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Nomad and  Elizabeth Knauel

Note: This story contains graphic violence and sexual situations. It is not intended for readers until the age of 17.



Day 1
Main Reception Hall
Hotel Sybaron
Planet Chrysalis

Humans can be such boorish creatures, Doctor Thelans thought sourly as he sipped his drink. The reception was being held in the main ballroom of the Hotel Sybaron, the most luxurious hotel on Chrysalis, owned by the entertainment mogul Aaron Cord. Who else would go to such bother as to have a reception before the award was given? There would be coverage on all the news media, covering the entire known Federation universe. Granted, he was practically guaranteed the Z-Magnees Prize with his latest invention. And such an award seemed to require a celebration and the notoriety. This celebration. But the Humans at such celebrations allowed themselves to become public spectacles.

Case in point, the Human that was standing in front of him, weaving slightly. Admiral Mark Stoddard, an older, middle-aged human with a large chest and powerful build, was standing ramrod straight, a hand on Thelans' shoulder as he turned to the small crowd that was still around the Andorian scientist.

"I tell you," he slurred, his gaze barely focusing on the small group of Humans and Andorians that were surrounding the two of them, his arms gesticulating around his head, "I was there on Arcturus, at the test range when those babies were first fired. Unbelievable! These phasers make the lasers look like-like pop-guns!"

Thelans shrugged his shoulder, effectively removing the offending hand from his body. "Lasers are pop-guns by comparison," he said coldly, his pale blue eyes turning icy as his antenna curled tightly on his white hair. His light blue skin seemed to turn white in anger.

Nodding, Stoddard slowly, deliberately moved toward the buffet and liberated another tall glass of liquor. This one was something red and green, but it didn't matter to Stoddard. As long as it was alcoholic he didn't care what it was.

"We're all here for the same reason," he continued. "To see the launch of the first new starship to be armed with the phasers. The U.S.S. Hood. Chrysalis has one of the best space docks around, second only to the one at Earth. But that one is working overtime to get all the refits done that we're doing to the rest of the Constitution-class ships. In less than two weeks, we will have one of the most powerful ships in the universe. The new Constitution-class holds twice as many crew members with a weapon twice as powerful as anything we have now." His face suddenly drooped and his eyes grew misty. "Pity we didn't have these weapons on the old Hood. If they had, they would all be alive. Jacki would still be alive..."

He shook his head sharply, then straightened his back again. His glass, half-full, was raised high into the air. He turned and stared at the crowd, still milling and mingling, the room buzzing with the many conversations. "Remember the Hood!" His voice was strong, steady. "Remember the Hood!"

The crowd raised their drinks and repeated the toast.

Stoddard didn't wait for that though. He swallowed the last of the drink in one gulp. Then he put the glass down carefully and opened his mouth. His form wavered for a brief instant, then collapsed backwards. Some quirk of fate had placed him next to a large soft chair; it caught his falling body. As his head fell backwards, his eyes rolled back in his head. His head lolled to one side for an instant, then sank onto his deep chest. Soon a rumbling was emitting from his chest as it rose and fell slowly.

Thelans sneered at the sight of the drunken admiral, then turned and moved toward the buffet to get another drink for himself. The rest of the folks pointedly tried to ignore the snoring man slumped in the chair, giving him surreptitious glances, clucking their tongues under their breaths. They knew the why, but they still didn't approve.

A Human woman, in her early fifties, dressed elegantly yet sedately, walked through the crowd to the chair. She looked at the crowd, noting the pitying stares from the people. She closed her eyes in quiet pain, then searched the room until her eyes lit on the man sleeping drunkenly in the chair. Shaking her graying blond head sadly, her hazel eyes brimming with tears, she walked over to the slumbering man. "Oh, Mark, not again," she murmured softly.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, she walked to the Andorian, her head lowered in shame. "I'm sorry, so sorry, Doctor Thelans," she began. "My husband... He never used to be this way. But ever since the destruction of the Hood..."

Thelans' expression remained impassive as he murmured, "You have my sympathies, madam."

"He never used to drink like this," Lisa Stoddard went on, trying to explain as she had so many times at so many receptions this past year. "He only started after the Hood was destroyed at Xantharus. You see, Jacki, our daughter," she bit her lip to stop herself from crying, then went on, "our youngest child, was an ensign on the Hood at the time"

Thelans' expression flickered for a nano-second, then returned to its impassive glare. "You have my condolences, madam," he said, carefully keeping his tone neutral. He'd never met anyone who'd had family on the lost ship before. The loss of a child, especially the youngest, explained much to the Andorian.

The awkward silence was broken by the sound of large body forcing its way through the crowd. "Let me through!" a deep voice bellowed angrily at the few that refused to move from his path.

A Tellarite wearing the dress uniform of a Starfleet admiral stood in front of Mark Stoddard's sleeping form, his hands on his hips, his head shaking back and forth in disgust before Admiral Gevek turned to look at Lisa with a mixture of pity and sympathy on his piggish face.

"Again, Lisa?" he asked, his basso voice soft and tender. He was as used to this scenario as she was.

"I'm afraid so, Gev," she nodded, the tears threatening to break through in spite of her resolve. "Can you help me get him back to our room?" she asked, a request that she had made many times this past year.

"Of course I will." Gevek cradled her head in his giant hand gently. "I will do better than that."

He moved back to the chair and the sleeping man. With a fluid motion that belied his size and stature, Gevek lifted the Human from the chair and settled the limp form over his broad shoulders in a manner that said he had done that many times this past year. Checking to make sure the Human was secure, he started to walk out of the reception through the same crowd he had so recently barged through.

"What's the matter with you people?" he snapped irritably at the throng who was now staring outright at the sight, his voice now loud and belligerent. "Haven't you ever seen a man who's had too much to drink at a social reception before? Now out of my way! Move!"

Using his free hand he shoved aside several people who had been slow to respond to his command, creating a path for both himself and Lisa Stoddard to the elevator and to their rooms.

Thelans finished his drink, watching the departure of Admiral Gevek with Stoddard slung over his shoulder. Humans were boors and Tellarites were boorish pigs. And he had had enough of this boorish reception, even if it was in his honor.

It was the one thing he really hated about being nominated for these awards, or even winning the awards. He deserved every prize he received, and then some. He was a genius by every standard known to every sentient being in the known galaxy. He could create whatever the power brokers wanted him to. It didn't matter what it was, or what it would be used for. Anything and everything he created just brought his name to the foreground again, forcing the cretins to give him yet another award, and add another accolade to his long line of credits. And that was all that mattered to him: the praise and acclamation. He could never get enough of those.

But he could only stand to be around these inferior beings for so long. And he had been with these inferior creatures longer than usual.

"Gentle beings," he placed his empty glass on the table, "it has been a very long day. And tomorrow will be even longer. I must retire and rest."

There was polite applause as the Andorian made his way out of the room.

Thelans let a soft sigh escape his lips as the turbolift doors closed behind him. "Level Thirty, Suite B," he ordered the turbolift.

He placed his palm on the touchpad at the door to his suite and walked into the dimly-lit room. His eyes narrowed as his hand strayed to his belt and the ceremonial flabbjellah that hung from it.

Someone was here, in his room. Someone who did not belong. Whoever that someone was would be the one surprised. He might be a genius and a scientist, but he was also an Andorian. He could fight as well as any of his people's heroes, and better than many of the current warriors. And while ceremonial, the flabbjellah was still a most deadly weapon, which he would soon prove to the intruder in his room.

Then he heard a soft swishing sound and the sounds of a young female's voice humming. As his eyes became accustomed to the darkened room, he spied a young Human female on her hands and knees, a bucket at her side, and a scrub brush in her hand. She was small, but well endowed, he noted. He couldn't help but notice since she was completely naked. On top of that, her rounded haunches were aimed directly at him.

"Oh, hi, Doctor Thelans," she paused her scrubbing and looked over her shoulder, her raven shoulder-length hair falling around her face like a dark halo. Her dark blue eyes were sparkling, her smile was bright, innocent, apologetic. "I'm sorry. I didn't hear you come in." She turned back to her work, "I just prefer to do the floors the old-fashioned way. They get cleaner this way. Much cleaner than with those sonic brushes."

"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage," Thelans said, his fingers uncurling from the knife handle as he continued to stare at her posterior, his pulse quickening ever so slightly.

A throaty laugh shook her body enticingly. "I'm Cinda, the maid. I'm really sorry about this. I just prefer to do my work in the nude. I was raised on Belian. You know, one of the nudist colonies," she added. "I have a hard time doing anything with clothes on. Besides, I didn't think you'd be back until later tonight, what with the reception and all. And I did so want to have your room nice and clean, especially since it didn't get cleaned this morning."

Thelans narrowed his eyes fractionally as he watched her slow, deliberate movements, drinking in the contours of her body. He had seen a maid enter his room as he had left to go for a breakfast reception. Why was she lying? What was she after?

Then Thelans relaxed as she continued to scrub the floor, dipping her brush into the bucket periodically, moving her body ever so slightly, letting him catch a glimpse of her genitalia almost invitingly.

A calculating glint sparked in pale blue eyes. She was young, and seemed to be available for the taking. And he was not old or feeble by any stretch of the imagination. If I chose, I could take her. I could handle any protestations she might make. She probably would not even protest. Belians were reputed to be free-spirited Humans when it came to sexual encounters. And where could she hide a weapon? Not on her. She has no place to hide anything.

"Are you sure that's the only reason you're here?" he asked softly.

She leaned back on her haunches, smiling in apology. Her position let him view her firm breasts rising and falling with her breathing as well as tempt him with her mons. "You've found me out. I knew I couldn't fool you." Her head dipped, her hair falling over her face for a brief instant before she flipped it over her shoulder, and looked at the scientist contritely, "I have a confession to make. I have this thing for intelligent men. The more intelligent, the better. They make me horny." Her entire body shivered, as if in anticipation. "Horny as hell."

I've heard of females like her, Thelans licked his lips as he stared at her soft, rounded form, mesmerized by the slow rise and fall of her breasts. They spend their time following certain types of folks, seeking sexual encounters with specific types of males or females. Usually they seek such encounters with holovid stars, musicians, politicians. Not scientists.

"I wanted to make it the smartest, greatest scientist in the galaxy, and rumor has it that's you," she went on, resuming her previous stance, letting her legs slide apart temptingly. After a beat, she turned her head back and she stared at him, noticing the bulge at his crotch. "Well? For a genius, you're acting pretty dumb. What do you want? An engraved invitation?"

Thelans blinked, unsure that he had heard her correctly.

She stood upright in one fluid movement and sauntered toward him. She took his head in her hands and pulled it down to hers, forcing her tongue into his mouth. Then she ground her hips against his. He felt her smile as his organ stiffened noticeably. His antennae alternated between curling tightly against his scalp and straightening out in ecstasy as his arms crushed her young body to his.

She pushed herself away from his body, just far enough to let her fingers unfasten his clothes as she continued to kiss him vigorously. Soon he was naked as she was. She pulled his body close to hers, letting him savor the touch of her soft skin against his, making him even more erect.

Then she pulled back, her sapphire eyes smoldering with naked desire. "Consider yourself invited," she said throatily as she sauntered back to her bucket, her hips undulating provocatively. She knelt on the floor, her buttocks pointed directly at Thelans, her legs spread wide.

Thelans padded up behind her and knelt between her legs, his thighs brushing hers, coaxing her legs even further apart. He put his hands on her hips and entered her with one thrust. He was rewarded to hear her gasp at his penetration. Andorians were slender creatures, with slim appendages. Except for one. It did often startle the Human females when they were first penetrated by Andorians.

He smiled as he let his hands stray over her body while he continued to thrust in and out of her, his hands seeking to find her breasts. She was indeed a young creature, firm and eager, thrusting her hips against his in wild abandon. She gasped again as he began to knead her breasts, pulling her body closer to his.

Thelans felt her respond to his thrusts, her moans and cries for more filling his ears, exciting him even more as he continued to caress her breasts with one hand as his other hand wandered down her stomach toward her mons. Her head was thrown back, the scrubbing forgotten as they continued to move together to the rhythm he dictated. Thelans let his head bury itself in her neck, nuzzling her, increasing her moans of pleasure, her pleas for more. Using his hands and lips he cajoled her body to respond to his, to restrain itself from releasing until he was ready for her to do so.

Her breathing was becoming ragged as they continued, as did his. He completely lost track of time. She started to whimper, begging for release, but he refused to grant it, wanting to prolong the pleasure for as long as he could.

Finally he felt his climax build and he signaled her body to climax with his. She collapsed to the floor, panting hard, Thelans on her, also breathing hard.

Several minutes later, she crawled out from under him, still breathing hard. She got to her feet slowly. Thelans rolled on his back and stared up at her lithe form covered with a sheen from their recent encounter. She was exquisite; he licked his lips, feeling himself responding to her again. That had never happened before to him. She would be the perfect companion for him, he decided. Then he wondered if she would let him take her again, this time in a more Andorian fashion. And he wondered what it would take to convince her to join him permanently.

A frown creased his blue face as he continued to stare at her young, classically lovely face.

Something was wrong. She was standing there, but she was not the same creature who had writhed under him in sexual abandon only a few short minutes before. Her blue eyes were dark, but now they were hard and cold, not filled with passion and desire, and her dazzling smile was gone.

And a laser pistol was in her hand.

"You bastard," she snarled at him. "You invented the phaser. Because of that invention, the Hood was sacrificed. And all my friends were killed. All of them! You killed them. If the Hood hadn't been carrying those faked plans, hadn't been forced to be the decoy while the Farragut got you to safety, the Orions would never have attacked the Hood."

His mouth opened in response, but before he could speak, the laser blast seared his crotch, obliterating the organ that had so recently been buried in her. A scream of agony erupted out of his throat. Her arm moved slightly. "Remember the Hood," she said coldly as her finger tightened and the blast found his chest.

She stared impassively at the nude form. Dark cobalt blue blood was trickling from his wounds, pooling around his body. Bending over, she dipped her finger into the fluid, then stepped over the corpse and walked to a nearby wall. She scrawled a message on the wall, returning to the body for more blood to finish the missive. Remember the Hood!

Tossing the pistol in the bucket where it had been hidden, she walked to the bathroom and turned on the water, then stepped under the hot stream. She scrubbed her entire body, several times, paying particular attention to the area between her legs, and everywhere else his hands had touched her body, her face twisting in hate and anger as she scrubbed diligently.

Finally she felt cleaner and stepped out, toweling herself dry. She slipped into the maid's uniform she had secreted behind a pillow and picked up her cleaning tools. She took another tool from the bucket, a descrambler, and opened the door. Pausing, she looked up and down the hall, making sure that none of the other dignitaries were returning to their rooms early, then walked toward the turbolift.


Sylvia pushed her sonic cleaning tools along the hallway. Some people come to Chrysalis to play, some to make deals, and some to work. She was one of the latter. At least here, she could count on a decent wage and better tips than she could at home.

Still, she had hoped to get a better job than that of a maid. Chrysalis boasted a thriving adult holofim industry; perhaps she should check out those ads, Sylvia sighed to herself. Okay, so she didn't have all the physical attributes of, say, an Ariel Cord, but she wasn't exactly a dog either. And she was damned good in bed; just ask any of her lovers.

Sylvia sighed again and brought out her master key, touching it to the touchpad along with her hand. No, she wasn't really cut out to be a porn actress. She preferred to know the male before he got between her legs, and not just five minutes before the director yelled action. And she wasn't really all that eager to take on groups of males, Human or otherwise. She still preferred her lovers one at a time.

At least with this job she got free room and board. The room was a good-sized one, and she could do whatever she pleased, with whomever she pleased, there during her off-hours, and the food was downright delicious.

Sylvia shook her head as she walked into the room. While she could usually count on large tips from those in these private suites, Doctor Thelans was downright miserly. There was never any gratuity left for her when she came to clean his rooms. There probably wouldn't be one today either.

She spotted a dark bluish stain on the wall, and frowned in disgust. You'd think a genius such as Doctor Thelans would keep a scratch pad near by. Now she'd have to clean the wall as well as make the bed and clean the carpet.

Her foot caught on something on the carpeted floor. Just like a genius, she thought bitterly, just leave anything and everything around for the maid to pick up. Staring down, she saw, instead of the suspected objects, a naked corpse with two charred holes in the body.

She screamed. And screamed again.

Her knees began to buckle under her, and she sank to the floor by the body. Her eyes raised up to the wall, to the stain. She could see where the liquid had begun to dribble down the wall. Her eyes wandered back to the body and the blood by it, and noted that the color was the same.

She screamed again, this time even louder.

And didn't stop until the hotel doctor finally sedated her.

Day 4
The Office of the Director of the
Barrier Alliance Consortium


The screen in front of the black-robed man flickered as the figure moved out of the room and walked down the hall. The man leaned back in the chair and watched as the scene shifted from the hall to that of the dim room, moving jerkily as the person holding the recorder walked into the room. It focused on the body on the floor, letting the camera pan over the form, lingering on the two wounds. He flinched when he noticed that the male's genitals were missing. No male should die devoid of his manhood.

Then the camera moved from the body to a wall. It lingered on the scrawled message. He frowned as he read the message. "Remember the Hood."

He remembered the Hood all right. A debacle that cost him plenty. He had hoped to get the plans for the phaser, and found out that the Hood had been a decoy to let the Federation get the plans safely out of reach of its enemies. Out of reach of the Orions. It had worked.

The tape finally ran out, leaving the screen black.

The Director of the Barrier Alliance frowned as he ran the tape back. He had been most displeased when his team on Chrysalis had informed him that Thelans had been murdered on the eve of the announcement of his receiving the Z-Magnees Prize. They had been sent there to capture the Andorian inventor and bring him back to Xantharus. He might have been deprived of the plans of the new phaser, but with Thelans in his clutches he could have the phaser weapon, and more.

The Director of the Barrier Alliance punched several buttons and ran the tape back, stopping it on the female's face. There was something about that face that was familiar, damned familiar. Tapping a few more buttons gave him a close-up of her face.

She was a lovely creature. He felt his body respond to her form momentarily. She would have been a fine addition to his harem, he nodded. Except, she had cheated him of his prize. And no one who cheated him lived.

Had she done anything else, she would join his harem, without a mindwipe, forced to endure and please him until he tired of her. And considering what he saw of her, that would have taken a very long time.

He continued to study the young woman's face. Why did that innocent face bother him? More buttons were tapped, enhancing the close-up even more. He knew her. Where, when or how he knew her, he couldn't remember, but he did know her. She'd done something different to herself. He didn't know what. Yet.

A scuffling noise sounded outside his door just before a buzzer interrupted his musings. "What?!" he snapped.

"My lord, may we see you?" a male voice belonging to one of his lieutenants requested.

The Director's eyes narrowed as he blanked the screen. "Very well, but this had better be good, Xeron."

"I believe this will interest you, lord," Xeron answered.

The door swung open and twelve pirates entered. Between them was an Orion female, dressed in skins that barely covered her breasts and pelvis. Her hair was coal black, in wild disarray, her eyes blue-green, sparkling in anger as she fought to free herself from the men. Two held her arms even though her hands were shackled in front of her. She was cursing steadily, denouncing their parentage and their parents' parentage, barely taking time to breathe between epithets, then she started on cursing their descendants.

At any other time the Director might have been amused by this female's antics. She was lovely, and her temper made her very desirable. He might have had his men hold her while he sampled her.

But not today.

"You bother me for this trollop who tries to be an Animal Woman?" He leveled a murderous glare at Xeron. The pale, silver eyes behind the black face mask glittered.

The female paused in her cursing with his first words, her breasts heaving from her exertions. "My lord," she addressed him, cutting off Xeron and his men, "I am a prostitute, working in the Meon Brothel in the Centa district of Gracchos. I am a good prostitute; ask any of the customers I've served. Ask the Brothel Master. And that is all I am. A prostitute. A simple prostitute."

"A simple prostitute? Hah!" Xeron's huge hands grabbed her bra and panties, ripping them from her body, exposing her firm breasts and pubic region to the entire cadre. "I think not, lord." Xeron snorted as he motioned to his men.

The men dragged the struggling female to the table and threw her on it, two holding her arms above her head and two hold her legs spread wide. Xeron stepped between her legs, and jabbed his fingers into her vagina, causing her to gasp at his crude entrance, then spread it wide open. Turning to the Director, he asked, "Since when do Orion females have pink female flesh, lord?"

The Director stared at the ruddy flesh of her vaginal wall, his eyes glittering hard. He got up slowly and walked over to her, noting her expression had changed to one of mild terror. He smiled coldly down at her from behind his mask.

Suddenly, a small dagger was in his hand. The blade glistened briefly, then moved lightning fast and buried itself into her groin. She screamed in pain. He twisted the dagger, and pulled it out. She screamed again as she passed out. He watched as the red fluid flowed from the wound to the table in a torrent.

"A simple prostitute?" The Director snorted as he walked back to his desk. "Bah! A damned Starfleet Intelligence officer more likely. Xeron, you've done well." He sat down and gave them a pleased nod. "Take her to Marina. Let her work on the bitch. Marina will find out what she is hiding."

"Yes, lord." Xeron nodded and signaled his men. The two holding her arms dragged her off the table and out the door, trailing blood in their wake.

As the door closed behind them, he brought the picture back and stared at the female's face. As he stared at her face, his mind began racing. Then his face broke into a smile and he punched in a series of commands. A few seconds later his smile widened as he read the information that scrawled on the bottom of the screen.

"I thought I knew you, bitch," he chuckled as he leaned back in his chair. "Yes, I did know you." He tapped on the intercom. "Get me Haldar," he commanded the aide.

"Haldar is completing a foreclosure, lord," the aide responded. "Shall I signal him?"

The Director let a smile play over his face. Haldar had asked to handle this particular foreclosure personally, he remembered. And when he learned why, the Director had permitted it, glad to be able to do something for his protégé. "No, no. It's not that urgent. Have him check in with me when he returns."

"Yes, lord."

The Director stared at the frozen face on his screen, at the blue eyes that were looking into the camera. "Soon, bitch, soon. Your head will be in my trophy case in a place of honor. Soon."

Day 4
Aboard the Star Liner Andoria
Deep Space

Christopher Pike walked into his cabin on the Star Liner Andoria. It was larger than his cabin on the Enterprise, not to mention more luxurious. But that was the difference between a starship and a Star Liner, he mused. And that was one of the perks of being a starship captain, he smiled. Obtaining passage on a civilian ship to anywhere in Federation space while on Federation business. Even on a luxury liner. He had to wear his uniform, but it was worth it.

He could have gotten back to Chrysalis on any of the regular shuttles. But not in time for the launching of the U.S.S. Hood. And he wanted to be there for that. More than anything in the universe, he wanted to be there when Jack Raintree got his new ship. He sobered remembering the last time he'd seen his friend, lying on the biobed in Sickbay, sick at the loss of his ship, the loss of his crew, all but one, and the insult of medals being awarded to him and his crew for playing decoy.

Then he brightened as he recalled the other reason he was going back to Chrysalis. There was an open-ended invitation from Ariel Cord to join her at her father's estate on Chrysalis. And he was going to take her up on that offer. Again.

He'd given up trying to discover who was smiling on him when he'd found Ariel. She was years younger than he, and he often felt like he was robbing the cradle when he was with her in public. Yet he was never happier than when he was with her in public or in private.

And while he was grateful that he was able to procure passage on the civilian ship, he was not about to be exploited by the Andoria's command crew. He was not going to be available for any command luncheons or dinners; no, he was going to be spending a lot of time in this stateroom, enjoying the soft mattress and satin sheets, the room service with food that would make Boyce more than a trifle upset if he ever found out (and knowing Boyce, he would), and the closed circuit entertainment holos. In short, he was going to relax and enjoy this cruise completely.

Pike picked up the large, complimentary drink that was waiting for him, and sank into the mattress, wondering idly just who he'd have to bribe in Starfleet Command to get one of these for his quarters on the Enterprise, snatching the remote device on his way.

"Let's see. 250 viewing selections," he read off the unit. "Ah, what's this?" He frowned as he looked at the small switch. "Oh, a lock-out device." He tapped the switch, noticing that the screen came alive with a notice and a disclaimer.

His eyebrows lifted slightly. Well, he couldn't blame the Andoria or any of the folks who controlled the entertainment feed; what was right for certain species was absolutely wrong for another, and certain cultures still controlled what the young viewed until the young were of an age to answer for themselves. Thus the lock-out device and the need for his fingerprint to be entered to prove that he was one of the sentients who could view certain channels.

Once the blank blue screen disappeared, he began to click the button, watching a few minutes before he switch to another channel. What was that old saying? 250 channels and nothing's on. Or something like that. The stuff was either trite, or contrived, or downright boring.

Actually, he was just doing something to give his eyes and hands something to do while he thought about his ship now in the docks around Earth. She was going to be a hell of a lot different when he got back to her, he sighed wistfully. Perhaps it would be for the better. More firepower, more defensive capability, more speed, more crew

Pike let a small smile creep on his face as he recalled his first meeting with his new Chief Engineer. He'd found the man buried up to his knees in a Jefferies tube, issuing orders, calling for tools and demanding readings from his engineers. When someone had finally told him that the captain was in Engineering, he'd crawled out, not apologizing for not keeping his appointment with Pike.

"Ah dinna think ye'd mind if Ah got straight t' work," he said, his Scottish brogue strong. "They say that th' refit will take twelve weeks, sir. Twelve weeks! An' that's just for th' engine an' weapon refit only. Not t' mention th' time t' change th' configuration of th' crew area t' house four hundred folks. Makes it a true starship."

"Yes, that's right," Pike had answered, containing his own emotions. He wasn't sure what to make of this dark-haired man. Or why he was carrying on the way he was.

"Aye, that's what they say," the Scotsman had snorted. "Ah say that it can be done in four. Three if no one bothers me, or my name's not Montgomery Scott."

"Three?" Pike had frowned, confused.

"Aye, sir. Three. Then those other folks can get busy on their part of the refit so this bonnie ship can be back in space where she belongs. An' in less time than those Klingon heathens say. Ah'm thinkin' ye'll be happier once ye're back in command of yer ship instead of having t' hobnob wi' th' bureaucrats an' diplomats an' such; get back t' th' real business of runnin' a starship."

Pike had laughed, clapping a hand on the man's shoulder. He already liked this man. "Very well, Mister Scott. Carry on."

"Aye, sir!" Scott had nodded at the man, and disappeared back into the Jefferies tube, resuming where he'd left off moments before.

Pike had reread Montgomery Scott’s file when he got back to his ready room. The man was a genius in his own right, creating or perfecting much of what was known about the warp engines and the engineering section of the ships. He’d been an instructor for a number of years at the Academy, earning many accolades there from his peers. He would have probably never left had Larry Marvick not been promoted and reassigned. Pike himself had asked his old classmate to join his crew as the chief engineer.

His musings were interrupted by a flicker on the screen. "Whoa, what's that?" He lifted his finger from button and watched the action on the screen. "Oh! That kind of action," he chuckled as he watched several forms, nude, clutching and groping at each other. He looked at the crawl on the bottom of the screen, noting there were several other such channels, the ones that had required his fingerprint to release the lock-out.

He flipped to one of the other channels, his eyebrows raised in surprise as he saw the way the beings were contorted around each other in a the throes of passion. "Has to be computer-generated," he muttered under his breath. "No Human could do that. Could they?"

Still seeing nothing to keep his interest for more that a few fleeting minutes, he continued to switch channels. And then a young female form was filling the screen and he stared in amazement.

She was kneeling on the wet beach, eyeing the three males that were standing around her, daring them to take her. Suddenly the taller Human male leaped on her and rammed his organ into her anus, while the smaller Human flipped himself under her and forced himself into her vagina. The Andorian watched as the three began their orgy, then, when he was satisfied that she was caught up in the passion of the moment, grabbed her head and opened her mouth for his penis.

"Ohmygod!" Pike gasped as he stared as the female's face, now in the center of the screen, occupied with the Andorian even as she continued to keep pace with the two Human males and their pumping actions. Her eyes were glazed with lust, rolled back in her head, as she greedily sucked the Andorian's huge organ.

A male voice was speaking as the action continued on the screen. "Don't miss the Ariel Cord double-feature tonight on the Starlight Channel. Our features tonight: Hot Nights on the Beach and Caged and Deadly."

"Ariel?" His voice was a squeaked whisper. "Ariel? My Ariel?"

The bodies on the screen bucked at the same time, and the camera focused on the pleased face of the female as she sat among the men, now collapsed on the sands, her eyes beckoning for more to come and take her. The pert face with the green eyes stared at the camera, still smoldering with passion and lust as she licked her lips seductively, savoring the taste of the Andorian's clear blue semen.

"Ariel?" Pike repeated again, his voice barely audible.

A voice sounded, breaking into his shocked thoughts. "Will you be watching the Premium Special?" the computer repeated.

Pike chewed his lip for a brief instant. Obviously these channels allowed some peeping, but to do more than that, to be a voyeur, required payment. His tastes did not run to pornographic material in the first place, and in the second he wasn't sure how he'd justify it on his expense account. Still, he had to see exactly what Ariel had been up to in the months that he had been on patrol.

"Yes," he squeaked. Surprised at the sound of his voice, he cleared his throat and repeated in his normal tone, "Yes, I will."

"Please place your thumb on the disk," the computer voice instructed. Pike complied. "Your account has been debited two hundred credits for viewing the Starline Premium Channel. Thank you for your patronage."

Two hundred His eyebrows crept up even higher. He was going to have to pay it; there was no way that he could justify that expense to Starfleet Command. Ever.

The voice went on. "The double feature will begin in ten minutes. May we provide you with some live entertainment until then?"

"Uh, no," Pike gulped. "Just be sure my dinner gets here before the feature starts."

"Of course," the computer responded as a knock sounded on the door.

Pike leaped to the door, opening it barely wide enough to let the crew member wheel the cart in. "Thanks," he said, dropping a few credit chips in the eager hands.

Locking the door, he got himself comfortable, sampling the spicy Tellarite cuisine and the, by comparison, bland fare from Andor, and the simple vegetables from Vulcan. There were also his favorite foods from Earth and some variations from Centaurus.

Suddenly the channel crackled back to life. He stared up at the opening credits, chewing on some of the food. The food was quickly forgotten as the opening credits, complete with action, filled the screen. Pike found himself staring wide-eyed at the gyrations on the screen. His eyes got even wider, much to his surprise, as the action continued in ways he couldn't remember fathoming, even as a teenager whose hormones were constantly in overdrive.

As he continued to watch, a feeling of rage began to build in him. First at himself for indulging in such prurient material, and then at Ariel for doing it. She was most definitely enjoying everything the males were doing to her. And they were doing a lot to her, using her in every way imaginable, and some he had never imagined.

Then the rage gave way to puzzlement. How could such a beautiful, smart girl do such things? he wondered. She certainly didn't need the work--her father was one of the richest men in the universe, where wealth was still counted, that is; which was a lot of places.

As the first feature finally finished and the second one started, he found himself leaning back in the chair, a pensive expression on his face as he remembered the nights and days they had spent together on his last shore leave. She had been so loving, so giving of herself. Now he wondered if it had all been an act for him, the lonely starship captain on shore leave. It hadn't seemed like she had been acting at the time.

But now

She didn't seem to be acting on the screen either.

And those males, to be honest and blunt, had a lot more going for them physically and performance-wise, than he did. Why, he wondered sadly, as he watched the blonde nymph in the prison scene being "forced" to perform for the amusement of the guards with some of the male non-Human prisoners as "punishment" for some wrong she had committed, was she spending time with him when she had so much more to choose from?

Ariel and he were going to be doing a lot more than getting reacquainted, he decided as the trio of males finished using her and she was grabbed by the guards to hold her as a B'rythian lumbered into the room and took his position behind her. The men cheered as the B'rythian slid into her, and began to thrust slowly at first, then with more speed, encouraged by the guards and the other prisoners.

A lot more.

Like talk.

Day 4
The Main Bar
Hotel Royale

Commodore Wentworth was sitting at the bar of the Hotel Royale, a shot glass in front of him. He stared into it, oblivious of everything else around him. He wasn't drunk, not yet anyway. But he was working on it. Unlike Admiral Stoddard, however, he did his drinking in private, or as close to private as he could manage. And he always made sure that he was able to leave the public places under his own power.

He was drinking to forget, of course. Forget the last year of his life when his career had suddenly stalled, gotten off track. When he'd allowed that pompous ass of a councilman convince him that sacrificing the Hood for the good of the Federation was the right thing to do. That the loss would be acceptable.

Acceptable, hell! He tossed back the glass and stared up, surprised to find a person standing next to him.

"This seat taken?"

Wentworth stared up at the form standing next to him, his eyes taking a few minutes to focus. His blood went cold as he finally recognized the Starfleet officer who was standing next to the empty chair. Tall, well-muscled, long straight black hair, tied back in a pony-tail with a rawhide thong, John "Jack" Raintree was looking a lot healthier than the last time they'd met. Raintree's gray eyes locked his, but only for a moment.

"N-no." Wentworth shook his head slowly.

Raintree was the last person he wanted to see. He remembered the stony-faced man, lying on the biobed on the Enterprise, pushing the medals away, refusing to see things the way they were. It didn't help that Pike had practically thrown him and the councilman off the ship as well.

"Good." Raintree sat down in the empty chair, his face still stony, his tone still neutral. "Bartender, double brandy."

The barkeep nodded and moved down, taking more orders. Wentworth returned his glance to his glass, now empty. Without looking up, he signaled the bartender for a refill. The silence with the droning of the conversations in the background, no doubt about the murder of the celebrated Thelans, was overpowering.

Finally, "Been a while, Commodore," Raintree said softly as the bartender placed their drinks in front of them.

"Yes, it has," Wentworth said after the barkeep moved on. A long pause, then, "Congratulations on your new ship, Captain. You deserve her."

"Thank you, Commodore," Raintree responded, sipping his brandy. "Pity about my old ship, though, isn't it?"

Wentworth felt his jaw tighten, and his fist clenched tightly around the glass. "Damn it," he finally exploded softly. "It wasn't my idea, Jack. I just followed orders, the same as you do. I got orders to use the Hood as a decoy. I didn't like them. I tried to convince the Councilor that it wasn't the best plan, that there had to be a better way, but I was overruled. So I followed my orders. And I gave you yours. I'm sorry about the crew, about the Hood. Damn it, Jack, I served on a starship before. I know, I understand what you went through, having to destroy your ship, seeing your crew die. But it was necessary. Necessary for the safety..." He took a deep breath. "But you have to know, it was not my idea. It was Derek Corman's. And you may not think I haven't lost sleep over that incident, but you'd be wrong. Dead wrong."

"Save it," Raintree snapped. "You don't know; you can't know. You were never in command of a ship, and you never had one blown out from under you. You never heard the cries of your crew as the ship was opened up to the vacuum of space. And you sure as hell never heard your crewmen scream in agony as they were boiled alive..." He stopped, his face ashen. "And you never watched your female crew member raped and sodomized by an entire band of Orion pirates. Repeatedly."

Wentworth's face paled. He hadn't read the detailed report that Raintree had filed, not wanting to know the facts.

"It wasn't my finest hour, Jack." Wentworth's head dipped back down, staring back at his drink. "It haunts me. It still haunts me."

Raintree looked at the commodore, noting the defeated, broken man staring numbly at the drink in front of him. He shook his head and swallowed his brandy. "I believe you," he finally said. "But I don't think it haunts you as much as it haunts me."

Wentworth stared at his glass as he felt the Amerind leave the room. He caught the eye of the barkeep. "Set 'em up, Milo," he said. "And don't stop until I do."

Day 4
A Farm on the Outskirts of Gracchos

Aleta stopped pitching the hay onto the mound and stared out into the farmyard, blinking at the bright red sun as it glared back into her eyes from dirt. She'd been working hard these past three months, harder than she had ever worked in her life.

And she had never been happier.

Aleta had been born in the city of Gracchos the youngest child and only daughter of a small merchant. From her earliest years, she had known that her worth was only in her femaleness. She learned exactly what that worth was when she changed from a girl-child to a woman-child and found her virginity bartered away to pay for some of her father's debts. The old, fat, sweaty man had torn her shift from her body, tossed her on the nearest table and taken her in front of her father, just to be sure that she was a virgin before he canceled the larger portion of the debts owed him; then, still wheezing from his exertions and oblivious to her tears of pain, had bartered for her services for a year to cancel the rest of the debt.

From that day on, she had learned to serve the men who held her father's debts, to hide her feelings as they panted over her and thrust into her, to learn new ways to perform for her masters, to be sure that the males were sated with her body and her performances, or suffer the consequences.

When her father died, some years later, he was at least debt-free, due almost entirely to her labors. That, at least, kept her from being sold into slavery. He hadn't provided for her welfare, though, which guaranteed her little prospects for marriage unless her brothers came up with a dowry. That was unlikely since her brothers, she knew were much like her father. Rather than spend the rest of her life keeping her male relatives debt-free, she had struck out on her own, only to find that females had little chance to earn an honest living, except in the brothels.

She finally settled on a brothel with a master that at least seemed to care for his staff's well-being, and had signed a working contract with the man. Thus began her career as a prostitute. The work was no different than she had been doing since the tender age of eleven. And at least the money she earned from her labors would be hers alone.

It had been chance that her first customer had been a tall, dark-haired man who just happened to be a member of the Director's staff. He'd chosen her over all the other females in the brothel. Once in her chambers he'd undressed her, gently, and then proceeded to have sex with her, and for the first time in her life, she had felt sexual pleasure. He'd stayed with her the entire night, teaching her about receiving pleasure as well as giving pleasure, making her beg for more until she could no longer respond.

When he'd left her room the next morning, he'd gone to the brothel master and had the man void her contract, then had propositioned her come with him, intimating that she would be his mistress, the first in his harem. Seeing that she no longer had a job, and that he seemed to care for her, giving and well as receiving sexual pleasure, she'd agreed.

She didn't know that he had been taken with her creamy complexion and raven hair, her large emerald eyes in her oval face. She didn't know that he had worked hard to seduce her, make her eager to join him when he forced the brothel master to rip up her contract.

She didn't know that his true nature was totally opposite from what he had shown her that night. She didn't know that he wanted her as his slave, to give him pleasure in a variety of ways, some of which she had already learned at an early age, some of which she had never dreamed of. She didn't know that he did not enjoy sex unless he first brutalized the female. She didn't know that he often enjoyed orgies with his friends, and she was expected to please them all at the same time or continue to serve them until she did.

She didn't know, but she soon learned.

Once in his rooms, she met the man's true nature.

He'd ripped her clothes from her body, beat her soundly, then had taken her without foreplay. When he'd finished, he forced her to take him orally until he was sated, then bring him back to a state of readiness. Still gagging from his use of her, she was slammed onto the table where he raped her yet again. Then he'd gone to work, leaving her bleeding and crying, draped over the table, suggesting as he left, that she get used to it, for there was no one on the planet who would help her.

It had taken her a week to finally find the means to escape from his rooms. She had endured his beatings and his use of her during that time, fearful that each time he took her he would finally kill her before he was finished with her. She had left, wearing only a cloak over her abused body. She knew that her chances for true escape were next to nil; any who dared to help her would be sure to face the wrath of the Director's right-hand man. If any would even dare to help her. She could but hope that somehow, she would die in the escape.

And fate had once again stepped in. When she'd stumbled, running over the cobbled roads in her bare feet, she'd been caught by the strong arms of a young sun-darkened man with the first stubble of beard growth on his strong square face. He'd noticed that she had nothing on under the cloak, and various bruises on her body. After checking her body to make sure that she was not wearing the brand of a slave, or the bands of a wife, he'd offered her his help. He took her to his farm, tended her until she was better, and then made her his wife.

Aleta's eyes studied the horizon until she found what she sought, the form of her husband, Antare, herding the female Borzans, bovine-type animals, to the pen where the stud was eagerly awaiting them. In the fall, they'd have calves to sell. Enough to meet the next tax payment.

Antare was the last of a dying breed. He was an independent business man, not aligned with the Consortium. His farm was one of the last on the planet not owned by the Consortium. It had belonged to his family for ten generations. It would not be that way for much longer, they both knew. Sooner or later the Consortium always got what they wanted, and they wanted his farm.

But, for now, it was his. He grew whatever he could, animal or plant, to eke out a living on the homestead, working hard to get water to the desert land so that it would sustain life for just a little while longer.

His plan was to last one more year. Then he was going to sell out and take Aleta and leave Xantharus. He hadn't told her where he would go after that; perhaps they would leave the Barrier Alliance and enter Federation space, find a planet where he could stake a claim and start a new farm and a family.

Aleta returned to her work. This was her job, to stack the feed and keep the barn clean; not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination, but needed so that Antare could work in the field. She was important to him, and not just in the bed.

Not that he ignored her, she smiled tenderly. Hardly. He was a demanding lover, expecting much from her, and giving as much and more than he demanded.

She felt, rather than saw, Antare enter the relatively cool barn, seeking temporary relief from the red sun that burned down without mercy. His body was covered with sweat, causing his vest and pants to cling to his body, outlining his form, making her ache with longing. Her body was also sweat-soaked, forcing her shift to stick to her body as well. She let her eyes drift to him, arching her body suggestively as she rested against the wall. She knew he was watching her; he rarely didn't watch her.

"Aleta," Antare's baritone voice sounded almost scolding. "I have work to finish before noon. There is no time for that now."

"There is time," she smiled, sauntering toward him.

She started kissing him demandingly. Antare tried to remain stoic, but soon he was returning her kiss with equal ardor. Their hands were exploring each other hungrily, removing the clothing from each other.

Suddenly he lifted her up and settled her on his engorged organ. She moaned in pleasure and wrapped her legs around his waist, responding to each savage thrust with one as savage of her own. She felt the rough barn wall against her back as Antare shoved her against it, using it to support both of them as they sought release and pleasure from each other.

The release was soon in coming. They sagged against the wall, her legs and arms still wrapped tightly around her husband, his head still buried in her chest.

The applause at the door startled them both. Antare turned his head and stared in shock at the contingent of Orion operatives and pirates standing at the barn's door. He felt Aleta stiffen in his arms.

One of the operatives stepped forward. He was tall, with dark curly hair, dressed in the finery of a noble. Haldar, the Director's former ward and now his first henchman. It had been rumored that as a young teen he had killed a half a dozen larger youths in a back alley with his bare hands when they had tried to bully the orphan into joining their gang. It was said that he had used the Director's own cloak to wipe the blood from his hands before he'd clasped the man's hand in agreement to becoming the man's ward.

Haldar continued to clap as he took another step toward them. "Quite a performance, Aleta. Hello, my dear."

"H-Haldar," Aleta's voice was hushed, terror in her tone. She moved from her husband's arms reaching for her shift.

"Uh-uh," Haldar's arm shot out, grabbing her by her hair, pulling her toward him with one arm while he pulled out a blaster from his waist band, pointing it at Antare, stopping him from coming to her rescue. "No, no, Aleta. Once loveliness is exposed, it should never be covered again. Didn't I teach you that often enough, my dear?"

Aleta shuddered as he lowered his head to hers, forcing her to endure his kiss, trying to avoid his lips and tongue. "You never protested before," he said, pulling her head back, compelling her to stare up into his dark, cold eyes.

"Let my wife go!" Antare snarled as he lunged at the killer.

Four pirates appeared at Haldar's side and seized the attacking man before he could take a second step. Haldar stepped toward the farmer, dragging Aleta with him, his fingers still entangled in her silky hair. He glared at the farmer, near his height, but much broader of shoulder. The naked hatred in his black eyes seared Antare as his blaster was slammed into the farmer's abdomen.

As Antare folded, held only by the pirates that still held his arms, Haldar put the blaster back in his waist band, then snatched Antare's hair and pulled his head back up. He let his gaze wander down the man's form to his groin, to the still partly-erect member.

"You left me for this?" he snickered, pointing at the man's large organ. His hand doubled in a fist and slammed up behind his scrotum. As Antare's color grew ashen and he doubled over, unable to clutch his member, Haldar continued, "This little bit of flesh? Was I too much for you, then, dearest? Is that why you felt you had to leave?"

"P-please Haldar, just leave us alone," Aleta whimpered.

"I would really like to, Aleta," Haldar sighed. The sigh was almost menacing. He felt Aleta shudder at the sigh and he smiled a thin vicious smile. "I really would. Believe it or not, my dear, there is another who has taken your place. Unfortunately," he turned back to Antare, "this is not a personal call. I am here on business."

"Business?" Antare gasped, still sagged between his captors.

"Business," Haldar repeated. "Taxes."

"I've paid the taxes for this quarter," Antare protested weakly. "All twenty-eight thousand drekons. It's all we can afford."

"Really?" Haldar's eyebrow arched wickedly. "Pity. You won't be able to afford the new rate then. Retroactive. You now owe twenty-five billion drekons."

"Twenty-five..." Antare stared mutely up at Haldar.

"You still owe over twenty-four billion drekons." Haldar smirked at the two of them as the farmer and his wife paled in shock.

"You can't be serious!" Antare stammered. "No one can afford that tax. No one!"

"I know," Haldar's smile grew cruel. "That's the general idea, Farmer. The only alternative is execution." He snapped his fingers suddenly, then jerked his thumb toward the door. "Take him outside now. Crucify him."

Aleta screamed, trying to pull away from Haldar as the pirates dragged the struggling man out of the barn. Haldar tightened his hold on her, pulling her back to his body. Aleta twisted in his grasp and stared up into his stony face. "Please don't kill him, Haldar! Please!" Tears slid down her cheek. "Please, Haldar, I-I'll do anything you ask. Anything."

Haldar's stony expression cracked, a vicious smile replacing the impassive expression. "Really?" he murmured. "Xeron," he barked. "Hold that order. Take him out. But don't kill him. Yet. And close the door. I want privacy."

As the door closed behind the sniggering pirates, Haldar let his cloak drop to the hay-covered floor in a corner. Soon his silken vest and shirt joined the cloak. Finally his pants topped the heap. Aleta stayed where he had left her, knowing full well that to move before he commanded her could cause the death of her husband, shaking as she noted that Haldar was fully erect.

He walked over to her. "You were saying," he murmured as he lowered his head to hers.

He forced her to receive his brutal kiss, his tongue exploring her mouth viciously, gagging her, then demanding she explore his mouth with her tongue, biting it fiercely, pleased with the taste of her blood in his mouth. As he kissed her, his hands examined her body, pinching soft flesh cruelly, kneading soft areas of her body roughly, entering her private parts savagely. Aleta closed her eyes to the face over hers, willing her body to respond even as she divorced herself from her body, becoming impassive to his touch, reminding herself that if she could endure such treatment for seven long years for her father, who never cared for her except as a means to reduce his debts; she could endure this and more for the man who loved her.

"Now, bitch," Haldar rasped, his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to her knees in front of him. "Now!"

Aleta obediently opened her mouth and let him thrust his penis down her throat. She felt his hands move from her shoulders to behind her head, forcing her face closer to his groin as his hips thrust, driving himself deeper down her throat. Keeping her eyes closed, she reminded herself to let him set the pace, let him tell her when she was to respond, when she was to move.

Haldar pulled her head even closer to his groin, smiling when he felt her begin to resist, then comply to his demands. She knew her place, all right: the ever-obedient, ever-serving female. He settled into a forceful rhythm, noting that she was having to repeatedly stop herself from gagging. He closed his eyes, luxuriating in the pleasure he was feeling at controlling her body once again. Finally he could contain himself no longer.

Aleta felt his muscles bunch as he climaxed. Before she could respond, he pulled himself from her mouth and his giant hand slapped her face hard, causing her teeth to cut the inside of her mouth, sending her spilling to the ground. Flecks of blood with his semen stained her face and splashed the hay around her.

Aleta looked up at Haldar, noting his dark expression as he bent down and pulled her back to her knees by her hair. The tears were streaming down her face, but she held back the cries. He smiled at her, sending shudders down her spine. His hands once more behind her head, forced her face into his crotch as he commanded, "Now, bitch, once more. Make me hard again!"

Obediently she took the semi-flaccid member in her mouth and used her skills to make him erect again. When he was once again rigid, he pulled himself from her mouth, and slapped her to the ground.

She stayed on the ground where she'd fallen, waiting his next move. He stepped behind her, forcing her chest and head down into the hay on the hard plank floor and pulling her hips up in the air. She bit her lip as his penis rammed its way deep into her vagina. She let the tears stream down her face now without check, holding back only the sobs as he continued to ram her mercilessly.

The sun moved slowly outside reaching its zenith causing the enclosed barn to get stiflingly warm, and still he persisted. Moans of pain escaped from her lips, most of them muffled by the hay under her. A few leaked out, heard by Haldar. She felt him shake with laughter when he heard them, pausing in his use of her for a brief time before he continued. Finally, when she felt she could no longer endure another thrust, she felt him climax, holding her hips close to his until he was completed. Then he released her body, letting it fall to the hay-covered floor, standing over her shaking form, his feet wide apart, his fists on his hips.

Aleta looked up at the giant executioner, tears flooding her eyes. The sobs were silent, barely audible. Though he had always been brutal to her, he had never taken quite this long to sate himself with her. And he was pleased with himself, she noted.

Still, if it had saved Antare's life, she thought grimly, it had been worth it.

He stared down at her, lifting his wrist with his communicator. With his other hand he tapped a button, then uttered a single word. "Resume."

A scream and the sound of a hammer thudding on steel aroused Aleta from her near stuporous state. "No! You promised!"

He sneered. "I did no such thing, bitch. You swore to do anything. I did not swear to save his life. Just to hold his execution."

"No!" Aleta pulled herself to her feet and launched her body at his, fists flaying wildly, striking him but causing little damage.

A single fist to her stomach dropped her to her knees. He grabbed her by her hair, dragging her to a small wooden table. Flinging her onto it, he pinned her body to it with his knees, his arm grabbing one of hers forcing it up at an awkward angle.

"Now, bitch, I think I shall explore uncharted territory," he snickered as he spread her flesh of her buttocks with his free hand.

Before she could react, his swollen, erect member was jammed fully into her rectum, forcing a scream of pain from her lips as she felt tender flesh rip and tear. He paused, staring down at the crying figure under him. He chuckled cruelly as he withdrew, then rammed himself into her again, forcing another scream of pain from the girl under him as her sphincter tore with an audible 'crack.'

"What?" He bent over her, bringing his mouth close to her ear, forcing himself even deeper into her. "You mean that this was virgin territory? If I had known, I would have entered it sooner. Much sooner."

He continued to thrust into her torn, tortured orifice, timing his thrusts to coincide with the hammer blows from outside the barn, pausing when the hammering stopped, resuming when the hammers began to fall on the stakes again. Aleta, unable to restrain herself any longer, sobbed, pleading for him to finish, to be done with her, which only made his thrusts harder, and slower. She could feel a wet stickiness trickling down her legs. Semen from the rape and sodomy, no doubt, but also, she realized, her own blood from the forced entry.

A lot of it.

Finally she felt his muscles bunch and he climaxed, forcing her arm between her shoulder blades. The snap of the bone was accompanied by the scream of pain both from inside and outside the barn and his roar of triumph. Finished with the female beneath him, he withdrew, and still gripping her by her broken arm, tossed her body to the ground.

Stepping over her, he walked to a bucket of water and proceeded to clean her blood and his own semen from his body. Then he walked over to where his clothes were on ground, and redressed himself. Once he was finished he walked to where Aleta was beginning to stir.

He stared down at her blood- and semen-spattered legs and buttocks, his bloodthirsty smile giving him a feral appearance. He reached down and pulled the hapless female to her feet by her black hair, now tangled and snarled and filthy.

He propelled her out of the barn to the yard where an X-shaped cross was now settled in the ground. Nailed to it was Antare, blood streaming down his arms and over his feet to the ground below. Aleta stared up at Antare, his head drooping on his chest, his eyes dull, nearly lifeless. She sobbed hysterically. All her sacrifice for naught. Her beloved husband was dead.

Then her dulled glance spied another cross on the ground. Her hysteria doubled. "No! No!" she screamed, attempting to pull away from Haldar. "NO!"

His grip on her locks tightened and he pulled her back toward him. "I had no intention of letting either of you live, bitch," he snarled into her face. "He has opposed the Consortium for far too long. And you," his face was now inches from hers, his hatred evident in his dark eyes, "you had to pay for leaving before I permitted it. No one leaves me until I permit it."

"P-please Haldar," she whimpered. She feared Haldar, his treatment of her; but she feared death more. "Please. I'll do whatever you want. Please! Don't kill me!"

"You shouldn't have left me for the farmer, bitch," Haldar sneered at her, grabbing her broken arm and twisting it savagely.

Aleta screamed then passed out, becoming limp in Haldar's grasp. He tossed her to the ground, then let the pirates help spread her naked form onto the wooden bars. Obediently they waited until she had regained consciousness before they pulled her limbs wide and tied them to the wooden beams. She screamed again as they stretched her limbs, and Haldar personally forced her broken arm to conform to the contour of the cross arm before they were bound by rough rope to the unfinished wood.

Then he disappeared, only to reappear with some rust-covered nails and a mallet. He put the tip of the nail onto the palm of her hand and let the mallet fall on the nail head. Aleta cried in agony as the dull metal tore into the callused flesh of her palm. He paused as she continued to cry.

"If only you'd have stayed with me, Aleta," he shook his head, almost sadly. "You could have had the universe. And you would have been one of the most envied females on Xantharus. First as my female, then, perhaps as the Director's. If only..." He let the mallet fall again on the nail forcing it deeper into her palm eliciting another scream of pain. "If only... But now, you will join your husband."

A long time later Haldar let the mallet fall one last time. The last nail was finally secured into the wood through her flesh. Aleta was limp on the cross, her head lolling from side to side. She was no longer aware of anything but the pain coursing through her entire body. It wouldn't take long for her to die, he realized.

Haldar stood and stared down at the once-beautiful female. He was about to give the order to raise the cross and set it next to Antare's, when he noticed the men were staring longingly at Aleta's body, especially her exposed pelvic region, enhanced by her position on the wooden bars. He chuckled to himself. It had been a long time since they had been allowed to enjoy themselves with a female prisoner, he realized. He should have let them enjoy themselves with her once he was done with her. That would have truly added to the bitch's suffering. Well, he wasn't going to tear her from the cross now; they'd never get her back on it alive.

Smiling broadly at his pirates, he waved an inviting hand at the still form on the cross. "Enjoy!" he commanded. "Go ahead, enjoy her. Between her husband and me, she's well primed for the lot of you. Enjoy her until you are all sated."

"No!" A croak sounded from the cross above them as the pirates began to strip their pants off. "No! You can't!"

Haldar stared up at Antare, noting the man was not as far gone as he had believed. Damned farmer had stamina, that was certain. Grabbing Xeron, he held up a hand, halting the men in their tracks. "First, Xeron, geld that creature. Then remove his manhood. Cauterize the wound with your disruptor so he doesn't bleed to death...yet."

"As you wish, Lord Haldar," Xeron nodded, a murderous smile on his face as he pulled a large knife from his sash.

"And when you are finished, you may be the first to sample his wife. Be sure the farmer sees you entertaining yourself with the bitch. See that he sees all of the men sampling his wife," Haldar commanded. "Just be sure she still lives when you and the others finish with her. Then set her next to her husband, back to back."

"As you wish," Xeron smiled wolfishly.

"Then post a sign at the border of the farm: 'This property now belongs to the Consortium.' Burn the buildings, the crops, the animals. I want nothing of theirs to remain."

"Yes, Lord Haldar."

"And post another sign," Haldar crossed his arms. "'The bodies will remain on the cross until the flesh falls from the bones. Any who tries to bury them will face the same fate.'" He frowned. "Oh, and decapitate them when they are dead. Place the heads in stasis cubes and bring them back to the city. Their heads belong to the Director."

"Yes, Lord Haldar," Xeron bowed, then walked over to the cross, his knife glittering in the late afternoon sun.

Haldar walked back to his ground car. A single, falsetto scream from Antare rent the air. Haldar smiled as the scream faded. Soon he heard the shouts of the men and a the soprano screams of agony from Aleta as they used her.

His smiled widened as he climbed into his car.


Day 5
The Cord Mansion

Ariel Cord sat down in front of a large comfortable chair on a huge pillow, the huge bucket of popcorn and tray full of drinks, alcoholic and otherwise, between her and her two friends from med school. It was a mid-term break, the weekend, and she and her two classmates had vowed to enjoy every last minute of it. For the next two days, she and they would think of only fun.

And she had the means to insure that.

Her father, Aaron Cord was off-planet attending to some business venture or other, leaving her the full run of the house. Not that his being there would have curtailed her actions any. It never had while she had been growing up.

Gina Carrera, a small, petite Latin girl from Earth and Kala, an Andorian with neon blue skin, pure white hair and small antenna on the top of her head were sitting on pillows around her, munching on the popcorn and sampling the potables. Both were classmates of Ariel's, sharing in the trials and triumphs of med school.

"Ready?" Ariel asked as she tapped a button on the chair arm behind her head. the room darkened and the holovid came to life.

Gina 's dark eyes widened as she stared at the porno flick playing out in front of her. "Ariel, I can't believe that you do this!" she gasped. "I mean, with med school and all..."

"Oh, Gina," Ariel chuckled, "it's not that difficult. All the films are made here on Chrysalis, so I don't have to travel far. And I do them on the weekends and during breaks. It relieves the stress of med school, that's for sure."

"Yeah, but what does the Board say about your activities?"

"Well, I don't do it during school hours, and I don't do it on school grounds," Ariel shrugged. "And I didn't sign any contract saying I wouldn't do them while I was in school, and my grades aren't suffering, so I doubt they could say much except denounce my moral character, which they do anyway. Besides, this is Chrysalis and I'm a Cord; amoral behavior is expected."

Kala was studying the action of the Andorian male intently as Ariel let his organ slide down her throat. "That is really you. Not a double or an android."

"They haven't made an android that can double as a Human, or any other species," Ariel snorted. "And as far as a body double, I don't need one. I can do my own scenes. All my own scenes."

"You do have the body," Gina agreed. "Which is more than I can say for mine." She stared pointedly at her small breasts and narrow hips.

"Now Gina," Ariel scolded her. "You have a great body."

"Not as great as yours," she countered, staring openly at Ariel's well-endowed chest and round hips.

"Depends," Ariel said. "I have one hell of a body," she admitted, "but not every man in the universe is taken with it. There are those that like petite females, less endowed than I am. And not every man in the universe wants a blonde in their bed. I know for a fact that Reed, the guy under me, would much rather have a brunette than a blonde any day of the week. And he says he'd prefer not to be suffocated while he's having sex."

"Sure doesn't look like he's hating what he's doing," Gina snorted.

"He's a damned good actor," Ariel chuckled. "And as for these--" She cupped her huge breasts with her hands. "--Reed says anything more than a handful is wasted!"

"Yeah. Right." Gina snorted again.

"Now Vasha, the Andorian, " Ariel went on, "will take anything female. Any way."

Kala stared at her Human friend. "Anything female?"

"Anything," Ariel nodded.

"And his family doesn't mind?" Kala frowned.

"I hear they divorced him," Ariel shrugged. "He had to pay some penalty or other to get out of the marriage. He just borrowed the money from Tony Balent and went on to the next film."

"A most unusual Andorian," Kala commented.

"But, oh, what a guy," Ariel sighed longingly, causing the females to giggle.

They quieted as the four people on the screen continued with their orgy, climaxing together, bringing a yelp from Gina. Kala exhaled loudly. Ariel snickered as she took another handful of popcorn from the bucket. Gina blushed, and Kala's skin turned to a darker shade of blue as her antennae extended.

"So, you liked that one?" Ariel asked, tapping the button on the chair.

"Well..." Gina began, fidgeting a little.

She was, Ariel knew, a bit old-fashioned in her tastes, preferring her men one at a time. Kala, being Andorian, was used to multiples during a sex act; having multiple marriage partners made that almost a foregone conclusion.

"Perhaps you'll like this one better," Ariel said as the next feature started.

The two classmates watched as Ariel, portraying a penniless female on a border planet, was forced to sell herself to earn a living. The man, her first customer, a tall slender dark-haired Human had taken her to his hotel room, treating her in a superior manner. She was, after all, a working girl, there for his pleasure; her feelings were not to be considered. Before long, she was stripped and flung onto the bed. He leaned over her, fondling her from head to foot using his hands masterfully and his mouth hungrily. She whimpered in shame as he lingered over her pubis and around her breasts. Gradually her tears of humiliation changed to cries of ecstasy as she writhed sensually, begging for him to take her.

Then the man was tearing off his clothes, being aided by the aroused Ariel.

Gina stared, her eyes wider than ever. "That can't be real," she finally gasped. "I mean, no Human is that..."

"He is," Ariel said. "That's Long Tom Curtis. Used to be a body double until Tony, the director, got tired of whatever his name was being unable to perform."

"'Long Tom' Curtis?" Kala raised a white eyebrow.

"Yep," Ariel nodded, then added drolly, "and he didn't get that name because of his height. 'Long Tom' was a nickname for a type of cannon used in the early 20th century. A really big cannon."

"Unreal," Gina whispered hoarsely. "Totally unreal."

"Oh, believe me, it's very real. Every last inch of it," Ariel giggled.

The two classmates stared, barely blinking as the orgy progressed to its natural conclusion.

As the ending credits began to roll, Ariel tapped the button on her chair and brought the lights up. "Well, what do you think?"

"I think we need to find some guys. Fast." Gina was trembling; her hand was between her legs, and she blushed when she realized Ariel had noticed.

"Yes," Kala agreed, her small antennae curling tightly close to her scalp. "Extremely fast."

Ariel smiled. "Well, you know, a couple of those guys are in town," she said.

"You're kidding," Gina gasped. "Here?"

"Hm-hmm." Ariel nodded. "Tom is just finishing up one film, and getting ready to start another one. Wanna meet him? See just how real he is?"

"You wouldn't." Gina stared at her friend in shock. "You wouldn't dare."

"That was a mistake, Gina," Ariel shook her head gravely as she tapped the code for Hotel Sybaron into the Bell Comm unit. Several seconds passed and then Tom Curtis' face filled the screen. "Hi, Tom. How's it going?"

"Hi Ari," Tom grinned at his frequent co-star. "Just finished the final scene. Carol ain't bad, but she sure ain't you."

Ariel blushed at the praise, chuckling at Tom's critique of his co-star. "Anyone else in town? Any of the guys, I mean."

"Well, Reed's here. And Vasha," Tom answered. "Why? What's up?"

"Well, I was wondering how you and the others would like to come out to the mansion for a private party," Ariel said.

"Sounds great!" Tom's face lit up. "This place has been an absolute prison since that Andorian scientist got himself offed. How soon?"

"I can have a cab there for you in, say, half an hour," Ariel said.

"Mm," Tom frowned briefly. "Better make it forty-five minutes, Ari. Reed and Vasha are still in make-up."

"Forty-five minutes," Ariel nodded. "See you then." She disconnected and quickly called the taxi service.

"Make-up?" Kala stared at Ariel. "You have got to be joking."

"No," Ariel shook her head. "Make-up. On every exposed part of the body. Now, what do you say we get a few rooms ready for use."


"The guest bedrooms are in the East Wing," Ariel responded. "Unless you want to use this room?"

"Oh, those rooms," Gina nodded.

"So tell me, Gina," Ariel grinned wickedly, "which one you want, Tom or Reed or Vasha?"

Day 5
The Office of the Director of the
Barrier Alliance Consortium


The Director looked up from the screen, sliding the controls to darken it as Haldar sauntered into his office. He noted the smug expression on the younger man's features.

"The foreclosure?"

"Completed," Haldar answered as he sat down across from his mentor, "without a problem."

"And your personal business?" the Director asked solicitously.

"Also completed," Haldar let a vicious smile crease his face. "She suffered to the end."

The Director nodded at his protégé. "Good. Your new female knows of Aleta's fate?"

"Of course," Haldar grinned. "She will not be attempting anything but pleasing me."

"Good." The Director swung the screen toward Haldar. "I have an assignment for you."

He slid the controls again, letting the picture fill the screen. The black-haired Human female's face was looking at the camera, unaware of its presence. Haldar studied her face closely, noting the dark blue eyes and the coal black hair, the young features and the comely face. Haldar felt his hormones begin to respond to her youthful beauty, wondering if the Director had selected her for his harem. His tastes varied, Haldar knew, and changed with the seasons. This one, if selected for his harem, would last perhaps a full year, unless she was fragile, as most Human females were. And if she should survive the Director's ministrations, he might pass her to him for a service done. Haldar had never seriously thought of starting his own harem, but he now had the means to do so. And the desire as well.

"This female," the Director said coldly, "murdered Doctor Thelans on Chrysalis. She has cheated me of his services." Haldar sighed almost regretfully. Her fate was sealed. The question was the means. "I want her head, Haldar. She's still on Chrysalis. Go there; find her and kill her, quickly and cleanly, and bring me her head. She should suffer for her crime, but if you kidnap her and bring her here for torture, the Humans will only come after her. I cannot afford a battle over a female."

"I understand, lord," Haldar nodded.

"I believe she will be on Chrysalis for a while longer," the Director continued as he tapped a button to allow information to scroll over the frozen picture. "Long enough for you to get there and kill her."

"Yes, lord." Haldar nodded as he read the script on the screen.

The intercom beeped. "Yes?" The Director scowled at the offending instrument.

"Lord, I have completed interrogating the Starfleet spy."

Marina's face filled the forward screen. She was a young Orion female, her green skin a bit darker than Haldar's, her black hair cut short, curling around her face like a halo. Her black eyes were sparkling in excitement. Haldar felt his pulse quickening, as it always did when he saw her after she had finished a torturing session.

She was indeed a beautiful female, Haldar knew, but she was not interested in sex. That was indeed a pity, Haldar sighed softly. She was a most desirable creature, and he often dreamed of taking her, forcing her to submit to his needs. He had heard she was only able to couple if she was brutalized by the male before the act was performed. Which would be no problem, since he enjoyed brutalizing his females before he took them.

He also heard that she had come to the Director's attention by killing her brother by slow torture when he tried to sell her in marriage to a merchant who had desired her young body in return for a lucrative partnership arrangement.

No, Marina was no ordinary female. Her pleasure was solely derived from torturing the victims of the Director's.

She was wearing a smock that was spattered with rust-colored spots. A small compuclipboard was in her hand, and she referred to it periodically. In the background was a headless, mutilated body spread-eagled. There were hooks from the ceiling impaled into the heels, holding the body from the ceiling upside-down, and two other hooks impaled into the palms of the hands, pulling those limbs out from the torso. Though the skin was pale green, the blood that dripped from the neck was dark red. The corpse might have been female, but it was too mangled to be certain.

"Proceed," the Director commanded.

"The female was called Megan Foster, a Terran female with the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, in Starfleet," Marina read from her compuclipboard. "As you know, she was disguised to look like an Orion and worked in a brothel in the Centa district. No, the brothel master didn't know her true identity," Marina anticipated his next question. "He is a honest brothel master, and he does pay you well. He has already paid a penalty fee for allowing himself to be used by the Federation against you." She leaned back in her chair, looking at the severed head on the bench by her. "She had some interesting information for us. About the Starfleet network that is here on Xantharus. Once I was finished with her, she just couldn't stop talking," Marina chuckled. "I have one piece of news that will really interest you, lord."

"What?" the Director leaned forward.

"Shy'na Purim will be coming back to Xantharus as the commander of the Starfleet Intelligence network."

"Shy'na Purim!" The Director's eyes narrowed dangerously. "That traitorous bitch is returning to Xantharus?!"

"Yes, and soon." Marina smiled beatifically at her master.

"That bitch managed to escape me once before, Haldar," the Director looked at his protégé. "She must not escape me again."

"I also have the names of about two dozen operatives here on the planet," Marina went on, waving the compuclipboard in her hand.

"That many?" The Director's eyebrows raised in surprise. "I find it hard to believe they've stayed under cover as long as they have."

"They haven't," Marina shook her head. "These are newer agents." She flashed a smile at Haldar, causing his pulse to quicken. "Haldar's sweeps have been most effective. Starfleet is just most tenacious to keep a network of agents here on the planet."

"Send the list to me, Marina," Haldar ordered. "I'll find these pests and take care of them."

"No, Haldar," the Director shook his head, "I need you more on Chrysalis. Xeron can handle this little problem for me." He turned to Marina. "This has all been verified by the truth serum, hasn't it?" he demanded.

"Of course!" Marina answered, a hurt tone in her voice. "I always check the information from torture with the serum."

"Lord, you don't really need a torturer," Haldar said. "The truth serum always gives us the answers we need."

"Oh, but Haldar, if all they feared was the serum, there would be no terror for them," Marina chided him. "As things are now, they fear capture, knowing that untold horrors await them in my chamber of torture. They know we will use any and all means to torment them before they are finally broken and spill their guts."

The Director smiled at the two of them, both his protégés, as they spat back and forth with each other. Their progeny would be most formidable, he mused. And though Marina had little or no natural sexual desire, she would do whatever he wished, as would Haldar. If he wished them to mate and procreate, they would. He also knew that Marina could be excited by torture, and Haldar was no slouch in that field. When Haldar returned from Chrysalis, the Director mused, there should be time for him to breed Marina.

"Well done, Marina."

"Thank you," she bowed her head. "You know, Starfleet is not normally so careless. They have the means to totally alter a person, including her blood color. Her job was such that sooner or later her private parts would have been seen. The least they could have done was be sure that all her flesh was dyed to match her outer skin."

"Perhaps they didn't have the time needed to do the job correctly," Haldar commented. "We have been clearing out their little nests quite frequently after all."

"True," Marina admitted. "True."

"Send the information to Xeron," the Director commanded, "and the head to me."

"Yes, lord," Marina bowed her head again, cutting the transmission.

The Director pulled a small diskette from his desk. "Here is all the information you will need to kill the bitch," he said. "Study it on your way to Chrysalis. There is a Marauder at your disposal. It is equipped with a new device, something we--acquired--from a race called the Romulans. It should make you invisible to all sensor devices, able to get into the system without detection. I say should, because the device is still very experimental, even to these Romulans. Once you are there, at Chrysalis, you're on your own. What you do, How you handle her execution is completely up to you." He fixed Haldar with his icy glare. "I just want her head on my trophy case."

"Yes, lord," Haldar bowed his head.

He was startled to feel the firm grasp of his master on his shoulder. Looking up, he was surprised to find the Director standing over him, fixing him with that penetrating look of his, this time filled with pride. "I am proud of you, Haldar. Very proud. You have exceeded all my hopes, my expectations, for you."

Haldar felt his cheeks grow warm at the praise. Dipping his head again, he murmured, "I live to serve you, lord. Only to serve you."

"I know," the Director nodded as he stepped back to his chair, dismissing the young Orion. He pulled up the holo of the Human female's face again, and studied it with an obsession bordering on madness.

Day 8 -- Evening
The Cord Mansion

Christopher Pike stared around the room, his glance constantly coming back to his dining companion. Ariel Cord was seated next to him at the head of a long dining table, savoring her meal. He was still a bit uncomfortable at the setting. The room was huge, easily as large, if not larger, than the largest meeting room on the Enterprise.

"Nice little room," he finally said. "You could seat fifty people around this table, and not one of them would be touching."

"I know," Ariel chuckled, feeling a little relief that he finally spoke.

He'd been more pensive than usual, and that concerned her. The fact he was slightly intimidated by the mansion was something she could handle.

"I thought you said this was a cozy little dining room."

"Compared to some of the others, it is," she stated simply.

"Some of the others? Forget it," he shook his head. "Nice little place your family has. What are there, 200 rooms?"

Ariel shook her head, giggling. "Only 105," she admitted. "You know, there are some I've never even seen."

"I can believe it," Chris shook his head. Opulence was something he was definitely not use to. Not that he couldn't get used to it, he admitted. There just wasn't any room for it on his starship.

Her hand touched his arm, resting there as they continued to eat. He was still pensive, still withdrawn. So it wasn't the size of her house, she sighed.

Fortunately, he had called before he'd come over, else he'd have found Tom, Reed and Vasha here as well as Gina and Kala. She wasn't ashamed of her lifestyle, but she knew that he might not understand. She wanted to explain it to him, in her own way and in her own time.

The five of them had understood when she asked them to continue their party at the Sybaron, in rooms paid for by her. They had piled in the cab, Gina and Reed barely able to keep their hands off of each other. Kala looked smug as Tom and Vasha kept close to her. From the look on Tom's face, Kala had showed him some interesting Andorian variations, with the help of Vasha. Tom was always eager to try something new.

"I'm glad you're back," she said softly. She was rewarded with a small smile that soon disappeared again. "Chris, what's wrong? Did something happen on your last mission? Can you tell me?"

Chris studied his plate, toying with his fork for a few long silent minutes. Then he looked at her, his expression unreadable. "Let me put it this way," he finally said. "Had any hot nights on the beach lately?"

Ariel stared at him for a beat, then threw back her head, laughing in relief. "Oh, you know."

"Ariel, how could I not know?" he demanded. "Your face--and-and other body parts--are all over the entertainment channels! You are a bloody phenomenon!"

"Never had it put that way before," Ariel chuckled. Still smiling, she went on, "Chris, they're a lot fun to do, and they are a great stress outlet. And with med school, I'm finding that I have a lot of stress." She looked at him, sobering a little. "You're p--" She paused, then began again. "You're mad, aren't you?"

Chris looked at her, shaking his head. "No, not mad. Not exactly," he qualified. "Confused is more like it. I mean," he stood up, pacing back and forth, "how can you be with all those men, do all those things, and then come to me?"

She stared up at the starship captain, the anguish more than evident on his handsome face. "Oh Chris, I don't know if you can understand this or not, but I just love sex. I love to do it. And I love to have it done to me. And," she admitted, "I'm an exhibitionist. These films let me do both; be an exhibitionist and have sex. Did you know that some of the backers have been trying to get me to go on the strip circuit? And I might do it," she added, gauging his reaction, "just for the sensation of stripping in public. But Chris," she stood and walked over to him, placing her hand on his arm tenderly, "with them it is just sex. Nothing more. Two bodies," she caught his raised eyebrow, "or more," she amended, "joining in a physical act, creating friction and a physical sensation. That's all. There's no relationship between them and me. You and I, Chris, we have a relationship. With you, it's more than sex. More than physical release. So very much more."

Her lips settled on his gently. Slowly he returned the kiss.

"Really?" he finally asked, his eyes searching hers questioningly.

"Really," she nodded. "I was afraid you'd have a hard time understanding what I do. And you are such a straight arrow."

"Not a prude?" Chris asked archly.

"Not quite that bad," she giggled. "Close," she tapped his nose with her well-manicured finger, "but not quite."

Chris sat back in a large chair, pulling Ariel onto his lap. "I have to admit that I was--shocked--when I saw you on the screen in those promotional tapes," he allowed. "And then when I saw the films" He shook his head. "Caged and Deadly was totally unbelievable!"

"Yeah, well, it wasn't all that easy to film either," Ariel sniggered.

"Let me guess," Chris pulled her closer to him. "The scene with the B'rythian, right?"

Ariel giggled again, nodding her head. "That's the one. We used half a tube of lubricant, but I still had a hell of time sitting down for the next week. Didn't feel much like sex that week either."

"You?" Chris stared at her in surprise. "The self-professed exhibitionist and sex fiend?"

"Me, the exhibitionist and sex fiend," Ariel continued to giggle. "Tony said there was no way I could do the scene, so of course I had to do it. And I have a reputation to uphold--no body doubles for me, and no computer-generated scenes either. So," she shrugged, resting her head on his shoulder, letting her finger trail along his chest, "I got together with B'leth and Tony, and we discussed how the scene was going to be done, and what B'leth was going to do, and what he and I had to do to reduce any potential damage to myself."

"You mean those scenes are rehearsed?"

"Some are," she said. "Some are just sort of roughed out and we just do what come naturally." Chris shook his head in wonder. "Anyway, we discussed the scene, then we shot it. One take. It's the one scene that everyone seems to want to talk about."

"I can see why," Chris said drolly.

"Like I said, had a hell of time sitting down the next week, and didn't feel like having sex either. But I made up for it the following week," Ariel added teasingly.

"I believe it." Chris shook his head before burying his head in her soft blond hair.

"Chris," she nuzzled him back, "I hear that both the moons are out tonight. Full moons."


"Really," she murmured. "And both the suns are nearly set. Makes for a nice dark, romantic night on the beach."

"How about a hot night on the beach?"

"That's a distinct possibility," she giggled as she nibbled his ear. "Shall we see which it will be?"

"Just the two of us?"

"Just the two of us," she affirmed as she stood and pulled Chris to his feet and led him toward the french doors that led to the sand-covered property.

Day 8 -- Evening
The Main Dining Room
Hotel Royale

Captain John Raintree sat at his table, toying with his meal. He really shouldn't be wasting his food, he chided himself, not at these prices. But he just didn't have any appetite.

His appetite had plummeted to nothing soon after he had met Wentworth in the bar four days ago. He'd thought he'd put it all behind him, the loss of the Hood, the torture on Xantharus, seeing his few remaining crew murdered by slow torture, seeing his young communications officer brutalized by the pirates Wentworth had brought it all back. Every last damned painful detail.

Raintree shook his head and took another bite of food. He had to put it behind him, he told himself. Tomorrow he would get a new ship, named for his old ship. If only...

If only he could have brought some of his old crew with him. But that was impossible. Only he and Julie Chastain had survived. He'd remained in Starfleet, but Julie, the poor girl, had not been able to continue with her career. Not after what had been done to her. And he could not blame her.

"You look like you could use some company," a soft voice said from behind his right shoulder.

Raintree turned slowly and stared up into the face of one of the most beautiful females he could ever remember seeing. Her long black hair was piled high on her head, making her seem taller than she was. Her outfit, a simple silk blouse that buttoned up the front and form-fitting pants, did nothing to hide her splendid attributes or the fact that she was wearing nothing under them. Her golden eyes sparkled brightly, and her light green skin glowed. A memory of a spirited Orion standing up to an imperious councilman flooded him.

He stood slowly, feeling himself falling into her golden orbs. "Yes," he finally shook himself. "Yes, I could." He pulled out the chair next to him. "Please."

"Don't mind if I do." She lowered her shapely form into the chair and signaled for a menu. "I do hope they can serve a decent Borzan burnt steak here. I haven't had any since we left Xantharus."

"Well, Cord prides himself on being able to get the best of anything here," Raintree said, "and that should include Orion favorites."

"In which case, I might even try the Orvelan fruit pie," Shy'na Purim mused. "Haven't had that for even longer. Couldn't afford the extra calories after I took on the persona of Malana. And it didn't help that she had the reputation of hating Orvelan fruit pie."

"Been a long time, Shy'na," Raintree said soberly.

"I know," she nodded. "Last time I saw you, they were transferring you to a medical bed on Rigel V."

"I was there for almost three months," Raintree sighed. "The physical stuff didn't take that long--the head shrinks were harder to convince that I had recovered from that ordeal. As much as a person could recover from something like that."

"What have you been doing since then?" Shy'na questioned, not wishing him to relive the past.

"Sitting on my ass behind a desk," Raintree snorted. "Doing busywork while the brass decided what to do with me. Then waiting for my ship to be built."

"Yes, I heard about that," Shy'na smiled as a plate with a large blacken piece of meat with all the trimmings was set before her. "The Constitution class is really beautiful."

"Lady, any starship is beautiful, especially if you're her captain," Raintree told her sternly.

"Spoken like a true ship captain," Shy'na grinned as she sampled her meat. "Heavenly!" she sighed. "Didn't overdo the Trelan hot spice like some places do. By the way, congratulations on getting the Hood."

"Thank you. So, what have you been doing since Xantharus?" Raintree asked her.

"A little of this, a little of that," she shrugged. "All boring as hell. Right now I'm between assignments, so I took some of that leave time I've been accumulating."

"And you came here?"

"Well, it was here or Wrigley's Planet, and I've been there," Shy'na said, spearing a small vegetable that Raintree couldn't identify. "I've never been to Chrysalis before. And I heard you were here."

"Are you telling me I was the deciding factor?" Raintree asked, watching as she continued to enjoy her steak sensually."

"Well, let's say, you were one of the deciding factors," she finally admitted, a twinkle in her eyes.

"Between assignments," Raintree said. "Does that mean you have something lined up after your leave?"

"Yes. I'm going to be in charge of the Intelligence Network on Xantharus." She popped another piece of meat into her mouth.

"You're going back to that--that hell hole?!"

"That hell hole is very important to the Federation," Shy'na reminded him. "We need to know what the Alliance is up to."

"It's not the safest place in the universe for a woman," Raintree said coldly.

"Oh really." Shy'na glared at him, her golden eyes glittering hard as she shook her meat-ladened fork at him. "Well, for your information, Captain John Raintree, I am a commander in Starfleet, a trained Starfleet Intelligence officer, fully versed in very means of armed and unarmed defense and offense known to just about every sentient being in the known universe. I can, and have, killed men taller, stronger and heavier than I without raising a sweat. And in case you hadn't noticed, Xantharus was not particularly friendly to you. And you're a man."

"Whoa! I surrender!" Raintree held up a hand in defeat. "I meant no slur against your abilities." He sobered a bit. "That place is a hell hole, plain and simple; it's not a safe place for male or female."

"Forgiven." She stuck the piece of meat in her mouth and smiled at him. "You have to understand, Jack, I've been fighting that type prejudicial behavior since I entered the Academy. And it hasn't gotten any better since I graduated."

"And you have to forgive my chauvinistic behavior. My people always did protect their females."

"That's a different heritage than I'm used to," Shy'na admitted. "Orions don't value their females except as objects of pleasure or for procreation." She looked intently at Raintree. "'Protect your females?'"

"Yeah," Raintree smiled at her, "braves protect their squaws from the enemy. Been known to go after those who hurt their women with dull knives and skin 'em alive."

"Oh yeah?" she studied his face intently.

"Yeah," he smiled at her.

"Sounds like heaven."

"Mom always thought so."

They stared at each other for a few minutes, then Raintree's eyes dropped to his nearly empty plate. It was surprising how his appetite had improved with appearance of this Orion woman. And for a brief moment, he'd forgotten

But only for a brief moment. His face clouded.

"Jack?" Shy'na asked worriedly.

"You know, Shy'na, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about them. All of them, the 196 that died when the ship was hulled, and the five that were killed on the planet."

"I know," Shy'na said. "And I understand. But Starfleet sometimes feels that the sacrifice is necessary. It's not right. It's not fair. But they do it. And they will continue to do it until the end of time."

The waiter appeared and cleared their plates away, then arrived with their desserts.

"That's Orvelan fruit pie?" Raintree stared at the tall concoction that was placed in front of Shy'na. The colors of the rainbow peered out from under a thick gooey syrup.

"Hm. That's Black Forest Cake?" Shy'na stared at the large piece of chocolate cake with the white cream and dark cherries covering the layers.

"Yes it is." Raintree helped himself to a large piece.

"You should have told me it was chocolate," she stared at her dessert bleakly. "Chocolate is one of my weaknesses."

"Most Humans have the same weakness," Raintree chuckled. "Want a taste?"

"Oh, can I?" She looked hopefully at him.

"Sure," Raintree moved her dessert out of the way and edged the plate between them. "And once we finish this one, we'll order another piece."

"Can we?" Shy'na brightened.

"Absolutely," Raintree aimed a piece for her mouth.

She savored the portion, her eyes becoming dreamy. "It's heavenly," she gushed, bringing a huge grin to Raintree's face.

They continued to devour the slice of cake between them, then demolished the fruit pie, which brought a surprised look to Raintree's face as the fruity tastes, both sweet and tart at the same time, exploded on his tongue, then consumed the second slice of cake that was delivered to them.

Finally, "I haven't eaten so much in a long time," Raintree sighed, pushing back from the table.

"I haven't eaten so much dessert in a long time," Shy'na qualified. "I hope I can work the calories off."

"You don' t look like you have any trouble with your weight," Raintree commented, letting his eyes travel down her slender form appreciatively.

"Why thank you," Shy'na blushed a charming shade of green. "Is that part of your heritage also?"

"As a matter of fact..." He leaned toward her, continuing to feel himself drawn into her bright gold eyes. He cleared his throat and began again, "As a matter of fact, it is. The way to a woman's heart is flattery. That's what my father always said."

"I'd say you found the way to this woman's heart. And what's the way to a man's heart?" she leaned toward him, resting her chin on her palm, staring back into his smoky gray eyes.

"Food," he murmured back.

"Food?" She raised an eyebrow in surprise.

He laughed at her expression. "Yeah, food," he chuckled. "That's what my mother always said." He continued on, "You know, I've heard that the beaches around here are spectacular. You want to find out? Sort of walk off dinner in the process?" Raintree asked.

"Well," she nibbled on her lip, "okay. But," she moved closer to him, "only on one condition."

"And what would that be?" Raintree moved closer to her. His lips were only inches from hers. So inviting, so tempting

"That you be my protector while we're out there."

He smiled widely. "Lady, you got yourself a deal."

Day 8 -- Early Evening
Somewhere On Chrysalis

Her arms and legs were held firmly by huge, rough hands, her face forced into the hot sand. Another pair of hands caressed her buttocks momentarily, then spread her cheeks. She whimpered knowing what was coming next. The Orion captain was always the first to use her before letting his men enjoy her, and the last to use her when they were sated. And he always took his time using her.

Suddenly the stiffened organ of the Orion forced itself, not into her vagina, as she had been expecting, but into her rectum. She screamed as the massive member tore into her orifice ripping flesh. She attempted to escape the pain that was being inflicted on her, but the hands that held her only gripped her limbs tighter, even spreading her legs wider, allowing the captain to move deeper into her. She continued to scream as she felt her insides tear, felt the blood begin to trickle down her legs and onto her abdomen. The captain roared, pausing in his assault. His hand grasped her blonde hair, once silky and stylish, now snarled and disheveled, lifting her head, forcing her to look at his green triumphant face.

"Virgin territory!" the pirate captain bellowed in triumph, first to her, then to his men. "I have entered virgin territory."

He leaned over her back, and thrust again, forcing his giant organ a little deeper into her, eliciting another scream of pain from the naked Human. She struggled in vain to get away from him. The hands continued to hold her arms and legs tightly as his hands gripped her hips, pulling them closer to his own, forcing himself yet further into her. He took his time entering her fully, enjoying the fact that each thrust was accompanied by a scream from the hapless female. By the time he was fully within her, she was writhing in agony, causing her captors to shout in glee. Once he had forced her to accept him fully, he began to thrust in earnest, enjoying her body beneath him as it squirmed to escape from the punishing penetrations.

Finally he was sated, climaxing mightily and she felt more of her insides tear and rend as she screamed. He waited a long moment before he withdrew, savoring his victory over her small body.

The hands that had held her so tightly loosened their grip, but she had no chance to escape. She'd barely crawled to her knees before another pirate slid under her, pulling her down on his ready member. No sooner had she been taken by him than she felt another pair of hands grab her buttocks and force himself into her already-damaged rectum sandwiching her between the two giant Orions. Her screams were suddenly cut off by a third pirate who seized her head and forced his huge organ down her throat.

As soon as one finished with her another took his place. There were so many of them, and they all wanted their turn and they wouldn't stop until all had sampled her at least once.

And then, the giant captain was back again.

He glared at her as he pulled her from the last three pirates, his expression dark and ruthless. She stood before him, tears streaming down her face as the blood and semen trickled down her legs, staining her stomach, making her feel polluted, soiled, unclean. But that didn't matter to him.

His black eyes were smoldering with lust. He forced her to her knees, and she knew what he wanted her to do even before he ordered her, as he always did. He forced himself into her mouth and down her throat, and she performed oral sex until his massive organ was once again rigid. Then he commanded her to her hands and knees and took his position behind her.

"Now, bitch," he leaned over her, fondling her body crudely, "let us see how well you've learned your lessons." Then he forced her to accept him again into her torn anus.

Her screams were drowned out by shouts from the pirate. She couldn't endure much more, yet she knew if she fainted, the pirate would only wait for her to revive and force her to endure it all again.

The buzzing in her head was growing louder, and louder

She bolted upright in the bed, shaking violently, breathing rapidly, raggedly, her hands tangled in her sheets, her body drenched in sweat, tears streaming down her face. She stared around her numbly, whimpering, wondering where her tormentors had disappeared to, and when they would emerge from the shadows again to abuse her body.

The buzzing continued. She turned her head toward the noise, spying the chronometer flashing as the alarm continued to sound.

Angrily she slapped the alarm off, then began to rock back and forth in the bed, hugging her knees to her body tightly, continuing to sob softly.

The nightmares had never really gone away; but they hadn't been that bad for many months, not until she had let that damned Andorian mount her and enjoy her body. Since then, the dreams had been more intense, more real.

Still, it had had to be done. She had learned that Thelans had strange sexual tastes, for an Andorian, preferring Human females and preferring that particular position. She had also learned that the Andorian's ego was such that the only way she could lull him into a false sense of security was to seduce him. If there had been any other way

But there hadn't been. And now she was suffering the dreams again. And they would get worse, she feared.

But once her task was completed, she would find a way to stop them.

She looked at the chronometer again. 2045 hours local time.

She shuddered again. There wouldn't be time for her to bathe, she realized. Not in the water shower, and that was the only thing that made her feel truly clean. She untangled herself from the sheets and slipped out the shirt she'd been wearing to sleep in and into the sonic shower. It would have to suffice until later. Her next target had an appointment at 2130 hours. She would have to hurry if she was going to catch him before then.

Once the sonics had cleaned her, she stepped out of the stall and found the softsuit that she had chosen to wear for this task: a black material that shimmered with every movement, and an old-fashioned zipper opening. It would reveal her form, and the fact that she was wearing nothing under it.

She picked up her shoulder bag, checked the contents, smiling as her fingers touched the descrambler and the laser pistol.


Commodore Wentworth walked slowly, deliberately to the elevators. He had indulged himself at the bar tonight, more than usual. He'd been doing that a lot since he'd run into Captain Raintree four days before. Tonight he'd seen Raintree with the Orion Intelligence officer that had been in the Sickbay after the Xantharus incident. That hadn't helped his mood any. If there had been any way that he could have gotten out of this damned circus, he would have. But the powers that be that had decreed he give the order that led to the destruction of the first Hood had also decreed he be here at the launch of the new Hood.

Wentworth took a deep breath and shook his head slowly. He was going to have to clean up his act, he realized. But it would have to wait until after the launch of the Hood, he decided, when Raintree was no longer around to remind him of the debacle. Until then, he would go to the gym and get the detox treatments after imbibing at the bar.

His finger found the call button, not without difficulty. He was, he noted to himself, on the last remaining sober level that remained in his besotted mind, getting as bad as Admiral Stoddard. And since the murder of Thelans, Stoddard hadn't been seen in public. Fortunately he'd been passed out at the time, watched by his wife and Admiral Gevek, else he'd have been a suspect.

Wentworth felt, then saw, the young dark-haired beauty stand by him awaiting the elevator. His eyes lingered over the slim creature, noting her slender waist, long legs, well-shaped bust and hips as politely as he could. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other impatiently. The scintillating black material caught his eye, drawing his attention back to her body. It was a beautiful body, he sighed, feeling the stirrings of emotions and body parts that had, for a long time, been unused. He wondered where she was going, if she was meeting someone. If so, he sighed wistfully, lucky someone.

He forced himself to concentrate on her face. It was hauntingly familiar. Black hair the color of space and blue eyes as brilliant as sapphires. He'd heard of that coloration before. Black Irish, his mother had called it. A coloration that was both rare and desired by many, she had said.

It was true. His late wife, Marisa, had had black hair and blue eyes. She'd also had a slender build, much like the young woman in the shimmering black suit. He hadn't thought about Marisa for many years, pouring himself into his work. This female was bringing her memory back.

The elevator door finally opened and both got in. He gripped the handle on the side of the car, "Gym level." He glanced at the young girl, noting that her sapphire blue eyes were staring at him intently. "And you?"

"The same," she said softly.

Wentworth felt his heart begin to beat a little faster. Perhaps she wasn't meeting anyone at all. In which case...

The sudden jarring stop of the car caught them both off-guard. The girl fell hard against the commodore, her soft body connecting with the man most intimately.

"Goodness!" she stared up at Wentworth, her eyes wide in surprise. "What happened?"

"Probably just an overloaded circuit," Wentworth helped to steady her, his hands connecting with soft intimate areas of her body.

He felt a flush crawl up his neck wondering where his sense of propriety had gone. She didn't push the hands away, didn't seem to mind his hands touching her. Perhaps she hadn't noticed where his hands had wandered...

Removing his hands, he cleared his throat guiltily. "We'll probably get on our way in a few seconds."

"Good," she laughed nervously. "I don't like close spaces. Not for long periods of time, anyway."

"Don't worry," Wentworth assured her. "The maintenance crew here at the Royale is second only to the Sybaron."

"That's good to hear." She began to fan herself with one hand while the other hand pulled the old-fashioned zipper down the front. "Is it just me, or is it getting warm in here?"

Wentworth found himself staring as the metal fastener moved downward, exposing soft, pale rounded breasts. My god! She's not wearing anything under that softsuit! Small beads of sweat popped out on his forehead as the zipper slid further down the suit, revealing a firm abdomen then a dark tuft of hair.

"Well," he croaked, then cleared his throat. "Yes, it does seem to be a bit warm here. Wonder what happened to the conditioning system."

"You don't think we'll be here long, do you?" She moved closer to Wentworth, her eyelashes batting innocently, her lips parted. Her chest began to move faster with her breathing. "Because I really don't like close spaces. They do something terrible to me."

Wentworth drew her closer to his body, patting her shoulder in what he hoped was a fatherly fashion, even if his thoughts were anything but fatherly at the moment. "Don't worry, dear," he murmured. "It won't be long."

"Promise?" Her trembling lips were temptingly close to his.

"Yes," he smiled at her.

"Hold me until it starts?" she asked softly. "It'll help me."

"If it'll help," he said, feeling his throat tighten.

"Oh thank you," she breathed even softer, letting her lips touch his.

The tender kiss caught him off-guard. Her small tongue darted into his mouth, disappeared, then plunge itself deep in his mouth. Her body was clinging to his eagerly. His hands tried to push her away from him, only to connect with bare flesh. Pulling back, he stared down at the nubile female still in his arms. Her softsuit was in a heap on the floor, and she was in his arms, naked, lust burning in her blue eyes.

Her eyes smoldered dark blue as she reached up and grabbed his head and resumed kissing him lustily moving her body sensually against his body. He found himself responding to her, slowly at first, then with as much ardor as she. He felt her hands on his pants, then his pants falling around his ankles and her hands working on his organ until it was rigid and pulsating.

"Now!" she breathed in his ear fiercely. "Now! Take me now!"

Wentworth felt her legs wrap themselves around his hips, lifting her hips up. His hands cupped themselves under her round buttocks, helping to lift her up, and settle her on his eager member. She writhed on him, leading him to a sudden climax, then continued to move on him, begging for more.

Wentworth braced himself against the wall. For the first time in his life, he prayed the maintenance teams were slow in responding as he felt himself grow rigid again and join her thrusts eagerly. It had been a long time since he'd been seduced by a nymph such as she. It had been long time since he'd enjoyed the body of one such as she. His arms pulled her closer to his body hungrily, begging for more from this lovely creature.

They climaxed together and for a brief moment, she clung to him, remaining wrapped around his waist. Then she unwrapped herself, blushing contritely as she bent over, picking up her purse, drawing it to her body.

"I'm sorry," she murmured from behind a dark curtain of hair. "I told you close spaces did something terrible to me."

"I didn't think it was that terrible," Wentworth touched her shoulder tenderly, trying to comfort the seemingly distraught young woman. He was, after all, as much to blame for what happened here as she was.

"That's not the terrible things they do to me," she said, her tone suddenly cold as she straightened, her hand withdrawing from her purse, a laser pointed at the commodore.

He stared at her in shock. "What?" He shook his head and backed against the wall, shaking his head. "If you didn't want me to..."

"Oh but I did want you to," she all but snarled. "I wanted you to be lulled into a false sense of safety, the way you lulled the crew of Hood."

"What the hell?"

"You gave the orders, Commodore," she said, her voice shaking in rage. "You ordered the Hood to Xantharus. You were the one who sent the ship and its crew to be ambushed. Did you hope that all

would die suddenly in space when the Orions hulled it? Didn't you think that some of the crew would survive, only to face a hell on the planet? A hell like you've never imagined? Could never imagine?"

"No!" Wentworth shook his head as he realized where he'd seen this vivacious creature before. "No! It wasn't my idea! You must understand that!"

The laser shot from the barrel and targeted the now-flaccid organ. Wentworth screamed in agony as he slid down the wall, his pelvic region now charred and missing his male organs.

"It was your order," she snarled. "Remember that, Commodore! Remember the Hood!"

The laser fired once again, carving a hole between his eyes. As the body crumpled against the wall, she murmured softly, "Remember the Hood."

She stared down at the still-warm body almost pensively. He was partly right, she realized; it hadn't been his idea, just his order. Her finger dipped into the dark red blood that was pooling around his trunk, and began writing on the wall above his body.

Remember the Hood!

She pulled the mechanic's coveralls out of her purse, slipped it over her softsuit, then climbed out of the car, and followed the turbo corridor. When she was far enough away from it, she tapped the buttons on the descrambler, releasing the car to continue on its way. Pointing the device at the door opening in front of her, she let herself out of the corridor, and into the hall and walked away from the area.


The masseuse sighed as the doors to the turbolift finally opened. Her 2130 was late, but then she'd heard that other folks had been hung up when a breaker or something had gone out on the turbos. She was only glad she'd not been in one. And that they were finally fixed.

She turned to the open doors, her forced smile wide in greeting. Drunks were not the easiest customers to deal with, although this drunk was still able to handle his liquor. And after she was finished with him, the man was relatively sober, which meant he hadn't drunk to excess before coming to her.

"Welcome, CommoAHHEHH!" Her greeting was cut off by a scream of terror.

Her screams soon brought the other masseuse out of the office; when the older woman saw the dead man sprawled on the floor of the turbo lift, she hit the comm panel on the entrance desk. "Security! We have a situation in the Gym. Get your fat asses down here now. And bring whatever Starfleet security guy that's on duty with you."

Day 8 -- Late Evening
On the Beach in Front of the Cord Mansion

Christopher Pike paddled in the warm blue-green water, letting his body float with the tide, relishing the feel of the liquid against his bare skin. Ariel had been right, as usual. He watched her firm young body float next to his, so inviting He closed his eyes and stretched back in the water, letting the fluid carry him.

Something tickled his back, then his ear, then fingers worked their way to his stomach, and down his abdomen.

"Ariel," Chris groaned as he rolled around in the water, moving away from her tickling hands.

"Hm?" she paddled closer to him.

"I thought you said we were going to enjoy the warm water under the twin full moons."

"Hm," she nodded as she wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. "But there's enjoying, and then, there's enjoying."

"Oh?" Chris let her mouth capture his and his hands caress her satiny skin under the water.

"Oh," she nibbled on his lip as she moved away from his body.

Suddenly her hand slapped the surface of the water and sprayed the starship captain fully in the face. When he cleared the water from his eyes, she was swimming strongly and quickly for the shore.

"Oh, no you don't!" Chris launched himself after her, soon overtaking her and pulling her under the water, holding her there for a few minutes.

She broke free from his grasp, sputtering from the dunking she'd received. Wiping the water from her green eyes, she propelled herself at him, catching him full in the chest, forcing him under the surface with her. They grappled under the water, the fluid making holding on to the other slippery and tricky. They twirled around each other arms and legs tangling with each other. When their heads broke the surface together, they were still entwined with each other, but instead of trying to tickle each other or dunk the other, they were seeking each other out, mouths exploring each other's as though it was their first kiss.

Their bodies gravitated toward each other, her legs inviting him as he sought her out. She gasped in pleasure when he entered her, then resumed kissing as hands explored bodies. Their climax was explosive, and they held each other, letting the buoyancy of the water hold them up.

Chris let his feet touch the sandy bottom, holding her in his arms, not wanting to let this moment pass. He walked up to the beach and their blankets, feeling the warm breeze kiss his flesh invitingly. He placed her gently on the blanket, then joined her, still holding her close to him.

"So, there's enjoying, and enjoying," he muzzled her ear.

"Hm," she nodded, returning the muzzling.

He rolled to his side, not really wanting to move far from her, but feeling the need to rest before anything else occurred between them, as it would. She was a treasure, that was certain, and right now, she was his treasure. The hell with her part-time job, her past.

"So, besides making the hottest--and I do mean hottest--porno flicks in the Federation, what have you been doing while I've been flying around the cosmos?"

"Well," she rolled on her side so she could see face him, "I made the dean's list last semester."

"Great!" Chris propped his head on his hand, letting his other hand rest on her arm.

"This semester is going to be a bit more difficult," she admitted, imitating his pose, letting her hand rest on his waist. "I can't seem to get any better than a 'B' in xenobiology. I can ace every other class but that one. But, I think I've figured out my problem, and I might be able to pull it up in time."

"I'm impressed," he said simply.

"I want to be at the top of the class. Then I know I'll be accepted into Starfleet, and get the posting I want."

"Starfleet?" Chris's eyebrows rose slightly.

"Hm-hmm." She nodded, and went on, "Thanks to you, I want to do a bit more with my life than just make films and tour the circuit. I want to join Starfleet."

"Really?" He studied her face intently.

"Really," Ariel went on. "I can't think of anything more rewarding than to be a Starfleet medical officer on a starship."

"Any particular starship?" He managed to keep his tone steady as his heart began to beat wildly.

"Well," he saw the coquettish glint appear in her green eyes, "now that you mention it, there is one ship I really want to get on, and if I'm at the head of the class, I can practically guarantee it. But seriously, Chris, I do want to be a doctor on a starship. Think of all the possibilities!"

"Well, Phil likes his job; always has," Chris commented. "And he's been doing it since I was an ensign. You're serious about this?" He studied her face.

"Yes, Chris, I am." He saw the twinkle get replaced by a serious look. "Chris, people don't take me serious. I want to be a doctor; I always have. I got into med school, not because my father is Aaron Cord, or because everyone thinks I slept with the school president, which I didn't, by the way, but because I made the grade. But," she sighed, rolling back to her back to stare up at the black-violet sky and the two moons, "because I play hard and make porno films and happen to be a blonde with a body, people don't think I'm serious about being a doctor. They think this is just a fad."

"Honestly?" Chris stared down at her, seeing the hurt in her eyes.

"Honestly," she nodded soberly. "They consider me a poor-little-rich girl playing at being a scholar. That I really want to be playing a snow bunny or a beach bunny, and bouncing from one bed to another. They don't think there's really anything under these golden tresses and between my ears." She turned back to look at Chris. "Damn it, Chris, I have a damned good head on my shoulders."

"Good shoulders, too."

"Oh yeah?" Ariel raised an eyebrow, letting her tongue linger on her teeth.

"Yeah," Chris rolled over to kiss the nearest shoulder. "And a few other things that aren't so bad either."

He continued to kiss her body, lingering over various parts causing her to moan in pleasure as she reached for him, returning his kisses. When he rolled on top of her, she pulled him to her.

Later, when both were resting in each other's arms, basking in the warmth of their latest bout of lovemaking, Ariel rested her head on his chest, taking pleasure from hearing the steady beat of his heart. He was not mad at her, and he wasn't going to walk out on her because of her films. He still wanted her. Life was good.

"You know, Chris, since you're going to be here a few weeks, maybe you can join me in a film or two."

Chris pulled back and stared down at her in shock. "What?!"

"Well," she let her finger trace an imaginary pattern on his chest, "you've got the body, and you've got the moves. And we are very good together. I think Tony has a script or two lying around that would be just perfect for us."

"Ariel, you're kidding!" he gasped, appalled.

She threw her head back, laughing heartily, her breasts shaking enticingly. "Of course I am!"

Day 8 -- Late Evening
On the Cliffs Overlooking the Beach

The cliffs rose twenty-five feet from the sandy beach, covered with local brush and trees. A wending path was covered with wild growth, making passage difficult, but not impossible.

Jack Raintree, holding Shy'na Purim's hand, was leading her along the cliff, both looking down at the lapping water under the twin full moons, and gazing up at star-filled sky. They were quiet, and in their quiet, they were communicating much to each other.

Without a word to each other, they found the path that led to the beach, and walked down it. When they reached the sand, Shy'na slipped off her shoes, carrying them in her free hand, her toes wiggling in delight. They continued to walk hand in hand until they were stopped by a fence and very large sign declaring the land beyond the fence as private property.

Raintree leaned against the fence, and pulled the Orion woman into his arms, helping her find the best place to view the private beach.

Then they saw two figures entwined on the beach, oblivious to the rest of the world, and totally enjoying each other.

"Oops," he muttered as he pulled her down behind a rock. "Looks like we stumbled into a private moment as well as private beach."

"I'll say." Shy'na let her head fall on his shoulder, not wanting to watch any of it. "I feel like a voyeur."

"I know," Raintree agreed. "But we don't dare move. They might spot us. So, let's just get comfortable, and hope they don't keep at it all night."

"Really," Shy'na agreed, letting her head rest on his broad shoulder. She felt him maneuver in the small spot. "I thought you said that movement might let them know they were being watched," she hissed.

"Not as long as we stay below the fence line," he countered. "Besides, I was getting a kink in my back. There, that's better," he sighed, maneuvering her onto his lap. "Much better."

"So, the starship captain is devious as well and being a gentlemen."

"Yep," Jack smiled as he wrapped his arm around her slender body, pulling it closer to his own.

She let her head rest on his shoulder, let her breathing match his. Then she felt his head move, and his jaw drop, hitting the top of her head.

"Well, I'll be..."

"What?" she turned her head so she was once again watching the couple roll on the blanket.

"That's Chris. Chris Pike."

Shy'na forced herself to study the man's face and ignore the rest of his body. "Yep. It sure is." She turned her attention to the blonde face that was near to Chris's. "Wonder who the babe is. And I do mean babe. She can't be more than fifteen or sixteen standard years. I didn't think Chris's taste ran to the pubescent."

Raintree stared at the face, his eyebrow raising as he caught her profile. "It's Ariel Cord." His tone was full of awe. Then he cleared his throat, continuing, "And she's either twenty-two or twenty-three. So she's legal. Can't get him on that charge. But you know," he turned back to Shy'na, "my people never really considered age, as long as they cared for each other."

"Ariel Cord, huh?" Shy'na stared up at Raintree, a calculating glint in her gold eyes. "The porn princess? I hear she loves a good joke. Maybe we should play one on them. You know, jump up and start yelling something crazy, scare the hell out of them."

Raintree chuckled, imagining the scene in his head. "Yeah, it would definitely be a lot of fun. But Chris would never forgive me. Ever. And he follows an ancient Earth adage of getting even. And Shy'na, he might be a boy scout, but he won't let you being female get in the way of his getting even. Let's just wait a little bit longer. They'll finish soon."

"Sure about that?" Shy'na looked over at the couple, still consumed in each other.

"Yeah," Raintree nodded. "I'm sure." His tone was not very convincing as he added, "He better be."

Still, it was some time before the two lay side by side on the blanket, holding each other, talking softly to each other. Then, they stood up, grabbing their clothes and the blanket, and padded up the beach to the large mansion overlooking the beach.

"Finally," Raintree sighed as both he and Shy'na unfolded themselves, standing.

"Finally," Shy'na agreed, her voice trembling slightly. Then, "You know, Jack, they did look like they were having fun."

"Oh definitely." Raintree found his own voice shaky.

"What do you say," she moved closer to the tall Amerind, "we find out if it was."

"Sounds like a plan to me," he lowered his head to hers, letting his lips find hers.

They were eager, willing and demanding. Her body moved closer to his, her hands starting to explore his body, as his moved down hers. He felt the buttons give way easily under his fingers and his hand slid inside, encircling her breast, finding taut firm flesh. A moan bubbled from her throat. He could feel her hands under his tunic, then under his pants' waist band. He found himself responding, his organ growing thick and rigid at the prompting of her skilled fingers.

A loud beep halted her hands from continuing their pleasant fondling of him.

"Shit!" She pulled away from Raintree, her face harsh and vicious. She hunted for her communicator, pulling it out of her purse which had dropped to the ground at her feet. "Sorry Jack." He shook his head in understanding, attempting to control his emotions. Flipping open the grid, she all but snarled, "Purim here, and this had better be dammed good or someone is gonna be damned sorry."

"Sorry to bother you Commander," a young male voice responded. "We have a situation here at Hotel Royale."

"A situation?" Purim snapped. "What?"

"Commodore Wentworth has been found dead in a turbolift," the young security officer replied.

"So, get the medical team to take care of him," Shy'na growled. "I can't do anything for him now."

"He's been murdered," the security officer added. "Could you come back and help us out?" There was an unspoken "Please" in his voice.

Shy'na and Raintree stared mutely at each other, their passion abruptly cooled by the news. "On my way," she said automatically as she hurriedly buttoned her blouse. "Don't touch anything till I get there, but have all evidence you've found ready for me. Purim out."

"Damn!" Raintree swore as he fastened his pants. "Murdered?"

"Sorry, Jack," Shy'na kissed him softly on the cheek. "Rain check?"

"Of course," Raintree nodded.

"Maybe we can get back here before I have to leave." She sighed hopefully staring around at the enclosed area, so perfect for an assignation as she slipped her shoes back on.

"Don't worry, Shy'na" Jack promised as he took her hand, leading back to the hotel. "We will."

Day 8 -- Late Night
The Gym
Hotel Royale

Shy'na Purim walked through the Starfleet security guards, flipping her badge at the stoic young officers who stepped in her path, blocking her way. Raintree walked with her, noting the grim expression on several of the guards' faces.

She'd met with the civilian authorities before coming here, not wanting to tread on any toes. The Chrysalis police force had all but begged her and Starfleet to handle the case. They were used to simple little crimes: the scam, the fraud, folks trying to get out of paying their bills; an occasional altercation between a prostitute and the client over payment and services rendered.

Murder was not something they were used to. Doctor Thelans' death had terrified them, but they had tried to carry on the investigation, to save the reputation of the pleasure planet. Now, however, with the death of a Starfleet senior officer, they wanted nothing to do with it. Starfleet could run the entire show, and no hard feelings.

Shy'na liberated a tricorder from one of the guards and approached the open turbolift where the body was still lying as it had been found. She started to scan the remains, noting his state of undress and the wounds to his body.

"Looks like he really got someone mad," Shy'na remarked to Raintree.

"I'll say."

Raintree gulped, looking a little pale. Well, show a man another man without his manhood, and you scare the hell out of them, Shy'na noted silently.

"And," she added, "it looks like he got lucky and scored before he got unlucky and scorched."

"What?" Raintree stared at her.

Miles Wentworth was not known as a playboy by any stretch of the imagination. He was rarely seen with females. Since the death of his wife many years before, he had sequestered himself behind a desk at Starfleet command, burying himself in his work, becoming a dedicated, if somewhat dull, officer. While he had attended the required social affairs, he had never gone with anyone, nor left with anyone. If he obtained any sexual release, it was never known; many assumed he would, when he needed to, purchase the services of a professional woman, take care of the physical requirement, and then be on his way. He was not about to be hurt again.

"The laser blasts didn't fully destroy all the evidence," Shy'na went on. "He had sex in this car before he lost his family jewels and his life." She rested her fists on her hips, staring down at the dead man. "The DNA in the vaginal fluid is Human. So, we're looking for a Human female."

"That ought to narrow things down a little," Jake Meadows, a young lieutenant with red curly hair and brown eyes, snorted derisively. "This entire planet is full of Human females."

Shy'na shot him a murderous glare, then turned to Raintree, watching him as he studied the crime scene.

"'Remember the Hood,'" he muttered.

"Yeah, I saw that too," she nodded. "Kind of spooky. And interesting. I heard the same message was scrawled on a wall over Doctor Thelans' body."

"Coincidence?" Raintree asked.

"I don't believe in coincidences," Shy'na said, turning to Lieutenant Meadows. "We need a copy of the report on Doctor Thelans' death."

"Done," Meadows walked to a computer, tapped in a few codes, and waited for the information to download to the main computer. "Got it." He transferred the information to Shy'na's personal compuclipboard.

She scanned the information, then looked up at Raintree. "Guess what, Jack," she said. "It seems that Doctor Thelans also had an intimate encounter with a female, Human, just before he lost his manhood and his life. And someone did put that same message over his body." She stared around at the Starfleet security officers as well as the civilian police officers. "Looks like we have a pattern developing here. I lay odds it's the same person."

Shy'na turned to the other young officer, Ensign Mark Harrin. "When was he found?"

"About forty minutes ago, just before we called you," answered the young officer, a Human with blonde hair and hazel eyes. The voice belong to the one who'd summoned her. "The P.A. says he was killed about five minutes before that."

Shy'na frowned as she digested the information. "Anybody see anything? Anyone?"

"No," Ensign Harrin replied. "He had a scheduled appointment for a detox treatment and massage every night at 2130 hours. He was seen heading from the bar to the turbo lift, and then here, like this at 2140 hours."

"Nothing in between?"

"No ma'am. I did check the car's data log, and there was a brief interruption of the turbo's traffic."

"What?" Shy'na stared intently at the young officer.

"Yeah, there was a power surge or something. It stopped the car between floors for about twenty minutes. Just stuck between floors and destinations."

"Enough time to get a quickie and then get killed," Shy'na commented. "Okay, where's the female?"

"No one ever saw her," the ensign shook his head.

"So she managed to sneak in and sneak out without being seen," Shy'na sighed.


"Any other stops for this car before it reached here?" Shy'na questioned.

"No, sir," Ensign Harrin answered. "Once the car regained power, it continued on its way from the main lobby to the gym."

"Stand by, officer," she said.

A Starfleet doctor walked in, looking rumpled and tired. Doctor Joseph Brockman, supposedly on shore leave on Chrysalis, had been playing hard and partying harder and had just settled in for some shut eye when he'd been summoned to back to work. No, Joe was not a happy man at the moment.

After a cursory exam, he stood up and stared down at Shy'na, his bleary hazel eyes focusing on her form, noting, but saying nothing about the way her blouse was buttoned, or that her hair was not exactly still elegantly coifed on her head. Running a hand through his tousled graying blond hair, he said, "It's real straight forward, Shy'na. Just like that P.A. told these guys. You didn't really need to get me down here. And where the hell is the hotel doctor anyway?"

"The doctor is busy with an appy and several concussions from a private party upstairs. He can't be everywhere, and the live ones get his attention first. That leaves you as my medical examiner. A physician's assistant can't sign the death certificate, Joe."

He gave her a sour look. "Okay, Shy'na. Made your point." He drew himself up straight. "Here it is for the record. Someone gave him a thrill, then blew his nuts off and then blew his brains out."

"Pretty straightforward all right," Raintree nodded. He turned back to the scene and stared at the writing again. "'Remember the Hood.'"

"Someone sure wants us to remember the Hood. And especially in connection with these guys," Shy'na nibbled her lip.

"Your pattern?" Raintree's eyes met hers.

"My pattern," she nodded. "Thelans developed the phaser," she went on, walking around the room, deep in thought. "That led to the Hood being sent on its decoy mission and its subsequent destruction and the death of the crew."

"And Wentworth was the man who gave us our orders," Raintree added, joining her. "Thus he becomes directly responsible for the death of the crew and the destruction of the ship."

"Two people killed with a direct link to the loss of the Hood and its crew." Shy'na looked up at him.

"It's a common thread."

"And there's at least one other person on the list," she added. "The person who gave Wentworth his orders."

"You don't suppose that he's on the planet, do you?" Raintree felt his jaw tighten.

"He was instrumental in getting Thelans and his invention to Federation space," she said. "And the launch of the Hood is a major political happening. But he might not be the only one involved. We need to find out if anyone else on the Council was involved, and if they're here."

Lee Rawlins stepped into room just then. The lieutenant commander was a few years older than the lieutenant, and every year full of experience. His brown hair was straight, a lock continuously falling into his eyes, and his black eyes were piercing, taking in everything in an instant. He would go far in Starfleet, provided he didn't get killed doing his job.

"Problem, Shy'na?" he asked.

"Maybe. We have to find out if anyone else connected with the Hood incident is on the planet."

"That's not going to be easy," Rawlins sighed. "That kind of information is ultra top secret. I don't think anyone here has the security clearance to get that information."

"I do," Shy'na said. "And if I don't, I know someone who does who owes me a few favors."

"You would," Rawlins stated drolly.

Shy'na turned back to the turbo car, studying the scrawled message, her smooth brow furrowed in concentration. Checking her tricorder and the information from the team, she looked at the screen and then at the wall. Then she walked up to the wall, stepping over the corpse carefully.

"Lee, your guys missed something," she said as she scanned her tricorder over the wall. "There's a fingerprint here. It's smudged, but I think there's enough to get an ID."

"Kids," Rawlins shook his head, glad the others were busy. He'd deal with them later. "Harrin is fresh out the Academy. Meadows, well, what can I say? He's a jerk. He'll learn."

"It's going to take some time to run it through the various data banks," Shy'na frowned. "If we can get a make on it, that is."

"The manager gave us a VIP Suite to use as a command station while we're here," Rawlins told her. "We've just finished hooking everything up that we'd want or need.

"Good. Come on, Jack," she took Raintree's hand. "We've got to get to work on this, but first I think I need a good strong drink. I hope they have some very old Saurian brandy in the bar."

As they left, Meadows and Harrin returned from their task. Meadows looked down at the body, then back at Rawlins. "Uh, what happens now? What do we do with the stiff, sir?"

Rawlins felt his face flush as his jaw tightened. "First of all, Lieutenant, you will not address the deceased in such a manner." His tone brought both men to attention. "Before his untimely demise he was a Human. And he was a senior officer in Starfleet. Although he is no longer among the living, you have no right not to treat him with a certain amount of dignity and respect. One day that may be your remains that are being discussed." Rawlins took a deep breath, collecting himself. "We will remove the remains in a dignified manner and take them to the morgue where the mortician will take care of him. Understood? "

"Yes, sir," Meadows said, keeping his eyes fixed on the wall, his body very erect.

"Carry on," Rawlins ordered as he left the scene as a gurney was floated in by the folks from the morgue.

Harrin looked at his friend, a sour expression on his face. Jake Meadows was a good security officer, when he remembered to keep his mouth shut, or to think first and then speak. But his mouth, and his manner would definitely hold him back from achieving a higher grade one day.

"I know, I know," Jake said as they went over to the corpse. "I should have called it Commodore Stiff."

Day 8
A Corridor in the Hotel Royale

She walked back to her room, the coveralls once again stuffed in her bag. He'd been easy to take. Much easier than Thelans.

Two down. One to go.

She'd left the shaft on a floor well above her own, just in case someone had seen her enter the turbolift with the commodore. She hadn't thought she'd seen someone, but you could never tell. She was up where the VIP suites were located. She'd get on a lift soon and go back to her room, to clean up after her latest ordeal.

A tall muscular man with silvery hair was exiting a room. He wore Federation Council robes. She paused, wondering if he'd seen her, then decided the best thing for her was to continue on as if she belonged there. Or was lost.

He was talking to two smaller men, aides from their behavior, his pale blue eyes glinting cold at the men. They seemed to shrink in his presence. She felt herself shudder as his glance swept over her. He didn't seem to be aware of her presence.

The young woman's dark blue eyes glinted angrily. That was typical of him, she felt herself begin to sneer. Look right through the little person, caring only for the rich, the powerful.

He walked by her, still talking to the two aids. "I'll be at supper, and then I suppose I'll have to return to my rooms and finish that damned speech for the commencement when the Hood is launched. Be sure I have all the particulars for the speech."

"Yes, sir," one of the aides said. "Everything you need will be waiting for you when you return from dinner."

"See that it is," Corman all but snarled as the turbo lift doors slid shut.

She found herself holding her breath, and forced herself to exhale and breathe in and out slowly. He was a monster, she told herself. She'd known that; she'd always known that.

Surprisingly she found tears trickling down her face. Angrily she wiped them from her face. He disgusted her. His overbearing manner was so reminiscent of the Orions, the ones who had used her repeatedly and mercilessly. If she didn't know better, she'd swear he was part Orion.

She shook her head, suppressing a shudder, and looked around the corridor.

There was no one present. Naturally. Folks don't linger in the VIP areas of hotels.

Boldly she walked to his room and let herself into the suite. Closing the door behind her, she studied his room, searching for something.

The room was a typical suite: lushly furnished with work table and PC, large bed, several plush chairs, and a sofa and coffee table set in one corner. The entertainment area was furnished with a large holovid receiver.

There was nothing there that was his. Except for several changes of clothes in the armoire, she could find nothing that was personally Derek Corman's. No holopictures, no flat pictures, no mementos, nothing.

Her eyes lit on the ventilation grid. She smiled, and pulled a small object from her purse. Using one of the straight chairs to reach the grid, she slipped the device, a transponder, through the small holes and then put the chair back where it had been sitting.

She pulled out another device and flipped a switch, and was rewarded with the small blip on the screen of the device. She hadn't been sure how she was going to kill him.

Thelans had been easy to set up; his sexual proclivities and his ego had made him an easy target. Wentworth had been a bit more difficult. He'd been a virtual recluse with seemingly no weaknesses. But he always tried to be the gallant protector of the weak, and she'd worked with that, and gotten inside his defenses.

Corman was a totally different person. No known vices, no known weaknesses. Nothing.

She slipped out his room and walked to the turbo lift. A short time later, she walked into her room, tossed the bag onto the chair and slipped out of her softsuit and back into the mechanic's overalls. She grabbed a locator and a permamarker, and, after removing the grill from her ventilation grid, maneuvered herself into the small shaft.

Before long she found herself looking through the grill at the suite she had so recently left. A smile creased her face. She could find this place again. And, she sighed, she might have to. Especially if she didn't find any other way to get close to him.

As she had made her way to the suite, she'd thought she'd seen more security officers moving around the hotel. Perhaps in response to finding the dead body in the turbolift.

Nodding to herself, she turned around and crawled back through the shaft to her room.

Halfway there, she paused, then moved closer to the grill, placing her ear against the filigreed pattern, straining to hear the two men in red talking.

"So, they did find a fingerprint?" the taller man with a tenor voice asked excitedly.

"Yeah," said his partner, his bass voice sounding strange coming from such a small body. "I hear they're going to access every data base in the Federation and find out who she is. Talk about a needle in a haystack."

"More like a needle in a hayfield," the first man said.

"So until they get a match, or at least a partial, we get to question every Human female in the hotel and check out their alibi. Not bad duty, if you ask me. Provided they don't have it in for security officers too."

"You mean the one who offed the commodore was a Human woman? Son of a bitch!" he whistled. "You know how many Human females there are in the hotel?"


"A hell of a lot of 'em."

"Let's get a list of the hotel's guests," the smaller man suggested. "Then we won't have to go to every damned room in the place. And then we question the ladies until we find the one that fits the bill."

"Good idea," the first security guard agreed as they got into the turbolift.

Julie moved back from the grid, numb with fear. She'd gotten careless somehow.

Taking a deep breath, she hurried back to her room. Once in her room again, she grabbed her small bag, and began to throw her few clothes into it. She tapped a few codes into the desk computer, waiting impatiently for the screen to say that it had accepted her credits and had checked her out of the room.

Then she tossed the bag into the shaft and levered herself back into the small duct.

She moved through the ventilation system slowly, carefully, using her permamarker to make symbols on the walls. Finally she found herself on the mezzanine level. She dropped out of the shafts behind a large fern-like plant. She spied an emergency exit nearby, and walked quickly to it.

The dark night covered her departure.

Day 8 -- Just Before Midnight
Security Command Central
Hotel Royale

Shy'na Purim stood in front of the computer, her tricorder in her hand, downloading its information. Raintree walked over to a large recliner and made himself comfortable while Rawlins stood behind Shy'na, watching the computer begin to work on the nearly impossible task.

"That should do it," she sighed. "Now it's up to that big brain to provide us with a match. If it can."

Rawlins started to speak, and yawned instead. He shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck. "I think I'd better catch some shut-eye," he said through another yawn. "I've been up most of the day with the politicians. Besides, I think you and the captain can handle things until the computer comes up with something."

"Go ahead," Shy'na nodded. "Get some sleep. I have a feeling you're going to need it before this is all over."

Rawlins smiled at her gratefully, then pulled the door shut behind him.

Raintree pushed back in the recliner, resting his head on his hands, his eyes closed, his breathing slow and steady. Rawlins wasn't the only one who had put in a long day, it seemed.

Shy'na studied him intently, noting the calm look on his face. It was an intriguing face, she noted, and one she wanted to get to know a better. A lot better.

She sighed wistfully, wondering how things would have turned out if they hadn't been interrupted. Then a slow smile started in her gold eyes and worked its way down to her lips. She walked over to the door and locked it, adding a special code to stop any from entering with an override or a master key without signaling them first. Then she took down her hair, letting it fall loosely around her face, unbuttoned her blouse, and stepped out of her pants, then settled herself gently on his lap.

Leaning forward, she started to kiss him, beginning gently but demandingly. He opened his eyes and stared at the person behind the lips that were tormenting him so pleasantly. Noticing her state of undress he pulled back and looked anxiously at the door. "Shy'na," he began. "This is a little risky, don't you think?"

She laughed softly, throatily and leaned closer to his lips. "Where's your sense of adventure, Captain?" She moved from his lips to his neck. "You know what risk is all about, don't you? Besides," she whispered in his ear, "I locked the door. We'll know if someone is trying to get in. I got interrupted once tonight. I'm not going to let it happen again."

"Well, in that case..." He relaxed under her, letting his hands begin to explore her nude form as his mouth captured hers.

She let her hands roam his body again, working on first removing his uniform tunic, then his pants. They continued to explore each other's body, slowly, sensually. Maneuvering themselves in the recliner, they got comfortable. Shy'na shifted her position in the chair, pulling Raintree on top of her, then opened her legs wide, inviting him to enter. He stared at the glistening, blue-green petals of her vagina, more aroused than he could ever remember. Her pheromones, probably. Hell, she didn't need them; she was too hot, too sexy!

He slid in easily, and soon both were matching each other's rhythm seeking pleasure, seeking satisfaction, seeking release. They climaxed within seconds of each other, then lay in each other's arms, feeling the warmth of the afterglow.

"Never did it in a recliner before," Raintree chuckled, moving to rest beside the small woman, keeping her well within his embrace. "Not bad. Not bad at all."

"Only if you have the right recliner," she rolled on her side, letting her one leg rest on his enticingly as her hand moved down his side. "Otherwise it's hell on the back. Believe me."

"I'll take your word for it," he pulled her closer, letting one hand begin to roam over her silken body. "I think I like it better here than the beach."

"Oh really?" She looked up into his grey eyes.

"Sand can wreck the mood," he answered. "Especially when it gets in certain areas."

"Didn't seem to bother Chris or Ariel," Shy'na commented as she began to kiss the hollow of his throat.

"They had a beach blanket," he reminded her as his hand reached her rounded buttocks, pulling it close to his groin. "We didn't."

"Oh, that's right," she nodded, feeling herself respond to his touch. "Then maybe we should be glad that we got interrupted when we did." She gasped and let out a little cry when two of his fingers slid inside her, and his thumb began to massage the fleshy bud of her clitoris with agonizing gentleness.

"Yeah," he nibbled her ear, "but I kind of wish something else would have interrupted us instead of Wentworth's death." He paused and sighed, staring at the wall behind them. "I wonder if we'll ever find the killer."

"Do we have to talk about that?" Shy'na asked petulantly.

"Well, I suppose can skip it, if you want," he turned his attention back to Shy'na.

"Good," she let her ministrations of his body get more demanding. "Because talk of murder just kills the mood for me. And right now, that's the last thing I want to have happen. Anyway," she added as her hand closed around his shaft, "I prefer less talk and more action. And I've always heard that starship captains were men of action."

"That we are," he rasped as he opened her legs and took her again. "That we most definitely are."


They were resting in the recliner, a long time later when the computer began to signal them.

"Data on fingerprint coming in now."

"Finally." Shy'na nimbly uncurled herself from the chair and from around Raintree and walked over to the computer screen.

Raintree got up and followed her over to the screen, his expression less than happy about the news. As she stood in front of the screen waiting for the data to come on-screen, he began to nuzzle her shoulder while his hands roamed over her smooth body.

"Jack," she looked at him crossly. "I'm working."

"So am I," he continued, his hands moving further down her body.

"Jack," she glared up at him a warning note in her voice.

"You mean you can't do two things at once?" he persisted, either not catching or not wanting to catch the signals she was flashing at him. He knelt behind her, his tongue slithering between her legs, finding her vagina for an instant before he stood up again.

"Yes, I can, but," she turned toward him, finding herself in an embrace with the tall Amerind, her body and his close together, arousing her desires again, "I would prefer to concentrate on this without any distractions, and right now you are most definitely a distraction."

"I don't think I've ever been called a distraction before," Raintree planted a kiss on her forehead trying to work his way down to her lips.

"Well, believe me," Shy'na slipped out of his embrace and turned back to the computer, "you are."

"Data transfer completed," the computer stated. "Subject has been tentatively identified as Chastain, Julia R., Starfleet, inactive. Voluntary discharge granted eight months ago."

Raintree's hand stopped on its way to the nether regions of Shy'na's body and he stared at the screen as a picture of the young communications officer flashed in the corner of the screen. He felt his chest tighten as he looked at the sweet, innocent face that was looking into the camera, fresh from the Academy, unaware of what lay ahead in her future.

"Match is 0.973 percent accurate," the computer voice intoned emotionlessly. "Smudging of the print precludes absolute match."

"Then maybe it isn't her," Raintree prayed. "Maybe it's a relative."

"DNA from vaginal secretions and body hair have been matched to those of Chastain, Julia R." the computer continued. "Match is 100 percent accurate."

"Damn!" Raintree swore, balling a fist.

Shy'na closed her eyes and shook her head sadly. "Oh gods," she whispered. Looking up at the disconsolate man standing by her side, noting the tears that were in his eyes. "Gods, Jack, I'm so sorry." Her hand rested tenderly on his shoulder. "I can understand her side of things. She blames Thelans and Wentworth for the death of her friends on the Hood and what happened to her on the planet."

"Anomaly noted on sample supplied." The computer interrupted their discussion. "Body hair has been cosmetically altered. Sample is dyed black. Normal coloring is blonde."

Raintree continued to stare at the graduation picture of the young woman as he remembered the last time he'd seen her on Rigel V. She'd been near catatonic by then, her bright blue eyes washed out, staring at nothing, a distant haunting look and distrust in them. Her blonde hair, usually curled and bouncy, was now disheveled and matted, neglected. It had been difficult for the medical staff to take care of her, especially the males. She would whimper and flinch whenever touched, and if the person should happen to come at her from the back, she would run in terror, only to cower in a corner, pulling in on herself.

"After everything she had to endure," Raintree's voice broke, "now she has to be chased by her comrades."

"I know," Shy'na nodded sadly. "But we can't let her get away with this."

"Yeah," Raintree answered. "I just wish I were somewhere else and didn't know about it, that's all."

Shy'na turned back to the computer, knowing there was nothing she could say to comfort the man.

"Computer, location of Chastain, Julia R.," Shy'na asked the computer.

"Location of Chastain, Julia R., unknown."

"Last known location of Chastain, Julia R.," Shy'na demanded.

"Chastain, Julia R. last seen on Rigel Five. Subject required extensive reconstructive surgery of internal perirectal region after numerous rapes sustained while a prisoner of Orion pirates. Subject also was given comprehensive psychological therapy while recuperating on Rigel Five. However, after subject recovered physically, subject refused to complete psychological therapy, resigned her commission in Starfleet and left Rigel Five."

"If I were her," Shy'na nodded, "That's exactly what I would do. Lose myself, find out who was to blame and go after them." She addressed the machine again, "Computer, this is Shy'na Purim, Security Clearance Alpha Grade One. I want the names of all the persons involved with the inception of the last mission of the U.S.S. Hood."

"Working," the machine intoned. "Only two names are listed as being involved in the inception for the plan to use the U.S.S. Hood as a decoy to get the phaser plans to Federation space. Wentworth, Miles, Commodore, deceased. Corman, Derek, Federation Councilor."

"Location of Corman, Derek," Shy'na asked.

"Corman, Derek, is located on Chrysalis," the computer supplied. "Corman, Derek is scheduled to deliver a speech at the launch of the U.S.S. Hood."

Shy'na folded her arms over her bosom, taking a deep breath before she looked up at Raintree. "If I were Julie, he'd definitely be on my list. And I'd save him for last."

"Yeah," Raintree nodded, exhaling slowly. "After he told you he'd leaked the information to the Orions, I wanted to kill him slowly."

"More of your heritage?" Shy'na asked.

"More of my heritage," Raintree nodded grimly.

"Well, to tell you the truth," Shy'na admitted, her eyes glittering hard and cold, "I did entertain thoughts of killing him myself. Slowly and without mercy, for all the lives that were sacrificed to ensure Thelans and his little invention got safely to Federation space." Shaking herself, she sighed, "But, unfortunately, I can't indulge in my little whim."

"Unfortunately," Raintree agreed. "Neither can I."

"I suppose we had better get Security to get him under guard before Julie gets to him," she added.

"I suppose."

"You don't sound very approving," Shy'na arched an eyebrow as she pulled out a communicator.

"There's no regulation that says I have to approve," Raintree snorted. "But I know my duty, as you do."

"Yes, I do," Shy'na agreed as she flipped the grid open. "Purim to Rawlins." She looked back at Raintree, "I hope he got some sleep, 'cause I don't think he's gonna get much after this until she's caught."

"Rawlins here," a sleepy voice responded to Shy'na's signal.

"Sorry to interrupt your nap," Shy'na apologized, "but we just got a make on our suspect. It's Julia R. Chastain, former Starfleet ensign."

"Former Starfleet ensign?" Rawlins' yawned.

"Yeah," Shy'na breathed. "Former. She was on the U.S.S. Hood when it was hulled along the Barrier Alliance border. She and Captain Raintree were the only survivors."

"Damn," Rawlins swore softly.

"Tell me. Anyway, the evidence that we collected at the last crime scene indicates that she's here on Chrysalis."

"Terrific." His groan of dismay turned into a yawn. "I don't suppose you know where she is now, do you?"

"Sorry Lee," Shy'na apologized as she picked up her blouse and put it on. "But we have an idea who her next target is."


"Councilor Corman."

"Shit," Rawlins swore.

"I know, I know," Shy'na pulled her pants on.

"Give me a minute," Rawlins said.

While they waited for Rawlins to come back on-line, Raintree reluctantly pulled on his clothes. Shy'na walked over to him, resting her head on his broad chest, her free arm encircling his waist.

"Found him in the restaurant," Rawlins said, coming back on-line. "He takes his meals late. Very late. I've got some guards on their way to the restaurant now. I'll go there and talk to him myself."

"Thanks, Lee," Shy'na said. "I want to stop this before there's a third murder."

"Right. Out."

Shy'na slipped the communicator into her purse and let her other arm wrap around his waist. He let his arms envelop her body, pulling it closer to his own. She lifted her face and met his, as it dipped down to hers, letting her lips find his.

"Sorry, Jack," she pulled back finally. "I'll make this up to you. I promise."

Smiling, he pulled her back into his embrace. "There's nothing to make up," he said simply, savoring the feel of her body close to his. "We had a lot of fun. I enjoyed every minute here."

"Yeah?" She smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling warm. "Then I suppose we'll have to do it again once things quiet down."

"If that's a promise, lady, I'm gonna hold you to it," Raintree murmured as he kissed her deeply.

"Oh, it's a promise, all right," she laughed huskily. "And I keep my promises."

Day 9 -- Just After Midnight
Main Dining Room
Hotel Royale

"Where is he?" Rawlins looked at his guards.

His black eyes were still puffy from lack of sleep, although his hair was combed and his uniform was crisp. The guards, all at least fifty pounds heavier than Rawlins, all of it hard muscle, and all at least six inches taller than he, were wearing laser carbines, their features grim.

"Center table, sir," the tallest one said.

"Of course," Rawlins sighed heavily. Nothing about this assignment had been easy. "Where else? Okay, two of you here at the entrance, and two of you around at the kitchen entrance. And you two," he looked at the last of the guards, "with me. And I hope you're wearing your flame retardant undies."

"Don't need it, sir," one of them drawled in a Southern accent. "He ain't got nuthin' on my paw-paw when it comes to blazin' glares and such."

"Oh really?"

"Paw-paw was a Baptist minister, sir, and I ain't seen no one beat a Southern Baptist minister when it came to dishin' out fire and brimstone." Rawlins thought he saw a glimmer of a grin on the giant's face as they made their way to the table.

Corman looked up from his plate, knife in one hand, fork in the other, a glower on his face.

"What the hell are you and these cretins doing here?" he demanded.

"Sorry to disturb your meal," Rawlins ignored the jibes, "Councilor, but we have reason to believe that there will be an attempt on your life in the near future." Corman glared at the security officer. "We are here to stop it. I would strongly advise you let us move you to a different hotel until the suspect is apprehended."

Corman's icy blue eyes fixed Rawlins with a piercing glare as he put a large piece of meat dripping blood into his mouth. He chewed the meat slowly, then swallowed it before he addressed the officer. "I don't intend to move, Officer. I won't even let you change my room. I like the room I'm in. And I'm established here. The staff know what I want, and when I want it and how I want it. To be blunt, a move at this point would be an inconvenience to me."

Rawlins crossed his arms over his chest, managing not to look bored at the pompous dignitary. The man might think he could make and break careers in Starfleet, but his was one that Corman couldn't touch. He'd served with Admiral Nogura before he'd become Admiral of the Fleet; and Nogura wasn't intimidated by the likes of Corman.

"Any more inconvenient than getting murdered, Councilor?" he asked bluntly.

Corman took another piece of the rare steak then smiled coldly up at Rawlins. "It's your job to see that that doesn't happen, isn't it?"

"Yes it is," Rawlins nodded. "And I will do it as I see fit, not as you see fit." He turned and nodded at the two men. "I'll set up the teams, four hours on eight off," he said softly.

"Understood, sir," the Southerner nodded. "Don't worry none, we'll keep him safe."

Corman snorted, ignoring the two men that were now positioned around his table, as he turned to his aides. "This is going to be a hell of a dinner with all these goons around."

He glanced at the men from the corner of his eye, frowning when neither men flinched at the slur. These fellows were going to be no fun at all.

Day 9 -- After Midnight
In an Orion Marauder in Orbit Above Chrysalis

Haldar sat in the captain's seat on the small bridge of the marauder. He watched as the crew maneuvered the ship into an orbit that would keep it out of the paths of the commercial and Starfleet traffic. He'd been holding his breath since they entered the system, waiting for a challenge from the giant starships and smaller destroyers and scouts. He started to breathe easier when the ship slid pass each of the ships without a challenge. He began to relax when they got close to the planet and still didn't seem to be noticed by the Federation vessels, and his demeanor calmed.

He nodded curtly to the ship's captain, then he left the bridge and went to his stateroom.

"I need you on Chrysalis," the Director had said. "She's still on Chrysalis. Go there, find her and kill her; quickly and cleanly, and bring me her head."

He picked up the hypospray that the medical officer had left for him. Placing it next to his neck, he injected the medication into his system. Soon, his skin color changed from the dark apple green color to a dark tanned brown color. His brown eyes and black curly hair looked perfect with his new skin color.

Of course, if any were to nick him with a blade they'd find green blood on the weapon. But he wasn't about to get cut by anyone here on this planet.

Haldar felt his chest swell with pride as he began to examine his weapons.

He placed the laser pistol into his waist band, a frown on his face. Haldar wasn't fond of the pistol, but he knew better than to leave the ship without it. While his blades were his favorite weapons, he knew that there were situations and circumstances when such weapons were not feasible or even practical.

He looked over his weapon case, smiling as his hands caressed each blade of each sword, recalling an execution, or a duel that it had been used in. Yes, these were the weapons of a true man.

A short sword with a three-foot slender blade in an ancient decorated scabbard was soon swinging from his waist. It was good for sliding between ribs and through muscles and organs, he smiled fondly. The crescent-shaped sword with the jeweled handle and sheath was the next to be belted to his body. It was sharp enough to slice a head from the shoulders of any victim.

He reached for his dull black cloak, wrapping it around his body. Besides being similar to the mantle worn by the Director, it had a deflector sewn into its lining. He'd be able to move around the planet without setting off the security sensors. He looped the cape to his belt to keep it from whipping open in a stray breeze.

Then he marched to the briefing room, noting the fear in the eyes of the moles that had been transported to the ship from the planet. Well, they had reason to fear him. He was one of the most powerful men in the Barrier Alliance, second only to the Director himself. But they had nothing to fear if they did their jobs, and did them well.

"Report," he commanded shortly.

"Lord Haldar, Commodore Wentworth is now dead as well," the small greasy Human said licking his lips nervously. "And the female is no longer in the hotel; she checked out shortly after the body was discovered."

"Do we know where she now?" Haldar asked.

"No, lord, but we are looking for her," the little weasely character assured him.

"And the Starfleet security forces are now surrounding Councilor Corman," added another Human as he flipped a credit chip in the air. "They believe he will be the next to be killed by this female."

"And where is he now?"

"Still at the Royale, lord," the man said as he caught the chip and tossed it back up again.

"Good," Haldar said. "Good. We need only wait for her to attack, then we will strike."

Haldar nodded and dismissed the two men, smiling to himself as they were escorted from the ship. He wondered if the Security people knew the identity of the woman, or if they were still trying to discover who she was. Not that it mattered, he mused as he made his way to the transporter pad. He was confident that he would get to her first.

Day 12
The Space Docks

The ship was floating free of its moorings for the first time in its existence. The white starship sparkled pristine in the dark stratosphere of the planet, it running lights blinking brightly announcing its birth.

The platform in front of it was ladened with festive bunting, chairs for the dignitaries to sit, and a podium for speeches. Below it was a large area for the audience to sit.

The audience was full of minor dignitaries and other important people from around the planet and the sector. The dais was filled with the major dignitaries and senior officers of Starfleet in their dress uniforms.

John Raintree, sitting off to the right of the podium with his long hair pulled back and tied with an ancient rawhide strip with an eagle feather at the end, looked stony-faced at the crowd that stared back up at him and over his shoulder out the clear aluminum plate at the newest vessel in Starfleet. He looked decidedly uncomfortable, and he was. He'd much rather just be allowed to get in the center seat of the ship's bridge and take off in the sleek vessel rather than sit in this straight-backed cushioned chair.

His gray eyes stared straight ahead willing himself to listen as Nogura went through the litany of his past service record that preceded the ceremony that would give him command of the Hood.

His eyes focused on the front row where his friends were sitting, Pike and Shy'na in their dress uniforms, and next to Pike, the gorgeous blonde he'd seen in Pike's embrace that night on the beach. Ariel Cord was representing her father, since Aaron Cord was still off planet on business. Regal looking in her shimmering outfit that brought out the green of her eyes, she didn't look like the nymph that had been entwined with Pike. Of course, looking at Shy'na in her dress uniform, one wouldn't have imagined she and he had been intimate either.

His attention was drawn back to the podium and the man standing behind it as a ship's bell rang. He stood and approached the small Asian, his mind now on the ceremony at hand.

"John Raintree, Captain, Starfleet. Your orders are as follows: As of this date, you will take command of the U.S.S. Hood. You will embark on your assigned patrol, seeking out new life and new civilizations. You will represent the United Federation of Planets, mindful of the Prime Directive at all times. And you will defend the Federation and its territories, using whatever means you deem necessary, under the Articles of the Federations of Planets.

As the small man shook Raintree's hand, the audience clapped heartily, not stopping until the admiral took his seat.

Councilor Corman stood and walked toward the podium, mindful of the extra security guards that were around the dais and in the audience. They made his entrance less dignified than he would have preferred. They set a pall over ceremony. Never once did he consider that he was the problem.

"Gentle beings, we are gathered here to see the launch of the new starship, soon to be the backbone of Starfleet. The U.S.S. Hood is the first ship to be armed with the new weapon, the phaser. " He waited as the polite patter of hands punctuated the speech. "Unfortunately, Doctor Thelans is not here to see the fruition of his invention." Turning to Raintree, he went on, "You are privileged to be able to serve on board such a ship as this is. Bring honor and glory to the Federation."

He turned and held his hand out toward Raintree, still standing by the rostrum. Raintree slowly turned his taciturn expression toward the politician, his jaw muscles twitching ever so slightly. Breathing deeply, he unclenched his hand by his side and brought it up for the man to grasp. He didn't dare look into the pale blue eyes of the Human for fear of forgetting himself, his honor, and decking the arrogant diplomat. The audience, as if it was aware of the tension between the two, again politely clapped.

Raintree dropped the man's hand as quickly as he could, and when it was ceremonial feasible, made his way off the dais and to his friends.

"Congratulations, Jack," Pike gripped his friend's hand warmly.

"Aw, c'mon Chris," Jack returned the grip, threatening to turn it into an arm wrestling match, "you knew I'd get another ship. It was just a matter of when."

"That's not what I'm congratulating you on," Pike chuckled as he tried to maneuver his hand into a better grasp to best his friend, "although you deserve congrats for that as well. I'm congratulating you on your restraint. I'd have decked the jackass."

Jack burst out laughing loosening his grip and thus losing the match to his old friend. "No fair," he complained. "And I was sorely tempted, believe me, but Rawlins' men made that idea a little unfeasible."

"Yeah, I see what you mean," Pike looked around the room, noting the excessive number of red-shirted individuals in the ensemble. "Decking him would have thrown a damper on the party."

"Indeed, with the guest of honor in the brig, the party would definitely have had a damper thrown on it," Shy'na agreed. Her eyes sparkled mischievously as she stood on tiptoe and gave him a congratulatory kiss, adding for his ears only, "And it would have ruined the private party I have planned for later tonight."

"Seriously, Jack," Chris Pike put a hand on his friend's shoulder and then pulled him into a bear hug, "you deserve her."

"Thanks, Chris," Raintree sobered. His eyes closed for a moment and Pike could see the pain of the memories threaten him again. "I just wish I didn't have the memories of the past with me."

"Part of the package, Jack," Pike sighed. "The unwritten lesson that no one bothers to tell you about until you get your first command."

"There's more," Raintree looked at his friend with hurt-filled eyes. "You heard about Julie?"

Chris lifted a glass of Chrysaline champagne from a roving waiter, nodding his head sadly. "Yes, I did. Shy'na filled me in. Damned shame."

Raintree's gaze moved to the sleek vessel still floating outside the dock, waiting patiently for her master to take her out on her maiden voyage. "You know, I could probably get court-martialed and shot for saying this, but they deserved it. They both deserved it. And so does Corman. What happened to Julie shouldn't happen to anyone." He liberated a tall glass of something a bit more potent that the champagne from another roving waiter as he continued, "I don't condone her actions, Chris. But I can't in all good conscience condemn her either. I understand her reasons."

"I know. So do I."

"And Chris, this may be treasonous, but I hope to the gods she gets away."

"That makes two of us, buddy," Pike clasped a hand on his shoulder comfortingly.


Ariel Cord remained in the background as the three officers conversed. She was not usually awestruck by any one; her father had entertained potentates and planetary dignitaries many times at the mansion with her in attendance.

But Starfleet was her goal, and the officers who served in it were her idols.

She'd seduced Chris Pike so many months ago on a whim after she'd spotted him sunbathing on a public beach near her own private one. She could still remember the looks he'd given her, especially when he noted that she was topless. And when she'd removed the bikini bottoms she could see his response, and knew he'd be a fantastic lover.

And then he'd been called away from her on a mission that he never talked about when he came back. But he had come back, and when he did, they resumed exactly where they'd left off.

But in their dress uniforms, Chris and his friend Captain Raintree, and Shy'na Purim looked so impressive, she was the one being seduced. Not sexually. Suddenly her dream to join Starfleet became a burning desire as strong and perhaps even stronger than any physical craving she'd ever experienced.

And the ship...

Her gaze wandered to the ship again. It was so regal, so pristine, so beautiful. She knew then she could never rest until she was serving on one such as this.

A hand on her shoulder startled her momentarily. She looked up and found the hand attached to Chris' friend, Raintree.

"Excuse me," she felt herself blushing like a schoolgirl. The officers had caught her gaping open-mouthed at the starship.

"It's okay, I understand," he chuckled, and she heard Chris and Shy'na echo his laugh. "We all do. What I said was, how'd you like to take a tour of the ship?"

Ariel felt her excitement build. "Oh, but-but the reception" she demurred.

"This little affair can last for hours," Jack said, "and I'm not in the mood for buffet food or hobnobbing with politicians right now. So. How about a private tour of my new ship?"

"Can we?" She sounded like a child being given a special present.

"Sure," Jack nodded as he drew her into the group where Chris immediately reclaimed her. "You'll probably like new Sickbay. Maybe even tell me what some of the stuff is supposed to be for."

"Oh yes, please!" Ariel managed to restrain from clapping her hands in glee.

"Chris?" Jack looked at his old comrade.

Chris shrugged. "You know me, Jack. Any excuse to get on a starship is a good one."

"And what about you?" Jack looked down at the lovely Orion female.

"Well, I suppose I should go along, just to see what's so exciting about a little starship," Shy'na said resignedly. Jack glared at her. Shy'na shook her head and sighed, "Just kidding, Jack, just kidding." He continued to glare until she moved under his arm and pulled his head down to hers. "Honest, Jack. I can't wait to see her."

His grim expression relaxed as he kissed her briefly. "Then it's settled," he said. "Just follow me to the transporter and we'll have a quiet tour of the newest ship in the fleet."

Day 12 -- Evening
Outside the Hotel Royale

Julie Chastain, dressed in nondescript coveralls with a carryall slung over her shoulder, stood by the service entrance, looking carefully around, making sure no one was watching her. Then she opened the grid and lifted herself into the shaft, closing it behind her.

It had been four days since she'd killed Commodore Wentworth. Four days since she'd been forced to flee from her base of operations. It had been a setback, to be sure, but not one that she couldn't overcome.

Soon after she left the Royale, she found a small modest hotel and, after checking in, had set about to keep the Security officers off her trail. The black hair was now gone. Her hair was now her original color, a honey blonde shade that glistened in the suns. The security search would catch up with her sooner or later, she knew. The smudged fingerprint had been something she hadn't counted on being found.

But so far, they hadn't found her. And she could finish the task she had set out for herself after she'd resigned from Starfleet.

Turning on the locator, she made her way through the maze of shafts to the desired ventilation grid, remembering her last days as a Starfleet officer.

She'd turned in her resignation almost as soon as she could, but it had not been accepted; not then. The powers-that-be had insisted that first she get better, physically and mentally before she made such a momentous decision.

So she'd acquiesced. And Starfleet had set about to repair the physical and mental damage that had been inflicted on her person.

The surgeons had mended her body, making her better than new, erasing all evidence of her short stay on Xantharus at the hands of the pirates. The psychiatrists couldn't do much with her mind set. She let them talk to her all the while she was recovering; but as soon as she was able to do so, she resubmitted her resignation and checked herself out of the hospital and made her way off of Rigel V.

She tried to pick up her life on Earth with her boyfriend, but soon found that she was unable to continue their relationship. Every time he tried to touch her, to seduce her, she'd frozen stiff and become stony silent. Or she'd permit him to take her, and then suffer the terrible dreams, reliving the rapes she'd endured. After several weeks of trying to resume where'd they'd left off, he'd left her, alone and hurt, unable to do anything to stop him.

It had been then, after crying long hours in the night, that she had decided that someone was going to pay for everything that had been done to her and her comrades on the Hood. Better yet, someone should pay for it.

First was Thelans, the Andorian who'd created the weapon. And then the commodore who'd given them the orders and tried to give Captain Raintree and her medals for surviving the hell he'd sent them to. And last, the pompous councilor who'd admitted that he'd been the "leak" to the Orions, effectively signing the ship's death warrant.

And she'd worked on the plan, learning everything there was to learn about her targets, biding her time for the right moment to set it into action.

And now, she stopped on the other side of the grid, looking at the haughty man sitting at the desk tapping a code into the BellComm unit, she was nearing her goal. Once he was gone, she might be able to pick up the pieces of her life.

"Welcome, Councilor," a sultry voice responded on the BellComm unit. "How may we serve you?"

"I want a female," Corman ordered, much as he'd ordered a steak off a menu. "The best you've got. Preferably Human."

"Blonde, brunette, redhead?" the sexy voice asked.

"Blonde," Corman said after a moment. "Be sure she's a looker. I don't want a dog serving me."

"But of course, Councilor," she agreed. "Any other special requests?"

Corman leaned back in his chair. "Yes, there is." His tone lowered. "She'd best be able to tolerate some rough handling as well as various positions." He paused a beat. "Especially positions for a rear mounting. And anal sex. She can't be afraid of a little pain--and some blood."

"Isee." For a moment, Julie thought the woman wanted to refuse the order. Julie felt her stomach churn. But then, she'd expected something like that from him.

"Is that a problem?" Corman's tone was cold, icy.

"No, of course not," the female's voice became falsely bright. "It does, however, make it a bit more difficult to fill your needs immediately."

"And be sure she's got plenty of stamina," concluded Corman. "I don't intend to be quick tonight."

"Of course, Councilor," the sultry voice replied. "I have just the person in mind, one of our best girls."

"And the price?" Corman asked imperiously. "Don't be squeamish. I expect the price to be a bit more than what I usually pay."

"Yes, sir, it will be." She consulted a compuclipboard off screen, then quoted a price.

"Very well," he nodded. "And add twenty percent as a tip for the girl, and another twenty percent in case she needs a physician."

"You are most generous," the madame demurred.

"Not at all," Corman shook his head. "She'll earn it."

The madame looked at her compuclipboard again. "I won't be able to get her to you for at least an hour, sir. Will that be a problem?"

Corman stood up, staring down at the screen and the lovely older woman. "No. I need to clean up before she gets here."

"Very good sir," the madame dipped her head in obeisance as he cut the connection.

Corman walked to the door and pulled the Security guard into the room.

"What's your name?" Corman demanded.

"Meadows, sir," the redhead said as he stood at attention, "Lieutenant Jacob Meadows."

"Well, Lieutenant," Corman walked around the officer, pausing when he was standing in front of him, eyeing the emblem on his left chest, "in about an hour, a woman will be coming here. You will let her enter, no questions, no body searches, no nothing."

"Sir?" Meadows frowned.

"I repeat, you are to let her in. No questions, no searches, no nothing. She will be let in on my authority."

"Sir," Meadows began, a thin film of sweat forming on his brow, "I have orders..."

"Yes, I know." Corman cut him off. "But if you want a career in Starfleet, you will ignore those orders and follow mine. Is that clear enough, Lieutenant?'

Meadows felt his mouth go dry. This had not been the cushy assignment he'd been hoping for when he'd learned he'd been assigned to Chrysalis. First the Andorian had been murdered, then the Commodore. And now, the Councilor was demanding that he disobey a direct order from Lieutenant Commander Rawlins. If he followed Corman's orders, he could get court marshaled and demoted, possibly discharged. But if he followed Rawlins' orders, this man might make it impossible for him to gain any advancement in the service, and he was not eager to be the oldest lieutenant in Starfleet.

"Yes, sir," Meadows answered. "Absolutely."

"I don't care what you might think of this," Corman continued. "It's no one's business but mine. But, if you breathe a word of this to anyone, and I do mean anyone, you can kiss your career goodbye. And your ass will be mine. Don't think I can't do it, Lieutenant."

"I understand sir," Meadows answered faintly. "No questions, no searches, no nothing."

"Good boy," Corman flashed him a grin as the Security officer resumed his post outside the door.

Julie waited until Corman was in the bathroom, and under the shower before she let herself in the room. She was still trembling.

The thought of enduring a bout of anal sex with anyone made her grow cold, and with the likes of him made her skin crawl. Leave it to him to prefer that to normal sex.

She had to go through with it. Of course, she could just shoot him when he walked out of the bathroom, but then, he wouldn't go through any suffering before his death. And she did want him to suffer. Him most of all.

Still, she placed the laser pistol under a pillow on the bed, she was going to keep that thing very close. Just in case.

She shed her coveralls, folding them and stashing them behind a plant near the bed. The jumpsuit she was wearing under it was soon draped artistically from a chair near the bed, leaving her totally naked.

Julie arranged the pillows a bit more comfortably, making sure the pistol was still close by, then arranged herself on the bed. She'd pulled the covers back, and was seated on the satin sheets, leaning against the headboard, her knees up and spread open. When Corman walked out of the bathroom, he'd get an eye full. Hopefully it would keep him from looking at her too closely.

About fifteen minutes later, he walked into the room, a large towel loosely wrapped around his hips. He started to sit on the bed, then stopped as he saw what was already there.

"Hi there," Julie flashed him a wide grin, wiggling her fingers in greeting.

"You're early," Corman stated shortly, not taking his eyes from her vagina. It was wide open and wet, and seemed to be pulsing.

"Well, you aren't going to believe this, but," Julie stretched provocatively, "I was here in the hotel when I was paged. And since I was finished with my other customer, I didn't see any reason to waste time. Do you?"

"No," Corman licked his lips hungrily as the towel was dropped to the floor revealing his large semi-erect penis.

Julie crooked her finger at him as she cooed coyly, "Well, then, come and get it, big boy."

Corman grabbed her by a leg and pulled her down on the bed, then flung himself on her, his mouth clamping on a breast, biting sharply as he jammed his fingers deep into her vagina. His teeth broke her skin, and she felt blood trickle over her velvety flesh.

Julie swallowed a cry as she forced herself to open her legs wider, letting him delve deeper into her even as she arched her back up, letting him get more of her breast in his mouth. Her hands clamped on his penis and began to stroke it, feeling it stiffen.

Suddenly his fingers disappeared from her vagina, and his organ plunged in. He grabbed her hips and thrust in deeper. He continued to use her, immobilizing her hips, making his thrusts more forceful. Then, without warning, he withdrew from her and flipped her on her stomach, pressing her chest into the mattress and raising her hips in the air.

She felt him leave the bed momentarily and return, planting himself between her legs. His large hands spread her buttocks open. Julie tensed, then forced her muscles to relax, to let him use her as he wanted to, biting her lip to stop her cries of protest. Something metal forced itself into her rectum, and Julie had to stifle a whimper. What the hell was he using on her? It hurt--but not as much as what he would soon do to her.

Then she felt a cool sticky substance fill her rectum. And then, with a grunt from the councilman, she felt his organ enter her, felt the skin stretch to its limit and flesh and muscle tear. His hands grabbed her hips and with another grunt and another thrust, all of his organ filled her rectum.

Julie clenched her fists under the pillow, the pillow helping to keep her cries quiet as the powerful man continued to move in and out her, not noticing the trickle of blood that was seeping down her legs, only noting the tightness of the orifice, and the tensing of the muscle and his own feelings of satiation.

Julie continued to scream silently, wondering if the revenge she sought was worth this punishment as he settled into a intense rhythm, grunting on occasion as he forced his penis deeper into her rectum. A hand wandered to her mons, rubbing her vulva viciously, chuckling when she jerked away from his touch, helping him push deeper into her.

As she continued to clench her fists, grabbing the sheets to stop from twisting under him and rip his eyes out with her nails, her hand brushed the laser pistol. So tempting...

But no. She let her hand rest on the cool weapon, willing herself to let him finish. She had survived being gang raped by the entire band of Orion pirates who had remarkable stamina; she would survive this monster's use of her. She had to.

And still he persisted, seemingly tireless as he used her to sate his animal needs. Julie felt more of her insides rend with each thrust. The blood continued to seep down her legs, faster now, staining the satin sheets beneath them.

Her hand gripped the handle of the pistol, feeling the urge to blast him rise in her again. To hell with the plan, her insides raged. To hell with it all. She was going to kill him now, before he was fully sated.

And then he grunted and shuddered over her. After a moment, he withdrew and collapsed on his back by her.

"Nicely done," he panted, letting his hand fondle her breast. "Very nice." His fingers moved down her chest, over her abdomen and between her legs. "See you had surgery back there." He stuck his thumb in her brutalized rectum, and she bit back a scream.

Julie glared at him, her blue eyes smoldering in anger.

"Had a few too many customers use you that way?" he asked conversationally, as he continued to fondle her feeling himself become aroused again.

"No," Julie moved from his touch, sitting on the bed, facing him, her hand still under the pillow. "Not too many customers."

"Come now," Corman frowned at her, "I can tell you've done this before; you knew exactly what to do and how to do it. But you're as tight as if you've never done it that way before. So I know you had surgery. What do you do, have surgery every few months to keep it tight?"

"I never said I didn't have surgery," Julie said, bringing the pistol out and jamming it under his scrotum. "I just said not too many customers. That's not why I had to have surgery. It was too many Orions raping and sodomizing me."

Corman stared up into her hate-filled eyes, fear filling his own. He knew that the thing jammed under his scrotum was not her hand fondling him. He knew what a laser pistol muzzle felt like.

"N-now d-don't do anything rash," he licked his lips, lying perfectly still.

"Believe me, I won't," Julie grated as tears continued to trickle down her face. "You're the worst of the lot, you know it? They at least enjoyed having sex with me. But you? You just use the woman for your own pleasures, the same way the Orions do. You're as bad as they are.

"But that's not why you're the worst of the lot," she went on. "That's not why you have to die. You came up with a plan to get the newest weapon into Federation space without endangering it or its inventor, and you sacrificed over two hundred people to do it. Two hundred! You decided their deaths were worth it. What is two hundred when compared to the millions? Or to the great Doctor Thelans? Because of you all those people died when the ship was hulled, and the others were murdered by slow torture. Captain Raintree was tortured and nearly died. And I was used by the pirates over and over again until they'd had their fill, then sold like an animal. Sold to be used by other Orions."

"I-I didn't know that that would happen," Corman was sweating profusely, and not from his recent exertion. The pistol was pressing very firmly into his flesh. "I only thought that there'd be a battle to keep the Orions occupied until the Farragut with Doctor Thelans was safe. I didn't think the Hood would be destroyed, or that the entire crew would be killed."

"Well you thought wrong," Julie snarled. "And now it's pay-back time. Remember the Hood, Councilor. Remember the Hood."

Her finger tightened on the trigger and Corman screamed. Then his eyes rolled and his body went slack as the entire lower region of his trunk turned black and smoldering.

Julie stood up on the bed, staring down at the limp body. "And you don't even have the stamina to survive one little laser blast."

She fired again, completely charring his pelvis. Then she took aim and shot a blast at his chest. She stared down at the corpse, then stepped over his body, pausing a moment at his head before taking aim and kicking it angrily with her foot. Then she dipped her finger in his red blood and began to write her message on the wall over his head.

When she was finished, Julie stared down at the remains of the Federation councilor.

They were all gone now. The three who had caused the destruction of the Hood. The three who had murdered her crew mates. The three who had caused Captain Raintree to be tortured by Garon. The three who had been the cause of her debasement at the hands of Garon and the other pirates.

Her hatred and her desire for revenge had been all that had kept her alive after she'd left the base hospital. Now, there was nothing left for her to do.

She'd have to find something to fill her life now. But what?

Shaking her head, she looked at the chronometer. The real prostitute would soon be here, Julie realized. She wouldn't be able to clean up, not and get out of here before she came. Julie stepped off the bed and picked up her jumpsuit and put it on, then the mechanics overalls and slipped her bag over her shoulder.

Julie made her way out of the room the same way she entered, not looking back.


The door cracked open and the short slender blonde walked in. Mille knew all about Corman, knew about his strange tastes, and his lack of concern for the woman who happened to be under him in whatever position he insisted on. Clarrise had made sure that Mille knew everything she'd need to know about her client so that she could please him and earn that bonus tip while she was getting her hair dyed to the honey blonde that he wanted. And considering what she'd heard, she'd definitely earn every last credit.

Mille had never had the so-called pleasure of serving the man, and, after listening to his peccadilloes, she sincerely hoped that it would be a long time before she'd have to do it again. Of course, if she did her job right, (and she would--she was a professional, after all) and if he was pleased (and he would be, since she would not leave until he was), that would probably not be the case. He also had the reputation of using the same female over and over until he grew tired of her.

Mille put on her professional face and sauntered toward the bed where the man was stretched out, naked and waiting.

And then she saw the scorch marks on his body, and that he was missing the lower portion of his trunk. And she screamed.

And screamed.

And screamed.

And didn't stop until Meadows, rushing into the room with her first scream clamped his hand over her mouth.

"Shut up!" he commanded as he looked over the crime scene. "Shit, they shot off a hell of a lot more than his balls this time. Damn!"

Mille stared up at Meadows, her eyes wide with fear.

"Not one word," he ordered her as he broke into a cold sweat. Pulling out his communicator, he signaled his superior. "Meadows to Rawlins."

"Rawlins here," came the tired voice of the senior security officer.

"I got some bad news, sir," Meadows said. "Someone got into Corman's room somehow and killed him."

"Okay," came the haggard response. "Seal the room. Don't touch anything. No one enters or leaves until I get there."

"Understood sir," Meadows gulped. "Meadows out."

He shut the grid and stared at the blonde, removing his hand from her mouth. Thankfully she stayed silent, her eyes still wide with fright.

"Okay, lady, you get the hell out here. And if anybody asks you, you were never here, you understand?" She continued to stare up at him. "Do you understand?" he repeated. She nodded her head mutely. "Good. I'm not going to try to explain you on top of how someone got in here. Just get out of here, and get going and keep going."

Mille nodded again and spun on her heel, running out of the room, making her way to the turbolift.

Meadows stared at the corpse, then around the room. How the bloody double hell had someone managed to get in and kill the councilor?

"Damn," he swore under his breath, staring at the naked man before he turned to resume his post outside the door. "You didn't need to be alive to ruin my career. You did that by getting yourself killed."

Day 12 -- Later That Night
In the Plaza

Hotel Royale

Christopher Pike with Ariel Cord on his arm was standing just outside the lobby doors of the Royale, waiting with Jack Raintree and Shy'na Purim for the cab that would take them to the Rialto Theater. Ariel had found out that Jack was a fan of Senecus of Altair IV, and had bought the tickets for the late performance of his latest play. She'd surprised him with the tickets at the reception they were attending at the hotel, the last of many that day.

"And after the play, we can go to the Martel Restaurant," Ariel suggested as they waited for the taxi. "They serve the most fabulous Centaurian cuisine on the planet."

Jack's hand raised protestingly to his stomach. "No way, lady." His head shook side to side emphatically, punctuating each word. "I am through eating for a month. If not longer."

"Good thing you never went into the Diplomatic Corps," Shy'na chuckled.

"Why do you think I didn't?" Raintree countered.

"Are cabs always this late?" Chris asked as he looked up the street.

"Well, no," Ariel admitted. "But with all the receptions and everybody wanting to go to the play, they're all tied up. And not even I can get one any faster. Sorry guys."

"That's all right," Raintree told her. "Maybe we can walk there--"

He stopped suddenly as a blonde streak out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

"Julie?" he whispered, then, "It's Julie!"

"You sure?" Shy'na turned to look at the young woman darting across the plaza into the darkness.

"Yeah," Raintree nodded grimly. "I'm sure. Julie!" He shouted.

The figure stopped momentarily and her head turned toward the sound of the voice. For a long second, Julie's eyes locked with her former captain's. Then she shook her head, pulled her pistol out and shot a few bolts at the foursome, missing them intentionally, then raced off into the dusk.

Raintree and Shy'na dodged the bolts, then darted after her, Ariel and Pike not far behind them.

Julie paused once again and fired again at the quartet, the bolts coming closer to the four, forcing them to scatter for cover. Then she resumed her flight.

As she rounded the corner of the next building, she saw a tall, ominous caped figure standing in her way. His skin was now a dark tan color, not the green she remembered. But his eyes were still dark, still cold and dangerous. And in his hand was a small sword, aimed at her.

Julie attempted to stop, but her momentum sent her straight on to the blade, impaling herself. She gasped in surprise as the cool sharp metal slid into her body and then through it.

Haldar sneered as he twisted the sword, first to the right, then to the left. Julie gasped with each turn, then groaned as he lifted her body off the air, impaling the blade even further through her body. She weighed very little, he noted, and she was beautiful. He would have enjoyed taking her and using her the way a woman should be used, but he had his orders.

Still supporting her body on the blade, he rammed the tip of the blade into the wall behind her. She stared down at him with dull eyes, her blood seeping along the edge, down his arm and onto the pavement, pouring from her mouth and nose.

"Pity," he said. "You should have never crossed the Director. This is with his compliments," he lifted her head, staring into her blue eyes as the crescent-shaped sword swung through the air and sliced through her neck.

He held her severed head by her blonde hair, and continued to stare into the dead blue eyes. His body shook, and soon the laughter bubbled through his lips, finally erupting into a loud roar as the shimmering enveloped his body.

Raintree and the other three turned the corner in time to see a shimmering figure vanish. There was no one else around. She must have ducked into a building or down another side street.

And then Ariel screamed. He, Pike and Shy'na turned to where Ariel was staring, and gaped in shock at the scene. The headless body nailed to the building by the Orion short sword hung slack, blood pooling under it.

Chris grabbed the shaken young girl and pulled her to him, letting her bury her head in his chest, trying to comfort and shield her as the other two approached the body tacked on the wall like some giant butterfly in a collection.

Shy'na pulled her communicator from her purse and snapped it open. "Shy'na to Farragut!" Static crackled from the grid. Growling in Orion, she turned a small knob and tried again. Still no response. A third attempt. Only static responded. "Damn!" she swore as she angrily shut the communicator. "He's jamming us."

"He?" Raintree looked at her.

"He," she nodded. "I recognize the blade. Haldar of Xantharus. He's probably in a Marauder orbiting the planet, jamming us. I can't understand why the starships didn't spot it and stop him." She looked up at the corpse, her expression suddenly wistful. "Damn," she repeated. "She never had a chance. Poor kid."

Day 13
Space Dock

Ariel Cord and Christopher Pike were standing at the docks, staring at the pristine ship. She was still floating free, waiting eagerly for the command to set sail. That command would be soon in coming.

John Raintree was standing by them, his attention split between the farewells from the couple and his attraction to his new ship and their mission. His mission orders had been waiting for him when he'd gotten back to his room the night before. He'd stared at them for a long time, not really reading them until the second, or perhaps the third time around. He hadn't believed it, not at first.

They were returning him to the Orion Barrier Alliance Border. That didn't bother him. He wasn't worried about facing that enemy again. They'd fought before, and he'd both won and lost battles to them. That was the way of Starfleet.

But his first mission was to take Shy'na back to Xantharus. Back to the danger of Xantharus. He didn't want to do it. He didn't want to deliver her to what might be her death.

Shy'na Purim walked up behind them and smiled brightly at Chris and Ariel, then warmly, understandingly at Jack. She knew what he was thinking. It wasn't too hard to see what he was thinking.

Chris embraced her, wishing her well, then clasped Jack's hand, pulling him into a bear hug. "Take care, Jack," he said. "You're not heading into friendly territory, and I don't have a ship to come a rescue you in. Won't have for a few more months."

"Won't let me live that down, will you?" Jack scowled at him. "Well, this time, I don't think I'll need any rescuing. I think anyone who comes after us will need the rescuing."

"Give 'em hell," Chris said, his voice rough.

Jack nodded, then gave Ariel a hug. He and Shy'na stood side by side, and shimmered in the transporter sparkle.

Chris and Ariel sought each other out, hand in hand, and walked away from the dock, both somber. Their planned celebration had been abruptly canceled the previous evening after the discovery of Julie Chastain's body. No one had wanted to see a play of any kind, especially a comedy. Instead, all had gone back to the hotel and tried to comfort each other, Jack Raintree most of all. And after all had said their good nights, she and Chris had retired to the mansion, and held each other consolingly while Shy'na had stayed with Jack comforting him.

"You okay?" Chris finally said.

"Of course," Ariel said, almost too quickly.

"You sure?" Chris repeated.

"I will be," Ariel admitted, bowing her head as she gripped his hand tighter. "I--just need a little time to adjust." She shook her head, biting her lip. "That poor, poor girl."

"You still want to join Starfleet?" Chris pulled her closer and let her hand loose, to place his arm around her shoulder.

"Yes!" she looked up into his concerned face. "Now more than ever!" She let her arm slip around his waist. "I-I just wasn't expecting anything like that. Not here on Chrysalis." She let herself be pulled closer to him. "Here, we don't really have violent crime. The scams, frauds, the occasional altercations--not murder."

"Unfortunately, that is not the way it is in the rest of the universe," Chris sighed. "And in Starfleet, it's all too common a scene. Starfleet," he went on, "is a very risky business. You win as many times as you lose. And if you lose, when you lose, you lose everything, just as Julie did."

"I will be fine," Ariel assured him. "I will be ready for it when I'm on duty. Just like when I'm in the clinic and something happens. I just wasn't ready for it last night."

They paused and he tilted her head up so that he was looking into her green eyes. "Yes, I can see that you'll be fine." He kissed her tenderly. "Now, what do you want to do?"

Ariel rested her head on his chest, her hands on his arms that were wrapped around her body. "Right now, Chris," she finally said, "I just want to go back home, find the biggest, most comfortable chair in the house and sit in it with you and cuddle."

"Cuddle?" Chris' hand caught her chin and inclined her head up again. "Ariel Cord, sexiest lady in the universe, with a man, and just cuddle?"

Ariel's lips curved upward and the impish twinkle returned to her eyes. "Yeah," she nodded. "Ariel Cord and a man in a chair, and just cuddle. For a long, long time." They resumed walking, his arm over her shoulder, her head resting comfortingly on his shoulder. "Of course, you can never tell what might happen as the day progresses."

Day 17
Aboard the U.S.S. Hood
Deep Space

Jack Raintree rested on his bed in his cabin, his arms and legs entwined around the arms and legs of Shy'na Purim. She smiled contentedly as she moved her body closer to his, luxuriating in the warm afterglow. She lifted her gaze to look into Jack's face, noting the worry lines were, for now, less noticeable. It seemed the only times he didn't look worried was when they were making love. It seemed like the only time she wasn't thinking about what lay ahead of her was when she was in his arms.

Jack's fingers moved slowly over her face, marveling at the subtle changes from the microsurgery performed by the ship's doctor four days before.

"I just can't believe it," he murmured again.

"Don't you like it?" she pouted, playfully hitting him with her small fist. It was a part of the ritual they'd done every night since her surgery. Making love, commenting on her new face, and her wanting to know if he approved or not, then making love again.

"Of course I like it!" he caught the hand before it could hit him again. Playful or not, it had hurt. "It's just--how does one improve on perfection?"

Shy'na smiled and rolled on top of him, kissing him tenderly, suggestively. Jack let her continue for a short time, then tenderly pushed her off and pulled away from her, sitting on the side of the bed.

"Jack?" she moved behind him, her hands resting on his shoulders, her head on his back.

"I-I just can't handle taking you back there," he finally said as he moved back onto the bed, taking her in his arms, holding her close, protectively.

Returning the embrace, she sighed sadly. "I know, Jack. But I am a Starfleet officer. And I am an Orion. I'll blend in better there than anyone else Starfleet might send. And I won't need any kind of surgery to change my blood or my skin." She moved her body closer to his. "And I know the ropes; I know the lay of the land. I've been there before."

"That's what's worrying me," he said troubledly. "You've been there before. Even with your new face, someone might recognize you."

Shy'na looked up into his worried gray eyes. "It's a risk," she admitted. "But one I have to take. Jack, you take risks all the time sitting in the center seat of a starship," she went on. "They're different, but no less deadly than the risks I take working in Intelligence. Besides," she snuggled closer, enjoying the touch of his skin on hers, "you're here on the border, on patrol. If I run into any trouble I can't handle, I'll yell for you to come and bail me out."

"I hope it doesn't come to that," he pulled her into a tight embrace.

"Let's not talk about that any more," Shy'na pleaded. "We don't have much time left," she went on, her hands moving suggestively on his well-muscled chest, working their way down his abdomen, then lower. "I can think of better ways to spend my last few hours here. Can't you?" She pumped his organ with her fist, felt it stiffening.

"Hmm," he agreed as he felt himself respond.

Jack sat on the bed in his uniform, waiting for Shy'na to emerge from the refresher. They'd spent the night making love until both were exhausted, then resumed after a brief rest until the comm had chimed with their wake-up call. They'd showered together, but he'd left first, rather than let himself respond to the sight of her sensual body covered with water.

She walked out of the room, dressed in shimmering satins and silks. The bodice was bright red, with a drape that went over her shoulder and hung down her back. The pantaloons, loose and sitting low on her hips, were also red with green trim. When she stood in front of a light, he could see the outline of her legs. Her black hair was loose, flowing around her face, a circlet of red ribbon on her brow, a veil hanging down the side of her face.

Jack took a deep breath and willed himself not to respond to the vision in front of him. Instead, he pulled her in his arms and kissed her deeply.

Then they walked to the shuttle bay where her small shuttle craft was waiting for her. It was small and sleek, hopefully able to slip through the defensive screen of the planet.

He held her back and gave her one last long kiss. "Be careful, Shy'na," his voice coarse with emotion.

"I will be," she smiled. "I will be."

The doors closed behind her small figure and the warning klaxons sounded. Raintree moved to the observation booth and watched as the small ship left the Hood. As the bay doors closed behind the shuttle craft, he couldn't help but feel a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Day 17
The City of Gracchos

Shy'na stopped on the narrow street and looked around cautiously. The tall buildings with their pointed roofs and spires cast dark shadows on the footpath. She pulled the green cloak closer around her body.

Things had gone quite well. She'd made it to the planet and landed in the secluded area, and had managed to make it through the check points into the city proper without a challenge.

And that had made her leery. Things were going too smoothly. Then she shook her head and continued on until she reached the apartment where her contact was waiting for her.

The building was dark. But then, this was Gracchos. Lights were only on in business establishments, not in private abodes. She pushed the door open carefully and stepped into the foyer.

The interior was still dark. Too dark by far. While there were few light visible to the outside, there were always lights, albeit dim, inside the house.

Quietly, she pulled her small laser pistol out of her bag and held it ready for use.

"Quarter lights."

As the lights came up, Shy'na felt her stomach churn and her mouth dry. Standing in the center of the room were at least three dozen Orion privateers, all with the disruptor carbines aimed at her. A movement to her side revealed Haldar with a pistol aimed at her as well. Then the privateers moved and the Director, dressed in his black Achernar cloak and black pants and shirt, walked toward her, his arms folded over his giant chest.

"Welcome home, Shy'na Purim," he greeted her in an oily voice that sent chills down her back. "So glad you could drop by." Stopping inches from her, he glared at her. "I would suggest that you lower your weapon. Now."

Shy'na slowly lowered the pistol, holding it out to the side where Haldar was standing. He took it from her, sticking it in his waistband.

The Director grasped her chin, pulling her head up so that she was forced to stare into his sneering face. She shuddered in spite of herself, but stopped from pulling away from his hold.

"Interesting face," he commented. "I would never have recognized you, Shy'na. You'd have fooled us completely. Fortunately, I was told you were on your way here. And I like your new face."

He let her loose, and suddenly his fist struck her solidly on the jaw, dropping the small woman like a rock. Shy'na lay where she'd fallen, closing her eyes against the pain in her now-broken jaw. Her fingers fumbled under her cloak, seeking the small capsule that would save her from the torture that was sure to follow.

Without warning she felt her body lifted as the Director grabbed her black hair and pulled her back to her feet. The capsule fell from her fingers and rolled on the floor under the small table that was sitting by the door. Two guards grabbed her arms and dragged her to the center of the room where a straight-back chair with arms was waiting for her. In a trice her arms were bound to the chair, and her legs tied to the legs of the chair. When she was secured, the Director moved close to her, tearing the small sleeve from her bodice.

"Well," Shy'na mumbled, her speech difficult to understand with her fractured jaw, "I suppose I can expect slow torture from Marina, then an even slower execution."

"Oh, my dear," the Director smiled cruelly. "I would never treat you so commonly. There will be torture of course, but not until later. Much later. First," he pulled out a hypospray and pressed it against her neck. "I need some answers. And I know that if you were tortured, you'd only lie, at least at first. I'd get the truth from you, eventually, but I don't want to wait for it."

Shy'na felt her insides turn to ice as the medicine slowly made its way through her body. A man came through the crowd of pirates and stood by her, a medical instrument in his hands. She felt herself slip into a twilight dream state as the doctor fixed her jaw, easing the pain, healing the broken bones.

"This is not a kindness, bitch," she heard the Director say, as if from a long distance away. "I want to be able to understand you when you answer me."

She leaned back in the chair, tears forming in her eyes as she felt the drug take control of her.

"Now then," his voice droned at her. "Tell me all you know about Starfleet Intelligence on Xantharus..."

Day ???
Somewhere on Xantharus

Total darkness all around her. A light in the distance. She turned to the light, and sluggishly made her way to it. The light got brighter and brighter, pulling her toward it.

A woman's pain-filled scream pierced the silence. It sounded again, then once again.

She opened her eyes, fear filling the golden orbs. The scream repeated itself. She closed her eyes; the screams were not from her.

Odors began to assail her nostrils. Gradually she was able to identify the smells. Old urine, old feces, old blood.

Slowly, she righted herself and looked around her, pushing her dark hair back out of her face. She was in a large stone cell, straw covering the stone floor. Thick iron bars barricaded the door and the window. A skeleton was still shackled to the wall, some distance from her. She shivered, then noted she was also shivering from the cold as well as the sight of the bony remains, and discovered she was totally, completely naked.

The screams returned her attention to the bars blocking her way out of the cell. She dragged herself over to the bars, staring at the scene outside her cell.

Across from her was another cell. A small Argelian woman was chained to a stone table in the center of the room, her legs and arms spread wide. Behind and above her, raping her, was a slavemaster's assistant. His thrusts slammed her against the stone table again and again, her cries continuing with each thrust.

"Hurry it up," snarled a second assistant. "I want my turn at her! They'll be here soon!"

The first assistant paused briefly and snarled back, "Don't rush me!"

"Quit stalling!"

Ignoring his associate, the first one continued to punish the poor Argelian's body. When he finally climaxed, he slammed her hard against the table. The second man pulled the first out of the female and took his position behind her, forcing himself into her, eliciting another scream from the hapless female. After a few painful minutes, he shuddered and climaxed. She sagged on the table, weeping disconsolately.

As soon as he pulled free of her, he unshackled her and dragged her to a faucet, forcing her under the icy water as he scrubbed her body, paying particular, and close, attention to her private parts. When he was through, he dragged her to back to the small table, chaining her across it, her legs wide and inviting. He brushed his fignertips over her vagina, then cursed as he responded again. No more time--someone was coming.

Turok walked down the corridor, his footsteps echoing eerily in the dark. Behind him were two stout Orion females, tittering in excitement as they followed him to the adjacent cell.

"And now, ladies," Turok said, his hand held out to them.

"Oh, of course," the stouter of the two nodded, dropping a small disc into his outstretched hand. "You will try not to mar her too badly, won't you?"

Turok snorted. "I never damage the merchandise, madame."

"Good," the other one chirped. "Our brother is in need of some diversion, you see, and since his birthday is coming, we thought this would be the perfect present. Don't you agree?"

"But of course," Turok beamed at them as the die was loaded into brand. "'Tis a pity we have to brand them at all, but without the brands..."

"Yes, of course," the first woman nodded as the die became white-hot.

One assistant took the brand from Turok and placed it along her inner thigh near the buttocks. The poor slave screamed as the scent of burning flesh filled the area. She passed out, gurgling deep in her throat.

Shy'na bit her lip as she watched the scene, remembering long months ago when she'd seen the same thing done to poor Julie Chastain. Closing herself from the display in the other cell, she caught a whiff of another odor. Herself. She smelled of old sweat and something more.

Looking over her body, she spied some old bruises on her thighs and breasts, as well as dried semen and blood in her pubic hair. She bit her lip and closed her eyes sadly. Well, she'd expected that the pirates would have been allowed to amuse themselves once the Director was finished with her. She doubted that the aphrodisiacs had been used on her; she didn't have the strange hangover that accompanied large doses of that drug.

By now the branding ritual was completed and the unconscious woman was draped over one of the assistants who followed as Turok led the way out of the cell to the surface where their ground car was parked, the women walking on either side of the slaver, their hands resting softly, and suggestively on the woman's haunches.

Shy'na felt her stomach churn dangerously. She knew that whatever the women said, that poor Argelian would be spending as much time entertaining them as well as their brother. If the brother truly existed.

Soon he returned to help the other clear out some the filth of the cell. As they worked one of them spared a glance in her direction. "What about her?"

"Ah, she's the property of the Director," the other said.

"The Director?" Surprise filled the associate's voice.

"Yeah," his companion nodded. "I heard she's marked for execution. Haldar will be coming for her soon."

"Pity," sighed the first as he hurried to finish the cell. "She is a magnificent animal. Haldar says she's as tight as a virgin--or was, anyway. I'd love to try her out."

"Wouldn't we all?" the other sighed as they left hurriedly.

Shy'na's head dropped in dejection. Well, she'd expected to be executed. But to hear it spoken of aloud...

Footsteps, many of them, echoed down the corridor. Soon Haldar, followed by a dozen of his personal guard stood in front of the barred door. Shy'na trembled and moved back from the bars, trying to find a place of safety in the cell. The door creaked open and the men walked in, surrounding the naked Orion female.

"Your time grows short, bitch," Haldar said softly. "But there is still some time left. Time enough for you to provide me and my men with a littlediversion." Shy'na felt her entire body quake in fear. "You really are a beauty, my dear," he continued to advance on her as he dropped first his vest, then his shirt on the straw behind him. Standing in front of her, he slowly removed his pants, exposing his large, erect penis. "Very beautiful. Although, right now, you smell like a entire herd of Pillons after wallowing in the mud."

Her lower lip trembled uncontrollably as she tried to cover her body from his lustful glare. A quick look around her showed that the other men were likewise stripped and eagerly ready. Her head moved minutely side to side as Haldar continued to advance toward her.

"No," she whimpered, shaking her head as she found herself backed into a corner, the cold stones pressing into her flesh. Haldar grabbed her by the ankles and pulled her to him, spreading her legs. "Nooooooo!"


Tarik stared out of the window onto the street below him. His rich robes rustled as he moved from one window to another, his graying head shaking side to side sadly. His family was a noble one, an old one. He was proud of his lineage. His family had been one of the settling families on Xantharus from Orion.

He was also a Starfleet Intelligence officer.

When he was young, he'd been appalled by the actions of the Director of the Consortium, the present Director's father, and what the Consortium was doing to the planet. Free enterprise was being swallowed by the Consortium, surviving only if they paid huge taxes and fees to the coffers of the Director. It was destroying the fabric of Xantharus.

He'd approached the first Federation spies and offered them shelter, information and whatever help he could. Soon he was organizing the network. Finally he was sitting back, watching the younger officers attempt to stem the tide of the Consortium. The younger, newer ones didn't know about him. Finally, no one knew about him on the planet; only a few in Starfleet back on Earth. But he was there, the final line of defense, should such a time ever come that he would be needed.

And now, he sighed as he stared up into the starry sky, the final line of defense was all that there was.

Megan Foster, a new agent who'd insisted on going to work before her transformation was complete, had been the first domino to fall. Soon after her death, the rest of her cell had been captured, and soon other cells had been taken prisoner. Very few agents were still free, and those that were had wisely found a deep hole and dove in, pulling it in after themselves. Shy'na Purim was returning to a Network that sorely needed organization and leadership.

Only she had never shown up. He'd waited five days for her to resurface. In the five days, the rest of the Network had been captured. In addition three transport vessels had been captured by Orion pirates. All the goods had been confiscated and redistributed in the Consortium, the passengers and crew sent to the slave pits.

And Starfleet was playing a very poor game of catch-up. They hadn't been able to stop the Orions from confiscating those three ships, but wisely, they had increased the number of patrols in the area and pulled the transports back, off this avenue of trade.

Through his contacts, he searched for information on Shy'na Purim, and found out what had happened to the young agent. And it had chilled his green blood.

Tarik walked slowly to his bedroom.

The final line of defense.

Opening the small chest that housed his secret subspace radio, he stared down at the device. If he used it, they would find him. Of that he had no doubt. And he wasn't sure he wanted to be discovered.

As a young man, the thrill of exposure had kept his senses keen. But years of sitting back and just observing had dulled his nerve. The thought of torture terrified him. And his heart was no longer strong; his physician had been forced to start him on strong medication to keep the organ working.

Still, he had a job to do.

A job for the future of Xantharus.

A job for Shy'na.

A job for his honor.

His aged hands turned on the machine and he began his message. "To any starship, this is agent Tarik on Xantharus..."

Day 23 -- Early Morning
Under the Stadium

Haldar's smile was cruel and self-satisfied as he pulled his pants on. The dozen men--Haldar's special cadre of pirates--who where in the cell with him, were also pulling on their pants. The small figure lying in the hay was sobbing desolately. Her body was sporting fresh bruises and other marks of her recent and prolonged abuse. And always, Haldar was there, forcing himself into her, choosing a different orifice each time, taking his time, forcing her to appease him while at the same time serving his men.

Shy'na had known that such things were possible, but she had never dreamed such things would be done to her. Even when captured, she had never thought the Director would let his men use her so. The last time he'd captured her, he'd merely tortured her and set about to see her die a slow death.

"Very diverting indeed," Haldar squatted by her, his hand caressing her round buttocks gently, sending shudders down Shy'na's body. "And most satisfying as well. You have a lot of stamina, my dear. Pity we have to take you out to be killed. You'd be marvelous as my men's private plaything. I wonder how long you'd last." He yanked a handful of her matted hair and used it like a washcloth to cleanse his half-erect penis.

His hand wandered up her body, then grabbed her hair and pulled her up to her feet.

"But now," he glared at her, "it's time for you to die. Death by crucifixion." Shy'na closed her eyes and tried to avoid any further touch by the sadist. "Humans think that crucifixion is something special to one of their religions. The truth of the matter is that the Romans were not the first to use the cross. It was invented centuries before the Romans; they merely honed and improved the method of execution. Several forms of the cross were used. And did you know that on Achernar IV, crucifixion was and is the major form of capital punishment. As the Romans on Earth, the Achernarians developed various crosses, each one providing its own form of torture before killing the victim. And then there is Pyrilians II. Their crucifixions are even more tortuous than those on Achernar."

Shy'na tried to pull away from him, but her weakened condition made such an action almost laughable.

"As I said," Haldar chuckled," plenty of stamina. Tell me, which do you think will kill her first?" he turned to his men. "Blood loss, or suffocation? Or maybe the stench of her own body will kill her!"

As he forced her to trot out of the cell, he heard the men starting to take bets. He paused at a large pit full of Humans, Tellarites, Andorians, other Federation species, all stripped of their clothes, most drugged with the obedience drugs and aphrodisiacs.

"Take a good look, bitch," Haldar said, forcing her head to look at the men and women succumbing to the drugs, coupling with each other or masturbating themselves. "All these are here because of you."

Shy'na shook her head in denial as a piteous "No" escaped her lips.

"Oh yes," he nodded. ""You had so much information to tell us."

"No!" she cried. "No!"

"Yes!" he shouted triumphantly as he pulled her away from the scene, sobbing in shame.

Outside, a ground car was waiting at the gate, the Director sitting in the back seat. He looked out of the window at the woman, covered with filth and grime, her once shiny hair now dull, matted and snarled. She was no longer the lovely woman who had walked into the apartment several nights before. She limped noticeably, and walked bow-legged from the agony between her leg and her buttocks.

"Ah, Ms. Purim," the Director smiled at her, his eyes crinkling in delight. "Finally time for you to die." He stared at her, seeming to note her state of distress. "You seem a little worse for wear. But," he sighed as another female was brought out from the stadium, "no more than most of the bitches who are sampled before the sale is finalized. Not that it really matters. You'll be dead soon."

Turning to Haldar, he spared a smile," I trust you and the men were satisfied, Haldar."

"Most definitely," Haldar purred. "I was just telling the bitch 'twas a pity she had to die; she'd be the perfect toy for the cadre. Plenty of stamina." Shy'na shuddered in his grasp. "I think she is wondering what it would be like to be the cadre's special bitch."

"Yes, pity," the Director nodded. "I have business here in town, but I'll be along later. I want to see her hanging on that cross. And since she has so much stamina, she should last a long while. I shall be there to see her death throes."

"Yes, lord," Haldar bowed as the Director walked away from the stadium to the Consortium building.

Throwing the woman into the arms of the men, Haldar snapped, "Prepare her!" as he got into the ground car. The men grabbed her, letting their hands grope her nude body before they tied her wrists together with coarse rope, pulling the rope tight, then tied the other end to a door handle of the ground car. Several of the men piled into the car, the rest getting into the nearby cars.

The motors hummed to life, and the car hovered off the pavement. It slowly took off out of the city. Shy'na's arms were pulled in front of her, and she found herself having to trot to keep up with the car in front of her and ahead of the cars that were behind and around her. The speed increased slightly, and she had to trot faster.

The speed continued to increase slightly, and Shy'na had to jog faster. Her legs spasmed from overuse in the cell and she stumbled, falling to the rough stone. The car continued on, dragging her over the cobblestones. The car slowed, allowing her to regain her feet. Blood oozed from the scrapes on her body. She continued to trot behind the car as it left the city and headed into the desert.

Day 23
Aboard the U.S.S. Hood
Near the Barrier Alliance Border
Deep Space

John Raintree sat in the command chair, looking at the screen in front of him. His crew, all new, and young were busy doing their jobs, leaving him study them. He'd been working odd shifts ever since Shy'na had left the ship, learning his new crew. It gave him something to do besides worry about the Orion intelligence officer.

Lieutenant Tolak, the Andorian helmsman tapped buttons on his console, keeping the ship on its course, while Ensign Kit Charles, the Human worked with him. Lieutenant j.g. Sarn, the Vulcan communications officer was listening intently to the subspace transmissions. Raintree wondered if Communications was Sarn's first choice; most Vulcans seem better suited to the sciences.

"Sir," Sarn spoke, directing his gaze to his commanding officer, "I am receiving a message from Xantharus on a coded security channel."

Raintree spun around in the chair, and stared at the dark-skinned Vulcan, trying hard to control his anxiety. "Who's the sender?"

"He identifies himself as Tarik, a deep-cover operative," Sarn's fingers danced over the controls as he continued to listen. "He states that the entire Starfleet Intelligence network has been compromised, sir. And sir, Agent Purim has been captured, interrogated, tortured, and is now being taken into the desert to be executed."

Raintree felt his insides turn to ice and his mouth suddenly go dry. Shy'na? Execution? His mind screamed in rage at the thought. Not Shy'na! Please, not her too!

He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw as he regained control of himself. He was a Starfleet officer, he reminded himself. And so was Shy'na. They both knew the risks of their professions. Still, he remembered a part of his orders were to aid Shy'na in any way necessary.

Standing, he stared at the screen and ordered, "Then we'll just to go in and get her out."

Tolak turned to look at the Amerind over his shoulder. "Sir, that would be a direct violation of the Federation-Alliance Treaty."

"I know," Raintree said grimly. "I'll deal with that later. Yellow Alert. Ahead full."

The ship responded gracefully, streaking through the warp space toward Xantharus.

Day 23 -- Late Afternoon
In the Desert Outside of Gracchos

The hot red giant burned in the sky. In the center of the sandy plain a lone X-shaped cross was planted in the sand, the figure on it small and withering. Shy'na Purim's head lolled forward, her black hair tangled and snarled, flying around her face.

Blood stained her body from the numerous scrapes and sand burns, a silent testimony to the numerous times she'd lost her footing and been dragged behind the ground car before Haldar had slowed the vehicle to let her get to her feet again. The soles of her feet were also blistered and bloody. Blood and semen were dried on her inner legs, some of it old and caked, some fresher.

They'd all been given a last chance to savor the Federation spy before Haldar had started to nail her to the cross, and they had indulged themselves fully at her expense. Shy'na had been beyond caring by then; her mind was fogged from the pain and the previous abuse and loss of blood and the exhaustion from being forced to run behind the car. She couldn't even resist any more. Haldar had been the first and last to use her before she'd been tied to the cross, and for good measure, he'd raped her one last time after she was nailed to the wooden frame.

Then the apparatus had been raised and settled into the ground and the men had retired to the canopied area to watch her die. Shy'na looked over at the men under the canopy, her listless eyes barely able to take in the scene under the covering as Haldar and his men sat in the shade, enjoying wine, meat, and fruits, joking among themselves, pointing at her repeatedly.

The sun was burning her back mercilessly; blisters and peeling skin seen where her skin had not been scraped away. Her tongue was thick in her mouth. "W-water," she mouthed through cracked, swollen lips, her voice croaking and faint. "W-water."

Haldar looked at her, laughing. Approaching her, he looked up at her, and snickered, "Did you say something, bitch?"

"Water," she whimpered. Had she had any spare moisture left in her body, she would have had tears forming in her eyes. "So th-thirsty."

"Do you hear that?" Haldar roared jokingly to his men. "The bitch is thirsty!" The men roared in laughter with him. "So you want something to drink, eh, bitch?"

"P-please," she begged.

He smiled up at her, his hand petting her calf sensuously. "Very well, bitch," he said, almost tenderly. "A last request is always granted to the condemned prisoner. And since you were such a good bitch, servicing all so well, you shall have a drink."

Walking back under the awning, he grabbed an empty glass, then undid his pants and relieved himself in the tumbler. Walking back to the cross, he stepped onto the step-stool and pressed the glass to her lips. A spark of anger glittered in her dull eyes and Shy'na pulled away from the glass.

"Very well," Haldar shrugged as he tossed the contents over her body, then pitched the glass out into the desert. "Have it your way." Stepping down, he took his former place, letting his hand stroke her leg, moving upward toward her pubic area. His lips curled up as she tried to pull away from his touch. "You really are a strong one, bitch. I'd have thought you'd be dead by now. Especially after all those hours in the cell and the trek here and the party and the nailing. And you've been hanging here for four hours now." His fingers lingered near the opening, brushed against the patch of hair, and came away bloody. "Remarkable stamina, bitch."

The ground car pulled up beside the other vehicles. Haldar looked at it, noted the passenger and left the cross, walking over to do obeisance as the Director got out.

"It should not be too much longer, lord," he said, bowing his head as he followed the Director to the foot to look up at sun-burned woman. "She really does have extraordinary strength, but she has barely enough blood left to keep her alive. See how pale she is? I'll give her this, though--very few men have lasted as long."

"And after enduring the lot of you several times," the Director sniggered.

"That too," Haldar agreed. "I did not think you would disapprove."

"No, no," the Director shook his head. "Of course not. As long as she lived through it to die here on the cross. And that I got to see her die." He looked up into Shy'na's face, noting the sun-dried lips and the lack-luster eyes that stared back at him. "You gave us quite a run in your day, Shy'na Purim. No doubt about that. But today, today is our day."

Shy'na closed her eyes, feeling the dry sting behind her eyelids as the tears tried to form to lubricate the surface. Her head slumped forward onto her chest. She could no longer hold herself up. Breathing was becoming difficult. Soon it would be over. Soon. Not soon enough, perhaps, she admitted to herself as she let herself drift into unconsciousness, but soon.

The Director walked to the canopy and sat down on the giant ornate chair that had been awaiting him, accepting the goblet of wine and the platter of foodstuffs that was offered to him. He noted the female was no longer breathing deeply, that her entire form was limp. Yes, soon, he would see the death of this particular thorn in the flesh. He pulled the mask away from the lower half of his face so he could enjoy the feast.

A twinkle in the light caught his eye, surprising him. Then the body on the cross vanished in a transporter sparkle. The goblet and plate fell to the ground as the Director jumped to his feet and ran to the cross, Haldar not far behind him.

A communicator appeared in the Director's hand. "Xantharan fleet!" he bellowed as Haldar ordered the others to their cars and back to town. "Launch! There is an uninvited visitor in my space and I want him! Get him! Destroy him!"

"Aye lord."

Day 23
Aboard the U.S.S. Hood
In Orbit Above Xantharus

Raintree raced into the transporter room as the sparkling turned into a solid form. Shy'na, her arms and legs spread wide, her head lolling on her chest, remained upright in that position for a brief instant, then collapsed forward as the transporter beams released her, into Raintree's arms. He gently eased her to the floor, arranging her arms and legs into a more comfortable arrangement.

Doctor Howard Massey, craggy features under graying black hair with brown knowing eyes, stepped around the captain, running his tricorder over her body. He was well acquainted with the Orion torture practices having been one of the team on Rigel V that took care of both Raintree and Chastain after their ordeal.

"Gods, look at her!" Raintree murmured. "Look what they've done to her!"

"Captain," Doctor Massey waved the assistants over with the stretcher, "I need to get her to Sickbay now." He gently pulled the Raintree from her side, giving the assistants room to maneuver.

"Can you save her?" Raintree asked faintly, looking at the older man, his gray eyes haunted and fearful.

"Can't say for sure," Massey shook his head. "She's suffering from hypovolemic shock, sun-burn and heaven alone knows what else." As the stretcher disappeared out of the room, he added, "I only know I get started now, or I might as well tag her and bag her and send her to the morgue."

"Go." Raintree clapped a hand to his medical officer's shoulder, and all but propelled him out the door. "Go. I'll be along shortly."

The door wheezed closed behind the doctor. Raintree closed his eyes, willing himself not to break down in front of his crew, not to exact revenge on the planet below them. Granted, his orders regarding Xantharus and the Starfleet Intelligence Network had been vague, and open to interpretation, which had allowed him to cross the border and attempt a rescue, but he doubted if they would permit him to start a war here and now.

He walked over to the comm panel to signal the bridge when the lights began to flash red, the sound of Sarn's voice stating "Red Alert. Red Alert. This is not a drill," and the panel whistled: "Bridge to Captain Raintree."

"Raintree here," he thumbed the button.

"Sir, we are under attack," came the voice of his first officer, Lieutenant Commander Aris.

"On my way."


Raintree walked onto the bridge, nodded to the Tellarite that was seated in the command chair. The Tellarite stared at him briefly, but got up, making way for his captain. No one commented on the hard glitter in his gray eyes or the green stains soaking his gold tunic. He stared at the viewscreen, taking in the situation as Lieutenant Commander Aris gave his report. On the screen a dozen small Orion Interceptors were already starting to swarm around the Hood.

"Photon torpedoes," Raintree ordered, "wide pattern spread."

"Torpedoes ready," Tolak nodded.


The streaks left the starship and connected with the Interceptors, causing the small fighter vessels to burst into bright explosions. The ship barely rocked with the resulting concussions.

Four Marauders suddenly filled the screen, racing toward the Federation starship.

Raintree walked into the well behind Lieutenant Tolak, placing a hand on the Andorian's shoulder. "Mister Tolak, I believe it is time to see if Doctor Thelans' weapon works as good in the field as it does on the test range."

Tolak's antennae curled excitedly and his voice screamed out an Andorian battle yell, one fist raised high over his head. Ensign Charles spared him a sideways glance, Sarn lifted his pointed eyebrow and Aris glowered at the lieutenant. Tolak lowered his fist, and turned a furious shade of blue under his yellowish white hair as he looked sheepishly up at his captain. "Yes, sir," he murmured as he punched up the console and activated switches. "Locking phasers, Captain."

"Fire at will," Raintree ordered.

The lights streaked from around the saucer hull and targeted the leading Marauder. The ship shimmered briefly, then mushroomed into tiny fragments. Tolak led the cheering on the bridge. Raintree merely smiled ferally at the disintegrating Xantharan ship.

The three remaining ships slowed, as if rethinking their orders, then slowly began to reverse their course.

Tolak's fingers tapped the buttons in front of him, and a second ship flowered into dust. The third ship soon joined the first two.

The final Marauder raced away from the starship, heading back toward the planet.

"Oh no you don't!" Tolak sneered as he targeted the receding ship.

The phaser bolt darted from the Hood, raced after the ship, and caught it. The Marauder burst apart.

"Very well," Raintree smiled, letting the savage glint sparkle in his gray eyes, "full impulse. Get us the hell out of here and back into Federation space."

"Course laid in," Ensign Charles responded, letting her chocolate hands dance over her console.

"Jump to warp as soon as we clear the system," Raintree ordered.

"Aye, sir," Kit Charles and Tolak said together.

Suddenly, a giant Xantharan battlecruiser entered the space in front of the starship. The ship, half again as large as the Federation starship, maneuvered itself to block all avenues of escape. Raintree frowned at the sight as he sat back in his chair.

The immense ship fired its disruptors at the starship. The ship rocked under the barrage.

Bartos, the science officer, looked at his indicators. "Shields holding, Captain."

"Good." Raintree nodded. "Time to get to work. Let's show these folks what they can expect from the Federation. Take 'em down."

"Yes, sir," Tolak responded eagerly as he worked the firing mechanism.

The phaser blasted a giant hole through the battlecruiser's shields. "Sensors show the cruiser's shields are down seventy percent," the Centaurian science officer reported.

A second phaser blast sliced through the failing shields and put a giant hole into the hull. The third phaser targeted the warp engines, hit them, causing the giant ship to explode into atoms.

The cheers were less contained than before. Raintree leaned back in the chair, his smile satisfied. "Continue on course, impulse speed until we clear the system," Raintree ordered.

"Sir," Bartos reported, "Interceptors closing behind us."

Raintree turned to Bartos. "How many?"

"Thirty-six," Bartos said.

"How close?"

"Five hundred thousand kilometers and closing," Bartos said.

"Sir, we can go to warp at any time," Tolak added.

"No, we're still too close to the primary," Raintree shook his head. "I won't do that. Not even to Xantharus. Maximum power to the rear shields. Slow to three-quarters impulse. Let them catch up with us."

"Sir?" Tolak stared at Raintree.

"Did I stutter?" Raintree glared at the Andorian.

"N-no, sir," Tolak gulped.

"Then slow to three-quarters impulse and increase power to the rear shields."

"Yes, Captain," Tolak nodded.

The Interceptors began to fire on the starship. The Hood barely shook from the combined barrage of the small fighters. Raintree sat in the chair, watching the scene on the main viewer.

"Sir, incoming message from the Interceptor lead ship," Sarn reported.

"Let's hear it," Raintree said.

"Federation ship, surrender. You are in violation of Xantharan space."

Raintree, staring at the screen, a calculating glitter in his eyes, walked behind Tolak as Sarn quieted the continuous repeated message. "Steady, Mister Tolak," he murmured as he watched the indicators on Tolak's board. "Steady."

The ships closed on the starship, still firing on the ship, the blasts bouncing off the improved shields.

"Steady," continued the Amerind. Then he placed a hand on the Andorian's shoulder and said, "Warp drive now."

"Yes, sir!" Tolak pressed the buttons and smiled wolfishly as the starship jumped to warp.

The screen exploded with small novas as the Interceptors, caught in the backwash of the starship's warp drive, burst into atoms, causing the screen to blank out from the brightness. The voice demanding their surrender became a scream of agony. The message was replaced with static. The screen gradually came back on line, showing only the stars behind the ship.

Raintree smiled contentedly as the starship raced beyond the Alliance border and into Federation space.

Day 23
In the Desert Outside of Gracchos

The Director stared at the empty blood-stained cross, his face twisted into an angry mask. Haldar, behind him, glared at the cross, hatred etching deep into his face.

"The ship will not escape," Haldar said softly. "Our ships will bring it to its knees, and the cruiser will destroy it utterly." The communicator whistled in Director's hand. "That will the news of your enemy's annihilation, lord."

The Director didn't spare the young man a look as he flipped open the communicator. "Yes?" he demanded. "How long did it last?"

"Sir, the starship has managed to escape to Federation space," a tremulous voice spoke.

"What?!" the Director roared, his eyes blazing furiously.

"Sir, the ship managed to destroy the first dozen Interceptors that were launched at it," the officer tried to explain. "The Marauders that were close behind were obliterated by a strange new weapon. It used the same weapon to hull the battlecruiser and blow up the warp engine. And thirty-three of the last thirty-six Interceptors were vaporized when the starship went to warp at the edge of the system."

"What?!" The Director looked as though he would have a stroke.

Haldar stared in shock at the communicator. His cadre was manning the Interceptors. And those not in the Interceptors were on the battlecruiser. His men...gone!

"How did this happen?"

"It is rumored the Federation ship on patrol is the U.S.S. Hood, captained by John Raintree," the hushed voice said. "A man who knows the fighting methods of the Xantharan fleet."

The Director roared as he threw the communicator out into the desert. Continuing to bellow he rushed toward the cross and pulled the heavy object out of the sand and flung it out into the desert sand, watching until it dropped onto the soft soil some forty feet away. Once it had landed, the Director, still howling in anger, rushed toward the canopies, scattering the privateers that were still there, tearing down the shadings and strewing the tables, chairs, food and wine in front of him. One luckless pirate was too slow; the director lifted him bodily and broke his back over his knee.

He continued on, screaming and kicking at the objects in his path for some long minutes, then slowed, and finally stopped, staring up into the sky, his breathing ragged, his face bleak.

"Lord," Haldar ventured as he approached the man, "she couldn't have survived the transportation. She was near death before she was taken from us."

Turning to his protégé, the Director asked coldly, "Would you care to bet your life on that, Haldar?"

Haldar swallowed and lowered his gaze, unable to respond to his mentor.

"I thought not," the Director said stonily.

Turning on his heel, he stalked back to his ground car and drove back to his house in Gracchos.

Day 27
In Sickbay Aboard the U.S.S. Hood
Deep Space

Jack Raintree strode quickly into Sickbay and toward the small Intensive Care Unit where a small green figure was lying on a biobed under a pale golden glow. Doctor Massey was standing at the foot of the bed, watching the monitor over the bed, nodding his head occasionally, issuing orders to the nurses and P.A.'s that were attending her.

For four days and four nights he'd been coming here when he wasn't on duty, staring at the tiny shape under the silvery blanket, watching as the glow kept her chest moving up and down slowly, deeply, and kept the blip indication her heart beat pulsing slowly, steadily. For four days he'd waited for some word from the doctor that she was going to recover, that she would survive.

And for four days he'd been told that her condition was serious but stable.

Massey looked out into the main Sickbay and noted the presence of the captain. He could almost set his chronometer by that man these days. He'd only let Raintree in to see her for a few minutes each day, not being able to let him stay longer as he and his medical team worked in shifts to repair the damaged Orion.

Raintree entered the unit cautiously, walking to the side of the bed where he usually went when allowed to see Shy'na. He took the small fragile hand in his own, drawing it to his cheek.

"How is she?" Raintree asked Massey.

"I think the worst is over, Captain," the doctor answered. "We managed to finally get her blood volume up after all the plasma, transfusions, and regenerative drugs we've pumped into her. And her blood chemistry is finally looking more normal."

Raintree frowned slightly as he looked at the woman, noting the strange patchwork of pale baby-apple green and soft apple green skin on her exposed body. The blistered sunburned skin and the scrapes and lacerations were gone, as were the horrific puncture wounds in her hands. He hadn't noticed that on his other brief visits, but then, he hadn't been allowed to stay with her long enough to notice more that her slow steady breathing and the slow even beating of the monitor reflecting her heartbeat.

He frowned at Massey in askance.

"Pseudo-skin," Massey explained. "That patchwork will fade as her body absorbs it. Easiest thing to take care. We fixed that while we were pumping blood, plasma, electrolytic fluid and antibiotics into her. Easier than all the other stuff we had to do to her."

"That why she's still on life support?" Raintree questioned. "I mean, she's not?"

"Lords no!" Massey shook his head, placing a comforting hand on the captain's shoulder. "The support system helps speed up the healing process. We do all the work and let her just rest and heal. Better for her; lets her expend all her energy healing herself."

Massey looked at Raintree, letting him absorb that. "The road burns, the sunburn were all superficial and easily repaired; we fixed it in between the other work we had to do on her. The spike wounds were pure hell. She had broken bones, torn ligaments, the rust and dirt and gods know what else from the nails that were used on her. It took four hours on each hand and foot to fix them up. Then there were the cracked ribs; fortunately there was no serious injury to her lungs. And in spite of the torture, there was no severe injury to any of her vital organs. If there had been..." Massey took a deep breath, noting the stricken look on Raintree's face. Sometimes being a doctor was not an easy job. "I would have been less optimistic about her chances for survival if there had been any critical injuries," he finally admitted. "I was also worried about the infection. Thought for a few hours that she'd succumb to the infection in spite of everything we were pumping into her. But we finally got it controlled."

"Then she'll be all right?" Raintree asked, keeping his grip on her hand, as if letting it go would somehow let her go, and he did not want to let her go. Not yet.

"Physically yes," Massey nodded. "Of course, once she's off life support, she'll still be here in Sickbay for at least another week, getting back her strength. But I don't think I need to remind you about recovering from Orion tortures, do I?"

He nodded his head mutely as he brought her hand up to his lips before putting it back under the blanket.

Massey followed Raintree out of the unit, putting a restraining hand on his shoulder. "We'll be taking her off life support in a few hours. If you want, you can stay with her and be there when she wakes up." Raintree looked at Massey in surprise. "It can't hurt for a friendly face to be there when she comes to. Might help more than any of my medication."

"Thanks, Doc," Raintree smiled at the physician.

"Sure," Massey nodded. "You can rest in my office until just before we turn off the support," he added not too subtlety.

"What about my quarters?" Raintree countered.

"Later," Massey said. "There's a cot in the office; I've been using it these past four days, but you can borrow it for a few hours. That way I can make sure you do get some rest," he added pointedly.

"The doctor is devious," Raintree walked to the office, followed by the doctor.

"You bet," Massey answered as he closed the door behind them. "I also wanted to talk to you. Alone." He pointed to the chair. "Sit."

"What? Is there something about Shy'na's condition you're not telling me? She will be all right, won't she?"

"Physically, yes," Massey repeated when Raintree finally sat down. "We have fixed her up as good as any starbase could. But Jack," he sat down on the edge of his desk, "she was raped. Repeatedly, and viciously from the wounds that we had to fix. Left untreated, those injuries alone would have killed her."

Raintree swallowed hard, closing his eyes in pain. He felt his jaw muscle jump. He'd been expecting it ever since he'd heard she'd been captured. "She's all right, though?"

"Physically," Massey repeated. "Psychologically? We'll have to wait until she wakes up before that question can be answered."

"Bastards!" Raintree growled as he balled his fist. "Maybe I should have gone to warp in the system. Or just blown the planet to hell and back when I was blasting its fleets to pieces."

"Jack," Massey placed a hand on his shoulder, "she's a special agent in Starfleet Intelligence. They don't take folks that can't withstand the pressures of the job. She has to have a strong will to work undercover."

"Still, she's been put through a special kind of hell by the Director and his men."

"True, but now she's here, and she's safe." Massey looked at the monitors again. "Now you grab a nap. I'll come back and get you before we wake her up."


In spite of his promise, Raintree couldn't sleep. He spent the next few hours standing by Shy'na's bed, holding her hand, studying her face, now smooth and calm, no sign of pain on her face.

Her face.

Not quite the one that he first saw a year ago. Not quite the one that seduced him on Chrysalis.

But still her face.

He loved her face. He didn't care what face she wore.

It was hers.

And he loved it, no matter what it looked like.

And most of all, he loved her.

He loved her.

He was finally admitting that to himself. Admitting that she was important to him. Admitting that he was willing to do things that he wouldn't do under any other circumstances.

Like start an interstellar war to rescue her from the Director. Even though the orders had been kept vague to allow him to use his own best judgment, he doubted that Starfleet Command would have understood a war being started to rescue one Starfleet Intelligence officer.

He might still be reprimanded for his actions. At the very least, he'd have a lot of questions to answer.

As he looked at the form, still motionless under the covers, he decided it would be worth it.


The golden glow faded around her form. She continued to breathe slowly and deeply, and the monitor continued to blip a steady rhythm over her head. Taking her hand in his, he raised it once again and brushed it lightly with his lips.

"She might wake up in a few minutes," Massey said from behind Raintree. "And then again, she just might fall into a natural sleep."

"I understand," Raintree said huskily.

"If she wakes up, I'll let you visit with her for a few minutes, but I don't want you to keep her awake too long," Massey instructed him.

Wordlessly, Raintree nodded his understanding, holding her small hand in his larger one.

Shy'na's eyes flickered and her head moved slightly. Raintree moved closer to her, holding his breath as her eyes finally opened. She frowned as she focused on the face close to her own.

"Jack?" she whispered, her voice weak. "Is that you? Or did I finally die and am I now in heaven?"

"No," Raintree murmured softly, kissing her forehead gently, "it's me. And you're very much alive."

"H-how did you know? H-how did you find me?"

"We got a communiqué from a deep cover Starfleet agent on Xantharus named Tarik," Raintree answered. "He told us you were in trouble."

"Tarik?" Shy'na frowned again in thought. "I know the name; he's a noble on Xantharus. The head of a large shipping company. But he's not a Starfleet agent. I know all the agents on Xantharus."

"Well, I've checked," Raintree said. "And Tarik is a deep cover Starfleet agent. An ace in the hole."

"Oh." Shy'na closed her eyes, seeming to fall to sleep, then they opened, filled with fear and pain. "Jack, they might have traced his signal! If they did Jack, he can't pay the price for saving my life."

"Shh," Raintree hushed her. "I'm sure he'll be able to take care of himself."

"I hope so," she looked at him, her eyes haunted. "But, how did you find me? I'm Orion. The planet is populated with Orions. There's no way you could find me among the billions of Orions on the planet."

Jack let a smile crease his face. "You Intelligence officers aren't the only sneaky ones in Starfleet, Shy'na Purim."

"Oh?" She tried to raise an eyebrow archly, but was still to groggy from the enforced sleep to do more that furrow her brow a bit.

"Oh," he nodded. "When Doc Massey did the microsurgery, I had him slip an iridium tracer into your system. Not something that would trip any ordinary sensor, but something that we could scan for. When we got into orbit, we began scanning for the iridium, found it, and you, and beamed you up. We left the hardware behind."

"Good." She closed her eyes, and tears began to trickle down her cheeks.

"Hey," he brushed them away with his thumb. "Hey, it's okay."

"Jack, it hurt so much..."

"Shh," he kissed her gently on the forehead. "Shh. Don't think about it. Not any more."

"Th-they raped me, Jack," she looked up into his eyes, hurt filling hers. "They used me."

"Shh," Raintree pressed a finger to her lips. "Shh. The doc told me. I don't care."

She closed her eyes and her head turned from Raintree, "Yeah. But I do. I feel so...filthy."

"I don't care," he repeated, bringing her face back to look at his. "All I care about is that you're alive, you're here, and you'll be fine."

"Sure," she said, resignedly. "I will be." She let him kiss her forehead again. "I think I want to sleep a bit," she said.

"Sure," he kissed her hand, placing it under the blanket. "Get some sleep. I'll be checking on you."

She nodded and she curled up into a ball on the bed, her eyes closed, her brow furrowed.

Then she rolled back toward Raintree. "Jack," she called out to the departing figure. "Jack, wait."

"What?" he turned back, anxiously.

"Jack, you have to notify Starfleet Intelligence. They used the truth serum on me," Shy'na said, her voice cracking. "I talked, Jack. I told them everything. Everything!" She sobbed, her shoulders shaking. "They were able to capture three transport ships, Jack. They got the cargo and the crew. Jack, it's all my fault!"

Gathering the crying woman into his arms, he held her comfortingly. "It's not your fault, Shy'na. You didn't have a choice." He pressed his lips to her head, rocking her in his arms as a father rocks a child, consoling her. "I've heard about that truth serum. So has Starfleet. No one will hold you responsible."

"No one but me," she sobbed. "I saw the crews in the slave pits, Jack. They'll live the rest of their lives in an Orion hell because of me. But you have to tell Starfleet so they can change the transmission codes, stop other ships from being seized."

"All right," Raintree nodded as he lay her down on the biobed. He walked to the nearby comm panel. "Raintree to Sarn."

"Sarn here."

"Emergency message to Starfleet Command. Use the Alpha Gamma code."

"Sir?" Sarn asked.

"Message reads: Current transport codes compromised by collapse of Intelligence Network on Xantharus. Urgent that new codes be issued immediately," Raintree said for Shy'na's benefit. Starfleet had probably already changed the codes, but if it made her feel better...

"Understood," Sarn's voice responded. "Message sent."

Raintree signaled off, and returned to the biobed. "Message is on its way, Shy'na. There won't be any more ships taken because of what happened to you."

"Good." Her head nodded, and her eyes drooped tiredly.

"You need to get your sleep," he whispered as he helped to settle her in the bed, pulling the covers up over her frail frame. "You're going to be fine, Shy'na."

Her hand shot out from under the covers, grabbing his tightly. "Jack."

"What?" He let her draw him close to her.

"I love you." Her voice was soft, fading as she finally drifted off to sleep, still gripping his hand tight in her own.

Raintree watched as her chest rose and fell in the rhythm of sleep. He let his lips brush her forehead and slowly removed his hand from hers. "And I love you."

Day 27
In the Office of the Director
of the Barrier Alliance Consortium


The desk was upended, the chair laying on its side. The computer was scattered in pieces over the floor. Other pieces of furniture, no longer recognizable were also strewn over the room. There were splatters of dark green staining the floor and the furniture. The window was open, and below the window were similar stains on the cobblestones. The bodies that had been flung there had been discretely removed once the Director was no longer staring down at the carcasses.

The Director stood in the center of the chaos, his face flushed and his eyes maniacally wide. His cloak, normally on his person, was in a heap in a corner. He prowled around the carnage, occasionally kicking at the remains of the furniture on the floor that dared to get in his way.

The only thing still untouched was the tall trophy case, full of stasis cubes and the heads of his enemies. The Director's hands brushed along the surface of the cube, licking his lips as he stared at the dead eyes of his enemies. The last cube was sitting on the top shelf, the blonde Human face staring down at him, surprise still etched on the face even in death, dried blood caking the corners of her mouth.

Julie Chastain. The Human bitch had been the cause of his last two defeats. She'd kept the fake plans hidden so well none could find them. She'd kept the Orions chasing their tails until the real plans were safe in the hands of the Federation. And then she'd killed the Andorian before he could be kidnapped and brought back to Xantharus.

Usually he could look at his slain enemies' faces and obtain a measure of satisfaction. He'd been victorious in the end. Not this time. He obtained nothing from staring at Julie's death grimace. Nothing!

Whirling from the cabinet, he roared and flung the nearest object, a heavy old-fashioned paperweight at the window watching the shards fall to the street below.

The image of Julie Chastain brought back the image of another female, this one Orion. This one equally responsible for his recent defeat.

Shy'na Purim. The bitch who had helped Julie escape so many months ago. The one who'd come back and escaped from him a second time. Her head needed to be in the collection. It wasn't complete without it.

He began kicking the debris that was once his office furniture, this time with a purpose as he searched under the rubble seeking a particular item. Finally he found what he sought.

He tapped the button on the console, and his eyes glittered with pleasure with the machine responded.

"Yes, lord," a quavering voice answered the summons. The young aide had been sitting at his post outside the office, hearing the sounds of the destruction being wrought by the Director and fearing the summons. His predecessor had been summoned into the office and had been beheaded on the spot.

"Where's Haldar?" he roared.

"Attending to the execution of the last Starfleet Intelligence agents, lord," the young Orion answered, still trembling. "Shall I patch you through?'

"Yes. At once."


Haldar frowned as he stared at the head in the stasis cube. The old man had not even lasted beyond the first minute of torture. Marina had howled in rage, then had turned on Haldar in her fury; he had deflected the striking fists with ease, then had returned the blows.

She'd been about to signal the Director when Haldar calmly pointed out that the Director would probably hold her responsible for causing Tarik to expire too soon. The Director would not be listening to reason--he wasn't listening to anything or anyone at the moment. He wouldn't believe that the man's heart had been too weak to withstand any amount of torture; he'd just blame Marina and have Haldar bring him her head. He knew the Director was not above executing protégés who failed him.

Marina had been halted in her tracks, remembering her predecessor who had failed the Director, and been her first victim as official torturer. Haldar had agreed to handle the situation for her, make sure the Director would never know the truth, for a price. A hefty price.

He'd already collected a partial payment from her, enjoying every moment with her from the beginning when he'd begun his brutal treatment of her to when he finally forced her to serve him as a common whore from a brothel. And she had relished every barbaric moment, particularly when his maleness agonizingly probed her bowels.

For appearances sake, Haldar had taken the body and one aide, one he could trust for the moment, and could easily disappear when that trust faded, with him to the execution grounds and had crucified the corpse, then cut off the head to put it in the cube to return it to the Consortium Headquarters.

"Sir!" the aide called to the young torturer as he walked back to the canopy where a stasis cube awaited the head. "Hurry! The Director awaits you!"

Setting the head in the cube, he turned to the small screen, bowing low. "Yes, lord?"

"She won't thwart me again, Haldar!" the Director ranted without preamble. "Never again! Do you hear me? Never!"

"Yes, lord," Haldar replied, waiting for the man to quiet his ravings and finally give him his orders.

"Find someone who can do your work here, Haldar," the Director continued on, saliva drooling down his chin as he continued fuming. "Someone who you trust. You are going on a mission for me, Haldar."

"Yes, lord." Haldar nodded.

"Find the bitch and bring her back to me, Haldar." The Director stared at Haldar with feverish eyes. "And if you can't bring her back alive, bring me her head!"

"Yes, lord," Haldar bowed his head. "I won't fail you."

"You'd best not, Haldar," the Director intoned icily as his face faded from the screen. "You'd best not."

Haldar stared at the blank screen, his stomach churning nervously. He'd never felt this way before. Ever. He'd never questioned the orders he received from the Director before. He'd never questioned the sanity of the man before, scoffing at the Worldlords that spoke, softly, behind the Director's back, watchful of the presence of Haldar, fearful that the words would somehow get back to the Director.

But now, he wondered.

True, he could use his Marauder with the new defensive screening device that made him invisible to the sensors of the Federation and get into Federation space, find Shy'na Purim and either kidnap or execute her. But such a move would bring the entire wrath of the Federation down on the Barrier Alliance, and he knew it.

Since the rescue of the Intelligence agent, the pirates had not been able to intercept any transports that traveled near the Border. Federation patrols were more frequent, and the starship Hood with its fearsome new weapons was never far away.

No, he decided suddenly. This time, he would not obey the Director's orders.

Oh, he would go through the motions, make several forays into Federation space, then return home empty-handed, but with a plausible reason that he hadn't returned with her head this time. And each time he went after her, until the Director would forget his deranged orders, and demand that Haldar return to Xantharus and continue his work there. Shy'na Purim would not be forgotten, but she would not be foremost in his thoughts as other business and other enemies would occupy his thoughts and Haldar's time.

Haldar sighed as he took the cube to the ground car and started back to the city.

One day, the Director would meet his match. And Haldar would not be around to stop them, or to save him.

One day.

But not today.

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This story can be found in printed form in ORION ARCHIVES -- 2251-2264 Pike's Enterprise1.
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