1001 Starry Knights: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, chapter 14

I gritted my teeth. The barrier behind me would hold the air in, but if the captain pushed any harder, I’d be thrust into the hard vacuum outside. All she would have to do is shove, and I’d be gone. There was nobody who could save me. I took a few quick, shallow breaths, trying to focus. My mind raced, trying to figure out her angle. “You- I don’t believe you’d do this.”

“Don’t you?” Her voice was a purr. “I want you under my thumb. You have been trying to undermine my decisions. Dragging aboard these strays, inviting them to stay so that you have more allies. Not that it matters to me, but I dislike seeing someone thinking that they are clever when they are not. What’s your plan, hmmm? To take my ship?”

“I- ghk- I swear-” My voice was choked, barely able to make it past the fingers tightening around my throat. “I just- want to learn- I don’t- want to take over- anything-!”

Her fingers dug into my skin as she grinned. “Then swear to be mine. Give yourself over to me, and I will let you live. But refuse me once more, and I will kill you, I promise.”

I gritted my teeth, and scrabbled at her hand. I couldn’t even move her fingers. The world was growing dark around me. Then, my hand lifted, almost as though someone else was controlling it. And I slapped her roughly across the cheek. My palm stung as I did, but her grip loosened, as she stared at me, open-mouthed. I panted, gritting my teeth as I regained my breath.

“I’m…. not yours.” I managed to choke out the words, my throat still in pain. I took deep breaths, regaining my balance, as I stood up straight. “I’m not going to give up. And I don’t think you’re going to kill me.”

She leaned forward, her teeth bared. “Do you think that I am afraid of killing you? That I care about you? That I have some reason to allow you to live in the face of your arrogant refusal to bend your knee?”

I swallowed. It was time for me to be daring. “I think you won’t kill me because it means that you won’t get the thrill of winning, and finally making me agree to do what you want.”

There was silence for a few moments. Then, a slow smile spread out across her face. “What a load of shit. As though I have so little self-control that I can’t stand a little bit of disappointment.” She sighed. “But I suppose you’re right. Luckily, it isn’t me who will be breaking your will. In about a week, we will arrive at the buyer. And then, you will be out of my hair for good.”

With that, she turned on her heel, and the airlock slammed shut behind me. I slid down to sit on my ass, and let out a sigh of relief. I began to stand up, when a hand took mine. I looked up, into the bright eyes of the leader of the Red Cap Society. She was attractive, in her own way. Teeth shone like the jaws of a bear-trap in her mouth, iron-gray. “Hello, boss.” She leaned forward, smiling as she tilted her baseball cap to a rakish angle. “You seem to be having a bit of woman trouble.”

“You noticed that?” I asked, as she pulled me to my feet. “Any advice?”

“Reptile Kingdom romances tend to violence like that. You could challenge her to a duel. If you won, then you’d be able to tell her to do whatever you like. Be kind to you, stop acting like such an iron-clad bitch, maybe just leave you alone.”

I rubbed my throat. “Wouldn’t that mean she gets to choose the form of the duel? What if she challenges me to… I don’t know. A sword-fight?”

“Well, then you’d probably either die horribly, or spend the rest of your life as her toy. You could always provoke her into challenging you, though. Keep acting defiant, making trouble for her, maybe she’ll get careless and let you set the format of the duel.” She gave me another fierce, metal-toothed grin. “Only way to deal with a dragon. Make them careless. Act helpless, foolish, and easily defeated, agitate them until they can’t stand to do anything but try to snuff you out like a candle.” She examined me, her grin fading to a thoughtful look. “You should have no problem with that.” And her laughter filled the halls of the ship as I made my way back to the medical bay for the evening.

“Now, who of you know about the White Scales?” I asked, sitting in the mess the next day.

“They’re the honored dead, aren’t they? Slain Reptile warriors, who have been released from their service to the Reptile Kingdom, and been made members of the Emperor’s guard,” volunteered Renee.

“Nah, nah, they’re the ones who have shamed their families. They’re required to commit suicide through glorious battle, so they serve the Emperor, sent on the most dangerous of missions,” Brie said, smiling smugly.

“From what I’ve heard, most Imperials are only familiar with the legends about them. The truth of the matter is somewhat different, as Sinbad would learn. Of course, first he had to deal with the change of his own gender.”

The cabbie raised an eyebrow. “So, wait- You were given the body of a woman. And you found yourself getting hot for an Imperial man? How does that work?”

Sinbad shrugged. “I can’t say for certain. Maybe it was a matter of hormones. My new body charged with responses to certain stimuli. Maybe there were some lingering aspects of Samantha’s personality and mind there, left behind by the process of transference. Or, for all I know, it was simply my own attraction. I have always considered myself straight, but perhaps, if I was in the body of a woman, I would be just as content to be attracted to a man. Of course, my reaction was not nearly as interesting as his was…”

“You don’t have to avert your eyes, you know.” Sinbad was dealing with several strange emotions at once. There was a lot of anger, rage at the woman for abusing his trust and tricking him. At the men in white suits for capturing him. At himself, most of all, for not having his guard up. There was also a great deal of anxiety. He had been unmanned. He didn’t know if he’d ever be able to regain who he was, and there was someone running around with his face and who-knows-what devious plans. And finally, he was fighting the urge to laugh. The imposing, white-haired Imperial currently had a hand over his face, and was looking away.

“You’re naked. It would hardly be proper.”

“It’s not even my body, I’m not going to get offended. Also, I need you to get me out of these damn handcuffs. What, haven’t you ever seen a naked human before?”

“I can’t say that I have, no.” The white snake man approached. His tail slithered in an elegant sidewinder pattern, even as he kept a hand over his eyes. The serpent reached out, and grabbed something. Sinbad breathed in sharply, and the snake’s hand retreated as though he’d grabbed the cherry-red heating coil of an oven.

“Look, just- Uncover your eyes, so that doesn’t happen again. Alright?”

The second try went smoother, and Sinbad climbed to his feet. He stepped into the corridor, where one of the two white-suited men lay, unconscious. Sinbad slipped off the man’s jacket, and pulled it over his shoulders. His skin was soft, vulnerable. The jacket’s smooth fabrics chafed at him, and he frowned, turning towards Llewellyn. “You saved me. Why?”

The white-scaled serpent shrugged. “I have been tracking Samantha Shen for some time. She got her hands on a piece of lost Imperial technology, and has something unpleasant in mind. I tracked you down, believing that you were her. I still suspect that you are, but…” He rested a hand on his chin, and frowned. “The process does not give you access to memories. It’s a complete transfer. So, perhaps you can tell me something that remains between you and the Empress. The details of your brother’s treason-“

“He wasn’t a traitor!” Sinbad said it before he thought about it. The anger flooded up. The bright, red haze of rage. He gritted his teeth, slender fingers clenching into fists that had never been used. “You want to know the story? Fine.”

Jaqim was a conscientious objector. He had never joined the military. In the Orion Hierarchy, all positions of political power were filled by those serving in active military positions. The Stratarchy was, after all, a military endeavor first and foremost. This had made him a black sheep in the family since childhood. He refused to play the game of obedience. He refused to fit in. He protested the heavy hand of the government on the people. He worked his ass off to give them no reason, no excuse, to punish him.

Sinbad and Jaqim had fought many times when they were young. Sinbad hated his brother. Hated the way he made life more difficult for Sinbad, the way that Sinbad was tarred with the same brush, and had to fight to prove that he wasn’t the same. He hated the self-righteousness with which Jaqim fought. He hated the way that he seemed so absolutely sure that he was right. And most of all, Sinbad hated himself for not having the same bravery. He’d always known that Jaqim was right, but he couldn’t stand to admit it.

Growing up, the two of them had grown further divided. Sinbad began his military career. He distinguished himself with valor. Jaqim continued to protest, and refused to join the Hierarchy’s military. He began to get involved with shadowy groups of dissenters. People who wanted the Hierarchy to change its political system. That in and of itself was bad enough, but he began to grow more radicalized. He began to take more overt action, protesting, performing small rebellions. The last that Sinbad heard, he had begun to infiltrate military offices, attempting to find and liberate information on the Hierarchy’s more questionable behaviors.

The official story was that Jaqim had leaked intel on a dangerous operation. That he had sabotaged the Orion Hierarchy’s military operations. He was immediately arrested for high treason. Had he been a military officer, he would have had friends, perhaps an opportunity to defend himself. But he was not a military officer. He, Sinbad, and their parents, had been sentenced to death by firing squad. They would have killed all four of them, except for the first contact with the Empire.

In light of Sinbad’s own dedicated military service, he’d been offered the opportunity to redeem his family. To stave off their execution, and if he was successful, perhaps someday to free them. It had become an obsession of his. Clearing his family’s good name. Sinbad refused to believe that his brother was a traitor. But there was a part of him, deep down inside, that doubted. That hated his brother, because it was entirely plausible that he had done what he was accused of. Jaqim hated the Hierarchy, and he hated Sinbad’s part in the military. It was all too easy for it to become just another childhood fight, Jaqim’s high-minded ideals making Sinbad’s life more difficult.

That was why he hated to talk about it. That was why it was so hard to continue, sometimes. Sinbad hated his brother’s actions. He hated that he was forced to make up for what his brother had done. He hated that no matter how far he went, he was bound by the chains his brother had forged. Whether his brother was a traitor or not, that didn’t actually matter. What mattered to Sinbad was that he was confined by his duty to his brother and his parents. And he loathed it.

It wasn’t fair! He didn’t deserve what was happening to him! He didn’t deserve to be forced to make up for the sins of his brother! He had spent his entire life doing his best to help people, to be a good man, to care for those around him! Even now, he was forced into danger and horrific situations, time and again, risking his life, because of his brother! And it would never stop! He was never going to-

The tirade cut off, as Sinbad covered his eyes. Tears were flowing down his cheeks. Man or woman, you weren’t supposed to cry among the Orionese. He furiously rubbed away the traitorous saltwater. From childhood, it was punished. Wasting the water that you might need to survive. He heard the serpent slither closer, and stiffened. He stood up straight, letting his arms fall to his sides, defying the Reptile to strike him. He looked up into those cold, yellow eyes, as Llewellyn looked down at him, face impassive.

The cabbie stared. “What did he do? Slap you? I’ve heard the Reptile Kingdom can be as harsh as the Orionese on weakness.”

“No. If he had done that, I could’ve hated him, worked with him, and said to hell with him when I was finished. He did something much crueler.”

The serpent’s strong arms went around Sinbad. The embrace was gentle. “I am sorry.” Llewellyn’s voice was soft, and while it wasn’t warm, there was a hint of something in there like sympathy. Sinbad stayed very still, unsure of what to do, even as the tears began to flow again. A hand rested on the back of his head. The serpent’s body was slightly cool to the touch, but pleasantly so. The heat building up inside of Sinbad’s head seemed to flow out, soothed by the embrace. “I will do what I can to make things right.”

Sinbad leaned in against the embrace. “I hate this. I hate being weak.” His voice was soft. It wasn’t losing his body that had made him weak, though. He’d been weak all along.

“I know. Few people takes pleasure from being powerless. I will help. We must formulate a plan. We are almost two weeks out from the Jack. Samantha Shen will be ahead of us. Do you have an idea of what she plans?”

Sinbad shook his head. “She said… she wanted power. She’s got a weapon that can swap her body with that of anyone around her.” He took a deep, steadying breath. “She took me for a reason. She sought me out.”

“You have several notable advantages. I imagine that she could not stay in your body for long, though, based on your duties. There are those around you who would grow suspicious. However, if she were to steal an Imperial body…” The two of them made their way to the cockpit. Sinbad studied the controls momentarily, and shut down the Alcubierre drive. There was a brief, eye-searing purple flash as the bow-wave of radiation dispersed itself, and the ship stopped pissing on Einstein’s grave. He began to maneuver it into position for the trip back. “The question is, who she would steal. If we can find her before she can complete her plan-“

Sinbad’s blood ran cold. “I had an appointment. With the Empress. If she could catch the Empress by surprise…”

Llewellyn frowned. “It would be difficult. The Empress’ security is excellent. But then… Shen has already proven herself capable of surprising feats. Underestimating her is a danger.” He frowned.

“Isn’t there some way to contact the Empress? Warn her that there’s a trap being set up for her?”

“No. Even a courier would not arrive at the Throneworld before Shen. And if we are not careful, she may realize she is being set up. If she becomes aware that we are pursuing her, she will disappear. You may never regain your body.”

“Can we catch up with her?”

“Not in this ship. Set a course back for the Jack. We will be a month behind. And the ship is likely to be difficult to outpace. But we may be able to arrive there before her, depending on the route we take. In the meantime… I will have to prepare you for a confrontation.”

“You think I’m not prepared?”

Llewellyn regarded Sinbad levelly, yellow eyes bright as he tilted his head. “You said you feel powerless. I’m going to teach you how to be strong.”

Martial arts are a constant across intelligent life. Wherever a sapient, tool-using life-form must protect itself from harm, martial arts will spring up. This is because, at its heart, a martial art is simply a very versatile tool. A philosophy for life, and for battle. Providing training methods and a built-in response, centered in the nervous system. It is fundamental to warfare, because all methods of effectively using weapons flow outward from this central talent. And because it is universal, it takes on many shapes.

Among humans, boarding actions are rare, but inevitably close-range. Firing a bullet in a ship’s oxygenated, pressurized atmosphere can result in mutually assured destruction, and so, in all but the most desperate situations, combat is mostly hand to hand. Styles vary, from the flowery and elegant methods- more philosophy and exercise than weapon- of the Martian Commonwealth, to the prosaic skills of the Orion Hierarchy. In the Hierarchy, there are two styles of martial arts; One soft, focused on grappling and locks, the other hard, focused on striking. The latter is known as Skullcracking; The former is known as Manhandling. These names alone provide a vivid picture of the philosophy of the Hierarchy.

The Empire is a home to countless martial arts, and the physical diversity of the Empire makes them all the more varied. The great Whales of the Star Clan practice a form of breaking analogous to the human practice of brick-cracking, smashing apart asteroids with their broad hides. Among the Undead, there exist a practice of martial arts that take tens of thousand years to learn, repeating the techniques until they achieve perfection. To achieve the black belt equivalent, they must gather ten thousand hydrogen atoms with a pair of molecular tweezers. Among the Reptile Kingdom, there is practically a martial art for every individual.

However, three things common to all Reptile martial arts are the founding principles. Ro, Shi, Ma. Ro was the art of grappling, of incapacitating a single enemy and using their joints against them. Shi was the art of striking, landing blows that drive off the enemy. And Ma was the art of knowing what was worth fighting for.

In the Hierarchy, pressure points were regarded as rather foolish. After all, individual humans varied, and it was difficult to vary the force of one’s blows in the middle of a brutal battle. What would send one person to the ground, writhing but not permanently injured, would kill a second, and barely faze a third. They were not considered a reliable weapon. Among the Empire, whose training regimes lasted decades, whose knowledge of biology was unsurpassed, and whose warriors were expected to be the best, pressure points were a matter of course.

And then there were the weapons.

“I can’t say this seems like a very fair fight. You have a sword.”

Llewellyn nodded. “No fight you enter is fair. If you enter a fight believing that you are stronger, you will be careless. Approach every fight as one against a superior enemy. Feel them out. Take your time. Strike with all of your might.” He stood, the sword up, his other hand out. The tip of the blade wove through the air in a gentle figure eight. It was sabre-like, shining like blue steel, its edge almost seeming to slice apart the light. It was frighteningly sharp. Sinbad took a deep breath, balling delicate, slender fists, and raised them to a boxing position.

The punch was slow, weak. The memory of how to fight was there, but a lifetime of fast twitch muscle was not. The blow glanced off of Llewellyn’s hand, even as the followup skidded across the serpent’s firm stomach. He swayed away from both strikes, even as Sinbad pulled his arms back, returning to the defensive position, hands up. There was a whisper, and before Sinbad could regain his balance, the sword was at his throat. “Damn it.”

“Do you know why you are weak?”

Sinbad gave him a sidelong look. “Well, let’s see. I’m in the body of a woman who’s probably never fought a day in her life. I’m a member of a race whose technology, genetics, and martial arts are far inferior to yours. I’m more than a foot shorter than you, and you have at least eight hundred pounds of raw muscle on me, including the tail. Am I getting close?”

Llewellyn smiled. Sinbad adjusted the loose vest. He’d cut it apart out of some of the clothes he could wear. It was strange, getting used to a new body. Different reflexes. The different positioning of muscles, of fat, of… other things. His grip strength had dropped precipitously. And he got fatigued quickly, Shen’s body unable to keep up with his usual pace. It was terribly sensitive to pain, too. His knuckles were still hurting from where he’d struck the man in the white suit.

“That is not what makes you weak. Those are disadvantage but you can overcome any disadvantage with strength. What makes you weak is your fire. You do not believe in your purpose.”

Sinbad looked down. He would’ve liked to tell Llewellyn that he was wrong, to go to hell for presuming anything about Sinbad’s motivations. But the serpent was absolutely right. Still, he had his pride. “What the hell would you know about it?”

“If your purpose is at odds with who you are, you will be weak. You resent your brother, because you believe that his actions have placed a yoke around your neck. Your desire to help your family, your mother, your father, even your brother. These things are at odds with your desire to be free. Your needs are at odds with your duty. Your soul’s form is poor, straining against itself. Now attack, again.”

Sinbad gritted his teeth. He took a deep breath, and swung again. The blow was cleaner this time, but his wrist was still caught, wrapped between a pair of fingers, his arm lifted into the air. He found himself pulled up, dangling from one wrist. Llewellyn sighed. “Sloppy, poor form-“

Sinbad yanked the vest open. Llewellyn’s chiding stopped in a choked sound, his jaw dropping. It was met on the way down by one of Sinbad’s feet, snapping into his chin. There was a heavy crunch. Llewellyn released Sinbad, rubbing his jaw. Sinbad smiled brightly, landing on the balls of his feet. “You were saying?”

“When all else fails, destroy your opponent’s certainty. Very well-done.” He stepped back, taking a stance. “Attack me again.”

This continued for quite some time, until Sinbad’s arms ached, and he could barely stand up straight. He looked up. “Why are you helping me?”

“Your body was stolen. You are a Knight of the Empress. Those would be reason enough for me to provide aid to you in getting your body back.”

“Yes, but- This training. Teaching me to fight like you. Why would you do that?”

Llewellyn went quiet. He took a deep breath. “You remind me of my brother.”

The Snake Clan is not a gentle place to grow up. The Reptile Kingdom favors large clutches of children, raised not by parents, but by military instructors. From an early age, they were subjected to brutal training, to make them strong. Many die in this period. Even in the modern, degraded days of the Empire, the practice continues, even as the number of viable children grows smaller. Llewellyn was born several thousand years ago, to an unusually lively clutch. A full dozen of them made it to the age of eighteen, and their Graduation.

Eurig was the strongest of them, fierce and proud. He loved the stories of the heroes who protected the Empire, and who made great sacrifices. He had lived for the fight, and thrown himself into every impossible training scenario. He was the strongest among them, and he was slated to be the only one to Graduate.

Llewellyn, however, was weak. Born with white scales, scrawny. He survived as long as he did only because of the help of Eurig, who saw something in him. Over the years, he grew stronger, becoming capable of standing on his own, but there was always a gap between the two of them. In Graduation, this gap became clear.

The process of Graduation was simple. A three day battle. Showing mercy, refusing to kill your opponent, attempting to avoid conflict, these were punished with execution, swift and brutal. The only way to survive was to take the lives of those you had grown up with. The practice was savage, but it made warriors whose only connection was to the Kingdom, who shied away from others, who had been trained to be the strongest that they could be. But the Reptile Kingdom was not without mercy, and it was not without pragmatism. The purpose of this training was to destroy weakness, not to waste strength. If two of the fighters met, and neither could gain an advantage for a full hour, both would be allowed to survive.

Of course, with Eurig, none of the others stood a chance. They died, one by one, until only the albino and the ace were left. And they fought. Llewellyn matched his brother, for the first time in his life, but he couldn’t gain an advantage. It seemed like they might both survive. Then, Llewellyn slipped. His strength failed, and he misplaced a blow. He was disarmed. There was no choice for Eurig. And yet, he still managed to find a better way.

Eurig took his own life. Llewellyn was declared the victor, and the only graduate. Because he had been weak, he had cost his brother, a born hero, his life. The guilt had been overwhelming. Llewellyn had immediately volunteered for the White Scales. The most dangerous of positions, and also the most noble. The White Scales were not a part of the Reptile Kingdom. Their members were not ghosts, not dead and their position as White Scales was not forced upon them. Those who joined the White Scales were the ones whose despair had cost them any chance at a normal life, in the Reptile Kingdom or elsewhere. Those who were a part of the White Scales were searching for a good way to die, one that would leave them dead without costing the world more.

Llewellyn became one of the White Scales, and began his missions immediately. Stopping things that would threaten the empire as a whole, always unsupported, always alone. Promising himself that he would never be weak again. Promising himself that his brother’s death wouldn’t be in vain.

“My flames are guilt. Nothing I do will ever make up for one moment of weakness. Nobody I save can return my brother to me. Of course, none of those who died would be brought back. Their memories, their personalities, all died with them.” Llewellyn crossed his arms. “Your cause need not be happy, and it need not be noble. All it needs to be is what you truly believe.”

Sinbad sat on the floor of the cargo hold. “You were a child. You didn’t have a choice. You don’t deserve to be guilty. You weren’t the one who took your brother’s life.”

“Wasn’t I? I wasn’t strong enough. If I had been his equal, if I had been powerful, he would still be alive. It doesn’t matter, anyway. It motivates me. It reminds me of why strength is important. Every time I am left wondering whether my goals are worth pursuing, I remind myself that I am alone, that I am the last of my clutch, because I was weak. In that simple knowledge, I find strength.”

Sinbad frowned, and rested a hand on Llewellyn’s shoulder. “That doesn’t sound like a very good use of strength. What’s the point of being strong if you never have someone close to you, who you can protect?”

The snake flushed, his arms crossed. “I’m- I hardly need intimacy, or contact, or-“

And then, Sinbad’s lips met his.

Sinbad had never considered himself particularly attracted to men. He still would say the same. But now, pressing soft skin against the serpent’s firm chest, arms going around the snake, Sinbad couldn’t deny that it felt good. Llewellyn protested softly, but Sinbad ignored him, gently undressing. She- Sinbad couldn’t quite bring herself to say ‘he’ right now- enjoyed the expression of satisfaction on the serpent’s face. There was an appreciation for her body. It wasn’t Sinbad’s, admittedly, but it was still flattering. She took the serpent’s hands, and rested them gently on her breasts. She smiled fondly at him. “You’ve never had sex, have you?”

“I… No. It’s not particularly… something that I’ve ever wanted.” He tried not to look her in the eye, even as his hands massaged her chest. His cool fingers felt surprisingly good. She let a smile spread across those soft, unfamiliar lips.

“Liar. You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you? I bet it turns you on knowing I used to be a man. You seem like the kind of person who’d be into it.”

“That’s not-!” His protest was cut off as her lips met his again, her breasts pressing up against him as she straddled him. The tail slid up and around, gently winding around her waist, tightening and loosening slowly. The scaled tail moved further up her body, wrapping around her up to her shoulders, pressing her arms to her sides. She gave him a teasing smile.

“What, are you scared of being touched? Come on. I bet you’d enjoy it.” Llewellyn’s yellow, cat-slit eyes dilated a bit, his breathing growing more ragged. His robe had come undone, revealing his chest, the smooth skin there, firmly muscled, the line down to his hips, the perfect V shape, and his erection. She licked her lips. At the moment, she couldn’t hide the arousal dripping down her legs as Llewellyn positioned her. She didn’t particularly want to, either. He looked up, uncertainty in his eyes. “Come on. I’m as new to this as you are. I won’t get mad if you blow your wad too quick.”

This seemed to galvanize him, and he pressed forward. The moment of penetration was exquisite. Whatever else Shen was, she wasn’t inexperienced. There was none of the pain that Sinbad had been privately dreading. The sensation of being filled, of having someone fuck her, was breath-taking. Her back arched, her toes curling, as she felt the Imperials hips pound against her. He wasn’t gentle, or slow, but she didn’t mind. She wanted something intense, and fast. Maybe it had been the fighting, getting her blood up. Maybe it was the curiosity, the taboo, of being like this. All she knew was that it felt amazing.

The orgasm was strange. A hot, tight knot seemed to build up inside of her, growing tighter by the moment. As she took deep, steadying breaths, it started to grow more intense, the heat making her feel uncomfortable. Sweat dripped down her forehead, her breath coming in great, ragged gulps. She didn’t ask him to stop, or tell him to slow down. She wanted him to be as rough as he could. Something about the mix of pleasure and soreness was sweet, making the knot inside of her burn hotter. She gasped for air, and came. Relief flooded through her, enervating her, and she collapsed against his chest.

Sinbad lay in the somewhat uncomfortable bunk. It was made somewhat more comfortable by the presence of Llewellyn, whose embrace was surprisingly comfortable. Sinbad closed her eyes, and sighed. It had felt good. Strange, but good. For perhaps the first time, she wasn’t hating the experience of being trapped in this foreign body. It hadn’t been so good that she would give up on trying to recover her body, but there was something to be said for a new experience. Maybe it was just being able to lose herself in something like that, letting someone else set the pace.

The next two weeks passed like this. Martial arts, and occasional sessions of intimacy. They arrived, a full month after Sinbad had lost her body, aboard the Jack. Together, they slipped off of the ship, past the strict customs with Llewellyn’s spycraft, leaving the two unconscious men in the hold to be discovered when the ship’s supply of tranquilizers ran out.

“How are we going to make it to the Throneworld? She’ll be there already.” Sinbad whispered. The two of them were making their way through the maintenance tunnels, avoiding the security devices in the station’s cavernous interior. Llewellyn stopped at a doorway, and opened it. Standing beyond was the bartender from when Sinbad had first met Samantha.

“Simple. We’re going to use the Paths.”

I sat back. “But that’s a story for next time. For now, I believe that the time has come to call it a night once again. Renee? Do you mind if we talk?”

I stepped away from the rest of the group with the black-scaled lizard-woman. She frowned. “What’s the matter? I heard you and the captain had a fight. Are you antagonizing her?”

I gave her an annoyed look. “What, you automatically assume that if something bad happened, it must be my fault?”

“It seems like a fair attitude to take.”

I sighed. “No. I just… I wanted to ask you about the captain. About how you met her. What you know about her.”

Renee nodded. “Well, come on.” She rested an arm around my shoulder, grinning. “I’ll tell you all about her.”

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