Ad Astra Chapter 4: The point of no return

03Mar12

Cyborg and LunaOur story started here.

Michelin Hollister stood on the bridge out of necessity, the fierce glow in her bottom nothing to the one that suffused her soul. To stand on the bridge of a starship with a sore bottom was for her the epitome of happiness. Perhaps she was mad, she considered benignly, but the thought did not trouble her overmuch, her conditioning did not permit it. If anyone had been mad it was her old master. After all he had paid a large fortune for her to exist with these feelings, when any number of girls could have been recruited with the same urges and qualifications as her.

Scanning the ship’s readouts, she saw that the security board was blinking red at her. This too she ignored. Darius had reported a stowaway and Dale and the captain had gone aft to investigate. They were still more than two days out from the jump point and it was just possible that the Ad Astra would have to turn back. If it turned out to be a child, which was the most likely outcome given the availability of cheap flights out of the ark, then being only 10 hours out it was most probable that they would. In any event it was not her decision; they were now well clear of Ark jurisdiction so the final call would be the captain’s.

*

The first Luna Price knew that she had been found out was when on opening her eyes the door to the storeroom opened and that creepy android had been standing there. She wasn’t used to such utilitarian automata and for a moment she had to force back the urge to scream.

“Please identify yourself,” Darius said in as unthreatening way as he could manage.

Luna got to her feet and dusted herself off. Then drawing herself up to her full height she put on her best imperious voice and said, “I am Luna Price. I wish to see the captain at once.”

“Captain Dane is on his way,” Darius said evenly, “Please step outside and refrain from any sudden movements.”

“I am not armed, I just want a ride out of this system,” Luna said in a less certain voice.

“I detect no weapons, but please be advised that Captain Dane and First Mate Hanson will be armed as a matter of routine when they arrive. I wish to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings.”

“You wish it?” Luna said indignantly, “Do you know who I am?”

“You have identified yourself as Luna Price. Is there any reason I should conclude that this information is incorrect?” There was no trace of irony in Darius’s voice, although he knew perfectly well that the girl was trying to assert some level of authority over him. A futile gesture on her part as his programming did not recognise her as anything but a stowaway.

“Darius,” a breathless Dale suddenly said behind him, “Hey, what the…”

Dale felt unaccountably sick. The girl was an intruder in her home. Almost worse, she was an unnatural act. People did not just appear on a closed ship billions of miles out in space.

“What are you doing on my ship?” Dane growled as he came up behind Dale looking as if he had just taken a stroll.

Seeing just one frightened girl, Dane holstered his gun and stepped forward past his panting sweat-sheened first mate. The stowaway was dirty and bedraggled, but beneath the grime, the captain could see she was a looker; and something else. She was vaguely familiar.

“The stowaway claims to be called Luna Price,” Darius said in a neutral voice. “My analysis suggests a 78% probability that this is the truth.”

Dale gave a low whistled and clamped her hand to forehead; a Price? That was all she needed. Hang on, she thought, not ‘the’ Luna Price.

“You were in the bar back at the Ark,” Dane accused, “Did you follow us?”

“She’s Luna Price, the celebrity it-girl from the newscasts,” Dale cut in, letting some of her growing hysteria leak. “She is a Price, a Big Six Family.”

“I don’t give a shit for your local politics or your notions of aristocracy, what is she doing on my ship?” Dane said glaring at Dale to silence her. Then turning back to the girl he barked, “Well?”

Luna was terrified now, this offworlder did not look easy to handle and besides that he was a cyborg. She had heard bad things about these strange warriors. Her father had been afraid of them.

“I just wanted to buy passage to… anywhere,” Luna squeaked as she tried to back away from the looming captain and into the bulkhead behind her.

*

Having seen that the stowaway had been safely taken to the brig, Dane strode back through the ship like a man driven. Anyone who caught a glimpse of his thunder-dashed face as he passed quickly turned away and quickly found something else to do.

Not that Dane noticed. He was busy running the events over and over in his mind; worrying at them like units under his command on a battlefield. The girl had been in the bar and now she had turned up on his ship. Was this a coincidence? Did she know something?

She had looked too young and scared to be anything other than what she appeared to be and it was inconceivable that they would use a minor celebrity as an agent against him. Yet, he didn’t like it. Even if she was who she said she was, she represented a complication. His political masters back on Gant may even view her as a diplomatic problem if her status with the Big Six became known.

He swept up the faux mahogany blue-lit corridor to his quarters and down the steps into his room without waiting to check that the door had opened. Back on Gant the doors always opened, why wouldn’t they? Machines always worked and did what was expected of them. People; well that was another matter.

Dane tossed his pistol belt carelessly onto his bed and grabbed a whiskey flask off the desk. He regarded it like a snake in his hand and then after a long moment reluctantly put it back down unopened. Stay calm, he soothed himself, everything was going according to plan.

He slowly rubbed at his cybernetic eye with his finger. It itched a little as it always did when he was slightly stressed. He switched his optical sensors through various levels of visible and invisible light as if that would help him see with greater clarity.

Dale was more worried about her ship than him, and now that he had put the pressure on with his leather goods stunt, she was apt to think more seriously about renewing old contacts. She was virtually alone in this; the her daughter and the doc being more like liabilities than allies. He might even be able to use them for leverage if things went wrong.

Dane glanced at the whiskey flask again as he ran unpleasant scenarios through his mind; he had done worse, his dyspepsia flared a little at the thought of it. It won’t come to that, he assured himself. Michelin and Tammy would back him up and anyway, if Hanson was a good girl, then she had nothing to worry about.

*

Luna hadn’t like the look of what was hanging on the wall of the outer room of the brig. She definitely hadn’t liked the captain. To make matters worse, she hadn’t banked on being caught before the jump point. Strictly speaking they were still in Sororian space. By rights the ship should turn around and head for the Ark and turn her in. Then the truth dawned; the reward, why wouldn’t they turn around? This side of the jump point it would only be a minor inconvenience. She eyed a particularly fearsome paddle hanging on the wall; her father would have one just like that waiting for her. Then she thought of Captain Dane. Maybe she wouldn’t have to wait to feel such a thing. Strictly speaking, under Sororian law he would be within his rights.

At that moment, Luna would have done anything for a shower. The cell was small, just a bed and four walls; not even a toilet or any other facilities. She wondered if she would be locked in all the way back to the Ark. The Ark, she heaved a sigh that threatened to become a sob. They couldn’t really take her back, could they? She listened to the sound of the ship. It was quiet, so quiet that one didn’t notice it unless you listened. It didn’t sound any different to the sound she had heard all that time in hiding. Would she even know if the ship began manoeuvring?

Luna listened for the longest time and after a while she began to imagine that each beat of the tiny hum was a sign of a change. She thought about home. Oh please, please, please don’t let them take me back, she prayed to nothing in particular.

*

Why hadn’t the captain ordered the ship to turn around yet? Dale pondered as she headed to the bridge. Surely he knew that there was a 10,000 credit reward for the girl. That was more than the ship usually made on a single run out. It could make the difference between going under and saving the Ad Astra. She hated to think of that, it reminded her too much of how hopeless it all was.

As she reached the bridge she stopped at the access way. For a moment she felt lost. This was where she had spent much of her life, but suddenly it was unfamiliar. To her left there should have been a plastic red rose tucked behind the console and where were her grandfather’s log boxes? They had long ago been considered obsolete, but her father had kept them.

Then she remembered. It had all gone into storage when he had come aboard. This was no longer her command.

Michelin looked quizzically over at Dale, wondering why the first mate hung back in the doorway. Dale noticed that Michelin was standing up and something about her posture reminded her of Jen and Gail after she had spanked them. She shook herself, get a grip, that doesn’t make sense.

“Something wrong?” Michelin asked cocking one eyebrow, “I heard we had a stowaway.”

“Luna Price,” Dale said with a heavy sigh as she finally entered the bridge proper, “Would you believe it?”

“Who?” Michelin was confused. “Was the name supposed to mean something?”

“You know, the it-girl and socialite. She has been all over the newscasts… something about a scandal. I never watch such stuff, but even I haven’t escaped it,” Dale didn’t wait for Michelin to catch on; she just threw herself down into the communications station seat and began to monitor traffic for any hint that someone might know Luna Price was on board.

“Sorry,” Michelin shrugged, “It passed me by. Do we have orders to turn around?”

“No.” Dale scowled.

“I see,” Michelin winced and turned back to the monitors. She was on watch after all. “Then we won’t get any, I know Bradley Dane. He is single-minded.”

“So it would seem,” Dale replied, fixing all her attention on the newscasts and official communiques; opening two or three dozen all at once as she scanned them. Then angrily she spat out, “No one seems to care, so why should we?”

*

Dane finally emerged from his quarters in time for lunch. Dale had been more than content to take his watch and given the day’s events was keeping well out of the captain’s way. It had become clear to her that Dane had no intention of returning to Little Sister.

When he reached the crew area, everyone was there but Dale and Michelin.

“Captain,” Gail said in surprise, “What can I get you?”

Ignoring Tammy and Jen who were sitting together, Dane grunted something indistinct and sat down at a table well away from his crew.

Jen knew at once something was up and tried to catch Gail’s eye, but the ship’s cook, as she was just then, had turned away and was busying herself in her galley. Jen turned to Tammy who almost imperceptibly shook her head and pretended to focus on her plate.

“Something wrong captain,” Jen pressed on.

Dane glared at her for just long enough to send Jen’s eyes to her own plate and then he asked Gail, “What do you have Doc?”

“Kretchin pie, veggie soup or I can rustle up a steak,” Gail said expectantly. The last offer was an improv; the captain really didn’t look like a Kretchin pie man today.

“Beef?” Dane said hopefully.

Gail pulled a face. Beef was 10 credits a kilo, not even the Big Six ate it every day. Not that the synth-meat she was offering wasn’t good.

“What’s Kretchin pie?” Dane asked.

“What’s…?” Gail gaped at him and wondered if he was teasing. Then she remembered that he was an offworlder. “It’s a bird. Kretchin pie comes with ‘shrooms and potatoes.”

“So it’s real meat, like chicken,” Dane cocked one eye.

“It is real meat captain,” Gail confirmed. She had no idea what chicken was, but decided not to comment.

“Pie with coffee if you wouldn’t mind,” Dane nodded and managed a smile.

Just then Michelin came in and eased herself very slowly into a seat opposite the two girls. Although the two youngsters didn’t see it, Gail couldn’t help but notice that Michelin bit her lower lip and winced as her bottom made contact with the chair.

“What’s good today?” The second mate asked to distract herself and others from her discomfort.

“Pie,” Dane mumbled appreciatively through a mouthful, just seconds after pouncing on the plate Gail had set before him.

“Kretchin,” Gail said, then seeing Michelin’s face added, “Or vegetable soup.”

“Oh soup please,” Michelin looked genuinely enthusiastic.

Michelin Hollister could eat most things if she had to, but experience had told her to keep it simple. Back in her quarters she had a synthetic protein drink that was all she really needed to survive, but to show willing and out a sense of social need, she preferred to have at least one meal a day with the crew.

While this comedy played out the two younger girls finished up quickly and made to clear the table when Tammy bounced child-like over towards the galley.

“Hey Jen, I want chocolate, do you want some?” She called out.

“You stay out of my kitchen unless you want a spanking,” Gail hissed swatting at the cadet with a spatula.

Tammy retreated and blushed crimson when she saw Jen laughing at her.

At the word ‘spanking’ Dane winked at Michelin extracting another blush from her too.

*

After his meal, Dane had Gail put some soup and a plate of Kretchin pie on a plate.

“Do you want me to take that to our guest?” Gail asked, guessing what he intended.

“No thanks Doc, I think it’s time that Miss Price and I had a little chat,” Dane said gruffly as he took up the tray.

As he descended the stairs to the brig he felt the hull sway a little as it responded to the hum of the engines, he doubted anyone but an old pro like himself could have felt it. There was also a tock-tock-tock sound of metal stress, which Dane knew to be the faint echo of the tremendous forces straining at the hull. It was at moments like these that he felt the exhilaration of commanding a starship. Back when he had been a cadet he had learned about side torque and the role of stabilisers. He remembered watching a simulation at college of a ship being torn apart by a minute shift in the alignment to the inertia thrust of a vessel, which in theory it could happen at any time to any ship. It was like riding a tiger, he mused. If the average grunt aboard one of these craft had half the insight he had, they would jump ship. The thought amused him. He wondered what the Price girl would think if she knew. He was willing to bet that she would have thought twice about stowing away aboard a relic like the Ad Astra if she had.

He found Luna looking very sorry for herself when he opened her cell door. But she seemed to find some iron from within when he entered and a look of distaste crept over her face.

“About time,” she said snippily, “Do you know who I am?”

“You’re the girl from the bar,” he accused.

She frowned and then remembered that was where she had first seen the offworlder captain and had got the idea to board his ship.

“What of it?” It was a challenge. Luna was determined not to be intimidated by this man. After all she had mixed with the best and she was used to getting her own way.

Dane’s eyes narrowed and he put down the tray. “Give me one reason why I should not take you right back to Little Sister.”

Luna’s heart leapt. So they weren’t going back. If they were going to, they would have turned around by now.

“I can pay my passage,” she sneered and got to her feet.

“Oh, is that right?” Dane said casually with a hint of false bonhomie, “And where exactly is it that you want to go?”

“Well if you can arrange for me to be dropped off at Praxi,” Luna shrugged and put her hands on her hips, “Then I think I can make it worth your while.”

Dane scowled. Who did this little brat think she was?

“Worth my while you say,” Dane said carefully, “And what exactly did you have in mind?”

Luna looked smug and reached under her clothes. Dane knew she had no weapon, but even so he ran a spectrum check with his synthetic eye. It instantly revealed that the girl had no tech of any kind.

Taking something from under her shirt, Luna held out two handfuls of various pieces of costume jewellery. Dane was no expert, but it looked to be of the tasteful kind. However the gems were of variable value, depending on where in the home world belt you tried to sell them and the scrap value of the gold was modest.

“This ship is going to Rigel Nine, and that might just pay your way there. But why would a precious princess like you want to go to Rigel?” Dane folded his arms and waited for his rejection to sink in.

“Rigel,” Luna exclaimed, “I am not going to freaking Rigel. I demand you take me to Praxi at once. This is more than enough.”

“I don’t anticipating having any business on Praxi for the foreseeable. Once I have been to Maelstrom, then I am returning to Little Sister. Probably,” Dane looked the precious poppet up and down. She reminded him of Tammy before he had taken her in hand.

“Rigel, Maelstrom, you don’t understand you barbarian oaf,” Luna raged, “I have to get away from Little Sister and those places don’t cut it.”

Luna was scared now. Why the hell had she picked an old tramp like this to get away. Of course it would return to Little Sister. It was the home port. Why did she think it would go anywhere civilised?

“Oaf is it?” Dane’s nostrils flared and he unfolded his arms. “You asked me who I thought you were. Let me ask you. Who the hell do you think you are talking to?”

He didn’t shout and there was no definable menace in his tone, but something about his eyes made the hairs on Luna’s neck stand up.

“Look, whoever you are, if you can’t take me to Praxi then turn this bucket around and get me to the Ark and I’ll make my own way from there.” Luna tried to push past him but he moved to block her.

Dane let out a long sigh. “When was the last time you were spanked?”

Luna’s jaw dropped and she moved back a bit. “You… you wouldn’t dare,” she gasped, believing what she said.

Dane blinked hard and shook his head. “Astonishing,” he said in disbelief.

The captain picked the small dark-haired girl up easily as he sat on the bunk where he deposited her across his lap.

“Oh no, come on,” Luna groaned.

Before she could say more or take in what was happening Dane set about giving her the soundest spanking of her young life.

He was as rigid and as unmoveable as the bulkhead and his hand pounded down as hard as any paddle with alarming regularity. Almost at once it felt as if an ancient electric flatiron had been pressed to the seat of her grimy coveralls and she dreaded to think what it feel like if he had opted for spanking her Sororian style on the bare.

“Oh shit, oh god, oh please,” she wailed, but Dane took no notice as he spanked on.

He did not stop until at least three or four minutes after she had started begging in earnest and bleating out that she was sorry. By then she was bawling like a babe.

Dane set her on her feet and fixed her with one of his stares.

“Now listen to me,” he said quietly, “If you ever speak to me like that again I’ll take your overalls down and take my belt to your bare backside for just about forever and a day. Do you understand? I am the captain of this ship and I will have respect.”

“Yes,” she sniffed.

“Yes what?” It was a shout.

“Yes Sir,” she said quickly.

“Now I don’t care where you want to go,” Dane said, speaking quietly again. “If you stay on this ship you can either rot here until we get back to the Ark where I will turn you in for the reward or…”

He waited for the threat to sink in. “Or you can work your passage and leave at any port we may eventually come to.”

Luna pulled at her lower lip and sniffed. She had never been so embarrassed and she couldn’t meet his eyes.

“You have a lot to think about,” Dane said, “go and clean yourself up and use the head and then come and eat your food. I’ll be back in the morning to hear your decision.”

To be continued



4 Responses to “Ad Astra Chapter 4: The point of no return”

  1. 1 paul1510

    Damian,
    I love the expression, ‘thunder-dashed’, it is new to me and I’m fairly well read. 😉
    Paul.


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