Two dead, three missing and the vampire still on the loose, Captain Jones and Lt. Riesga must summon all their courage and skill to battle an adversary so close yet so elusive …
The late Mr. Chammel’s mouth was open, his light-pink tongue cast to one side.
He wasn’t broken and folded up like Compton. The vampire wanted him found.
Jette entered the empty command module fully, noticing K’wari’s hand comp on the arm of her command chair. Lt. Kanivia Riesga stepped around the body carefully.
“The command control program is still running. Can’t take any chances now. I’ll have to add K’wari to the restricted list.”
Riesga’s eyes were drawn to the vacant chairs of her shipmates. Her throat was too dry to force a swallow.
“Riesga,” Jette said grimly, “check the engines. Then do a quick run-through of the crew quarters. I don’t think you’ll find anyone, but look for anything out of the ordinary.”
“Yes, Sir.” Riesga paused. “It should have been me.” Her voice was shaky. “I’m the Star Ranger officer. I should have been here instead of K’wari. And I should have been guarding the Artemis. Not Epsilon.”
“No,” Jette said firmly. “Lieutenant. Right now? There’s no one else I’d rather have with me.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Now, step to it. I want you back here in 10.”
Riesga tried not to show the tingling, obedient shudder her body could not prevent – even under these dire circumstances – as she hurried out of the CM.
Jette ran a quick systems check, finding nothing out of the ordinary. She was pressing buttons in frustration at Flock’s console as Riesga re-entered the cockpit.
“I can’t seem to get comms working. We need to get a distress call out to the SRC.”
“Comms are out, Captain,” Riesga said, catching her breath. “The antenna for the Astro-band radio has been broken off. Intentionally.”
“I should have expected that,” Jette muttered.
“I also went to the med lab and ran a lifescan on the ship. There’s no one here. But us.”
“Engines looked okay to me, Sir.”
“At least the playback is working. We can get a view of what happened in here.”
The main viewer popped on. It was Jette, alone in the CM, minutes before. She hit the rewind …
There was movement – K’wari – and Jette rewound the viewer to the exact time she entered the ship. She found Chammel, but his body was obscured. The equipment lockers were half-blocked by the wall leading to the main hatch. After a moment, she entered the CM and moved to the command chair. Jette turned up the volume.
Riesga and her captain heard K’wari order the computer to revoke systems access to Flock and Epsilon.
Then the computer’s response: “Do you wish to proceed?”
K’wari spun out of the chair, her rayff at the ready. “You are not Flock.”
Flock? Jette moved toward the viewing screen with Riesga at her shoulder. K’wari was talking with someone. But she was alone on the video.
“Gillerson was right,” Jette said, “the vampire doesn’t cast a reflection, doesn’t show up on video.”
“And can look like Flock,” Riesga added in disbelief. “But why can’t we hear it talking?”
Jette’s looked at her. “Professor Lóng said the vampire could cloud the minds of its victims. K’wari must be hearing it inside her head.” She turned back to the screen.
“Stop this … No …”
K’wari’s rayff slipped from her fingers. Jette looked down. There, under Epsilon’s console, was the staff. She picked it up and attached the retracted rayff to her belt. She was almost afraid to look up again. On the screen she could see K’wari’s body tremble. Mindlessly pulling down her pants and rubbing herself with an entranced urgency. Her robes peeled from her shoulders by an invisible hand.
“This cannot be happening!”
K’wari’s wail made Jette grab the railing tightly, desperate to save her friend from something that had already occurred. K’wari’s head turned.
Jette’s voice made Riesga jump. “There’s someone else there! Damn camera doesn’t cover that corner of the room!”
“Oh, jeez, is it Flock?” Riesga shouted.
The two Rangers stared helplessly at the inevitable.
“Please … bite me.”
K’wari’s eyes drifted upward, a blissful exhale left her lips as she slowly pirouetted to the floor as if in slow motion. Minutes passed, the two Star Rangers stared wide-eyed at the screen. Then K’wari’s half-naked body rose into the air, held by invisible hands, and floated across the module before disappearing through the hatch.
Jette turned off the recorder, tugged her tunic sharply and turned to Riesga. She dared not show her junior officer her true emotions. She nodded toward the body sticking out of the walkway. “Alright. Let’s get Mr. Chammel’s body to the med lab. And then go get Professor Lóng to examine him. Although I suspect he’ll come to the same determination we did about Compton.”
They looked down at the bloodless body. Jette sighed heavily. “Whatever this thing is, it’s moving around out in the open and has attacked five people in 24 hours.” She looked at Riesga evenly. “Flock, or something that looks like Flock, may be helping it out.”
“Same cause, same effect, Captain.”
Professor Lóng held up Mr. Chammel’s penis like it was a disappointingly overcooked, 200-credit entrée. Riesga was at the medicomp trying to make sense of the scanning bed’s data. She wished K’wari was there.
“Anything different?” Jette asked, knowing the answer. Lóng shrugged.
“Captain, there is something different.” Riesga pointed to the display. Lóng moved quickly to join her, running over the medical data quickly. “What is that?”
Lóng nodded to himself and stepped back. “That, my dear girl, is cum.”
“What’s different about that,” Jette asked as she crossed the room. “Compton produced a lot of that.”
Lóng turned to her and leaned against the medicomp unit. He smiled smugly as he folded his arms. “Not this kind, Captain. Personally, I’ve never seen anything quite like it, but it is my educated opinion that poor Mr. Chammel’s penis is covered in the orgasm-induced secretions of our vampire. I’m only guessing here, you understand, but I am usually right. Our vampire is female.”
The door swished open and Captain Edwards and Commander Carpenter strode in.
“You asked for me, Captain?” Edwards said tightly.
“Yes, thank you, Captain. We need all hands on deck right now. As I feared, the situation is escalating. We’ve got another murder on our hands and another member of my crew is missing. On top of that, the Artemis’ comm system is down.”
Carpenter stepped forward. “I was just coming to see you, Sir. The Ceres’ radio array has been sabotaged. Comms out.”
Before either captain could speak, Mr. Chammel entered, escorted by Gillerson. The scales of his blue-skinned body sharp and defined. He paused only a moment, before moving toward the table. Jette carefully pulled up the sheet around his torso.
He looked forlornly at his husband, blanched and rigid. His eyes softened.
“Oh, my reckless, young love …” he whispered. Jette studied his face. He looked more resigned than distraught. There were no tears. He brushed the cheek of his husband gently. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let this happen.”
Jette took careful steps toward him. “Excuse me, Mr. Chammel. I know this is difficult. But what do you mean exactly? This was the act of a ruthless and dangerous creature. It’s not your fault.”
Chammel’s weak smile was meant for her, but he didn’t look at her. “I knew no good would come of it. But I loved him too much to say anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“That woman. I knew she was trouble. He’s strayed before but … he always came back to me. This time, I knew something was different.”
Chammel looked at Jette and his face hardened. “The madame. Karmilla. She seduced my dear love. He thought I didn’t know. But …” His eyes fell upon lifeless body of his husband. “She tried to have him drug me, so I would sleep through their unions. But I have been around far too long to fall for that. My eleventh husband did the same.” A tear fell. “It is a curse to live as long as I.”
Professor Lóng’s mouth formed a silent whistle.
Jette pulled him toward a quiet corner of the room. “Has your research yielded any information about how to incapacitate a vampire? Beyond concentrated sunlight?”
Lóng lowered his voice. “As a matter of fact I may have just the thing. The servitor in my room is synthesizing something as we speak. A potent weapon, I hope.”
“Why don’t you go get back to that. Time is crucial.”
Lóng bowed and quickly exited.
“Anything I can do to help, Captain?” Gillerson was at Jette’s elbow, her blonde curls matted against her head.
“Head to Karmilla’s cabin and wait for us.” She released the catch on her holster. “Time to have a conversation with the madame.”
Jette turned the corner, flanked by Carpenter and Riesga, as they approached Gillerson, who stood to one side of an arched doorway. Jette pulled her rayvolver from its holster and nodded to Gillerson.
The crewmate cleared her throat and tapped the door plate. “Madame Karmilla? Captain Jones would like a word.”
The group stood in silence waiting for a reply.
“Give me a minute. I can override the door.” Carpenter tapped at her hand comp. “Almost there.”
Jette raised her pistol. As soon as the door hissed open she moved into the room, keeping her weapon at eye level. Riesga glided in behind her, covering the bathroom door to their right. She peeked in and shook her head at Jette.
“Blast it, now where’s she gotten to?” Jette returned her rayvovler to its holster. “Let’s have a look around. See if anything points to where Karmilla might be now.”
Carpenter began opening the inset drawers set into the wall. They were, mercifully, free of corpses this time.
“Nothing over here,” Gillerson called as she examined the sofa in the sitting area.
Riesga sat at the desk and examined the comp unit sitting there. It had been left on and there was a list on the screen. “Captain, I might have something.”
“Woah!” Carpenter exclaimed, leaping backward and pointing at a small drawer she’d opened. “There’s something in there.”
Jette moved to the drawer and looked inside. There was a small, translucent transit case. One side of the tube was open and within it was a trembling black ooze. It pressed itself backwards into the case as Jette leaned closer. “Oh!” Jette held up her empty hands. “It’s all right. I won’t hurt you.”
“Is that thing … alive?!” Carpenter whispered from behind Jette’s shoulder.
Jette nodded as she slowly extended one hand, palm turned up, toward the drawer. “It’s a glushang. Some people keep them as pets. They’re semi-telepathic and often bond with their companions.”
Carpenter watched as Jette tried to coax out the ooze.
“This one is very skittish,” Jette said quietly. “Might be best to leave it be for now. Don’t want to traumatize it.” She made a show of withdrawing her hand. “I’m going to close up your drawer now,” she spoke gently to the glushang. She tapped the plate and the drawer retracted into the wall.
Carpenter eyed Jette. “Could it … tell us where Karmilla is?”
“It doesn’t have language, exactly. They can use imagery to convey things. If we could get it calm.“
“Captain?” Riesga looked up from the desk comp. “Uh, you might want to look at this, Sir.”
Carpenter followed Jette to the desk and they looked over Riesga’s shoulders at a list of messages.
“Look at some of these.” Riesga tapped the screen and called up a series of missives. “Goddess I have obeyed, Goddess I am your servant. Goddess I belong to you.” Riesga pointed as she quoted from the messages. “There’s days worth of these. Maybe this is what Mr. Chammel was talking about. Karmilla seducing his husband.”
“These could be from Compton.” Carpenter leaned down. “She could’ve coerced him sexually into sabotaging the ship.”
“These could be from anyone,” Jette said. “But they definitely came from onboard the Ceres. Have everyone on alert and report in if she’s spotted. We don’t want anyone confronting her alone.”
Carpenter tapped at her hand comp. “What do we do if she is spotted?”
“I’m hoping Professor Long will have an answer to that.” Jette moved to the door with the others falling into step behind her. “Is there an empty container in the cargo hold? Something we could use to hold this creature?” Jette turned left in the corridor and steered the group toward Professor Long’s cabin.
“We’ve got a brig. Room for one,” Carpenter said. “We’ve never had to use it.”
“The problem is getting it in there,” Riesga added.
Jette stopped at Long’s cabin and tapped the button – the unlocked door opened to reveal a horrific sight.
Professor Long was on his knees, his shirt was ripped open displaying an impressively muscled chest. His eyes were vacant and unfocused as he groaned unintelligibly. He was bleeding from his face. He had been savagely beaten. Standing behind him was Karmilla. Her tongue full of his blood as she licked across the side of his face.
“Riesga, on the line!” Jette shouted as she rushed into the room, fixing Karmilla in her rayvolver’s sight.
Kanivia’s legs wobbled as she gritted her teeth and rode out the wave of pleasure from Jette’s command. She already had her rayvolver out and pointed up as she raced through the door and joined her captain. Carpenter and Gillerson followed with their stunner units drawn and trained on Karmilla.
The four women stood shoulder to shoulder opposite the vampire.
“Let him go!” Jette barked.
Karmilla hissed in response, her head snapping to face Jette.
“Surrender now and you won’t be harmed,” Jette said firmly. Karmilla bared her fangs and growled as she took a step forward, almost pushing Long away as he collapsed.
There was a burst of light and heat as Jette fired her rayvovler. Riesga fired a heartbeat later. Karmilla convulsed as both shots hit the center of her chest. Then she straightened and looked into Jette’s eyes. She smiled like a wolf.
Carpenter couldn’t stop her “uh-oh.”
“Fire!” Jette yelled. Riesga and Carpenter unloaded their weapons at the vampire. Gillerson crept back to a corner and lowered her weapon.
Karmilla’s body twisted and shook as the blasts hit her… then she took another step forward. Her eyes locked on Carpenter. The Ceres commander yelped as a cold hand suddenly closed around her neck! The grip was like a vice. She was yanked forward then slammed into the cabin wall!
She coughed as the wind rushed out of her. Karmilla held her against the wall, the alien’s hand still clamped around her throat. Carpenter’s boots dangled over the floor. Karmilla’s mouth dropping open to reveal her gleaming fangs.
Jette spun the dial on her weapon, rolled into a kneeling position trying to get a clear shot. Her brown hair fell across her eyes as she drew the weapon up and aimed. Jette blew the strands away from her eyes and squeezed the trigger.
Carpenter could feel Karmilla’s fangs pressing into her throat when the photon charge slammed into the vampire. She screamed and dropped the first officer, who crumpled. Karmilla turned on Jette and was on top of her in an instant! Her sharp nails in front of her face.
One hand latched onto Jette’s wrist and wrenched it hard. Jette grunted in pain as her rayvolver fell from her grip and clattered on the deck. A hand closed around her neck and she felt herself being slammed into the wall hard enough to see spots. She gasped as Karmilla brandished the razor-sharp fingernails and drew her hand back for a killing strike!
Jette’s hands pulled at the hand around her throat, but Karmilla was too strong.
“Servitor!” Long rasped from the floor. “Jette! The servitor!”
Jette’s hands reached blindly behind her and closed around something. A cylindrical container. She shifted it in her hands and found it had a trigger. Karmilla hissed and then her claws were streaking for Jette’s throat. She pointed the strange device as best she could and pulled the trigger.
A cloud of silver mist erupted in Karmilla’s face. She coughed and let go of Jette who fell to the deck and landed on her feet. Karmilla was clutching at her eyes and hissing like a crazed animal.
“Stay back!” Jette called to the others. Karmilla was flaying blindly, her limbs swinging in wide arcs. Then she toppled to the floor, gasping and choking.
Jette watched with dread resolve as Karmilla rolled onto her back. She was bleeding from her eyes, nose and ears. Her face was bright crimson and terribly swollen. Her eyes darted around frantically and then … she stopped.
Riesga finally got to her feet and helped Carpenter up. Jette rushed to Long and checked his pulse. It was weak but steady.
“Are you all right, Professor?”
He looked at her with the one eye not swollen shut and nodded weakly.
“She’s not dead but it’s close enough for me. What’s in it?” Jette looked at Karmilla unconscious, her face badly burned and bleeding. “What did I hit her with?”
“Silver,” said Long. “Bound with carbon dioxide to attach to blood cells. Harmless to us, not to her. Unfortunately, Captain, that’s all the silver extract on board either ship.”
“Riesga? Take the professor to the med bay. Carpenter? Let’s get this creature to the brig.”
The robotic arm over the bed finished scanning Professor Long and returned to the wall near his head.
“Some blood loss, contusions, sprained knee. No bite marks.” Riesga was at the display nearby. She looked down at him. “You’re going to be fine, Professor.”
“I’m fortunate, but far from fine,” Long said, trying to wink with one eye swollen shut. “She only drank the blood I spilled. She packed a wallop. Evidently, our vampire is also a sadist.”
With the vampire apparently captured, Captain Jones faces two difficult questions – what has happened to her crew? And why …
Crewmate Hill stood by the metal bars of the brig, her eyes on Captain Jones. The bars weren’t even electrified just thick rytanium, not dissimilar from the jail cells on ancient Earth. Jette stood with her arms crossed staring at her nemesis who sat on the cot and faced the opposite wall. From this angle, Karmilla’s beautiful face appeared unmarked. But when she turned her head slowly, Jette could see that a third of her face – as if the skin had been peeled away – was gray-black like molten rock.
“I’m not going to answer any of your questions,” Karmilla said for the second time, unprompted.
“I’ll be just down the hallway if you need me, Captain.” Jette gave Hill a nod without turning her head.
“I only have two questions,” she said, stepping close to the bars. “Where are my shipmates?”
Karmilla’s one good eye drifted upward. “I don’t know. Even if I did, I couldn’t tell you.”
“Couldn’t or wouldn’t?”
Karmilla turned her head away.
“Alright. Why was the Ceres sabotaged? You must have known another ship would come along eventually. Alstus IV was the ideal destination. I don’t get it.”
Karmilla’s body shuddered as if struck by something. She stood slowly and moved to Jette, close enough to touch her. But the bars were only inches apart. The opening too small for fangs to strike.
“The people of my world are not like yours, Captain. We possess great strength, yet we also are ruled by the power of the flesh. Some dominate, some are dominated. There is no in-between.”
Jette could see the muscles in her neck tighten … then caught a whiff of unseen smoke filling her nostrils. Almost immediately, Jette felt a surge of lustful obedience caressing every part of her body. She tried to step back, but Karmilla reached through the bars and yanked her back by the tunic. The long tongue, the sharp, white fangs so close …
“Free me, Captain. And I will set you free.”
She flicked the air with her tongue and tasted Jette’s arousal. Then reached through the bars and pressed her thumb to Jette’s clit through her pants.
Two fingers wormed their way inside. Jette felt the nub of her needy clit massaged as it swelled beneath its hood. She gasped. A long finger entered her, deeply, and Jette spasmed from the cut and scrape of the fingernail inside her.
She was fixated on Karmilla’s mouth, watching helplessly as the finger emerged from between her vaginal walls and entered that mouth. A streak of her own blood smeared across Karmilla’s smiling lips.
“Captain Jones! Everything all right down there?”
Jette blinked hard and staggered back. Hill hurried beside her. “Captain?”
Jette panted heavily, trying to shake the fog of the pheromones. She shot Karmilla an angry glare as she moved down the corridor.
“No one gets in here. No one,” she rasped. “And keep your distance. She’s just as dangerous behind those bars.”
Her hand comp beeped. “Captain Jones.” It was Carpenter. “We’re picking up movement in the cargo bay.”
“On my way. I want the cargo bay sealed off. And get Lt. Riesga.” Hill watched Jette slump against the wall momentarily, then straighten with a deep breath. “I have a plan.”
Jette stepped off the lift onto deck four. She was still a bit dazed, but the effects of Karmilla’s lustful poison was dissipating. She spoke into her hand comp. “Where am I going?”
Carpenter’s voice answered from the tiny speaker. “Turn right. The cargo bay is down the corridor. Number one access door is 30 meters ahead. Starboard side.”
Jette’s rapid footsteps echoed loudly on the bare walls. “Have you found the surveillance data yet?”
“I did but it’s no good. The motion sensors detected something down there but the cargo containers are stacked too high. The camera sensor couldn’t see whatever it was.”
“Copy,” Jette answered. “My crew may be in there.”
“Assuming they’re alive.” Carpenter cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, Captain. I just meant —“
“I’m at the door.” Jette cut her off. She put one hand on her rayvolver. ”I’m going in.” She pressed a thumb to the wall plate and the massive doors glided open with surprisingly little noise. Jette stepped across the threshold. The vast, darkened cargo bay loomed before her.
Jette peered down row after row of cargo containers stacked four meters high. Private ships didn’t just transport people and their goods. They often supplemented their income by hauling freight to their destination as well. From the look of the cargo hold, the Ceres was carrying goods for half a city on Alstus IV.
Jette thumbed her hand comp. “I’m passing row theta,” she whispered. “Where was the motion sensor triggered?”
“It’ll be… right… sigma… -mber four—” Carpenter’s voice dropped out erratically.
“Carpenter? Do you read? I think the cargo stacks down here are interfering with the hand comp.”
“…tain Jones? I think… interference… read me?”
“Great,” Jette muttered, switching off the speaker.
Jette spun at the sound of footsteps. She halted her own breath, listening intently for the direction they’d come from. Then she raced forward and pointed her hand comp, tapping the screen. A thin beam of light illuminated the dim row of cargo pods. She glanced up at the stack label where she thought she heard the sound. It was row sigma.
Jette took a deep breath and moved forward between the cargo stacks. Although the whole cargo bay was more or less laid out in a grid, the containers sometimes had to be moved into seemingly random positions in order to balance the load and keep the artificial gravity generators from overloading.
As Jette walked deeper into row sigma the tall containers became a labyrinth of narrow corridors and dead ends. She listened closely, there was a rhythmic sound coming from up ahead but she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t the life-support system cycling. She carefully rounded a corner. That’s when the smell hit her.
It was like walking into a wall of cobwebs that smelled like dripping wet lust. The scent was everywhere. Someone was panting. Jette inched forward and looked around the corner.
It was Flock and Epsilon.
They were naked and wrapped around each other. Fucking. Epsilon was sitting atop a small cargo box with her legs spread wide. Flock straddled one of her thighs, bucking and groaning. One of Flock’s hands was behind Epsilon’s back, holding tightly around the living computer’s wrists. The other was firmly pinching Epsilon’s nipple.
Jette realized Flock was whispering something, harshly.
“Don’t stop. Don’t you fucking stop. You hear me?” Flock hissed as she tightened her grip on Epsilon’s nipple and pulled.
“I hear and obey,” Epsilon replied in monotone.
This seemed to only enflame Flock’s passion further. She began wildly humping Epsilon’s thigh, her head thrown back and mouth open in a wanton O shape. “Yes! That’s right. Obey. You obey me. Gods!” She grimaced as if in pain but Jette knew – from the smell if nothing else – that was far from the case.
There was a rhythmic wet, smacking sound and Jette’s eyes drifted down between Flock’s legs. Jette gasped despite herself. There was a rigid black cock jutting from Epsilon’s toned thigh. Her smooth matrix, the black substance that covered her body from her neck to her feet, had formed a phallus that was pumping into Flock’s glistening sex.
Jette had seen the living computer use the programmable material of her matrix to form data spikes and other interface devices in order to access computers, but she never realized Epsilon could make other accessories as well. Flock grunted and groaned as she humped Epsilon’s leg and let the thick black cock fuck her to another orgasm. A trail of blood ran down her thigh.
“You captured Karmilla, didn’t you Jette?”
Jette spun around. “K’wari?!”
The Vicar of Yasu stood naked behind her. Jette noticed her dark hair was damp. “You stopped her. I felt it. In my mind. It was like …” Her eyes went out of focus. “I’m not sure what it was like, actually. But I felt it happen.”
“K’wari? Are you all right?”
“Yes. You did it. You freed us, Jette. All of us.”
“Then why are Flock and Epsilon …” Jette nodded over her shoulder.
K’wari turned her attention to their other cremates and sucked in air. Jette couldn’t stop herself from glancing down and seeing K’wari’s impressive nipples harden into tight quivering nubs. “They’re free, Jette. It’s just …” She looked into her captain’s eyes. “What she did to us … it made us so horny.”
“Karmilla? You mean Karmilla did this to you?”
K’wari nodded. Her head seemed loose on her shoulders. Her eyes were lidded and Jette realized that her hands were moving up and down on her thighs. She was fighting the urge to masturbate in front of her captain.
“Karmilla,” K’wari breathed, “she … took us. Each of us.” K’wari looked distressed then. She looked desperately at Jette. “I-I tried to resist her. Jette, I tried!”
“I know. I saw you. You fought her.”
K’wari’s eyes rolled up. “Jette … do you know that feeling? When someone holds you down. Fucks you. And tells you not to cum? You can’t stop yourself. The more you try not to, the faster you succumb.” K’wari looked back at Jette but her eyes were glass. “Did Zeta ever fuck you like that, Jette?”
“K’wari, I …”
“That’s what it was like. Her in my head. I knew I shouldn’t let her in. But, oh gods Jette, I came so good when I finally surrendered. Please … help me, Jette. I need you!”
“What can I do, K’wari?” Jette didn’t know what to do. She reached out but didn’t touch her. “Tell me what you need.”
“Fuck me, Jette! Please! She’s not in my head anymore but everything she did to me is still there. I’m sooooo horny! Please! Fuck me. I can’t even think straight like this.” K’wari’s hands were through resisting the urge. One set of fingers began to draw urgent circles across her sex lips. The other began plucking at her nipples as she moaned quietly.
Jette had to plant a hand on the storage pod next to her to keep on her feet. Her head was swimming with K’wari’s words and the sight of her nude body: ready and eager for sex.
K’wari took a step forward and wrapped her hands in Jette’s hair. Jette moaned as she felt the fingers massaging her head. “Love me, Jette, please. Then I’ll be free and we’ll go back to the Artemis and everything will feel perfect. So good. It feels so good to be free, Jette.”
Jette’s eyes were focused on the Vicar’s mouth. Just like Karmilla. The words didn’t quite make sense, but Jette could feel them. Feel their power behind her eyes. She thought of Karmilla and her scent. Was she still under its influence?
“Kiss me, Jette. Just kiss me and then I’ll be free.”
“Free …” Jette whimpered as her mouth drew close to K’wari’s.
“Yes. Just like that,” K’wari whispered. “Just kiss me. Don’t think.”
“Don’t … think?” Jette’s mind struggled to hold on to reason. Her lips trembled, inches from K’wari’s. “You said you were already free?”
“I am free, Jette. Free to be yours. I know you want me. I can feel your arousal like heat waves. I know what you like Jette. I know you need a strong woman to put you in your place. To take you the way you need to be taken.” K’wari’s hands wrapped around Jette’s wrist and began turning her hand in on itself. She was gentle. There was no pain but Jette knew if she moved K’wari could give the slightest twist and send Jette’s whole body spinning to the deck.
Jette relaxed. She let it happen. K’wari’s hand pulled her closer. She began to rub her nude body against Jette. Jette’s other hand dropped to her side. It was so natural. So easy to just let it happen. K’wari’s hand closed around a firm, smooth shaft. Jette’s hand covered hers.
K’wari’s rayff staff hung from Jette’s belt. Flock had fucked her with it back at Te’ Sareez. Jette knew it had happened. She held up the chrome rayff. K’wari’s gaze flicked to it and a strange light was in her eyes. “I want to … use this,” Jette whispered. She felt K’wari’s control lessen, momentarily basking in Jette’s submission.
K’wari’s hand loosened its grip on Jette’s wrist. “I’ll show you how. I’ll show you,” K’wari whispered back.
Jette flicked her thumb on the rayff’s small lever and sent one of the telescoping ends shooting outward. It struck K’wari in the stomach and sent her stumbling backward. She hit a container pod hard and dropped to one knee, gasping for the breath.
Jette thumbed the small lever again and opened the rayff’s other telescoping end, transforming the handheld tube into a chrome staff nearly two meters tall. She turned and called out into the cargo bay: “Are you going to face me? Or keep hiding behind my friends?”
There was a brush of movement at her shoulder and Jette spun around. Queen Zeta’s smile was deliciously wicked. Staring at this obvious illusion, Jette couldn’t help but be stunned by how beautiful she was. Her ample curves and fire-red hair were a potent, lust-inducing combination.
“Ready to pick up where we left off, Jette?” Her voice was honey-laced hemlock. “Your face between my legs. My hand on the back of your head. Controlling you. Forcing you. Fucking you. Fucking your face with my noble-born sex.”
Jette flexed her jaw and moved her feet apart as K’wari had trained her to do. “Queen Zeta is very tempting but I know you’re just clouding my mind. Zaleska.”
Zeta’s face twisted into a scowl as her red hair grew darker until it was nearly black with streaks of gray. Zaleska’s mouth curled into a smile. Zeta’s beauty turning into Zaleska’s malevolence. Her face was etched with lines but more shallow than before. She was easily half the age of the old woman Jette had first met.
“That’s a neat trick.”
Zaleska nodded. “Blood is life. Youthful blood even more so.” She cocked her head. “Tell me, Captain, how did you know?”
Jette spun the rayff over in her hands menacingly. “Karmilla was too easy. Too perfect. All the little breadcrumbs leading right to her.”
Zaleska shrugged. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’ve got you all the same.”
“The only thing you have is three friends of mine.”
Zaleksa smiled and showed Jette her fangs. “I most certainly do. Look into my eyes, Captain.”
Jette’s breath caught in her throat. She was losing it again. She tried to fight but her eyes helplessly obeyed.
“Deep into my eyes, Captain Jones. There is no escape.”
The rayff felt so heavy in Jette’s hands. She squeezed her hands tighter around it but the staff was sagging in her grip.
Zaleska’s face was all Jette could see. Her features were beginning to blur.
“My eyes are pulling you in, Captain. Deeper and deeper. You are being overpowered by my gaze. You are helpless to resist it. You cannot resist.”
Jette’s fingers twitched. They were the only part of her body that moved.
Zaleska’s hands glided up to each side of Jette’s head and made slow circles in the air. Jette could feel it inside her skull. Like a ghostly massage on her brain. Oily wet fingers gliding through the pink softness of her helpless brain. Jette moaned.
Zaleska smiled like a beast. “Let it go, Captain.”
The rayff clattered loudly on the deck plates as Jette’s hand obediently opened.
“You have no will, Captain. You are too weak. Too weak to resist succumbing. Surrendering. Submitting. To me.”
Jette hissed through clenched teeth. Zaleska was so beautiful. Her hunger and cruelty only made her more desirable.
“To your knees.”
Jette slowly dipped toward the deck. In her mind, she was thinking only of Zaleska’s eyes. The bottomless, black pools that drank minds as surely as Zaleska drank life itself.
Zaleska’s fluid hands pushed aside Jette’s thoughts. Focusing solely in the vampire’s eyes. Those black-filled eyes. Blotting out everything else. The sclera, the pupil growing dim as an oily blackness flowed over the eyes and then —
Zaleska screamed! She clutched at her face … covered in black ooze. The glushang had leaped from the nearby cargo container where Jette had steadied herself. The black ooze pushed itself into Zaleska’s eyes. She screamed again, a strange, horrified sound. The sound of something not used to being afraid.
Jette dipped to one knee and scooped up the rayff. She spun it over her head once to build some momentum and then cracked Zaleska across the jaw with one of the weighted ends. The vampire sliced through the air with the claws of both hands. Swinging blind, trying to find Jette in the inky darkness.
But Jette had already retreated several steps. Zaleska’s talons tore into the cargo containers. She howled again and her hands returned to clawing at the glushang. Every time her fingers would find some purchase and begin to pull the black ooze out of her eye sockets, the creature would melt into thick liquid again and attack her anew.
Jette lunged with the staff and stabbed the blunt end into Zaleska’s forehead. The vampire’s head snapped back with the force of the blow. Zaleska’s hands closed around the rayff and yanked it hard.
Jette felt her boots leave the deck as she was pulled off her feet by the impossibly strong creature. Jette held on with one hand as the other went to her holster. The vampire pulled on the rayff and drew Jette closer. She still couldn’t see. Couldn’t see Jette draw her rayvolver and point it at her heart.
Jette squeezed the trigger and the photon charge blasted through Zaleska’s clothing and burned the flesh beneath. She instantly let go of the staff and clutched at her wound.
“Get her! GET HER!!!!” she shrieked.
K’wari glided past the vampire, her eyes blank. Her hands were a blur as she slammed Jette’s right arm. The rayvolver bounced off the cargo pod beside them. K’wari kicked the pistol away and drifted into a fighting stance.
Jette checked over her shoulder. Flock and Epsilon were behind her, blocking the narrow channel between the cargo pods. Jette backed away. She tapped her hand comp.
A bright blue-white disc of light flashed overhead as the stun round hit Epsilon in the back and sent her forward. She crashed into Flock and they both went down. Flock’s tone muscles flexed as she pushed herself and the unconscious Epsilon off the floor. She shrugged the other woman off her back.
A second stunner round caught her between the shoulder blades and she groaned as she collapsed.
K’wari’s eyes drifted up and past Jette for a moment. Just long enough to see Riesga on top of the cargo stack to K’wari’s right. The lieutenant jumped across the gap and landed on the stack on the other side of the row. Her rayvolver trained on K’wari, looking for a clean shot.
The Vicar of Yasu leaped forward. Her hands wrestled Jette for control of the rayff. K’wari managed to get the chrome staff angled up just in time for Riesga to squeeze the trigger again. The stun charge streaked toward them … and hit the rayff staff instead.
The chrome metal absorbed the energy. Jette could feel the handle grow warm in her hand. She planted her feet and twisted with all her strength, managing to wrench the staff away from K’wari’s grip. She spun to the side and swiped at the other woman’s ankle.
But K’wari was no longer standing there. She pushed off the ground with one foot, planted the other against the nearest cargo container and leaped into the air. She brought her hand down in a savage overhead chop aimed at Jette’s shoulder.
The Star Ranger twisted into the blow and used the rayff to deflect K’wari’s hand with only centimeters to spare. Jette flipped the rayff and pushed K’wari hard, driving the other woman back several steps. She held the rayff up between them.
Jette was a formidable hand-to-hand fighter, but the Vicar of Yasu was simply on another level. As strategic a fighter as she was dexterous.
K’wari growled. “You can’t beat me, Jette. You know I’ll win. Please put the staff down. Let this happen. I promise you won’t feel a moment of regret once she takes you.”
The Vicar lunged forward. Jette thumbed the recessed button the rayff’s pommel. The energy stored in the staff from the stun round erupted out the blunt tip and struck K’wari in the chest. She grunted and spilled forward, collapsing into a heap at Jette’s feet.
Jette took a deep breath. She glanced over her shoulder at Riesga on top of the cargo stack. “Good shooting, Lieutenant.” She looked around. “No Zaleska. Any idea where she went?”
Riesga’s eyes were sweeping over the maze of containers around them. “We’re locked down in here. She definitely hasn’t gotten out of the cargo bay.”
“What in the universe makes you imagine I’d run from you?” Zaleska stepped out of the shadows in front of Jette. Her eyes were clear of the glushang. Jette realized that the vampire was bleeding from deep cuts above her eyebrows. They closed up and healed before Jette’s eyes.
“Where’s the glushang?” Jette brandished the rayff and stepped over K’wari.
“Turns out it’s rather adverse to my blood.” Zaleska shrugged mockingly. “I wouldn’t worry. You’ll be too dead to care in another moment.” She lifted Jette’s rayvolver and pointed it between the Star Ranger’s eyes.
“Killing me won’t change anything. The cargo bay is going to stay locked down until a detention vessel arrives. Once they get here. They’ll just increase the gravity underneath you to seven times normal. Then the officers will peel you off the deck and scoop you into a iso-pod for transport to the nearest penal facility.”
Zaleska nodded with amusement. “It’s a sound plan, I’ll grant you. But as soon as the doors open, I’m going to kill everyone on board and then take your ship … well, anywhere I want to go.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing the doors aren’t opening. For any reason.”
Zaleska looked up toward the top of the cargo bay to her left. Where the wall and ceiling met. “If this weren’t an emergency situation, I imagine you’re right. They would stay shut.”
Zaleska pointed and fired Jette’s rayvovler into the wall. Jette’s training kicked in and she instinctively sucked in air. The orange ball of energy streaked over the tops of the cargo stacks, hit the bare metal wall and exploded. Alarm klaxons wailed along with a flood of flashing yellow light from the emergency beacons throughout the bay.
“I do just fine in a low-oxygen environment, Captain. What about you?” With that, Zaleska vanished in a blur of movement just as the speaker system crackled to life.
“Warning, hull breach on deck four.” An automated voice flooded the room over the speaker system.
Jette’s hair waved erractically in the rush of escaping atmosphere. She looked up, where Zaleska had fired, and could see stars through a gaping hole in the wall!
“Evacuate main cargo bay immediately. Thirty seconds to life-support failure. Please make your way to the hatches on the port side of the bay.” The computer then helpfully opened all three sets of double doors.
“Carpenter!” Jette shouted with her last breath into her handcomp. “She’s loose! Lock down deck four!”
“I can’t!” Carpenter called back. “That blast knocked out half of the supply lines for life support. The computer is running evacuation protocols. It’ll take a few minutes to override.”
Carpenter’s voice then boomed across the ship’s audio system. “All hands to escape pods. Abandon ship! Repeat, all hands abandon ship!”
Jette looked up, searching the tops of the cargo containers for her first officer. “Riesga?” she gasped into her hand comp.
“Twenty seconds to life-support failure. Evacuate main cargo bay immediately.” The automated voice boomed out once again.
Jette scooped up K’wari and flung her over one shoulder. She raced toward the port side of the room. She’d never get all three of her crew members out in twenty seconds.
“Captain, get on!”
Jette whirled around just as a high-pitched whine reached her ears. Riesga was speeding toward her, driving a floating cargo trolley between the tall stacks of container pods. Flock and Epsilon were lying on the flatbed.
Jette shifted her weight and held K’wari with both hands. “Don’t slow down!” she called. Jette flexed her legs, paused … then jumped! She leaped just as Riesga reached her with the trolley. Jette landed on the flatbed on her knees, K’wari safely tucked in her arms.
Riesga steered them clear of the cargo row and through the nearest hatch. She shifted her weight to make the turn and then they were racing down the main hall.
Jette sucked in oxygen with a thankful hand on Riesga’s shoulder. Then she hit her hand comp.
“Carpenter? I’ve got my crew but they’re unconscious. I need someone to meet Riesga at the escape pod and help load them.”
Riesga shook her head. “Why are they meeting me?”
“Roger that, Captain. I’ll have help standing by.”
“Captain?” Riesga called as they sped down the corridor. “Why are they meeting just me?”
“Because I’m not leaving,” Jette shouted back.
“This was Zaleska’s plan. She said she’d steal the Artemis. She could fly straight through —” Jette froze, her eyes widened. “No. She couldn’t, could she? Maybe that’s the whole point!”
They reached the lift. Jette hopped off and pulled the front of the trolley into the lift and turned it enough that Riesga could squeeze the rear end through the doors. The lift closed and started moving upward.
“Captain?” Riesga looked at her captain with confusion, but Jette was rapidly tapping away at her hand comp.
“Didn’t make sense before. But there had to be a reason. Something Carpenter said. I didn’t have an answer then. But …” she trailed off as she read something on the hand comp’s screen. She looked at Riesga, a smile on her face. “I know why Zaleska sabotaged the Ceres.”
The lift doors parted, revealing the gleaming white hallway of the main passenger deck. Riesga pulled the trolley backwards out of the lift and pointed the nose toward the bow of the ship. Jette stayed in the lift and tapped the control plate on the wall. “See to the safety of all hands!”
Even through her near-panic, Riesga’s body responded, automatically, with a rush of electric pleasure at Jette’s direct command.
“Yessss, Captain.” She growled through her teeth. They traded one last look before the doors hissed closed.
Riesga thumbed the drive controls and set the trolley speeding down the corridor. She was rapidly approaching the large hatch leading to the forward escape pods. She could see several hatches within already sealed, indicating the pods had been launched.
Riesga’s thumb stabbed the control to stop the trolley. “Captain Edwards!”
The silver-haired man stepped out from behind the hatch. “I’ll give you a hand. I’m not leaving my ship until everyone is safe.”
“Thank you, Sir. Much appreciated.” The trolley bounced as Riesga hopped off.
Edwards looked at the nude women. “We should get them some blankets or something.”
“No time.” She looked back down the hallway. “Captain? Can you manage this? I have to go back.”
Edwards looked at her, then glanced down the corridor. “Captain Jones?”
Riesga nodded. “She says she knows the vamp’s plan. Figured it out. But, whatever that means, she’s gonna need help.”
Edwards nodded solemnly. “Leave this to me. Go to your captain.”
Jette slowly stepped off the lift onto the bridge of the Ceres. Most of the myriad screens and readouts throughout the room were red. The damage control station chirped loudly in a continuous state of alert. Jette went there first and silenced the alarm.
She then stepped to the main command console and keyed the voice interface. “Computer, recognize Captain Jones, Star Ranger Corps, acting Captain.”
“Captain Jones, recognized.” The computer answered. “Proceed.”
“Engage emergency automation system.” Jette tapped at the console, flicking switches as she rerouted the essential bridge systems to the controls in front of her.
“Automation system engaged.”
Jette glanced over the readouts. “Have all escape pods been launched?”
“Affirmative,” the computer replied.
“How long do I have life support?”
“Estimate seven minutes until total life-support failure.”
“I’m plotting a new course.” Jette tapped rapidly at the controls. “Acknowledge and prepare to engage main engines. Maximum available power.”
“Acknowledged. Engines standing by.”
“Engage engines.” Jette watched the readout for confirmation her command had been executed.
“And where are we off to now, Captain?”
Jette straightened up and turned around slowly as Zaleska stepped off the lift. “The last place you’d want to go.” Jette noticed the vampire’s hands were empty. “I don’t suppose you’ve come to return my rayvolver?”
Zaleska smirked. “What’s the point of fighting now, Captain? You can’t kill me and I don’t need to kill you. We’ll just sit back and watch as your life-support systems fail.”
“Not as much fun though, I imagine.” Jette put her back to the command console to hide the navigation readout with her body.
“How right you are.” Zaleska stepped up onto the dais. “In fact, this whole trip hasn’t been nearly as fun as I’d hoped it would be. Although, I have found your efforts against me invigorating. Besting an unexpected challenge is exhilarating, don’t you think?”
Jette didn’t budge from where she stood. “Ask me again in eight minutes and I’ll let you know.”
Zaleska laughed. “Really, Captain. You can’t really want to die here like this. If only you’d give yourself to me …” she trailed off and sighed longingly. “Women like you come along less than once in a lifetime. And, believe me, I’d know.” She tapped a finger to her nose playfully.
“I’m afraid there’s no getting away from how this is going to end.” Jette steeled herself as Zaleska stepped closer.
“On this, Captain, we finally agree.” The vampire opened her mouth and showed Jette her fangs. “I’m happy to wait until the oxygen deprivation leaves you too weak to stop me. Or you can surrender. Either way, you belong to —”
There was a blast of light and sound. Then, Zaleska howled as she was knocked to the side and crumpled into a nearby console. There was a smoldering wound in her abdomen.
“You all right, Captain?” The junior Star Ranger stepped off the lift, keeping her rayvolver trained on Zaleska.
Jette looked at her steely. “I told you to —“
“Begging your pardon, Captain. Your orders have been carried out. I just … delegated. Besides, I — LOOK OUT!”
Zaleska was on her feet again. With both hands, she’d ripped the helm console from its pedestal and heaved it at Jette! The Star Ranger braced her feet as she crossed her arms in front of her. The impact threw her backward, flipping over the command console and landing awkwardly on her neck and shoulder.
Riesga advanced, firing again and again. Zaleska was a blur of motion. Her whole body weaving in and around the photon charges from Riesga’s rayvolver. Suddenly, she lunged and struck Riesga square in the chest.
The young woman went sailing and hit the main view screen with her back. She fell to her knees, wincing in pain. She tried to raise her arm to aim her pistol.
Zaleska’s back was to the young Star Ranger. She stalked toward Jette, trying to get up on her hands and knees. “On second thought, Captain, I think we’ll get started now. I’m sure you won’t mind your officer watching.”
She noticed the controls in front of her – readouts showing a course change. The ships were moving! Zaleska frantically began flipping switches. “Computer, disengage engines!”
“Command authorization not recognized.”
Zaleska’s fingers moved rapidly across the buttons. Suddenly, the console exploded in a shower of sparks. Zaleska roared and turned around. Riesga’s rayvolver was still aimed at the smoldering bridge controls.
“We’re locked on course now,” she said.
There was a blur of movement and the vampire was on Reisga! She snatched the rayvolver from the Star Ranger’s grasp and crushed the pistol into dust.
Zaleska brought the clenched fist down on Riesga’s shoulder. There was a sickening crunch as her collarbone snapped! Riesga cried out and then Zaleska struck again, sending Riesga flying across the bridge and landing not far from her captain.
Jette struggled to her feet and grabbed Riesga by her good arm and pulled them both toward the lift. Jette was dragging one leg as she hurried them both over the threshold and stabbed at the wall plate.
Zaleska strode toward them, unhurried and unconcerned, as the doors glided shut.
“I’m sorry, Captain.” Riesga grunted between each word, trying to talk through the pain.
Jette checked her hand comp and spoke rapidly but clearly. “We’re gonna make a run for the Artemis. Once we get on board, you’re going to get to the CM and disengage from Ceres. When I secure the hatch, you get the Artemis out of here. Understood?”
Riesga coughed hard, wincing, and nodded.
“Do you understand my orders, Lieutenant?” Jette asked again sternly.
“Yes, Sir!” Reisga answered clenching her fist tightly to keep the fiery pain in her shoulder at bay. The conditioned pleasure response that Nu Marr had brainwashed into her helped ease the pain.
The doors opened and Jette pushed them both forward. They were an awkward tangle of arms and legs as they both clutched the other to stay upright. Jette grunted harshly with each step, pushing herself to go faster as they retreated down the long white corridor.
Jette risked a glance over her shoulder. The corridor was clear. “Al-almost there,” she gasped. They reached a bank of large windows. The Artemis floated proudly just beyond. Her silver hull shining brightly against the black of space.
“There’s the hatch.” Jette forced her injured leg to hobble faster. The pair stumbled as they rounded the corner and entered the umbilical.
Zaleska was standing at the other end, just inside the Artemis. One of the interior access plates ripped off at her feet.
“Was this really your plan, Captain?” She motioned with her hands at the pair of them. “You were going to outrun me? Injured?”
“Scurrying around like a rat, Zaleska?”
“I can make it past her, Captain,” Riesga said under her breath. “I can make it to the weapons locker.”
“No.” Jette was tapping away at her hand comp again. Jette showed her the screen.
“Well, Captain? Are you ready to stop running?“
“Now!” Jette screamed as she lunged, launching them forward and down onto the steel walkway of the umbilical as a deafening rush of air stormed over their heads. They both clutched at the handrail anchors and hugged the deck plates.
Zaleska reached wildly for a hand hold as she flew past them. The explosive decompression Jette had triggered on the Artemis sent her plummeting across the zero-gravity tunnel connecting the ships. The vampire crossed the threshold of the Ceres and slammed into the floor as gravity re-engaged.
Jette waited for the gush of atmosphere to slow and then she pushed up and kicked off, sending her and Riesga sailing across the umbilical. She got her feet underneath her with well-practiced skill as they crossed into the Artemis.
They were both gasping for air as Jette propped Riesga against the wall, then limped to the locker beside the hatch and ripped open the door. She grabbed a rayvolver from the rack inside and spun the dial to the photon-charge setting.
She pulled out an emergency helmet and handed it to Riesga, who fumbled putting it on with her broken shoulder. “Get to the command module. I’ll hold her off.”
“Yes, Sir.” The young Star Ranger donned the helmet and stumbled toward the cockpit.
Jette grabbed a second helmet and pulled the clear bubble over her head. The collar cinched around her neck and created an air-tight seal. A holographic display inside flashed green and indicated she had three minutes of oxygen remaining.
Jette returned to the umbilical to find Zaleska was already on her feet, but still on the Ceres. There was a large wound on her forehead that was already closing up. The vampire’s dislocated shoulder righted itself with a sickening crunch.
It would take a little time for the doors to the Artemis’ main hatch to fully close. Enough for Zaleska to cross the gantry and drink her fill. Jette tightened her jaw. That wasn’t going to happen.
She tapped her hand comp and opened a voice channel with Riesga. “Lieutenant, fire up the engines! If Zaleska regains control of the Ceres, destroy it.”
Jette hit the switch and the main hatch began slowly ratcheting closed. She stepped through the doorway and onto the gantry once again. With one hand gripping the railing, she hoisted her rayvolver with the other.
In the CM, Riesga clutched one hand between her legs as she orgasmed. She leaned past Epsilon’s chair and flicked switches on the console to begin the start-up sequence. It felt so good to obey. A dull whine filled the ship as the four mighty engines primed for ignition.
Orange streaks of energy burst from the barrel of Jette’s rayvolver. Across the umbilical, Zaleska’s upper body streaked to and fro as she deftly dodged Jette’s fire.
Jette’s helmet flashed that her oxygen supply had two minutes remaining. She took a shallow breath and tried to even out her breathing.
Riesga’s voice crackled over their comm channel. “Captain, you can still make it!”
“Take off! Now!” Jette yelled. “That’s an order, Lieutenant!”
Riesga cursed herself. Irresistible pleasure flooded her brain and body as Jette gave the order. She knew the woman commanding her was Jette Jones, Star Ranger. Her captain. But in her twisted thoughts she could still see the catwoman’s face. Nu Marr’s smile was cruel as she’d relentlessly broken Riesga’s will and retrained her mind to see her as Captain Jones. To obey her orders. To cum her brains out when she did.
Riesga gripped the sides of the helmet, trying to drive the thoughts from her mind. Nu Marr wasn’t here! Nu Marr wasn’t ordering her to fire up the engines and leave. Nu Marr wasn’t sacrificing herself so that Riesga could live.
Jette, the beautiful captain who’d handpicked Riesga to be her first officer. Jette, the most brilliant Star Ranger Riesga had ever known. Jette, the friend who believed in her. After Plutonia. After Nu Marr.
Jette, who was going to die taking on the vampire alone while Riesga flew away.
NO! Dammit, no!
Zaleska pushed off the gangway, using the zero-gravity tunnel to launch herself straight at Jette. The Star Ranger fired repeatedly but the shots weren’t enough to drive the creature back.
The hatch stopped closing and began to open again. Suddenly an angry red energy bolt shot past Jette’s ear! The blast caught the vampire’s midsection and drove her backward down the umbilical.
Zaleska hissed in rage. Riesga stalked forward holding one of Flock’s enormous power rifles, her broken shoulder twisted out of place.
“Duck!” Riesga lifted the weapon and unloaded fresh hell fire at Zaleska. Jette didn’t hesitate. She thew herself to her left, clear of Riesga’s fire, then raised her own pistol and squeezed the trigger. Riesga stepped through the hatch. The pair of them stood shoulder to shoulder, firing blast after blast.
It wasn’t enough. Zaleska was injured by their energy bolts, but she was more enraged. Each hit seemed to bother her less and less as she gripped the handrail and crossed the umbilical one inevitable step after another.
And then she was on top of them.
Riesga pointed the rifle directly into Zaleska’s face and squeezed.
The weapon exploded in her hands as the vampire’s claws tore through the casing. Riesga screamed and went down. Jette raised her weapon but Zaleska was much too fast. The pistol was out of Jette’s hand in a flash, sailing across the umbilical before clattering to the deck of the Ceres.
They weren’t going to stop her. Riesga reached back into the ship and hit the button. The hatch began closing once more. She stood up on the gantry beside Jette. That was that.
Zaleska smiled with her fangs. She reached out with her talons and—
It was like nothing the pair had ever heard. Zaleska clutched her arm as it spasmed violently. A large wound opened on the back of her hand. It was deep … and it wasn’t healing.
The gangway grew brighter. The two tethered ships gracefully banked toward the center of the Sunshower Nebula.
Riesga saw amber and purple waves of light swimming between the stars. The nebula’s brightness was all around them.
“No!” Zaleska howled and threw herself at them once more. Jette pressed Riesga against the Artemis’ hatch. But the vampire never made it. She shrieked and clutched at her face as a wicked gash opened running from her eyebrow to her neck. Blood gushed forth as she trembled uncontrollably in pain and anger.
“What’s happening to her?!” Riesga watched in dread fascination.
“The nebula produces high energy particles. Photons.”
“Like a star!” Riesga exclaimed.
“That’s why she sabotaged the Ceres. She had to stop them from flying toward it.”
Zaleska’s body twisted violently as she was struck again and again by the invisible particles. Fresh wounds appeared all over her body. Then they began to smolder and smoke. Zaleska bellowed like nothing living ever had. Then she burst into flames.
Riesga could feel the heat even from several feet away. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the blinding pillar of fire as the vampire writhed in agony. Then it collapsed to the deck and disintegrated into a pile of ash and dust.
Riesga exhaled hard, then slumped backward.
“Riesga?” Jette caught her and laid her gently on the deck. She realized there was a huge crack in the helmet.
Riesga’s face was starting to turn blue.
Jette reached up and yanked the handle to open the hatch. The mechanism ratcheted loudly as it slowly began opening. “Hang on! That’s an order, Lieutenant!”
Riesga smiled from inside the helmet. There were tears in her eyes. “It didn’t work that time …” Her eyes fought against the blackness closing in at the edges of her vision. The last thing she saw was Jette pulling off her own helmet.
Kanivia Riesga was floating in ecstasy.
There was nothingness all around her. Endless, endless void.
And it felt so good. Her hand was between her legs and her pussy felt electrified. It was like being a teenager again and discovering her sex for the first time. Gods, she was gonna cum so good!
Riesga shifted and the brace on her shoulder scraped against her neck. She opened her eyes and found K’wari looming over her just as she orgasmed.
“Oh gaaaa!” Riesga screamed and pulled her hand from between her legs but it was too late. Her body convulsed as she came on the table in the Artemis medical bay.
Jette stepped forward with a trace of a limp. She put her hand on her shoulder. “It’s all right, Riesga. K’wari is back. They all are. They were freed when Zaleska was destroyed.”
Riesga could see K’wari’s bandaged arms, the small burn marks on her face. Her head flopped sideways, and there across from her were Flock and Epsilon – sedated, bandaged and alive.
“Oh!” She looked up at K’wari, who shrugged slightly. “Oh, good. That’s good.”
Riesga opened her mouth again, but K’wari cut in. “It’s the painkillers, Kanivia.”
“Is that what it is?” Riesga slurred.
“They activate pleasure nodes in the brain to counteract pain receptors. Not standard Star Ranger issue, but I thought it might help. Xlypham wasn’t going to cut it this time.”
“They’re really goooood,” Riesga sighed out.
K’wari smiled. “They have some side-effects.”
Jette nodded to K’wari. “Could you step out for a moment? I want to talk with her.”
“Sure, but she needs rest.”
“We’ll reach Alstus IV in an hour,” Jette said.
K’wari smiled at Riesga. “I’ll look in on you later.”
Jette waited until K’wari gave the other bed monitors a check and left.
“You disobeyed my order to take off,” she said quietly.
Riesga’s face fell. “Yes, Sir. I wasn’t going to let you die alone.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about Captain Nu Marr from now on. But …”
Riesga sat up slightly. “I’ll accept whatever punishment you see fit, Sir. I disobeyed a direct order.”
Jette nodded solemnly. “I spoke with Ranger Command earlier. I’m gonna need your rank insignia. You are no longer a Second Lieutenant of the Star Ranger Corps.”
Jette unclasped the silver insignia pinned to the pillow by Riesga’s head. She didn’t see Jette replace it with a gold one.
Jette cleared her throat. “You are now a First Lieutenant. And I’ve recommended you for a commendation for exceptional bravery.”
Riesga’s eyes lit up. “Thank you, Skipper.”
Jette smiled wide upon hearing the word.
“I’m proud of you.” Jette leaned over the table. “Not everyone could come back from what you went through.”
Riesga wet her lips. “Captain? Part of what Nu Marr did? Part of how she got into my head is because of how I feel. About …”
Jette squeezed her hand gently. “I know.”
Riesga nodded but said no more. They both knew that was enough.