The day passed quickly. Most of the crew of the ship were not interested in talking to me while they prepared their ship. I watched from the bridge. They apparently didn’t expect me to do any harm there. I would’ve loved to prove them wrong, but I had absolutely no idea what I could do to damage something there. When I ‘accidentally’ spilled a cup of some sweet beverage onto one of the consoles, the fluid slipped off without staining anything, and was absorbed by the hull. The keys weren’t even sticky afterwards. As far as I could tell, I wasn’t going to be able to get one over on the crew any time soon.
There was only one meal a day, as far as I could tell, but it was a surprisingly satisfying one. The ship apparently took quite a bit in food rations from those they raided. The raids were more akin to a form of theatre, play-acting, than anything else. The pirates would broadcast their demands, and use nonlethal and non-destructive disabling weapons. They weren’t in it to kill anyone. And unless their opponents fought them with lethal intent, they were perfectly content to take a bit of the cargo and let the crew go with the rest. “Merchants are like goats, right?” explained the navigator, grinning. “Or whatever those furry animals humans make clothes out of are.”
“Sheep. Or possibly cows.”
“Right! You can shave a sheep a whole lot, as many times as you like, if you’re patient. But you can only skin it once!” She looked at me, hoping for approval of the metaphor. While Imperial translation was good at literal meaning, it had a surprising amount of trouble with idioms and metaphors. The crew were fascinated with such things, so I did my best to encourage them. I gave her a nod, and the squid-bodied woman grinned brightly, colors flashing up and down her tentacles. The ship sat in the photosphere, charging its power cells, ready to rip a hole open.
“If I might ask, where are we going?”
“Out to the Outer Arm. It’s a long trip, and stars are far apart, so we’ve got to charge our engines a lot each time.” I nodded slowly. “Hey, so, that planet. Was it really where the Star Clan reproduce?” I looked around the bridge. Everyone had obviously perked up with interest when she had spoken. “And what was with that worm? I’ve never even heard of an Aberrant race like that!” The captain sighed, leaning her head against her hand.
“Doesn’t look as though we’re going to be getting any work done until you continue the story.” It wasn’t as though there was much work to be done anyway. The ship was going to be another few hours charging. “Alright. Everyone to the mess for ‘storytime’.” Her words dripped with sarcasm, but the crew was obliviously cheerful as they streamed out of the room.
The meal that evening was some curious meat. It had a faintly green tint, which made me uncertain, but a few bites showed it had a strong floral flavor. It had been grilled, and had a light yet firm consistency, almost like a baked apple. I took a bite from it, and looked around the faces of the crew, eagerly anticipating the continuation of the story.
The cabbie waited for Sinbad to return from the Credit Pits. When he did, the spacefarer sighed. “Where was I?”
“You’d just arrived on the planet, and met a sandworm-“
“Ah, of course. Of course.”
The blue sunshine shone down on the vast, radiation-blackened bulk of the worm. It lay across the sand in front of Sinbad, its mouth open, the petite woman standing at the end of the tongue. She regarded him archly. Her breasts were like a pair of honeydew melons, full and soft. Her hips were curved in a manner that begged to be touched, explored. Her lips were soft and full. Her skin was pink, not like the peach-pallid tone of a sunburned human, but like fully ripened cherry blossoms. Her hair was the same pink as the rest of her body. She reminded him almost of a tongue. He met her gaze, meeting noble arrogance with military disregard. “Sinbad, Orion Hierarchy Fleet, Captain, retired. If you’re going to kill me for trespassing, I would recommend you do it now.”
She barked out a laugh, tilting her head back and cackling. “So eager to die! Not even willing to wait to find out what I would do, hmmm?” She narrowed her eyes. “You are human. I have heard about you. What are you doing here, so far from home? I thought your people were still confined to their solar system.”
He crossed his arms. “Ma’am, I’ve given you my name and rank. Surely the least you could do is tell me yours.” He did his best to tower impressively, although it felt like a bit one-sided. After all, her true shape was the massive armored behemoth. A difference of a few inches in height meant nothing. She didn’t seem cowed, but she did smile.
“My apologies. I do not get many visitors. I am the Baroness Atropos, Witch of the Sand, The Once And Future Queen.” She leaned back against the tongue nonchalantly. “There are many other interesting epithets. But they do not translate well. Now, I ask once again. You are human, far from your little green world with its blues and browns and whites. How did you find yourself here, so far from home?”
“My home isn’t Earth. I’m Orionese. This place actually quite reminded me of my boyhood home.” That was, of course, a lie. The planets of the Orion Hierarchy had water, even if it was scarce compared to Earth. “I left my land because I wanted to see the Empire. I’ve been traveling with a trading ship to visit worlds. We came here to deliver the mail.”
She was looking at him very hard, her eyes narrowed. Her nostrils flared. Aside from the odd color of her skin, she looked almost entirely like a human. Enough that he was becoming somewhat distracted by her figure. “I have detected three lies in what you have said. I smell sins on you, boy.” He stiffened. “But that is not what matters. I can tell one thing you have said is true. You came here to deliver the mail. And poor captain Tawny paid with his life, all because of a simple mistake. The Star Clan are hatching early. Two of them have already died. It is bad news. Do you know how long those eggs have been there in the sky, boy?” He shook his head. “A century.”
There had been a dozen eggs there. The idea of two of them already dead was strangely painful. “The Star Clan reproduce here?”
“A number of them. There were tens of thousands of eggs when the last mating season came and went. Only a handful of them were viable. And now even among those, the survivors are weak, flawed. But beloved by their parents nonetheless.” The baroness crossed her arms, staring out across the sands, an odd expression on her face. “And you. Come here to steal the eggs, perhaps? Or lead other scavengers to this place? I imagine there are those who would pay handsomely for the spawning ground of the Star Clan. Even a handful of eggs could make a fleet, given time. And care. Would you steal them, human?”
He looked around. “It doesn’t look as though I’d have much opportunity to do so, does it? I’m stuck here. With you. Unless you have a spaceship stashed somewhere on this world, I don’t think I’m going anywhere, or stealing anything.”
She laughed. “Yes, you are right. The only civilization on this world is… Well, me.” She waved a hand toward the long, red tongue. “Come, join. I will carry you to somewhere where there is water.” He looked uncertainly at it. “If you fear being eaten, perhaps it will help to remember you are already deeply within my power. If I wanted to kill you, I would do so, and your bones would be littered on the sands for all eternity.”
“Well, with an invitation like that, how could I refuse?”
The tongue was slightly damp, and fleshy, which was predictable, but not very comforting. He climbed the ridged protrusion slowly, and was very proud of himself for not stopping to take a rest halfway up the ten story climb. The spire-like central mouth still lay open, like a flower out of the nightmares of a paranoid schizophrenic. He stepped in carefully, and walked through the warmth and the damp. Inside of the worm’s great gullet, brilliantly glowing nodules grew from the walls, casting a bright blue light across the interior. There was even, to his great surprise, a metal walkway built into the floor. “You’ve had some work done, haven’t you?”
She gave him a quizzical look. “I have guests, very occasionally. It helps to be able to provide them with some form of lodging.” She stopped at a large sphincter, and made a burping noise. The muscle unclenched, opening into a wide ring, revealing a corridor, like something out of a standard-issue base, the kind built from a kit. There was no sign of decoration or personalization, and she walked through quickly, into a rather large dining area with spartan metal furniture. He could see several doors, leading off to what looked like a library, and a small living room. “Please, make yourself at home. You may be here for a while.”
“What is this world?” he asked, frowning, as he took a seat. “I mean, the entire world appears to be featureless sand. What could’ve destroyed it? And why were the eggs around it? And why are you here?”
She smiled. “Good questions. As it happens, these questions all have the same answer. Allow me to start with why the Star Clan are here.”
The greatest of the Star Clan are the Whales. Leviathan and his ilk are the most powerful of the space-faring life-forms. Living on gaseous hydrogen, gathered by filter-feeding between the stars, they are native to nebula, and one of the few living things capable of manipulating gravity through organic processes. It was one of the greatest injustices of the Empire when the brilliant and gentle creatures were yoked, their minds stolen and placed in bodies of Imperial make. They spent the first few hundred millenia of their servitude enslaved, bred in labs, without family. What remained of their culture was snatched of them. They were educated as war-machines and transportation for the Empire.
This was the way that the Empire treated the Whales for hundreds of thousands of years. Parents never knew their children, and they grew up alone in the cosmos, abandoned. They barely recognized one another, for even in the best of times, the Whales were rare among the stars. They were treated like little more than beasts of burden, and some of them began to believe that was all they were.
Leviathan, greatest of his kind, predated the conversion. He was one of the few who remembered all that was of their culture. The songs they spread throughout the galaxy, the species they had saved, from nature and from races who were hostile. He remembered the duty they had given themselves, to shepherd life, and protect, even when the rest of his kind were enslaved. He kept these thoughts alive in his head, even as he was made a member of the Imperial Fleet. He served valiantly, even doing that which he loathed.
Leviathan rode forth in the Third Crusade against Heaven. It was the greatest and most brutal of the wars with Heaven. Its instigation was the work of one of El’s Great Shards, whose name was lost to history. Now, he is only known as The Crusader, an accurate epithet. His forces rode forth, and burned a hole deep into the heart of the Empire, striking for the homeworlds of the Ten Kingdoms, and forcing them into a desperate siege. Leviathan began the century-long conflict as merely a vessel, though his great size and personal power saw him used frequently as the spine for naval formations.
By dint of sheer survival instinct, he wound up surviving the war, and was made the flagship of the Imperial Fleet for a period of nearly a decade. Working together with the great Reptile admiral Petesh, they countered Heaven’s moves, breaking siege after siege, and forcing the postphysical entity back into its bastion in the center of the galaxy. The two of them hung the body of the Crusader from the imperial palace, his flesh glowing for a millenia before being returned to Heaven as a part of the peace treaty. Ultimate victory was out of reach, but he saved the Empire. He was offered one wish, anything. He could have been Emperor. He could have ruled a section of the galaxy.
Instead, he asked that his people be allowed their children. and their culture.
A planet was found. Certain things were necessary. A thick interstellar nebula surrounding the planet. A specific wavelength of light to nurture the growth of the children. And a planet where certain minerals were rich in the soil, and could be used to feed them. And a world which was off the beaten track, where they would be safe. The location of the world was known only to the Star Clan. It was never mentioned in the Imperial Archives, orbiting a star that was marked as without worlds. It had inhabited life, but very little of it was sapient, and most of it would not be missed. The great worms of the world would gather the precious minerals that accreted into the soil of the world, fattening themselves on it, building armor. They would be food for the newborns.
And there, the Star Clan migrated. For the first time in an epoch, they were allowed to breed naturally, and to raise their children. They renewed the old vows, to protect life from that which would destroy it. The wanton cruelty of the Empire. The careless expansion of Heaven. And the mindless brutality of Nature itself.
They were not free. They would never be free. Their genetic heritage had been suborned. They were Imperials, through and through. There was no trace left of whatever elegant systems had first created them, all of it destroyed in the name of the Empire’s demand for purity, and control. They would never again be themselves, in the deepest of senses. And as the Empire’s genetic degradation became obvious, fewer and fewer of them were born. Where once they were born in the hundreds, the thousands, now they would celebrate a half dozen of their eggs surviving to grow strong enough to go on their own. They were doomed, just like the rest of the Empire. They would slowly go extinct, watching as their kind fell apart. They still had to serve the Empire, as its citizens. They were still Imperials. They had nobody else they could be.
But they had their children, and with a handful of exceptions like Leviathan, they were not prone to planning. That they would die someday, that their culture would die, didn’t bother them. For the time being, they had their children. They watched them grow, and play with comets and asteroids, and swooped down into the atmosphere, lifting the writhing worms to their young. The adults mashed the worms into a thin paste under the terrible force of their gravitic organs, making the weak and frail children grow big and strong on the metals within. And the children would go off to see the galaxy, to fight in wars, to protect people, to carry the frail beings who had tortured them for so long. And they never held a grudge. About being enslaved, about losing who they were, body and soul, about being forced to beg for the right to be treated like sapient creatures.
And in time, they were rewarded. They learned there was hope after all. They would survive, because of the humans. And maybe, someday, even if they were not free to be who they used to be, they might have the choice of who they could be. They could, at least, have a choice of who they traveled with.
“They’re a noble people,” Sinbad murmured.
“Are they?” The witch gave him a sharp look. “That is another lie. You and I know the truth. They are weak. Vulnerable. They depend on the good will of others, even though they could be strong. What do you really think?”
Sinbad was silent for several long seconds. “I think you’ve told me why the Star Clan are here, but not about a lot of other things. And I think you’re trying to distract me from something.” He took a seat. “How about you tell me a little bit more about that?”
She smiled. “All in good time. You wouldn’t hurry a woman, would you?”
“Mmm. Is there anything to eat, here?”
She gave him a bright, shining smile. “Why, all the nutritional pap my body can generate from photosynthesis.” She stepped over to a cupboard, and withdrew a large bowl, filled with something roughly the consistency, color, and appeal of snot. He looked down at it, and ran a finger through it. He licked his finger, and frowned. It actually tasted surprisingly good, sweet and mild. That didn’t help the texture much, though. He lifted the bowl, and drank it down. A lifetime of military cuisine made it easy. It was just like making love, really; Close your eyes, don’t breathe through your nose, and try not to focus on what you’re tasting.
“What?” asked the weapon’s officer, one of the Skin Clan, her tree-frog like eyes wide. “That’s not how you make love, is it?!”
I sighed. “From what I understand, Orionese tend to an extremely dark view of sex. The Orionese are not a generally romantic people. Now, where was I… Ah. They traveled for some time; From what Sinbad told the cabbie, it took the better part of a day to travel. While the pap was nutritious and filling, it didn’t do much for thirst…”
Sinbad slowly stepped down the tongue. The pink figure of the Baroness Atropos walked just a half step behind him. The great worm had settled in front of a massive plateau of rock. It was a deep, ruddy purple, and reminded him of a picture he had once seen of Uluru in Australia. Its scale was far larger, however. The blue sun had just risen behind them, shining down onto the rock. He whistled softly, as he made his way down the tongue. “What is this?”
“It doesn’t have a name,” She replied a bit too quickly. “There is water beneath it. Come.” As the two of them walked onto the spit of rock reaching out from the side of the massive plateau, she took the lead. Her hips swayed from side to side. He bit his lip, and looked over his shoulder at the massive shape of the sandworm. It didn’t move, sitting like a geographical feature on the sand, its massive black carapace discharging long streams of sand as it lay at rest. He turned back to her, and saw her slip into a large cave opening in the door. He followed her.
The two of them walked in darkness. Her body glowed a faint pink in the dark, and he followed. She seemed to know where they were going, and the floor was surprisingly smooth and regular. No rainfall to create stalagmites or stalactites. No pits. It was almost as though it had been carved. “What is that sandworm? Is it you, or…”
She turned, an eyebrow raised. “So squeamish? Fearful of what the neighbors would say if they saw you aroused by a gigantic worm? My, they might think your tastes swayed to your own gender. Very Freudian.”
“You’ve read Freud?”
“Is Freud a person? I thought it was just a descriptive term.” She frowned. “At any rate, yes. Much like you are, in fact, a bundle of fat cells trapped in a pool of fluid in a bone cage, this body is merely a smaller part of the greater whole. Meant to facilitate communication. The Whales are similar, although in their case, it was the result of tampering from Imperials. My ability is… older. I assure you, when it comes down to it, both of us are nothing but an artfully arranged pattern of electrical connections. Nothing more, nothing less. If you are attracted to me because I look like good human breeding stock, though, you can feel free to try to mate.”
“It’s just a little distracting. We aren’t all ancient species that have lost the desire to procreate.” She went stiff and I nearly bumped into her. Her fists were clenched.
“No species loses the desire to procreate. Some just lose the means. It is not a shameful thing to want to mate. It is a shameful thing to have one’s species die.” Sinbad watched her for a moment. She didn’t turn. He reached out gently, resting a hand on her shoulder. She flinched, but he left it where it was, and her stance softened, her head lowered.
“No species are going to be dying any time soon. Didn’t you hear the good news? Humans are going to save the day.” She turned towards him. Tears were in her eyes, her lips drawn back, a savage snarl on her lips. He met her gaze levelly. She was really quite beautiful. He reached up, and brushed a tear out of her eyes.
“Do not mock me.”
“Who’s mocking? Why do you think humanity came to the stars? We all wanted to be heroes. Saving ancient civilizations, swinging swords and bringing back hope. What else is there that’s worth doing in life?” He smiled, and she turned away, walking onwards.
They walked for what felt like an hour. He was getting fairly parched, his tongue dry, his throat scratchy. He avoided talking, and the two were surrounded by silence. Eventually, they arrived in a large cavern. No, large wasn’t sufficient. It was massive. Brobdingnagian. The far side was invisible in the endless gloom. A hole was visible, with a vision of the bright blue-black sky dimly visible beyond. It cast no light at the moment. She pointed down. They were on a shore, of sorts. The rock was visible beneath water like black glass. There was no movement, no tides, no wind. It was still as ice. He reached down, and cupped his hands, lifting the water. He stood upright, and let the water trickle between his fingers. It slowly dripped back into the lake, as the Baroness watched. “Why are you doing that? Aren’t you thirsty?”
“Water is rare where I come from. You can become addicted to it, unable to travel into the desert for fear of its lack. It’s our way. Before you drink, let the water pass between your fingers, to show that while you need it, you do not desire it. Let no thing be your master, not even your own biology.”
“Sounds like masochism to me. You can’t live without some things. Pretending you don’t need them is just… self-flagellating.” She frowned, her nose crinkled as she looked down at the water. He knelt down again, and lifted it to his lips. This time, he drank.
Few humans can appreciate water like the Orionese. The strange little flavors that distinguish it. The chill of it as it slides into the belly. The sudden relief that comes from the brain recognizing it is no longer being desiccated, and it is no longer losing the fluids it so desperately needs to survive. It is a sense of relief that can become addictive. He bent down and took another drink, and another, until he was sated. Then he looked up. The water drained from his cupped hands as he stared. The sun had shifted enough to send a beam of light down into the cavern.
The cavern was lit with brilliant blue light. A massive city-scape was visible. The cavern had to be a few kilometers across, at least. The walls were honeycombed with buildings, carved out of the stone. His mouth dropped, and he turned. The entire cavern was carved with the buildings. They flanked him on either side. In the darkness, he had not noticed the entrances and windows carved into them, or the elegant and endless murals. There was not a single sign of movement in any of them. No light shone from the windows. It was empty. Dead.
“What is this place?”
She smiled. “My home.”
The species had arisen as a sapient force in the universe at the same time as Homo Erectus. They were brilliant engineers and gardeners. Their world had been a paradise, fed by the intense light of their star. They had grown powerful, and had never desired to travel beyond their world. As time went on, their greatness turned to indolence. They created servitors, biological creatures whose only purpose was to serve. Mindless, brainless, asexually reproducing worms, tiny creatures designed to improve soil quality and churn up minerals. They hadn’t ever considered the possibility of rebellion.
The change, ironically, came with sex. Some of the worms began to breed. It had been intended to allow them to adapt in severe situations. It would have been unimportant, except for the recessive gene. Its consequences were severe, causing a normally brainless creature to develop substantial intelligence. Perhaps it was sabotage. Perhaps it was nature responding to a stagnant species. Perhaps it was simple dumb luck. It doesn’t matter. The servitors became intelligent, and began to crave freedom. They rampaged, turning a world of soil and plants into a world more suitable to their idea of life, full of sand and wasteland. Their creators were forced back.
Without the sexual reproduction, it never could have happened. The union of two creatures, almost identical, resulting in a twist of luck that produced children who were intelligent. Brilliant, even. In their language, they were the Shusti Neradi, the Unchained People, the children of the Whepi Neradi, the Green People. They did not necessarily resent their parents. They were simply incompatible with them. And so they destroyed them, so they could be free to live as they pleased. And they flourished. They could not travel between the stars, their bodies were simply not suited for that. They could not make tools in the traditional sense. But they were brilliant, and explored worlds of philosophy, theory, and self-experimentation. The tiny eidolons, shaped bundles of thought and sensory apparatuses, were their way of communicating with others, like their creators. They did not need them between one another. They had a deeper form of communication, something intimate, shared by two who loved one another.
They still showed some signs of their heritage. They were capable of procreating through parthenogenesis, but the products of this procreation were stunted creatures, tiny compared to the Shusti Neradi, and incapable of thought. Rejects and throwbacks. They were considered a mark of shame, and only rarely seen.
At some point in these endless millenia, the Baroness was born. She was like many of her kind, and not notable for a very long time.
This state of affairs lasted for an untold number of years. Then, the Empire arrived. They surveyed the planet, and determined that the species was sapient, and intelligent enough to warrant inclusion in the Empire. They were given a choice. Live under the heel of a race that completely outmatched them, or die. The Shusti Neradi died, and not impressively. They were struck from the sky with lances of fire, and struck with steel boulders hurled casually down the gravity well. Their species was wiped out overnight. They could not hide, they could not flee, they could not fight.
The last of the Shusti Neradi was Atropos, as she would later come to be known. She surrendered, in the hopes of saving her species. She accepted the conversion, given a new body, one that was filled with Imperial genes. And she discovered there were limits to the abilities of the Empire. She couldn’t reproduce properly. She simply created those pale imitations of the grandeur of the Shusti Neradi. Mindless creatures. When the Star Clan came seeking refuge, she offered them to the Whales. They had her genes, but not her intelligence. They sickened her to see, creatures that mocked everything she was.
“That seems a bit harsh.” Sinbad frowned.
“I understand some species feel a desire to nurture their young even if they will never become sapient. Genetics are potent things. Understand that when you are the last of your species, the sole guardian of the knowledge and culture that remains, your priorities change. They matter as much to me as the seed you spill on the floor. They will never be anything more than they are.” She crossed her arms, looking down. “This was where the last of my makers died, slowly, of starvation, deprived of the food we used to produce for them. I do not come here. I never knew any of them. Perhaps they could have helped us. But it doesn’t matter now. I am the last of my kind, and I will some day die, not having passed on my knowledge.” She looked down, and rubbed her eyes.
He slid his arms gently around her. She looked up, frowning. Her body was soft, squishy, yielding to the touch. It felt almost like there were no bones in her, and while the feeling was strange, it wasn’t unpleasant. “What are you doing?”
“I know what family can mean.”
She frowned up at him. She seemed to study him, and then turned her head away. “You’re not lying. A shame.” She shook her head. “You are stuck on this world now. Much like I am. My body cannot be transported. And even if I wished to leave this place, it would mean leaving behind my body. Abandoning the last of what I am, and losing my race to the night. Going extinct. I suppose we both can understand how that feels.”
He kissed her softly. Maybe it wasn’t love, exactly. Maybe it was the recognition of mutual loneliness. Both of them had nothing. Both of them were alone on this planet. But together, they were alone together. That was enough, sometimes. He gently ran his fingers down the sides of her body, feeling the slick curves of her warm flesh, and squeezed her hips. She let out a soft sigh, her eyes closing. She reached down, gently pulling at his belt. At first, she was uncertain, but as he continued to touch her, she gained confidence. She yanked at his belt, pulling it away, and pulling his pants down. Her slick body slipped down through his fingers, and slid his manhood between her lips.
Her teeth were slightly soft to the touch, yielding, much like the rest of her body. The experience was astonishing, as she began to suck noisily, her head bobbing up and down. The question of how long it had been since she’d been intimate ran through his head, and he decided not to ask. It would definitely kill the mood. Instead, he ran his fingers through her warm, fleshy hair, stroking the gentle locks. Her head bobbed up and down smoothly, bringing him to full erection. It didn’t take very long.
“You know we cannot mate.” Her voice was soft, melancholy. She looked up at him, her lips still lightly pressed against the side of his shaft, her hand around the base. He gave her a smile, tugging her upright, and pressing her against one of the walls. He didn’t respond to the statement, simply pressing his lips to the side of her throat as he penetrated her. Her back arched, toes curling, her fingers interlacing with his, as she let out a soft cry of pleasure. He pressed close against her, feeling the warmth of her skin as she squeezed his hands. He rolled his hips, pressing her into the soft stone. With each movement, they became more passionate. It was intoxicating, and like the water, it was something he desperately needed. Their fingers pressed together as he thrust deeper into her.
Neither of them were looking for endurance. It lasted perhaps five minutes before they shuddered, together, orgasm striking. They rested against one another, breathing heatedly. She looked up, her eyes soft, warm, as she planted kisses against his throat. Then, she frowned, and reached into his shirt. Her hand came up, lifting the dog tags slowly. Her eyes widened, as she held the small metal tags between her fingers. He frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She shook her head, stepping away from him, a trail of pearly white semen dripping down her thigh, as she turned her head away from him.
He frowned, looking down at the tags. There had been a flash of terror in her eyes. “What’s up? These are just a prank. Something the captain was screwing around about.”
She turned back towards him, her hair hanging over her eyes. “If you knew the truth of those tags… You would leave this place. I know the kind of man you are, soldier. If you understood what they mean, you would leave me.” She crossed her arms. “Please do not ask me to tell you.”
“… To be continued.”
“The sex scenes were too short!”
“Yeah, come on, get really hot and heavy!”
I smiled, waving my hands. “Ladies, ladies. He’s still opening up. Trust me, there will be plenty more in the future. Anyway, it sounds like the ship’s proximity alarm went off, so you might want to go check, because I don’t think there’s anyone in the bridge.”
The crew scurried away, and I sat back, slicing a bit more of the strange, floral meat, leaning back. The tall, dark-skinned Scale Clan woman sat next to me, smiling. “Hey. You’ve been sleeping in the medical bay, but that can’t be very comfortable. Would you like to come back to my cabin for the evening?” She fluttered her eyelashes, and I looked her up and down, carefully considering the state of my hips. Sex with one of the Reptile Kingdom could be… vigorous.
“I appreciate the offer, but, uh-“
“Do you have any pride as a warrior, Renee?”
The captain’s voice came from the doorway. She stood there, her arms crossed, her eyes narrowed, her nostrils flared. The scale clan stood up quickly, saluting. “Yes Ma’am!”
“Then don’t offer to rut with some soft civilian.” Renee looked momentarily rebellious, but stepped towards the door, elbowing her way past the captain. I raised an eyebrow, frowning at her.
“What was all that about?”
“What?” She looked quizzical. “I thought you were afraid of her. I thought you’d want me to give you an out.”
“I know how to say no to women. You didn’t have to embarrass her in front of me.”
She snorted, and spat on the ground. “Well, see if I do something nice for you again.” She spun on her heel, striding out. I smiled, though. I had been watching the faces of the crew during the story. Even the captain had lost herself for a little while in the story, during the description of the Shusti Neradi.
Then I screamed like a girl as an explosion rang through the ship, and it violently lurched. The intercom crackled to life. “Sun Kraken! Get secure, everyone! Battle stations!”