The chains around my wrists and ankles have started to feel familiar. The feel of rough fur between my thighs has not. I am aching with desire, dripping with need. There is a steady thrum between my thighs that pulses as my captor circles me slowly.
“Did you really think you would get away with it?”
“I didn’t do anything.” Why does that sound so very untrue? Have I stopped believing myself? Or do I know that I’m guilty of enough that the exact charge doesn’t really matter?
Guilt is a strange thing. Blame is an even more difficult creature to understand. I used to think I was completely innocent, but over the past few months, the beast before me has taken every bit of imagined innocence I had and shown me its opposite. In his possession, I am a craven, twisted, culpable little wretch deserving punishment.
He makes a snorting sound, like the beast he is.
He is very attractive when he is angry, and he is very angry right now. His hair falls over his shoulders in a rough mane, dark black flecked with silver that does not indicate age, but status. His eyes bore into mine.
“How many times are you going to lie to me, Penelope?”
My name is like rough honey on his hostile alien lips. I feel a tremor run through me, followed by a delicious heat of anticipation. The shackles that hold me have begun to feel like a caress, lined as they are with the furs of unfortunate animals likewise captured by this animal.
His features are that of a man crossed with a beast of prey. The ancient Egyptians had some sense of what a creature like this might look like, though their hieroglyphics did not do the majesty of such a beast justice. His eyes hold sentience, as well as animal fury. They are a piercing blue, shooting through to the very core of me with every flashing glance. The structure of his face is strong and muscular. He has a powerful jaw and great long teeth designed to rend flesh. He is a predator and a carnivore. His nose is flattened and covered in short dark fur. He has very dark brows that cascade over his eye sockets with dramatic flair. He would have a beard, but his hair is trimmed short against his jawline, extending from his head all the way down the sides of his face in what I can only describe as a mane.
The chains attached to my wrist shackles jangle as he lifts them up, placing them over the hook that is suspended from the ceiling. This stretches me out, elongates my body for his gaze. I am barely clad in a light mesh bikini, which was given to me when I informed my captor that humans need to wear underwear.
“I have come to you over and over,” he says. “I have whipped you. I have pleasured you. I have tried to teach you obedience and submission. But you have learned nothing. You have chosen to disobey me at the moment it mattered most, and now you insist on innocence in spite of the fact you have nothing but guilt in your heart.”
His hand slides between my legs. I feel his strength and his power there as he turns his palm into the fulcrum of my existence. I cannot help my hips as they begin to grind out of a conditioned response, seeking pleasure, knowing pain cannot be far away. He is wrong when he says he has taught me nothing. He has taught me what it is to be the captive of a truly depraved beast, and what is it in my own psyche that makes me such a perfect pet for him.
He chuckles, detecting my movement and finding great satisfaction in it. I know he can smell me. His senses are so much keener than mine, and are all entirely focused on me. His ears, the tips of which are just visible through his silvered mane, are pricked forward. His mouth is slightly open, allowing him to taste the dancing pheromones escaping my skin in light clouds.
He moves closer, and now I smell him. He is always the same—strong and masculine. He lowers his head toward my neck, the soft brush of his pelt a reminder of how tender he can be when he chooses.
“You’re so naughty,” he purrs, squeezing the soft lips between my thighs, making my clit pulse with the pressure. I could come like this. I have come for him so many times, and in so many ways. Still he does not have what he wants. But he will get it. It is inevitable. As inevitable as the pleasure starting to work its way serpent-like up my spine.
“I can’t help it,” I moan, my breath catching in my throat.
“You can help it. It’s what you choose. Every day you choose this dungeon, this captivity. You could be free if you would only tell me what I need to know.”
“I haven’t done anything. I was left there, abandoned. You know why.”
“I thought I knew why. Now I’m not so sure.”
His fingers boast retractable claws. He crooks his middle finger and extends that claw just enough to slice through the fabric of my underwear. Sometimes I think he gave me the garments purely so he could enjoy ripping them off me. His hot finger slides against the entrance to my interior even as his masculine breath turns into a possessive growl. He presses himself closer to me and I feel his mating rod.
I am so much smaller than him. So much weaker. Yet when I see and feel the way my curves make him respond, I feel a sense of power. He feels it too, and that is why he growls and he snarls and he uses lash and tooth upon me. For a beast like this one, nothing short of total control will ever do.
He toys with me, one finger stroking inside me, the hard ridge against my bare thigh a promise of much more.
His claw extends again. There is no sound when it does, and yet mentally I always hear the sound of a sword cutting through air. His claws are viciously, dangerously sharp. He could drop my entire blood supply out of me with a couple of casual flicks. We both know that. I hold my breath, afraid, but not as deeply as I might be. He does not want to hurt me. If he did, I would be very hurt. My life has always been in his claws, from the first moment he laid eyes on me.
I feel the very tip of his claw dragging lightly over the skin of my inner thigh. Everywhere his sharp malevolence touches, I stiffen and tighten. It is like being stirred toward orgasm, though not one made from pleasure. One made from fear.
The beast plays with fear and pain the way some play with soft caresses and sweet words. This beast wants to punish me—and he very much wants me to know when I have been punished.
His claw lifts and moves, finding the down that fails to protect my nethers from him. He draws it slowly through the hair, cutting little curls free. I feel him approaching my clit, the fingers of his other paw spreading my lips to give his dangerous digit easier access. I feel him prick me ever so lightly. He is not just demonstrating his power. He is showing me his control, over himself as well as over me. I am responding to him as I always do, the slow clouds of submissive haze rolling across my mind. Endorphins are flowing from the secret glands deep inside me, enhancing the intensity of the moment.
I let out a shuddering sigh of surrender, my body relaxing automatically in my bonds and into his touch. He slides his claw away, retracting it before I can hurt myself with my involuntary human responses to his alien dominance.
“When are you going to obey me?” He growls the question in my ear, his teeth flashing and gnashing audibly. His frustration is real. He believes I am a traitor, an interloper. He considers me the worst of the worst, a captured invader.
“I am,” I whisper. Every word I say to him is taken to be a lie. I don’t know why I bother. Except for the fact that every lie must be punished, and so every lie and every word and every deed is…
“Unnghhh!” I moan as he thrusts two rough, furred fingers deep inside me in one easy stroke.
“Where is your resistance, human?” he growls, pulling them out and plunging them back in. “Where is your truth? You soft, wet, little liar.”
He punctuates every word with another rough thrust of his harsh fingers, twisting them inside me. His lecturing is just as harsh as his touch, designed to push me to the brink of what he thinks is honesty. But the truth is he already knows everything. I have nothing to hide. The heat between us is real and true, just like the throbbing of his cock against my leg, so close to my sex and yet so far. This must be as much torture for him as it is for me. He is holding me on the verge of satisfaction, opening his jaws now and settling them on the side of my neck so I can once more feel his strength and danger. My body answers with a fresh flush of desire.
“Fuck me,” I beg softly.
He snarls against my throat. He would like nothing more, but he has to keep the pretense of this being an investigation up for himself, if not for me. If it were to become apparent that he just likes mating me… that would be quite the scandal.
“Fucking you is not enough, is it,” he says. “You need to be bred. Hard. Frequently. And publicly.”
I moan again, his words turning me on far more than I want to admit. He and I are entangled. That is what happens between captive and captor. All the energy it has taken for him to mate me, take me, and finally try to wring out the last vestiges of intelligence from me, has bonded him to me as much as I to him. He grazes his teeth over my neck and bites down with a fraction of the strength that is his to employ. Does he want to bite down fully? I think he did, once. Now it is all part of his rough play.
His fingers are not enough for either of us, but he’s going to make me beg for his cock. He’s going to listen to me whine and plead for his seed. That is how it is between us now. I am dependent on him for everything, and he loves it.
Volt pulls his fingers from my pussy and presses them between my moaning lips.
“Taste yourself,” he encourages me. “See what a needy, filthy little thing you are.”
I feel myself clench with unsatisfied desire. He knows what it does to me when he plays with me this way, when he frightens and arouses me, but leaves me without that final release. I hear the chains jangling as I tug on them with the same automatic responses that my pussy is also forced to obey. I want to come. I want him to let me shake and shudder against him, ride his rough alien cock.
Suckling on his fingers is all I am allowed for the moment. It is a small pleasure, but it has to be enough. I make the most of it, lapping around his digits with a slow sensuality, hoping that I might tip him over his personal edge in turn and make his resolve break down.
“You could already be in pup,” he murmurs.
He’s right. He has taken me more times than I can count. There has been no barrier between us. I have been as vulnerable with my body as I have been with the truth—but he has only recognized one of those honesties, the one he can feel.
The chains make harsh noises as he pulls them off the hook, and me with them.
“You knew what was going to happen, didn’t you?”
How do I answer that? On the one hand, there is no way I could ever have possibly known what would unfold. On the other, it was probably only a matter of time and anybody could have predicted it. These vagaries do not make satisfactory responses, so I stay silent as he pulls me over his massive hard thighs. I have the brief satisfaction of feeling my clitoris rub against his rough furred thigh, tingles of near orgasm rushing through me, finding every part of me from the roots of my hair to the tips of my toes. In his grip, I am more alive than I ever have been.
I face the floor of his ship, this dungeon a place made specifically for me. The floor looks like flagstones, though it is nothing but light, electrons manipulated to make me feel like the most helpless little prisoner who ever lived.
“You never admit anything, but your body tells me you know you are guilty. Look at the way you respond to punishments and discipline. You crave them. Don’t you, Penelope.”
He knows me too well, but he doesn’t understand me.
“Please…” I don’t even know what I am asking for. Mercy? He’s never going to show me mercy. It’s not in his DNA. He is a beast at his core, with desires and hunger and a simple, animal way of handling anything that gets in his way. He can eat it, kill it, or fuck it. I fall into the third category, and a fourth made just for me. He can punish it.
The remnants of my underwear fall away uselessly as he palms my cheeks. His hand is large, and the underside of it has a particular leathery texture that makes being spanked by him feel more like being paddled. I know this because in my many hours of captivity I have learned how every part of him feels when he is punishing me.
“Admit your guilt, human.”
“No!” I refuse out of reflex and out of need. I am not guilty. I cannot be guilty. I refuse to… “Ow!” His palm lands as I knew it would. I have become intimately acquainted with the rough contact of his skin on mine. I have learned not to tense my muscles, but to breathe out, not to try to tuck my tail and hide, but to lift my hips. The secret to taking a spanking is not to fight it. He taught me that.
There is a dark chuckle from him as he sees me present myself in the way we both know will make this spanking more pleasurable for me. In turn, he spanks me hard, jolting my body against his thigh over and over again. I was on the verge of orgasm when he decided to spank me, and now I am getting even closer. A spanking always hurts, but it never hurts the same way twice. When I am as aroused as I am now, every bit of pain is converted into dark pleasure. The stinging, the ache, they travel through my flesh and find the parts of me that revel in this treatment. I have allowed myself to be this monster’s captive, and now I am submitting to his every desire. He thinks he wants the truth, but I believe he wants nothing more than a human whipping girl.
My master, my captor, my lover, my beast. How did we get here?
I cast my mind back to the moment this all began, the time when my captivity might have been avoided.
Some time ago
They’re arguing about me.
“She’s too young, and too inexperienced for this job.”
“I told you not to get attached. Residents get left behind. It’s what they’re for.”
“I know, but she’s really not… this is a big planet, Kurt. Anything could be here. And it’s an ore-rich planet too. If there are any scouts out there, we could be leaving the whole place defended by one girl.”
“She’s not defending. She’s occupying. You’re too soft, Steve.”
Steve is six foot two and not at all soft. He’s the dark-haired, dark-eyed hall monitor of our ship. There are only three of us on this bucket, and we all have our roles. Kurt looks for ways to make money. Steve looks for ways to keep things under control. I look for snacks. My figure is testament to how good I am at my job.
We just landed on the planet of our dreams. An unclaimed, unnamed, uninhabited paradise planet with a breathable atmosphere and a tolerable temperature. This is a very good thing. It also means that the clock just started ticking on the payoff for all our hard spacefaring work.
As soon as humanity took to the stars, we started to claim planets for our own. At first, that wasn’t really a problem. There weren’t many spacefarers, and there were ever so many planets that the odds of two companies claiming the same rocks were very low. But as interstellar travel became more popular, and space became more crowded, competition started to become more and more intense.
Treaties and protocols had to be put in place to stop brutal wars from breaking out. We were expanding, after all. We didn’t have time to stop all our exploration and go about killing one another. It was a waste of resources, and quite the tragedy.
The Global-Galactic Property Agreement sorted all that trouble out and reverted to the ancient law of Finders Keepers, with one caveat: any planet must be registered with the Galactic Property office in Buffalo, New York. It must be registered in person, by a company representative. That’s the first rule. The second one is that at the time of registration, there must be a direct communications link with someone inhabiting the planet. The bigger companies will leave an armed battalion to guard their discoveries, but Captain Kurt’s company, MEEP, is just a startup and can’t afford armed guards yet. We have one exploration shuttle, one resident cabin, and three hopes for riches and glory.
Kurt and Steve emerge from the captain’s cabin, which they pretend not to share. Kurt is a ginger man with thick hair and a glorious ginger mustache. He’s a hair shorter than Steve, but he doesn’t let that stop him from charismatically dominating the ever-loving heck out of his partner in spacefaring and life.
I make no attempt to hide the fact I’ve been lurking outside listening in.
“Penelope,” Kurt says. “Are you ready to have a nice holiday on a new world?”
“Damn skippy, I am,” I answer enthusiastically. My contract says I take a third of any discovery fees, and the fees for a planet like this are almost unimaginable. If we were to sell it to one of the big corporations, we’d be set for life. I’m talking more than millions. I’m talking trillions. I’m talking buy your own island asteroid and live a life of privilege and luxury for as long as nanotech can keep your aching bones in one piece—which is a really long time. The oldest guy on Earth is also the richest, which is not a coincidence. Jeff just celebrated his 500th birthday. Sure, he’s technically a brain in a tin can, but alive is alive, as he’d say.
I guess it’s greed that’s brought me out this far, or maybe luck, or maybe just fate. I do wonder how much control any of us really have over our lives. Sometimes you think you’re doing the right thing, and it turns out horribly. Other times you think you’re making a huge mistake and it turns out to be the best thing you ever did. The big blue and green planet laid out around our exploration ship falls into the latter category for sure.
“That’s the spirit!” Kurt turns to Steve with his patented I-told-you-so expression. Steve looks unimpressed. Steve is a worrier, as well as a warrior. He’s also the oldest member of the crew, at forty years of age. Kurt is about thirty-five. I’m twenty-three, which makes me both the baby of the crew and the only girl aboard. Before I hooked up with these two, I was in real trouble. They got me off the streets of space and they gave me a roof over my head. For that, I owe them pretty much everything I have to give.
We’ve been on this particular voyage of exploration for a good ten months now, and for most all of it I’ve been relaxing in my cabin. Space travel used to be something dangerous that only highly trained astronauts and occasionally Russian dogs could do. Now anybody with an ass on which to sit can be a spacefarer. There are literally millions of humans spread all across the known universe. It’d be a stretch to say we’ve become a dominant species, because most alien species are far more dominant than any human ever could be. We’ve become the glitter of the universe. There’s not really all that much of us, but somehow we are absolutely everywhere.
“I’m looking forward to it. This is payday,” I point out.
“Yes!” Kurt claps his hands. “This is payday. See, Steve. She gets it.”
“It’ll be twenty months before you see us again, maybe a little less if we can get a faster ship to return with. At the minimum, you’ll be here for a year and a half.” Steve looks over at Kurt. “That’s too long. We need to find another resident to keep her company.”
“It’s sweet that you care, but I’m prepared to watch TV for as long as it takes to become incredibly rich,” I assure him.
This is the perfect job for someone who likes to sit inside all day glued to a screen. I was born for this role. I don’t have much interest in science, or fighting, or you know, planets. But I have a lot of interest in being paid through the nose to sit in a room for a few months.
“You remember how the food processor works? You have to keep the panels above the cabin clear so that they can draw atmosphere in. If they get clogged, you’ll have some problems.”
“Trust me, Kurt. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to get food.”
He laughs. I laugh. Steve does not laugh.
“Kurt, can I speak with you, please?” He is still looking concerned.
“Sure,” Kurt says, cheerful as ever. He’s used to Steve’s concern. It doesn’t affect him anymore, if it ever did.
They retire to the bridge to discuss whatever it is Steve wants to discuss. I put my ear to the door because I want to know what’s going on. In space, juicy gossip is almost as important as air to sustaining a healthy organism, if that organism is me.
Thanks to the construction of the ship and my talent for being able to distinguish almost any kind of language, I can hear Kurt and Steve arguing through the bulkhead.
“We can’t be entirely sure that the planet is truly uninhabited. The scans weren’t conclusive.”
“They were conclusive enough. We don’t have any other residents. She’s it. Put the cabin down. Put her in it, and let’s get out of here. I want this one registered quickly. There are resources clustered here you don’t see in hundreds of galaxies. This has the potential to be new Earth. This is it, Steve. This is what we’ve dreamed of finding since we started this business together. This is what you and I have worked for.”
“I know. I know, but…”
They’re both very excited—though Steve won’t admit it.
Exploration is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not just a matter of finding somewhere to land and then raking in the dough. Most planets suck. Hardly any of them have inhabitable atmospheres, and those that do are often one-trick ponies. There’s a lot of carbon, magnesium, and lithium in the universe, along with hydrogen and helium, which are so common as to barely be worth a mention. This planet has copper in large quantities, along with neodymium and a bunch of other miums. I have never seen Kurt so excited before. There’s a little squeak in his voice from time to time, which is frankly adorable.
I take a few steps back from the bridge doors as I hear them coming back again.
“Alright. So. We are good to go,” Captain Kurt announces with his biggest, broadest, least generally trustworthy smile.
“We should leave her some additional weaponry. And some hunting supplies, and…” Steve is making a list on his fingers.
“Stock her up with everything you can think of,” Kurt tells Steve. “But do it quickly. We need to get out of here before anybody else follows us. I’m sure we picked up a few coasters on the way out here. I want to be heading back before they work out where we went, you hear me?”
Coasters are scout ships that run on the wash of interstellar cruisers. Larger companies run fleets of the things, tens of thousands of them. They pick up the signals of other exploration vehicles and do their best to snipe discoveries out from under them by calling in larger fleets who can move quicker than our old boats.
The mere mention of coasters is enough to stop Steve from objecting. There is a lot at stake here. The rest of our lives, in fact.
Steve and Kurt get underway with setting up the shelter I’ll be staying in for the next however long. I don’t do this part. My job is simply to exist. It really is as simple as that. While they get my new home ready, I pack my stuff up out of my cabin. I don’t have a lot. You don’t need a lot when you’re living in a contained environment that provides for all your needs. I have some clothes, mostly cozy regulation space jumpsuits. They’re baggy and soft and more comfortable than I can verbally explain. They feel like being cuddled by the world’s nicest teddy bear. I match them with snugboots. They are boots made out of a similar fabric, but thicker and rubber soled. They can withstand temperatures down to minus a hundred degrees Celsius, and they feel like walking on an actual cloud. I am wearing my favorite pair right now in preparation for going out into the new world.
I give myself one last look in the mirror. I am a hooded figure with bright red hair bursting out from the pale caramel snugsuit. It is loose fitting, but you can still make out the curves of my body, which are ample. My eyes are brown, and my lashes dark. Do I look good? I don’t know. I don’t look glamorous. I look like a woman who is about to settle down for some hardcore relaxation for the next year or two.
I have to admit that at this point, even I am nervous. I’m always nervous when I’m about to be marooned. You think you’ll get used to it, but you don’t. There’s always a chance you won’t survive. There are pills in storage that’ll take the edge off if you start losing your shit completely. There are pills for basically everything, actually. Pills to take away pain. Pills to make you go you know. Pills to make you stop going you know. Pills you take when you’ve had too many other pills. And, I’m pretty sure, some pills that aren’t legal on Earth, but to which no local laws apply.
I take a deep breath to calm down. This planet is the motherlode. This is the one that makes us all richer than our wildest dreams. I’ve got to keep my mind on my money.
“Penelope? Are you ready?” Steve calls out to me through the intercom.
I shoulder my pack of stuff. “Yep. Good to go!”
As tempting as it might be on some level to just go haring out the hatch and into the wilderness, I’m not supposed to go out until the encampment is secured. I am the key to the success of this mission, and they’re not going to risk me being hurt.
Taking a seat on the bridge, I watch what’s going on out there on the security monitors. This planet, or at least the visible part of the planet, is very overgrown. Dense forest covers every bit of the world I can see. I once heard that planets are just big planter boxes for forests. I am sure that once this place is settled, all this will be cleared and replaced with a nonporous substance, upon which sensible homes and businesses can be built. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about colonizing the universe with people things, but I suppose it’s just hanging about doing not much of anything else anyway. Does a tree care if we turn it into a desk? I bet it doesn’t. I’ve never heard one complain.
The residence site is atop a small hillock with good visibility and line of sight to the stars. Kurt and Steve set up the encampment, arguing the entire time about how it is supposed to be laid out. Personally, I don’t care. I’m going to be spending all my time in the main reinforced room, the one where the food station and the entertainment wall join forces to keep me happy and entertained for months to come.
My little cabin will stand up to animal attacks, high winds, and in the case of floods it will conveniently float along until the water decides to deposit me somewhere. It is a very safe little cabin, and there is enough original programming on board to last over a thousand years without ever playing the same show twice.
Technically, I am supposed to stay inside the cabin until the company returns. Going outside brings excess risk and can lead to the planet not technically being inhabited anymore, which is the only way I can fuck this mission up.
This really is an easy job. It requires almost no qualifications whatsoever, which is what first drew me to the job. The sitting on my ass for a few months thing was just an additional bonus.
Finally, Kurt and Steve have everything ready. The cabin is anchored, and the various doodads and whatnots that make it work are in place and doing their dads or whatever it is they do. It is a dull brown lump on the landscape. I like to think of it as cozy rather than ugly, which is the same attitude I have about my snugsuit.
I haven’t paid much attention to the actual planet. Kurt and Steve have been scoping it out, making sure it’s all safe, seeing whether it’s worth our time and space gas to go all the way back to Earth to register. I’ve been eating snacks and waiting to either take off, or not.
“Alright, one last briefing,” Kurt starts in on me. The secret of these two is that though Steve appears to be the stress-y one, and Kurt comes across as the most relaxed man you ever encountered, Kurt carries the weight of this expedition on his broad shoulders.
“Stay inside the cabin as much as you can. We’ve packed plenty of supplies for you, there’s a limited number of rations if you encounter troubles with the food processor. Data indicates that there are some edible plants, and potentially animals, on the planet. It is better if you do not try to encounter them.”
I nod. I know all of this. The message boils down to a simple: Stay indoors.
“There is a weapons array. The cabin’s walls are practically impenetrable, so again, staying inside is the safest option, but you might decide you need to go for a walk. If that’s the case, stay within the perimeter we’ve laid out for you. The plants grow swiftly here, so deploy the antifoliant regularly, or you’ll find the workings all gummed up.”
“I have something else to help with that,” Steve says. “One moment.”
He disappears to his cabin, then emerges a few loud and bumpy seconds later with a creature.
It is a small ungulate with brown spots against a black coat and the demeanor of a creature many times its size. It comes trotting out from the back of the vessel with a comfortable strut that indicates it feels very much at home here. It has sideways slitted eyes and a little beard at the tip of its chin. It is a goat.
“What is this? I thought we weren’t allowed pets.”
“He’s not a pet. He’s an emotional support goat,” he says. “ESG.”
“Where has that been the entire voyage?”
“In my cabin providing emotional support.”
This really explains some of the more dubious sounds I’ve heard emitting from Steve’s cabin. This is not a large vessel in terms of personal space, and it is an unwritten rule that you really don’t ask what’s going on in another crewmember’s cabin.
The goat is eager to emerge out into alien territory. It stamps and paws with its little cloven hoof, bleating happily. I am a little relieved to realize that I am not going to be left on my own, but realistically, the goat makes very little difference. If things go wrong out there, I’m going to have nothing but an emotional support goat that barely comes up to my knee to help.
“What’s her name?”
“His name is Bilbo. He’s a good listener,” Steve says. “You take care of Penelope,” he tells the goat.
Bilbo makes a goat sound and head butts the door.
“Shouldn’t he have a leash or something? What if he runs away?”
“Bilbo knows what his job is. He won’t leave your side. Don’t worry.” Steve presses the button that opens the door. Alien sun streams in through the aperture. This is a hallowed moment, a sort of…
Bilbo launches out of the door before any of us can stop him. He has the honor of being the first to take a keen mouthful of random alien foliage that is growing thick around the base of the ship with incredible, and I might even say concerning, speed.
“I thought you said he wouldn’t leave my side?”
“He’s not gone too far,” Steve says. “Bilbo was bred to keep a human company. He knows his job.”
“He must have been so bored cooped up in your cabin all this time!”
Steve shrugs. “I have a treadmill to exercise him. He ate the belt and spent the rest of the time bouncing off the walls.”
“That does explain the thudding. I thought you and Captain Kurt were…” I trail off because Steve doesn’t look amused. He and Kurt may have separate cabins, but they share a life. It’s supposed to be a secret for reasons best known to themselves, but when you share a ship with two men who can’t keep their hands off one another, pretending not to notice starts to wear thin. I bet they can’t wait to get rid of me and be on their way.
“Be good,” Steve says.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got this,” I assure them. I can see them hesitating. It’s quite gentlemanly really, for them to think twice about leaving me here. “I’m going to earn my cut.”
The reminder of all the money at stake here spurs them back into action. Kurt shoos me out the ship’s door with a hustling gesture that makes him look momentarily like a large ginger housewife with a mustache.
I go straight to my new quarters. The door opens for me in a smooth and comforting way, like it was expecting me.
Welcome to Survivorbox! Your home away from home!
The cabin welcomes me cheerfully. I’ve done some short stretches in these things before, much closer to Earth. I’ve never stayed anywhere as long as I’m going to have to stay in this one.
Tell me your name, inhabitant.
“Mehhehh!” Bilbo interjects suddenly, appearing with goat-y suddenness.
Welcome to your new home, Penelomeeh!
Damn it, there’s no way to reset that once the Survivorbox thinks it knows who you are. I’m going to be Penelomeeh for as long as I’m here. Still. If that’s the worst thing that happens today, it’ll be fine.
I look around, finding it pretty much as I remembered. It’s not large, and most of the spaces in it are multifunctional. The couch is also the bed and the dining room and the office, and you get the idea. The wall is the wall as well as a screen and a food dispenser.
The door shuts behind Bilbo and me, then opens again to let Bilbo out, then opens again to let Bilbo in, and so on and so forth as Steve addresses me over the intercom.
“Alright, we’ll be in touch as soon as we can. We should be able to stay within radio range for a week or so,” Steve’s voice comes over the intercom. I have to admit I’m going to miss talking to people. Kurt had some interesting opinions on almost everything in the universe, and Steve knows more than anybody, even more than the ship’s computer about other things.
“Okay. I’m going to come out and watch you take off,” I say.
“Alright, keep a good distance,” Steve says. “Don’t want you being vaporized in the wash.”
“I’ll be safe. You make sure you’re safe,” I say.
It feels like we should be saying something more meaningful and deep, that there’s more to be said that isn’t coming out of our mouths. There are times in life that simply hold too much weight for words, and this is one of those times.
They take off, because that’s the next thing to do. There’s a swooshing sound as the ship heads for the upper atmosphere and then a…
I watch, stunned, shocked, and then horrified as the vessel that I called home for the past year is obliterated in an explosion of its own making. Steve and Kurt are gone, flashes of hot dust.
“What the actual… Steve! Kurt!” I scream their names into the intercom, but nothing besides the hiss of static comes back. The connection is gone. They are gone. Everything is gone. Everything is over. This is the fucking end.
There will be no registering this planet on Earth. There will be no rescue. Nobody knows we’re here, me and Bilbo, because this planet was supposed to stay a secret right up until it was registered. We never discussed what was supposed to happen if the registration mission went awry, probably because the reality was unthinkable.
I am numb. I feel as though what I’ve seen wasn’t real. Terrible things are hard that way. There’s no reference point for them, no way to compare. They’re just astounding, astonishing, awful… I feel the universe rushing in on me, my solitude suddenly magnified a million times over.
I want nothing more than to go back in time and stop them from leaving, save them somehow. But what’s done cannot be undone. What has exploded into a thousand pieces can never be un-exploded.
Tears trace down my cheeks. Steve and Kurt were my family. We were going to become rich and powerful all together. It was going to be the start of something new. Something…
It doesn’t matter what it was going to be. It’s not going to be that anymore. Now it’s just me completely alone, nobody to come for me, at least until some other company comes here and probably tries to kill me so they can leave their own inhabitant behind.
I was not prepared for this. I was never trained for it. Most professional planetary residents are ex-military survivalist types who can make do with anything anywhere, but they charge a lot of money. More than Kurt ever wanted to pay. He just needed a living human, and I am a living breathing human, one who is now marooned on a planet all alone.
“Meeh.” Bilbo reminds me I am not alone. I have a goat.
A goat is actually not that useful.
I don’t know how long it is before I start functioning again. Could be a few hours. Could be a day. At some point I realize that I am hungry, and decide to make some food using the food processing machine.
I press the button for grilled cheese and tomato soup. Comfort food for watching the only two people who know I’m here be exploded.
I press the button again.
And that’s when I realize that Kurt and Steve are not the only two people having a very bad day. With the food processor broken, or whatever has happened to it, I’m going to fucking starve.
Fear washes over me, deep primal fear, fear of all the things a living being has to worry about. It is so immense and so complete I am certain that it will take me with it into the same senseless random void that claimed Kurt and Steve.
I scream and then I cry, and then I feel sick to the very pit of my stomach. I can’t breathe, except I can breathe, but it’s like the air doesn’t do anything. I suck it in and it just sits in the lead box of my frail meat chest, which has suddenly become very tense and very sore. Below it there is the churning of my guts. Rank with fear, I emit cries and wails and generally lose my shit.