Ocean, Chapter 2: School (F/m-teen, Non-con, F/f Off-screen, SF, Novella)
"Goddamn," he said. "I've been asleep for almost nine hours!" Then his mind slowly replayed the events of the prior evening, and he felt his face flush with embarrassment. For a moment, he toyed with the idea that perhaps it was a bad dream--certainly the embarrassment of what happened was in the same vein as his recently reoccurring "Showing up to class, then realizing you're naked" dream. But, as his hand reached around to massage his buttocks, the dull throb he felt was no hallucination.
Nathaniel quickly undressed and showered, then put on his usual school clothes: trousers and a tunic pulled over his undershirt. The style was not unlike he would have worn to class back on Earth, but the fabric was thin and made of a flax-like synthetic fiber. He assumed this was due to the ever-present humidity in the habs. The denizens of Ocean had no problem heating their habitats comfortably, but excess humidity would always be a problem. The thin, highly breathable fabric use for clothing was almost certainly concession to the fact that it was unlikely that the inherent dampness of living on an ocean world would ever be eliminated.
Sarah was already up and making breakfast as he came out of his room. He was dreading seeing her, fearing a continued lecture from the night before, or worse. Instead, she was polite but not particularly talkative. See was already showered and her dark hair, still damp, was pulled back from her ears. She seemed preoccupied with time as she served and then ate her breakfast.
After he commented on the good breakfast and made a few comments about the morning's news vid, Sarah got up and started clearing the table.
"Look, Nat, I've got a lot of things to get done this morning, so I want to get going. We can catch Elizabeth before her first class."
"Oh," Nathaniel said awkwardly. "If you are really pressed for time, I can explain to Elizabeth why I can't write the exam today."
Sarah gave Nathaniel a cold look, and then removed his plate from in front of him, even though he was still picking at a few unfinished items.
"Get you things and let's go," Sarah said coolly.
Nathaniel went in the bathroom and ran the ultrasonic around the inside of his mouth, and then retrieved his tablet from his bedroom. Sarah was waiting at the door, with her own tablet in a stylish sling that was thrown over one shoulder. Nathaniel felt his stomach start to knot.
Sarah and Nathaniel walked hurriedly to the cable car terminus and did not exchange a word during the one-minute ride to the hab that housed the school. Nathaniel felt the knot in his stomach twist as they walked down the corridor to Elizabeth's office. Two quick knocks and Sarah opened the door.
"Why, Sarah!" Elizabeth looked up from her tablet, which was resting on an easel on her desk. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" she asked with a warm grin. Sarah walked in with Nathaniel in tow. Nathaniel met his teacher's eye, and Elizabeth's expression turned to curiosity.
Nathaniel liked his homeroom teacher, who also served as his academic counselor. Since he had already mastered much of the course work for the term back at Starfarer's, he was fortunate to have such an enthusiastic instructor for Mathematical Ecology, which being predominately Ocean-based case studies, was his most challenging course. Her style was informal and conversational, and she always welcomed Nathaniel's questions, even if filling in the gaping holes in his background resulted in extended deviations from her planned syllabus. She was probably Sarah's age or at most a year or two older. Her long, blond hair usually spilled down over her shoulders, but this morning it was pulled back in an elastic. He had never been in her office before. He was surprised to see how messy her desk was, given her fastidious lecture style and meticulous notes.
"Hi Liz," Sarah said in a business like tone. "I am really sorry to disturb your lecture prep, but I felt this should be dealt with in person, and this is the only time I have free today."
"No problem. What's up?"
"Well, I'm Nathaniel's Super, I guess you know. He has been having difficulty keeping to his schedule, which I also guess you know, judging from your comments on his progress report. This issue came to a head last night when I discovered that he was not even halfway through a module he was to be tested on today. Apparently, he had been making a habit of this behavior, putting off his modules until the night before an exam."
Elizabeth's eyes, clearly showing her concern, turned to Nathaniel, then returned to Sarah.
"I had no idea he was having such difficulty with the material..."
"I don't think it was the material, so much as his lack of discipline in sticking to his agreed schedule. He had been skipping out, without my permission, to the Tank to train for his Open Ocean Certification, then staying up late to finish his studies. His schedule had specified 'lights-out' at midnight..."
"I see," Elizabeth said with a nod.
"Well, I have put a stop to this," Sarah said firmly, with a glance to Nathaniel. "But as part of getting him back on track, Nathaniel was not permitted to say up past 22h00 last night. He will not be able to write the exam today."
"I see indeed. I can imagine what the other part of his punishment included..." Elizabeth's voice trailed off.
"Liz, I am really sorry about this, as I know putting together a make-up exam is a lot of work. Trust me, I know this; I work as a TA part time."
"No, no problem at all. You were quite right to knock this nonsense off," Elizabeth said. Inside, he fumed at being talked about in the third person, while he was standing right in front of them.
Nathaniel just stood, arms pressed to his side, trying to occupy as little space as possible.
"Ok, then, that's it. I'll see that he is ready to write the exam in a couple of days, hopefully before the Break. Again, sorry for the inconvenience." Sarah stiffened, preparing to leave.
"No, no! Thanks for bringing this to my attention," Elizabeth said, and then turned her attention to Nathaniel. He wilted under her gaze, and he turned awkwardly to see Sarah exiting the same door they had entered, only a moment earlier. Sarah had not said a word to him since they left their hab.
"Well now, Nathaniel," Elizabeth said as if he had just walked in. She paused to collect her thoughts. He started to wither, his shoulders hunching in and his forehead lowering.
"Nathaniel, I'm not going to lecture you," Elizabeth continued, as the door closed behind Sarah. "Breaking your schedule is a matter for your Supervisor, not me. I am confident Sarah has already reprimanded you sufficiently for this. I am just going to reiterate that we take students adhering to their agreed schedules as being central to your developing maturity. Schedules are designed with your health and well-being in mind, and infractions are not dealt with lightly, as I presume you have discovered." Elizabeth paused to permit Nathaniel to reflect on what she said and then continued.
"What I am more concerned about is if you were having difficulty finishing a module and did not come to see me about it. You know I expect you to immediately speak to me as soon as you fall behind, for whatever reason."
Nathaniel finally summoned the courage to speak. "Well, I really was not having any particular difficulty; I just needed to hunker down for a few hours and I could have finished it off. I could still write the exam this afternoon, if I could just have a few hours..."
"Nathaniel, I'm going to cut you off right there. Sarah said you were halfway through the module, and these modules are designed for approximately twenty hours of study for a student at your level. I cannot imagine what you have been putting yourself through to finish these things off in a single night, but it certainly does explain a lot of your other behavior lately! I seem to recall you nodding off during the Founder's Day ceremony, which was the afternoon of our last exam, if I recall correctly..."
"Shit!" he thought, but instead replied with: "Ma'am, please, I can get this done!"
"Enough, Nathaniel, enough." Elizabeth was growing impatient. "You are in no shape to sit for the exam this morning, or this afternoon for that matter." Elizabeth said with finality. Nathaniel was not sure what she meant by "sit for the exam." Could she have known what Sarah did to him last night? Sarah certainly did not say anything to imply the type of punishment Nathaniel received. Would Elizabeth know anyway? How could she?
"While your classmates are writing the exam, you can continue your study in the library. You will attend the rest of your classes as usual, and then this afternoon's open period will also be spent in the library. I want you to report back to me at 16h30, and we will review your progress on the module. Clear?"
"Yes, sure," Nathaniel said, looking down dejected. He could not believe he was going to miss the exam. He had never missed an exam in his ten years as a student.
"Ok. Good bye, Nathaniel," Elizabeth said, clearly expecting the same in reply.
"Yeah, ah..." Nathaniel was unsure to press his point.
"Something to add?" Elizabeth said with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, I...just wanted to say...I am sorry," Nathaniel stammered.
"Nat, you don't have to apologize to me. When you are in trouble with me, you will know it...Trust me. Now, get out of here--I have a lecture to prepare."
Nathaniel turned to go, and felt Elizabeth's eyes still on him. "She knows," Nathaniel thought to himself. "She knows everything. She knows Sarah spanked me like a little boy." He quickly shuffled out the door and made his way to the school library.
Nathaniel stayed in the library while his classmates wrote the exam, as Elizabeth had instructed. He showed up to his next class, feeling conspicuous and avoiding eye contact with his classmates. Rebecca, a girl who had been particularly intrigued by him from his first day in school--probably more intrigued with him as a boy from Earth than as a boy--tried to flag his attention, but he pretended to focus on his tablet. Rebecca was cute, he had to admit, with hazel-green eyes and reddish brown hair that spilled down in seemingly uncontrollable coils from the clasp on the top of her head. She shared several classes with Nathaniel, and was a genuinely warm to him, but he had never engaged in more than just small talk between classes with her. He had entertained the idea of seeing her outside of school, but this morning he could not bear the thought of talking to any of his classmates, for fear they would discover just how much trouble he had gotten himself into.
After his morning classes were done, Nathaniel slipped into the corridor quickly, carefully avoiding Rebecca who still seemed anxious to talk to him, and reported for his physical training classes that the school gymnasium. They were covering a unit on swimming, and while the small pool the school operated could not do much to prepare him for his qualifications in the Open Water Simulation Tank, he treated the unit as a good chance to keep his muscle tone up. Especially, he concluded glumly, since it looked like he would not be getting much time in the Tank from now on.
He ducked into the Men's locker room, relieved he had successfully eluded Rebecca. "What business do I have flirting with girls," he thought, "when I'm getting spanked!" The thought sounded ridiculous, he knew, and vowed to banish it from his mind. He found his locker, quickly changed into this swimming suit, and reported poolside for class. The water was warm, unlike the Tank, but was maintained at the same salinity as Ocean. He greeted the brackish tang with a smile, as it evoked memories of last evening's Tank session...before everything went so wrong.
After a 45-minute period of formal instruction on energy-conserving stroke techniques, the class was permitted 15 minutes of free time in the pool. Nathaniel resolved to keep working on his kick, which Abby had told him was the weakest part of his stroke. He considered doing laps, but instead decided to simply hold up in a corner and kick in place while he held onto the rail that surrounded the pool at water level. The other kids in his class were noisily splashing and shouting while starting up some game at which Nathaniel could only guess the rules. After a few minutes of kicking in place, the familiar burn in his thighs started again. He resolved to not slack his pace until the full 15 minutes had passed. At least the burn in his thighs had replaced the smoldering pain in his backside, he thought resentfully and biting his lower lip, but kept up his kicking just the same.
"Here, Earthie," one of his classmates jabbed, "Try'n to move the whole hab?" That is indeed what it must look like, Nathaniel thought, but continued to his kicking and did not reply. Whoever was taunting him lost interest and returned to the game. The burn in his thighs was becoming unbearable, and his mind kept comparing it to the sensation of the burn he felt when he was over Sarah's lap, beneath the smacks her palm was delivering to his backside. He closed his eyes and squeezed his eyelids hard, trying to shut out both the pain experienced and the pain remembered, and replace it with concentration on a perfectly executed flutter kick. He kept kicking.
At fifteen minutes, the chrono above the pool chimed, and Nathaniel could finally give into his aching muscles and stop. The team that had been winning let up a triumphant cheer, and everyone clambered out of the pool and headed back to the locker room. Nathaniel's legs felt wobbly from the workout, but he made is way quickly through the showers and back to his locker, toweling off as he went.
As he was slipping off his suit, a group of three other boys rounded the corner and walked down the same isle of lockers. They were talking boisterously about different plays from their game in the pool. Nathaniel was not terribly found of these boys--they consistently kidded him about being an "Earthie" or a "Farer," their abbreviated form for: "Graduate of the Starfarer School." The joking was good-natured; it really could not have been malicious, since they only had experience with a real migr from Earth every five years or so, so there was no basis for real prejudice. Nathaniel took all their jesting in stride, but he did not go out of his way to spend time around them either.
"Hey, 'Farer," Soren said, turning the groups attention to Nathaniel, "I though you were in big shit, no?" All three of them starred up and down the length of his naked body.
"Ah, yeah," Nathaniel said, huddling into his locked to retrieve his underpants and t-shirt.
"Yeah, where were you this morning?" Chaz asked with mock-concern in his voice. "We missed you at the quiz."
"Well, as it happens, Sarah--ah, she's my super--was not very happy about my progress on the module, so she arranged for Elizabeth to push my quiz back a few days so I could catch up. I wasn't crazy about this, but Sarah..."
"Hey, we know all about Sarah, but what about your butt?" Soren pressed his inquiry like a prosecutor.
"What?" Nathaniel said over his shoulder as he quickly pulled his shorts up to his waist.
"Yeah, not so fast there, 'Farer, let's see your licks," Chaz said. Gabriel just smiled, he was always willing to let Soren and Chaz do the provoking.
"His bum looks as lily-white as the day he left Earth," Soren reported to this friends.
"So what gives? You exempt from ass-paddlings too, Earth-boy?" The "too" was a reference to the fact that Nathaniel had already tested out of two of their senior year mathematics and physics courses, which bought him a little extra time he desperately needed to catch up on mathematical ecology and the nuances of Ocean biology.
Nathaniel continued dressing, pretending to focus intently on arranging his tunic as he pulled it in place over his t-shirt.
"Come on, Nat, there is no point pretending you don't know what were talking about here. If one of us blew-off studying a module until the night before an exam," Soren said, pointing to his two friends, "our Supers would give us fifteen with the paddle, and if they didn't, we'd get the same, or worse, from Elizabeth anyway. The next day, we'd be sport'n a pink and bruised backside. So, now, why aren't you?"
Nathaniel said nothing and slipped on his shoes.
"Drop your shorts, I didn't get to see," Gabriel said, speaking for the first time.
"Look, guys," Nathaniel closed his locker hard, not slamming, but loud enough to punctuate his point, "as a matter of fact I did get punished, by Sarah, because of this. Since this whole thing for me is very humiliating, bordering on illegal by Earth standards, I'd prefer to drop the topic, here, now." Nathaniel no sooner finished his sentence before he started regretting every word of it. He had never, despite any other mistake he might have made since arriving on Ocean, adopted an "Earth-superior" attitude. That was the kind of thing that would look very, very unfavorable on his "Year Out" evaluation.
"Too good for a spank'n, are we, Earth-boy?" Soren leered, in a more confrontational tone than he usually took in their ribbing session.
"No, I got spanked," Nathaniel replied honestly, looking Soren in the eyes, hoping his honesty would help make up for his earlier faux pas.
"So, do Earthers have a bruise-proof asses then or what?" Chaz gaffed.
"Well, I guess Sarah went 'easy' on me, or at least that's what she said." God, Nathaniel thought, I cannot believe I am talking about last night...this morning I could not even believe it really happened, wondering if it was all a dream.
"Like, what? She didn't give you your full fifteen?" Soren pushed closer.
"No, I got fifteen, just....Look, guys, I have to go to class," Nathaniel pleaded, but as Chaz crossed his arms, and Nathaniel could tell that he was not getting away without telling the whole thing.
"So, she used a slipper or something instead of the paddle?"
"Ok, look, she didn't use anything but her hand, and she told me just this one time I could keep my pants, well, my pajamas, on."
"Ohhh!" all three boys hooted together. "You got a lil' boy spanking! Over your PJ's? That's all?" Soren asked between hoots. Gabriel almost bent over with laughter.
Nathaniel had had enough. He collected his bag and tablet and pushed past the three of them. Knowing the game was up they adopted a lighter tone. Chaz chimed in, "Kind of like breaking in a new pair of shoes, I guess, breaking in an Earther's bum!"
Nathaniel ran out of the locker room and down the corridor to his next class, but wasn't seeing where he was going at all. He just could not believe that how Sarah humiliated him last night was, apparently, not that uncommon a thing here. Even given that, he could not imagine anyone would be willing to talk, much less joke, about it. He assumed that anyone who was punished like he was would probably do everything he could to hide or deny the fact. But, if what Soren said was true, and the typical punishment for an adolescent left bruises, it would be difficult to cover up in the locker room the next day. As Nathaniel's mind kept chewing over these facts, he came to another conclusion: if spanking really was a common form of punishment here, then Sarah's promise of a "repeat performance" as not just an idle threat. No, what happened last night was not just some kind of bizarre, Out-World initiation, but something that apparently happened with regularity, and could be visited upon him with frequency as well! "Time to shape up, Nat," he thought to himself, as he suddenly realized he had walked two doors past his afternoon classroom, and had to awkwardly backtrack. He came in and sat down, again avoiding Rebecca's eyes.
After his classes had finished, Nathaniel spent the afternoon in the school library, which would not even pass as an annex to one of Starfarer's smaller libraries, but that just made for fewer distractions from his module. The library was located at the top of the particular hab that housed the school, and the entire ceiling of the library was transparent dome material. The tumble of gray clouds being convected by Ocean's continuous, high-velocity surface winds made for a dramatic display above the dome. The light diffusing through the clouds was sufficient, however, when combined with the internal illumination of the tablet he was using to work through the module.
Nathaniel was making steady progress without as much as a stray thought to interrupt him for nearly two hours. As he finished a particularly challenging exercise, he decided to tip back in his seat and pause. He was impressed with how far his proficiency level had advanced; at this rate, he could write the quiz tomorrow, or certainly the day after, without staying up past midnight. He started thinking about why he was so productive that afternoon, and wondered if Sarah was right about getting a good eight or nine hours of sleep every night. But, he knew that was not the explanation, at least not the entire explanation, since he had just as much difficulty concentrating during breaks and vacations, when he was able to sleep in and get a full nine or ten hours. No, he was just as prone to wander off into some obscure backwater of the terabytes of information stored in his tablet, exploring the arcane details of an asteroid belt surveyed decades ago and long forgotten, or the particular implications of a long-discarded theory of quantum gravatonics that might just permit time travel, or any of a hundred other abstruse subjects that pulled Nathaniel's attention away from his prescribed lessons. His curiosity was forever drawing his concentration to topics that were definitely not advancing his career through Starfarers. Try as he might, he just could not corral his interest to what his particular study program stipulated. The fact that Nathaniel had still graduated at the top of his class from Starfarer's School was merely witness to his ability to cram what he needed to know in long nights before his semester exams.
Today had been a different matter, however. Nathaniel was focused on the job he knew he had to get done, because otherwise he would have to face Sarah, and that could mean...well, that meant he had better get back to his module! Maybe that was it, he thought, his mind's focal point turning to the tinge of tenderness he still felt where his bottom met the hard seat of the library chair. Perhaps his shameful session over Sarah's knee last night had reduced him back to being the diligent schoolboy he had been years ago, before he had qualified to enter Starfarer's. It was his high marks in his primary education years that he earned him entrance to the most exclusive of high school programs, the Starfarer School. Ironically, he thought, being treated like a child may be just the thing to get him back into the routine of doing solid scholastic work, which is what he would need to get through this term and, in turn, get a good evaluation for his Year Out.
At 16:30, he reported back to Elizabeth's office. Her hair was up again--she must just take it down for class--and absorbed in her tablet. She did not mind the interruption, however, and appeared genuinely impressed with Nathaniel's progress that afternoon.
"Ok," she said, conveying her approval. "Same deal tomorrow."
As Nathaniel turned to the door, she planted a smart pat to his backside. Nathaniel turned, surprised, but Elizabeth just shot him a sly look as she returned her attention to her tablet.
Nathaniel made his way back to his hab via the cable car. Not wanting to break his inertia, he settled into a chair at the kitchen table and resumed his work. After forty minutes, Sarah came through the door, totting sacks of groceries.
"No, no, that's OK," she said, waving Nathaniel back to his seat as he got up to help.
"You study," she commanded, in mock-caveman talk. Which Nathaniel did, while she unpacked.
After she had supper started, she walked around the kitchen table and stood behind Nathaniel, looking down over his shoulder at his tablet. Nathaniel suspected she was inspecting the histogram in the lower left corner of the display, showing his progress and proficiency in the practice exercises of the module.
"Try increasing the coupling coefficient," she said, catching Nathaniel off guard.
"I'm sorry?" Nathaniel wondered what she was talking about.
"This is the Kraken-Jonah predator-prey model, yes?"
"Uh, oh yeah," Nathaniel said, not masking his astonishment that Sarah recognized what he was working on. "You know this stuff?" he asked incredulously.
"Don't sound so stunned, kid. I was born 'n raised here, you'll recall."
"Well, yeah, but..."
"You would be surprised how similar some of the mathematics of these models are to QG. We are borrowing solution techniques from the ecologists all the time."
"Huh," Nathaniel tried to convey how impressed he was by Sarah's breadth of knowledge, as he followed her advice in changing the parameters of the simulation.
"You're right! Population oscillations damped out completely in just a few cycles!"
Sarah chuckled softly as she moved her hands from the back of his chair to the back of his shoulders. She gave a long, hard squeeze.
"Stick with me, kid. I'll teach you things." Sarah began to slowly rub his shoulders, and Nathaniel felt the hours of tension building up in his neck begin to ebb away.
Her hands are strong, Nathaniel thought, and then recalled that he had already learned that fact the prior evening. Notwithstanding the connotation, it did feel good, and he tilted his head back and closed his eyes in order to soak in the sensation.
"Alright," Sarah said, snapping her hands back. "What to you say you finish that exercise, then set the table for dinner?"
"Sure," Nathaniel said, bearing down on his tablet again.
After dinner and cleaning off the table, both Sarah and Nathaniel retreated to opposite corners of the living room to settle in their favorite respective sofas. Both were completely absorbed in their tablets, and the only disturbance was Nathaniel's occasional queries to Sarah regarding some mathematical detail of his exercises. Sarah always shot back with a succinct and informative answer, without ever looking up from the display of her own tablet.
At 22h, Sarah declared she was going to bed, as she had another busy agenda for the next day. Nathaniel nodded, and promised he would be turning in within the hour--a full hour ahead of what his schedule had specified. Sarah returned a nod of approval, and went into her room, closing the door behind her.
Nathaniel looked up from his tablet and focused on her bedroom door, thinking about what had transpired a mere 24 hours earlier. As he looked at her door, Nathaniel figured she probably did have his interests at heart; Sarah really was trying to help him get though his studies and balance his other responsibilities in an organized, disciplined way. He guessed the traditions and customs of Ocean forced such an unusual expression of that concern. That is putting it mildly, he thought, as again he replayed the scene of himself being slumped over her lap, squirming under the lock of her left arm as her right arm rose and fell, rose and fell, punctuated by the sounds of "smack, smack..." He gave an uncontrolled shudder, then shook the image from his mind.
Nathaniel decided he had better retire to his room, for fear he might fall asleep on the couch and have to explain himself to Sarah if he was discovered there after midnight. He changed into his pajamas, pausing to inspect his bare backside in the full-length mirror in his room. His buttocks certainly did not show any signs of damage, he concluded, although that certainly had not earned him any deference in the locker room.
Sliding his pajama bottoms up, he decided to stretch out on his bed and work with his tablet on the floor. As he settled into a comfortable position, belly down, he caught his reflection in the mirror, and could see is pajama-clad butt. He pulled his knees in and lifted his bottom into the air. "This is what I must have looked like to Sarah," he thought, contemplating his butt jutting up from the bedspread. "I look ridiculous!"
Despite himself, Nathaniel brought his right hand up and gave his bottom a slow caress. He could not really say it was still hurting, but the touch brought back a rush of sensation, and he felt a strange excitement tumbling in his stomach.
He wondered what Sarah must have been thinking as she spanked him. Was she just completely disgusted with his conduct, disappointed with his sneaking out nights to train in the Tank, infuriated at having to expend the time and exertion to dole out his punishment? Or perhaps she felt like she was really doing something worthwhile, keeping him on the straight and narrow. More likely, he concluded glibly, she was probably just annoyed by him, just like every other adult is annoyed by every other teenager. That he was a good student working toward a bright future probably did not make any difference; he was just another bratty kid that needed to be dealt with as part of her own responsibilities as a Supervisor, just another unpleasant task along her path to fulfilling her advanced degree requirements. Nathaniel was strangely disappointed in his conclusion; he had for some reason entertained that she might have taken some pleasure in punishing him as she did.
"Well, I certainly did not enjoy receiving," he mused. "Why should she enjoy giving?"
Deciding he had been ridiculous to reenact his posture from the spanking, Nathaniel clambered around to the head of the bed and turned the coverings back. He decided he had made enough progress on the module for one day; he would certainly finish his remaining exercises tomorrow and could hopefully write the exam the day after, the last day of class before Break. Sarah had not said anything about canceling their planned trip of flying down to the Shakelton to visit Simon. As he snuggled down into the sheets and yielded to sleep, he nestled his mind in thoughts of being on the research vessel, a tiny speck in an enormous sea. The ship dissolved to mist and his mind dissolved to unconsciousness.
The next morning, Nathaniel felt like he was back into the routine he had established before Sarah had come down on him. He participated in his morning classes, interacting with his classmates as usual. When Rebecca caught up with him in the corridor as he was heading to the library for a study period, he did not try to slip away. He greeted her with a grin, but it felt forced. She did not seem to notice, and launched right into a jabber of conversation. As Sarah kept asking if he was all right, they drifted into an alcove where they could enjoy some privacy. Nathaniel talked affectionately, even as the topic turned to why he missed the exam the day before.
"So, you must have got it pretty bad from Sarah, right?" Rebecca gently asked, when he explained how Sarah caught him skipping out to the Tank when he had not even finished half of his module.
"Well, yeah, it was not pretty." Nathaniel could not lie to her big, blinking hazel-green eyes; he knew he would have to confide in someone, someone other than the boys in the locker room.
"I can imagine. If Gertie found out I hadn't finished a module on the night before an exam, what she would do..." Rebecca's voice trailed off for dramatic effect.
"Gertie" was Rebecca's insolent nickname for her Supervisor, Gertrude. Gertrude was older than most Super's, probably in her late 20's, and a midlevel administrator on Ocean who was well on her way to a seat on the Executive Council in the next term. If half of Rebecca's accounts were true, Nathaniel concluded, then Gertrude was indeed not someone with who you would want to be in trouble.
"Well, I wouldn't be able to sit for a week!" Sarah resumed painting her bleak portrait of her Super. "She would work me over good."
It took Nathaniel a moment to register what Sarah was referring to.
"Are you serious?"
"About what?" Rebecca's forehead looked even cuter when wrinkled with puzzlement.
Nathaniel was afraid to ask the question, but unable to contain his curiosity, either.
"Here we go..." he thought, then asked: "Well, I mean, do you really get..."
"Spanked?" Sarah said as her frown disappeared and her eyebrows shot up.
Nathaniel blushed and nodded and exhaled a sigh of relief that he would not have to say the word.
"Damn right I do." Sarah looked past Nathaniel, as if recalling something particularly unpleasant.
"Even now?" Nathaniel had to get some basic information, and here was his chance.
"You mean, like, today?" Sarah looked confused.
"No, I mean, you're fifteen standard years, like me, right?"
"Nat, we all get spanked until we are seventeen. Well, not everyone, but most kids do, now and then." Sarah spoke like she was explaining something as obvious as the direction gravity pulled.
"Well, when was the last time, I mean..."
"You want to know when I last got spanked? It was..." Her eyes rolled up in her head. "End of last term. After exams, my girlfriends and I went over to the University hab and I blew past my curfew by hours. Then when I got home, I didn't do the half dozen chores that had pilled up while I had been studying for Finals. Next day, the girls came by and dragged me out of bed to go shopping, and when I got home that night, Gertie was fuming. I probably wouldn't have got it for anyone of those things in particular, but she claims she caught me trying to deny the whole thing--which I wasn't--and that blew up into a real row."
Nathaniel could not help but smirk as Rebecca recounted her mischief.
"You laugh, buddy, but when you get in an argument with Gertie, it only ends one way. Her with her hairbrush, and me bare-assed and ass-end up!"
"And you accept this? I mean, you just go along..." Nathaniel had come to know that Rebecca would not settle for anything unless she was convinced it was right. He had seen her nearly push their analytical psychology teacher to tears of aggravation when she did not accept a particular line of his reasoning. Nathaniel could not conceive of her just giving into being spanked like a child.
"It's not like I have a choice! If don't take whatever punishment Gertie dishes out, she can sink my next evaluation on grounds of insubordination and I get sent to the remedial program. And that is the quickest shortcut to a career in scraping out the brine shrimp tanks in Zoo hab, or whatever menial job you care to think of, for the next thirty years. No thanks; I'll take my licks." Despite what she was saying, Rebecca's frustration with the entire system was palpable.
"But, as long as you go along, you don't get into any real trouble?"
"Well, I wouldn't count on getting out of every mess you get yourself into by agreeing to a spanking from your Super. I mean, at some point, these things will get into your evaluation if you keep getting nailed. But as long as it looks like you 'learned your lesson,' most Supers will just chalk it up to experience, and forget about it."
Nathaniel was secretly relieved by what Rebecca was telling him. He had feared that getting into trouble with Sarah over his schedule would stay with him like a poor mark on his academic transcript.
"Look, Nathaniel, if you haven't figured this out, here it is." Rebecca was lecturing now. "Every kid on Ocean gets spanked. It's no big deal, so don't worry about it. Just try to stay out of trouble."
Rebecca looked thoughtful for a moment, and then gave an infuriated sigh.
"Gawd, I sound just like Gertie!" she moaned.
"Well, sounds like good advice to me. I've got to work on that...stay out of trouble. Speaking of which, I better get to the library; I still haven't finished that damn module. See you in class this afternoon?"
"I'm there," Rebecca said with her puckish smile as she turned to head back down the corridor.
Nathaniel played the conversation back in his mind several times in the library. He was not being as productive as the day before--"Maybe the effects of Sarah's spanking are wearing off" he mused--but he had to mull over everything Rebecca had told him. Everything he pieced together formed a picture in which he was becoming more confident that Sarah's warning of "repeat performance" was not a threat, but rather a statement of the most plausible outcome.
Nathaniel managed to finish off his module during the afternoon study period, and when he reported to Elizabeth at the appointed time, she agreed that he could write the make-up exam the next morning. Nathaniel rode the cable car back home, feeling buoyant for the first time in days.
That evening, as Nathaniel sat at the kitchen table working though practice exercises in preparation for his exam, Sarah came up behind him and gave him another squeeze to his shoulders. Nathaniel remained focus on his tablet this time, and was rewarded with a few minutes of gentle kneading to his shoulders. The tension in his back was slowly let go, but Nathaniel did not permit his body language to communicate how good her touch felt. In his mind's eye, he imagined lulling his head back, to be enveloped by Sarah's breasts, which were just centimeters from his head. He felt the stirring in his loins and determined not to permit himself to be aroused further.
"She is just giving me a study break...some encouragement. I should not read more into this than that..." Nathaniel reasoned. But his body had other ideas, and the swell against the tight fight of his pants became uncomfortable.
"Oh, god." Nathaniel had to do something, or risk the humiliation of Sarah finding out. He decided to give an exaggerated shrug, and Sarah pulled her hands away.
"Did that hurt?" Sarah asked.
"No, it felt fine...good... I mean, it helped. I feel better." Nathaniel stammered.
"Back when I was an undergraduate, we used to have an entire system of backrubs and neck massages set up amongst my study group--who owed who a back rub, for how long, and so on. I got to be quite good."
"This was with your friends?" Nathaniel suddenly felt disenchanted. She did this for everyone?
"Well, yeah. I mean, the guys I did undergrad QG physics with. I'd give them backrubs, they give me a neck massage." Sarah seemed momentarily lost in the reminiscence. Then she snapped back to the present.
"Well, I'm turning in early. Nat, you're sure you are ready for the exam in the morning?"
"I just scored 88% on a practice exam," Nathaniel replied.
"OK, let's see if you can't top that tomorrow." Sarah pulled away from the back of his chair and went into her bedroom. "Good night," she said without turning around as she pulled the door shut.
Nathaniel worked for another half an hour, went through some recent communiques that had collected on his tablet, and then decided to go to bed himself.
When we was alone in his room and changed into his pajamas, he again sprawled out along his bed, in the same position he had the night before, and inspected the image of his own, upturned backside in the mirror. He took his right hand and slowly raised and lowered his flattened palm over his buttocks a few times, just lightly tapping his own bottom. He imagined the same view from Sarah's perspective. "Does she really just see me as a kid?" Nathaniel wondered. "A bad, little kid, at that?"
As with the night before, Nathaniel cursed himself for indulging in such illicit fantasy. He vowed to think about nothing else tonight, as he turned back his bedspread, but multiple-degree-of-freedom models of predator-prey ecological systems. He knew if he drifted off to sleep thinking about his material for the exam, his brain would get an extra eight hours to grind over the material as he slept.
He did not hold true to his pledge, however, for as Nathaniel drifted into sleep, he was thinking about the feel of Sarah's strong hands on his neck, his shoulders, sliding down his spine, pushing on the small of his back, as they moved toward...
The next morning, Nathaniel awoke before his chronometer chimed. "That's a first," he thought to himself, amused.
He got up and showered, dressed, and used the extra time his early rise bought him for a last minute review of his module. He ate a very light breakfast--toast and juice. He was out the door before Sarah had a chance to reprimand him for his feeble breakfast. Usually Sarah was at the door, impatiently prodding him to, "Get moving!"
"Today, I'm gone before she is even dressed!" he thought. "Another first!"
He reported to Elizabeth's office a full forty-five minutes before class, and asked if he could start the exam immediately. Elizabeth was willing to go along, and with a single hand motion over her own tablet, she unlock the exam on Nathaniel's tablet, simultaneously locking his access to all reference materials, including his study module, for one hour.
"Ok, Nat. You have one hour. Get busy." Elizabeth returned to her lecture preparation.
Nathaniel worked at a small desk in Elizabeth's office, oblivious to her and the rest of his surroundings. The exam was tough; he knew Elizabeth would see to that. It probably served him right, after making her write a make-up exam. Of course, that was nothing compared to what he had put Sarah through, what Sarah put him through...
"Damn it! Focus!" he cursed under his breath, and decided to move onto the next problem.
After forty minutes, Elizabeth got up to head to her morning class--Nathaniel's homeroom class. He had hoped to have finished the exam by now, so that he would not need to come in awkwardly late, but he now realized that the exam would take a full hour--he could have spent two hours on his exam!
"You've got 20 minutes. Come to class as soon as you're done," Elizabeth said, and left Nathaniel alone in her office.
Nathaniel bored down on his tablet and wringed his mind to concentrate on the final, most challenging problem on the exam. He was still working when, after 20 minutes, his tablet momentarily froze, then returned with full functions enabled. He knew the status of his exam at that instant had just been transferred to Elizabeth's tablet.
"Oh well," he said, not very happy with his performance, "it's done." He got up and walked briskly down the corridor to his class.
As he came though the door, he could tell he had not missed anything during the first fifteen minutes of class. The last day before Break, his classmates were in a raucous and unruly mood. He knew Elizabeth was not going to try to complete with that. In fact, she was hunched over her lectern, and appeared to be working on something on her tablet. Perhaps grading...
"Uh oh," Nathaniel thought with a hard swallow. "That's my exam," he concluded with a rush of anxiety.
He took his usual seat, and made eye contact with Rebecca, who gave him the thumbs-up sign. She really could be the unrefined colony-world girl sometimes, he thought morosely. He had not seen anyone use that hackneyed gestures since, well, his parents. He felt a pang of guilt, and mentally chastised himself for being in such a spiteful disposition just because he was in a bad mood coming out of the exam. Rebecca could not help it that her world was twenty or third years behind contemporary culture. He gave her a weak smile and returned the "so-so" gesture he used to see his parents use.
His tablet softly pulsed, and he looked down to see a flagged communique had just arrived...from Elizabeth. He gulped, and opened the communique.
"Nat: 92%. Well done. Let's try to get this done on time from now on, OK? --Elizabeth"
He let out a long, slow exhale, careful not to make eye contact with his teacher as she attempted to bring the class to order. "Just because tomorrow is Break...."
That afternoon, Rebecca caught up to Nathaniel as he came out of the men's locker room.
"Hey Nat, how'd you do?" she was pinning him to the wall with her eyes.
"Ok. Elizabeth did not spare any expense on the make-up."
"I can imagine. So what did you get?" Rebecca was insistent.
Nathaniel demurred, and instead tried to distract her.
"Whatever.... What are you doing during study period?" he asked.
"I want to finish of that biochem lab before Break. Wanna come?" Rebecca seemed a bit too enthusiastic, but Nathaniel could not refuse. He asked her what she was doing as a diversion, so now he had to play along.
"Sure, might as well," he replied readily.
For the rest of the morning, Nathaniel regretted agreeing to Rebecca's plan to work in the lab that afternoon. On the day before Break, he would rather be..."Well, anywhere but in school." But, as planned, they met just after lunch outside the cafeteria.
Rebecca, with Nathaniel in tow, jogged the corridors back to the school's biochem laboratory. Their bench-top apparatus for the unit they were covering--"Intro to Proteomics"--were already set-up. Rebecca, of course, had chosen the workspace immediately next to Nathaniel's, so it was natural they would collaborate on their labs.
After a half an hour of steady effort to get their lab instruments tuned and the proper reagents into the correct concentrations, they could resume their work on the assignment.
"It's gonna be great to get this lab done before Break," Rebecca said, without looking up from the bench-top microscope. "When were back, we can start the next unit on protein folding, with should be really cool."
The door to the lab opened noisily, and Carl, their biochem teacher came in. He did not pay much attention Nathaniel and Rebecca; students were allowed to come in and work in the lab during the afternoon open period. Nathaniel secretly hoped that coming in to work on the afternoon before Break would at least earn them some points, but Carl seem preoccupied with setting up a demo for an afternoon class. He left after a few minutes, without having acknowledged his two students.
"Well, he was in a friendly mood," Nathaniel said after the door closed.
"Oh, Carl's OK. He just cares about results, not how hard you had to work to get there."
Rebecca never looked up from her work, but suddenly, her head popped up and snapped toward Nathaniel.
"Hey, what do you say we push this to the next level?" she said excitedly.
"Huh?" Nathaniel replied.
"Well, you're almost done, right?"
"Yeah, give me twenty minutes."
"OK. There is an additional section of the lab module that is to be used for graduate level courses covering the same material. But there is nothing stopping us from doing it, for fun. Maybe we can show Carl and get some extra credit."
Nathaniel reached over and with his left hand--he was afraid to let go of the sample in his right--advanced his tablet to the appendix to the standard lab procedure that Rebecca had indicated.
"Well, we don't have the proper reagents to do these assays." Nathaniel seemed skeptical of the whole idea. He was tempted to say: "Damn girl, it's the afternoon before Break, come on!" He did not want to dampen Rebecca's keenness, though. When she got really focused, her brown wrinkled and her big, beautiful green eyes narrowed to slits. Somehow, it all made her that much cuter.
"I know where Carl keeps them in the storeroom--I'll go get them." Before Nathaniel could reply, Rebecca was off to the supply room, tablet displaying the required chemicals in hand.
Nathaniel hurried to finish off the requirements of the lab assignment, hoping to catch up with Rebecca before she got back.
Rebecca returned with several bottles balanced on her tablet, then carefully positioned them on the bench space between their stations.
"This is gonna be so cool--we'll be doing real science on the cutting edge, just like the 'graphers do." Rebecca's eyes narrowed and sparkled, simultaneously.
"Well, not really," Nathaniel thought, "even the advance lab work had been done more than two centuries ago." He continued to yield to Rebecca's eagerness to try the advance section of the lab procedure, however, ignoring the nagging thought in the back of his head that told him this could lead to trouble.
After another half an hour, Nathaniel began eyeing his chronometer surreptitiously.
"We better wrap this up. We gotta be out of here in fifteen minutes, Carl's going to..."
The door opened nosily again.
"Too late," Nathaniel muttered under his breath.
Carl took a definite notice of Rebecca and Nathaniel this time, and marched straight to their station.
"You two must be really keen. The rest of the school is empty!" Carl's eyes drifted to the bottles lined up between Nathaniel and Rebecca.
"Uh oh," Nathaniel thought.
"Where did you get these?" Carl look puzzled.
When neither Rebecca nor Nathaniel answered, he pressed on, more annoyed.
"Why did you get these?" Carl locked his unnerving, unblinking eyes on Nathaniel.
Rebecca chimed in with a clear, strong voice. "Well, we were just going to do the next section of the lab procedure. We wanted to finish the module, completely."
"Rebecca," Carl turned, and Nathaniel was relieved to be out from under his gaze. "You know that section is only for use in advanced, university-level courses."
"Well, I guess," Rebecca's volume was tapering off.
"Young woman, those," Carl pointed to the bottles she had retrieved from his storeroom, "are some of the most toxic compounds in the storeroom. Hell, on the entire planet!"
Carl's voice was gaining the volume that Rebecca had lost. His eyes scanned back and forth between Rebecca and Nathaniel.
"Now, would you please tell me who authorized you two to use these reagents?" he asked in a tone that conveyed he knew that he was the only one permitted to grant such permission.
"Sir, I'm sorry...We...I didn't think it would do any harm--I was just hoping for some extra credit, going further in the assay than we were asked to." The words came tumbling out; Rebecca was beseeching in that voice that Nathaniel found so hard to resist. He hoped their teacher found it equally beguiling.
"No, Rebecca, you certainly didn't think," Carl replied coolly. He stepped back from their bench and looked at the floor, then at the ceiling, and finally at his chronometer. When his eyes connected with their eyes again, Nathaniel knew he was ready to pass a verdict.
"You two are going to have to be punished for his, which I should probably tend to myself, even though I despise this sort of thing. But--lucky me--I'm on my way to a committee meeting right now, so I'm going to dispatch a communique to your counselors, and they will decide what to do with you."
Both Nathaniel and Rebecca bowed their heads slightly and swallowed. They both knew what his would mean.
"You will report to your counselors immediately. My communique will be there by the time you arrive."
Nathaniel followed Rebecca's example and just kept staring at the countertop.
"Get going," Carl said firmly, and Nathaniel and Rebecca started shuffling toward the door.
Their chemistry teacher was correct, the school did appear to be empty and Nathaniel and Rebecca ambled down the corridor is silence. When they reached Elizabeth's office, he came to a halt.
"Well, I guess this is my stop," Nathaniel said, trying to sound cheery.
"Oh, Nat," Rebecca's lips started to tremble. "I'm so sorry. Please, let me go in first and explain to Elizabeth that is was all my fault. I'll go and tell Carl too."
"No, Rebecca, no. I was doing the lab with you--we were partners, remember? We share the responsibility, like partners in any investigation." Nathaniel knew he was saying what she wanted to hear. Was it also what he wanted, he wondered.
"Nat..." Rebecca was beginning to choke up and could not go on.
"Becca, you better go on to your counselor's office. Let's just get this over before the Break."
Rebecca nodded, but couldn't speak. Nathaniel, not knowing what else to do, turned and went into Elizabeth's office. How different it felt than when he had walked out of the same door after writing the exam, about seven hours earlier.
"Nathaniel," Elizabeth said, looking up from her tablet has he came though the door.
"Not an unexpected surprise, I'm afraid. I'm just reading a memo from Carl."
"Yes, ma'am. I know."
"Yes, I suspect you do. I also suspect you know what a serious offence it is to tamper with Class IV substances without authorization, don't you?"
"Oh god," Nathaniel thought, "she really knows how to make this look bad."
"Well, I guess I should, but we didn't think of it like that, I mean, we did not think we were tampering. We were just trying to get a little more out of a canned lab assignment." Nathaniel regretted what he said the moment he stopped speaking.
"'We' meaning...you and Rebecca?" Elizabeth queried.
"Well, if you and you little friend did not think through the consequences of carrying out an unauthorized lab experiments, then I guess it is up to us to impress upon you the importance of doing so." With that, Elizabeth pushed back from her desk and turned to face Nathaniel eye to eye.
"Come over here."
"Elizabeth, ma'am, please. I am very sorry about what we did, but we were not hurting..." Nathaniel stopped as he saw Elizabeth hold up the back of her hand to her cheek, with palm outturned to Nathaniel.
When it was clear he was not going to say anymore, Elizabeth spoke. "Nathaniel, you exposed yourself and others to considerable risk by fooling around this afternoon. You are going to be punished for this. Now, get over here."
Nathaniel walked toward her desk. She pointed to a spot on the floor at the far end of her desk.
"Stand right here," she commanded, pointing to the floor.
Elizabeth pulled open the top right drawer on her desk and retrieved a rigid plastic ruler, just under half a meter long, several centimeters wide and half a centimeter thick. Grasping it in her right hand, she took two steps and stood beside Nathaniel.
"Now, bend over," she said as she pushed his torso forward with her left hand between his shoulder blades. "And try not to further mess up my already messy desk, if you please."
Nathaniel rested his elbow on clear spots amongst the scatter of her desk. His thighs just below the bend of his hips pressed against the corner of the desk. Her left hand was still on his back, but sliding along his spine until reaching the hem of his tunic. Like all adolescent boys of his generation on Ocean (or Earth, for that matter), Nathaniel would not be caught dead with the tails of his tunic tucked in. She gently pulled the tunic up, past the curve of his jutted-out bottom, and still grasping the hem, pressed down on his lumbar vertebrae. For a moment, his mind turned with concern back to what Sarah had warned him about the "luxury" of keeping his pajamas on, and he worried if his would apply to a spanking administered in school. Not that the thin, breathable textile used for garments on Ocean would offer him significant protection. Elizabeth, however, made no further adjustments to his clothing, instead focused on the alignment of the ruler in her right hand with his bottom. Nathaniel grew uncomfortable with his head craned upward, so he brought his chin down to rest on the palms of his hands. He felt ridiculous, like he was in prayer or something equally humiliating.
"Nathaniel," Elizabeth said with more gravity than he had heard her use before, "you are going to be punished for unauthorized use of the Lab and in particular for violating Lab safety procedure. Is that clear?"
"Ah, yeah...yes, ma'am."
And with that, he heard the sound of the ruler slicing through the air, followed by an explosive, "Whap!" He was knocked forward, and his chin slipped off his upturned palms. However, he did not register any pain from where he was hit, right across both his cheeks, just above the fold of his thighs. He succeeded in repositioning his chin when, "Whap!" and, coming even faster, "Whap!" both connecting in the exact same spot as the first blow.
"Oh, I guess Sarah explained about your age?" Elizabeth said, turning her attention to the back of Nathaniel's head for the first time.
"Yeah," he squeaked. During the pause, he could start to feel that same itch and tingle of burn start to spread out across his bottom.
"Good!" was punctuated with "Whap!" followed by "Whap!..swish...Whap!...swish...Whap!" all in exactly the same spot.
Nathaniel felt the corner of the desk cutting into the fronts of his thighs as he pushed forward, trying in vain to soften the impact of the blows. He also pulled his arms in and lowered his head down to the surface of the desk, his face smothered in the sheaves of paper scattered about. He felt he had to do something to stop the blaze in his bottom at the exact spot where Elizabeth was targeting.
"Whap!...swish...Whap!" He tried rolling to one side, not to escape the blows so much as to try and even out the pain.
"Be still!" Elizabeth barked, and she pressed down on the small of his back even harder.
Until now, Nathaniel's knees were slightly bent so he could rest on the balls of his toes. But, in desperation, he straightened and locked his knees, lifting his bottom a few additional centimeters into the air, at the same instant as, "Whap!" slashed across the tops of his thighs.
"Yeoch!" Nathaniel squealed; he could not believe that something could be more painful than what was being inflicted on his bottom, but the sting in his thighs was excruciating.
The ruler again lacerated the top of his thighs. Reflexively, he kicked both his calves backward, probably his mind's attempt to block further blows by using his feet. Without the support of his legs, his groin dropped to the corner of the desk as "Whap!" the ruler hit again, this time high, across the top of both cheeks.
He hung suspended, both legs off the ground, for a moment, then felt himself start to slide off the desk.
"Oh no, no you don't," Elizabeth said has she grabbed the waist of his trousers and pulled up. He felt his pants being pulled up into the crack between his cheeks, not a very pleasant sensation even when his backside was not ablaze, and she pulled him back up onto the corner of the desk. Without releasing the waist of his pants, she locked her forearm down along his spine. Elizabeth could no longer take a full swing across his backside from this vantage, so instead she positioned the ruler down is left cheek, pulled back, and then came down in a streak of "Swish...Crack!"
"Oh!" Nathaniel gasp, and his legs kicked out behind him. She lined up vertically on his other check, and came down even harder...
With that, she released he grasp on his pants, and Nathaniel began to slide off the desk again, pulling papers with him, until he arrested his slide by bringing his feet down. Elizabeth was busy returning the ruler to its drawer as Nathaniel tried to stand on wobbly knees. He steadied himself against the desk, as he was fighting down two uncontrollable urges: one to grab his butt and try to rub the fire out, and the other to void his bladder. But he was determined not to further disgrace himself by doing either in front of Elizabeth.
"Nathaniel," she said, turning to him for the first time since the paddling ended, "you have got to learn to hold still! As you found out, getting your thighs paddled hurts a lot worse than your backside. So, don't squirm around and make me miss! Go it?"
"Yeah, sure, ma'am," Nathaniel said, not believing he could make any such promise about how he would take a future spanking. It seemed to him that after the third or forth stroke, he was on autopilot.
"Now, when you get home, you are going to tell Sarah exactly what happened, correct?"
Nathaniel's composure crumbled, and he felt tears well over his eyes and his throat gurgled as he tried to speak. He had figured the only thing good about taking his spanking from Elizabeth is that he would not have to live for the next several days--his vacation--under Sarah's disapproving gaze.
"Oh, please, Elizabeth...ma'am...do I have to?" he managed to stammer out between blubbers.
"Well, she is going to find out anyway, like everything else on Ocean, so don't you think it would be better if she heard it directly from you?" Elizabeth lectured, returning to her Socratic style of teaching that Nathaniel enjoyed so much under other circumstances.
"Will she...spank me again?" he said as he bowed his head, hiding the tears that started to run down his face.
"Well, I should hope not, provided that she thinks I did sufficient justice for your transgressions."
"So, that's it then? I'm done?"
"No. When the Break is over, you and your little friend Rebecca are going to report to Carl's lab after class and clean-up and then sort and re-stock the supplies you used, under his supervision, of course."
"Ok," Nathaniel said, now with a clear voice, adding, "Ma'am," almost as an afterthought.
"Well, you better get home, or Sarah will start wondering where you are."
"Yes, ma'am. Ok, have a good Break," Nathaniel said, not believing he could be so ingratiating to someone who just reduced him to a sniveling child with a paddling administered over the corner of her desk.
"Well, Nathaniel, you have a good Break, too. And do try to stay out of trouble," she said in her purest sermon voice, finally cracking a smile at the end.
Nathaniel turned and walked stiffly to the door; he felt Elizabeth's eyes still on him as he left. Blessedly, the corridor was empty and he could give into the overwhelming urge to rub his backside with both hands. He tried to pull the thin material of his pants and underwear away from his bottom--they were still riding high into his crack from when Elizabeth had lifted him up--but there was little he could do with the tight-fitting garments. He sufficed to tug down on his pant legs to un-wedge himself. Next, he turned to the need to empty his bladder. His mind raced to recall the closest boy's room, and he decided to backtrack further into the school. He also figured that would be the best bet to find an empty boy's room where he could spend a moment to recollect his composure.
The boy's room was indeed empty, and he raced to the urinal, unbuttoning his pants as he went. As the fluid poured out of him, he felt a great wave of ease pass over, and he slowly rolled his head from one shoulder to the other. As he continued to urinate, he notice a mirror on the wall immediately behind him, and he realized that if he lowered his pants and underwear a bit further and shrugged his shoulders to lift his tunic and undershirt up, he could just see...
Nathaniel gasp when he saw the angry red stripes that crossed his sit-spot. "Oh, my," he murmured to no one, "the guys in the locker room won't be disappointed with this." Only then did Nathaniel recall that he was off on Break for ten days, and the evidence was likely to be gone when he got back. Oh, well. He just was concerned now about hiding his butt from Simon, if they would be sharing a berth on the research vessel, as he anticipated they would. If Sarah didn't cancel the trip when she found out...
Finishing his business, Nathaniel gingerly pulled his pants back up and refastened them. He went to the sink and washed up, splashing water on his face, before going to the drying station.
When he left the boy's room, the corridor was no longer empty. He could see the silhouette of a figure outlined against the Ocean-light the diffused down the hall from a view port at the far end. "Oh, oh this is great," Nathaniel thought, as he recalled how he looked in the boy's room mirror: eyes puffed and red, hair matted with perspiration, the skin on his face pale to translucent. But the silhouetted figure has seen him now, so there was no getting away.
As he tried to walk confidently down the hall, the figure resolved itself into a girl.
"Well, at least it's not Chaz, Gabriel, or Soren," he thought, thankfully.
Then the figure spoke, "Nat?"
"Oh, gosh, what happened?" She ran to him, stopping two paces away.
"Well, what do you think? We got in trouble."
"Yeah. So, I guess Elizabeth..."
"Yeah, Elizabeth wasn't happy."
"She paddled you?" Rebecca asked. Her big, wet eyes quivered.
Nathaniel had to choke down a sob, but he couldn't stop the tears from welling up again.
"Oh, gosh, Nat. I'm so, so sorry." She crossed another step to him and, awkwardly, put her hand on his shoulder. The gesture was almost cold, not comforting at all, but Nathaniel thought he was going to lean his head to her hand and sob just the same. Instead, he just bowed his chin to his chest.
"Nat, please don't take it so bad, if anything, for my sake. I know you're not use to this, but it happens to everyone here--every single student. You know that cute girl in Intro Quantum who always sets the curve on quizzes? I know for a fact that she got the paddle at home just last..." Rebecca cut herself off when she realized she was babbling.
"Well, what about you...you don't look any worse for the wear," Nathaniel said looking up, and immediately realizing how cruel that must have sounded.
"Just wait until I get home." Now it was Rebecca's turn to swallow hard as she pulled her hand away from his shoulder. Nathaniel mentally cursed his tactlessness.
"Your counselor didn't punish you?"
"No, although I got the 'talking-to' of my life. He decided to let my Super take care of the rest...probably knows that I'll get it worse at home than he could dish out."
Not likely, Nat thought. What kind of a guy could beat up a girl, anyway, he brooded. He knew that quite a few girls did have male Supers...what happened there, he wondered. But he decided to give Rebecca the benefit of the doubt.
"Yeah, I bet Gertie is gonna give it to you good," Nathaniel said, incredulous at himself for engaging in this type of locker-room banter, but figuring it was expected in a situation like this.
Rebecca crossed the final step and leaned her forehead against his shoulder. Again, the motion seemed awkward, and Nathaniel was unsure what he was supposed to do. He decided to put his hand on her shoulder and squeeze. Rebecca let out a sob.
"She is such a bitch sometimes. She has never cut me a...a micron of slack!" Rebecca was speaking without looking up.
"I mean, I guess this time we deserve it...I deserve it." She let out a half laugh, half sob to make her point. "But everything I do is not good enough. I have so much respect for her and what she has done for the Colony, but she doesn't help me to find a path to follow her. At least not an accessible path...one that has the occasional mistake and failure built in."
They both stood silently for a moment, then Rebecca pulled back, and Nathaniel snapped his hand away, as if caught doing something he should not have.
"What I am saying?" Rebecca gazed at him steadily. "I mean, here you are: top-of-your-class Starfarer. You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you? You've already made it!"
"Hey, Becca, now come on! I've screwed up countless times. I mean, this is not the first time I got my ass paddled, you know. In fact, I'm probably the most spanked kid on this planet for the last 72 hours!"
Becca started laughing, which softened his shame for what he was recounting.
"Look, you don't know how many times I got called out on the carpet in 'Farer's School. There was a time in the ninth grade they talked about pulling me out of the main program after I made some cheeky remarks in my Sex Ed class."
"Like?" Rebecca looked coy.
"Another time," Nathaniel rolled his eyes. "Look, Rebecca, you've got a fantastic future ahead of you. We all do. We have an enormous volume of unexplored space around us: tens of cubic parsecs for each person on Ocean. No matter what happens, we are all going to play a huge role in figuring this place out. You'll find your way, for sure. It may not be what the program is set up for or what Gertrude has in mind, but that is what will make it your own."
She chewed it over for a moment, her lower lip trembling.
"In the meantime, we just have to play along with the rules, and that means, I guess, we take our licks sometimes. I can't say this is how I would run things if appointed Planetary Administrator, but I can see the point: you grow up fast out here, so they have to make damn sure you grow up right."
For a moment, Rebecca's quivering lips made Nathaniel think she was going to come to him again, but instead she half-turned back down the corridor. "We better get home. It only gets worse the longer you wait. Trust me in that."
Disappointed, Nathaniel took her lead and also headed down the corridor and out of the school sector. They did not speak again until the reached a cable terminus, where they had to part ways to their respective habs.
Rebecca turned quickly to Nat and said, "Have a great Break. You are going to have a blast on the Shakelton."
"Yeah, you to," Nathaniel replied, feeling guilty he never inquired what she was doing over break, being so caught up in his own preparations.
They stood, dumbly staring at each other for a moment, when suddenly Rebecca lunged at him and, without touching him with her hands, pecked his cheek with a kiss, then turned and raced to her cable-line.
He watched her, but she never turned back. "What a day," Nathaniel sighed under his breath, and turned to climb into his waiting cable car.
Back in his hab, Sarah was waiting, pretending to work at her tablet, but Nathaniel could tell that she was not really concentrating. When she was really working, it was as if her consciousness had been projected through her eyes and hovered a few centimeters over the display of the tablet.
"You're home," Sarah said.
"I am," Nathaniel replied definitively.
"I guess you had quite a day," Sarah said, obviously anxious to get past the perfunctories.
"Just what I was thinking," Nathaniel replied enthusiastically. He would prefer to play this game all night.
"You gonna tell me about it?"
"I'm gonna take a shower," Nathaniel said, heading for the bathroom. Thinking back to his session over Elizabeth's desk, he now wondered if he didn't accidentally void his bladder. Just the thought made him feel so unclean that he really needed the shower; it was not just a tactic to avoid answering Sarah's questions.
He closed the door and started stripping down, checking his underwear to make sure his worst nightmare really did not happen. Satisfied, he finished undressing and started for the sink.
Nathaniel snapped his head around to see Sarah standing in the doorway. He did not lock the bathroom door--he never did--but he could not imagine she would ever come in on him.
"Hey! Do you mind?" Nathaniel did his best at righteous indignation.
"You have a 'plus' sign on each butt cheek, do you realize that?"
"What? Get out of here!" Nathaniel bellowed.
"Actually, with that stripe across your thighs, it looks like a 'plus-or-minus' sign on each cheek. How did you arrange that?" Sarah seemed genuinely curious about the red marks across his buttocks that he had only partially glimpsed in the men's room mirror at school.
"Could I please have some privacy?" Nathaniel pleaded, trying a different tack as he quickly collected his soap, shampoo, and washcloth. "I'm naked!"
"Well, I'm naked!" Nathaniel said, as if the obvious needed to be restated twice.
"If you keep up the mischief you've been up to this afternoon, I am going to have the opportunity to examine your bare backside from a much closer vantage point than this, young man," Sarah was completely inside the bathroom now, and Nathaniel could not believe that the stern lecture, which he knew was coming, was going to be delivered while he was in the shower. He reached for the controls.
"Don't you dare start that water!"
He pulled his hand back from the tap.
"Do you recall what I promised you last time?"
"Yeah, yes, sure."
"It looks like Elizabeth did a pretty good job on you, which is good considering what you were apparently fooling around with in the lab this afternoon. But that is nothing compared with what you are gonna get if you keep on breaking safety directives. Clear?"
"Crystal," Nathaniel said from behind the shower door.
Sarah left and only pulled the bathroom door halfway closed. Nathaniel was tempted to get out and close it completely, but decided instead to get on with his shower. He set the water controller to a shade below scalding, in the hopes that he could blister his entire epidermis to match the shade the stripes on his bottom must be. Maybe then his body will just distribute and then radiate away the burn uniformly. Whatever, the water felt wonderful as it poured down his body. After lathering up and shampooing, he stayed in the shower as long as he could bear, imagining the steam pouring out of the open bathroom door, hopefully fogging over Sarah's tablet display. He chuckled at that thought wickedly, feeling emboldened by finding some way to strike back at the injustice of it all.
When he could not bear the shower anymore, he turned off the water and vigorously toweled down before leaving the stall. He crossed the bathroom and finally closed the door completely, so he could finish drying off in private. As he re-crossed the bathroom, he caught his reflection in the anti-fog mirrors and did a slow pirouette.
"Owh!" he said as he saw his bare backside, for the first time in its entirety. "I'll be damned," escaped his lips, "but she is right." He could see a red swath about four centimeters wide cutting right across the sit-spot of both cheeks, crossed perpendicularly by a fainter, narrower mark running up and down each cheek. He then saw the mark across the top of his thighs that made the "minus" sign of Sarah's "plus-or-minus" sign.
Involuntarily, he was replaying the entire paddling in his mind. The first ten or so blows landed in exactly the same spot, making the main strip. Then, he tried to stand up, and got whacked across the top of his thighs a couple of times. That make him squirm, and Elizabeth had to pull him up by his trousers while forcing his torso back down, leaving her no choice but to slash the ruler vertically down his backside, finishing the "plus" sign.
Rethinking the paddling was not nearly as humiliating as recalling how he lost his composure, first in Elizabeth's and then in Rebecca's presence. How could he face them when he got back from Break? But he had a more immediate confrontation to deal with, he thought, as he opened the bathroom door and headed for his bedroom, the towel wrapped tightly around his waist.
Sarah, he saw, was in the kitchen working on dinner. It already smelled wonderful. He decided not to say anything and headed into is bedroom. Knowing that he had zero probability of getting permission to go out for the rest of the night, he went ahead and put on his pajamas. But, just in case, he slipped on a pair of underwear first before putting on his pajama bottoms. "Couldn't hurt," he thought, on the hope that Sarah's repeated threat to spank him bare bottom was empty. As usual, he left the pajama tops in the drawer and settled for a t-shirt instead.
He came back into the living room and plopped onto to couch, careful to use his hands to break the impact of his bottom against the cushion. It still hurt like hell, but he swallowed the wince.
"Did you get your score?" Sarah asked over the din of chopping vegetables and a boiling pot.
"Your score on the quiz?"
"Oh, yeah. 92 percent!" He had figured she already knew, like she seemed to know everything else.
"Good stuff!" Sarah said, satisfied. "You hungry for curry?"
"Yeah, sure," he replied from the couch. "Bring it on," he said, feeding off her change in mood.
That was how the rest of the evening played out. Sarah did not bring up the days' events again, and instead they went over the logistics of the trip to the Shakelton, how much clothes to bring and so on. Then they went to their separate rooms to pack.
At around 22h00, Sarah came in to find Nathaniel sprawled out--belly down--on his bed, working with his tablet, two small pieces of luggage sealed and by the door. She politely implied that, as they were leaving early the next morning--4h00--it might be a good idea to turn in early, so they don't show up on the Shakelton like zombies. Nathaniel knew he was entitled to say up to midnight, as his schedule specified, but he knew not to push it with Sarah tonight, and agreed to turn in.
As he lay in bed, again lying on his front, his thoughts turned to Rebecca. He knew she would not be enjoying the "clean slate" start to her Break that Sarah appeared to be granting him. He could imagine Gertrude's unsympathetic lecture, maybe with Rebecca already laid out across her lap, with a paddle or similar instrument in hand. He imagined Rebecca's cute, fleshy little butt squirming to escape from the merciless smacks of whatever implement her Super used, her lovely thighs scissoring back and forth under the rain of blows, just as Nathaniel had done on this very bed, three evenings prior. He could barely believe that was just three nights ago, so much has happened in between. By now, of course, Rebecca would have been sent off to bed, probably without supper. Well, she did convince him to do some unauthorized lab work, he figured, so she probably did deserve it, even if she did give him a kiss this afternoon. Well, a peck on the cheek, not really a kiss.
He mind wandered to speculate if he would ever see another kid get spanked first hand. Was it always done in private? For that matter, what prevented someone from walking in on Elizabeth and him during his session over her desk that afternoon? That would be about as embarrassing as it can get, he concluded, but he was strangely curious to know how other kids on Ocean took their punishment. Did they plead and writhe, as he was sure he did so shamefully today? Such thoughts chased round his mind as he drifted into sleep.
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