by Susan Cutter


‘The cap’n was afraid the stabilisers couldn’t take it, but I knew better. I took ’er down so close we were dragging the tops off clouds and if there’d been so much as a bloody anthill on the far side we’d have been a metallic smear, but there wasn’t was there? So we shot down and into the gravwell, and the rivets in ’er hull starting to sing their death-song.’ The speaker grimaced and lifted a nearly full bottle to his lips. Ten seconds later he thumped it back down, a single foam droplet oozing down the now otherwise empty interior.

The other two men at the table stayed silent during the pause. The older was sprawled back in his chair paying no apparent attention. Like the story teller, he wore a leather jacket with diagonal slashes of faded blue inset from left shoulder down to the chest. Unlike the story teller, who was chubby and had curly red hair that even worn too long couldn’t disguise encroaching baldness, it suited him. His eyes, objectively a rather cold blue, seemed chosen to echo the slashes, and were set in a face that resembled the rest of the jacket: both tanned a dark brown, starting to show signs of age with creases and cracks at folds, and yet both plainly hard and tough enough to take anything life threw at them.

The third man at the table was certainly one decade, and quite likely two, younger than the others. Instead of their leather jackets over bright blue jerseys, he wore a tunic with full sleeves over closely tailored trousers, both of a charcoal-coloured cloth absolutely without embellishments. He had his arms folded on the table and was leaning over them towards the speaker, a full bottle of beer forgotten at his elbow.

‘But then Sultana was past perigee and rising again, our course shifted nearly 140 degrees and our speed boosted better’n two TD thanks to the kick in the pants from Helotrix’ gravity.’ Red grinned. ‘So we waggled our tail at the Patrol as their ships sailed helplessly by on our old track. By the time they could slow to a stop, swing about, and start after us again… well, we wouldn’t even be a blip on their long-range scanners, so they didn’t try, right, Branson?’

His leather-clad friend glanced at him and then away without speaking. Despite the picture of relaxation his body presented, his eyes betrayed a relentlessly active mind as his gaze darted, focused for a second or two, then jumped to a new sight – from a face at a nearby table to the skirt tightly stretched over the barmaid’s plump hips to a newcomer silhouetted as he entered the bar to the window with its view over the landing field to the pile of chips being wagered at a noisy table on the far side of the room and on to yet another face.

‘Using a slingshot orbit to escape close pursuit… That was brilliant!’ The young man’s enthusiasm more than offset the other’s indifference.

Red nodded regal acceptance of the praise. He started to lift his bottle again, then frowned as he noticed its lightness.

‘Was Sultana damaged by the stresses?’

Red looked the young man over. His blue eyes were alight with interest, his cheeks flushed in becoming contrast to his pale skin. ‘Oh, a bit. That’s why we’re in dry-dock here, with lots of internal hull plates removed so we can get some coils replaced and struts reinforced. It’s kinda interesting, the way it lets you see how the ship is put together inside.’ He shrugged ostentatiously and added, ‘That is, if you’re interested in spaceships, of course.’

‘I’d love to see it!’ The response was instantaneous, then the young man straightened up and spoke with more dignity. ‘I mean, I would be interested in seeing how the repair work is done, if it could be arranged.’

‘Hmmm.’ Red seemed to be considering. ‘Well, the ship’s not exactly open to tourists, uh, Tarrant, isn’t it? But there’s only one man on the night watch, and he’s a friend of ours. I suppose he would turn a blind eye if we wanted to show someone around a bit, if that someone were also a friend of ours.’ As he spoke he shook his bottle slightly. ‘I’ve lost track. Whose round is it, anyway?’

Del scrambled to his feet. ‘Let me!’ he said, and hurried towards the bar.

Red set the empty bottle among the ranks of fellow dead soldiers that filled the centre of the table, and smiled at Branson.

‘So we’re going to show him the sights, are we?’ Branson murmured.

Red’s smile turned shark-like. ‘I was thinking more like, we’ll show him a good time.’

There was no spoken response. Branson’s eyes stroked once up and down the slender body now waiting at the bar, but then his gaze continued its ceaseless jumping from sight to sight.

‘If you don’t like the idea...’ Red was suddenly much less certain of himself.

Branson slipped two fingers into a side pocket and pulled out a metal disc. ‘Heads I go first.’


Del shivered as he followed Red through the dark alley. He was finally going to be inside a spaceship! He could barely contain the joy that bubbled in him. He had always known, even as a toddler who could barely walk, that one day he would be a pilot. The first time he had seen Captain Braveheart swoosh across the vidscreen flying rings about the Rigellian pirates his goal had been forged.

He had begged for toy spaceships, but Father banned them. No matter. Whatever toy he picked up became a spaceship swooping through space in his chubby hand.

Later on, he had hungered for model kits, and again Father had thwarted him by adding them to the Blocked Category on his credit account. No matter. He hadn’t blocked art supplies. Having to build his own models from sheets of plastic and other generic materials, using the schematics from real ships he ferreted out through the InfoNet had only strengthened his resolve while teaching him more about the construction details of ships than a first year Academy engineering course.

And then Father had discovered the array of ships hidden in his closet and gone nearly berserk. Yelling that he was just like his no-good uncle, nothing on his mind but space and only stopping by long enough to cause trouble. Gloryhounds, the lot of you, his Father had screamed. All you want is glamour and the women you can dazzle with it, any woman, even your own— He had abruptly shut up then. He swept the delicate fleet from the shelf and began to step on them, one by one. Stamped and stamped and stamped until he was out of breath and there was nothing left but tiny shards of plastic ground into the carpet.

The next day he had been summoned to his father’s study. Father had been calm, but colder than space itself. It’s not wholly your fault, he had said, it’s in your nature. But I won’t let you turn out to be a worthless spacer. With my help and guidance you will become a solid, useful member of society. Del had stood there, anger and loss churning in his stomach while his father read off the list of additions to his Blocked Category and a list of topics he would no longer be able to access by computer. When he was done, Del had marched out in silence and hurried to the violated sanctum of his bedroom before he could betray himself with tears of rage.

That was the day he had begun planning his escape.

Admission to Space Academy required the approval of your legal guardian, so that was out. Merchant Marines were less picky, though, and even freer was the ordinary Spacer’s Guild. Any adult not actually sought by the Federation authorities could simply sign himself in. True, he wanted to be a pilot instead of just a maintenance worker but if he worked hard, surely he could find a way to seek promotion…

And then his older brother, too, had had enough of Father’s petty tyrannies. The night before he came of age he had come to Del’s bedroom to say goodbye and tell him what he would do the next day. Deeta had found his own path of escape from the chute leading only to the pale grey world of minor bureaucrats. It was a wild and dangerous path Deeta had chosen; it would be a skin perfect fit for his wild and dangerous brother.

Much as would miss his brother, Del was overjoyed by the present Deeta gave him then. It was just fifty square centimetres of plastic, but it was the key that could at least partially open the cage his father had penned him in. Logged in under Deeta’s now abandoned ident card, all the stores of knowledge were once again open to him.

It was only a couple of years later, when puberty suddenly sent his growth into hyperdrive, that Del realised the card could open other doors for him. As ‘Deeta’, he was already of age! From then on, once a month he propped the ident card on the frame of his mirror and compared himself with the picture on it. Could he pass for his brother? For an eternity, the answer had been no. Not even a wilfully careless carder could overlook that he was inches too short and his face had a schoolboy roundness.

But this month the answer had been, if it was dark, if the carder was indifferent, yes. Yes, maybe. Yes! Tonight he had chanced it for the first time. As extra insurance, he had dressed in a dark, plain outfit to match what Deeta wore in the picture, and tried his luck at a cheap bar where low-level crew members used up their leave time and pay.

The man at the door had glanced at the card, at him, curled his lip into a sneer…and waved him past!

Del shivered again. This dark alley seemed to run for kilometres behind the row of immense cargo storehouses and machine shops and spare parts warehouses that surrounded most of the landing field. He glanced over his shoulder at the man following him. ‘Aren’t we far enough from the guard post yet?’

Branson shook his head.

‘Just a little further,’ Red said while continuing to walk. ‘I know the repair shop after this warehouse. It has a rear entrance they never bother to lock. We’ll cut through it and check through the front windows to be sure the watchman doesn’t happen to be doing his round just then. And once the coast is clear,’ he twisted his head to smile at Del, ‘we’ll slip straight across to Sultana.’

‘Great!’ Anticipation rose even higher in Del, and his stride lengthened until he was almost stepping on Red’s heels.

Five minutes later they slipped into one of the immense buildings and began walking down its length, the only sounds their quiet footsteps and the even fainter echoes of them. As dark as the alley had been, this was blacker still since the roof far overhead blocked even the faint glimmer from moon and stars. Del’s eyes tried to adjust, but he could make out nothing but a small greyish rectangle that must be the distant front windows that were their goal. He stumbled as his toe caught on something. There was a quiet click, and then a small ellipse of light spread over the floor near his feet.

‘Here,’ Branson said. ‘Take this.’

Del found himself holding a slender lightrod, the type used by space crews to illuminate the narrow maintenance channels between holds and hull. Curious about his surroundings, he started to play it around him.

‘Careful!’ A hand grabbed his own and pulled it down to aim the light back to the floor. ‘If it hits the windows they’ll light up like a beacon for the watchman.’

‘Sorry.’ For a few steps Del kept the light on the floor, then suddenly he noticed that as Red walked along ahead of him he was leaving a clear trail of footprints in an otherwise undisturbed layer of dust. No one has been here in a long time. Still being careful to avoid the windows ahead, Del raised the angle of the light and began to play it further and further to the side of their path. Nothing. A vast expanse of bare floor finally giving way to an equally bare wall. No work benches. No hulking machine tools. Nothing. He began to turn, painting the light along the bare wall—and suddenly that wrist was seized again. ‘What—’ He barely got the word out before an iron grip closed on his other wrist, too, and he found them wrenched together behind his back. The lightrod dropped from his hand, bounced, and finally rolled to a halt a metre away.

‘Hold up, Red. The babe finally tumbled.’ Branson’s voice was amused.

The other man laughed, and turned to join them. ‘About time. Here, let me.’ Pulling something from his pocket he reached between the other two, and Del felt cold metal being wrapped around his right wrist and then pulled painfully tight. Branson let go of that arm and Red pulled it around in front of Del while Branson brought his left arm around to meet it.

‘What the hell are you doing,’ Del demanded, struggling as hard as he could to pull his hands free, to throw off the others. But there were two of them, and both were heavier and stronger than he, and he was already tethered by one wrist. It took them barely seconds to force his wrists together, wrap a turn around the left wrist, too, and lock them unyieldingly tight against each other.

Red twisted the other end of the restraint twice around his own hand then said, ‘Got him.’

Branson let go of Del and looked around. ‘Should we go in further?’

‘Let me go!’

Red absorbed Del’s frantic pulls on the restraint easily. ‘Naw. This is fine.’ In the dim light thrown up from rod as it rested on the floor, Del saw Red was smiling at him. ‘You stayed stupid just long enough, sweetie,’ he said, and reached out with his other hand to stroke Del’s cheek.

Del kicked at him furiously, but other man danced backward the length of the restraint with an agility that belied his chubbiness. Del started to charge after him, but was brought up short by an iron arm thrown about his throat from behind.

‘Now, now,’ Branson cooed into his ear. ‘You’ve been caught fair and square, so you might as well give in and enjoy it.’

Del shuddered as he felt something warm and wet lick his ear, then his earlobe was viciously bitten. He shouted for help as loud as he could—and the other two broke into laughter.

‘Yell all you like, pretty one,’ Red said. He waved his free hand around expansively. ‘This warehouse has been empty since Amalgamated Minerals went broke three years ago. None of the buildings in this area run night shifts, and by now the Yard watchman is huddled up in his shack watching an illegal vidfeed on what is supposed to be a security monitor. So we don’t mind at all if you yell and scream. In fact, I think Branson here prefers that you do.’

Del continued to struggle, vainly. Then he forced himself to stand still. ‘I’m an Alpha. Crimes against me will be severely punished, but if you let me go now I won’t tell anyone about this.’

‘Oh, I don’t think you’ll be telling anyone,’ Branson murmured.

Del’s stomach lurched as he felt the man’s other hand stroke down his chest to his belly and then downward to cup his genitals. He tried to keep his voice steady, ‘You’re going to kill me, then.’

‘Oh, no, no,’ Red crooned. He watched his partner’s actions with gleaming eyes. ‘No need for that, darlin’, not at all. Are you going to announce to the world that two lowly Deltas used your precious Alpha body as if you were a ten-credit whore? That they fucked your Alpha arse? That they made you drink Delta cum and beg for more?’

‘Never!’ Del started struggling again, ignoring the arm that threatened to throttle him. Branson was pressed so tightly against him he could feel as well as hear the man laugh at that. Could feel, too, the erection he was pressing hard against Del’s rump, as if he enjoyed the sensations from his futile wriggling. Del heard the distinctive hiss of a closure unsealing, then groping fingers were inside his trousers, roughly mauling his shrinking flesh.

Red licked his lips. ‘Besides, we’d just tell the Patrol that you wanted it, and you’re only crying rape because your family found out what happened.’

‘No one would believe that!’

‘No?’ Red used his free hand to pull something from his pocket. With the flick of his wrist ten centimetres of honed steel shot out. ‘We can produce any number of witnesses to say you came up to our table in that bar. You asked to sit down and drink with us. You left happily with us. Our friends, as it happens, but even so, it’s all true, isn’t it?’

Del swallowed convulsively as the knife was moved to waggle admonishingly in front of his nose.

‘And here we are, over a klick from the bar. If you weren’t willing, how could we possibly get a strong young man like you all the way out here without a soul hearing you cry out for help? Hmmm?’ The knife moved then, catching in the neckline of his tunic and then ripping the full length of one sleeve.

I am such a fool.

Another long slice opened the tunic down the other arm. Branson pulled the rags of Del’s tunic free and tossed them aside, then began to play with his nipples as Red began to cut down the side of Del’s trousers. ‘Such long legs,’ Red said softly, as if to himself. Having reached the ankle, he shifted to the other leg and began to work his way back up. ‘You’d be surprised how many Alphas have a taste for the gutter. They creep down to our side of town searching for a dirty thrill too intense to be found among the bright lights of their territories. Some want to abuse us. More hunger to be abused. Why shouldn’t the Patrol believe you are just another of the privileged class looking for a bit of the rough?’

With a few centimetres left uncut at the waistband, Red stepped back. ‘And if the games got a little more intense than you wanted, well.’ He shrugged. ‘The Patrol won’t worry over much. You went out of your way to ask for it, even getting a fake ident an’ all.’ Red grinned when Del blinked. ‘Did you really think you were fooling anyone with those downy cheeks and innocent baby blues?’ He took hold of the waistband of Del’s trousers. ‘The bulls will think, why else would a pretty boy like you be seeking out a pair of old hawks like us?’ With a vicious yank he ripped the ruined garments off Del, leaving him naked except for his shoes.

Del shut his eyes for a moment, sickened by the way Red’s gaze slobbered over his body. They flew open again when he felt a hand slide into his hair. Red’s face was bare inches from him now. ‘A pretty boy who gets off on having any stranger shove his prick up your arse. That’s what everyone will think of you.’ He smiled tauntingly. ‘And, you know what, my darlin’? By the time me and Branson are done with you, it’ll be true.’ With that he closed the final inches and kissed Del lingeringly.

Del clenched his teeth shut, fighting simultaneously to keep Red’s insistent tongue out and his gorge down as the caress went on and on and the whole time Branson’s hand tormented his genitals while grinding his own against Del’s rear.

‘Enough!’ Branson’s voice was ragged.

Red ended the kiss. ‘Hmm?’

‘I won the toss.’

‘That you did.’ Red stepped back a bit, then allowed the restraint to hang loosely between his hand and Del’s wrist. He put one foot on the slack then nodded to Branson.

Del suddenly found himself free of Branson’s hold, but before he could react Red stepped heavily on the restraint, wrenching his wrists down almost to the floor. A split second later his feet were swept back with a brutal kick, felling him heavily onto his knees. He had instinctively pressed his bound hands against the floor to keep from falling over, and instantly Red’s foot slid along the restraint until he had it pinned tight to the floor right beside his hands. He tried to bring his legs together, but Branson’s legs were already between them. He tried to kick—and the savage pain of a punch to the kidney made his head swim.

‘Bad boy,’ Red said. Del looked up to find Red leering down at him. ‘I dunno, Branson. The way he keeps fighting, you’d almost think our young lady here didn’t want to be fucked.’ Del shuddered as he again heard the unmistakable sound of trousers being unsealed. ‘Almost,’ Red repeated.

Suddenly something bony was stabbing into the back of one calf, immobilising that leg and grinding the shin painfully against the rough concrete floor. Del flinched as a finger was thrust into his anus. He wanted to say ‘please’, he nearly started to beg…but the feral excitement on Red’s face warned him that it wouldn’t do anything except feed the sick pleasure of the men abusing him. He set his teeth. I can’t stop them from doing whatever they want, but they won’t make me cry. The finger withdrew, he heard the sound of a man spitting, then something much larger and slimy was shoved into his rectum. He was startled into a single gasp before he could stop himself.

The probe thrust and withdrew, thrust and withdrew. To his surprise, Del found it was nowhere near as painful as he’d feared. In fact, if he relaxed a bit, it might hurt even less…yes. I will get through this okay, he thought, and then I will hunt these men down and kill them. The probe withdrew all the way. His eyes widened in surprise, then he cried out helplessly as something a thousand times larger was brutally shoved vastly deeper into him.

Red laughed breathlessly. ‘I told you he was a virgin. Who else would mistake two fingers for a cock?’

Branson grunted, and Del stiffened as the cock was driven deeper and deeper, what felt like impossibly deeper into the shrieking pain of his overstretched rectum.

‘Give it to him, give it all to him,’ Red urged, his voice thick and throaty. ‘Let the dove learn what it feels like to have a real man stuffing him.’

Del sank his teeth into his tongue, fighting with all his will not to cry out again. At last the advancing thrust stopped, and then it withdrew slowly. Before any sensation of relief could be felt, though, it was shoved back just as deep and twice as fast.

‘Yes, like that, do it to him like that!’

Whether heeding his partner’s urging, or because it suited his own taste, Branson seemed to obey, dragging his cock out so far each time Del hoped he might accidentally come free only to slam it home again. Del found his whole body was being forced to rock forward with each blow, stopped only by his shoulder running into the shin of the leg that held his hands pinned. He was crying silently. His fury at being unable to keep tears from leaking from his eyes made his bite on his tongue even fiercer, and now his mouth filled with the vaguely sweet taste of blood as Branson’s assault grew ever stronger, ever faster.

‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’

The words matched the rhythms of the fucking, but it was Red speaking, and each word separated by a gasp for air. Del looked up, discovering that Red was now holding his own fully erect cock, masturbating in time to Branson’s thrusts.

Red looked down into his face, smiling like a wolf baring his teeth. ‘Soon,’ he gasped out, his hand continuing to work. ‘Soon it will be me ramming it home in you, little Alpha slut.’

Just then Branson slammed his belly tight against Del’s rump and froze, shuddering, as his cock pulsed deep in Del. Red cried out at the sight, then wrenched Del’s head up by a hand twisted viciously in his curls. He squatted slightly, rubbing the blunt head of his cock hard against Del’s lips, back and forth. ‘Suck me, suck me,’ he demanded, but Del kept his teeth tightly locked.

Then Red held the knife in front of his eyes. ‘Suck me, now, or I will cut your throat.’ Del still resisted, even when he felt the cold steel pressing against his throat, lightly and then gradually harder.

‘Best do what he wants,’ Branson muttered, his body lying limply atop Del’s as his cock slowly shrank inside him. ‘Red’s crazy enough to do it.’

If I die, they win. Del forced himself to open his mouth, and gagged as Red’s cock was immediately forced clear back to his throat. He heard Red scream with pleasure, and he continued to moan and cry out as he began to fuck Del’s mouth vigorously.

The impacts forced Del to shift the position of his hands to balance himself better—and he suddenly realised with a throb of hope that if he could move his hands, it must mean Red’s foot had accidentally shifted off the restraint.

He waited for Red’s next thrust to reach its maximum penetration…and snapped his teeth shut with every ounce of force his jaw could muster. He heard Red’s shriek with savage joy, sinking his teeth even deeper and wrenching his head back and forth, tearing at the rapidly deflating cock as he had once seen a crocodile worry a zebra’s leg in an old nature documentary. The taste of Red’s blood filled his mouth, driving him to greater efforts.

Then a blow from Red’s fist smashed into the side of his cheek, and his gasp of pain let the cock escape—but as Red reeled back from him, clutching his bleeding cock, Del lurched forward, freeing himself from Branson’s heavy body. He felt Branson’s hand close on a shoulder, but his sweat-slicked nakedness made it possible to pull free.

He was running madly almost before he managed to scramble his feet under him, running madly and blindly in the direction he’d happened to be facing as he broke free. His long legs pumped, driving him faster and faster. They’d never catch him, never. He was taller than them and younger and the fastest runner in his school—

His foot landed on the trailing restraint, almost throwing him back on the ground as the anchor of his own weight abruptly ended his flight. Behind him he heard both men shouting in anger, and the sound of heavy footfalls pounding after him, close, so close, and getting closer…

Del frantically waved his bound hands in a circle, making the loose end of the leash spin until the extra length of the restraint was safely wound around his wrists. At the same time, he stared wildly about. Oriented. I have to get oriented…There! The dim grey of the windows gleamed far ahead and to the right, as heartening as a space beacon in the inky void of a nebula must be to a lost pilot. Instantly Del spun away from them, facing the angle that should bring him directly to the door they’d entered by an agony ago, and began to run just as fast as before, but now with his mind fighting through the fog of panic. His new course took him back at an angle to his previous flight, meaning his efforts as well as theirs were devouring the space that divided him from his pursuers.

The immense emptiness of the building seemed full of the sound of pounding feet. Del tried desperately to filter out the sound of his own steps, of the pounding of his pulse in his ears, trying to triangulate on the location of the others. Where were they? How fast were they moving? How fast was the distance between them shrinking? He couldn’t tell, he couldn’t be sure, there were so many echoes mixed in! Was the distance too small?

Could he make it past them? Or should he turn and run towards the windows as before? There must be a door there, too, but what if it was locked? Could he break one of the windows? Impossible if they were plasteel. Probably they were.

He gave up the effort to calculate angles and placed his bet, putting his head down and straining every muscle to the utmost. He would make it to the back door first, or they would catch him. Those were the only two outcomes left. First or caught. First or caught. The mantra rang in his mind in time to the pounding of his heart. First or caught.

The air felt different. Smelled different. Fresher? He must be close to the door, he must be. Heartened, he managed to pump his legs faster still, another stride, first or caught, two, first or caught, shouldn’t he be able to make out the dim opening of the door soon? First or caught. First or—the full length of his body slammed into warm leather. It staggered under the impact, but arms swept around him and closed with an iron grip.


So close. Del sagged, and found his body slid down a few inches against the other man’s slick leather. If he tried to slide down further, maybe—

Fingers sank so hard into his upper arms he could feel his flesh being ground against his own bones. ‘Stand still.’ The words were rapped out with such utter authority Del’s body obeyed automatically.

‘Who’s in there?’

At those words shouted past him, Del’s heart leapt. If he didn’t even know who was there, he couldn’t be either Red or Branson, or even one of their friends, come to join in. At least, he hoped not as the silence stretched out.

‘Show yourselves immediately!’

Del seized on the evidence of the voice. It was only a few words, but the man wasn’t exactly the same class as the other two. He obviously wasn’t from the privileged ranks, rather a Gamma or maybe even just a Delta with aspirations to rise above his birth, but either way it was unlikely he’d be friendly with the defiantly bottom-of- the-gutter-and-what’s-it-to-you tones of the other two.

That order got results: the sound of footsteps, very clearly running away from them. He heard a snort. ‘Rats, scurrying away.’ One hand let go of his arm, but the other dragged him easily along as his new captor began to stride in the opposite direction. ‘Come along, I want a look at the rat I did catch. And then you can tell me the names of your friends.’

‘They aren’t—’ Del stumbled slightly on the raised threshold, then they were outside in the alley. To his dark-adapted eyes, it now seemed adequately illuminated. He stared intently at the other man, taking in his lean height, dark hair, the clean lines of jaw and cheek, the black leather uniform marked only with the modest silver flashes of a low-level officer. ‘They’re no friends of mine,’ he repeated firmly.

The other man’s keen eyes had been studying him in turn, taking in his bound hands, his nakedness, the blood smeared on his chin, and the rapidly growing bruise on his cheekbone. His face warmed a bit. ‘Obviously.’ He glanced towards the open doorway. ‘They’ll be several kilometres away by now, but the Citpols will hunt them down quickly enough if you can give adequate descriptions.’

‘No!’ Del shook head frantically. Call in the police, and they’d tell his father. He’d find out about Deeta’s card and slam the door on his cell shut once again. He’d never be able to get away. ‘Please don’t…’ His voice trailed off as he tried to think of a simple reason the other man would accept. Ah. Deliberately switching on the Delta accent he’d honed in preparation for excursions like tonight he went on, ‘The p’lice don’t want to be bothered by people like me.’

‘I see.’ The other man’s face grew remote. ‘What was it? A…commercial transaction gone bad? They didn’t want to pay after they’d had their fun? You should have guessed, boy, when they brought you here. If they were too cheap to pay for a crib—’ He broke off with a shrug.

‘I’m not a whore!’ Del flushed hotly at the misunderstanding. He wanted to meet the sceptical gaze squarely, but guilty awareness of how stupidly he’d behaved made him glance away. He forced his eyes back to the other man. ‘I’m just a fool,’ he muttered.

‘Hmmm.’ The other man clearly didn’t believe him. ‘Why else would you have come to this deserted area with strangers?’

Del couldn’t think of a good reason. That’s because there is no good reason to have done it, he snarled at himself. Finally he sighed. Might as well tell the truth. ‘’Cause I want to be a pilot.’

‘Eh?’ The other man blinked. ‘And you thought they were FSA recruiters, is that what you expect me to believe?’

‘No.’ Del grimaced. ‘There’s no way I’ll ever get into the Academy, I know that.’ He couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. ‘But, maybe the Merchant Marines. Or the Guild.’ He jerked his head in the direction of the spacefield that lay beyond the concealing line of buildings. ‘They were going to show me the inside of their spaceship.’ He squared his shoulders, ‘At least, that’s what I was stupid enough to fall for.’

‘So you want to be a pilot, and you’d give your soul to get into the Academy.’

Del stared. He hadn’t actually said that, though it was true enough. And was that a touch of friendliness in the formerly frosty voice?

‘Do you want to serve in the Federation forces that badly?’

Fleet pursuit ships. Sleek and swift, the fastest and most manoeuvrable ship in space. ‘Yessir!’

‘The Academy is no place for fools.’

Del lifted his chin. ‘I was naive and did something stupid, but I’m bright. I’m at the top of my classes now, and I would be at the Academy, too. I’d study night and day till I was.’

The eyes moved over him again, slowly, assessingly. ‘Ambitious, bright, determined. Good traits for an officer,’ he said slowly. ‘But not enough to get you from the Delta warrens to the Academy, boy. Oh, admission is supposed to be on merit, and anyone who tests high enough is supposed to be admitted. But lots of people want to be in the FSA, and many of them are the spoiled offspring of the Alpha classes. Automatic entry they get, all it takes is a few words in Daddy’s cultured tones into the equally cultivated ear of one of the Academy’s governors as they share a drink in one of their damned clubs…’ His lips were twisted into a snarl. ‘Alpha privilege,’ he practically spat out.

Del winced. He hadn’t lied about being an Alpha with his words, at least, not in their meaning, though the way he had pronounced them... Still, he comforted himself, if there was one Alpha who could never get into the Academy on privilege, it was him. The other man was speaking again.

‘...worse, though, is that those pampered pets take up so many slots there isn’t enough room for those who really deserve to be there. The men who weren’t born above the Eighteenth Tier but who have clawed their way up anyway. The ones who have the guts and steel to guard the Federation while the aristocratic puppies cling to the safety of their staff positions. Oh, it’s easy for them. They can be weak, stupid, silly, vicious, criminal. No matter. They’re in. But for the rest of us,’ he shook his head, ‘we have to be absolutely perfect to keep from being struck off the list. One bad grade. One misstep. One conviction, hell, one accusation of wrong behaviour and the door slams shut. How old are you, boy?’

Del was caught flat-footed by the sudden shift in topic. ‘Uh...eighteen.’

‘One lie to an officer is enough to get you thrown out.’

‘I meant, sixteen.’

‘Date of birth?’ The question was rapped out.


‘Hmm.’ The man seemed satisfied when Del’s answer was rattled off without a thought. ‘Likely you don’t have what it takes, but at least you should fail due to your own lack of merit, not because they find “picked up by the police in suspicious circumstances” on your record. Do you have a way to slip back inside your house?’

‘Yes,’ Del said, then looked down at himself. ‘But...’

‘But hard to get there without drawing unwanted attention if you are chained, naked and bleeding.’ The other man shrugged off his outer coat and swung it around Del’s shoulders. ‘Follow me,’ he said and strode off down the alley.

Del managed to grab both edges in his bound hands and roll them together a bit, which kept the coat closed over most of the length of his body. He set out after the other man. Tall as he was, the other man was taller still, and he had to lengthen his natural stride to keep up. With the adrenaline from the crisis now burned away, his rear was starting to hurt significantly and the long steps made it worse, but he ignored that as best he could. He still had to pick up the pace of his steps a bit, but at least he wasn’t forced into an undignified trot. ‘Are we going to your quarters?’

This earned him a snort. ‘And risk a black mark? Weren’t you listening to me? It wouldn’t matter if I were an Alpha, but a testee? It’s too late for them to keep me out of the academy but a single black mark would be enough to guarantee I’d never get a promotion.’

A few minutes later he led Del into a seedy building bearing a sign that read, ‘Short term accommodations’. He tossed a credit bar onto the counter. ‘Two hours.’

The desk clerk scooped it up without looking at it or them. He slid the bar into the slot and coded the debit. ‘Two hours. Mr and Mrs Smith.’ The bar was ejected, and he slid it back across the counter. ‘Number six. To the left.’ His eyes never once left the vidscreen.

As the door resealed behind them, Del looked around. A small room with a big bed and nothing else. The bedspread was faded from too many washings, but looked stained and grimy nonetheless.

‘Let me see that strap.’

Del held out his hands obediently. ‘What should I call you, sir?’

‘Sir will do fine.’ The man was twisting his wrists to get a better look at the fastener.

Okaaaay. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘It’s just a standard magnalock. Any cargojockey’s key will open it, but I don’t have one.’ He pulled his coat from Del’s shoulders and studied him in the harsh white light shed by the cheapest type of lume strip. ‘Turn around.’ Del felt a hand grip one of his buttocks and pull it aside for a second. ‘How badly are you hurt? I could take you to a clinic, but there would be a record.’

Del swung around to face his rescuer. ‘I’ll be all right,’ he insisted.

The other man nodded. ‘Right. I’ll be back.’ He jerked his head towards the open doorway past the foot of the bed. ‘Clean yourself up while I’m gone.’ He punched a few buttons on the doorplate and left.

As soon as the door resealed, Del hurried over to check it. Locked in. The thought was bleak, then he chivvied himself, And where did you plan to go if it wasn’t?

The shower cell was small. Its walls were flimsy and marred with cracks, and the water spray was thin and not especially hot, and still Del lingered under it gratefully. He used squirt after squirt of the too strongly scented soap as he scrubbed off the layer of skin that had been touched by Branson and Red. It was in the past now. Learn from it and move on. He drew a bracing breath and tried to reach around to his anus, but having his wrists still bound made it impossible. He leaned gingerly against the wall, which creaked but held, and crouched slightly. Reaching down through his legs worked better.

His gingerly probing drew fresh blood, but it was just drops not a steady flow. He forced himself to check more thoroughly. The flesh felt swollen everywhere, and even his gentle pressures made him wince with fresh pain, but the only open wound seemed to be a small tear near the opening. He caught sight of his withdrawn fingers, with smears of red and brown and white, and shuddered. More soap.

Fifteen minutes later he finally left the shower. Given the minimal facilities, he was as clean as possible. The wall rack offered only a single towel, the nap amazingly stiff in light of its thinness. His efforts created more an equalisation of wetness between his skin and the towel rather than a drying per se, but at least the towel served adequately as an opaque wrapping around his hips.

He took a few seconds to compose his face before re-entering the other room, but the other man was still gone. He looked around again, but in truth there was nothing to see that he hadn’t taken in before. There was the bed, a vidscreen set into the wall at the foot of it, and the grille/keypad combination that served as control panel and probably intercom. Nothing else at all. To distract himself he switched on the vidscreen feed. The default mirror setting changed to a scene of a woman and three men. The next channel had a woman whipping a man. The third had a young boy being kissed by an older man, and then he knelt and—no! Del snapped the vidscreen feed off.

He perched carefully on the edge of the bed. All he could do was wait.

After a few minutes he shivered. The air flow from the ceiling ducts on his damp skin was leaching away his body heat. Grabbing the top edge of the bedspread he pulled it around his shoulders. Better. Then he caught sight of himself in the mirror: a nearly naked young man on a disarrayed bed. It looks like you can’t wait to get into it. He sprang to his feet and patted the bedspread back into position.

He moved over to one of the corners of the vidscreen wall, where he couldn’t see himself reflected, and leaned against the wall. He would wait here.


An eternity later the door whooshed open to readmit his rescuer. He was carrying a disposable plastic carrier which he set on the bed. ‘Come here,’ he ordered.

By the time Del reached him, he had pulled a small device from a pocket. He held this against the leash where the end of the loop around Del’s right wrist locked tight onto part of the chain that formed the first loop. One push of the small plunger on the device and the joining vanished, the loop no more. The device was moved to the end of the first loop and triggered again, and instantly Del’s bindings were turned into no more than a simple length of chain loosely draped across his wrists. Del shook off the chain and rubbed his wrists vigorously to wipe away the lingering sensations of being bound.

From another pocket the man produced a clear tube that held a waxy looking oval pellet. ‘Suppository for haemorrhoids. Supposedly it’ll kill germs, alleviate pain, and stop minor bleeding.’ The man tossed him the tube and turned to the carrier bag.

Del waited uncertainly, not sure if the man wanted his attention further, until the man shot him an impatient glance. His face reddening, he took the tube into the bathroom. When he returned he found the man had set a loose jersey and a pair of trousers on the bed. They showed signs of wear, but looked clean enough.

The man looked him over as he emerged from the bathroom. ‘I see your nose has stopped bleeding.’ Reaching over he felt the bridge of Del’s nose, then tried to move it. ‘Not broken,’ he announced, ‘But that’s quite a mouse you’ve got. How will you explain it?’

Del shrugged. ‘Sports.’

‘Ah.’ His touch shifted to Del’s cheek, and Del winced at the sudden pressure. ‘It shouldn’t hurt that much.’

‘There’s a cut on the inside.’

‘Open your mouth.’ For the first time, Del hesitated at one of the man’s orders. Memories flashed through his mind: the video with the young boy, Red’s rape...‘Now!’

He obeyed.

Two fingers hooked the side of his mouth open wide. ‘Pretty good slice.’ The fingers released his cheek but slid deeper into his mouth, running along the teeth on that side, top and bottom. ‘But no broken teeth.’

Despite the matter-of-factness of the words, the intimacy of having the other man’s fingers in him made Del shiver. Their eyes met, and Del watched knowing dawn in the other, followed by anger. The fingers were slowly pulled out of his mouth.

‘You judge me to be the same as the men who raped you?’

‘No!’ The denial was swift and honest. Then Del glanced around with deliberate slowness at the room, the chain lying on the carpet, the clothes on the bed. ‘But I owe you.’

After a long moment, the other man nodded. ‘Debts should be honoured. And swiftly, because otherwise they hang over your head like swords dangling from threads. Your instincts are good.’ He smiled thinly. ‘So you’ll repay me with the use of your body, Del?

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Take me in your mouth without using those strong white teeth?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Let me fuck your arse?’

‘Yes. Sir.’

‘Without fighting or reluctance, even though you are already hurt and bleeding?’

Del clenched his teeth and spoke through them. ‘I said yes, sir.’

‘And you do what you say you will.’ It wasn’t a question. He reached out towards Del who started to brace himself...and then he realised the other was reaching past him towards the bed. The trousers were picked up and tossed to him. ‘That’s not a coin I choose to be paid in, so you’ll have to live with the debt for a while. Get dressed.’ He walked over to the wall and pulled a notebook from a pocket.

Del covertly watched the other man while pulling on the trousers and letting the towel fall. He seemed to be writing slowly and carefully.

‘Your full name?’

The question fortunately caught Del with the jersey over his head, letting him disguise the slight pause before he realised the whole truth was the least he owed this man. ‘Del Henric Tarrant,’ he said as soon as the jersey was pulled below his face. Luckily Tarrant was a fairly common name, found among all the classes.

The other man didn’t comment, continuing to write. A minute of so later he ripped the page free. ‘The Federation runs on privilege, Del. We suffer from it most of the time, so it’s only reasonable to take advantage the rare times it works in our favour. I’m not an Alpha aristocrat who could guarantee you a slot no matter how you score, but any officer in good standing has some perks.’

He handed the sheet of paper to Del. ‘Bring this to the main reception desk at the Academy on your eighteenth birthday. It will get you a private testing session and, so long as you make the minimum required scores, they will admit you to the general military academy.’

Del clutched the paper, hardly able to believe what he was hearing.

The other man’s face grew sterner. ‘Being good enough to stay in...that’s up to you. Testing up into the elite pilot programme after the first year...that’s up to you, too.’

‘I will make it.’ It was a vow. Del stared at the paper, reading the two sentences over and over. Just some paper and a little ink...but it was the key that would open a gate he had thought permanently locked against him. He dragged his eyes away from his treasure to look up at the other man again. ‘I can never repay you for this.’

‘You aren’t going to have an easy time of it at the Academy. You will run into many Golden Boys. Alpha boy wonders used to the best of everything. Cadets who had the best teachers, special schooling, every advantage possible. They’ll be confident and cocksure, certain of being better than anyone from the lower orders could ever be, simply because of their birth.

‘And the privileged network will look out for them and smooth their way. In any conflict the masters will lean in their direction. Every tie will be decided in their favour. You’ll be up against them every day, confronting them face on in the classroom, the playing fields, the training exercises, combat simulations. And when you do, Del...’


‘Grind their privileged faces into the mud.’

Del blinked at the intensity of hatred suddenly naked on the other man’s face. If he knew I was one of those Golden Boys coasting by on Daddy’s status – but I’m not. In this case I might as well be the Delta he thinks me. If I make it, it’ll be on my own efforts. A smile slowly spread on his face. ‘They’ll have to lose, won’t they? Because I’m going to be the best.’

The other man laughed with wolfish delight. Then he rested a hand on Del’s shoulder. ‘That will be payment in plenty.’ After a friendly squeeze he turned and left, pausing in the doorway to add, ‘The room’s only paid for until 0120. You wouldn’t like how they’d want you to work off any excess.’

Definitely! Del hurriedly scrambled into his shoes, and headed for the lobby himself. The other man was already gone. He went up to the desk, and waited, then rapped on it impatiently when it looked like the clerk would ignore him forever. ‘Which is the shortest way to an artery,’ he demanded.

The clerk was already turning his face back to the vidscreen. He gestured vaguely with one hand. ‘Out the door, left, three blocks, left again.’

As soon as Del reached the first of the light stanchions that lined the artery he had to stop. Pulling the precious paper from his pocket he spread it out and tipped it to catch the light from overhead so he could read the precious words yet again:


This introduces Del Henric Tarrant who has demonstrated to my satisfaction all the personal qualities necessary to become a valuable officer of the Federation. If his scholastic skills meet the required standard, admit him to the Federation Military Academy under my aegis.

Lt C. Travis



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