1001 Starry Knights: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, chapter 5

The next morning, I woke slowly. Suckers were still attached to certain delicate parts of my anatomy, Toralee lying next to me, a happy smile on her face as the tentacles rested against my sides. I squirmed a bit, and she opened her eyes. “Oof. What time is it?” I looked around. There was no sign of a clock, and I actually didn’t know what sort of time frame they used on this ship. For all I knew, it was the middle of the night. I gave her a helpless little shrug. “Mmmmph. Some help you are.” She yawned a second time, and nuzzled into my shoulder, her arms loosely wrapped around my shoulders.

After a few more minutes, she had woken enough to slowly release me. I wriggled out of her grasp, gathering my clothes from the floor, and slipping them on.

“When last we left off, Sinbad the Spacefarer had found himself marooned on the Far and Sunless Land, with a strange yet endearing young woman.”

The girl helped him onto the mechanical steed. He rode behind her, his arms settled around her waist. Her soft, modest bosom bounced up and down in a way that made him feel deeply ashamed of himself. He looked off to the side, watching the monuments as they passed by. “I have to admit, I didn’t picture the Undead Kingdom having a graveyard. I thought the entire purpose of the Undead Kingdom was avoiding graveyards, in fact.” His eyes wandered across the tombs. They certainly varied in age, but none of them seemed overgrown, damaged, or neglected. That meant they were being maintained. Even the greatest Imperial technology would show its age if it was left untouched for long enough.

“Well, sometimes one of us gets tired of living forever in physical form. We want to become a Ghost, join one of the Gestalts, or maybe just relax and enjoy senility for a while without the ‘boredom’ of being physical. But an Undead body is powerful, and usually pretty dangerous. You don’t want to leave it where just anybody could get their hands on it. So, the Far and Sunless Land!”

“A combination of a weapon’s locker, a graveyard, and… long-term parking I suppose.” He softly whistled, staring out at the markers. Graves covering an entire world, containing who-knows-how-many bodies of great warriors and fighters, left untended and unused. He frowned softly. “You sound like you don’t agree with the practice.”

She laughed softly, leaning back a little against him. She smelled faintly of lilacs, the floral scent surrounding her like a veil. “It’s just… Gosh. I can’t imagine getting bored of life. I’ve spent my entire life on this planet, and I’m not bored. There are tens of millions of worlds like this in the Empire! How could you ever get tired of something so grand? There’s so much to see!” She looked over her shoulder at him, grinning. “Someday, I’m going to go out there. Make my way in the empire, and really leave my mark! I’ll do something great!” At that moment, the horse went over a large stone, and he reached out, grabbing her head as it wobbled in her shoulders, about to fall off.

“How old are you exactly?” He asked, as he gently set her head back on her shoulders. Her skin was cool to the touch, but soft, and gentle. It was hard not to think about it.


He stared. He’d though she seemed young and naive, but he’d never actually met an Imperial who was so young. “I didn’t know there were Undead so young. I thought you had to become one.”

“Normally, yeah. But there are some of us who are born Undead, and are that way our whole lives. I’m one of them! Born a Dullahan, and living my entire life this way!” She giggled softly. “There are a lot of us on this planet, in fact. A lot of youngsters who stay here because our parents are interred here. Keeping an eye on their bodies, that kind of thing. It’s a little bit of filial piety. Most of us spend centuries here, really. But I couldn’t stand that. Me and my mom… We don’t really get along. You know?” She sighed, leaning back in the saddle against him. He felt slightly discomforted. She was ten years younger than him. He’d never even met an Imperial who was younger than him.

“Not really. I got along well with my parents. I didn’t even know the Undead could have children. The genetic degradation…”

“It’s not easy. But I think a part of it is most people just don’t even want kids. They think we’re a hassle. A burden. They take up all of the important jobs and you can never do anything yourself! Do you know what it’s like to be young, when old people have all the power in the world?”

“I do. It’s the way of the galaxy. The way of life, really. Old people accrue power over time, and then when they die- Ah.”

“Yeah. My mom’s interred here, but she’s still the one who’s in charge of things. Because she’s not really dead, just ‘resting’. And so, I’ll never have a chance to do anything important. I’m just stuck in her shadow. Anything I could do, it’ll be because I’m her daughter. How can you get out of someone’s shadow when they’re so… big?” She sighed, staring into the distance, a frown on her soft lips.

“It is not such a bad thing to have a great parent. My parents were both humble, and I will admit, it made my life more difficult than it had to be. When your family is great… Well, you are not in competition with your mother. You are working together with her, towards a common goal. She is your mother. The things she desires may come into conflict with what you desire sometimes, but at the heart, you two are closely linked. Success for one of you is success for both. And sometimes, if you wish to get out of a very long shadow, it’s easier to move sideways, rather than away. Find something which your mother never did, and you can shine as your own star.”

She was quiet for a long time. “You’re a pretty smart person, aren’t you?” Her voice was soft, and gentle. He couldn’t help a little puff of pride, but he shook his head.

“Not particularly, no. If I were smart, I would know more about where I am.”

She nodded. “When we get to town, you’ll be able to learn more about that.”

Town was an interesting name for it. It reminded Sinbad almost of a tourist resort. There was no manufacturing, little in the way of any research or crop-growing. Instead, there were services. Brothels. Bars. Sports. Plays. A surprising number of the Fae Kingdom made their home there. When one of the Undead Kingdom decided it was time to give up their physical nature, then that naturally meant they had to get as much out of physical life as they could. Hotels lined the streets, garish lights everywhere, holographic displays casting bright glare across windows. As they passed a bar, a fistfight rolled out of the door, two powerfully built and pale-skinned young men exchanging blows with stunning expertise for drunks. A rather attractive young woman with sharp teeth winked at him from the door of a brothel, pulling her shirt down. “Seems like an interesting place to grow up.”

“It does, doesn’t it.” Her voice was soft. “There’s my mother’s crypt.” She pointed up, towards the far edge of the town.

A tremendous stone angel stood over the city. One hand was raised towards the sky, the other trailing behind. Two wings, strange, luminous, more like holographic sigils than anything biological, rose from the angel’s back. In the hand raised towards the sky, a bone-carved handle like the one the girl wore was visible. The clothing appeared the same, too. It was carved of white and black stone. It was a dead ringer for the girl walking alongside him. “I see what you mean by being in her shadow. If I had to spend my early life under a gigantic self-aggrandizing statue of my dad, I’d probably have some strong feelings about him too.” She laughed, although he didn’t think it was all that funny. “So, where are we going?”

“I’m going to take you to the Information Booth.”

This turned out to be a title, rather than an object. The Information Booth was one of the Fae performers in the city. Personally speaking, Sinbad despised the Fae Kingdom. They were an entire race of performers, fools, and jokers. The Information Booth appeared to be an unusual case, however. Dressed in the manner of a young man at his first interview, the Fae’s pointed ears and brilliant green-grey skin contrasted with a three piece suit that was obviously too large for him, and a squeaky, immature voice. He wore a pair of overly large, thick spectacles which completed the image. Sinbad was struck with the strange desire to pants him. “Ah, hey, Dolorosa!” The Fae grinned brightly.

“Ugh. I told you, don’t call me that, okay? It’s Dolly.” The girl climbed down, and Sinbad helped to steady her as she did, keeping her head on her shoulders. “Check it out, Booth! This guy just appeared in the middle of the markers. And get this. He’s a human!”

Silence radiated, ringing out from the center of the square. Heads turned, shocked, as the busy square instantly went quiet. People dropped things, which struck Sinbad as a little bit overdramatic. The pencil-necked Fae pushed his glasses up. “What? That’s impossible. Humans haven’t even gotten FTL yet, have they?”

“Yes,” Sinbad interjected. “About sixty years ago. I was traveling with a group of pilgrims over the Shining Wire. We got attacked something, I feel into a black gravitational anomaly, and wound up here.”

“No way. A wormhole? Leading right to this planet? What are the odds?” The Fae stared at the spacefarer. Sinbad noticed the entire crowd was watching, with obvious interest.

“If I might ask… Why are people staring?” He muttered under his breath.

“Because, uh. Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but you humans are kind of a big deal. The first sapient race the Empire’s ever tried to coexist with. The chance for the survival of our race. Protected by Heaven itself. And you seriously just fell through a wormhole to the far end of Undead space? That’s the kind of thing that could break someone right out of senility!”

Sinbad was silent for a moment. “I think I might like you to tell me what exactly this world is. And where it is.”

“Oh, yeah! Yeah, sorry, I’ve been breaking character.” The Fae cleared his throat, and stood up, straight backed, grinning.

The Far and Sunless Land was at the edge of the galaxy, on the far end of the Undead Kingdom. A quarter of the Outer Arm was colonized by the Undead Kingdom, and beyond the Far and Sunless Land were only distant stars, out of reach, and beyond consideration. The night howled out there, at the edge of the galaxy. When Dolorosa, one of the founders of the Undead Kingdom, found this place, she built the monument above us, and declared that it would be a bulwark against-

“Wait, Dolorosa? Like Dolly?” Sinbad asked, frowning.

The Fae pushed his glasses up, nonplussed. “Uh, yes.”

Sinbad turned to Dolly. She had a hand over her face, a miserable expression on her face. “Your mother named you after herself? Not even a ‘junior’ or a ‘The Younger’?”

“Yeah,” she groaned.

“Wow. Okay, the more I learn about this woman, the more I agree with you. That’s some real narcissistic parenting.”

“Welcome to my life.”

“Can I continue?” Booth asked, annoyed. Sinbad nodded.

That it would be a bulwark against whatever might lay out in the darkness. The Undead Kingdom would stand, with its back to the warm, inviting galactic core, and watch the night, for anything that arrived from beyond the stars. There were many who believed Dolorosa was mad, but just as many rallied to her cause. For many thousands of years, she had led her people. They believed in her foresight above all other things.

The world revolving around the lonely brown dwarf was transformed, made habitable, and covered in graves. Designed to hold the physical forms of the Undead. Dolorosa had been one of the first to see the importance of life extension, and to make it not merely a procedure, but a culture. Dolorosa was a visionary in some ways, the first to call for a unified Kingdom, which would exist as a place for those who were unending. In the Far and Sunless Land, she would study how to fight the nihilism that existed within all living things. She was one of the first to identify the growing trend known as ‘Senility’, and was the first to fight against it. She used the metaphor of sleep, believing the key to overcoming senility was not in endlessly chasing new experiences, but in rest.

Her plan was to stock an army, of sorts. As Undead gave up their physical forms, they left them in the Far and Sunless Land, where they would be readied. If any threat ever arose to the Empire from the outer reaches, then it would be met with an army of titanic proportions, ready to wage war, with the weight of ages on their side.


“Okay, look, here are my three questions. First, how far am I from home. Second, how long is it going to take for a ship to arrive here that can take me home. And third, what should I do here while I’m waiting for the ship home?”

It’ll take probably a year or so to return to Imperial space. Ships come fairly frequently, maybe once every ten to twenty days. And in the mean time, I suppose you can just party. I’m sure everyone will be happy to have you around.

The disgruntled Fae turned away. Sinbad sighed with relief. He’d had a very full day, and wasn’t in the mood for long talks. He stood straight, and smiled at Dolly. “Do you mind if I stay with you for the time being?”

Her eyes brightened, and she nodded. “Yeah! You can tell me all about your adventures!” She took his hand, and clicked her tongue at the mechanical horse. It turned, and trotted away, as she dragged him towards the statue. The two of them walked through the streets, her energy exhausting, but charming nonetheless. He’d never been around a young Imperial. There was something intoxicating about it. Not that it would ever be anything. It was just pleasant company.

The two of them approached the statue. Its base was a manor, which came across as somewhere between ‘extravagant’ and ‘terrifying.’ Vast, and carved out of black stone like bricks, obsidian dark against white mortar. Windows stood, great thick things. They were either opaque from this side, or the building’s lights were off. The two of them entered the foyer, the doors swinging opening automatically, black metal glinting in the pale light of the star.. A great staircase lead to the second floor, and another great staircase led down, carved out of white marble in contrast to the rest of the house, which dabbled in a thousand shades of black. She smiled, as she waved an arm around. “Here it is. Pretty nice gilded birdcage, huh?” She smiled up at him, clearly hoping to impress him.

“Much nicer than the birdcages I’m used to,” he agreed.

She took a few steps away from him, and crossed her arms behind her back, rocking on her heels. “So. Yeah. My mom. The great leader. Military genius, master of arms, founder of the Undead Kingdom. She went into seclusion again just before I was born. Never even really knew her, except by the way she influenced my life.” She sighed softly. “It sucks.”

“Yeah. So, what do YOU want to do with your life?”

She turned towards him, frowning. “Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not. What do you want to do? You’ve got all of these resources, your mother’s someone powerful. Whatever your dream is, people are going to want to help you fulfill it. You don’t have to believe in whatever the hell her cause was. You just have to be willing to do it.”

She smiled. “Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Of course.”

She bit her lip. “I want to be a dancer. I want to go to Earth, and learn how to dance, and become famous throughout the Empire.” She looked at him, frowning. “You’re laughing.”

“I swear I’m not.” His voice was strained, as he held a hand over his mouth. “I just- That’s a beautiful dream. It’s going to be tough, though, you know. I mean, aside from the difficulties of making it in such a high-pressure environment, and the long trip to actually make it to Earth, you are, ah…”

“I know, I know…” She looked down, frowning. “I’m clumsy.”

“I was going to say your head isn’t entirely attached to your body.”

She turned around, a look of outrage on her face. Her head tumbled off of her shoulders, and he managed to catch it in mid-air. She looked up at him, an annoyed look on her face. “That’s just- It’s not easy to get the hang of moving when you’re like this, you know?! I didn’t choose this body! My stupid mom did! She wanted to make sure that I was weak, and that I couldn’t make it on my own, so she made me into a joke, like this, and-“

He lifted the head, and smiled, gently placing it back on her shoulders. ” So, that’s your first obstacle to your dream. Your head. Hey. Let’s go out into the town. There are places to buy clothes here, right?”

She frowned, but nodded. “Yeah. Some of them. A lot of people import clothes here. Why do you ask?”

He lead her out into the streets again. She provided directions, and soon, they stood before a stall. It had a certain medieval chic, like something out of a renaissance fair, carved from some thick dark wood. The stuff had an almost oily texture, and was smooth to the touch. He picked up one of the ribbons, looking towards the faintly lupine woman sitting behind it. She winked. “No charge for Dolly.” Her accent was thick with something that reminded Sinbad of Eastern Europe. He carefully lifted the delicate blue silk, and slid it over her head, the fabric covering the part where her head separated from her throat. He lifted the two ends, tying them slowly, into a delicate bow. She reached down, and rested a finger on it, staring thoughtfully at the bow.

“Try a little spin. If your head falls off, I’ll catch you.” She looked up uncertainly, and frowned. Then, she nodded.

Her feet moved. Her arms spread out. Sinbad had never danced. He’d never been much for dancing. He didn’t know what good dancing was supposed to look like. But it had to be something like this. One foot forward, ankle turned to the side, the other leg behind her. Left arm to her side, right arm in front of her. She swung her arm out, and then brought both arms in, her leg pulling forward, spinning on the ball of her foot. Four times she spun around, with perfect grace, and inhuman balance, before her foot came down, and she smiled up at him. “I did it! My head didn’t fall off!”

Her arms went around his waist, and she pressed her face against his chest. He let out a soft huff of breath at her death-grip as she clung to him. “Yes, very good job. That’s the first step. See? You don’t try it, you’ll never succeed.” He smiled.

The two of them returned to the manor. It was cold, and empty, and full of trophies Dolly didn’t know the stories behind. Sinbad considered what kind of mother would leave a child with so little guidance, so little concern. It was not a happy thought. The two of them sat together in the parlor, a cavernous room tended to by a handful of skeletal robots, none of which seemed to have any intelligence at all. “So, you’re a part of the Orion Hierarchy’s fleet?”

“Was. Yes, I spent quite a long time in the Fleet. I joined when I was 12, as a chore boy. I learned quite a few things. I was 16 when I got my first command post, after the rest of the command of my ship was killed in a boarding action with a group of pirates…” He was amazed. He hadn’t told these stories to anyone in a long time. But with the girl, they flowed so easily. She was easy to talk to, and enjoyable company. But he could see the way she kept looking at him, the desire in her eyes. It wasn’t a good mixture. She was young. He knew how young people could be. Enamored, infatuated, wanting desperately to fall in love with someone. And he knew he wasn’t the right person for that. He’d have to find a way to turn her down, or it would be trouble.

Hours later, he stood in the kitchen, watching the flames flicker and lash at the food. His plasma torch sat on the table. The smell of grilling protein filled the air, and she appeared in the doorway. “That smells really good.” Her voice was soft, as she leaned against the door-frame. Sinbad’s eyes were on the metal mesh, watching as the small cubes sizzled. “Sinbad… If I left this world… Would you keep me company?”

“I would be happy to. At least until we arrive at Earth space. From there, I’m afraid you’d be on your own. I have a debt I need to repay. Once I’m back near human space, I’ll have to start worrying about it again.” I flipped the protein cubes.

“I… Could keep you company while you travel. Be with you. We could travel together for a while.”

“Nah. It’s dangerous work. I wouldn’t want you to be anywhere near trouble like that. But, I’ll tell you what: Any time I have the chance, I’d make time to see your performances.” I looked up, smiling. “I bet they’ll be-“

She stood in the doorway. She was naked. Her soft alabaster skin shone in the pale light of the castle, standing out against the gray stone. Her modest breasts were on display, capped with candy-pink nipples. She had an arm under her breasts, her other arm across her stomach, covering her groin. Her legs were long and slender, her hips wide, her thighs skinny but deliciously soft looking. Her taut stomach was visible, not a spare ounce of fat on her body, possessing the kind of perfection that usually belonged on an image manipulation software ad. The only thing she wore was the delicate blue ribbon around her throat, as she shyly met his gaze. “Sinbad…”

She stepped towards him quickly, and he backed up, his hips meeting the thermal radiation range. She bit her lip. “Am I ugly? Am I just… a weird alien? Do you really feel that disgusted when you look at me?”

He took a deep breath. “The problem isn’t that you’re ugly, Dolly. The problem is… You’re ten years younger than me. I can’t do something like that. You’re young. Naive. You’re an innocent. It wouldn’t be right.”

She was silent for a moment. Then her red eyes flashed. “How dare you.” She raised one hand, and with the perfect artful imperiousness of someone born to nobility, she slapped him across the cheek. She was holding back, he could tell; The blow could’ve removed his head. Instead it just stung. “I am from a race that has outlived stars. I know more about this universe than you could ever imagine, I will live longer than your species has existed, and I am not a child. I am not some innocent waif, some helpless naive girl who needs to be told who is right and wrong for her!” She gritted her teeth. “I don’t want you to protect me from yourself! I can decide whether or not I trust you! I want to know whether you want me!”

He was quiet for a moment. “Have you ever killed someone?” She looked away, frowning. “I have. He was a pirate, but I still took his life. I watched the blood drain out of his face, and I wiped my blade clean on his pants. You think you’re in love, but I think you’re just infatuated. I’m not really someone worth loving, if you got to know me.”

“You’re a hero. You go from world to world, saving people. You’re here because you risked your life to save some people you’d known for only a little while. You know so many things, and you just…” She looked down. “How can ten years matter that much to you? We’re surrounded by people who are thousands of years old. It’s just ten years.”

“You’re young. Love isn’t something that just happens. It’s a struggle. It’s… work.” Sinbad looked away, trying not to look at the soft temptation.

“What do you dislike about me?” She asked, her back straight. “How am I not right? There has to be something to it beyond age.”

“What?” He asked, frowning. “You expect to change yourself? That’s not healthy, either-“

“No! Tell me, precisely, what you think is so bad about me that you can’t even look at me!”

Her energy. Her enthusiasm. Her willingness to still dream. Her belief that she could accomplish things. Her belief in him. Her certainty that she would be the exception to all of those rules. Her adventurous spirit. Her obvious grace. He tried, very hard, to think of something that didn’t sound like a compliment. “Why would you even want to be with me? I’m no one special.”

“I don’t think that your opinion matters to whether I like you or not. So, do you like me, or not?” Her face was terribly serious, her body inches away from him. Her skin was cool, and the smell of lilacs surrounded him. He looked down at her eyes, fierce and angry and ruby-red.

“Yes,” he admitted.

She wrapped her arms around him. He rested a hand on the back of her head. He’d taken her heart in his hands, let himself be weak. He had to protect her now. Maybe it was impossible to protect her from heartbreak, but he wasn’t going to let himself off so easily. “Can we…” She looked up at him, her soft red eyes hopeful. “I’ve never actually had sex before, do you think… You could be my first?”

He lay back on the soft bed she had chosen. She looked down at him nervously, still wearing the blue ribbon around her throat, the bow bouncing with each movement she made. Her legs were spread around his waist, her groin exposed. Smooth, soft to the touch, she ground back and forwards on his manhood, riding against him gently. Her face was flushed with arousal and nervousness. “J-Just tell me if I’m doing a bad job. Okay?”

He reached up, gently brushing a finger along her cheek. He wasn’t proud of himself, but he had to admit, it had been another long time since he had spent any time with a woman. Months, in fact. It was hard to turn down the request of someone who was attractive, eager, and desperate for their self-confidence to be bolstered. Maybe he was doing more harm than good. Maybe it would be better for him to pull away from her. But he didn’t dwell on these things much for the moment. Instead, he leaned up, kissing her softly on the lips, still in his jumpsuit. “You’ll do fine, Dolly. Just relax, and let your instincts take over.”

She reached down, and grabbed clumsily for the zipper. She was already struggling a bit, her demeanor nervous, as she tugged it down. She slid her hands into his fly, slowly extracting his manhood, cursing a little bit as she had trouble. And so he reached up, and gently tugged her head up and out of the scarf, pulling it down to rest against his chest. Her body sat ramrod stiff, her thighs clenching around his waist. “What are you-“

He kissed her softly on the lips, silencing her. Then, he turned her head around to face her body. One of her arms came up to cover her breasts, body and head working in tandem, even separated. “Look at yourself. You know how to do this. You just have to listen to your instincts. Relax, and let your body take over. It’s the same for making love as for dancing. Your biggest enemy is your own uncertainty.” His voice was soft, murmuring in her ear as he stroked her hair out of her eyes. She took a deep breath, her chest rising and falling. Then she raised her hips, and gently guided the tip of his manhood to her entrance.

Her hips bounced slowly, serenely. She was uncertain at first, but her pace sped up as she gained confidence. Her toes were curled as she squatted over him, her hips bouncing up and down, the tip of his shaft sliding a little deeper inside of her with each movement. When the head of his cock popped into her, she let out a sharp little gasp of surprise, and dropped her hips down a bit further. Before long, she was sunk to the root. Her tight womanhood was wrapped around his erection, his cock twitching inside of her. She let out soft little cries of pleasure, her nipples stiff, peaked, as she kept moving.

He held her head gently in place, letting her watch herself. “See? It all come easily to you when you just relax and let your body take charge. Just trust yourself.” His voice was soft, and warm, and she reacted well. She leaned forward, her hands coming to rest on his chest, increasing her leverage. She bounced her hips up and down harder, lifting them up before thrusting them down, a wet noise filling the air each time she forced him inside of her. Her youthful body eagerly bounced up and down, fingers running across his cheeks. She began to grow louder, and he slipped a finger into her mouth. She gently sucked on it as her body thrust up and down.

Her orgasm came surprisingly quickly, her back arching. She thrust up and down irregularly a few times, her teeth biting into his finger as she held back a cry of pleasure, her hips shaking erratically. Then, her body collapsed, damp moisture dripping down his legs, staining his clothes, as she panted. His finger slid out of her mouth, and she made a soft whining sound. “You didn’t cum.” He carefully shifted around until she was on her back, her head slipped back onto her shoulders. Her legs still around his waist, he was now on top. His hips began to move back and forth. She looked into his eyes, flushed. “Was I not good?”

“You were very good. But you’ve still got quite a lot to learn. You can’t expect to be an expert at sexual techniques the first time you try, can you?” He gave her a grin. She puffed her cheeks.

“You’re patronizing m-mmmm…” Her protest was cut off as he thrust a bit harder, her mouth going loose, drooling, her tongue hanging out as he pumped into her.

“Maybe just a little.” Sinbad grinned, and planted another kiss on her lips, as she let out a soft moan of pleasure. He thrust faster, setting the pace, faster than she had been going. She began to breathe hard, her chest rising and falling, pretty pink nipples stiff as he rested his arms on either side of her. With each thrust, he could see her lose a little more of her control, her toes curling as she lay back. Before long, she was gushing, and this time, he joined her, his seed pouring deep inside of her as he lay against her.

In the afterglow, she lay at his side, her legs around him, her arms running over his chest. She unzipped his jumpsuit, and studied his scars, eyes wide as she ran her fingers over them. “What’s that one from?”

“Boarding action. Pirate tried to cut my heart out.” Her wide, astonished eyes were innocent, as she moved her hand down a bit.

“That one?”

“Console explosion. The instrumentation on some of the early space vessels was really touchy. It could get overloaded and explode when the ship was under attack.”

“And this?”

“Cut myself shaving.”

“It’s on your chest.”

“I was going through a phase.”

“It’s three inches long!”

Sinbad grinned. “Yeah. That was a hell of a phase.” He looked at the innocent girl as she studied them with interest. “What’s got you so interested in them?” She sighed softly, leaning her head against his chest.

“They’re unusual. You know? No Imperial has scars. Medicine, cosmetics, and the fact that our bodies are designed to heal perfectly. It seems so exotic.”

“It’s not really a good thing. Scar tissue’s weaker than the tissue around it. Just a reminder of how frail we humans are, falling apart all the time.” He gave her a grin. She nuzzled his chest. “Only reason I have them is because Orionese medicine is…” He searched for the right word.

“Full of jackasses?”

“That would do, yeah. Scars are considered a mark of honor. I think it’s bullshit, but, what can you do?”

She nodded softly, looking down. “Would you ever give up your debt?”

He frowned. “Why do you ask?”

“Just… Curious.”

“Well, no. I don’t think so. I have to fulfill it. I wasn’t the one who made the debt, after all.”

She frowned. “Why would you pay someone else’s debt?” He smiled softly. “Anyway. It doesn’t matter. Just wondering.” She wrapped her arms around his shoulder, and yawned, leaning her head against him. Before long, she was asleep, and so was he.

He awoke in the middle of the night. There was the crash of lightning and thunder. He gently slipped out of her arms, and looked out the window. There was no rain. He frowned, peering out into the sky. Off in the distance, he could see streaks of light, visible for only a moment before they ended in gigantic green explosions, balls of light that hung over the landscape for a subliminal moment. He rubbed his chin, admiring the eerie, yet beautiful sight. There was no sign of alarm down in the town. He supposed that probably meant it was okay. He looked back towards the bed, where Dolly lay, her eyes closed. She was making soft frightened noises, and so he pulled the sheets up, kissing her cheek. Then, he began to explore.

The building was large. Dozens of rooms, many of them containing trophies of various kinds. That was the only explanation for the strange mish-mash of body parts, weapons, and other, less identifiable things he found. Before long, he found himself standing before the stairwell down. He stared at it. There was a sense of foreboding, as flashes of green light filled the foyer, and the distant boom of exploding rock echoed across the stone walls. He took a deep breath, and walked down the stairs.

He walked down dozens of flights, leading into the bowels of the earth. He didn’t bother counting them. He just walked. At the bottom of the stairs, they terminated in a door. It was massive, more like a bank’s vault than something you’d find in a home. Two tremendous interlocking plates forged out of faintly blue metal were held together with dozens of seals. He doubted his plasma torch would make a dent on it. Bright red lights illuminated each of its four corners. He raised a hand to touch it.

“There is one room in this house in which you may never go.”

He spun, his heart pounding. Dolly stood at the bottom of the stairs, a blanket held across her body, preserving her modesty. “I woke up, and you weren’t there. I had a bad dream.” She looked down. “I dreamt you’d left. Gone out back to the stars, and left me here.” She wiped her tears. “I’m sorry. I know it’s a stupid thing to get worried about, I know it’s bad of me to get so clingy, and-“

He embraced her. “I’m not going to leave you here. It’s understandable, having abandonment issues. I’m not going to make them any worse.” He gave her a bracing smile. “What did you mean, though? When you said there’s one room I can’t go in?”

“Not you. That’s what my mother said to me, in the messages she left me. There’s one room in this house I’m not allowed.” She lifted a hand, and pointed at the doorway.

“What’s in there?”

“The greatest weapon in the Empire. My destiny.”

I stood up. “But, the hour is growing late once again. We don’t have time to dally.” I held up a finger. The alert bell rang, notifying the crew that the ship was ready to jump. Several woman slipped clothing back on. The room had been quite enraptured with the description of the love scene. I watched as the crew filed out.

The captain took a seat next to me. “You enjoyed that.”

“You didn’t. Too good to masturbate with your crew?”

“Too much control.” She crinkled her nose. “You’ve been getting frisky with the crew.”

“Yes. Did you want a turn?” She gave me a dark look. “Just asking. Are you going to throw me out of the airlock?”

“Tempting as it is… Not today. Ask me tomorrow.” She stood up.

“And are you still going to sell me?”

She turned, and gave a sharp-toothed grin. “Oh, I don’t know. You’re doing a very good job at trying to get the crew on your side. But I wouldn’t count on that. They love what money can buy. There are plenty of scholars in the galaxy who might be willing to stay aboard our ship to tell stories. We could hire one. And they wouldn’t be as troublesome as you.”

“Yes, but would they have my raw sexual magnetism?” I gave her a bright smile, and she barked out a surprised sounding laugh. She looked shocked by her own reaction, and held a hand over her mouth, exiting the mess. I sighed, made my way to the bridge and watched as the navigator worked. I leaned against the wall, watching as the portal to the next sun opened before us, and closed behind us. I resolved to ask her a few questions that night in bed.

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