I remained in Harland's suite for the next five days, trying to be exceptionally good, and drafting agreements between the Tondas and Excelsis. We had reached one lightyear between the West World and our planet, before stopping at an intermediary station where we would quarantine. I saw Chelsea a few times, when he and Harland had meetings, but said very little to him, still recalling our conversation back home. If he had made even the slightest effort to convince Harland of the need for my presence as an emissary to the Minster of Tonda, things would have been very different on board. I did detect censure from him, which I ignored, but I considered that the rest of the crew likely held the opinion that I should not be here. It was disappointing, but I could just remain in this suite for the next two weeks.

And I would have remained in his suite the entire time, had my husband not shared the knowledge that we would be dining with an ambassador from the West world who was visiting the Intermediary Station.

"May I join you?" I had asked, silently hoping he had progressed in his forgiveness to allow me to actively participate in our mission.

"No," he had said instead, without preamble or explanation. He was reading a brief from a foot soldier who had been sent forward in advance of the main crew, to investigate the situation in the West.

I nodded quickly, even though he wasn't looking at me, as I tried to regroup and consider how to actually discuss the topic.

"And I trust, Essa," he added, taking a sip of his tea, "that you haven't forgotten my words from early this week."

"No! No, of course not." I scrambled up from the couch. "Excuse me, I need the bathroom." He looked up and raised an eyebrow and I rushed to the bathroom. I was convinced that if I stayed in his presence, I would give something away about the brief treacherous thought I had. Was I really so willful? I had not thought of myself that way, but how had my first mental retort been how I could sneak into the meeting without being observed?

I perched on the toilet seat and tried to think through why I was actually thinking of attending this dinner. Was it rebellion? No, I had no reason to rebel. But it would be helpful to at least gauge the atmosphere in the West before we arrived. Of course, Harland would be doing that, but wouldn't it help to have a different perspective? And I could simply just listen in, and leave before they were done. I just needed to know where the meeting was being held and I would keep completely out of Harland's way.

I flushed the toilet for good measure and washed my hands, looking in the mirror to make sure there wasn't even the slightest sign of guilt. Nothing. Good. I took a deep breath in and expelled it slowly. It was for the good of the mission, I said to myself before leaving the bathroom.

Harland was in that small room off to the side of the bedroom talking to someone that sounded like Percival, his secretary. I hadn't realized Perce was on the ship. I shrugged and went back to the bed and my notes. I became absorbed in my drafts and was only vaguely was aware of the main door opening and shutting.

"Essa, could you come in here for a moment?" I looked up from my tablet, surprised at the request.

I got up, feeling anxious and went into the room where he sat behind a desk, still typing.

"You wanted me?"

"Yes, do sit; I'll be just a moment." I nodded and sat on one of the high-backed chairs in the room. It was surprisingly uncomfortable. I should bring it to Harland's notice; he wouldn't want his aides to be uncomfortable, I was sure. I played with the fringe of my day gown, impressed at how quickly it had been for Harland to arrange for clothing of my style and size to be brought on board.

"Thank you, I just needed to approve that, before Percival can leave." He said, turning to me. "Now, I wanted to have a word with you about your question earlier."

"My question?"

"Yes," he replied, tenting his fingers and leaning forward over the desk, with his elbows resting on either side of his laptop. "You see, I feel somewhat concerned."

"Concerned?" I seemed incapable of saying much beside repeating his words.

"Yes, I had the very oddest sense that you are in fact plotting to disobey me."

"I'm not!" I said reflexively but felt my whole face begin to burn. "I'm not, not at all," I continued looking down from his gaze. Was I? No, no, the thought crossed my mind, but who knew if I would actually follow through? Anything could happen, and I didn't even know when or where this meeting was taking place.

"Caressa, look at me."

I looked up, our eyes met, and I shivered against the chill of their blue depth.

"I think it would be in both our interests to remind you why it would be extremely unwise to disobey me."

"But no, I haven't…I haven't done anything. Harland, I haven't done anything." I was whispering the words, but I knew he could hear me. The resolute expression he now wore was what frightened me the most. "I promise, I won't, I will not! I promise, Harland."

"And yet, Essa, I remain concerned."


I was stretching my words now and I'd used the "p" word. I was scared, I admitted it to myself freely. I was admitting it to him. But I knew from his unwavering expression that my pleas were falling on deaf ears.

"It's not fair," I said to his silence. "I said I wouldn't do it; I won't disobey you." I meant it now; it was not worth this.

He sighed and leaned back.

"Go into the bedroom and fetch me a belt."

I felt hot tears spilling out of my eyes.


"Don't make me repeat myself, or you will make this worse."

"I'm sorry…I'm sorry I asked that. I won't disobey you; I mean it."

"Are you disobeying me right now?"

"No…I…" I shook my head and stood. I took shaky steps out of the office and entered the bedroom with blurry eyes. I went to the wardrobe and waved over the sensor, watching it slide open silently. Like everything in Harland's life, his belongs were organized with exquisite precision. There they were, hanging like evil serpents. I had the thought of tossing them in the toilet and flushing until they were all gone. They all looked the same, and I didn't want to take too long, so I pulled one down, hating the hardness of it in my hands. The smooth leather felt cold to the touch and I wanted to simply drop it. I went back to the room instead, wishing he would reconsider.

He motioned for me to come around the desk with a gesture and I took slow deliberate steps until I stood in front of him. He frowned, he didn't want to do this, I could tell how he felt, standing so close. But he was going to do it anyway, I reminded myself.

He held out his hand and I placed the belt in it silently. He examined its length and then bent it in two.

"Your hand?"

He held out his, for mine. I closed my eyes as I very reluctantly gave him my hand. I felt his warm hand close around mine. I instinctively tried to pull away, but it was too late for escape now.

"Please, Harland," I tried again.

"This won't be that bad, six in all. I want you to count them out."

Six?! Not that bad?! I didn't want one. And I certainly didn't want to count them out, for dragon's sake. He didn't announce the first strike, but the streak of pain across my palm was enough to have me trying to pull away in earnest. He wasn't holding back.

"Put your other hand behind your back. If you move it, the count will double."


I obediently put my left hand behind me. I was tense, waiting for the next stroke, not realizing he was waiting as well.

"One," I blurted out, in a choked voice.

Again, five more times and I was fighting in earnest. He didn't let me go when he was done. He instead pulled me into his lap, and put the belt away. I didn't want to be near him. I was hurt, I was hurting, and I felt angry. This was so unfair. And yet…I had been considering it.

"I know you very likely think this is unfair, Essa," he said from behind me. My breathing was hitched with residual sobs.

"Yes," I said, my voice heavy with tears. "Can I go, please?"

He was holding me, and it did feel comforting, and he was warm, and it made me feel better. But I was angry, I was angry that he had punished me for something I hadn't done, because he wanted to make sure I wouldn't do it.

"In a moment, I'd like to talk first."

"I don't want to talk!" His hand stilled. "I'm sorry, could we please not talk now?"

"No, we will talk now. You can sit here, or you can take a chair."

I stood up quickly and all but threw myself into the uncomfortable seat. I considered that perhaps Harland didn't want people comfortable around him.

"Caressa, take that mutinous expression off your face before I give you something to truly cry over."

I sniffed, bit my lip and shoved my curls behind my ear. I tried to keep my face blank but with tears and Harland now looking irritated, it was a challenging feat.

"I won't ask you if you were truly considering defying me and discovering some way to join that meeting. I won't ask because I know the answer and I won't allow you to lie to me. That you would dare does not surprise me, since it has been some time before you actually had any fear of consequences. If it was not clear to you last week that things have changed, do remember that although I do not enjoy punishing you, I enjoy your defiance even less. Am I making myself perfectly clear?"

I nodded. In any case, I was afraid of what he would do if I didn't. I also now missed sitting in his warmth.

"Can I…may I…"

"You may go," he snapped, shortly.

"No I…"


I looked down and spoke into my hands.

"Can you hold me, please? If you're not…if you're done punishing me."

The words were whispered, and I was afraid he would tell me no. But Harland, unlike me, held no grudges.

"Come here," he said, after a moment. I rushed over and buried my face in his neck. I wasn't even crying, I just wanted to be so encased in his warmth, that the horridness of the last hour would be simply a bad memory.


I was woken with a soft hand over my forehead and blinked in confusion at the older woman who sat on the bed, looking down at me. She looked somewhat older than Harland, but not as old as my father.

"Who are you? Why are you here?" I tried to sit up hurriedly, but she placed a hand over my chest. I felt myself stiffen and sank further into the bed to get away from her touch. There was something cold and unwelcoming in the woman's eyes that frightened me, and I asked her again, why she was in our bedroom.

"I'm here for your treatment, my dear girl, now don't be so silly."

"My treatment?"

"Yes, did you not receive the notice? You were all tested, and you were one of the few who was infected with the virus."

I was shaking my head, trying to organize my thoughts. I knew Harland had talked about a quarantine but how could we be infected.

"Is my husband…is the Prince infected too?"

"Yes, and he has gotten his treatment already."

"Oh…he didn't tell me."

My phone pinged at that moment and I glanced at it to see that Harland had indeed sent me a few messages. I must have slept through them, but the long and short of it was that he had received the notice, gotten "treated," and was now aboard the Intermediary Station. "Please take the treatment, Essa, and try not to make trouble." I bit my bottom lip, wishing he had told me about this when I was awake and also wishing that this woman was nowhere near me. Ugh why did she feel so cold?

"What…what is the treatment?" I asked finally, knowing I couldn't continue to stare at my phone.

"I am so happy you asked, my dear." I made a face when she called me her 'dear.' I cannot be sure she noticed. "There are a few options for the treatment! One of them is an intramuscular injection – the fastest option and one Prince Harland chose – another is a rectal suppository. There is an oral dose, however it requires several doses and is not particularly enjoyable."

None of those options sounded enjoyable. I frowned and wondered how I could get this woman out of our bedroom.

"May I wait until my husband has returned?" I thought of his words not to "make trouble." Was this what he meant?

"I'm afraid not, my dear, I have to leave your ship to attend to others on the station. And we would not want to have you infect the other members of your crew, would we?"

"I could call him…he would come if he knew it was important," I hedged, moving my legs away from the hand that kept patting them, whenever she called me her 'dear.'

"But is it important?" The temperature of her voice seemed to have descended rapidly, and I shivered. I nodded, not really sure why I was so afraid of this woman.

"I don't think it is, pretty Essa, and I know you are right now preparing to be a brat about this. But I am one of the Emissary Nuns and I have a great deal of experience managing bratty young ladies."

I couldn't tell what part of her speech horrified me more: her denial of the importance of my needed Harland by my side, the fact that she had called me a 'bratty young lady' in that odiously familiar way, or the fact that she was one of the dreaded Emissary Nuns. I had once seen an Emissary Nun delivery a so-called 'punishment enema,' while paddling a 'disobedient young miss' on her already reddened bottom. Why I had spied such a thing had been a question my mother had asked all the way up to my chambers while on that trip to the Conquered Nations, a group of worlds belonging to the Excelsis colony, where Emissary Nuns were their judicial system in an uncomfortable patriarchy. What was an Emissary Nun doing here? And why was she delivering antivirals?

"I am not…"

"No, no dear, don't tell me you're not a brat, it is precisely what a brat will say. Now Prince Harland has asked that you be treated, and I have never once failed in my duty."

"Did he know what you were?" I asked, shaking my head in denial. I knew how rude that sounded from the frown that crossed her previously calm features.

"Do you know, Princess Caressa, that I carry a tawse with me, wherever I go?"

"No…why…why should I know such a thing?"

"Why indeed? I do so because it is never clear when I will encounter young ladies in need of its sting."

"I just want to wait…"

"You would like to be disobedient, and you think if you delay receiving this treatment now, that will be possible. Well, I will give you two choices, my dear; you will come over my lap now and receive a tawsing, as well as a dose of your medicine, or you will get that tawsing, and then I myself will call the prince and inform him of your disobedience. I believe he must have instructed you to take this medicine, as he instructed me to deliver it."

I felt my mouth open and close over incoherent thoughts that would not become words. Harland would be so upset if she called him over this. Would he consider this disobedience? Would he beat me himself? I already knew the answer to that.

"Could I just get the…the treatment…please?"

"Oh no, you must receive punishment first, for your disobedience and for your rudeness."

"Please…I was just afraid."

"And that is no excuse. Come, come I haven't got all morning."

I felt trapped and also somewhat betrayed by Harland, who likely knew I would not have taken this with any degree of equanimity.

"I'm waiting, my dear, up with you," she said, brusquely, patting her thighs. I felt my lips tremble, and bit them hard, not wanting her to see my cry. I slowly moved the snowy white duvet off my tanned limbs and crawled humiliatingly over to where she was sitting. She watched me with what seemed a practiced air, as though waiting for me to run. But no, if this meant she would not tell Harland, I would submit. I lay stiffly over her thighs, feeling my stomach churn above their surprisingly muscular length. I bit back a gasp when she raised my flimsy nightgown, exposing my bottom. I was tensed for what seemed like an eternity when I felt soft leather brush against my cheeks.

"The lesson will begin when you relax, my dear." I felt my stomach drop and my shoulders sink. Slowly, with rising dread, I relaxed my bottom.

The first stroke came, stinging slaps that spread over my right cheek, and then another over the left. She alternated and I squirmed over her lap, trying but failing not to cry. Again, and again, the tawse fell, striking with a wickedness that made me want to scream. My bottom was aflame, and although I kicked furiously now, she kept me in place with a surprisingly strong hold. When I thought I would finally break down and beg her to stop, she ceased the punishment.

"And now, let's finish this up." The words were no sooner out of her mouth, than, to my utter mortification, I felt her fingers prying my bottom open, and pushing a small slippery oval into my tightest hole. "No, wait!" It was too late, the suppository was in. I realized with horror that one of her long fingers had followed the object and now sat inside me. I was silent, unsure what to say. A few agonizing moments later, she drew her finger out. But then she pinched my cheeks together, almost as if she didn't want the object to escape. I whined then, unable to help it.

"Only a little while longer, my dear, you've taken your medicine very well.