Ocean, Chapter 4: Disaster (F/m-teen, Non-con, SF, Novella)
"Ow!" Nathaniel winced as he scooted to the edge of the bed. "Or maybe not!"
He noted that the miniature bathroom he shared with Sarah's room was empty, so he took advantage of the opportunity and relieved his bladder, then stripped down for a shower. When he was done, he went back into his room and dressed, and then carefully lowered himself onto the diminutive, modular desk-chair that was permanently attached to the wall. He examined his tablet and found an urgent message from Simon. He was apprehensive to open it, fearing what comment Simon would make regarding what he had witnessed yesterday. Initially he was relieved:
"I'm running surface support for a bathyscaphe operation this morning. We're plumbing the Gardenia rift with a crew on board the scaph--25 km straight down! So I'll be tied up until afternoon. But try to met up on deck when they bring the scaph in around 15h00; it is worth seeing!"
Nathaniel was not sure Sarah would permit him to leave his cabin, but seeing a bathyscaphe in operation would be exciting. Then he noticed Simon's postscript:
"P.S. You've still got the cutest butt in School! What's more, I think she likes me..."
Nathaniel closed the message immediately and sat back to feel the burn of blood surging through his ears.
There was a light rap on his door and he turned to see Sarah pop her head in. His eyes darted back to his tablet to ensure he had closed out Simon's message completely. Satisfied, he returned his attention to Sarah. "Oh, here it comes," he thought.
"You're up?" Sarah asked in a flat tone.
"Yep, up and showered."
"OK." She came in and sat down on the bed, the only other place to sit in the claustrophobic cabin. She did not waste words.
"Nat, you are confined to the Shakelton for the rest of our stay here. You are not going anywhere outside this cabin without checking with me first. Clear?"
"Yeah, sure," Nathaniel figured he was getting off easy. After all, he already had is joyride on a supersub. Where else was he going to go? Swimming?
"OK. I just want to make sure you understand that, even when were not in the habs, I'm still your Super."
"Yes, yes of course." Nathaniel really needed to get this off his chest. "Sarah, about yesterday, I guess I just...you know...thought it would be easier to apologize..."
Sarah finished is sentence: "...than to ask permission. Hopper's rule, I know."
She took a long breath, as if she really wasn't planning on giving him a lecture.
"Look, Nat, that simply doesn't apply here. People who pull stunts end up dead on Ocean. I guess it is going to take some time for you to learn that--in the meantime I'm just going to make damn sure you don't get hurt on my watch."
Nathaniel had already formulated his carefully rationalized argument as to why he was not in any real danger by riding along with Simon, but he decided to drop it. From Sarah's mood, he figured she was more likely to take him back over her knee than to weigh the merits of his case.
"Understood." He left it at that.
She had brought him a small boxed breakfast from the cafeteria and left it on the table. When Sarah turned to go, he decided to push his luck after all.
"Simon has invited me--well, us--up to the deck to watch them bring in the bathyscaph this afternoon. Can I go?"
Sarah chewed it over for a moment and her mood lightened. "Sure, what time?"
Nathaniel filled her in on the details.
"Ok, maybe you should spend the morning in your cabin and do some thinking," Sarah said softly, but it was clear he was expected to do exactly as she instructed.
"Yeah, OK," Nathaniel replied, but she was already halfway out the door.
"Oh boy, I'm in trouble," Nathaniel thought, as he turned to the breakfast she left.
As he settled down to eat, Nathaniel decided to see what his tablet's generic encyclopedia had to say about child rearing on Ocean. He could easily tap into the ship' library or, just as easily, get into the central colony archive back in the habs, and have access to more information than he could possibly process. But he was distinctly interested to see what was in the universal databases that he had access to back in Starfarer's School. In short, he was asking himself: is this peculiar institution, that is, spanking, on Ocean deliberately covered up in the standard sources, or was he just incredibly negligent in not doing the proper background research when he put down "Ocean" as the top preference for his Year Out?
After an hour of reading, Nathaniel consoled himself that the answer was a bit of both. The generic encyclopedia entry for Ocean did indeed include a discussion of adolescence, the Supervisor system, corporal punishment, and so on. The graphic details of the specific punishments, which Nathaniel had become intimately acquainted with in the last few days, were left out, of course. But he could fill in the particulars of the narrative.
In the post-QG interstellar era, it appeared that Ocean was truly unique, even among the relatively few colony worlds that had not completely outlawed corporal punishment of minors. There was a well publicized list of the half dozen or so colony worlds that stood in contravention of that particular article of the Universal Charter of Children's Rights. Whereas most of these last few holdouts, many of which were colonies founded around a particular religious faction or sect, permitted an occasional swat to a toddler, they generally discouraged the use of physical punishment on children older than six or eight standard years. Ocean was the exception among the exceptions. Spankings were generally not used in the nurseries or by the nannies that oversaw the rearing of children on Ocean until the age of twelve standard years, although there was no specific law on the books preventing it. The fact was that the nurseries on Ocean were near the "liberal/permissive" end of the spectrum of child-development theory. Only when reaching teenage years, under the guardianship of the Supervisor, was corporal punishment invoked generously.
The idea behind all this was common among colony worlds, but the expression of the idea on Ocean was distinctive. In a nutshell: you did have to grow up fast on a colony world. The insatiable demand for new personnel to meet the ever-escalating demands of an expanding colony meant that mature and conscientious adolescents could find themselves in positions of considerable responsibility, far beyond their years. Likewise, an immature or delinquent adolescent became an enormous burden to the colony. Not just the lost potential of one person, but the additional resources the troublesome kid consumed in terms of counseling, psychiatric evaluations, disciplinary hearings, policing, investigation of theft, vandalism, remedial educational programs, and so on. All of these were activities that a well-developed social fabric was willing to provide on Earth; in fact, entire careers were built around them, and rightfully so. On a seedling colony world with a population of a few thousand, these were jobs no one could afford. "Spend some time working with a troubled teen? Sure, right after we trace down that pesky retrovirus that wiped out the algae stocks, find a sustainable source of breathable oxygen, and get the fusion reactor on line..."
The founders on Ocean decided the best solution was to adapt a zero-tolerance attitude for adolescent misbehavior: "Shape up, and you'll be treated like a full member of the colony, or continue to act like a child, and you'll be punished like one."
As Nathaniel dug further, he found that the colony archives well documented the first such confrontation with delinquent adolescents, in the early years when the total population was less than two hundred colonists. The pronouncement of the first Chairman of the Executive Council had been emblazoned down through five decades of Council history as the briefest recommendation on record. It consisted of two words. Well, one and half words: "Spank 'em." The Council supported the proposal unanimously, and by all accounts, the recommendation was acted upon swiftly and decisively. Thus was born the tradition under which Nathaniel was living.
Viewed in this perspective, Nathaniel felt even more ashamed, not that he got spanked, but that his behavior warranted such a reprimand. "I guess I really am the spoiled Earther," he concluded at the end of ruminating on his findings. Back on Earth, even in the prestigious Starfarer's School, how much real trouble could he get into? How much real damage or injury could he cause? Nothing, compared to out here. He could see, in the case of his relation with Sarah, a miniature of the dynamic the entire colony faced. How much had his disobedience cost her in terms of focus and productivity in her own work?
Not for the first time in the last several days, but for once with grave certainly, Nathaniel vowed that he really would try to play by the rules. As he stood up from the desk, he rubbed his buttocks with his right hand and mused, "After all, my ass can't take much more of this!"
As if on cue, there was a rap on the door, and a glance at his chronometer confirmed it was Sarah, waiting to accompany him on deck.
Bundled in parkas--carefully selected for proper fit this time--and wearing filter masks, Sarah and Nathaniel cautiously made their way across the pitching deck of the observation platform above the bay where the bathyscaph was deployed and retrieved. A cluster of ten other personnel, most of whom Nathaniel and Sarah had already seen in the corridors, were huddled under radiative heaters at the far end of the deck. As Sarah and Nathaniel approached the group, one of the figures turned--Simon.
"Hey, glad you two could make it! You're here for a momentous occasion; we just made the third deepest dive in Ocean history--and the deepest in the Southern Hemisphere. 24,530 m!" Simon's eyes twitched with excitement, shifting between Sarah and Nathaniel and the point where he expected the scaph to surface any moment.
"Why is the ship pitching?" Sarah said, conveying obvious uneasiness.
"Oh, yeah, forgot to warn you guys. They have to down-tune the inertial dampers when we retrieve the scaph. It will be pitching in the swells, so we don't have a choice but to pitch right along with it!" Simon looked at Sarah more intently.
"You know, you are looking a little green. I can have the medic boost your..."
"I'm fine," Sarah said, unpersuasively.
"And how about you, Earth boy?" Simon asked Nathaniel as he cracked a secretive grin. As Sarah looked away, Simon rolled his eyes toward Sarah and twitched his eyebrows.
"Oh, please," Nathaniel's mind implored, but replied with, "I'm OK, too."
Sarah had wandered to the railing along the edge of the deck, probably to get an unobstructed view of the horizon in order to provide her inner ear a solid reference plane.
"You sure? Not feeling any symptoms like nausea, dizziness...a burning sensation in your buttocks?" Simon barely suppressed a giggle.
"Shut-up! Goddamn you!" Nathaniel whispered urgently, through gritted teeth. He prayed Sarah was out of earshot. Simon just flashed a depraved smile and continued the dance with his eyebrows.
"How many crew on board?" Sarah called back to Simon from the railing. Simon advanced to her, and Nathaniel, despite his uneasy stomach, forced himself to follow.
"Three: Samantha, Gregor, and Tanya." Simon appeared to revel his dual role as Sarah's tour guide and Nathaniel's tormentor.
"Why send anyone down at all?" Sarah said, leaning into the howl of arctic wind, toward Simon's ear.
"Most of the time, we don't. It's the same old AI-verses-crew debate that the planners in Starfarers argue endlessly over."
"But deep space surveys are different--you have communication lags of weeks. Here, you could do a full telepresence with a lag of less than 150 microseconds." Nathaniel swallowed, impressed at how effortlessly Sarah worked out the round-trip time of flight for a light signal.
"You would think so, but as it turns out, we can't." Simon explained. "We can't use high bandwidth optical uplink--over these depths, water is opaque."
"But a cable..."
"Snaps! You name the cable material, and I'll tell you they break! Even braided monofilaments have snapped. The shear force of the deep Ocean currents is mind-boggling."
"Huh," Sarah said, as she settled in deeper into her parka. The thought of awesome forces at work in the ocean beneath the hull of the ship sent a chill up her spine. She was forever being humbled by the raw power of her world.
"So, we are limited to low bandwidth telemetry during a descent--which is precisely what I've been staring at for the last eight hours. For most missions, a low gain comm, combined with a good AI onboard the scaph, is enough. But for this mission, it was deemed important enough to send a crew. And from the looks of what they are bringing up, it was well worth it." Simon went on to explain that the enhanced capability brought by having actual people onboard the scaph permitted the survey to retrieve ten times the number of biological samples that would have been brought up by an AI-controlled descent. That certainly explained why nearly the entire biology section of the resident 'graphers were anxiously wanting on deck for the scaph to resurface.
"Her she comes!" one of the 'graphers whooped and pointed.
Nathaniel turned and looked down at the heaving water. For a moment, he felt as though is stomach might empty over the rail, but he swallowed the bile back down and resolved not to embarrass himself. He could see faint, parallel bands of luminous lime-green rising through the inky-gray water. A moment later, the outline of the bathyscaph revealed itself. It was a long, boxy rectangle, clearly not meant for high speeds like the supersubs. In the front was a sphere bristling with instruments. The superalloy ball slung below was where the crew would be, he knew.
A crewmen in a full environment suit on deck climbed a short ladder over the rail near Nathaniel, and leaned precipitously out over the bay. Nathaniel thought for a moment he would fall, but then noticed the monofilament cable raising from the harness on his back to a crane overhead. The crewman reached across to a spindle an un-hooked a more substantial looking tether that was also a braid of monofilament. With a nod from the operations chief, who was the only other person wearing a full environment suit, the crewman stepped off the railing and was slowly lowered down until this feet dangled in the water. He was slowly trawled by the overhead crane across to the bobbing scaph, and cautiously steadying himself with one hand to the scaph, clipped the tether onto a port near the top of the vehicle. With a thumbs-up sign, the operations chief took in the slack on the tether, and the scaph was leisurely drawn further into the bay. A mammoth mechanical cradle with upturned, claw-like talons emerged from under the structure of the bay and dipped into the water just in front of the scaph. There was a metal-on-metal grinding noise as the claw engaged the scaph from underneath, and began lifting it out of the water. Nathaniel, forgetting his nausea, watched in admiration at the choreography of the operation.
Once it was entirely out of the water, the crewman unclipped the tether and, still suspended by his thinner cable, rappelled down the side of the scaph and banged on the hatch. The hatch popped open with a hiss that was audible on deck. A female form was visible emerging, and the crewman clipped the tether into her harness. A second female come into sight and clipped her harness onto the harness of the first woman. Tanya and Samantha, Nathaniel surmised. Then, all three of them released from the scaph and swung free, to be quickly raised as the tether's winch mechanism wined into high pitch. All three of them were dangled high over the deck, then dropped quickly to a thunderous applause of everyone on deck, that had now grown to more than fifteen people.
"Good shit," Tanya said, waving a data acquisition module she produced from her suit in the air, even before the crewman could unclip her from the tether. The rest of the crew rushed toward her, or perhaps toward the module, and they moved en mass to a field console that had been set up on deck. Nathaniel did not bother to approach; he did not want to give the impression that he thought he could make sense of the raw data being downloaded. Instead, he returned his attention to the scaph, with Gregor supposedly still onboard, as the cradle continued to slowly lift the vehicle to deck-level.
"Inertial dampers engaging," the operations chief shouted, as he headed to a more sheltered control console near an enclosed hatch. Suddenly, the whole deck lurched, and Nathaniel had to clutch the railing to steady himself. He shifted his attention back to the scaph, and it too rocked violently as the dampers came on. The scaph first rolled toward the ship, hit an upturned rung of the claw, and then rolled back. The return roll, however, shifted the already listing scaph, and as the weight of its conning tower came around, the roll picked up momentum.
Nathaniel's jaw dropped as he saw the scaph roll up, and then over, the outward rung of the claw. The entire scaph appeared to pivot on the upturned rung, and then ever so slowly, revolve into open space.
Nathaniel knew he was the only one to realize the scaph had rolled off the cradle as the ship gave a final shutter of righting itself under the action of the dampers. Everyone else on deck was completely transfixed with the display scrolling through the mission's recorded holo. He was watching the scaph impact the water as his jaw dropped, then closed, then dropped again as he started saying, "Did you see..." before he was cut off by the screech of the klaxons and a colossal splash that almost reached the level of the viewing platform.
Reflexively, everyone's attention turned to the klaxons, away from the loading bay, but Nathaniel continued to stare as the scaph plunged completely below the water level and the displaced water fell back to the surface. Only then he did turn to see that no one else had a clue as to what was going on.
"It's gone!" he screeched, and everyone on the deck, fifteen personnel in all, turned to him as if he had gone mad. From their perspective, they could not see the now empty cradle still rising above the water.
"The scaph...it..." Nathaniel stammered, but realized that it would take too long to explain how it rolled out of the cradle. Instead, he ran across the short span of railing, shedding his parka along the way, and grabbed the still dangling tether he saw the crewman use when the scaph first surfaced. How to get the tether down to the scaph? His mind raced as he saw a few people start to approach the guide rail of the platform and begin scanning for the scaph, as if it had merely been misplaced. Nathaniel could not believe that no one was figuring out what happened, what went wrong, what had to be done.
"Nathaniel! Leave that alone," Sarah yelled form the other end of the platform. Well, not everyone was looking for the scaph. Nathaniel ignored her; how fast was the thing sinking, he wondered. He doubted anyone could swim down fast enough to catch up with it. He scanned the area around his feet, and immediately saw one of the lock weights used to hold equipment in place on the deck of the pitching ship. He dropped to his knees, still holding the tether, and twisted the weight a quarter turn, such that it disengaged from the keyhole on the deck, and hefted it up to the rail. Steadying the weight with the hand holding the tether, he used his other hand to grab the rail and pull himself over. His feet had little purchase on the small strip of deck that extended beyond the safety railing, but he only stood there for a moment, sucking in a final breath as he eyed the spot of churning water where bubbles, still escaping from the scaph, broke the surface. That was the spot he aimed for as he leapt from the deck, tether in one hand, lock weight in the other. As he fell the final few meters to the water's surface, the only thing he could hear above the wind whipping past his ears was Sarah's screaming, "No!"
Nathaniel hit the water and instantly felt himself being pulled apart by the whirlpool left behind in the sinking scaph's wake. He felt like he was falling through an explosively boiling mixture of water and air. The mask around his mouth was pulled up and over his eyes, and with the tether in hand, he ripped it off completely. The only sensation he had to confirm that he was still descending was the steady pressure building on his ears. The turbulent water gave no indication of downward motion, but Nathaniel could feel himself being pulled around and downward by the lock weight tucked under his arm. For the first time, the thought that he was in hypothermic water registered in his mind. Whether from actual reflex, or as a subconscious response, he felt his diaphragm seize up, as if the wind had been knocked out of him. He felt an unbearable urge to ball himself up, to draw his knees to his chest, but he forced himself to straighten out and turn his head in his best guess of the direction down. His eyes showed nothing but blue-green blur, but at the very edge, he detected the lime-green of a luminosity strip. The sight resulted in a deja vu, perhaps the view from the approach to the platform in the training Tank. For just a moment, Nathaniel thought the sight of the luminosity strip was a hallucination, but then was joined by another line of light perpendicular to the original, and then suddenly, the entire scaph leapt into view. It was approaching incredibly fast. Then Nathaniel registered that he was one approaching too fast, and that he was about to slam into the hull of the scaph. He released the weight and it fell away into darkness. Without the weight, he felt as if a parachute had been deployed and snapped him from a high-speed descent to dead stop. An instant later, he heard a sharp "Clang!" as the weight bounced off the hull of the scaph. Nathaniel's mind screamed with the realization that he was mere meters from the hull of the scaph. Still squeezing the tether with his right hand, he kicked and pulled himself through the water as hard as he could, but the scaph appeared to be slipping away again. Then he felt a strong current pushing, no, pulling him toward the scaph. Caught in the wake, he was being kicked back and forth by the vortices that trailed the sinking scaph. He kicked and clawed the water savagely, not even opening his eyes, but rather heading to where he felt the scaph had to be.
Nathaniel's left arm hit something hard, and he groped blindly, finding an external fitting to grab onto. He pulled himself in, and finally opened his eyes to see he was riding on top of the scaph, just a meter from the main attachment point. With his right hand, he reached across and tried to attach the tether, but then he realized that there was no way the small clasp at the end of the tether could be attached to the main eyebolt. The tether in his hand was the one used to lower the crewman, not the one used to tow the scaph. This thought only dimly registered, drowned-out by his mind's screeching as he tried to find any attachment point for the tether he carried. In desperation, he brought the tether back to the fitting that he was holding onto with his left hand, wrapped the tether around once, and clipped it onto itself, forming a lariat. In the same instant he completed the motion, the tether snapped taunt and he felt a sharp pain stab though his right hand. It took a moment for him to realize that he had not been snared as the lariat snapped tight. He had no idea if the tether would hold, but he realized that there was nothing else he could do now; the entire weight of the scaph was pulling down on the tether and he could never muster the strength to move it. His vision was tunneling in and he felt his arms pulling involuntary into his chest. Feeling that it was his last movement, he grasp the stiff tether with his left hand--his pain in his right hand was so piercing it was nonfunctional--and pushed as hard as he could off the hull of the scaph. He tried to kick but he it felt pointless. He was completely at the mercy of the current pushing, pulling him back, up and down the tether. At one point, he was twisted nearly end over end and thought he lost his grip on the tether. As he righted himself, Nathaniel wondered if he had in fact come loose and was now going the wrong direction, back down the tether. He looked one direction along the tether, seeing nothing, and then the other, to see the troughs of waves, viewed from underneath. Realizing he was only meters below the surface, Nathaniel finally released his lock-grip on the tether and clawed frantically at the water. He did not feel as though he was making progress, until suddenly a wave trough came down and his head broke the surface. He screamed and sucked in air simultaneously. Since he had jumped off the control platform, a total of less than 45 seconds elapsed.
For the first time since he was in the water, sound registered in his ears. He heard shouts from the people on deck compete with wind, wave, and the high-pitch whine of the winch reeling in the tether, taut and cutting sharply though the surface of the water next to him. He reached over and grabbed it with both hands, noticing blood running down the palm of his right hand. The cable of the tether was so wet and slick, he could not gauge the speed at which it was being reeled in past his hands. He scanned the deck of the ship and noticed nearly everyone waving and gesticulating wildly at him, pointing to the floating platform at the base of the loading bay. Yes, he thought, that is probably where I should go, but for now, he felt very content just to keep holding onto the tether. His hands and arms were at the water level, and he could feel the warm, top centimeter or two of water, and decided that this was a good spot for a rest. He laid his head back, as his ears went under, drowning out the noise of those on deck calling to him. His wet clothes were tugging him down...
A floor suddenly appeared under him, and he had the sensation of being propelled upward by a high-acceleration elevator. His head snapped up, and then he looked down to see the entire scaph rise up to the surface beneath him. His left hand still held the tether, his right hand still hurt like hell. For a moment, he had thoughts of standing up straight, ridding the scaph as it bobbed buoyant in the waves. Only it wasn't buoyant, he recalled, that's why he went after it. Instead, Nathaniel collapsed onto the top of the scaph, which was just a fraction of a meter out of the water. Finally, he realized that the tether he held onto was holding up more than just him. It was holding the scaph just at water level as well. My god, he thought, I actually did something.
Abruptly, a figure appeared next to him. It was the operations chief, in a full environment suit, suspended from the articulated crane overhead. "Good idea," Nathaniel thought, his delirious mind admiring the environment suit. "Gotta to get me one of those."
The manager was saying something too him, but Nathaniel could not understand what. Instead, he just watched as the managed clipped the heavier cable into the main anchor point that Nathaniel had tried, unsuccessfully, to attach his tether to just moments earlier when he was below the surface. "Gotta get me one of those, too."
The ops chief waited for the slack in the main cable to be taken up, and the moved to the smaller safety tether that Nathaniel had attached earlier and was still clutching firmly.
"Time...To...Let...Go," he said to Nathaniel as loudly and as slowly as he could.
But Nathaniel was not having any of it; he held the tether tight.
"Got to let go, kid. We're going to lift the entire scaph, and we don't want to get tangled." He crouched down next to Nathaniel, whose shivering was approaching convulsions. He shook his head, and took Nathaniel's hands in his own, and began to peel his fingers off the tether, one by one. Nathaniel pulled the forcefully freed hands to his chest, and assumed the fetal position. The chief released the safety tether, and in an instant the entire scaph, with the chief and Nathaniel along for the ride, lifted right out of the water. Nathaniel started to roll off the side of the scaph, thinking for sure that he was going to hit the water one last time, for good now, when the ops chief scooped him up around the waist with an enormous, hypothermal suit-encased arm.
"Gotcha!" he said to Nathaniel.
They were swung right onto the deck of the ship, which was not designed to take the weight of the scaph, and there was a crunching noise as they set down. The ops chief released Nathaniel, and he slid down the side of the scaph into the waiting arms of four people, none of who could get a grasp on his sopping wet clothes. He hit the deck with a squishy thud. Two of the catchers grabbed him by the collar and dragged him through an open hatch, and left him sitting on the floor with his back against a bulkhead. The ship's warm, yeast-scented atmosphere drifted over him, a welcome change from the choking ammonia-laced air he had been breathing since breaking the surface.
"Get him out of these clothes, now," one of the men yelled to another one of the people who tried to catch him, when he realized that the catcher was Simon. The others returned to the scaph, which, to Nathaniel's fascination, was being dragged and rolled across the deck until its open port was almost underneath. The damage it must have been doing was fantastic, he mused, as Simon started working the clasps of his shirt.
"I could use some help here," Simon called to someone out of view. Nathaniel was still transfixed on the sight of the 30-ton scaph being dragged across the deck like a wrecking ball. Water was pouring out of the open hatch. Nearly everyone on deck was scurrying around, trying to figure out how to get the scaph locked into the desired orientation. The water pouring out reminded Nathaniel of trying to empty a container of fluid with only one small opening.
The person Simon had called to help had appeared: Sarah.
"Look, ah, why don't you get his pants off....you have lots of experience with that, yes?" Simon said as he shot Sarah a wicked grin. She returned with a blank look from eyes wide and face ashen.
Simon tried addressing Sarah again, slower and more deliberate: "He's got hypothermia. We've got to get him out of these wet clothes. Now!"
Sarah began working the clasps of Nathaniel's pants. He was upset she blocked his view of what was going on on-deck. It appeared that the scaph had been secured, and water was still pouring out of the partially open hatch. Everyone was working feverishly to get the hatch completely open, but the deluge of ice water pouring out complicated everything.
There was an interruption at this point as Simon pulled his undershirt over his eyes. When it was off, he saw that the hatch was completely open now, and a cascade of water was freely flowing out. Then the water slowed for a moment, and something large plopped out the hole and flopped onto the deck, followed by more water.
"Help me lift him up!" Simon called.
As his pants were being taken down, Nathaniel realized that the object that was just dispensed out of the scaph was a man: Gregor. Now that he was out, everyone's attention turned to Gregor, and he was being dragged, similar to how Nathaniel was, through the same hatch and laid down just two meters away. By this time, Nathaniel was completely naked, except for his underwear.
Gregor was rolled on his side, and water poured out of his mouth, a mini-replay of what just happened on deck with the scaph. A mask was fitted over his mouth, and pure oxygen was pumped into inflate his lungs.
Almost as an afterthought, someone put a similar mask over Nathaniel's mouth and nose, and he inhaled pure oxygen. It had a disagreeably sweet taste, and he tried to wave it away, but whoever it was, they were most insistent and forced the mask to his face.
Nathaniel saw Gregor convulse, once, then again, into a ball, and then his eyes shot open. His masked was pulled away as he wretched sickeningly on the floor. Two more convulsions and he appeared to stabilize. Then his shivers started. He was being wrapped with blankets, as was Nathaniel, but Gregor was somehow spared the indignity of being stripped naked. He was looking around, widely, until his eyes met Nathaniel's. The two of them locked glaze for several seconds, obviously kindred spirits: they were both wet and shaking uncontrollably.
With this everyone on deck appeared to relax, although ragged gasps for air could still be heard from most people. The oxygen mask was taken away from Nathaniel's face.
"Well, let's not try that again, shall we?" someone said with false bravado.
"Get the doctor up here and get him working on Gregor!" the ops chief commanded, and then pointed to Nathaniel. "The kid was bleeding from his hands in the water. Hypothermia's probably pinched the flow shut by now, but that has to be tended to."
A medical technician Nathaniel had never seen before came over and took his right hand. His fist was still clenched tight; he had not opened it since the ops chief peeled his hands off the tether.
"Can you open your hand?" the medic asked. Nathaniel just stared at him.
"Can you please open you hand?" he asked again, more slowly.
"Can he open his month?" Simon echoed, appearing at the medic's shoulder.
Nathaniel had still not said a word, so the technician slowly started pealing his fingers back. There were slices running up and down across his palm, but no blood.
"Ok. Nathaniel, is it?"
Nathaniel looked at him, but did not respond.
"Your name is Nathaniel, right? I'm going to spray this, then seal it, then coat it, OK? I don't think you'll feel anything..."
"You can say that again..." Simon said, now peering over the medic's other shoulder.
The medic spent several minutes tending to the right hand, before turning to the left hand and repeating the process. Finally, he applied the same series of sprays and sealants to an apparently similar cut on his forehead. After that, he rolled Nathaniel over, out of his blanket and onto his belly, and inspected him from all sides.
"He looks OK. I think he is going to be OK, but, obviously, he's got to warm up," the technician pronounced, not sounding very confident. The doctor was preoccupied running tests on Gregor.
"Well, let's get him to the infirmary and get him warmed up," Simon looked back and forth between the medic and Sarah.
"Come on, Nat," she said as she put a firm hand on the nap of his neck, and the other below his elbow, and lifted him to his feet. He shuffled uncertainly, and Simon came around to take his other arm and pulled the blankets back in place. The two of them led him below deck, to the infirmary.
"I've got the perfect thing to warm him up," Sarah said with an unforgiving look in her eye.
In their wake, the medical tech and the ops chief exchanged knowing glances.
Once in the infirmary, Nathaniel was taken to a large tub filled with a viscous liquid and lowered in, blankets and all, by Simon and Sarah. He sat down in a seat molded on the bottom of the tank, and was immersed up to his nostrils. The liquid was warm, not has hot as he usually liked his bath water, but the sensation of temperature was soon replaced by tingling over his entire body, not all together unpleasant. A medical technician was operating a few controls on the side of the tub, and explained without looking up, "This is going to stop any damage to your skin from exposure. I really don't think you need it, since you weren't in the water for long, but it is standard ops. At least it will warm you up." The tech looked down at Nathaniel for the first time as Simon and Sarah were pulling the blankets, soaked with the thick fluid, out of the tub.
"Also, take the rest of your clothes off," the tech said, before turning to attend to Gregor, who was being brought through the door. Nathaniel obeyed by removing his underwear and handed them up to Simon, thankful that the translucent fluid offered him some privacy. Simon and Sarah stayed by the side of the tub, looking down at him. There was considerable commotion swarming around Gregor at the other end of the infirmary, but a curtain had been drawn across the center of the room, so there was nothing to see. Nathaniel closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the tank.
After what felt like no more than five minutes, the technician returned to the controls and the tank began to drain. An overhead shower, only slightly warmer than the bath, sprayed water down on Nathaniel, apparently to remove the anti-hypothermia liquid. Simon had wandered over to check on Gregor, so Nathaniel only had Sarah to shield his body from. A blast of hot air followed the shower, and the technician dropped a stack of towels and blankets beside the tub before heading off again.
As Sarah help Nathaniel wrap towels around himself, the doctor came over to check on him for the first time. Nathaniel was standing up in the tub, and the doctor did not bother to ask him to step down. He simply took Nathaniel's hands in his own and inspected the bandages the medic had applied up on deck.
"These look fine...I'll probably want to redo them in the morning, but they are fine for now." The doctor seemed distracted and anxious to get back to Gregor.
"Look, you just need rest. I imagine your Super will want to have a word or two with you as well," the doctor said with a nod to Sarah.
"Indeed I do," Sarah said as she helped Nathaniel to step down from the tub.
The doctor pointed to a small door behind them, "You can rest on the bed in there. It's fully instrumented with biosensors, so we can keep an eye on you." Then he turned to walk back behind the curtain.
Sarah led Nathaniel, still swaddled in a blanket over his shoulders and an oversized towel around his waist, into the small, private room annexed to the infirmary. Nathaniel noticed she was holding one of the soft rubber-soled slippers that medical personnel and patients were supposed to wear, in order to try to prevent tracking the entrails of marine life that covered much of the ship's decking into the infirmary. He looked more carefully: she was holding just one slipper. It was much too large for her foot, or his, for that matter. "Uh-oh," Nathaniel thought.
Once in the small room, really just large enough to hold a single bed, a night table and two chairs, Sarah turned to close the door, without releasing her grip of her left hand on his shoulder.
"Last chance, kid. Better start talking," Nathaniel told himself. He cleared his throat, not really having said a complete sentence since he was fished out of the water.
"Sarah, you've got to understand, there wasn't really..."
He was cut off as her right hand flashed across the space between them and slapped him--open palmed--across his face. He was dazed for a moment, blinking, not really sure what happened. He felt a burn spread across his cheek.
"No!" she barked at him as he nursed his jaw. "Not a word! Not now!"
She led him to the bed and sat down in the middle of one side, tossing the slipper to the head of the bed, and then pulling him over the edge of the bed and across her knee. For his prior trips across her lap, Nathaniel was stretched out across the length of the bed, so that he was laying nearly flat and fully supported, with her lap serving just to lift his bottom into the air, making for a presentable target. This time, she kept his feet on the floor, and looped her right leg around the back of both his calves, then pulled her ankle up to the back of his knees, locking them against the bed frame. With her left hand, she collected both his wrists and, lifting her left leg, wedged them under her knee and squeezed down on his wrists, careful to avoid his bandaged hands. With his knees now pinned under one of her legs and his forearms pinned under her other leg, he was ass-end up and completely powerless. He could not even fidget or twist, even if he wanted to, which he knew would not be in his best interests right now. A consequence of this total lock she had him in was that his waist was bent at a sharp angle with his bottom jutting high into the air above her lap. He knew he must have looked utterly absurd, but as he was completely immobilized, there was nothing he could do about it.
Sarah now turned to the blanket and towel that were still wrapped around him. The blanket over his shoulder had started to come loose, and she pulled it off completely, tossing it to the foot of the bed. The towel around his waist was still tight, but she was quickly working the towel loose; an advantage of the hold she had him in was that both her hands were free. She peeled the towel away from his backside, but left it under him, between his groin and her lap. He was now completely naked.
Sarah retrieved the slipper from the head of the bed, and rested it against his bottom. Her left hand was splayed out between his shoulder blades, and began sliding down his spine.
"Oh, god," Nathaniel thought, not wanting to acknowledge how good the warmth of her touch felt. Her hand stopped at the small of his back, and she pushed down hard, apparently trying to position him. Since he was pinned at the knees and wrists, he did not have much range of motion, but he felt his shoulders push forward over the course blanket covering the bed. He felt the slipper lift off his bottom a couple of times and then come down to touch again. Every time it lightly touched his bottom, he quivered in anticipation. Would the next time it contacted be with full force?
Her left hand started sliding down from the small of his back again, and he felt and index finger tracing toward the start of the valley that divided his two butt cheeks. The finger kept advancing. "Oh, god, oh, god," kept playing over in his mind. He did not want to register how intense a sensation her touch was against his chilly bottom. The caress of her index finger into his crack, slightly moist with perspiration, seemed to release all of the tension in his muscles, knotted from an hour of uncontrollable shivering. But he was not relaxing everywhere: in the folds of the towel tangled between his groin and her lap, Nathaniel began to feel his member swell. "Oh, god, please not now!" he implore to his body. He could feel the fingernails of three other fingers digging into the soft skin on the top of his buttocks, and the force of her palm, then forearm, coming down on the small of his back like a vice. She pulled his knees in even farther, lifting his bottom almost imperceptibly higher. His boy-sized member was pulled out of the wrinkles of the towel and with a flick, he could feel it spring completely upright. "Oh, god, if she sees..." raced through is mind.
He could feel her muscles tense and knew the slipper was being held high in the air, then heard her slash the slipper down though the air and...
"SPLAT!" echoed off the close walls of the room.
The sound reminded him of the noise an inflated ball makes when kicked, hard, into a solid wall. He imagined the compression of the ball during the instant it was in contact with the wall, then imagined what his bottom must have looked like during contact of the slipper...
"Oh my god, they are coming fast," Nathaniel thought, realizing that at least this will be over sooner. The sound now more reminded him of someone dribbling, rather than just kicking, an inflated ball. And that now-familiar burning feeling started diffusing out from his sit-spot again.
The heat was oozing though his loins, pumping his quivering member harder and harder. He could feel his backside growing damp with sweat, and Sarah's left hand started sliding from the moistness of contact. Her index finger slithered lower into his crack, but still far above where the action was...
The feel of her finger in his crack and the heat soaking through his crotch kept pumping up his member still harder, and Nathaniel would have given anything to reach around and grabbed it to release the explosive potential building inside, if only she did not have his wrists so tightly pinioned under her knee. He did not give a damn for modesty anymore; he had to release himself because he knew he could not last another...
"Oh, god, if I can just hold on, until she is gone, I can relieve myself," Nathaniel tried to brace himself. He had lost count of the number of times the slipper had risen and fell on his furiously heated backside, but he knew that it had to be at least...
"Please! Enough!" he wailed through the bedspread. He was certain he had gotten his fifteen by now, but Sarah did not show any signs of letting up. In fact, the frequency of the swats seemed to be increasing. He held out for his fifteen like a good boy, now she could stop and let him go before he made a mess on the towel?
"No! Not this time! Not until you learn!" Sarah said, as a cadence in which each word was punctuated by:
In the span of those smacks, Nathaniel realized she had no intention of stopping, and he lost complete control. The utter desperation of his situation, coupled with the feel of her left hand sliding back and forth across the top of his cheeks, nails scratching flesh, the feel of her fierce eyes bearing down on his pitifully reddened buttocks, all came together in an instant of exponentially mounting sensations, and peaked with an explosion of milky fluid from the end of his trembling member. Each burst occurred in synchronization with...
"Oooooh!" Nathaniel let out a long moan, as his ecstasy reached a crescendo. He shuddered, convulsed, as much as Sarah's vice-like hold on him would permit. As Nathaniel's eyes slowly rolled up into his eyelids, his sense of the present gradually returned, and he was suddenly terrified by the thought that Sarah would know what had happened, that she would lift him up and see the gobs of liquid still draining out of his member. If she stops now...
...but she did not stop, and Nathaniel, now relieved of the tension that had been aching up through his loins, had to surrender himself into a sea of fiery pain. The feel of Sarah's hand on his butt was now nothing but a humiliating indignity, and the knowledge that she could see right into his crack, a vile embarrassment. But the pain of his backside superseded all other thoughts. The pain was exquisite, and Nathaniel yielded wholly, completely to the hurt. He no longer tensed and strained against Sarah's hold. He did not care if this went on for another minute, or another hour. He was broken.
A long pause.
"Enough?" Sarah asked through ragged gasps for air.
Nathaniel realized that his complete surrender must have signaled to her that he had well and truly learned his lesson.
"Yes!" he sobbed, and the sobs came pouring out of him now. He heard the slipper drop to the floor. "Oh, please, miss..." he was bawling now like a child.
"Get up, then." Sarah unhooked her right leg from around the back of his knees, and simultaneously lifted up her left thigh to release his wrists. As she pulled him up by his armpits, his hands flashed to collect the towel from her lap and pull is to his groin. For a moment he looked down to catch a glimpse of his still erect member, beads of fluid dripping from the end. He bunched the towel around his waist, hoping to conceal his secret.
Sarah was looking him in the face, and, to Nathaniel's relief, did not follow his eyes downward. She reached up, and stroked a lock of hair that was glued by sweat to his forehead.
"That is how boys your age get punished." Sarah said softly. "Do not make me do that again."
Nathaniel broke into another round of sobs, and just nodded. He rocked back onto his knees, still bunching the towel in front of him. He started pulling the bed covering back, so that he could have refuge to hide his secret. He pealed back just a large enough flap to scurry under the covers. Sarah was collecting the blanket he had worn in from the infirmary from the foot of the bed and then the slipper from the floor. She turned to him and said, "Give me that towel."
He had brought the towel with him under the covers, hoping to mop up most of the sticky mess below his navel. The towel had collected most of it, and the fluid was easily visible as a dark stain on its pale, institutional blue.
Nathaniel nodded and, in a moment of inspiration, brought the towel up to his face, pinched his nose with it, and blew a mucus-filled exhalation into the towel. He then wiped his tear-streaked cheeks and rubbed his eyes with another portion of the towel. Finally, he brought it back to his nose and blew again, finally folding it to conceal both the snot and semen. He tossed the towel to Sarah.
She caught the towel at arms' length, and continued holding it away from her as she murmured, "Lovely," under her breath.
"Oh, yeah, sorry," Nathaniel said, relieved by knowing that she would not open the towel to refold it, but rather she would likely just drop it in the infirmary laundry hamper. Which is exactly what she did as she walked out the door.
Nathaniel immediately rolled onto his belly, and began to experimentally probe his bare bottom with his hands. The slightest touch made him cringe, and he decided instead to use his hand to make a tent in the bedding over his backside, so that nothing would touch. He began to sob again, but only twice, then forced himself to stop by biting his lower lip.
There was a considerable about of noise audible from the infirmary. The walls here must be just temporary partitions, Nathaniel thought, much to his embarrassment. He vexed himself with wondering: "How many people overheard what just happened in here?" Most of the noise was Sarah, angrily demanding to know who she was going to see next about what had happened that day. After a while, things quieted down and all that was left was the noise of various medical devices purring.
As Nathaniel lay on his abdomen, arms running along his side and bandaged palms upturned, he could overhear the barely muted yelling starting up again in the hallway: "What the hell are you talking about? The only one who almost got killed was Boy Wonder here..." Sarah was bellowing.
He could not hear the reply, but Sarah's was loud and clear.
"How can that be? Huh? Aren't those things designed to be positively buoyant?"
Nathaniel resigned that he was going to have to settle for eavesdropping in on only half the conversation.
"Well, on whose authority did they exceed the maximum capacity of bottom samples? This is an impressive operation you are running here! First a fifteen-year-old kid decides to almost kill himself by jumping from the deck of your ship, and then you tell me that he might have actually saved someone's life? This is insane. You have absolutely no business doing this stuff if you have to rely on complete, blind luck to keep your crew from being killed!"
The one-sided conversation continued, as Sarah started again, more calmly this time, "No, you don't have to worry. He is not going anywhere. He is not leaving his bed until we can arrange the first transport home."
A few more heart beats, and then with the sound of heavy footfalls pounding back down the corridor, Nathaniel guessed that Sarah had deflected whoever had come with the intention of interrogating him.
The door to his small room opened, and, without looking, Nathaniel said, "Well, you sure scared them off!"
"Excuse me?" as gruff male voice said.
Nathaniel snapped his head around to see the Captain, standing in the doorway. He recognized him from the primer module he had read about the Shakelton back in the habs.
"Oh, sir. I'm sorry, sir" Nathaniel said as he rolled over, grimacing has is still throbbing backside took his weight. He tried to sit up, but the Captain motioned him to stay down.
"No, no, don't get up," the Captain said, pulling a chair over to his bedside.
The Captain looked up and down the length of the mound his body made in the bedding. Nathaniel's erection, thankfully, had deflated by now. He still felt self-conscious, being naked under the covers; he snuggled down a little further so only his chin peaked over the hem of the sheet.
The Captain turned his attention to Nathaniel's face and asked, "Are you alright?" His gaze into Nathaniel's eyes were so intense, he felt like he didn't need to say anything, as if the Captain could read his medical stats off of back of his retina.
"Yeah, I'm ok, sir," Nathaniel tried to sound demure.
"Look, Nat, I'm not going to tell you otherwise: that was a damn, damn foolish thing you did today. You well know that anyone, anyone will die in less than two minutes in that water. And jumping after that scaph..." The Captain trailed off for a moment to just shake his head, then resumed, "Kid, however much trouble you got into for that stunt, well, you deserve it and then some." He held his gaze steady, and Nathaniel felt himself melt into a wallow of shame.
The Captain nodded back toward the door, "If you Supervisor is half the disciplinarian she makes herself out to be, you probably got it pretty good!"
A toothy smile crept over his craggily face. Nathaniel thought that the Captain looked like the kind of Supervisor that had probably metered out more than his share of stern lectures and harsh punishments in his day. Maybe he got off easy with Sarah...
"But I'm not going to disagree with what everyone else on board is saying, because it is absolutely true," the Captain continued. "You saved Gregor's life out there today. There was a convergence of technical malfunctions and downright sloppy procedure that is going to take months of my time to explain to an investigating panel...but at every step of the way, no matter how much trouble we all get into, I am going to be thankful that no one got hurt. I am going to be thankful to you, Nat. Thanks." And with that he took Nathaniel's bandaged hand and squeezed, for several seconds. Nathaniel had to fight down the urge to wince at the pain, but his face must have given it away anyway.
"Oh, yeah, sorry," the Captain chuckled, nodding to Nathaniel's bandaged hand. He got up and walked out, slowly pulling the door shut behind him. Nathaniel quickly rolled back onto his belly, glad to relieve his backside again. He realized after the Captain left that he said less than a handful of words during the conversation. Damn, he thought, here was my one chance to get in a good word for myself, maybe a recommendation letter for the 'graphers... But his deep and utter exhaustion was too overpowering to pursue those thoughts further, and Nathaniel slipped into unconsciousness.
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