The Blue Dragon – Chapter 6

Chapter 6: Space has its Surprises

Suddenly the shower door opens and Zelleus stands there with a frozen grin on his face. He had intended to surprise the boy and teach him to be less prude about his naked body. But it is Zelleus who is struck speechless. For there, before him, stands the most beautiful young woman he would swear he had ever seen. He continues to stare as “Thane” tries to cover herself with her long slim arms while some of the escaping water splashes out to the floor or swirls around in a thick mist as it locates and moves lazily to the center of gravity.

Several seconds later Zelleus remembers his manners enough to close the shower enclosure door and turn away, leaving the new uniform hooked to the anchored chair. He swim-walks back to his office and sits down heavily, yes, heavily, even in what is practically zero g.

He shakes his head. “Son of a bitch, I don’t believe this! How do I… What do I do now?” He looks at his comrec. “Fat lot of good you’ve done me!” He unhooks it from his wrist and flings it at his velcro’d wall storage board. He breathes deeply, slowly, letting his jumbled thoughts find some kind of order in his mind.

“Ok, so that explains the damned attraction. But why did she lie to me? She didn’t know about the ‘no female’ rule, so she wasn’t trying to violate that. Oh well, maybe it’s as simple as finding an opportunity to save her life by me but not trusting that I and my crew would not violate her. So she kept up her charade until we sailed. Then she realized the crew was all male and became even more scared. So she kept up the pretense for as long as she could, until such time as it could no longer be possible. I suppose for the poor thing, anything I would do to her when I found her out would be better than what La Rosa had in store. So, I can’t blame her there.

“But what about me? How come, with my damned so-called intuition in human nature and my sophisticated scanners I didn’t detect the subterfuge? Now that pisses me off. It’s me I’m mad at, not her.

“Fine, so she can fool me, us… humans, but our scanners? That’s some trick. That really is some trick. What else can she do? How did she get those skills? Is she an augment? How could she be, an orphan, an outcast with no connections to anyone with money…

“Now that’s an interesting thought. Yeah, she’s an orphan, an outcast, sure. But why was I so eager to create a link for her to the Van Draddens? Where did that come from? Damn Zelleus you’re a total idiot. It came from her. She ‘fed’ you the thought because she is a cast-out; she truly is a bastard child of those slimes. Either her mother or father, or both, had her augmented in vitro. That’s why her “family” was hunted down and taken from her. They wanted to eliminate her as a possible claimant to their fortune, but they hadn’t yet figured out how to do it. No, wait. They couldn’t kill her. Someone was protecting her, hiding her. Her “brother” – the one who gave her the Cyborg dog. When he disappeared, she hid in the only place she knew she’d be less likely to be found: in La Rosa’s extensive slum warrens. And these men who followed us in the B&B… they weren’t after me but after her. Hm.

“So, I found her just as she was at the end of her rope, with nowhere to turn.

“Now the Stasi-1 Diamond question: who is the “brother”? Where is he?

“Oh damn. I should not have left her in my quarters alone with her fears. What can she be thinking now – that I’m going to flush her out into space?”

He rushes back to his private quarters. They are locked. He palms the door open but no one is inside. He queries Ship.

“The one called Thane is in observation module five, captain.”

“Thank you Ship.” He propels himself down past a maze of tunnels to the aft of the Ship. Carefully, he approaches the observation bubble. Thane, wearing the new uniform that fits her slim figure comfortably is floating in the bubble, one foot anchored to a ring below her. Her pale face is turned to the fiery light show accompanying Blue Dragon’s fugue flight. She hears Zelleus and when she looks at him she bursts into tears, sobs wracking her body in spasms.

He approaches her and puts his arm gently around her shoulders.

“Shhhh, stop that now, please. No harm is going to come to you here, trust me on this. Besides, I promised you my protection.”

She stops and wipes her face, her tears reflecting the alien outer lightscape, floating gently “down” to the center of gravity. She looks Zelleus full in the eyes.

“Yes you did promise that. But you also said if I screwed up big you’d kill me. I lied to you to save my life…”

“Please tell me your real name.” He asks as gently as he knows how.

“I’m Thane, pronounced “Thanee” but spelled with only one e. So I didn’t lie about my name… only about the pronunciation.”

Zelleus gives her a powerful, warm hug. “That’s right, Thane {Thanee}, you did not lie about that. And you did not lie about your gender either, not directly. Has anyone ever asked you if you were a man or a woman?”

She shakes her head, “No one.”

“For the record, then, fine. I’m not a monster you know. I have rules, certainly, but common sense must always override rules. Conditions change, requiring adjustments. Sometimes difficult ones, sometimes complicated, sometimes quite funny.” He smiles at her and hesitantly she reciprocates.

“How would you categorize this particular changed condition, Thane?”

“I think it qualifies for all of the above, Zelleus. Definitely all of the above. I don’t even know if I should apologize to you, or laugh with you.” Her smile expands to fill her face and he holds her even tighter.

“I like this Zelleus, but can you ease up some?  I can’t breathe!”  She gasps out the words. 

“Sorry girl.” He gently relaxes his bear hug. “A live woman crew aboard Blue Dragon – never thought I’d see this happen… He steps back from Thane and looks at her.  What now?  Do we continue the pretense with the crew? They are bound to know something’s not quite as it should be with you. I have sensed this already. What if one of the men grabs you and feels you? It’s going to happen. You are much too pretty and attractive to fend off their interest. By the way, how did you keep those (pointing at her breasts) from being so conspicuous?”

“With great pain, using tensor bandages and very loose, shapeless coveralls.”

“How did you manage to lower your voice close to that of an older boy?”

“So long ago as it seems now, in a private school I got singing and voice lessons. They taught how to pitch your voice for effect. I guess I kept some of that.”

“How old are you, Thane?”

“Pallarti years, twenty-two, almost eighteen Standard Terran.”

“Have you thought about what you want to do now as the only female crew aboard Blue Dragon?”

“As much as I’d hate it, you could quarantine me, claiming Ship’s auto-doc diagnosed an unknown virus in me that could be contagious, and has the potential to become deadly. After all, they all know where I come from…”

“It’s a good idea, but it wouldn’t be my choice. I have a better one.” He turns away from her and seems to fight with his emotions. He turns again to face her.

“I’ll make you a proposal, a bargain, that will allow you to continue to function aboard Ship, as my mate, my second in command.”

“Pardon?”

“I propose an official bonding, Thane. I see no other way to keep you aboard, free to move around, to work and to avoid most unwanted attention from the men. Notice I say “unwanted” because I won’t claim exclusive rights to you. Official bonding is a legal contract only. If you should find another member of the crew more appealing, or you should fall in love with another, I think I am open enough to put your feelings first should such a condition arise. Being the only woman aboard, it would be wrong for any one man to deny you choice of partners, one… or several, when you are ready for such an experience. We could work out the details of this arrangement after the bonding. You can see, though, why you need to bond with me – you will need my protection and aboard this ship at least, I can guarantee that. Is that clear enough for you?”

“Zelleus… you… me…” She heaves a deep sigh and as she lifts her hand to cover her mouth, he takes it in his. She leans into him and turns to look at the light show created by Blue Dragon’s flight through time-space. “Thank you,” she whispers.

“No need to thank me, Thane.”

She smiles at him. “Oh, sorry, I wasn’t thanking you. I was thanking Blue!”

He replies in a mock offended tone, “Oh-oh. Well, wonderful! I save her life – twice even – and she prefers a machine to me.” He rolls his eyes away from her, still mocking, “I should’ve known I’d rue the day I laid bare my feelings to anyone, particularly a dame.”

He listens to the freed girl’s voice in her laughter, the freed woman enjoying every moment of the release her discovery has given her.  She signs again and says, 

“Zelleus, I know the bonding does not mean I have to be the faithful wife in a monogamous relationship. At least they had the sense to get rid of that stupidity in most Sectors. But if I am to believe my heart, I think you will be my first mate. Probably not my only one, but definitely my main man. I have been keenly aware of my growing love for you. I denied it because I saw no way I could ever make you aware of my feelings. With you, aboard Blue, I can, for the first time in my life, be myself. You know what’s truly funny? I don’t know who I am… You’ll have to help me discover myself.”

“That won’t be a problem. I have my methods. I’ll scan your surface for natural dangers or enemy bases. Those I’ll avoid or blast out of the way. Then I’ll locate your most desirable landing places and drop down for a deeper inspection… I think I’ll definitely do that landing solo.”

Blushing and laughing again, she turns her face to him and closes her eyes in the completely innocent and trusting invitation of the young, inexperienced woman to the older man. He kisses her lightly, on the cheek.

She opens her eyes in some alarm.

“Later, Thane. Later there will be time for more. I want to savor this beginning with you.”

1-Stasi Diamond: the most precious diamond formation ever found by man – mined on the brutal and cruelly cold ice world called Stasi

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