Ocean, Chapter V

From: Caithness


Ocean, Chapter 5: Decision (F/m-teen, Talk only, SF, Novella)

When he awoke the next morning, Nathaniel saw Simon sitting in the same chair the Captain had used, but now tilted back at an insane angle so that Simon could put his feet up on Nat's night table while he worked off his tablet.

"What time is it?" Nathaniel asked.

"Oh! 'The sleeper has awake!'" Simon hooted.




"You know, you always say that when you wake up. Regardless of how early, or how late," Simon reported, as if it were an abstract fact.

"What you are doing here?"

"Keeping an eye on you. I'm on the 9 to noon shift. Sarah took overnight. People are concerned about you, you know. They want to make sure our hero is going to look good for the vid's," Simon said with a wink and nod to the darkened video display screen in one corner.

"Come on, I'm fine. I probably burned ten thousand calories during two minutes in that water, that's all. Damn, that water is cold!"

"Figured that out, huh?" Simon got up and walked over to his bedside. He looked down on Nathaniel with a strange detachment. Then he spoke, fierce and bitter.

"That was the single stupidest motherfucking thing I have ever seen anyone, not just you, but anyone do!" Simon bit off each word as if tearing them off a printed page.

"Look, I know, I know, I know...the Captain came here and..."

"You know," Simon interrupted, "I hope Sarah beat your ass good for that stunt. In fact, I hope she continues to beat your ass, like a daily ritual or something. And maybe she could beat some sense into your fucking skull while she is at it."

Nathaniel knew when to be quiet, especially with Simon.

"Because, you do not ever, ever do anything that is not approved procedure when you are an Oceanographer. You get that? You don't take a shit without first clearing a backup plan with redundant emergency abort procedures with your ops chief first." Simon's face was flushed and he was out of breath when he finished.

"Well, I guess I'm not fit to be an Oceanographer, then," Nathaniel replied, after a long pause. He was having to learn to be good at this feigning-to-be-humble business with his newfound celebrity.

"Yeah, I bet that's what you're thinking. You want to know what you're really thinking? I'll tell you: You figure this is your ticket in. You reckon that the Captain owes you one, and that a recommendation letter from him is all this takes to get your freshly paddled and pink ass into the 'graphers, isn't it?" Simon's eyes were bearing down on Nathaniel, but his arms were limp at his sides, still holding the tablet.

"No, no I don't," Nathaniel knew he didn't sound convincing. "Look, I'm going back to the habs and complete my term of study. And then, back to Earth..."

"That's your plan, is it?" Simon sputtered.

"Well, it's not like I have a choice, is it? I mean, I can just see my Year Out evaluation, and it looks like a one-way ticket back to Earth to me."

"So you're resigned to give up trying out for the 'graphers?"

"Yes. Of course. I mean..."

"That's a shame," Simon interrupted. "Because you're gonna miss out."

Simon let a heartbeat pass, then another.

"Because you're in," he said as he threw the tablet onto the bed.


"I hope you don't mind, I hacked your password. There wasn't much else to do in here," Simon said as he looked around the infirmary room with disdain.

"That's my tablet? You hacked..." Nathaniel said, picking it up.

"Read it."

Nathaniel skimmed the letter quickly, then again more slowly, and then once more, parsing every word to ensure it meant what he thought it meant. It was a letter from the Captain to the Oceanographer's administrative office on the North habs, informing them that he had found a replacement for the missing Junior Investigator slot, and that while making such an appointment while on expedition was unusual, he felt extenuating circumstances more than justified.

"You recall I mentioned we lost another guy from my class due to illness in his family?" Simon said, with Nathaniel still focused fully on the tablet.

"Yeah, Sarah and I are sharing his berth."

"Yeah, well, since we are down one, the Captain has authority to appoint a replacement, pretty much at his own discretion, within limits of course. And, well, you're it," Simon said. He slowly smiled.

"So, it is a temporary thing, like being appointed deputy in an old Western?"

"Uh, guess I missed that vid...but no. You're bona fide Oceanographer, effective immediately. Assuming you accept the offer, of course."

"But my study term..." Nathaniel murmured, looking over the letter again.

"Yeah, screw that. I haven't completed any of those courses. And guess what? It doesn't matter what the ecological coupling coefficient is when your flying through the ecosystem inside a supercavitation bubble!"

Nathaniel raised his eyebrows. Maybe it is my turn to give the lecture, he thought.

"Look, spare the polemics. You're right. These things are important, and trust me, you'll pick them up a lot faster out here, by osmosis, than you ever will sitting in a classroom. And no one is stopping you from continuing to work through your modules once you're here. Just got to find the time."

"Well, obviously, I have some things to think about. Look, I'm still pretty drained. When do I need to decide?"

"Well, your girl Sarah pushed to get a transport out this afternoon. Take your time, sure, but look, that witch is going to pull you out of here by the afternoon..."

"Don't say that..." Nathaniel still didn't look up.

"What?" Simon feigned innocence.

"About Sarah," Nathaniel's voice was barely audible. "She has done a lot for me."

"Yeah, like kept your butt nice and rosy...and toasty. Look, Nat, you don't get a chance like this again. I mean, not unless you think you can keep pulling of fucking-insane stunts like yesterday out of your hat!" Simon returned to his seat and sat down.

"Well, it's just... You know, the Year Out is supposed to be about adapting to local culture, and so on. If I just walk out of my classes mid-term, I don't think it is going to look good."

"Who cares?" Simon was clearly incensed at Nathaniel.

"Well, I do."

"Do you have something for Sarah? Maybe you like getting your ass paddled, is that it?"

Nathaniel did not say anything. He just rolled over on his side and continued to scroll though the other communiques that his tablet had accumulated in the past day.

"Alright, I'm out of here," Simon resigned himself as he walked to the door.

Nathaniel could not resist provoking him: "I thought you were supposed to be taking care of me until noon,"

"I'll get your nanny to come down and baby-sit you," Simon said as he went out the door.

Nathaniel read over the letter from the captain one last time, then closed it to scan the rest of the communiques that had arrived over night. There were three from Rebecca; from their titles it was obvious she had seen the vid coverage of the accident with the scaph. He also had a message from Abby, who had help him train in the tank: "Glad to see all the hours we spent on free-diving technique paid off!"

Nathaniel could not bring himself to reply to their messages. He needed to think, think over the captain's offer, and think over his future. He just did not feel like he had yet earned his place as a 'grapher. He thought back to the time on the chronometer from his last training session in the Tank: 00:29:48.45. He had been thinking how great it would feel to post that time at the next try-outs for the 'graphers. And he knew he could improve that time considerably by the end of the term if he kept training. He had set that time just six days earlier, Nathaniel remembered, recalling that had been the night Sarah caught him cheating on his schedule. The events that had transpired in those six days... He had been spanked three times by Sarah, first on his pajamas, then bare-bottomed in front of Simon, and finally getting it with the slipper while completely naked over Sarah's knee. On the last one he had lost control... Not to mention the paddling he got over the corner of Elizabeth's desk. If he returned to the habs, could he look forward to more of the same?

Nathaniel reached down, under the covers, to cup his butt cheek in his had. His bottom felt sore, raw, like a muscle that had be over exercised without proper warm up. "How can I even think of going back for more of his?" he wondered.

There was a light tap on the door, and then it opened to reveal Sarah, in a crisp jumpsuit, with her hair pulled back, tablet slug in a stylish satchel over her shoulder. Despite everything, Nathaniel felt his heart flutter, just as it did the first day he was introduced to her as his Supervisor. The day he knew he had a crush on her.

"How are you doing?" Sarah said, with genuine concern in her voice.

"Well, OK. Tired." Nathaniel discreetly pulled his hand away from his bottom.

"We are going back to the habs." Sarah said it as a matter of fact, like giving time or day of the week.

"I want to show you something, to discuss something with you." Nathaniel pulled up the message from the captain on his tablet, and handed it to her. She spent a solid minute reading the letter. She then placed the tablet carefully on the corner of the bed, and looked Nathaniel in the eye, without a hint of condescension, adult to adult.

"Congratulations, Nathaniel. I knew this is something you wanted very bad, and were working very hard toward. I'm not going the let the circumstances under which it happened detract from that...I'm happy for you."

"I haven't decided to accept. Not yet, at least. I am thinking about going back and completing my term. I mean, I really don't like to leave things half-finished."

"I can see the advantage in that, too," Sarah said.

"Well, will you take me back in? I mean, after what happened?"

"Take you back? I never gave you up in the first place, Nathaniel." Sarah seemed hurt by his implication.

"Well, I mean, if I go back, is it going to be like before? I mean, I have been accepted into the 'graphers now." Nathaniel was not sure what he was probing for.

"Look, Nathaniel, I want to make this clear: if you come back, we still work under my rules. Not that they are 'my rules' anyway; there are guidelines laid out in the colony charter about the Supervisor-Student relation. You are not getting any special treatment just because you choose to come back voluntarily, right?" Sarah said with a raise of her eyebrows. "I think you know what I'm referring to."

"You mean I'm still eligible for spankings," Nathaniel said, more to himself. He slowly shook his head back and forth, not believing what he was considering subjecting, voluntarily subjecting, himself too.

"You still don't get it, do you, kid?" Sarah walked to his bedside. A deep crease divided her brow. "When you are eligible to leave the supervision of your Super, that's it. You're free to go, no strings attached. But as long as you are under my supervision, then I am going to follow the guidelines laid out by my responsibilities as Supervisor. In a nutshell: To be damn tough on you. Because it is a harsh world. There are a dozen different ways your brilliant exploit yesterday could have ended with you dead: tangled up in a tether, knock your head and lost consciousness for a second or two, and that's it, you're gone! And it is not just on a research vessel, its everywhere on Ocean, even back in the habs. The walls and floors of those things are only a hundred micron thick polymer. They can rip open and you'll fall through or get sucked out before you can take a breath. I've seen it happen."

She paused to let these scenarios play out in Nathaniel's mind.

"So, when you get punished, it is just to impart a little of the pain you were just lucky and missed out on. Yesterday, I was ready to beat you within a centimeter of your life. So you'd learn not to rely on luck, and maybe use a little more of your head next time."

"And you'll think I'll learn that better back in the habs, rather than out here?"

"Yes." She paused. "I do. I think if you complete your term and learn to respect the regs, then when you come out here, you'll be taking reasonable, calculated risks in your work, not insane, blind ones. And you'll actually know something about Ocean, unlike Simon."

Nathaniel closed his eyes and said, "I have to think about this."

"You have a lot to think about. I'll let you get to it." She got up slowly, as if wanting to keep eye contact with Nathaniel, then turned to leave. She crossed the doctor on her way out.

The doctor, the same chief medical officer who had quickly checked him over as he got out of the hypothermia tank the day before, gave him a brief once-over inspection, then focused on changing the bandages on the palms of his hands and his forehead. When he was done, he informed Nathaniel that he was free to get dressed and leave the infirmary and return to his cabin. Sarah had already left a standard-issue Shakelton jumpsuit laid out on the night table for him, along with a pair of his own underwear and t-shirt.

After the doctor left, he got up slowly, cringing as his bruised backside took his full weight as he sat up on the edge of the bed. He pulled the underwear up carefully, pulling the elastic waistband away from his bottom, slipped into the t-shirt and then the jumpsuit. Simon had provided the jumpsuit to Sarah and Nathaniel as mementos of their trip. Nathaniel was surprised Sarah had selected it for him to wear; it was certainly not what he would have picked out for himself that day. He looked at himself in the mirror and for a moment, marveled at how he looked in the uniform. Then, he felt a wave of self-hate wash over himself. He had made his decision.

He contacted Sarah through the ship's AI and asked if he could make a small detour on his way back to his cabin. Sarah agreed, and Nathaniel made his way to the administrative sector of the ship. He had no idea how to ask to see the Captain, but after asking a few of the crew, he was directed to the cubby-hole office of a middle aged, motherly woman who served as the Captain's personal assistant. Ms. Taley. She gave the impression of being fastidious, the name seemed to fit.

"I sorry but it is quite impossible to see him now, dear," she said with sympathy and a kind smile.

"Well, ok. But can you give him a..."

"But he does want to see you, young man. Would you be interested in sitting at the Captain's table for lunch?" A sly smile spread across her face, "Or standing? As you prefer."

It took Nathaniel a few second to process what she said, and then he flushed red and looked to his feet.

Ms. Taley put a hand to his shoulder. "You've been through a lot these last days, haven't you?" Her smile evaporated and was replaced by a look of concerned worry.

Nathaniel summoned up his courage and looked her in the eye.

"Yes, ma'am. Yes I have. Quite enough, actually. That's what I wanted to tell the Captain. That I'm going home. I mean, back to the habs. I have to turn down his very generous offer."

She tilted her head slightly, and smiled. "You'll tell him yourself. At lunch."

"Well, if it is all the same, I'd prefer just to, you know..." Nathaniel tapered off.

"No, he won't be disappointed in you at all, Nathaniel. Rather, I think he'll be quite proud. In fact, I think you just passed a test of sorts."

"How so?"

"Hm. I'll tell you when you come back, next season."

Nathaniel got the impression that Ms. Taley could tell him a lot of things about what went on onboard the Shakelton. He agreed to meet the Captain for lunch, and then returned to his cabin to pack up his bags. He new the flight home would depart immediately after lunch.


Icy sleet blew across the deck as Nathaniel and Sarah dragged their bags toward the aero that would take them home. There were a few media people on deck, gets some shots of the scene where yesterday's excitement played out. When they saw Nathaniel, the beckoned him to come over for a word. He just shook his head and pointed to the aero. But as he stowed his back in back and turned to the cabin, he knew the journalists were still watching him. He paused for a moment and had to bit down the temptation to give a glance in their direction. Sarah planted a sharp, underhand swat to his backside as he stalled climbing up the steep stairs to the aero.

"Hey!" Nathaniel said, not turning back. He could feel the eyes of the vid and holo recorders bearing down on them.

"Get up there, hero," Sarah said impatiently. She motioned to swat again, but Nathaniel leapt through the hatch before she could connect. Safely inside, he peered back, to see the two technicians and the media-liaison officer operating the vid/holo recorders chuckling despite themselves.

"Sarah," Nathaniel said with all the seriousness he could muster. "They are recording this. Since you won't let me grant an interview after lunch, this is all they are going to have to beam out the local system."

"'Grant an interview'...who the hell do you think you are, kid?" Sarah rolled her eyes as she shook her head slowly.

"Well, come on, it is a story, you know. If this is the totality of my exposure, I prefer not be to be seen getting smacked by my Super, if you don't mind," Nathaniel fumed.

"Nat, everyone on Ocean is going to know that you got the whupp'n of your life for that stunt yesterday. I don't think there is anything we can do you add or detract from what is now common knowledge..."

Nathaniel smoldered for a moment longer, as he settled into his favorite rear viewport couch. As he strapped into the five-point harness in preparation for takeoff, he privately marveling at how many different euphemisms for hitting someone's backside the inhabitants Ocean had. "Whupp'n"...that was a new one. He started trying to list the others, as he wondered how many new words he would learn for "spanking" during his stay on Ocean...and how many he would learn the hard way, splayed out over Sarah's lap.

They were already weightless by the time his thoughts returned to the present.

End of Chapter V


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