“Happy Birthday, Sister.”
Ana looked up from her deskcomp and forced a smile. “Very thoughtful of you. Thanks.”
“You seem unhappy, Ana.” Zeta set a small gift box on Ana’s desk.
“Asther is upset with me.”
“I saw her sulking in the gardens earlier.” She dropped onto a sofa against the wall.
“I told her something she didn’t want to hear.”
Zeta shrugged. “Sounds like you’re just being a good friend. So, what are you working on?”
“I’m preparing for my academic trials. I was reading about Ba’ thket. Did you know that you have now succeeded her as the Princess of Serpentarius who has been detained the most times by the High Clerics?”
“Good company to be in,” Zeta mused, staring at the ceiling.
“Zeta she was deposed by a coup! She was on her way to becoming a tyrant!”
“She was on her way to outlawing the High Clerics, that’s not tyranny, that’s mercy.”
Ana chuckled despite herself. “Zeta, they kept you sequestered in that damned tower for a month last time. It’s embarrassing. I understand why you don’t like High Cleric S’dora, but it’s costing Mother. Politically, I mean.”
“Just stop talking to her,” Zeta fixed her with thin smile. “It’s done wonders for me these past few years.”
“She’s hurt, Zeta. She really is.”
“Not that her daughter is being held prisoner now and then by an outdated religious sect. Just that it’s embarrassing her.”
Ana held up her hands, knowing that she would never win this argument. “What did you bring me?”
“I don’t know,” Zeta’s eyes twinkled. “If only there was some way to figure out what’s inside it?”
Ana rolled her eyes and plucked up the box. She lifted the top and peeled back the paper. It was a book. A very, very old book. “Zeta… what is this?” She studied the glyphs on its surface. “The Seven … Queens …”
“Your glyph reading needs some work,” Zeta quipped.
Ana looked at her sidelong and tried again. “The Seven Suzerains!”
“There you go.” Zeta nodded.
“The Seven Suzerains of …” The color went out of Ana’s face. “The Seven Suzerains of Ik’ Goth!”
Zeta rose from the couch and stretched her arms over her head. “Do you like it?”
“Zeta, where did you get this?”
“The High Clerics’ tower.”
“But Zeta, this book is forbidden. It is outlawed.”
Zeta shrugged. “The Clerics have a vault full of these relics.”
“You stole this from the forbidden vault?! No one is supposed to enter that room, Zeta. Not even royalty.”
“If no one ever enters the room then they’ll never miss it will they?”
Ana shook her head and carefully flipped through the book, studying one of the ancient illustrations within. “My gods! It’s the temple.”
“To the Goddess of Darkness,” Zeta nodded, reading over her shoulder.
Ana closed the book and studied her sister. “Why did you give me this?”
Zeta waved a hand dismissively. “You love history. Now, you own a piece of it.”
Ana shook her head, smiling wearily. “Thank you, Sister. But please let this be the last thing you steal for me.”
“No promises,” Zeta winked as she sauntered toward the door.
“Where are you off to?” Ana called after her.
“I thought I’d do some reading.”
Ana’s brow furrowed. “Zeta? What else did you take from the forbidden vault?”
Zeta turned back and shrugged. “Oh, nothing much really.” She winked and disappeared through the door.
Ana stared after her sister, her hands trembling around her birthday present.
Zeta stumbled into the cave and fell to her knees. The driving rain outside was like a torrent of daggers. The search parties would not find her here. Not in this weather.
They would return to the palace to report and the search would resume at daylight. Her sister would worry but there was no helping that now. Besides, Ana would have her hands full dealing with their Mother…
The Queen’s only interest in her daughters was that they continued her bloodline and didn’t, for a moment, distract from her rule. Young Zeta’s rebellious escapade with the stolen air skipper would warrant more than a moment or two of her Mother’s scant attention.
She would give Zeta to the High Clerics so they could imprison her in the tower yet again. Zeta wasn’t an adolescent any longer. Her mother might let the Clerics keep her for good this time. Or, at least, for as long as it took to break her resolve and see that she obediently fulfilled the role of a dutiful princess.
Zeta grinned as she climbed to her feet and switched on the light she’d brought from the air skipper. She walked farther into the cave. She knew there would be stairs, and at the end them… the forbidden crypt.
Her mother seemed very distraught by Zeta‘s interest in Serpentarius’ ancient history. Though she was not alone in that view. It amused Zeta just how frightened everyone seem to be of the seven Queens of Ik’ Goth and the Goddess they’d worshipped.
Unlike Zeta, they looked into the distant past of their planet and recoiled at the civilization that had arisen when the great Queen Uzarda had won her throne and taken her vows in praise to the Goddess of Darkness. Six other queens would join her new religion.
There were many who did not. But the mighty river swelled the following spring and swallowed their cities until all that was left of the nation of Ik’ Goth were the seven Suzerains of Darkness. And with the guidance of their deity, they and their heirs ruled the planet for 10,000 years. Until they grew ignorant and forgot how to pray.
Zeta’s many rebellions during her childhood and adolescence had seen her detained in the High Clerics’ tower fortress on countless occasions. Each time Zeta was remanded to the Clerics’ custody, instead of reforming her, her detention afforded her a new opportunity to plunder the locked room holding the forbidden books… and learn the ancient knowledge.
Zeta had learned to pray and had also found reference to an ancient cave in the foothills of the mountains far to the south. A cave that held the secret crypt of the seven Suzerains.
And the altar.
Zeta opened her satchel. Inside were the flowers she’d gathered on her trek into the foothills. The Queen’s flower – Faia. The ancient Sovereigns had gardens full of them. They would drink wine made from their nectar or smoke the petals and fall into vision quests.
Zeta ate them.
She crushed four handfuls of the red petals and then chewed down the spicy blooms. When that was done, she shed her clothes and returned to the altar.
Around the circular walls of the crypt stood seven great statues of the ancient Queens. Zeta stood before the stone table at the center and raised her hands over head. She called out into the darkness in the old tongue. She spoke the forbidden words. She praised the mighty Suzerains of old. She invoked the War Maidens of the time before stars.
She laid her clothes, the Mangara fruit and the seeds of the Bor tree on the altar. She set fire to them. The flames writhed like dancing figures. Their shapes and color twisted in her vision by the psychotropic flowers coursing in her blood.
Zeta anointed herself in oil and knelt on the stone floor of the crypt. Head cast low, she took her flesh in her own hands and she prayed to The Bringer of Stars, the first Daughter of Eternity…
The Goddess of Darkness.
Zeta waited. Kneeling and pleasuring herself in the crypt as untold measures of time passed through her like waves of memory.
A voice from the flames startled her.
“Zeta, daughter of Zurkana, thou hast pleased me. Prophecy has come to pass. I foretold that, in the time of fools, a Suzerain of Darkness would rise. And glory would follow her like star matter from a comet.”
“Goddess?” Zeta lifted her eyes from the floor and saw a woman standing in the flames. Her body as fiery and terrible as the twin suns themselves. She stepped down and the flames of her issue melted the stone upon which she walked. She plodded a languid circle around the kneeling princess.
“What do you desire, daughter of Serpentarius?”
“The old ways, Goddess. Our world is lost to politicians … to traditions … to fools.”
“Your planet was once a mighty jewel in the heavens.”
“It could be again, Goddess… with your guidance.”
The flames crackled in delight.
“What do you offer in payment?”
“Yourself? Your loved ones now and those to come?”
The Goddess of Darkness laughed and Zeta heard the mountains tremble in reply.
“Do you have the appetite for all you desire?”
“Then show me that your hunger is truly insatiable.”
The woman on fire stood before Zeta and the princess lunged forward and tasted her molten petals until the flames enveloped them both.
The spectre stood back and smiled.
“I accept your terms, Zeta, daughter of Darkness. Thou shall be Suzerain Supreme, ruler of all whom the stars shine upon. Your bloodline will rule until the galaxy burns cold and the final question is answered. You will bend the minds and spirits of all who look upon thee. Your greatest enemy will supplicate and become thy truest lover and servant … so long as your faith never wavers.”
“It shall be done, Goddess! In your name, by your command, at your whim. It shall all come to pass!”
The Goddess of Darkness pushed Zeta onto her back. She lowered herself between the princess’ legs and pressed her molten sex against Zeta’s juicing folds. “You first must return home. I will need a royal altar… and more acolytes.”
Zeta screamed her acquiescence. The Goddess of Darkness fucked her virginal body into oblivion.
“Happy birthday, Sister.”
Ana and Asther, the pincess’ lady-in-waiting, both turned. The Princess’s face lit up in surprise. “Zeta! What are you doing this far east of the banquet hall?”
Zeta smiled as she approached. She was wearing a thin, regal gown with a train that followed several steps. She held a piece of gold jewelry in her hand.
“Your Highness,” Asther said with a bow.
“Asther, I hope you aren’t letting my sister perform any royal duties on her birthday.”
Asther smiled. “Doing my best. I’ll let you two talk.” She stepped away with another bow.
“What have you brought?” Ana was looking at the thing in Zeta’s hands.
“Oh, this is a headdress belonging to an ancient Queen.” She held it up to the light.
“It’s beautiful,” Ana said, looking over the intricate metal work. “Where did you get it?”
“It was one of the first relics I found when I began my interest in archaeology.”
Ana looked at her, astonished. “You found this?”
“In a crypt, years ago now, far to the south. It was a very special moment. I discovered my destiny in that cave.”
Ana looked at her sister with a saddening smile. “I wish I’d been there too. I… I know we lost touch with each other when you came of age. I regret that.”
“Regret nothing, dear sister. The past can only teach us a better way to be in the present.”
“That’s very wise.” Ana smirked. “You must be a Princess of Serpentarius.” She studied the relic. “Zeta, this is amazing but … I think it’s too great a thing to be given as a gift. It needs to be shared and appreciated by more than just me.”
Zeta turned to her with a cocked eye. “Well said, Sister. The headdress is not your gift.”
Ana shook her head, not understanding.
“I brought it to show Mother.”
Ana’s mouth was open but it took her a moment to speak. “You’ve come to see Mother?”
“Yes,” Zeta said plainly. “Ever since she was diagnosed with the wasting sickness I’ve been reconsidering things. Who knows how many years she has left? I may not get another chance to spend time with her.”
Ana smiled, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “Yes… yes, that’s… that’s lovely Zeta. Thank you, this is yet another wonderful birthday gift.” Ana examined her handcomp. “There’s a bit of time right now, actually. Her current appointment has been delayed for some reason, we’re trying to locate him.”
“Serendipitous,” Zeta said with a smile. “I’ll go in then?”
“Yes, do. Do you want me to go with you?”
“Thank you, Sister, no,” Zeta said with another smile. “I think just the two of us would be best.”
Ana nodded and motioned her to the great doors. She nodded to the page who opened the doors with a wave of his hand over the security panel. Then he called in a loud voice. “Princess Zeta of Serpentarius!”
Zeta strode past, into their mother’s throne room.
“Come,” Zeta called out, adjusting the cuffs on her robe as she posed herself at the desk facing the door of her bedroom. The door opened and Ana stepped inside. “Welcome, Sister,” Zeta said. She leaned over and checked the time. “I see it’s still today for a few more minutes, so happy birthday. Again.”
“Mother is dead.”
“Oh dear.” Zeta shook her head. “How tragic. Though how strong she was to endure the wasting sickness all these years.”
Ana’s nostrils flared. “All these years,” she whispered, “that you haven’t spoken and suddenly today you decide to mend your way with her.”
“A profound and happy turn of chance,” Zeta said solemnly, “that she and I were able to reconcile. Surely, the best birthday gift you could have received, dear sister.”
“Let me see that headdress, Zeta.”
Zeta rose smoothly from the desk and went to a nearby shelf. “As you wish,” she said, retrieving the golden headdress from a jewelry chest. Zeta smiled as she crossed the room, holding the headdress out in front of her.
“As you can see it’s quite old,” Zeta observed. “And, like many old things it must be handled with care.” She held it close to Ana’s face to inspect.
Ana’s eyes moved back and forth over its gilded surface. She stopped and peered at a small joint in one of the gold fans of the headdress. “What’s that?” she asked.
“What?” Zeta asked, leaning forward.
Ana pointed to the strange feature with her index finger. “That. It looks like a small dagger concealed inside the –* argh!” She cried out as she felt pain at her hand. The snake’s fangs dug into the palm as it continued slithering out of Zeta’s robe and onto her arm.*
Ana’s eyes were huge. “Wh-what have you done?!”
Zeta reached out to stroke Ana’s face gently. A second snake leaped from her other sleeve and latched onto Ana’s neck. Its coils spun around her throat and cinched like a choker. Ana’s hands flew to her neck and pulled uselessly at the serpent.
She tripped over another large, thick snake that had crept out from Zeta’s bed and taken up position behind her. Ana tumbled onto the soft carpet. She shouted for help but the serpent around her neck squeezed down, stifling the cry to less than a whisper.
She felt bites on her legs and arms, more snakes slithered out from beneath the bed and sunk their teeth into her and began pumping her full of pure, molten pleasure. Ana tried to roll over onto her stomach but Zeta’s foot caught her shoulder and pushed her firmly onto her back.
Ana looked up and saw Zeta holding a large snake – over a meter long – in her hands. It was a Queen Snake. Its hood was open and the scales inside were flashing with every color. The dancing lights caught Ana’s eyes and stunned her brain. She moaned – a long, low defeated sound. Zeta dropped it onto her chest and the snake coiled up and settled into place. Its head started moving slowly back and forth. Ana helplessly followed the rocking motion as her mouth dropped open. She stopped struggling.
“Happy birthday, Sister,” Zeta said with a cold smile. “We have to prepare for a funeral … and a coronation.”
The grounds of the palace were a sea of faces. The throng of people had come from all over the planet for the chance to walk the normally private gardens and stand on the great West Meadow and watch as their new Queen assumed the throne. The onlookers cheered as the princesses emerged from the palace and took the stage. They fell silent with a wave of High Cleric S’dora’s hand.
Ana stared at the throng blankly. She turned her shoulder. “Where is Asther?”
Zeta was at her side. “Oh, I believe she isn’t feeling well, sister. A sudden illness. I’m sure she would be here if she was able.”
Ana barely reacted. Zeta stepped back as S’dora’s amplified voice echoed across the grounds. “As the mighty storm thunder strikes down the tree and scatters its seeds to find purchase, we gather to witness another transition and exchange between what was and what is. Today, we welcome a new Queen of Serpentarius into our hearts and spirit. May the suns dance above her, always.”
“May the suns dance, always” the crowd issued in a collective murmur.
“Is the firstborn daughter present?” S’dora asked rhetorically.
Ana stepped forward slowly.
Electricity surged through the crowd as the eldest princess moved to the center of the stage.
“Your Highness?” S’dora asked with a bow. “Have you prepared your vow?”
“Yes, High Cleric,” Ana said numbly.
S’dora raised a book bound in gold. She opened it and recited: “Ana, firstborn. Do your footsteps lead you to the throne of Serpentarius?”
There was a long pause. Then the voice of Princess Ana carried across the gathered crowd, around the planet and beamed into the far reaches of space. She said: “No High Cleric, my footsteps do not.”
“And do your footsteps follow in the path of the Queen who —“ High Cleric S’dora stopped short.
The crowd gasped as one.
“W-what did you say, Highness?”
Ana’s voice was emotionless. “My footsteps follow a path apart. Therefore, I invoke by birthright and law the provision of passage.”
High Cleric S’dora’s face dropped. “Uh… uh…” She flipped pages furiously, searching in the book.
“Ah!” S’dora said at length. “And is there a second born?”
“There is,” Zeta said, stepping forward, while gracefully steering Ana aside.
“Princess Zeta, second born, have you prepared your vow?”
“Oh yes, High Cleric,” Zeta said with an eager smile. “I most certainly have.”
Everything has indeed gone from bad to worse for the intrepid crew of the Artemis III. The evil queen Zeta is only hours away from being declared Suzerain Supreme by the High Clerics of Te’ Sareez. And Captain Jette Jones – powerless to stop the brainwashing of her shipmates – has discovered to her horror that her lover, Queen Diamanti, has been turned into a human snake. Is the worst yet to come?
There was a chilling laugh.
The snake extended from between Diamanti’s legs as she tugged down Jette’s pants. The weight of the two Diamond Warriors pressing down on Jette’s shoulders forced her hips upward, exposing her thighs, then her tight, brown curls. The forked tongue inches away, nostrils opening to inhale her scent.
“Humanoids make such wonderful hosts. Don’t they, Captain?” The amusement in Zeta’s voice came through clearly over the hidden speakers. “The downside, of course, is that it does create some alterations.”
Jette kicked her legs violently, but Diamanti was able to grab her by the knees and pulled them wide apart. She licked her lips.
“Zeta!” Jette screamed. “Is this what you wanted?” Zeta’s loud purr resonated in every corner of the room. “If you let this happen, I will never be yours!”
Jette tried to buck her hips but the snake effortlessly bobbed with the movement, keeping its eyes on her prize.
“Zeta! I knew when I came here I was never going to defeat you. But I came anyway!”
Jette was running out of time. Zeta didn’t respond. All that could be heard was Jette’s belt buckle clinking on the floor and the teasing hisses of the blood-red snake.
“Wasn’t I supposed to be yours? Isn’t that what you want?” Jette lifted her head as if Zeta was standing above her. “You do this and I won’t be Jette anymore. I’ll be like Diamanti. And, I’ll be with her forever!”
The snake’s head brushed against her fur and she cringed. Diamanti’s black eyes were wide, fixed on Jette’s sex. Her white teeth gleamed with hunger.
Jette pulled away with all her strength. One of the Warriors slammed her chest. She could feel the tongue …
“Zeta!” Jette lowered her voice. “Zeta. I surrender.”
The wait was agonizing. Then …
“Tell Diamanti,” Zeta said calmly. “Tell her.”
Jette looked down at Diamanti whose head bobbed with the same rhythm as her snake.
“I surrender to Zeta,” Jette said, choking back tears. “My only queen.”
Diamanti hissed and thrust her hips forward – the snake’s tongue began lapping at Jette’s pussy.
“Stop!” Two more Diamond Warriors approached. “Have her brought to my bedchamber.”
“Noooo!!” Diamanti wailed. “She’s miiiiine!”
“Are you forgetting who you are speaking to, you worm! She will never be yours. I am the only one who should occupy your reptilian brain.” Diamanti cowered in shame. “Move aside, Diamanti. Guards! Bring Captain Jones to me.”
The two guards forced Jette up, not even allowing her to pull up her pants, as they half-dragged her to the hatch leading into the docking bay and the concourse beyond.
“You may have outlived your usefulness, Diamanti. Lock her up in her cage. Kill her pets.”
The two Diamond Warriors looked at each other reluctantly. With a deep grunt one of them moved forward. He yanked the snake from around Diamanti’s shoulders. He grabbed its head, avoiding the open jaws, and twisted.
The second Warrior stomped on the red snake. He raised his lazerblade and sliced off its head neatly.
“No! No!” Diamanti wailed again, her head hitting the floor as the broken snake was dropped beside her.
Lt. Kanivia Riesga was pacing again.
Epsilon had been gone a long time, but Riesga tried not to think about what may be happening to her. She knew she was next.
The shimmering bars which held her in the cell disappeared. A Warrior led Epsilon inside but he didn’t need to force her. She walked willingly into the cell. As she passed Riesga, she winked.
She sat down on the bench.
Riesga turned to the Warrior. A second one stood in the doorway.
“Okay, boys, let’s get on with it.”
Riesga marched through the door, only then turning back as the doors closed to wink back.
Dr. Arkana was waiting outside.
Riesga walked beside her as they moved down the hallway, the two Warriors in step behind them.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think sitting in that cell,” Riesga said, not looking at her. “Thinking about those snakes. And the plants. And this.”
She stopped and lifted Arkana’s arm.
A Warrior grabbed Riesga by the arm.
“No,” Arkana said quietly. The Diamond Warrior stepped back.
“I don’t think even Zeta knows what this means. But I do. It’s very old.” Riesga lowered Arkana’s arm. “I read about it. Didn’t think much about it at the time. Then it all fell together. That’s the bracelet of a future queen. You’re not Zeta’s little sister. You’re Princess Ana. The elder sister. The one they say went mad. Destroying the records of your family history wasn’t as easy as Zeta thought.
“Ana. Arkana. With all the crap that’s been going on I didn’t make the connection.”
Arkana kept her eyes forward and began walking again. Riesga was right with her.
“I have looked after my sister since she was a baby. She has provided for our people as I always wished she would.”
“Great. And look where that’s gotten you. You’ve forgotten how to feel. That shit numbs you out. It’s not living. Do you think you would be your sister’s lapdog if you had the choice?”
They stopped before a locked door. Arkana began hitting buttons on the keypad.
“It’s time to make that choice … Ana.”
The door to the brainwashing room opened.
The Warrior cuffed Jette, naked, to the posts on the bed in Zeta’s nightchamber.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, slave. But I don’t trust you. You may go.” The Warrior shuffled away.
“Come, Captain, it’s better this way.” Zeta made a show of removing what little clothing she wore. “You excel at commanding, controlling. Your career may satisfy you. But it is a hollow comfort.”
She climbed onto the bed, her luscious curves shining in the glow of the soft light. “I too know how empty it is to wield authority over lesser beings. It makes me uniquely suited to fulfill your needs. To sate the desires you hide, even from yourself.”
Zeta rubbed against Jette’s pussy. She was wet. A surprised smile lit Zeta’s face. “I’m going to sex you Jette. And when I’m finished you’ll find yourself more free and happy in my collar than anything else has —”
Jette’s head raised up and she kissed her. Zeta’s eyes went wide.
She gyrated on Jette’s prone body, their tongues entwined like cobras in a mating ritual. Zeta squeezed Jette’s ass, eliciting a deep moan. Zeta reaffirmed her dominance.
“Say it,” Zeta cooed.
Jette tried to follow Zeta’s tongue back into her mouth. “Say … what?”
“Say what we both need to hear you say out loud, slave. It’s why your steaming little cunt is begging so submissively right now.”
Jette’s breathing was uneven. She locked her eyes on Zeta’s sea-green orbs and they held there, as if Zeta had bound them in place with her will.
The powerful Queen raised up, forcing Jette’s eyes to follow. She placed her knees around Jette’s head.
“Say it. And my treasure shall be yours.”
Jette’s nostrils filled with her enslaver’s fragrant treasure. A pearlescent drop kissed Jette’s lips and she licked it. Zeta’s lustful smile widened.
Jette Jones had tasted her.
“Always and forever, my sweet slave. You are mine … until the twin suns of Te’ Sareez turn cold. Say it. And the Goddess of Darkness will make us immortals.”
Zeta’s eyes burned into Jette.
“I … want you,” Jette said in a weak whisper.
“Louder. Then you may get your reward.”
“I want you! You know I do!” Jette screamed, as Zeta raked her nails across her nipples.
“You are my slave?”
“I am your slave.”
Zeta raised her arms and head toward the heavens.
“Yes!!! I have done it! Just as the Queen of Darkness foretold! I have defeated my enemy and made her my eternal slave!”
Zeta’s face was contorted, eyes wild – she was crazed.
She grabbed Jette’s head and pulled her inside.
Riesga stared as a Diamond Warrior got out of the chair and walked past her – a dopey look on his face. His eyes dead.
Riesga stared at the Diamond Warrior guarding her. She made sure he looked in her eye. “You need to brainwash Diamond Warriors?”
Dahlee patted the chair. “Sit down, please, here like a good girl.”
Riesga looked at Ana, who stood frozen – half in and half out the door. She watched Riesga bravely face what awaited her.
Riesga gave the Warrior who led her here a look of contempt as she moved into the room, her left arm tucked in her waistband to ease the throb in her ribs. “So Queen Zeta even needs them brainwashed? She’s not very trusting.” Her eyes moved from the Warrior to Ana.
“Queen Zeta prefers that everyone enjoy the benefits of what she can provide.” Dahlee patted the chair again with a silver smile.
Riesga stared hard at Ana. “She wants to control everyone.”
Dahlee smiled at her sweetly. “Yes.”
“I guess that means she wants to control more than you and me. She wants more that Te’ Sareez.”
“I don’t know about that. I’m just here –”
“Because Zeta told you to.”
Dahlee sounded like a hospitality bot: “I enjoy fucking minds. I live to fuck minds. Queen Zeta will reward me if I fuck minds.”
The Warrior pulled his lazerblade halfway out. Riesga got in the chair.
“Now lie back, Star Ranger, so I can fuck yours too. Two Star Rangers in one day!” Dahlee’s hand gave her tit a squeeze. “And be a good girl. That guard over there? He can get pretty nasty.”
Riesga muttered, “No kidding,” as she sat down.
Riesga took a deep breath, straightened in her chair. She then turned her head and gave Ana her most helpless, little-girl look.
Ana walked across the room. She raised the rayvolver hidden under her coat and … Zap!
Dahlee was sent flying across the room. The Warrior drew his lazeblade and stepped toward Riesga. Ana spun the weapon’s power dial with her thumb and fired again, just as the sword came down. The Warrior disintegrated.
Riesga hopped out of the chair with a wince. She staggered back as Ana fired a third time – right into the control console of the devilish machine, burning a hole right though its nerve center.
Taking a deep breath, Riesga stepped toward Ana and lifted the rayvolver from her shaking hand. “Maybe I should take this.” Ana nodded weakly. “I guess you made up your mind a while ago.”
“Your two friends are scheduled to be … bitten. But I have delayed the order. They should be in a cell on the upper tier of the station.” Arkana stepped into the hallway and looked around. Riesga put her hand on her shoulder, gently.
Riesga and Dr. Arkana – Princess Ana – hurried back to the cell. They were fortunate to find no one guarding the door.
“I’m sorry I didn’t help your friend in time. I was afraid –”
“Ana? Don’t worry about it.” They passed through the security door and stood in front of the glowing electronic bars. Epsilon stood up. Riesga winked. She winked back.
“She’s a very special girl,” a beaming Riesga said with tilt of her head.
The bars disappeared and Riesga gave Epsilon a quick hug. “Why weren’t you brainwashed, Epsilon?”
“They tried to capture my mind with geometric images. I processed them as such.”
“You mean spirals?”
“Yes, you could call them that. I was shown different ones. They were mathematically constructed. They are just data to me. I focused on that.”
“Cool. You’ll have to teach me that one. But, later. Let’s get moving.”
“It is as the Goddess of Darkness foretold! It’s all true!”
Zeta pulled the phallus from between her legs out of Jette’s quivering pussy. She looked down at her captive slave and saw the lust and need in her eyes.
“Why didn’t you show me these feeling the last time, slave?”
“I wanted you then, but my duty was to stop you. But I never stopped thinking about if you’d won. I couldn’t stop imagining becoming yours, my Queen.””
Zeta allowed Jette to nibble on her ear. “I have all that I desire. The Goddess of Darkness has spoken to me the truth.”
Zeta rolled to her side, allowing Jette to lick her across her neck and shoulders. A contented moan followed.
Zeta reached up and unclasped the cuffs holding Jette down. She looked hard at Jette, then felt one arm and then the other caress her back. She took her tongue into her mouth again. Jette cupped Zeta’s round ass as she kissed across her cheek.
“You weren’t really going to let that snake bite me, were you?” she whispered.
“Pleasure always has a little danger, slave. The more danger, the more pleasure. You know this is true. You court danger every day. But your passions show on your face. You want me because you can’t control me. I control you.”
“And you want to control everyone.” She licked an earlobe.
“Don’t worry, Captain Slave. You will be here by my side. The difference between a willing slave and an unwilling slave is like night and day. Mindless obedience has its benefits. But to control someone because they need your control?”
“Like Arkana? She’s so devoted to you.” Jette nuzzled into Zeta’s neck.
“Mmmmmm. Yes. She is.”
“But what if I am bitten?”
“Later … later …”
“There are so many snakes around.”
“The Goddess of Darkness will protect you. As she has me.”
Jette’s fingers petted Zeta’s warm, red fur, carefully dipping a finger inside her. Zeta felt herself cum again.
“If I were … there is a cure, I hope …”
“I never wanted that for you. For me. My sister doesn’t need brainwashing anymore. She has her snakes.” Zeta’s head lolled back, her eyes closed. “I let her grow her plants. Anything to keep her happy. My nipples need sucking, slave.”
Jette’s tongue slid across Zeta’s neckline and down to the stiff areolas. Another moan.
“What about the plants?” Jette whispered between licks. “Are they all poisonous?”
“Some, others … mmmmm.” Zeta’s hips shook. “Diamanti is weak. She succumbed so easily. It was clear who the dominant one was in your relationship. Now, I am the dominant one.”
Jette inserted two more fingers as Zeta creamed over them. “And always shall be, my Queen.”
Jette suckled as Zeta combed her hair with her fingers.
“I will enjoy showing you off, slave. The galaxy will tremble once they see that the great Jette Jones belongs to me.”
Zeta handed Jette a glass of wine. They looked into each other’s eyes as they sipped deeply.
Jette’s body glistened with cum and saliva from an hour of fucking.
“I noticed the clothing in my … in the pleasure suite. I would love to model something for you, my Queen.”
Zeta huffed as she put down the goblet. “Those clothes. Ha! No, my anteroom has the finest garments in all of Serpentarius. I will enjoy having you on display.”
Jette batted her eyes. “May I …?”
Zeta laughed as she rose from the bed. She looked down at Jette lasciviously. “Although I do prefer you this way, naked before me, I believe I have something for you to wear for me now.”
“I wish only to please you, Suzerain.”
Zeta’s eyes twinkled with youth. “I will be just a moment.” She pressed her fingers to Jette’s lips, eliciting a kiss. “I think I have the perfect outfit.”
As Zeta moved toward the anteroom door, Jette spread her legs lewdly. Zeta licked her lips as she went inside.
The door closed with a swish.
Captain Jette Jones stared at the door for a long moment, then clamped her legs together and hopped off the bed.
She dressed quickly and quietly, pulling on one boot before heading for the front door. The door opened and Jette swung – catching the guard by the door in the throat. She swung the boot again as the door closed behind her.
Zeta riffled through the open closet, each garment she appraised more beautiful than the last.
Then she froze.
She dropped the clothes where she stood and hurried back into the bedchamber.
She was more shocked than angry. And she was furious. She noticed Jette’s panties on the floor. She picked them up and put them to her nose. Then ripped them savagely in two. She ran outside, nearly stumbling over the unconscious guard. She kicked his sleeping body.
The guard flew back from the impact of the stun ray and crumpled in a corner.
Jette lowered the power pistol. She picked up the guard’s weapon and tucked it into her belt, then hit the button on the wall.
As the door opened, Jette saw Flock lying naked above K’wari in a sixty-nine. Flock looked over and rolled off her.
“About freaking time!”
She suddenly realized who it was and stood up at attention. Her athletic body shined with sweat. “Sorry, Captain.”
K’wari got up and slowly began putting on her robes.
“You two okay?”
“Yes, Captain,” K’wari said. “We were brought here to be re-brainwashed, but Dr. Arkana said she wasn’t going to do that. She told us to act like we were if someone came by.”
“So, of course, K’wari thought it would be a good idea to sixty-nine. For three hours!”
“What would you have suggested we do, Flock? Hold hands?”
Jette took a step. “Flock? K’wari? Time to go.”
Jette tossed the rayff that was leaning against the wall and K’wari snatched it out of the air. Flock hurried to her power armor. The helmet and top sections were there … but her leggings were nowhere to be seen.
“Great. Just great.”
Zeta was on her knees in the dark, empty room. She stared into the orange glow and the image dancing on her eyes.
“What must I do? I need your help?”
A woman’s deep, seductive voice responded: “I have given you all that you need, Zeta. I have given you the tools – the snakes, the magic, the potions and machinery to achieve all that I have asked.”
“It isn’t enough! She –”
“She tricked you. You thought she would be like all the others?” The words hung in the air. “Your vanity and lust put her before me.”
“No!” Zeta’s face showed fear. “Yes …”
“You still have time to redeem yourself in my eyes, Zeta. Even now, your sister plots against you. She wants the crown that sits upon your head. The crown I put there.”
“But the prophecy?”
“It all came true, Zeta. All of it. It is up to you to hold onto it. But do not fail me again or I will take away all that I have given you. Now go!”
Zeta marched into the corridor her heeled sandals clapping furiously on the pristine floor. Ryaki raced to her, her eyes wide, panicked. “My Queen! The prisoners –“
“Be silent! I know,” Zeta spat as she produced a comlink and held it up to speak. She paused. She glared at Ryaki. “Where are the High Clerics?”
Zeta thought for a moment, her green eyes burning cold fire. She thumbed the comlink. “All forces in the palace of the Suzerain Supreme. This is the your Queen. The Star Rangers and their allies have escaped. They will be heading for their ship. Don’t let them off the station.” Her face twisted in rage.
“Kill them all.”
Riesga led Arkana and Epsilon down a darkened hallway. They turned a corner. Riesga found herself face to face with Jette. Jette’s eyes narrowed.
Jette quickly raised the power pistol at Riesga and she ducked away just as Jette fired. A Diamond Warrior took the blast in the chest and collapsed behind her.
“Whew! Boy, am I glad to see you,” Riesga said, rushing to her captain. Jette eyed Dr. Arkana.
Epsilon stared at bottomless Flock and her bare, pink slit. Flock jabbed a finger at her. “Don’t say a word.” Epsilon nodded, processing.
“We’ve got to move fast. K’wari, Flock and Riesga, we’re going to need to get to the Artemis. Now that Zeta knows we’re free, the docking bay is going to get pretty crowded.”
“We’ll take care of them, Captain,” Flock replied. K’wari nodded to Jette.
“Skip? I’m pretty busted up. I don’t think I’d be much good in a fight. Besides, Ana knows how to neutralize the effects of the brainwashing.”
K’wari and Flock gave each other a sidelong glance.
“You mean the plants. Zeta told me. What about Diamanti?”
Ana stepped forward. “There is a cure, Captain.”
Jette’s eyebrow raised with suspicion.
“She’s cool, Skipper. She got us out of there. Saved my life.”
“Alright. Epsilon, you go with Riesga and find the queens. Then get to the ship.”
“What about you, Captain,” Epsilon asked.
“I’m going after Zeta.”
In the docking bay, Zeta’s army of mind-controlled Kaudan soldiers and Diamond Warriors take up defensive positions around the gleaming silver Artemis III … not knowing that Flock and K’wari are sizing them up …
K’wari peeked around a corner.
Her rayff had taken out the two guards by the entrance. Flock filled her belt with their photon ammunition. She picked up one of the soldier’s energy-phase rifles and nodded to K’wari.
They took up position on each side of the airlock hatch.
Diamond Warriors and soldiers were filling the huge docking bay, the mighty rocketship at their backs. “The Captain needs us to clear a path to the ship.” K’wari fixed Flock with a grave expression. They both knew the odds.
Flock lifted the heavy weapon. She pressed a button on its side and its cylindrical body sprang open in two directions, hidden panels opening and telescoping until the weapon unfolded into a rifle almost as tall as she was.
“I always wanted one of these.”
She peeked through the hatch. The HUD inside her helmet was ablaze in orange targeting locks. They must punch through and get to the Artemis!
Flock’s voice was firm: “I’ve got the ones on the left. You take the right.”
“What we do now is going to be studied and judged by the galaxy in the time to come. We must remember everything that is at stake.”
Flock pushed the rifle to her shoulder and let her finger roll onto the trigger. “Yeah yeah. Blahblahblah. Just make sure the ones on the right don’t get in behind me!” she growled.
K’wari thumbed her rayff staff and both telescoping ends snapped open. “They will never touch you.” She spread her feet apart and raised the staff.
They looked at each other and nodded.
Both women rushed through hatch taking a handful of nearby combatants by surprise. K’wari brought the rayff down with a mighty swing, splintering a guard’s helmet and cracking the skull beneath. Flock vaporized two Diamond Warriors with precision shots.
The gathered soldiers inside the docking bay turned as one toward the two women at the airlock. A moment later every rifle, power pistol and lazerblade was pointed at them.
K’wari gripped her staff tightly.
“We got this,” Flock barked. She squeezed the trigger.
Riesga and Epsilon followed Ana into the botanical garden.
“So, some of these plants aren’t poisonous? They are medicinal?”
“Some. Some merely have a sobering effect. As for the snakes …”
Arkana opened a panel by the Shade Bloom and removed two vials filled with yellow liquid. And a syringe gun.
Epsilon eyes were drawn to a glass box on a pedestal in the opposite corner. She squatted down in front of the glass. The queen snake’s forked tongue shot out of its mouth, then it reared up, its purplish hood expanding. Its yellow pupils pulsing inside black eyes.
Epsilon’s eyes appeared to almost vibrate from the hypnotic snake’s swaying movements. She tilted her head listlessly, exposing her neck, as she stared at the serpent staring back at her.
It lunged forward –
Epsilon’s head didn’t move as a streak of clear venom dripped down the inside of the glass. The queen snake hissed and turned its attention across the room.
Epsilon’s eyebrows rose. “Intriguing.”
There was a louder hiss outside the box.
Riesga saw something she hadn’t noticed before in the far corner – a metal cage with chain-link grates. And, inside, writhing on her belly was Queen Diamanti. She snarled angrily.
“The snake’s venom rewrites the host’s DNA. Without constant infusions of Shade Bloom extract… the changes become irreversible.” Ana carefully extended the loaded syringe through the grating, but Diamanti pulled her leg away. She recoiled, her round ass pressed against the back side of the cage. Ana quickly jabbed the gun through an opening and pulled the trigger. The yellowish liquid shot into Diamanti’s ass. She howled.
The three of them watched as Diamanti’s body stiffened, then went limp, then stiffened again.
“She’ll need another dose in a few minutes. She should be able to walk.”
Riesga took a deep breath. “Okay, Epsilon. Help me get her out of this thing. Then we’re going to find the other queens as quick as we can.” Ana lifted the latch across the top of the cage. “I don’t know how long Flock and K’wari are going to be able to hold out.”
They helped Diamanti out of the cage. She looked as if she were in a stupor. The queen-snake gave a high-pitched growl.
“I know where the queens are,” Ana said, taking Diamanti’s arm and leading her toward the door.
“Riesga? If I may …?”
“What is it, Epsilon?”
“I am concerned for Flock and K’wari. I wish to give them assistance, if I am able.”
Riesga peeked her head out the door, then turned. “Okay, Epsilon. We’ll get the queens and then head toward the ship.”
She tried to give Epsilon her rayvolver, but she shook her head.
“You will need that,” she said. “I have never used a weapon. I will try to board the Artemis.”
“Okay. But if things get too hot, get out of there. The captain will be along.”
Epsilon nodded as she headed toward the docking bay.
Flock squeezed off the last rounds of the energy-phase rifle and quickly reloaded, slapping a fresh pack of photon charges in. K’wari’s rayff, meanwhile, was a blur of motion, taking down anyone who came near. She twirled the rayff as a laser bolt came screaming toward her. The staff absorbed the energy bolt and hummed in K’wari’s hands.
Flock recharged the rifle and let loose another burst. “And K’wari? If I never see your pussy again, I’ll be more than okay with it!”
K’wari slammed a soldier across the head, releasing the rayff’s absorbed energy and sending him flying into three more guards who went sprawling. “Really? I was thinking just the opposite.”
The fearless duo fought on, keeping the soldiers at bay. But their numbers were growing. Then there was loud rumbling. K’wari spun around. Five Guardian robots, armed with power pistols, closed in.
“Get behind me!” Flock shouted.
Simultaneously, the robots fired!
The robots unleashed a maelstrom of firepower. Sparks and balls of fire exploded on the armor. Flock stood fast against the assault, her hands crisscrossed in front of her face. Sections of her armor glowing red-hot.
“Flock! Are you all right?” K’wari held her by her naked waist.
Flock shuddered from the massive attack. Her feet began to give way, backing up slowly. The rifle fell from her grip. She was becoming disoriented. She shut her eyes tightly.
K’wari yelled louder: “You. All. Right??”
“You all right, honey?”
“Oh, yeah. Look! Not even a scratch, Daddy.”
“Jo … I think maybe I should stop having you test the armor.”
“Why? You said yourself, you need to have someone wearing the suit to do the rest of the tests. That’s why your other suits didn’t work right. C’mon. Turn it up a notch.”
Johansen’s mother sat quietly behind a bank of terminals. She nodded.
She smiled at her dad. “I can handle it.”
“I can handle it!!”
Flock opened her eyes and discharged a force beam from her raised hand, blasting two oncoming soldiers.
K’wari clung to Flock as the barrage continued. Flock was slowly being forced backward from the dozens of impacts.
Quick as a cat, K’wari dove across the floor. Tumbling and rolling before popping up face to face with a Guardian. She chopped the rayff across its arm, shattering the rifle and damaging the robot’s limb. She jumped – slamming the robot across its rounded head. There was a CRACK! The robot toppled over.
Two soldiers took aim at Flock from behind an overturned service bot. K’wari leaped …
Kalokairi obediently chewed and swallowed the white leaves, oblivious to the scene before her. Despite the ache in her ribs, Riesga held a writhing Glamora on the ground – the queen kicking and screaming.
“No! I don’t want to!”
Her legs lashed out at Ana as she stuffed bright green flower petals into her open mouth then pushed on her chin and forced her to swallow them.
Riesga slowly let go. Glamora whimpered but stopped struggling, her body folded in half as she trembled.
Ana injected the second dose of flower pollen into Diamanti’s arm. Diamanti’s eyes finally cleared.
Glamora was trying to spit out the leaves but they had been swallowed. She sat up and began to calm down.
“I could have done without that,” Riesgsa said, stretching her torso. Diamanti leaned down and helped Riesga stand. “Thank you, Sovereign.”
Diamanti was looking at the bite marks on her arms. “I think I’m the one who should be thanking you.” She looked at Riesga, then Ana. “Both of you.”
Riesga nodded. “Let’s get to the ship.”
Ana took Kalokairi by the hand. Riesga got Glamora to her feet and gently nudged her forward. “Are you feeling better, your Highness?”
“Y-yes. I feel much better.” Glamora was still shaking. “I’m sorry about before.”
Riesga shook her head. “It’s alright. That wasn’t you. You’re free of Zeta’s control now. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Glamora murmured in agreement.
Captain Jette Jones walked stealthily down the hallway – her boots clicking lightly on the floor, the power pistol drawn at her hip.
She turned a corner and saw the guard still unconscious by the door of Zeta’s bedchamber. She stepped over him and entered.
She didn’t expect to find Zeta there, but gave the room a quick check. Then she moved toward the anteroom. The doors parted.
On the far side of the room, closets were open, garments on the floor – beautiful peignoirs had been removed and carelessly dropped. There was a table in the center of the room but no other furniture. To the right was what looked to Jette to be an old-style fireplace which reached from floor to ceiling. There was no wood, no coals inside.
Suddenly, flames flew up and filled the recess, giving it the appearance of an altar of fire.
“At last, our eyes meet, Captain Jette Jones.”
It was a woman’s voice, and Jette spun toward the door. There was no one there. She turned back to the altar, the wisps of fire bending and twisting in unnatural shapes.
“Who are you?”
The flames took form – that of a woman … tall, with sharp features and dark hair. Her black robes made her arms and legs seem elongated, but that only added to their allure. Jette was mesmerized by the beauty she saw.
“Our paths have crossed many times, Captain.” The apparition’s voice was soothing yet dominant. “On Cestus VI … on Ocea Prime. Your resourcefulness has been impressive.”
Jette blinked hard. The flawless beauty before her was so tantalizing she fought the impulse to reach toward it.
“You … you’re telling me you were there?”
The billowing flames made the spectre’s robes shimmer. “I am everywhere. Does my appearance please you? You see me now as your ideal woman – strong, feminine, enticing. Am I not beautiful?”
For a moment, Jette feared she had said yes. She mustered her strength of will. “Illusions are just that. Meaningless. You probably look like a toad.”
“I have many forms, many names.” It was if Jette’s insult went unheard. “Human minds are so easily probed. They are weak. Their minds so delicate. Simple to bend.”
She stepped forward. The fire gave off no heat. “Don’t call me Jette. It’s Captain Jones to you.”
Jette stared into the flames, she heard the crackles and the quiet roar like an ocean’s tide. The spectre spread her arms and Jette suddenly felt enveloped by them. She gasped. There was a moistening between her legs and she involuntarily began to rub against her pants.
The robes fell away, as if consumed by the fire, leaving the woman’s image naked. Jette’s lips parted. It was the perfect female form.
“I could take you now.” The being’s seductive expression didn’t change. The eyes piercing. “You have interrupted another of my little games.”
Jette’s face showed the strain as she fought her body’s impulses.
“Yes, Jette. I can read your thoughts so easily. We shall meet again. I am everywhere. I am your past and your future. We shall meet again because I desire it.”
Jette’s rubbing became more frantic.
“Beware of me. The next time our paths cross, I will be less charitable.”
Jette’s body felt caressed, and her knees went weak. She pressed hard on her clit needfully.
She felt herself cum … and cursed in her mind.
“Yes, Jette. That is right. You will tell no one. There is nowhere in the universe where I cannot find you.” Jette tried to speak but could not. “You think Zeta can be saved. But she is already mine.
“You are mine.”
The words “you are mine” snapped Jette out of her fever dream. She lifted the pistol. And fired!
Epsilon could hear the sound of yelling and weapons firing long before she reached the open hatch.
She could see across the large docking bay – K’wari and Flock were on each side, battling furiously. K’wari had taken the fight hand-to-hand against the Diamond Warriors and Kaudans who were brave enough to get within her striking distance, while Flock gave her cover despite the fiery volleys from the four Guardians. The impacts from their weapons ricocheting off her power armor.
The Guardians had formed a semi-circle around the perimeter, and Epsilon slid against the wall behind them. Ducking down, she half-crawled behind the closest one until she was kneeling behind it.
She found an open port at the base of the robot’s midsection and pulled off the protective cap. A long data spike extended from her finger and she inserted it into the port. The Guardian stopped firing, its head moved 30 degrees as if searching for something.
Epsilon closed her eyes, her body’s matrix danced with activity.
The Guardian slowly lowered its weapon and rolled toward the robot closest to it. A sensory probe, much like Epsilon’s spike, extended into a similar port in the second robot. The head turned, the pistol dropped.
As the second robot moved toward the third, the first robot’s headpiece sparked and shook before going dark.
The second, then the third and the fourth … each robot, in turn, deactivating the next until all four Guardians stood still and powerless. The “living computer” that was Epsilon had given them new instructions – die.
Jette turned a corner and stopped in her tracks. The floor-to-ceiling glass on the outer ring of the station’s corridor showed an amazing view of the twin suns of Te’ Sareez, but something more important caught Jette’s eye – the Clerics’ ship was here. The small craft was on final maneuvers less than one thousand meters from where Jette stood.
She looked around, if only there were a way to —
Jette hurried to the comm panel by the opening to the hallway behind her. Punching at the controls furiously, she actived the emergency transmission protocols. “Te’ Sareez vessel ferrying the High Clerics, this is Captain Jette Jones of the Star Ranger Corps on emergency channel. Please respond.”
Jette tapped her hand against the panel watching the ship through the glass as it drifted closer. Finally there was a buzz of static and then a voice. “Captain Jones, this is the vessel Mount Haldor. What is the nature of the emergency?”
Jette thumbed the button to reply: “A military coup is in progress onboard the station. Mercenary Diamond Warriors have nearly taken over. Recommend you return to port of origin immediately.”
There was a long silence then the radio cracked again. “Negative Captain. We can’t make it back without refueling. We must land.”
Blast it all!
Jette called up the station’s traffic pattern on the nearby console and saw the Clerics’ ship was on course for docking bay one on the upper ring.
Zeta will be waiting for them.
Jette scanned the station diagram and then pressed the transmit button once more. “Understood, Mount Haldor, urge you to divert to docking bay three on the upper ring. That should put you far from the insurgent force.”
“Roger that Captain. Uh … what do you recommend we do after that?”
“I’ll meet you there. I have a plan.”
“Something’s wrong,” Ryaki studied the space traffic control system on her handcomp. “The Clerics’ ship has changed course. They’re headed for the opposite side of the station!”
“Jones!” Zeta hissed.
Ana glanced around the corner and then motioned the procession forward. Diamanti, followed by Glamora and Kalorkairi followed her, while Riesga brought up the rear.
“So you passed the throne to her?” Diamanti asked Ana.
“Not willingly,” Arkana said, looking over her shoulder. “She used the snakes to control me. I barely remember any of it. One day, I woke up and she’d been Queen for seven months.”
“Quiet!” Riesga snapped. “Forgive me, Sovereign, but …” She put her finger to her lips.
The group arrived at a large open hatch in the long corridor. Ana peeked around the lip of the portal and then nodded to the others.
She stepped through followed by Diamanti and Glamora. Riesga glanced at Kalokairi as she stepped forward. There was a screech of metal as the door plummeted down! Kalokairi looked up seeing the hatch closing on top of her!
Reisga reached out, grabbed Kalokairi and pulled her back, the hatch slamming down only centimeters from the Queen’s foot.
They were separated.
Ana slapped the control panel to open the door. “Locked” an electronic voice answered. “By whom?” she demanded.
“Do you really need to ask?” a voice asked behind her.
The three women turned. Zeta stepped out from an access corridor, followed by Ryaki.
“Happy to see you again, dear sister.” Zeta leaned forward and dropped two green coils on the floor. Ana instantly backed into the corner. The two snakes began slithering toward the three women.
Diamanti stepped forward and pulled a guard’s stolen power pistol from her cloak. She leveled the weapon at Zeta. “Queen Zeta, I hereby place you under arrest by the power granted me as a Suzerain in the charter of –“
A body crashed into Diamanti from behind. Hands latched onto the pistol. Glamora! The lost queen of Kauda’s eyes were crazed as she fought for the weapon. Ana’s eyes were fixed on the two snakes gliding menacingly toward them.
Diamanti finally pulled free – then screamed as one of the snakes spat venom into her eyes. She clawed at her face with one hand. Glamora easily took the pistol from her and tossed it down the hall toward Zeta.
“My Queen!” Glamora called out already shedding her clothes.
Diamanti stumbled backward into the closed hatch and fell to the floor. The sedating venom already robbing her body of the will to fight. She struggled to sit up as one of the queen snakes slithered up to her and opened its hood.
The bioluminescent scales inside flared to life, casting a mesmerizing pattern of colors across the Queen’s face. Diamanti scooted backward toward the hatch. She tried to look for a weapon, her hands reaching out, her eyes blurred by the snake’s venom.
Diamanti’s head tilted slowly … directly into the glowing scales of the queen snake. The colors filled her eyes, the glow reflecting off her dilating pupils.
Her mouth curled into a desperate grimace, even as her eyes relaxed and opened wider. Diamanti groaned and her body sagged to the floor. The queen snake slithered forward and began winding itself around her neck.
Diamanti’s hands clutched at the muscular coils as the snake finished wrapping itself around her. Its head directly in front of her face. This close, the colors seemed even brighter. Even more compelling. Hypnotic …
Her fingers managed to work themselves under one of the coils and she pulled with failing strength. The snake’s head began rocking slowly back and forth. The colors were huge in the queen’s eyes. Blotting out everything else. She gasped as the insidious rhythm caught her mind in its slithering grasp.
Her fingers loosened and fell away. Diamanti’s head drifted, her mesmerized mind held captive in the snake’s entrancing scales as easily as her body was by its coils.
“One down … one to go.” Zeta was pleased.
Ana huddled in the corner, her hands covering her face. She knew what was coming. Unlike Diamanti, she would not be surprised by the smooth delicious warmth of the snake’s venom in her body. She could remember it all too well. The ache in her legs was delicious but it was only a shadow of the ecstasy she would feel again. Once the hypnotic snake turned off her mind.
There was a flash of light and a rush of heat as the snake vaporized before the cowering princess. She pulled her hands from her face and looked up at the smoldering stain on the floor.
“No!!!” Zeta shrieked, turning around just as Jette pointed the weapon at her from the opposite end of the corridor. Jette slammed a button and the hatch opened.
“You deceived me!” Zeta screamed.
“The deceit was in why I did it. Not what we did. End this, Zeta. Now. The High Clerics know everything. They will never codify your reign. There’s still time –”
“It’s too late, Captain Jones.”
“Zeta, you don’t have to do what she tells you. I can help you!”
Zeta’s eyes widened in astonishment. “She … spoke to you? I thought I was the only one who …”
“Please, Zeta,” Jette implored, keeping her pistol aimed. “Please let this end with no more suffering.”
Zeta took a step forward, her face softening for a moment. She looked as though she’d suddenly realized something. She shut her eyes and when she opened them again there was something sad and resolute in them.
“There is only one end for me.” Zeta’s hand was a blur inside her clothes, a shockewave pistol raised.
Jette squeezed the trigger.
Ryaki leaped in front of Zeta as Jette fired! She tumbled backward. Zeta pulled Glamora by the hand and they disappeared quickly around a corner.
Jette turned the corner in pursuit – barely ducking and rolling away as a lazerblade zinged over her head. A weapon fired. The Diamond Warrior disintegrated.
Jette let out a deep breath as Riesga and Kalokairi hurried toward her. “Excellent timing, Lieutenant.” Jette picked up the lazerblade and shook it in her hand as she marched toward Diamanti.
Diamanti gasped as the snake suddenly released her. Jette held the body firmly in one hand. The snake’s severed head fell to the floor. Jette dropped the blade and wrestled the coils off Diamanti’s neck. She pulled the beautiful Queen to her feet.
“Diamanti? Are you all right?”
Diamanti blinked several times as if shaking off sleep. “Jette …” She smiled weakly. “I am… uninjured.”
Jette gave the Queen a quick kiss to her cheek. “We’re out of time.” Riesga was standing nearby. “Let’s board the Artemis.”
K’wari and Flock stood by the airlock, surrounded by broken bodies. Both women were breathing heavily. K’wari dropped slowly to her knees and folded her feet beneath her, eyes closed in silent meditation.
Epsilon hurried up beside them. “The remaining attackers have retreated.” Her matrix shimmered uncertainly as she looked over her crewmates.
“Are you two unharmed?”
Flock nodded. “You saved our butts.”
The living computer nodded. The orbiting concentric circles over her chest throbbing erratically.
The three of them turned, suddenly, at the sound of rushing boots outside the airlock. Flock pressed the rifle into her shoulder once more and aimed at the doorway. “K’wari! We’ve got—”
The Vicar was already on her feet – her staff snapping open with a hiss – just as Jette entered the docking bay at a run.
“Captain!” Flock lowered the rifle.
Jette looked over the bodies littering the docking bay. She slammed the pistol into her holster. “Well done. All of you.”
“Orders, Captain?” K’wari collapsed the rayff and returned it to her belt.
“Help everyone onboard the ship. Time to go.”
Flock’s eyes continued to scan the docking bay. “I’ll board last, Captain. There may be stragglers.”
“Epsilon, get us out of here.” Jette ordered as she sat in her command chair.
“Powering up, Captain.”
The queens were seated along an extended bench to the right of Flock, who was tugging on a pair of pants.
“All clear, Captain,” said Riesga.
“Step on it, Epsilon. We need some distance and fast. Flock, I need Ranger Command on the astroband as soon—”
“Captain!” Riesga called out. “Two ships are departing.”
“They’re not coming after us. They seem to be… Wait! There’s a third ship, Captain! Five hundred thousand kilometers from the station and moving away.”
“It’s the Clerics onboard the Mount Haldor. We bought them just enough time to refuel. They were supposed to be making a run for Serpens Kauda.”
“Those ships are on their tail, Captain,” Riesga said. “I don’t recognize their markings.”
The Artemis’ engines roared to full power as the ship streaked away from the space station.
Jette looked to her pilot. “Can you identify them, Epsilon?”
Epsilon peered at the magnified view of the ships on her console. “I have no data on that type of spacecraft, Captain.”
“Diamond Warriors are flying the ships.” Flock studied her sensor readouts.
“Well, we may not know whose ships they are but I can bet you credits to navy beans Zeta is on one of them.” Jette studied the displays around the cockpit feeding her information. “Distance?”
“In range … now Captain,” reported Riesga.
“Power up weapons systems, Flock.”
Suddenly there were sparks … lights flickered.
“We have a power surge, Captain!” Flock called. She looked desperately around her console. “Weapons systems down!”
“We’ve had an overload, Sir. Multiple systems in crisis.” Flock’s face flushed. “I didn’t have time to repair them, Sir.”
“K’wari assist Flock.”
K’wari knelt down at Flock’s feet and began opening hatches. She peered into the last one.
“Check that circuit for a burnout,” Flock said, motioning with her head. K’wari reached into the modem. “No! The red one!”
K’wari found the red one and began inspecting the circuit. “You realize, Flock, that if you had repaired the ship last night, we wouldn’t be having these present difficulties.”
Flock slammed buttons. “Oh, you mean last night when you were slaving around with Zeta?”
Jette’s voice rang out, although she hadn’t raised it. Flock and K’wari got busier.
The Artemis twisted and banked into a steep vector just as the two pursuing craft opened fire on the unarmed ferry!
“They’re trying to blow them out of the sky!” Riesga shouted in disbelief.
“Zeta is going to destroy the Clerics,” Jette snapped. “She’ll destabilize the entire star system!” She looked at the displays around the cabin. None of it was good news. “Distance?”
“Seventy thousand kilometers and closing,” Epislon reported.
“Still offline,” Flock growled. “Defense beams engaged … but they can’t handle much, Sir.”
“Epsilon, match vectors with the Clerics’ vessel. Get us in between them and the enemy craft.”
Riesga glanced at Epsilon as her hands danced over the flight controls.
“We might be able to handle a couple of hits, Captain,” Flock called out, “but we’ll be in trouble if they hit the engines.”
“Lieutenant, if the engines take a direct hit would the radius of the explosion encompass the enemy fighters?”
Riesga grimaced. “Uh … yes, Sir.’”
“Fifteen seconds to intercept, Captain.” Epsilon’s matrix flowed smoothly as she guided the ship into the path of laser fire.
“Open, Sir.” Flock punched buttons on her console.
“Zeta! This is Captain Jones. I have Queens Diamanti and Kalokairi onboard. If you destroy us, the explosion will destroy you as well. Te’ Sareez will fall into the hands of the High Clerics. Is that what you want?”
As if in reply, a photon blast rocked the ship. Alarms screamed as the main lighting failed and the red emergency lights switched on.
“That’s one!” Flock shouted.
“Zeta! Whatever she told you, whatever she promised you, it isn’t worth this! You are a Suzerain of Te’ Sareez! No one should be dictating your actions but you.”
The laser fire went quiet. No one spoke. The crew of the Artemis looked at each other.
Finally, Riesga spoke up: “Skipper? I think you —”
The ship rocked violently as a laser blast tore through the hull. The emergency hatch just beyond the bench where the Queens sat suddenly slammed shut as the ship began venting atmosphere into space.
“Losing velocity, Captain.” Epsilon announced. “We can’t maintain speed to protect the Mount Haldor.”
“Dammit,” Jette barked.
“One of the ships is peeling off, Captain.” Flock called, not looking up. “The crew is entirely Diamond Warriors. They are going after the Clerics!”
“And Zeta’s ship?”
“Closing in. On us.”
“She’s going to eliminate the competition.” Jette sat back in her chair. There was nothing she could do now but try to protect as many lives as she could.
She looked over to Diamanti. Their eyes held – long and deep and binding.
“Get the environmental suits now! Put Diamanti in mine and Kalokairi into Riesga’s. Get our spare suit for Ana then you, Flock and Epsilon get into yours.”
“Jette?” K’wari stood up, pressing her hand to the bulkhead to steady herself as the ship rocked violently from a laser blast which barely missed the hull.
“You heard the order, Vicar.”
“They’re powering up weapons again, Captain. Targeting the engines.” Flock looked at Jette. “I think she’s got us.”
“Get in your suits!” Jette shouted over the alarm claxons.
Suddenly, three laser blasts fired in rapid secession streaked across the Artemis’ bow. The energy bolts tore a hole through the encroaching ship, igniting the fuel inside. Jette threw a hand up in front of her eyes at the blinding light. The Diamond Warriors’ vessel exploded!
“What happened?” Flock shouted.
“Ranger Corps!” Riesga shouted. “Patrol vessel, 100,000 kilometers and closing!”
The radio crackled to life and a woman’s voice came onto the airwaves. “Attention, unidentified vessel. This is the Star Ranger rocketship Roosevelt. Break off your attack immediately.”
The Artemis trembled in distress as her crew stared at the front viewing screen.
“Zeta is breaking off.” Flock was all-business, her fingers flying across her console.
The radio crackled again. “Artemis III, your attacker is moving to an escape vector. Should we pursue?”
“Negative, Roosevelt,” Jette called back. “We have two planetary sovereigns on board and our life-support systems are critical. Request you move in for emergency docking immediately to transfer personel to your vessel.”
“Acknowledged, Artemis. Sit tight, we’ll be there in a minute.”
Jette took a deep breath and finally let go of the death grip she’d had on her command chair. Out the front view port, she could see the glow of rocket engines growing smaller and smaller as Zeta – with Glamora – raced out of the star system.
The Artemis III is redocked at the space station to say some bittersweet good-byes …
A flurry of support vehicles circled the station as the queens stood with their respective delegations.
Lt. Kanivia Riesga took it all in with a sense of wonder. And satisfaction in a job well-done.
Queen Kalokairi kissed Ana’s cheek as she headed back into the station and was met by a couple of officials. Two Imperial Guards immediately bracketed her. Ana approached Riesga, almost shyly.
“The High Clerics have just sent word that they are ready for us. I am now prepared to fulfill my duties as Queen, Kanivia. Queen Kalokairi has promised to serve as mentor.” She stepped closer. “If it is possible, I would wish to offer you a commission. On Serpentarius. How does General Riesga sound?”
Riesga blushed. “I’m honored, Queen Ana.” She fought a stammer: “But I still have a lot to learn. My place is on the Artemis.”
“You will always be welcome, Kanivia Riesga. Your courage is big. I see no ’little one’.”
Riesga bowed as the soon-to-be queen was led by her entourage behind Kalokairi. Riesga waited for her captain by the airlock.
Queen Diamanti of Caput took Jette’s hands in hers, ignoring the dozens of officials who impatiently waited for her inside the station.
“You look tired, Vipera Berus.”
“It’s been a long week, Sovereign.”
“You have honored your commitment, Jette. My people are once again safe because of you.”
Diamanti unzipped Jette’s jacket – the gold medallion of the Vipera Berus around her neck. Diamanti smoothed it with her fingers.
“I will hold you to this.”
Jette nodded as the voices of dignitaries pulled them apart. Jette felt an elbow jab and stepped back. Officials began to surround the queen. Their eyes met for a momentary lifetime.
Riesga was at Jette’s side as she strode toward her ship.
The crew settled in the command module as the ship powered up. Riesga was feeling better after another dose of Xlypham. Flock stood by Epsilon, matching numbers on her hand comp with the helm’s console readouts.
“How do you feel, Flock?”
“I feel like shit, Epsy.”
Epsilon smiled. “It doesn’t appear that Zeta’s brainwashing washed very well.”
Flock nodded. “That Tentacle Snare ain’t nuthin’. So, how come you didn’t get turned into a mindless slave like the rest of us?”
“Because I knew what to expect and rerouted the stimuli.”
“Ahh. Okay. How come you didn’t do that on Tarkaria?”
Flock finally looked at Epsilon.
“That … was different.”
“I bet it was.”
Flock turned abruptly and returned to her station. Epsilon kept her eyes on her until she looked back. Then she resumed her duties.
Jette and K’wari entered the CM together.
“Clear the moorings for departure, Epsilon.”
Jette sat down in her command chair and took a deep breath.
“We are free to navigate, Sir,” Epsilon reported.
“Very good. Take her out.”
“Message coming in from the Roosevelt, Sir.”
“Put it on the screen, Flock.”
The face of a handsome, blonde-haired woman appeared. Jette smiled seeing it.
“We’re going back out on patrol, Captain Jones. Just wanted to say a quick good-bye. Admiral Hartley only received your message last night.” A devilish smile grew. “Good thing we were in the neighborhood.”
Jette nodded good-naturedly. “Okay, you saved my ass. Now you’re only four behind me.”
“I’ll send you my bill instead. You better pay up!”
“This is the Artemis III signing off –”
“Oh no you don’t!”
They laughed together. “Good to see you again, Captain Jones. Happy voyages!”
“Bon voyage … Captain Pace.”
The Artemis had been en route only a few minutes when Flock stepped down and moved directly in front of her captain, hands behind her back.
“Captain … I just want to say …”
“Yes, Flock?” It was one of the few times Jette had ever seen Flock shy.
“I just want to say, I’m sorry for blasting you.”
Jette shook her head. “Flock? You want to know something? You’re going to make an outstanding Ranger. And I trust you with my life.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Flock didn’t move.
“I think you have some repairs to do on our ship … cadet.”
Cadet Powers beamed. “Yes, Sir!”
Jette sat back in her command chair, letting the events of the last week skim over her thoughts.
She thought about Diamanti and Zeta. And the apparition she had seen – what it said, how she felt.
“I am everywhere. I am your past and your future. We shall meet again because I desire it.”
Jette crossed her legs tightly.
“Speed factor two, Epsilon.”
Captain Jette Jones nodded with determination. She knew somewhere in her future, she would encounter the Goddess of Darkness again.