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Assigned a Guardian by Emily Tilton – Sample

Assigned a Guardian by Emily TiltonPrologue

Kayla Lourcy stepped unwillingly over the threshold of the orbital shuttle that would take her to the colony ship Jupiter. Something like a thousand old-fashioned shutter-sounds echoed from cameras that had no shutters, to capture the moment. Countless video recorders silently stored the footage that wasn’t footage.

Kayla had told Patrick McDowell that she wanted no press to record their boarding of the Jupiter. She had screamed at him, finally, right there in her own office where she had always, always kept her cool before, but he had patiently told her that unless she wanted to be tried in absentia for her role in her dead father’s malfeasance, she would let the government-media complex have its way. She would smile, wanly, and let Earth Network and its rivals Global Communication and Worldwide Broadcasting post the news on a billion phones, across the planet: Miss Lourcy and Patrick McDowell leave aboard Larry Lourcy’s ship, under a cloud of suspicion.

In creating the colonization program of which the Jupiter was now to be the final vessel—at least until the earth administration changed—her father, Lawrence Lourcy, had certainly done things that could have landed him in prison. And Kayla had participated. The fact that her father’s goals had been the noblest ever to grace a human intelligence, not just in Kayla’s and Patrick’s minds but in the minds of millions of other people, mattered not at all. Those millions weren’t running the planetary administration.

The Lourcy faithful had followed the news about Lawrence’s colonization program eagerly for more than twenty years. They still hoped that the colony on Draco would be the place their children would find refuge from the destruction mankind had visited upon Terra, their home. But they weren’t in charge of the courts.

Kayla herself shared their hope, and she knew Patrick, Lawrence’s chief engineer and senior vice president of design, did too. She just hadn’t wanted to leave now, with the administration breathing down her neck.

“Smile,” Patrick said, his brogue discernible even through gritted teeth, as he turned beside her, just inside the main hatch of the Jupiter. “At least you won’t have to see them for a long, long time.”

He had a way of finding reasons for optimism that Kayla found intensely irritating, although a part of her acknowledged that the cause of her irritation lay in the way those reasons always seemed, in fact, compelling. If Kayla wanted to be pissed off, Kayla would be pissed off, and Patrick could piss off, to use an expression from his homeland.

“I wouldn’t be seeing them today if you weren’t a jackass,” Kayla replied through a gritted-teeth smile of her own.

“Kayla! Kayla!” a reporter shouted. “How do you feel?”

Goddammit, why did Patrick have to pause in the doorway like that?

“We feel wonderful,” Patrick shouted back.

Sensing an opportunity, someone from one of the networks thrust a microphone at them. “Kayla,” a video reporter said, “what do you think your father would say if he could see you boarding his pride and joy, the Jupiter?

Patrick opened his mouth, but Kayla had had enough of him trying to speak for her. He probably thought he was helping by silencing her, but these vultures had no right to triumph over her with their painful questions, and to get their viewing numbers from making her cry.

“He wanted to be on this ship,” Kayla said flatly. “I think he would have been on this ship if the unjust allegations made against Lourcy Industries hadn’t made his last years a living…”

Patrick put his hand over the microphone. “Kayla,” he said urgently in her ear, his Irish brogue strangely like a cat purring in her ear, “think of him. Don’t think of you, or me. Think of him. Think of everything he worked for, and everything he stood for.”

Kayla glared up into his infuriatingly handsome face. He was ten years older than she, and he seemed to wear that maturity in the slight lines around his eyes that even Kayla had to admit made him look wise, under the mop of light brown hair that was always tousled from the way he ran his hands through it whenever he was thinking, which was a great deal. Patrick, she knew, hadn’t had a completely sunny relationship with Lawrence; they had butted heads the way all hyper-intelligent men do when they’re committed to the same thing. But Patrick could have no idea how it made Kayla feel to have to think about what Lawrence had worked for (while ignoring Kayla) and what he had stood for (which was, apparently, very often, ignoring Kayla).

But she thought of his face when he had told her about the colonization program for the first time, when she was only three. He had come into the playroom, where Kayla drew pictures and played with dolls and, above all, built castles, under the care of her nanny. His face shone, he gave her an enormous hug, and he said, “The Saturn and the Mars and the other ships left orbit today, sweetie. Your kids are going to be safe.”

Kayla did cry then, for the cameras, and she turned back to the video reporter’s mic and said, “Really, I think he would be so very happy that Patrick and I get to live his dream, and go to Draco. Did you know that he called the planet Draco because I loved the stuffed dragon my mom gave me before she died?”

A perceptible ‘aw’ ran through the crowd. Kayla looked up at Patrick and saw that he was giving her a sad smile. It took all her willpower not to reciprocate with an angry glare, but instead to keep the dopey smile that had somehow happened to her face when she spoke about her parents.

Ancient history. Soon to be history that happened on a different planet.

“Good luck!” someone shouted, and then a hundred more people did. The klieg lights illuminated the tarmac of the air-and-orbit-port unnaturally, against the gathering light of a tropical dawn. Patrick put his arm around her and led her inside the shuttle, where they sat among the fifty other colonists who had already boarded, all of them between the ages of twenty and forty, fertile, and able-bodied otherwise as well.

“Patrick,” she said, as the shuttle taxied out to the immensely long runway required to get it off the ground, “are they sure you don’t dream in cryo-sleep?”

He looked at her, and Kayla realized, unhappily, that he could probably see the distress and apprehension on her face. He just knew her too well; he had already been a vice president at Lourcy when she had done her first summer internship there, during college.

“They’re as sure as they can be, I believe. It takes a long time to recover fully, but no one’s ever reported dreaming.”

“How long? To recover, I mean.”

“Well, the longer the sleep the longer the recovery, and the trip to Draco is the longest ever tried. They reported needing a full week of very limited movement, building muscles back, getting used to walking.”

“And we won’t age at all?”

Patrick shook his head. “You’ll still be twenty-five and I’ll still be thirty-five, as far as our bodies are concerned.”

“Anything else?” Kayla had been so distracted by her father’s final illness that she hadn’t ever had the chance to look carefully through the transmissions they’d gotten back from the Draco colonists, over the subspace link that had made the Draco mission possible in the first place: the subspace link could only be used on a planet, and it was immensely expensive to build and maintain, but without it Lawrence would have been dead decades, perhaps centuries before anyone knew whether there were humans alive on Draco.

“Well, it hits women harder than men, I’m afraid.”

“All women?”

“Most of them.”

“Not me.” Kayla stared out the window.

“Flight attendants prepare for orbital takeoff,” came the captain’s voice, as the shuttle finally turned, its immense rocket engines beginning to flare into deafening life under them.

“Kayla Lourcy,” Patrick shouted, “you have more of your father in you than you want to admit!”

Then nothing was audible but the roar, and Kayla lost herself in the growing pressure of gravity, back into her seat.

Chapter One

“She’s coming around,” a female voice said.

Kayla tried to open her eyes, but found she couldn’t. Nor did any light seem to be making its way through her lids, to indicate that her eyes still functioned.

“Good,” another woman said. “That’s twenty-two of twenty-eight.”

Twenty-eight? Twenty-eight what? Oh, God, are there that many out of fifty-two dead? The first expedition had only lost a single colonist to cryo-sleep.

Kayla tried to make a noise, and found that her vocal cords were functional, just barely, as if she were humming softly. She opened her lips and found them moist, though the effort of opening them cost her much more energy than she expected it to.

“Hum,” she said, softly and painfully.

“Hush, dear,” said the first voice. “Don’t take it too fast. Your eyes are bandaged, and in an hour we’ll take the bandages off slowly, in the dark, and then get you used to using them again, gradually. We just need to wake up all the girls first, and get you together in the processing room.”

With immense effort, Kayla said, “Twenty-four dead?”

“I told you to hush… Kayla.” The woman must have checked a list of names. “Oh,” she said in surprise, “you’re Kayla Lourcy.”

Kayla tried nodding instead of speaking. It wasn’t painful, at least, but her neck muscles seemed terribly weak.

“No, everyone seems okay, at first glance,” the woman said. “Oh, you mean because you heard Marjorie say ‘twenty-two of twenty-eight.’ She meant twenty-eight girls. You’re, um, going to find that the way things run on Draco is a little different than you were probably expecting. Just get used to being awake for now, okay?”

Kayla heard her footsteps recede from the side of the cryo-bed. Twenty-four men, not twenty-four dead. They had segregated the sexes? Why?

* * *

In the metal-walled processing room, a sizable space like a conference hall, they went through the painful process of recovering their eyesight—or that was how it felt to Kayla. She had last seen the room, the largest on the Jupiter, twenty-two years before, though of course it only seemed to Kayla like a few hours.

Marjorie, a woman of about forty, guided them through the process of removing the bandages. The first thing Kayla saw was a very dim light. It took a full minute before she could tell that that light was coming from the closed door, where a little illumination spilled around the jamb. Then Marjorie’s assistant Sandra turned on the lights very low, and gradually raised them until Kayla could see that she sat among the other twenty-seven female colonists of the Jupiter. They blinked, and blinked, and blinked, looking at each other with grave smiles and thumbs-up.

Finally, after a half-hour of that, the lights were fully on, and though the world still seemed fuzzy to Kayla, she felt fully human again, though terribly weak. Marjorie stepped to the front of the room, and waited for the murmured greetings among the women to subside at the sight of her official pose. Kayla kept to herself. Patrick had really been the only colonist she knew, and he wasn’t here because of this strange segregation.

“Good morning!” Marjorie said. “Down in Draco City, our capital and only city, it’s actually evening, but it’s definitely morning up here for you, since you just woke up. My name is Marjorie Leary, and I’m the senior matron of the administration.”

Kayla felt her brow furrow at the unfamiliar title.

“The men in your group,” Marjorie said, “were woken yesterday. They are already down on the planet. So—” she checked the tablet she carried, “—Heather Ross, Bella Gutierrez, Maria Maldonado, and Heather Salieri, your husbands are just fine. They had their briefing yesterday, and today they’re being presented with their career options. Things are going to be different for you ladies, however.”

Something in the way she said it with a hint of stern authority kept anyone, even Kayla, from raising her hand.

“I regret to inform you—though I have to say I don’t regret it all that much, so don’t run crying to me for sympathy when you get your bottom smacked because you bratted at your guardian—that gender relations on Draco follow a different pattern than they follow on Earth—at least the last time we heard from Earth.” Marjorie said this with such a grim air that Kayla instantly knew something had gone very, very wrong with the subspace link.

“I’m not going to candy-coat this for you ladies. Women on Draco are subservient to men.” She paused to let the little gasps and exclamations of disbelief fade away. “Everything went to hell, ten years after we got here. We lost the subspace link because a premenstrual woman, who happened to be the chief of engineering at the subspace array, closed a relay she should have left open. She blew out fifteen relays up the line, fused them solid. We had enough of the alloy we needed to repair two relays. The Jupiter—” Marjorie slapped the internal metal wall, which rang back a hollow sound, “—is carrying enough for two more. So far, we haven’t found what we need here on Draco to make any more. But I digress.”

The women in the room were murmuring now, trying to make sense of what they were hearing. Marjorie held her hands up for silence.

“This happened fourteen years ago. A political party that had already begun to gain a little strength, whose candidates supported a strong central authority and a traditional division of labor…”

Kayla couldn’t contain herself now. “Traditional?!” She stood up, feeling woozy from the aftereffects of cryo-sleep but determined not to show any weakness if she could possibly help it.

Marjorie walked calmly over to confront her. “Kayla, I understand how hard this is going to be for you—for you more than for every other lady here. But this is the way it is on Draco.”

“You cannot be serious.”

“I’m telling you that I’m serious, Kayla Lourcy. You’re not going to enjoy what happens if you refuse to sit down and hear what I have to say.”

“What?” Kayla asked defiantly. She had had just about enough of this ‘senior matron.’

“Sandra,” Marjorie said to her assistant. “Please get my paddle.”

“Your what?

“Go to the front of the room, please, Kayla. Bend over and put your elbows on the table. I’m going to show you and every other lady here how things work on Draco, under the administration of Governor Leary, who happens to be my husband.”

Kayla, like all the other women, was wearing the standard issue colonist’s blue jumpsuit. Now she noted, though she hadn’t before, that Marjorie wore a dress—really a rather short dress, actually—of rather rough gray fabric, belted at the waist.

Sandra returned from, Kayla assumed, the shuttle that waited to take the colonists to the surface, carrying a long, flat object that seemed to be made of heavy plastic. Its face was pierced by several holes. She handed it to Marjorie.

“Kayla, please do as I’ve said.” The matron tapped her palm meaningfully with the paddle.

What the hell was going on? This woman could not be serious. Corporal punishment?

“You have got to be kidding me. I’d like to talk to Patrick McDowell, please.” Kayla tried to keep her voice even, but she could hear a little hysteria rising in it.

“I assure you, Kayla, that I’m not kidding. You’re going to be paddled, now. Your only choice is how it happens.”

Now Kayla was nearly shouting, with vocal cords that ached with the effort, after having been idle so long. “I want to talk to Patrick McDowell. You’re not going to do this, so you had better just calm the fuck down with your corporal punishment bullshit.”

Marjorie remained utterly, maddeningly calm. “We learned the hard way here on Draco that order and discipline are much more important things when you’re fighting the environment for your very survival than they are when you’re just making money off your rich daddy’s business.”

“How dare you?! My father drove himself to an early grave…”

Marjorie nodded to Sandra. Kayla’s voice trailed away at the sight of that nod. Sandra, who Kayla now noted was a very sizable woman of twenty or so, reached out and grabbed Kayla, spun her around, and twisted her arm behind her back. Kayla tried to struggle, but the weakness from cryo-sleep made her feel like she had about as much strength as a newborn kitten.

“What are you doing? I’m Kayla fucking Lourcy!” she screamed. Even as she screamed it she realized it was far from her proudest moment, but goddammit, she was indeed Kayla fucking Lourcy. Draco was named after her fucking stuffed animal.

“Kayla,” Marjorie said. “I understand how hard this is. I really, really do. But our lives here depend on our ability to trust that everyone will do what he or she has to do. Governor Leary and the planetary council have decided that in order to maintain trust throughout our society, public corporal punishment is a necessary evil. For women over eighteen, that means the paddle, outside their clothing. Are you going to put yourself in position, or is Sandra going to have to hold you down?”

Kayla could do nothing but stare back at Marjorie Leary, wild-eyed. To travel eighteen light-years and then to get paddled on her rear end within an hour of waking up from a twenty-two–year sleep seemed something she simply didn’t have an appropriate reaction for. She suddenly remembered asking Patrick about whether people dreamed in cryo-sleep. Maybe that was what was happening now?

“Put her in position, please, Sandra,” Marjorie said wearily. Sandra instantly began marching Kayla toward the front of the room. If Kayla had been able to process what was going on, she would have accepted the fact that she was about to be paddled and she would have gone unforced to the table, and perhaps retained a shred of her dignity. It all unfolded so fast, though, that Sandra had to push her fairly hard all the way until she pressed Kayla’s thighs against the metal tabletop.

Kayla finally managed to make her muscles stop resisting at that point. Sensing her compliance, Sandra let go and said quietly, “Elbows on the table, Kayla. Bottom well out for the paddle.”

“I want all you ladies to understand,” Marjorie said, as her voice approached, “that your husband or guardian will discipline you as necessary. Female government authorities like me also have that power, but their punishments must be witnessed. Sandra, please witness. Kayla Lourcy, ten swats for unruly conduct plus five swats for disrespect.”

“Witnessed, matron,” Sandra said.

Kayla looked down at the dull finish of the tabletop, feeling like her brain consisted of exactly the same sort of dull stuff. Nothing made any sense.

“Kayla?” Marjorie said.

It took her a moment to understand that the woman had addressed her.

“Kayla, I hope we’re not going to have a problem, going forward.” Now Marjorie’s voice grew much sterner. “Let’s try that again. Kayla?”

“Yes?” Why did she feel that even though her jumpsuit was still on, this woman had somehow bared her bottom just with her voice?

“You must thank me for punishing you.”

“What?”

There was no noise, nor any puff of air; Kayla guessed that the holes in the thick plastic ensured that. But suddenly a muffled thud sounded from the direction of her backside, and a sting coursed through her body.

“Ow!”

“That didn’t count, Kayla, because you haven’t thanked me.”

“Oh, God. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Marjorie said, and then she continued the paddling. Every stroke landed in the same place, full across Kayla’s bottom-cheeks. Marjorie delivered them slowly, lecturing all the while.

“Kayla here,” she said to the women, “should serve as an example to you all.”

Even the first stroke had hurt. The fifth made Kayla cry out and start to squirm, bouncing her backside up and down a little to try to take away some of the sting. Sandra quietly counted the swats as they fell.

“Really, the paddle isn’t the worst part.”

“Ah!” Kayla cried, at the tenth. “I can’t! Ah!”

“The worst part is the humiliation.”

Kayla cried; she sobbed like a little girl. Kayla Lourcy, daughter of the founder, executive vice president of Lourcy Industries, sobbed into the metal table as the senior matron paddled her bottom to make an example of her.

“Fifteen,” said Sandra.

“You may go back to your seat, Kayla,” Marjorie said.

Kayla winced as she rose. She didn’t look at Marjorie. At first she thought the woman hadn’t been correct about the paddle not being the worst part, because Kayla’s rear end stung like ten thousand bees had decided she was their mortal enemy. Then she realized that whereas the last time she had walked among the colonists, as she went to lie down in her cryo-bed, twenty-two years—and four hours—before, she had held her head high and smiled grandly; now it wasn’t just Marjorie and Sandra’s eyes she couldn’t meet. As she moved stiffly back to her seat, where she perched on her hip to avoid the pain, all she could think was, Kayla fucking Lourcy just got a paddling, and there definitely appears to be more where that came from.

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