War. They were officially at war. Kyle watched the newscast. It seemed unreal. Palindor had finally become weary of being pushed around. He knew on some level he couldn’t return to being a soldier, but Palindor would need black ops specialists.
“You heard the news.” He looked up to see Rand leaning in the door.
“I did.” Kyle grinned.
“Soon, we won’t need to hide anymore. We can start taking out real targets, get a hero’s welcome.” Rand spread his hands. “We can go to an actual bar. Not a backplanet dive. A bar. Where they actually sanitize the cups more than once a decade.” His eyes widened. “Where all the dancing girls are actually women.”
Kyle laughed. “Rand, we could take out the entire council and no decent bar would let you in the front door.”
“Funny…” The captain’s voice was in his ear. The stim unit was pressed into his side delivered another shock. His body jerked in response, only to be pulled up short by the manacles at his wrists and ankles. “They went to war for a freighter…” He screamed at the next jolt of pain. She waited until he’d caught his breath once more. “But not for you.”
Julian’s body shook from the after effects of the nerve stim. The chains jingled at his movements as he fought to regain control of his body. War. The Alliance was at war. He stared up at the captain, and held his silence. She just smiled down at him. Then she pressed the stim unit into the skin of his groin. “Don’t.” The word escaped him before he was aware he’d spoken.
“What was that?” She raised an eyebrow, her smile widening.
“Don’t. Please.” He swallowed. “Please.”
“Say it.” She leaned forward, looking down at him.
“I love being your ship’s whore.”
A small laugh escaped her. “Liar.” She touched the control.
“Father.” Leon smiled.
Admiral Vendral smiled back. “I need your ship at Ios. Palindor warships are making eyes at the refinery. We lose that moon, we lose that system.”
He glanced at the navigator, who immediately sent up the ETA. “We can be there in two hours.”
“I’m heading to Degra. We win there, we can push into Kelger. This could be a short war and…” And maybe there is hope for your brother. The words went unsaid, but he heard them clearly. Admiral Vendral caught himself, and nodded. “Good luck, son. We’re counting on you.”
She left him chained in the dark. He wasn’t sure how much time passed before she returned, sitting again on the side of the bed. The stim unit was placed against his side. The only sound he made was a whimper. She arched an eyebrow. “Say it.”
“I love being your ship’s whore.” The words came out more sob than anything else.
The captain leaned forward, and pressed her mouth against his. Obediently, he parted his lips for her. She bit his lower lip, hard enough that he tasted blood. He didn’t pull away. Then she sat up. “Now see…” She smiled before shifting to straddle him. “That time I believed you.”
There was a shackle on his wrist. Cool metal, with an electronic readout. His current vitals, but that was not the purpose of the unit. The doctor had been very clear. The unit would track his movements at all time, and if he attempted to go anywhere other than the mess, rec room, or his quarters it would deliver an incapacitating shock. And then he’d be punished. The doctor had said the words with an anticipatory smile that made Julian’s skin crawl.
He’d not been given clothes. Outside of his room, he was at the mercy of any off-duty crewman that wandered by unless he had a scheduled appointment. Apparently, his new ‘freedom’ meant that the ship’s whore now provided room service. Still it seemed most preferred to visit his quarters rather than use their own. It meant they could walk away when they were done rather than wait for him to recover and go on his way.
Yet the cuff was a chance he hadn’t had before. And that was something.
Kyle almost missed the movement in the shadows. His eyes widened. “Julian?”
Julian stepped out of his hiding place. “Kyle. I was…” He shrugged. “I was trying to see the news from…” He shook his head. “I heard an Alliance warship was destroyed and…”
“And you wanted to know which one.” Kyle slowly nodded. Julian’s family and friends were Alliance. Of course, he’d want to know. He took Julian’s arm to lead him to the vid unit, then called up the newscast. “The Blackmoor went down in the Bast system.” He glanced at Julian’s face. “Anyone you knew?”
“No.” Julian closed his eyes and exhaled. “No.”
“Look, you uh…” Kyle shrugged. “You don’t have to try to sneak into the rec room. You need to see the news, you can come to my quarters, alright?”
“I…” Julian’s smile trembled a little. “Thank you.”
He became acutely aware he had a naked, handsome young man on his arm, and they were alone in the darkened rec room. He leaned down to nibble on Julian’s neck, brushing the younger man’s hair back. Julian relaxed in his arms, and Kyle gentle pushed him into the wall. He caught Julian’s leg, lifting it a little, then he smiled when Julian responded by simply arching his back and wrapping his legs around Kyle’s waist.
There was a coughing sound behind him, and he felt Julian’s body tense. Kyle bit back a flash of anger at the interruption when he heard Stelin’s voice behind him. “I call next.”
He almost missed the opportunity he’d been waiting for. Three times he’d looked at the schedule without seeing it. Julian felt a little sick about what that might mean. There was a clock on the cuff, counting the minutes. Marking out the time spent at another’s mercy. Frank was almost as cruel as the captain, and had a short temper.
Twice he tried talking himself out of what he intended to do, reminding himself of just how bad the consequences could be. They could take away the cuff, the tiny mote of freedom he pathetically treasured. It shamed him to realize if they took it away he would do almost anything to get it back. Not almost. Anything they asked. Just for the chance to occasionally look out at the stars.
A freighter. His grandfather had gone to war over a freighter. None of the newscasts he’d managed to catch when being bent over in the rec room had stated what the freighter had been carrying. His grandfather had gone to war over… Over cargo. Julian took a deep breath, then sat up when the door opened.
This he could survive. If for no reason other than for the opportunity to once again look into his grandfather’s face. And spit.
Julian let Frank have his way. Did as he was told, obeying every crude order. And he kept his eye on the clock as the minutes crept up. It made it worse, seeing how slowly time was going by while his body was put to humiliating use. Frank liked to make him crawl, liked to be licked clean, liked to yank his hair as he shoved himself into Julian over and over. And the numbers on the clock took hours to change.
A lifetime later they drew near the end. Frank shoved Julian’s face towards his crotch again, ordering him to lick the sweat off once more. Instead of obeying, Julian pulled away. “You should visit the doctor. It smells like it’s starting to rot.”
The first blow knocked him to the ground.
Kyle started the jammer before entering the room. “Hey I…” He stopped short. Julian lay on the floor, struggling to pull himself up to the desk where the med kit was waiting. Vicious red welts and bruises covered the smaller man from neck to knee, and his face was stained with tears. Immediately he dropped everything he was holding onto the desk and knelt down. “Julian? Julian are you…” He started to reach for the comm unit. “I’ll call the doctor.”
“No, I…” Julian caught his arm. “Please, just hand me the kit, I…” He looked up at Kyle with pleading eyes. “Please don’t, he’ll…” The man was shaking. “Please.”
Silently, he took the med kit off the desk and set it down. Julian removed the injector unit and pressed it into his side. He hissed as he hit the release. Kyle watched as the nanites slowly did their work, fading welts and bruises. “Who did this?” Kyle’s voice was rough.
Julian blinked up at him. “What?”
He took a deep breath. “Who. Did. This?”
“No, no…” Julian shook his head. “I will be alright.” He gave Kyle what he probably thought was a reassuring smile. “It was not as bad as it looks, I just fell. Please do not tell the doctor.”
“I…” Kyle took another deep breath. He reached down and picked up Julian, then laid the smaller man gently onto the bunk before sitting next to him. Julian smiled at him, and Kyle caught hold of his hand. He sat in silence as the damage faded away as though it had never been present. How many times had the med kit been out when he’d visited? Julian had fought at first, requiring the crew to subdue him, but that had been months ago. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the man offer up any resistance. At least, not to him. “I brought you some strawberries.”
This time the smile reached Julian’s eyes. “I adore strawberries.”
“Good.” Kyle touched brushed his hand over Julian’s cheek before grabbing one of the strawberries. He put it to Julian’s lips, teasingly pulling it away once before letting the other man bite into the fruit. Then he leaned forward, kissing where the juice ran a little at the side of Julian’s mouth. Slowly, he sat back up. “What happened?”
“It was…” Julian shook his head. “My fault. I did not do as he asked.”
“What…” Kyle brushed his hair back again. “What did he want you to do?”
A small, bitter laugh came from Julian. “He told me to swallow. I couldn’t…” He shook his head. “I could not bring myself to…” He sighed. “I did not do as he asked.”
“But…” Kyle sat up straighter, and tilted his head at Julian. “You swallow for me. I don’t even have to tell you.”
“That is…” Julian looked away, blushing a little.
“Julian?” Kyle took his hand again. “Talk to me. Why let him beat you instead of…” He trailed off. “Julian, I…” He went silent for a time and just sat there, rubbing his thumb against Julian’s hand. Slowly, he nodded. “Would you like another strawberry?”
“Yes, please.” Julian smiled at him. “Thank you.”