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Nomad, with  Elizabeth Knauel

October 2277

The City of Gracchos
Xantharus IV

"Gor'ka(1)," Slavemaster Turhan reflected bitterly. "The city looks like a gor'ka hill that's been obliterated. Everyone scurrying about without direction after the queen's been slain."

Or, in this case, the king.

Turhan sighed. It had been three t'orq(2) since the Director of the Barrier alliance consortium had been gunned down in cold blood by Federation stormtroopers under the command of the infamous Admiral James T. Kirk. A Commander David Bailey, captain of the starship U.S.S. Nelson had actually done the shooting, but Kirk was as guilty as if he himself had pulled the trigger. The Starfleet blackguards had beamed out immediately after the assassination, and the Director bodyguards and the Orionii Worldlords had fled from the Consortium headquarters in panic and disarray.

And moments later, the building sealed itself up. All attempts to re-enter had failed. Xantharus IV and all the other Orion worlds were cut off from communication with the Consortium's master computer network. All of the Alliance's most lucrative ventures--slave trading, prostitution, drug trafficking, smuggling--were in limbo. Unless someone came along--and soon--who could gain access to the computer and lead them, the Consortium was doomed. Turhan could not believe the Director had failed to arrange for a successor in the event of his sudden and unexpected demise.

He strode into the slave market and went directly to his huge slave pen. He smiled. At least his own business was still brisk. The new arrivals were in the pit, and word had gotten around.

Turhan's agents had disabled a Starfleet cadet-training ship and captured its crew. Of the crew complement of 350, they had kept eighty-nine adolescents and one adult female. Seventy-six young girls and thirteen boys were deemed perfect enough to be sold in the marketplace--a very high percentage. The captives ranged in age from eighteen to twenty-one. The girls were all beautiful, the boys all handsome--and the woman was spectacular. They all huddled naked on the sandy floor of the slave pit. They had been fitted with shackles and chains around their wrists and ankles, obedience collars around their necks, and given heavy doses of aphrodisiacs and drugs. Some of the prisoners simply knelt in a drugged stupor. Others masturbated furiously. A number of the girls had begun to copulate with some of the boys, and a few of the girls had paired to make love to one another.

Turhan noticed a massive muscular figure standing on the observation ramp. He was dressed in the uniform of an Orion pirate, complete with helmet and blast goggles. A heavy blaster hung low on his hip. It was Golar, captain of the Orion marauder Vr'cla--the man who had engaged and ultimately destroyed the cadet vessel. He drew in a deep breath as Turhan approached.

"Ah, Turhan, my old friend, there's nothing like the aroma of aroused female flesh. It hangs in the air like the scent of the g'lara(3) market!"

Turhan chuckled in spite of himself. "Golar, how can you be so happy-go-lucky? The Consortium is falling apart all around us, and you make jokes about feminine hygiene!"

Golar smiled broadly. "My friend, as long as men prize what lies between a female's legs, and are willing to pay a premium price for it, I will have a job. I keep telling you, you should let me kidnap Queen Valana of Arcturus Four or why not let us go after Princess Teresa again!* Such womanly perfection! The last time, she sold for seventy-five billion drekons. That was over a year ago. Imagine how much we would reap if we could sell one, or both, of them."

*see "Bloodlines" by Nomad and Elizabeth Knauel

Turhan's eyes lit up greedily.

"I could balance the budget of all of the worlds of the Alliance!"

This is a nice lot you've got here, though." He gazed down into the pit and shook his head. "Gods, Turhan, are you dead to all this? All those perfect young bodies writhing and sweating, like some great orgy? I'll give Starfleet credit; they're big on physical perfection. Doesn't this affect you--or do you just see big piles of drekons(4) when you look at them?" The pirate patted his crotch. "I don't know about you, but I feel desire swelling within me!"

Turhan managed a wry grin. "I am affected, my friend Golar. However, if I gave into my impulses, I'd never get any work done."

Golar's laugh was a hearty, booming roar. "I see what you mean," he admitted. "What about those little beauties over there?" He walked over to ogle a group of girls who lay together in a heap behind a force field, seemingly unconscious. They appeared to be somewhat younger than most of the other captives, perhaps only eighteen or nineteen years old.

Turhan swirled his great purple cloak around his shoulder with a flourish. "Those," he declared, pausing dramatically, "are my virgins."

"You're joking! That many? There must be--"

"Seventeen," supplied Turhan. "A very high percentage indeed. We discovered it when we did the initial medical examination on them. I've got them sedated and screened in so that nothing happens to those precious membranes of theirs until I sell them. Buyers will pay two to three times the going rate to deflower a virgin."

He was distracted by a moan from the pit below.

A girl cried in frustration, stroking herself more vigorously. "I can't come!" she sobbed.

"The wench is screaming she cannot 'come'?" Golar frowned.

"A slang term for 'climax'," Turhan provided. "The aphrodisiacs keep the females aroused, but don't allow them to climax. This way they are always ready, willing and insatiable--just the way my customers like them."

Footfalls echoed on the ramp. The two men turned toward them. Turhan frowned.

A man and a woman approached at a brisk pace. Turhan recognized Haldar who had been the late Director's trusted right-hand man, and was arguably the most dangerous assassin in the Alliance. He didn't know Haldar's female companion, though.

She was young, beautiful beyond description. She was nearly as tall as the oaken Haldar, and muscular--but not grotesquely so. Turhan decided that sculpted was a better appellation. She wore a black-cowled cloak, and her sleeveless black jumpsuit displayed her well-toned arms to great advantage. Slim-waisted and narrow-hipped, her full round breasts were very large, but very firm. Close-cropped white hair framed an oval face. While Turhan, Haldar and Golar all possessed the light apple-green complexion common to many Orions, this woman's skin was translucent, nearly white, like alabaster, with just a faint hint of green in the veins near the surface.

But it was her eyes stopped Turhan in his tracks.

Her eyes made him shiver.

They were pale, steely, almost colorless and nearly pupil-less. They were as cold as the icy winds that blasted through the T'arlaak Mountains near the polar ice cap. He had seen those eyes before.

Turhan carefully kept his expression neutral. Next to him, Golar was having no such luck. He gasped and stared rudely at the female in undisguised, open-mouthed appraisal--and lust.

The slavemaster cleared his throat as the woman flipped her cloak over one shoulder, revealing the blaster she carried. "I am sorry, my friends, but we are not yet open for business. Haldar, you should know that."

Golar pushed past Turhan, his eyes afire as he licked his lips. "Are you bringing this wench to sell her, Haldar? If you are, I'll buy her right here and now!"

The pirate suddenly tore open the front of her jumpsuit. Moving quickly behind her, he locked an arm around her neck and began to maul her bared breast with the other hand.

What happened next was too quick for the eye to follow. Before Turhan could even remonstrate his friend, the woman thrust her right hip backward. Golar was flying over her shoulder, landing hard on his back at her feet. Bellowing in rage, Golar struggled to his feet, clawing at his blaster. Again, in a blur of motion, the woman's arms shot out. One hand locked on his right wrist, while the other closed on Golar's crotch in a vice-like grip.

The pirate's cry of outrage segued into a blood-chilling shriek of agony.

"You don't like it when I squeeze you, do you Golar?" she hissed, lips drawn back over clenched teeth. "I can crush your scrotum into paste, rip your manhood out by the roots and let you bleed to death. You can feel the pressure. You can feel my fingernails. You know I'm not bluffing." She tightened her grip on his wrist.

Golar's scream rose another octave. His face went white, and beads of cold sweat popped out on his face.

"This is my weaker hand," the woman continued. "With it, I can shatter your wrist beyond repair. A pirate with a useless gun-hand will not survive long."

She smiled cruelly and shook her naked breasts at him provocatively. "Do you like them, Golar? I admit, they must be hard for a man to resist. But you know what? They are mine! I decide if I want to let a man play with them."

"I-I didn't mean anything b-by it!" Golar gasped, sobbing. "B-by th-the gods, p-please let go! I was j-just--"

"I know, I know--you were just being a pirate." She sighed. "Unfortunately, I'm going to need you, Golar--but you're not indispensable. Don't ever forget that. My father said you were what the Terrans call an asshole. He was right."

Her thumbnail cut into his wrist. Dark green blood flowed from the wound down his arm.

"Swear allegiance to me in your blood," she snarled. "If I can't trust you enough to turn my back on you, I will have to kill you."

"W-who are you?" Golar wheezed.

"My name is Tanith Brok," she responded. "My father was Gareth Brok. You knew him as the Director of the Barrier Alliance Consortium. He is dead. Now I am the Director!"

Turhan blanched. Of course! Now he knew why her eyes chilled him.

Golar babbled in fear. "Gods! I did n-not know! I b-beg forgiveness!"

"Just swear!" Tanith Brok roared.

"I swear! I swear! Now p-please let go!"

"With pleasure!" Tanith squeezed his testicles mercilessly.

Golar's eyes rolled back in his head. He gulped once, then passed out.

With a final, sadistic twist, Tanith Brok released her hold on the pirate. Golar slumped to the thermocrete.

Turning to Haldar as she jerked her shoulder at the fallen brigand. "Haldar, bring him to the Consortium headquarters when he recovers sufficiently. Turhan, come with me. My father said you were one of the best minds on the trade commission. We are going to get the Consortium back on its feet."

Turhan followed hesitantly. "My lady, I am due to open in--"

"You will remain closed this morning!" Tanith snapped. "By this afternoon, you'll be able to announce a major auction in the amphitheater. The money you will get from the sale of the Starfleet cadets may be enough to overcome any deficit we may have incurred since my father's death."

The slavemaster's mind reeled. This was all happening too fast. His pulse quickened with hope. Maybe there was a chance the Consortium could be saved. But...

She was just a woman. Could she do it?

Turhan hurried after the new Director, half-running to keep pace with her. She seemed unaware of the stir her open jumpsuit was causing in the streets, totally unconscious of her bared breasts.

"I would have been here sooner, but I was on Achernar IV completing my studies to become a sixth-degree adept in the Brotherhood of Executioners," she explained. "I was in the desert, forbidden to have contact with the outside world. When I finished my program, I learned what had happened, and came directly here."

Tanith's voice grew husky, then broke. Turhan was surprised to see that her eyes glistened silver with unshed tears. "Those bastards will pay for Father's death," she quavered. "Kirk, Bailey, that newswoman Hunter--their heads will hang in the halls of the Consortium headquarters. My father will be avenged!"

They had reached the headquarters building. The once-meticulous landscaping was already overgrown and choked with weeds. The fountains were dry save for a few puddles of murky green water in the basins. Thick durasteel panels had slammed into place over doors and windows, hermetically sealing the building.

A small knot of men wearing noblemen's robes stood, waiting on the steps.

As Tanith Brok approached, they ogled her bare chest, but the expression of grim determination on her face forbade any comments. Turhan recognized the robed figures. They were all members of the Trade Commission. There were Turok and Lonak, the two wealthiest slavelords in the Alliance, who, with Turhan, supervised the slave trade network. Turhan envied Turok; he had once sold a beautiful young Human female, in the days when Human slaves were rare, for what was then a record six billion drekons*--a mark that had only been surpassed once since--last year, when Princess Teresa Morales de la Vega herself was sold for seventy-five billion drekons to a syndicate of Andorian...businessmen.

He remembered Golar's offer to kidnap Valana of Arcturus and retake Princess Teresa. It might be possible to get one hundred billion drekons for each of them. He might take Golar's suggestion.

He shook off his reverie. First things first. The others crowded around Tanith Brok as she approached the control panel mounted in the wall by the barricaded entryway: Old Belar, overseer of smuggling; Jebek, in charge of drugs, and Malith and Nolek, directors of prostitution. They eyed her expectantly.

"Tehan Dar tried to operate that panel right after the building shut down," Belar cackled. "A beam shot out of the wall and phasered him to ash. I hope you can jump quickly, Tanith Brok."

"I know what I'm doing, Old One," she muttered. "Stand back if you're afraid."

He glared at her, then moved back a pace.

She punched a series of alpha-numeric codes into the panel, and a green light pulsed on. The others took a nervous step backward. "I am Tanith Brok," she announced. "Authorization code 3C7K. Activate all systems."

"Stand by for retina scan," the computer's metallic voice intoned.

An infrared beam danced over Tanith's left eye. Seconds later, it deactivated, as did the green pulsing light.

Nothing happened. Belar began to harrumph derisively, taking a step forward. "See? I told you a woman couldn't--"

The rest of his retort was drowned out by the thunderous, metallic clanging of the durasteel barriers rolling back. Fountains splashed into life, and floodlights crackled on. Sheet lasers fanned out over the lawn and shrubs, trimming them and vaporizing the clippings just as the underground sprinkler system cycled on. And the huge entry door rolled aside obediently.

A chorus of cheers rose from the trade officials. Even Belar reluctantly joined in. Tanith Brok bounded inside and ran up flight after flight of marble staircases, leaving the woefully out-of-shape noblemen to follow at their own pace. She topped the last stairwell, not even slightly winded, and turned down a long corridor.

As she hurried along, she was stopped short by a nauseating stench of rot and decay. Drawing her blaster, she frowned. Her father had been disintegrated, leaving no body. So what was causing the smell?

She stepped into the dining hall, and retched.

Plates of spoiled food lined the long table, and clouds of black insects flew and scuttled about.

In the midst of it all, rotting and decomposing on a large silver tray, sat the gore-clotted, severed head of Caren Hollis, one-time ace reporter for the Intergalactic News Service.

Tanith fought down the gorge rising in her throat. She had seen holovids of Hollis. The woman had been beautiful. The head sitting on the platter in a dried pool of black, stinking blood was a little more than a grinning skull with tattered, putrefied flesh hanging loosely on it. The eyes had shrunk back and stared wildly from hollow sockets.

Seven weeks had wrought horrible changes on the once-lovely face.

Tanith wrinkled her nose. Serves the nosy bitch right. Soon her head would have company. She would put the decaying trophy in a stasis box later to prevent it from mortifying any further.

As she turned to go, her gaze fell upon a pile of ashes scattered on the carpeted floor. Tears stung her eyes once more. Her father--it was all that remained of him. She would retrieve them as well.

She left the dining hall and sprinted toward the computer control center. Behind her, she could hear out-of-breath curses as the noblemen neared the top of the stairs. The fools! They could have taken a turbolift to get up here, but their excitement--and greed--was so great that they had followed her blindly up the steps. She chuckled as she entered the computer room.

Bank after bank of the computers that comprised the Alliance's central nexus whirled quietly in standby mode.

Tanith sat at a console and keyed in a code. "Computer, dispatch servo-robots to the dining hall to clean and sterilize it. Place the head of the Human female in a stasis cube. Collect the ashes on the floor and place them in an urn."

"Acknowledged," came the reply.

"Next show me the Consortium activity for the past seven weeks," Tanith added as she heard the gasping wheezes of the nobles at the doorway.

Several screens lit up, each with a caption and bar graphs of various colors and legend boxes to indicate what each color meant. She turned her chair so that she could view the doorway and the screens at the same time. Tanith wanted to see their faces as the figures were revealed.

Dilithium smuggling had remained stable, surprisingly, as had all aspects of the smuggling operation. Belar might be old, and a fool, but he certainly knew how to run his part of the Consortium, and stay one step ahead of the Federation.

Drug running was down. Well that was almost to be expected, with the Federation keeping such a close eye on the border. Still, if Jebek wanted to maintain his position, he'd better come up with a better way to run drugs, Tanith mused as she let her eyes center on his face briefly.

Prostitution had seen a slight increase during this time of flux. Tanith let a small, cold smile touch her lips as she focused her gaze on Malith and Nolek. Nothing like trouble to make the males and females seek out companionship. She also noted the side bar legend that listed the increase of medical attention the prostitutes had required. Well, at least none of the prostitutes had been killed; most only required a few days of off-time to recover from the injuries sustain in the line of business. Still, it had cut into the profit margin. She let her glance return theirs, and this time, the smile was missing. She saw the two men shiver and back away.

Gambling had also seen an increase. Apparently, if a person couldn't obtain release with sex, they could with gambling. Profits were well ahead of what the computer had projected. Tanith looked back at the group of men, noticing that trade lord was just arriving. Garent looked as though he'd just crawled out of bed. But then, he'd only probably just gotten into bed. The casino that he ran here on Xantharus stayed open until the early hours of dawn, and he was known to personally close the vault at closing.

Loans were also ahead of schedule. It was said that Melosh and Garent worked hand in glove. When a patron had a particularly high loss, Garent would insist on immediate payment. At just that moment, Melosh would appear, with a bargain that seemed too good to be true, and usually was. Melosh's collectors were said to be Achernar Executioner adepts, well skilled in the arts of torture. No one fell behind on payments more than once.

Last, the slave trade. It had seen a slump, as one would expect, but not as bad as it could have been. Trying to kidnap vessels on the border with Federation patrols increased was next to impossible. Still, this last haul that Turhan had procured should wipe that deficit off the books. Human slaves were still a valued commodity on this side of the Alliance's border. Virgins, Human or otherwise, were even more priceless.

"Well, gentlemen," Tanith stood and faced the assemblage, "it seems you know your job. Some of you were able to prosper in spite of the additional patrols." She let her gaze brush over Belar.

"Some of us are better at our jobs than others, my lady," Belar returned, sarcasm in his voice, and a malevolent glare in his eyes.

She managed not to sigh in disgust. He was such a good smuggler. Pity he didn't have better control of his tongue. It would be the death of him, one day, if he didn't learn to watch what he said.

"I expect the new trade agreement with the Federation will decrease the number of patrols, and the problems that several of you have had will disappear. Of course, this next auction may totally erase the deficit that exists for you, Turhan. I understand there are several specimens that should bring in premium prices."

"Y-yes, my lady," Turhan nodded, swallowing the fear he felt as her steely eyes touched on his momentarily.

"What the hell's going on here?" A new voice blasted from behind the nobles. The men parted, allowing Plarnek Tren, Acting Director of the Alliance to enter. He faced the group of trade lords angrily. "Why wasn't I informed of this--this meeting?"

"You were informed." Tanith cut him off with a cold tone. "I sent you a message. You chose not to reply. I proceeded without you."

"I am in charge here, female!" Plarnek snarled.

"Oh, really?" Tanith let one eyebrow inch up toward her whitish hair. "Then why didn't you enter the Consortium and continue to run things from here?" He tried to glare back at her, but found it difficult, as difficult as trying to stare down Gareth Brok. "You couldn't. I could. And did. I am Tanith Brok, daughter of Gareth Brok."

Plarnek felt the blood drain from his face. If his daughter was anything like him.

"I believe you were just acting on my behalf, until I was able to take over my duties. Correct?" She gave him a cold, murderous stare.

"That is so, my lady," Plarnek mumbled, falling back behind the other nobles. He would have to go back to his previous job. Only, that position was already filled, and not likely to be vacated any time soon. At least, not voluntarily.

"Good." She let a tight smile curve her lips. "Now, all of you, to work. You've been away from your posts for too long."

She stepped away from the computer banks as the men walked to their positions.

The noise of robots in the outer room caught her attention. One was collecting the ashes that had once been Gareth Brok, carefully placing them into a silver urn, while another robot had retrieved the decaying head of the woman from the table and placed it in a stasis box.

The two rolled by her, each carrying its precious cargo, on their way to deposit them where they had been ordered.

"Hold," commanded Tanith.

Both complied. Tanith felt her lips curl in disgust and hate as her gaze rested on the rotting trophy of the reported.

"You," she ordered the robot with the cube, "proceed."

It continued on its way, removing the grisly object from her sight.

Tanith turned her attention to the urn in the other robot's holder. Pure silver, a treasure from a long-forgotten raid on a small, now-conquered planet, she remembered. She could hear her father laughing as he tossed the ashes that were in it out in the gardens of their home.

"This is much too fine an urn for the likes of an old farmer, eh Tani?" he laughed as the ashes settled on the rich loam of the flower bed.

"Much too fine, Papa," she agreed, taking the urn from his strong hands. It should hold the remains of an Orion Worldlord."

"Perhaps I should keep it for my ashes. What do you say, girl? Shall it be used to house my remains?"

"Oh yes, Papa," she smiled back at him. "But that won't be for a long, long time. Until then, we can place it here." She set the vessel on a mantle. "Here, where we can admire it."

She had never believed that she would be using it so soon. Gareth Brok had died too young. Her finger brushed the surface of the mound in the urn, feeling the silky texture of the ash, feeling the tears well in her eyes, threatening to run down her cheek. "If only you were here, Father," she murmured. "There is much that the Federation has to pay for. You should be the one exacting retribution."

Her hand paused, still in the urn. The tears stopped, and a strange light entered her pale eyes. "Haldar, that's it!" She looked up at the bodyguard, a strange smile flickering on her lips. "My father will get his revenge. And all of them will pay a very high price, as is befitting the assassins of the Director of the Barrier Alliance.

For the first time since he had pledged his allegiance to the daughter of his old master, Haldar wondered if she was, as her father had been, a mad genius, or just mad.

Starfleet Headquarters
San Francisco, Earth

James T. Kirk leaned back in his chair and stared out the window. The sunny day did little to alleviate his dark mood. What right did it have to be so pleasant out when Caren could no longer enjoy it? Damn it, she had insisted on going to Gracchos for her damned story. If she had only stayed on the ship, she would never have overheard the truth and forced Gareth Brok to put a price on her head.

It didn't help to remember that he had maneuvered her into going to Gracchos either. He'd managed to rescue her then; he hadn't been able to do it a second time when Caren had been kidnapped some time later. All he could do was remember the vision of her head on the platter surrounded by the rich banquet.

He shifted forward in his chair and resumed reading through the reports that had piled up since he had been on leave. He was still technically on leave, but he could no longer tolerate being in Riverside, enjoying life while Caren's head decorated the table of the late, unlamented Director. Actually, he frowned over the report, McCoy had been the one to suggest he go back to Starfleet Command for a few hours.

"Let someone else suffer your foul mood for a while," McCoy had snapped at him. "Then, get your butt back here, so we can enjoy the Halloween festival."

Kirk had acquiesced faster than was usual for him. Good thing he had, he reflected as he pressed his thumb in the appropriate place and proceeded to the next report. He was thankful this wasn't the twentieth century. If it had been, he'd have been literally buried in paperwork.

He paused over this last report. The three cadets that had been such colossal pains in the butt had managed to pass their tests. At the top of the class to boot. At least something good had come of the incident.

He thumbed that report, then continued on, noting the time. He had promised McCoy he'd be back in time for dinner. Ever since he'd taken McCoy to Tate's restaurant, he couldn't get the old doctor out of there. Well, good food was good food, and you got it wherever you could.

The door opened, and Ensign Melissa Masterson walked in. Her dark hair was worn up off the collar of her uniform, according to regulations, but still very becoming. Of course, her figure did a lot for the uniform, Kirk noted. Not that he had chosen her because she gave him something pleasant to look at when he had to work with her, he reminded himself. She was one of the best administrative assistants in the fleet, and James T. Kirk always had the best. Of course, if he were a few years younger, or she a few years older.

"Sir, you have a visitor," she said in her melodic voice.

"Visitor?" Kirk frowned. "No one but Bones knows I'm here. I'm officially still on leave in Riverside."

"Well," another voice remarked as a second female walked through the door, "Security knows a lot that no one else knows."

"Cheryl!" Kirk exclaimed, his face brightening. He got up and crossed the room to greet her as Masterson slipped back to her post outside his office. "It's good to see you. How long's it been?"

"Too long," Cheryl answered, slipping one arm around his waist and the other around his neck. "Much too long." She drew his head down to hers.

"I agree." Jim responded as their lips parted. "Much too long."

"I was hoping to run into you." She led him to the couch by the window.

"What brings you back to Earth?" he settled himself next to her, getting comfortable.

"Well, there's a security seminar that I have to attend next week. And I had some leave time due, so I thought I'd get here and enjoy some R&R before being bored to death by some stodgy desk-bound theorist."

Jim laughed, remembering his own feelings about command seminars.

"And I was hoping we could spend that time together." She ran a finger suggestively along his jaw line.

He stared at the console on his desk and the work that awaited him. Then he turned to Cheryl. She had progressed from his jaw down his jacket, toying with the insignia. He cradled her face in his hands, feeling like he could swim in her sea-green eyes. "I'd like that. Very much."

"Now, where do we go to get away from everyone?" she asked as she put her hand over his.

"I happen to have a friend who owns a ski lodge in Aspen. I hear they had an early snow, fine powder."

"Sounds perfect," she smiled up at him.

"Yes, it does," he agreed.

He got to his feet and walked back to his desk, Cheryl not far behind him, and summoned Masterson. "Ensign," he announced as soon as she closed the door behind her, "Commander Saunders and I will be in Aspen at Steve Hendley's place. The address in the databanks. But," he added as he turned off his console screen, "that is top secret information. Tell no one."

"No one, sir?" She raised a perfectly-formed eyebrow in askance.

"No one," he repeated. "We're both on leave, and we're going to enjoy that leave. Uninterrupted."

"I understand, sir," she smiled at him. About time he did more than mope, read reports, and be a stuffy old admiral, she thought. "Wild horses couldn't drag it out of me. Mum's the word." She gave them both a knowing look. "Go on, sirs. I'll close up shop."

Kirk draped his arm around Cheryl's should as they headed toward the elevators. "I haven't been to Aspen in a while. With that fresh snow, it should be beautiful."

"Uh, Jim," Cheryl remarked coyly, "I don't have any ski gear with me."

"Come to think of it," Jim replied, a sparkle in his eyes and a playful grin on his face, "neither do I."

She returned his impish grin. "Guess we won't get much skiing done, will we?"

"Guess not."

Deep Space
Barrier Alliance Territory

The Orion marauder, Vr'cla slipped out of planet orbit and headed toward deep space. Golar continued to sit straight in his command chair, staring straight ahead at the viewscreen. His hands were gripping his armrests, something he never usually did. His crew was equally tense. One could not help but be tense with an Executioner of Achernar IV on board. Especially this executioner.

The black-robed figure stood behind Golar. The garment of the Executioner hid all means of identifying the person, covering the person from the top of their head to the soles of their feet. The hood was pulled low, covering the face. It was rumored that the only time the hood was ever drawn back was when the Executioner was readying to slay their latest victim.

Still, Golar knew who this person was. He had recognized the voice when it had ordered him to ready his marauder and attack squad for battle. Gareth Brok, late Director of the Alliance, returned from the dead to wreck havoc and revenge for his murder. He had never believed the old tales his mother had told him about avenging spirits. He did now. Gods, he believed it, and he wished it weren't so.

"We have just crossed the border, Captain," the helmsmen reported. "All of our attack vessels are ready."

"Have we made contact with the Federation ship Nelson yet?" the Director asked in a low whisper.

"Nelson dead ahead," the helmsmen reported. "It doesn't seem to know that we are here."

"Then, attack," the Executioner ordered calmly. "I want that ship incapacitated."

Golar pressed the button on his chair, and the screen burst into life with ships leaving the protection of the marauder and racing toward the scoutship. They slipped around the vessel, firing almost continuously, dodging the Federation's ship phaser fire and photon torpedoes. Soon the bridge crew could see that the Nelson was crippled, unable to maneuver and defend itself from the dozen attack ships. Holes were now quite apparent in the outer hull of the ship, blazing fires visible through the transparent aluminum blast windows, and on occasion, a body could be seen floating out into the vacuum of space.

Still, it fought back valiantly, continuing to shoot at the small vessels, destroying an attacker on occasion, but there were too many Orion attackers. Its shields buckled, and its single engine nacelle was blasted loose from its pylon. The ship began a slow tumble in space. Its impulse engine roared to life, and the ship began a slow turn back to engage its besiegers.

"I believe it is time for you to deliver the coup de gras," the Executioner intoned behind the pirate captain. "Disable it, Golar."

"Weapons Officer, status of the Nelson?" he barked.

"Shields down. Hull integrity compromised. Life support minimal."

"Target impulse engines," he commanded.

"Targeted," came the response.


The white light leaped from the firing ports of the Vr'cla and hit the rear of the Nelson's primary hull. The viewscreen cut out for an instant as it compensated for the intensity of the nuclear explosion as the fusion-powered engines were destroyed. When the screen came back on, the Nelson was only a quarter of its original size. The rest of the ship was now floating debris. The bridge and a portion of the primary hull were all that was left of the Starfleet destroyer.

"Report!" demanded Golar, feeling the icy eyes of Brok on back of his neck.

"The Nelson is dead, sir," the science officer intoned.

"Any life sings?" the Director queried softly.

"There are several life signs, all on the bridge," the young Orion answered.

"That is where the captain will be," the Executioner whispered. "Let's go, Golar."


Golar, the Director, and three guards materialized on the ruined bridge of the Nelson. A dozen bodies lay sprawled on the floor under fallen pieces of the ceiling. Several lay crumpled under their stations, unconscious, or dying from wounds received from flying shrapnel. In the command was an Andorian, pinned in place by a large chunk of superstructure, its antennae skewed in different directions.

The Executioner glided over to the wounded officer. Although there was no way that Golar could see the icy eyes, he could tell they were boring holes into the alien.

"You are not Captain Bailey," the Director snapped angrily.

"No, I am Thelar," the Andorian panted. "Captain of the U.S.S. Nelson. You have committed a hostile act--"

"Where is he?" demanded the black-robed creature. "Where is Bailey?"

"I have no idea." Thelar struggled to say each word. Then he gave the figure a death grin. "If you really want to know, you'll have to ask Starfleet Personnel."

"Then, I suppose I shall have to settle for you," snarled the Director.

A sword appeared in one of his gloved hands that extended from the loose sleeves of the robe. With the other hand, he pulled the blue head of the dying captain back and swung the sword down. The head dangled by its white hair from the Director's hand as the body slumped in the chair. Golar gulped silently, his eyes wide. The sword was no longer anywhere in sight. The blood dripped from the severed head, forming a blue puddle at the Director's feet.

The Director turned to Golar. "We are finished here. Get us out of here. Set course for Earth."

Golar swallowed the bile that had gathered in the back of his throat as he brought out his communicator and gave the order for transportation.

As the five Orions disappeared into shimmering nothingness, one of the still forms on the floor groaned and moved slowly to the communications station. He'd been playing dead as the tall black-robed specter had murdered his captain, hoping no one would notice him. He knew the ship's automatic log system was still operating, since it was on the same power system as the bridge's life support system. If only he could get the log back to Starfleet.

Painfully the young man pulled himself up to the panel, found the desired button, and pressed it. The computer voice reported, "Ship's Log Buoy jettisoned. Course set for Starfleet Headquarters." The young officer collapsed to the floor, satisfied he'd performed his final duty to his captain and his crew mates as Death claimed him.

The small log buoy shot away from the dying vessel heading toward its homeworld.


Golar took his seat on the Vr'cla. The Director stood behind him, his freshly-killed trophy still clutched in his hand. Avoiding the gruesome memento, Golar looked in askance at the black-shrouded figure. The black hood bobbed once. Golar turned back to his weapons officer

"Fire. And don't stop until it is dust. Then to Earth."

The phaser bolts streamed from the marauder toward the shell of the ship, bathing the hull in hot white colors. Then the derelict exploded, sending a shower of white dust throughout the vacuum.

Riverside, Iowa, Earth

Kitty Hunter drove into the parking lot and maneuvered her hover car into a space set aside for reporters. Everyone was here, especially all the local commentators. The holocam operators were already setting up, awaiting their individual newscasters to arrive and get ready to start recording when the festivities started. She couldn't understand for the life of her why Brad Bashaw had insisted that INS cover this stupid little charity amusement park. But ever since that fiasco at Xantharus, she'd been relegated to doing stupid little "Happy News" items in little out-of-the-way places like Riverside. "Human-interest pieces," he had called them. "Something to make INS seem more Human, more caring for the inhabitants of Earth."

As if that randy old goat cared a fig for anyone but himself.

The house in the massive yard was dressed up like an old, deserted Gothic mansion, complete with thick cobwebs covering the windows. Perfect for Halloween. The community had set up this "Haunted House" for a charity drive. Kitty had to think for a moment to remember which one, then recalled it was for the Interstellar Red Cross.

She checked her dark brown hair, making sure each lock was in place., then her costume. Stupid costume, she wrinkled her nose in disgust. A long black dress and a tall, pointed hat. As if the witches in the past ever really wore such attire. She felt ridiculous.

Caren Hollis had never been forced to do this sort of story, ever, and had most definitely never had to dress up in such foolish apparel. Caren Hollis had made sure of that by having a rather torrid affair with Brad Bashaw. It had been rumored she knew as many different ways to please a man as an Orion slave girl. Whether it was true or not was anyone's guess. Bashaw would only grin that sloppy, stupid grin of his whenever one of his junior executives asked how Caren had been in the sack.

Of course, that was why she was relegated to this backwater hellhole, doing this stupid little warm and fuzzy piece which would probably end up being deleted, especially if there was a fast-breaking story somewhere else. Kitty Hunter had flat out refused to sleep with Brad Bashaw. She didn't have to rely on performing on her back to get a good job. She was better than that. When she had sex with someone, it was because of mutual, physical attraction. And she was going to keep it that way. Frankly, Bashaw didn't have what it took, she tossed her hair back over her shoulder. He was getting old, and those special dinner parties he kept going to were beginning to go to his middle. He was going to have to get into a strenuous exercise program if he wanted to continue to wear those flamboyant, skin-tight clothes he enjoyed. That or a girdle, she giggled.

The holovid operator signaled to her to get out of the car and get ready. The festivities were about to begin.

Shaking her head sadly, and feeling more and more like a martyr to her personal convictions, Kitty Hunter got out of the flitter and secured the stupid pointed hat to the top of her head.


McCoy sat in the booth, fuming. Kirk had promised to meet him here for dinner, but had told him not to wait for him, since he might be a little late. McCoy had taken his old friend at his word, ordering himself the works. He'd have to get back on his exercise regimen, he realized, but it would be worth it.

Only, now, with his plate half empty, he was beginning to wonder just what was keeping Kirk. There shouldn't have been that much paperwork waiting for him. The least he could have done was call and let him know he'd be late.

The Tri-D over the bar was on, he noted, and the newscast was on. He looked up at the sound of a familiar female voice. He found himself chuckling along with the rest of the patrons as Kitty Hunter began her "Happy News" segment.

"The creatures of the Dark have come to visit this community this Halloween to scare up some credits for the Interstellar Red Cross. Frankenstein--excuse me, Frankenstein's monster is here, as is the Wolfman, and a witch visiting from Salem, her pet bat, and of course, Dracula is putting the bite on the fair citizenry of Riverside."

The camera panned the area, resting momentarily on each creature as Kitty identified them, and the creatures obligingly waved for the viewers.

Then it rested on a tall, black-cowled, hooded figure who was gliding over to Kitty, a long sword dangling from one sleeve. "And this character who looks like the Grim Reaper, is a mad executioner who will come after you if you don't donate to this worthy cause."

Suddenly, her face drained of all color as she peered into the hooded face. Her eyes widened in terror. "Oh God! Oh my God! It's you! The Administrator. But-but you're dead!"

"The title," the cowled creature growled as it continued to advance on the quaking woman, "is Director."

Kitty screamed as she turned and tried to run, only a gloved hand shot out of the other sleeve and grabbed her by her long brown hair, knocking the pointed hat from the top of her head.

The sword from the other sleeve curved in the air, slicing neatly, swiftly through her slender neck. The slim, black-clad body crumpled to the ground as the head dangled from the black-gloved hand. Although everyone could hear the retching of the person manning the camera, he, or she, kept the holovid aimed at the ghastly scene of Kitty's severed head.

"James T. Kirk," intoned the executioner. "This is all your fault, you know. You caused all this. Was it worth it, Kirk?"

McCoy could feel the color drain from his face. It was impossible! He was dead! Totally disintegrated to fine ash! But there he was, in the flesh, the Director of the Barrier Alliance.

The other patrons in the bar were either screaming or retching, or both, as the scene seemed to burn its image into the vid screen. The face of Kitty Hunter, frozen in death in a horrible caricature of her former pretty self, seemed to fill the entire screen. She'd been a colossal pain in the nether region, to be sure, but she certainly did not deserve that kind of death. No one deserved that kind of death.

"I'm coming for you, Kirk," the deep voice threatened. "You're next, James Kirk. You're next."

McCoy swallowed hard. For a brief moment, McCoy was glad that Kirk hadn't returned. He sure didn't need to see that, not so soon after witnessing the fate of Caren Hollis. He knew exactly what Kirk would be thinking if he were to have seen this.

Still, Kirk had to be told about this. His life was in danger. Some maniac with a sword was after Kirk's head, both figuratively and literally. Kirk could probably take care of himself, McCoy mused, as long as he knew about the danger. Of course, in his present frame of mind, the damned fool would probably go charging out after the black-robed lunatic, hoping to meet him head-on. Then it was anybody's guess who would survive.

McCoy pushed his plate away, all thoughts of food and eating gone. He made his way to the BellComm phones, grabbing the first one available. Tapping in codes, he got Starfleet HQ, the admiral's office. Still using the codes, he waited impatiently as the machine rang several times before being answered.

"I thought I told you I didn't want to be disturbed," barked Morrow's voice in McCoy's ear, the vid screen still black.

"You didn't tell me one damned thing, Harry," McCoy barked back.

"Len," Morrow said, surprised. Not that his tone changed any. The screen lit and he glared at the doctor. "What are you doing bothering me? You're on leave, remember?"

"Yeah, I know," McCoy snapped. "An' if it weren't important, I wouldn't be callin' so just shut up an' listen." There was a sharp intake of air on the other end of the line as the video was turned on and he could seen the shocked expression on Morrow's dark face. One does not talk to admirals like they were naughty school boys, he reminded himself. "Jim went back to HQ to tackle some paperwork. Just listen, damn it!" McCoy stopped Morrow from interrupting him. "You remember that ditzy reported that Bashaw forced us to take with us on our last 'visit' to Xantharus?"

"You mean that bimbo that's doing 'Happy News' features for INS?" Morrow asked.

"Yeah, her." McCoy took a deep breath. "Well, she's dead. She was just murdered on a live telecast."

"What?!" Morrow squawked.

McCoy saw him turn to an attaché who was out of the screen's range.

"Look, Harry, they probably cut away to something else, if they're smart. It doesn't pay to have the viewing public lose their collective cookies for too long. Some black-robed weirdo came out of the crowd of the charity haunted house and just sliced her pretty, empty head off of her pretty body. And then he threatened Jim with the same treatment."

"Who the hell was it?" demanded Morrow, angry. "Does anyone know?"

"Oh, yeah," McCoy answered. "I know. The Director of the Barrier Alliance."

Morrow stared at McCoy for a brief moment, then exhaled slowly. Finally, "Give me your coordinates, Len. I'll have you beamed over here, right away."

San Francisco, Earth

The apartment was small and compact, and, at the moment, messy. There were articles of clothes draped haphazardly over the furniture, starting near the door and ending at the doorway to the bedroom. A half-empty bottle of wine was on the coffee table in the living room, two glasses sitting beside it. Noises were emanating from the bedroom, sounds of two people making mad, passionate love.

Melissa Masterson and her current paramour, a young lieutenant from Security , Martin Jacobs, were thrashing in the bed like two wild animals, seemingly unable to get enough of each other, climaxing again and again, pausing only long enough to catch their breath before beginning another round of passionate love-making.

The noise from the outer room didn't faze them one bit as they kept pace with each other's rhythm. Nothing was as important as what they were doing, right here, right now.

Suddenly the bedroom door flew open, and five Orions in pirate garb thundered into the room.

The young man paused n mid-thrust, bracing himself on the bed and turned his torso to stare at the invaders standing in the doorway. "What the hell?" he croaked just as a flash from a disruptor hit him full in the chest.

Melissa screamed as his limp body fell on top of her. Two of the Orions pulled the carcass from the bed and dumped it on the floor, then grabbed her by her arms and yanked her sweat-covered body out of the bed to her feet. Still holding her securely, with her arms pinned behind her, they thrust her toward Golar.

"You are secretary to James Kirk?" the tallest Orion demanded, trying to ignore the enticing image of the female in front of him. The vision of her perspiration-covered body with her firm breasts pointed directly at him was doing much to arouse him. He would much rather throw her back on the bed and finish what the dead man had been in the midst of, and more, but if the Director came while he was enjoying himself, he knew what other head would be decorating the trophy shelf of the Directory.

"You killed him!" Melissa shrieked, struggling to break free of the two men. "You killed Marty!"

"Answer me, bitch!" roared Golar, bringing his hand up threateningly. "You are Kirk's secretary, yes or no?!"

"What if I am?" she returned defiantly as the two tightened their grip on her arms.

"You tell me where that monster is," Golar told her, moving closer, grasping her jaw in one of his hands.

"Go to hell! You killed Marty!" she howled. "You murdered him!"

"Where is he, bitch?" Golar tightened his grip on her face, causing her to cry out in pain.

"I don't know!" she screamed. "He's on leave!"

"You know, bitch." The grip became vise-like.

"He's on leave," she repeated, trying to pull away from the pain.

"You will tell me." Golar brought his body closer to hers, menacingly. "Where is James Kirk?"

His other hand found her breast and squeezed it, then pinched the soft nipple. He grinned as Melissa's involuntarily responded to the rough caress. His grin widened as he continued his rough kneading. The terror on her face amused and aroused him even more.

Let her think that he, and his men, would rape her. They just might, after they got the information from her if the Director allowed it. Perhaps, the Director would even let him have her as a present. He would enjoy having her as his personal slave. She was young enough to give him many years of pleasure. And he would force her to learn many ways to please him. And his men.

"You will tell me, bitch," Golar repeated, his voice low, silky, as he continued to hold her head firmly with one hand and examine her young, taut body with the other.

"No!" Melissa moaned, trying to get away from the rough mockery of foreplay. In a desperate move, she brought her knee up solidly into Golar's groin.

The hand that had been fondling her stopped suddenly as Golar roared in pain, doubling over momentarily to protect his wounded appendage. Then he snarled at her, doubled a fist and struck her jaw, snapping her head back.

"Tell me, slut! Where is the bastard James Kirk?"

"Go to hell!" she managed to get out.

Golar roared again, and slapped the other side of her face, snapping her head in the other direction, then continued to strike her, first one way, then the other. Melissa screamed in pain, unable to dodge the blows that whipped her head first one way, then the other.

He grabbed her by her long hair, pulling her head back so she had to look up into his green snarling face. "Tell me!" He brought her face close to hers.

"I--don't--know!" she gasped.

Golar roared in frustration. He let loose of her head, snapping orders at the men in Orionii.

The two pirates who'd been watching the scene in the background stepped forward, and grabbed her legs at the knees. She tried to kick out of their grasp, but their hands grabbed her legs even tighter. Then the four of them carried her out of her bedroom to her kitchen. They threw her on the table, then each grabbed a limb and pulled them to the corner of the table, forcing her into a vulnerable, spread-eagle position. They held her securely in place, letting their hands taunt and torment her, pulling her limbs to their limit, stroking the limbs seductively. Melissa screamed and struggled as Golar approached.

"One last chance, bitch," he snarled, one hand resting close to her groin. "Where is James Kirk?"

"I told you," she wailed, terror in her voice. "I don't know!"

"I guess I'll have to help you remember," he sighed.

He stepped back and unholstered his disruptor. Melissa whimpered in fear as she watched him press a few buttons on the handle. Orion disruptors were well-known to be both weapon and tools of torture. She could see the pointed tip and the long slender barrel of the instrument begin to glow, first a dull red, then bright red, and finally white hot.

She continued to struggle against the four that were imprisoning her on the table.

"Last chance," Golar moved back to his previous position. "Where is Kirk?"



Her body was a mass of angry red blistered-burns. The apartment smelled like a charnel house. Melissa was barely conscious; her screams had died out some time ago; only an occasional whimper escaped her lips now. The four pirates who'd been restraining her were now just standing by the table, ready to grasp a limb if she should somehow revive enough to try and escape.

A dark-robed figure glided behind Golar. "Hold you fool," snarled the figure as the gloved hand grabbed the weapon from his grasp, tossing it to the ground. "She'll die before she'll talk, and we'll be no closer to finding Kirk that we are now!" The hand clamped on Golar's shoulder and flung him against the wall, near to where his disruptor lay. "You can be thankful that most of her neighbors are away from their domiciles, or her screams would have brought unwanted company. Now turn that thing off, and watch the proper way to run an interrogation!"

The figure walked to Melissa's head, pulling a medical hypospray from a small pouch that was hanging from the cloak's waist belt. Soon, the Human was moaning in pain as the drugs forced her back to full consciousness. Another spray followed, entering her system.

"Now, slut, where is James Kirk?" snarled the Director softly.

"He-he went away for a few days. No one's supposed to know where he is," Melissa , trying vainly to fight the effects of the truth serum that she had been given. "He wanted to be alone with Commander Saunders."

"Where?" repeated the Director in a low, deadly tone.

Melissa's brow wrinkled in pain and concentration. "At-at Steve Hendley's lodge," she finally got out. They were going to go skiing."

"And where is the lodge?" snapped the Executioner.

Again the Human's brow furrowed in concentration. "Colorado. A-aspen."

"Very good, bitch." The Director patted the young woman's head. "Very good indeed."

The hand suddenly grabbed the woman by her hair, pulling her head back. The sword appeared in the other hand, and flashed momentarily in the air, then made a sharp, thwacking sound as its edge met the table, followed by a muffled moan from Golar's direction. There was a brief, reflexive movement of the limbs, then the body went limp.

Clutching the severed head in one hand, the Director left the kitchen and walked through the apartment, the others not far behind. The form entered the bedroom and studied the dead body on the floor. With a shrug, the sword reappeared and flashed, then separated that head from its body. Sheathing the weapon in the robes, he picked up the second head by it's brown hair.

Suddenly he raised both high in the air, shaking them savagely. "Two more on James Kirk's hands. Two more for the stasis cubes!"

He turned his cowled head to the pirate. "Sorry, Golar." There was no hint of apology in the tone. "No prize for you or your men today. Maybe another time. Get us out of here."

Sullenly, Golar brought out his communicator and had them beamed back to his marauder

Starfleet Headquarters
San Francisco, Earth

McCoy felt like he'd worn a trench in the carpet of Morrow's office. He'd been walking back and forth almost non-stop since his arrival. "Damn stupid move, Jim. Running off and not telling anyone. Picked a hell of a time to do it, too."

Morrow, sitting at his desk, frowned over the report he was reading for the umpteenth time. McCoy had seen it earlier, managed to keep his stomach contents in his stomach, and refused to watch it after that. Just listening to it was enough to keep him queasy.

Again and again he heard the death of Thelar, the Andorian who had relieved Bailey when Bailey had been transferred to Planetary Relations. Again and again, he could see the black-robed specter raise the sword and bring it down on the hapless, helpless captain's neck.

"Can you explain this, Len?" demanded Morrow.

"Hell, no!" McCoy snapped. "Damn it, Harry, I saw Bailey pull the trigger on the man myself. I saw him atomized. I saw the ash residue. I guarantee you he was certifiably dead."

"Are you going to tell me that a ghost is murdering one of my captains and a reporter and threatening one of my admirals?" Morrow stared up at the doctor, then scowled as he followed the thin man's trek across his office floor. "And stop that damned pacing, Len. You're ruining my carpet."

"I'm not going to tell you anything," McCoy parked himself on the edge of Morrow's desk. "I can only tell you that it's not the Director. Maybe it's his twin brother. Or a clone."

"I wish Jim were here." Morrow pinched his nose, cutting off the log report. "Where the hell could he have gone?"

"I don't have a clue." McCoy got up and began walking again. "It's not like him to just disappear. Not without letting someone know. Oh, that person would be sworn to secrecy and all that, but someone would know where he was."

"Someone like his administrative assistant?" Morrow asked.

McCoy stopped walking and slowly nodded his head. "Yeah, someone like his administrative assistant."

Excitedly, Morrow punched the intercom and barked, "Get me Ensign Masterson."

"She left several hours ago. Said she had finished all her duties early," the disembodied voice of Morrow's aide answered.

"Then call her. Tell her to get back here at once!" bellowed Morrow.

"Now what?" McCoy demanded, resuming his pacing.

"We wait," Morrow said. "Preferably without one of us destroying my carpet!"

"Sorry, sir." The aide entered the office and reported to Morrow a few minutes later. "She isn't answering her comm." He cleared his throat. "She mentioned to one of the other yeomen that she had a hot date."

"Then we get her when she comes back. Have a security team beam over to Masterson's apartment," Morrow ordered the aide. "Have them wait for her, and bring her back here."

The aide nodded and walked out of the office, leaving the two men alone.

McCoy started to pace, saw the disapproving look on Morrow's face, and stopped, shoving his hands deep in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels.

They didn't have long to wait. The communicator signaled, and a frantic voice erupted, "Admiral!"

"Report!" ordered Morrow, switching on his wall-sized viewer.

"Sir," began the security leader, a young lieutenant who was looking very green around the edges. "We found the door to the apartment broken open when we got here. We have entered the apartment, and done a complete search."

"What have you found?" Morrow asked. McCoy felt a sinking feeling in his stomach, a sense of dejá vu filling him.

"You-you wouldn't believe me if I told you," he swallowed. "Let me show you."

He panned the tricorder around the apartment, lingering a long moment in the bedroom where a headless male body was sprawled naked on the floor, then went on to the kitchen. It loitered an even longer moment on the table where the naked, headless female body was lying spread-eagled

"God, they tortured her!" McCoy swore as he studied the burned body.

"They must have been trying to find out where Jim is, too," Morrow said, looking a bit pale himself. "Those are the remains of Ensign Masterson?" he queried.

"Yes, sir," the lieutenant swallowed. "The man is--was--Martin Jacobs." He swallowed, then went on, "One of my men."

"Seal the apartment," Morrow ordered. "No one is to enter the apartment unless they are Starfleet. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," the lieutenant nodded.

"Then go over that apartment from top to bottom. I don't want one bit of dirt overlooked. I want to know where Kirk is."

"Yes, sir."


Morrow punched the button and the screen went blank. He looked up at McCoy, the worry visible deep in his brown eyes, and mirrored in McCoy's blue eyes.

Aspen, Colorado, Earth

The fire in the fireplace crackled warmly, shedding a soft orange glow over the small room, and the two bodies that were entwined on the fake fur rug. Both were regaining their breaths after a slow and languorous bout of sex, the last of many since their arrival yesterday afternoon. Cheryl's head rested on Jim's shoulder, her finger slowly drawing circles and lines on his chest. Jim kept one arm around her shoulders, and with the other attempted to entrap the wandering hand that was softly tickling his torso.

"Oh, Jim, this is definitely one of your better ideas," she murmured.

"I seem to recall that you came up with the idea," he corrected her, momentarily forgetting her hand to tap her nose, then trace the outline of her face.

"True, but you came up with the location," she reminded him. "As I said, one of your better ideas."

There was a pregnant pause, then Jim gently disengaged himself from Cheryl and sat up to stare into the crackling fire.

Cheryl soon joined him, not wanting to let the glow of their lovemaking die just yet. "Penny for your thoughts?" she queried, resting her chin on his shoulder, her arms snaking around his chest.

He moved slightly and pulled her into an embrace with one arm while he reached for a blanket with the other to cover them and keep the chill of the night air off of them. "You'd be spending too much," he finally said.

"I don't think so." She nipped his ear gently. "Besides, I want to know what's taking your attention away from me." The nips got sharper.

He intercepted the next little nip and they found themselves in a passionate kiss.

"You still haven't told me," she finally broke away.

"You might not want to hear about it," he leaned his forehead against hers.

"You let me be the judge of that," Saunders replied.

"It involves another woman," Kirk warned her, half-jesting.

"It probably would," she half-jested back, "considering your reputation and your history."

"Ouch!" Jim drew back, feigning a wound to the chest.

"So?" prompted Cheryl.

"Xantharus," Kirk said, placing a lot of his pain and frustration into one word.

"I see," Cheryl nodded, resting her head on his shoulder again, her eyes closed in mild exasperation.

"Do you?" he asked, his brow furrowed.

"Of course I do," Cheryl responded as she pulled away from him, her tone becoming snide. "The great James T. Kirk wasn't able to save the fair maiden from the big bad Orion."

Kirk frowned, curling into himself. "You make it sound like I'm nursing a wounded ego."

"Aren't you?" she challenged.

"Damn it, Cheryl!" he snapped. "A woman is dead. And it's my fault. I goaded her into going to Xantharus, to Gracchos, to talking to the Director."

"I doubt if you had to twist her arm very hard," she snorted.

"That's not the point," Jim protested, turning away from the blonde.

"It is the point. Okay, so you used her. Are you going to tell me she didn't use you?" Cheryl demanded.

"It's not the same--"

"Oh don't give me that. She wanted that story. She insisted on going to get the lowdown on the whole Xantharus incident," Cheryl prodded. "She was warned that it wasn't safe there. She was told to stay on the ship. She chose to go." Cheryl paused. "Are you going to tell me you didn't do something to try to protect her?" she ask him.

"Well, I did get a transponder on her," Jim admitted, shrugging a shoulder, hoping she wouldn't ask him how.

"So you did try to protect her, right?"

"Well, yes, but--"

"No buts." Cheryl cut him off. "Jim, she was a reporter, first, last and always. Nothing mattered to her but that story. She didn't listen to any advice that was given to her. From anyone. As a result, she got a price on her head." Cheryl continued to tick off items on her fingers. "She was warned not to leave Federation Space. She left, pursuing a story, in spite of that warning."

"Still--" Kirk objected.

"Still nothing," Cheryl went on. "If she had done what you had told her, she would never have been put in danger. She knew what the risks were; she decided to take them. If she had stayed where she had been told to stay, she'd be alive today."

"Are you trying to tell me her death is not on my hands?" Jim demanded.

"Yes I am. As great as you are, James T. Kirk, you are not responsible for the entire universe," Cheryl told him shortly. "Jim, people have to take responsibility for their own actions. You can't take it for them. When you are responsible, take the blame. When you're not, quit beating yourself up."

"Is the sermon over yet?" he asked, a bit sourly.

Cheryl sighed, shaking her head. "Yes, Jim, sermon's over."

"Good. How'd you like to hit the slopes?"

"The slopes?" She raised an eyebrow and let her gaze roam over his naked form. "Well."

Jim laughed, shaking his head. "I didn't mean that. Although," he added with an impish grin," it's not a bad idea. I meant the ski slopes."

"Oh." Cheryl pouted. "You seemed to have forgotten," she went on coyly, "I didn't bring any skiing equipment, and neither did you. How are we going to do any skiing? Or," she gave him a wicked grim, "are we going to try something new?"

"Sorry, Cheryl" he planted a quick kiss on the top of her head. "Steve has a rental supply store in the lodge. Seems we're not the only ones who come here unprepared. We can rent whatever we need."

"Jim," Cheryl sighed, "it's been a long time since I've done any real skiing."

"So we'll stick to the bunny trails," Kirk continued with his boyish grin as he helped her to her feet.

"Bunny trails, huh?" she returned the grin, following him up the stairs to the bedroom where they'd left their clothes the day before. "Just remember, the only bunny you'd better be chasing is me."

Orion Marauder, Vr'cla
in Earth Orbit

The Director walked the entire length of the cabin, paused as he stared at the door, then turned and walked back to the bulkhead. He stared out the porthole. The planet took up a large portion of the viewing area. Fists tightened in anger, then loosened as the Executioner forced his body to relax. They were in no danger here; using the Romulan cloaking device kept them well hidden from Starfleet patrols. The device had been costly, almost half the proceeds from the auction of the cadets, but well worth it.

All had been proceeding according to plan. Until.

Until they had tried to transport to Aspen.

They had returned to the Vr'cla and had fed the coordinates for Aspen into the transporter board when a red light had begun to flash and a computerized voice had declared an emergency. The engineer had blanched to a sallow green shade, then had begun tearing the transporter control board apart.

"What is the problem?" the Director had demanded in a deceptively low tone.

"I-I don't know, Director," Golar gulped in terror. "We have had some problems with the transporter in the past, but I was told they were all fixed before we left Xantharus."

"Someone was obviously speaking prematurely," the Director growled. "I will be in my cabin. Notify me when we can proceed.

"Yes, Lord." Golar had bowed low as the Director had swept down the corridor to his quarters.

That had been yesterday, and so far, no one had come to tell him the transporter was repaired. Hopefully it had nothing to do with the Romulan device. If so, the Yridian merchant who had sold it to them would pay with his life, after a thorough bout of torture, for his failure to warn them about complications.

The Director glared at the table, studying the five stasis cubes that took up most of the table surface. Caren Hollis, Captain Thelar, Kitty Hunter, a nameless man, and Kirk's secretary. Frustration gave way to pleasure as his gaze lingered on each cube.

Then the frustration returned. There should be one more cube on this table by now, and they should be headed back toward Barrier Alliance territory.

"You won't escape me, Kirk," the Director growled.

The door chime signaled, and Golar entered, his head bowed. "Director, it will be another forty-five minutes before the transporter will be operational."

"Then get out of here, and don't bother me until it is fixed!" snarled the Executioner. "Or your head will occupy a place in my trophy case!"

Golar swallowed hard, nodded, then backed out of the room.

The Director snarled at the closed door and howled in rage. Then he began his endless pacing again.

Aspen, Colorado, Earth

Jim Kirk and Cheryl Saunders stumbled into the cabin, laughing over their day's adventure on the ski slopes. While they had not actually disgraced themselves on the slopes, they hadn't distinguished themselves either.

"I definitely have to get more practice in," Kirk said as his parka was dropped onto the floor. He climbed the stairs to the bedroom loft, adding, "I'm getting into something drier and warmer."

"Me too," he heard Cheryl remark as he got out of his snow-wet ski togs and into his Starfleet uniform.

When Jim came back down the stairs, he found Cheryl curled up on the fur rug, not a stitch on her.

"I thought you were getting into something warmer," he said, his eyebrows up by his hairline.

"I am," she purred, turning her head provocatively to look up at him. "You, on the other hand, definitely need some fashion advice." She ran her gaze up and down his clothed frame. "What are you doing back in uniform, Jim?"

"I have to run down to the lodge and make a call, and I prefer not to be au natural. I was supposed to join Bones for dinner last night," he went on, "and, as you recall, I never did."

"Disappointed? Upset?" Cheryl asked, cuddling the pillow and giving Jim her best 'come hither' look and pose.

"No," Jim knelt down beside her, stroking her jaw. "Definitely no. But you know what kind of a mother hen Bones is. If I don't call him and let him know I'm still alive and well, he's going to have the entire planet's security forces looking for me, leaving no stone unturned. And probably interrupting something I--we--don't want him to interrupt."

"And that's all you're going to do?" Cheryl asked, trying to tangle his legs in hers,

"That's all." Jim deftly eluded her long, shapely limbs. "I promise I won't be gone long."

"And then what?"

"Then we'll try the slopes again," he grinned mischievously.

"Again?" she pouted.

"Not those slopes." His grin grew. "These slopes." He let his hand slide down her naked side, lingering for a moment on her well-rounded buttock.

"Ah," she grinned back at him. "Better hurry, Jim. You know the slopes can get treacherous after dark."

"Promise?" he murmured as he kissed her slow and deeply.

"Promise." She returned the kiss.

Reluctantly Jim broke away from Cheryl, kissed her on the forehead, then walked out of the door.

Cheryl sighed, pulling the blanket around her and stared into the fire. This is perfect, absolutely perfect. Perhaps it's finally time, she mused. Perhaps.

Six figures materialized in the room next to the doorway. The dark-robed figure growled low, breaking the silence. Cheryl heard the sound and frowned.

"What's the matter, Jim? Forget your credit vou--"

She turned to the doorway and stared at the forms in the doorway. Her eyes widened in shock as she recognized the Orion pirate garb, and a scream pierced the air as she scrambled toward her bundle of clothes. For the first time in a long time, she was sorry she had not kept her weapon belt closer to her.

One of the pirates, Golar, intercepted her, striking her on the back of her head. Saunders dropped to the floor unconscious.

"If anyone heard that scream." the Director threatened softly.

"No one heard, Director," Golar whimpered. "This cabin is secluded, and most of the others are still on the slopes."

"Good. I don't want to be discovered. Not yet," the Executioner intoned. "Kirk isn't here," he added, almost as if that were Golar's fault. "But that might be for the best," he added with a malicious tone. "This will create a better dramatic moment. More suffering for that butcher."

Saunders moaned as she started to come around. The black-robed figure glided over to her, pulling her head up by her honey-colored locks. "When is he coming back?"

"Wh-what?" Saunders questioned, still dazed from the blow.

"When will Kirk be back?" demanded the Director.

"I don't know," she answered.

"Then, we'll have to settle for Plan B," he murmured.

Letting loose of her hair, he grabbed her right hand in his gloved hand. A small dirk appeared from the folds of the sleeve in the other hand, and he brought the sharp edge down at the base of her ring finger. Saunders screamed as the steel bit into her flesh and through the bone. She slumped back to the floor, unconscious as the blade bit into the wooden floor.

Looking around the room, he spied the holovid unit. After studying the controls for a brief instant, he pressed a button, stepped back and stared into the screen. "Kirk," he said. "I have your woman." He let the holovid pan to Saunders' inert form, and paused for a long moment on her bloody, mangled hand. "If you want to ever see her alive, be at the Promenade in forty-five minutes. And come alone, Kirk."

He turned off the machine, and glared at his minions. "Back to the ship. Place her in the chamber. I will deal with her directly. Then it will be Kirk's turn."


Kirk waited patiently for a BellComm unit to become available. He could hardly wait to get back to the cabin, to Cheryl. He wondered if it was the right time.

He stepped forward and called Tate's Bar and Grill in Riverside. "Hello, Ben," he said cheerily. "How's your newest patron? Eaten you out of house and home yet?"

"Jim? That you?" Tate exclaimed, his worried face filling the viewer. "You're okay?"

"Well, yes," Kirk answered, flustered. "Look, I know I promised Bones I'd be back for dinner last night, but something came up."

"Jim, haven't you seen the news?" demanded the dark-haired man.

"No," Kirk didn't like the sound of things. "What's happened?"

"Damn it, Jim. Someone calling himself the Director just marched into the Haunted House exhibit last night and killed that reporter from INS. Cut her head right off in front of God and half the civilized galaxy!"

"What?!" Kirk felt the color drain from his face. "The Director?"

"That's what he said," Tate answered. "A big black-robed ghoul with a giant sword. Just sliced her head right off, shook it in front of the camera. Then he said you were next!"

"Oh God!" gasped Kirk. "Look, Ben. I'll get back to you later, okay? There's someone I have to check on."

He broke the connection and raced out of the lodge, barely avoiding knocking over other skiers that were coming in from the slopes. He ran all the way back to his cabin, bursting in the door.

"Cheryl!" he shouted, noting a sinking feeling somewhere in the pit of his stomach.

The rug in front of the fireplace was vacant.

He looked around the room, spying the red stain on the floor, then the grisly memento on the coffee table.

"Cheryl!" The feeling of dread was becoming overpowering.

The blinking of the holovid caught his attention. He raced over to the instrument, pressing the playback button. The black-robed figure filled the screen, and Kirk stared at it in shock and surprise. How is it possible? The man was killed seven weeks ago, turned into ashes.

For a brief instant, the figure stood there, then he said, "Kirk, I have your woman."

Kirk closed his eyes, forcing down the wave of panic that threatened to overcome him. "God, Cheryl, not you too," he murmured as the scene shifted from the Orion Director to the inert form of Cheryl in the background. The scene lingered on her hand, and the bloody base of her ring finger.

"If you want to ever see her alive," the voice went on, "be at the Promenade in forty-five minutes. And come alone, Kirk." There was a pause, then, "Come alone, and unarmed. And tell no one, Kirk. Or she's dead."

Kirk turned off the machine and stared at the finger on the table, his hand tightening into a fist.

Starfleet Headquarters
San Francisco, Earth

McCoy was back to pacing across the office floor, but now Morrow had joined him. They had spent a sleepless night, using all the means they knew to find the missing admiral. The security team was still taking apart Masterson's apartment, looking for anything that might help them.

The comm sounded, and the face of the young security lieutenant appeared. "Sir, I think we found something."

"What!" exclaimed both men as they crowded around the screen.

"Well there was a compuclipboard, in the cooler of all places," began the officer. "There was condensation on the screen, so we nearly missed it; it kind of hid the writing, until the water evaporated."

"What does it say?" Morrow demanded.


"Aspen?" queried the admiral.

"Yes, sir. That and the initials, 'JTK.'" He shrugged helplessly. "Sorry, sir. That's all there is here."

Morrow glared at the screen, as if that would help matters. He didn't like the idea of one of his best officers being in danger.

McCoy frowned, staring at the squiggles on the compuclipboard, then suddenly hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Of course!" he exclaimed.

"Of course?" Morrow growled.

"Steve Hendley's place! He owns a ski lodge in Aspen. Jim used to go there a lot, still goes there when he wants to get away from it all," McCoy explained excitedly moving to the comm and punching in Hendley's code. "Maybe we can catch him before the Director does."

"Hello, Len," Hendley smiled as he answered the comm. "Want a reservation?"

"No, Steve," McCoy answered. "I need to get a hold of Jim. I know he's there, and I know he wanted the secrecy treatment, but this is urgent. A matter of life and death."

"Well, Jim and Cheryl checked in yesterday. I gave them the honeymoon cabin," he added. "They went skiing earlier today, and Jim was here a little while ago; he used the BellComm, then he left, and in a hurry. Haven't seen either of them since."

"Get over there, Steve," McCoy said urgently. "Tell Jim he and Cheryl are in danger. Have 'em signal us from the cabin. We'll beam 'em over to HQ from there."

"Right." Hendley cut the connection.

A few minutes later, they got a signal from Hendley. "Sorry, Len. They're not in the cabin."


"Len, the cabin is empty, and there's no one at home. I left a message for them on the holovid," Hendley answered. "I've contacted the ski patrols to keep an eye out for them," he added, placating the two officers. "I'll call you as soon as we spot them."

The connection was terminated again.

"Damn fool!" muttered McCoy. "Fine time he picked to go off and enjoy himself. The least he could have done was carry his communicator with him so we could signal him. As it is, there's no way to find him on this great big ball of mud." Suddenly the doctor slammed his hand on the table. "Damn it, Harry! I must be getting old and senile!"


"We can track his transponder!" McCoy exclaimed. "The one all command-grade officers have to have."

"Out of the question. Jim asked me, as a personal favor, to have his removed some time ago."

"An' bein' the wise ol' admiral that you are, you agreed?!" McCoy couldn't believe his ears.

"Yes." Morrow sighed. "Otherwise I would have had used it long ago." Then, "Hell! I must be getting senile! Cheryl Saunders has a transponder. She's a command-grade officer, and a security officer, too."

"Great!" McCoy's face brightened. "Let's get on with it."

"Len," Morrow sighed, "with all the transmissions that go on around this planet, it's going to take a skilled communications expert to separate a single signal and pinpoint it."

"Well," McCoy smiled, patting the admiral on the back, "I know just the person."

Aspen, Colorado, Earth

The Promenade overlooking the city of Aspen was empty save for a lone figure in a parka. It moved back and forth, occasionally beating his arms to keep warm.

Kirk glanced at his chronometer, noting he had made it to the meeting place in plenty of time. That, in spite of the fast clean up of the cabin and the holovid tape. It wouldn't do to have someone walk in, for whatever reason, and find a blood stain on the floor and a bloody finger on the coffee table. Or view the message tape.

He didn't like this. Not one bit. Damn! Why had he gone to place that phone call then? It could have waited. Hell, it had waited over twelve hours. If only he'd been there.

Then the Director would have had them both, his calmer side reasoned. This way, he had a chance to rescue Cheryl.

Except, the last time he'd tried to rescue someone from the Director, the victim had been dead, and behead. God, he hoped that hadn't happened to Cheryl. Not Cheryl

Kirk felt a familiar tingle of a transporter beam, and the panoramic view of the resort village shimmered out of existence.


Total darkness.

That was the first thing that registered on Kirk's consciousness when he rematerialized. He stood still and strained all of his senses to see if he could garner any clues as to his whereabouts. He was rewarded by the thrumming under his feet.

An engine. He was on a ship.

"Welcome, Admiral Kirk," a voice broke into the silence. The Director's voice. "Come into my parlor," the deep voice went on, "said the spider to the fly."

A bright light came from the ceiling and circled a black-clad shape.

"I'm here," Kirk snapped, fighting his panic. "Where's Cheryl?"

"Are you always this impatient, Kirk?" the voice asked in a mocking tone. "There are certain protocols to follow." The form moved forward a bit, then an arm raised and pointed to an area still in the dark. "I'll bet it's been a while since you've had a meal. Why don't you join me for dinner first?"

Kirk felt the panic turn into an icy ball in the pit of his stomach as another spotlight clicked on, illuminating a small table. In the center of the table, reflecting the white light, was a covered silver platter. Kirk sensed a growing dread in his being as the black figure slid over the floor toward the table. Cold sweat trickled down his neck and beaded on his forehead. He shook his head minutely.

With a flourish, the Director lifted the cover off of the platter, and let the light splay over the contents. The green leaves formed a high collar around the freshly-severed head of Cheryl Saunders.

"No!" Kirk bellowed. "You bastard!" His face turned into a mask of pure fury and hate as he raced toward the black figure. His hands reached out for the creature's neck. He'd kill the beast with his bare hands.

The force field caught him off guard as his body slammed against it and bounced him back on the floor. His head connected with the metal deck soundly. His form went limp.

"Lights!" barked the Directory. He moved from his place beside the table with its trophy to the inert form of Kirk as the darkness was replaced with normal lighting. The head nodded in satisfaction. "Golar, prepare him, and take him to the chamber. I'll be along shortly." The figure turned back to the scene on the table. "And Golar, don't forget our prize. I wouldn't want to lose it."

"Yes, Lord," Golar bowed.

As two pirates dragged Kirk's unconscious form from the room, and Golar placed the gruesome prize into its stasis cube, the Director rubbed his hands together. "At last!" the figure murmured in glee. "At last!"

Starfleet Headquarters,
San Francisco, Earth

Lieutenant Janice Rand of Starfleet Communications frowned as she toggled switches, turned knobs and slid bars on the board in front of her. Behind her, McCoy and Morrow were rocking back and forth on their heels, trying to stay out of her way.

"Anything yet?" Morrow finally demanded.

"No, Admiral, nothing," Rand sighed, backing away from the comm board for a minute and pinching the bridge of her nose tiredly. "I have scanned every frequency on the face of the planet, and hers isn't here."

"You're sure?" McCoy asked.

"Yes, Doctor, I'm sure." She gave him a hard glare.

"Can't you check again? Maybe you missed her among some of those that were close together."

"Do I tell you how to do surgery?" Rand asked him pointed. "Doctor, I'm positive. I didn't miss her. She's not here."

"Then that means." began Morrow.

"That she's not on the planet," concluded McCoy defeatedly.

"That's right," Rand nodded. "She's not on Terra Firma. Could she be in space? Perhaps on a ship?"

Morrow's face whitened. "I hope, if she is, that she's still in the solar system."

A tactical officer interrupted, "Sir, no ships have left the solar system in the past twelve hours. We've got the deep space exploration ship Joy Adamson conduction trials on its warp coils just outside the system, and all traffic--inbound and outbound--on hold until tomorrow noon."

Rand turned back to the board and flipped some switches. "I'll just have to readjust my scanning pattern," she explained. "I should be able to find her. I just hope we reach them in time."

"Amen to that," breathed McCoy.

"You'd best sit back and cool your heels, boys," Rand informed them as fingers flew over the board. "This is gonna take a while."

Orion Marauder, Vr'cla
Earth Orbit

Kirk swam out of the blackness of unconsciousness slowly. Something didn't feel right. He didn't feel right. He tried to examine his surroundings and found his arms and legs firmly bound in a spread-eagle position. Under his back, he could feel the cold steel of an old-fashioned operating table. A faint breeze fanned over his frame, and he realized he was stark naked.

Then he realized he was firmly erect.

He took a deep breath, then exhaled. Obviously they'd given him an aphrodisiac. Why? The Director was not about to sell him on the slave market. The Orion Worldlord wanted his head too badly for that. Kirk swallowed hard as he recognized the urge to have sex was increasing exponentially.

A door opened behind Kirk's head, and he heard the sound of robes swishing as the Director entered the room. He loomed over Kirk's head, the mask glaring into Kirk's hazel eyes.

"You bastard!" Kirk gritted. "You murdered her."

The head shook from side to side. "Kirk, you surprise me. Such innocence in a Starfleet officer." The voice hardened. "Did you really think she would live long once I had her?" A shrug. "Of course, she would have brought a good price in the slave market, as my underling reminded me, but this is much more satisfying."

Kirk strained as the figure spoke. He could have sworn that the voice was several octaves higher than before, and not helping his condition one bit. "Who are you?" he demanded as he forced himself to remain still on the table.

The hood was pulled back from the head, then the cape dropped to the floor and the mask was lifted off the person's head. The white hair, cut short, framed a feminine face, her skin nearly white with a touch of green. Her eyes were steely, pale, but hard and cold as a glacier. "I am Tanith Brok, daughter of Gareth Brok, the late Director of the Barrier Alliance Consortium." She tossed her head proudly. "I am now the Director."

She placed the mask on a shelf overlooking the table, allowing it to glare down at him. He noticed that it sat in the center of stasis boxes filled with severed heads, starting with Caren Hollis. He gasped as he recognized his administrative assistant's head next to Cheryl's.

"I had a voice synthesizer placed in the mask. A bit of a dramatic flare, don't you think?" She raised an eyebrow as she let her hand wander over the face of the mask. "I wanted you all to think that my father was still alive, or had returned from the dead, and was out for revenge." She walked back over to Kirk, letting her well-manicured hand glide up his leg, lingering on his genitals, then continue up his torso. "These people were responsible for my father's death. Now I have you, the man ultimately responsible for his murder."

Her hand left his body and moved to the top of her jumpsuit. "I will exact revenge on you, Kirk. Slowly. Very slowly. Very painfully. You will finally die, Kirk, but not until," the jumpsuit was unzipped, exposing her full figure, "I get my revenge on you. And I will enjoy every bit of it, Kirk." She stared at him with a hard cruel smile. "But first I intend to get a little pleasure from you."

The clothing slid off her shoulders and slipped to the floor, leaving her completely naked. Full breasts moved toward his face, and he felt himself respond involuntarily to the stimulation.

She laughed harshly. "Oh yes," she moved to his groin. "I will get much pleasure from you, I think. I will enjoy myself immensely."

He suddenly felt her tongue and nipping teeth toy with his member. All of his attention was suddenly on his genitals. He found himself unable to do anything but respond. His bonds were restricting his movements, and he could hear her smirking as she teased and tormented him with her mouth. The mouth was suddenly gone, and Kirk's muscles knotted in frustration as he tried to find her again. A noise broke into his haze and he felt her body straddling him.

"Come on, Kirk," she murmured softly, tauntingly as her hands moved from his groin up his torso to his chest. "Let's see what you can really do."

He groaned as he continued to respond to her actions until the darkness enveloped his consciousness.

A feather brushed along his cheek, then down his chest, down to his groin, finally a soft touch fondling his testicles. A moan escaped his lips.

"Ah Kirk," cooed the soft voice of the woman who had sworn to kill him. "Ready for more? I am, Kirk. I'm more that ready for more."

The hand turned into talented teeth and tongue, and he found himself responding again until he blacked out, again.


"Kirk," whispered a soft voice in his ear. The breath was tickling him. "Kirk, wake up," the voice insisted.

He reluctantly swam out of the blackness, groaning in exhaustion. He didn't know how much more of it he could take. He'd lost track of how many times she had brought him around, only to have him perform in ways he didn't think was humanly possible, being bound as he was, forcing him to satisfy her again and again, until he passed out.

"Come on, Kirk," the voice taunted him as the hand brushed along his body, stopping along the way to tease him, finding the sensitive spots that would cause him to respond. "It's time to wake up. Time to move on." The hands began to fondle him again. "That was the pleasure portion, Kirk. Now, we move on to the pain." A laugh escaped her lips. "I will still have some pleasure, even if you won't. I will have your head for my collection, to be sure, but," she paused, looking into his eyes as her hands continued to tease his body, "what if I castrate you? Or better yet, remove your genitalia and sell them to the highest bidder?" The laugh became harsher. "I believe that's just what I'll do. But first," she leered at him, "first, I'm going to exact payment from you. Very painful payment for the man who masterminded my father's murder."

She moved back from the table and stepped back into her clothes. "Golar!" she commanded.

Golar and two other pirates entered the room. "Phase two, Kirk," she said, her tone hard and brittle.

Kirk was half-dragged, half-carried to another area of the chamber, where a wooden X-frame was waiting for him. The pirates secured him to the frame, each limb attached to an arm of the frame. Tanith followed behind them, her arms laden with a heavy mallet and long metal spikes. Kirk swallowed as he studied her eyes, then the instruments. He had no illusions about escape. He only hoped he passed out, and stayed that way until she was finished with her perverted little game. Avoiding her malicious glare, he gazed over her shoulder.

Then he wished he hadn't.

Across the room from him, on a frame similar to what he was tied to, was a headless body, covered with dried blood and body fluids, burns, whip marks over every limb. He gagged when he realized that areas of the body were skinless, exposing the muscle under the epidermal layer.

"Cheryl!" he moaned to himself, squeezing his eyes shut, trying to erase the sight from his memory. "You bitch!" he growled at Tanith, now only inches from him. "She didn't do anything to you or your father!"

"Ah, but she was important to you." Tanith shrugged. "That was reason enough for me." She placed the spikes into the arms of one of the pirates, keeping one in her hand. "Time to begin, Kirk."

She placed the point of the spike onto his palm, then hit the head of the spike with the mallet. Unable to stop himself, he screamed as the blow forced the metal point to grind against bones, and Kirk shrieked again as the pain ran down his arm. Another blow, and blackness.


He came to as the water splashed over his head. "It's not fair to run away while we're playing, Kirk," scolded the cloying tones of Tanith Brok. "You made us stop what we were doing, just so we could bring you back."

"Go to hell, bitch," he grated, not bothering to look at her. Besides, if he kept his eyes closed, he wouldn't inadvertently see the grim remains of Cheryl Saunders.

"Not for some time, Kirk," she laughed.

He felt a metal point on the top of his foot, then the blows of the mallet as the spike was driven in through bones and flesh. Again, the pain traveled from his foot up his leg, causing him to scream in agony and rage. Again, he endured the pain until he couldn't any longer, and felt the welcome embrace of unconsciousness claim him.


"This is getting monotonous, Kirk," Tanith complained as she slapped his face roughly, bringing around yet again.

They'd done this for each of his limbs. Each time she'd get the spike into the hand or foot, and before she could pound it completely through, he'd black out. It had taken several such revivals for her to complete her task of securing him to the frame.

"Well, we have that little detail taken care of," she went on. "But there is one more little thing I need from you, Kirk."

"Like hell," he panted. The strain of hanging in the position was beginning to show.

Tanith held out her hand, and a very long, very heavy whip was placed in her hands. "I want to know where I can find Bailey, the man who pulled the trigger of the phaser that killed my father."

"When hell freezes over, lady," Kirk grunted.

He heard the whisper of the leather as it snaked over the surface of the floor behind her, then the crack as it moved through the air; he felt the sting as it struck his abdomen. Again it hissed, then cracked, and he felt the whip strike him high on the thigh. The cry of pain came out, unbidden.

"Where is Bailey?" she snarled.

Kirk shook his head, unable to speak as he bit his lip, trying to hold back the cries that were building within him.

The whip arced back and snapped forward again and again, leaving ugly red welts on his body.

Starfleet Headquarters
San Francisco, Earth

Janice Rand was biting her lip and muttering prayers under her breath as her hands continued to dance over the communication board. Behind her, Morrow and McCoy had taken to pacing back and forth, becoming more and more impatient. She'd used just about every trick she knew to try and find the missing Kirk and Saunders, but so far, she had been unsuccessful. I bet if Uhura were here, she'd know how to do it, she thought.

"Damn fool," growled McCoy. "If he'd have only called and let someone know where he was going. But no, he had to play it cute, and pretend it's a big secret. As if anyone would interrupt his leave just for the hell of it." His fist slammed into his other hand. "If I ever get my hands on that man again, I'll--"

"I found her," Rand whispered. She turned to face the two men, her eyes wide with emotion. "I found Commander Saunders!" Furiously she twiddled with the equipment, making sure the signal didn't slip away from her. "There's some strange interference, like a ship trying to cloak, or maintain a cloak."

McCoy and Morrow exchanged worried glances. "Get a lock on her, Rand!" ordered Morrow. "Beam a contingent of Starfleet Marines to her location, now!" He turned back to McCoy. "We'll get them back."

"Aye sir" nodded Rand, her lips a grim line as she fed the information to the transporter chief and the Marine attaché.

Orion Marauder Vr'cla
Earth Orbit

The wail of agony died as the man's head slumped forward. Tanith Brok stepped back from the figure, putting the white hot metal bar back on the rack. She walked around the unconscious figure, surveying her handiwork. The welts from the whipping she'd given him were now covered with burn marks. So far, only his face and his groin remained untouched. It wouldn't do to damage the goods, after all, she mused to herself. Still, he was holding up rather well, in spite of the punishment she'd put him through.

She sighed as she gazed at the chronometer. Time was fleeting. She couldn't afford to spend much more time torturing him, much as she would like to. Their vessel could remain cloaked for only so long, then had to drop the cloak to recharge their engine's batteries. Already they had to uncloak for brief instances in order to maintain their orbit.

She pulled the slack head back and broke an amulet under his nose. "Wake up, Kirk," she commanded. "Party's over. Now we get down to business." Her hand reached over the instruments she had been using to torment Kirk, and settled on a small knife with a serrated edge. She brought it up to his face, smiling wickedly. "See how dull it is, Kirk? All the better to put you through agony. I'm going to love gelding you."

Kirk felt himself floating in and out of consciousness. Between the pain, the loss of blood and shock, it was a wonder he was still alive. But then, she was an expert at this, he realized. He'd die only when she was ready to let him die.

"Get on with it Brok," he said tiredly. "You're wasting my time."

She lowered her body and stared at his organ, still partially erect, in spite of everything. There was still enough of the drug in his system to keep him aroused. "Is that the best you can do, Kirk?" she sneered up at him. "Just think, Kirk, you've managed to give a great deal of pleasure to women all over the galaxy. Now, perhaps one of them can own the item that gave them so much pleasure. Imagine, Kirk, this," she let one hand play over his firm member, "sitting on the bedroom table, ready for use whenever she felt the urge. The bronzed phallus of James T. Kirk."

Her laugh filled his ears as she continued to fondle him until it was as erect as she wanted it.

Then he felt the blade rest against his skin. A cry was forming in the back of his throat as he felt a trickle of blood start to trail down his leg.

Suddenly an unmistakable sound filled the room, and Kirk, in his semi-stuporous state, watched a squad of Starfleet Marines materialize, their weapons at the ready. Instantly assessing the situation, they rapidly engaged Golar and his crew, killing them immediately.

The squad's designated medic rushed to Admiral Kirk's side, evading Tanith's lunged attack. He snapped open his communicator, and ordered, "Starfleet! Emergency beam out--I've got him!"

"NO!" She screamed, beating the floor in front of the now-empty cross. "NO! It wasn't supposed to end this way!"

Snarling in rage and defeat, she swung at the nearest marine, the serrated knife still clutched in her fist, striking his armor.

The marines opened fire on her. She screamed in fury and rage as she disintegrated in their phaser fire.

Starfleet Sector One General Hospital
San Francisco, Earth

"H-how bad is it, Doctor?" asked Lieutenant Janice Rand. They were outside the Intensive Care Unit, watching the life support monitors on James Kirk.

"Not good, Janice, " McCoy admitted, hugging her even closer. "But this is one of the best ICUs in the universe. Whatever can be done for him will be done. He has a chance." He felt her head bury itself on his shoulder. "At least he's alive. That's more than I can say for poor Cheryl."

"Those damned Orions," muttered Admiral Morrow.

"Have we finally figured out what finally happened to the Orions?"

"Yeah, the reports are pretty clear about it. Once the Marines boarded the ship, and they realized there was no escape, the captain began the ship's self-destruct sequence. Kirk and the medic got out in plenty of time, but the rest of the squad barely made it. They had a casualty as a number of pirates rushed them. Saunders' body was not recovered."

"Damn." The doctor looked at the still form on the bed. "What's that line from Tolkein? 'Don't adventures ever end?'"

Morrow swung around. "Don't you understand, Len? With a man like Jim Kirk, when the adventure ends, his life will end. And he wouldn't have it any other way."

The Condominium of James T. Kirk
San Francisco, Earth

James Kirk limped through the doorway of his apartment. He'd refused the cane, stating it would make him feel like an invalid. The doctors had almost refused to let him leave Sickbay, but he'd been adamant. They finally had to let him go, limping, but only if he promised to take it easy for the next few weeks.

As if he could do anything else.

He groaned as he felt a twinge in his back. That, at least, was not going to keep him in Sickbay. Serenidad was sometime ago. Long ago. Kept him mindful of his age, he reflected. Time to stop acting like a first-year cadet.

His duffel bag was tossed on the couch as he passed it on his way to the bar where he found an old bottle of Arcturian Brandy. He recalled he'd put it away for a special occasion, like a wedding.

Well, that wasn't likely to happen, he mused as he pulled up a comfortable chair and sat down in front of the bay window.

He opened the bottle and took a healthy swig, savoring the taste as it burned its way down his throat.

No, not a wedding. A wake.

He hadn't been able to attend the memorial service for Cheryl or Melissa, or the young man, Martin. At the time, he'd been unconscious, barely alive himself. McCoy had delivered the eulogy since he had known all of them, more or less.

Very well, a wake, he decided as he took another drink from the bottle. His own private wake where he could get as drunk as he wanted for as long as he wanted.

He felt his eyes beginning to glisten as he recalled the last time he'd seen Melissa Masterson, so pert, so eager to help him enjoy his little getaway with Cheryl Saunders. "Wild horses couldn't drag it out of me," she had said. Well, they hadn't, but a sadistic bitch had.

Martin Jacobs had never had a chance to live. He stared into the bottle. Poor kid was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and paid the ultimate price.

A sob escaped from his throat. Gamely he forced it back and poured more liquor down his throat.

Talk about being in the wrong place. Kirk bit his lip as he felt another sob work its way up from his chest. Cheryl had been just as innocent as Jacobs. And just as much a sacrificial lamb. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to forget the last view he had had of her head, her body. He wanted to remember her as she had been when he'd walked out of the cabin: vibrant, tempting, sexy, alive.

If only.

He should have stayed, Kirk berated himself angrily. He hadn't bothered to call Bones before, why had he felt the need to go then, at that time? If he had been there, he might have been able to save Cheryl.

Who am I trying to kid? Kirk swallowed another slug of the intoxicant, and leaned back in the chair, watching shuttles head off toward space.

He wouldn't have been able to save Cheryl. That woman would have tortured her in front of him. Perhaps making her suffer even more than she had at the hands of Tanith Brok.

Kirk stood up for a moment, wobbling from the effects of the brandy, unbuttoned his jacket and tossed it onto the couch next to the duffel bag. It was looser on him than it had been before, but that was to be expected. The doctors had told him he'd lost some weight. Of course, they had neglected to tell him how much, but he could take a good guess. He could see it in the gaunt eyes that looked back at him in the mirror. Well, Bones had been telling him he needed to lose some weight, he reflected bitterly as he caught his image in the pane glass. He'd done it.

Kirk looked down at his hands where the spikes had been driven through. The scars were gone, covered with the healing plastiskin. His hands would soon lose the baby-pink look of that as his own flesh replaced it. Soon there would be no sign that he had been tortured by a vengeful madwoman.

Correction, no physical sign.

The doctors at Starfleet Sector One had never been worried about his body. They had know that their technology would cure and fix it. They had been worried about his mind.

Most of the past month had been spent in psychotherapy, placating the mental manipulators, convincing them that he was not going to snap under this load of guilt. He was Kirk the Invincible. Nothing could destroy him.

The door chime broke into his morose reverie. Kirk ignored the noise and took another drink. The chime became more insistent, as if someone were leaning on the button, not letting up.

"Go away," Kirk muttered under his breath as he continued to ignore the noise and stare out the window.

The chime stopped, only to be replaced by a thumping on the door, and a voice bellowing. "Damn it, Jim! I know you're in there. Open this door right now!"

Kirk closed his eyes, trying to close out the racket.

"Jim, open this damn door before I break it down!" bellowed McCoy as he continued to hammer on the door.

Resignedly, Kirk sighed, and turned toward the door. "Come," he said wearily.

The door swung open, and McCoy marched in. He took in the scene before him, then made his way to Kirk's side. "You okay?" he asked. "You feel all right?"

"How do you think I feel?" Kirk turned to face the doctor, the tears threatening to fall. "After everything that's happened to me, to them, how do you think I feel?" He turned his face to the bay.

McCoy pulled another chair over to the window and sat down beside him. He looked out over the bay, noting that the horizon was darkening as the sun set in the Pacific. "You know, Jim, I had a furlough scheduled. Planned on going to Serenidad." A faint smile tugged at his lip. "But, if you need me."

"No," Kirk shook his head and waved his hand at his friend. "You go on. You haven't been back in ages." He let a small grin touch his lips, even if it didn't reach his eyes. McCoy grinned back. "I'll be okay, Bones, really," Kirk told him. "It'll take me a while to get over it," he admitted." If I ever will, he added to himself. "It's something I have to live with, Bones," he continued. "Something I have to deal with, then get on with my life."

"You sure?" McCoy asked, concern replacing the grin on his face.

"I'm sure." Kirk gave him a lopsided grin. "Go."

"Well, then," McCoy stood up, grasping his friend's hand. "I'll check in on you when I get back next month."

"You do that." Kirk stood, returning the grasp. "Maybe we'll head back to Riverside, get a few steaks."

"Sure," McCoy nodded.

He walked toward the door, pausing only once to look back at the admiral. Kirk remained standing, nodding to his friend  Once the door closed, Kirk sank back in the chair, staring at the traffic on and above the bay. His breathing became ragged.  Then, slowly, he let his head sink into his hands.


1. gor'ka: an ant-like insectoid native to the desert area of Xantharus IV

2. t'orq: Xantharus unit of time equal to about seven standard weeks

3. g'lara: an icthyoid lifeform common on worlds of the Orion Barrier Alliance

4. drekon: unit of currency in the Barrier Alliance

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