I was in deep crap. The white flash faded from my forward viewscreen, leaving me right in the flight path of an assault ship. The attack vessel took up my entire display and then some, its twin claw-like engine nacelles stretching out as if to crush my ship in their grip. There had to be at least a dozen automatic laser turrets I could make out. This definitely wasn’t what I’d signed up for in coming here.
My ship’s computer’s voice carried over the internal speakers. “They’re hailing us, audio only.”
I was glad someone had bought all my contraband during my last stop. Being arrested was the last thing I needed. “Put it through.”
“Sierra-tango-four-two-four, shut down your engines and prepare to be boarded.”
“Tell me what this is all about,” I told the screen.
The response was all business. “Random cargo check.”
With a sigh, I watched the dark gray structure approach, battle scars lining the outer hull. Odds were this wasn’t as random as they made it out to be. I reconsidered the idea of making a run for it, but another look at the assault craft’s firepower made my decision simple. There was no way I’d escape alive.
My innocence would get me through this. If that failed, Jeanie could sabotage them. I hoped so, anyway.
“Shut us down, Jeanie.”
Impending doom festered in my gut as our thrusters cut off. I responded to the assault ship. “I have important business waiting on one of your outer planets.” A blatant lie, though I almost convinced myself. “I hope this won’t take long.”
“We’ll process you as fast as we can.” His tone told me I could toss myself out the nearest airlock. “Prepare to be boarded.”
I cursed aloud.
“The transmission has terminated,” Jeanie responded.
The two engine nacelles passed off either side of my viewscreen. Even being innocent, I couldn’t stop the intense dread. A large access tube telescoped out from the nacelle on our port side. Bright yellow flashes shone all over the assault ship as its position thrusters lit off in random sequence.
Loud thumps echoed as their docking clamps ensured my ship stuck around. Another even louder clang right after made me cringe as the airlock tube sealed against my hull. I was sure they’d be disappointed if they ended up smashing a hole in the side of my ship, but I’d be the only one suffering the permanent consequences.
Jeanie’s voice returned. “Pressures should stabilize in a few moments.”
Once the atmospheres on either side of the hatch were equal, it would open. “Take your time.”
“The process is automated based on a set schedule. It is not something I can adjust.”
Sarcasm was still tricky for her. “Never mind.”
I reached down and pulled a half-bottle of Vladirian liquor from my captain chair’s side pocket. Peace and quiet would both be running short, and as I faced the prospect of several unwelcome guests on-board, I needed something to take the edge off. Uncapping the lid, I emptied the sweet yellow nectar down my throat.
Passing through the doorway into my living quarters, I tossed the empty bottle into a clothes pile, crinkling my nose at the stench. The entry hatch popped open as the pressures between the two ships equalized. Six automatic blast rifles were pointed directly at my chest, giving me the usual welcome I received in these circumstances.
Knowing the drill by heart, I clasped my fingers atop my head. Troops piled in, yelling jumbles of words at each other and at me. Someone kicked the back of my legs and a rifle barrel was shoved in my face as my kneecaps struck the metal floorboard.
“Don’t move, scum.”
In my youth, I would have taken exception to such treatment. Age and more than my fair share of holding cells had made me wiser. I bided my time quietly, since I had nothing to hide. A pair of troops tore apart my quarters while others ducked off into my aft cargo hold.
Testosterone flooded the compartment, and all of it was wasted. They were going through this exercise and would end up with nothing to show for it. I smiled, knowing I’d have the last laugh.
“Wipe that look off your face, dirtbag.”
I looked up into the fiery green eyes of my captor. His helmet matched the metallic gray body armor he wore. His nose and mouth were covered in black fabric, but nothing muffled him from running his mouth, unfortunately. “Answer me when I speak!”
I frowned at his abusive attitude, just in time for him to club my head with his rifle butt. He jerked the barrel back at my chest, while my skull throbbed.
The only thing preventing me from jumping up and pummeling him was the fact this would be over soon. I forced words through clenched teeth. “Yes, sir.”
It was good my Mark II blaster was hidden in a secret crevice next to the airlock. Had it been holstered under my jacket, I might have been shot dead like a wild animal, instead of just beaten down like a domesticated one.
Those inside my living quarters finally gave up the search just before the other troops came back from my cargo hold. Their dejected facial expressions told me everything I’d already known; there hadn’t been anything they could find to implicate me. A smile almost crept back onto my face, but I refrained. I really wasn’t in the mood to end up with a concussion.
Another man entered through the hatch, absent any sort of body armor. His dark gray shirt bore a pair of silver ornamental bars on each shoulder. He looked down upon me with all the contempt I’d expect out of a ship’s officer. “Take him to the interrogation chamber.”
My heart sank. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. “Why?” I protested, before my captor’s blast rifle tagged me again.
I brought my eyes back into focus while another man’s voice carried through the room. “Lieutenant, this ship’s completely empty. There’s no contraband on-board.”
“We’ll see what else he has to hide. The seeker should get some useful information out of him.”
My two-time attacker yanked me to my feet. “Up, scum!”
Already in a poor mood for this unsubstantiated detainment, I pulled away. “Get your paws off me.”
His eyes went wide. He shoved the barrel against my chest. “Give me an excuse to drop you, punk.”
“Enough!” We both faced the officer, whose stare burned into the armored guard. “You have your orders.”
His eyes narrowed, nostrils flaring as he shoved me. “Move.”
The officer led the way. We ducked into the telescoping airlock tunnel, where I worried the spongy floor might bust through with each step. There weren’t enough words to express how thankful I was when my feet stepped inside the craft’s entry corridor. The rubberized floor panels and metallic hull were definitely welcome.
My senses were assaulted with an overwhelming aroma of honey. The mixture was a rare delicacy out here in the depths of space, something I’d only had a few times in life. I looked off to my left as the lieutenant started off in the opposite direction. A woman faced me, shimmering black dress brushing along the floor, her breasts jutting out against the fabric. A hand-crafted shawl was draped across her shoulders, the same color as her fire-like tresses, making it hard to tell where the garment ended and her hair began. Her eyes were two milky white globes against a face of smooth, pale skin. Her petite frame seemed as though it would break just by looking at her.
And look I did.
It wasn’t often I stood this close to such beauty, let alone caught a woman’s stare. At least I assumed she was looking at me. Those milky globes haunted me, somehow conveying warmth despite their cold, empty appearance. It was a shame she was so out of place standing between her escorts, a pair of tall, armor-clad monsters.
A bright flash blinded me. Quick glimpses, images, random visual fragments bombarded my vision. Two bodies, intertwined, slowly came into focus.
Then, blackness collapsed it all.
Massive pain radiated through my skull. My sight slowly returned to normal, and I found myself chest-down on top of the cushioned floor panels. I was back on-board the assault ship.
“Move, scum,” a familiar voice spat above me.
I climbed to all-fours and looked back at the red-haired vixen, fear in my eyes. What just happened? The woman’s forehead creased as I stood.
The armored guard gave off a deep belly laugh. “She’s already in your head, isn’t she?”
It finally made sense. This was the seeker the lieutenant had mentioned.
The bastard kept up with his jubilation, speaking to his comrades behind him. “She’ll crucify him.”
I kept my eyes on the woman and my mood turned from bad to worse. I had no idea what she was capable of, but she could get inside my head, and that scared me to death. I was privy to a lot of information not meant for anyone to know, much of it illegal activities. I’d mistakenly thought my present innocence would lead to freedom. Now, it seemed past misdeeds might be my downfall.
Fear building, I followed the officer, who watched with a subtle laugh under his breath. He hadn’t reprimanded his subordinate this time, which meant I’d used up my one get-out-of-being-assaulted-free card.
He let loose his chuckle. “Afraid of a pretty woman?”
I didn’t bother to answer, instead figuring out my options. I couldn’t fend off another mental invasion.
In other words, I was screwed.
* * *
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