Pirates are gone forever. WRONG! They're just in outer space!
| The Maria Elena was two days out from D-Kron Videniam VI, cruising at Star Speed 2.4, when the helmsman, Ngeya Psmilcf, noticed something odd on the long-range navigational seeker. Switching to visual, she saw nothing. But, the seeker still indicated something was out . . . there.|
"Captain, take a look at this."
Capt Whilter checked the seeker. "What's out there?"
"I don't know, sir. I've been monitoring it for an hour. It's been there since . . . Well, I don't know how long it's been there. Whatever it is, it's shadowing us perfectly, and has been for the last several hours. Any ideas, sir?"
"Check archives, Psmilcf. See when the seeker first detected it."
After a moment, she reported that it first appeared more than 18 hours earlier. "It moved up, from the bottom of our seeker range to the top, in 41.6 minutes. It did it again 4.3 hours later, taking 41.5 minutes. It did it 2.9 hours later, taking 41.7 minutes. Then, 6.1 hours ago, it moved to its current position and stayed there.
"I wouldn't worry about it, Psmilcf," Whilter said. "It's probably just an internal seeker shadow. The techs are going to install a new seeker when the ship docks. Hell, this one's nearly 30 years old."
The "shadow" grew no closer. Neither did it fall farther behind, nor in any other manner change position. It stayed right there--30,014.907 kilometers away, slightly to the left of directly behind, two degrees below the same plane. Finally, after eight more hours, the "shadow" moved. Slowly, at a rate of about 1900 kilometers an hour, the "shadow" crept closer.
Ngeya told Whilter about the "shadow's" apparent movement, then pressed the record button on the console in front of her. "Helm's log, entry 110425, addendum H. Shadow now stationary again. Apparent range 20,081.303 kilometers. At this range, running lights and the shadow's form should be clearly visible. But, visuals show nothing. Must be internal seeker shadow. No other explanation. Still, it makes me uneasy. Psmilcf out."
She shut off the recorder/log and turned to Whilter. He smiled. It was a tired smile. "Are you ready to get back to your old ship?"
Her answer was cut off by a low, metallic hum that quickly grew louder. Dots of swirling lights formed humanoid shapes, which materialized. Four light-brown skinned men appeared from nothing, each holding a handblaster. Their legs were covered with thick, black fur. They wore loose-fitting, elegantly embroidered shirts, a loincloth, and a dagger, with an ornately-carved handle thrust into a bejeweled sheath, and slung on their waists. The leader barked an order in Njola, his native Mdambean language. Within seconds, Whilter, King, and Psmilcf lay stunned and unconscious on the floor. Calmly, the leader walked to Whilter and plunged his dagger three times into his chest. He stepped to King, and, without any emotion whatsoever, stabbed him to death, too. He wiped the blade off on King's shirt, then looked with interest at Ngeya.
She lay face down behind the helm. Her light-blue skin clashed with her khaki uniform from the cargo company. Still, the leader thought she was attractive. He gently pushed her on to her back with his foot, and nodded to himself in appreciation. She had a pretty face--high cheekbones, small nose, pouting lips; normal for a Cfiri. He forced open her eyelid. Its dark blue color and large size pleased him. He felt her breasts as he gazed down her flat stomach toward the slight flaring of her hips. "Very nice," he said in Njola to his companions. "She will please Captain Mbow-Wahn greatly."
He fired his handblaster into the com. The cover exploded, revealing the smoking ruins of its inner equipment. He fumbled around the wires, finally choosing two of sufficient size and suppleness. He tied Ngeya's legs together with one, and her arms behind her back with the other. He tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and nodded to a companion. The other pirate opened a com, calling the pirate ship. "Mission to bridge a complete success. Five to transport aboard."
"Five?" the astonished transporter operator replied. "But I transported only four over!"
The leader took the com. "We have a present for the captain. Now, dammit, transport us over!"
The low, metallic hum quickly grew louder as the four pirates and their captive dissolved into a swirling mass of lights. They quickly disappeared.
In port, a cargo master was responsible for loading cargo on the right ship, and ensuring that the holds were packed correctly. Both jobs were done at breakneck speed. But, during a flight, the cargo master's job was done at a more leisurely pace. All that was required then was to give the cargo the attention it needed. Most times, this involved ensuring nothing shifted in the hold. Some fuels and some bulk grains might require stirring, and livestock needed feeding and watering, as well as sanitary attention, but these jobs were automated. Generally, a cargo master didn't do much during a flight.
Early on the second day out, Cargo Master Jessica Kwaltney had sprained her ankle inspecting the boxed mining equipment. It was a minor injury, easily treated by First Officer King. She stayed off it the rest of the day. Rather than staying in the cramped quarters she shared with her husband, her fellow cargo master, she insisted on doing the paperwork they normally put off until the end of the flight.
After they ate the supper Andy brought from the ship's rehydration galley, they sat in the cargo office relaxing. The design of the ship actually gave them more room there than in their cabin. Andy rubbed her sore ankle lightly with a stimulation electrode while they discussed names for the baby. Slowly, they became aware of a low metallic hum. Dots of brilliant, swirling lights appeared, quickly forming humanoid shapes. Six more Mdambean pirates materialized, each holding a drawn handblaster. The leader grunted an order in Njola, and two pirates fired. The Kwaltneys fell unconscious. The leader pulled his dagger, and, with a casual attitude, stabbed them three times in the chest. He cleaned his blade on Jessica's shirt and looked at the others. They were staring at him. "What are you looking at?" he demanded.
One pointed at Jessica. "Don't you think the captain might have wanted to have, er, met her?"
The leader spat on the ground. he eyed the others as if to dare them to overstep his authority. "The captain does not like to meet Terran women," he explained, his high-pitched voice even higher as the others cowered from his show of power. "He does not tell this story to anyone. After all, he likes to think no one notices his left ear. Of course, everybody does."
He looked sternly at the others. "It is my death if Mbow-Wahn finds out I told you this. It is yours if I get to you before he gets to me. So, there is no further talk after this. Am I right?"
The others agreed before he continued. "You've seen his ear. It's mangled, and part of it is missing. When he even admits that his ear is deformed, he claims it was injured in a knife fight when he was a crewman on another ship, when he was a young man. It's a plausible story. I broke up a fight last night. Injuries happen. Some people are even killed.
"But here's the truth. I was with him. We raided a small Terran colony on Vega Tau IV--must be 50 or 60 years ago. Several of the Terran women decided to visit our ship. We'd left Vega Tau IV just before Space Force arrived. One of the Terran women wanted to meet Mbow-Wahn in our quarters. I was getting to know another in my bed.
"Well, Mbow-Wahn finished, and thanked her for the good time. The crazy bitch reaches up, and bites his ear. Bites it right off!" The room exploded with ribald laughter.
"That was the first Terran woman Mbow-Wahn ever met. And, he never wants to meet another!" As the laughter died out, he pointed a stern finger at his companions. They were awed by the tone of his high-pitched voice. "I'll slit the throat of the first sonuvabitch who mentions this again. Am I understood?" they quickly agreed.
He popped open his com and reported the initial probe to the hold complete. Within seconds, they heard a low, metallic hum as dots of light appeared and swirled into six forms. As soon as these pirates materialized, four more transported over. In a little more than an hour, the 16 pirates ransacked the entire hold. The coordinates of what they wanted were passed to the pirate ship, where other pirates began transporting it to their ship's holds. Three hours after the first pirates boarded the Maria Elena, her holds, her bridge, even her crew's quarters, were ransacked and plundered.
On the pirate ship's bridge, a tall, muscular Mdambean man sat high above the rest of the room. His light-brown skin seemed stretched tightly across his broad chest. Few wrinkles, and little gray in the hair and legfur, belied his age of 87. The only flaw on the red-eyed monster was his left ear. It had been horribly mangled.
The two crewleaders reported to Mbow-Wahn as soon as they returned from the Maria Elena. The pirate captain slowly lowered the com until his chest was level with their heads. "We had a good raid?" his voice squeaked. It sounded strong to them, but would have sounded weak, almost effeminate to someone who was not from their home planet of Mdambe. Even so, his presence, his very being, radiated a very powerful evil.
"We got much, sir," one leader meekly reported. "It will bring a good price."
"And, a young Cfiri wench, sir," the other added. "She's waiting to meet you in your quarters, sir."
Mbow-Wahn nodded slowly, thoughtfully. Imperceptibly, he glanced at the helmsman, a younger, thoroughly ruthless-looking Mdambean, and gave a very slight nod. Instantly, he turned back to the helm, punched several buttons, and turned back to the captain.
"Ti-Gden," he addressed the crewleader to the cargo office by name, "your attack plan was ingenuous. Simulating an internal seeker shadow with our running light off, tapping their helm to run our ship. A stroke of genius. You'll find a little token of my gratitude in your cabin." His finger glided to the array of controls on the arm of the com. "Nothing left to do by destroy the evidence."
"Wait!" the helmsman cried, staying Mbow-Wahn's hand. "Their screens are still up!"
"Fool!" he thundered at the leader to the bridge. "You are confined to quarters! And count your blessings I'm in a good mood!"
"But, I . . . " he started. Mbow-Wahn's glare instantly shut him up.
Mbow-Wahn turned toward Ti-Gden as the other was led away. "Transport over and drop their screens," he ordered, "then you can see the wench I left you."
As soon as Ti-Gden left the bridge, he ordered the transport chief to inform him immediately after the transport was complete. A few minutes later, when he was so informed, he punched a button, triggering the quark oscillator. A blue-green glow burst from the pirate ship and struck the Maria Elena amid-ship and disappeared. It soon reappeared and spread over the entire ship. As the glow covered the ship, the quarks, the basic building blocks of the atoms that combined to makes up the ship and everything on her, were knocked from their normal vibration. The resulting stress tore the Maria Elena apart. She exploded spectacularly. No piece larger than several square centimeters remained intact.
When the captain and the helmsman were left alone on the bridge, Mbow-Wahn said, "Now you see what happens when you cross me. You also know the truth about my ear. That was a good idea you had, bugging the crew. That little something I promised Ti-Gden is actually in your cabin. Enjoy her. She's good. But, as for my ear, you are sworn to secrecy."
"Don't worry, Father. You can trust me," the helmsman replied.
"I know I can, Son. You just saw what happens when that trust is violated. Just remember--don't call me Father in front of the crew. Our relationship must remain a secret. Your life depends on it. Don't trust the bastards on this ship. After all, they don't trust me!"
Mbow-Wahn's stateroom saluted hedonism. The sumptuous furnishings told of a life given to pleasure, its pursuit, and the willingness to do whatever it took to have it. Soft, light blue-green fur of the rare Photian highland lamb covered the floor. It had taken about 30 of the endangered species to make the lavish carpet. Ancient tapestries from both Great and Lesser Cfiritoh adorned the walls, their rich, earthy colors reflected off the fur-carpet. Along other walls, stolen paintings, etchings, drawings, pictographs, even a sculpture, represented every culture in the Republic. In a small alcove near the kitchen, a three-dimensional pictograph depicting an ancient battle on Gwanda, stolen from an art gallery there, lay in a quiet place of honor. Trade with Gwanda, the Republic's chief rival, was illegal. Even the mere possession of the pictograph, or the case of Gwan brandy hidden in the large, crowded liquor cabinet, was punishable by fines and imprisonment.
The pirate's prized possession, however, huddled in the large, overstuffed chair. Debrunda, a young Cfiri woman, looked haggard, much older than her 26 years. Captured from a Republic outpost near the twin Cfiritohs several years earlier, Mbow-Whan kept her captive, and secret. Few other pirates aboard ship knew she even existed. She did his cooking and cleaning, among her other duties.
She had dreamed of rescue early in her captivity, but, over the years, she became resigned to her fate. She even tried to teach herself to like her life. But, Mbow-Wahn never made an attempt to teach her his language, nor to learn hers, so communication was impossible. She cleaned his quarters because it seemed the right thing to do; cooked when he grunted in his language and pointed to the kitchen. She did her other duties when he made those desires known. Over the long years, she lost track of how many there had been.
The one thing Debrunda could not make herself adjust to was the cold. The pirates, being from the icy cold planet of Grdvarn, kept the ship comfortable for them. For the Cfiri woman, it was uncomfortably cold. She was, as often as not, sick with a cold, or Grdvarnese Gleyepos, a disease similar to Terran influenza. Mbow-Wahn had destroyed her clothes immediately after her kidnapping, and had kept her naked ever since. Her only defense against the cold were two threadbare blankets he allowed her to keep. She had bundled up once, years ago, in the plush blankets he kept on his cot. But, for a reason she couldn't fathom, it had sent him into a murderous rage. He had beaten her nearly to death with his bare hands. She never touched his blankets again.
Debrunda shivered under her worn blankets as two pirates dragged Ngeya into Mbow-Wahn's cabin and unceremoniously dumped her still-unconscious body on the floor. Without even acknowledging her presence, perhaps to keep up the illusion of not knowing she was there, they turned and left the two Cfiri women alone.
After a while, and without regaining consciousness, Ngeya asked for water. Debrunda sat up. For the first time in years, she was interested in something other than warmth. "Water, please," the strange woman croaked, gamely struggling to come around. Debrunda jumped for joy. This strange woman was actually speaking Cfine, Debrunda own native language! She ran to the kitchen and hurried back with a large glass of water. She needed to help this other woman. If they could just talk, she told herself. Even a short conversation before. . .
The stateroom door slid open. Mbow-wahn haughtily thundered into the room. He looked accusingly at Debrunda. Guiltily, she looked back, then quickly took a huge gulp of water. "For me?" she asked meekly.
He just grunted. He gruffly nudged Ngeya with his foot. When she didn't respond he grunted again. "Kuntu gbent fur nogluh heath njernja," he growled in Njola. He turned and stormed out.
Ngeya stirred again shortly afterward. She slowly sat up. Debrunda handed her the water, which she gulped down. She leaned back, the back of her hand on her forehead. She didn't open her eyes. Slowly, she mentally took stock of herself, checking for injuries. "You're well," Debrunda said. "You're not hurt. I checked you over before you woke up."
Ngeya screamed in surprise when Debrunda spoke. after a moment to overcome her shock, she opened her eyes for the first time and looked around. "Where am I?"
"Captain Mbow-Wahn's cabin," Debrunda said quietly.
"How did I get here? And who are you, and why are you here?" Suddenly, she saw Debrunda for the first time. "And what happened to your clothes?"
Debrunda slowly explained their presence. She thoroughly enjoyed herself. She didn't know which she liked better: Talking and being understood, of hearing understandable speech. Whichever, both were good! But, no matter how long she was to be locked up with Ngeya, it wouldn't be for nearly long enough.
Ngeya still suffered from the effects of her handblaster wounds. Too soon for Debrunda, she lay down on the floor and drifted off to sleep. Debrunda covered her with one worn blanket, and dropped happily off to sleep, too.
Hours later, Debrunda awoke flying from her chair, her jaw aching. Mbow-Wahn stood over her, rubbing his huge fist; yelling unintelligible speech at her. He pointed at the kitchen with one hand, and rubbed his stomach with the other. Debrunda groggily nodded and went off to the kitchen.
Mbow-Wahn finished a meal she couldn't identify, even though she cooked it countless times before. It was a disgusting mixture of unknown meats and vegetables he found exquisite. She could tell the pirate liked it--his face looked satisfied. Besides, when he didn't like her cooking, he beat her. This time, he swatted her derriere and pinched her breast.
He had just finished his dessert--a prepackaged Terran pie, sweet dark red fruit inside a flaky, light-golden brown cuust--when Ngeya stirred. She yawned and stretched, slowly opening her eyes. Mbow-Wahn eyed her hungrily. He slowly advanced on her. She rolled over, and screamed when she saw him for the first time. He picked her up and held her tightly against his chest, forcing his mouth down on hers. She kicked and scratched, trying to fight him off. But, they just bounced off him. His laugh chilled her blood. Debrunda sadly shook her head. She'd seen it before.
Mbow-Wahn carried the struggling Ngeya into hes bedroom. Debrunda felt somehow drawn to follow. Mbow-Wahn smashed his fist into Ngeya's face, dazing her. He grabbed her shirt collar and tore her uniform down the middle, baring her breasts. With a quick flick of his arm, he pulled her khaki pants off. He pulled off his intricately embroidered shirt, revealing the light-brown of his broad chest. She tried to struggle, but he slapped her with the back of his hand. He flipped his loincloth aside, and dropped his dagger and sheath to the floor, all in one, easy, practiced motion. He was then on top of her.
She struggled against him, but he was stronger. She fought him; she kicked and scratched him. But, she was physically no match for him. The rape was brutal. Debrunda closed her eyes and sadly shook her head.
When he finished, he lay on her, panting. She bled from her nose, mouth, and a small cut below her eye. More blood seeped from between her legs. She wept softly. "Thank you, honey," he said in Njola. "You were very good."
Hate glared in her eyes. She coughed, and spat, catching him in the eye. "You bitch!" he screamed. He jumped up, grabbing his dagger from the floor. "I'll teach you to spit on me!" He plunged the dagger deep into her chest. Blood spurted from the wound, staining the fine sheets a dark blue. He cursed more, screaming in Njola. He slammed the dagger into her stomach, chest, and neck. Blood gurgled into her throat as she tried to scream. Slowly, her screams subsided. Blood slowed its flow from her wounds.
When it was over, he washed himself off, put his shirt back on, repositioned his loincloth, and wiped and resheathed his dagger. "Bitch!" he growled. He looked at Debrunda, cowering and weeping in a corner. "She'll never do that again!" he cursed. Ngeya's blood soaked the sheets. "Clean this mess up!" he ordered.
She didn't understand, so she did nothing. Angered, he grabbed Ngeya's torn shirt and waved it wildly over the bed, trying to convey what he wanted. Then, he threw it across the room, hitting her in the face. "Clean this damned hellhole, you stupid bitch!"
Terrified, not knowing exactly what the pirate wanted, she timidly began straightening up the room while Mbow-Wahn plucked Ngeya's lifeless body and the sheets from the cot and stormed from the stateroom, cursing.
Mbow-Wahn roared into the transported chamber and threw his load on the pod. "Get rid of this garbage!" he ordered the you Mdambean manning the transporter.
Y-y-yes, s-sir," he answered meekly. "Uh, where do you want me to send it?"
Mbow-Wahn glared at the young pirate. "I don't give a damn. Out there. Somewhere. Just the hell away from here!"
In memory of Candy Hurst (1961-2001). Thank you for the support.