tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 072

Three Square Meals Ch. 072


John helped Irillith up, and she nodded to him gratefully, wiping the back of her hand across her bloodied mouth and wincing with the pain from her broken nose. Rachel rushed over to her side too, and she brushed the Maliri girl's hair out of the way, so that she could help clean up the blood splattered all over her face.

The brunette unclipped a medi-kit from a pouch at her waist, and glanced John's way, she asked, "I'll stop the bleeding, but I assume you'll heal her when we get back to the Invictus?"

John nodded in reply, then looking Irillith in her violet eyes, he asked, "Are you okay?"

Her face looked haunted by guilt, and she stared at her sobbing sister who was being comforted by Alyssa. "Tashana's right..." Irillith replied, then paused as she swallowed. Her voice was quiet and full of remorse as she added, "Everything that happened to her was all my fault."

"We'll make everything right," he said, patting her gently on the shoulder.

Hades was still screaming in pain, staring in horror at the bloodied stumps of his wrists. Sakura looked at John with an arched eyebrow, and when he nodded to her, she turned and unceremoniously shot the Pirate King through the head, putting him out of his misery.

"Let's get out of here," John said to the girls, walking over to crouch down beside Alyssa and Tashana.

He glanced at Tashana, and when he saw the horrible extent of her mutilated face, he shared a glance with his blonde matriarch. *Fucking animals!* he swore vehemently.

Edraele had been listening intently to his thoughts, and when she heard his reaction to the injuries Tashana had sustained, her voice throbbed with guilt and sorrow as she sobbed, *My baby girl!*

*We've got her, she's safe now,* John said, trying to soothe the stricken Maliri matriarch.

Alyssa's sounded furious as she thought to him, *I want to kill every one of these bastards all over again!*

He nodded, and said, *Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.* He let out a troubled sigh, and added, *How anyone could do this to another person is beyond me.*

Tashana was rocking back and forth, hugging her knees, and burying her disfigured face in her arms as she cried disconsolately.

*Are you going to top her up when we get back to the ship? Fix everything?* Alyssa asked, looking at the horrifically abused girl with heartfelt concern.

John stroked Tashana's back, and said, *I'll speak to her, see what she wants to do. I can offer to heal her without setting up the bond if she doesn't want to join us.*

Alyssa grimaced, and said with some reluctance, *If it was up to me, I'd just ask Jade to fill her up, but you remember what happened with Irillith. Your cum affected her very strongly, much more so than the other Maliri girls. I suspect it's going to be all or nothing with Tashana.*

Reaching down for the golden mask that Tashana held in her limp hand, John gently pulled it from her unresisting fingers, and stared at the twisted mouth turned up into a mocking smile. "You poor girl, you've suffered through so much," he said, his voice throbbing with sympathy.

Tashana had fallen quiet now, staring ahead blankly in a dazed stupor. He glanced at Alyssa again, and then gently scooped up the catatonic Maliri girl in his arms, carrying her effortlessly with her head resting against the golden lion on his chest. Alyssa took the mask from his hand, and then after a glance at Irillith's anguished expression, she carefully replaced the hood over Tashana's head.

Alyssa looked at the girls, and after a brief telepathic conversation, they turned and moved out, stepping over the corpses of the Bloodnova pirates as they made their way back down to the lower level.

"I don't recognise any of this tech," Dana muttered as she took one last glance at the archaic brass-coloured consoles.

"Anything you want take a look at?" John asked, as he fell into step beside her.

She slowly shook her head, and replied, "I doubt a crusty old refinery has anything we'd be interested in. The Beam Lasers in the turrets outside were much stronger than standard Terran beams, but the enhanced Maliri ones we've got strapped to the Invictus are vastly more powerful." Dana twisted her shoulders to show him the unfamiliar and vicious-looking rifle she had slung over one shoulder, and added, "I did find this on one of the pirates. It looks like some kind of sonic weapon, so I'll check it out back on the ship."

He nodded, and said, "Alright, sounds good. We'll just clean up here and be done with the place."

They reached the lower level of the complex and the girls fanned out, with Sakura and Irillith sweeping through to check they hadn't missed any stragglers. The rest of the girls went to the cells, and freed the half-dozen abused young women which the Bloodnovas had kept as playthings. John heard the sobs of relief from the pirates' slaves as his girls explained that they were rescuing them.

Glancing at Alyssa, he thought to her, *Can you keep an eye on Rachel as she checks on these women, and then shepherd the freed prisoners down to the lower deck? The rest of the girls can come with me; we'll check on all the other slaves we freed in the market and docking bay.*

*Yep, no problem,* Alyssa agreed, already issuing orders to that effect.

John glanced down at Tashana as he stepped over smoking Bloodnova corpses on his way out of Hades' base, but she still appeared to be unresponsive. Bearing in mind how Irillith had reacted the first time she'd seen him, he could only assume that the shock of seeing and recognising a Progenitor in the flesh, as well as the trauma of being abruptly reunited with her twin, had overcome the poor girl.

"Don't worry, you're safe now. No one's going to hurt you again," he murmured quietly to Tashana, as he walked across the huge metal disc lying on the ground near the entrance to the base.

As he headed through the shattered gateway, he could see the flare of Paragon Armour thrusters up ahead as Sakura and Irillith jumped off the gantries to descend to the level below. They were joined a few seconds later by Dana and Calara, who walked briskly around him and cleanly vaulted over the guardrail at the edge of the platform, before floating down to the few hundred people left alive in the Underworld.

Holding Tashana protectively in his arms, he activated flight mode and began gliding back towards Docking Bay Four. He spotted the Trankaran ore merchant below, who was still standing by his tracked carts loaded down with ore. The blocky alien was staring around wide-eyed at the mounds of corpses littering the area, and seemed to be trying to figure out a way to navigate past them with his carts.

It was difficult to land gracefully without being able to use the anti-grav generators built into the wrists of his paragon armour to steady himself, but he just about managed a reasonably elegant landing using the ones in his boots. The Trankaran heard the quiet burn of the retro-thruster on John's back, and whirled around to stare at John in fear as his white-armoured boots touched down on the deck with a metallic clank.

"Don't shoot!" the hulking creature pleaded in his deep rumbling voice, holding his arms in the air in a gesture of surrender.

John glanced down at the girl in his arms, and replied, "We just came here to rescue her, we're not going to harm you." Looking into the Trankaran's amber eyes, he added, "My name's John Blake. Who are you?"

"Yordalum," the big alien replied, slowly lowering his hands, a wary expression on his slab-like face.

"Have you got a decent ship? Something that can hold its own against pirate attacks?" John asked him, as a group of Bract merchants scuttled by, mandibles clicking furiously as their multifaceted eyes darted around at the scores of corpses.

The Trankaran looked at him suspiciously, but after a moment's pause, he nodded as he replied, "You have to have a tough ship to mine here safely, in the Unclaimed Wastes. My ship has been modified to carry Fusion Beams, which scares the pirates away."

John nodded as he remembered just how strong those Trankaran weapons were, then quickly asked Alyssa, *What's the news from the girls?*

She sounded troubled as she replied, *The six women we rescued from Hades' base have been badly abused. Rachel thinks we should bring them with us so she can tend to them. The female slaves being auctioned by the slavers seem in reasonable shape, and so are the male slaves used by the merchants as baggage handlers.* Knowing what he had in mind, she added, *The girls have checked, there's plenty of people who know how to fly a ship.*

Turning his attention back to the Trankaran merchant, John said, "I'd like to hire you and as many allies as you feel you need, to help guard some freed slaves on their way home. If you help them safely return to Terran Space, I'll give you a million credits."

The eight-foot-tall humanoid gaped at him, his dark-grey face reflecting his shock at the huge amount of money he'd just been offered. "By the great maker!" he blurted out in shock.

John looked at him with an arched eyebrow, and asked, "Does that mean you're interested?"

Yordalum reacted quickly, and blinking in amazement, he replied in his gravelly voice, "I can do that. When do you want to depart?"

"Within the hour," John replied. "Enough time for the slaves to take any weapons or gear they need from the dead, and pick out a decent couple of ships for the journey home."


Normally poised and self-assured, the House Ghilwen Fleet Commander paced back and forth in the Command Suite aboard her flagship, 'The Encaren Valar'. She threw a troubled glance at the holographic maps representing the territory of her Noble House and shook her head once again.

"What the hell is she thinking, Darana!" she blurted out in exasperation. Stopping her pacing, the vexed woman swept her hand across the holographic images showing Ghilwen fleet dispositions, and sounded incredulous as she continued, "Stripping all our fleets from the borders with House Loraleth would be bad enough, but to do the same with House Valaden? It's madness!"

"I've no idea, Nymaleth," the battleship's Captain replied, sounding subdued. Walking over to the Sector Maps, she studied them closely, as if they weren't already permanently etched into her mind. Glancing at her Commander, her voice was terse as she added, "It's only a matter of time before Edraele exploits the situation, and cuts deep into our territory. Have you tried explaining this to-."

Nymaleth shot her a dangerous look, and said, "Do you take me for a fool? There's only so much I can push our new Matriarch... she's already threatened my position unless I cooperate." Adopting the airy soprano of a much younger woman, she continued, "Take all my forces to the border with House Holaris, and await further orders."

Stifling a smirk, Darana said, "We've been stuck here a week now, haven't we?" Her smile died as she added, "It's almost as if she's inviting House Loraleth or Valaden to attack us."

Nymaleth nodded, her face grim, and glancing over at the House Ghilwen territory map, her angular icy-blue eyes tracked the flightpath that intersected Ghilwen Space, all the way across to the Unclaimed Wastes. "Then there's that ship..." she muttered under her breath, astounded by the implausible speeds recorded by the long-range sensor net. Turning to look at her second-in-command, she added indignantly, "Letting a Terran vessel sweep through our territory unopposed; Matriarch Aradrea Ghilwen must be turning in her grave!"

"True, but now we're stuck dealing with her daughter," Darana said, soberly. Turning to stare at her commander, she asked in a hushed voice, "Is it true that Leena is still on Valaden?".

Nymaleth frowned, her brow etched with concern as she replied, "Yes, she's been there for weeks."

"Is she being held captive?" Darana asked, sounding deeply worried. "If so, we have to do something!"

Shaking her head, Nymaleth replied, "You know we don't have the strength to oppose the Valaden fleets. What can we do?"

"I wasn't thinking about a rescue mission," Darana replied, glancing back at the door to the Command Suite to make sure it was sealed. She stepped closer to Nymaleth, and in a soft, conspiratorial whisper, she continued, "We could declare Leena a traitor, and make alternate succession plans. Matriarch Nymaleth Ghilwen does have a nice ring to it..."

Nymaleth shot her companion a look of alarm, giving the door a frantic glance. Even the hint of treason against your House Matriarch carried barbaric and excessively sadistic punishments even by Maliri standards. She was about to sternly rebuke Darana, but she paused with the harsh words on the tip of her tongue. Matriarch. In her most secret fantasies she had always dreamed of being able to wield that level of absolute power...

The chime of the intercom made both women jump out of their skins, and they flashed each other a guilty look. Darana coughed nervously, and said, "Excuse me, Fleet Commander, I'll let you take the call in private."

Gliding over to the desk, Nymaleth grimaced when she saw the identity of the caller. Taking a deep breath, she set her face into a calm and composed mask, then accepted the call.

Matriarch Leena Ghilwen smiled at her, and replied warmly, "Hello, Nymaleth, it's nice to see you."

"It's so wonderful to see you too, my Matriarch," Nymaleth said to the image of the young House Ghilwen ruler. "What do I owe the honour of this call?"

Leena glanced off to her left, then sat up straighter, and added imperiously, "I have new orders for you."

"And what might they be?" Nymaleth replied through gritted teeth, doing her best to smile.

"You are to leave all our forces on the border with House Holaris, but I want you to take your ship to our border with the Unclaimed Wastes. You are to meet with an ally of our House, and then escort some honoured guests to Genkiri station," the young House Ghilwen Matriarch requested.

Nymaleth gaped at her youthful leader, and forgetting herself for a fateful moment, she balked, "You want me to fly -alone- through House Loraleth Space?! Have you completely lost your mind?!"

Leena's eyes narrowed, and her voice was deathly cold as she hissed, "One more outburst like that, and you'll be begging me to end your suffering! Am I absolutely clear, Fleet Commander?"

Staring at the young woman in shock, Nymaleth felt a shiver of fear run down her spine. If she hadn't known better, she would have sworn she was talking to Edraele Valaden herself. She'd only heard the legendary House Valaden tyrant once, in a heated exchange with Aradrea Ghilwen, but that had been enough to make her thank her lucky stars that she hadn't been born into Valaden territory.

"Please accept my humblest apologies, Matriarch," Nymaleth quickly replied, flustered now. "I will obey your orders to the letter."

After a long moment spent fixing her with a withering gaze, Leena said in an ominous voice, "You'd better pray they arrive at their destination without so much as a hair out of place, Nymaleth. I'm holding you personally accountable for their safety, and you do NOT want to test me on this."

"Of course, my Matriarch," the cowed Fleet Commander replied, bowing deferentially.

Leena closed the call without saying another word, leaving Nymaleth staring at the winged chalice icon of House Ghilwen. She slumped in her chair, the conversation not having gone the way she expected at all. Her Matriarch seemed to have grown in confidence by leaps and bounds, and Nymaleth dreaded to think what kind of instruction she was receiving from Edraele.

With a resigned expression on her face, she leaned across her desk to the Comms interface, then swiped across Darana's name. When her second-in-command answered the call, Nymaleth said curtly, "Plot a course for the border with the Unclaimed Wastes, we depart immediately."

Before the shocked Captain could reply, Nymaleth ended the call, then stared mutely out of the clear-crystal window that ran the length of the room. A turquoise spiral nebula that twisted around a long extinct star was the dominant feature of this part of space, and she gazed at the exotic colours, lost in thought.

Matriarch Nymaleth Ghilwen; the idea had merit.


John returned to the Invictus with Tashana, Rachel, and the six women that had been captured by the Bloodnovas, leaving Alyssa in charge of coordinating the freed slaves. While John and Rachel led their guests up to Medical, Faye returned with the Raptor back to the Underworld. The white gunship hovered ominously above the merchant ships, while she waited for the rest of the crew to finish assisting the emancipated slaves in securing transportation off the facility.

It took just under an hour for the overwhelmingly grateful slaves to strip the dead merchants, pirates, and mercs of anything they needed. There were over two-hundred men and nearly ninety women that John and the girls had saved from the slavers, and they picked out four well-maintained merchant vessels to use for the journey back to Terran Space. Irillith was able to smash through the ship's security protocols, and unlock all functionality of the vessels in a matter of minutes, handing over full control to the awed people they had rescued.

Yordalum was friends with another Trankaran miner who had docked at the station, and they were confident that between them both, they could help protect the convoy of merchant vessels on their journey home. John had reassured them that they'd be paid as soon as they contacted him upon safely reaching Terran Space, and that they simply had to contact the Maliri to route the call on to him in Valaden territory. The two Trankarans had been dutifully impressed that John was an ally of the Maliri, and when he described Chancellor Niskera, referring to her as a friend, they had readily agreed to his terms.

The blocky, ponderous Trankaran ships took off from Docking Bay Two, and fell into formation with the small fleet they were escorting. The merchant vessels themselves were modified freighters with extra armour and sprinkled with weapons - sensible precautions to take for anyone planning on operating in the Unclaimed Wastes.

Alyssa provided the group with a carefully plotted flightpath, which would save them several days' travel time on their journey home. The Trankarans and freed Terrans balked when they saw that their route to Terran Space would take them through Maliri territory, but John explained that they would be met by a Maliri fleet, and would be granted safe passage through to Terran territory. Relief at not having to brave Drakkar territory by skirting around Maliri space managed to temper their fear of the Maliri, and they all eventually agreed. The group of six ships jumped out of the system twenty minutes later, as soon as they were well-clear of the system's gravity wells.

Looking around the Bridge, John smiled with relief, and said, "Alright, let's set a course for Valaden."

"We're all ready to go," Jade said, turning in her Pilot's Chair. "I plotted a course while you were in the Underworld."

He winked at her, and she grinned at him in return, before quickly turning back to face her console and activating the Tachyon Drive. The cloud of tachyon particles began to form around the Invictus, and after a few seconds, the assault cruiser surged into hyper-warp, leaving the blue star of the Alamak system behind them.

"Three days two hours until we arrive at Valaden," Alyssa said, reading the ETA tagged against the Nymph's flight path. She smiled at the green-skinned girl, and added, "Not bad, Jade, not bad at all! I managed to shave off another thirty minutes, but giving that black hole a wider berth near the Gamme-Gruis system is probably sensible."

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