tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 071

Three Square Meals Ch. 071

byTefler©

Tossing and turning in bed, the blue-skinned Maliri girl whimpered as she suffered through a terrifying nightmare, one of her more frequently visited horrors from a broad and grotesque catalogue.

She was standing legs parted and arms upraised, shackled to the floor by her ankles, and to the ceiling by her wrists. Stripped entirely bare, she was exposed and horribly vulnerable to violations by the repulsive monstrosity that lurked with her in the darkness. Her sharp, pointed ears heard it approach from behind her in the gloom, a squelching sound that sent shivers of fear up her spine. It stopped close behind her, and the creature admired its prize, savouring the moment as if tasting her terror. She was filled with a steadily increasing sense of dread, her heart beating deafeningly loud in her chest, each interminable second dragging out as she cowered before the malignant beast.

A cold inhuman presence began moulding its way up her legs, goosebumps rippling over her flesh as her skin crawled with revulsion. She began to scream in fear, her heart racing harder as she thrashed violently in a vain effort to shake off this abomination. Thicker and more viscous now, it crept higher up her lithe body, over her stomach and chest, as every part of her was slowly enveloped and penetrated. Her angular violet eyes were wild with terror as her clinging assailant slithered up her neck and onto her face.

And the screams... she screamed herself hoarse, begging for mercy, until her cries were abruptly stifled. Now she was being smothered, her mouth stuffed with a treacly, foul-tasting appendage that forced its way down her throat, and...

She sat bolt upright, her heart pounding in her chest, her body soaked in sweat. As she gasped for breath, she heard a heavy thumping on the door, and by reflex, she grabbed the vicious-looking duelling pistols from under her pillow, then aimed them at the ornately framed door.

"Cap'n? Are you alright?" Bull's muffled voice drifted through the metal doorway. "I heard screams..."

She felt a surge of relief, mixed with a healthy amount of gratitude to her first mate for rousing her from her tortured sleep. With a heavy sigh, she called out in her gravelly voice, "Yeah, I was having a nightmare about dividing up the loot."

His booming laughter sounded loud to her sensitive ears, and he said, "Good one Cap'n. Just lettin' ya know, we'll be arrivin' at Underworld in twenty minutes."

"Got it, I'll be right there," she replied, untangling herself from the twisted black sheet.

Her stomach cramped as she climbed out of bed, but it usually did when she woke up. She stretched and clicked her neck from side to side, before running her hand over her shaven scalp, feeling the slick perspiration from her ill-fated attempt to get some rest. She padded across the plush carpeted deck of her garishly decorated cabin, and into the ensuite bathroom.

Filling a cup with water, she swilled her mouth out to get rid of the acrid taste that still lingered after nearly a decade. Staring blankly at the faded rectangle marking the wall ahead of her, she spat the water into the sink, then got into the shower. The hot water felt good as it sluiced over her skin, her hands washing the soap over the patchwork of scars that layered most of her lithe body. Most of them she'd picked up as a victim, but there'd been plenty more she'd accumulated while she learned to fight back, clawing out a life for herself in the Unclaimed Wastes.

The shower revitalised her, and she felt more like herself as she dressed afterwards. Her outfit was designed to tease and distract, a simple ploy that could buy valuable seconds if - and when - it was time to get down to the business of killing. She pulled on the black clinging trousers which hugged her athletic legs like an unblemished second skin, while conveniently covering up the gruesome scar-ravaged truth. It was the same with the high-necked top that concealed her torso from view, presenting mouth-watering black-clad curves for any lecherous eye, while hiding a checkerboard of scars.

Although the material looked like it could be easily torn, the exotic compression-weave fabric could stop a ten-millimetre round, and had saved her life on dozens of occasions. Tugging on her red leather boots that ended just below the knee, she grabbed her matching cropped jacket and slipped it over her arms.

All that was left, was for her to get into character again.

She'd arrived in the Unclaimed Wastes naive, optimistic, and foolish, but she'd been educated very quickly as to the brutal reality of her new existence. First, she'd been forced to play at being a slave, and while the nature and torments of her slavery shifted over the years, the chains had stayed firmly in place. She walked over to the table beside the bed, and ran her nimble blue fingers over the golden mask and black cowl. The features of the mask were twisted into a mocking smile, her own modification to the original one she'd been made to wear.

Malifica was the woman that had torn away her shackles, and now that she had her freedom, she lived her life as that merciless persona. Pulling on the mask and hood, she slipped her hands into her latest pair of matching black gloves, then strapped her heavy belt around her waist. It had a comforting weight to it that helped to emphasise the seductive sway of her hips, all adding to the enticing illusion promised by her statuesque figure.

Retrieving the weapons that were resting on her pillow, the twin Enshunu duelling pistols slid home into the pair of well-worn holsters. Twin. An apt adjective for the vicious weapons, designed to inflict pain, and destroy lives. Her sardonic laughter echoed around the room as she spun and strode for the door.

She hit the button on the wall, and the etched depictions of naked women that had been embossed on the door, slid back into the frame as it opened. Malifica heard Bull's breathing before she saw him, so she wasn't surprised when she found his heavy-set frame leaning against the nearby bulkhead. He was waiting for her in his usual spot, standing beside a faded, smoky silhouette marring the wall.

"I wanted a word, Cap'n, before we get to Underworld," he said, looking shifty.

She strode past him, and asked, "Alright Bull, what's on your mind? You've got until we reach the Bridge."

He walked briskly to catch up to her, his heavy, armoured boots clomping loudly on the metal decking. "'Tis the boys. They be havin' a few reservations about our next job," he muttered.

"The 'boys' have reservations?" she asked him with a snort, as they reached the elevator. "I sincerely doubt Groluk even knows what the word means."

"Heh," he chuckled, nodding his agreement. "Good one, Cap'n."

"Spit it out then, Bull," she ordered, as they stopped outside the door. "What's got your knickers in a twist?"

His slab-like face twisted into a frown, and he asked tentatively, "I'd never dream of second-guessin' ya, Cap'n, but are ya sure this plan is wise?"

Malifica strode into the elevator, hitting the button for the Bridge before glancing his way. Despite Bull's grizzled appearance, he was a loyal and reliable first mate, and she'd learned to trust his judgement.

"We haven't got much choice, Bull," she replied quietly. "You know as well as I do that with Kintark Space closed off while they're at war, smuggling isn't an option any more. I enjoy killing pirates too much to become one myself, which only leaves dealing with Hades."

He nodded, his expression bleak, and said, "'Tis a shitty situation, whatever way ya look at it." He hesitated for a moment before he added, "Hades be a treacherous snake, Cap'n. I wouldn't piss on that bastard if he were on fire!"

"We'll keep our eyes open," she said grimly.

"I've got ya back, Cap'n," he agreed, but the worried look hadn't left his face.

When they reached the Command Deck, the elevator doors opened with a quiet hum, and Malifica strolled out, saying, "Afternoon ladies, what's the news?"

The Bridge of her ship, the "Infernal Retribution", was a narrow oval about ten metres in length. Practically every surface was filled with instruments or glowing panels, which supplied the crew with detailed information about the Enshunu Destroyer. Malifica's Command Chair was raised up on a dais at the rear of the Bridge, providing her a good vantage point to look over at the other stations evenly spaced around the room. There were three crewmen there, and they looked up from their consoles to nod at their Captain.

"I is hungry, boss," Groluk grunted, two of his four arms rubbing his belly.

Malifica strode up to her Command Chair, and as she sat down, she said to the Drakkar Gunner, "You're always hungry, Groluk. What happened to all that bhatana-elk we stocked up on? That should've kept you going for weeks."

He tilted back his putrid-green, hammer-shaped head, and his jaw snapped up and down anxiously as he snarled, "All gone on Tuesday!"

"We'll get some more provisions in Underworld," she said, mollifying the anxious warrior.

"I've come up with my new name, Captain!" the fresh-faced man sitting in the Pilot's seat said, an enthusiastic grin lighting up his face.

"Hang on, young fella," Bull interjected, turning to the last of the crewmen. "Plex, have ya fixed the leak in the fuel tanks?"

The Slarmian engineer uncoiled itself to its full height, rearing up until its blunt, eel-like face twisted to look at him. Fixing his creepy yellow eyes on Bull, he replied, "Plex fixed it after grubby wade through fuel filtration system! Plex is magnificent engineer!"

Malifica glanced at the diagnostic panels which had started flashing red that morning, and nodded with satisfaction to see that the warning icon had now disappeared. She glanced at the four-armed Slarmian and said, "The pirates must have hit us harder than we thought. Can you repair the armour plating when we dock, Plex?"

"Plex will do this, have no doubt," the Slarmian replied, swinging his beak in Malifica's direction and nodding it up and down.

"We better refill the tank as well," Malifica muttered, glancing at the distressingly low fuel levels.

"We're approaching the Alamak system, Captain," her young pilot said, giving her a cheerful smile. "Dropping out of hyper-warp in two minutes."

She punched up the Alamak system map, which the computer helpfully tagged as Gamma Andromedae. There were actually four stars in that system, Gamma Andromedae itself, which was a huge yellow star, and Y2 Andromedae, which contained both a double star, and a small indigo star that was their destination.

"So what's all this yammerin' about a name, George?" Bull grunted at their pilot.

The young man's blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he replied, "I'm not 'George' any longer! Now I'm..." He dropped his voice a few octaves, and continued dramatically, "'Talon'."

Malifica smiled behind her mask, while Bull guffawed, and Plex snickered. Groluk squinted at him, narrowing his bulbous black eyes and grunted, "Why you choose this name... 'Tal-on'?"

"Well, I got my first kill, so I get to come up with a new nickname!" George replied defensively. "I thought that as I was a pilot, Talon kind of fit." He trailed off quietly, as he finished, "You know, like a bird's talons, and a ship's a bit like a bird, so..."

"Nah, we get ta pick ya nickname," Bull replied with an evil grin. "What'cha think Cap'n? Somethin' fittin' for the young fella."

"How about 'Greenhorn'?" she suggested playfully.

"Heh, good one, Cap'n," he replied, giving her a sly wink.

"No! Should be 'Podling'!" Groluk shouted, snorting with laughter, and wiping the drool from his chin.

The Slarmian undulated as he thought it over, and said, "Plex agrees, very fitting names."

Bull turned to look at the young man, and teased, "So what's it ta be, George? 'Podling' or 'Greenhorn'?"

"You guys can go and suck vacuum," George retorted, turning back to the ship's controls as they reached the outskirts of the Alamak system.

There was a bright flash on the outskirts of the system, and Malifica's heavily-modified Enshunu destroyer, the "Infernal Retribution", dropped out of hyper-warp. Under George's capable hands, the three big engines throbbed with power, and their vessel began its approach towards the third orbital path around the dark-blue sun.

As their passive sensors engaged and began to sweep the local system, the holographic image of Underworld began to fill the tactical map. The ancient refinery was huge, and dwarfed every stronghold in the Unclaimed Wastes. Octagonal and squat, the tan-coloured orbital platform was in high orbit around a helium gas giant, on the third orbital path around the star. As it loomed large on the map, Malifica stared at it in fascination, just as so many ship Captains did while they pondered its mysterious past.

The station had been left abandoned for countless millennia until it was discovered and repurposed as a starbase, then used by one detestable gang of pirates after another for the last several hundred years. The origins of this time-worn monument to an ancient civilisation had been lost to antiquity, with all sorts of legends and rumours circulating as people speculated about the species who created the colossal facility.

The extensive interest in Underworld was in no small part due to the daunting network of defensive platforms that surrounded the station. The pirate band who'd first claimed the refinery had managed to activate life support, power, and the refuelling facilities, although the station's days of helium refining were long past. When Hades' Bloodnova gang had ousted the previous occupants, they'd managed to subsequently enable some of the defensive grid. That had instantly made this impregnable base the fulcrum of power in the Unclaimed Wastes, with no ship in the entire territory able to challenge its destructive firepower.

Underworld was not a complete enigma however; there was one person in the Unclaimed Wastes who knew exactly who'd built it. Such knowledge belonged in her past though, one that had been brutally stripped from her, along with her innocence.

The Infernal Retribution cruised past the outer ring of weapon platforms, dwarfed by the size of the defensive sentinels. Each octagonal structure was the same tan colour as Underworld itself, and possessed two massive weapon barrels set into an enormous turret. Malifica had seen the huge gun emplacements several times before, and while they were still very intimidating, she turned her attention away from them to study something new in the Alamak system.

Hades' fleet seemed to have expanded dramatically in the month since she'd last been to Underworld, and she counted well over two score of ships, ranging from corvettes up to one big battlecruiser. It looked like he'd taken on more allies recently - mercs by the look of it, - who swelled the ranks of ships at his disposal. She recognised the insignia on those vessels, and both the Ruiners and the Corpselords appeared to have both signed on with the self-appointed ruler of the Unclaimed Wastes.

"What're those bastards doin' 'ere?" Bull muttered, following his Captain's eye.

Malifica was quiet for a moment before she replied, "Whatever it is, can't be good. Hades must be planning something big, but I've no idea what it could be."

"Better bring Groluk with us, just in case," Bull said, glancing over at the hulking Drakkar warrior.

They were drawing closer to Underworld now, and well past the outer ring of turret defences, they were now closing on the inner ring. This was the most dangerous part of the approach to the base. Hades had a penchant for letting ships pass safely by the outer defences, then suddenly opening fire from both sides, unleashing a blistering barrage on unsuspecting vessels. Dozens of wrecks littered this section of space - the carcasses of those hulks picked clean by his army of scavengers.

As they sailed past the sad hulk of a merchantman, Malifica stared at the deep holes seared through the tattered hull. It reminded her of "the Warning", staged carefully outside Geniya trading post to dissuade non-Maliri from trespassing inside the Regency. She felt a sharp pang of homesickness, made worse by the knowledge that she could never return to her people.

Stifling a forlorn sigh, she stared at the big viewscreen fixed on the far wall as it flickered to life. A slovenly, bearded Bloodnova pirate had hailed them from Underworld, and when his image coalesced on the screen, he took a big swig of beer from the bottle in his hand. Staring at them suspiciously, he said in a surly manner, "Yeah? Whaddya want?"

"I've got a meeting lined up with Hades," Malifica replied, doing her best to keep her tone calm and even. "Tell him Malifica's here to see him, to discuss the details of the job we spoke about last week."

The pirate burped, then stabbed a button down on the console in front of him, leaving her looking at static. "Fucking pirates; worthless pieces of shit, the lot of them," Malifica thought to herself.

It had been pirates that had first boarded the weaponless skiff she'd been supplied with upon her banishment. Pirates that had wasted no time in beginning her introduction to the pleasantries of life in the Unclaimed Wastes with a savage gang rape. Her gloved hands gripped the armrests of her chair, and her temples started to throb as she tried to tamp down her fury.

"Easy there, Cap'n," Bull whispered from her side, gently patting her arm. "No need ta get riled up."

Malifica blew out her breath, then glanced his way to give him a grateful nod. He'd been her first mate for three years now, ever since she'd 'acquired' the Enshunu destroyer, and he'd learned all her little foibles in that time. It was Bull that had persuaded her to start a life as a smuggler, and she'd been tremendously grateful to have him at her side ever since. Her new life hadn't exactly brought her peace - she was too broken for that, - but it had provided a sense of purpose that helped keep her demons at bay.

The screen crackled once more, and the scruffy pirate gave her an insolent grin as he said, "Land in Docking Bay Two, you know where to find the King."

Before she could reply, he turned his attention back to the beer bottle in his hand, and flicked off the comm channel.

"Laying in a course, Captain!" George said breezily, Bull's ribbing about his nickname not enough to bring down the cheerful young man.

The Enshunu destroyer swept past the inner layer of turreted platforms, and approached the huge repurposed refinery. There were scores of small, sealed portals on four of the huge octagonal sides of the base, and alternating between each facing, there were four enormous docking bays that handled the flow of traffic into the brigand's fortress. George brought them around to the port side of Underworld, the huge tan-coloured surface looming hundreds of metres above their relatively tiny ship.

A dark brown Bract clipper was taking off as they manoeuvred into the docking bay using retro-thrusters. The ship's design reflected the nature of its insectoid creator, and it was a blunt vessel, heavily armoured, and very, very ugly. Malifica shook her head in distaste as she looked at the hideous-looking vessel. For someone who had grown up amongst the golden-hulled splendour of Maliri spacecraft aesthetics, such an unpleasant looking ship was an affront to her sense of artistic beauty. Then again, maybe it was a fitting metaphor for her current situation, all things considered.

The Infernal Retribution glided into the busy refinery, and George looked for a place to land near one of the dozen refuelling towers interspersed amongst the docking bay. The refuelling stations were packed today, but there was a space in the area vacated by the Bract clipper, so he eased the destroyer down to land there. Places to refuel were in short supply for the miners, pirates, and merchants in the Unclaimed Wastes, which was part of the reason why Hades, and the Pirate Lords before him had become so wealthy. What they planned to do when Underworld's enormous fuel reserves ran dry, she had no idea.

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byTefler© 204 comments/ 48935 views/ 93 favorites

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