Princess Pain:

I. Just Another Job

The Stanton District, twenty miles outside the palace area on the Planet Yord, was once a bustling city with a massive transportation hub that supported spacecraft coming and going all day and night from across the galaxy. When the war broke out due to the greed of several of the lords, the Human League of Kingdoms was broken into a hodgepodge group of thugs and militias. As a result, alien races shunned the once-buzzing metropolis and the loss of commerce transformed it to only a dying memory of what it once was.
Thirty years of neglect turned the once mighty kingdom of Yord into ruins. Many of its people fled the planet in search of more economically viable locations to avoid the scarcities of resources that ensued.
One night, moonlight shone randomly through passing clouds, landing on a wet cobblestone street in Stanton. A wooden sign in front of a blacksmith’s shop creaked in the evening breeze.
A cloaked woman, Marina, hid in the doorway of a vacant shop as two men unknowingly walked past her with pulse pistols in hand. When they disappeared from sight, she stepped into the street and removed her hood.
Marina, thirty years old, tall with a long dreadlock wig and flash grenades shaped like silver balls attached to the locks, crossed the street, approaching the wooden door to an old warehouse. She knocked twice and waited.
A long-haired, mustached man opened the door slightly and peeked out at her. He was dressed in black denim jeans and a white shirt with a pulse pistol attached to his belt. “What do you want?” he asked irritably as he pointed his pistol in her face.
“I have something for Balthus,” she replied in a low monotone voice.
The man stepped aside and allowed her to enter. As soon as she cleared the doorway, he closed and latched the door. Marina knew what was coming next.
Two torches provided the only light in the hall and the flames left eerie shadows along the rutted walls. The wooden floor creaked as Marina stepped away from the man and stood by one of the torches.
“You must be Marina,” he remarked in mild surprise. “Balthus didn’t think you’d make it.”
“I’m sure he was betting on it as well,” she retorted. “Let’s keep this brief, shall we?”
The man didn’t appreciate her sarcasm. “Any weapons you have need to come off now,” he ordered.
“Of course,” Marina replied irritably as she removed her cloak. He was immediately distracted by her shapely form, well-displayed in the tight leather bodice and pants. Marina took advantage of his lapse of attention and tossed the cloak to him.
Instinctively he dropped his guard and reached for it. As he did, she lunged and punched him in the bridge of his nose. Falling into unconsciousness from the blow, he slid down the wall, ending at a sitting position with his head tilted down. Blood streamed from his nose, staining the front of his shirt.
Marina took her cloak from him and folded it over her arm. She picked the man’s pistol up off the floor and stepped lightly across the hall. An office door squeaked as she turned the knob and pushed it open.
Inside the dilapidated chamber behind a steel desk, sat a grossly obese man, Balthus, with a scraggily beard and a long, ugly scar across his left cheek. He wore a red plaid kilt, boots and no shirt. On the desk to his left was a cedar box. To his right sat a pail of chicken legs and a pitcher of dark ale
A blonde harlot, Sonia, sat on his lap. She was very petite, middle-aged, and dressed scantily in a partially unbuttoned blouse and a tattered mini-skirt. Without a bra, her perky breasts were quite visible, one through the blouse and the other displayed for Balthus’ pleasure.
The two gorged sloppily on the chicken, drenched in a spicy sauce that filled the air with its aroma. Sonia licked blotches of sauce off of Balthus’ chin and savored the taste with a lick of her lips.
Marina pushed the door open further and stepped inside, the pistol hidden under the folded cloak on her arm. She noticed the moth-eaten carpet tossed over the wooden-planked floor. The worn cloth extended from the door to about four feet short of Balthus’ desk, which made her all the more suspicious.
Candles on either end of the desk dimly lit the room. Electricity was expensive and lights at night tended to attract soldiers and thugs.
When she saw Balthus and his young slut gorging themselves like gluttons, she felt nauseated and disgusted by their very presence. Most of her customers were pathetic degenerates but Balthus, by far, was the worst.
Balthus and Sonia stopped eating and looked up at Marina with amused expressions.
Sonia smiled coyly at Marina, revealing three missing teeth. She lapped at her lips seductively with her tongue and leered at their guest.
Marina ignored her and maintained eye contact with Balthus. She often countered the initial intimidation of a customer with a cold, unflinching stare; an effective deterrent that earned her respect from those clients.
“I’m surprised to see you, Marina,” Balthus remarked pleasantly. “I sent my men to ensure you made it here safely with my merchandise.”
“No need for the concern. I handled them.”
Balthus set his chicken leg down on the table and looked concerned. “I hope you didn’t kill Jerrold. If you did, you’ll be doing his chores for me and, I promise, you won’t like them very much,” he warned as he reached under his kilt and stroked himself. “Get my point?” He and Sonia cackled giddily.
Marina ignored his crude gesture and remained focused. The very thought of physical contact with this grotesque slob made her want to vomit. “Jerrold is taking a little nap,” she informed him. “Now, let’s get down to business.”
Balthus gently pushed Sonia off his lap. He brushed bits of chicken off his chest onto the floor and stood.
Sonia wiped sauce from her chin and licked her fingers. She approached Marina and ogled her breasts under the black bodice. “How about you and I have a little fun, sister?” she suggested coyly.
As Sonia raised her hand to touch her, Marina grabbed her wrist and nearly broke it. “Touch me and I’ll rip your heart out, sister.”
Balthus laughed hysterically at them.
Sonia stepped back defensively and rubbed her wrist tenderly. She glanced at Balthus and commented, “She looks good enough to eat, Honey.”
Balthus ignored her and guzzled from the pitcher of ale. He leaned with both hands on the desk and inquired, “You have something that belongs to me, Marina?”
“Perhaps. And you have payment for delivery of that something?” she responded arrogantly.
“Let me see it first.”
Marina pulled a data chip on a plastic cord from under her bodice and dangled it in the air for Balthus to see. Like Jerrold, he was distracted by her breasts, grinning perversely.
Sonia found her competition annoying and unbuttoned the rest of her blouse. She placed her hands on her hips and gazed at Marina, proudly showing off her perky assets.
Marina, still disinterested, stowed the chip under her bodice. “Now it’s your turn, Balthus,” she ordered. “Show me payment.”
Balthus chuckled and mimicked her voice, “Show me payment.”
Marina slid the cloak back on her arm, displaying the pistol. Balthus wasn’t the least bit concerned that she was armed and that bothered her. She knew he was not to be trusted.
“So you want what’s coming to you, huh?” taunted Balthus as he placed his hand on the cedar box.
Marina stepped toward the desk, forgetting about the shorted carpet and aimed the pistol at Balthus’ head. Balthus found her aggression amusing.
“Give me any reason to pull this trigger and I will gladly do so.”
Balthus held his hands out innocently and replied, “I’m happy to give you what you want.”
Marina grew tense, sensing a trap. Sonia belched and startled her.
Marina whirled, and placed the barrel of her pulse pistol against Sonia’s forehead. “Do that again and I’ll put a hole in that bubble head of yours,” she warned.
Balthus opened the flat cedar box on his desk and depressed a button inside. The trap floor sprang open in front of the desk and Marina dropped to a holding cell below. She landed face down against the concrete floor and lay unconscious. The trap floor closed as quickly as it opened.
Balthus and Sonia laughed hysterically.
“And they warned me not to mess with her!” Balthus proclaimed triumphantly. “This is like taking candy from a baby.”
Jerrold opened the door and staggered in with a swollen nose and blood-stained shirt.
Balthus ceased laughing and scolded him, “She humiliated you like a fool.”
“I’m sorry, Balthus,” Jerrold answered humbly. “I underestimated her.”
“Would you like to redeem yourself?”
“Yes, I would.”
“She’s down in the holding cell. Have fun with her.”
Jerrold bowed before Balthus. “Thank you, boss. I’ll make the most of our time together, I promise.”
“Just bring me the data chip when you’re finished and leave a little something for Sonia.”
“Yes, Balthus,” Jerrold replied and left the office.
Sonia rushed to Balthus and leaped on his lap. “Can we play with her when Jerrold is done?” she asked giddily.
“Oh, yes. We can play all day with her,” Balthus promised. “Let’s finish eating first.”
The two grabbed chicken legs from the bucket and continued to gorge.
*******
Marina’s head spun and pain shot throughout her body. Jerrold had placed her on a stained lounge chair. Her cloak lay on the table along with her pistol and her two leather belts, each with two knives. As Jerrold slid his fingers under her bodice and massaged her breasts, Marina peeked through one eye slightly open. With his eyes closed, he breathed deeply and savored the experience. She was disgusted by his touch but refrained from any action yet.
The cinderblock basement had a walk-in freezer, located to her left. The holding cell was straight ahead of her, the door barred. At the far left end of the basement was a stairwell. Between her and the stairs were six gurneys; each with a tray of rusted instruments and grimy power tools, no doubt used for torture. The cement floor was grungy and marked with blood stains. The smell of raw meat made her queasy as she wondered how many fools fell victim to Balthus’ sick pleasures.
Jerrold’s fingers ran across the chip and lifted it from under her bodice. Marina again peeked, but this time she took advantage of Jerrold’s lapse of attention, kicking him in the crotch. He froze with bulged eyes. Before he could retreat, Marina head-butted him and chopped him in the throat. Jerrold fell to the floor, writhing in pain and gasping for air.
Jerrold wheezed and struggled to breathe through his collapsed throat. Marina glanced at the instruments on the tray next to her chair. She chose a metal tube and grabbed Jerrold by his long locks. His eyes widened with fear as she tilted his head back and stabbed him in the throat. “You sound like a seal,” she complained. “This should help.”
Jerrold fell to the floor, horror-stricken by the turn of events. Marina dragged him by his legs to the walk-in freezer and left him inside. Shelves of meat lined the freezer box and four human shapes hung by their ankles, wrapped in plastic. At that point, Marina realized Balthus was more dangerous than she imagined.
Jerrold lay on the frosty floor, still clutching at his throat. A whistling sound came from the tube each time he breathed.
Marina stood by the door and quipped, “Until next time, my friend.” He became frantic when the door closed and he was immersed in darkness inside the freezer.
The door slammed at the top of the stairwell and Marina recognized Sonia’s soft steps on the wooden stairs. She hurried back to the chair and feigned unconsciousness.
Sonia approached and was quite pleased to see her in a seemingly helpless state. She grew anxious, thinking that Jerrold finished with her and left. Marina was hers to play alone with. She sat on Marina’s lap and massaged her breasts under the bodice. Feeling aroused, Sonia reached under her own skirt with one hand and panted excitedly. Her mouth gaped and she began to climax.
Marina’s hand slowly reached behind her head and yanked one of the silver balls free from a dreadlock. She grabbed Sonia by the back of the neck and shoved the ball into her mouth with the hole facing out until it became lodged. Four of Sonia’s teeth were knocked in and blood trickled down her chin from her busted gums.
Marina stood and flung Sonia into the chair. Sonia was frantic and tried desperately to remove the ball from her mouth. Marina punched her in the forehead, stunning her. With her arms dangling limply by her side, Sonia stared back at her with tears in her eyes for a brief second and then her face was engulfed in heat and a bright light from the flash grenade. When the flash dissipated, Sonia had no flesh on her jaw or nose and her face was burnt severely. She lay motionless in the chair in shock.
Marina leaped out of the chair and strapped the belts with the knives around her thighs. She stowed the pistol in a small holster behind her back. A brief whimper from Sonia caught her attention.
“Did you have something to say, Sweetie?” Marina mocked her.
Sonia’s jaw dropped open and nearly fell off. She had no tongue left and her throat was charred like burnt bacon.
“Don’t worry, dear, you still have your tits.” Marina donned her cloak and walked to the stairs feeling satisfied that Sonia was properly dealt with. She looked back at Sonia and licked her lips seductively in mock fashion. “Next time stick to the slob, Honey,” she taunted. “I’m much too hot for you.”
Sonia stared blankly at her, with teary eyes as Marina disappeared up the stairs. The excruciating pain from her burns nearly drove her insane but she had no way to express herself.
Marina peered from the basement door, looking down the hall. Balthus stood outside his office as two men entered the warehouse. “Do you have the data chip, Balthus?” asked one of the men anxiously.
“Of course I do, Rock. In fact, it’s downstairs with the courier who brought it.”
Marina slid past the door and ducked into a closet across the hall without being noticed.
“You know, I could offer Victor a chance to up his bid,” Balthus suggested.
“And we’ll terminate more than our business relationship,” warned Rock. “Victor will start a war with this technology if he gets it.”
“What of the courier?” asked Rock’s partner, Tulley.
Balthus responded proudly, “Just another trinket in my collection.”
“I warned you not to screw with the woman,” Rock chastised. “We don’t need her meddling in our affairs.”
Balthus laughed giddily, annoying the men. “She’s just a woman,” he remarked cynically. “Come and I’ll show you how meddling she really is.”
The two men glanced uneasily at each other and followed Balthus down the hall to the stairwell door.
“My little sex toys are down there now with her, priming her for a little Q&A time with me,” he boasted.
“You’re a fool,” Tulley retorted. “She’s dangerous.”
Balthus led them down the stairs. “You guys worry too much,” he replied wryly.
Marina exited the closet and hurried down the hall to the main entrance.
A burly, bearded man stood guard at the doorway this time. Marina took a coin from her pocket and rolled it across the floor to him. The man instinctively drew his pistol and focused for a second on the coin. Just as he looked up, Marina kicked his jaw. The stunned man fell to the ground. She retrieved the coin and slipped it into her pocket.
The man attempted to stand but she lifted his head and kneed him in the forehead. Satisfied with the impact, she released him. He dropped to the floor with a thud and was out cold.
Marina slipped into Balthus’ empty chamber and rifled through the desk drawers until she reached one which was locked.
Annoyed by the smell of the chicken, she pushed it aside and opened the cedar box, searching for the key. To her surprise, she also discovered the red button that opened the trap floor in front of the desk, a key and a Taser. Marina stowed the Taser under her cloak, then took the key. She unlocked the drawer and opened it.
Inside was a small velvet box, an envelope with a wad of currency and a loaded pistol. She opened the box and found six perfectly cut diamonds spread evenly across a tiny satin pillow.
“Looks like sufficient payment for services rendered,” she commented cynically to herself.
Marina closed the box and tucked it under her bodice. She removed the data chip from around her neck and set it on the table. Something bothered her about the importance of the chip to these criminals. The fact that Victor and two agents for an unknown agency were involved with the same dealer for stolen Fleet technology made her wary of their intentions. A war could be bad for business in her line of work.
After a moment of hesitation, she took back the data chip and swapped it with another from her pocket. Despite the risk she took in keeping the chip, she considered that the alternative could be much worse and she resolved to do some investigative work before turning it over to anyone.
Balthus entered the basement and was horrified to see Sonia so grotesquely disfigured in the chair in a nearly comatose state. Suddenly incensed, he searched frantically about the room for some indication of where Marina went.
Rock and Tulley crossed their arms and waited impatiently for an explanation. They were not surprised by the outcome and were eager to complete their transaction.
Balthus knelt by Sonia and wailed, “Oh, my kitten! Look what she did to you.” He stood up in a rage and stormed to the freezer where he found Jerrold inside, unconscious and wheezing through the tube in his throat.
Balthus dragged him out of the freezer and left him on the floor.
“I guess this means you don’t have the data chip, Balthus,” Rock commented irritably.
“I’ll get the chip and that bitch’s head as well!” he shouted angrily.
Tulley took out a small calculator and pressed several buttons. He pondered for a moment at the sum.
Balthus watched nervously and waited for an explanation.
“It seems to me, Balthus, that you’ve already cost us a significant amount of money with this delay.”
Rock added, “Time is money in our business. I’m sure you understand.”
“I’ll get the chip for you! She can’t be far.” Balthus plodded up the stairs. The men glanced at each other in disgust and followed him.
In the top drawer of Balthus’ desk was a pad of paper and a pen. Marina took them out and jotted a quick note: “Paid in full. Thank you for your patronage.” She placed the note in the center of the desk with the chip containing a record of the maintenance on her ship on top of it.
Just as she stood, Balthus burst through the door. Rock and Tulley stood in the doorway behind him and watched curiously.
“I’m gonna’ kill you, you bitch!” screamed Balthus.
“I don’t think so,” Marina replied confidently. She slid her hand under her cloak, withdrew the Taser and aimed it at Balthus’ face.
“It will take more than one Taser to stop me,” he warned. “Before you can count to five, I’ll have ripped your head off!”
Marina set the Taser on the table. “And I hoped you would use that time to take a shower,” she mocked. “I guess I was mistaken.”
Rock and Tulley chuckled at her remark.
Balthus snarled and charged at her. Marina pressed the button in the cedar box and watched as Balthus dropped through the trap door. He clung desperately to the floor boards and wailed for help. The spring-loaded trap floor slapped at him repeatedly in an attempt to close. Marina stepped out from behind the desk and gloated.
“Please help me,” he pleaded. “I’ll let you go, I promise.”
“Nice doing business with you, Balthus,” Marina responded with a note of pleasure in her voice. “Don’t worry, Sonia will keep you company down there. She seems quite chatty.”
“I hate you!” he cried.
Marina took the Taser and shoved it in Balthus’ mouth. She blocked the trigger with a wad of paper and taunted, “Smile, asshole.”
Balthus shuddered violently and fell to the holding cell below with the Taser still discharging in his mouth. The floor sprung closed and the chamber grew quiet.
Marina turned to the men at the door and aimed her pulse pistol at them.
“Is that the data chip on the desk?” inquired Rock.
“Yes, it is.”
Then by all means pass,” he replied. “We have no quarrel with you.”
Tulley added, “Your discretion would be appreciated.”
Marina nodded to him in agreement. She inched warily to the door as Rock and Tulley sidled past her cautiously to the desk.
“Have a good evening, gentlemen,” Marina replied and exited the office. She unlatched the front door and stepped into the dark street.
The sound of boots on the cobblestone street caught her attention. She hurried across the street and disappeared down an alley.
Twelve soldiers led by a man in a Lieutenant’s uniform from the Space Fleet stopped in front of Balthus’ door. The Lieutenant, followed by six of the young guards, entered to investigate. The other six spread out in the surrounding alleys.
Marina pulled herself onto a fire escape above the alley and watched. She touched her swollen eye delicately and cringed from the pain. A few moments later, Balthus’ shouts caught her attention.
A transport vehicle with barred windows arrived and parked in front of the warehouse. The soldiers dragged a handcuffed Balthus out of the building and shoved his large frame into the rear of the vehicle. One soldier waved to the driver and the vehicle raced away.
There was no sign of Rock or Tulley outside the building. Marina found that interesting and watched as the soldiers departed down the street. She climbed three stories up the fire escape to the top floor and reached for the edge of the roof. As she did, a gloved hand grabbed her wrist. She was startled by another’s presence, and caught at a disadvantage.
A handsome man in a militia uniform looked down at her. He was in his mid-thirties with black shoulder-length hair. “My name is Britt and I have some questions for you, Ma’am,” he informed her. “I’d appreciate your cooperation.”
“Does the Fleet know you’re out here?” she asked sarcastically.
“That’s not your problem. Where is the data chip?”
“I delivered it to Balthus. Talk to him.”
“My commander will be very unhappy if we don’t return with it,” he warned. “And that can be a painful experience for you.”
“My job was to deliver it to him and I did that.”
“I’m not stupid. We can do this here or at the palace,” he warned.
Marina relented and reached up with her other hand. Britt gripped it and hoisted her onto the roof.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she declared defiantly.
“I don’t think you have a choice,” he answered as he maintained a hold on her wrists.
“Then join me!” Marina exclaimed. She leaned off the roof and shoved away with her feet. When Britt couldn’t hold her back anymore, she yanked him with her to the fire escape stairs below. They crashed onto the grating and tumbled apart, both stunned from the fall.
Marina scurried to her feet and leaped across the alley onto another fire escape. The impact of her weight broke the rusted supports of the platform and sent her flying against the wall of the building. The bulk of the structure broke away from the wall and fell across the alley to the opposite wall underneath Britt. She rolled off the grating and fell.
Britt looked down frantically from his perch as she landed on a trash dumpster with a loud bang.
Marina groaned and fell onto the street. “I really hate this place,” she muttered to herself.
When she looked up at the roof, she saw the outline of Britt in the moonlight. He stared down at her for a moment and disappeared. The sound of approaching soldiers’ boots on the street again echoed in the night.
Marina hobbled down the alley with a sprained knee and turned the corner. The old transportation hub was four blocks away but between her and the hub were a dozen militia soldiers. She hurried into another alley and up the next street. As she passed the intersection, more soldiers approached.
“Halt or we’ll fire!” ordered one of the men. “We have orders to detain you.”
Marina drew her pulse pistol and fired at the street in front of them. Killing militia or Fleet soldiers was bad business for someone like her. It created a lot of unwanted attention and usually resulted in a bounty on one’s head.
The militia spread out on either side of the street and took cover behind empty crates and trash cans.
Marina turned to run but was surrounded by more soldiers. One of the men approached and held a gun to her temple.
“Please don’t make me use this,” he said politely.
Marina reached toward him to surrender her pistol. “You win. Take the damn gun.”
“Keep it. The Captain only wishes to interrogate you, not arrest you.”
Marina was stumped by his reply. She cautiously stowed the pistol under her cloak.
“Where is your Captain?” she asked impatiently. “I have a schedule to keep.”
“He’ll be here in a moment.”
Britt arrived and pushed his way through the men. His black jacket was torn at the shoulder from the fall and his lower lip bled slightly. He forced a smile and offered his hand to Marina. “Can we try this again without the theatrics?”
Marina folded her arms and frowned at the inconvenience he presented her.
“I’m Britt, Captain of the 1st Militia Group,” he informed her.
Marina shook his hand warily. “Look, I’m just a courier. What do you want from me?”
“Who has the data chip?”
“I can’t divulge client information. It’s bad for business.”
“So you don’t have it and Balthus doesn’t have it. Who does?”
“Check with the two civilians. They might know.”
“Are you sure they have it?” Britt pressed her, aware that she may have misled Rock and Tulley as well.
“You could say that.”
Britt became impatient with her game. “Forget the damn chip. Who the hell are you?”
“And if I refuse to tell you?”
Britt’s frustration showed as he became annoyed. “Please don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”
“Then how about some privacy?” she requested.
“Very well,” Britt relented and, as a sign of trust, waved the other men away. They reluctantly backed off to the corner and left the two to speak alone.
“Let me help you out, Captain Britt: Who are you really looking for?”
“I see where this is going,” he replied disappointedly with his hands on his hips. “You fit the bill of two individuals that I am searching for. One is a rebel leader and the other, I believe, is a princess.”
“Well, I am not the rebel leader you seek. I don’t play well in groups and I certainly don’t look like a princess.”
Britt studied her facial expression and her eyes. “But you are the Princess of Yord?” he asked in hope of establishing one shred of evidence from their discussion.
“I’m just a courier. What makes you think this princess even exists?” she questioned him playfully.
“I need to know if she exists before it’s too late. There are threats to all our safety that started with her family.”
Marina stared at the ground in a daze, recalling a memory of her childhood inside the palace. She sat on her mother’s lap and listened as she sang songs to her in a sweet voice. Next to them sat her father, twirling her hair in his fingers. Then something happened and both her parents rushed off. They left and never returned.
Britt noticed the faraway look in her eyes. “Did I hit a nerve?” he asked respectfully.
Ignoring his question, Marina sat on an empty crate and looked up sadly. “I have no family.”
“Are you helping the rebels?” he asked adamantly.
Marina became annoyed, exclaiming, “I don’t even know who the rebels are! I haven’t been to this forsaken planet in over ten years and I’m only here to deliver a package. It’s a stinkin’ slum here!”
“It’s still a kingdom and its people rely on its rulers to provide leadership and protection. Right now they have neither.”
Marina laughed cynically. “Listen to you! Aren’t you part of the contingent that’s controlling this pathetic world?”
“I don’t have to be and neither do my men. War with the other militias or the Fleet is bad for everyone. Only if the Princess comes forward to claim her birthright to the throne can we unite everyone.”
Marina stood nose-to-nose with him. “Maybe it’s you who needs to find out who you really are. Conversation’s over,” she declared and walked away from him.
Britt glared at her, fists clenched. “The next time we meet, I will arrest you for smuggling,” he warned. “I gave you your chance.”
Marina flipped her middle finger at him and turned the corner. Britt punched the trash dumpster in anger and stormed away.
Marina reached the abandoned depot without further incident and crept past broken spacecraft, stepping around parts and motors scattered across the floor. Water dripped from the ruined rooftop and echoed eerily when it struck the cement floor.
At the last dock on the left, her ship was hidden behind the rusted hulk of an abandoned freighter. Rats scurried across the oily floor and startled her. She drew her pistol and checked frequently over her shoulder as she passed the remains of the cargo ship.
To her surprise, the hatch to her ship was open. She peered around the depot but saw no one. When she cautiously boarded the ship, she found another of the captains from the militia, Meloche, waiting inside.
The man was tall and muscular with shabby, black hair, about fifty-five in Earth years. He reminded Marina of an old-world barbarian. She recognized that his rank was equal to Britt’s. “Geez, how many captains does your militia have?” inquired Marina with a note of sarcasm in her voice.
“Only four,” he replied icily. “We have some things to discuss and you will answer me.”
Marina stood her ground and informed him, “As I told your buddy Britt, the conversation’s over.”
“You don’t understand, Missy. If you are neither of the two women we seek, then you are a high profile criminal who was in possession of stolen designs for the Fleet’s advanced weaponry. That would be treason, a crime which carries a penalty of death.”
Meloche’s revelation of the designs shocked Marina. “You can’t prove I knew what was on that data chip! I’m just a courier.”
“I don‘t need to. In fact, I’m thinking of a nice reward for turning you in to the Space Fleet as a traitor. You see, they don’t appreciate smugglers arming their enemies.”
“Then you’ll have to earn that reward,” she challenged.
Meloche grinned through broken teeth and reached for her throat. Marina raised her arm and deflected his hand. She latched onto his arm and flung him against the hull next to the hatch.
“You bitch!” He groaned and jabbed at her head wildly with an elbow.
Marina ducked and punched him in the gut with her other hand, followed by a kick to the stomach. Meloche lost his balance and fell out of the spaceship.
Marina pressed the ‘close’ knob next to the hatch and hurried to the pilot’s seat. She started the ship’s engines and lifted off.
The alarm panel warbled. She looked up and saw two illuminated message windows reading ‘Imbalanced Load – Right Side” and “Hatch Open.”
Marina steadied the ship and inspected the hatch. It was barely open and Meloche dangled from the side of the ship with his fingers wedged between the hatch and the hull. She looked at the gauge and piston on the wall next to the opening. The pressure to the door piston was set at fifty percent. Marina adjusted it up to its maximum force and the hatch slammed shut.
Meloche’s scream pierced the silent night air. The hatch sealed and six bloody fingers severed at the knuckles lay on the floor. Marina reset the pressure to fifty percent and pressed the ‘Open’ knob. The hatch slid open and she peered out. Thirty feet below, Meloche writhed in pain on top of the broken crates, with only his thumb and forefinger remaining on each hand and six bloody knuckles.
Marina kicked the severed fingers out the hatch and closed it. The alarms cleared immediately. She returned to the controls and set a course for Magnus, a space station near the center of the sector. The ship eased through a hole in the roof and vanished into the night.
After the ship left Yord’s atmosphere and entered space, Marina activated the auto-pilot system. With a fourteen hour journey ahead of her, she indulged in a bottle of whiskey until she passed out.