Adrift in space with a blood-sucking creature on board, Captain Jones – unaware that two members of her crew are under its thrall – tries to find answers to the mounting questions aboard the Ceres …
Five figures stood around the scan table looking at the corpse of Chief Compton in silence. The bank of computers in the med bay hummed softly as the group contemplated what lay before them.
“Sodding space vampire.” Captain Yuri Edwards huffed and stroked his beard. “Of all the things that could’ve ended my career.”
K’wari’s eyes narrowed. “Do you mean that Chief Compton was killed or that the evidence suggests a vampire is responsible?”
“Either or both,” Edwards said wearily. “Particularly since we have no idea who the culprit is.”
“That’s not entirely true.” All heads turned to Professor DeErzi Lóng at the foot of the table. “We know it wasn’t any of the crew on the Artemis, for example. They arrived after Chief Compton was killed.”
Captain Jette Jones moved slowly toward Long. “Thank you for your help, Professor, but would you excuse us?”
Lóng chuckled but didn’t move. “It’s quite alright, Captain Jones. I don’t mind you saying it in front of me. I’ve reached the same conclusion.”
Jette folded her arms. “Which is what?”
“You think the vampire is one of the Ceres’ passengers.”
“Why do I think that?”
Long gestured to Edwards. “Captain, the day we disembarked you mentioned how close-knit your crew is. Who is the member that’s been with you the shortest duration?”
“Me,” Commander Carpenter spoke up. “I’ve been on two years.”
The Professor bowed slightly to her. “So there. The Ceres’ crew has been together for too long for a vampire to be one of them and not be discovered before now. And the Artemis’ crew wasn’t here when the vampire struck. Hence, a passenger.”
Carpenter nodded and looked at the others. “It’s what I was thinking.”
Jette smiled thinly. “I agree it’s logical, but since none of us know much about how vampires function I don’t think we can rule out anything. What if a Ceres crewmember was somehow transformed into a vampire?”
“Actually, Captain,” Professor Long spoke up again, “I know quite a bit about vampires.”
“Is that so?” Jette traded a glance with K’wari, who moved one hand to the rayff staff that hung from her belt. “How did you come to know so much about the subject?”
Long bowed modestly. “The historical facts that lead to galactic folklore and legend is my field of study.”
“I thought you said you were a medical doctor?” K’wari asked.
“My first career.” Long chuckled. “Didn’t take. Scholarly work was more in my veins, you might say.”
Edwards stepped around the table. “Then we are very lucky to have you with us, Professor. What can you tell us that might be helpful?”
Long tented his fingers and took a deep breath. “Nearly all legends begin with something true. Like the black hole at the center of the galaxy once being thought of as an abyss meant to imprison a being of supreme evil and darkness.” Edwards hung on every word. “Vampire legends have variations but almost all agree on a few basic things: vampires consume blood, have very long lifespans and they often control mortal beings to carry out their plans.”
“Which explains why Compton sabotaged the ship,” Carpenter said. “He would’ve never done that without being coerced.”
“How do we kill such a creature?” Edwards asked quietly.
“In nearly every account, concentrated sunlight is lethal to a vampire.”
Jette clicked her tongue. “We’re in the middle of intersolar space. The light here is coming from a trillion or more suns. How would a vampire survive?”
“Concentrated sunlight, Captain. The poison lies in the dosage, after all.”
“Alright, Professor,” Jette said, “how would we spot a vampire? A bio scan?”
“That, I’m afraid, is more difficult. Vampires are predators that hunt among us. It stands to reason they are adept at remaining undetected. Though I can’t say how exactly. I do have some texts with me I could consult.”
“Would you please?” Edwards asked. “That would be tremendous.”
“I’m at your service.” Long bowed again. “Happy to help in any way.” With that, he strode out of the room.
Silence settled over them for several moments. Carpenter looked between the two captains. “So, what do we do?”
“We treat this like any other infectious situation.” Edwards carefully straightened his uniform. “We’ll confine the passengers to their quarters for the final leg of the trip and observe strict quarantine procedures.”
Jette was shaking her head. “Pathogens don’t sabotage star ships. We’re dealing with an intelligent and cunning adversary. Just locking them in a room isn’t going to be enough. We need to focus on uncovering the vampire’s identity.”
“I appreciate your input, Captain,” Edwards said. “But I’ve already lost a crewmember and I’m responsible for all the other lives aboard this vessel. The authorities on Alstus IV will be alerted and they can deal with this. My duty is to make sure everyone arrives there safely.” He headed for the doors with a curt nod.
“Captain,” Jette called after him. “If the vampire is hiding, that means it’s afraid. That means it’s vulnerable. Wouldn’t it be better to deal with it now while we have it contained?”
“How do you propose to do that?” Carpenter asked.
“We speak to the passengers. They may have seen something. If the vampire is among them we might catch it in a lie.”
“You want to interrogate my passengers?” Edwards looked horrified.
“It seems one of them murdered your crewmate, Captain,” Jette countered. “Don’t you?”
Edwards’ face flushed deep red as he took a step closer to her. “This ship is not a military vessel, Captain. These people are guests on board. They have paid enormous sums of money to travel in the greatest comfort possible. If word gets back to my employers that I’ve allowed you to openly accuse them of murder …” he trailed off, shaking his head. “No.”
“What about the authorities on Alstus? They’re going to interrogate them.”
“Not while they’re on board,” Edwards shook his head again. “Alstus is familiar with guests of this caliber. They know how to handle this kind of situation. It takes a delicate touch.”
Jette took a step forward but before she could speak Carpenter moved in front of her. “What if Captain Edwards asked these questions? The passengers trust him. If we could establish a timeline of where everyone was last night and check it against our surveillance data that might lead us to a suspect.”
“That’s a good idea,” Jette replied.
All eyes were on Edwards then. After a moment, he nodded. “Commander, have all hands assemble in the observation lounge. I’ll make the quarantine announcement and ask everyone to account for their whereabouts.”
“Aye, Sir.” Carpenter came to attention and threw a glance toward Jette before marching out.
“She’s a hell of a first officer,” Jette said earnestly. “You’ve got a fine crewmember there.”
“I can tolerate you being free with your opinions behind closed doors, Captain,“ Edwards said, ignoring her comment. “But these are my passengers and my crew on my ship. I hope you’ll keep that in mind during the assembly.” He exited the med bay abruptly.
Jette glared at the door. “What do you think?”
The Vicar of Yasu stood beside Jette. “He is afraid. And under great pressure.
“Not everyone responds favorably to those conditions.”
“Murdered?” the large woman with the enormous necklace asked in disbelief.
Edwards nodded gravely. “Yes, I’m afraid so, Mrs. Burven.”
“When?” her husband asked.
The husband and wife looked at each other. “But we saw him last night.” Mrs. Burven dropped into a sofa, her husband clutching her hand as she began to breathe erratically.
“When was that?” Edwards asked.
“During dinner,” she panted, not quite crying. “He came into the dining room and examined the service module in the wall there. Said someone had reported an issue with it. He left after a few minutes. Said he’d fix it in the morning.”
“Thank you for sharing that,” Edwards said warmly. He looked at the faces of the other passengers. “My first responsibility is to your safety. And with that in mind I’m afraid we’re going to be observing a strict quarantine for the remainder of the journey.”
“You can’t be serious,” the younger Mr. Chammel scoffed, clutching a goblet of pale green wine.
Edwards bowed slightly. “I’m afraid so, Mr. Chammel. We have to keep everyone safe. We can’t be freely roaming about the ship with a murderer on board.”
The thin man gulped his wine as his blue-skinned husband took hold of his hand. “Thank you, Captain,” he offered graciously. “We appreciate you looking after us.” The couple then headed toward the door of the lounge.
Jette, standing with K’wari off to one side, cleared her throat gently.
Edwards wouldn’t look at her. “Just a moment,” he called after the husbands. “If you don’t mind, were you in your cabin last night?”
“Yes, we were. Sound asleep,” the blue Mr. Chammel said. His partner gulped down the last of his wine.
“What about you? Mrs. and Mr. Burven?” Edwards turned to the other married couple, both on the sofa now. She was staring through the observation glass at the nebula. She pulled her gaze to Captain Edwards. “The same. In our cabin all night.”
“Wait.” The smaller Mr. Chammel stepped back in from the door, gesturing with his empty goblet. “You suspect one of us?”
Edwards shook his head quickly. “No. I just need to ask about everyone’s whereabouts in case someone saw something that might be useful.” With that, he turned to the beautiful alien woman leaning against a wall near the door. “What about you, Madam Karmilla?”
She tasted the air with her tongue and shrugged. “The same. My cabin. All night.”
“Actually,” Professor Long said, stepping forward, “that isn’t quite true. I saw you in the corridor after midnight, didn’t I?”
All eyes turned to Karmilla.
“I had trouble sleeping. The servitor in my cabin wasn’t working so I used the one in the dining room to make a sedative.”
Professor Long stared at her. “But we just heard a moment ago that Chief Compton never fixed the dining room servitor. You’re saying it was working for you?”
“I–I didn’t order food.” She stumbled over the words. “I asked for a sedative and the unit complied.”
“Why the hell are you questioning her? You have no authority here!” The younger Mr. Chammel stepped toward Long, jabbing a finger in his face drunkenly.
“Yes, why don’t you leave that to the captain?” his husband snapped.
“We must ask these questions,” Mrs. Burven shot back. “There’s a murderer on board!”
The blue-skinned Mr. Chammel pulled his husband away from the Professor. “Then why hasn’t anyone asked him where he was at?”
“Not in your cabin, obviously,” Karmilla hissed.
Edwards stepped in raising his hands for calm. “Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate your cooperation. Professor Long and I spoke earlier. I should’ve explained that.”
“So, you’re saying he’s not a suspect at all?” Karmilla asked.
“Professor Long helped us examine Chief Compton’s body,” Edwards replied shakily.
Jette folded her arms and stared at the floor, shaking her head.
The younger Mr. Chammel pulled away from his husband and pointed his finger at the Professor again. “Who says your crewmember was murdered? Him?!”
“That’s outrageous!” Karmilla bellowed. “He’s a teacher.”
“I retired from medical practice, thank you very much.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re qualified to determine a crime has occurred!” the drunken Chammel snapped.
“The man’s blood was completely sucked out of him!” Long shot back. “That doesn’t happen with a natural cause of death!”
“You’re not on board as a medical official,” the blue-skinned man said, pulling his spouse back once more. “It shouldn’t be your … What do you mean his blood was sucked out? By what?”
“There’s a vampire aboard, you dullard!” Professor Long shouted.
The echo bounced around the room. Jette pursed her lips but kept her eyes on Edwards. Then Zaleska began to laugh. The old woman’s voice was raw and unbridled as she chortled.
“I agree with her,” the drunken Chammel said. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“A man is dead, so it doesn’t really matter whether you believe or not,” Long replied.
“How do you know?” Karmilla asked. “How do you know it was a vampire?”
“You can’t be serious!” the drunken man wailed. “It’s a fairy tale!”
“Because I’m a teacher, Madam Karmilla. And this is my field of study.” She stared back at him but said nothing.
Edwards’ eyes pinballed between the passengers. Zaleska stepped forward, running a hand through her gray hair. “Allow me to ask a question that’s pertinent. Captain, when are we getting underway again?”
Edwards cleared his throat. “As soon as the engines are back online, I assure you.” Edwards motioned toward the door leading out of the lounge. “Thank you everyone for your cooperation. At this time, I’m going to ask you to return to your cabins and remain there until we reach Alstus IV.”
Mrs. Burven rose from the sofa, fidgeting with her necklace fretfully. “Is it a good idea to send us to our cabins if there’s a vampire aboard? Wouldn’t it just get us there? One by one?”
Edwards tried to be reassuring. “I will post my people in the corridor for added security. No one will enter your cabin, I promise.”
The passengers made their way to the door, Jette standing by it. “Ms. Zaleska?”
The older woman was the last person in the procession making their way into the corridor. She stepped in front of Jette with bright eyes. “Yes, Captain?”
“Captain Edwards forgot to ask you where you were last night.”
Zaleska opened her mouth to answer but it was Edwards’ voice that boomed out. “Captain Jones! May I have a word?”
Zaleska winked at Jette. “In bed, my dear. Asleep and dreaming of younger days.” She dipped her head and continued through the door.
Edwards’ arms were crossed over his chest, his beard twitching. “We agreed that I would be asking the questions, Captain.”
“You didn’t stop Long when he jumped in,” Jette said dryly.
“The Professor is helping us,” Edwards growled.
“Are we sure of that?” Jette countered. “He admits he wasn’t in his cabin last night. What if he’s the one we’re looking for and offering to help is a way to deflect suspicion?”
“He didn’t even want to come to the assembly,” Edwards seethed. “He wanted to spend the time in his cabin looking through his texts for any information that would help us!”
Jette regarded him for a moment. “With the vampire aware that we’re looking for it, things might get more dangerous.”
“Thank you for your input, Captain.” Edwards brushed past her and walked to the door. “I’ll be sure to take that under advisement.” The doors swished as he exited.
Jette took a frustrated breath and looked at Carpenter. “You can’t think this is a good idea. Just asking the passengers to stay in their cabins isn’t going to stop this creature.”
Carpenter stiffened. “My job is to keep the ship running and to carry out my captain’s orders, Sir.”
Jette smiled gently. “My crew knows they are expected to offer their insight and opinions. If they think I’m missing something I want them to tell me.”
“What do you think Captain Edwards is missing?” Carpenter clasped her hands behind her back.
“We’re headed for an underground city that never sees sunlight. Is it really a good idea to take a ship there with a vampire on board?”
Carpenter thought about that a moment. “If the vampire is so eager to get to Alstus IV, then why did it have Compton sabotage the ship?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Then none of us have all the answers here, do we?” Carpenter took a breath. “And we’re all – all of us – doing the best we can.”
She was interrupted by her hand comp chirping. She tapped at the screen. “Yes, Sir?”
Edwards’ voice was filtered over the small speaker. “Please ask Captain Jones for a repair estimate from her people working on the engines. I’ve switched their hand comps back to their own network.”
“Aye, Sir, I’ll have that for you shortly.” Carpenter tapped the screen again and looked to Jette.
“I’ll find out and let you know,” Jette said. Carpenter nodded and left the observation lounge.
Jette turned to the Vicar. “K’wari, head down to engineering and check in with Flock. Make sure she knows that she needs to be as thorough as possible with the repairs. We don’t want to endanger anyone by not taking all the time necessary to do the job right.”
“Of course, Jette.”
“And send Riesga back up here. I’ve got an assignment for her.”
K’wari’s crimson robes danced in the air as the door swished open and she left Jette alone in the lounge. The Star Ranger looked out the glass wall at the dancing lights of the Sunshower Nebula, one hand cupped her chin, lost in thought.
The doors parted and K’wari entered the engineering control room. Ruk was watching a display and muttering into his hand comp. The Vicar found Riesga pacing at the bottom of the stairs leading up into the engine bay. She climbed down.
“Kanivia, Cap – … Jette would like you to join her in the observation lounge.”
K’wari motioned toward the engines. “How are the repairs proceeding?”
“I think we’re close,” Riesga said, pulling her hair into a ponytail. “There’s not much else I can do at this point. Flock is still putting things back together.”
“How’s she doing?” K’wari asked casually.
“Flock? Good. Actually good, I mean. Repair work must be her zen. She’s the most relaxed I’ve seen her since before … well, since before.”
“And how are you?”
Riesga tried to smile. “I appreciated you trying to help me, K’wari. Really. But I don’t think it’s working. Every time the captain gives me instructions it’s like …” she trailed off, her breathing growing rapid. K’wari could see her cheeks flush. K’wari couldn’t stop herself from looking down at Riesga’s nipples poking out from her tunic.
“It’s going to take time, Kanivia. You can’t feel bad about needing to heal.”
“What I need is to be there for my captain,” Riesga grumbled. “But every time I look at her I …” She fought a head-shake. “Nu Marr really messed me up.”
“Should I tell Jette you need to return to the Artemis?”
“No!” Riesga snapped. “I’ve got this. Observation lounge, right?”
“Riesga? The journey challenges so the destination may enlighten.”
“That from your codex thingy?”
Riesga smiled weakly. “I’ll try to remember that.”
K’wari climbed the steps into the inner mechanical bay. The large space was oddly quiet with the engines shut off. She followed the sound of humming and found Flock running a testing scanner across a bank of connection points.
“Flock? Jette has asked for an estimate on the repair work.”
Cadet Johansen Powers looked up. There were dark circles under her eyes. She hadn’t slept since the distress call had first been picked up. The tired expression gave her smile a strange, dazed quality.
“Mmmm soon. Very soon. Then we can get underway again.” Saying it seemed to make her very happy.
“About that.” K’wari folded her hands into her robes. “Jette needs this to take as long as possible. Edwards wants to leave right away.”
“Why?” Flock frowned, trying to make sense of something.
“Jette needs to buy some time.”
K’wari lowered her voice. “We have reason to think there’s a … a vampire on board.”
Flock’s eyes fluttered. She smiled dazedly. “I knew they were real. I didn’t used to think so but then …”
“Whatever you’re doing now?” K’wari nodded to the scanner in Flock’s hands. “Jette needs for it to take as long as possible. Can you do that?”
“Yes, K’wari.” Flock hummed. “I’ll do it all again. Double-check everything.”
“Good.” Flock headed into the hatch. There was a sound, and K’wari quickly looked over her shoulder. Footfalls on the stairs behind her.
K’wari’s hand went to her rayff and pulled it from her belt. The footsteps were closer now and coming directly toward her. The echoes filled the cavernous engine bay and grew closer as K’wari put her back against some machinery and waited until the footfalls were right on top of her. Then she sprang out into the path of—
“Ohmygods!” Gillerson’s blonde curls flew back.
K’wari deftly returned her weapon to her belt and held up her hands. “Sorry, Gillerson.”
“It’s okay. A little jumpy. I was just coming up to see how Flock is doing on the repairs.”
K’wari nodded toward the open hatch where Flock was scanning. “I think she’s got a bit more to do.”
“You don’t think she’ll mind if I go talk to her?” Gillerson was absentmindedly primping her hair.
K’wari held back a grin. “No, I’m sure she’d love to speak with you.”
Gillerson needed no further encouragement. The blonde curls bounced as she trotted toward Flock.
Tense hours pass, and the crews of the Ceres and Artemis are no closer to exposing the murderer on board …
K’wari was standing beside Ruk flipping switches and tapping away excitedly at screens in Engineering. The displays that had been red before began flashing green. She frowned.
“That’s more like it!” Ruk patted the top of the console.
The Vicar raised her hand comp and called up Flock’s personal channel. Before she could speak there were footsteps on the stairs behind her. Two sets this time.
K’wari found Gillerson’s hair and bosom bouncing freely as she descended, followed by the Star Ranger cadet wearing a dreamy expression. Gillerson went to Ruk just as the sound of engines humming came down the stairwell. The blonde rushed back over and threw her arms around Flock in a tight embrace.
“Thank you so much, Flock! That was amazing work.”
“I loved doing it,” Flock said, her arms hanging at her sides.
Gillerson’s hand comp chirped and she raised it to answer. “Yes, Sir?”
“Crewmate, report to deck three.” It was Captain Edwards’ voice. “You’ll take the next watch in the guest cabin corridor and relieve Hill.”
“Right away, Sir.” Gillerson tapped her comp and beamed at Flock once more. “I’ve got watch duty, but come find me if you have time.” She winked and marched through the doors headed for the lift.
K’wari eyed Flock. “What happened to buying Jette time?”
“I’m sorry, K’wari. She knew I was nearly finished. She told me not to worry about the scanning.”
K’wari sighed. “I better go find Jette and Riesga. Where will you be?”
“I need to go back to the Artemis,” Flock said flatly.
“All right, get cleaned up and I’ll find out what Jette’s plan is.”
The Vicar rushed through the doors. Flock closed her eyes and hummed to herself. “Yes. Oh, yes.”
Ruk looked up from his controls and saw the Star Ranger mechanic still standing by the stairwell. She must’ve been talking to someone on her hand comp. She didn’t seem to notice him as she stood there fidgeting. She finally stopped and exited the control room.
He noticed the pretty Star Ranger had a greasy handprint on the ass of her trousers.
There was a soft chime at the door. Karmilla looked up from the desk comp. “Who is it?”
“Your faithful and willing slave,” a reverent voice replied over the room’s audio system. “I’ve completed my tasks, Goddess.”
She grinned and went to the door. She paused there and closed her eyes. Focusing herself inward, she tightened and then released the muscles at the base of her neck, sending a fresh cloud of her pheromones into the air. She shook the eager smile from her face and composed her features into a mask of stern indifference which, she knew, would only stoke the fires of her slave’s raging lust.
Karmilla pressed the button and the door swished open. Her slave’s eyes widened at the sight of her in the golden, sheer robe that barely concealed her luscious curves and the thick, dark nipples topping her exquisite breasts. She watched as the pheromones hit and reveled in the unconscious intake of breath that drew even more her into his already addicted brain.
“Good evening, boy. Is your husband sleeping soundly?” she purred.
The youthful Mr. Chammel nodded eagerly. “Yes, Goddess, I made him the tea again.”
“Good. Then he won’t be able to interfere with what I have planned for you next.” She took a step back and motioned him into the room. The young man stepped over the threshold and the door sealed shut behind him. “You were awfully bold with the professor earlier. I was worried someone might suspect why you were so eager to come to my defense.”
“He isn’t worthy to breathe the same oxygen as you, Goddess,” Chammel said reverently. “I couldn’t stand him questioning you like that.”
She smiled and went to a drawer, rummaging for something. “Are you sure your husband wasn’t suspicious?”
“No, Goddess. He doesn’t know that you’ve enslaved me. That I … belong to you now.”
Karmilla smiled, showing her gleaming teeth. “I told you, boy, that first night. By the time this voyage was over you’d be my loyal slave. That you’d betray him for me.” She pulled her hand from the drawer and turned to him. It was covered in a black viscous liquid that reflected light like latex and crawled slowly down her arm like thick honey.
It was alive.
His eyes saw the slowly oozing “glove” and smiled strangely at her. She flexed her wrist and the living black ooze dripped to the floor and began sliding toward him as if flowing downhill. “Take off your clothes, boy.”
The young man ripped his shirt open and tossed it aside, followed by everything else. Karmilla smiled and let the golden robe drop from her shoulders. Her olive skin glistened in the light. Chammel’s eyes were between her legs – a thick, throbbing cock jutting out in front of him.
“Beautiful,” he whispered in a high-pitched tone.
She stepped closer, her cock bobbed enticingly, focused on controlling her black, fluid pet. It was just intelligent enough to sense and respond to her thoughts. Her latest slave had experienced a taste or two of what it could do.
Last night in the rec lounge, far from the ears of the other passengers, she’d directed the ooze to cover his cock and asshole. While it cravenly molested him, she fucked his eager mouth over and over. All the while he’d been breathing in lungfuls of her most potent pheromones.
He was, literally, her cock addict now.
The ooze reached his feet and she bade it wait there. She wanted him to anticipate his reward. Make him all the more needful to earn it. Her eyes roamed over his flawless, smooth body. So thin and supple. Unblemished by age. As she looked at him, now, in the light of her cabin she realized that there was a more feminine quality to him than she’d noticed before.
She called out with her mind to the ooze as it flowed up his legs. But slowly. Tantalizingly. She looked into his eyes, and again found herself realizing he was far more pretty than she’d recalled. And hadn’t his eyes been a warm gray? Not the deep pools of black floating in her vision now?
“Several of them think you’re the vampire, you know,” he said. There was a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “Some of them have quite a clear mental image of you sucking down Compton’s blood.”
“I have a very clear image of you sucking me, slave boy.” Her cock twitched eagerly. She glanced down and realized the ooze hadn’t flowed onto him as she’d commanded. She narrowed her eyes and focused her thoughts on it. Why was it being so stubborn all of a sudden?
He knelt in front of her, exhaling cold breath onto her cock. She moaned at the sensation. Her blood was thundering through her veins. The ooze was still on the floor at their feet.
What’s wrong with it?
She tasted the air with her tongue, and the sourness, the vile scent made her eyes go wide. A moment of panic.
It senses the danger you can’t. A sultry and powerful voice answered back inside her head. It was as if a cord had been pulled. Her eyes went soft and lazy.
Then his mouth engulfed her cock. She moaned from the pit of her stomach. Her hands fell to her sides uselessly as every cell in her body fought the urge to cum right then.
As she was relentlessly sucked off, there was precious little coherent thought in her mind. Without her guidance, the black ooze pet rapidly retreated across the floor, up the wall and back into the drawer where it lived.
You’re perfect. The voice continued. They will capture you and have no doubts that they’ve saved themselves from the wicked vampire.
Karmilla gasped as molten pleasure boiled inside her.
And once they have you, they will stop looking for me.
He pulled back and looked up. Karmilla’s mouth hung open in a pleading groan as she silently begged for his mouth on her once again. It was only when he opened his mouth and revealed his fangs that the vampire let Karmilla see its true form.
“You’re sooooo beautiful!” Karmilla whispered dreamily. The vampire’s mouth closed over her cock once more and then fangs pierced her flesh. The alien woman screamed in pain even as she orgasmed like a dying star.
Gillerson snapped to attention in the corridor on level three. She listened intently. The sound was aft. It may have been a hiss in one of the fuel lines. The crew always joked about how they sounded like a woman having a very good time. But what if it was something else?
She moved cautiously down the corridor, her every heartbeat seemed as loud as … footsteps! Someone was coming. She could hear footfalls from around the corner. She snatched the stunner from her belt and crept forward. The sound was closer now. Steady, thumping.
Gillerson didn’t feel brave enough to leap around the corner the way the Vicar of Yasu had done earlier in Engineering. Instead, she flattened herself against the wall with her arm extended. She’d see them before they saw they her. Then she could squeeze off —
“I’m not a vampire, crewmate.”
“Uh … who is that?”
“It’s Captain Jones.”
“Oh gods, sorry, Captain.” Gillerson lowered her arm and took a deep breath.
“Don’t be sorry for being at the ready,” Jette said as she appeared around the corner. “Though next time you might want to pick a different ambush spot. This one gave you away.” She nodded at a dim display on the wall opposite Gillerson. The dark panel reflected Jette back to her.
Gillerson chuckled and replaced the stunner on her belt. “If I’d been paying more attention, I would’ve been using that to watch for you. Although it might not have helped with a vampire. Isn’t there something about them being invisible in reflections?”
“An excellent question. I should ask Professor Long. I’ve come to speak with him.”
Gilleson frowned. “I’m not sure if that’s allowed, Captain. Normally during quarantine we don’t allow the guests to receive visitors. Unless it’s an emergency.”
Jette put her hands on her hips. “Crewmate, your engineer is dead. Your ship was crippled in space and we very possibly have a vampire on board. I think this qualifies as an emergency.”
When Gillerson didn’t say anything, Jette started to walk past her but the blonde crewmate stepped in front of her. “W-with respect, Sir,” Gillerson stuttered. “I’ll need to escort you.”
Jette nodded and let Gillerson lead her to one of the arched doors. The crewmate pressed a small plate on the white surface and a soft chime sounded.
“Professor Long? Crewmate Gillerson here. Captain Jones would like a word, if that’s all right?”
The door slid open and Professor Long’s handsome face peered out at them. “Captain? I am delighted to see you again. How may I be of service?”
“I thought it was time we had a long conversation.”
Long stepped to the side and waved Jette in.
“I’ll be out here if you need anything,” Gillerson offered helpfully as the door slid shut.
Jette slowly paced through his cabin, examining the art he’d selected for the in-room screens to display. She came to a stop, pointing at one of them.
“Is this baroque? Earth?”
“Ah!” Long smiled as he moved to join her. “That’s an exceptionally good guess. This is actually a very early Urkillian art movement. But their geology is remarkably similar to Earth. Hence, their innovation in pigments followed a comparable course. Remarkably, their style also overlapped your early artists. Technology driving creativity. As it always does.”
He admired Jette’s body as she examined the painting. “Perhaps I’ll let you get me drunk and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Jette sighed. “Now seems an inopportune time.”
Long’s eyes sparkled. “I always have time for wine and beautiful women.”
Jette winked. “Me too.”
“Oh, damn and blast.” He walked across the room and dropped into a chair in the sitting area visibly deflated. “Alas. How may I help?”
Jette squared her shoulders at him. “You can start by proving to me that you aren’t the vampire.”
Long looked amused. “I’m not sure how I can do that. I’m not. But … I don’t know if there’s anything that you can do other than trust I’m telling the truth.” Then his mouth curled into a smile. “I’m so very jealous of the beautiful women who catch your eye, Captain Jones. What a thing it must be to know you.”
Jette sat slowly on the couch, her hand casually resting on the butt of her rayvolver. “I need to know how to identify the vampire. Did you find anything in your texts?”
“Matter of fact I did.” Long reached over to a nearby table and retrieved a reading module. “There are many accounts of vampires appearing in various forms: animals, mist or smoke, humanoids, humanoids with wings and other animal qualities.”
Jette frowned. “There are several shape-changing species but they can’t do all that.”
“It didn’t make sense to me either,” Long said reaching for a different module. “Until I found this. This is an account — comes from a binary star system not too far from where you earthlings hail — that describes the vampire as a ‘mind shifter.’”
“What does that mean?” Jette took the offered module and skimmed over it.
“In the native language the word is very descriptive. It means the vampire clouds the minds of those it encounters. They see who or what it wants them to see.”
“Like a pretty face,” Jette offered.
“Or a familiar one. Or nothing at all.” Long sat back. “I suspect this highly developed adaptation makes the vampire especially well-suited for predation.”
“How would you even … If you had three victims that all saw the creature and survived they’d all see something different. No matter how many people —” She stopped suddenly, looking gravely at Long.
“What is it?”
“Alstus IV. The population is in the millions there. If the vampire reaches the city … I don’t think it will ever be caught.”
The Professor nodded grimly. “A city with visitors constantly streaming in that’s also subterranean. It’s the perfect hunting ground.”
Jette hopped to her feet. “I have to speak with Captain Edwards.”
“I’m coming too!” Professor Long hurried behind her. She turned and put her hand on his chest.
“No. Stay in your quarters, Professor. Thanks for your help. But I’ll handle this.”
Gillerson didn’t have any problems staying on the alert as she guarded the hallway of the passengers’ quarters. She was clearly nervous.
She lifted her hand comp to key open the voice channel when she heard a woman shriek just to her left. Gillerson jumped and turned. It was Madam Karmilla’s cabin. Her hand trembled as she walked to the door and reached out to tap the control plate.
“Madam Karmilla? I thought I heard you shout. Is everything alright?”
Gillerson listened. She heard heavy breathing. Then a voice. “We’re just lovely.”
“Is someone else in there?“
The door slid open. Gillerson’s hand went to her belt, searching for the stunner in its pouch. Her hand fumbled as she caught sight of two perfect nude bodies glistening on the couch inside Karmilla’s cabin. One pair of legs disentangled from the other. Long blonde hair and a perfect, toned ass. The woman turned around.
It was Flock.
Gillerson’s breath caught in her chest. Her hand froze as the nude Star Ranger cadet stalked toward her. Her lips were covered in deep red lipstick and curled in a smile.
“Just the crewmate I was looking for.” Flock reached out and took hold of Gillerson’s belt. She pulled her into the room.
“F-flock?” The door slid shut behind her. “W-what are you …” Her eyes found Karmilla splayed on the couch. The woman’s cock was slick and thick and pointed straight at the ceiling. It twitched slightly with each beat of the alien woman’s heart.
“Shhhhh.” Flock put a finger to Gillerson’s lips. It smelled of sex and something else. “I have a surprise for you.” She again pulled Gillerson by her belt to the couch. Then she flicked her wrist and the belt thumped softly on the carpet. Flock reached up and took hold of the zipper on Gillerson’s uniform and began sliding it down ever so slowly.
Karmilla’s eyes were glassy and unfocused. Gillerson realized she was saying something. Panting words. The crewmate’s fingers twitched, willing her arms to move, but they stubbornly refused to comply. She turned back to Flock. “W-what are you doing here? I mean, I’ve been on watch. When did you — ooOOooooOoooh!”
Gillerson moaned as Flock yanked the zipper down and her breasts spilled out, her nipples were thick and throbbing in the warm air. Flock leaned down to kiss them. Her lipstick instantly smeared. Gillerson gasped as she felt teeth nibbling deliciously at her sensitive buds. Her eyes rolled up into her head as Flock’s hands swiftly pulled the rest of her clothes down.
Gillerson opened her eyes and dimly registered that Flock’s lipstick was not lipstick. She felt a pleasant pressure in her left breast as Flock clamped down with her jaw. A sharp sting. Liquid ecstasy poured from the two wounds on each side of Gillerson’s nipple.
The blonde crewmate felt the penetration like electricity running through her stomach and straight to her pussy. She moaned hotly and grabbed Flock’s head as the Star Ranger flicked her tongue against the pulsing nipple.
Gillerson’s eyes caught Karmilla’s. The alien woman was pumping her cock in slow, firm strokes as she watched them. Gillerson felt wetness and her head flopped down. There was a thin stream of blood running from her nipple to her belly button.
A different face, with gleaming red eyes, looked up at her and grinned, exposing red-tipped fangs.
“You?!” Gillerson whimpered. Mesmerized by those eyes, the vampire slowly eased the blonde to the couch, then pressed her down onto Karmilla’s waiting cock.
Jette was about to enter the lift to the bridge when she heard running feet.
“Captain Jones!” Carpenter called. Riesga was jogging beside her.
Mid-stride, Riesga doubled over, her knees pinching together. Carpenter stopped and put her hand on her shoulder. “You okay?”
“I’m good!” Riesga forced the words out as the climax hit its peak.
Jette allowed the lift doors to close without her as she moved toward them. She knew why her first mate was shuddering. “What is it?”
It took Riesga a couple of deep breaths before composing herself. The sudden orgasm was the strongest yet. “Captain. Ruk found this in one of the disposal units in Engineering. It’s Flock’s.” She handed the hand comp to Jette. “Her tool bag was with it. And I can’t find Epsilon anywhere. She was standing watch outside the Artemis. And there’s no way she would abandon her post.”
Jette couldn’t contain a heavy sigh. Carpenter stepped close.
“Captain Jones … there are a couple of things you should know.”
Riesga could see the tendons tightening on Jette’s neck. “Tell me. Now.”
“Something Captain Edwards didn’t mention to you, but I feel you must know.”
“Spit it out, Commander.”
“This cruise ship. It can carry a passenger load of about 20 or 25. A week before our departure from Omicron-12, which is one of our main ports of call, a party of eight abruptly cancelled. No reason given.”
“Okay. What else?”
“The Ceres’ crew compliment is ordinarily nine, including a medical doctor and an assistant, who normally tends to dietary requirements of the passengers or administers mild space sickness cures. Things like that.
“The day before we left, both of them came down with a sudden illness. I don’t know what. Captain Edwards didn’t want to delay the other passengers’ itinerary, so we left without replacements. I assumed the captain told you when he allowed K’wari to examine Compton’s body.”
“He also didn’t … Captain, I just found this out.” Carpenter’s face flushed. Jette nodded for her to continue. “Other than sending out the general distress signal, Captain Edwards failed to send distress calls to Omicron-12, the starliner company or the Star Ranger Corps.” Carpenter dropped her eyes. “I’m sorry, Captain. I never would have allowed that to happen had I known.”
“So instead of a ship with 24 on board, you had only 14.” Then Jette whispered, almost to herself. “Thinning the herd.”
Captain Jette Jones leaned back slowly against the bulkhead and closed her eyes. In all her years in the Star Ranger Corps, she couldn’t remember feeling this way – of seething anger … and helpless fear about what may have happened to two of her crew – her friends – Epsilon and Flock.
Carpenter and Riesga stared at her, then at each other, before Jette stood tall and straight. Her eyes opened and fixed on Carpenter.
“You know what’s going to happen.”
Carpenter clasped her hands behind her back. “Yes, Sir.”
“Let’s have a talk with Captain Edwards.”
“Prepare to get underway, helmsman.”
“Belay that order.”
Jette’s voice was not quite a shout but all heads snapped toward her as she entered the bridge. “Captain Edwards, you cannot take this ship to Alstus IV.”
“The destination of this ship is not within your purview, Captain,” Edwards growled.
“You cannot put more lives at risk.“
Edwards face was turning red. “You are endangering the lives on this ship by refusing to—“
“Captain Edwards!” Jette’s voice rose with each syllable. “We have the creature contained here! The closer we get to Alstus, the more danger you put us all in.“
“I do NOT answer to you!” Edwards puffed his chest, leaning into her.
Jette stared him down until he slowly backed away, aware of the eyes upon him.
“My employers own this vessel and it is my duty to command it in accordance with their wishes.” Edwards’ voice gradually returned to its typical calm and professional tone. “And their orders are to proceed to Alstus. Captain Jones, I thank you for your help with our engine trouble. Please collect your crew and return to your vessel.
“Helm, full power to engines. Course heading Alstus IV.”
Carpenter’s eyes were pleading to Jette, but the Star Ranger was already stepping up onto the command dais. “Captain Edwards of the privately held craft, Ceres,” Jette said formally. “By the authority granted me in the Galactic Systems League’s charter governing intersolar space, you are relieved of command.”
The bridge fell silent. Helmsman Franco froze.
“I assume control of this vessel, as of now. The first officer shall make a note in the ship’s log.”
Carpenter took a deep breath. “Aye, Sir.”
Edwards rounded on her. “I am your commanding officer!” His hands swung wildly in the air before her face. “This is mutiny!”
“Captain, please.” Carpenter tried to calm him down with raised hands. “She has the legal authority.“
“Captain Edwards,” Jette cut in, her voice calm and steady. “You will return to your cabin and confine yourself there.”
Edwards looked at the faces of his subordinates, his beard twitching. He opened his mouth to speak but stopped. He stepped past Jette and went to the lift, trying to keep his head high. He kept his back to the bridge as the doors closed behind him.
It was purely happenstance that K’wari opened the equipment locker in the Artemis’ command module to check the weapons count.
The hand that fell out as the door opened was grayish white, the fingers already stiff with rigor mortis.
It was Mr. Chammel, the younger.
K’wari closed her eyes in meditative prayer. When they opened again, and it was as if she was discovering him for the first time, she muttered, “Looks like something drank you for a change.”
She thought of contacting Jette, but first things first. She sat down in Jette’s command chair. She referred to her hand comp, Jette’s instructions had been very precise.
“Computer,” she began, “identify K’wari, ship’s medic, authorization Jones, alpha three seven lambda.” She glanced down at the small command console built into the right arm of Jette’s chair. K’wari pressed her thumb and fingers into the array of colored buttons, chording the particular five that secretly served as Jette’s unlock code.
“K’wari Identified,” the computer’s voice responded. “Command override recognized. Proceed.”
K’wari cleared her throat. “Revoke command and control access, ship’s personnel. Powers, recognize. Epsilon, recognize.”
“Personnel recognized,” the computer stated. “Revoke all command and control access for Powers, Epsilon from Star Ranger craft Artemis III. Do you wish to proceed?”
“No, she doesn’t.”
K’wari spun in the chair and was on her feet in an instant. Her staff hissed as the two telescoping, weighted ends sprang open. She held the chrome rayff in front of her and planted her feet for combat.
“You are not Flock,” she stated plainly to the blonde-haired woman at the cockpit door.
Flock smiled back. “Is that who you see? Sometimes I can draw out a very clear image from a mind. Show them a distinct person exactly as they picture them in their thoughts.”
The woman who was not Flock stepped forward casually. K’wari shifted the rayff and her fighting stance into something better suited for combat in close confines.
“Other times I simply direct them to see me as their long lost love, their fantasy lover, their dead friend.” The vampire smiled with Flock’s face. The fangs extended and gleamed in the light. “I told your mind to see the person you were most afraid to lose.”
K’wari scoffed, shaking her head. “You will find my mind is more disciplined than those you have previously encountered. And I would be concerned to lose any of my shipmates.”
“But none so much as Flock,” the vampire said cooly. “Your feelings are very complicated where she is concerned. I can feel them twisting over themselves like viper vines in a frenzy. Love, hate, anger, lust … you’d be surprised how similar they taste to me.”
“Where are they?!” Only the vampiric grin answered. “You murdered Chief Compton. You must answer for that death, but I will personally see that your punishment is just. If you surrender now.”
“Does the raptor murder the mouse it snatches from the tall grass, Vicar of Yasu?”
K’wari spun the rayff in her hand and held it before her. “I can see nothing to be gained from speaking with you further.”
The vampire seemed pleased. “Really? I was thinking just the opposite.” K’wari heard her own words on the Te’ Sareez Space Station spoken back to her. With Flock.
The creature stepped forward and K’wari felt darkness closing in around her. The lights and sounds of the cockpit were still there, but they seemed farther away than before. “Look into my eyes, K’wari.”
The Vicar steeled herself and focused on the vampire’s hands, empty and open, determined not to comply.
“You cannot avoid me,” the vampire said. “Your mind is too well trained not to observe. To read all the ways someone tells you their innermost thoughts without speaking.”
K’wari watched the vampire’s pink tongue work against the back of her teeth. It reminded her of pussy. Of Flock’s dripping sex, quivering above her eyes and grinding down on her face as they both drowned in pleasure as the brainwashed slaves of Queen Zeta.
K’wari caught herself and looked up. The vampire had taken another step toward her. It was smiling wide now. A smile Flock never showed. A white storm of teeth growing closer in the dim light.
“Stop this,” she said firmly, her rayff pointing upward to strike.
“You cannot resist,” the vampire purred. “My will is stronger than yours.”
The rayff trembled in K’wari’s hand. “No.”
“You do not want to fight me. Not really. But you do enjoy a bit of struggle before you surrender. Such delicious foreplay.” The vampire’s hands moved in a blur and Flock’s beige pants slipped to the ground with a whisper. “You don’t want to resist me because I can offer the one thing you can never give yourself.”
The cockpit was spinning in K’wari’s vision. She turned her head, desperate to block the seductive thought waves the vampire leveled at her mind.
“You will never give yourself permission to be a slave to your desires, K’wari.” The vampire held out a hand. The nails were razor sharp talons. Flock’s face slowly transformed into another woman – light-skinned, red, inviting lips. The hood of the vampire had been pulled back, her hair a deep black with wisps of white running through it.
“But I will. I will allow you to be the creature of lust you long to be. I will command it of you. You will have no choice but to do my bidding and surrender to your weeping, throbbing sex.”
K’wari moaned. She heard the rayff clatter onto the deck plates as if it were happening in a hazy memory. Her hands were inside her robes, touching herself. Her flesh was hot and eager. She breathed through trembling lips as the vampire stepped closer. She could see endless constellations of time within the black orbs.
“My words are the fingers upon your flesh,” the vampire whispered. K’wari’s hands danced between her legs. “My thoughts are your thoughts.”
K’wari groaned and shook her head weakly.
“My will overcomes your will. My will consumes your will. Like your needy sex consumes questing fingers.”
K’wari realized she was fucking her hand – damning herself in her mind – her whole body thrusting back and forth as her drooling lips left a trail of glistening lust around her hips. Her pants around her knees.
The vampire motioned with her hand and K’wari’s crimson robe slipped from her shoulders. “K’wari … look into my eyes.”
K’wari moaned and realized she already was.
“My eyes. Your fate lies within them.”
In the black orbs growing closer, K’wari could see herself. Her face was a mask of lust. She felt black straps and silver shackles binding her body. Her taught muscles flexed uselessly in the imaginary restraints. Her limbs stretched to their limit in a relentless nightmare of bondage.
She heard herself howl with a voice that was utterly lost. She saw the reflection of her own eyes and the freedom her captivity offered her in the mental bonds. Zaleska took hold of the leash around K’wari’s neck that felt so real, so arousing.
K’wari whined as she orgasmed on her hand. She would have collapsed to the floor if the vampire’s strong hands had not held her upright. “Please!” she howled. “This cannot be happening!”
Tears streamed down her face. “Please, please.”
The vampire’s face was close. She was so much more beautiful. Ancient and wise. Stronger than gravity and time and as relentless as entropy itself. There was no escape. And when K’wari’s mind realized the truth, she came again.
“Please what?” Zaleska smiled with glee, her once-silver hair darker and richer than when K’wari had first seen her. The lines of her face less clear. How gorgeous and youthful she was becoming.
Still, K’wari forced her eyes away … just as Zaleska planned. There, before her, were Flock and Epsilon.
“Join us, K’wari,” Epsilon said in a voice unfamiliar.
Flock and Epsilon turned to each other and began kissing deeply, their bodies pressed tightly together.
“Join me,” Zaleska teased, “and they both shall be yours.”
She weakly saw Epsilon turn to her. Her evil smile. Fangs slowly drawing ever closer to Flock’s neck.
K’wari looked away and her eyes fell into the piercing red before her, bleeding through the black pupils. She sensed their hunger. She felt the tightening of the imaginary strap around her neck and tilted her head, moving the hair off her throat. Its artery pulsing with need.
“Please … bite me.”
To be concluded next month!