Captain Jette Jones, Star Ranger
Issue #01 – Slaves of the Suzerain – Part 1
By Callidus and connie k
All rights reserved. “Captain Jette Jones: Star Ranger” © 2021 All characters and stories are not to be reproduced in any form without the expressed written permission of the authors.
Captain Jette Jones and the crew of the Artemis III rocketship race to a distant star system where a ruthless and seductive Queen is moving to seize power and destroy the brave Star Ranger.
On Earth, there is an old expression: In space, no one can hear you scream. But in the far reaches of the galaxy in the Te’ Sareez Star System … someone is screaming!
Her irises began to dilate, then shrink. Bigger, then smaller, pulsing like a beating heart. A tiny dot of black within the dulling blue. Then expanding, swallowing the milky blueness with dark. Then almost heaving as it contracted again.
The woman stared … into twinkling lights and shifting colors with a horrified look on her face, even as she mewled in helpless pleasure. Red lips quivered. Her mature face, overdone with makeup, grimaced as she shook in torturous ecstasy. Her raven hair gathered in thick wet strands of sweat around her head.
Her body writhed in the chair she was bound to, thrusting forward and back across the puddle of lust she was sitting in. She pulled at the manacles locked over her wrists. When they had first clamped shut and trapped her to the chair, she’d wrenched frantically to free herself from the snare she’d fallen into. Now, she wanted her hands free for more primal and wanton reasons.
“The crystals of R’th Nark are utterly overwhelming, aren’t they, dear?” The female voice from the shadows sounded amused. “So many have tried to glimpse at them for a moment … just long enough to describe what they really look like only to find that one glimpse is all it takes to freeze your thoughts.”
Eyebrows twitched reflexively, the thin worm-like metal tendrils holding her eyelids apart. Forcing her to stare into the addictive crystals.
“Please!” the bound woman screamed. “No more!”
The figure stepped forward, shielding her own eyes with a raised, bejeweled hand, careful to not look upon the crystals for even a moment. “Sorry dear, more is what you must have. I want to make sure your first long look empties and stimulates your mind. That way… you’ll do absolutely everything I command to get your next look. To beg for it.”
Goddess! She screamed in her mind. I am being fucked through my eyes!
“The need to obey growing. Ever growing. Until …” — the woman gasped as a slender finger found its way into her weeping womanhood – “… you will obey me without a blink.”
The bound woman’s tear-filled eyes were covered in bright, flashing light once again … her mouth opening to a silent cry as her hips bucked savagely.
Ryaki held a hand up to her shield her eyes as she stepped through the airlock into blazing daylight. The air traffic crisscrossed the sky above the landing spire in a steady stream as far as the eye could see. Here and there, small dots broke formation to descend into the vast city that stretched out in all directions.
Ryaki and the delegation from Serpens Soma were met at the end of the ramp by a contingent of officials, all female, who bowed their heads formally upon the arrival of their guests. The steam as their spacecraft’s engines cooled bathing them in a fine, warm mist.
“Ryaki of Soma,” the young woman at the front said as she raised her head, “I am Dahlee, first adjutant to Queen Zeta. You are welcomed to Serpentarius, and to the palace of our Queen.”
The exterior of the ancient palace was dark, a preserved relic of Serpentarius’ feudal past, when warlords ruled by the sword. It was more castle than palace. Large patches of moss hung in misshapen clumps along its brickwork and mortar. Thick vines snaked upward from its foundation, reaching for the grated windows above.
“Thank you. Queen Kalokairi, in return, offers her appreciation for meeting with us.”
“Please, follow me. The Queen awaits you in her chambers.” Dahlee turned away with a flutter of her sequined, pale blue gown, then turned back and ushered them with a polite wave.
“The Queen?” Ryaki’s surprise was evident in her voice. “I thought this was to be a formal meeting of our respective delegations?”
Dahlee’s smile, which uncovered a row of silvertine teeth, was equally surprising. “The urgency of your communications, plus the haste with which Queen Zeta wishes to resolve any dispute, has led her to conclude that she will personally oversee the … discussion. She also requests that you, Ryaki of Soma, attend her alone and in private.”
One of the Elders standing behind Ryaki cleared his throat in protest. Ryaki nodded to him, then turned back to the smiling young woman.
“This is highly unusual. Queen Kalokairi’s regent – “
The smile vanished in an instant. “Queen Zeta will speak with you alone, Ryaki.”
Then, the regent’s wizened face reddened. He stepped forward and whispered in Ryaki’s ear. Three tall, shrouded Imperial Guards of Soma moved behind him, shifting on their heels into a ready stance.
“I accept your Queen’s generous offer,” said Ryaki formally.
The regent eyed Dahlee with a trace of mistrust, even as he bowed his head and stepped to the side.
“Very good,” Dahlee said, smiling with her teeth again. “Follow?”
Ryaki was led inside the palace, noticing over her shoulder that the regent and the rest of her delegation were being led through a different entrance off to the left.
The dank interior of the palace appeared even more feudal and aged than its exterior. Sections appeared untouched for years, yet everything was in its place. Well-ordered and intentionally unused. This palace, Ryaki thought, was not a place to be in the dark of night.
Dahlee escorted Ryaki through several antechambers before stepping into the throne room of Queen Zeta. The contrast was startling – as if every ounce of beauty and light had been sucked out of the palace and resided here.
Prismed glass and finely detailed ornamentation filled the cavernous room. Every surface had been covered in precious metals. Goblets and chairs and torch holders were bedecked in rare gemstones. The quality of the woven rugs at their feet and the lustrous banners hanging around them was without compare.
There was no evidence of the civilization which summoned the great powers of the universe to achieve space flight, to automate factories, to stand as an equal to the people of Soma in technological might and economic security. It simply was kept out of view here in the seat of government.
And what a seat! The throne room was as lavish as it was forbidding – gold and diamonds, the richest silks and grandest archway Ryaki had ever seen.
The throne had six steps and a footstool of gold. On each side of the three seats, the two beside the throne notably inferior, were arm rests in the shape of two lions – their legs morphing into the tails of snakes – positioned as if to hold them in place. Twelve large onyx-stone lion-snakes stood on guard, one on each end of the six steps. The like of it was never made in any other kingdom, anywhere, Ryaki was certain.
And sitting upon the throne, as gracefully as if she had been born into it, Queen Zeta of Serpentarius.
“Ryaki of Soma. Yes. Welcome.”
The voice was soothing yet powerful, its echo lasting long past the final word, forcing a pause from Ryaki. A nubile, young woman – the Queen’s equerry – hurried past.
“Thank you, Majesty.”
Ryaki heard the heavy door behind her close as Dahlee and the young woman vanished. They were alone.
“I have taken a great interest in you, Ryaki,” said the Queen, as she slithered out of the throne chair and stood high above her guest. Her angular features were a stirring counterpoint to the roundness of her hips and breasts. Her piercing eyes nearly glowed: sharp emerald pupils framed by flawless dark makeup. And, on her head was a three-pointed crown resembling the wing tips and beak of a white-gold falcon. She was stunning.
“Yes. It is my duty to familiarize myself with those in power in the other Queendoms.”
“I am not a leader, Majesty. Her regent –”
“Is an old, doddering fool, yes I know. I’m more interested in the woman behind the woman, as it were. You are Queen Kalokairi’s right hand. Are you not? It is your voice she hears last when deciding a matter of state. Or am I mistaken?”
Ryaki bowed her head.
“Your appearance here,” Zeta said, taking a step, “is proof of that.”
Ryaki bowed deeply at the compliment. Queen Zeta took each step down slowly, forcing Ryaki’s eyes upward. The tall heels of the Queen’s jeweled sandals clicked brightly on the gold steps of her throne.
“Now, to business. The trade pact my people have forged with the people of Serpens Kauda bears no conflict with the existing and well-established treaties among the four planets of the Te’ Sareez Star System. It is merely a strengthening of those ties to the mutual benefit of Kauda and Serpentarius. I’m sure your Queen can appreciate that, as will Queen Diamanti of Serpens Caput.”
“I understand, Majesty, but –”
Zeta had moved closer to Ryaki, so she could catch the heady scent of the Queen’s perfume. The Queen extended her hand and gently touched Ryaki’s shoulder, silencing her.
“Serpentarius and Kauda have resources and other negotiables which are of little value to you on Soma or the people of Serpens Caput,” said the Queen.
“Forgive me, Majesty,” Ryaki said, bowing slightly, “but it is the secrecy and haste that such a trade pact was formed which concerns Queen Kalokairi and Serpens Soma.” Ryaki could feel the fingers tightening on her shoulder, yet Queen Zeta only smiled and nodded.
“Tell your Queen to fear not. It is simply an overture of friendship and cooperation that the offer was made.” The hand slid behind Ryaki’s back and stroked her there. “I also extend to Queen Kalokairi and the people of Soma a similar trade agreement. Here are my terms.”
As if from nowhere, the Queen handed Ryaki a small reading device. She scanned the document quickly. The flashing light hurt her eyes. She stepped aside slightly just as Zeta’s hand reached her ass.
“See? I did not wish to create an air of mistrust or jealousy. Each Queendom will receive something different as will the people of Serpentarius in return. Queen Kalokairi can show her people that she is wise and willing to expand the prosperity they already enjoy.” Zeta was circling Ryaki slowly, like a tigress. “Is this not the Queen’s wishes?”
“I … I would say it is, Majesty. I will return to Soma with your offer.”
Zeta stopped in front of Ryaki. “No.”
“If you keep reading, you will note the matter of formal negotiation has already been addressed. Queen Kalokairi will meet with me personally.”
Ryaki reluctantly turned her attention back to the document, relaxing her eyes to see if that would ease the strain of looking into the device.
“Arrangements can be made to have a joint meeting of all the Queens of the Suzerain Council on the space station orbiting Serpens Caput for that purpose. Serpens Kauda and Serpentarius have already reached an agreement. Now, I wait on Serpens Soma and your Queen to agree.”
The strobing light from the reading device made Ryaki blink hard. She felt dizzy. Still, it was difficult to look away.
“Are you not her emissary in this matter? Ryaki?”
“I… am, Majesty.”
“Therefore, Queen Kalokairi’s decision will be based on what we here, now discuss. She will make a determination from what you tell her. Correct?”
Ryaki’s arm trembled with the exertion of the holding the device before her face. Somehow it was easier to ignore her aching muscles and keep scanning the reader.
“Well … in part, yes.”
“Therefore,” Zeta stroked Ryaki down her cheek and it flushed. “It is actually your decision, Ryaki.”
Ryaki was visibly wobbling. What is happening to me?
There was a whisper in her ear: “A lovely creature. So strong and noble. But … you have your own desires. Yes? This is what you’ve dreamed about. Making decisions for Soma. Your ambition…” The hand gripped Ryaki’s ass, then massaged it roughly. “…to be a decision-maker in the affairs of your people. Joining the trade alliance will show unity, not divisiveness. You will be honored by your people.”
There was a nip at her ear and Ryaki sighed.
“And by me. I will owe you a great debt. One that I am willing to pay here and now.”
A blankness enveloped Ryaki’s face as she stared into the flashing light with dull glassy eyes.
“Majesty … if I can …”
“Isn’t that why you are here? To be the eyes and ears and conscience of your Queen? You have served her well. I’ve even heard that you’ve… shared her bed.”
Ryaki hissed as her pulse beat thickly through her neck. The screen was inches from her face now. The flashing light drumming in time with her racing heart.
“She trusts you. She trusts your guidance. Just as you now trust me. Follow me. Join me. Serve me. And the power and status you desire will be yours. You can put that down now.”
Ryaki dropped the device. Her blank expression didn’t change. A glass of blue wine was placed in her hand.
“To the success of your mission and the union of our two peoples.”
An unsteady hand put the glass to her lips.
“And to our union, Ryaki.”
She drank from the glass. The flavor was bold and rich on her tongue. She instantly felt heat rising in her cheeks as the potent wine reached her brain and fogged her thoughts even further. The room began to spin and she squeezed her eyes shut to stave off the dizziness.
But that only drew her focus to the feeling spreading through her body. The heat from the delicious wine was everywhere now, a flood of warm, sensuous kisses on every nerve ending of her trembling body.
As the wave moved through her it left a glorious throb in its wake. Ryaki let out a low, breathy moan as her nipples began to ache beneath her clothes. The heat passed through her loins and unleashed a flood of lust between her quivering thighs.
“Ryaki?” A hand closed around hers and took the glass from her numb fingers.
She opened her eyes to find the enchanting Queen of Serpentarius looming before her. The Queen’s eyes were aglow with lust of their own.
Diplomacy and decorum forgotten, Ryaki drank the sight of Queen Zeta’s milky flesh. The young woman moaned again as an even stronger wave of aching desire coursed through her body.
“Come. Follow me. I can show you the rewards of the decision you have made.”
Ryaki groaned in response, letting herself be led to a pair of thick banners to the right of throne. A curtain raised, revealing the luxurious boudoir of a Queen.
“You enjoy the taste of this power, Ryaki?”
Her eyes blinked slowly, never leaving Queen Zeta’s. “Yes … Majesty.”
“And you want more. You lust for it.”
“Undress for me. Now.”
Ryaki tugged at the top of her black dress thoughtlessly, dropping it strapless below her breasts. A cool hand danced across her neck and down, running underneath a heaving bosom.
The hand grabbed the front of the dress and yanked it down in one, swift motion.
Ryaki gasped as the cool air of the room kissed the molten heat on her throbbing nipples.
Ryaki was dazed. No thoughts in her mind, just the words pouring in her ears… and the fire dancing in her loins.
She slid the undergarment to the floor. Two green eyes held hers.
“You want me, don’t you, Ryaki.”
“Yes …” Ryaki’s whole body shuddered.
Zeta took her hand firmly, almost dragging her toward the round bed, which could have held ten women. Ryaki stood before it in a state of dumbnation.
“Then agree to the alliance,” came the whisper. “Prove to me and to your people who the real power belongs to on Soma.”
Ryaki felt a soft hand snake between her shoulder blades. The Queen pushed her onto the plush mattress. Ryaki fell forward onto her hands and knees. It felt so natural. So right for a bitch in heat …
“I agree!” She moaned into the blanket, thrashing her head back and forth as she pushed her ass up and presented her weeping sex to Zeta. Ryaki lumbered forward on her knees, then collapsed and lay back on the large bed, looking up with desperate eyes. “My Queen.”
Zeta smiled down at her with green fire dancing in her eyes. “Good. Yes. There is so much to tell you before I must return you to your ship.” She reached forward, holding Ryaki’s glass out.
“Have some more wine, my dear.”
Ryaki opened her mouth and thrust her tongue out lewdly. She lapped at the wine poured over her lips. Flicking her eager tongue in an unspoken promise of just how much talent she possessed, should Queen Zeta find other places and other liqueurs for her mouth.
“And then?” The Queen said with wicked smile as she climbed onto the bed. “Then I will take you.”
Two solar systems away, the rocketship Artemis III, flagship of Earth’s Star Ranger Corps, is returning home. Her intrepid crew unaware of the treachery and seduction occurring elsewhere in the galaxy …
Captain Jette Jones leaned back in her commander’s chair and let out a long exhale, a momentary opportunity to let her guard down. Her ship and crew, safe after a harrowing adventure, were heading home. She allowed herself this brief time to not have to be “on.”
Epsilon, seated in front of her in the ship’s command module, was doing the flying. Her dark hair was pulled up on top of her head. Her sharp eyes and strong features fixed on the navigational console.
The deep black covering her from shoulders to feet could easily be mistaken for a body suit. Yet it was not. It was as much a part of her as skin. The outermost layer of the computational platform that was Epsilon.
The glowing matrix of white lines that covered its surface moved lazily as she piloted the craft. Small dots left the complex orbit of concentric rings spinning at her chest and back then flowed across the straight lines and angled corners that covered the rest of her body.
Jette watched a parade of tiny triangles race over Epsilon’s right shoulder to her bicep, then down her arm to her wrist as she gently manipulated the flight stick. She didn’t know how many tens of trillions of calculations Epsilon was capable of but she knew the ship was in good hands.
She could relax, if only for a few minutes.
Behind her, at the tactical station, Johansen ”Flock” Powers stood ever-ready – although not, at this moment, covered in her glowing power armor. Instead, she wore pants, boots and a simple tunic with the spiral emblem of the Star Ranger Corps over her left breast. The armor was close by, as always, in a nearby alcove of the module – scarred and pitted from the daylong battle on Tarkaria – alongside the menagerie of alien weaponry she had “acquired” in her time aboard Artemis III.
“We are now passing pulsar k-gamma-four,” Epsilon reported. “Estimate 76 hours, 32 minutes until we reach Moonbase One, Captain.”
“Estimated, Epsilon? I am tempted to increase our speed to get us home sooner.” The relief of getting her crew home safely made the Captain playful.
Epsilon, and her computer intellect, wasn’t taking the bait. “In that case, Captain, I will need to reconfigure. That is, if you want to overheat the engines which are already approaching warning levels.”
Jette noticed the slight wiggle as Epsilon waited for a reply. She’s getting more human every day, Jette thought.
“No. Steady as she goes, Epsilon. But if I change my mind …”
Epsilon turned toward her Captain, an errant eyebrow rose. “Then I will be prepared for that eventuality, Captain.”
The communications signal beeped.
“Message coming in on the astro-band radio, Captain,” Flock said, leaning into her console. “From this distance, there is a 15-minute delay. It’s HQ, Sir.”
Back to work, Jette.
“Very well.” Jette pulled herself to her feet and took hold of her Ranger jacket, straightening it with a firm tug. She nodded to Flock as she strode to the doorway at the rear of the module. “When it reaches us have the message patched to my cabin. I think I’ll stop off at the med lab and see how my first mate is doing.”
Flock waited for her Captain to leave before glancing toward Epsilon, staring with curiosity as a data spike organically grew out of Epsilon’s palm. The spike was plugged into a terminal, connecting the “living computer” with the navigation system. Epsilon barely moved, her eyes closing slowly. The lines and dots of her body danced excitedly in an entirely new configuration as she exchanged data directly with the ship.
Flock stepped down from her console and approached Epsilon.
“So … how are you feeling, Epsilon?”
Epsilon’s head turned. “I am fully recovered. I have run diagnostics on all of my processors. They appear to be functioning normally.”
“Oh, good. Great. I’m glad we got you out of there before you were …”
“Yeah,” Flock laughed nervously. “But what a way to go, huh?”
Epsilon spun around to face Flock. “What do you mean?” Epsilon wasn’t sure why she enjoyed making Flock blush. She was aware that Flock’s heart rate and glandular secretions increased whenever they talked.
“I mean … well, I mean, the Tarkarian Tentacle Snare is supposed to be … uh … you know? Did it feel good?”
“Why don’t you ask me what you want to ask me, Flock?” Epsilon’s eyes narrowed.
“Ask you?” Flock’s face reddened even more. “Okay, well … I was wondering if you … like how many …?”
“How many orgasms did I have while I was being slowly consumed by a tentacled alien creature?”
Hearing it that way, Flock regretted asking. Almost.
“Well … yeah!”
Epsilon let out a deep breath, which sounded more like a perturbed sigh. That was on the outside. On the inside she was fascinated by this female from planet Strazn.
“To be frank, there were moments of time when my processors were inhibited.”
“Sure,” said Flock, nodding with understanding about something she had no understanding about.
“Yes. I believe that is an accurate figure.” One side of Epsilon’s mouth curled into a smile and she turned away from Flock to hide it. Flock backed up a step, her mouth agape.
“Holy smokes! You had 27 orgasms?”
“But isn’t –“ Flock stopped short, something suddenly occurring to her. “Wait. How long can a person survive inside a Tarkarian Tentacle Snare?”
“The Star Ranger Corps database lists seven rescues successfully carried out after victims were trapped inside for 70 hours or less.” Epsilon rattled off.
“And you… had 27 orgasms? In like an hour?”
“Seventy-two minutes, precisely.”
Flock’s eyes widened. “I haven’t had that many in … uh, never mind.”
“Well, Johansen,” Epsilon said, looking at Flock with veiled pleasure seeing her shocked face, “perhaps now that you know, you may surpass your quota in your quarters before we reach Moonbase. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ship to fly.”
Flock retreated to her own console … and quietly whispered into the interface mic. “Computer? What’s 27 multiplied by 70?”
K’wari gently lifted and spread the breasts apart, delicately brushing the nipples with her fingers. Her open palms warming the soft skin as they descended the ribcage on each side.
Lt. Kanivia Riesga moaned through her nose as her head slid back and onto the shoulder of the Vicar of Yasu.
“How’s she feel?”
Kanivia straightened up on the scanning bed, hearing her Captain’s voice.
K’wari continued with her examination, pressing her thumbs firmly along the young officer’s spine.
“She has three broken ribs. I have given her an injection of Xlypham to mend them. There is still some musculature damage, soft tissue swelling.”
“Soft tissue,” Jette said as she entered the med lab, eyeing the pair. “I see.”
“I’m good, Skipper,” Kanivia said, hopping off the exam table with a wince. Her naked, perky breasts barely moving. “I feel a lot better.”
“Good. Because I think we’re going to be going back into action right away. We’ve received an alert message from fleet headquarters. It should be here any minute.” Jette tossed Riesga her tunic and undershirt. “You’re going to have to skip R&R on the base, Lieutenant.”
“That’s okay, Skip,” she said, pulling on the t-shirt gingerly. “I’d rather be out in space anyway.”
“K’wari? My quarters. Soon as you can.”
The Vicar rubbed lotion into her hands. “Just finishing up, Captain. I’ll be right there.”
Kanivia was tucking in her uniform as she headed out behind her Captain. “Thanks, K’wari.” She turned at the door. “And thanks for getting me out of there. I thought I was a goner.”
“You would have done the same for me, Riesga,” K’wari said with a smile. “Kanivia.”
“You know I would have,” she replied innocently.
K’wari’s eyes stayed on the young woman until the bobbing, brown ponytail disappeared from view.
Captain Jones was busily typing out her report on the failed mission to Tarkaria in her cabin. The transport vessel which had crashed there had left no survivors. But there was life … and the threat of death awaiting them on the planet.
She stopped to read back her account. How she’d almost lost two members of her crew. Jette was never one to inflate her report to Rear Admiral Hartley – Supreme Commander of the Star Ranger Corps – just to make herself look good. But there it was on the screen – how she had deduced that the malevolent inhabitants of Tarkaria lived beneath the planet’s vast oceans, only emerging from the depths and crawling across the terrain to hunt and feed.
By remotely activating the Artemis III’s heat beams and focusing them on their attackers, she drove them back into the sea before their water-based membranes dried out and incapacitated them. She had been lucky.
Being so far from the Sol System, the message link was still minutes away. Her mind began to wander back to her last meeting with Admiral Hartley when she was given this mission. Of Hartley’s stern warnings … and her offer.
One week earlier …
Jette tugged the stiff collar of her jacket as she stood in front of the Rear Admiral’s wide desk. Unlike many of her fellow Captains, Jette rarely wore the tightly tailored formal uniform. The command uniform as a Captain in the Star Ranger Corps often drew looks of awe and envy among the junior officers on Moonbase One, no matter who wore the deep blue colors and gold epaulettes. Yet even at her age – she was the youngest Captain in the service – Jette was well-aware that her heroic escapades were becoming the stuff of legend, even within the closed ranks of the SRC.
Now, she was just uncomfortable.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Admiral Hartley said, peering over her spectacles. “Another urgent message!” She smiled broadly at her joke as she put the privacy receiver down. She hit a couple of buttons on the discrete desk console, waiting to see Jette smile back.
“It’s a very impressive crew you’ve put together, Captain. If a bit unorthodox. Regulations state that at least three Rangers must be members of the crew on a Ranger Corps vessel. You only have Lt. Riesga.”
“There’s Powers,” Jette offered.
“Yes … what would you call her? A battle tank as a passenger? And I see you’ve put her in for a field commission as a Ranger cadet?”
“Yes, Sir. I believe Johansen will be an asset to the service.” Jette tried to keep the earnestness out of her voice. “And she makes three Rangers on board.”
“Hmm.” Hartley was going to remain uncommitted for now. “Another is, and I will put this as delicately as I can, a machine that thinks it’s a human female.”
“She is not a machine, Admiral, nor a humanoid. Epsilon is a unique life form.”
Jette had defended having Epsilon as a member of her crew at least 100 times. Twenty times to the admiral. They both knew to let it drop.
“And the fourth is a Vicar of Yasu.” Hartley shook her head. “I understand it’s an honor to have a Vicar by your side. But they are lightning rods for … shall we say, controversy?”
“Very handy in a fight though,” Jette quipped.
Hartley put her hand up to cut in. “And the last thing I need is another controversy around here. We understand each other?”
“Yes, Admiral. I’ll handle them.”
“Okay, that talk is over. I’m going to have to make that speech every few months, Jette, so I can feed the wolves. The Council needs to know I’m on top of this. Plus … oh, please, at ease, Captain. Sit down.”
Hartley opened her hand toward the chair. Jette sat down.
“Plus, I need to keep an eye on my prized officer. You deserve the best crew I can get you. You’ve managed to pick your own. Another first around here.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jette answered, although one wasn’t expected.
“First, I have an assignment for you. You are to blast off as soon as you can. Within six hours.” Hartley leaned forward. “A transport ship crash-landed on Tarkaria. We don’t expect any survivors, Captain. But the crash needs to be investigated.”
“I understand, Sir.”
Hartley looked down before walking slowly around the desk, tossing her reading glasses aside. She stood next to Jette, who had barely moved a muscle. She was never much one for “at ease” in front of the Admiral.
“I’m sorry to send you there of all places, Jette. There are so many dangers. Get there, get to the crash site, do what you can. Then get you and your crew off that planet.”
She put her hand on Jette’s shoulder, forcing her to look up. “I worry about you, you know? You may be my best officer, but I worry one day things won’t turn out like they have in the past. You’ve had a career’s worth of close calls.”
Jette knew this side of Hartley too. She could be as tough as Valentian Egg Moss, yet she didn’t hide her concern for the members of the military unit under her command.
Hartley stepped back to the side of her desk, casually undoing the top two button-hooks on her uniform.
“And when you return, I’m sure the Council will be grateful. Again. You know, Jette … there is a position opening on my staff. Vice-commander. My Number Two. Your exploration and defense in service to Mother Earth is starting to make you famous within the walls of the Council. I could get you that position, even though you’ve never served in any administrative capacity. Besides, it wouldn’t be good public relations if you got yourself killed.”
Jette had heard the rumors. “I don’t know what to say, Admiral.”
Hartley smiled as brightly as she could. “Say you’ll think it over. I’d need the full Council to support me on this, but they share my feelings about you, Jette.”
Two more button-hooks were sprung as Hartley sat on the edge of the desk, the hem of her admiral’s kilt resting high above her thighs.
“Your office would be right next door. I need someone like you, Jette. Someone who I can … work with. Who knows, you may even become an admiral … yourself … one … day …”
The communications alert whistled. Jette took a deep breath and hit the button.
An image popped on the screen – it was Admiral Hartley. Every button-hook on her tunic fastened.
“I’m afraid your return to Earth and some vacation time are on hold, Captain,” said Hartley.
Jette sighed hard. Damn her intuition.
The doorbell chimed. K’wari entered and turned toward the screen at a nod of Jette’s head in that direction.
“We have a delicate issue, Captain Jones. One that needs a delicate hand. We need to know what’s going on in the Te’ Sareez System. You know it well, of course. Queen Zeta appears to be up to her usual tricks. But this is serious …”
K’wari pulled her hands into the folds of her robe, studying Hartley’s grave features.
“Word has reached the Galactic Systems League that Serpentarius has brokered a private trade deal with Serpens Kauda and overtures were being made to Serpens Soma as well. This threatens a very long-standing alliance, trade and otherwise, among the four planets.”
Jette shifted in her seat, turning the volume up slightly.
“You’re to go to the Te’ Sareez system and find out what’s going on. If at all possible, get the Suzerain Council to agree to mediation in a League forum. If not, act as you see fit to preserve the peace and resolve this situation.”
K’wari raised an eyebrow, fixing Jette with a surprised look.
“The disposition of the Artemis III is to be purely diplomatic, Captain,” Hartley continued. “Nothing, absolutely nothing, can supersede the directive of the League to remain neutral in the affairs of the Suzerain Council.
“No matter how some may interpret Queen Zeta’s motives,” Hartley added quickly. It was a clear warning.
“Things are moving fast in the Te’ Sareez system and we need to do the same. Get there and report back once you’ve made contact. Good luck Captain and… be careful.” The message ended.
The Vicar tucked her crimson robes beneath her as she sat down, her eyes fixed on her Captain. “Why does the Galactic Systems League want you to intercede at all?”
“Well, the League was organized to serve as a forum for star systems to address concerns. I think they get anxious when governments don’t utilize them. Makes them feel like someone might not be interested in a peaceful outcome.”
K’wari was shaking her head. “Are they usually interested in disputes occurring within a single star system?”
“No, but Te’ Sareez is a special case. They’ve been a strong supporter of the League in the past and also an important ally to a number of other planetary systems, Earth among them.”
“So, if the Te’ Sareez system were to become destabilized…”
Jette finished for her: “It could destabilize a whole lot more.”
“Your previous exploits in Te’ Sareez make you uniquely qualified to address this situation. But…”
“But there’s going to be ample cause if anyone wants to challenge my neutrality. Especially Zeta, who’s uniquely qualified to cause trouble.”
Jette leaned back with a sigh. “Any ideas how we resolve it? Queen Diamanti will certainly agree to our presence and possibly Glamora. She’s worked with the Ranger Corps in the past and knows exactly what Zeta is capable of. She might be an ally in this if handled properly. Which leaves…”
“Queen Kalokairi,” K’wari said with an understanding nod. “She will not want to appear to be compelled by a representative of the Galactic Systems League. However, if she had the idea to bring in her own mediator, someone from an order known throughout the galaxy for its rigorous neutrality…”
“As a representative of the Galactic Systems League,” Jette motioned to herself with a grand gesture, “I would be happy to work alongside a Vicar of Yasu in the pursuit of peace.”
K’wari laughed quietly. “I would be agreeable to engage Queen Kalokairi. I will be a neutral party to the situation.”
Jette smiled warmly. “I expect nothing less. Thank you, K’wari.”
K’wari rose to her feet and stepped to the door.
“Jette?” She stopped and turned back. “I’m sure Queen Diamanti will look forward to seeing you again.”
Jette took a deep breath, nodding to the Vicar with a slight smile. “Crew briefing in ten. Let everyone know, would you?”
“Of course, Captain.”
Jette glanced over at a gleaming medallion hanging from her coat rack. She knew, very well, Serpens Caput’s Queen Diamanti could handle herself.
Inside the small briefing room of the Artemis III, which also doubles as the ship’s cafeteria, Captain Jones confers with her team …
“We’ve just passed into the Trilby Star Cluster on course for the Te’ Sareez system, Captain,” Epsilon reported. “Estimate 2 hours, 41 minutes until we reach their frontier.”
“Very good.“ The Captain glanced around the small table at the four crew members looking at her expectantly. “Alright, everyone knows what we’re doing here. The Galactic Systems League wants us to help settle this issue in the Te’ Sareez system and time is of the essence.”
“I took the opportunity to read up on the Suzerain Council, Skip,” Riesga interjected. “Pretty wild stuff.”
“What’s the Suzerain Council?’” Flock asked, scribbling in a notebook.
“Ruling body of the Ta’ Sareez system,” Jette answered. “They’ve got four populated planets. Used to be constant war between them. The Council is how they stopped fighting and started talking.”
“So, what’s wild about that?” Flock asked Riesga.
“Customs and attitudes vary greatly between planets,” Riesga said. “For example, Soma adopted a semi-democratic process for electing their sovereign not that long ago. While the outermost planet is still a strict monarchy. The different rules that govern how duty, power and property are inherited are staggering.”
“All of which makes resolving this matter quickly a challenge,” K’wari added.
“Correct,” Jette said, turning to her pilot. “Epsilon, could we see Te’ Sareez please?”
“Yes, Sir.” A small series of round circuits on her chest sped up their cyclic motion as Epsilon tapped switches at her console and the view screen on the wall displayed a chart of the Te’ Sareez system.
“The outermost planet is Serpentarius, ruled by Queen Zeta,” Jette motioned to the slowly animating chart.
“Zeta? She’s the troublemaker?” Flock asked with a point of her pen.
“That’s right,” Jette answered. “The short version is she tried to be the Queen of two planets and I helped stop her. So, we’re going to come in on a trajectory that puts us on the other side of the system from her. The Artemis III will proceed to the innermost planet, Serpens Kauda. Queen Glamora is… an acquired taste but she’s been on favorable terms with the Star Rangers before. So we’ll start there.”
“Captain,” Epsilon spoke up, “If time is a factor then engaging each sovereign sequentially may not be a prudent course.”
“Quite right, which is why we’re going to drop off K’wari on Serpens Soma first.”
“The second planet from their twin suns,” Lt. Riesga chimed in, indicating it on the chart.
Jette nodded, staring at the dot onscreen. “Queen Kalokairi was elected by her citizens. Which is another way of saying she has the most to lose.” Jette eyed Flock. “I’ll need you to power up the landing module.”
“Aye, Captain. I’ll need a half hour or so,” Flock said, then turned to K’wari. “Bring her home in one piece, I just finished getting her back together.”
“I’ll do everything possible to comply with your request,” K’wari said without looking at her. Flock rolled her eyes.
“What about the third planet?” Epsilon asked, turning back to Jette.
“Serpens Caput,” Jette answered flatly. “Ruled by Queen Diamanti. She’s a strong ally. We can count on her to help us.”
Epsilon studied her Captain’s reaction, then nodded.
“Any other questions?” Jette asked.
“The crew is ready Skipper!” Riesga announced. “Just give the word.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Stations everyone.”
The crew headed for the command module. K’wari was last to the door.
“Hey!” Jette called after her. “As Admiral Hartley always says, ‘Get in, do what you can and get out.’”
The Vicar nodded as the door closed.
The Artemis III rockets into the Te’ Sareez System… streaking past the dancing twin suns toward the blues and greens and pinks of its planetoids, in their own way, as beautiful and majestic as the four Queens who rule them …
The silver rocketship glided between the first and second planets. The engines flared brightly and then cut out, the silver craft gliding forward. Then, a burst of gas from the hull as twin hatches opened.
A smaller craft slowly elevated out of the holding bay. The capsule-shaped Lander rode on an extended crane arm before stopping six meters from Artemis III. The crane’s docking clamp opened and the small craft drifted free. A tiny engine burst to life between the four fins at the rear and the Lander streaked away, heading for Serpens Soma.
On board the mighty Artemis III, Riesga took her station just as the hatch opened and the Captain strode through, her boots snapping purposefully on the deck plates.
“Status?” Jette called out as she entered the CM.
“Lander is en route, Captain. Shall I re-engage engines?” asked Epsilon.
“Not yet. Let’s drift a bit until K’wari is in orbit around Serpens Soma.”
All eyes from the crew of the Artemis III were on the tiny landing module as it was pulled into the planet’s gravitational field.
“K’wari’s LM is in orbit, Captain,” Epsilon called out.
“Very good. Engage the engines. Thrust factor 2. Set course for Serpens Kauda.”
“ETA … 37 minutes.” Epsilon turned her head to the side. “At this speed, Captain.”
Jette smiled, knowing Epsilon could sense it. “Steady as she goes.”
Her chair swiveled toward the tactical console.
“Flock? Change into your battlesuit. Just in case things get dicey.”
Meanwhile, on planet Serpens Soma, which means “Serpent Body,” the legislative body of Soma was meeting in the Grand Conference Room …
Around the large, circular table were seated the various elected officials and political appointees who comprised the governing body of Soma. One section of the table was cut out and set back from the rest.
A high-backed “throne” chair was filled by Queen Kalokairi, fifth “Queen” of Soma and its youngest. She was patiently listening to the cacophony around her. News of the trade alliance between Serpentarius and Kauda had been met with anger and confusion.
Although officials were speaking over each other, the Queen was a skillful politician and knew which voices to hear and which to dismiss. At last, she raised her hand. The silence was immediate.
“I have only just now received an initial report from our delegation’s visit to Serpentarius,” the Queen said slowly. “Until I know more, and until I have had time to gauge what effect this may have for the people of Soma, there is nothing more I can give account to.”
There was a flurry voices once again, the Queen allowing it as she nodded. The room may have been full of opinions, but there was only one opinion more she needed to hear.
One of her aides stepped forward and whispered into her ear: “My Queen, we have a visitor.”
K’wari climbed from the cockpit and dropped to the landing pad, looking up at the first stars of evening on Serpens Soma. She sighted an especially bright and pinkish-hued light in the North sky: Serpens Kauda.
The Artemis III must be there by now.
There was a sharp hiss as the hatch behind her opened. The woman inside was attired in a pink, rubberized bodysuit with only the oval of her young face uncovered.
“Welcome Vicar,” she spoke with an accent K’wari couldn’t recall hearing before. “The Queen has heard of your arrival and is eager to see you. Please follow me.” She turned and led K’wari into the Parliament Building.
K’wari, although focused on the task before her, allowed herself to admire the balloon-round buttocks in front of her.
“You will be required to surrender your weapon before entering the parliament chamber,” the woman said apologetically.
“It’s not a weapon,” K’wari stated flatly. The Vicar pulled the short rayff staff from its place on her belt and pressed a thumb to one of the many ornate carvings on its chrome surface. The rayff’s lower telescoping nodule extended with a quick hiss making the staff about a meter long. K’wari strode forward tapping the staff on the glass floor of the hallway with every other step. “It’s my walking stick.”
“I’ve heard a number of stories about Vicars and their ‘walking sticks,’” The escort quipped.
“From my grandmother, during the war. She told me how a group of soldiers occupied their village even after the truce was signed. They demanded tribute from the villagers and harmed anyone who refused. One day, a Vicar of Yasu came to the village and confronted them.”
“My grandmother said the Vicar might as well have been beating blades of grass with his rayff staff. Eight of the soldiers fell. The rest soon left the village.”
“The defeated listen more closely than the victorious,” K’wari offered.
“That’s one of your sayings, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” K’wari nodded. “From the Codex of Yasu.”
“Do you think Yasu was a real person?” The escort asked, turning her head as they approached the inner doors to the parliament.
“I do not know,” K’wari said. “I only know there is great wisdom in the teachings. Just as I know that a rayff staff is the tool of a peacekeeper. And if your Queen would like my help, I will need all my tools.”
The doors parted and K’wari caught a whiff of climate-controlled air and bureaucratic anxiety as they entered the seat of Soma’s government. Unlike the archaic dreariness of Queen Zeta’s palace, the Parliament Building, which also housed the Queen’s residence, was a modern, spired structure filled with light and open space.
K’wari was guided to a seat along the back wall as the legislature continued to voice their grievances to the Queen.
Unfortunately, at that moment, the Queen rose. “Thank you Ministers and Councilors. I’m going to retire while we await further news.” With that, she headed toward her private chambers located just beyond the Grand Room.
The escort returned to K’wari with a sour expression on her face. “I’m sorry Vicar, it will be a bit longer until you speak with her Majesty.”
K’wari nodded and fit her arms into the folds of her robe. There was nothing to do now but wait.
“What are they doing here?”
Queen Kalokairi cast a derisive glance toward the three shrouded imperial guards stationed inside the entrance to her private residence.
Ryaki was quick to respond: “I thought it best to keep you closely protected, my Queen. There are whispers of unrest.”
The Queen laughed. “Whispers? Unrest? What day is it, my devoted Ryaki?”
The Queen withdrew as far as she could from the guards through the doorless sections of the “living area” with Ryaki at her heels. Less than a palace perhaps, the Queen’s residence still consisted of 12 staterooms considered among the most beautiful in the entirety of Te’ Sareez System.
Kalokairi walked to the observatory with its grand view of the Sitren Valley. She spread out on the long, white Hehran-furred divan, but she didn’t relax. There was much on her mind.
“Now, Ryaki, what can you tell me?” said the Queen, casually placing her modest crown – a simple gold band – on the table beside her and running her fingers through her long dark hair.
Her chief aide stood straight and still. “Queen Zeta was very gracious, your highness. She explained that a trade agreement is to be extended to Soma as well. Beside the joint trade agreements enacted by the Suzerain Council, each separate agreement merely augments those already in place.”
“Yes, highness. The Queen intends to offer separate trade alliances with each Queendom. Each will get a share of what they most need.” Ryaki moved closer to the divan. “I think we should accept their offer, your highness.”
The Queen’s smile grew slowly as she sat up. “Oh, Ryaki. You may be too young to remember, but I do very well. Queen Zeta’s past treachery cannot simply be dismissed. She’s up to something.”
“I understand, highness. But you wanted me to be your representative in this matter. You know my only wish is that you do what is best for Soma.”
Kalokairi stood and looked at her aide with a glimmer of suspicion in her eyes. “Your only wish? Brokering a trade agreement of this magnitude will certainly advance your own ambitions.”
Ryaki kept her face even. “Right now, highness, my ambition is to serve you and our people. That is my recommendation.”
“I see.” The Queen lifted Ryaki’s chin slightly with her hand and kissed her softly on the lips. “I will consider it. You may go.”
Ryaki bowed as the Queen stepped away.
“Oh, there is one last thing, your highness, if I may?” From behind her back, Ryaki presented a small box. “Queen Zeta has given me an offering, a gift, to present to you as a sign of good faith.”
The Queen chuckled. “Really? That doesn’t sound like Zeta. What is it?”
“A gift from the people of Serpentarius to the Queen of Serpens Soma. Open it, your highness.”
Kalokairi took the small box and studied it a moment before carefully opening it. Ryaki stepped behind her Queen, gripping something in her hand.
“It looks to be a very elaborate empty box,” Kalokairi said dryly.
“That’s what I though too, at first,” Ryaki said with a grin. Then, the box began to sing. It was not a voice yet it was vibrant and beautiful. Kalokairi wondered if this was what the singing trees of Zozash Prime sounded like.
The box trembled in her hand, warming her palm where she held it. “Is there language, to the singing?” Kalokairi whispered, feeling a very pleasant wave of relaxation traveling up her arm.
“Of a sort,” Ryaki said, now holding something in each hand. “These will help.” She raised a pair of small devices and slid them into the Queen’s ears.
The pleasant tones, which had been coming from within the box, now purred from the center of Kalokairi’s head, drawing a lazy smile from the Queen. It was amazing. The music was inside her.
“The music is soothing, is it not?”
The Queen nodded slowly. The sounds weren’t really music at all, but sonic tones. Up and down. In and out. Growing softer then louder, blending together with subtle harshness. Queen Kalokairi raised her other hand and touched her ear, as if reaching for an itch that couldn’t be scratched. Her fingers felt numb on her own flesh. Her mouth slowly fell open.
Low tones and high, tinny beats over and under … they began to bombard her senses. She could not feel her feet. She was unsure where she was. All that mattered were the melodic, then suddenly strident, sounds from the box.
Ryaki pulled a sash from around her throat revealing a black choker set snugly against her flesh. There was a light in the center of the collar, glowing a soft green. “The music, the sweet music, is flowing out of the box, Kalokairi,” Ryaki said with a tease in her voice. Each time she spoke the light on the collar throbbed brighter as did the green lights on the devices snug in her Queen’s ears.
“But, see? There is nothing in the box.”
The Queen’s face fell. Her eyes were wide and blank. She grunted in a low, breathy sound that might have been an attempt at speech. Ryaki’s voice was inside her too. Not, just inside her. It was everywhere: in the part of her mind that held her sense of duty and knowledge of political process; in the part where she felt hunger and thirst; in the part where she held the youthful memory of lying, legs spread wide, under her bath faucet. Ryaki’s voice was everywhere in her mind.
“We will have to fill the box again, won’t we?”
“Yessss …” Kalokairi hissed weakly.
“As all those tones, all those notes are filling your mind. They are pressing against the walls inside your head, pushing away your thoughts. They will have to go somewhere, won’t they? Now that they have broken free?”
“Your thoughts, your strength, your will … slipping down the muddy banks of your consciousness. Too soft and wet to stay in your mind. But … I have an idea. Let us fill the box. Shall we?”
“Yes.” The Queen’s vacant smile returned.
“Yes. We shall fill the box. Fill the box with your willpower, Kalokairi. Fill it drop by drop with your thoughts, your resistance, your strength of will. Leaving behind only the sweet music … and your need to submit and obey your lovely Queen. Queen Zeta …”
Ryaki waited for a response, but the Queen began to squint, to fight. To resist.
“Drip … drip … drip …”
Kalokairi groaned and now she was trembling at her hips. Her body undulating forward and back.
Ryaki relished the moment and Kalokairi’s musk. She took in a deep breath as the Queen of Soma continued to leak molten lust from her womanhood.
“Listen to the music, Kalokairi. Let it soak into your brain. The beats … spreading like a dambreak, soaking every hidden part of your mind, every secret, until those last few thoughts, those last barriers of your personality flow like a river down, down, down. Spilling into the box, making it overflow. Every ounce of will, every ounce of resistance … gone.”
Kalokairi groaned — a pained, defeated sound as her hips bucked more and more violently. Ryaki knew, the slightest touch to her sex would trigger an orgasm powerful enough to render her unconscious. But there was so much for her to surrender before that would happen.
“Just the sweet music … the sweet feeling … the sweet soaked awareness of what you are now. Empty. Surrendering. Owned … by Queen Zeta.”
Kalokairi whimpered, leaned backward weakly. But Ryaki pressed hard against her back, holding her up, her hands firmly grasping the entranced Queen by the arms.
Over and over and over again, the similarly enthralled Ryaki whispered and urged, just as she had been instructed. And as each note strummed in the proud Queen’s mind, she fell more and more under the music’s spell.
There was a stirring behind them.
One of the guards at the door was approaching with long, determined strides.
The smallest light in the darkness pierced the Queen’s mind. Noooo!
The guard pulled back the shroud and revealed a crowned head, giving the illusion of manly height.
It was Queen Zeta!
The other two guards advanced, lowering their hoods. They were not imperial guards but Diamond Warriors of Dal’ Rogo — their mighty lazerblade swords unsheathed, their weak minds long ago pledged in service to the Queen of Serpentarius.
Kalokairi moaned, despair upon despair as she realized how defeated she was… and juiced at the thrill of it.
“You have done well, my dear protégé.” Zeta’s voice was poisoned honey. “Deepen her submission.”
Zeta looked at the entranced Queen with both satisfaction and delight. She ran her hand along Kalokairi’s chest, then sharply pinched a nipple through her Queenly vestment, eliciting a short gasp.
“Have her sign the agreement. Then call for the lonely representative of the Star Rangers waiting outside. I’ve never met a Vicar of Yasu before. I think the two of them should prove … entertaining.”
“Yes, my Queen,” Ryaki purred, feeling mindless obedience fill her with pleasure that her own ambition and will and self never had.
Zeta rubbed her hands together gleefully, then lifted the crown from the table, admiring it. “The next step in my plan will unfold on the space station. And then, very soon, I will at last be Suzerain Supreme, as has been foretold by the Goddess of Darkness.
“Not only will I rule the four Queendoms of Te’ Sareez, but I will once and for all destroy the meddlesome Star Rangers … and Captain Jette Jones!”
At that same moment, the Artemis III is on approach to Serpens Kauda. Suddenly, alarms sound in the command module …
“Three ships approaching, Captain,” Epsilon said, her white circuitry pulsing fiercely as the rings over her chest and back hardened into sharp, angry polyhedrons.
Flock pressed a closed fist to the chest of her battle armor. There was a crack-hiss of energy and the armor began to hum, golden light tracing its way across the seams of the suit as it powered up.
Lt. Riesga rushed from her station to the console beside Epsilon and strapped herself into the co-pilot’s chair.
“Those are fighters, Skipper,” the lieutenant said evenly. “It doesn’t look like a friendly welcoming committee.”
“They’re powering up weapons!” Flock called from the tactical console behind Jette.
“Noted,” was all Capt. Jones said as she stared intently at the forward viewing screen. “Open a comm with the lead ship, Flock.”
“Open and ready, Sir.”
“This is the commander of the Star Ranger rocketship Artemis III. We are on a diplomatic mission to your planet. Our intentions are peaceful. Please respond. We wish to –”
The Artemis III shuddered, lights blinking furiously all around the command module.
“Incoming fire, Captain!”
“Thank you, Flock. I think we know.”
“Defense beams have engaged. No systems damage, Sir,” Epsilon said calmly.
“Just a good, swift kick,” Jette added under her breath.
“Captain,” Riesga said, not taking her eyes from her controls. “Surely Queen Glamora knows who we are?”
“You would think. Reduce speed. Factor one, Epsilon. Bring us about.”
“Open the comm, Flock.”
“Still open, Sir.”
Jette stood, facing the screen. Admiral Hartley had been clear – diplomacy, not engagement, was the assignment. But here was the Artemis in a firefight.
“This is Captain Jette Jones of the Star Ranger Corps on a diplomatic mission to your planet. I wish a conference with Queen Glamora. I have dined at the Queen’s table. Please desist from your aggressive action.”
Flock found her footing as the ship was rocked again. “No damage, Sir. But defense beams will not protect us from another volley.”
“Noted. Defense maneuver four, Epsilon, give us some room.”
The Artemis III suddenly dropped into a steep dive, spinning clockwise as she accelerated. Just as the defense fighters swooped into to follow, their much larger quarry suddenly changed direction again! The gleaming silver rocketship pulling hard to port and reversing back on its own course. The fighters streaked past, scrambling to match the maneuver.
A moment later, a third blast hit the Artemis broadside – silver panels burst from the ship’s hull, erupting into space followed by thick trails of smoke.
In the command module, display boards flashed angrily. Alarms wailed from deep in the ship. There was smoke pouring out the aft vents.
“That one did it, Sir. System failures … all sections. The med lab on emergency power,” Flock called out.
The Artemis veered away from the encroaching warships, but they swung around quickly to pursue.
“Why don’t we just blast ‘em?”
Jette set her jaw. “Because, Lieutenant, it’s not the prerogative of a Star Ranger to start an intergalactic war with one of our closest allies. Are we clear on that?”
“Crystal, Captain. But we can’t just sit here and take it.” Then a realization hit Riesga like a proton blast – to keep the peace, the Artemis was expendable. “Can we?”
Captain Jette Jones knew the answer.
A fourth explosive ball of flame came hurtling toward them …
To be continued next month… in Part 2 of “Slaves Of The Suzerain”!