by Matsu Kasumi
illustrated by beili
(mirrors by http://s2b2.livejournal.com/290738.html)
Portsmouth, April 2033
Keith Lewis looked in the mirror, sighed, and adjusted his tie once again. The damn thing didn’t look any better no matter what he did. He was about to give up when he heard a giggle. He turned around and noticed his sister, Tara, in the doorway.
“Need some help?”
Lewis was not proud enough to refuse.
“If you don’t mind,” he answered, undoing the tie and letting it hang around his neck.
“Didn’t they teach you to do this in military school?”
She put the tie around her own neck to make a perfect knot before putting it back around Lewis’ neck.
The teasing was clear in her eyes, but Lewis didn’t rise to the bait. He ran his hand through his dark blond hair out of habit, still startled by the short length – even though he’d worn it short for years.
“That Viking mop of yours was ridiculous anyway,” remarked Tara, noticing the gesture. “At least now people can see the colour of your eyes. And green does look good with your blue uniform. Not that you need your eyes to get any attention, with a chest like yours…”
Lewis sighed. He didn’t really care about looking good in his uniform. In fact, he didn’t like the uniform at all; the shirt felt too tight, as if the seams would creak was he to move his arms too quickly. At least his diving suit was perfectly fitted to his strong frame.
“Now try to smile a little. One could almost think you’re not glad to get on board of our newest and finest submarine.”
“It’s the Subarashii! Everybody wants to be on it!” Tara exclaimed, before frowning and amending, “Well… everybody who’s interested in spending days in a closed metal box.”
“It’s a submarine, Tara. I joined to go in space, not under the sea.”
“Oh, as if there were any difference between a submarine and a spaceship.”
“Tara…” Lewis didn’t really want to have to explain to his sister all the differences between space and sea. Especially since he was sure she knew them all too well, and was just trying his patience for the sake of sibling duty.
“And, as far as metal boxes go,” she added, ignoring him. “I think a brand new submarine offered by the Japanese Empire and fitted with all they have to give in terms of technology is far more reassuring for your family than an old flying saucer.”
Before Lewis could object, she planted her index finger on his chest and continued: “You might want to give your life for King and Country, but your family wants you to be safe. And wants to hear from you, which is far easier if you’re not light years away.”
Lewis sighed but didn’t answer. He knew his desire to go to space was a bit selfish, but couldn’t really bring himself to feel bad about it. Maybe because his mother had always encouraged him to follow his dreams. And he had always dreamed of space, always.
Tara squeezed his shoulder, far more sympathetic than a second before. “Also, you’re young. You’ll have other assignments… and once you know your way around a submerged metal box, surely you can apply for a post in a flying one. Just wait for sub-spatial communications to get more reliable, okay?”
Lewis knew she was trying to make him feel better. And this mission really was his only hope to ever go to space. Even though his physical aptitude tests were above average, his academic ones were not good enough for the Space Force, and so it was either the Royal Navy or civil life. And civil space programs were far more difficult to enter without having wealth or a good friend already on the program. So being noted for his great deeds in the Royal Navy and later joining the Space Force was probably the only way he could ever leave the planet. That, or becoming a space pirate…
Inside the Subarashii that evening, watching the darkness of the sea through the small porthole and rubbing his hand through his nonexistent hair, Lewis thought that perhaps the space pirate thing was not such a bad idea after all.
South Pacific Ocean, September 2033
Lewis was off duty when the news about the spaceship arrived. Some sort of small craft had crashed in Earth’s ocean and the Subarashii was the closest to its location. They were told to immediately set course for it and assess what it was.
That was by far the most exciting thing that happened since the start of this mission and, of course, it happened right as Lewis’ shift was ending.
As he was off duty, he stayed in the training room, passing time with his diving mates and trying not to think about the spaceship and where it came from.
They had developed a little game of physical challenges to kill time, and this time Page had challenged Lewis to do fifty push-ups with Sullivan sitting on his back.
Sub-Lieutenant Valentina Sullivan was not the lightest girl on the Subarashii, but at least she was able to sit still and not giggle or move with every push-up. Lewis was at the forty-second push-up when Lieutenant-Commander McLeod interrupted them. It was unexpected, since McLeod, the Subarashii‘s highest-ranking engineering officer, usually kept to his business.
“Oi, Beefcake!” McLeod called from the doorway,. “Stop showing off and get your arse to the briefing room. Now!”
With that, McLeod stormed off, leaving them all wondering what it was about. Lewis shrugged Sullivan off his back and stood up.
“Guess the challenge will have to wait,” he said, making for the door.
“What does he want with you?” asked Page.
“Hell if I know,” was all he could answer.
Seven minutes later Lewis was in front of the briefing room’s door. He had only made a small detour by his room to put on some deodorant and a new t-shirt. McLeod’s tone had been urgent, so he was still wearing his greying shorts and his old trainers that made a squeaky sound with each step.
Of course, Lewis hadn’t anticipated that Captain Lee would be in the briefing room, or he would have taken the time to put on his uniform. She frowned as Lewis entered the briefing room and he felt extremely small, despite being at least a foot taller than she was.
She kept glowering as Lewis saluted her, then the rest of the group – McLeod, three other engineers and two commanding officers – and sat in the nearest chair.
“What are you doing here, Petty Officer Lewis?” Captain Lee asked, making Lewis realise that it wasn’t just his clothing she was unhappy about.
“Lieutenant-Commander McLeod requested my presence, Ma’am.”
Captain Lee turned her glare to McLeod.
“What have I told you about an away team, McLeod?” she asked. Her voice was calm, but for her not to use McLeod’s rank with his name meant she was unhappy with the engineer.
“With all due respect, Ma’am, I think…” McLeod started, but Captain Lee interrupted him:
“I don’t care what you think! Nobody’s exploring that spaceship. This isn’t the Space Force. Our mission is to secure the craft and that’s it. Am I clear?”
Lewis blinked, not quite sure he was understanding right, but one look at McLeod’s closed face and the way he looked at his hands confirmed that the Space Force line had been a taunt to the engineer. Of course, Lewis had suspected that he was not the only one on board whose first choice of career wasn’t the Royal Navy, but he would never have bet on the stuck-up engineer. But while McLeod probably had all the academic qualifications that Lewis lacked, the thickness of his spectacles alone was enough to keep him stranded on Earth.
Lewis wanted to say something, but he doubted anything he or anyone else could add would make Captain Lee change her mind.
However, one of the other engineers whose name Lewis didn’t know seemed to think otherwise.
“Ma’am?” he asked politely, before continuing once Captain Lee had nodded in his general direction: “I completely agree that going on board would be ridiculous, but we could do with someone outside. The spaceship’s shield is still partially active and it fries our communications. We won’t be able to send our drones anywhere near it without deactivating it first.”
“And how exactly do you deactivate that thing’s shield without going in, Lieutenant Barrett?”
“Well, if Lieutenant-Commander McLeod’s assumptions about the nature of the craft are true, then there’s a switch on the outside. And once said switch’s been hit, we can send drones to drag the spaceship in and keep it safe until we can give it to the Space Force,” Barrett replied.
Captain Lee joined her hands and looked at McLeod, more calculating than angry this time.
“On what exactly do you base this assumption?”
“Well…” McLeod took a deep breath”The pictures we have received and the ones we have taken indicate a 96% likelihood of this craft being a Taexoolian escape pod. And… well, the thing is, the Taexooli shared a few of their designs with the Russians last year…” McLeod interrupted his enthusiastic speech at Captain Lee’s raised eyebrow and didn’t go on about how exactly he’d gotten his hands on the specs. “Anyway, I know that Taexoolian escape pods always have a security shield switch outside to facilitate rescue missions. I can easily brief Lewis on how to turn the shield off. I’m sure he can do it.”
Captain Lee made a humming sound and put a finger to her lips. After a few long seconds, she turned to Lewis: “Petty Officer Lewis.”
“Are you willing to do this, knowing the risks?”
“Yes Ma’am. It would be an honor,” Lewis said, trying not to sound too eager.
She let another few seconds pass before she finally replied. “Fine. But your mission is to go, hit that switch and come back. If anything is different from McLeod’s briefing, you come back. If there is any sign of life on this craft, any creak in its windows, any unexpected painting on its hull, anything… We wait for the Space Force to arrive. I’m not exposing my crew to unnecessary dangers. That includes xenobacteria, so if the decontaminating drones detect anything on you, you’ll stay out of the Subarashii until you can be properly sanitised.”
“Understood, Ma’am,” Lewis said. He was not about to let this chance pass, even if there was a risk of spending the rest of his life freezing in the ocean.
“You’ll be alone out there,” Captain Lee insisted and Lewis nodded. She was more willing to sacrifice thousands of pounds of drones than a couple of human lives.
She nodded back, then ordered: “Lieutenant-Commander McLeod, brief Petty Officer Lewis; he must be ready to dive as soon as we reach the wreckage. Lieutenant Barrett, get your drones ready. I want this spaceship secured before the Americans get there,” Captain Lee said, then she looked at her watch before adding, “Our ETA on the site is eighteen minutes. The Americans should be on our back in two and a half hours. Good luck gentlemen.”
With that, she left, followed by the other commanding officers.
“Well, we’d better get ready,” Lieutenant Barrett said.
McLeod nodded. “Thanks, by the way,” he said to Barrett and Lewis felt bad for assuming that McLeod would be as cold to his fellow engineers as he was to the rest of the crew.
“Anytime,” Barrett smiled. “As soon as you get promoted, I’ll have your job,” he explained with a wink before gesturing for the other engineers to follow him.
McLeod huffed with a small smile then looked Lewis up and down. “So I have less than eighteen minutes to make a specialist in Taexoolian ships out of you… Every day brings out new challenges in this line of work,” he said good-naturedly. It was obvious that McLeod wished he could be the one to go instead, but whatever resentment he had was not directed at Lewis.
Twenty-one minutes later, Lewis felt more than heard the hatch’s door closing behind him. He was now alone in the darkness of the sea, his vision going only as far as his headlight could shine. His state-of-the-art diving suit clung to him like a second skin, turning the underwater currents into strange caresses. He could feel everything almost as if he had been naked in the water, while at the same time being kept at an ideal temperature despite the coldness of the sea. The only parts of his body that were densely covered was his back – where the oxygen reserves were directly incorporated in the suit, making cutting his access to his air supply virtually impossible – and his head in the round helmet.
The helmet had been stripped of most of its content, the side screens unplugged and the camera removed to avoid any risks of frying something off when entering the pod’s shield. But there was no time to dwell on the lack of technology at his disposal so Lewis grabbed the drone waiting for him.
McLeod piloted the drone to drag Lewis atop the crashed spaceship, staying out of the shield’s range. The drone was shaped like a very round warhead, with its front being a round moving camera and its back a propeller. It was equipped with lights and had four arms with a variety of tools. It was no small feat to pilot one of these drones in the deep sea currents, especially when dragging someone who was hanging by one of its arms.
Once McLeod had him straight above the craft, Lewis took a second to admire the oddly mechanical ballet of drones coming out of the Subarshi and aligning around the pod, ready to get working on it as soon as possible. Then, with a salute to the engineers, he let go of the drone and swam down.
Lewis heard the comms die when he entered the shield and hoped McLeod had been right and the silence wouldn’t last once he got back out of it. He was confident in the engineer’s judgment, since he had been right about the craft. It was indeed a Taexoolian escape pod. It was roughly the size of a double-decker bus and made of a yellow-ish metal with no windows but a number of purple and red markings on the hull. Looking for the signs that McLeod had shown him, Lewis realised that the pod was upside down.
Lewis swam back up and was relieved to hear the comms creak back to life as he did; he let McLeod and his team know that he would have to dig to get to the switch and that if he hadn’t talked to them in an hour they were allowed to start to worry. He set an alarm on his watch to remember to get back to the communication point, then swam back into the shield’s field.
He circled the pod, looking for the quickest way to the switch. Once he knew where to dig, he started to push rocks, seaweed and sand aside. It was a tedious and time consuming work and being underwater made things different. Rocks were easy to move but sand was a pain and seaweed would sometimes tangle around his limbs and slow him down considerably.
After almost half an hour of digging his way under the craft, he saw the markings McLeod had shown him. They meant the switch was roughly four feet further down alongside the hull. A few more rocks and he should be able to reach it
Lewis was trying to move a particularly big rock when he felt as if he was not alone anymore. Startled, he let go of the rock and turned around, but there was nothing to see between the darkness and the sand floating about. He stayed still for a moment, trying to feel a disturbance in the currents that could come from a shark or any other big fish. There was nothing of the sort but Lewis still felt uneasy. Something was amiss and he wanted to know what and why.
As he put his gloved hands back on the rock, he felt again with certainty that he was not alone. And he wanted to know what that strange, non-fishy thing was doing here. Had it come to hurt him?
Lewis shook his head, what was that thought? Was it his thought at all?
It took Lewis longer than it should have to wonder if this sensation was connected with the ship. McLeod had been sure there was nothing alive in it because of the lack of distress signal, but he could be wrong.
Lewis tried to concentrate on the strange feeling and soon realised that his mind was filled with curiosity that, while directed at him, was clearly not his own. Something was messing with his mind.
The mind-messing didn’t feel threatening: just curious, and perhaps a bit wary. Since there wasn’t much Lewis could do to against telepathic attacks, he needed to get whatever was sending sensations to his mind to show itself.
Lewis had just realised this when something firm wrapped itself around his thigh. He immediately got his knife out. This wouldn’t be the first time today he had to cut seaweed to make his way to the pod. But the timing was bad; he hated the idea of his movements being restricted while he had to fight an unknown mental foe. Looking down, he almost dropped his knife when he realised it wasn’t yet another seaweed but a tentacle.
Lewis turned, expecting to see some sort of octopus, but instead he saw more tentacles emerging from a cave. There were too many and they were too long to have come from an octopus, and he was almost certain the cave hadn’t been there before,
He tried to swim out of their reach, not keen on fighting undersea creatures if he could avoid it. While he didn’t mind cutting seaweed, he was less tempted to slice through the tentacles. The bleeding might attract sharks, but more importantly the creature had so many tentacles that he was convinced angering it was far from the best option. Hoping the creature would understand that he was not there to harm it, he put his knife back in his utility belt and tried to unwrap the tentacle with his hands first.
The tentacle around his thigh was strong and drew him closer to the dark cave. Another wrapped itself around his torso and a third around his ankle Lewis was about to get his knife back out and try to get away by force, when he felt the strange sensation once again. Only this time it wasn’t curiosity: it was something like a mental hug, nice and warm, and then, as if on second thought, the added sensation of security. Lewis stilled, then gently touched the closest tentacle with his right hand.
Nice? he asked in his head. The creature answered by a strong wave of nice, warm, happy and more tentacles getting out of the cave. Only this time, it didn’t try to drag Lewis anywhere, simply wrapping ten or twelve of its tentacles around him, securing him.
What are you? Lewis tried to ask. The creature’s answer gave him a headache. There were flashes of meals made of sharks and giant crabs, of ships sailing high above his head and submarines passing close by, of some rare moments when he was not alone and of long colorful dreams of tentacles that weren’t his own. Lewis got the impression that the creature was very old and had an excellent memory.
The creature sent a wave of curiosity through Lewis’ mind again and he answered by thinking of non-threatening things. He didn’t want to risk frightening it with memories of his soldier training, not when it could probably snap his neck in a matter of seconds. Lewis thought of the stars instead, high above his head and how he couldn’t help longing for them.
The creature sent him one of its mental hugs again. This time the warm sensation was accompanied by something like compassion or reassurance, as if the creature was sure that Lewis would get to the stars sooner or later.
Lewis patted the tentacle closest to his right hand. Then he remembered his mission and felt the tentacle stiffen slightly around him. It only took a moment to exchange feelings and thoughts so that Lewis understood that the creature disliked the spaceship, since it had crumbled part of its home. The creature was quite taken with the idea of letting Lewis take the pod far, far away.
It was however less keen on letting Lewis go right now. It held him tightly wrapped and kept thinking about how warm and nice he was. Lewis decided to indulge the creature a bit and stay for a moment. It was indeed nice – and maybe warm, but his suit was temperature-regulating anyway. And, to be honest, Lewis didn’t feel in any hurry about returning to the Subarashii. The pod was not about to move anyway and the Americans were still far away, so why would he rush to get back inside the submarine when he could spend a bit of his time with something that genuinely liked his company? His decision taken, he patted the closest tentacle and tried his best to mentally hug the creature too.
The creature sent yet another feeling of nice, warm, happy in answer to Lewis’ resolution. Then it started moving. All the tentacles roamed over Lewis’ body in a physical extension of the mental hug.
It would probably just have been that, but, when the tip of a tentacle ghosted over his inner thigh, Lewis couldn’t keep inappropriate thoughts from forming in his mind. The creature likely picked those and a sense of indulging understanding flashed through his mind before the touches turned more insistent; tentacles were now caressing his ass and rubbing against his groin. Lewis felt himself harden and, in response, some tentacles spread his legs and another came to tease Lewis’ cock through the fabric of his diving suit.
Lewis moaned slightly in his diving helmet and felt a sense of accomplishment.
Far from stopping, the creature wrapped itself more snugly around Lewis’ body, tentacles making rings around his legs and arms. One of the bigger tentacles was around Lewis’ torso, it had a sucker the size of a teacup on top of Lewis’ heart, just at the right place to rub against Lewis’ nipple each time he breathed.
Lewis didn’t have time to wonder about how much of that was on purpose because the tentacle on his cock had stopped teasing and was now rubbing him with a steady and sure pace. Another tentacle was poking around his ass, searching for an entrance, and Lewis felt a sadness at the realisation that penetration was impossible without breaking the diving suit and likely killing him.
Lewis’ mind was clouded by pleasure, and he had stopped wondering if the creature knew what it was doing or just picked ideas from Lewis’ own brain. He also didn’t know if the creature enjoyed the act or just the effect it had on Lewis’ mind, but one thing was sure: it was pleased too. Lewis could feel its satisfaction each time he gave in to the caresses and the warm happiness that was echoing his own lust.
Lewis felt himself being shifted; tentacles were then kneading his ass, and the one on his groin moved again, somehow placing one of its sucker just on the head of Lewis’ cock and another on his balls. The suction was stronger there than anywhere else on his body and Lewis found himself moaning harder.
It had been months since Lewis had had sex with something other than his own hand. The sensations that would normally have been just foreplay were almost enough to get him off in record time. Coupled with the strange – almost alien – feeling of the creature’s own pleasure, it only took the tentacles’ shifting a little for Lewis to feel himself on the edge.
Lewis grabbed the closest tentacles, holding onto them as he groaned, thrusting his hips blindly to get more friction. The tentacles moved again, making him close his legs around the one that was sucking his cock and balls. He felt that tentacle move some more, rubbing against his cock then applying intense suction to his balls.
Lewis came with a groan. The tentacles stilled and some of them retracted, keeping him held but not enclosed. Lewis allowed himself a minute to recover from his orgasm before refocusing.
There was a sense of sleepiness in his mind. Lewis was wondering if he should do anything about it when his watch bipped. The creature let him go easily and he swam to the point where communications worked to tell the others he was almost there. Which was true; the pod would have been halfway attached to the Subarashii by now had Lewis not… made an encounter.
Lewis couldn’t really blame himself for that delay. They were still on time, and if he’d had some fun along the line no one needed to know.
As he swam back to the escape pod, he saw no trace of the tentacles. The cave was still there, but it seemed like a dark, profound and inhabited tunnel.
Lewis turned back to the part of the pod he was clearing out and to the big rock he had been about to move when it all started. As he began to push, a tentacle came from behind Lewis and dug under the rock. Then another tentacle arrived, and in seconds, seven or eight were wrapped around the rock, pushing it out of the way.
The creature then helped Lewis until there was a clear passage for him to reach the switch.
Smiling to himself, albeit a bit incredulously, Lewis concentrated on the memory of exchanging feelings and ideas with the creature. It was a bit more difficult without touching it, but he could still feel that the creature’s mind was reaching for his own.
Thanks, he thought as loud as he could. For everything.
As he hit the switch and heard the buzz of communications coming back to life, Lewis could swear he felt a sleepy, deep and masculine voice mumble You’re welcome in the back of his mind.
Portsmouth, December 2033
The crew of the Subarashii was on leave for the holidays, and Lewis was getting his ass handed to him at Super Smash Bros. XIII Reboot by his cousins’ kids when the doorbell rang. Glad for the distraction, he went to answer. He was expecting anything from charity to carollers, but not to find McLeod standing there in civil clothes with his hands in his pockets.
“Keith,” McLeod greeted.
“Craig,” Lewis answered. “What are you doing here?”
McLeod smiled. “Can’t I wish a merry Christmas to a shipmate?”
Lewis snorted. Wishing him a merry Christmas, really? Of all the excuses McLeod could have invented to come and see him. Not that he would need any excuse since the two of them had become very close friends after the spacecraft incident, bonding over their love for space and a sense of injustice about the Space Force’s selection methods.
“You could have just called,” Lewis remarked, deciding not to comment on McLeod’s lame line and passing a hand through his hair. It was nowhere near the Viking style he had before enlisting, but long enough that he would have to shave again before getting back on board.
“Yeah, well…” McLeod looked around to check that no-one was near and pulled Lewis out of his home, closing the door. “Some things are better said in person.”
“What kind of things, exactly?” Lewis asked, wondering what this could be about. Knowing McLeod like he now did, the engineer either wanted to enthusiastically share some news about space or to vent about someone. Though if it was the later, he probably would have come with a bottle of scotch.
“You remember the Taexoolian escape pod? The one that got Lee promoted to Commodore without so much as a pat on the back for those who actually did the work?”
Lewis nodded. How could he forget?
“I did made some research. Turns out this escape pod was launched by smugglers about to get investigated and it was full of Oxaq crystals. Do you know what an Oxaq crystal is?”
McLeod smiled. “It’s a crystal that emits an empathic field. It is said that the Taexooli warriors of pre-technology times used them to ‘become one with their mount’. Now it’s worth billions on the black market of Zandyrl.”
“Oh,” was all Lewis could say at first. Then a question crossed his mind: “Do these crystals work on humans?”
“Yeah,” said McLeod, understanding Lewis’ true question. “And, judging by the amount that was in this pod, the empathic field was big enough for you to have had philosophical debates with sharks.”
“I’m not really into philosophy,” Lewis said.
McLeod shrugged “Anyway, the pod is to be handed back to Taexoolian police but… let’s just say the smugglers are still around and they want their cargo back. I have some contacts. They say they could use men like us for the salvage mission.”
Lewis didn’t answer, not certain he was understanding McLeod’s meaning for what it was, and not for what he wanted it to be.
“You don’t have to decide right now,” McLeod said, shifting when a door opened further down the street. “Look, I’ll be at the docks for the new year party. You can meet me there and tell me what you think, okay?”
McLeod didn’t wait for Lewis to answer; he left, and Lewis stood there for a moment, pondering. Finally, he went back inside and found Tara waiting for him in the hallway.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“Just a shipmate who wanted to wish me a merry Christmas. He couldn’t stay,” Lewis answered, deciding not to mention that said shipmate was also his best friend. His best friend who had just offered him a chance to become a space pirate.
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