Clutching her comms device fiercely in one hand, Mina Groza balanced precariously on a scan-portal platform with no handrails, attempting to stand still and keep her eyes trained on the biometrics scanner. She cursed silently to herself. Astrogoda-9 was really out there, in more ways than just distance. It was underdeveloped, backwards, and because of its location—minimally distant from a stable but enormous black hole—time was literally passing at about half the speed as Earth. All of these characteristics combined to make everything a huge hassle.
An unintelligible series of sounds assaulted her, the volume much too loud. She plugged her ears and shouted, “Human!” as loudly as she could, twisting her wrist at a wretched angle so she could see her comms device in case Paolo had some final information to pass on to her.
The ear-splitting sound ceased and a tinny electronic voice replaced it. “Customs and Security at Astrogoda-9 requests your forgiveness. Our scans have detected lightwave frequencies originating from your left upper quadrant appendage. Customs and Security at Astrogoda requests that all non-biological emissions are eliminated for identification and security scans. Please eliminate all non-biological emissions and indicate your readiness for identification verbally. Thank you for complying.”
Mina rolled her eyes but kept her commentary to herself as she shifted her baggage and balanced precariously in order to turn off her comms device. “Ready for ID,” she said loudly. A blueish light scanned her eyes, and the computerized voice—which left something to be desired in terms of translation—counted down the time of the scan for her.
She tried to summon patience, because Customs and Security devices all over the galaxy were prone to scanning impatience as hostility, and she had ended up in “enhanced” security once before and had no desire to repeat the experience.
Also, she was already late.
Thankfully, she either maintained the illusion of calm, or the Astrogoda-9 scan was not very sensitive, because she was released into the spaceport by the same tinny voice several minutes later.
She shifted her baggage again so that she could turn on her comms device, carry the baggage, and scramble to the exit, hoping to do all three at once. Her comms displayed the local time alongside the standard system time and the system standard in her own solar system, as well as Paolo’s local Earth time.
Any way you sliced it, she was late, and Paolo was taking his sweet time sending her yet another diatribe about not failing in this endeavor, couched in the weak tea of his “encouragement,” which she suspected he only added because he had to. Bethesda-Klein Galaxia Developments had a real problem with retention of agents. Not many Humans wanted to schlep around the galaxy in the first place, and if you threw Paolo’s unforgiving nature into the mix, it was an even tougher sell.
But excellent money, and that’s what Mina needed right now.
There was, thankfully, a large enough Human presence on Astrogoda-9 that signage in universal hominid symbols, as well as (somewhat poorly translated) English, was abundant, and she easily made her way outside, following indicators to a “Transport Place,” where she hoped to find her liaison waiting for her.
“Well,” she said, when she stepped outside. “I don’t know what I was expecting.”
The sleek interior of the spaceport had given her a false impression of Old Celox, one that was quickly dissolved when she stepped outside. The spaceport was evidently right next to the old city, and its large walls, towering several stories in Earth-measurements, were just across a highway of sorts from where she stood. She had virtually toured Old Celox, and the walls had left an impression on her even then—they were constructed of a stone, so far found only on Astrogoda-9 and only in this region of the planet, which possessed a luminous quality, almost like opal, but was a peculiar shade of blue that matched nothing she had ever seen. In real life, the color was different than in VR, and there was no way to imitate this in digital format. It was one of the many aspects of Old Celox that made it appealing as a potential tourist destination. A potential gold mine, she thought, marveling at the walls.
She held up her comms device and her identification badge as she approached the only being—biological or mechanical—that she could find on the narrow platform abutting the blocked-off transportation channel. “Human,” she said, waiting for the being—a large, multi-colored hominid nearly two feet taller than her, not a Draquun or a Herstrakaa—to identify itself.
It held a glowing red orb to its head, which in turn displayed a glyph indicating that it communicated through images. Mina sighed and fished her glyph translator out but despaired of the task it would be to use it. She pulled up a picture of Earth and pointed to herself, then followed with a picture of the Parliamentary building. Even as she did so, she was already looking around for another source of information—visual-only (VO) beings were almost impossible to communicate with effectively, and she needed an answer yesterday.
Her comms squawked: incoming message from Paolo. She ignored it and stared at the red orb the creature in front of her was holding, feeling hopeless.
She was about to turn around and seek someone else, when the red orb displayed a series of images in rapid succession and then began to broadcast a message in a monotone, disaffected pileup of words:
“You are Mina Groza representative of Earth corporation Bethesda-Klein Galaxia Developments you have arrived at an unfortunate moment I am your escort please accompany me you are not arrived at the designated time.”
“Yeah, I’m late,” Mina muttered, but into one of her bags. She made a gesture of assent that was acceptable to the native apex species on the planet and hoped it would be understood by whatever this creature was.
“Accompany me in this vehicle,” the red orb spat, after what seemed like an eternity.
It’s fine, she thought. It’s always like this, bumps in the road. No one can expect everything to go perfectly when someone travels to or from an extreme gravitational zone; everything will be okay.
“You are not arrived at the designated time,” the creature repeated, once they settled into a small transport vehicle, shiny silver and shaped like a suppository.
“So I’m told,” Mina whispered under her breath after turning her head to the window.
This did not bode well.
“Excuse me… uh, sir? But what’s going on?” Mina said, after the vehicle sped around the curve of the city walls and then passed through a secure portal and they entered the old city. The scene was chaotic, although Mina was temporarily distracted by the tall buildings made of brilliant stone that seemed almost bejeweled; the curvaceous architecture of the Draquun, bulbous and fantastical, mesmerized her now that she saw it with her own two eyes. The scale of the buildings had not come through in the VR, nor the rich colors, nor the fanciful twists and turns of the buildings made of a white stone that, like the walls of the city, contained a luminescent quality to it that even sophisticated VR could not convey. And, as promised, peach-colored “fires” burned instead of lamps, adding a rustic, archaic appearance to the city that enhanced its charm. Complex spires drove into the greenish sky, and the roads of the city were paves with large, glassy bricks that looked like blue oil spills, rainbow rings of color catching the light. The windows of the city—its most appealing feature, Mina thought—were made of the unique multicolored silicon sands that washed up on the shores of Old Celox. Glassmakers needed not be true artisans to create a work of art in each pane, because the material, if not filtered extensively, was shot through with swirls of colored glass, the hues unearthly and bold.
But all of the city’s austere beauty was a backdrop to an otherwise chaotic scene: the translucent windows were being covered, hurriedly, by metallic coverings and what looked like rugs woven from plant materials. All of the inhabitants—a mix of numerous species—scurried, carrying heavy crates and boxes of supplies, shouting and gesticulating.
“Storm,” the red orb shouted, many moments later, startling Mina. She looked over at her escort.
“A storm?” she asked and made herself look as confused as possible. Most hominids read facial expressions in much the same way.
The creature looked confused momentarily, then displayed a picture of a tornado and the red orb squawked: “A violent disturbance of the atmosphere with strong winds and usually liquid or crystallized water and electrical discharges.”
Mina smiled in spite of her annoyance. “I know what a storm is,” she told him. “It’s just… this looks… severe.”
The creature considered her words, the red orb glowed thoughtfully, and she waited.
Ultimately, she was treated to a green check mark.
She had done her homework, because she always did her homework, and so there really was no reason for it other than pressure, and continuum dysregulation, and… well, that was all she could blame it on, really. It was a stupid, stupid mistake, but she was late, and Paolo’s message had been a full two minutes of haranguing, and she had distractedly thought again of how much she needed to make this deal work, and so perhaps that was why she forgot herself.
So when the Herstrakaa—an enormous specimen of an already formidable species—headed toward her as she crossed the blue and white tiled floor of the parliament chambers, she was suddenly aware of the Draquun speaker she had not noticed when she entered. She realized, with horror, that she had committed a huge cultural gaffe.
And she also realized, at that same instant, that she was going to be punished, in accordance with the Draquun cultural norms under which these negotiations were to take place. With ever-increasing horror, she also quickly realized that the Herstrakaa approaching her, vibrant red and purple skin crisscrossed by battle scars, his deceptively dull eyes shifting with what Humans often mistook for nervousness, was going to mete it out.
And it was, in accordance with Draquun customs, going to be humiliating.
She stopped in her tracks, which she realized later probably only added insult to injury as far as the Draquun were concerned. Her intention was to explain herself, right after making a deep bow and lowering herself to both knees in supplication, palms on the floor.
She didn’t have time for any of that, because she doubted herself for just a moment as she recalled all the information she’d memorized about Draquun culture. She was also disoriented by her disappointment in herself—here she was, borking it, right out of the gates. The Herstrakaa male had picked her up and spun her around before she could think or do anything at all.
Reality came to her on a time delay, for a few moments as if it was happening to someone else, and she was merely watching it. It took her a moment to orient herself: she was face down, her stomach pressed against a warm, heavy, material… not the floor… the legs of the Herstrakaa… and after a delay of several moments, she recognized the feel of cool air on her bottom, felt the tug of her underwear as they were pulled away from her skin.
But the complete picture: that she had been lifted from the ground and lain across the lap of the Herstrakaa, and that her pants and underwear had been pulled down, away from her bottom, and that her bare skin was on display for an audience of nearly 100 males with whom she was supposed to conduct business—the complete picture did not really reach her consciousness until she felt the hot sting of the Herstrakaa hand against her skin.
The bite made her gasp, but it was so sharp and unexpected that it immediately cut off all air, and she could not make a sound. Hot tears welled up in her eyes, and her mouth fell open in a silent scream, but the tears did not fall and the air did not move. A cold, queasy, but also oddly pleasant feeling blossomed in her lower abdomen, just as the sting of the spanking began to ebb away into waves of heat that seemed to only increase with each passing second.
It was then—just before the next smack landed on her already burning skin—that she realized in full what was happening. In accordance with Draquun customs, she was being punished with a spanking, which she believed would be ten smacks long.
In front of everyone present.
She had not anticipated herself breaching any customs, so she had never really given the reality of such a punishment much thought. Sure, she had thought about it and thought it was barbaric, but compared to some customs she’d witnessed, it wasn’t the worst.
She had not at all thought about what she would think or feel if such a thing happened to her.
But now that it was, and her tears threatened to spill over onto her cheeks, and the throbbing heat rolled in waves that crashed into each other, and the sting of each smack became sharper, adding to the fire on her skin—she found herself in an unimaginable situation.
Because beneath the pain and humiliation, fluttering deep in her abdomen, was a feeling of… could this be right?
She squeezed her eyes shut. It couldn’t be.
And yet she could also feel—and it made her chest feel hollow and cold with humiliation—that between her legs, her pussy was welling up with excitement. Just like her tears, it threatened to spill over.
The thought sent another wave of humiliation through her, which had the perverse effect of making her pussy throb and ache even more. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to will herself to not have the feelings she was having, but it did no good.
The same curious, surprising sensations had trilled inside her abdomen when she had done her cultural training segment on the Draquun, which had included a video of a punishment ritual. At the time, she had been able to dismiss the arousal, the strange thrill that had flowed through her, because the punishment was a theoretical event in her mind: she would never do anything so stupid as to get herself punished like that…
The slaps came more slowly than she had imagined, giving her ample time between each to feel the pain recede, the new heat roll into her still-burning skin, and—worst of all—plenty of time to consider the humiliating public nature of it all. She was half-naked, being spanked, and would be expected to apologize for her transgression by thanking her punisher profusely. Every second that his large, forceful palm hovered above her skin, waiting to come down on her bottom, she could feel her pussy throbbing and squeezing out more moisture.
A tenth smack cracked across her bottom, the hardest one of all, and tears rolled freely to her nose and dripped onto the floor, but she chewed her lip to keep from crying out.
“It is done,” the Herstrakaa rumbled in his native language.
She managed to wipe her tears away quickly as she stood up. She was unsteady on her feet and shaking as she pulled up her clothing and straightened it out. She could feel the eyes of the Draquun—who had watched on with their characteristic stoicism—upon her, and her skin burned with shame everywhere. Her clothing scratched at her burning bottom, and she desperately longed to rub her skin, but did not.
Her face flushed as she began the next segment of her punishment. She knelt on the floor facing the Herstrakaa who had punished her and bowed her head. “I thank you profusely for properly shaming me. I behaved shamefully and you have corrected me, for which I am grateful.” Now the really hard part, which she had been assured was a ceremonial gesture and, if done properly, would not be acted upon by the punisher.
The skin on her bottom flared up again, urging her not to do as she knew she must. She struggled to open her mouth and say the words.
“I beg of you to punish me further, so that I may thoroughly repent my shameful behavior.”
Her voice cracked a little at the end—because really, who the hell were these barbarians kidding, spanking people and publicly humiliating them?—but she managed. As she begged for more punishment, her body reacted strangely again, and a throb of arousal blossomed in her womb, making her pussy overflow again.
The Herstrakaa spoke to the Draquun, and Mina had a hard time even making out the language that he spoke. A reply was given, equally unintelligible. Mina stared at the floor, awaiting instruction, trying desperately to remember what would happen next if she had followed the correct etiquette—and what would follow is she had not.
“Arise and conduct yourself without shame. You shall walk around the parliamentary ring to your place.”
Mina stood up. A final humiliation awaited her, she realized, recalling the protocol that followed the spanking. She began at the far end of the parliamentary ring, where she had entered. She lifted her eyes and met the gaze of each Draquun—all males, as their customs prohibited females from holding parliamentary positions. They barely tolerated females of other species and only for diplomatic purposes. Each Draquun’s eyes bored into her, burning her from the inside out with humiliation. She felt fairly certain that some of them snickered as she bowed her head at each of them.
The walk—she would have called it a parade—around the ring took no more than five minutes, but it felt like an eternity.
When she at last took a seat in the box reserved for corporate agents, her entire body was tingling with the clash of burning humiliation and the cool arousal that would not be quieted. She felt mildly ill.
A Draquun in purple robes rose and moved two seats to sit next to her. He was clothed in the traditional attire of a diplomat, and she recognized the patterning on his face: it was her liaison, Marmeth.
He sat down in silence. Mina sat up straight and stiffened her spine.
“Mina Groza of the BKG of Earth,” he said, in excellent English. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Marmeth of the Draquun, your liaison.”
Mina turned to him, shocked by his breaches of etiquette. He had extended his hand to her.
She looked at it warily, then reached for it.
He smiled—another very un-Draquun gesture. “I am fully assimilated in standardized Human etiquette,” he said, “so there is no need for Draquun formalities with me. I apologize that I was unable to reach you upon your arrival and detain you before you made… such an error. I was told that you were briefed in Draquun customs prior to your arrival, but the error was nonetheless my own and I humbly request your forgiveness.”
Mina faced the parliamentary ring. “Yeah, well… just try to have my back from here on out, and it’s all forgotten.”
She didn’t bother to look at the Draquun to see how he was handling her informal English, because she was still pretty peeved.
She turned her attention to the proceedings and tried to put the whole sordid mishap out of her mind. It wasn’t easy, because she could feel the eyes of the Draquun present looking at her from time to time, and because her bottom was red-hot and flared up in pain occasionally.
She stole a glance at the Herstrakaa who had punished her but didn’t dare to look at him for long. He was large, even for a Herstrakaa, and the features of his face showed no signs of emotion. The scars on his vibrant skin served as testimony of a past as a warrior, and melded titanium images—art that, like tattoos, was implanted into the wearer’s body, but as a bonded metal rather than ink—indicated that he was a superior warrior with numerous kills and honors.
Like most Herstrakaa, a conquered people, the warrior wore thick bracelets made of metal and the blue stone of the city walls. They were a symbol of his status as a servant, and oddly—or at least Mina thought so—they were worn with pride. They connected him to a Draquun in a relationship of service, but also brotherhood, and a lot of other complicated interconnections that defied Mina’s imagination. She hadn’t dwelt on them long, because they definitely didn’t concern her, but she remembered that they had seemed very strange.
It wasn’t going as great as it could have been, but hopefully the worst was over now. This would definitely amuse Paolo when it got back to him, and that burned Mina up with fury. At least Marmeth was here, and he seemed reliable, and she’d been told he was trustworthy.
It just would have been nice if he’d shown up at the spaceport.
Voso was unsettled throughout the first phase of parliamentary proceedings, and if there was an emotion he liked least, the feeling of being unsettled was it. Voso did not feel fear, and his many years as a warrior had also wrung from him nearly all emotions that were of no use, impatience and anger among those he had worked hardest to conquer. But “unsettled” could be an asset, and so he had never wrangled it to submission in his psyche.
He knew that the Human female was looking at him from time to time. His vision, like all of his kind, was passed to his race through the aviary branches of their evolutionary lineage, and he could not only see, but see clearly, those things at the edges of his own sight that the Draquun and Humans alike described as “peripheral vision.”
Each time her eyes went to him, he felt a pang of remorse, and a pang of something else that he could not understand. Both sentiments were foreign to him, and they opposed each other violently. He did not like the feeling of unsettledness this created, and yet he could not dismiss the Human female from his conscious thoughts. This, too, was a foreign problem to Voso: as a warrior, he had trained himself to think only of the mission or task at hand, only of orders, only of an ultimate good. Distractions—particularly irrelevant distractions that caused un-useful feelings—were excised with haste.
Mozok arrived late, perhaps escaping the notice of the dim-sighted Draquun with his stealthy movement. Perhaps not, but then, it didn’t really matter: Mozok could arrive at anything whenever he wanted, without repercussions. Even if he had crossed the parliamentary floor and defecated on it, no one would dare subject him to sanctions of any kind.
When the tones of the intermission sounded, Voso waited, seated, momentarily, as was his habit: the true feelings of Draquun males were best ascertained at these moments. He watched, but his mind returned continually—and therefore, so did the focus of his vision—to the Human he had punished. His palm itched with the memory of the feel of her soft Human skin, and a familiar pang of regret and shame filled his chest. Voso did not believe in hurting the weak and frail, even if custom demanded it. He had tempered his spanking a great deal because the creature’s flesh—curiously monochrome, pale as the stone of the city buildings—seemed like it would shred if he punished her properly.
He reassured himself she seemed fine. He knew a great deal more about Humans than he let on, and a great deal more than any species would expect from a Herstrakaa. He was much more intelligent—intelligent in the way that Humans and Draquun were intelligent—than most knew.
Most. Mozok was the exception.
Voso rose and approached his lord, who remained seated with a curious expression on his face. He waved a hand to dismiss Voso’s formalities, before Voso could bow his head. Mozok had not allowed Voso to complete these gestures in the entire time that Voso had been his servant, for Mozok had no patience for such things and thought them stupid. Their bond was irrevocable, Mozok liked to say, so he didn’t see the point of Voso—who towered above Mozok by almost two feet and was inarguably strong enough to break Mozok in two with minimal effort—engaging in what Mozok called, behind closed doors, silly tributes that meant nothing.
But Voso was a Herstrakaa of honor, and so he always tried.
Mozok indicated that Voso should sit beside him—something Voso needed no invitation to do, but the pair liked to keep up appearances in public. Voso looked straight ahead, one part of his mind ever-watchful, as he leaned toward Mozok to speak in a whisper to his lord.
“The Human made a customary error,” he whispered. “And was punished.”
Mozok’s face did not change. He folded his long fingers together and brought them to his lips, a gesture he had acquired after watching many, many hours of recordings of Human business interactions. Voso doubted that Mozok was aware of this habit, or the many others that he acquired instinctively from many different hominid species. It was, in part, what made Mozok so successful, especially with Humans.
“What error did she make?”
“She attempted to cross the parliamentary floor.”
Mozok lifted his chin and then lowered it. “Strange,” he commented.
Only then did he turn his attention toward the Human, and he stared openly at her. His gaze eventually attracted her attention, and she turned her head slowly to better see him. Her knowledge of customs seemed to have improved after her punishment, because she did not attempt to meet Mozok’s gaze directly.
“She is seated with Marmeth,” Mozok observed, disdain evident in his tone.
“Marmeth stated that he is her liaison,” Voso informed. His hearing was sharp enough to have overheard the exchanges between Marmeth and the Human, whose name was Mina Groza.
Mozok did something unusual, turning to Voso to speak confidentially. “And how is it that her liaison failed so completely in his advice?”
Voso bristled. “Marmeth is a known sthiiskaa,” Voso spat in hushed tones, using a Herstrakaa word that had no exact translation to Draquun. “Traitorous snake of no discernible allegiance” was the translation he had been given, with amusement, by Marmeth himself. The aged Draquun had seemed to know that Voso had wanted the word in order to describe him, and because of his character, had not seemed bothered by the descriptor.
“Indeed,” Mozok said, in a tone that Voso knew meant that Mozok was thinking, many moves ahead as he so often did. There was a lengthy pause while Mozok tilted his head ever-so-slightly in curiosity—one of his few telltale gestures that indicated a rare interest in the subject at hand. “And how do we call this Human?”
“Mina Groza,” Voso answered.
“And is she mated?”
Voso paused. The answer was, technically, unknown to him. But mated Human females—they called this phenomenon “marriage”—typically did not travel to far-flung galaxies, and usually wore metallic objects on their fourth left digit.
“Unknown, but signs indicate that she is not,” he said, wondering the reason for Mozok’s question. He experienced a confusing flash of sexual attraction again, but he knew that Mozok’s tastes did not usually run to Humans… and therefore, neither could his own.
Mozok grunted, a response that Voso could not interpret.
“She is colorless and weak, like all female Humans. It is a curiosity, this Human insistence upon sending physically weak specimens to negotiate, with no protector.”
Voso tipped his head in affirmation. He found this Human custom perplexing and distasteful. Herstrakaa were naturally protective, and Voso conformed to the caste of his species that defended the weak as a matter of honor. It had appalled him to punish the Human when her error was clearly a result of her lack of a guardian.
Mozok was still looking at Mina Groza, thoughts glittering behind his eyes. “She is pleasant to look at, if frail and weak.” He turned to Voso. “What are your thoughts?”
Voso did not care to reveal his “thoughts,” which were little more than base and unintelligible feelings of arousal and pity. “She is pleasant to look at,” he agreed cautiously. “The Humans value intelligence over physical prowess, not unlike the Draquun. She is likely a formidable adversary in negotiation.”
Mozok grunted again, but this time Voso knew that it was a grunt of amusement. He was fond of remarking upon this value system of the Humans, and its inherent contradictions. If they valued intelligence so much, it was curious, Mozok would say, that they did not possess enough intelligence to know that physical dominance was a necessity. If Humans were so smart, they would pair their intelligent individuals with others at least somewhat capable of physical protection.
They always had a bit of a laugh when Mozok said this, because even the largest and most physically capable Humans were not even a match for the average Draquun, unarmed. Weapons and technology, naturally, changed this calculation, but if they ever found themselves in a position of “real” combat, they would be demolished.
Mozok lifted his fingers and rolled them in Voso’s direction. “I direct you to observe Marmeth, and the Human, this Mina Groza, as intently as possible. I do not trust the sthiiskaa.”
Voso moved his head in subtle affirmation again, pleased to have a clear directive. And pleased in a way he could not interpret, that it involved the Human Mina Groza, whose reddened, soft skin remained as a feeling in the memory cells of his hand, fluttering to life and spreading throughout his body, inexplicably arousing.