without another qualified navigator to serve as first mate and maybe one more crew for cargo and GD, she just couldn’t get the big contracts. Without the big contracts she just couldn’t get the talent.

This was something that Lidia was bound to point out when she arrived to pick up Jan. Dale heaved a deep sigh and eyed the girl’s red bottoms again, I really don’t need this today.

*

If anyone had but noticed, the small dark girl sitting in the corner looked uncannily like the girl on the newsfeed. Although, to be fair, the girl in the corner had her hair bound in a plat, whereas her counterpart had a salon flyaway look. But she had the same chestnut brown eyes under her dark glasses as the newsfeed girl and the overalls she wore did nothing to hide the dramatic curves and wasp-waist that used to be a trademark of the missing It-girl.

Indeed several men had looked her way, but that had only meant that they had been too distracted by her to even see the newsfeed, so the similarity was not noticed. Not yet anyway, the girl thought nervously.

Luna Price had somehow made it to the Ark. She didn’t quite know how, after all there was a 10,000 credit reward for finding her and even her own wrist pod had flashed up pictures of her and the fact that she was ‘lost.’

Lost was a euphemism for absconded, as some of the more in-depth reports had revealed and one of the pop channel shows was even running a series of features on her and her spectacular career as an It-girl. One programme had even called her a spoilt brat, running what she supposed they imagined was a comic piece on some presumed future punishment for running away. A public spanking live on air, was the current viewers’ choice she noted, she was mortified. To make matters worse and based on her last meeting with him, she thought that her father might even go for it.

The truth was her father usually didn’t care what she did. However, the Price Family were one of the Big Six on Little Sister and they did care about their public image. When she started going public with minor scandals and hanging on the arm of prominent men, and not a few women, it was all, “good old Luna,” or “what’s she like? Tsk.”

Then there had been the incident with the fountain outside the Grand Council building and the subsequent discovery of Phase on her person. Any other 21-year-old first-lifer would have got five years on a recycle plant or be shaking her arse as entertainment girl in mining installation on one of the Stroids. Hell, she might have even preferred that. Then the mighty hand of the Price Family had descended and instead her legal emancipation had been revoked and she had been placed on an indefinite supervision order. They had even appointed a personal guardian for her.

Initially she thought to talk her father out of it, or at least, she hoped, let her live discreetly on one of his many recreational islands. Then she had seen the clothes laid out in her bed. Hair-shirt wasn’t in it. And there were rules and chores and a grounding regime out of an early colonial melodrama. It had taken a lot to digest the last element of her new life, but then she happened on an invoice for a whipping bench, a full 24-piece paddle-spanking set and a book entitled ‘birching for the modern miss.’

One of her great aunts had been a hellcat in her youth. But after some hushed-up scandal, she had been kept a juvenile until she was 50 and on her second-life.

That was when Luna had decided to get herself ‘lost.’

Her first plan had been to make for a luxury liner heading off-world to where Sororian Law didn’t hold. Praxi was her first choice, nice and liberal. She had even heard of a place called the Matriarch where women got respect instead of spankings. Then she had found out that her travel status, not to mention her credit, had been revoked.

Plan B was to get to the Ark and part with some jewellery in return for a ride out on some merchant transport or other. The system was lousy with dodgy characters, smugglers and other rogues. It was a romantic notion, although at the back of her mind she thought of slavers and work-contractors who might ship her somewhere even worse than a recycle plant and for a hell of a lot longer than five years.

Now she was sitting in a dockers’ bar with not the least idea how to go about setting up a bribe. To make matters worse, her picture was on every wall around her, captioned with details of a reward for information that would set up any one of her fellow patrons for life.

That left her with Plan C. The only trouble was there was no Plan C, she thought miserably, I am well and truly cooked. She shifted uneasily in her seat as she realised this. The prospect of being wrapped in cotton wool being spanked and grounded until she was 50 loomed.

*

Lidia Hanson hated the Ark. It was too large, too hard and too old. It smelt of ozone and sweat and for all its vast population and its endless maze of corridors and warehouses, it was lonely somehow.

The tall redhead had been waiting for the express car from the ferry station to the commercial port for 15 minutes now; Little Sister was never like this. On the surface she could walk or take a river bus or… but up here the distances were too great.

She caught a reflection of herself in the glass safety doors. She had donned a smart grey skirt-suit for this trip and over her shoulder was a file case, which only saw the light of day when she had to deal with the failing Ad Astra side of the business. At 42 she had been relifed. A process most people on Little Sister went through at least twice and sometimes three times. It was odd to look 30 again, odd but nice. She smiled. The process was old tech. The human body’s bio-clock could be reset up to three times on a standard process, although some of the newer treatments were said to be much better. In any case, even after a standard treatment people tended to age at half speed, although the affects were less dramatic after the second treatment. She would be 80 or so when she tried again. ‘Eighty – the new 40,’ she remember her history program had told her was how the first colonist had marketed it. Her ancestors would have marvelled at 80-year-olds who were too all-intents-and-purposes 20-something.

Finally the car arrived and the doors stuttered open. The inside smelt of urine and she frowned. There had been worse in her youth, she decided, and went in. Perhaps some sensor had detected that no one else was waiting, for she had no sooner stepped aboard when the doors shut and the express car began to speed towards the docks.

On any other day the view of the vast cavern would have been impressive. Even Lidia had never got used to seeing the city laid out ‘overhead’ and ‘upside down’ as it curved around the inner surface of the great asteroid. Then she remembered the smell and why she had come.

“God I hate the Ark,” she said aloud.

The original colonists had carved it out of a single asteroid some 30km long and set it spinning so that the metropolis-like space port that grew up on and under its inner surface had some measure of artificial gravity approximate to old Earth. It was said that every ship in the quadrant could be birthed among her docks, although looking at the latest great ships, Lidia had to doubt that. Some of those were now over 3,000 meters long and went a long way to filling the cylindrical cavern that formed the harbour.

The Ark itself orbited Little Sister and served not only as its main port, but as the planet-moon’s main shipyards as well. It was from here that families such as the Hansons had for generations plied their trade, right down to her father, right down to her sister, the last of the spacefaring Hansons.

Lidia herself had been only too happy to leave the nomadic life of long-haul space transportation for a life on Little Sister and had left within a month of her father’s death. It irked her that in the early days her 49% interest in the Ad Astra had funded her new life. It irked her still further that she was now unable to sell her share in the 100,000 credit space craft, until now that is. She smiled. Dale was finally going to get what was coming to her.

A curious clause in the Ad Astra’s charter stipulated that the captain held 2% of the ship. So long as that captain was Dale then she had the controlling interest. Five years before, the business had been a going concern, although how much of that was due to Dale’s previous activities she dreaded to think. Back then she had needed the meagre profits for her own expansion in the luxury goods market, but for the last year it had become a drain. That was both a curse and an opportunity.

An opportunity because after one year of business loss Lidia could evoke a clause allowing her to appoint a new captain or rather she had had the courts do it for her. If the next trip did not yield a profit then she could instruct the new captain to sell the ship and have done with it. Furthermore, if the new captain could be persuaded then he needn’t retain Dale’s services at all and she and Jen would be forced to come home.

At the thought of Jen, Lidia pursed her lips. That girl was a wild one and a bad influence on her own daughter. What was it this time? Phase of all things. Just wait until she got Jan home, she wouldn’t sit down for a month. Nor would Jen and Dale come to that if she could get them down onto Little Sister where the law would support her taking, what was it? She loved those phrases in the legal injunction, ‘any corrective measures’ she ‘deemed necessary.’

Well there would be time enough for that once she separated Dale from the Ad Astra.

*

Luna was getting scared now. Three times men had approached her with their leers and each time she had feared that she had been recognised. Luckily none had pressed their suit and she had been able to huddle back into her anonymity. However, she could not stay in a bar on the Ark forever, sooner or later either the money would run out or she would be recognised.

Maybe if I pretend to give one of these men what they want, they might help me, she pondered. But that was as far as she got with Plan C before she saw the two men enter the bar. Luna tensed. New faces meant a new chance to be recognised.

One was overlarge and had a military bearing. The other was small and strutted like a cockerel. The larger man looked around 40 or so and she knew at once he was an off-worlder. He had that natural look about him and was certainly not from an enhancer culture like hers. Then she saw the leg. It was prosthetic below his left knee, causing him to walk with a slight limp. Then he turned to survey the room and she saw his left eye. It was a smooth blood-red orb with a single black dot for a pupil. A cybernetic then, she realised. She had never seen one before, some said that in their own way they were more advanced than enhancer cultures. She had even heard that some used nano-cybernetics that were undetectable but preserved the person’s life far beyond any biological gene re-sequencing offered by an enhancer culture.

The larger man was grizzled, with a rash of dark and grey-speckled hair cut so short he might as well have been bald. He had a scar on the left side of his face which crossed his left eye and ran down his face to his chin. He wasn’t vain then, she thought. Anyone on Little Sister could afford the minor surgery required to remove such a disfigurement. Thinking about it, the leg and even the eye could have been biologically replaced. Not vain then, but maybe more than a little proud. As she studied the man Luna also noted that he wore medium grade combat armour of the type often worn by space-marines, only this one had clearly been fitted at some point, suggesting that this man had been an officer.

The smaller off-worlder was also wearing military grade combat armour, although it was much lighter and didn’t appear to quite fit him. He was young with short shaggy blond hair and an almost angelic face. Then he spoke, “Hey boss can we get a beer?”

It was then that Luna realised it was a girl and obviously so. Given that she was probably a natural, she was little more than a child. At least two years younger than herself, she figured.

“One,” the cyborg growled, “and make it a half.”

“Do you want one?” The girl asked.

“A half-quart of dark,” he rumbled.

“They don’t do quarts, nor pints neither,” the girl threw back. “It’s what…”

“Litres, halves and quarters,” the barman supplied, adding a quizzical, “Miss?”

“Cadet Win, Tammy to you mate,” Tammy said breezily. “Make it a half and a quarter of dark ale please.”

“You 18… Tammy?” the man asked.

“No,” Tammy was indignant, “I’m nearly 20.”

The cyborg nodded.

“Of course you are,” the barman smiled, “practically a grown-up.”

“What do you mean…?” Tammy spluttered.

“Tammy,” the cyborg growled. “Legal age is higher here. Besides you wouldn’t pass for a grown-up even on Gant.”

Tammy blushed and glowered into her newly arrived beer. “18’s old enough for beer,” the barman said with a wink.

Gant; Luna was impressed. That was about as far as it was possible to get within the Home World Belt. It was a militaristic society that specialised in cybernetics. That explained the man. They had fought two recent wars. Recent in as much as they had both occurred within the last 100 years. The first against the Dido League, and the second against something more mysterious almost 40 years back. Some had even said it was an alien incursion. Most people in the Belt didn’t want to know and were only too glad to have a non-hostile Gant protecting their flank against the great unknown of the galaxy centre.

“You looking for a ship?” The barman asked. “If you are then…”

“Got one thanks,” the cyborg growled. “The Ad Astra; know it?”

“The Hanson ship, sure, it’s out there on quay number… four I think,” the barman looked disappointed. Maybe he got a commission for suggesting new crews. Then he frowned. “Hey, are you sure you have the right ship? I mean, it’s a pretty small family set-up, they don’t usually hire off-worlders.”

“Courts appointed me captain at the request of the co-owner Lidia Hanson. I take command today.” The cyborg took a long sip of beer.

“Lidia Hanson? Sure you don’t mean Dale?” The man scratched his head. “Say Mr, what do they call you?”

“The name’s Bradley Dane, you can call me Dane or Captain, hell you can even call me Bradley, ‘cept no one but my mother ever has. But you go calling me Brad and you and me are going to fall out.”

“Yes sir,” the barman chuckled and then amended with “Captain Dane,” just to be sure he didn’t give offence.

Luna pricked up her ears. A small ship with a new captain; maybe she could…

*

Lidia reached quay four amid rows and rows of containers and miscellaneous goods. In places they were piled so high that the port windows were completely obscured. So initially, it was with some difficulty that she picked her way through the mobs of dockers and loader-bots to the gantry that led to the Ad Astra.

She saw Darius first, his ivory humanoid form taking those careful little steps of his through the assorted piles of boxes and crates. It always made her laugh that he wore a burgundy jump-suit in a bid to seem more human.

“Miss Lidia, how nice to see you,” he said easily, his firm natural voice an optional extra she seemed to recall; an upgrade that her father had invested in back when Lidia and Dale were children. He had had it for as long as she could remember. The thought of selling him along with the ship suddenly made her sad. He was almost like a family pet.

“Is this the cargo?” Lidia said, trying to put sentiment aside. “It doesn’t look like much.”

“That is what I am trying to ascertain Miss Lidia. I was not informed that we had obtained a cargo and yet here it is. Apparently we have been assigned 240 crates of assorted luxury goods.” Darius always made slight jerky movements when he talked. It was endearing. It was a trait that newer models did not have.

Also the fixed orbs of his shiny black optics had pale animated graphics depicting eyes projected onto their surface so that he could blink and add emphasis when he talked. This, Lidia realised, distracted most people from the fact that his mouth did not actually move at all. To anyone not familiar with an Multi-Purpose Service Drone, Darius looked rather like an old-style tailor’s dummy. Except his fully functioning hands could be retracted and replaced in an instant with a pair of clamp like claws strong enough to lift a 500kg crate.

“I think that the cargo may be… eh, that is to say… I think our new captain may have arranged it,” Lidia felt suddenly guilty. She hadn’t even told Dale about the enforcement order yet. It hadn’t occurred to her that Darius might not like having a new captain.

“A new captain Miss Lidia? Captain Hanson has not said she was being replaced.”

“Eh… well I don’t think she has been… eh informed as yet. That’s part of the reason I am here.”

Darius seemed to stiffen and for a moment his eyes gave the illusion of arching in surprise. “Until the appropriate coded order has been issued I am obliged to take my orders from Captain Hanson. I predict an 18% chance that she will attempt to flee before the order is received.” Darius sounded reproving.

“I am sorry Darius, but it was… necessary,” Lidia pursed her lips and made a sad face. She even felt sad.

“Until I am told otherwise I will prepare the cargo for embarkation.” Darius sounded business-like. Lidia felt as if she had been dismissed. She wondered if he had feelings. She rather suspected he did; of a sort anyway.

Lidia turned and squeezed through two piles of crates and at last confronted the Ad Astra now visible through the port windows. The windows themselves were huge pains of curved transparent material that followed the contours of the quay. Through them beyond the ship she could see the huge cavernous dock and a hundred other ships of all sizes. But it was the Ad Astra that held most of her attention now.

It had been some time since Lidia had seen the ship she had grown up on. The sight of it was a painful shock. Damn this sentiment, she cursed, tears pricking at her eyes.

The Ad Astra itself was on the small size of average for a haulage transport. At about 300 meters long it resembled a pair of flattened dumbbells with a squashed rounded-off cone at either end joined by about 150 meters of the hold. This had the appearance of two 50 meter-wide cylinders that that been merged and squared-off at the top and bottom. At the widest part, that touching the central hold portion, the nose and tail cones were about 150 meters wide, like two bloated delta-shaped bookends.

Usually the ship could be entered by hatchways at the back of the forward section either side of the hold. But these were harder to get at when the ship was side on to a space dock and in any case it was impossible to load cargo through them. Instead the great side doors had been opened right into the lower deck of the central hold and a general-purpose docking bridge had been extended from the quay to give smooth continuous access.

Both the quayside and inner airlock doors were sealed shut for safety, although both could be opened simultaneously with a manual override in order to load and unload. However, the doors were not locked so Lidia was able to open them easily.

It was always a little unsettling to walk across a docking bridge knowing that a hard vacuum was only centimetres away, but accidents were rare at a well-run port like the Ark and Lidia suppressed her momentary panic and kept an even stride as she crossed it.

As a youth she had always feared crossing a docking bridge; 50 meters of thin metal hanging over quite literally nothing. She had been afraid that the doors would lock her in and start to uncouple to expose her to hard space. She always had a pang that when she reached the exit she would find it locked. For that reason she always cringed when she heard the de-coupling alarm sounding, as it did routinely in a port like the Ark. She heard one now, somewhere a way off. Another ship leaving; she realised, but she shuddered all the same. Nevertheless she did not give in to her childhood fears and kept her pace even right up to reaching the inner hold doors. She even paused before punching the large square hatch release, a little show of bravado.

The button itself was solid-state and did not appear to react even after she touched it. Her heart raced for a long second and a half until finally something went clunk and the door slid silently open to reveal the haven of the hold beyond. She remembered now why she hated space travel. Her heart kept pumping in time to her ragged breathing as she slapped the button again and watched the hatch slide shut.

The hold was big; a great expanse 100 meters across, 150 meters long and 60 meters high. Above her she knew there were four smaller holds; barely storerooms compared with this chamber. There was a retractable lift in the ceiling of the hold to run cargo up to them. In fact she suspected that the current cargo was destined for one of these rooms leaving the great bulk of the hold empty for the entire voyage. Just one of the reasons this ship does not pay, Lidia thought bitterly.

The only time the hold was ever full, was when it picked up a grain supply or some other low-profit bulk cargo. Even in her father’s time, thought had been given to converting the hold into passenger quarters. However that would have entailed, upgrades to life-support, life-pods, a bigger crew, the list was endless. Dale had to be made to face it; the Ad Astra was a white elephant. It had survived only this long because it had the relatively rare ability to land planet side without the aid of port facilities. That meant far flung undeveloped worlds sometimes required her services.

“It’s a wonder that the courts found anyone willing to take her on,” she said aloud. The she shouted, “Dale. Where are you?”

The muted echo was her only answer, so she braced herself for a confrontation and headed forward to the control and living areas of the ship.

Most of the bow section was solid state apparatus for running ship’s systems, life support and other critical functions. In fact less than 10% of the volume was accessible and much of what was, was dedicated to long-term storage for food, spare parts, essential gear, the crew’s possessions and cargo-overflow. That still left a lot places to search for her sister.

Lidia entered the lower deck through the forward cargo-bay doors into a passageway that was a good five meters wide and the same high. To her left and right were storerooms, although she passed an array of escape pods set back against the out hull before she reached the central stairwell that was wrapped around a service lift.

“Damn, it’s a long way up,” she sighed looking at the gantry lights high above her. The only real rooms on this deck were the cargo office and the auxiliary sick bays situated near the usual access ways to her left and right. Once the ship was underway, there was little need for the crew to venture down here and so all the crew and operational areas were at the top of the habitable section furthest from the outer hull where it was relatively safe from impacts and radiation if the shield should fail. For a moment Lidia considered the lift, but it was for heavy lifting and she did not remember how to operate it. “Dale,” she called out again, “send down the lift.” It was hopeless and she knew it.

The first five decks were all five metres high and consisted of more storage rooms and further up, machine shops and factories where spare-parts and the crew’s gear could be made. Forward of that were the huge cyclers for air and water; Lidia could even imagine she smelt sewerage. “Don’t be so prissy girl,” she could hear her father saying even now. Dale always loved this part of the ship as a girl. She would spend hours playing games with Darius and anyone else who would indulge her; even risking a spanking now and then by entering the main hold below. Not Lidia. She would work in the galley with mother or stay in her room reading; anything normal, anything people might do on a planet.

Lidia was out of breath. “Dale,” she called out angrily. She had reached the top of the five lower decks and now the deck ceilings were narrower. The rooms were still only for mostly storage, but usually only for specific things. One of them she knew was her father’s old armoury; probably still equipped with archaic weapons to fend off pirates that never came. In her teens she had laughed at her father for his folly, but now she knew better. Out there light years from help, she would have had more weapons if it had been her family.

Also on this deck was a storeroom that her father had designated the woodshed. It doubled as the ship’s brig, but the Ad Astra had never needed one. Lidia wondered what had become of the paddles, canes other things that had hung from the walls in her youth. She shuddered. No amount of playing the good girl had kept her from taking a turn. She glanced down the passage where she knew the room used to be and was tempted to take a peek. Then she remembered her last visit and blushed. After a pause, she hurried on.

All around her were small clinks and clanks. Stress noises her father had called them. The air now smelled of the same ozone that infested the port. The smell of dry systems, she thought. At least I am away from the cyclers now.

At the next deck the central stairwell and cargo lift ended. She was in the ship proper now and the access up was to the port and starboard. The deck above housed the now unused crew quarters and recreation area. The rec-deck as it was known. Above that were the galley and the common rooms; the biggest open area for the crew’s use. That is where they will be, Lidia decided. If not, then she would try the bridge.

The common room was roughly oval and about 30 metres long. At one end was the gallery, which was adjacent to two semi-circular tables facing one another but with a space between them so that servers or anyone could pass between from the galley to the rest of the common room. At the other end of the room was an informal lounge area randomly decorated and equipped with eclectic furniture that was mostly functional and modern, but included scatter cushions and a few oddly out-of-place antique chairs and a divan that had belonged to Lidia and Dale’s mother.

The common room deck was double-height and the central feature was an atrium that was 10 meters high and dominated by a circular balcony off which Lidia knew there to be alcoves for chilling-out, quiet card games and other recreational facilities.

The ambient sound here was of birdsong, although Lidia remembered that it was on a loop with music by Mozart, Bach, some random plain song and more recent works like Galen Horst. All designed to encourage relaxation among the crew on long voyages. None of this held Lidia’s attention however. It was to be a day of confrontations and she steeled herself.

Dale was sitting in the circus seat at the round table under the balcony at the centre of the room. She was perusing a mobile reader while behind her was Jen and Jan. They had obviously been spanked, and soundly too judging from the redness of their bare bottoms. Each was facing a supporting column at opposite sides of the atrium.

“I see you have made a start,” Lidia said, more to announce her presence.

“Yes,” Dale said wearily.

“Not surprised to see me?” Lidia glanced over at her daughter who had started at her voice.

“Why should I be? You told me you were coming. Although I did expect you later, but Darius signalled me from the quay.” Dale looked up and followed Lidia’s eyes, realising that her sister meant the spanking and not the accounts.

“Darius… you let me walk up the…”

“Lift’s down for repairs, you should have gone aft and used the stern elevator,” Dale said with a shrug, but let her amusement show a little.

“How was I to… why didn’t Darius tell me?” Lidia’s concerns about giving Dale the bad news was fast evaporating.

“I expect you didn’t ask,” Dale accused. It was like her elder sister to do all the talking and very little listening.

“What did you do with the… stuff?” Lidia asked, changing the subject.

“The Phase you mean? They only had half a tab between them, it was in their systems by the time they got here,” Dale glowered and threw a daggered look over shoulder at the two miscreants.

“Then how…?”

“Port security picked it up on a routine scan,” Dale said darkly and let that revelation sink before she continued.

“They what…!” Lidia suddenly had a sick sinking feeling.

“Luckily it was one of the old hands. Jim Mac. He has seen it all before and knew Jen was off this ship. An old friend as a matter of fact,” Dale let the implication of the phrase sink in. Lidia could be such a prude.

“Thank Lucifer,” Lidia let out a long heavy sigh of relief. The spluttered angrily, “Oh… young lady… I am so… wait until I get you home. You won’t sit down for… ever probably. You are grounded for… until further noticed. And I do mean grounded. I’ll have you sweeping the floors with a pastry brush on your hands and knees. You’ll be in the corner so long you’ll welcome the razor-switch just to relieve the boredom…”

“Mummy please… I can explain…” Jan wailed, although she did not dare turn around.

“Oh you’ll explain all right,” Lidia raged before getting a hold of herself. “I trust Jen is not…”

“Jen is my concern and trust me, I am very far from finished with her,” Dale cut in. “Now Lidia, before you regale us with any more tales of the fate that awaits our Jan here’s bottom… didn’t you have something else to tell me?”

Lidia fell silent, blanching a little she whispered, “Darius?”

Dale frowned and then leaned sideways to ostentatiously look at the file case slung on Lidia’s side. “You want to talk about the Ad Astra. You have the files and… well you didn’t dress like that just to collect Jan.”

“No…” Lidia looked at her feet. “Dale I am sorry but…” She moved forward and put the chip on the table in front Dale. The legal seal was clearly visible.

Dale’s eyes moved rapidly in her head as she tried to take it in. “You…” She shook her head. “What is this? A court summons?”

Lidia pursed her lips, not knowing what to say. Then quietly she said, “No Dale, the case has already been heard. I merely invoked a pre-agreed clause. There was no hearing as such.”

“No hearing? No hearing about what? What have you done Lidia?” Dale snatched up the chip and brought it within in range of her portable reader.

“New document found,” the AI voice intoned. Dale tapped the ‘read all’ button.

“Who the freak is Bradley Dane?” Dale’s eyes were wild now. Lidia could see that some tears were welling up. Dale never cried, not without physical encouragement anyway. Lidia was shocked.

“Dane is the new captain. I have given him my proxy for my half of the Ad Astra. He has complete control. I got a good price without actually ceding any holdings. We still own the ship but…”

“Aunt Lidia,” Jen gasped and turned to confront her aunt.

“What about Jen and I? What about Gail and Darius?” Dale spat ignoring her daughter’s breach of discipline for once.

“You have three months; about the duration of one last voyage. If he signs you on that is. After that… well I will expect you home.”

“It’s not my home,” Dale said angrily, enunciating every word.

Lidia shrugged. “It will be. Oh Dale why don’t you give it up and come home now? You know I can make you anyway.”

Dale glared at her sister. “You agreed…” she hissed.

“I did, yes,” Lidia pressed the air down with both palms in a calming gesture. “But if the new captain isn’t hiring then… you will have to come home.”

“What if he takes me on? What if we make a profit again?”

“Oh Dale, the days of tramp-hauling are over. Wake up.”

“But what if?” Dale was desperate now.

“If the Ad Astra makes a profit, then I won’t sell out without your consent.” It seemed a safe enough promise. “What about Jen? Why don’t you let me take her now? You have enough on your plate.”

Jen was still standing there being ignored. Her body posture had been one of angry defiance, now tears sprang to her eyes and she desperately tried to get her mother’s attention.

“I don’t know,” Dale sat back with a sigh, “Let’s see.”

“Mother please,” Jen wailed.

“Shut up and get out of my sight,” Dale snapped back. “Better yet take this and go and get dressed.”

“What is it?” Jen caught the chip that Dale and tossed at her.

“New orders for Darius; report to him out on the quay.”

For a moment Lidia had remembered Darius’s words. “An 18% chance” that Dale would run. Then she realised that the chip had already been prepared. Dale wouldn’t run. Not with Jen anyway. The only places for her to run to were not anywhere that Dale would take her daughter.

*

Jen was relieved to get away from her aunt and her still angry mother. But suddenly it was the threat of a new captain that occupied her thoughts. How could Aunt Lidia do that to her mother? Even the idea that she might have to move down to Little Sister and live with her aunt was nothing to the thought that her mother would lose her beloved Ad Astra. Maybe if I agree to live with her she will lay off mother, Jen reasoned, but she knew it was hopeless. Lidia had the upper hand and she was not about to bargain with a ‘child.’

Oh well, I am sure mother will think of something, Jen consoled herself as she pulled on her burgundy overalls. She was never one for introspection. After stepping into her boots she nonchalantly tossed the chip with Darius’s orders into the air and caught it breezily as she stepped out of her quarters on the officers’ deck.

The doorway was a step up into a shared passageway lined with synthetic mahogany moulding and subdued clean blue lighting. There were four on-suite apartments, one for each of the current crew with a vacant one. For the new captain she supposed, unless he wanted mother’s; but they were all rather similar. As she skipped down the stairwell to the lower crew deck her bottom flared under her overalls and she winced.

“I wonder what she has in store for me next,” Jen said aloud. The ‘woodshed’ loomed in her mind. There was no doubt that her punishment would be supplemented with a visit there in a day or two.

As she passed the common room she could hear her mother and Aunt Lidia still arguing. Poor Jan must still be in the corner, Jen chuckled, I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes when Aunt Lidia got her home.

It didn’t take her long to reach the quay where Darius was stacking crates for removal into the hold of the Ad Astra.

“Darius,” she called out, “have you heard? We have a new captain.”

“Indeed yes Little Miss, Miss Lidia told me.” Darius eye glyphs revealed sadness and he even seemed to sink dejectedly into himself a little as he spoke.

“I have new orders for you, from m… the captain,” Jen said, wanting to change the subject. She extended the chip out to him but he didn’t take it. The address code was his and he decrypted it easily from two meters away.

“So I see,” Darius said in a business-like voice.

“What’s wrong?” Jen was suddenly alarmed. Had Dale secreted plans to run? But when? How?

“Nothing is wrong Little Miss, but I have an unpleasant duty to perform.”

“Are we… running for it?” Jen was suddenly excited.

“You can try,” Darius said as his right hand disappeared to be replaced with a single side of his poly-carbon claw. With one side retracted it looked much more like a paddle than a working claw.

Then realisation dawned in Jen and she took a step back. “Oh look,” she wailed, remembering the last time.

The usually ponderous Darius move quickly and easily to grab her and manoeuvre her across his knee. He efficiently stripped her overalls down to her knees and then her briefs.

“Darius, please not here,” Jen squealed.

“The captain was quite specific,” Darius intoned as he landed the first of many efficient swats to Jen’s now bared bottom.

“Hey look, Jen Hanson is getting paddle-whacked by Darius,” one of the dockers called out. This was followed by a hail of cat-calls and looking around Jen could see men and woman downing tools to gather and watch.

“Please oh please,” Jen cried frantically, then let go with a “yeow.”

With steady even swats it didn’t take long for her bottom to go a very decided even red and the sting was intolerable. She would have cried even without the witnesses. Her audience just made the unbearable into an instant hell. The woeful-faced Jen began to splutter sobs as she realised that the dock crew could see everything, although the burn in her bottom was fast leaving her with little will to care.

With everyone’s attention on Jen’s spanking, no one noticed the small woman creeping through the piled crates.

Luna Price had got to quay four ahead of Captain Dane, initially intending to approach him there. But once the impromptu cabaret had started she had seized the moment. It would be so much better to discuss passage once the ship was in deep space and far from Sororian jurisdiction.

To be continued



11 Responses to “Ad Astra chapter 1: Lucifer”

  1. DJ,
    nice start, I wait with interest.
    I think I’m right that you have three stories on the go.
    Paul.

  2. 2 George

    Interesting future…

  3. 3 fatherjim

    I have paid very good money for science fiction that was written half as well as this! What a brilliant start! Thanks so much for sharing, and I wait anxiously for the next installment!

    Jim

  4. 4 DJ

    Thanks guys

    Jim – kind words

    Paul – I am glad someone is counting. Angela, Abraham Heights and Raw are all coming back – probably Scenes and maybe Dreamscape. Certainly there is Magic – which is already on the launch pad. With this one how many is that? Unlike the others which are stand alone – Ad Astra and Magic are continuous narratives, so will take time to develop and still make sense.

    Thanks.

    DJ

  5. 5 Min

    Wow, looks like another masterpiece in the making.

  6. 6 manhattan

    Thank you very much for this “Raw”-spin-off. While I’m a big fan of your ‘pure’ or historical spanking stories too, I’m always amazed about the detail and the effort you put in the background of your scifi-stories. As Jim said, in terms of depth and quality it’s definitely above many bestselling novels marketed as scifi.

    • 7 DJ

      Thanks Min 🙂

      Manhattan – thanks for noticing – it was just a wink in that direction – not an actual spin-off per se

      Sci-fi is interesting to write because there are no limits – but as Rollin (I think) said previously – it does mean you have to take time to flesh out the world for the reader as well as the characters.

      The stairwell scene was written for economy – it described (I hope) the ship and the relationships of the characters to the ship and each other both at once and the same time. Nevertheless the first chapter is rather long – but I wanted to get to at least one spanking without it seeming over contrived.

      I can’t wait to get back to this story so watch this space.

      DJ 😉

  7. 8 Scarlet

    I was going to ask for a Multiple Purpose Service Drone, but I have changed my mind. DJ, no matter how much I get done in a day I think you must do twice as much. I am sure you never sleep. Great new world you’ve created. I might like the idea of relifing…it would put plastic surgeons out of business.

    • 9 DJ

      Yes MPSD would be great as for relifing – I have done it twice I’m actually 103 😉

      DJ

  8. Normally I do not read article on blogs, but I would
    like to say that this

    write-up very forced me to try and do it!
    Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, very nice

    post.


  1. 1 Testing Turing | Acknowledging Imperfection

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