The girls hobbled along the large balcony that encircled the ballroom. "Look! Look at this shit, Alexa!" Nina held up her left hand, displaying only three complete digits. She looked more pissed than hurt, which made sense, since Alexa could see an emergency pain-block bracelet wrapped round her wrist.
Alexa smirked. "You always put your fingers where they don't belong. That's why you keep losing them." She shook her head when Nina thrust her hand toward her.
"They grow back. Eventually."
Alexa rolled her eyes. "Yeah, and what if they didn't? What if the Ancestors hadn't fixed that before they first headed into the Big Dark?"
"Then I'd be in deep shit, wouldn't I?" Nina muttered around a couple of pain pills. An emergency p-block never lasted more than a few minutes. "Now, are you gonna fix 'em up, or not?" She waggled the stumps at Alexa.
Shaking her head, Alexa removed a first aid pack from a pocket on Nina's right leg and began to wrap the damaged hand. Nina winced, and Alexa commented, "Be cool, it's only a few fingers. Have Doc do a cloning stim later."
Nina sniffed, "Well, actually, the right term would be regenerate, because cloning is only when you... Fuck, that hurt, bitch!" Alexa ignored Nina as she administrated the first aid. When she'd finished she looked at her friend with pride. "All done. And damned well, if I say so myself."
Nina sighed. "Thanks. You know, if I keep this up, I'll have more regenerated parts than originals."
"And what's your point? As long as you have your original head and brain you're fine, right?" Alexa smiled at her friend—but she still looked sad.
Nina was biting down hard, obviously trying to ignore the pain from her hand; and in her eyes, Alexa could see the shadows of a sadness that mirrored her own. But all she said was, "Right."
Nodding, Alexa injected Nina with a hypo from the pack, then dosed herself with the same drug. Both shivered and smiled, their eyes glassy, as the drug hit their systems. Once they felt they could go on, they continued out onto a second level above the ballroom, and smiled as they headed toward a very wide spiral staircase. By then, the sounds of fighting had more or less ceased, and someone had silenced the alarms, too. The lights kept flickering on and off, like distant heat lightning, but at least it was normal-spectrum; someone had turned off the yellow warning lights.
As they swept out onto a landing, Nina glanced at her companion and said, "Where's your blaster?"
Alexa's cheeks turned red, and she frowned. "Um, don't ask. I'll get a new one later. By the way, Nina, do you have any more charger mags? All of mine are useless...must have charged them wrong or something." Nina nodded and tossed Alexa a couple of power charge magazines with her good hand.
"You're welcome," Nina mumbled back as she checked her own weapon for any damage. She glanced up and let out a snort of amusement. "Look. The Twins from Hell." She gestured toward two female aliens who appeared, at first glance, to be identical to each other. Both wore battle fatigues like Alexa and Nina, and carried enormous magma rifles. Their purple skins were stippled with small yellow dots, and they both had long, prehensile tails. At the moment, those tails secured a young prisoner between them.
"Mohama and Miska, what do you have there?" Alexa called.
"Just a young brat," Miska replied haughtily. "Thinks it is Oman like the two of you, but it has a pale skin."
"We figure we could kill some time until General Assembly," Mohama added happily. "Care to join us as we ravish him over there?" She nodded towards a secluded area.
"Sure!" Nina grinned. She moved close to the prisoner and yanked up his head. "He's just a boy," she exclaimed. She started to fumble between his legs. When she found his private parts she looked at him, impressed. "I'm in." She glanced at Alexa. "What about you?"
Alexa rolled her eyes and said firmly, "I like my men past puberty, thanks." The boy looked at her pleadingly for help, but Alexa deliberately misinterpreted his look and said, "In your dreams, kid, in your dreams." Wasn't her responsibility to protect little lost boys.
"Still waiting for your knight in shining armor?" Nina smirked.
Suddenly irritated, Alexa stopped and turned around. She walked back to her friends and glared at the prisoner. "How old is he?"
"Who cares? He's as tall as we are, and check this out." Miska sliced through the boy's trunks with her razor-sharp nails, exposing his privates. Alexa raised her eyebrows but failed to whistle, given her missing front tooth. "Hell, he's still too young. He'll explode before we can have any fun with him."
"Not if you do that nerve thing you so happily brag about," Nina mused, while looking over the boy and licking her lips.
Alexa shook her head and said, "It's just waste of time. Besides, he's obviously an Orchid Oman, since he's been circumcised. His end nerves are ruined, and that would block the impulses from his sexual nerve."
"He better be worth it, girl, or you'll be out of power batteries for the next galactic year."
Everyone but Nina started to laugh, including the victim. The victim! Nina stuck out her tongue at Alexa and the twins.
The girls went wild around their young trophy, and hurried him away toward a small, secluded area behind a staircase while they danced around him and tore off his clothes. The boy's eyes grow larger and larger as the four girls informed him what each one of them would do to him. He didn't really look that scared; it was obvious, in fact, that he was quite excited. They hurried towards a hatch near the staircase, leaving a long trail of equipment and clothing behind them.
But their fun wasn't to be. Suddenly, unexpected, the bulkhead erupted with a deafening roar right beside them, tossing them all head-over-heels from the pressure wave and filling the air with debris and billowing smoke. The boy's body acted as a shield, protecting the girls; Miska and Mohama fell back, with the boy on top of them. Nina fell down the stairs and Alexa slammed hard, head first, into a bulkhead, losing another tooth.
After a dizzying moment she looked up, holding her head in both hands as she cursed with a bloody mouth. She was disoriented, and she could feel blood oozing out of her ears. She tried to get back on her feet and into the fight, and then time stopped.
She looked up into a pair of dark blue eyes staring down at her. There he was. The knight—her knight.
Ever since Alexa had been sold to the pirates at the age of ten, she'd had only one dream: To be rescued by a knight in shining armor. That dream was silly, and it hadn't really lasted long. Once she'd turned fifteen she'd been adopted by the Captain as his daughter, and automatically received second crew shares. Now she was looting for her freedom, to get enough credits to manumit herself. She hated piracy with a passion, but she had no choice in the matter: so she dove into the life with a vengeance. Still, every time a shot was fired, her heart clenched and her soul was forever scarred. She knew she had to leave this horrible life, or she would end it herself.
Alexa stared, paralyzed, at the most handsome young man she had ever seen—and she let her guard down in the process. An iron-hard fist struck her in the face, followed by another in the gut. She went down like a poleaxed sheep, crashing into the bulkhead she'd just crawled up from and breaking her third tooth of the day. She hit the deck in a still heap, dead to the world.
A dozen young men and women, all dressed in light blue formal uniforms, charged out of a hallway armed with slug-throwing handguns and blasters. They quickly removed the girls' weapons, and made sure they stayed unconscious for a while with their own version of the pirates' slave collars. Then they began to advance against the pirate positions in two-by-two formations. Unlike the pirates, who had been reveling in their victory and were shocked by the unexpected attack, the newcomers were very organized, very professional, and very well-disciplined. They fired short, controlled bursts and advanced fearlessly against their enemy, who substantially outnumbered them. Their facial expressions were invariably ironclad masks of hatred.
It was a suicide mission, and they all knew it. But they didn't let that stop them for a moment.
The word send cold chills down many of the pirates' spines, and confusion erupted among them.
Zuzack stood at the center of the ballroom shouting out orders to his pirates. "Get them, lads and tramps, give them all you got, and don't damage them too much! They're worth more alive than dead!"
Laser and magma bolts rained down like a hailstorm all around, but Zuzack just stood there as if he were immortal, displaying no sign of fear. The pirates advanced, unorganized, and several of them were killed or injured from the effective fire laid down by the cadets from the Nastasturus Federation. Lieutenant Hughes grabbed his weapon and aimed it at the oncoming threat, but Zuzack only laid his large hand on his lieutenant's shoulder and said calmly, "Fewer crew members means more spoil for the survivors. Remember, we're done in this sector and heading home." Hughes gave his Captain a strange and questioning look, and after a few moments he lowered his weapon and smiled uncertainly.
The fight was bloody but short, for the Nastasturus soldiers soon began to run out of ammunition. At that point, Zuzack ordered his troops to charge in and capture them alive. The pirates swarmed the cadets, and the hand-to-hand fighting was fierce.
One of the pirates aimed her rifle at one of the cadets' backs and was about to press the trigger when her head was separated messily from her body. Zuzack wiped his sword on her quivering form and snarled, "I told you, fools, I want them all alive!"
Zuzack gestured towards his third officer, Major Grotech, who snapped out an order through his helmet communicator.
A moment later, four huge lizard-like dogs charged from the boarding tube into the civilian ship. The Tilters rushed the young cadets before they noticed the new threat from behind, and it was all they could do to fend off the huge animals. Meanwhile, pirates approached with net-throwers, discharging the weapons when they got within range and capturing several of the cadets that way. The Tilter dogs themselves spat a web-like substance that immobilized the remaining cadets, and suddenly it was over.
Alexa and Nina helped each other to their feet, and supported each other as they picked their way through the cadets. They stopped long enough to kick a couple, but not too hard, so they wouldn't piss off the Captain too much. The twins Miska and Mohama followed angrily, after they noticed the bloody emasculated mess their fun-toy had become. Along the way, they took back their weapons from the captured cadets.
"What a waste," Miska growled. "The poor thing could at least have been allowed to die with a smile on his face."
Alexa ignored her; her attention was elsewhere. There he was again: her Knight. No shining armor, though. He was a young man in his early twenties, with short dark brown hair, his face bruised up from the fight. Knight or not, he needed to be taught who was in charge. She smirked. Time to break him in. Then her gaze snagged on his deep blue eyes, and an odd weakness seemed to overcome her. Dammit, knees, don't you mutiny on me now!
Alexa kicked towards his face, coming as close as she could without actually touching him, and lisped through her broken teeth, "Anybody ever told you it's not nice to hit a lady?"
"You are no lady. You are a whore and a pirate." He said it through clenched teeth, a menacing gleam in his eyes.
Alexa glared down at him, frustration and anger roiling inside her. Bastard. Her long-lost knight had made her feel weak, something no male was allowed to do. This was no way for a knight to treat his damsel in distress. She aimed another kick at the young soldier's pretty face, and her toes struck the wall hard when he jerked his head away. Pissed, her foot throbbing, Alexa lost her cool. Knight or not, it was time to kick some serious ass. Literally. She was about to kick him again when something snagged her ankle from behind and, to her horror, lifted her up in the air upside-down.
Hanging helplessly, she twisted around to see what had her. The large saurian woman holding her up shook her head, the razor blades woven into the ends of her long dreads clinking and rattling. The saurian grunted, "Cap'n said no damage, Brat."
"Let me down, Myra, or I'll turn you into a pair of boots."
Hissing in laughter, Myra tossed Alexa over her shoulder and smacked her buttocks a few times. "Now, now, my little princess, you are no longer a member of your Royalist Clan. You will obey, or Cap'n will have his way with you—again."
Alexa started screaming and protesting, her legs kicking holes into the air and fists punching Myra's back hard. The saurian barely noticed. "Like hell he will, you lizard bitch!" she screamed. "Like hell he will! Let me down, I'm warning you! I mean it, Myra, you'll be the start of the next fashion statement to sweep the galaxy—and dammit, stop spanking my ass!" She was not going to put up with this crap. Imagine, being treated like this in front of her knight!
But the more she struggled and shouted threats, the harder the smacks fell on her firm, unprotected buttocks. A few of the pirates standing nearby started to laugh at the display. Instead of breaking up the fight, they started cheering Myra and Alexa on.
But soon the cheering stopped like someone had cut it off with a switch, and so did the spanking. A large, strong hand grabbed hold of Alexa's dreadlocks, pulling her head back, interrupting her complaints.
"You again. Let her go, Myra," Zuzack ordered. He held Alexa up by hair, with her legs kicking several feet from the ground. It hurt amazingly badly, so she shut up. "Now, young lady," Zuzack growled, "you will obey me, or I'll sell you—but only after the entire crew has had their way with you. Is that understood, Brat?"
Alexa looked at him in horror. She tried to nod as she grabbed onto her hair and the Captain's long, muscular arm in a futile attempt to stop the pain and pressure from her scalp and hairline. She felt more than heard the sound of tearing flesh near her newly-acquired bald spot, and she realized that if she didn't respond quickly, she was about to lose her whole scalp.
"Yes, Captain, I swear I will never do wrong again, I swear!" Alexa shouted sincerely. She didn't plead or ask for any mercy, even when he gave her a little shake. Dammit, would she lose all her hair? She ground her teeth. Well, be that as it may. She would at least be alive, and it could be fixed. But she felt sure that if she begged for any mercy, she would die for sure—or worse, be scalped alive.
Zuzack stared at Alexa, and there was madness in his eyes. The ripping sound of Alexa's scalp giving away turned him on, apparently. Well, she knew that other people's fears turned him on more than sex did. But there could be, no fear in Alexa's eyes. She bit down hard on her lower lip, preparing for the excruciating pain that would soon follow, when her entire scalp and all her hair would be lost forever. She figured Zuzack would never allow her to have it regenerated. He and most of the other older pirates treasured their battle scars almost as much as any normal treasure.
To her amazement, Zuzack's expression changed and he begun to laugh, as he put Alexa down very slowly. Then he was patting her on top of her head like some animal. "Kids!" he roared. "That's my little princess! Be nice, and I might reclaim you as my daughter again!"
Zuzack laughed hard, and bore the look of a proud father as he walked over to the Nastasturus cadets. "You boys and girls better be officers from wealthy families or Clans," he told them brightly, "because if you're not, you will be sold off as food. Hell, I might just let you have dinner with some of my crew later." He laughed loudly, rubbing his large belly. The cadets only stared back at him hatefully—except for one, who was trembling and covering his face, trying to conceal his tears from his friends.
Zuzack ignored the whimpering young cadet, his eye caught by another young man with red hair who stood out from the rest and glared defiantly at him. More hatred radiated from the redhead than from any one of the other cadets, or even any of the prisoners in general. "I take it you're the leader of this little group?" Zuzack asked coolly.
The young cadet didn't answer; he just continued to glare at the enormous pirate Captain with defiant eyes. His stare made Zuzack feel a bit of unease; but hell—no fear, no fun. He walked up to the cadet, grabbed his arm, and pulled him to his feet, ignoring the boy's struggles.
"I don't like the look in your eyes, boy. I think it's time to teach you and your fine friends a valuable lesson in manners and respect toward your new owner."
Zuzack looked more or less human—but he wasn't, not entirely. He smiled and opened his mouth wide, lifted his tongue, and a barbed feeding tendril flashed out with lightning speed. It struck the cadet in the left eyeball, and before the kid could even feel it, had yanked out his eye and disappeared back into the Captain's mouth. The cadet dropped, screaming, blood oozing from the black hole where his eye had been. He screamed and cursed, threatening the pirate and all his followers with vile fates that he had no means of carrying out.
After crunching up and swallowing his prize, Zuzack assured the prisoner, "I know what you're thinking, lad: that we'll clone it back. But we won't. I see by your insignia that you're a cadet pilot. Well, you can never pilot a craft with only one eye—at least, not a military craft. By the time you reach a safe port, it will be too late to clone it back...if you make it back alive, that is."
Lieutenant Hughes sidled up to his Captain and whispered, "Sir, with all due respect, he is worth more intact."
The Captain pulled Hughes aside and whispered, "Listen, Lieutenant, they're all officer cadets. Remember last time we had some, and what they did to my old ship? The damages and the loss of good fellow pirates' lives weren't worth all the trouble. Not again! This time, I intend to make sure they don't start anything funny."
"Don't worry. If he is, then we'll fix him up as good as new. But if he's just an everyday cadet, or no one of importance, then..."
Zuzack leered at Hughes and murmured, "Wait till supper." He turned back to the prisoners. "In the meantime, put them on the slave blocks, just in case they get creative." The two pirates looked at each other and began laughing.
The prisoners were rounded up like cattle, and most of the pirates gathered with them in the huge main ballroom. There were over three thousand people present, and at least half of them were prisoners. The prisoners, exhausted in mind and body, sat and lay down on the floor. Many of them were injured, and most were bruised from the fight. Some of the prisoners were in shackles, but most were not. What they all had in common was the collar each had around his or her neck, engraved with a number or sigil that represented the individual pirate or clan who had claimed the prisoner for further trade.
Zuzack snapped out an order and the wall on the far end of the ballroom peeled back, revealing two large airlocks flanked by wide viewports. No doubt they had been used to load large items and passengers directly into the ballroom. Visible through the ports were the long barrels of the anti-fighter guns attached to the ship's hull. Zuzack stepped forward and pressed a control on a computer console, and two sets of controls morphed out of the wall. He took up station at one while the saurian woman, Myra, took the other. Both grasped a joystick with a pistol handle, while peering through the port into space.
Two pirates pushed a well-dressed elderly man into the airlock and slammed the hatch shut on his screams. He pounded on the inside of the hatch, and his face, bright red and contorted with fear, was visible through a small window near the top. A pirate turned a knob on the wall, and the old man grabbed his head and seemed to be screaming from pain. A whisper of horror swept through the crowd.
One of the pirates by the airlock pulled down a handle, and the old man was spat out into space as the remaining air went screaming onto the void. He was still alive, kicking and screaming, as Zuzack and Myra opened fire, cutting him into pieces. During the entire atrocity most of the pirates cheered the events, though some looked on with less enthusiasm. Bets were made, and money, jewelry and prisoners exchanged hands.
The crew began to chant, "One more, one more."
The Captain looked at Myra, who shrugged, and then pointed at an old woman wearing a dress that would have cost a normal person a year's salary. "That was your old man, wasn't it?" Zuzack asked innocently. The woman, crying silently, simply nodded. "I take it would be to cruel of me to part two loved ones."
For a long moment no one spoke; then the old woman lifted her head high and said proudly, "Do what you will, monster."
Zuzack gestured sharply, and two pirates moved on the woman. In seconds they had her shackles off, and had forced her into the airlock; the entire time she fought as hard as her husband had. Her face twisted in fury, she pounded on the port so hard that her fist left smears of blood across the thick crystal.
The pirate crowd had a frisson of extra amusement when a little boy leapt up off the ballroom floor, escaping the clutches of his mother, and rand toward the hatch shouting, shouting, "Grandmother, grandmother! No, NO, I'm coming!"
He reached the door and tried to open it as the pirates roared in laughter; when it became clear he had absolutely no chance of succeeding, he, too, pounded hard on the glass, his face a mask of fear and pain. His grandmother mouthed "I love you" from the other side of the port.
Zuzack grabbed the boy from behind. "What is this, a mutiny?" He smiled at the young boy, reveling in his fear. "Say goodbye to your granny, lad. PULL!"
The old woman shot out into the darkness and Myra opened up, cutting her into pieces with .50 caliber slugs.
Zuzack turned to his jolly crew and hollered, "Enough! Start processing the prisoners. Never mind cleaning this old ship of anything of value and supplies—we'll do that later. We'll have our regular auction over any unclaimed spoil when we return to base, so finish up here as quickly as you can." He turned to his officers. All saluted him and nodded; they needed no further details or instructions. Everyone knew what needed to be done.
The crew cheered their Captain and their success and then went back to looting the ship, despite their Captain's orders. The officers and the more experienced pirates concentrated on processing the prisoners.
Zuzack held up the young boy who had just lost his grandparents. The boy tried to hit Zuzack, but to no avail. Zuzack crowed with delight. "As for you, my little mutineer, I'm going to have me some fun with you." Zuzack tossed the boy over his shoulder, laughing, and walked down the corridor toward an empty stateroom. Soon, a hatch clicked shut behind them, and the boy's horrible screams cut off.
Two starships hurtled through space, leaving debris and bodies floating behind. The first ship was the Bitch, an old, modified destroyer—class vessel from the trading wars that could carry a crew up to three thousand. The Bitch had been upgraded and repaired several times, and far more weapons had been attached to her than were normally used. When she was underway, the cannons and missile turrets were lowered back into the deck, and hatches covered their emplacements.
The Bitch was followed by a vessel ten times larger. It was a more modern vessel and quite beautiful, except for some hastily repaired hull damage. She was the Bright Star, a vast Transport Cruiser that could handle over twenty thousand passengers in comfort. Five thousand were active at any one time, while another fifteen thousand people were stored in the coolers. The crew was—had been—about fifteen hundred strong, and less than two hundred were security and officers.
The coolers made the trip inexpensive for the people who chose to ride that way; they were frozen in stasis and basically stacked like cordwood in the hull. On the Bright Star, four types of berths were available: First Class, Diplomatic, Second Class, and Third Class, which were the coolers. Nearly all the money was made from the first three classes; the cooler travelers were just gravy. Most Civilian Transport Cruisers were owned and operated by The Federated Merchants (T.F.M.) or The Commercial Traders (T.C.T.). The Federated Merchants happened to own the Bright Star.
The Bitch was as busy as a kicked beehive. Most of the crew was repairing the ship, while others were busy locking down and guarding the prisoners, now that they'd been processed and selected for the different types of Blocks. Males were parted from females; different species and families were also selected into different blocks.
The slave block was the preferred tool of slave traffickers and prisoner transporters throughout the galaxy; it made transporting unwilling humanoid cargo a lot easier. A smaller version was a very popular toy item among children on several worlds; they used it when they played games like Traders and Slaves, or Prisoner and Warden.
To Zuzack's surprise, Alexa and Nina volunteered to take care of all unclaimed prisoners—something most pirates couldn't care less about. Alexa did it to keep herself near her fallen knight. With help from Nina, she removed his uniform and placed him on a block, sitting him gently down on a bench. They put his ankles onto two half holes in the center of the stock device, and his wrists on the sides at the same level. The upper part of the stock was placed on top, locking him down. When they were done, they pushed a button on the stock, and air filled the rubber bladders lining the arm and leg holes, rendering the wrists and ankles immobile. Alexa attached a controller to her sleeping knight's neck—it logged information about the prisoner's health status into a computer built into one side of the stock—while Nina lowered the bench. It was now impossible to escape without help.
After they'd finished with Alexa's knight, they did the same thing with the rest of the Nastasturus cadets, though perhaps less gently. Later, they moved on to the other unclaimed prisoners. For some of the larger aliens they altered the block, aided in their work by colorless little androids.