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Guardians of the Gates of Madness

A Care Givers Company Tale

By E. E. Nalley

21 July 2004

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Chapter One

A Disturbing Offer

June 19th, 2104, that’s the day my world fell apart.

It was my graduation day from the University of Tokyo. It was supposed to be the apex of my admittedly short life. I had studied hard, taken extra classes and credit. I’d made a point to be active in all the right clubs and had eschewed the normal college high jinks. You see, I was on a mission.

Very early in my life I had decided I was going to make my living in space.

Why would I want to, you ask? Oh it’s very simple when you think about it. Look around you, there are almost twenty five billion people on planet Earth. There are times I think most of them live in Tokyo. I didn’t want to spend my life on one of the farms slaving away trying to feed everyone. And with my slight build, I wasn’t going to attract one of the even rarer single women unless there was something extra ordinary about me and what I did.

Yes I know the gender ratios are even worse in space, but there are just scads of money to be made there. I knew with diligence and hard work, eventually I would have enough to buy my own craft. Then, my future would be certain. Owner Operators were the Captains of their Destinies.

Have you ever heard of an Owner Op who wasn’t married? I’ve heard of a handful that has two wives.

Space; that was my mission. I didn’t especially care where, either. It could be signing on with one of the mining conglomerates for an asteroid miner, or one of the transport companies trading ore for air and food. Either way, there was plenty of money to be made.

That’s what makes it so unfair.

I didn’t party every night like Hitori did. I studied. I didn’t lead on a string of the girls looking to earn their MRS degree because of my family’s money. I did extra credit work for my astrophysics class. I didn’t have to have my father’s money buy my way back from an expulsion over assaulting one of those girls. I chaired the Future Spacers of Japan Club.

I should have graduated at the top of the class.

It wasn’t fair.

My professors were consoling of course. They promised me letters of merit for any job I would go after. I did my best to put a brave face on, but I knew the writing was on the wall.

The letter from NASA came first.

Followed in short order by the letters from Titan Mining, Orion Aerospace and the ESA.

Millis Transfer, Apollo Freight and Kennecott Geophysical’s letters all arrived on the same day. They all read the same too.

Dear Mr. Yagimura:

We regret to inform you there are no suitable positions open for you in our organization at this time. Your resume will be kept on file for six months.

Thank you, for you submission.

I’ll admit I was depressed, but I don’t think I was suicidal. Oh sure, I’ve heard the same stories you have about Japanese teens killing themselves over not getting into the right school or job. But hey, they’re just that. Stories. We haven’t disemboweled ourselves for over a hundred years. Give us a break, would you?

I tired to make my parents understand how much I wanted to get into space. I know my dad was upset I wasn’t going to follow him into Honda. Still, I didn’t think my parents would resort to such extreme measures as they did. I’d only been out of college for a month when the representative came.

No, I wasn’t drinking myself into a stupor, making up for lost time. I was trying to get into a pilot school, thank you very much.

“Ken?” called my mothers’ voice as I was pouring over the catalogues from the three leading space flight schools, trying to decide which I could reasonably expect to get into.

“What, mom?” I called back. “I’m busy!”

“There’s a young woman here to see you,” she answered. That pulled me out of the catalogs. I guess I shouldn’t have to say I was still a virgin. That’s why I was trying to get into Space, remember? Still, I couldn’t think why any girl would want to come see the skinny kid who’d only graduated second in his class and couldn’t get the job he wanted.

Still, I did as quick of a clean up as I could; it was a girl after all, and headed downstairs.

And practically had to head back upstairs to change my pants.

The woman waiting for me wasn’t cute, or pretty, or attractive. She was gorgeous. She was American, tall, blonde, blue eyed and buxom; the very image of Japanese Male Lust personified. She was dressed in a Space Crewman’s Jumper that was Hot Pink and left little to the imagination, although I didn’t recognize the logo she wore on her left breast or shoulder. Not that I needed to, the jumper told me who she was with.

I have to admit that I should have studied harder at my English, as I was having trouble reading the company’s name.

She bowed and in a voice of a swan said, “Watashi wa Sara Wellington desu. Hajimemashite dozo yoroshiku.

I returned her bow and tried to make a good impression. Yes, she was older than I was, but I did not want to disgrace my parents. “I am Ken Yagimura, Miss Wellington. I am pleased to meet you. Please do not feel the need to speak Japanese, although yours is excellent. Please excuse my limited grasp of English.”

“Not at all, Mr. Yagimura. Your English is quite good. Please call me Sara,” she said with a heart melting smile.

Remembering my manners, I gestured her into the central room of our apartment. Dad does very well for us from Honda. Our apartment allowed my parents and me to have our own rooms in addition to this central room. It was currently in its living room configuration with the couch, low table and Dad’s Lazy Boy in the center. The far wall from the front was a screen behind which was the stove and the other implements of the kitchen, which was also in this room, but at least they were out of sight. “I’ll just get you both some tea,” said Mother with a smile as she retreated behind the screen.

“Thank you very much,” replied Sara as I insisted she sit in the Lazy Boy.

“Are you hungry at all?” I asked. She shook her head before I could launch into the recitation of the various snacks we had on hand.

“No, thank you. I’m watching my weight just now.”

A few minutes of awkward silence followed until mom brought out the tea, placed it on the table and withdrew to her room. “Please, have some tea,” I offered as I extended a cup to her. She took it, very conscious of the correct manners and forms. I guess I should have realized then this was a huge setup.

“Thank you,” she said before taking an appreciative sip. Mom makes really good tea. “I suppose you’re happy to be out of school finally.”

“It was a lot of hard work,” I agreed. “But I think it was worth it. Actually I am trying to become enrolled in a flight school when you arrived.”

“I’m sorry to have troubled you,” she apologized at once.

“It is not trouble at all,” I assured her. “We are happy to have a guest.”

“I am deeply honored to be here,” she returned. Oh yes, she was good. Of course, I wouldn’t realize all of this for some time later. Now, I don’t want you to think that I blame Sara. Not in the least. But it was she who propelled my life in this strange new journey it has become. “My company received your transcripts from your mother. But, I must admit that is not the only source we received it from. Both NASA and the ESA sent us a copy as well. We are very impressed with your scholastic achievements, Mr. Yagimura.”

“Please call me Ken,” I told her, flattered that both Agencies had thought enough of my application to forward them. “Please forgive me; I am having trouble reading the logo of your company. Who are you with, Miss Wellington?”

“It’s Sara,” she said again with a smile and removed a folder from her shoulder bag she’d placed discretely on the floor beside the chair. “I’m a recruiter with the Care Givers Company. Have you heard of us?”

I nodded. Care Givers was the pre-eminent staffing firm for filling open positions both for the big conglomerates and the smaller Owner Ops. “I’m deeply flattered to have been noticed by your Company, Sara. But, I thought that Care Givers only hired women?”

Not exactly,” she temporized with something like amusement in her tone. “Care Givers is dedicated to providing the best professionals through out the solar system. We have standing contracts with Apollo, Titan, Millis and Orion. In addition we supply personnel on an as needed basis to independent vessels for tours of various lengths. I’m happy to say that once a Care Giver is assigned to a vessel, they have never been dismissed.”

“That is very impressive,” I told her. Still, I couldn’t think of a single Care Giver I’d ever seen or heard of who wasn’t female. Maybe I had done well enough in school.

“Please forgive my directness, but I did bring along a recruitment package with me if you would consider working for our company. This is the pay sheet for a first year trainee,” she said, placing the sheet on the table within my reach.

Wow.

I mean WOW!

“Had you considered our Company at all, Ken?” she asked.

“Honestly, no. As I said, I was under the impression that you only hired women.”

“All of our field agents are women, you are correct,” she said a bit hesitantly.

“Then, I do not see…”

She smiled a grin that did little to clear the confusion in my mind. “Ken, have you ever heard of the DeCorvin Process?”

“Is that a mining technique?” I asked fearfully. I wasn’t prepared for a test. She only chuckled for a second before she suppressed it.

Not exactly. Don’t feel bad, there aren’t many people who are interested in Space Flight who happen to be up on the more obscure forms of bio-chemistry. It is a painless, gene tailoring process that is administered intravenously. Like most great discoveries in biochemistry, it was an accident. What it does is alter and repair human DNA from its first strings back to original composition.”

“Repair?” I asked hesitantly.

She nodded. “Before I underwent the DeCorvin Process I had traits for Lymphoma and Colon Cancer, in addition to a history of diabetes and heart disease in my family. Now, I don’t have to worry about any of them. How old do you think I am?”

I blushed. To be honest, if pressed, I would have thought Sara was about thirty. Still young, and in the prime of her life, but obviously a fully adult woman. None of that detracted at all from the incredible beauty she wore like a comfortable sweater. “I really should not say,” I hedged.

Her swan voice laughed again. “It’s alright, Ken. I’m a big girl. Seriously, take a wild guess.”

“Well, if you insist…”

“I do,” she affirmed.

“Twenty seven?”

A sardonic grin spread on her face. “Now you’re just flattering me. But I won’t put you on the spot. I’m fifty two.”

What?

She read the confusion on my face and her grin became wider. “I joined the Care Givers Company in June of 2070. I’ve been with them now for thirty four years, and loving every minute of it. Not only is father time held at bay, but I won’t have to worry about any of the genetic problems my parents did. This is all outlined in Benefits Spreadsheet on page four of the pamphlet. In all, I believe it was a very small price to pay for what I’ve received.”

“Price? I am sorry Sara, I do not understand.”

“Let me be a little blunt, Ken. When I joined the Care Givers Company my name was Sam Wellington.”

I blinked. “Why did you change your name?”

“Please forgive my directness, Ken. I was born a man.”

Oh.

OH! “Just a moment!” I exclaimed, politeness gone from my mind. “You do not mean…!”

“I mean exactly what you think I mean,” she said evenly. “The DeCorvin Process alters human DNA back to its original form. All humans are female at conception. The presence of the Y chromosome alters the female fetus to male. DeCorvin strips away the Y to return the gene pair to XX. As I’ve said, it’s painless, completely risk free and has a long list of benefits. I can expect to live to about two hundred, perhaps longer if I choose to undergo some of the more expensive anti-aging techniques that are available now. And, Ken, I can afford to.”

“But..!” I sputtered. “It is still two hundred years as a woman!”

She grinned. “Yes, thank God, it is. Ken, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve had this conversation thousands of times. You’re full of worries, and fears about what people will think and all of that. Let me say this. I’ve been a woman, well, more than thirty years now. I wouldn’t go back if you paid me. There’s not enough money in the world. I’m more than comfortable financially, I enjoy perfect health, and I’ve had the benefit of some of the most fantastic physical intimacy of my life. Oh, and I get to follow my dreams of being in space. If that sounds interesting to you, please take my card. We have an office here in Tokyo.” She stood and placed the card on the folder before she collected her hand bag.

“Is…is there a reverse of the DeCorvin Process?” I asked hesitantly.

“No,” she said flatly. “No one who’s under gone it has asked for one. Konbonwa, Yagimura-san,” she said, bowing once more before she collected her sandals and was out the front door.

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Her card sat on my desk with the folder she left for two weeks. Two weeks while I tried, and failed, to enter my first three choices of Flight Schools. Space was a harsh mistress, someone once said. There wasn’t any place for a young man who’d finished second.

Unless he had something other to offer besides talent.

Out of curiosity, I opened the folder and read the brochure. What it told me surprised me. The training I would undergo would last three years before I’d have my first assignment. In that time I’d be taught to be a pilot, astrogator, engineer, along with a host of practical and applied sciences. I would graduate with the equivalent of four doctorates.

In addition, I would learn to be a cook, play a musical instrument of my choice, as well as how to be a Vegas certified dealer with every card and dice game around. Care Givers weren’t only expected to be qualified crewwomen, they were expected to entertain. Which lead me to the uncomfortable section labeled Physical Intimacy Outlines and Expectations.

A vessel with a Care Givers Contract was required to hire one Care Giver for every six males on the crew.

Oh my God we sleep with them!

That was why CGC was the dominate contractor in space. I would be expected to share my bunk, six nights a week with a different crewmember. The seventh day I could sleep either alone or with one of the rotation of my choice. However there were strict rules against obvious favoritism. CGC went out of their way to make sure every employee gave equal time to the entire crew. I would be a sexual expert as well. I’d be taught positions, techniques and theories from the Karma Sutra to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask and everything in between.

My contract with the company would be for an initial twenty year term. I could re-up for additional tours of five years with very healthy sign on bonuses, but the penalties for early termination were draconian. A quick stint of math later told me if I didn’t spend a single yen from the entire twenty year term it would just pay off the penalty.

I began to feel even more uneasy about the entire thought. It was then I noticed a micro DVD was in the back flap of the brochure and removed it. It didn’t cost me anything to look I supposed.

I opened the tray in my TV, placed it in and closed it. After a second, a language prompt appeared. “Japanese,” I told the TV. The screen then brightened and showed me Sara’s lovely face once more. She bowed and began in her flawless Japanese.

“Hello Ken-san. If you’re watching this, then hopefully our conversation went well and you’re considering joining us here at Care Givers. That makes me very happy. Like most great decisions in our lives, this one should not be entered into lightly. Yet, there is nothing more rewarding than meeting the greatest of challenges both to ourselves and of our lives. Space is the Greatest Challenge of our time, Ken.

“It is a challenge I think you are up to. On this video are some uncompensated testimonials I’ve gathered on my own time to help my recruits decide if this is truly what they want for themselves. Or, if you’d rather, come and talk with someone in person. Our offices here in Tokyo will be happy to page me or set up a tour of our facilities for you.”

Her image faded into a menu labeled micro tour, testimonials, Expanded Information and a prompt to change the menu to English. “TV off,” I told it.

No amount of video would change seeing things for myself. In the morning, I decided, I would go and look. If I didn’t like what I saw, there was always Honda.

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Chapter Two

The Care Givers Company

The Company was obviously doing well.

Their ‘offices’ in Tokyo was a three hundred story super scrapper in downtown with its own station on the Shubuta Line. I worked my way off the train with perhaps fifty other people, the vast majority of whom were women. I was astounded. Ever since the genetic tailoring advances of the 2050’s the so called gender gap had been widening uncomfortably.

Coupled with the family size restrictions meant most families opted for a son, not a daughter. They were even discussing laws about women emigrating off world or working in inherently dangerous professions.

I don’t think I’d ever seen so many women in one place.

It took me several moments to work up my courage to approach the smallest group and bow. “Excuse me,” I said after they had returned my bow. “My name is Ken. Please forgive my rudeness, but I wonder if I might speak with you?”

“I’m Jill,” replied the red headed American girl in excellent, accented Japanese. Like her friends, she was breathtakingly beautiful. Lithe and graceful with a trim, athletic figure that was well complimented by the hot pink crew jumpers they all wore. “Pleased to meet you, Ken.”

I switched languages to my somewhat halting English. “If it will be more comfortable, I can speak English.”

“Which ever you like,” she replied easily, also in English. “What can we do for you?”

“I was contacted by a recruiter,” I began, but she interrupted me with a look of admiration on her face.

“Really? Lord, I just about had to resort to bribery and blackmail! You must really be something if they’re coming to you, Ken!” I bowed. Flattery always smoothes over discourtesy.

“You are very kind. I was hoping I could talk to someone, perhaps at length, about their experiences and opinions of working here. I have not made up my mind, you see?”

“I’d be happy to,” she responded, “but first I’d have to square things with your recruiter and my instructor to miss the time. Who came to see you?”

“Sara Wellington. I was hoping for something a little less formal, however.” Comprehension lit behind her blue eyes.

“I can’t miss classes without permission, Ken. And I wouldn’t want to upset Miss Wellington. However, if you don’t mind that I tell them you want to speak with me, I’d be happy to meet you on my own time. I promise I’m not a recruiter myself, and anything I tell you will be the truth, well, at least the truth as I see it. How’s that?”

“I cannot ask for more than that, Jill. Thank you very much.” She bowed.

“It is an honor to be of service. Now, let’s get you and Miss Wellington together so she can give you the tour.”

She led the way through their security screens, all a fairly standard affair for such a theoretically sensitive place. Just a cross check of my thumb print with the Tokyo police, and a DNA comparison to the sample embedded in my student ID card. By the time I had my visitor badge, Sara had arrived. She and Jill spoke quickly in English that made it difficult for me to follow as they used a good bit of slang I wasn’t familiar with. Nothing about their tone or body language seemed angry at all. Indeed, both were smiling through most of it which only broadened when they turned back to me.

“It’s great to see you again, Ken,” Sara said after our exchange of bows. “Jill tells me you’d like to pick her brains for a bit about what working here is like.”

“I do not mean to offend,” I started quickly.

“Not at all,” she assured me. “She’s due in her astrogation class just now, but if you’d come with me on a bit of a tour, by the time we’re finished she’ll be out of class for the day. I’ll buy you kids lunch and you can talk the night away if you like.”

“I’m very grateful for your generosity. I can pay for lunch.”

“Nonsense,” she retorted. “You’ve just graduated from college. You probably have a mountain of debt staring you in the face. I won’t hear of it. Besides, I think I can afford it. And don’t worry about me tagging along straining the conversation, either. I have a hot date this evening to get ready for,” she said with a wink. I must confess to blushing as she turned back to Jill. “We’ll meet you here after class. Have Doctor Wantabe page me if she’s concerned about your tardiness.”

“Yes ma’am. See you in a couple of hours, Ken.” She smiled was gone, hurrying after her friends.

“Jill’s a good kid,” Sara confided to me as she led the way to the bank of lifts along the back side of the spacious lobby. “She almost didn’t make the minimums to be accepted, but she’s a hard worker who wants to be here. I think she’ll do us proud. Now, what would you like to see first?”

“It’s all very overwhelming,” I told her. “Perhaps we could go to your office and you could explain some of the process to me?”

“That’s a great idea. Follow me.”

I was surprised to find the elevator had chairs. I made myself comfortable as she pressed a series of buttons on the pad, and then sat down herself. Then the car began to travel. “We work our buildings as close as you can expect to find on a space ship. Let’s the girls get acclimatized easier. These lifts run all through the building and they move side to side as well as up and down.”

“I would think only some of the largest vessels would have systems like this,” I said.

“The largest vessel we have crew on is the Robert Heinlein with Apollo Freight. She’s four hundred meters stem to stern and masses into nine decimal places.” That was impressive, leading contractor or no. The Robert Heinlein was the flag ship of Apollo’s fleet. Only their best and brightest served on her. When she was launched, she was the largest space ship thus far humanity had produced. We had done a study of her construction in The Future Spacers of Japan club.

“Of course,” she continued, “the vast majority of the vessels we place on are significantly smaller. The average crew size is six to twelve and around sixty meters. As a matter of fact, last months Forbes magazine had an article that states they believe vessel crew size arraignments have been altered world wide to fulfill our staffing requirements.”

I squirmed a bit in the seat, uncomfortable to say the least with the way the topic of conversation has shifted. “It doesn’t bother you at all about…” I trailed off, unsure how to phrase so delicate a question politely.

She laughed an easy and unforced laugh. “For someone who wants as badly as you want to be in space, you have a very Grounder mindset, Ken. It’s all comes down to numbers, when you think about it. The Heinlein takes a year to go from Earth to Mars and back. No matter where you go in space, you find the same problematic ratio of men to women. One of the reasons we have flourished as a company is that we recognize that morale is as important to the mission as any piece of equipment. If your crew is stir crazy, they make mistakes and you run the risk of trillions of dollars in investment of craft and training are lost. Never mind the cargo.

“No, to answer your question, I don’t have a problem with any of the services we provide. I’ve rather enjoyed my time as a Spacer, if I can say so without embarrassing you. I have several close friends from my various postings I maintain contact with who I get to see as they come into Port. That would be my hot date this evening.”

“I don’t mean to pry,” I apologized, but she dismissed it with a casual gesture and a smile.

“It is a significant part of the job, although I think it should be listed on the benefits spread sheet.”

“Please forgive my inability to put this any other way, but how did prostitution become a viable business model in staffing?” The smile left her face for a brief moment before it returned a bit more guardedly.

“Care Givers are not whores, Ken.” She said evenly. “No where in our contracts does it state either implicitly or through some kind of coy language that our employees are paid for sexual favors.”

“I do not understand,” I started. She nodded.

“If I were to ask you if a geisha was a prostitute, what you tell me?”

“They are professional wives,” I replied automatically. “A hostess to entertain their client and his guests. No, they’re not prostitutes, but that is a common western misunderstanding.”

“Do you think they sleep with their clients?”

“I suppose, but certainly at her discretion, not the clients.”

“Does that make them whores?”

“You don’t understand…” I started. This was one of the aspects about my culture that really bothered me when foreigners couldn’t seem to get. Before I could launch into my lecture about the cultural differences and the history of the Geisha, she laughed.

“I understand completely, Ken. Care Givers was founded by a retired Geisha. Mary Yotori, a classically trained, Yokohama Geisha who realized space was going to be the profession where her services would be needed most through out the next century. She never set a toe in space, but she was a shrewd investor who had amassed a considerable fortune. She hired the best retired spacers and technicians she could afford and started Care Givers on this very spot.”

The lift came to a stop and the doors opened onto a lobby identified in several languages as Recruitment and Personnel. I was more than a little confused as I stood and followed her out and down the hall. “But, the brochure said there were schedules and it was all very regimented,” I said to her smile.

“Yes, it does, you’re right. We are blunt in our recruitment literature to help weed out the candidates who really can’t adapt to the Spacer Mindset. It’s very different up there, Ken. The people you will work with if you take the job understand there are not enough women to go around. Team work is a survival skill in space.”

“I’m going to be trained to be a space geisha?” I asked incredulously.

“You’re going to take the job then?” she asked a bit eagerly, a smile on her face.

“I don’t…” Her ready laugh interrupted my consternation as I tried to put together a polite answer. We stopped at a secretary’s desk who was handing her a PDA. Surprisingly, here in the staffing area, the numerous women I’d seen through out the building returned to the more normal ratios I was used to. All of the secretaries were men.

“Here are your calls, Sara,” he said with a small bow in my direction which I returned. “Can I bring you or Yagimura-san something to drink?”

“Coffee is always welcome for me, Tori,” she told him before turning to me.

“Coffee would be appreciated. Thank you very much.”

“I’ll just be a moment.” Sara led me into her office. It was very nice and, by Japanese standards very spacious. Nearly four meters square with a magnificent view out the far wall which was completely windows over Tokyo Bay and the Air and Space Port.

“You haven’t met many Spacers, have you, Ken?” she asked me as she settled behind her desk and gestured me into one of the comfortable looking chairs that faced it.

“The Future Spacers Club had as many come and speak as we could,” I replied.

“We’re on the cusp of a new step in our culture here, Ken. There are two types of human beings now. Grounders and Spacers. The generation being born and growing up in Space now is going to have a completely different way of looking at things. With all things concerning humans, a number of it will be Us and Them. You have had the benefit of a fairly traditional home life. Your mother and father are married, and live together exclusively. That’s very rare in space.”

“I wanted to go into space to be more attractive when it came time to get married. I was hoping to save and become an owner operator,” I said sadly.

“You sound like you’ve lost your dream,” she said softly.

“I can go to space if I join your company, but the reason I wanted to go won’t exist any more.”

At that moment, Tori entered with a silver tray laden with a coffee service. He poured and presented us both with mugs. A moment of silence followed as we prepared it and I took a sip. I don’t think I’d ever tasted such wonderful coffee. “Surely finding a girl wasn’t your only reason for going into space was it?” she asked.

“Is that important?” I asked cautiously.

“We do our best to be very careful in selecting our applicants. It does no one any good to go through all the training we put our girls through if they aren’t as committed to this occupation as we are. How else can we supply the Spaceman’s Best Friend?” she asked, quoting the company’s trademark. “I don’t think that marriage was the only reason you tailored your whole life towards Space Flight, Ken. Unless I’m very much mistaken about you. Still, it won’t hurt to give you plenty of time to be certain.”

I became fearful in some strange way of yet another rejection. “Please, don’t tell me I’ve failed again?” I begged. Her manner changed at once to a more consoling one.

“Care Givers isn’t a one shot chance, Ken,” she told me. “If you and I are sure this is what you want for the rest of your life, we could begin the paperwork now. However, I think you should have that talk with Jill in any event first.”

I nodded. It would be good to talk about this with her. I wasn’t sure exactly why, but I was looking forward to our talk very much. “If I do decide to do this,” I asked hesitantly. “What can I expect?”

“Well,” she answered. “There are a number of forms to fill out and sign. Your employment contract, new hire contact information, a physical that sort of thing. Then you leave with one weeks pay. That’s this pay grade here,” she said, calling up a spread sheet on the screen at once corner of her desk.

While not as much as the first sheets I’d seen, this was still a fairly significant sum. More than I’d made in a month during the collection of jobs I’d worked through school and college. “Than what?” I asked.

“Then nothing. For a week,” she said. “That’s our fail safe. You cool off and think about the commitment you’ve just made. If, for any reason, you change your mind, you just call me and let me know, then you’re off the hook and the contract is destroyed.”

“Has anyone ever done that? I asked.

“Lots,” she said with a smile. “Almost me, to be honest.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “Yes. And before you ask, I thank God nearly every day since I didn’t. Moving on, you would report back after that week for the DeCorvin Process. That’s two shots and a thick milk shake. Other than the injections, there’s no pain at all. They even tell me the shake tastes good now. Your initial transition phase is twenty four hours. You’ll stay in our care facility here for that time. Then we take you home to finish the transition over about a month, give or take. Once our physician signs off on your ability to start training, your pay scales goes up about four percent and we cram your head full to the brim.”

“Where would I live during training?’

“Wherever you’d like. You can stay with your parents or there is a living stipend if you’d like your own apartment. A number of girls are always looking for room mates as well.”

I sat and sipped at my cooling coffee and ponder my future. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you what the lure of space was beyond what I had always supposed was a means to an end. Yet, looking back, my focus wasn’t on the destination so much as it was the journey. In many ways, Space itself was the destination.

“Would all of my training be here?” I asked softly. I could see in Sara’s eyes I was more or less hooked, but she was polite enough not to comment on it.

“You can take your theoreticals here or at our facilities in Orlando, or Frankfort. There is a bit of prestige associated with training here at the Home Office. For the applied classes, you learn by doing. We have training agreements with most of the large companies we have standing contracts with. You’ll be training on short runs in space. Then, the fun starts; graduation and your first post. You do get to choose between a large or small vessel and both have advantages.” She paused for a moment and sought my eyes. “Ready for that tour?”

I drained the cup for all the courage the caffeine could supply me. “Definitely.”

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To say that the facility was impressive would be to call a Texan small. Everything you could need to learn how to live and work in space was at hand. The labs were well stocked, the computers state of the art and the staff egger to have a new student without exception. I’ve never felt as welcome as I did there. I looked, but did not see a frown or unhappy face anywhere.

Although I was certain I would see one soon enough when I told my father.

Sara departed, leaving me for a brief wait for Jill at the security desk where I turned in my badge. “Hey there!” she greeted as she jogged up. “Sorry I’m late. Doctor Wantabe had to help me with Hoffman Transfer Orbit sketch.”

“Not at all,” I replied, returning her somewhat breathless bow. “I have only just arrived myself and I am grateful you did not have to wait for me. Where would you like to have lunch?” I asked, feeling nearly wealthy from the thick roll of thousand yen notes Sara had insisted I take. Even in the most costly city in the world, this was a serious amount of money.

Jill smiled her lovely smile. “Well, at the risk of bragging, cooking was my best class so far. Why don’t you come to my apartment and let me cook for you?”

My heart threatened to explode from my chest. “I would not want to be any trouble…” I started.

“Oh, nonsense!” She grabbed a hold of my sleeve and pulled me towards the escalators to the train station. “It’s just around the corner practically. Let’s go.”

One never argues with beauty.

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Chapter Three

Afternoon Delight

Jill’s apartment was only a few minutes by train from the Care Givers Building and was about what one would expect for a single girl working her way in the world. Except for the obviousness that she lived alone, there was nothing special about her home.

The building was one of a cluster of such rental properties that all shared a lovely courtyard equipped with a swimming pool framed by cherry and magnolia trees.

The apartment itself was two rooms, the central of which was about the size of Sara’s Office. Along one wall was a kitchen area that looked well used, but neat and organized.

“Please excuse the mess,” she said as she took my coat to hang with hers on a hook by the door.

The room was not in the least cluttered or unkempt and I said so. “Thanks,” she replied with a very fetching blush. “You should have seen the place before I got the limitations of space on a space ship. On second thought, I’m glad you didn’t,” she laughed. “So what are you hungry for?”

“Oh, what ever is easiest for you to prepare.”

“Well, how about something classically American then?” The question was probably plain on my face. “Cheeseburgers,” she supplied. “Just let me change and I’ll be right out.” Then she retreated into what I presumed was her bedroom.

Alone in the outer room of the apartment gave me a moment to look through it as a window into who she was. There were several photographs around the cubby holes in a wooden entertainment center on one wall that held her computer and other personal electronics. There were several pictures of people I took to be her parents around a small boy that I presumed was her. The father stopped appearing in them about the time the boy started to become a young man. The final set on the top faced each other, one the young man, like me handsome in his own way, but thin and more than a bit effeminate. I could see her face in his so delicate where the changes. Opposite this was Jill as she was now, radiant and smiling in the hot pink jumper, the US Flag draped behind her. Next to it was a smaller snap shot with her in the jumper standing with her mother.

“That’s my mom,” she said softly beside me.

“I do not mean to pry,” I apologized quickly.

“Well, actually you do,” she said with a smile. “That’s why we’re talking, right?” I blushed and bowed. “Oh, don’t sweat it, Ken. It’s no big deal. I’m happy to be of service.” She picked up the last picture of herself as a man and held it beside her face. “So, what do you think? An improvement?”

“Actually, I do not think you have anything to be ashamed of,” I replied. “Then or now.” She smiled. I could not understand why everyone I’d met so far from this company smiled so much.

“That’s very sweet of you to say,” she said, returning the picture to its place.

“Why do you keep it?” I asked softly. She looked at me for a long moment then shrugged.

“It’s who I was. I’m not ashamed of the life I’ve chosen for myself. My biology doesn’t change the person I am, or who my mother raised. I’m proud of what I accomplished as John. I could wish I’d done a bit better in school, but I’m still proud.”

“How did your mother take all of this?”

“Oh, about like you’d expect. A bit shocked at first, then a little angry, but I kept talking with her during my week. I wasn’t going to back down. For a while, neither was she. I guess I get my stubborn streak from her. Before I left, though, we had lunch. Well, it started as lunch and turned into dinner. I think she understands me now and we stay in touch. I fly her out here for my holidays.”

“Are you happy?”

“Ken, I don’t regret going after this for a second. Back home, if I hadn’t taken this, I’d be just another guy, probably involved in some kind of manual labor and looking forward to a long, lonely life. There are more girls in the States than over here, but in a way that probably would have made it worse. Always looking and longing.”

She walked over to her kitchen and tied an apron around the black tank top and shorts she’d changed into. Her attire accented her femininity more than the jumper had and I felt the discomfort of an erection beginning to work its way along. I ordered my breathing, trying to fight it as I sat down to conceal my problem. “It’s so much better this way, Ken,” she said, turning back from securing the apron. “I’m going to make a difference…Oh, I’m sorry. I’m making you uncomfortable,” she said, noticing my predicament at once. I blushed, deeply ashamed at my body’s betrayal.

“Please, forgive me,” I stammered, nearly incoherent with shame. I looked away as I tried to force my apology out. I felt her kneel beside the chair and lift my chin to meet her eyes.

“There’s nothing to forgive,” she told me softly. “I’m flattered to have this effect on you. Does wonders for my ego. May I ask you a personal question?”

At that point, being so close to her, she could have asked me to kill the Prime Minister with a pretty good chance of my trying it. There was a powerfulness to her femininity that I was helpless against. “Of…of course,” I stammered, unable to keep the presence of my mind to stay in English. When I realized I’d slipped back to Japanese my embarrassment only got worse.

“You have never been with a woman, have you?” she asked me softly, also in Japanese.

Iie,” I breathed.

“We’ll have to fix that,” she whispered before she closed the millimeters between us and her soft lips met mine. After a long moment, I felt her tongue against my lips, trying to worm its way inside. I opened my mouth and our tongues danced for what seemed like an eternity.

At last she with drew and I realized my shirt was open and she’d been running her hands over my smooth chest. My member ached with erectness. With a practiced motion, she brought me to my feet while relieving me of my shirt. This, she folded quickly with an economy of motion and set aside. Looking down on the swell of her breasts through the top of her tank made my breathing become even heavier than it was. “Whoa, calm down, Ken,” she said with some concern, gently caressing the front of my leg.

“I…I just want to please you…” I stammered, not sure what else to say to try to put the over whelming feelings I had into words. She leaned forward and placed a delicate kiss above my naval, sending a shudder through out my body.

“This isn’t about me,” she said softly. “This is about you.”

“I’m worried…”

“About what? Don’t worry about me. This isn’t a test, or a performance. I want you to relax and this is the best way I can think of to help you. Please forgive me and my mistakes. I am a novice,” she whispered, invoking the traditional request of a Geisha apprentice to her first guests.

“But,” I stammered, “What if I…too soon…?” Her blue eyes meet mine as I felt her release the Velcro tab on my trousers and gently lower them along with my briefs.

“Then,” she replied as though with out a care in the world, “we start over. I promise you’ll be very relaxed, Ken. Now, just make yourself comfortable there,” she said, easing me back into the comfort of the chair as she busied herself relieving me of my trousers and socks.

These too were folding with the same neatness and dispatch to be placed with my shirt. “Just relax and let yourself drift away,” she whispered just before I felt her tongue slide gracefully along the length of my cock. The chair held me in a very comfortable position where she had complete access to my body, but supported me to give me a perfect view of my dreams coming true. Our eyes met as she gently took me in her hand and caressed me. “When you feel like you can’t hold off your orgasm for a moment longer, I just want you to relax every muscle in your body and release yourself into me. Alright?”

I could only nod my understanding. My cock was in the hand of a beautiful woman who was telling me how much she wanted me to release my seed into her. I was beyond the capacity of coherent speech. Yet again she smiled before turning back to my manhood.

Some part of me knew she realized how close I was, only from the situation itself. She used her grip to lift my member away from my belly and run the width of her tongue just below my crown.

I very nearly came then.

I desperately thought of anything that might keep that moment at bay. I thought of baseball, orbital mechanics, lift to mass ratios, anything I could think of, but all to no avail. She opened her mouth and engulfed me effortlessly in a single fluid motion, down to the root of my being.

Again I nearly came.

Grasping at straws I clenched my muscles as tight as I could as though desperate to urinate, but having to wait for an empty stall. Her tongue swirled in long, languid strokes as she held all six inches of me in her mouth. Not that I’ve looked, but as I understand it, for being Japanese, I’m extremely well endowed. I can’t use the domestic condoms (yes, I’ve tested them for fit), but I have to pay twice the price for the export condoms we send to America.

Condoms! I don’t have a condom! All that preparation and I’m caught without ounce of protection.

I tried to put this thought into sound but I couldn’t make my mouth work. Hers, however, was quite busy. She withdrew, agonizingly slowly, her lips tight about my shaft until free and somewhat cooled by the air in the room from its coat of her salvia. “Either all the stories I’ve heard about Japanese men are just BS,” she said quietly, her left hand now gently caressing my sack while her right was ever so lightly caressing my shaft. “Or, you’re really well endowed, Ken.”

“Co…co…” I stammered, unable to think from the loss of blood that my groin was using.

“Don’t hold back,” she ordered, gently. Then her mouth was full once more without apparent effort with my cock. I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t think. My eyes took in the sight of my pride disappearing into her mouth, her eyes locked with mine, seeming to implore me to release myself. I was her slave, I couldn’t have said no to her if she’d ordered me to kill.

With a sigh of relief, I released the muscles which were the only thing keeping my orgasm at bay. She felt my muscles relax as she began her upstroke once more. As the first tingles traveled down my legs, I felt her grab the middle of my shaft with considerable strength.

There was a short burst of pain as the pressure rolled backwards, but my orgasm was already in progress. She clamped her lips about the remainder of my shaft, altering her rhythm to only that portion of me she could take to her fist, still with its vise like grip keeping my ejaculation inside.

The orgasm curled up to my toes and still not a drop had left me.

Her tongue danced in counterpoint to the motion of her head up and down me.

Like a wave in a mill pond, the orgasm washed against my toes and flowed back up my legs and still not a drop had left me.

She began to moan softly around my frustrated member as a howl of ecstasy tore from my throat, loud and raw. I had not so much as raised my voice my entire life and yet I howled like a wolf to the moon in my desperate need to release my seed that she denied me.

The orgasm flowed up through my belly and abdomen with a force I’d never felt or experienced before, not even from the first time I had masturbated and could feel my seed travel completely through me. A feeling I’d longed for and never been able to repeat. And still not a drop had left me.

Her left hand slid down from my sack to the sensitive skin between it and my anus. She pressed her index finger there along the ridge where the two halves of my body joined and pressed in and down firmly.

The orgasm shot into my hairline and to the tips of my fingers and back to my toes in one long, electric circuit. My back arced subconsciously as the howl became a roar as I did my best to shove myself as deep as I could into her.

Still not a drop had left me.

She built a rhythm with her finger that matched the one of her mouth about my cock. I was a single wire of orgasm as the pressure threatened to overwhelm me and the blackness closed about the edge of my eyes. I could feel every hair on my body, every cell of her lips and tongue about me.

Still not a drop had left me.

Then as she slid down my length, the grip was gone and her lips were around the base of my shaft. I couldn’t make a sound. There was no wind left, there was nothing but the feeling of my seed, so long damned now released in a flood of life.

I felt it leave my testicles and travel the entire length of my body as it shot from me with the force of a cannon. Up and down her mouth traveled. Slowly I became aware of feelings besides my seed flowing from me into her. I felt her throat closing in time to the flow from me, taking all I had to give her and still gently asking for more.

I had no more drops to offer and still she flowed over me, up and down with her lips and tongue of velvet.

I had nothing more. The darkness claimed me and I cared not if I went to my death. I had never felt more loved and desired than that life time of a moment.

I was completely at peace and the darkness was welcome.

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The wonderful smell of beef cooking brought me back from oblivion. My eyes slowly opened as my senses began once more to feed me information. The chair I had lost my virginity in was a recliner, currently in the completely supine position. I was covered by a soft, comfortable blanket of down that protected both my modesty and the slight chill of the open air.

The entertainment system was playing music softly that she was singing along with as she worked at the stove. She kept her voice low to keep from rousing me and, even though her time and rhythm were in perfect time to the music, her voice was unsure as if she were not used to the range it now possessed. Still, it was, by far, the most pleasant waking I had ever experienced.

My own feelings were in a languid jumble. I felt a deep happiness for what had passed between us, a fools hope that this situation could somehow become permanent and a fondness for her that I realized I would never forget.

I knew that if anyone ever laid so much as a finger in malice on her, my avenging her would all encompassing and terrible.

As I carefully brought the chair back to an upright position, I drew another of her lovely smiles as she glanced at me over her shoulder. “Hey there, sleepy head. How do you like your burger?”

I had eaten real beef a handful of times in my life. While my family was well off, we weren’t rich. Still, I could smell the difference between the soy imitation I’d grown up with and genuine cow. This was the real article. “You did not have to be so extravagant for me,” I said, a tad embarrassed at her generosity.

“Extravagant?” she laughed, flipping the patties in the pan. “Hardly, just uncompromising. And as I can afford to not compromise, I don’t. Medium ok?” I nodded, struggling for some discrete way to reach the neatly folded pile of my clothing that was just out of reach seated. She noticed my efforts and shook her head as she placed the patties on a plate to drain. “You can get dressed if you want, but I’m not through with you by a long shot. You’ll just have to take them off again. Besides, a good burger is messy. I wouldn’t want you leaving with some embarrassing stain on your slacks.”

“That’s…” I started, struggling for something to say that would sound dashing or, caviler. I failed. “…very thoughtful of you.”

She brought out a collection of American condiments I was only marginally aware of from the refrigerator and placed them on the table. “I hope it was everything you might have hoped your first time to be.” She bowed formally. “I am deeply honored to hold such a place of privilege in your life. Thank you very much.”

My mouth fell open in shock. She reduced me to a quivering mass, unable to form a sound, let alone the presence of mind to so much as caress her cheek and she thanks me. “The honor was entirely mine, though I must…” and before I could continue, she sharply raised her hand.

“I do not mean to offend you, Ken, but if you apologize to me one more time I will be deeply offended. You have given no offense, nor acted in any way other than a polite, and well raised young man. I have enjoyed what we have shared so far, and will enjoy what we will share after we’ve eaten and talked. No matter what your decision as far as whether you will join my company or not will change nothing. You have honored me by allowing me to take your virginity. By God, by the time you leave here, you will not be a virgin in any sense of the word. Please, come to the table.”

I removed the blanket and bowed. “Your slightest wish is my command. I shall not apologize again.”

“Good. Come eat,” she smiled. “You’ll need your strength.” I carefully folded the blanket and returned it to the chair. As she returned to the stove, I took the opportunity to cross to the American Style table and chairs and sit down. The table gave me some amount of modesty which made it less awkward being nude before her.

She brought over the thick burgers and placed one before me whose bun was still steaming. She baked the buns herself? How long was I unconscious? “Everything ok?” she asked.

“How long was I asleep?”

“Oh, about half an hour,” she said as she placed her own plate opposite me and returned to the kitchen. “I was going to have the burgers tonight anyway, so most of the prep was already done. You did ask for what was easiest.”

“I am not complaining. Only wondering when you had time to bake?”

“The joys of home appliances. I have a bread maker, keeps me in practice.” She placed an over loaded plate of French fries on the table between us. “Now, there’s a science to burger construction. May I advise you, or did you get food engineering in college over here?”

“I think that might have been an elective course,” I admitted, just barely keeping in a chuckle.

“Ok, let me give you a quick overview.” She quickly pulled off her tank and shorts before I could realize what she was doing as she joined me in my nakedness. I could only stare in appreciation of her lithe and supple form. Her breasts, while not overly large, were firm and proudly set off the curves of her smooth, tanned skin. Her well defined muscles bunched and coiled under it as she easily folded both and placed them with mine.

Her red hair, I couldn’t help but notice, was natural.

She turned slowly for the approval I displayed for her. Already I could feel my manhood stirring once more to the vision before me. “You like?” she asked with a playful grin.

I could only nod. “Good,” she told me. “Now, on to food. First rule of burgers is, if you’re not making a mess, it’s not a good burger. I don’t want to see any dainty attempts at neat consumption from your end of the table, got it?” Again my head bobbed, but food was the furthest thing from my mind.

She took the top of my bun and began to apply the condiments in generous amounts while naming each. There are times I wish I’d paid more attention, as that was a really good burger.

“Now,” she said around her first mouthful of the sandwich with obvious relish, “that I’m in a thoroughly American frame of mind, what shall we talk about, Ken?”

“I do not wish to give the impression that I am complaining, Jill-san, but I am very…well…I believe confused would be the correct word.”

“You want to know why I’m going to share myself with you?” she asked. I nodded. I had promised I wouldn’t apologize again. It made my ability to answer her question somewhat limited. She cleared her bite and took a sip of the coke that she had prepared for both of us. “Well, there are a couple of reasons, the foremost being I like you, Ken. It was also the only way, honestly, I could think of to get you to calm down and open up to me. It also gives me an answer to a question I’m certainly you’re going to ask me before you leave tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I asked, surprised. She winked at me and I blushed again.

“Yes. I’d be welling to bet it’s already perking in the back of your mind, isn’t it?”

“What does it feel like?” I asked softly, embarrassed I was such an open book to her. She nodded.

“That’s the one.” There was a pause as we both enjoyed her handiwork before I could force my eyes back to her.

“Well…?” I asked, able for once to keep her eyes. Her right eyebrow ascended her forehead.

“There is something of a formality before an applicant is admitted to the company,” she told me. We don’t advertise it, mainly because if we did, we’d be inundated by so-called applicants, just taking advantage of us. Before an application is accepted to a new trainee, that applicant is taken by one of the Physical Intimacy instructors and, well, seduced.” My mouth fell open. She shook her head.

“Before you ask, no, I’m not an instructor. I’m a first year trainee. We do that as kind of a last chance fail safe as well as a basis of comparison later on. I did ask for and receive permission to be intimate with you, if, in my judgment, it would be of assistance to you in our conversation. I realized we couldn’t have a conversation until I could calm down those hormones flowing through you.”

“So you knew you and I would...?” She shook her head.

“Knew? No. Suspected there was a high likelihood of the necessity? Yes. Prior planning is also something I’ve learned here. Anyway, if you sign up, someone, more than likely Doctor Wantabe as she’s the head of Physical Intimacy, will take you aside and, well; give you the best sex of your life to that point.”

I took a sip of the coke and tried not to blush too obviously. “With all due respect to the Doctor, I cannot see how she can exceed that which I have shared with you.”

Now it was her turn to blush. “That’s very sweet of you to say, Ken. I’m deeply flattered. But I only got a B+ in PI.”

I wondered if it were possible to die of sexual overdose. Out loud, I asked, “Why will she do that?”

“Sorry, I got a little side tracked there. I had the same experience you did, just so I can make the statement I’m about to with absolute certainty. As much as I was over whelmed with, and intensely enjoyed my own session. As much as I thought nothing could ever top the incredible way she made me feel. As much as you’ll think the same thing when it’s your turn. It can. It’s called being a woman. What you felt earlier when I was helping you relax? That’s a small, short orgasm for a woman.”

Oh my, what have I gotten myself into?

We finished the meal in relative silence as I pondered this new wrinkle in my life. Perhaps, to a large degree, I was wasting everyone’s time. What could Jill really tell me that I couldn’t surmise for myself? It was apparent not only was she satisfied with her life, but considered it to be greatly superior to her other choices. Which, as I insisted on helping her clean up the mess of our excellent meal, brought a question to mind. “Jill-san? If you only knew of the DeCorvin Process, would you have undergone it on your own? I mean, if it wasn’t a requirement to have a placement with the Care Givers?”

She blinked as she idly dried the dishes she removed from the rinse sink. I wonder if my father ever helped my mother with the house work nude…? Best not to think about that.

“Go through it just because?” I nodded. “I don’t know, honestly. When I was where you are now, it was something of a stumbling block. Now, if I somehow knew then what I know now? Definitely. Even if I’d have to have saved from working three jobs to pay for it. Ken, there isn’t any way I would go back to being a man.” She placed the dish into the cupboard before admitting softly, “As a man I was a failure. Not out of some great fault or irresponsibility, I just didn’t clue into how tough the job market was. I’m not particularly smart, but I’m not stupid either. I was lazy. This is a second chance for me to do something important with my life, Ken. No, I won’t go back, even if I could, which I can’t.”

“Are they not even working on a reversal of the Process?” I asked.

“Why develop something there’s no market for?” she asked. “None of us want to, Ken. It’s not that we’re brainwashed, or mind controlled or out of it. We’re rational, reasonably intelligent adults who want to make a difference. We can do that here.”

“I don’t think my parents will understand,” I said softly. She drew me into a hug that pressed our bodies together. Despite the overt intimacy of our contact, there was nothing really sexual about our contact.

“I know how you feel, Ken. I’d be happy to go with you when you tell them, if you’d like. Or, really, I guess you ought to take one of the councilors from the company. They’re better at that.”

“I am sure they are excellent professionals in their field,” I said, returning her hug. “They do not mean what you mean to me. I would be eternally in your debt if you would come with me.”

“Welcome home, little sister,” she told me as she pressed her lips to mine. Like a switch, our innocent contact became sexual and I felt myself instantly respond to her. “I would be honored to go with you,” she said as our lips parted. “Tomorrow.

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Wow…!

I mean…WOW!

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Chapter Four

The Final Week

I called home the next morning to make sure my mother had dad home from work on time. There were times when he elected to socialize with the other executives from Honda before coming home. Sometimes they were quite late. I didn’t want to interrupt Jill’s time waiting for him.

The remainder of the day I spent at the Care Giver’s office, undergoing my physical, filling out paperwork and trying not to crawl the walls in terror. The staff sensed my discomfort and went out of their way to be accommodating. After I was pronounced physically fit and was placed in a comfortable area to fill out the small forest of paperwork Sara arrived.

“Good morning, Ken-san,” she greeted with a smile.

“Good morning, Sara-san,” I replied. “Did you enjoy your date?”

“I gather I had as good a time as you did,” she said with a somewhat lecherous wink. I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment. “Don’t be embarrassed, Ken,” she said quickly. “It’s not in Jill’s nature to kiss and tell, but she did have to tell me as your recruiter. There are some procedural questions I’m afraid I have to ask you. Did Jill ask for any kind of payment or remuneration for being intimate with you?”

“No!” I said probably more forcefully than I should have. She ignored it.

“Did she promise you any kind of special treatment or other favoritism?”

“Jill is a kind, lovely woman,” I said evenly. “Your opinion about her is completely false. Further, if this is an indication of how your company treats such valuable employees as her, who go above and beyond what was required of her, my opinions of you must be utterly wrong,” I said, standing somewhat stiffly with outrage.

“Ken-san, please calm down,” she told me with a soothing gesture. “My opinion of Jill is very much in line with yours. She did not have to do any of the things she did, and I, for one, am very proud of how she handled herself. However, I must ask these questions, for legal reasons.”

I hesitated for a moment to ponder the situation from her point of view. There were certainly people who could have been easily manipulated by someone as sexually proficient as Jill. For them to complete the hire process would be disastrous for the company. I bowed. “Forgive my out burst. Jill-san is extraordinarily important to me. I should not have leapt to the conclusion I did in her defense.”

“Just one more, Ken,” Sara said, returning my bow. “Did Jill tell you there was a reverse of the DeCorvin Process?”

“She told me not only was there no reversal, that there was no research ongoing for such a reversal as there was no need of it.”

She smiled and nodded. “Please forgive my rude directness in my questions. Can I contact one of our councilors to come with you when you inform your parents of your decision?”

I shook my head. “Jill also recommended that, but I asked her to be with me.” Sara nodded as she handed me a silver pendant that was the logo of the company I had noticed everyone wore.

“As you wish, Ken-san. This is a small microwave transmitter receiver. It will only work here in the building, but you can page me with it once you’re finished here. I can either take you to the break room, or, if you’d like you can sit in on which ever of Jill’s classes she’s in at that time until you leave. Its voice activated. Simply say my name and it will connect me.”

Then she left me to my task. The ‘paper work’ was actually a touch pad. While several forms required some of the same information, as I reached them, the computer filled in the requirements from previous input. There were a number of clicking yes or no prompts and digitally signing my initials, however.

The only uncomfortable form was the scheduling of my meeting with Doctor Wantabe. I elected the day I returned from my week off, where upon I would spend the night here at the office before the procedure the next morning.

Finally I was done. I sighed and cracked my knuckles in relief, looking forward to getting this unpleasant day over with. “Sara Wellington,” I said aloud.

“Hello, Ken,” called her voice at once. “All finished?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’ll be right there.”

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I stared at the door of the only home I’d ever known for nearly a full minute; taking in it’s every line and curve. This door had been with me my whole life, but I don’t think it had ever been so difficult to walk through. Certainly there had never been such a significance attached to simply coming home. I was not looking forward to this conversation.

“Ken-san?” asked Jill softly beside me. I looked into her endless blue eyes, now so filled with concern.

“Was it this hard for you?” I asked. She nodded and took my hand.

“I had to go alone. I’m here for you. We’ll get it done together.”

I reached up and slid open the ceremonial paper door that separated the small foyer from the more secure ‘real’ door. I was home. We stepped inside, pausing to remove our shoes before my thumb opened the inner door for us. No turning back…Taidaima!” I called into house.

Oykairinessai,” came my mother’s voice from the front room. Still holding Jill’s hand, I led the way. Father was in his chair, reading the newspaper and mother was behind the screen in the kitchen. He looked up from the paper, a bit of a frown on his face until he saw I was not alone. Immediately, his expression changed to one of happy surprise.

“Dear, we have company,” he said as he got to his feet and bowed.

“Father, this is Jill Stewart. Jill-san, this is my father Moto Yagimura,” I said by way of introduction. Jill returned fathers bow and kept her Japanese very formal.

“It is an honor to meet you, Yagimura-san.” The process was repeated for mother as she entered the room.

“Won’t you please sit down?” asked Dad, indicating the couch. I sighed as Jill and I sat. Politeness dictated from here it would be almost twenty minutes before I could get what I came to say out. I didn’t think I could keep my self composure for that long so I cleared my throat somewhat loudly.

This brought my father’s eyes at once, his displeasure at my lack of manners written in them. “Please forgive my directness, but I have a very important announcement I have to make. I do not think I could stand waiting through all the ceremonies of welcoming a guest into our home. I hope everyone can forgive me.”

“Ken?” asked father, his eyes going back and forth between Jill and me.

“Mother, father, I have accepted a position with the Care Givers Company.”

“Congratulations,” said dad at once. “When will you start?”

My jaw hung to somewhere around my knees. It was Jill who had to answer father’s question. “Ken will report for the initial phase of the DeCorvin Process next Wednesday. He’ll be gone over night, then back for a month while he finishes his transition here.”

“Are there any special dietary requirements?” asked mom.

“It’s best for Ken to eat as much as he can stomach of foods high in protein and fats for energy,” she answered.

“But…” I stammered, “you’re not…upset?”

Dad shook his head. “Your mother and I had a very long talk before we submitted your transcripts to them,” he answered. “I will admit was unhappy when she first brought up the idea, but, as she pointed out, you have spent your whole life getting ready to go to space. Your happiness means more to me than my ambitions for you, son. I also researched your company rather extensively, young lady,” he said, turning back to Jill. “You should be very proud to work for them. All of the correspondence I received to my inquires tells me Ken could not receive a better education anywhere on the planet.”

Jill nodded. “I realize how deeply honored I am to be a part of the Care Givers.”

“However,” dad said stiffly, “at the risk of embarrassing your mother…” and he trailed off while digging into his wallet to remove a fairly sizable roll of yen notes before presenting them to me. “All I ask, son, is that you experience love at least once as a man. If you still decide to continue after that, you have my blessing.”

Before I could say anything, Jill softly cleared her throat. “That will not be necessary, Yagimura-san. Ken spent last night at my apartment.” Dad had the grace to appear embarrassed as he returned his money to his wallet.

“Oh, I see,” was all he said. After an awkward moment, he asked, “I would imagine the two of you would like to spend as much time as possible together, before…” he trailed off, not quite able to bring himself to use the words.

“That is entirely up to Ken, sir,” she replied smoothly. “He is of course welcome, but I would think he would want to spend his time here with his family.”

“I have a compromise,” interrupted Mother smoothly. All the eyes in the room turned to her coyly smiling face. “While I would not wish to make Stewart-san uncomfortable, but we have enough room for her to be our guest for a week. That would accomplish both items nicely, I should think.”

“I would not want to be any trouble,” said Jill quickly.

There is a gentle kind of iron about Japanese women that Jill discovered as mother proceeded to put her foot down. When it was obvious she was going to have her way Jill accepted with a minimum of fuss.

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I would never in my wildest dreams have ever thought I would share the bed I grew up in, in my parents’ home, with a beautiful woman with my parents also in the house. It was an interesting week to say the least.

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By Wednesday I was more of a man than I would ever be in my life. Jill and I cemented a friendship by love and shared experience that would last my entire career with the company. But, as with all things, the wonder of our week came to an end. I journeyed to the offices with her, she off to class, and me to the physical ending of our relationship.

She promised to be present for the procedure, and for that I was glad in some strange, shared hardship kind of way. Sara met me at the security desk and quickly the formalities were out of the way and I was standing before a door where I was informed Doctor Wantabe was waiting for me. Sara bowed and departed, leaving me to my fate. Steeling my courage, I swallowed and knocked softly.

“Enter,” called a sensuous voice in Japanese. I slid the door to the side, entered, and then paused to close it, hiding my fear behind the façade of the rituals of my culture. I bowed, not having laid eyes on the Doctor.

“I am Ken Yagimura,” I said. “I am deeply honored to meet you.”

“The honor is mine. I am Ryoko Wantabe. Please, come in and be at home. Won’t you have some tea?” For the first time I looked up. The room was very traditionally Japanese; there was no hint of Western Culture anywhere. Doctor Wantabe was kneeling behind a low table upon which the implements of a tea ceremony were laid out.

While difficult to be sure because the exquisite lavender kimono she wore, the doctor, like all of the other women I had seen wondering the halls of this building was spectacularly beautiful. Her hair was arranged upon her head in what appeared to have been a very expensive style to have achieved.

At her bidding, I knelt by the table and was silent as she expertly laid out the ceremony, with smooth, precise movements. I was deeply honored to have been allowed to take part of a moment of history of our people. After I drank her excellent tea, I sighed, prepared, I thought for what lay before me.

“You seem very nervous, Yagimura-san,” she said softly.

“Please forgive my emotions. I am very torn.”

“Torn?” she asked.

“The fault is entirely my own,” I told her. “I am ready, even looking forward a bit to beginning my training. Yet, I am also very sad. Stewart-san and I have become very close. I feel as if I am somehow betraying her.”

“Stewart-san was once where you find yourself, Yagimura-san. She knows and accepts the difficulties as well as the triumphs of the life you both have chosen. You honor her commitment by being here. You honor her spirit by your feelings.”

“I do not wish to be rude, Wantabe-sensei, but might I ask a favor of you?”

“I would be honored to be of service.”

“Stewart-san and I have become exceedingly close. I do not wish to embarrass her, but, through our friendship I have come to know what it is I give up. She has told me why I am meeting with you. I would ask, if it will not jeopardize my position with the company, if I might simply state that and dream one last dream of my love.”

“I have read with great interest the reports Stewart-san has filed over your time together. What you and she have shared is somewhat unprecedented in our history, Yagimura-san. There were some who questioned both of your commitments to us.”

“I do not say or sign that which I do not mean, Wantabe-sensei. I look forward to my training, all of it. That Stewart-san has helped me find myself I would hope would not be looked at unkindly upon her. We know what our futures hold. Yet, my memories are my own. I hope I do not offend you, but I should like to keep them and enter this service, forever faithful with this chapter of my life to her.”

“Do you think your desire of such faithfulness will carry over into your professional life, Yagimura-san? There will be times when you will realize only the body you possess will be of aid and comfort to your shipmates. Withholding it when needed may be disastrous.” I nodded as I finished off the now cool tea.

“I know my duty and I will do it, both because it will be my duty, and for the joy of that sharing which Jill-san has told me. This is merely my gift to her, Wantabe-sensei. If, for what ever reason, I cannot give it to her, I do not regret. I only wish a favor. I will not risk my future over it.”

For the first time, she smiled as she refilled the cup once more with her precise movements. “This is why I argued most strongly on your behalf, Yagimura-san. In a way, perhaps, some of our methods are outdated. There is certainly cause for research to determine if this ritual should continue or be altered in some form to mimic what you and Stewart-san have shared. I might ask for your cooperation with such research when the time is right. I am satisfied of your commitment, Yagimura-san. Now, I have a gift for you.”

She gracefully came to her feet and glided as though flying to a smaller door on the far side of the room. She knelt, knocked softly, and then opened it, revealing a sight that made my heart pound.

Kneeling on the far side of the door was Jill, wearing a kimono very similar to hers, her hair as intricately arranged. I had never seen her more beautiful. “Will you join us, Stewart-san?” asked Wantabe-sensei quietly.

“I would be honored to be of service,” she answered before rising with more grace than I would have thought, having never seen her wear our traditional attire before. The two women came into the room where Jill bowed with extreme formality, her head just touching the floor as she knelt. “Please forgive me and my mistakes, I am a novice,” she said softly.

Doctor Wantabe smiled as she settled once more and laid out a second cup of tea for Jill as she refreshed my own. “Jill-san, please have some tea,” she said as she offered the cup.

“Thank you,” replied Jill hesitantly. I made a point of taking my own first and carefully rotating the cup as was proper before drinking so that she could see what was expected. I saw a grateful gleam in her eye as she copied my movements

“I believe you and Yagimura-san are already acquainted, Jill-san,” continued Doctor Wantabe in her easy, yet formal tone. I don’t think anyone could fault both of us for blushing. “Yes, I thought so,” she continued with a wry smile. “In the morning, Yagimura-san will be joining our company. For tonight, I would like you to help him feel welcome, Jill-san.”

“I would be honored to be of service.”

Doctor Wantabe stood carefully once more and bowed to me. “Welcome to the Care Givers, Yagimura-san. Please honor us by resting here tonight. Jill-san will see to your comfort.”

Already kneeling made it easier to offer my most formal bow, just touching my forehead to the floor. “Domo arrigato gosamasu.

She glided to the door, and then paused before opening it to turn back towards us. “I will see to it you are not disturbed. Oh, and lest I forget, I have reconsidered the grade I judged your performance from my last class, Jill-san. I will change your transcript tomorrow to reflect the perfect learning you achieved. Good night.” Then she opened the door and withdrew.

I sighed, whether from relief from the dread of what I would have had to do, or some other fact I did not know. Turning back to Jill’s lovely face, I asked, “I did not understand her last comment.”

A wide smile graced her features. “Doctor Wantabe has never awarded a perfect score in Physical Intimacy. She always thought there was room for improvement, of everyone.”

“Until now,” I answered, happy for her. “Congratulations.”

She shook her head. “I finally get it, Ken. It’s not about technique or endurance. It’s about emotion. Thank you for helping me learn that.”

Now it was my turn to use the phrase I so often heard them use, understanding its full meaning at last. “I am honored to be of service.”

She gracefully stood and helped me to my own feet before leading me to the door she had been waiting behind. Beyond it was small sleeping room, a futon covering the floor its walls adorned with scrolls from the Karma Sutra. Her nimble hands relieved me of my clothes and once more I stood before her nude. But there had been changes over the last week. I was confident of myself, sure of my feelings for her. For one last night I would be a man, and that was alright with me.

I was an Adult.

“Jill-san,” I whispered as I hugged her to me. “I have only one worry.”

“What is that, beloved?” she asked me softly, guiding my hands to the ribbons that held the kimono to her. With a soft rustle of silk it slid from her body and she shared my nakedness.

“What if my seed has found a home within you?” She smiled as she took my hand and brought it along the bottom of her right arm, just below her armpit. My fingers found a hard bump under her supple skin.

“It won’t. This is a biochemical inhibitor that blocks the hormone that tells my ovaries to mature an egg for release. It does not affect my monthly cycle, but without an egg, I will not conceive.”

“I would have liked to spend my life with you,” I admitted softly. Her lips brushed mine coyly as she pulled me to the futon.

“You will,” was her answer before there were better things to do besides speaking.

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Chapter Five

A Change Of Status

The room was comfortably warm I as stood in the loin cloth they had provided me, calm and at peace in a strange way for being nearly nude in a room with half a dozen clothed technicians. I faced the camera and read the poster they had asked me to read which was behind the camera man.

“I am Ken Yagimura, today undergoing the DeCorvin Process as a preliminary to accepting a position with the Care Givers Company. I understand that the DeCorvin Process will alter my body until I am a genetic female, with all of the difficulties my sisters face. I will menstruate every month, and that it will be possible for me to conceive and bear children. I further understand there is no reversal of the procedure I am about to undergo and will live the rest of my life as a woman. I make this choice of my own free will, without hindrance, coercion or threat of repercussion. I understand I can leave at any time without obligation or further consequence. I state now, for the permanent record, that I request both this procedure and my position in the Care Givers Company and I further release said Company from harm or redress of grievance as may arise from this procedure. So stated by me, Ken Yagimura, on Thursday, the 27th of August, 2104.”

From beside me, Jill had been watching with great interest. Now she stepped forward as the technicians signaled their readiness to begin, in her hands a somewhat sizable glass. “Are you ready for the greatest challenge of your life?” she asked with great formality.

I took the glass from her, unable to think of some meaningful statement with which to answer her question. As I held it, she reached down and removed the loin cloth. There was a soft murmur of appreciation that, I must admit, did wonders for my ego. Jill’s smile was coy as she pretended to not hear the reactions of my nakedness. Instead, she reached down and took hold of me, assisting the technician who was fitting a hose over me. It was comfortably warm, as was the room.

I raised the glass in toast to her. “I love you,” was all I could think to say before I drained the glass the three swallows. It was a slightly bitter chocolate that while not unpleasant, I did not believe qualified as tasting good. A warm sensation flowed from my throat and stomach as they helped me to a couch that was close by.

“Just relax and let this happen,” instructed the tech who had fitted the hose to my member. He smiled. “I promise you’ll enjoy it.”

I nodded, trying to calm my rapidly beating heart. The warmth spread through out my torso as I felt some hidden knot within me release. A very pleasant sensation began to fill me. “The nanites are going to stimulate the pleasure center in your brain, Ken,” Jill told me. “You’ll pass out, but before you do, it will feel so good. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but all the came out was a dull moan. The sensation had spread to my entire body and I was filled with ecstasy. The moan drug out into a constant sound of the pleasure I was feeling, staring into her eyes, helpless and free.

“It’s started,” the tech to my right said. I felt my arm swabbed with something cold, but that only made the pleasure increase. The feeling of the leather of the chair beneath me made the pleasure increase, even breathing made it increase. I felt my skin pierced by the needle of the IV and thought I would never feel such intense, orgasmic pleasure.

I felt myself begin to ejaculate into the hose in what felt like a nearly constant stream.

The orgasm mounted I was injected once more into my right arm. The warm, almost hot sensation flowed from it, and my moan became a roar. “The DNA de-compiler,” Jill’s voice said, piercing the fog of hazy pleasure through out my brain. “It will open up all of your DNA and strip off the Y chromosome.”

My wind failed me and I could no longer make a sound to articulate the ecstasy that coursed through me. My left arm was swabbed and I felt the needle bite into me, followed sharply by a chill that began to war with the hot flow of the first. “The RNA now, Ken. It will re-tailor your gene sequence. It will happen quickly now. I’m here.”

Her voice became distant as my eyes flowed from her to my groin. I still felt myself trying to ejaculate, but I had nothing left to offer. I watched my member slip free of the hose, drawing in on it’s self. My pride withdrew even as I felt myself open and reform.

Forgive me, Jill, I never thought anything could feel better than being with you. I felt a tear of what felt like joy roll down my cheek. I was incapable of feeling any emotion other than happiness and that incredible orgasm.

The technician gently opened me and for the first time, something entered my body as he fed a new tube inside me. It was too much; I could not endure this. Man was not meant to feel such pleasure.

The retribution of an angry universe took me from bliss and the world went dark.

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The soft beep in time with my own heart awoke me. For a moment I listened to it’s rhythm as I struggled to open my eyes which seemed to be glued shut. I cannot remember ever being so thirsty. Finally I was able to win the war to open my eyes. The lights of the room were dim, but there was a soft point opposite me that illuminated Jill, deeply engrossed in a book; Extra Vehicular Activities: A Brief Synopsis. After a moment, I realized the title was in English, a writing system I’d always struggled with, though I had read it perfectly.

“Water,” I whispered; my voice, while low and rasping, different at once to my ears. Its timber was noticeably altered from what I remembered. While I knew I had not been loud, it brought her attention at once. She marked her place and set the book down before coming over.

“How are you?” she asked, her lovely blue eyes full of concern.

“Water,” I managed again. She nodded and produced a pouch of something and held the straw to my lips. The potent flavor of the orange juice burned my moisture starved mouth and throat, making me flinch and turn away. She was insistent, holding the straw to my lips.

“Drink it. You need it,” she ordered.

I was too weak to argue. As I sucked on the straw, I realized never in my life had I tasted such ambrosia. The burning passed at once and the bag was empty in short order. Before I could ask, a second straw was at my lips which I eagerly drained as well. At last the panic was sated and I could sigh in contentment. “Am I alright?” I asked my voice no longer so harsh. On listening, I found it pleasant and unmistakably female, significantly higher than my old baritone, but still quite dusky. There was a subconscious sensuality about it that strangely pleased me.

Jill set the pouch in the bin out of my sight by the bed before picking up a mirror and holding it before me. “You tell me,” she answered.

My hair was noticeably longer, below my ears and disheveled. I at once felt embarrassed for some unknown reason. My face was rounder, softer, but still recognizably me. I was a fright. My eyes, somehow larger and deeper, were encrusted with sand, yet their dark brown had lightened to a warm almond. My nose had become delicate and my lips full and made for smiling.

I wanted to wash and make myself presentable in the worst way.

I was not beautiful then, but with a fresh cleaning and just the right touch of lipstick and some light eye shadow to accentuate my almond eyes…

Where had that come from?

“I am so jealous of you,” Jill told me, putting the mirror aside. “You should really let your hair grow out, it’s so gorgeous.”

Yes, longer would be good and will both frame my face and accentuate my bust… The strange thoughts filling my head were causing me a bit of concern, but the thought of drawing attention to my chest immediately made me conscious of it. There were two, hard, sore lumps under my nipples that could not have filled out a training bra, but they had ambition.

As my nervous system began to catalog my new form, my groin took the opportunity to announce the numb ache that also had ambitions of crippling agony. “My crotch hurts,” I moaned in my new voice. She nodded.

“That would be the catheter. They’ll take it out in a little while, don’t worry. Other than that, they tell me you took very well to the process.”

“Hooray for me.” I looked around, realizing at once I was not in the room I had started in. This was a very nice hospital type room, but there was also a desk along one wall where she’d been reading, with a couch and an expensive looking recliner. “Where am I?” I asked, trying to clear my fuddled mind of the extra voices demanding showers, among other things.

“The infirmary. Once you finished phase one they brought you here last night.”

“I keep having voices in my head,” I said, finally realizing with some alarm I may have lost control of my faculties. Jill, however only nodded.

“That’s the memory RNA. Think of it as a lifetime of growing up as a little girl. You get all of the socialization of your new gender so everyday things like how to sit and take care of yourself are natural. Try not to concentrate on it and if you get a strange urge to do something, just go with it.”

“Is that why I can read English now?” I asked. Again she nodded, although there was a look of surprise on her face.

“Yes, but you couldn’t before? You spoke it well enough, if a bit formally.” She became thoughtful for a moment. “Although, looking back, you’re choice of words and contractions are more natural now. They must have uploaded some English routines with the socialization RNA. English is the Language of Space, you know.”

“What’ll happen now?” She sat down in the recliner by the bed and took the arm that didn’t have the IV in it.

“Now, my girl, you get some sleep and later on tonight I’ll take you home. Then, lucky girl, you take the month off with pay while I slave away here. Then you start training.”

I could already feel sleep tugging at my eyelids. As it became difficult to think, I suspected the juice of being more than squeezed oranges. With great difficulty and much slurring of my voice, I asked, “Would you like a roommate?”

She grinned. “Thought you’d never ask. Oh, you forgot to put on the forms what you wanted your new name to be. They need it to re-submit your vital records.”

I actually hadn’t forgotten. I’d been too keyed up to think of anything that didn’t sound trite or overly pretentious. There was also the fact that my fears of what I was doing weighed far more heavily on my mind that something as simple as a name. But now, feeling drowsy and, for the most part comfortable I was overwhelmed with the rather intense feeling of being right for the first time in my life, my minds eye was filled with the smiling face of my mothers mother. Before her passing, she had made a point to praise and encourage my relentless pursuit of space, always making sure that her Christmas and birthday gifts to me in some way tailored back to spaceflight.

My most cherished possession was a blue NASA ball cap she had purchased for me on her last vacation with my grandfather in Orlando. It came from the gift shop of Kennedy Space Center itself.

“Masako,” I managed, breathing her name with a smile.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Masako,” she told me before once more the darkness came to claim me once more.

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I was not prepared for night mares. There were flashes of being rushed on a gurney as if critically injured, while red lights flashed over head. Everyone around me was working feverishly, but there was not a sense of panic, only a lack of time. Every time I almost got a handle on what was going on, some kind, but worried face would lean over me and adjust the IV which was still in my arm, then nothing.

Next was an angry buzzer and voice cycling through languages, first English, then Japanese and finally Spanish warning of an impending boost. Suddenly there was a terrific pressure on my chest and the fog cleared from my brain. This wasn’t a dream. I looked around to find myself strapped into a chair and down seemed to be behind me. It was hard to be certain as there felt like a lead weight on my body.

I was in a cabin by a window. Around me to my left and front were more seats, rather like an air liner, not that I had ever had the chance to be on one. But if this was an airplane, it felt as if it were going straight up. My eyes drifted to the window in time to see the Tokyo Bay fall away behind me around a column of smoke and flame.

We were going straight up.

As I watched, the home Island fell away astern and beyond the curve of the Earth. Already I was over America in the space of about five minutes, but on a guess, I would have thought my altitude too high for an airplane.

The blue sky I’d lived under my whole life faded to a perfect, endless black before a dazzling chorus of stars lit up the velvet. Growing up in Tokyo, only a handful of the brightest stars could pierce the endless light pollution. On an intellectual level, I’d known about the infinity of space, but now I knew and it was awe inspiring.

I had forgotten about the weight by the sight as I stared, my mouth agape, until I realized my arms were floating of their own accord. I was in Free Fall.

“Magnificent, isn’t it?” chuckled a familiar voice beside me. I turned to look at the lovely features of Doctor Wantabe who was floating just over the chair beside me. I went to bow, but the straps holding me in place bit into my shoulders painfully. Her laugh was musical. “Be thankful you’re still strapped in, Masako-Chan, otherwise you’d be half way across the cabin by now.”

“Sensei, what is going on?” I asked; doing my best to finish the clearing of my mind that my first view of space had started.

“Madness, the great constant of human endeavor,” she told me sadly as she worked herself into the empty seat and strapped herself in.

Ne?” I asked even more confused. A bit of worry clouded her lovely face.

“The United States is pressuring the UN to adopt the Protection of Women Act,” she said sadly. Seeing my ignorance on my face, she elaborated. “You never wondered why Jill, an American, was studying in Japan? Last year, the United States passed a law forbidding women who hold American citizenship from working in any ‘Inherently dangerous occupation’ which spaceflight qualifies as.”

“But, Wellington-san told me I could train at the Care Givers Facility in Orlando,” I said. Doctor Wantabe nodded.

“You could have. You don’t hold US Citizenship. But, when the UN votes on the Act, it will more than likely be accepted. There are greater issues you are not aware of, Masako-Chan. For the time being, we must simply train you here in space.”

“Please forgive my ignorance, but if women are barred from spaceflight, won’t I have to return to Earth? All of this will have been in vain…!” Her smile had a feral quality that made me slightly nervous.

“What ever the outcome of this foolishness, Masako-Chan, none of this will be in vain. That I promise you.” She patted my knee for reassurance before smiling a smile that was more than a little forced. “For the time being, I just want you and Jill-san to concentrate on your studies. We’ll need you all far sooner than I would like, but it can’t be helped. Once we’ve docked with Yotori Station, we’ll get you settled and I’m afraid you’ll have to get right into things. You’ve been a good student so far, Masako-Chan. Keep it up.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Then she unbuckled and floated down the cabin, continuing to give what appeared to be the same talk to everyone she passed. There were nearly forty of us in the cabin, from what I could tell, all them probably new trainees like myself. A few were obviously Birth Girls as developed as they already were, but there were five who had IVs like I did.

Odd, I hadn’t even known there’d been others undergoing the process with me.

I did wonder for a brief moment why Doctor Wantabe hadn’t simply stated what she’d told me from the front over the PA system this shuttle had to have been equipped with, and then it hit me. I was a Care Giver now. Our company was all about the personal touch.

I spent another twenty minutes or so with my face plastered to the view port, marveling at the sheer beauty of space before the silence was broken by a soft tone. Looking towards the front of the compartment there, indeed, was Doctor Wantabe with the microphone I knew would have been there. “May I have your attention please? We will be in transit for another hour or so to Yotori Station. If you need them, there are sickness bags in the seat back in front of you. You may move about the cabin now and experience what I’m sure you’re all dieing to feel. Take a bag with you. If you need them, the water closets are fore and aft with an instruction plate by the door on how to use them. I suggest you read it before you need to! For those of you with IV bags still in, come to me as carefully as you can. Thank you.”

I collected both the bag from in front of me and the stuffed it into one of the thigh pockets of the pink flight suit I was now wearing. I wasn’t sure who had changed me, but I was thankful. Removing the IV from its locking hook I gently opened the seat belts and carefully felt my way up and out of the chair.

Unfortunately not carefully enough. My balance was all off and I quickly fell into a tumble that ended with what would have been a painful blow to the head if almost everything in here wasn’t padded. As it was, my pride was hurt more than anything. Everyone had the grace not to laugh.

Still with a bit of effort, I made my way up to the miraculously upright Doctor Wantabe. Then I noticed she was standing, as if there was still gravity in the room. Looking down, the ‘boots’ I had thought she was wearing with the flight suit were actually black socks for lack of a better term that seemed to be made of something like Velcro.

I was wearing them too.

I pushed against the roof and found my self sticking to the floor. “Nicely done, Masako-Chan,” she complimented me and I felt much better about my first few minutes in space. “Everyone, copy Masako-Chan’s example and follow me. Until you get your bearings, it will probably be easier to ‘walk’.” That said, she turned and led the way forward. I helped my new sisters copy my effort and we followed with surprising ease. One had to lift one’s foot a bit more forcefully than normal, but if you were careful and kept at least one foot on the ‘floor’ you didn’t float away.

She led us through an air lock between the compartments to another row of seats, these filled with other girls I’d seen around the building back on Earth. Jill and her friends from the train were among them, clustered around a portable computer that seemed to be playing a news broadcast. Doctor Wantabe clapped her hands as she passed. “Back to work, girls. There’s studying to be done. Watch the news on your own time.”

A chorus of “Yes, madams,” followed in her wake along with a quick wave to me from Jill which I returned. The next compartment appeared to be the infirmary of the vessel where a medic, judging from the large Red Cross over her right breast, was waiting.

We stayed in our line as she removed the IV needles from our arms, murmuring cautions about keeping the bandages on while we were in zero G.

“So, the whole time we’re up here?” asked one of the other girls, a dusky skinned girl who once the DeCorvin Process was through with her was going to be a classic Spanish beauty. Doctor Wantabe shook her head.

“No, Yotori Station as well as most of the vessels you will serve on have artificial gravity of some kind. The bigger ships will have gravity wave generators, while the smaller, generally older vessels will have some portion in a gravity spin. Yotori Station spins as well.”

“Why is that?” asked another girl, this one a classic American with hair the color of summer straw and eyes the most vivid shade of green I’d ever seen.

“Geewees use a lot of power,” I told her, unable to keep silent. “Spinning is free once the rotation is going. It’s more fuel efficient.” I was able to keep some of the disdain I felt from my voice, but I was still frustrated. This was basic space theory. Anyone already here should have known that.

“Well said and very true, Masako-Chan,” was Doctor Wantabe’s reply. “Now, pay attention girls. I know you were all expecting the next month off while you finished your transition. I’m very sorry that will not be the case. In more ways than one, you girls must grow up very fast. I want you all to look to Masako-Chan for help. Of you all, she is the most qualified. If you have a question, she can probably answer it and if not, will be able to reach me. The most important thing for you all to remember is to be careful with your arms and feet and, this I cannot stress enough, do not touch any control panel unless you know for a fact what it does and you need what ever it does to happen then. Are we clear?”

“Yes ma’am,” we chorused.

“Masako-Chan, you already have your com-badge,” she told me, pointing it out on the collar of my uniform. “Use if you need me. For the time being, you, and your sisters back in your compartment are Training Flight Four Two. Masako-Chan is your Flight Leader. Listen to her instructions and obey them.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Back to your compartment, girls. Enjoy this free time. You shan’t have much of it in the near future. Masako-Chan, I’ll need a word with you.” I watched my new charges shuffle out before turning back to the Doctor. “You understand why I have placed you in charge of your Flight?” she asked me. I shook my head. “Both NASA and the ESA would have accepted you if you had graduated first in your class, Masako,” she said, for the first time dropping the familiar suffix Chan. It was generally used with either children or those very inferior from the speaker as it literally meant, ‘little’. “What happened that you faltered so close to the finish?”

I sighed. “I can’t explain that, Sensei, without appearing to make excuses.” She nodded, but remained silent. “One of my classmate’s came from a very wealthy family.”

“Ah, so desu ne?” she said, understanding behind her eyes. I nodded, doing my best to keep that anger from bubbling up once more. “It was your karma to be here, Masako-san. We are better for your presence. I’m certain you will make us very proud. For now, keep your girls calm and relaxed. When we dock, you will assist me with getting them settled.”

“Are all of them so,” and I paused, searching for a polite way to phrase my question. “…so uninformed of the basics of space?”

“They all met our minimums of intelligence and aptitude, Masako,” she replied. “Ignorance can be corrected. They are all as committed to be here as you, they merely lack some of the extra-curricular activities you have taken.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Off you go.”

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Chapter Six

The Problems Of Yotori Station

I could fill the rest of this book with descriptions of the joys of Free Fall and still they would not do justice to the experience. The only thing that I can really say to paint a picture in your mind is that zero G is complete freedom; which is to say is that it requires a fair amount of self discipline. You have absolute freedom of movement, so if you don’t control yourself, you go careening in which ever direction Sir Isaac Newton cares for.

Still it was a wonderful experience for all us with nothing to do but enjoy it. I can say that using a zero gravity toilet is an interesting experience to say the least. The foundation garments we all wore were basically a soft plastic suction cup that was held in place by the ‘panty’ it was sewn into. At the other end of the cup was a short length of hose. It was somewhat like having my member back.

The toilet had another hose labeled, bluntly enough, Urine Collection. The two hoses mated which activated a gentle vacuum in the line. You simply relaxed and the vacuum did the work for you.

The important thing is to let the hose run for a moment or two after you’re done.

So, my first trip to the restroom as a woman and I can still piss standing up. How ironic. I was thankful not to have to use the other of the devices in there. It was more complicated than I wanted to try to figure out. I simply eyed it warily as I took care of my business and floated back out.

All too soon, our hour was up and the warnings of the impending docking procedure were sounding. I got the girls back to their seats and strapped in, then was able to call up a camera angle on the screen on the back of the seat in front of me.

The shuttle we were on was an older Two Stage ground to orbit booster painted in Air Japan colors. It had ridden a lifter craft of some kind to a high altitude, there it was released and its own engines had finished the trip to orbit. There were better ways to get up here, but the method was sound and proven. I had the feeling the Care Givers were commandeering every vessel they could get their hands on to get us up and off world as fast as possible.

The docking I watched was like a delicate dance between Yotori Station and the approaching shuttle. That, I think, would have made Mary proud. The Station was about half a kilometer across and a series of concentric rings that had been built in stages around a central hub turning at a lazy meter per second or so.

Unlike the movie everyone has probably seen, the docking ports were on the outside of the rings, not the hub. When you think about it, that’s wiser. If something goes very wrong, the center is the part you want hurt the least. It’s holding everything else together.

As the shuttle matched the stations rotation and speed, slowly the feeling of gravity returned and down became down once more. The entire dance lasted about ten minutes from start to the gentle vibration that ran through the ship under us. Then the airlock to our compartment opened and once more Doctor Wantabe was there, clapping her hands for our attention. “On your feet, girls. Remember your gear from the over head bins and form a line in the center isle.”

I stood by the doctor, offering assistance where I could. “You too, Masako,” she said pointing to the bin over the seat I’d had. I didn’t know I had any gear to claim. Opening the bin, I found a good sized duffle in the hot pink of the company colors with its logo and my name embroidered on it.

As I removed it, the distinct sound of cellophane came from the inside. Evidently this was my new recruit kit and most of it was still in the wrappers. Either way, I put the bag over my shoulders and returned to her. “Everyone ready? Follow me.”

She led us at a brisk pace back through the portions of the vessel I’ve already described. Beyond the infirmary was another passenger compartment and the main airlock of the vessel. For the first time, I saw men once more as the crew of the shuttle were overseeing the umbilical connections of the lock while the Captain was playing host and wishing us a safe departure.

I was now in the station proper and the rectangle would be the shape that dominated my time for the foreseeable future. The corridors were slightly flat, elongated rectangles with bulk heads every so often that Doctor Wantabe warned us as we passed. “Mind the step,” she’d call as she moved with an easy grace of someone who knew exactly where she was going.

After a few minutes brisk walk we arrived at a dormitory that held sufficient bunks for all of us. With the exception of one, they were all double bunks; the lone single was by the door. “Masako,” she ordered, pointing to it. I dropped my duffle and got out of the way as the others filed in after me.

“Alright, girls,” she called once they had established their pecking order and selected bunks. “This is the situation. For those of you, who woke up on the shuttle, when I’m done, use the work station by your bed to call home and let whoever is there you are alright. To bring you all up to speed, your advancement of training is due to a piece of legislation being put before the United Nations today. It is the Protection of Women Act, modeled after the law of the same name the United States adopted last year. It will bar all of you from working or even being in space. We at the Care Givers have chosen to work against this law being affirmed. However, should our efforts fail; we will not comply with it. The services we provide are too valuable to our industry.”

She paused for a moment and sighed. “None of you need fear any cost of legal defense, should it come to an attempt to force us to comply. We look out for our own. All you need concern yourself with is getting up to speed as quickly as possible. While it is our preference to train generalists for space flight, circumstances currently do not allow us that luxury. Therefore,” and she dug into a pocket on her flight suit and removed a stack of CDVDs. “When I call your name, take this and review it after you call your parents. This is the results of your primary skill tests. You will have at least three occupational specialties listed. Pick one and note your choice in the computer. Dinner will be served in three hours, or 1700 station time. There is a clock here you can update your personal time keepers to. This is a map of the station. Any area highlighted in green you have access to. Areas in yellow or blue you have access to at specific times for blocks of instruction. Any of you found in a red area, without me or some other senior member of the staff will be subject to disciplinary action. Are we clear, girls?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“The sanitary facilities are just through there. Get cleaned up and settled, there will be more information at dinner.” Then with a hurried smile, she was gone. I didn’t know about anyone else, but I was dying for a shower. I opened my bag, and, as I’d expected, found uniforms, foundational garments and basic toiletries, all still in their protective wrappers. I grabbed a towel and the toiletry bag and headed in at once.

It was impossible, once I’d stripped off the uniform not to stand naked before the mirror and stare. My hair was past my ears now, although at some point had been trimmed into a rather attractive page boy. I had decided at once I was going to grow my hair out.

Already my waist showed signs of curving in while my hips were beginning to flare out. The lumps under my nipples that felt so prominent were hardly visible to the eye. This made me discouraged for some reason. I had nothing but the ambition of the lithe, graceful form Jill wore so easily.

I was very jealous.

From the bag I removed shampoo, conditioner and a body soap with an applicator and made my way to one of the stalls. They were open at the top, only rising to about neck height, but had no door. This didn’t bother me as much as it might bother some. Japan hadn’t had the space for body modesty for far longer than the rest of the world.

The water was beautifully hot and welcome. I wasn’t a great fan of the American shower, but to be clean was worth far more to me just then than the traditional Japanese Furo. A number of the girls followed my example and in short order the shower was crowded with a waiting line. Out of courtesy, I kept mine short, relinquishing my stall to the Spanish girl I’d seen earlier, but whose name I still didn’t know.

It was apparent she already needed a training bra and would doubtless need more than that in short order. “Gracias,” she told me in her dusky voice as we switched places.

I nodded as I returned to my pile of belongings to dry. As I was pulling on my flight suit once more I became aware of three of the girls standing slightly closer than was polite. Looking up as I zipped up the flight suit, I saw they were the three I’d pegged as Birth Girls, lovely in their own way, but their faces wore ugly expressions. One was American, based on her reddish blonde hair and the somewhat smug expression she wore. She was evidently the leader of their little clique. The other was of some kind of African decent as her skin was the color of chocolate and but for her expression was radiant. The other was of some kind of Spanish origin, her dark eyes on fire. “Here’s the drill, China Doll,” said the leader whose name tape identified her as Adams. “We can understand why you boys would want a piece of our action, but as of now, I’m in charge here. You boys want to know how to play with dolls, that’s fine. We’ve done that already so we’ll tell you how.”

“Please forgive my directness,” I said before I made a knife of my hand and shoved it sharply into her solar plexus. The air left her lungs in a rush of a painful sounding moan as she doubled over and stumbled down to the bench. Her henchmen, taken aback by my action stepped back hesitantly, disbelieving their eyes. Striking a woman had been a serious offense for a long time. None of us were used to seeing it. Turning to them I said softly, “I am the Flight Leader of this group until I am relieved by Doctor Wantabe. I am shocked and saddened by such behavior from you. We have all joined this company to serve, not dominate. If the three of you redouble your efforts to understand this and be of service to your flight members, I shall not have to mention this unpleasantness to Wantabe-sensei. Now, return to your discs to pick your specialties.”

The Spanish girl nodded guardedly as she and her friend picked up Adams and helped her back to their bunks. As I breathed a sigh of relief, I stooped down to continue gathering my things when the sound of applause brought me up short. Turning, I saw the entire group in the showers had seen everything, and were clapping. I bowed shallowly and returned to my bunk.

The first item of business, after my shower was to call home. The screen and camera of the video phone was built into an arm that swung over the bunk. Sitting up in it, I pulled it around to face me before the ear bud/microphone settled. Then there was only dialing. Mother’s face picked up on the third ring. “Hi Mom,” I began; forcing a smile I hoped didn’t look that way. “Its Masako now,” I told her as she grasped for some way to greet me. A bit of a tear filled her eye.

“Masako, she would be deeply honored, my love. Are you ready for us to come and pick you up? You’re looking lovely, by the way.”

An odd sense of pride filled me by her compliment. “Well, unless dad is making enough to afford a trip to orbit, you won’t be able to pick me up,” I told her. Her eyes filled with questions. “Have you watched the news lately?” I asked.

“That stupid American Law? But, if they’re concerned enough…?”

“They’re not going to obey it, Mom. They moved us all up here to try to get around it. I just wanted to call and let you know I’m alright and that there weren’t any complications.”

“So I see. I see her in you, Ko-Chan. I’m very proud of you.”

“Is dad not around?” I asked, wanting to be able to get all of the initial stuff out of the way. She shook her head.

“No, he had a business meeting late. But, he’ll be home around nine or so. Can you call back then?”

“I’m only on station time, here, Mom. I’m on Yotori Station, by the way. What time is it?” She looked past that camera at the clock on the wall. In my mind’s eye I could picture its old, worn face.

“It’s two thirty here, dear.” Oh, so Yotori Station went on Japanese Time.

“Alright, I should be able to call, but if not, I’ll try to call tomorrow. I don’t have a feel for my schedule up here just yet.” She nodded.

“I’ll be here if nothing else. How does it feel to be living your dream, sweet heart?”

I honestly hadn’t thought of it quite that way. But, here I was, in space, my training to begin shortly and a long life time of adventure doing what I’d dreamed of since I knew there was a space before me. “I’m home, mom. I’m home.”

She smiled the bitter sweet smile only a mother can. “I’m happy for you, Masako. Be well and study hard.”

“I will, Mother. I promise I won’t let you or father down.”

“You can’t,” she told me. “You’ve done what you set out to do. We are very proud of you. I hope you can call this evening. Good bye.”

“Bye mom,” I told her before the screen went black. For some reason, I really wanted to cry, but that didn’t seem appropriate out here in front of everyone. So I took out the disc Wantabe-sensei had given me and placed it in the reader. And what I read surprised me.

Yagimura, Masako (Formerly Ken)

Math/Theory…………………..97%

Physics/Mechanics……………98%

History/Psychology…………...97%

Trait Based Primary Specialties:

Systems Maintenance/Engineer Specialist

Pilot/Navigation Specialist

Medical/Psychological Specialist.

While I had never really given any thought to my obsession with the mechanics of space flight, I had not considered myself an engineer. Really, I’d never been particularly mechanically inclined at all. I suppose if the only job I could have gotten to get into space was as a member of a black gang, I would have taken it.

Likewise, beyond its application to space, I wasn’t terribly interested in medicine. I knew I had to keep fit and be mindful of my health, but as I said, I did not grow up rich. Being over weight was never a problem for me. And, being honest with myself, neither profession had the glamour nor definitive quality of space about it that pilot did. I clicked the middle of my choices without a second thought.

After I did so, a menu of course reading came up. Basic flight theory, terms and definitions, controls and the like all crowded over a menu. As the theory seemed to be the starting point, I called it up and lost myself in the reading until a soft tone brought me back to my present.

I’d been reading for nearly three hours, the clock told me. It was seventeen hundred and time for dinner. I was half way through the theory file and already had a good grasp of what I’d read. I’d always been a good student, but with a bit of concentration I could call up any page from what I’d read as if it were before me in my mind’s eye. This I filed away for further consideration as I pushed the terminal away and stood. “Dinner time, girls,” I called out now aware of just how ravenous I was by the realization it was time to eat.

My charges got to their feet as I gave a quick glance to the map on the wall. “We are here,” I said, pointing out our location on the map. “This would be our mess hall here, which is just to the left and down the hall about thirty meters at the edge of the yellow boundary.”

“What do you know, they can still read with only one head,” said a voice I remembered well from the back. There were a pair of snickers, but the others seemed to be waiting for what I would do. For the moment, I chose to do nothing.

“Follow me,” I told the others and led them out. Even without the map, the mess hall wasn’t hard to find. The corridors were labeled with directions that also took us there. The hall was large enough that the two ends of it just noticeably bent around the curve of the ring. A line was already forming to go through the steam tables which I stopped at the rear of.

“Don’t let that Punta get to you,” whispered a voice behind me. I turned to face the Spanish girl who was also in her First Day. The tape across her breast read Garcia. “I’m Maria,” she told me, thrusting out her hand, which I took, glad of a new friend.

“Masako,” I told her with a smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“You shouldn’t let them get to you,” put in the brunette behind her who was noticeably further along than either of us. “Janet Rogers,” she said by way of introduction. “And thank your lucky stars you weren’t awake in the waiting area to listen to their constant harping and preening. I thought I was going to strangle Adams before we even got on the shuttle.”

“Wonderful,” I muttered. “Pity I just can’t sleep through the rest of this.”

Maria said something in Spanish that made Janet laugh. Seeing my curiosity, her dusky skin darkened and she said, “I was just saying if they get fired, they’re sure to get a job doing donkeys in Mexico.”

“We shouldn’t lower ourselves to their level,” I said solemnly, but the image of a donkey having his way with Adams forced a giggle out of me, spoiling my commander face. “But it is funny, you’re right,” I admitted. Turning to what I hoped was a more pleasant subject I remarked about my sudden, near perfect recall of my studies.

“I’ve never been able to read so fast,” admitted Maria, something like wonder on her face. “I already feel like I could understand some of the electrical distribution points of this station. Man, I never could figure out things so fast, before.”

“Electrical Engineer Specialist?” I asked with a smile. She nodded.

“I’m really eating up my stuff too,” put in Janet. “Environmental Control and Habitat Specialist. I think I can pick up the individual chemicals they’ve got scrubbing the air through here just by smell.” She inhaled deeply for a moment and pointed to a vent just over the door. “That scrubber needs to be replaced.”

“So, it’s not just me?” I asked. “I’m so glad. I feel like I could climb into an airplane and fly anywhere. I can’t even drive,” I admitted around a giggle we all shared. “What do you suppose is causing it?”

“It’s called Memory RNA,” came Doctor Wantabe’s voice from behind me. I was more than a little startled as I hadn’t heard her approach and, evidently neither had Janet or Maria. “It’s the same reason small children learn at such an elevated rate. We’ve increased the amount of RNA in your bloodstreams by a factor of about four hundred percent. We don’t like depending on chemicals to replace good old fashioned learning, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Masako, would you walk with me, please?”

“Yes ma’am.” I gave a good bye look to the girls, who silently told me to be brave. She took us to the coffee urn and poured us both cups before taking us over to an empty table, well out of ear shot of the others.

“I was reviewing something that came to my attention just now,” she said as she stirred the coffee before glancing at me from under her eyebrows. “Can you guess what it is?”

I had a feeling I could, but I shook my head anyway. No sense borrowing trouble. “You’re never truly alone in space, Masako,” she said cryptically. “Both the engineering and security departments need to know what’s going on if there’s trouble. Imagine my surprise when I was forwarded a video clip from the Security Department telling me there had been a fight in the shower of your dormitory.”

I took a sip of the coffee to get something in my belly to quiet its embarrassingly loud noises. “I offer my complete responsibility and apology for my actions, Wantabe-sensei.”

“What action are you apologizing for, Yagimura-san?”

“I struck Recruit Adams in the shower.”

“Is that what you are apologizing for?” she asked again.

I shook my head. “No ma’am, Recruit Adams needed to be struck. I am apologizing for not thinking of a better way to handle the situation.”

Her eyebrows ascended her forehead in surprise. “Really? That’s an interesting position to take for having thrown the first punch, Yagimura-san. Do you intend to cement your authority and position by violence?”

“It would not be my first choice now, Sensei, but now I have the luxury of time to think of a different way to handle the situation.”

“So you do not regret throwing the punch, only not thinking ahead that there may come a time you might be in a situation where such was necessary?” she asked. I nodded, blushing over a particularly loud roll of my stomach. “Very good, Flight Leader. It is good to see you can learn from your mistakes. How will you deal with Recruit Adam’s attempts to undermine your authority now?”

“To be honest, Sensei, my empty stomach is making thinking very difficult just now. If you have advice it would be most welcome.”

“Teamwork is a survival skill in space, Yagimura-san. I suggest you go eat with your new team and think about your problem. If you can’t think of something, come see me again.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“And, Masako?” she asked as I stood to leave. “We need every recruit we have just now. Bear that in mind.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I meandered towards the new rear of the line, but Maria and Janet both eagerly waved me back to my old place, so I went there instead, thankful. It was a good bit closer to the food. There, it became apparent that the Care Givers didn’t skimp or cut corners. The food line was diverse, rich in selection and all of it had the appearance of being fresh and real, as apposed to the mostly Soy based ‘alternatives’ I’d grown up with. “So?” asked Maria anxiously. “What happened?”

“I should have realized there is surveillance equipment everywhere,” I admitted as I eyed the tables lustfully. I took a plate from the hopper and placed on a tray with the western style silverware.

“She knew you hit her?” asked Maria. “Are you in trouble?”

“No,” I answered holding out my plate for one of the steaks which were near the front of the line. “I’ll have one of those please.” Turning back to Maria, I said, “Wantabe-Sensei agreed I should have handled the situation better, but I handled the situation. Now, however, I need a permanent solution. Otherwise those three are going to make my life miserable all through training.”

“Wow,” muttered Janet. “Wish I’d had a couple of teachers like Doctor Wantabe in school. So, what is your permanent solution?” I shrugged, sliding down the line, helping myself to the macaroni and cheese and a lions share of green beans that looked particularly good for some reason.

“Dunno yet. To be honest, I’m having trouble thinking I’m so hungry. I am, however, open to suggestions.”

“Did Doctor Wantabe have any suggestions?” asked Maria as she loaded down her own plate with every starch they had on offer.

“Only that Teamwork is a survival skill in space,” I answered. “And that they needed every recruit which I took to mean I can’t toss her out an airlock.”

“Very wise,” was Janet’s comment, of us all, she was being to most dainty, making a salad with a steak cut up into cubes on top. “I don’t get the feeling Doctor Wantabe is one for empty platitudes, so there must be something significant in why she said what she did.” I lead the girls over to a table, stopping by a smiling Wantabe-sensei for my cup of coffee as I did so.

The conversation halted for a few minutes as Maria and I commenced to making complete pigs of ourselves. “Ah, the joys of First Day,” smiled Janet as she could eat her salad with actual manners compared to the shoveling match Maria and I were engaged in. “That appetite does eventually go away,” she assured our slightly panicked looks around mouthfuls. She pointed out a sign on one wall with her fork. “Not to worry, there are snacks available twenty four hours. They’ve got too much invested for us to starve to death.”

“I’d have eaten my parents out of house and home,” I muttered, washing down one mouthful in preparation for another. I was already thinking about seconds.

“Well, your body is rebuilding itself and rather quickly at that,” was Janet’s response. “My month was over today, so you can look forward to carrying around pocketfuls of candy bars for a week or so, and then it slows down.”

“That still doesn’t solve my current dilemma,” I muttered, casting an irritable glance at Adams and her two cronies who were giggling and casting snide looks our way every now and then. “I’m trying not to form a set emotion of anger around her, as I’ll probably have to work with them, but damn it they piss me off.”

“It’s really not their fault, Masako,” said Janet as she chewed thoughtfully. “They’re afraid, and scared women are dangerous.”

“What do they have to be afraid of?” asked Maria as she reached for the salt and put a fairly sizable dent in the contents.

“The DeCorvin Process,” answered Janet. Seeing our looks of confusion she elaborated, discretely pointing with her fork around the room. “Look around you, what do you see?”

I started to make a witty comment, then thought the better of it and looked. Except for our flight, Adams and her cronies were the plainest girls in a large room full of breathtakingly beautiful women. Looking back at Janet in wonder, she nodded. “Yes, they get the anti-aging bits and the cleanup of any bad traits in their systems, but they’ve always been female. The DeCorvin Process doesn’t have as much to do to them, so its effects aren’t as dramatic. They’re as good looking as they’re going to get. We’re all going to be far better looking and they know it. Look at them through your old man’s eyes. You’ve been special your whole life, just because of your chromosomes, so you join up to be really special in space, but wait, a bunch of Johnny-come-lately used to be men are going to out do you at your own game. Sucks, huh?”

My frustration and anger at Adams melted away and was replaced by a feeling of deep pity. On earth, she would turn heads where ever she went, unless another Care Giver was on the street too and then she’d always be second best. That I could relate to. Still, how would I feel if suddenly Hitori, the bane of my collegiate existence, suddenly wanted to be friends?

I didn’t have a clue how to solve this very legitimate irritation they felt.

I did, however, know I had to do something and quick. Otherwise the battle lines would be drawn, if they weren’t already. “I’ll be back,” I told them as I picked up my coffee and screwed my courage to the sticking place.

Then I felt every eye in the room on me as I crossed it to their table. Adams glare could have bored holes in steel. I bowed. “I owe you an apology. May I join you?”

“Why should I sully my table with you, gender bender?”

“If you prefer I stand, that is acceptable. I have offered offense for which I apologize.” I placed my coffee cup on the table, then lowered myself to my knees, then touched my forehead to the floor. “Gomen nessai. I am extremely sorry for striking you.”

The hall went silent as I knelt, my head on the floor. The silence drug out until I could hear them squirming in their seats. “For pity’s sake, get up,” Adams hissed.

“I cannot until you have either accepted my apology or sent me away,” I said into the floor.

“What happens if she sends you away?” demanded one of the others. I couldn’t tell which as all I could see was the soft green deck plate I was kneeling on.

“Under the strict forms of my culture, I must withdraw to a private place and commit seppuku, or ritually disembowel myself. I do not have a retainer, so I will have to ask one of the other girls to bring you my head in a basket.”

“That’s sick,” came Adam’s voice, and I could hear the true horror in it. “All because you hit me? I was being a bitch…”

“Whether you disserved what I did is not a matter of consequence. The error is mine,” I told her. “My culture is very strict on what I must do.” Well, it had been three hundred years ago, but it was obvious she didn’t know that.

“Alright, alright,” she hissed something very close to panic in her voice. “I accept your apology. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I was a bitch. Please get up!” I took a moment to wipe my face of its triumphant smile before slowly rising to my feet.

“You and I have started on a very bad footing,” I said, purposefully being a bit awkward in my English to give her something to feel superior about. “I would like very much for us to start over and be friends.” I bowed before extending my hand. “I am Masako Yagimura. I am honored to meet you.”

“Susan Adams,” she said hesitantly, offering a cool, but firm hand shake and even a bow of her own, from the neck of course. “These are my friends, Juliet Rodriquez and Nyota Umbeli.”

I bowed and shook hands with both. “I am deeply honored. If you would not be inconvenienced, my friends would be honored if you would join us for dinner. However, if you would be uncomfortable walking across the cafeteria, we would be happy for you to join us for breakfast in the morning.” Susan smiled a nervous smile.

“Look, I think we’ve been stared at just enough tonight. We’ll catch you for breakfast, ok?”

“I shall look forward to it. Again, my most sincere apologies.”

“Look, don’t sweat it. I’m just having my visit, that’s all. Don’t mind me for a couple of days.”

“It is with some fear I await my own. Any insight you could offer would be deeply appreciated by all of us ‘New Girls.’ In the morning, then.” I bowed a final time, retrieved my coffee cup and withdrew. My eyes found Doctor Wantabe’s on mine as I returned to my own table and the conversation of the hall resumed.

Her nod of approval would not have been noticed by anyone not looking for it.

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Chapter Seven

Filled To The Brim

That night I had vivid dreams where I was soaring through a cloud filled sky, somehow both of my own accord and at the controls of some kind of craft. As I did so, a dangerously handsome young man appeared and proceeded to pour out his heart to me. I was so moved I left the controls and proceeded to engage in all manner of embarrassingly intimate acts with him. We were interrupted by the alarms of some problem with the craft and I spend a good bit of time trying to figure out how to fly the craft and give myself to him at the same time.

Doctor Wantabe’s voice was a welcome interruption.

“Rise and shine, girls. To the quick go the spoils; it is a new day of the rest of your long lives.” She made her way through the dormitory, yanking off blankets and pausing to shake the reluctant. After a few moments of her cheerful voice calling through out the dormitory, we were more or less awake and padding to a rough circle around her. “Good morning, ladies,” she greeted, bright and cheerful.

There should be a law against being happy before 10:00am.

“Now, once you’re all washed and ready for the day, you’re going to go to breakfast, and then you’ll be taken from breakfast to your Specialist Class. You’ll be back together at lunch, where upon you’ll have two blocks of instruction with me. The first will be Introduction to the Ethics of Physical Intimacy and the second will be Introduction to Music. Be thinking about what ever instrument you wish to learn as it will be issued this afternoon. At some point before EPI you should enter your choice in the computer under your file. Keep in mind, girls, what ever you choose; you’ll have to carry around with you. So let’s be reasonable in our selection. And before any of you comediennes ask, you may not choose the Steam Calliope, Pipe Organ or any other immovable instrument. Be careful what you choose! We did manufacture a Glass Armonica last year.”

“What’s a Glass Armonica?” someone asked.

Susan surprised me by answering. “It’s an instrument invented by an American named Ben Franklin. It’s a series of concentric, glass bowls. It’s played by wetting your fingers and rubbing them on the bowls as they turn, like rubbing your finger on a crystal wine glass.”

“Very good, Adams-san,” complimented Doctor Wantabe. “You are correct. We had to hire in a specialist to teach it, but there is a Care Giver in service now who plays it. Now, anyone whose primary specialty is flight crew come to me, the rest of you, off to the showers.”

Most of the girls made their way back to their bunks as Doctor Wantabe used mine as the gathering point for the flight crew specialists. They consisted of myself, Janet, Maria and, to my surprise, Susan. I was even gladder now I’d made up with her last night. Doctor Wantabe nodded. “Alright, welcome everyone. The four of you should already know each other, if not, introduce yourselves. Masako?”

“Masako Yagimura, Pilot/Navigation Specialist from Tokyo, Japan,” I said, turning to Susan, whose specialty I still didn’t know. She smiled an awkward smile being the odd girl out in my circle. It was obvious she felt out of her element and venerable.

“Susan Adams, Computer Support Specialist, from Long Beach, California,” she responded.

“Janet Rogers, Habitat and Environmental Control Specialist, from Richmond, Virginia.”

“Maria Garcia, Electrical/Mechanical Engineering Specialist, from Lubbock, Texas.”

“Good,” smiled Doctor Wantabe. “Now, you four make up the smallest number of people and jobs needed to run a space ship. Someone to fly it, someone to keep the air moving, someone to keep the ship moving and someone to keep all that wonderful technology working together. The four of you are going to learn to oversee your sisters in their various departments and each other. You’ll be responsible for helping them along. Think of them as your crew, this flight as your ship and that makes the four of you officers. I’ll expect you all to get along, both with each other as well as keeping the others focused on getting though this training. Does anyone not understand me?”

Maria hesitantly raised her hand. “Ma’am, I can’t lead a thirsty horse to water. There must be some mistake.”

“Maria, the company has vested about sixty trillion yen over thirty years on our testing and training process. I promise you, there’s no mistake. Any other questions?”

“Isn’t a little early to be assigning leadership roles, ma’am?” asked Susan.

“It’s a little early for a lot of what you’ll be doing, Susan. There’s just no way around that. Now, you’ve had the good news, here’s the bad. You all have unlimited yellow and blue access. Yellow areas are class rooms, blue are the training simulators. That means you can train or supervise training at any time. That also means I expect you all to keep an eye on how your sisters are doing and help them with remedial training as it’s needed. That also means you four will have less free time than your sisters.” She paused, a hint of a smile on her face. “We realize this, which is why your certificates will rate you all as Officer Qualified when you graduate.”

“That doesn’t leave us a lot of failure room, ma’am,” objected Janet, quietly.

“You’re in space, Janet. There isn’t any room for failure. Get cleaned up and get to breakfast girls. And relax a bit. None of you would hold these jobs if we didn’t think you were up to the challenge.” And with that, she was gone leaving us to look uncomfortably at each other.

“They certainly have some unique training methods,” I observed.

“If half what I’ve heard is true, that’s the understatement of the year,” muttered Susan. “Is it true you all slept with her?” Janet and Maria shuffled their feet and contemplated their toes.

“I didn’t,” I said. “Although, from what I heard, I missed quite a bit…” An embarrassed snicker escaped both of my friends, but Susan just curled her lip a bit.

“What does that say about her?” she asked.

“That she really believes in this company and getting the very best people she can,” said Janet firmly. “Besides, by the time we’ve all been in space a few years, I’m certain we’ll have a story or two that will make poor Doctor Wantabe blush.”

“That, I’d pay money for,” chuckled Maria. “They didn’t, you know, offer to you Birth Girls?”

“No,” said Susan flatly. “They just asked if we had any moral or emotional resistance to the idea.”

“Do you?” Asked Janet. “Because you are sure acting like you do.”

“Not to the idea, per se….” she started.

“Susan,” I interrupted softly. She turned to face me, her emotions rather plain on her face. I chose my next words carefully as this was a fairly delicate situation and my footing with her still was unsure. “When we get to our first post, we’ll be assigned the team we’ll work with in our specialty by the Ship Mother; the senior Care Giver on board. There will be six of them. It’s our job to keep them in prime condition. That means if they need it, we sleep with them.”

“Well, it’s still an if…” she objected.

“My apologies for my faulty English. I should probably have said when.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Did no one explain this to you?” I asked, somewhat amazed. Lord, it was very large and up front in all of my literature. “Did you not read the section on Physical Intimacy, Out Lines and Expectations?”

“Well, sure, I saw it,” she hedged. “But my recruiter just said that was to scare off the people who weren’t really committed.”

“It is,” I said. “There isn’t a schedule, dear. You’re going to be taught to recognize when a man is at the point where he cannot take being without the company of a woman for a second longer. Then you, and I and Maria and everyone else here, are expected to do whatever it takes to keep him fit for duty and sane. Susan, if that means sleeping with him, that’s what we do.”

“But it’s still my choice when…!”

“Only in the strictest of senses I suppose. Perhaps you should talk to Doctor Wantabe.”

“Look, I went through hell to get…Oh, well, I guess you girls have me beat there. I want to be here. I want to do this. It just seems like there’s a lot of emphasis on a small, infrequent part of our job.”

“Hold on a second,” I told her, and then I went over to the video phone and called up the operator, a lovely Thai girl with a beautiful smile.

“How can I be of service, Recruit Yagimura?” she asked.

“My friends and I are having a bit of difficulty over a small point in our training and I was hoping you could clarify something?”

“I’d be happy to. How can I assist you?”

“Well, it’s rather personal I’m afraid. If you’re not comfortable answering, could you connect me with a councilor or some other person who could?”

“I’m guessing this is a physical intimacy question then?” she asked around her smile. “No, I get a number of those. Please ask away.”

“Well, we were wondering how often you felt it necessary to be physically intimate with a crewman during your tour? To get an idea of what to expect.”

“Well, obviously here at Yotori Station it hasn’t been an issue. But, my last run was on the Gas Hauler Misty Mountains on a two year run to Jupiter and back for some of the rare gases found in that planets atmosphere. Lovely bonus, that check. Anyway, we were a bit short staffed on her so we all pitched in where we could. I personally was with every member of her crew at least twice. The MistyMountains had a crew of two hundred and thirty of which thirty were Care Givers although there should have been almost forty of us. Does that answer your question?”

“Yes, thank you.” I clicked off the screen to a soft moan from Susan.

“I think I’m going to be sick.” She held her stomach for a moment, looking decidedly green. “And you’re all ok with that?”

“I tailored my whole life to be here,” I said softly. “I’ll do whatever I have to so I can stay in space. But, my friend, Jill, who’s a bit ahead of us here on the station slept with me when I was still a man. She said it’s the most rewarding experience of her life.”

“It’s ok,” said Susan. “But it’s just sex. You’re all carrying on like it was the greatest thing of your lives.”

“It was,” we answered in chorus, then broke into a fit of giggles. Janet continued.

“You’ve never been with someone who knows how is your problem, Susan. Wow, Doctor Wantabe did things to me I still dream about!”

“I passed out my first time with Jill,” I answered, feeling a blush color my cheeks.

Maria only blushed and said nothing.

It was obvious action was called for. I reached out and hugged Susan who was trembling in her fear. “Susan,” I said softly. “I’m going to let Wantabe-sensei know about the problem you’re having with this. I think you should talk with her and let her know how much you want to be here, but the difficulty you’re having with this aspect of training. I’m sure she can help you.”

She nodded, a small smile on her face. “In the meantime, girls, let get clean and get some food, I’m starving.

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“Welcome, Pilot Trainees,” greeted the dashing, if somewhat older gentleman we all stood around. He spoke with an elegant English accent that for some reason made me think him extremely intelligent. While his close hair was shot through with gray, he was still a very dashing figure in his royal blue flight suit covered with NASA mission patches. “I am Brigadier Alistair Trevor, retired, formerly of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It will be my job to turn the lot of you into pilots. I understand a number of you are in an elevated level of training, so if I should go too quickly, don’t be shy. Just stop me and I shall answer any questions you might have.”

He indicated the young woman beside him, whose name tape identified her Chartrand. She stood a very confident five feet seven inches and weighed, I would have guessed about one hundred and twenty five pounds. White, but not platinum blonde hair framed a heart shaped face that had etherealness to her remarkable beauty, even for a Care Giver. Her eyes, a vivid blue danced with some inner amusement as the Brigadier continued. “This remarkable flower at my side is Student Instructor Persephone Chartrand, who will be assisting me through out your lessons. She has probably forgotten more about flying than you all shall take away from our time together so I should expect you to pay attention when she speaks. If not for you own edification, then for an old man’s love of listening to her exquisite voice.”

Brigadier Trevor consulted a palm top he was holding. “Now then, young ladies we shall be breaking up into Pilot and Navigator pairs to work some simulation assessments of your current levels of skill. When I call your name, report to the simulator whose number I tell you. Yagimura, Pilot and Stewart, Navigator to Simulator one with Miss Chartrand, if you please.”

I was understandably thrilled to have been paired with Jill and our hug of greeting was enthusiastic to the quiet smile of Chartrand-sensei. “I’m guessing you two know each other?” she asked, speaking for the first time in her velvety contralto. I could hear why the Brigadier would like to listen to it. Jill answered first.

“I was honored to be Masako’s entry to the Care Givers,” she said with a smile. “We had a wonderful week together before she joined.”

All I could do was blush and admire the toes of my boots. I was certainly still not used to the easy acceptance of sexuality that permeated this company.

“I see,” was Persephone’s comment. She extended her hand which I took. “Masako, I’m Persephone, although you can shorten that to Persey if it’s easier for you. I’ll be getting you up to speed with the other girls and turning that book knowledge perking in your brain to skill.”

“I shall endeavor to be a ready pupil,” I said with a bow.

“I’m sure you will. Jill, go ahead and start the pre-flight warm up, would you?” Jill nodded and climbed into the simulator as Persey and I stood outside it. “Now, Masako, the first stumbling block I’d like for us to over come is terminology. A space craft has three axis of movement for attitude; they are roll which determines which side of the craft is relative ‘up’. For ease of reference, when ever you’re near any kind of celestial body, towards it is ‘down’. The next term is pitch which measures the distance in degrees plus or minus from zero the nose is pointed in.” She held out her hand flat with her palm towards the deck. “So if my hand is a ship and the deck is a planet, this craft is at roll zero pitch zero. It is parallel to the planet with the floor towards it.

“The final direction is yaw or the placement of the nose of the craft left and right. Understand?” I nodded. “Good. Now, are you right or left handed?”

“Right.”

“Excellent! The joy stick in your right hand is the Cyclic. It controls yaw and pitch. In your left hand is the Collective which controls roll and thrust. Thrust is a combination of gas and break if you will. With me so far?” I nodded, and the overwhelmed feeling I had must have shown on my face. She smiled and rubbed my shoulder in encouragement. “Don’t panic in large, friendly letters. We’ll bust up hundreds of ships in here before you put a toe in the cockpit of a real one. Let’s concentrate today on learning and having fun, alright?”

I forced a smile, still very nervous, but trying to appear calm. After all, this wasn’t real so the mistakes I would make wouldn’t be held against me. I hoped. At her gesture, we climbed into the simulator. The instrument boards were all touch screens clustered around two chairs which faced what would be the view ports. The screens were illuminated to appear to be hard controls and the various instruments of any number of different space craft, while out the view port, a star field spun in a lazy circle. “It came up as a port runabout,” said Julie as she turned to us from her work.

“Yes, we picked that as it’s a simple craft you will be conducting your live drills in,” supplied Persey. “Take the left hand seat, Masako. If there’s anything you don’t understand, say so.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, getting settled in the seat. I’d done some more reading last night after dinner and the knowledge was crowding the back of my eyeballs. A Port Runabout was a twenty meter craft with a crew of two. Its interior could be reconfigured to haul thirty odd people, or about six tons of cargo to ferry from either a station to a vessel too large to dock, or other grunt work in orbit. It was the space equivalent of a pick up truck. It couldn’t re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, but with the right load, it could get to the Moon.

Jill had been quick in her warm up, the gauges were all already in the correct positions to begin. I got my seatbelt on and turned back to Persey. “We’re ready,” I said. “Where are we going?”

“For the purpose of this exercise, you’re carrying thirty passengers out to the freighter Robert Heinlein.” She handed me a palm top computer. “Here is your flight plan.”

I scanned the documents, and then handed it to Jill who began to input the frequencies into the beacon guidance computer. I took my headset from its place and got it comfortable on my head before a moment of searching for the radio controls. Once I found them, I keyed it to Yotori Station’s frequency. “Yotori Control this is Runabout Sally Ride, requesting departure clearance to the Robert Heinlein.”

Sally Ride, this is Control, you are cleared to beacon CGYS1377 notify Earth Orbit Control on release of our space at Frequency One. Safe Journey.”

“Activate running lights,” I ordered.

“On,” came Jill’s voice.

“Clear all moorings.”

“Moorings and umbilical cleared, internal power confirmed. All boards green.”

I gently took a hold of the controls and kept my breathing calm. “Boost warning.” Jill pressed the button which would announce the boost to our ‘passengers’. The final of my warning lights cleared; it was time. I gently pushed on the Collective as was rewarded with a gentle lurch as the simulator moved.

“Clear and free to navigate,” said Jill.

I looked at the departure angle screen to see the station falling away behind us, lock still against a lazily turning star field. “Ok, the first thing we’ll need to do is come out of this gravity spin. Announce zero gee warning,” I ordered.

Jill flipped on an intercom. “Attention please, stand by for zero gravity. Free fall warning. Stand by for zero g.”

I gently tapped the controls, gratified that the star field slowed and finally came to a stop. We were stationary relative to the Earth and the extra momentum we’d picked up from leaving Yotori Station was now nulled out.

“Very good, Masako,” complimented Persey. Jill and I shared a smile where I noticed her pony tail was floating up and away from her head. The simulator was equipped with a gravity wave generator that was canceling out the station’s spin! I guess they really went all out for training.

“Ok, Jill, bring up a flight path to beacon CGYS1377.” She worked for a moment, and then a red dot, labeled in green appeared on the view port, floating holographicly. I brought up the target reticule and gently worked us over until the two lined up. “Um, what’s port speed?” I asked. I knew I shouldn’t exceed it, but nowhere in my reading had it been defined.

That brought a laugh from Persey. “50 feet per second free of docking, then 150 feet per second relative to travel. As you’ll need it later. Docking speed is one foot per second relative.”

I nodded and worked the thrusters up to that speed. After a few minutes, I could make out the beacon drawing near. It was an oblong cylinder with a pair of fairly bright warning lights top and bottom as well as at the tips of its solar wings. As we passed it, I moved the radio to the frequency I’d been instructed. “Earth Orbit Control, this is the Runabout Sally Ride, en route from Yotori Station to the freighter Robert Heinlein, do you read me?” A man’s voice came from the speaker.

Sally Ride, this is Houston, we read you. Negative on your clearance to Robert Heinlein, you are in violation of the Protection of Women Act. Alter your course to beacon NASA4127 to intercept with Washington Station for recall to Earth.”

I turned back to Persey while making sure my microphone was off. “What’s this?”

“I’m not here to ask,” she replied. “Work the problem, Masako.”

I clicked the radio back to Yotori Station’s frequency. “Yotori Control, this is Sally Ride, I’ve been ordered to Washington Station. Request instruction, over?”

Sally Ride, this is Yotori Control, return to station at once.”

“Will Comply, Yotori Control.” I turned to Jill. “Can you plot me a course back?”

“One second,” she said, bent over her controls. “Plotted and laid in.”

Out of the left side window I saw a label in red of Yotori Station with a triangle pointing behind me. I brought the ship to a relative stop, and then maneuvered around until the station was once more in view. I swallowed nervously; this was going to be a lot harder than docking with the Robert Heinlein. There was nothing else for it.

I worked the thrusters and soon the station was filling the view port. You never really grasp how big something is until you’re right up on it and you’re both moving at close to eighteen thousand miles an hour. Now I had to undo the null I’d done earlier and match the station’s rotation. “Yotori Station, this is Sally Ride. Request clearance for docking.”

Sally Ride, this is Yotori Control, you are cleared for birth 152. Reset your guidance computer to receive. Be advised Station Docking Computer Down, you are go for manual docking.”

That figured.

Birth 152 appeared on the far side of the station in red as I began to match the stations rotation and speed. “Gravity warning,” I ordered Jill.

Persey made a notation in her palm top. “Gravity warning. Attention please, we are maneuvering to one g. Please return to your seats and buckle in. One G gravity shortly.” The station began to slow down visibly as the star field beyond it started to pick up speed. Birth 152 appeared around the curve of the station, slowing to a crawl towards me before finally stopping about sixty feet away.

“Rotation matched,” supplied Jill.

“Restrict thrusters to docking speed,” I ordered. Here goes nothing. “Recycle valves.”

“Docking valves recycled and gray. The drog is clear. Sixty feet to target,” she supplied. I pushed on the thruster gently. “Fifty feet. Rotation steady.” My world became the target reticule that was overlaid over the matching target just to the left of the airlock. “Forty feet, SMS capture open, the drog is clear. Drifting slightly left.” I kept my touch on the controls even softer than I had touched Jill in our time together. The target returned to the reticule. “Thirty feet, docking warning sounded. All boards green.”

Just a few more feet. I gave the thruster just a soft caress. “Ten feet..!” said Jill a bit forcefully. I reversed my touch. “Five…four…three…two…” The simulator shook gently.

“Captured.”

“SMS and valves to barber poll,” said Jill. The docking umbilical was now in soft as opposed to hard vacuum. The indicators on the panels which had been gray were now a red and white stripe, indicating their new state.

“Clear to retract,” I ordered.

A dull groan sounded as our ‘ship’ pulled itself onto the station. “Hard dock,” beamed Jill.

The panels went dark to a soft clap from Persey behind us. “Very good students, I am deeply impressed. You two are the first to pull that on the first try I’ve ever seen. To include me, by the way.”

I blushed and Jill giggled. “Masako reads a lot.

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Chapter Eight

Ethics And Answers

“Settle down, everyone and welcome to our discussion of the ethics of physical intimacy,” greeted Doctor Wantabe. Surprisingly, I had been expecting a traditional class room. Small desks in rows that all faced a black board, or a large video screen or something along that line. What we got felt like someone’s living room. There were a collection of fairly comfortable couches arranged in a broad circle around the single chair, an overstuffed laz-z-boy in the center. Along with it was a low coffee table supporting a pair of coffee urns with sufficient cups for everyone as well as a machine of chilled cream and a variety of sweeteners.

“Discussion, Doctor Wantabe?” asked Maria hesitantly. “I thought this was a class?”

“What does the word class mean to you, Maria?” she asked as she stirred her own coffee.

“Well, we sit and learn while you stand and teach,” she said as if the most natural thing in the world.

“That’s the accepted view, would everyone agree?” There was a soft chorus of the affirmative. “So, Nyota,” she said, stopping from her pacing before the African girl who was one of Susan’s friends. “Who was your third grade teacher and what did he or she teach you?”

Nyota was obviously not prepared for being singled out. “Uh, Mr. Tutu, and the usual stuff.”

“Like what?” pressed Doctor Wantabe.

“Reading, writing, some math…” stammered Julie, an embarrassed smile on her face. “The usual stuff.”

“Are you sure you didn’t learn some of that in second grade? What about history?”

“I honestly don’t remember,” replied Nyota.

“That’s why this isn’t a class but a discussion,” said Doctor Wantabe with a smile and an encouraging rub of Nyota’s shoulder. “What we talk about here, girls, will affect the rest of your careers with the company. At the risk of putting too fine a point on this, our ethics in how we govern our sexual contact with others is of paramount importance. There is no text for our discussion, no required reading and no grade. But, don’t think that gives you a free ride. Unless you receive a passing recommendation from me by the end of our time together, you cannot proceed in your training. Are we all clear on that?” She paused for a moment as we all nodded and sipped coffee.

“So, first, I want you all to think about this. While none of us here are virgins, most of you girls have yet to be with a man. I don’t like drawing attention to the fact some of us weren’t born girls, but here is where our birth girls can really shine. Susan?” she called out. “How many men have you been with?”

“That’s a little personal, isn’t it?” replied Susan, whom I can tell was feeling defensive.

“If it will make you feel better, dear, I’ve been with something in the neighborhood of four thousand men. I have nine children by eight different fathers,” the Doctor replied as though discussing the weather. “I’m hoping for number ten here in a bit, but first I have to get all of you ready. So, come now, my dear, you can’t say anything worse than that, can you?”

“Two,” she said around a blush.

“Two. That’s very respectable for a girl your age. That’s two more than all of your other sisters here. Well, except perhaps Nyota and Carmen. Why are you embarrassed, my dear?”

“It’s just personal...!” she managed, her blush deepening. “Don’t you feel weird talking about this?”

“If our positions were reversed, very likely. That’s why this discussion is so important. Now, first I want you all to know we will have complete honesty in this discussion. You all may ask me anything you’d like to know. Names and dates, as much as I can remember. I’m not as young as I used to be, you know! Positions, number of orgasms, anything thing you’d like. In return for my honesty, I’ll expect yours. The difference, my darlings, is I will only ask that which I must to help all of you to get to where I am now.”

“Where is that, Sensei?” I asked softly. Her smile was broad and genuine.

“Look at me carefully girls,” she paused as she waited for all of us to meet her eyes. Then she did the last thing I expected her to do. She reached up and unzipped her jumper and slid out of it. Under it she was naked and what magnificence her nakedness was.

I cannot describe such delicate, yet forceful perfection. There are not words.

“I am Ryoko Wantabe, MD, PhD, mother of nine. I am sixty three, still menstruating and sexually active as often as I can be. I am proud of who I am, who I work for and what I do.” She reached down, collected the jumper and placed it over the back of her chair, content, evidently to hostess our discussion in the nude.

“At some point, my dears, you must be able to do what I have done, with out shame, or embarrassment. I am quite happy in this skin of mine. It is my task to make you all happy in yours.”

“What does this have to do with ethics?” demanded Carmen.

“Excellent!” exclaimed the doctor as she picked up her coffee cup and took a sip. “Who has a thought on that? What does being shameless have to do with ethics?”

Janet hesitantly raised her hand. “No need to raise hands, just yet, Janet. I want this to be a discussion. Now, once things get going, we might have to employ that to keep from talking over each other. But, proceed.”

“If you’re not ashamed of whom or what you are your motivations and interactions with others will stay honest, won’t it?”

“Why do you say that? Why would honesty be required in how we deal with others?”

“Why is the sky blue?” countered Janet. “That’s obvious.”

“The sky is blue because of the refraction of sunlight through water drops, suspended in the atmosphere interacting with the yellow light of Sol,” replied Doctor Wantabe, utterly dead pan. “There is a reason for everything. Why would honesty be required in how we deal with others?”

“Because,” I blurted out. Wantabe-Sensei’s eyes bored down on me. “Because everyone we deal with must be part of a team to make a ridiculously complicated machine work. And you can’t have team work without trusting everyone in the team.”

“Oh, I knew this flight was going to be one of my better ones,” she beamed. “So, are we all in agreement on why we must be without shame?” There was a slightly embarrassed murmur of general agreement. She wheeled back to Susan. “Susan, my dear, you’ve told us you’ve been with two men. How would you describe your experiences?”

She shrugged, unable to meet the Doctor’s eyes. “I don’t know. They were ok, I guess. It’s just sex. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“Dear, have you had an orgasm yet?”

That brought up Susan’s dander and her anger gave her the courage to meet the Doctors eyes. “Not by a man, that’s for damned sure. If my fingers count, lots.”

“Which hand do you prefer?” asked the Doctor, completely unfazed.

“I’m right handed,” she answered defiantly.

“What if I told you I know a man who could take you places your hand has only dreamed of? Would you like his number?”

What?” Susan all but shrieked.

“Would you like his number?” repeated the doctor patiently.

“No!”

“Why is that?”

“It’s not that important!” Doctor Wantabe rocked back on her heels, her face a mask of understanding.

“Susan, would you say that air is important? How about food and water?”

“Well, of course, you can’t survive without them.”

“My dear, to me, the joy of being with a man is every bit as important to survival to me as food and air and water. I need that contact, that comfort, that sense of purpose and, yes, that feeling of being just as needed in return. I would submit to you, dear child, you have not been with a man yet. Boys, perhaps, but not men. And when your eyes are opened to that entire new world, you will understand how I can stand here in the nude and talk so frankly about my sex life. Here, my darlings, here is where you all have to be. You all will be the guardians to the gates of madness. Each of you must make it your business to be mindful of every crewman on your ship. At some point, they will try to slip past you and into that gate. And if they do, you are lost, your shipmates are lost and all of our hard work will be for nothing.”

“Doctor Wantabe, you make is sound like without us space exploration comes to a halt,” said Janet hesitantly.

“Who here can tell me what happened aboard the Discovery, MML02?” A shudder went through me. The Discovery or by it’s NASA designation, Manned Mars Landing 02, lost contact with Earth just a few short weeks from it’s return. Close enough that a shuttle already in orbit could dock with it and keep it from crashing into Earth’s atmosphere.

Inside were the bodies of the mission commander and his wife, the co-pilot still strapped into their seats. His member had been cut off and stuffed into his mouth. The flight recorders had shown an eerie down hill spiral of one of the crew, his sexual frustration from seeing the close contact the Captain and his wife driving him insane. The placement of a married couple on board had had the exact opposite effect it had been hoped to have. The crewmen had killed them, then recorded an agonizing admission and beg for forgiveness, then opened the airlock, holing the ship.

It was the most horrific disaster in NASA’s history. I stammered out the story, trying to gloss over its more gruesome aspects. When I was done, Doctor Wantabe quietly asked, “Does anyone want to argue the position of sex not being important to the welfare of the crew’s mental and physical health?”

“Is that all we are?” demanded Carmen’s strident voice. “I signed on to be a crewmember, not the crew’s whore.”

“Carmen, my love, if you ever employ that word again in my presence, you will find yourself back on Earth in a matter of minutes,” said the Doctor quietly. “You all work for the Care Givers Company. There is not a whore in this room, to include me, I’ll thank you to note. If all we wanted were whores, we would not spend the time and the considerable amounts of money we do in your training. There are companies who provide ships’ whores. We are not one of them.”

“Doctor?” asked a girl whose name I didn’t know who was an interesting intermingling of several races to the point where I could not distinguish her nationality. “If we’re not…well, you said not use the word, so I won’t. But if we’re not, what is it you want us to be?”

“I want you to be friends,” she said with a smile before a sip of her coffee. “At your post, you are everyone’s friend. You should never be too busy to listen, to share a joke, or simply be there for a shipmate. Let me approach this from a different angle. Susan, no I’ve picked on you enough. Carmen, how many boy friends have you had? Not just people you were intimate with, but boys and young men you saw socially.”

“Um, I’m not sure, Doctor. Maybe twenty or thirty. Please excuse my outburst; I’m trying very hard to understand this.”

The Doctor was all smiles for Carmen once more. “Alright, let’s call it twenty. And think nothing of it dear. So, how important do you think you were to these twenty young men?”

Carmen shrugged as she stood to refill her cup. “I’m not sure I can answer that. Just to make Susan feel better, I was intimate with three of them.” She paused from pouring in her sugar for a moment of thought. “I guess, I could say that I knew if I needed something from one of them I could call and they would help me. Yes, all of them.”

“If they called you, would you have been as responsive?” asked the Doctor.

She smiled an embarrassed smile. “I’m not perfect. Some of them, that I cared strongly for, sure, but some were very casual.”

“I can understand that,” Doctor Wantabe replied as a bit of a shiver danced down her spine. “Goodness, is it cold in here, or is it just me?” she asked, causing a wave of giggles to sweep the room as she retrieved her jumper and pulled it back on. “In a large part, ladies, we should endeavor to think of our shipmates as our boyfriends. We will inevitably be closer to some than others. But, especially you girls who opt for a small ship posting your first tour, must keep in mind, they are all our friends. We must endeavor to be there for them, as Carmen could count of any of her suitors, our ship mates must count on us. Caring is our job. They are permitted bad days, we are not.”

“Doctor?” asked Susan a bit hesitantly. “You keep saying sex is so wonderful and all that, what makes Spacers different from the boys we’ve known on Earth?”

“Ah, I was wondering when that would come up. They’re a bit rare these days, but how many of us had a pet at some point? Hands?” About half the girls raised their hands, Susan among them. “Well, this is unusual. Susan, what pet did you have?”

Susan’s face was an interesting collection of planes and angles that could accentuate the hard, angry looks I had so far seen her wear. At this question they softened to a lovely rounded triangle. “We had a German Sheppard named Lady when I was very young. She was the sweetest thing you could imagine. She was so tolerant of the stupid things I did to her as a kid. Nothing mean, really, just dumb. I didn’t know any better.”

“Where is she now?” asked Ryoko softly.

Susan sighed. “Oh, she died when I was fourteen. She and I were babies together. She had a long, happy life. I just miss her.”

“If she were here, now, would you treat her differently?”

“Oh sure,” she said with some enthusiasm. “Lord, I’d give anything to make up for all those dumb things I did as a kid. I’d probably spoil her rotten…” Susan trailed off as if something profound had come to her.

“Basque, my children, in the light of understanding,” chuckled Ryoko.

“You mean?” Susan stammered.

“Oh yes, and then some. My children, the men you will encounter off this station in your professional lives will out number you by a ratio of something like seven to three. Yes, you heard me right, for every seven of them, there will be three of you. In some cases, as badly as six to one. Never worse than that, however, by our contract. You, my girls are that beloved pet. They will kill to protect you.”

“Not, die?” I asked, more than a bit confused.

“Oh, they’ll do that too, Masako, but you heard me correctly. Kill. Be extremely careful in what you say and how you act. Last year twenty spacers lost their lives to quote ‘mysterious air lock failure’ unquote. Of them, nineteen were the result of crewmen who struck a Care Giver in one form or another. Slaps, mostly, one a full on right cross. Before the Care Giver could do anything the other crewmen without exception snatched up the offender and out the closest airlock he went. Men will die at your command. This is not something to take lightly.”

“Didn’t those Care Givers try to stop that?” I asked, horrified.

“Of course,” responded the Doctor. “One broke two arms and three legs trying to stop it. Not hers, mind you, but by herself attacking the men doing this. Not a one swung back. Nor did they stop.” She gave a measuring glance around the room. “This is why ethics mean so much. You must make sure you do not purposefully allow something like this to happen. If, despite your best efforts, it does, well, the Hand of Providence cannot be swayed. But we must not tempt that hand, either.”

“If there’s so many of them,” asked Susan, a strange mixture of confusion and expectation on her face. “And so few of us, what makes them so much better in bed?”

That again caused the room to descend into a fit of giggles. “Now, settle down, that’s a legitimate question,” scolded Doctor Wantabe. “The answer to your question, Susan, is two fold. First, because there are so many to so few, you’ll find that Spacers go out of their way to be both proficient and considerate of your feelings and needs. Before I accepted this position, I was in space for twenty seven years. I’d be willing to bet, Susan, your experiences are of the slam bam thank-you-ma’am, variety?”

“Neither asshole said thank you, but yes,” she answered, a touch of bitterness in her tone.

“In twenty seven years, I’ve never had an experience like that. These men have a fair amount of free time, girls, they fill it reading. Men, being men, tend to read rather racy things. A few, I can recall, knew the karma sutra better than I did. They look forward to and plan for those rare times they’ll get to spend with you. The other reason is biochemical. You have all undergone the DeCorvin Process. Let me bore you with a bit of history here.”

She settled into the lazy boy and took a sip of her coffee, wincing at its probably tepid temperature. “The DeCorvin Process is a patented procedure we developed in house. Not to allow most of you the opportunity you now have. That, believe it or not, was an accident. It was developed for two reasons. One, to expand the service life of our employees so that a larger return was realized on our rather sizable investment in training and two to keep our employees completely healthy. Well, we got both of those, with some interesting side effects. First, as most of us in this room are aware, when subjected to men, it alters their gender to female. However, the one that answers your question is by how it prolongs our lives and keeps us healthy.

“The DeCorvin Process increases the efficiency of all of the systems of the body. Our hearts beat better and stronger, our immune systems become titans in the defense of our bodies from invaders and, here’s the important part dear, our nervous system becomes intensely more efficient in relaying stimulus to our brains. Is anyone in this room even remotely aroused, sexually?”

“Who’s had time to be horny?” quipped Janet, causing a cascade of laughter.

Doctor Wantabe shared our mirth this time. “That’s fair enough. I would like you all to massage your clitoris for the next minute. Don’t be shy, we’re all girls here.” Then she suited actions to words, opening her jumper again to play with herself. Well, if I wasn’t horny before, that sight certainly did the trick.

There were a number of furtive glances about the room as one by one we mentally decided ‘what the heck?’ and followed the doctor’s example. It was my first bit of exploration ‘down there’ and, while I could have wished for a bit more privacy, I supposed this was as good a time as any.

I found the hard little bump that had once been my penis just at the top of the vale of my new opening. And when I did, my own gasp of surprise joined the echo of the other’s gasps of discovery.

Oh wow!

I wasn’t sure which felt better, the white hot jolts of electric pleasure that shot in a circle from my finger tip to my brain and back, or the wonderful trembling weakness that overtook my entire body.

While there were any number of gasps and moans floating around the room, I was brought back to the here and now by a chorus of three voices I knew as Susan and her friends. “Oh…My…God…!”

Susan was sprawled, her head against Nyota’s shoulder as she employed her entire hand, her body wracked by spasms that put my little trembles to shame. Nyota took no heed of her friend’s presence and was employing a two fisted approach, her own head lolling on the back of the couch in text book bliss.

Carmen was in her own world of sexual delight.

And for some reason, I was jealous.

“That’s enough of that, girls. Plenty of time for discovery later,” came Doctor Wantabe’s voice. Slowly, Susan came down from her high, a soft, joyous smile on her face. “Still skeptical, Susan, dear?”

“I need a man,” she replied, languidly. “I have got to try this out the good old fashioned way.”

That brought a chuckle from Doctor Wantabe. “Plenty of time for that too, dear.”

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There was nothing remarkable about the case on my bunk. It was a rather plain black, shock absorbent plastic with a carry strap attached to it. Inside, was another story. I opened it once more to let the soft light of the overhead fluorescents play over the lovingly polished hardwood or flash off the mirrored stainless steel fret work. I reached in and removed the slightly bulbous mandolin from the protective crushed velvet, my fingers taking up the cord positions I’d just learned a scant hour previous.

“You’re going to spend our last free hour, in God knows how long, in study?” demanded Maria, in mock incredulity.

“I’m not studying,” I told her as I ran my fingers over the strings to make sure it had not lost its tune in the hour it had sat on my bunk while we ate dinner. I was full, both mentally and physically and feeling somewhat creative. “Music is our recreation as much as it our shipmates, right?” I lifted my voice to the room. “Who else wants to play with me?”

There was a gentle scramble as instruments were fetched and the circle of our impromptu jam session formed. Janet had her harmonica, while Carmen had settled on the Spanish guitar and, oddly enough Susan had selected a small harp. Nyota had a small pair of drums she settled in her lap as Maria simply smiled and stood with the others to listen. “This will make for an interesting sound,” chuckled Susan as she took in the rather eclectic mix. “What shall we start with?”

“You have a harmonica and a mandolin,” said someone, “seems like it demands Bruce Hornsby.”

“We need a piano for that,” replied Susan with a somewhat weighty glance at Maria. My Texas friend threw her hands up in mock aspiration.

“Oh, alright,” she surrendered, making her way through the crowd to her bunk before returning with the keyboard. I swung my computer arm around and called up the notes as she plopped beside me.

“Which song?” I asked, locating the artist mentioned in our database.

Mandolin Rain, of course,” replied the voice. I called it up and read through the song with its somewhat tricky fingerings.

“Who sings?”

“Susan has the best voice,” replied someone. Susan tried to beg off, but the others wouldn’t hear of it. After a moment, Nyota counted time and we began before Susan lifted up her voice, somewhere between a contralto and a tenor.

The song came and went, like the times that we spent, hiding out from the rain, under the carnival tent…”

As so we wove our way through the song, and others in our strange little group, sometimes added to by some of the other girls, sometimes just singing along with us. I still remember that night of music very fondly. While we played together as often as we could in the coming weeks, free time was a rare and valuable thing.

Yet, to this day, when even a hand full of us get together, out come the instruments as we hearken back to that wonderful night.

It was our last free time for five months. I wouldn’t have spent it any other way.

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Chapter Nine

Fly Me To The Moon

The days quickly began to blur together after that night of music. The training regimen the Care Givers enforced was all but draconian. There was not time to think as every moment was accounted for; pilot training, music, deportment, standard ship systems, EVA. The subjects began a crazy dance in my head that was more than a little disconcerting to experience. If I concentrated, I could recall the particulars with a clarity I was very much unused to. However, left to my own devices, they tended to overlap into strange tangles of discordant thoughts. I found myself humming flight control lectures or being very much aware of my posture in a pressure suit.

Through out this, Susan had been rather distant. She was cordial, if more than a bit condescending, when required and as implacable as a stone wall when not. I did my best to be friendly with her, but the gulf that separated the circumstances of our respective births was a wide, bridgeless river as far as she was concerned. Which only made our supposed positions of authority over the Training Flight that much harder. My darker nature began to suspect she delighted in the difficulties she ‘innocently’ created.

On top of this was the depression Jill had begun to sink into. Over the past few days she had been required to formally renounce her United States Citizenship to continue to work for the Company. I understood that when one is granted US Citizenship there is something of a ceremony. For the reverse, a functionary from Washington Station came aboard, required her to sign a form and took possession of her passport. She had cried when she’d surrendered it, not that the functionary had cared one way or another. He’d signed the forms in the appropriate places and left without a word. For most of that time, Jill had been inconsolable.

“Yagimura?” growled the voice of my EVA fitter, pulling me from the ruminations of my situation. I looked up into his grizzled face, seeming so much older as it was pulled into a frown, emphasizing every wrinkle. “If now isn’t a good time for you to be sure this very expensive custom fit pressure suit is sealing properly, I’d be happy to make an appointment to fit your busy schedule.”

“Sorry sir,” I murmured, as I struggled to raise my arms over my head to make getting to the waist ring seal he wanted easer. He roughly took a hold of both wrists and forced them higher, causing a most painful pinch in my shoulder. I hissed in pain but didn’t give him the satisfaction of crying out. He took a hold of the pair of handles on either side of my waist and tugged down on them, trying to make the two halves of the suit come apart. This caused the pinch in my shoulder to bite down further, but the seal didn’t give way.

“Down the table for gloves,” he told me, somehow further angry I’d gotten the latch correct. “Next!” he barked continuing to trundle through whatever bad day he was having.

I slid down the line to the apologetic glance the tech that was passing out the suit gloves game me. “Don’t mind him,” she told me in a conspiratorial whisper. “He’s just an old fuss pot,” she said with a bit of a chuckle. She worked my hands into a complicated looking glove with wires that came out of each finger. There was a hiss of air as the glove became tighter as she consulted the screen of a computer the gloves were attached to. “Right four, left three and three quarters,” she ordered her helper who was digging into the appropriate bins to bring forth the requested items.

She worked both gloves onto my hands and locked them into place. “Wiggle your fingers for me,” she ordered while pinching the tips to see where my fingers ended. “Good fit?” she asked, causing me to nod. “Helmet and comm. liner, next table,” was her final comment before I shuffled awkwardly down as directed.

The Communications bonnet I was handed was both one size and unisexual, requiring no custom fitting. Likewise, the helmets were the same so it was a simple manner of taking the items as I was handed them, placing them on my head as I did so. “Helmets down and locked,” called the next tech as we reached him. In a parade we ambled by as he connected air hoses to their places on the suit and made sure the seals were secure.

“Welcome to Yotori Station Comm. Net,” a warm, but recorded voice breathed in my ear. “Sign in by stating your name and assignment.”

“Masako Yagimura, training flight 42,” I said hesitantly.

“Reminder,” purred the recording before it was supplanted by the voice of Dr. Wantabe. “Masako, I will be supervising you and Trainee Adams in a flight to and from Armstrong City. Report to the main hanger after your suit fitting.”

Oh lovely. I raised my left arm where the controls of my suit radio were placed on my fore arm. On it was a small collection of oversized buttons which were actually small LCD screens so that their functions could be customized by the individual user. I pressed the one labeled local. “Susan?”

A figure a few places beyond me in the line of the rest of the flight waiting their turn to enter the airlock for the final load tests of the suits turned about. I caught a glimpse of her strawberry curls working their way from under the Comm. Bonnet. “What?” she demanded, her body language cross even through the padding of the pressure suit.

“I have a reminder that we have a training flight out to Armstrong City with you and Doctor Wantabe.”

“You think they didn’t bother to forward it to me too?” she said with one of her false smiles that were met to make one think her withering sarcasm was in jest. I couldn’t keep a frown from my face despite my best efforts.

“Better to be sure than to assume,” I told her, eliciting one of her dismissive waves before she turned back. The air lock was open and the next group was being ushered into it. I found myself to be the last of that load. Our supply hoses were removed from the umbilical that had been supplying our air and a pair of techs were helping us into a backpack mounted LSS.

“These Life Support Systems cost about five months pay at your next promotion level, ladies,” the more senior of the techs told us, his own suit the royal blue of a NASA issued model. “I advise you to be extremely careful of them. Everyone who has a solid seal and uplink to their LSS give me a thumbs up.”

“Personal LSS online and active,” whispered the computer in my ear. “Sixteen hours of use remain. All seals intact to one bar.” I balled my fist and raised it as instructed.

“Welcome to EVA Lab One, Ladies,” the tech said after waving our hands back down. “On the other side of this door is the some what crowded vacuum of High Earth Orbit. You’ve all passed your simulations and now have your issued pressure suits. You are responsible for their upkeep and maintenance. Now you’re going to learn to trust them. In a moment we’re going to depressurize the lock and you’ll all be making your way down the number five spoke to your ring on the station. If you’re not already, I want everyone’s radios keyed to Local. You will do what I say, when I say. This is the real deal, ladies. Outside there is no margin for error; if you need help, ask. I don’t want any heroes. My name is Jack and over there is Toby. We’ll be shepherding you all on your first EVA. I want everyone to breathe deeply and enjoy themselves. Alright?”

“We just got these!” squeaked someone whose voice I couldn’t recognize from the distortion of the fear in it. “We’re not ready…”

“We’re not ready for a lot, Mandy,” Jack interrupted her. “That doesn’t stop us from doing them. “We’ve got to get with the program here.”

“But…!” she started again.

“Out of the lock,” Jack ordered, keying the inner door open. “Go, we don’t have time for this.”

Mandy took a halting step towards the door he had opened before reaching up and keying it closed once more. “I can do this,” she told him, the fear noticeably gone from her voice.

Jack shrugged. “Prove me wrong,” he said without a care. “Personnel Lock 27 requesting depressurization and negative Duke-Brannick for EVA.”

“Zero Gravity warning,” the recorded voice told me in my ear. Other than it, the sound of my own breathing and the whisper of the fan pushing the air through were very loud in my ears. “Personnel Air Lock 27 will be in zero gravity in five seconds. Zero Gravity warning.” Then the slight hum I had grown used to in my feet vanished and ‘down’ became an arbitrary direction. I was careful not to make any kind of sudden move, but still found myself slowly drifting towards the ceiling.

“Life lines ready,” ordered an unfamiliar voice that I took to be Toby.

“I thought the station’s spin gave us gravity,” commented someone in confusion. “Did the station stop spinning?”

“Just for you?” snorted Susan in a derisive tone. “The station isn’t turning anywhere near fast enough for a one G spin.”

“Hook onto the life line here, Patricia,” interrupted Toby’s voice. “Not a bad point, Susan. So, how fast should the station be turning for one G?”

“At the Rim?” she asked. “Uh, about half a kilometer times pie, about 50 meters a second I think.”

“Sounds about right,” commented Jack. “Think how much smarter you would have sounded without the sarcasm. Adams, you’ll be down spoke to the main hanger. Attach to the down life line and wait.” That put something of a damper on further conversation as the line slowly moved forward until the black maw of space framed in white plastic was staring me in the face. “Yagimura, you’re also down spoke careful now.”

He took my gloved hand in his as I held the D clip of the anchor line that was securely fastened to the suit. He guided me to a one inch steel cable that was running along side a ladder, set into the spoke. We where actually in the middle of the arm here, between rings three and four. I took a hesitant step out into nothing, clinging to the ladder with all the strength I could muster. Just above, or perhaps below would be a better word, me was Susan, her eyes set in a calculating stare as Jack followed me out of the lock. He paused to double check the airlock door was secured; my ears, I realized, straining to hear the bangs and clangs of his actions in vain.

He turned have a gestured conversation with Toby who answered with an exaggerated nod before gracefully sailing back up the to middle of the group going up spoke with a few well timed puffs of his Manned Maneuvering Unit that was built into his suit. Likewise, Jack did not latch on to the spoke, but floated just beyond it. “Well, here you are, ladies,” Jack’s voice whispered through the speakers at my ears. “Somewhere around 100 miles high clipped to one inch of steel with about half an inch of cloth and plastic keeping you alive. Is this a good day or what?”

“Don’t quit your day job,” chuckled Susan with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

“So, you’re here.” He gave a stiff gesture towards ring three. “You need to go there. Better start climbing then.” At that point there was really nothing else for it but the slow process of hand over hand as we made our way down the spoke to towards the Hub. It was made even more disconcerting by the lazy loop that the Earth was doing past us around the station due to the station’s rotation. My own labored breathing was quite loud in my ears, as well as Susan’s. Being able to float along on the MMU meant we didn’t hear Jack’s voice at all.

“Is there a meal served on your flight?” huffed Susan from above me. “You must have it pretty easy there.” I chuckled at her exasperation but only silence came from Jack. I bumped into the sole of Susan’s boot as she’d stopped. “Jack?” she called again.

Carefully I hooked one arm into the ladder so I could follow her lead and turn to find our erstwhile guardian. It wasn’t hard to find the cobalt blue of his suit about two meters or so away from us, but his back was to us and his arms hung limply at odd angles from his body. “Jack, do you read me?” I called out.

“Yotori Control this is Susan Adams, comm. Check.”

As the silence drug out we shared a worried glance. “I’m going to go off frequency for a second,” I told her before clicking the button marked Emergency on my suit. For my trouble I was awarded with a squeal of static that was deafening before I could click back over. “My emergency frequency doesn’t work.”

“Look!” she exclaimed, pointing back out towards Jack’s form. I followed her arm to a stomach churning shock. Jack’s form was in a slow tumble on two axis I hadn’t noticed before now. He’d pulled the mirrored sun visor of the helmet down and there was a monstrous crack in it to one side. “He must have been struck by something.”

“We’ve got to get him back inside. He may be loosing pressure.”

She stepped cautiously off the ladder and used the safety line to come back down towards me. “I’m going to clip my line to you. Give me a shove and I should be able to reach him.”

“If you do grab on tight; the impact will move him further away,” I told her hurriedly as she cautiously unclipped from the safety line to reattach to one of the D rings on my suit.

She nodded; her eyes a bit wide from the fear going through both of us. “Here’s hoping I don’t regret this,” she told me with a nervous laugh.

“Hey,” I told her as I placed one of my gloves on her face plate. “For once I can shove you around and get away with it.” Then I suited actions to words and gently pushed her.

Definitely don’t quit your day job,” she replied as she cautiously worked herself around. The line, itself only about half a meter, played out quickly, snapping taunt far short. “No good,” Susan told me breathlessly. “Can you pay your line out more?”

I tugged on my own safety line to be sure of it and stepped off the ladder with a careful kick in Jack’s direction. “God damn it,” she hissed as I watched him tumble just beyond her outstretched fingers. “What are we going to do?”

“Do you see any gas escaping?” I called up to her.

“No, but that crack looks pretty bad. The under visor couldn’t have gotten off with out a hit. He’s probably unconscious.”

“You trust me?”

“What are you going to do, Yagimura?”

“Do you trust me?” I repeated.

Her nervousness climbed a notch to fearful. “What are you going to do, Yagimura?” she repeated. I sighed.

“I can reel us back to the station, and then we kick off together, strapped together. Our safety lines act like a net to catch Jack.” She awkwardly pulled herself back around to face me by the safety line.

“What the hell good will that do? How do we get back?”

“We use the thrusters on his MMU. I can fly it.”

“And if it’s broken?”

I blinked. That, of course, was something I hadn’t considered. “It shouldn’t be,” I said at last. “The impact was on his head and the MMU looks intact. The longer we argue about it the less time he might have.”

“Pull me back,” she said resignedly. I got us together with a bit of effort, back on the spoke.

“Maybe I should try this myself,” I said with as much calmness as I could. “You stay here and head back to the spoke lock. If I miss, at least that way you can be getting someone after us. Otherwise it’s that much faster to get him under pressure.”

“I could go after him…” she started, obviously feeling a touch guilty about her reservations.

“You can’t fly the MMU,” I interrupted her, and then smiled a weak smile in apology. “And you’re right, one of us should stay behind incase something worse happens.” I unhooked her clamp and re-attached it to the safety line even as I unhooked myself. “Back in a flash,” I told her with a wink, as I double checked my alignment and kicked, free in space.

“Oh Jesus,” I heard her start to chant. I watched the distance between me and Jack slowly narrow to the canticle of her prayer. Finally I was able to reach out and grab his arm and frantically pull the two of us together. Whatever had hit him was so small I couldn’t see it in the hole. “Masako!” Susan yelled. I got my own safety strap locked onto a D ring on Jack’s suit.

“I’m ok!” I shouted back. “Get the lock open!”

“It is!” she responded. I looked up to see the spoke lock open with a pair of pressure suited figures wearing MMUs working their way towards us. Well, that was something of a relief. While I waited on them I reached up to Jack’s sun visor and carefully moved it upwards to see if the impact had pierced the under visor. As it slowly moved out of my way I felt someone grab at me even as the visor revealed Jack’s smirking face.

“Didn’t I say I wanted no heroics?” he said with a chuckle.

“You…you…you son of a bitch!” I yelled at him. “We thought…!”

“You thought a serious accident had occurred and took reasonable steps to correct it while minimizing the possibility of loss of life,” interrupted Dr. Wantabe’s voice in the line. “You did exactly what you should have done.”

She was evidently one of the pressure suited figures approaching us. With a deft stroke of his own MMU, Jack nulled out the tumble we were in and facilitated the link up with Dr. Wantabe and the other figure I didn’t recognize. “There are many times,” Dr. Wantabe told me, her voice soft with pride, “that a poor plan, executed vigorously is better than a perfect plan, executed at leisure. Do you have anything to add, Commander?” she asked.

Jack, mere inches from my face through our visors, wore a thoughtful look. “I’m glad that you didn’t immediately leap to such a desperate measure. Susan’s human chain was a good solution, even though it failed. Your rescue attempt, while heroic Masako, should always be the method of last resort. You both pass EVA Lab One, with my congratulations.”

Dr. Wantabe’s voice chuckled over the radio. “Now, I believe you Susan, are due in Music and you Masako are due for your ARTA Test.”

“What about this training flight thing?” asked Susan.

Dr. Wantabe smiled at her as arrived back at the spoke while Jack and I worked at unhooking from each other without one of us careening off into space. “There are times, Susan, and this is one of them, where not everything we tell you is the entire truth. While there is no training flight just now, there will be some in the future. More to the point, it was a more convincing method to separate you and Masako from the rest of the group, wasn’t it?”

“There are times I’m not entirely sure this is the job I want to be in,” she groused with some good humor despite her words.

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Back in the pressure suit locker, Susan had taken on a contemplative mood as we helped each other remove the bulky suits and place them in our respective lockers. “What would you have done if you’d missed him?” I unhooked my gloves, pulling them off and stowing them before giving her a measuring glance.

“If the scenario were real do you mean?” She nodded, for once none of the sly sass in her eyes. I shrugged as I raised my arms to let her get at the middle locking ring of the suit. “Floated, I guess. The station’s moving at orbital speed and the Earth was over head so I don’t think I’d have fallen back to Earth for a couple of hours at least. I certainly would have had enough air to wait while you got us both some help.” I bent at the waist to let her pull my upper half off.

“It…” and she paused as if she were rethinking what she was going to say. “It would never occur to you that help might not be coming, would it?” I frowned.

“Why wouldn’t help be coming?”

She lost the ability to look me in the eye, even though I had gotten her ring open and we were standing practically nose to nose as I waited for her to bend over so I could pull her upper half off. “Maybe…maybe I’d just tell them about Jack being out there,” she said in a small voice. For a long moment I could say nothing, merely staring at her in shock and more than a bit of disbelief. She took my lack of rebuke as a cue for her to continue her confession. “I’ve…hated…you since you hit me. And when you kicked off it just flashed in my mind that things could go that wrong and maybe I would be completely rid of you.” Finally her eyes met mine and they were filling with tears of shame at the dark path her mind had put before her.

“And…and then it occurred to me you were risking your life trying to save someone else you barely knew. I was plotting how to kill you and you’re…” she trailed off as the tears started flowing down her cheeks.

I suppose I should have been shocked, or aghast at the possibilities she’d laid at my feet, but as they’d been want to do of late, some inner femininity rose in me and I truly felt for her and the shame that must be eating at her like a disease. It was difficult through the bulk of the pressure suit she was still wearing, but I got my arms as far around her as I could and hugged her with all my might.

No,” I told her firmly. “That thought never crossed my mind and I know it won’t in the future either. I know I haven’t been the easiest person to get along with either, Susan, but I’ll try to do better.”

I’m the bitch,” she wailed through her tears. “I couldn’t help thinking it, Masako, I’m so sorry!”

“If it makes you feel any better,” I told her as I gently pulled away from her and used my movement to gently tug her pressure suit top off. “Dr. Wantabe told me specifically I couldn’t toss you out an airlock after I hit you.”

Her sob snorted into a giggle she couldn’t control. I eased her back down to the bench and we hugged around our bio-med harness. After a moment she got control of her giggles and favored me with a goofy grin. “It wasn’t like I didn’t disserve it, did I?” I gave her a mock punch in the shoulder.

“If disserving was all it takes I’d have been taking a long walk out a short airlock ages ago. I don’t want you to give this another moments’ thought, Susan. I’ll work with you anytime.”

She sniffed mightily and returned my shot to the shoulder. “Yeah, well don’t forget your head’s mine for the asking,” she said, sending me into a fit of giggles this time. After we’d both gotten control of ourselves she gave me the first genuine look at her smile. It was lovely, lighting up her eyes and the drabness of the pressure suit locker with it. “You’re alright, China Doll.”

“Same to ya, Blondie,” I told her with a chuckle.

Then she did the last thing I expected and kissed me full on the mouth. “No,” she told me a bit breathlessly as she withdrew one hand still on my chest and not for the purely innocent reason of helping me out of my bio-med harness, although there was also that. “You’re alright.”

From there it just got sloppy.

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Chapter Ten

The Deadly Treasure

“This is a big day,” Persey told Jill and me as she checked over the seals of our pressure suits. “Make sure you’re ready for it. If you don’t think you are, say so now.”

I’ll admit I was nervous, even though the airlock was quite cool, I was sweating freely. Still, I’d worked hard for five months preparing for today. My hair, now down to shoulder length was in a bun under the communications gear bonnet that I would wear under my helmet. I called up the Zen I had been studying the past few weeks and brought my breathing back under control. “Ok to go,” I told her evenly.

Persey nodded before her breath taking blue eyes turned to Jill. “Jill?”

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied. Once more Persey nodded before turning and pulling the hatch of the runabout open. Inside was dark, lit only by the status boards showing the umbilical between it and the station was functional. I looked out the port window to take in the sleek, elegant lines of the craft, somewhat spoiled by the empty payload module. For this journey, there would be no passengers or cargo, so the module had been striped out, leaving only a gaping wound to mar her symmetry.

The Sally Ride was on the rag.

Once Persey got the hatch secure she turned back to us. “We have not planted any ‘malfunctions’ for you to solve,” she told us. “There is no pre-planned glitch. If you lose something, or something goes wrong, it’s not a test. Let me say that again, it is not a test. There is a real problem with your craft and you are to declare an emergency that instant. Read me?”

“Loud and clear, ma’am,” we echoed. Persey picked up my helmet from the rack and helped me put it on, leaving the visor up.

“This is a solo flight. Out, follow the markers and back. No risks, no heroics, read me?” I nodded then she turned to help Jill with hers. “Same goes for you Stewart. Something breaks, you can’t raise a beacon, what ever, you come to a stop and we tow you back.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She sighed. “I know you know this. I think you’re both ready to earn your wings. Just play it safe. Safe journey.” Then she stepped aside, freeing assess to the hatch. I swallowed and ducked my head through.

I was in a space ship I was going to fly. I wasn’t a passenger, I wasn’t in a simulator, and these few inches of steel and cloth were the only things between me and immediate death. Maybe I should have followed dad into Honda after all.

We’re so proud of you, echoed their voices in my head. No, I wasn’t about to let them down. I got settled into the left hand seat and began pulling on my harness, my heart pounding like a hammer. After a moment Jill was beside me, doing the same. Persey stuck her head in the hatch. “Four orbits and we’ll see you on the other side Masako. God Speed.”

Then she withdrew and the hatch dogged shut. At that particular moment, the Sheppard’s Prayer seemed appropriate. “Oh Lord, please don’t let me screw this up,” I muttered.

“Amen,” agreed Jill as she and went quickly through the check list to make the Sally Ride ready to fly.

“Yotori Control to Sally Ride, comm. check,” whispered Doctor Wantabe’s voice in my ear.

“PLT,” I answered, bringing the final of the systems from idle to warm up.

“NAV,” responded Jill who had finished her side of the systems and was loading the beacon frequencies we’d be tracking into the Sally Ride’s rather rudimentary guidance computer. She couldn’t go anywhere you didn’t already know. For both power constraints and size, she only had a radio transceiver that followed the navigational beacons already in orbit. Once you knew where you were and where you were going you could get there, so long as you didn’t change your mind mid trip.

“Yotori Control to Sally Ride, all traffic is free of our control range. You are cleared to depart at your discretion, no traffic with in ten thousand miles. Safe Journey.”

Sally Ride to Yotori Control, understand we are number one on the run way. Systems are green. Request final departure clearance.”

Sally Ride, this is Control, you are cleared to beacon CGYS1377 notify Earth Orbit Control on release of our space at Frequency One. Safe Journey.”

“Activate running lights,” I ordered.

“On,” came Jill’s voice.

“Clear all moorings.”

“Moorings and umbilical cleared, internal power confirmed. All boards green.”

I sighed and gently took the controls. “Here we go.” A shudder passed through the Sally Ride and we were loose, on our own.

“Clear and free to navigate. Beacon One is on the board, Masako.” I worked the thrusters, pleased that the simulator was dead on the money. I had our gravity spin nulled out well below the curve of what I was allowed to use. A nudge on the Collective brought us up to port speed in short order. “You scared?” she asked softly.

“Terrified,” I replied as I began resetting the radio to Huston’s frequency. “I think I’m going to wet myself.”

“Well, it’s good to know it’s not just me,” she said in an off hand manner. “Orbit one plot projected.”

A window appeared in one corner of the view screen, showing a representation of the Earth with a red line of our flight over it, solid to where we were, dotted beyond. “Earth Orbit Control, this is the port Runabout Sally Ride, en route for pilot first solo to and from Yotori Station. Do you read me, over?”

Sally Ride, this is Huston, we read you. Fresh meat for the grinder, huh? You’re clear for five thousand miles on your logged plan. Maintain relative one eight k speed and be advised your closest traffic will be the Apollo Freight SOTV King’s Ransom on orbit two, over.”

“Understand, Huston, thank you.”

“It is an honor to be of service,” chuckled the voice of the flight controller.

Everybody is a critic. I turned to Jill. “Do you have anything on the Surface to Orbit Transfer Vehicle?”

“Not yet, they haven’t launched, but they’ll still be a ways off,” she replied. SOTVs were the latest thing in low cost, high reliability ways to orbit. They were a lifting body that was propelled by a linear accelerator from a space port. Thus far there were only a handful of ports that could handle them, but with a small strap on booster, you could get nearly a hundred tons into orbit, plus the vehicle and all it took was a bit longer in time and scads of electricity.

Not to mention a long runway in a world that was running out of land very rapidly.

Then there were only thirty minutes of marveling at the wondrous beauty of Earth from space. There are many who have waxed poetic on this subject who have doubtless done a better job than I could. I will suffice to say I felt very small, but not alone. On the completion of our first orbit we passed just close enough to Yotori Station to make out the station’s running lights.

A half moon rose on the horizon, the winking lights of Armstrong City half visible as the terminator bisected the city. I perked up from my sight seeing as the Sally Ride was basically dancing to the tune of Sir Is sac Newton. This was orbit two and Kings Ransom would be in our neighborhood. Before I could ask Jill for where to look, the radio began to squawk the international tone of distress.

A sound that had taken up a frequent and special place in my dreams.

“This is the SOTV Kings Ransom, two on board; we have experienced primary attitude control failure. I am announcing a general distress call. Does anyone read me?”

Oh shit. I flipped the radio over to the distress frequency. “Kings Ransom, this is Runabout Sally Ride, I read you. I believe we are closest, how can we assist you?”

“This is Earth Orbit Control to all craft, hold positions and clear for emergency traffic. Sally Ride, you are confirmed closest vehicle. I paint you at two thousand miles relative.”

“Got the beacon, Masako, on the board,” supplied Jill as a flashing red and yellow dot placed itself on the main view port, just above the curve of the Earth.

“Roger, Huston, I have a lock on their beacon. Kings Ransom, do you read me? How can we assist you?”

Sally Ride, this is Kings Ransom, I have lost all attitude control and am tumbling on three axis, sufficient for about one quarter G in the cabin. I cannot get a fix on my position. I’m not even sure if I’ve crossed the orbit threshold. Can you assist?”

Jill and I exchanged a glance. “Huston, Sally Ride, requesting permission to deviate from filed flight plan.”

“Granted Sally Ride, reset your guidance computer to receive and we’ll upload your new plan.”

Jill worked at her board for a moment, and then announced, “Standing by to receive, Huston.” There was a flash as the lines I’d been following changed position in the sky. I nudged my ship back onto the line and bumped us back up to maximum speed.

Sally Ride, Houston, we show you on course with an ETA of five minutes. Anticipating visual contact in two.”

“Roger, Huston. Kings Ransom, what is your life support status?”

“Life support is go thus far, no other systems failure,” said the voice of the young man. He had a very nice voice, a gentle baritone whose words slurred softly at the ends the way Janet’s did every now and then.

“Huston to all craft, this is now a level one Emergency. Kings Ransom, you have failed orbit threshold. I say again, you have failed orbit threshold. We plot you thirty minutes to reentry.”

It never rains but it pours. When the SOTV reentered the atmosphere in a tumble, they would either fall in too steep and burn up, or skim the atmosphere like a round stone on a pond and shoot out into space. While that was not the instant death sentence it used to be, it wasn’t easy to find a vessel moving that fast, especially if their beacons failed. Judging by the luck of whoever was on board, that seemed a distinct possibility.

Worse, Sally Ride could not enter the atmosphere after them below a certain point. She wasn’t built for re-entry and she’d fly apart. An older, somewhat distinguished voice came across the radio. There were qualities of the first to it, but there was a wealth of life experiences its tones spoke of that the first had not. ”Pilot of the Sally Ride, please go to discreet four.”

I clicked the radio over to the pilot’s discreet channel. “This is Masako Yagimura, whom am I addressing?”

“Masako, my name is Fred Hastings. I could wish we met in more favorable circumstances, my dear.”

“I’ll be at your position shortly, Mr. Hastings. Just hang on and we’ll figure something out.”

“It’s Fred,” he replied, and something about his voice to me didn’t sound like a ‘Fred’ for some reason. “And I understand you’re on your first solo, is that correct?”

“Yes sir, on both.”

“Masako, that’s a port Runabout. I will not have it on my conscience to drag you two lovely ladies to your deaths saving an old man.”

“That’s very fortunate, sir, as I don’t intend to get killed saving you. There, I have you in visual now. One moment.”

“Masako…” he started before I reset the radio back to the distress frequency. The SOTV was about four times the size of Sally Ride and her tumble was nauseatingly fast on all three axis. However, it was fortunate that she was so much bigger than I was. I hatched a plan.

“Houston, this is Sally Ride. I’m going to attempt to match rotation and if successful, I’ll try to dock. Can you tell me if our coupler will handle the stress of using my thrusters to null out that spin?”

“Stand by.” A few agonizing moments slid by as the Earth began to noticeably get larger out the window. “Sally Ride, this is Houston, you’re a go if you can match rotation.”

“That’s absurd!” came the simultaneously worried and calm voice of Fred. “Houston, if there is no other vessel in intercept range, so be it. I’ll not have two women killed saving me.”

“At this point, Mr. Hastings,” came the voice of the Controller. “Masako’s plan is pretty much your only shot. Let her try to match rotation. From what I’m hearing, the young lady is a natural.”

“A runabout doesn’t have the computing power to match a rotation…!” he protested.

“Mr. Hastings, Masako can line up a rotation in a runabout by eye. I’ve got her simulator records here. She’s good.

Well, I’d be lying if I say I didn’t feel a whole new shot of confidence from hearing that. Still, resting on laurels could wait until I’d pulled this off. I started nudging my thrusters, tackling the problem, one axis at a time. It took me nearly fifteen minutes, but the Kings Ransom eventually came to an eerie stop against a wildly turning world. “Rotation matched,” announced Jill.

“Restrict thrusters to docking speed,” I ordered, casting a worried glance at both my thruster fuel reserve gauge as well as the growing planet Earth. “Recycle valves.”

“Docking valves recycled and gray. The drog is clear. Sixty feet to target,” she supplied. I pushed on the thruster gently. “Fifty feet. Rotation steady.” My world once more became the target reticule that was overlaid over the matching target just to the left of the airlock. “Forty feet, SMS capture open, the drog is clear.”

“You boys better get whatever you can’t have your lives saved without and be ready to bail. I don’t think I have the fuel to null out your spin,” I said.

Sally Ride, Huston, reset your telemetry to uplink. We’ll work those numbers for you.”

“Telemetry to uplink, Huston,” replied Jill. “Twenty feet, Masako.”

Kings Ransom, Huston, abandon ship expediently. Sally Ride does not have fuel to null your spin.”

“Understood, Huston,” replied the younger voice.

“Five…four…three…two…” A dull, grinding sound punctuated the tremble through the deck.

“Captured.”

“SMS and valves to barber poll,” said Jill.

“Clear to retract,” I ordered.

The groan became a repetitive clank then silence. “Hard dock,” announced Jill as she began to fight with her harness.

“Huston, what’s our maximum ETD?” I asked.

Sally Ride, you must be undocked and fire a forty second burn at twenty percent in no later than five minutes.”

“Understood. Hope you boys are packed over there.”

“Just equalizing pressure now, Miss Yagimura,” said Fred’s voice. “My dear, I am humbled. That was the finest display of flying I’ve seen in sixty years.”

“Mr. Hastings, complement me over a cup of coffee at Yotori Station, not before please.”

He actually chuckled. I’m not sure if I could laugh given the situation. “Roger that, Miss Yagimura.” I heard the lower hatch open and Jill’s voice, some what stridently ordering the men to hurry. There were several bumps and bangs that I didn’t like the sound of, but I couldn’t leave the controls for fear of taking too much time getting strapped back in and getting clear.

“Houston, plot me a rotation for that burn please. Can you over lay it up here, or does Jill have to?”

A new red line appeared over the view port. “You’re laid in, Sally Ride. You don’t have to completely null out the tumble. Just get your nose pointed out to space and burn; we can work you back on course after.”

“Roger, Huston.”

A sharp clang heralded the lower hatch warning light going out. “Masako, we’re sealed!” shouted Jill from down below.

“Grab onto something!” I shouted back. I reached over tripped the valve recycle and release. Kings Ransom shot away from us with a lurch as she spilled out her oxygen as a propellant. Within seconds her skin started to glow.

Oh shit we’re close. I nulled out the rotation on our yaw axis and got the nose pointed roughly at downtown Armstrong City. “Boost!” I shouted as I opened the cover of the main engine we thus far hadn’t used. I tripped the switch over to the twenty percent place, and then squeezed the trigger on the Cyclic.

Sally Ride growled at me as I was pressed into my seat and we shot higher. I stopped counting at forty and released the trigger, making sure to return the main engine switch to zero and replacing its protective cover. “Burn complete, Huston,” I said as calmly as I could.

“That’s good enough, Masako. We’re up linking your new course back to Yotori Station. Congratulations on earning your wings, Astronaut Yagimura.”

“Thank you Huston, that has a mighty nice ring to it.”

Suddenly the voice of Huston changed to an older, slightly more dignified tone. “Well done, Astronaut. This is Jack Lanier. Any chance we can lure you out of the Care Givers?”

“While I’m flattered by the offer, Mr. Vice President, I can’t fly for you.”

The voice chuckled. “Exceptions can be made for everything, Miss Yagimura. You think about it. There’s always a place at NASA for a pilot of your skill.”

“It is an honor to be of service,” I told him. “If you’ll excuse me, sir, I suddenly have passengers to check up on. I’m not sure about the peanuts, but I think we’ve got some Coke to hand out.”

Evidently someone had turned the Vice President’s microphone to voice activation. As I reached to turn my own radio to stand by, the speakers split with the riotous guffaws as the entire Earth Orbit Control Center caught my joke. Still, our orbit was stable again so I had a bit of time now that we were no longer tumbling and making our way towards home.

I got up carefully and coasted down the access hatch to the now somewhat crowded Lower Deck. Fred Hastings looked to my eye to be about fifty five to sixty; of course these days usually meant he was well past one forty. He stood ramrod straight and was still quite fit in the somewhat lanky build I’d come to associate with Spacers. He wore a pencil thin moustache that gave him a very debonair look setting off his dark hair that was nearly completely gray at the temples.

The other man was considerably younger, seeming to be not that much older than I and he filled out the white flight suits with the Apollo Freight logos they both wore very nicely. His hair was as black as space itself over pale blue eyes that danced when he smiled. His lantern jaw was clean shaven and he had the look of a model from a racy women’s magazine. I was suddenly regretting the pressure suit I was wearing.

“Ah, our savior descends from on high,” greeted Fred as he extended his hand. His grip was firm, the respect of one pilot to another, yet obviously gentler than he was capable of out of deference to my gender. “I am deeply indebted to you, Miss.”

“Well, we were just out for a stroll and since we were in the neighborhood, we thought we’d drop in,” I answered with a smile.

“Let me present my pilot, Mike,” he said indicating the younger man. I could feel a blush trying to work its way through the collar of the pressure suit. And I did wet myself, just not the way I thought I would.

“Ma’am, I am deeply honored.”

“The pleasure is entirely mine,” I told him, adding a silent, believe me, to the end of it. “Let me introduce my navigator, Jill Stewart.” Another round of handshakes was out of the way as I surveyed the pile of luggage scattered about the deck. “You boys don’t travel light, do you?”

Fred laughed. “I’m on my way to Mars. Perhaps I should have sent some of this up earlier. Still, we’re very grateful for your assistance. Mike, help me get this stowed,” he said, matching actions to words. Jill and I made to help, but neither would hear of it, shooing us back up to the cabin as they worked below.

As we strapped ourselves back in she and I shared a glance. “What a stud,” she whispered to me.

“Yes, and Mike’s all that too,” I answered sending her into a fit of giggles. Then the radio beeped for my attention once more.

“Yotori Control calling Sally Ride, come in please,” said the voice of Doctor Wantabe. Oh, I was in trouble now.

“Yotori Control, this is Sally Ride, we’re on approach now.”

“You know, Masako, we’ve already accepted your application. You don’t have to prove yourself any more,” she said sardonically.

“I’ll keep that in mind, Sensei.”

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I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when Doctor Wantabe was waiting for us at the airlock. Though I was surprised when she addressed Fred as Commodore Hastings and made a great fuss over welcoming him to the station. There were several others there with her I didn’t know on sight, but by their flight suits were fairly high in the organization of the Care Givers.

“Ryoko,” greeted Fred as he swept her into a hug and kissed her cheek. “It’s been far too long.”

Her smile spoke to my newly heightened female sense of awareness as that of two old lovers being reunited. “Commodore, let me introduce Rei Yotori, Ship Mother of Yotori Station.”

Not to mention President and CEO of the Care Givers and Mary’s daughter. Rei looked to be about Doctor Wantabe’s age, although I knew she was significantly older. Like most Care Givers she wore her ebony hair long and in a braid down her back. She bowed before accepting the Commodore’s hand. “It is my distinct pleasure to meet you, Commodore,” she said in her winnowy soprano.

“Madam, the honor is completely mine,” he replied. “I’m deeply indebted to your organization yet again. Further, let me just say I don’t care if anyone has bid on the contracts of these two yet,” he said with a gesture towards Jill and me. “I want them both. Any young ladies who can work miracles I want working for me.”

Doctor Wantabe leaned over and whispered between Jill and myself. “Commodore Hastings is the previous Captain of the Robert Heinlein.” Well, color me stupid for not knowing that! For once, I’d finally managed to make a good first impression.

“Neither Stewart-san nor Yagimura-san have had their contracts posted as yet, Commodore,” replied Rei, evenly. “They are both in training still and shall be for the immediate future.”

“Surely they can finish their training on the Heinlein?” asked Fred.

“Of course, however, it would be a great disruption to their training flight to have two of its leaders pulled so early in training.”

Fred chuckled. “Oh, I see. Alright, then, Yotori-san, I know when I’m out maneuvered. On behalf of Apollo Freight, I formally place a bid of contract for the entire flight. We have the space on the Heinlein. Will that be satisfactory?”

“Instructors?” asked Rei with a sly smile.

“Done, madam,” sighed Fred as he turned back to Mark. “Call over to the yard and have cargo module one stripped off. We’ll reroute that on a priority later and have them refit the passenger module to whatever specifications Yotori-san requires.”

“Ok, dad,” replied Mike. Which explained the resemblance between the two of them. “I’ll get Todd on it.”

Fred chuckled. “That will keep his mind off of not being within eyesight of you.” He turned back to Rei. “Madam, could I trouble you for a phone for my son to make the arrangements?” I felt Rei’s eyes take in both myself and Mike before she answered.

“Yagimura-san, would you please escort Hastings-chan to one of the video phones?”

Hai,” I responded. I’d just met Yotori-san and I already loved her. Turning to my GQ friend I said, “Just give me a moment to get out of this pressure suit; I’ll be right with you.”

“Can I help?” he asked solicitously. I could only nod as I led him to the suit locker as his father and my boss started haggling over how much he was going to pay for getting forty some odd would-be Care Givers and their teachers.

In the locker room I was grateful to get the forty pounds of life support system off my back with Mike’s easy and graceful help. It was obvious he had helped like this before. “You know,” he said, unlocking the gloves from the ends of the sleeves and pulling them off. “That really was an incredible piece of flying. How is it somebody as qualified as you didn’t get snatched up by NASA or somebody else?”

Why is it men always want to open topics of conversation on sore spots? Was I like this? God, I hoped not. “Well,” I told him and I pulled off the latex under gloves I was wearing. “Like all things in life, that’s a long story. But, suffice to say I’m happier where I am.”

“Ok, I can buy into that. Lift your arms for me,” he said as he began opening the seals where the upper torso of the suit mated around my middle with the pants. I bent over as he grabbed the collar and held on as I backed out of it. Underneath was a simple wire mesh body suit that held my bio-medical sensors. It was transparent, although I was wearing a sports bra.

I caught his eyes wondering to take in the girls which made me fairly proud. Their ambitions were coming along nicely, already filling out a B and they seemed to be going for the next letter as well. With my arms free of the suit made it so I could get at the rest of the closures. I sat down on the bench to unlock the boots as he opened my locker to stow the suit bits he already had. “I’m sorry if I’m embarrassing you,” I told him softly, kicking off the boots to reach up to free my hair of its bun.

“Not at all,” he replied with his easy smile. “At the risk of offending you, this is the most fun I’ve had stowing a pressure suit in…well…ever.”

I stood and shucked off the bottom as he laid out my flight suit. I felt a smile pull at my lips while mentally categorizing my feelings. That I was attracted to Mike was unquestionable, that I wasn’t distressed about it was surprising. Oh sure, we’d been studying human sexuality for two weeks now, but here I was, dealing with really being attracted to a man for the first time.

I wonder if Jill felt this way when she’d decided she was going to come after me? It certainly bore some thought as I presented my back to him. “Would you unzip me please?” I asked.

“Sure.”

His hands felt so strong and sure on my back, through the mesh as he worked the zipper down to the small of my back before withdrawing. Damn his hands felt nice. I wished rather intensely I was wearing something in silk, or satin, or anything by a bio-med harness and a sport bra. I got the harness off and handed it to him which left me with a fundamental choice.

The last article I had to remove was disposable and was affectionately referred to as the ‘diaper’ as that was its function. Now, I could be coy and go into one of the stalls to do it, or I could do it out here as I had everything else and send him a less than subtle hint that I was interested. This was a difficult choice.

Rip went that tabs.

“So, is it rough serving on the same ship as your dad?” I asked, placing the diaper in the bin before turning to face him, my heart pounding in my nakedness from the waist down. How was Wantabe-sensei so calm with her own nudism?

His eyes took in my thatch before returning to meet my own. There were just the beginnings of a new filling in the front of his own suit. I didn’t expect to feel pride at that accomplishment, but that’s what I felt. His smile was a bit melancholy. “Oh, I’d have that problem where ever I go in the company,” he replied, reaching into my locker to remove a pair of my panties and offering them. There was hesitancy in his offer; he didn’t want me covered anymore than I wanted to be that way.

“Why is that?” I asked as the electricity flowed through us as our fingers brushed as I took the underwear he offered. He was taller than me, so that I was forced to look up at him to meet his eyes. I liked the way it made me feel venerable.

“You don’t know?” he whispered. There were only centimeters between us.

I shook my head. His lips were so close and inviting. “Sorry, I’ve been too busy studying to keep up with current events.”

“Can I embarrass myself and tell you how incredibly beautiful you are?”

“Only if you kiss me after,” I whispered. His lips were like velvet over steel, and even the poly-cotton blend of the flight suit against my skin felt lovely. In my mind I had him naked, dangerously erect and ravished, but the reality of kiss ended all too soon, leaving me panting.

“You can’t know how refreshing it is for me to find a woman as intelligent and beautiful as you who finds me interesting not knowing. I almost don’t want to tell you,” he managed. That beginning was quite full now and I wondered if I shouldn’t do something for him so he didn’t have to walk around the station that way.

However what he had said brought me out of the dreamy fantasies of our kiss and got my mind into problem solving mode. “Tell me what?” I asked, curious.

“My dad?” he hedged. “Frederick Hastings?” I shook my head, not following his logic. “I’m Mike Hastings, the heir, and my dad is the founder of Apollo Freight.”

Oh, dear.

Only our biggest client. Only the largest of the independent space companies. Only…and he was kissing me again and I didn’t give a goddamn who he was so long as he kept kissing me.

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Chapter Eleven

Crickets and Nightingales

“Attention, girls,” called Doctor Wantabe as she breezed into the dorm, interrupting my daydreaming about kissing Mike in the suit locker room. I, for one, was more than a little glad of the distraction. I’d been staring at the same page of my psychology text for twenty minutes. She came to a stop in the center of the room and waited until she was sure she had everyone’s attention. “As some of you are aware,” and she favored me with a steely glance, “the head of our biggest client is on the station tonight. We’ll be hosting them for dinner in the Hub Dinning Hall. Mother Yotori has requested some of you to assist with the entertaining. For the rest of you, the night off on the proviso there is not an ounce of trouble.”

The night off…! Maybe I could find out where Mike was berthed….

“If I call your name, I want you to get ready as quickly as you can. Formal kimonos if you please, girls, fetch your instruments and gather in your dining hall.” My mind was in a tizzy of anticipation even as I called up the database on my screen. The guest rooms were actually on this ring of the station. It was a sure thing Fred would be berthed in the largest; however chances were excellent that Mike would be next door, a scant fifty yards away!

“Masako, dear,” interrupted Doctor Wantabe.

“Ma’am?” I asked, quickly closing the map I had on my screen.

“Dear, I know what a keen student you are, but you need to get ready.”

I looked past her to see Maria and Susan filing into the shower, depressed looks on their faces. “You don’t mean…?” I implored.

“Dear, yours was the first name I called. Hurry, dinner will start in an hour.”

The best laid plans and all that. I hustled into the shower and tried not to curse my rotten luck. I’ll be the first to admit I took part in the angry conversation in the stalls, heaping abuse on Yotori-san and who ever else might be at fault for our lot. I just hoped there weren’t microphones as well as cameras in here.

When we were dry and our hair up on heads in the formal styles reminiscent of the Geisha of old, we made our way back out to find the most stunning kimonos laid out for us on our bunks. Mine was a soft lavender with scenes of a swan either delicately landing or taking off from a rocky escarpment. I couldn’t decide which.

Susan’s was a rich Imperial yellow that high lighted her blonde tresses and was gently embroidered with lilies. Maria’s, by comparison was a rich brown that played to her complexion and whose adornment was a geometric design in black. The funny thing about kimonos is that it takes about ten minutes to get one on the right way.

But a gentle tug will get them off in seconds. It was a long standing belief that the kimono was actually designed by a woman. Their inescapable beauty certainly was sufficient proof to my eye. Ready, we gathered our instruments and floated to the mess hall.

You have to float, it’s required for a kimono.

There I found Doctor Wantabe, stunning in the same kimono I’d seen her in those short months that felt like years ago, along with Jill and a few other girls I didn’t know from her flight.

“Girls, be polite, graceful and soft. If something untoward should happen, ignore it and carry on. If one of you can be of assistance in fixing what ever problem may arise, whoever is closest should help, as discretely as possible. Are we ready?”

“Yes ma’am,” we answered.

“Follow me.” She led our little cloud through the station to its very hub. Here, the technology was as unobtrusive as possible. The deck seemed to be made of hardwood, and the bulkheads of paper. We passed a small pool full of koi that swam in lazy circles under the spreading arms of a cherry tree.

Finally we arrived at a paper door that Wantabe-sensei knelt beside, softly gesturing to us to follow her lead. She wrapped with equal care on the floor, which sounded like wood as well before sliding the door open. We followed her formal bow, our foreheads on the floor.

“Please forgive my interruption,” she greeted. “I have brought these girls who would be honored to entertain you.”

“Your service is welcome,” replied Yotori-san from her place on a small dais beside Commodore Hastings. “The honor is ours, please come in.” Wantabe-sensei stood with the grace of swan before discretely ushering us inside. Being the only pilot, the next duty was mine.

As the girls settled into one corner as I knelt in the center of the room and bowed once more. “Please forgive us and our mistakes, we are novices,” I told her.

“Our ears strain for the pleasure of your music,” replied the Commodore who returned my bow from his waist. Well, color me impressed by his grasp of our ceremonies and culture. I rose to a kneel, bowed once more before carefully picking up my case and joining my friends.

I was surprised to see Persey with them, in the process of opening an oblong wooden case. I couldn’t help but stare a bit as she picked up a silver pitcher and poured water inside on whatever her instrument was.

As I settled into the group, I could see the case was full of a series of glass bowls. So it was she who had picked the Glass Armonica. With in a few moments, the girls had their instruments out and ready. “Shall I dance for you, Commodore?” asked Yotori-san.

“I would be deeply honored,” he replied as she effortlessly stood and made her way to the center of the room before striking the traditional pose of Lover of the Spring. I whispered the music to the others, both nervous and flattered she would decide to start with that particular piece. It called for a long solo from a traditional instrument we didn’t have, but was also arranged for the mandolin.

I opened the chords as she kept as still as a statue before the ethereal sound of the Armonica joined my solo. Then the statue came to life and soared before us. I have never seen grace or elegance before that moment. The only sounds in the room were our music and the soft rustles of the silk of her kimono.

I don’t think a soul breathed for the five minutes of her dance, judging by the gasp as our statue froze once more and the last notes died away. My eyes caught Mike’s as he wiped away a tear, thinking no one had seen him. His small smile spoke volumes between us. He was as moved as I had been.

Yotori-san bowed to the sincere applause of her guests, then turned and bowed to us. “The dancer is only as graceful as the musicians who hold her aloft. My thanks.”

Think nothing of it, boss, I thought to myself as we returned her bow. She took her place on the dais once more as we settled on some light music without lyrics as their dinner was brought in and served.

Through out the preceding hour every time my eyes sought out Mike I found him looking at me. Each time I felt a blush color my cheeks, causing me to look down on my mandolin as I played so as not to embarrass my sisters.

And once my eyes fell on Yotori-san to find her looking at me from having just turned from Mike. She knows.

Then the smallest of smiles graced her elegant face before she turned back to Commodore Hastings and their conversation. Was that permission or politeness? The few glances I stole at the Commodore showed me that, while he was careful to look at Yotori-san when he spoke to her, he only had eyes for Wantabe-Sensei.

What a strange fate we make for ourselves in space.

At last the meal and our entertainment was over. Once more I bowed before the assembled important persons to humbly receive their lavish praise at our efforts. “I leave you in the capable hands of Wantabe-sensei to conduct you to your rooms, Hastings-sama,” Rei told him, using the highest and most respectful form address; Sama. It had no direct translation into English, but was usually translated as Lord or Lady. “I hope your dreams are pleasant and your sleep uninterrupted.”

“My thanks, Yotori-san,” he replied with an appreciative bow.

“Mike-san,” she called and I felt his eyes leave me. “One of these young ladies would be honored to guide you to your rooms. Who should you like?”

“Ma’am,” he said in his gently slurred way. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“We would be poor hosts if we did not make sure you had a guide to your rooms and one of these girls would be honored to show you that way. Shall I introduce you?” She stood to make her way to us, gently pulling me up from my bow with the lightest of touches before she went to the far end of the line. “This is Chartrand-san, whose wonderful tones she has coaxed from her Glass Armonica you have enjoyed. She holds the distinction of being a mistress of the only instrument we had to hire a teacher from outside of our organization for. She is thirty five, a Leo and B Negative.”

Yotori-san thought for a moment. “Mike-san, you are forty two and an Aries are you not?”

He chuckled self-consciously. “Yes ma’am. I’m O Positive before you ask.”

“Ah,” she replied with great significance. “You exemplify your giving nature. Alas, Chartrand-san you and Mike-san would be at odds the entire trip. You are excused.”

“It is an honor to be of service,” she said before she bowed and made her way out.

“Ares and O Positive,” pondered Rei as she floated down the line we formed. “Of course,” she said as she stopped beside me. “Allow me to present Yagimura-san. She is twenty three, also O Positive and a Pieces. The harmonies there are wonderful. Yagimura-san, please escort Mike-san to his rooms,” she ordered with silk over titanium that broached no argument. Not that one was forth coming from either of us.

I cast my eyes down. “It is an honor to be of service.”

“Come now,” laughed Yotori-san as she held out her hand to Mike, bidding him to rise and come over to us. “Don’t be shy, she doesn’t bite. Masako-san, I introduce to you our honored guest, Michael Hastings. You are to do everything in your power to make him feel welcome and at home,” she told me with just the lightest emphasis on everything.

I do love you, Rei-sama, my eyes told her.

Enjoy and don’t break him, hers answered me. I slowly got to my feet, bowed to my employer and gently reached out to take Mike’s left hand in both of mine. “Please come with me, Hastings-san,” I told him.

Mike, bless him, had the grace to blush to the roots of his dark hair as his eyes turned to his father. “Good night, Michael,” he told him even as he stood and offered his arm to Wantabe-Sensei.

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“Masako,” he said as I pressed the door key to his room against the plate beside it and the door silently parted. Unfortunately, the guest rooms were on the outer rings of the station. Here the bulkheads were steel and the technology all too evident. “Please,” he stammered as I took his hand and gently pulled him into his room. “Please don’t feel like you’re obligated to, well, to do anything…”

“I am obligated to do nothing, Michael,” I whispered as I brought the lights up to just enough illumination to see, but far from their fullest setting. It created as much ambiance as could be had on the station this far from the Hub. “What I choose to do is another matter altogether.” I paused replaying the conversation I’d heard him have with his father outside the suit locker. “Unless I am displeasing to you,” I said softly, suddenly terribly afraid of rejection. But he had kissed me…

“Displeasing?” he asked and his tone dripped disbelief that anyone could fail to be aroused by my mere presence. His arms slid around me and pulled me to his toned chest. “May God strike dead anyone who could think that about you,” he said with considerable conviction.

“That’s very flattering of you to say,” I told him, unable to meet his eyes. “There are things you do not know about me that might alter your opinion however.”

“Never,” he swore. “You grabbed me from the moment I saw you. If Dad hadn’t put a bid on your contract, I would have.”

I felt my eyebrow ascend my forehead. “And what if I had restricted my bids to small vessels for my first contract?”

“Then I would have had to buy a small ship for you to serve with me on, wouldn’t I?” he said and I had absolute faith he would have done so.

“Michael, I need to confess something to you,” I told him, dreading this particular subject, but Doctor Wantabe’s lectures on ethics were drumming in the back of my RNA enhanced mind. “I know you swear you know how you feel, but I cannot in good faith let anything happen between us until you know.”

“Does this mean I have to let go of you?” he asked softly. I nodded.

“It will let me keep my train of thought.” His arms felt wonderful as they slid across the silk, but also terrible as they were leaving my body to hang by his sides. “Shall we sit?” I asked. I led him to the bed, but alighted myself in the chair for the desk near it. The room also held a clothes press along one wall as well as a private bathroom and a magnificent view of Earth out the window over the bed.

It was about the size of my parent’s combination room back in Japan.

“You may or may not know that Care Givers only employ women for our field positions.” He nodded. “You probably don’t know there are not sufficient women to fill those positions.”

“There aren’t sufficient women to fill any of the needs for them,” he said. “I’m a spacer, Masako; I know all too well how tight the marriage market is because it’s worst in space.”

My mind wandered to Fred and Wantabe-sensei and wondered. There didn’t appear to be any Japanese blood in him. “Who is your mother, Michael?” I blurted out before I could think the better of it. His head hung.

“She was killed five years ago,” he whispered. “Murdered in an assassination attempt on my dad.” I inhaled sharply, aghast at bringing up such a painful memory. His grin was forced. “That’s how I ended up with Todd. He’s my bodyguard.”

“I am so sorry for my rudeness,” I said, but he shook his head.

“Don’t worry about it, Masako.” His voice gained a hint of his father’s drive and steel. “Those responsible have been brought to justice.” Then his voice softened once more and he patted my hands in encouragement. “But you had something you had to tell me?”

Bodyguard, that would explain why he was so anxious to keep Michael in his sight. Oh dear. There was no way around it now, I’d brought the topic up, and I decided, despite this awkward faux pas for the right reasons. “Michael, the Care Givers make up their recruitment shortfalls through a Genetic Procedure called the DeCorvin Process.”

“Oh?”

I nodded. “It has a number of useful side effects. It prolongs our life spans significantly, keeps us healthy, it might even make us bit smarter, though my behavior tonight is certainly a good argument against that.”

“I don’t find fault with your behavior,” he said firmly. “And, while I don’t want you to feel like you have to do anything to impress your boss, I don’t want you to feel like you have to leave, either.”

I blushed. This was a night of firsts. I’d just been propositioned for the first time by a man I had every intent on taking up his offer on. If he’d still have me once I was done putting my feet in my mouth. “It has one, rather significant side effect when used on a male, however,” I whispered. I found the courage to look up and found his eyes full of questions, but also consolation. From what depths of unknown courage I got the last words out, I do not know, but their whisper made it past my lips. “It alters their gender to female. I know because I was one.”

“Really?” he asked, genuinely impressed. “And here I thought only Deep Space Comfort employed Transsexuals.” His tone was conciliatory. “I hope it doesn’t hurt…”

My face must have lit from the joy of that memory. “Michael, you cannot imagine such pleasure, nor have I the words to describe it to you. The only pain I’ve experienced was my first period, and even it was fairly light a few of the Birth Girls tell me.”

“Oh, I’m glad…” he trailed off. “Period?”

I nodded. “I am a woman in every sense of the word.” Then my voice dropped past whisper to near inaudible levels as I was almost painfully aware of the hormone inhibitor in my arm. “I can even bear children.”

His face seemed to be pondering three or four different thoughts at once. Finally he spoke on one of them. “And you were afraid I wouldn’t have anything to do with you because of your past?” I nodded and felt a wealth of relief by his ready smile. “My dear Masako, only the worst sort of cad would do such harm to a rare and brave flower such as you. Fear not, gentle lady, for reasons you cannot know, not only am I not put off by your history, quite the reverse, it makes you even more alluring to me. For I have a confession of my own for you.”

I felt an icy dread fill my breast and immediately felt sorry for him. My statements had probably done the same thing to him. “What ever you feel you must say,” I told him, “will not change the attraction I hold for you.”

He blushed. “You were partially correct in your suspicions about Todd. He’s more than my bodyguard. Like most Spacers, gentle flower, I take comfort wherever it can be found. Todd is also my lover. So you see, your dark secret is only another point of attraction to me.”

In all my time of dreaming of space, through countless email pen pals with spacers, though hundreds of speeches from every old hand I could track down to talk to our club, never had that particular nugget ever been bestowed. I stood slowly, the horizon of possibility and evaluation of how I should comport myself in my career spinning as lazily as the Earth through the window. He stood as well, his worry he had offended plain.

I reached down and gave that gentle tug on the obi about my waist and the kimono slid from my body in a rustle of silk. I was nude before him and his body’s approval of my display was plain. “If it pleases you,” I told him, “I would be honored to spend the night with you.”

He stood, his hands suddenly clumsy at the zipper of his flight suit. “I am honored beyond words.” I reached up, gently pushing his hands out of the way as I unzipped the flight suit and the fulfillment of his body made the promise of it through the suit a pale shadow.

He was magnificent; a study of ridges and lines and curves sculpted in iron and bronze. Surely even the master works of the Renaissance paled by comparison. As his arms returned to my body, now with nothing between his skin and mine, the electricity of our touch could have powered Armstrong City. Gone were my worries and fears about being with a man, or even resistance to my awareness of my attraction.

I had to have him. It was just that simple.

I had to make him as glad he was a man as I was over not being one. Our lips performed a hard dock of our own and we shared our breath and passion. I felt his left hand travel up my back to my head where it found the pair of chop sticks holding my hair in its complicated arraignment. He set them free for my tresses to cascade to my shoulders.

I felt a pang of remorse and jealousy as I wished my own hair as long as Wantabe-Sensei’s, then I felt his right hand latch hold of my buttock to kneed it gently in his need and all thoughts of inadequacy left my mind.

His member was a titanium rod against my belly.

I pulled away from him, breaking our kiss with a soft gasp of released air as with gently guided him back to a sit on the bed even as I folded my knees to kneel before him.

He was noticeably longer than I had been and slightly thicker as well and I was intrigued by his circumcision. I wondered if it was religion or some family custom that had led to its loss. I gently took a hold of him, volumes of study and theory in the back of my mind, prancing to alter from knowledge to experience. His skin was wonderfully smooth and warm to the touch.

I was determined to be at least as pleasant as Jill had been. I let myself remember what had felt good with me and let my lips and tongue find those spots on him. I was rewarded by gasps of pleasure and a skyrocketing of his breathing rate.

Yet it was not at all selfless pleasuring of him at my own expense. The sensation of him in my mouth and the sounds of the joy he was feeling was incredibly arousing to me as well. I relaxed my jaw and slid down his member until the neatly trimmed hairs of his own thatch tickled the end of my nose.

He smelled of honest work and manhood personified which set off an undefined trembling through me. I was having my first orgasm as a woman with a man. Never had anything felt more right or natural.

My enjoyment almost made me miss my mark. Michael was in the throws himself. I slid back up while taking him in hand once more and squeezed with all my might.

His trembling reached an epileptic level as his moans rose to a howl of denied ecstasy. That trigged my second as I picked up my rhythm up and down him. I brought up my other hand amazed at the throbbing pressure under my thumb as his seed fought for release.

I found the spot with the pad of my finger, just above the puckered promise of his anus. I pressed in and down in the same meter and time as my journeys along his crown.

You’d never have thought being trained in music would make you a better lover, but it does.

His lungs had far more wind that I had had once upon a time and his howl became a roar as his hips bucked up to meet my lips. I knew from my learning that I could actually keep him in this state for quite some time. Over five minutes that would seem like five lifetimes to him. But I also knew if I prolonged him that amount, when I did finally release him the chances of his loosing consciousness were high.

That was something I would not have.

So I released my hold of him while tightening the hold of my lips about him. At once my mouth was filled nearly to over flowing with salty, yet savory ambrosia that I swallowed out of reflex which trigged the longest of my own orgasms.

We were interlocked, him offering up the very essence of life and my acceptance of it, every drop he had to offer me. He had many drops before at last the flow sputtered and died away.

I had not had dinner, but felt satisfied just the same.

His hips had stopped their thrusts, but I continued my own dance, making sure this very pleasant flower did not wither away before I’d had my full enjoyment of it. “W…wah….wow,” he stuttered, shaking uncontrollably every once and a while to my tune.

I felt his pulse quicken around me even as he sat up, having fallen to his back at some point in my ministrations of him. He collected me in his arms, picking me up as though nothing before laying me out on his bed with gentleness I could not describe.

Our kiss took my breath as his tongue invaded my mouth to share the fruits of my labors. Then his mouth left mine and began a journey of its own whose destination I already knew. While his lips and tongue would not be the first there, no man’s had been there before him. I did not require his ministrations, indeed, I was so aroused I worried I would stain the sheets of the bed under me.

Still, I was intrigued at how different it would feel as compared to the few stolen moments of ‘study’ of human sexuality Jill and I had shared. There was a rough and forceful edge to his touch that Jill’s had not had. But, gentle or forceful, Mike knew his way around my nether regions. In short order I had not the cognitive function to compare my two lover’s techniques as I was lost in the simple joy of womanly love.

My sense of time was the next to dissert me as his tongue drove the current assaulting the pleasure center of my brain to doubtlessly dangerous levels. Yet I did not push him away, indeed my fingers found thick handfuls of his ebony locks which I used to pull him further into me.

He took hold of my wrists and gently removed my hands from his hair as he stood. A tiny portion of my brain hoped I had not hurt him, but the rest was far too lost in pleasure to really care. The grin he wore tickled me as the entire lower half of his face was coated in my offerings.

“Yagimura, this is Hastings, requesting permission for docking maneuver,” he teased me, his voice soft with wry humor.

Oh thank you, Rei-sama. I wrapped my legs around his hips and pulled him inside me in one sure, steady thrust. I was so slippery and aroused I barely noticed the loss of my hymen as once more my virginity was claimed. Yet I couldn’t keep a laugh of my own from escaping my lips as I reached up to wipe some of my leavings from his chin. “Captured,” I whispered before we kissed once more.

“More than you know,” he replied around his own humor. Then we were moving and it was the most wonderfully beautiful moment of my life. I hoped it was true what they said about no one hearing you scream in space. I did more than my fair share.

The joy of our coupling had to end at some point. I could have spent my life that way, under him, but he tensed and exhaled a long, low breath, even as I felt a new wetness in my body. I pulled him down on top of me, pinning me under his comforting weight, feeling absolutely at peace.

With in moments he was snoring softly into my ear and even that was pleasing. I let myself drift away to the rhythm of his breathing, his member still embedded in me, sealing in his seed as I felt only the regret that their search would be in vain.

I love my job.

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Chapter Twelve

Rewards Of The Morning After

He was still asleep when I awoke, rested, alert and feeling warmly smug for some reason. The chronograph on the wall told me my internal clock had awoken me at my normal time, nearly an hour before breakfast would be served. It was difficult to remove myself from his arm and leg while letting him sleep, but I managed it.

I gathered up the under portions of the kimono I didn’t need to put on for the short trip I would take back to the dorm and neatly added them to the bustle at the back of it. That done, I slipped on the outer most portions and jerked my hair into a quick braid which gave me an idea.

Once I had the kimono closed I sat at his desk and wrote out a brief note expressing my hopes that his sleep had been restful and my gratitude for his gentleness as my first lover. I did not cloud the letter with any hopes of further time for us, although the wise would see that through out the note, it would be rude and demanding to have spelled it out so plainly.

Over the note on his desk I placed the chopsticks, my gift to him for a reminder of what we had shared, and then I stood once more. A slightly lingering glance at his snores under the magnificent view of Earth out his window brought a smile to my face before I quietly withdrew and padded back to my dorm.

A number of the other girls were already awake there, their smiling faces drawn to the door as I entered. I was afraid for a moment I would be acutely embarrassed by this, but I wasn’t. My head was high as I strolled to my clothes locker to properly put my kimono away. As I took out one of my flight suits to lay on the bed for after my shower, I became aware of Susan having strolled over to lean against the locker. “How was he?” she asked, a grin on her face.

“He was very kind and considerate of my first experience,” I said softly, fighting my own lecherous grin. She swept me into a hug and kissed my forehead, surprising me.

“Welcome to the club, little sister. I’m so jealous of you, you know?”

“I’m sorry if I caused you any distress,” I replied at once. She just continued to grin as she shook her head and released me.

“Not at all. Don’t feel sorry for having enjoyed yourself. If he had picked me, I would have enjoyed him too.” I reached into the locker to remove my shower kit bag.

“I feel so…” and I paused, trying to put the elation I felt into words. “I can’t describe it,” I said, admitting my failings.

“Honey,” she told me with a pat of my shoulder. “You feel like a woman. Congratulations, Ko, you’ve arrived.” She looked over at Maria and Janet who were keeping a discrete distance, but obviously wanting to come over to hear all the details and smiled. “Your friends want to hear the gossip. I won’t keep you.”

Before she could leave I caught a hold of her arm. “You are my friend too, Susan. Come on, girls,” I said, raising my voice slightly as I gathered up my shower things. “I need to get clean before I can face the day. I’ll give you all the dirt in there.”

There was a minor stampede to the showers that brought a laugh from my throat.

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After yet another wonderful breakfast I made my way to the training simulators for my first class of the day. At least it had been for the past five months. When I arrived, the brigadier had a smirk on his face and shook his head. “What, pray, are you two flowers doing here, and out of uniform?” he demanded with mock severity.

“Sir?” I asked, puzzled.

“Stewart and Yagimura, front and center,” he ordered. We complied, still trying to work out what was going on. As we stood before the class, trying not to feel self conscious, a soft soprano I knew all too well came from the door of the classroom behind me.

“Out of uniform? I thought better of you, Yagimura-san.” I knew better than to turn and look at Rei Yotori enter the room, somehow more and less imposing in a flight suit rather than her kimono from the previous evening. In her hands was a small box. “Yes,” she agreed with the Brigadier, a small and somewhat mischievous smile on her face. “It is most unbecoming of you both to be so out of uniform.”

She reached up and removed the small leather patches from our breasts that where held there by Velcro. Both were simply adorned with our last names and our rank of Applicant. From the box she produced two new patches that were decorated with the silver joined wings over which a stylized missile style rocket was emblazoned. Astronaut Wings.

But what stunned me the most was what they read:

Daughter Masako Yagimura

Pilot

Daughter, the next rank up from Applicant. We were getting promoted as well! She placed both on our uniforms and stepped back. “There is still something missing, I think. Yes, of course.”

Once more her hand disappeared into the box before returning with a small red cross wreathed in silver laurel leaves. As she reached up to pin them on, she said, “On behalf of the President of the International Space Council, I present and decorate you both with the Wreathed Cross for your gallantry in saving the lives of two of your fellow Astronauts. Wear them proudly as a mark of your belonging in Space.”

The other pilot trainees stood and gave us a round of applause. After it died down, she graced us with a brilliant smile. “Well done, my girls. Jill-san, I am re-assigning you as of today. You are to be a member of Training Flight 42. This is not due to any transgression on your part, however I believe Masako and her girls can use you on the Robert Heinlein. Do you have any objection to my decision?”

“No, ma’am,” she replied around a grin.

“Good. Brigadier, you and Persephone will be moving along with flight 42 as well. I hope this will not cause you any undo stress. You will be reporting to Ship Mother Naomi Foster for other duties outside of the training needs. Is that acceptable?”

Persey’s eyes shone in a way I’d never seen before. “Yes ma’am. I’ll be happy to work with Mother Naomi.”

“Good, you will be reporting to the Heinlein later today for a boost tomorrow to Mars. Dismiss your class Brigadier so you can get ready. You two daughters come with me,” she told us as she swept out of the room, Jill and I hot on her heels.

She led us with her delicate, but rapid pace through the station to one of the lift stations for one of the transport cars that would take us to the center hub. Unlike all of the movies I’d ever seen about space, there wasn’t one waiting on our arrival; Rei pressed the call button and we had to wait. As she seemed to live her life in one long session of multitasking, she turned to Jill to continue her conversation she’d started in our class. “Stewart-san, we have a guest on the station tonight I want you to make feel welcome. She has a very rare, these days any way, tourist visa. I want to make sure she has a pleasant experience here before you leave. Voices like hers will be important in the years to come.”

“Yes, ma’am. May I ask who she is?”

Rei couldn’t keep the smile off her face. “I think you know her. In any event, she is quartered in Guest Cabin 15. Just down the hall there,” she pointed towards the cluster of guest rooms I’d lost my virginity in. The very thought of it brought a blush to my cheeks. “Her positive attitude about her experiences in space will circulate back on Earth, Stewart-san. Be mindful.”

“Yes ma’am,” she repeated, still curious.

“Her name is Marjorie Stewart,” Rei finally decided to tell her. Jill’s face split with ecstatic joy.

“My mom? Oh, thank you, Yotori-sama!”

“Go on, and just remember your secondary mission, Stewart-san.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Jill bowed and rushed down the hall. I smiled after her, happy for my friend and a bit melancholy as well. I was suddenly itching to get to a vid-phone to call my own parents and make my farewells.

“I have a delicate task for you, Flight Leader,” Rei told me, bringing me back to the here and now. I returned my gaze to her, trying to keep my thoughts focused and professional. Before she could go on, however, the car arrived and the doors opened, revealing a man who appeared to be in his middle to late thirties. There was a dangerous air about his impressive physique, made more so by the gray beret he wore over the gray uniform. It was not a jumper, as was usual in space, but actually a shirt- with a fair number of pockets stitched to handy places, both breasts and sleeves tucked into a pair of slightly baggy cargo pants equally adorned with pockets. These were tucked into a pair of boots that reached his mid-calf.

The entire ensemble was pressed and starched, the leather and brass work shone with polish. As did the pistol of some kind he wore that did not hamper access to any of the pockets. He was incredibly handsome; lantern jawed over a neck thick with cords of muscle under a square, honest face. His hair was a rich leather-like shade of brown that matched his hazel eyes. He stirred my womanly senses as someone I’d like to get to know better.

There was still enough of Ken in me to know this wasn’t someone I would have wanted to meet then. Especially not in a dark alley.

Then he grinned a boyish grin of pleasant surprise and addressed my boss. “Here you are, Rei,” he said with a bit of polish to even his voice. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Colonel, you really should have tried the communications network,” she told him with a smile as she swept us into the car. “We do go out of our way to keep our technology up to spec.”

“So I’m finding,” he said, his eyes drifting to me and in a split second I realized I had been acknowledged, assessed and categorized. He shifted his weight slightly so the pistol was the furthest point from me about him. “And who might this be?” he asked, still all politeness, but there was an undercurrent to his tone.

“Where are my manners,” asked Rei of herself. “Daughter Masako Yagimura, allow me to introduce Colonel Richard Wolf. Colonel, this is Pilot Masako Yagimura, one of our most promising new recruits.”

“Miss,” he said with the slightest of nods in my direction.

“Colonel,” I replied. He didn’t offer his hand; indeed, he didn’t seem to be the handshaking type.

“My men are finishing up the survey of the facility as we speak. I’ve come to let you know we’ll be ready when the time comes.”

“That’s very refreshing news, Colonel,” she responded. I tried to mimic the easy grace she evidently felt around him, but I failed. This was a conversation I wasn’t meant to be overhearing and I had the sense to know it. “But that did not require you to seek me out in person, did it?”

“No, ma’am,” he admitted. He brought his eyes on me again, his meaning plain. Whatever he wanted to say, he wasn’t comfortable saying in front of me.

“You don’t have to spell things out for me, Colonel,” Rei told him, smoothing over his discomfort. “The answer to your unasked question is no. It is my intense hope I’m paying your impressive retainer for nothing, but I will not leave. I shall trust in the competency of your men.”

“Ma’am, my men are the best to be had. I’ve worked hard to make and keep them that way.”

“Your diligence shows,” she interrupted smoothly. “My answer is still no.”

“Ma’am, I can make who ever wants to take this station pay a mighty high price for it, but no one can hold a castle from someone who wants it bad enough.”

“This castle was built of my mother’s blood and dreams. It is my home. I will not abandon it.”

“I’m not talking about abandonment, Ma’am,” he replied evenly. “Perhaps an extended vacation? I hear Mars is lovely this time of year. I’ve never gotten to sight see on my,” and there was the briefest of pauses, “business trips there. Still, there’s a long list I’d like to see when I get the time.”

“I will not be driven from my home, Colonel,” she said firmly.

I was definitely not liking the way this conversation was going. Surely these strange trips of litigation that had been making their way through out the halls of government weren’t actually going to descend into violence? Still, there was nothing that I could do or say. It was obviously an unfortunate happenstance that I was hearing this conversation at all. I stared at the floor of the car and tried not to hear the gentle thunderstorm that raged about me.

As far as force of will was concerned the two were very evenly matched. Colonel Wolf was obviously used to having his way. He was discovering, to his dismay, that Rei Yotori was just as accustomed to that fact. The ocean and the shore pounded quietly at each other, neither giving way.

Their voices never rose; their tones were never less than respectful and polite.

But I had never been around an argument that made me more uncomfortable. At long last the car stopped and the doors opened to the soft tones of crickets and nightingales. We were in the Hub once more. I followed the two of them out of the car, feeling a bit more ill at ease for being in a flight suit as opposed to a kimono. Rei held up her hand to pause their storm which he immediately abided by before she turned to me.

“Yagimura-san, I know your plate is already quite full, yet I must add another course to it. I hope you will live up to the challenge I place before you.”

I bowed. “I shall endeavor to render service as you have become expectant of, Great Grand Mother,” I told her.

“The Vice President of Honda, Mars Division will be traveling with you and your flight on the Robert Heinlein. I would like for you to see to his and his wife’s comforts to make their trip less stressful than it shall already be.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I paused to consider the weight of this new information.

“His wife, ma’am?”

“Yes, and you should try to find some time to keep up with current events on Earth, Masako. Japan has threatened to withdraw from the United Nations in protest over the Protection of Women Act.”

Really? “That is good news, Grand Mother,” I said, not sure what else to say.

“Our allies are few and welcome, Daughter. I trust you feel the full weight I place upon you?”

I sighed, trying to keep calm. “Yes Grand Mother.”

“You will find them in the Dinning Room. Introduce yourself and keep them company for an hour or so. Then pack your own things and be ready.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Colonel, we can continue our conversation in my office.”

“At your pleasure, Ma’am.”

They withdrew and I took a few deep breaths before I made my own way to the Dinning Room where some many dreams of mine had taken place. I knelt outside the paper door, making sure I was composed. There were so many thoughts competing for the fore front of my brain.

Rei Yotori was making ready for war.

I didn’t want to think about the difficulties the Company would suffer if she were to die heroically defending the station from whatever threat she perceived to it. I wasn’t sure how we could go on without her. But, I was forced to admit, this was not my concern. I cleared my thoughts to only how I could be of service to this new Ally we were courting. I knocked smartly on the floor before sliding the door aside. “Please forgive my interruption, I have been asked to see to your comforts,” I said.

Doctor Wantabe’s voice brought me up from my bow. “Your service is welcome. Please come in.”

She sat at the low table opposite my parents. Rei, you better not get yourself killed. I owe you and your quirky sense of humor.

Feeling inordinately self conscious, I rose from my kneel, entered the room, pausing to close the door behind me. My eyes caught my parents staring at me as I took my place beside Doctor Wantabe and felt a fair measure of pride. My weight had stabilized at one twenty two, actually eight pounds less than that listed on my mother’s driver’s license. My hair was still growing well, currently in a braid that was at the top of my shoulder blades and the flight suit did nothing to conceal my figure.

My bras, which as I’ve said are a 34B, were becoming uncomfortable. The other measurements were 26 and 38, of which I am, I think, justifiably proud. Dad was having trouble keeping a look of utter shock from his face, but Mom was smiling. “Ken?” muttered Dad after a long moment.

“I’m sorry, father, that name does not apply to me any more,” I said softly.

“I know!” he exclaimed, then cast a look of apology at Doctor Wantabe. “I mean, we’ve talked on the phone, but, in person, I just…”

“It becomes real,” supplied the doctor softly. Dad nodded somewhat vigorously. She got gracefully to her feet. “I shall let you all catch up for a bit. I know our training schedule doesn’t leave much time for social interaction or letters home.” She favored me with a brilliant smile. “Remember to get packed for your boost.” Then she strode from the room.

“You’re looking lovely, Masako,” said Mom to break the tension hovering in the air from her parting. “Vice President Wantabe speaks very highly of you. We’re very proud.”

“Vice President?” I asked, suddenly confused.

“Didn’t you know?” she replied. “Doctor Wantabe is the Senior Vice President of your company. She is the head of the Training and Recruitment Division.”

It was becoming apparent that my company had as little to do with titles and the other trappings of rank and position as they could get away with. “I thought she was only the head of my teachers,” I said softly, genuinely surprised and pleased by her praise. “And I hear Dad has a new title to wear as well?”

He puffed up a bit, more confident on familiar ground. “I was offered to head the Mars Division. There’s even talk of my being put in charge of all the Deep Space divisions, headquartered on Mars. We wanted to surprise you on our way out. Then I discovered you’d be traveling with us, so the surprise was mine. And a pleasant one I must say.”

“I could wish the circumstances were different,” I replied. “But I am glad to get to see you both again. Aren’t you worried about trouble over the Protection of Women Act?”

“Shouldn’t I be asking you, dear?” was Mom’s response.

“My employer doesn’t seem to have any intention of following it,” I answered, sitting a bit straighter in pride.

“So we do see eye to eye, don’t we?” Mom gave me a coy smile. “So, have you finally gotten why I kept asking for you to lift the seat, and then put it back down?”

Mother…!” I sputtered. She sighed wistfully.

“One down…”

“Now, just a minute…!” complained dad. The laser beams that shot from Mom’s eyes convinced him to reconsider his objection. We sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes as I served their tea, just happy to be around them once more. Finally, Dad worked up the courage to ask the question. “So, Masako,” and he paused for another moment. “What…well, what was it like?”

“I keep thinking I’ll never feel anything so pleasant, but I keep getting proven wrong,” I admitted with a wry smile. Mom picked up on that at once, I could see in her eyes as they suddenly searched me and found whatever tell tale she was looking for.

“I see,” she said before taking a sip of the tea. “What’s his name?”

“Name?” asked Dad as his gaze traveled back and forth between us.

“Michael Hastings,” I whispered, more than a tad embarrassed.

That gave Dad the clue he needed. “You don’t mean…!” he thundered. “Already?”

I had to think Dad had read the literature the Company had provided which made me feel a bit defensive about his question. I held my head up as I met his gaze levelly. “Last night, if you must know, Dad. Would you like a list of the acts and positions?”

“Certainly not!” he sputtered. His face had that flush of color that showed he was about to launch into one of his rare, but impressive temper driven lectures. Before he could, Mother smoothly interrupted him.

“You certainly didn’t have an issue with Ken sleeping with that lovely Jill girl, now did you? Why should you care that your daughter is now a woman? Other than to congratulate her obviously wise and thoughtful choice?”

“Wise and thoughtful?” demanded dad.

“Michael Hastings? Is that who I think it is, dear?” she asked me.

“Yes, ma’am. Son and Heir of Apollo Freight.”

“Well done, my girl,” she told me all smiles after a pointed glance at Dad.

“He’s obviously a good provider then,” hedged Dad, calming down considerably. I sighed. Obviously, this was going to be a long and drawn out couple of hours.

“Dad, my company does hold a bit more loose interpretation of marriage. There aren’t enough women in space for the classic monogamous model to be effective. To us, being a member of a marriage means I’ll will have children from that man.”

“And they put up with that?” he asked.

“Dad, you have a rather sharp learning curve ahead of you.”

His eyes darted between us once more before Mom patted his hand in some kind of reassurance. “Our daughter is a Spacer now, Moto, and there are things that go with that we just have to accept.”

“But, we’re…”

She smiled and rubbed his hand once more in encouragement. “I’m not a Spacer, Moto.”

“Oh, good!”

Dear old dad.

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Chapter Thirteen

The Escape Of The Robert Heinlein

I couldn’t help looking wistfully at the lights of Armstrong City as the Sally Ride once more danced to my tune through the stars. The city was domed in and around the historic site of man’s first footsteps off our home world. In the center of the city was Tranquility Park were the Descent Stage of the Eagle stood vigil with its lonely flag, now in an atmosphere she wasn’t designed to fly in.

To stand on the board walk in a shirt and shorts and stare at the remnants of the Eagle had always been a childhood fantasy. Now, and for the foreseeable future, that wasn’t going to be a luxury I’d ever indulge in. I pulled my eyes from the winking lights to check the Sally Ride’s trim as I consoled myself if I couldn’t have one small portion of my dream, at least I had this much. My glass was certainly half full; for the time being at least. My free hours between my conversation with my parents and prepping for this flight had been a series of one depressing news piece after another.

I was in space, so I had to believe in miracles. It would take one to keep this posturing from descending into out and out war. The UN had indeed adopted the Protection of Women Act, which would go into effect at midnight tomorrow night. Japan was leading a small coalition of countries who had withdrawn from the UN over it.

But the writing was on the wall. If I boosted with the Robert Heinlein tomorrow, I would be a felon. More than ever I worried about Rei and her refusal to leave the Station.

“We’re on approach, Masako,” Jill told me, bringing me from my musings. With one last, longing look at the lights of Armstrong City I turned to the industrially beautiful bulk of the Robert Heinlein.

“Docking Warning,” I ordered.

“Attention, please,” said Mike’s smooth voice. “Docking Warning; two minutes to docking. Please return to your seats and prepare for docking maneuver.” I felt him twist about in the seat behind me and stare over my shoulder. “Welcome home, Masako,” he told me.

The Heinlein was impressively large. It’s easy to talk about a number as large as four hundred meters, but to stare at something that large was a bit uneasy. She was roughly shaped like a long cigar with hard square edges of the Standard Containers strapped to her where-ever they would fit. She wasn’t a pretty craft, by any stretch of the imagination, in the way that only an engineer could find beauty in a super tanker, but there was a grace about her that belied her bulk.

Then my inspection of her spotted something that didn’t jive with the model I had built of her in school. I directed the camera at her aft quarter and the massive nozzles of her ion engines and brought the magnification up to its maximum setting. “What’s this?” I asked him.

Space suited workers were strapping down a collection of disposable booster rockets, each the size of a Saturn V. Mike’s smile was sheepish. “Our boost is right before the PWA takes effect. We might have to leave in a hurry.”

“Pratt & Whitney Super Titans,” supplied Jill from her observation of the screen. She brought up a calculator and began to feed it numbers. “That will give the Heinlein a boost of, wow; my calculator can’t handle a number this big.”

“We’ll have to triple check the Geewees before we light them,” he said with a grin. “If they fail we’ll all be squished flat. We’ll be accelerating at nearly fifty gravities. We’ll have to turn around and start decelerating a month early.” I whistled softly in admiration. That was impressive for a girl that big. She’d be approaching the speeds of Voyager I, still the fastest man made object.

“Nothing will catch us, that’s for sure,” agreed Jill. “We’re going to Mars, ‘Ko and nobody is going to stop us.”

“The question is when we’ll be able to come back,” I replied softly. I shook off my somewhat maudlin line of thinking. “Telemetry and guidance to uplink for docking,” I ordered.

“Set.”

Robert Heinlein, this is Runabout Sally Ride, requesting clearance for docking. How do you read?”

Sally Ride, we read you on the board. Sit back and enjoy the ride, ladies,” replied a strong baritone from the speakers. I reluctantly released the controls and let our new home pull us in. A bay along her side had opened revealing a sturdy looking arm with a docking target that our nose was lining up with.

I didn’t touch them, but my fingers were millimeters from the controls, ready if something went wrong. I would be mildly disappointed that nothing did. Our nose came to a gentle stop in the cradle as the two computers decided their docking exercise was a success. There was a brief pause before the boards switched over to the umbilical from the Heinlein as the arm, along with us, retracted into her. Out the porthole, I watched the bay doors close around us as my ears strained to hear the hiss of oxygen being pumped in.

“Let’s put the Sally Ride to bed, Jill. She’ll be sleeping for a long time,” I said with a touch of sadness. Commodore Hastings had gotten quite a bargain for his money. Sufficient Care Givers to bring the Heinlein’s gender ratio down to 5:4 and a new runabout to take along. I wondered what the crew of the Heinlein would do with themselves having that many women around. Doubtless, this would be their most efficient voyage ever.

It took Jill and me about twenty minutes to power down the Sally Ride, towards the end of which I could hear someone climbing up the ladder from the lower deck and a deep bass voice calling as he did so. “It’s about damn time you got here,” the voice called. “Ya’ll just delight in making me worry.” I turned as a strong head and shoulders popped through the hatch to join us in the now rather confined control cabin.

“Todd!” exclaimed Mike with delight as he helped the impressively large dark skinned man up the last few rungs. Todd was well over six feet, taller than Mike, and towering over Jill and myself. His skin was the color of dark chocolate and, interesting for these days, completely hairless. From bald pate to his arms like tree trunks, he was completely smooth. He wore a under suit jumper that consisted of a crew necked tee shirt and shorts that reached just above his knees. They were both skin tight, revealing an impressive display of musculature.

His face was a kind and pleasant oval, with sparkling dark eyes and a wide mouth made for the smile he wore. He and Mike embraced unselfconsciously before they turned back to us. “Masako, Jill, this is Todd Williams, my head of security. Todd, this is Daughter Masako Yagimura, and Daughter Jill Stewart. They’re the miracle working pilots that saved Dad and me from the Kings Ransom.”

Todd extended a ham of a fist as his grin got even wider. “Ma’am, ya’ll have mah thanks. Ah don’t know what Ah would have done with out this scallywag to kick around.” His grip was firm, but kept quite soft out of deference. I had no doubt he could have broken every bone in my hand. The electric shock that jumped through me at his touch brought some very naughty thoughts to my mind.

As he shook hands with Jill she caught my eyes and I could tell she was thinking the same thing. “Think nothing of it, Mr. Williams,” I told him.

“Now,” he warned, waving his finger. “Mah name is Todd. We’ll not have any of this ‘Mr. Williams’. We’re all friends here. Ah’ve got some of the boys already getting you ladies’ things from the hold, so ya’ll just follow me and Ah’ll get ya’ll settled.”

As our chores were done, we got un-strapped and waited for our turn on the ladder as the boys preceded us. Jill shot me a lecherous grin and wrinkling of her nose that let me know she had plans for our dear Todd. From the Lower Deck hatch we exited the Sally Ride and it was an odd feeling being able to breath outside of her protective skin.

Like all Care Givers Company craft she was a hot pink, still wearing her livery colors of the company. On her nose her name was proudly stenciled along with the smiling image of her name sake. Being the last off her, I closed and cycled her hatch and she was put to bed, here to sleep the five months it would take us to get to Mars.

There was not time for sadness just then, so I followed Mike and Todd as they led us at a somewhat brisk pace through the ship. Every crewman I passed wore a smile and a nod of greeting. Like Yotori Station, the corridors were aligned in rectangles with raised bulk heads every twenty meters or so. We were lead to a hallway of closely spaced doors that I could see the flight making themselves at home in. “We’re in the passenger module that replaced container one,” Mike told us as he led us through the slightly crowded hallways.

“So weren’t not actually on the Heinlein anymore, are we?” I asked.

“Technically no,” replied Todd as he stopped at a door closest to the travel tube station and keyed in a code. “These modules are all swappable, but don’t you worry. We might lose every other module but this one. Every spare hand volunteered to do the safety check. This isn’t going anywhere the Heinlein doesn’t go.”

It probably shouldn’t have, but I was reassured by that. The door opened into a small room with a pair of larger than average bunks, two desks and a door way off to the right. A privacy curtain went down the center of the room to mate up with another that separated the sleeping compartment from the work space the desks occupied. The room was a very generous six meters square. “Here we are, ladies, home sweet home,” Todd told us. “You two have a private bath just through there,” and he pointed to the door that was on the wall with the travel tube point. “Your formal clothes and pressure suits are in the upright lockers here, and everything else in the drawers under your bunks.”

I stuck my head into the locker, double checking my pressure suit was intact, which it was, next to the four kimonos I’d been issued on their T shaped hangers that held the sleeves out from the body of the kimono. Also in the locker were a small collection of dresses that Mom had sent me from Earth for casual clothing on my (yeah right) time off.

Mike took over the nickel tour at the desks on either side of the cabin that faced away from each other. “Computer terminals here, with full access to the recreation server as well as the class work we downloaded from Yotori Station. Communications access for any letters home you’d like to send. There are also schematics of the ship to help you familiarize yourselves.”

“Sorry for doubling you ladies up like this,” Todd apologized. “There wasn’t room to bunk you with the ships’ regular Care Givers quarters. We did have time to put these curtains up, so Ah hope that’ll do. Ah know how you ladies prefer a bit of privacy when ya’ll are entertaining.”

“I already know Masako is a moaner,” said Jill, utterly deadpan. “No worries there,” she said as Todd’s skin flushed even darker.

“And Jill squeals when she has an orgasm so I’m used to that,” I shot back, savoring in my own turn as now Mike was joining in the blushing. “So as long as you boys can keep the noise under control I don’t think we’ll disturb anyone.”

“Us?” stammered Todd.

“You think we don’t share?” I teased him as Jill rubbed his arm in a most suggestive fashion. “And you,” I said, rounding on Mike and planting a finger in his broad chest. “I’d best see your smiling face in here on a regular basis.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Poor Todd squirmed a bit and probably felt more than a little cornered. “Are the new girls picking on you, Todd?” asked a new, delectable contralto from the door. I turned to see its owner was a striking red head whose fair skin seemed translucent under her flashing emerald eyes.

“Now, don’t you be getting that Irish of yours up, Naomi,” began Todd quickly. “They were just having some fun.”

“I’ll bet,” she drawled with a smile. “Just so long as they leave you both fit for duty, we’ll get along just fine.” She extended her hand which I took. “Naomi Foster, Ship Mother of the Robert Heinlein.

“Masako Yagimura,” I replied with a somewhat embarrassed grin.

“Jill Stewart,” said my roommate as the handshakes were finished. “We didn’t mean any harm, ma’am.”

“So long as you’re not just working up poor Todd’s imagination, there’s no issue here, Jill. That goes for you too, Masako,” she told me with mock severity.

“If there’s time, ma’am, I’ll be happy to prove my intentions now,” I told her, shocking myself a bit at my forth rightness. And I meant it too. I couldn’t have cared less if Naomi had stood there and critiqued my performance so long as I could spend some quality time with Mike and his boyfriend.

“Alas, there isn’t,” she said with a rueful grin before she turned to Mike. “Captain, the final containers are loaded and we’re ready to start the pre-boost checks.”

“Ok, Naomi,” replied Mike with more authority than I’d given him credit for. I looked at him in frank amazement as the casual, deferring young man I was so attracted to became a confident, professional leader. “I’ll leave you to get your new girls settled. Can I steal Masako and Jill for the boost? We’re going to put them onto the bridge crew rotation and I’d just as soon get them familiar with how we run things.”

“It’s your ship, skipper, I just keep the help in line,” Naomi answered with a smile. Then she turned to look at the two of us. “You two better take good care of these two. I’ve spent too much time keeping them fit for duty to have my work loused up by a pair of rookies. Read me?”

“Loud and clear, ma’am.”

“Todd, if our darling new girls don’t live up to the advertising, I want to know about it.”

“Aw, Naomi, you know Ah don’t kiss ‘n’ tell.”

“Make an exception for me,” she said as she patted his cheek before giving us a wink and breezing out, her voice effortlessly carrying down the hall as she got the attention of the rest of the flight.

It was safe to say that I liked Naomi Foster on sight.

“Alright, girls, you heard the lady,” said Mike, still in his command mode that instantly brought my attention. “We’ve got a boost to get ready for. This way to the bridge.”

“Lead on, sir,” I told him as Jill and I followed them out.

“I’ll flip you for first dibs,” she whispered to me.

“Those bunks are on casters so they can join,” I whispered back.

“Oh…”

* * *

I could drag you through the next twelve hours of frantic preparation, but I won’t. Suffice to say I’ve never worked harder in my entire life. It included six hours of procedures, a two hour control familiarization briefing and a three hour EVA to do a final inspection of the Super Titans.

Then the boost countdown clock started.

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“Apollo Freight Flight Controllers, listen up,” said the voice of Mike in my ear piece. I sat in the pilot’s position of mankind’s second largest spacecraft to date and tried not to feel nervous. The bridge of the Robert Heinlein felt more like a control center out of NASA than anything out of a space movie or TV show. Jill and I sat closest to a pair of gigantic monitors set just over the thick ballistic glass of the view ports. Behind us were six rows of workstations to the very back of the sizable room where Mike and the Commodore were sitting, all of us facing forward. “Give me a go/no go for boost. Booster?”

“Go.”

“Retro?”

“Go.”

“FIDO?”

“We’re go, Flight.”

“Guidance?”

“Guidance go,” said Jill beside me.

“EECOM?”

“We’re go, Flight.”

“GNC?”

“Go.”

“TELMU?”

“Go Flight.”

“Control?”

I sighed. “Go Flight,” I told him.

“Procedures?”

“Go.”

“INCO?”

“We’re go.”

“FAO?”

“We are go, flight.”

“Network?”

“Network go.”

“CAPCOM?”

“I have a stand down order, flight.”

“Acknowledged. Booster, commence your master arm sequence.”

“Roger Flight, sequence on; ready for fire in two minutes.” My boards came alive as the last of the moorings were cleared and the Robert Heinlein was floating free.

“Control, Flight,” sounded his voice once more in my ear. I opened the protective covers over the engine controls.

“Go, Flight,” I told him.

“You are clear for port navigation burn, copy?”

“Roger Flight, thrusters to arm, and maneuver warning sounded.” I moved the switches to their correct positions and gently took a grip on the flight controls. “CAPCOM, Control, requesting departure clearance.”

“Control, we’re on stand down orders; per flight, free to maneuver.”

“Roger that.” I caressed the throttle and after a moment it became apparent the Heinlein was slowly coming out of her berth.

“Flight, CAPCOM, I have another stand down order.”

“No response, CAPCOM,” ordered Mike. “Booster, what’s our ETA on that burn?”

“One minute thirty seconds, Flight.”

One of the monitors over my head crackled to life, painting a determined looking, square jawed man wearing a tight fitting uniform in black. “Captain Hastings, this Commander Henricks, ISP cruiser Wyatt Earp. You are ordered to cease your flight operations, heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“You’re free and clear to navigate, Masako,” said Jill after a moment of checking her screens. “Booster, Guidance, you’re go for main engine start.”

“Roger, ignition sequence started.”

I keyed up the departure angle on my personal viewer to watch Port Sheppard fall away behind us, then vanish behind the curve of the now shrinking Earth as Ion Engines came to life pushing us with ever increasing speed. It was from this angle I caught my first sight of the Wyatt Earp, a significantly smaller craft than us that was predominately wedge shaped like an arrow head. She appeared from the direction of Port Sheppard and was gaining on us. “Flight, Control, we’ve reached escape velocity.”

“Roger that, Control. Guidance bring us up on course.”

“On the board, Flight,” responded Jill with more confidence then I felt. A tag in red appeared on my screen that was labeled simply Mars and a large number that was slowly tracking down.

“Captain Hastings,” repeated Commander Henricks. “If you do not comply with my orders I will fire on your vessel. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“Flight, FAO, we’re being painted by high intensity radar.”

“I’m calling your bluff, Henricks,” growled Mike to the figure on the screen.

“I’m not bluffing, Captain.”

“Flight, FAO, radar lock on!”

“Last chance, Hastings.”

¡Aspire el vacío, agujero del asno!

“All stations, Booster. Get ready for a little jolt folks.” Before I could come up with a suitably sarcastic response to that particular quote the Super Titans came to life and I was pressed firmly into my chair. Even with the Gravity Wave Generators, the Robert Heinlein shot from Earth space at what felt in the cabin like five or six G. My vision actually tunneled a bit, so suddenly were we accelerating. I couldn’t move for a full minute before the Geewees were able to overcome the force the titans were exerting on us. The digital relative speedometer had automatically switched to kilometers per second. It didn’t have enough places for kilometers per hour, let alone meters per second. We were cooking.

“Flight, FAO, missile fired!”

“Flight, GNC, that missile going to catch us?”

“Stand by one,” answered the worried voice of Rebecca Stevens, the Head Pilot of the Robert Heinlein and my immediate boss from behind us.

“Flight, Guidance.”

“Go.”

“We are clear of Earth’s gravity well and past negative return, over.”

“Roger that, Guidance. GNC, you got those numbers yet?”

“Flight, GNC, estimating that the inbound missile will require twenty minutes of burn at present rate of delta V to over take. Based on mass I’m thinking it’s only got two or three minutes of fuel, tops.”

A cheer broke out on the control room, further adding to the flushed face of Commander Henricks, still on the screen above me. “Sorry officer,” chuckled Mike from his place. “I’ll be happy to pay the ticket next time I’m in town.”

“This isn’t even close to over, Hastings.”

“It is for you, chief. Next stop, Mars people. Good job. Now somebody get that asshole off my screen.”

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Chapter Fourteen

Marriage, Ethics And Fishing

“Settle down, ladies,” called Doctor Wantabe as she swept into the rather sizable recreation room of the Heinlein that we had co-opted into a class room. The furniture, mostly very comfortable couches and chairs had been re-arranged into a conversational grouping around a white board and dry erase markers. A couple of the off duty hands were listening in, as this was our last Physical Intimacy class, probably in the hopes of being pressed into service as instructional aides. Among them were Mike and Todd, sharing a low conversation in one corner that they halted at the Doctors entrance.

Also here, to my surprise, was Sister Persephone. I was more than a bit shocked to learn my flight instructor was still very new at being a Care Giver as well. I guess she was just a natural. Doctor Wantabe stopped by the white board to write:

Advanced Physical Intimacy Final Ethics

“Anyone have a guess what we’re going to talk about today?” she asked with a wry grin. Mike actually raised his hand. “Yes, Captain?”

“Is this the class where you talk about whips and chains and candle wax?” he asked, sending a ripple of laughter through out the room.

Doctor Wantabe was consoling. “Alas, no, Captain, that was about two weeks ago. Sorry you missed it.” From the blush on his face, I gathered he was sorry too. Which certainly gave me a topic of conversation for my first lover at our next free time together. “Any one else?”

“Sensei?” asked Susan softly. “Are you talking about Marriage and Children?”

“Yes, I am, very good Susan.” She turned and wrote that on the board as a pair of bullet items. “Let’s start with Marriage. Anyone have a thought on how marriage will affect your careers?”

“Won’t it end them?” asked Carmen quizzically.

“I have four husbands and a sister wife, Carmen,” was the Doctors response. “I’m still here.”

Four?” demanded Janet’s voice from across the room.

“And a sister wife,” corrected Ryoko. “And, this is as good a time as any to announce my engagement to my fifth husband, Commodore Fred Hastings.” There was a murmur of applause and congratulations. “Polygamy and the group marriage has become the accepted norm in space, girls. Just because you get married doesn’t mean you stop being Care Givers. Along with everything that entails.”

“And they’re ok with that?” asked Maria.

“Don’t assume anything about everyone,” cautioned Doctor Wantabe. “As you girls advance in your careers, you will receive marriage proposals. Make sure your betrothed understands that even if you try the monogamous model in your marriage lives, exclusivity to one partner sexually is not something you have the luxury to bring to that marriage. Unless you resign your positions, with all the fines and penalties that implies. Quite simply, girls, we have too much invested in you to loose you that way. Captain? Would you care to comment on your opinion of the Spacer view of marriage?”

“Well, I guess I could, Doctor. I’m not exactly an expert.”

“Don’t be shy,” she chided him as she gestured him to the front of the room. “We’re eager to hear your view.”

He rather hesitantly made his way there, the boyish charm and diffidence that attracted me coming out strongly. He grinned his lop sided grin as he looked out at the sea of female faces gazing expectantly at him. “Boy, here’s a sight that will live in my fantasies for a while,” he quipped. We all giggled. “Well, I can’t talk about an entire society of people with any kind of authority, so I’ll have to rely on the personal anecdote I’m afraid. As far as my friends and the other Captain’s in my company go, the group marriage is pretty much the norm. I’m still single, but I’m a part of a relationship with my good friend and lover Todd over there.”

The room paused to exchange looks between the two and Todd’s somewhat embarrassed wave with his fingers. “My mother wasn’t a Care Giver, and while she and my dad were exclusive to each other, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told how rare that was. It wasn’t that they loved each other more than some of my other friends in group marriages love their particular spouses; they were a different generation from the beginnings of civilian space flight.

“My dad was twenty when Spaceship One was launched the first time. Back then, being in a group marriage was a crime. And while the ratios weren’t 1:1, they were certainly a lot better than today.”

“That’s a very valid point,” interrupted Dr. Wantabe. “The ratios are one of the prime reasons why group marriage is the norm in Space and becoming accepted even on Earth. Did you have anything else, Captain?”

“Just that we’re pleased to have all of you girls joining us and we look forward to serving with you,” he said before returning to his perch with Todd.

Once more Doctor Wantabe settled at the front of the class. “Now, you all have something to think about for later in your respective careers. Let’s turn to what is doubtlessly the item of the most concern you have.” She turned and underlined Children on the board. As she turned back, she noticed Maria had raised her hand. “Yes, Maria?”

“Doctor, I hope I’m not being too personal, but, would you mind telling what you were, well, before you joined the Care Givers?”

The Doctor smiled. “You want to know if I was born male or female, is that it? Who would like to hazard a guess?” The room descended into a rough shouting match as one or the other of the choices was put forward. “Whoa, quiet down please. Let’s have a show of hands. Male?” She did a quick count and wrote the number under a new heading on the board. About half of us were guessing along that line, me included. “Alright,” she said, “that’s about fifty fifty. I’ll answer that question at the end of our time together.”

A low groan of disappointment floated through the room to her grin. “Let’s get back on topic for a few minutes. I promised you all honesty, and I meant it. I just never promised promptness. Now, you all have received your hormone restriction implants. They actually do more than restrict the hormone flow that ripens an egg for release when your monthly visitor comes calling. I would like you all to think the phrase I’m about to say. ‘Monthly status and information kudasi.’”

I did, but nothing untoward happened, certainly nothing that would have caused the girls around me to gasp in astonishment. I put my hand up. “Yes, Masako?”

“I must have done something wrong, Sensei. I don’t get why everyone is so astonished.”

She smiled warmly. “That would be my fault, dear. Japanese is your native language. You need to think Monthly status and information in English, then kudasi. For those of you who don’t already know, kudasi is Japanese for please.

I repeated the process with these new instructions and was rewarded with a small graphic that floated over my vision I could see through as though a holographic ‘heads up’ display. The current calendar was present with the twelfth highlighted as Last Day to Commit, and then the 27th through the 30 were highlighted in red as Fertile Period. Today’s date was also highlighted.

“What you’re looking at, ladies,” said the doctor, “is a real time uplink of what your bodies are doing hormonally right now. Today’s date is, obviously today. Last Day to Commit is the last day you can order the implant to cease its function, allowing an egg to mature for you to be fertile and impregnated.”

I looked at Mike and Todd and they were just as shocked and amazed as we were. Doctor Wantabe continued. “Then, of course Fertile Period is the time you will actually be most fertile, after which, you’ll begin your period. Knowing this, there is no reason for you to use your monthly visitor to explain away a lapse in duty. You will all know when that time will come and can take appropriate action to maintain peak performance.”

“Sensei?” asked Carmen. “Is this a sure thing? Are you saying we will be able to get pregnant whenever we want?”

“While the Inhibitor is active, you will not become pregnant,” she replied. “It’s information will make it more likely you can conceive when you want to, but nothing is fool proof. It took me three months to conceive the first time. Now, I must make you aware of something else along this line. Alright, girls, now think Status Off, kudasi. The inhibitor also affects the Ph value of some of your bodies systems. Specifically to tend toward the alkaline in your vaginal secretions.”

“We’re acidic?” demanded Janet. “Like, acid?”

“Well,” laughed Dr. Wantabe, “not to the point that anything other than litmus can detect. We don’t want to hurt our lovers. However, it is a fact that X chromosome sperm are less vulnerable to high alkaline environments than Y chromosome sperm. Who can tell me the significance of what I just said?”

“We’re much more likely to have daughters instead of sons,” said Sandy Malcolm, the lovely mixed race girl I had noticed earlier. She was from New Orleans, evidently the original racial mixing pot of the Americas.

“The nanites in your bodies communicate biochemically with the inhibitor,” replied Doctor Wantabe. What ever Y chromosome sperm manage to survive the altered Ph of your wombs, the nanites are dispatched to dispose of.”

“So, we can only have daughters?” she demanded. “Why?”

“The ratios,” said Susan suddenly. “If our daughters are born in space, they’re more likely to stay there, aren’t they? That will eventually put the Care Givers out of business,” she said.

“Our best projections put that date sometime in the next three hundred years or so,” smiled Doctor Wantabe. “No need to worry. There’s plenty of work in the mean time. However, Sandy is not entirely correct. You are not only allowed daughters. Each of you, once in your service lifetimes, can order the inhibitor to create an environment favorable to conceive a son. If an X chromosome sperm wins out, don’t fret. The chance is only used up when you have given birth to a son.” She sobered. “Choose who you will bear that son for very carefully my dears. Men, being men, will all pressure you to pick them. They’ll tell you how important it is for them to have a son to further the family name and such.”

She paused, and for some reason her eyes settled on me. “That is the kind of logic that brought our ratios so out of balance in the first place. Girls, had the Care Givers not developed this device, we were on the path of breeding humanity out of existence. I won’t tell you how to live your personal lives. I can only instill on you there is no reconsidering this choice once it’s made.”

“But,” asked Maria. “How can we find time to raise children with all that we’re expected to do?”

“That, Maria, dear, is a challenge I work through every day. In a large part, the group marriage helps. Some ships will not have the facilities to allow for children. Some do. Apollo Freight has one of the best records in this regard, so you are all very lucky there. Captain? I believe every vessel on a cruise of more than a week allows children, does it not?”

“You’re correct, Doctor,” he replied. “Although, we are considering extending that benefit to every vessel period. Once I know how the board of directors votes on that, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

She graced him with her brilliant smile. “Thank you.” She put the marker down. “I know I’ve given you girls quite a bit to think about. Do so. Talk amongst yourselves and, of course; I will be available for you to answer any questions you have. Oh, and lest I forget.”

She picked up the marker and drew a large circle on the board, then drew a line straight down from it and crossed that line again. “My birth certificate reads Ryoko Wantabe, with an F on the gender line.”

My eyes for some reason sought out Susan’s face which was covered in frank amazement that was giving way to admiration. “How we were born does not define who we are,” Ryoko said softly. “The choices we make do. The Right Thing is often the Smart Thing. I have spend my life and will do so until I have not breath in my body in service to my fellow man. It was and is The Right Thing to do. There are no further classes today, my dears. The time is yours to spend how you see fit. When we reach Mars you’ll be given the phrases to reset your inhibitor. I trust no one has a burning need to become pregnant before then?”

There was a spatter of uneasy giggling. “I thought not. Good evening girls.”

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The door to the galley opened with a hiss of equalizing air pressure and a flood of welcome smells that washed over me like a wave. Through the steam, I could make out the curve filled form of Helga, the ships Chief Cook, busying herself at kneading bread dough as she supervised the other off duty crewmen who were on KP this particular shift. Her round and rosy face split into a grin as she made out who was entering her domain. She laughed a good natured laugh that sent her honey blonde pigtails to jiggling that matched the rhythm of her exceptionally ample bosom. “Ah, here is Fraulein Yagimura, as promised. Willkommen.”

She waved me inside with her flower covered hands as she stepped from behind the counter. I shouldn’t have to say her German heritage was obvious, but the round face and the heaving bust were a disguise. From behind the counter stepped a Valkyrie, large, but lithe and with curves that would make any man have a sudden urge to listen to Opera. I started to bow before she swept me into a hug that was overpowering in its forcefulness. “Now!” she warned me, her voice a tad stern. “We’ll have no formality here, fraulein. In the kitchen, we are all family.” She looked over her shoulder suddenly and raised her voice. “Stir that soup, George, it won’t stir itself. There is no lesbian display on the program for this evening.”

“Yes ma’am,” chuckled George as he turned back to the large pot of soup in front of him.

“Now,” Helga said, her considerable attention back on me once more. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I would like to have some small corner you’re not otherwise using to prepare a meal for someone. Well, three someone’s actually.”

Her eyebrows ascended her forehead. “Oh? Already? Well, who did you have your sights on, munchkin?”

“My roommate, for one, and the other two are Captain Hastings and Mr. Williams.”

“Indeed?” she said, rocking back on her heels and gazing at me with a new, more critical gaze. “You are a bit small for such large fish, aren’t you, munchkin?”

I met her gaze with all the determination I could. It didn’t help that Helga was probably about even in height with Mike so I was forced to cock my head up at her. “My people say no matter how small the fish, their waves move the ocean.”

“Do they?” she said with a smile. “I like you, fraulein munchkin. Come, we set you up with everything you need to land your big fish.”

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Chapter Fifteen

Conspiracies And Compromises

I knelt on the floor on the far side of the low, Japanese style table Jill and I had managed to borrow from the recreation room, strumming my mandolin absently to keep my nerves from getting on edge. There was nothing worse than waiting, I was coming to learn. Once more I was wearing my kimono, as was Jill who was humming along softly with my tune as she finished the final preparations of our dinner. I was using up most of my personal supply of foodstuffs on this meal, but the vast majority of them wouldn’t keep anyway.

And if they did what I hoped they’d do, they were worth spending. Jill was satisfied the sake kettle was at the right temperature and removed it from the hot plate to alter it’s setting to warm, before replacing it. “We’re just about ready,” she said a bit anxiously. “Ko, you sure you’re ok with this?”

I looked up at her, my face and emotions blissfully serene as I smiled at her once more. “Jill, my love, I don’t know if tonight is the beginning of something or a wonderful evening spent in dalliance. All I know for certain is, no matter who joins it, or where my life takes me, I want you to be there.”

She settled beside me, gracefully pausing to kiss me gently across my lips before getting her kimono settled. “I knew you were special when I first saw you at the train station,” she told me. “Working up the courage to come over and talk with us. God that seems so long ago.”

“The journey of our lives has had a great many foot steps placed on it since then,” I agreed with her. “I do not regret any of them,” I told her, probably more forcefully than I needed to.

She bit her lip. “There’s something I haven’t told you,” she said softly. “They save the ejaculate from when you underwent the DeCorvin Process. It’s even on board, frozen cryogenically to be stored in the Care Givers facility in New Atlanta, on Mars.”

I sighed, my mind too at peace to wheel at this remarkable news. “There will be many years, I think, before our lives have settled to the point where the addition of children will not be a cruelty to them. Still,” and I paused to lean over and kiss her gently. “I am honored beyond words by your offer.”

The door chimed, as it was want to do at ill-timed moments, bringing my eyes to the chronometer beside it. “They’re early,” I said softly as Jill rose to float over to the door. I put my mandolin aside as she knelt in preparation of opening the door. She keyed the release as we both bowed formally, our foreheads just touching the floor. “We are honored by your presence. Please come inside and be refreshed,” she said.

“Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly,” chuckled the voice of Doctor Wantabe. I shot up, embarrassed and startled by her smiling face as she stepped through, keying the door shut behind her. “Kimonos, a sake kettle nicely steaming, you girls are pulling out all the stops.”

“Sensei!” I gasped, surprised beyond words as she sniffed.

“Is that miso I smell?” Her eyes narrowed slightly as she gracefully knelt. “Masako, you know how much I adore your miso soup and you didn’t invite me? I’m hurt.”

“Sensei, I did put some aside for you,” I told her quickly. Doctor Wantabe had been most generous in her praise of my soup, indeed having gotten into something of an argument with the stations cook when she had dared to suggest the cook learn my recipe. Well, actually it was my mothers, but that was beside the point.

Ryoko smiled broadly. “Thank you, Masako, that was most generous of you. Jill, come to the table and stop gawking like a school girl caught smoking in the lavatory. Your boys will be along shortly, they’re just delayed with the inspection of the cargo after our dramatic departure from Earth.”

Jill had lost a good bit of her usual grace as she rose and actually stumbled back to the table. “Are…are we in trouble, sensei?”

“Goodness, child, why would you be in trouble? Actually, I have a favor to ask the two of you and it looks like you have things well in hand with it already.”

“Sensei?”

“Don’t play stupid, Masako, it doesn’t become you. You and I both know what you girls plan to do tonight. Good! By all means, fuck the shit out of them and make them corner the Chaplin in the morning to thank God they’re men.” I blushed a bit at her frankness. Indeed, it was the first time I’d ever heard her use profanity and to have it be about my plans for the evening was more than a tad embarrassing. “This,” she said, tapping her finger on the table. “This is my favor. What are your intentions, my dears, to the good Captain and his right hand man?”

“Intentions, ma’am?” Jill stammered as she and I exchanged glances. “I don’t really know that we have any. Other than, well…”

Doctor Wantabe sighed. “As much as I love you two, you must realize you are women. You should always have intentions. Is this something casual between the four of you or not?”

“I really like Mike,” I whispered, looking down at my folded hands in my lap. All traces of my calmness gone now as we had changed from free time to class time. It was obvious Doctor Wantabe was trying to teach us something. “I know he was my first man,” I continued softly when she didn’t start speaking again right away. “I…I just, he was very gentle and he has kind eyes. I like him.”

“Jill?” asked Doctor Wantabe pointedly.

“Where Masako goes I follow, Sensei,” she replied honestly. “She’s already told me that Captain Hastings is a wonderful lover and the thought of the four of us just sharing each other honestly excites me something fierce.”

“That’s a fair answer,” Sensei admitted. “I don’t want to pressure you two, I do want to know what you feel. Would you be adverse to something more than casual between the four of you?”

I managed to work up the courage to look up and meet her measuring gaze. “Sensei, what is it you’re leading up to? Why is this so important?”

“Rei saw the way you and Michael looked at each other, Masako.”

“I won’t offend our largest client, Sensei,” I told her earnestly. She smiled, reaching across the table to pat my hands in reassurance.

“Dear, if I had even the smallest inkling that something might happen to slightly annoy Captain Hastings, you would not be on this ship, I promise you. You misunderstand me. Rei thinks that you have real feelings for young Michael. Do you?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know, Sensei. I haven’t been a woman long enough, I suppose. I wouldn’t mind having him around for a long time. And not just because he’s good in bed. I really like him.”

“Our situation is somewhat perilous, Masako. You know what’s going on down on Earth. You might not know what’s going on out here in space.” She paused for a sigh as once more Jill and I exchanged looks. “A group of Owner Operators as formed a group calling itself the Independent Spacers Guild. They’ve even founded a colony, New Atlanta on the Cydonia Mesa. It’s the first colony on Mars that is neither government funded, nor backed by one of the big shipping firms. It is the seat of the nescient Independence Movement for space.”

“Why are we going there?” Jill asked softly even as I hissed in realization. “What?” she demanded.

“Apollo doesn’t have a colony. They are simply haulers, working the triangle route between Mars, the Belt and Earth. They must be getting hammered with the port fees when they trade with someone else’s colony.”

“They are still very profitable,” said Doctor Wantabe softly. “Thanks, in large part to the efforts we’ve already put forward on the Commodore. We, well, that is, Rei and I see our company as very influential in giving birth to Spacer Independence. What I’m about to tell you must not leave this room.”

Hai,” answered Jill and me in unison.

“At Rei’s request, Commodore Hastings is going to New Atlanta to cement a trade agreement with the ISG as well as investing rather heavily to give them the resources to accomplish what they’re attempting. A Space that is free of Earth control.”

“That’s what the PWA is really all about, isn’t it?” asked Jill in a quiet voice.

“You can’t have an independent culture and society if you can’t breed,” replied the Doctor. “Our fates are very much tied together, Masako, the Care Givers Company and Apollo Freight. Rei wants to know if you would be averse to tying those fates in an even stronger way?”

“But,” stammered Jill, “You and the Commodore…” Ryoko smiled.

“I hope to have a wonderful life with Fred and my other husbands. I might even convince the old bird he has time in him for one more child. But,” and she turned back to me with deep concern in her eyes. “Michael is his heir. If Michael were to marry a Care Giver, then it gives his father that much more incentive to see to it Space becomes free.”

“Is that all we are to you?” I whispered. “I had not thought so ill of Rei-sama.” Doctor Wantabe was consoling.

“Ko-Chan, all that matters to me is that you and Jill are happy. If, by helping you find that happiness, a greater need is fulfilled, is that evil?”

“What if I say that I just wanted to share with Jill a wonderful lover I’d found?”

She smiled. “Then share, Ko-Chan. It’s what we do best. But, if there is more here than just that, consider very deeply the ramifications.” She paused significantly before telling us softly, “Michael, of all people understands and approves of the Care Givers. His own feelings for Todd will put a significant strain on any kind of union he commits himself to. But, Apollo Freight must have an heir beyond him.”

“Michael Hastings must have a son,” she said. “If you are agreeable to that idea, Masako-san, I ask you and your sister to be of service. If not, I ask that you enjoy yourselves tonight. And strive to not interfere with what must happen. You are a Care Giver, but you are your own person. Do what you think is right.” She gracefully got to her feet.

“The Right Thing is often the Smart Thing,” I whispered. “This is larger than something I can answer tonight, Wantabe-sensei.”

“Nor did I expect one from you, Masako-san.”

“Will Rei-sama expect to control my husband through me?”

“Rei-sama will have enough difficulty in controlling you, Masako-san. I do not ask you to participate in a conspiracy. I ask you to marry a man you, yourself, admit to having feelings for, to stand at his side through a greatly difficult time ahead of us. To serve, just by standing there and loving him, of what has passed between our companies.”

Jill chuckled as she shook her head. “Why do I feel like I’m in some Akira Kurosawa film?”

“Kurosawa-san was very fond of the young geisha being arranged to be married to a young Shogun for the good of her country, wasn’t he, Masako-san?”

Hai, Wantabe-sensei.”

“Good evening, ladies.”

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It was obvious the boys were tired already when they arrived for dinner. They put a very brave face on things and were genuine in their compliments of my handiwork. But I could see the fatigue in their eyes.

I was touched beyond measure that Mike took the chopsticks I’d given him from a protective case he carried with him to eat.

However, it was apparent half way through the meal if we didn’t take things in hand soon, we’d have a pair of snoring guests to show for our efforts. I caught Jill’s eye and nodded to her as we both rose in unison and made our way around the table. Jill settling behind the sizable Todd and I behind Mike. “Wha…what’s up?” he asked sleepily as I began to kneed the considerable stress from his broad shoulders.

“You’re falling asleep,” I laughed as I told him. “I was afraid if Jill and I didn’t take matters a bit more directly, you’d both fall face first into your rice and snore.”

“I’d never disrespect your cooking that way,” he said with a great deal of sincerity. He reached up and gently pulled me around so I was sitting in his lap. “If I ever did, what would be my chances of spending quality time with you again?”

“Very slim,” I agreed. “We had hoped you boys would like to spend the night here,” I whispered.

“Are you trying to get my head of security out of the way so you can have your way with me?” he asked me with a grin.

“No,” I told his deep blue eyes. “I’m trying to get my lover and your lover into a complicated relationship with you and me. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t interested in having a piece of Mr. Williams myself. But,” and I trailed off as I realized our lips were only millimeters apart. “I love you as I love Jill,” I whispered as his soft mouth covered my own. This time my tongue sought his as he crushed me to his sculpted chest.

As we parted, I sighed in contentment to turn to see Jill and Todd intertwined in a grasp of passion that I should have been insanely jealous of. But I wasn’t, only happy for my friend and fascinated by the yin and yang aspects of their skin colors as they intertwined. Her kimono was already half off and his large, dark hands were kneading her breast with the tenderest affection I’d ever seen. “Jill?” I called softly.

Todd jerked his hand away as if a child caught at the cookie jar. I could help laughing as he grinned in his own embarrassment. “Yes, Ko?” she answered from her gentle stroking of his smooth, bald head.

“We really should make the bed before they pass out.”

“Oh, yeah.”

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It had been our intention for this to be a night for the boys. Jill and I would do the work while they simply enjoyed and got to be very happy they were men. They wouldn’t hear of that, however. From insisting they clear the table to rolling the two bunks into one fairly sizable bed, they had to do everything as we watched. I’ll admit to being more than a little breathless in anticipation watching these two paragons of the male form work so easily together. I can’t say whether it was what was on tap for the evening, or my cooking that had roused the two of them, but all traces of sleepiness were gone from their demeanor.

In short order two beds were one and they were grinning at us like schoolboys proud of their first report cards.

Yes, this was definitely a sight I could get used to. Without a word, Jill and I rose and stepped over to them, by unspoken agreement, I undressed Todd while Jill got her first look at Mike. They were both exquisite examples of manhood, their sinewy forms bunched and rolling with coils of muscle. Todd was as hairless as the promise of his head had been and I was intrigued by his smooth, chocolate colored skin. His member was significantly fatter than Mikes’ was, but not quite as long I think and already well on the way to erection.

We were both careful not to touch them in any overtly sexual way as we removed their flight suits, pausing to fold them neatly and place them on the desks behind us. Mike was already breathing quite heavily as I sneaked a glance from our folding, their eyes intent on us. Jill and I shared a smile as we stood a bit out of reach as I kissed the kimono from her body, revealing my love’s form one slow and gentle touch at a time. As our show had a brief pause as I gathered the garment to return to it’s hanger I saw both boys were now completely at our mercy.

Mike was a bit longer than Todd I noticed and neither of us had touched them yet.

I smiled a coy smile into the closet as her kimono was stored, then turned to face them as she slowly put me on display for their enjoyment as well. Her mouth sent shivers of pleasure through me as I caught the eyes of first one, then the other. They were ravishing us with their eyes, although neither had the presence of mind to even take his member in hand. They stood, ramrod straight, their members pointing at us in strained, denied yearning as I watched them take us in their minds through their eyes.

I felt just a twinge of worry as Jill returned my kimono to the closet that we had them too aroused. That tonight would be quick and rough.

Then Jill had returned, pulling me to face her as we shared a kiss of searing passion, our hands gentle on each other as we made sure we were both ready for our lovers. She was as soaked as I was and her nipples were probably just as sore from being so erect. I was in the process of bending over to take one into my mouth when a pair of strong hands gently seized me and picked me up. I stared up into Mike’s smiling face as he and Todd carried us to the bed and laid us down as though delicate china he was afraid of breaking.

They didn’t say a word as they knelt at the edge of the bed and bent to show their appreciation in ways we could understand. As Mike’s tongue danced in my nether regions, a low string of moans escaped my lips. Jill and I embraced as the boys worked on us, giving each other strength even as the boys worked it out of us. Holding her while Mike had his way with me was very comforting.

Then it was their turn to be coy.

They stood and traded positions, even as they leaned over us. I watched Mike slide into my best friend even as Todd gently lifted my hips to give him a better angle. I felt myself part as he stretched me open to a soft groan of pleasure. “No fair,” whispered Jill in a dreamy voice. “I called first dibs.”

“When have I ever not shared with you?” I sighed as I tried, and failed to wrap my legs around Todd who had impaled himself completely within me. He and Mike shared a laugh at our conversation.

“We’re not going anywhere,” promised Mike as he kissed Jill with considerable affection.

“Least wise not till you two are completely satisfied,” responded Todd.

“I don’t know if five months is long enough for that,” I answered him as I lifted my hips to match his down stroke into me.

Then there was only blissful silence as my body was stretched to it’s limits by his wonderfully fat member. By his fifth stroke I was lost in the most wonderful series of orgasms that rolled over me like a wave. Jill’s soft squeals told me she was enjoying Mike as well. Then I heard Todd was chanting softly to himself, which brought my attention back to the man making love to me. His eyes were clenched shut as his mouth moved, letting me realize he was chanting multiplication tables to himself.

I was almost insulted until I realized he was trying to hold off his own orgasm. I reached up to stroke his nipples with my thumbs even as I clenched my lower muscles with all my might. His eyes shot open to stare into mine as a series of trembles raced along his arms holding him above me. “Come,” I ordered him firmly. “Now.”

Todd groaned as his trembles became a spasm heralding a new flood within me. This triggered a new orgasm throughout me, but in a detached way I could enjoy the pleasure of it, even as I watched him in his own throes of ecstasy. Beside him I heard Mike groan as well as he released himself within Jill. I rolled my head to find her looking at me, a soft smile on her face. She was just out of reach to kiss, which was a tad frustrating.

Todd’s arms gave out on him, even as Mike’s did. Both of our men lowered themselves over us, still implanted their weight soothing as the moist heat of their sweat covered bodies enveloped us. Todd was already snoring softly, as Mike muttered something incoherent once or twice as he relaxed into sleep as well. “Want to keep them?” she whispered softly, still trembling every now and then.

“Oh yes,” I told her.

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We only let them have about an hour of sleep before we wiggled our way out from under them to rouse them to act two. Although, my personal favorite was act four.

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I awoke to a rather odd odor through out the cabin and the soft sound of keys being pressed. I opened my eyes to see Mike, bathed in the soft glow of Jill’s monitor, still nude, a cigar hanging out of his mouth as he worked the terminal. That explained the smell. Jill and Todd were still asleep, entwined in a complicated Gordian Knot that looked rather uncomfortable, but both were soundly asleep. I rose softly and walked over, drawing his eyes from the terminal as I did so. “Did I wake you?” he whispered, his expression contrite.

“If you get cigar stink in my kimonos, I’ll never forgive you,” I whispered back, a grin on my face to soften my words. He was sheepish.

“Sorry. After that, well, I just couldn’t resist.” I leaned over his shoulder, making sure to press my bosom into his wonderfully broad shoulders.

“What are you doing?” I asked him softly.

“Going over the press uploads to see how our departure is being portrayed. It’s not pretty.”

“Mike,” I chided him. “This is not important. In a year or two when you finally get back to Earth, worry about it then.”

“’Ko, a war is coming. A nasty one. Earth means to have every woman in space back dirt side. They’re even talking about pulling your sisters off the moon. The moon for God’s sake!”

“And what can you do about that right now?” I asked him. “We are committed to this burn. We’re going to Mars. It will be at least a year before you’re back in Earth space. This might have all blown over by then. If they want a fight, we’ll give them one. But there are better things to be doing than this,” I said with a wave of the monitor. “I won’t have you work yourself to death in addition to worrying about what some baka politician half a million miles away thinks of you.”

“’Ko,” he said, shaking his head. “This is important. Our future as a society…” Seeing that words weren’t have the effect I wanted, I switched gears, circling to the front of him and planting a kiss across his wide mouth.

Your future,” I whispered, withdrawing from the kiss. “Is all I’m concerned with. And for you to have a future means you need your sleep.” I reached over and turned off the monitor. “I’ll make you a deal,” I said as I reached down, finding his manhood by the light of the glowing end of his cigar. At my touch it shuddered and heroically started to rise to its fifth curtain call of the evening. “The day you manage to keep this guy dry of my attentions, you can worry about this BS. Fair enough?”

“You drive a hard bargain, lady,” he told me even as he rubbed out the cigar in the ashtray he’d evidently brought with him.

“You drive the hard stuff, Captain,” I told him as I sat down in his lap, making the two of us one once more. “I’ll just be your lady, how’s that?”

He reached up and pulled me against his chest in the darkness, planting a soft kiss on the top of my forehead. “Deal,” he whispered.

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End of Book One

The Rank Organization Of The

Care Givers Company

Applicant:
Not technically a rank, this individual is in the process of evaluation to be accepted to the Care Givers Company. No uniforms or insignia.

Trainee:
The lowest accepted Rank. A Trainee has no insignia on her flight suit other than her last name over the right breast.

Daughter:
While still in training, the Daughter has distinguished herself among her peers and classmates. Daughters sometimes work as Student Instructors in what ever field they are taking advanced classes for to assist their Trainee Co-Workers. A Daughter wears a pin of black onyx in a circular cut on each shoulder.

Sister:
Sisters are primarily the face of the Care Givers Company. They are now completely free of training and are out on ships or stations, performing the work for which they are contracted. In dire circumstances, a Sister could take charge of other Care Givers below her in rank but this is rare outside of a training environment. At the very minimum, a Sister will hold an Able Spacer’s Ticket, if not a higher rating. A Sister wears a ruby cut into a circle on each shoulder.

Aunt:
A more experienced Care Giver, now being given charge of their lesser ranked co-workers, Aunts are in the process of being trained and evaluated to be promoted to Ship Mothers. An Aunt will carry an officer qualified ticket from both the ISC and the Independent Spacers Guild. An Aunt wears an emerald cut into a circle on each shoulder.

Ship Mother:
The senior Care Giver on a space craft, station, or ground facility, the Ship Mother acts as liaison between all the representatives of her company and whatever company has contracted their services. She settles disputes, if any, as needed among the girls, is their disciplinarian if needed as well as their coach, confidant and councilor. All Ship Mothers hold a Masters Certificate from the ISC as well as the Independent Spacers Guild; in an emergency they are rated to command whatever vessel they serve upon. A Ship Mother wears a diamond cut into a circle on each shoulder.

Grand Mother:
The senior Care Giver of a region or across a fleet, she performs similar duties as the Ship Mother, with the exception of dealing with the Ship Mothers directly and allowing them to filter down to their respective charges. A Grand Mother wears a pair of teardrop pearls on each shoulder.

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Cast of Characters

Ken Masako Yagimura:
A young Japanese boy with dreams of finding his fortunes in space. He is newly graduated from the University of Tokyo.

Moto Yagimura:
Ken’s Father and an executive in the Honda Corporation.

Keiko Yagimura: Ken’s mother. A home maker.

Jill Stewart:
A Care Giver recruit, training in Tokyo.

Sara Wellington:
A Care Giver Recruiter currently stationed at the home office in Tokyo.

Frederick “The Fred” Hastings: Founder of Apollo Freight and a Spacer of 60 years. The Fred built his company from humble beginnings to the largest independent freight company in space.

Michael Hastings:
Fredericks’ oldest child and the heir to his company. Currently, Mike is the captain of the company’s flag ship, the Robert Heinlein.

Rei Yotori:
Daughter of the Founder of the Care Givers Company, currently the CEO of same.

Mary Yotori:
Founder of the Care Givers Company. Deceased.

Susan Adams:
Trainee in the Care Givers Company, home office of Tokyo.

Carmen Alfonse:
Trainee in the Care Givers Company, home office of Tokyo. Friends with Susan Adams

Maria Garcia:
Trainee in the Care Givers Company, home office of Tokyo.

Janet Rogers:
Trainee in the Care Givers Company, home office of Tokyo.

Nyota Umbeli:
Trainee in the Care Givers Company, home office of Tokyo. Friends with Susan Adams.

Brigadier Alister Trevor(Ret):
Former Flight Instructor for NASA, now working for the Care Givers Company as a flight instructor at Yotori Station.

Persephone Chartrand:
A Sister in the Care Givers Company, currently working as a Student Instructor on Yotori Station.

Marjorie Stewart:
Jill’s Mother.

Colonel Richard Wolf:
Commander of a group of professional Soldiers for Hire named Wolf’s Raiders, currently under contract to the Care Givers Company at Yotori Station.

Todd Williams:
Executive Officer of the Robert Heinlein and head of its Security Department.

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Glossary

Booster:
The officer onboard a space craft in charge of the status of the ships engines.

CAPCOM: Capsule Communications Controller. The officer on a space craft responsible for keeping the ship in communication with ground stations and other craft in space.

Control:
The Pilot of a craft in space, in charge of actually controlling the ship.

Duke-Brannick Box: See Gravity Wave Generator.

EECOM: Electrical Environmental Consumables and Mechanical Controller.
The officer on a space craft responsible for keeping the ship habitable with breathable atmosphere, food and water in addition to the mechanical systems designed to support the same.

ENCO: Encoding Officer.
The officer on a space craft charged with keeping both the TELMU and CAPCOM officers on the correct encryption subroutines to various ground stations and other ships in space.

FAO: Flight Activities Officer.
The officer on a space craft charged with coordinating various departments in preparation for the craft to commence flight operations.

FASA: The Federal Aviation and Space Administration:
A governmental agency charged with both issuances of Flight Worthiness certificates as well as the investigation in the failure of a craft in Space.

FIDO:Flight Dynamics Officer.
A coordinator who works between the Booster Officer and the Guidance Officer to ascertain the effects of thrust on a projected course.

Flight: The Flight Director or the officer of a space craft in direct command of that vessel for that watch.

Gee Wee: See Gravity Wave Generator.

GNC: Guidance, Navigation and Control.
A supervisory officer on a space craft who oversees both the Guidance and Control Officers.

Gravity Wave Generator: (Also referred to as a Gee Wee or Duke-Brannick Box)
A large, power consumptive device that is capable of generating artificial gravity on a space craft, or canceling out gravity if already present.

Grounder:
The reverse of Spacer.

Guidance:
The Navigational Officer of a space craft, in charge of plotting and laying out the course the craft will take through space.

ISC: International Space Council,
a subsidiary arm of the United Nations, charged with keeping law, order and decorum in outer space.

ISP: International Space Police: The enforcement arm of the ISC; a quasi-military organization whose ranks are filled by volunteers from each of the ISC signatory nations.

NASA: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The ‘Air Traffic Controllers’ of space.

Network:
The Network Officer oversees the internal computer network of a craft in space.

Procedures:
Primarily another harbor job, the Procedures Officer makes certain all the proper forms for arrival and departure are complete and that all checklists have been carried out properly.

Retro:
As was often the case in the early days of sailing, the Retro Officer is technically a harbor pilot. It is his job to be completely aware of a given facilities quirks and has emergency override of a vessel departing or arriving at a harbor.

SOTV: Surface to Orbit Transfer Vehicle.
A craft launched into space by means of an extraordinarily long magnetic rail and a small, re-usable booster rocket.

Spacer: Generic term for any person who lives and works in space on a permanent basis.

TELMU: Telemetry Maintenance Officer.
The officer on a space craft charged with updating the ships logs and flight recorders.

Comments   

0 # alisa28 2016-06-20 23:58
So glad to find another Care Givers story!..This does round out the comprehension not included in previous ones.
Eagerly awaiting next chapter!
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0 # Horrid 2016-07-20 21:59
Do you have any links for any Caregivers stories other than those in the Whateley site (3)?
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