Monday, October 31, 2011

The Jade Runner, Part 22

Tara paced the small room along the bars holding them inside. Quinn sat on the small white bench at the back of the room.  Outside the cell, the guards stood with their backs to them. They knew Kit and Rex had left the ship and that Rex was in the process of executing a plan that would likely have dire consequences for Kit as well as themselves. From the Griffinscape’s brig, they also knew there was nothing they could do about it.
Tara wrung her hands together , purposefully not looking at Quinn. “This is all my fault.”
“There’s enough blame to go around,” Quinn said.
“If only I hadn’t dumped the cargo,” Tara said, still pacing.
Quinn shook his head. “We’d still have problems, maybe more than we have now and we’d be directly responsible for everything that happened to the people who ended up taking those drugs.”
“I didn’t trust her,” Tara said. “She’s barely more than a kid and it just made sense that she’d be taken in by the lure of fast, easy money.”
“Trust comes with time,” Quinn said. “You haven’t known her or me for very long.”
Tara stopped pacing and faced Quinn. “All the more reason not to rush to judgment. I should have known better than to trust a man like Rex.”
Quinn looked up at her. “He’s a master manipulator. You did what you thought was right.”
“I didn’t think things through,” Tara said.
Quinn said, “There would have been consequences for inaction as well.”
Tara’s hands landed on her hips. “Are you saying I was right to betray Kit?”
Quinn studied her face. He recognized the torment of guilt straining her eyes and cheeks. “No,” he said. “What I’m saying is everybody makes mistakes. It is what we do to correct them that matters.”
Tara nodded. “Spank me.”
Quinn raised an eyebrow at her.
“If not for Kit,” Tara said, “I’d be naked and on the streets of Centora City. A spanking is the least of what I deserve for betray the person who saved me from that.”
Quinn said, “A spanking won’t fix anything right now.”
Tara said, “Perhaps not, but it will ease my conscience long enough that we might find a way to help her.”
Quinn nodded. “Alright, I’ll spank you, but it will be done my way.”
Tara dropped her hands from her waist to dangle free at her side. “Deal.”
He sat up straight, pushing his back against the wall. “I want you to get undressed and lay yourself over my lap.”
“Undressed?” Tara bit at her lip, eyes flickering between the floor and Quinn’s face.
Quinn nodded. “Undressed,” he said. “You said it yourself, without Kit you’d be naked and so it’s only fitting that you be naked when punished for betraying her.”
Tara didn’t bother responding. Instead, she shed her clothes into a pile on the floor. There was no pause or hesitation in her fingers and she did not bother trying to hide her nakedness from Quinn’s piercing gaze. If he hadn’t seen her naked in the square on Centora, enough others had that the embarrassment of being naked no longer even colored her cheeks red. But Tara knew he’d seen her. She remembered his face, on the other side of the door leading into the casino. He had looked away when he noticed she was looking at him.
Not this time. He looked and made no attempt to hide his wandering eyes. She walked the short distance between them, keeping her hands out of the way and leaving herself open to his inspection. His expression yielded no signs of appreciation or lack of it. Only a faint twinkle in his blue eyes suggested he enjoyed the view and the moment. She laid herself over his lap, resting her upper half on the bench beside him and keeping her toes on the ground.
Quinn touched her buttocks with his right hand and wrapped her body to his with his left arm. She offered no resistance at all, not even tensing her muscles. The ointment he’d previously applied to her buttocks had done its job. The bruising and redness from her time in the pillory were all but gone. Only the faintest of tinge of a pink blush remained. He slipped his fingers in the tight space between her thighs and she responded by moving her legs apart.
Patting the center of her bottom, he said, “That’s a good girl. Now, stay in position.”
Tara held her breath and closed her eyes. Quinn raised his open palm, high above her buttocks. He waited, hand hovering in the air and then, without warning, he brought it crashing down into the center of her naked cheeks. Her butt bounced beneath his hand. She snapped her eyes open and let out her held breath in an explosive puff. Quinn allowed his hand to bounce up off her buttocks only to bring it back down again and again. Her bottom turned pink decorated with the fading white prints of his hand.
He continued the spanking until Tara cried freely without restraint. Her buttocks felt warm beneath his hand and they glowed a soft, vibrant red. Through it all she kept herself still and avoided the clenching, squirming, and kicking that the rising sting in her posterior demanded. Over and over, she told herself she deserved nothing more, and certainly nothing less, than she was getting. The spanking bared no comparison to the spanking she received in the pillory. This one had been deserved and despite its clearly lesser severity, it affected her much more deeply.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Jade Runner, Part 21

A pair of guards led Quinn and Tara away from Kit and the conference room. They were confined together in a small cell in the Griffinscape’s brig under the watchful eyes of their guards. The man in the red trimmed helmet bound Kit’s hands behind her back and prodded her into the elevator with the remainder of his guards and Rex accompanying them.
Kit led the way on the dirt road leading to the castle seen in the distance. They kept a quick pace. The air hung heavy with humidity and dark clouds closed in overhead. On the horizon above the treetops of surrounding forest, lightning scorched across the sky followed by rolling thunder that shook the dirt beneath Kit’s feet. She kept moving forward, annoyed by the bonds keeping her arms from moving freely at her sides.
At the castle gates, Kit stopped. The man in the red trimmed helmet conferred quietly with a man in a blue trimmed helmet. When their conversation ended, the gate was raised and Kit was prodded forward. They passed through the interior courtyard and entered a building on the west side through a large wooden door. Inside, a wide staircase led them down into the underground depths, lit by torches flickering on the walls. The putrid aroma of wet hay and human sweat wafted its way up and tickled Kit’s nose.
A pair of wooden doors, double the thickness and weight of those above, awaited them at the bottom. Kit stepped through the doors and stopped near the center of the large open room. At its center was a wooden contraption with conspicuously placed leather restraints. She didn’t fancy the idea, but there existed little doubt to its purpose; Punishment, torture, or both.
From a concealed passage on the far side of the room, a man entered and stopped on the opposite side of the wooden contraption. He wore wealthier clothing than his guards. His trousers were black silk and his shirt was a scarlet variation of the same. Jewelry adorned his fingers and a medallion hung around his neck. The black of his hair seemed almost blue in the torchlight.
He stared into Kit’s eyes. “We had a deal.”
“I don’t even know you,” Kit said, meeting his gaze.
“I’m Count Wudwerth,” he said.
“I still don’t know you,” Kit said.
Wudwerth nodded. “And yet you came all this way to deliver me you.”
Kit twisted to look back at Rex. He appeared just as confused. Kit turned back to Wudwerth and said, “What are you talking about?”
Wudwerth took a step closer to her, smiling. “Yes, I was hoping to get my medical shipment as well, but Captain Rex will be correcting that situation for us,” Wudwerth said and looked past Kit to Rex, “won’t you?”
Rex cleared his throat and said, “It’ll just take three days and you’ll have double what you ordered.”
Wudwerth kept smiling at Rex. “You have two.”
Turning his attention back to Kit, Wudwerth reached inside Kit’s jacket. His fingers probed against her body giving no heed to her private space. He found what he was looking for in her jacket pocket and pulled it out. The remote for the Griffinscape passed from Wudwerth to man with red trimmed helmet and he in turned pressed the panel against Kit’s still bound thumb before handing it over to Rex.
“You’ve got your ship back as promised,” Wudwerth said. “Now I suggest you get going because if you aren’t back with my shipment in two days, you’ll lose a lot more than your ship.”
“No worries,” Rex said and left the room with an escort of guards.
Kit stared into the black of Wudwerth’s eyes. Jade’s voice echoed in her head, cautioning her, Don’t be reckless.
“You’re feisty,” Wudwerth said, “but I was expecting that.”
“What do you want from me?” Kit asked.
Wudwerth reached out toward her again. This time his fingers snatched the thin chain around her neck and pulled the jade stone from its hiding place beneath her top. He studies the green jewel in his open palm and then closed his fist around it, yanking the necklace free from Kit.
Rage boiled behind Kit’s eyes. “Give it back!”
He ticked his index finger in the space between them. “I own you and that means everything that was yours is now mine. Get used to it.”
“The stone is mine,” Kit said. Her defiant stare said even more; She belonged to no one.
Wudwerth merely smiled wider before turning his gaze to the man in the red trimmed helmet. “Commander Zeller,” he said, “strip her and teach the Jade Princess what it means to be a slave.”
“With pleasure,” Zeller said.
Wudwerth turned and left the room the way he had entered, taking with him Kit’s necklace.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Jade Runner, Part 20

Guards surrounded the Griffinscape inside the landing dock. They wore black armor with a matte, leather finish that covered them from their necks down to their ankles. On their heads they wore black leather helmets with open faces. The helmets were trimmed along the face with silver, except for two that were trimmed in blue and one that was trimmed in a dark red. The two blue were stationed on opposite side of the ship. They appeared to be in command of the guards on their respective sides. The man with the dark red trimmed helmet, stood near the center of the landing dock only a few feet from where the Griffinscape’s passenger ramp would descend. He was in charge.
Kit watched her ship being surrounded from the conference room, adjacent to the helm and navigation center. Rex stood against the wall near the door enjoying Kit’s frustration and barely contained panic. Quinn and Tara arrived from the engineering room. Kit knew her problems were bigger than she thought when she noticed Quinn’s firm grip on Tara’s upper arm. He placed her in chair and stood between her and the exit.
“When they find out we don’t have the cargo, they’re going to kill us,” Kit said.
Tara stared at Kit. “I’m not sorry,” she said. “I became a doctor to save lives and by getting rid of all that Zumena, I’ve saved hundreds.”
“You deliberately dumped the cargo?” Kit asked.
Tara smiled. “I did.”
Kit closed her eyes to contain her anger and frustration. A moment later, she opened them and fixed on Tara. “Why?”
“Have you ever seen someone on Zumena?” Tara asked. “Sure it makes them faster and stronger for a while, but at the same time it erodes their minds, clouds their judgment until they’re nothing more than a slave to their need for more. And eventually, all that speed and strength takes it toll on the body and they die looking like they lived an entire lifetime, but in reality they barely even lived at all.”
“I know all too well what it does,” Kit said.
“Then why,” Tara asked, “would even think of delivering it here? No amount of money is worth what this stuff does to people’s lives.”
“Delivering it was the only thing that was going to keep these people from killing us,” Kit said. She spun the monitor showing the guards outside for Tara to see.
Tara looked up from the monitor into Kit’s eyes. “I’m not afraid to die.”
Quinn said, “Neither am I, but I would prefer to die for something that matters.”
Tara looked back at him. “Keeping Zumena from these people matters.”
“Of course it matters.” Quinn nodded. “The only problem is we’re not keeping it from them like this. Our one small shipment will mean nothing in the long run because someone else will just step in and deliver more to replace what we destroyed.”
Kit nodded. “If we’re going to keep Zumena from these people we’re going to have to make sure the market for it is closed down for good.”
Tara swiveled her head from Kit to Quinn and back again. “I don’t understand.”
Kit laughed without humor. “I’ve seen what LX’s narcotics can do firsthand. I was never going to just deliver the drugs and leave.”
“I gather you have a plan,” Quinn said, looking at Kit.
Kit nodded. “We’re going to have to surrender to them.”
Tara said, “They’ll kill us.”
“I’m going to strike a bargain with them,” Kit said.
Tara said, “The only thing they’ll bargain for is Zumena.”
“Or cash,” Quinn said.
Kit smiled at her companions. “I’m going to offer them both and when they accept, I’m going to bring the authorities down on them at our next meeting.”
Quinn said, “It could also be trouble for us.”
“Maybe,” Kit said, “but if it comes to that I’ll do my best to keep it contained to just me and our new friends outside.”
Tara nodded and looked around the conference room. “Where’s Rex?”
Kit looked to the wall behind Quinn where Rex had been standing. Rex was gone and only the wall remained. Quinn spun around and took a step closer to the door when it opened. Rex walked inside the conference room. He was accompanied by a small group of the guards from outside the ship, led by the man in the red trimmed helmet.
Rex pointed at Kit. “She’s the one,” he said. “She dumped the crates in the ocean.”
Tara looked up at Rex, anger boiling in her eyes. “You lying bastard,” she said.
The man in the red trimmed helmet stepped forward, his gaze locked on Kit. “You are under arrest,” he said. “If you surrender your weapons and come peacefully now, you won’t be harmed.”
Kit opened her jacket, exposing the hilts of her two pistols. One at a time she removed them from her belt and laid them on the table. “If you’ll give me a chance to explain, I’m sure you’ll agree this all just a big misunderstanding.”
The man in the red trimmed helmet asked, “Do you have the crates you agreed to deliver?”
Kit said, “Well no, but—
The man said, “Then there is no misunderstanding. You will come with us now.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Jade Runner, Part 19

A red light blinked on the top edge of the helm controls. It caught Kit’s attention just long enough for her to wonder what it was trying to tell her had gone wrong. Then the Griffinscape bucked like an untamed stallion. Alarms rang out in the small room and all over the ship. More lights on the helm console flashed red as Kit’s fingers flew over the controls. Kit fought for control guided by instinct and intuition.
Quinn staggered into the room from behind Kit, grabbing at any support his hands could find to keep him upright. “What’s going on?” he yelled, over the blaring alarms.
Kit focused on the controls and keeping the Griffinscape from falling out of the sky like a meteor on a collision course with the ocean. Rex glanced over his shoulder. His jaw locked in an expression that held no confidence in Kit’s ability to pilot the ship under the circumstances. Sitting at the navigation console, his ability to save his ship from an imminent crash was limited at best.
Rex said, “The lower cargo doors opened.”
“How?” Quinn asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Rex said. “Someone has to get down there and close them.”
“I’ll go.” Quinn twisted his body to head back out of the helm and navigation center. He half ran, half fell toward the emergency stairs that would take him to the lower decks. It wasn’t a good time to take the elevator.
Three minutes later, the ship’s intercom squawked to life and Quinn’s voice tunneled its way up to Kit from the the engineering deck. “I’m closing the cargo doors now,” he said.
The Griffinscape bucked one last time before surrendering smooth control back into Kit’s fingers. She glanced at Rex, wondering what role he played in opening the doors. The alarms and flashing red lights faded into silence. Kit pressed intercom button and said, “Any idea what happened?”
Kit felt a tension in the silence on the other end before Quinn responded. “I’ve got a pretty good idea this wasn’t an accident.”
Her eyes remained fixed on Rex. “I never thought it was.”
Quinn said, “Given the circumstances, we might not want to stick around.”
“I take it all our cargo is gone?” Kit asked.
“All of it,” Quinn said.
Kit shook her head at Rex. “Well I guess that concludes our business on Rasa.”
Rex’s eyes opened a bit wider than normal. “You can’t run away from these people,” he said. “They’ll find you and when they do they’ll kill you. Your only chance is to land and explain the situation to them.”
“With you doing the explaining?” Kit asked.
“Of course,” Rex said.
Kit laughed. “I’d be smarter to shoot myself.”
Rex chuckled. “If I’d known your aim was that bad, I’d have fought harder back in that alley on Centora.”
“We’re leaving,” Kit said.
She altered course and began an ascent. In the distance the landing dock was already visible through the forward viewports. Beyond it, a castle rose up from the surrounding greenery. The people were impossible to see, but the evidence of their existence and hard work was plain enough; Plowed fields and sprouting crops, a village worth of homes and shops spotting the land between the castle and the dock, and smoke rising up from the tiny chimneys. They were better off without Zumena.
A new red light began flashing on Kit’s console. The collision alert sounded and Kit altered course, stopping the Griffinscape’s ascent. Kit leveled off and attempted to maneuver away from the overhead vessel. It followed her every move. The ship-to-ship com unit crackled to life.
“Griffinscape, you are attempting to deviate from your authorized course. Please explain,” said a young man over the crackling speaker. His voice was gruff and clearly annoyed.
Rex looked at Kit. “Looks like we’re going to have to land after all.”
Kit punched the button to reply to the young man and ignored Rex. “We had a malfunction and need to return to orbit.”
The young man said, “Negative Griffinscape. Maintain your original course and land at the proper coordinates or you will be forced down.”
Kit said, “If our reactor explodes—
“We’re monitoring your ship’s systems. Your reactor is operating within acceptable norms for your class of ship,” the young man said. “Quit stalling and land your vessel now or I’ll be forced to fire upon you.”
Rex grinned for ear to ear. Kit glared at him. She adjusted the Griffinscape’s course back to their original heading. The castle and its village grew larger in the viewport until they were practically on top of it. Kit stopped the forward movement and carefully lowered the ship into the middle of the landing dock using vertical thrusters only. When the Griffinscape touched down on the concrete pad, she powered down the thrusters and ship’s engines. Above them, the roof to the landing slid closed, cutting out the sky from view and leaving Kit feeling trapped.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Jade Runner, Part 18

The Griffinscape exited the Rasa gateway in a brilliant flash of white light. Standing behind Kit in the ship’s helm and navigation center, Tara watched as Kit accelerated toward the green and blue sphere that was their destination; Rasa. It grew larger in the forward window ports until it filled them. Kit altered their course to orbit the planet.
Rex swiveled out of the navigation chair and jumped to his feet. “I’ll make the final arrangements for our landing.”
Kit nodded. “Good, I just want to get this over and done with.”
Rex left the area through the door at the back and head to communications room on the port side of the ship. Tara followed, closing the room’s door behind her. She had questions and the things she thought she knew weren’t adding up. Kit and Quinn acted like nice enough people, but so did every con artist in the galaxy.
Rex paused at the control and eyed Tara along with the closed door at her back. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Tara looked him over. He wore dusty clothes, worn with age and toil. His hat might have belonged to a farmer, his jacket fit a pilot, and his shirt and jeans would have been more befitting to a maintenance worker in the dark depths of Centora city. Somehow the hodgepodge collection fit the man and gave him the feel of a man hardened in truth and reality. He was rugged with sharp edges.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“Rasa ain’t exactly civilized territory,” Rex said. “If I don’t schedule our landing we’ll likely be shot right out of the sky.”
Tara stepped forward and leaned on the edge of the console between them. “That’s not what I’m talking about. Why are you mixed up in this dirty drug deal?”
Rex eyed her. He noticed the tone of her voice, the white of her knuckles gripping the console and the sadness in her eyes. “You heard Captain Kid, this mess is all my fault.”
Tara nodded. “Is it?”
“Maybe I underestimated you,” Rex said.
She asked, “How so?”
“I figured you a lost cause,” he said. “She made such a nice little tale out of rescuing you, I didn’t expect you’d see through it.”
“Things just aren’t making sense to me,” Tara said. “First she says she’s responsible for what happened to me, then she says she not. She says she hates LX and yet she’s hauling illegal cargo for them. We could have stopped this whole thing back on that Custom’s station, but like you said, she only seems to care about making her money. I don’t trust her. Don’t misunderstand me though, I don’t trust you either.”
Rex smiled. “Smart lady. Figures you’d be a doctor.”
“So,” Tara said, looking him in the eye, “why are you helping her deliver these drugs.”
Rex nodded. “The Griffinscape used to be my ship. I lost her fair and square to our young Captain cause I was drunk and stupid. She offered me a job as her navigator on this trip with the promise of big money, the kind of money that could help me a get a ship of my own again. I didn’t ask questions, guess I probably knew and didn’t want to know, that anything paying that much had to be illegal.”
“The syringe?” Tara asked.
Rex smiled wider and chuckled. “Yeah. I had to look and when I saw what we were carrying, I thought maybe I could stop us short. Set things right, you know?”
“Why did you help her with the Inspector then?” Tara asked.
Rex stopped smiling. He shook his head. “I thought she’d go quietly, but she was ready to turn the whole deal nuclear. If she’d forced a full investigation with the paperwork she had from LX, all the little lies that the government tells itself would start to unravel and all of us, not just the bitchy little kid, but all of us, would spend the rest of our lives someplace very dark and unpleasant. The kind of place where you can know all the dirty little secrets that make the galaxy spin and nobody will ever listen to you.”
“Maybe she was bluffing,” Tara said.
Rex shook his head. “I played poker against her. She doesn’t bluff.”
“We can’t deliver these drugs,” Tara said. “People will die if we do.”
“If you mean that,” Rex said, “I could use your help.”
“To do what?” Tara asked.
“When we enter the atmosphere and maneuver for a landing, we’ll have to pass over an ocean,” Rex said.
Tara nodded.
Rex said, “If someone were in the starboard engineering room at the right moment and happened to push the emergency release for the lower cargo bay doors, all those drugs would fall into the ocean and sink all the way to the ocean floor.”
“Didn’t you say you were the only one who knew the buyers for this deal and if we don’t deliver they’ll hunt us down?” Tara asked.
Rex nodded. “They’ll hunt the kid and her gray haired sidekick down. She made me help her set this deal in motion using some of my less savory contacts. Like I said, I should have known this was illegal job.”
Tara considered Rex’s story and found it missing pieces, just like Kit’s. “Why would Kit trust you to keep the contacts from her, if this was all her idea?”
Rex laughed. “She didn’t. I kept the contacts from her because without them as insurance I figured I’d be good as dead as soon she figured she didn’t need me anymore. Given what happened back at the station, I think it’s safe to say I was right.”
Tara nodded. His story wasn’t perfect, but the pieces fit well enough to the facts she knew. People have secrets and sometimes those secrets create gaps in the puzzle of events. She figured if the overall picture wasn’t obscured, the missing bits didn’t really matter.
“And why wouldn’t they hunt us down?” Tara asked.
“They don’t even know about you,” Rex said. “As for me, well let’s just say I have some friends in high places who could make things very difficult for these people if I disappear.”
“You really want to do this?” Tara asked.
Rex nodded. “We can’t deliver these drugs.”
Tara left the room and took the elevator down to the first level. She stood next to the controls for the cargo bay doors and watched on a small monitor as the ship entered the atmosphere on course for its rendezvous. When the image showed nothing but water below, she pressed the button. A red siren flashed and alarm blared over the engine room speaker. The lower cargo bay doors swung downward, opening a hole in the bottom of the ship and dropping the LX crates into the water.