Captain Jette Jones, Star Ranger
Issue #17 – Dark Wedding
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.
With cosmic wheels beginning to turn — bracing for a galactic battle between good and evil — Captain Jette Jones and the crew of the Artemis III are tasked with returning to besieged Te’ Sareez, while unbeknownst to them deposed queen Zeta lays in wait.
Zeta’s back! In all her evil glory, the vile queen is poised to attack all four planets of Te’ Sarzeez. Can Captain Jones and her crew stop her and her brainwashed army?
Captain Jette Jones felt a hand on hers, gently pushing the rayvolver down. Queen Diamanti kept her eyes on Zeta standing before the wedding altar in the Caputian cathedral.
“I have no desire to ruin this festive occasion,” Zeta said. “Indeed, I give my blessings to the new bride and groom. The new leaders of Caput and Kauda.” Zeta took another step forward, the large staff of the former queen of Serpentarius tapping lightly on the floor. “What I ask is really very small. It is upon the will of the queens of Te’ Sareez that I offer myself as Suzerain Supreme. If I am rebuffed, I shall leave you to yourselves. If they agree, there shall be two celebrations on this day.”
Everyone seated in the grand cathedral stood in shocked silence. Lt. Kanivia Riesga held her unholstered rayvolver at her side. She turned to Flock, but the Star Ranger was already halfway up the side aisle and disappeared around a pillar.
Riesga crouched down, then began carefully crawling around the pews and toward the altar undetected by Zeta’s hoard of soldiers ringing the room.
Zeta turned toward Queen Ana standing next to Queen Kalokairi and the rest of the wedding party. “Queen Ana, sister, what say you? Am I your Suzerain?”
Controlled by the hypnotic venom in her veins, Ana knew only one answer. Her eyes dropped, then she went down on one knee.
“You are the Suzerain Supreme,” she said quietly.
There were gasps and shouts from the assemblage, but they died down quickly as Zeta’s soldiers tightened their circle around the crowd. Their eyes searching for protesters.
“Diamanti …” Jette whispered. The queen shook her head tightly, quieting her. Jette glared at Zeta. Her trigger finger itching.
“Queen Diamanti of Serpens Caput. What say you?”
Diamanti stepped forward defiantly. “You are not, and never shall be, Suzerain, Zeta.”
Zeta appeared amused. She twisted her staff, the glowing purple ball atop it glistening from the torchlights and the suns’ reflections off the stained-glass windows of the church.
“And you, Queen Kalokairi of Serpens Soma. What say you?”
Kalokairi appeared to stiffen upon hearing her name. Her eyes turned to glass. Then, very slowly, she dropped to her knee.
“You are the Suzerain Supreme.”
Everyone was too stunned to speak. Someone in the crowd yelled, “No!” But he was immediately beaten down by two of Zeta’s soldiers. No one else dared say a word.
“Kauda has still yet to be heard from!” Diamanti’s strong voice rang out.
“That’s true,” Zeta replied. “Queen Glamora?”
Glamora hurried down the center aisle, smiling brightly. She even waved to someone in the crowd but they did not wave back. She stood next to Zeta.
“You are the Suzerain Supreme, of course!” she said.
“You are no longer the ruler of Kauda, Lady Glamora,” the vice chancellor shouted. “Colonel Til is now the head of the royal family. Only he may speak for the queendom.”
“Uh-oh,” Jette said under her breath. She could see what was happening, had an idea that this was all part of Zeta’s scheme. This is what Diamanti had suspected.
“Very well. Colonel Til? What say you?”
“Go ahead, darling,” Glamora cooed to him. “Tell everyone.”
That pale, pasty look returned to Ander’s face. He looked ill. He knelt on one knee. “You are the Suzerain Supreme.”
There were more gasps and murmurs all around. Diamanti stood frozen, staring at her new husband. Jette grabbed her hand. Then she spotted Riesga at the front of the altar crawling toward Zeta. Don’t do it, Riesga! She looked for Flock and Carpenter in vain as her eyes hurriedly scanned the room.
Riesga had moved in front of the first pew, crouched like a cat, her eyes on Zeta. Zeta slammed the metal staff and it echoed across the cathedral.
“It is done!” She turned. “I, Zeta, declare myself –”
In a blur of motion, Riesga ran toward Zeta and leaped …
The stun beam caught Riesga in the shoulder just as she reached Zeta, sending both of them spilling across the altar.
“Shit!!” Carpenter lowered her rayvolver in disbelief from the balcony.
Then all hell broke loose.
Elsewhere in the galaxy, another battle is beginning — one for control of the powerful Order of Yasu …
“Saclyite, you’ve failed me!” Ranna growled.
The woman grimaced. “I’m sorry. I tried to obey. But this … is wrong!”
Ranna snarled as she jabbed a finger to Saclyite’s temple, her shoulder and pubis in quick succession. The woman looked down at her trembling body. “W-what was that?”
Her eyes rolled up into her head as her body convulsed in pleasure. She sank to her knees, groaning as Ranna clamped manacles on her wrists. No one heard the woman’s orgasm over all the shouting which filled the Tribunal chamber.
Fights were breaking out everywhere, punctuated by the sounds of clashing rayffs.
K’wari viewed the spectacle with growing dread. Her hands, balled into fists, were bound behind her. She could only watch.
“This is not a trial! This is a second revolt!” a voice cried down from the spectator seating. There were more fights breaking out right and left. “Heresy, heresy!”
“Arrest him!” Superior Mother Korella’s voice rang out, echoing off the stone walls of the Tribunal hall. Kadish stood to her right, Ranna to her left. There was a disturbing fire dancing in their eyes. As if years of secret plans and plotting were finally coming to fruition.
Only Zicash remained seated, the bright orange fin atop her ovoid head twitched nervously. “Superior Mother …” she began tentatively. “Perhaps it would be best to de-escalate? The passion of this moment is overwhelming many of us.”
“Thank you, Zicash,” Kadish said smugly. “We will de-escalate as soon as all of those in uprise are arrested. Then peace will be restored.”
“But …” she tried to stand, but Kadish firmly pressed her back into her chair with a hand clamped to her shoulder.
“Now, now Zicash. You voted the right way during the trial. It would be a shame to vote the wrong way now.” His voice was dripping with menace. Then his head turned sharply as a woman shouted from the stands.
“She is usurping the Order before our very eyes! Vicars, we cannot let this happen!” The woman leaped over the wall and her rayff clicked open, the chrome tube extending to its full two-meter length. She swung it end-over-end in graceful circles as she stalked across the stone floor of the Tribunal chamber toward the great table.
“Superior Mother! I invoke the seventh maxim and call for you to stand down and await a confirmation hearing,” she said. “Surrender your rayff in the name of Yasu and all vicars everywhere!”
“I’ll handle this,” Ranna said with a wave of her hand as she strode past Kadish. “You two with me.” The two guards who had just finished placing Sha-shara and Baras in manacles fell into step behind her. K’wari was pushed forward roughly and then dropped onto her knees beside Odell.
“Sha-shara? We should fight!” K’wari implored. “This is … this could be the end of the Order itself if Korella succeeds!”
The White Mother’s eyes were glassy and far away as she spoke. “Yes. We must fight. But not now. Time will deliver our battlefield. Until then we must endure.”
K’wari looked to Odell for support, but her younger sister nemate only nodded. Then she heard a voice. So clear. She could read Odell’s thoughts as easily as any book.
Trust our great teacher. Endure.
K’wari’s head shook – she had heard Odell thinking!
Ranna and the vicar faced each other barely three meters apart. The younger woman, Cally, spun her rayff skillfully and with determination.
Ranna raised her rayff over her head slowly and let one foot drift forward even more slowly.
“Dammit!” K’wari hissed under her breath. The outcome was already obvious in her mind. If only she could scream her thoughts into the young woman’s head, to warn her of the attack Ranna was telegraphing.
But it was already too late. Cally charged ahead, her rayff buzzing as it cut through the air. Ranna stood her ground until the woman was right on top of her. Then there was a blur of movement. Ranna’s feet kicked, her hands twisted. She leaped out of the way as her own rayff came streaking down and clapped the woman across the back of the head.
The young vicar collapsed to one knee but was immediately on her feet again. She spun around, lifting her rayff … but she kept spinning. Her legs wobbled. K’wari could see the confusion in her eyes. Her body pirouetted ungracefully to the stone floor.
Ranna clicked her rayff closed as the two guards picked up the unconscious woman and carried her away.
K’wari’s eyes begged Sha-shara to do something. But the White Mother, her mentor, remained unmoving, her eyes lidded. K’wari turned around and saw similar scenes playing out all over the Tribunal chamber. The guards, wearing their black sashes, had gained the upper hand — the vicars fighting them were brought to their knees.
In a matter of minutes it was over.
The Superior Mother stepped forward and her voice rang out in the suddenly silent hall. “My fellow vicars! Today is the day that the maxims of Yasu give way to a new law. Our law!” There were shouts of support, while others looked on terrified by what they were witnessing.
“No longer will we sit idly by and offer council to a galaxy in need. From this day forward we will guide the galaxy with our strength, our leadership and our power! None shall be left behind. We shall bring a final peace to the galaxy! None shall escape our justice!”
A mighty cheer rose from the crowd as Korella traded a satisfied nod with Ranna. The Superior Mother’s acolyte motioned to a guard and moments later he had fixed a long length of chain to the manacles imprisoning K’wari, Odell, Baras, Saclyite and Sha-shara. Ranna yanked on the chain and pulled them to their feet. As she led them away from the chamber, K’wari hung her head.
The Superior Mother called out once again. “We will save the galaxy and defeat all who stand in our way!”
Korella’s insurrection was complete.
Jette’s first instinct was to run to Riesga, but her hand flew up and fired as Diamond Warriors, Xenfills and Kaudans – all under the control of Zeta – rushed the altar. A group of them surrounded Zeta as she got to her feet, blocking a clear shot.
“Attack!!” she screamed.
It was as if that single word could be heard from one end of Te’Sareez to the other. The war had begun.
Jette tugged Diamanti’s hand, pulling her back behind the altar. She waved the delegation of the GSL and anyone else desperate to escape to follow her. The High Deaconess tried to stop it all, waving her hands in the air, but was cut down by a laserblade-wielding Diamond Warrior before she uttered a word.
Kalokairi, Ana and Ander barely moved. They remained kneeling, submissively, amid the mayhem.
Some of the Caputians in the audience began fighting off the attackers, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. Laser blasts and power pistols fired in all directions. One of the vice chancellor’s aides fell. Then, too, did General Geng.
Carpenter climbed over the balcony railing looking for an opening. She jumped, her boots landing cleanly, but the impact forced her forward and she slammed her knee on the marbline floor. Despite the pain, she pulled herself up just in time to fire two quick stun bursts at the onrushing slave soldiers.
She ducked and hobbled her way to Riesga, who was just regaining her senses. She pulled her up by the arm and they managed to stumble for cover behind a large pillar.
Jette led the wedding party, GSL officials plus Diamanti’s two ladies-in-waiting into the vestry at the rear of the cathedral. She slammed and locked the door before realizing there was no back exit. She looked to Diamanti.
“There wouldn’t be a secret compartment here too, would there?”
Diamanti opened a closet filled with the vestments of the Deaconess. She pressed a panel inside and a small door opened from within.
“This leads to a path that can take us to the main churchyard,” she said.
“Alright. I’ll hold them off. You try to make your way to the Artemis.”
Diamanti stood in front of Jette. The screaming and gunfire outside growing louder.
“Are you giving me, the Queen of Caput, orders, Captain Jones?”
There was a loud bang on the locked door. “Forgive me, Sovereign, but time is short.”
Diamanti snapped her fingers. Her two ladies-in-waiting tossed off their robes. Underneath they wore the leather straps and black two-pieces of Caput’s legendary Warrior Women. They were fully armed.
“Okay then.” Jette hit her hand comp. “Flock, Riesga, Carpenter. Come in!”
Riesga’s rayvolver was getting hot in her hand. Zeta’s soldiers kept coming and coming. Both their hand comps beeped. She pulled Carpenter by her sleeve and they were on the move. They ducked behind a short, paneled wall on one side of the altar.
“Here, Skipper!” Riesga yelled into her wrist. “Carpenter’s with me. No sign of Flock. We’re pinned down by the altar.”
“Alright. Do what you can to get to the ship. If you can make it to the back of the cathedral, there’s a hidden passageway in one of the closets.”
“I don’t know if we’re gonna be moving any time soon, Sir.” Riesga was looking down, unaware that a Diamond Warrior was creeping up behind her. Carpenter turned, she thumbed the dial on her rayvolver just as the warrior was about to strike!
Riesga flinched. The blue body disintegrated.
“I … I …” Carpenter’s eyes were wide. She had her rayvolver on the wrong setting. She stared at the empty space.
Riesga elbowed her. “C’mon, Carpenter. We need to move.” Riesga started to turn but Carpenter didn’t. She looked at Riesga like a lost soul.
“I … never killed anyone before.”
The speeder glided smoothly toward the Artemis at tree-level.
A sudden burst of fire from its turrets took down a small party rushing to attack the rocketship just before it landed.
The canopy of the cockpit opened. Elexa Dyne hopped out – a travel bag, jetpack and power rifle in her arms. Reaching the Star Ranger Patrol vessel, she pulled a square device from her pocket. Hitting buttons, the device emitted a thin blue line of energy that surrounded the speeder, then expanded … encompassing the Artemis and setting up an energy barrier 20 meters wide around both ships.
Moving quickly with practiced skill, Elexa powered up the jetpack, soared upward slowly, then hovered beside the main hatch of the Artemis. She pulled another device from another pocket and furiously hit buttons, while also checking the perimeter for trouble looking for trouble.
“Come on! Open!” As soon as she said it, the main hatch of the Artemis opened. She slung her bag and the rifle onto the deck, then manually pressed the panel just inside the ship to lower its 30-foot ladder.
“Flock! Power up the Artemis!”
No reply. Jette’s rayvolver was out of power and her group still needed to cross 100 meters of open ground to get to the Artemis on its landing pad. Although they appeared to have a clear route on the ground, Zeta’s fighters were just now filling the sky. They would be easy targets if they didn’t move quickly.
“Hurry, everyone!” she called.
The group of 12 made the dash across the field. A fighter swooped toward them, but almost instantly it drew fire from two directions – Elexa with her rifle from the open hatch and Riesga emerging from the bushes with Carpenter limping behind her.
The fighter banked before bursting into flames.
Elexa dropped the energy screen as everyone hurried to the ship. One by one, they climbed the ladder. Riesga and Carpenter tried to hold off a sudden onrush of soldiers, but they couldn’t stop them all. One of Kalokairi’s aides tumbled off the ladder from a direct hit.
The two warrior women charged at the oncoming attackers. Dodging fire they descended upon Zeta’s soldiers, swinging swords, their fists and feet flying furiously. Jette had never seen such skilled fighters. The soldiers fell left and right. The two women gave no quarter.
It ended quickly.
Everyone hurried up the ladder. Jette and Diamanti were the last. Jette motioned for her to climb.
“Diamanti! Come on!”
“No. I am staying here. With my people. This is where I belong.”
“Diamanti, you know what Zeta will do to you!”
Diamanti stepped back. “I will see you again, Jette Jones. I am entrusting to you my life that you will return. I know you will return.”
“Captain!” Elexa called from the hatch. “We’ve got to go NOW!”
The queen of Caput turned and hurried to join her warriors. They disappeared into the trees.
Jette quick-stepped up the ladder. Once inside the CM, she looked around. “Where’s Flock?”
“No trace of her, Sir,” Riesga answered. Carpenter was busy getting all their passengers strapped in or moved toward the back of the ship. It could be a bumpy ride.
“What have we got on the sensors?”
Riesga leaned forward, reading intently. “There’s a lot of activity, Skipper, but it looks pretty clear above us.”
“Got something,” Carpenter called over Jette’s shoulder at the tactical station. “It’s the signature of Flock’s hand comp. She’s near the palace.”
There was no hesitation. Jette opened the weapons locker and grabbed another rayvolver. “I’m going back. Blast off as soon as I’m clear.”
“That’s an order, Lieutenant. Get the vice chancellor and his people to safety.”
“Jette!” Elexa blocked the hatch. “You’ll never find her in that mess. Let’s cut our losses.”
“I’m not going back just to find Flock. I’m going after Zeta. To end this.” Elexa reluctantly moved aside, her hand on Jette’s shoulder. “You have your orders, Riesga.” She smiled at Elexa. “Thank you.”
“If you don’t make it back with us, Jette, there will be hell to pay.”
Jette moved to the hatch, stepped onto the ladder and turned.
“I am the Vipera Berus of Serpens Caput.”
The people of Serpens Soma danced beneath the fireworks. The wedding celebration would be repeating itself throughout every city on each of the four planets in the system. The union promised the end of a period of great strife and the beginning of a new era of unity, peace and prosperity.
They were still dancing when the cracking booms grew louder, when the flashing bursts grew closer. The cheers of revelry gave way to cries of terror as the fireworks illuminated a fleet of gunships descending from the sky. People scattered in all directions of the Central Gardens when the tallest tower overlooking the city exploded.
As the first rays of the suns dipped on the horizon of Serpens Kauda, they flickered strangely. A young Kaudan officer stationed on a remote outpost checked the satellite sensor array and discovered that it was offline. Standard procedure did not call for military action, but the officer trusted her instincts rather than protocol.
The fighters she’d scrambled soon reported that the sensor disruption and the strange flickering of the suns shared the same cause: a squadron of space fighters were storming the planet. The Kaudan forces rallied in their defense around the capital city and repelled the invading ships. Yet, just as they’d started to celebrate their victory, they realized they’d only engaged a small scout unit. Two armadas of ships piloted by brainwashed Diamond Warriors fell from the sky in two directions. The pincer was flawless. Kauda’s air defense fell within an hour.
There were no fighters and gunships over Serpentarius. Zeta made certain her treasured home world did not suffer that fate. Her carrier ships were careful to land over open ground, where not even a single tree would be bruised. Her mindless troops marched on the capital and captured it with thorough and surgical ground warfare.
Zeta’s capital was soon ready for her return.
Jette could see the flames from the mighty engines of the Artemis as she blasted off into the early-night sky. She was already back on the palace grounds. She knew them well from her time with Diamanti three years before.
She climbed over the vine-covered walls of the palace with ease, landing in the main courtyard. Flock’s hand comp signal was close. She hurried to the entrance. Someone was standing near the open door.
“Flock! What are you doing here? The palace is overrun. You need to get to safety.”
Flock was in her power armor, a power rifle in her arms. She didn’t blink.
Jette stepped closer. “Flock! What is it?”
The Star Ranger captain was close enough now to read the look on her shipmate’s face – like Kalokairi, like Ana. Brainwashed. Flock lifted the rifle and pointed it at Jette.
“Cadet! Stand down!”
The rifle fired – just over Jette’s shoulder. The force beam exploded against the wall.
Jette’s hands went out, her voice pleading. “Johansen! It’s Jette! Come with me!”
“She can’t hear you, Captain.” Four Diamond Warriors emerged from the bushes behind her. Walking slowly through the door was Zeta, holding up Flock’s hand comp. “She only hears me.”
Zeta grinned with satisfaction. “I knew you’d be here. The Goddess of Darkness knew you’d be here. The heroic Star Ranger with an opportunity she could not refuse.”
The purple ball atop Zeta’s staff began to glow and spin. It seemed to float on the air. It caught Jette’s eyes and she was suddenly dazzled by it. It happened so quickly. Her attention became transfixed on its smooth spinnnnn.
Her inner voice told her to grab her rayvolver … but her hand seemed 1,000 miles away from it. She was dumbfounded. And dumbed down.
“That was simple enough. The Goddess of Darkness knows all. She knows you so well.” Jette felt like she could hear the smug smile on Zeta’s face. “It’s time for our wedding, Jette. Our altar is all prepared.” Jette blinked rapidly, trying desperately to regain her senses. Zeta’s voice was pure seduction. “Will you join with me?”
Jette could hear Zeta cackle as she fought the mesmerizing tether of the glowing orb pulling her forward. She tried to slam her eyes shut. She mustered enough strength to raise her hand to shield herself from its hypnotic effects.
Two Diamond Warriors were upon her, grabbing her arms before her sluggish thoughts were aware. She didn’t fight.
They moved her toward the door, Ryaki joining Zeta at the threshold. Jette tried to resist its impulses, but the glowing, spinning ball was in her eyes again. She could not help herself.
Zeta licked her lips. “I’m sure I will never tire of seeing you like this.”
Zeta carried the spellbinding staff through the doorway with Jette obediently following. As Jette numbly reached the door, Flock turned toward her. A look of pain crossed her face.
The rifle blast caught Jette directly in the back, sending her flying across the entranceway. She landed with a heavy thud. Her dress cape and the back of her uniform burned and smoldering. Jette lay motionless in the dirt.
“You fool!!” Zeta screamed. She was stunned. She stared at Jette in disbelief, then turned her erupting rage toward Flock. “I didn’t want her killed!” She pointed at the Diamond Warriors, then at Flock. “Destroy her!”
The Diamond Warriors moved on Flock, lazerblades raised. Flock didn’t move.
Ryaki stepped in front of Zeta.
“My queen! Now is not the time! She controls a powerful weapon. One that can help finish this war. Leave her to do your bidding and crush Caput and all those who oppose you. Then, after you rule all of Te’ Sareez, you can kill her with your own hands.”
Zeta had raised her hand to strike Ryaki … but lowered it slowly. She looked over her shoulder at Jette’s burned body. Anguish swallowing up her anger.
“Very well, Ryaki. Send her with the Warriors. Finish this.”
Zeta turned on her heels and stomped back into the palace. Ryaki ordered Flock and the Warriors to resume the fight.
With a glance toward the lifeless body of Captain Jette Jones, Ryaki followed her Suzerain inside.
K’wari barely noticed where they were going. After leaving the Tribunal hall, they made several turns and then descended a staircase. K’wari looked up to see Ranna touch a glowing panel on the wall. The wall swung inward and revealed a secret passage. She led them through the dim tunnel and the group eventually arrived at another door.
They found themselves in a private, underground residence. The large space was adorned with overflowing bookcases, tapestries and a small botanical laboratory. There were two doors. For some reason, K’wari was quite certain the left-hand door led to a bedroom.
Ranna led them to the other door and into a darkened room. K’wari guessed it was some sort of meditation sanctum, given the dim lighting and the smell of incense. Ranna fixed the chain that linked the group through a series of round steel loops set into the polished wooden floor, drawing her five captives into a circle. They were forced to their knees as the chain’s slack went taught.
Before them, set into the wooden floor, was a large metal plate two meters across. It was etched with flowing lines that created a dizzying pattern — tree roots flowing into trees flowing into stars above them and back down to the roots.
Ranna vanished into the darkness and they were alone. K’wari turned to Sha-shara. “White Mother? We must do something.”
The older woman didn’t turn. “I’m sorry, child. We must endure what comes next.”
“What comes next?” K’wari whispered urgently.
“More than you dare to imagine, K’wari.” She looked up as Korella strode into the room. The Superior Mother’s boots clicked ominously on the ancient boards. “You’ve not yet played your part in this grand design.”
“I will play no part in any of this, Korella.”
Korella clicked her tongue. “You think so now, but you haven’t given us the opportunity to … change your mind.”
She walked to the center of the circle, standing on the metal plate surrounded by her kneeling captives. “Using force always provokes counter-force. One of the few things Yasu said that I agree with, actually.” She unclasped her belt then pulled off her boots. “The conflict earlier has harmed us all. But the people do so crave catharsis and healing. The Order will have that when you stand at my side and embrace me as your new teacher.”
K’wari huffed loudly, but Korella continued. “When the Order sees that you have renounced Sha-shara and adopted our glorious new destiny as your own it will subdue those who doubt and unify the entire Order in the work ahead.”
“You speak madness.”
“Do I?” Korella pulled off her outer robes and tossed them aside. “Did you not testify this very day that you’ve succumbed, on multiple occasions, to various techniques of mind control?”
K’wari froze in her chains and looked at her. Korella was loosening her under robes. “While Ranna’s methods certainly work, they take more time than we had to properly prepare Baras and Sacylite.”
The pair of vicars looked at each other, chained together. K’wari could feel the connection between them.
“Of course,” Korella continued, “the extract we fed to the Crimson Circle’s recruits was necessarily diluted. Dosing a person through food is a sloppy approach but it was the only way to convert so many vicars to our cause these last several months.”
K’wari was staring at Odell, whose eyes were closed in deep concentration. K’wari instinctively knew she needed to keep Korella talking. “Extract of what?” The Superior Mother removed the under robe and let it fall.
K’wari gawked at her form despite herself. Korella’s body gleamed in the half light, fragrant oil giving her olive skin a riveting glow. Shapely legs and a muscular torso. Korella’s breasts were impressive and topped with dark, thick nipples that hardened under K’wari’s grudging stare.
She tried to focus. “What extract? What did you drug them with?”
Korella’s eyes bore into hers. “Did you know that I spent almost a decade on Zozash Prime when I was a nemate? Fascinating flora there. The singing trees. The moon vines. That’s where I first discovered the raw power… of nature.”
There was a click of a button in the shadows and warm, soft lights slowly came to life. K’wari turned and saw a menagerie of alien plant life surrounding them. The perimeter of the circular room was filled with pots, hanging planters and boxes full of earth. From each of them sprouted some type of vine, flower or herb. Some were as small and delicate as insects. A handful were as tall as she was.
Korella stepped off the circular metal plate just as it began to vibrate and move. K’wari realized it was a hatch set into the floor. The metal cover dropped below the surface of the wooden floor and slid aside revealing a deep cavity that dropped into darkness.
A sickly sweet smell wafted up out of the hole along with a thick humidity. K’wari could taste it at the back of her throat. A strange wet sound drew the captives’ attention to the hole.
Saclyite gasped and pulled against the chain as a thick green vine crawled up out of the hole and slithered in her direction. The chain went taught and it pulled Odell forward to the edge of the hole. Then, a green flower bulb, as large as her head, emerged from the hole. It floated before Odell’s wide eyes, swaying on a plant stalk as thick as a tree. The bulb split apart and opened wide revealing purple, green and white flower petals that flexed and moved as if dancing upon a breeze.
“Is that …” Odell’s voice was tight. “Is that a Takarian tentacle snare?”
Korella chuckled. “No, nothing so pedestrian. Although there are interesting similarities among most hunter plants: the way they lure their quarry with something irresistible. Often the prey is so enthralled it doesn’t even bother to fight. I’m sure Tholvan was once something as simple as a tentacle snare but they’ve evolved beyond that.”
K’wari blinked. “Tholvan? You named it?”
Korella began to play with her nipples. “Oh no, Tholvan named themselves. I was simply the first one that let them speak to me so that I could learn their name.”
“They communicate. They’ve been alive and evolving longer than many planets. An intelligence so vast and great had to develop new ways to communicate with our simple little brains. But Tholvan are clever. They found a way to access the most basic parts of the humanoid mind. You’ll all learn to hear them once your minds have quieted.”
K’wari’s jaw flexed. Korella was truly mad. Crazed and dangerous. She and Odell had to find a way … to … K’wari realized that the huge flower in front of Odell was glowing. The petals were flashing with some bioluminescence like a sea creature. Odell was staring into it. She’d stopped struggling.
She didn’t answer. Her face relaxed. Her eyes were drooping but open. K’wari could see the tiny wisps of light flashing into them.
“Odell?!” It was no use. “Baras! Pull on the chain. The shock should –” Baras wasn’t paying attention. There was a flower dancing before his eyes too. And Saclyite. And Sha-shara. K’wari cursed herself. She thought she’d been distracting Korella. The opposite was true.
A stalk emerged from the hole and a bulb leaned in toward her. It split open like an X and the four petals peeled away revealing what looked like a vagina. It was a vagina! The soft green folds were tinged with pink and gold. There was amber liquid dribbling from the plant’s sex lips and they quivered as surely as any woman’s.
K’wari forced her eyes shut. “This won’t work on me, Korella. I’ve had my mind played with for the last time. I’ve spent weeks in daily mediation, steeling my mind. You won’t hypnotize me.”
“I don’t want to hypnotize you, K’wari. I want you to commune with Tholvan as I have. I want you to hear the truth they have shared with me.”
“What truth?” One of her eyes opened. Then the other. Korella stepped beside the hovering flower and reached for it reverently. Her hands spread the plant-pussy open, caught the honey dripping out and rubbed it across the green flesh. The glistening sex folds were soon gleaming with fragrant dew.
K’wari watched — horrified and fascinated — as Korella slipped two fingers into the slick passage and began to fuck Tholvan. The plant writhed, the dozen stalks that had now emerged from the hole twisted and flexed in a familiar and delicious rhythm. K’wari felt a strange longing between her legs. Korella knew how to handle a woman. As K’wari watched she couldn’t help imagining, vividly, what it would feel like for Korella to handle her.
The Superior Mother increased her pace and the plant visibly tensed as the pleasure increased. The gentle swaying of the other flowers and stalks became a strident, savage drumbeat. K’wari could feel it in her heart. Faster and faster. The delicious smelling honey was flowing freely now, dripping down Korella’s pumping fingers, her arm and lightly coating her legs as it pooled at her feet.
“What do you think, K’wari?” Korella hissed.
K’wari shook her head, dizzied by the scent of sugary perfume. The room began to spin.
“I … I’m …”
“You’re what?” Korella moaned as her other hand tugged firmly at her thick nipple.
“I’m … horny,” K’wari breathed out, not believing her own words.
“No, K’wari. That’s not you. That’s Tholvan.”
“W-what?” K’wari tried to clear her mind. The swirling streaks of light in her vision bloomed into sparkling star points.
“Tholvan are horny and they’re speaking to you. You’re learning to hear them. Doesn’t it feel wonderful?”
“Ye-yes.” K’wari began to writhe. She found her boot heel tucked beneath her and worked her pelvis through the stiff fabric. Shameless arousal flowed freely from her own weeping slit as she discovered a new way to masturbate.
“Open yourself to Tholvan!” Korella moaned loudly. “Let them in and learn as I have learned!”
There was a flurry of movement from the plant stalks.
The flower before Saclyite’s face wriggled and from the center of the dancing petals, green folds peeled back and a fibrous pink pussy emerged. She leaned forward, inhaling the scent deeply, her mouth watering. She opened wide and took the petals into her mouth. Baras moved behind her as if possessed, wildly licking her bald head while she wantonly sucked on Tholvan.
K’wari’s eyes drifted to Sha-shara. Her teacher’s robes were being pulled off by green tendrils. Ranna appeared, also nude, and removed the manacles around the White Mother’s wrists. Sha-shara didn’t hesitate. Her hands began to help the plant stalks undress her until her wrinkled yet delightful body came into view. All the while, she’d been making love to another of Tholvan’s pussies with her face. Her tongue was a blur upon the flesh of the creature.
“W-wait. What’s happening?”
There was a sharp wail and K’wari’s eyes found Odell.
She was suspended by a network of vines wrapping her under her arms, between her legs and across her torso. They gripped her tightly, squeezed her wobbling breasts and impaled her on a flower pod that was resting beneath her. The twin protrusions from the petals trembled and throbbed as they fucked her passages.
Odell cried out suddenly and her body convulsed as Tholvan milked the orgasm from her unresisting flesh. Then a pussy-flower drifted to her face. The flashing lights reflected off Odell’s pupils as she hungrily devoured the plant-sex. Then the bulb closed around her whole head, trapping her inside. Odell’s second orgasm came as a staccato series of muffled grunts.
“Look here, K’wari.” Korella’s voice drew K’wari back to her own flower. The one Korella was so expertly fucking with her fingers. Korella coaxed it closer to her. K’wari leaned forward, her fingers plucking at her nipples. She didn’t know when she’d lost her clothes or the restraints. Her boot heel was shiny and slick from her thrusting.
And then, Tholvan came. The plant’s limbs orgasmed as one, each of its stalks thrusting and convulsing vigorously. The pussy plant before K’wari’s face clenched tightly and then squirted honey into K’wari’s mouth. She drank it without thinking and the flavor spread warm heat down her belly to her own sopping cunt. She felt electric static sparking inside her head. And then the two sensations surged as one and K’wari climaxed.
She howled and barked until she lost her breath and became aware of herself again. She collapsed on her back beside the hole Tholvan lived in. Korella knelt beside her, holding the pussy-plant over her face. It dripped more honey into her mouth.
Ranna’s hands appeared, and they scooped up the amber liquid. Ranna parted K’wari’s cheeks and began fucking her ass with the plant. K’wari’s anus drank up the plant’s honey as eagerly as her mouth.
Finally, when she’d come a half-dozen times and her belly and brain were full of Tholvan’s drugging juices, K’wari felt herself being lifted by green tendrils. Tholvan took hold of her and pulled her into the hole. There was an enormous open maw waiting for her. She could see things glowing and writhing within it.
K’wari disappeared inside.
Jette wasn’t breathing.
She lay alone, the sounds of distant battles echoing off the palace walls. The windows reflecting fire. Zeta’s soldiers sporadically ran through the courtyard, ignoring just another dead body among the hundreds that covered the palace grounds. A sudden breeze picked up, tossing dried leaves in swirling circles around the plaza. What was left of Jette’s cape billowed gently.
“No. You won’t die here.”
The wind blew harder, bending the bare arms of the trees, and giving off a rush of sound, almost like a whisper.
“Not here. Not yet.”
The gusting wind brushed Jette’s hair off her face and her mouth opened. Her body convulsed as a forceful current of air filled her lungs. There was a gasp in her throat. She sucked in the surge of air. As the wind gradually died down, she began breathing on her own.
Lt. Kanivia Riesga was staring intently at the data readouts from the command chair. Carpenter was at the helm, Elexa was co-pilot. They had deposited the vice chancellor and his party in the conference room just as the Artemis blasted off, but Riesga had ordered the engines cut as soon as they reached 10,000 feet.
The Artemis sailed silently through the evening clouds.
“No one has spotted us yet,” Elexa said. She turned around to face Riesga. “But our luck isn’t going to hold out much longer. We need to get the hell out of here.”
“Our job,” Riesga said, “is to make sure of the safety of our passengers.” She stood up. “But I’ll be damned if I leave the captain and Flock behind.”
She turned to head for the weapons locker and noticed Elexa’s jetpack. “Can I borrow that?”
Carpenter hopped up. “You need to be here. I’ll go back for her.”
“No. I’m going.”
“Riesga, I can do this! There’s no reason for you to feel like you have to be a hero.”
Riesga stomped toward her. “Listen, Carpenter, you may have been a commander on a space yacht, but on this ship you’re just a plebe.”
“Ladies?” Elexa looked at them impassively. “Put your dicks away. We’re out of time.”
After a beat, Riesga holstered a fresh rayvolver and grabbed a spacesuit, helmet and the jetpack. “I’m going. Drop us down and level the ship off at 5,000 feet. Give me 20 minutes. If we’re not back by then get the vice chancellor and his party home.”
“Make it ten!” Elexa called as Riesga headed to the door.
Carpenter hurried out of the CM following Riesga, who began putting on her spacesuit beneath the ship’s docking hatch. She hit a button and the ladder dropped.
“Seal the ship before I open the hatch,” she said to Carpenter without looking up.
“And how do you propose to get them both back here? One over each shoulder?”
Riesga straightened and looked Carpenter in the eye. “I don’t need to carry them. He will.”
The glushang swiftly flowed up the corridor, stopping at Riesga’s feet. Carpenter nodded with surprise.
“Now, Cosmo, I’m not going to have to have an orgasm for you to be big enough to carry Flock and the captain, am I?”
Cosmo quickly grew to five feet in length and into the shape of a giant human hand.
“Alright.” Cosmo shrank in size as it crawled up the lieutenant’s leg, wrapping around her waist. She turned to Carpenter. “Five thousand feet. Hopefully, you can drift there awhile undetected. Try to stay in the cloud cover. But if you’re spotted …”
Carpenter nodded grimly. “Understood, Sir.”
Riesga put on her helmet and strapped the jetpack to her back.
“Okay, Cos, we’re going for a ride.”
Riesga could see dark clouds rushing past them through the porthole. There were flashes of red and purple light within them, but Riesga knew this was no lightning storm. The Artemis was going to be flying right through an unholy barrage of laser fire from the ground as well as from enemy fighters blanketing the skies of Serpens Caput.
The Artemis needed to get clear and fast.
Riesga tapped the hand comp strapped to her wrist. “Elexa? Do you have eyes on Captain Jones?”
The telepathic glushang hugged her and she felt its thoughts in her mind.
“Okay. We both have to do our best not to get killed. Deal?”
Cosmo hugged her again.
“Elexa, you can pull the coordinates of the captain’s hand comp from the tactical station. Send them to me.”
“Already sending! Just let us know where to pick you up, Riesga. We won’t be hard to find. Just follow the artillery fire.”
Riesga began reading the tactical display inside her helmet. She placed her hands on either side of the hatch as it opened.
Riesga flung herself through the open hatch and plummeted into the dark clouds.
The night fog whipped past the bubble helmet almost silently, belying how fast Riesga and Cosmo were falling.
The helmet’s HUD began to flash. “Get ready, Cos! We’re almost there!”
Reisga scanned the ground below them. There were large plumes of smoke below her, but as the wind caught them and pushed them aside something found her eye. In the palace courtyard below, a familiar blue uniform contrasted against the white marble pavers. Riesga’s throat clenched.
Jette was crumpled in a heap, lying face down, and surrounded by a squad of Diamond Warriors trading rifle volleys with a group of palace guards. Riesga pulled her rayvolver from its holster and spun the dial to the kinetic blast mode as the courtyard rushed up to meet them.
“Gonna need your help here, Cos.”
The black glushang split off a bit of itself and formed a cluster of small digits that wrapped around the jetpack controls. Cosmo could read her thoughts and respond just as quickly as her own fingers.
When they were twenty meters from the ground, Cosmo stretched its mass into the shape of a small parachute and slowed them down even further. The Diamond Warriors were facing away from them behind the low marble walls of the plaza. Riesga blasted two of them before her boots finally touched down.
The blue-skinned leader shouted to his soldiers and turned his rifle on her. Riesga’s rayvolver barked and the blast hit him in the chest and sent him flipping over the wall. When his men opened fire on her, Reisga was already airborne again. Cosmo rode the jetpack up and down, while both of Riesga’s hands gripped her rayvolver. With the glushang flying she could concentrate on her aim. She found her targets.
While the Diamond Warriors scrambled to get a bead on her, Riesga dropped another two with precise shots. Cosmo cut the power as the remaining three finally locked on. Their shots whizzed past her head as gravity pulled them clear. She blasted the first one and sent him flying into the second. The final soldier rushed her. Riesga’s kinetic blast caught him in the shoulder but he didn’t fall.
He was suddenly upon her! He grabbed her wrist, forcing the rayvolver wide as Riesga squeezed off another shot. He brought his other fist down in a savage hammer blow on the top of the helmet.
“You’d have as much luck punching through hull plating, buster,” Riesga growled. “Our turn.”
Cosmo gunned the jetpack and Riesga caught the Diamond Warrior in the chin with her knee on their way up. Then Cosmo cut the power and Riesga brought the butt of her pistol down on his skull as she dropped back to the ground.
“Great work, Cos!”
Riesga raced through the courtyard. Jette’s body was still smoldering, smoke rising from the scorched uniform and skin of her back.
Riesga knelt by her side and checked Jette’s hand comp. It had switched to emergency mode and displayed her vitals. “Don’t have much time, Cos. Standby.”
Riesga holstered her weapon and gently got her hands under Jette’s body, while Cosmo flowed around her legs. “It’s me, Skipper. We’re getting you out of here.”
Cosmo cradled the Star Ranger captain as Riesga took over the controls again. Suddenly there was a deafening boom followed by a hair-raising whine, growing higher in pitch as it got closer.
Riesga maxed out the jetpack’s throttle and they streaked skyward. A mortar round exploded just below them. There were explosions all around. Cosmo wrapped more tendrils around Jette’s body and held her tightly to Riesga as the three began zig-zagging to evade the oncoming fire. They still had quite a climb to reach the clouds when a stunt-fighter streaked past them, close enough that Riesga could see the whites of a Xenfill mercenary’s eyes in the cockpit.
“We might be in trouble, Cos!” The fighter banked and circled around. Purple laser blasts began streaking from its wing tips as the pilot steered in for a kill shot.
Suddenly, the fighter exploded in a shower of sparks as a familiar silver shape streaked down out of the clouds.
“Way to go, Artemis!”
Cosmo suddenly flared its body out, this time into the shape of a single wing, stretched across both sides of Riesga’s shoulders. The trio streaked down like a diving bird toward the Artemis. Its bay doors opened.
Cosmo’s tendrils did their best to reach out and cushion the landing. Just as they passed through the doors, Riesga tumbled. She sat up, looking for her captain.
Cosmo had stretched itself to the limit, wrapped around Jette, then retracted slowly as Jette lay unharmed inside a black, oily cloud.
The Artemis’ engines roared to life again as the doors closed and the ship pitched upward through the clouds.
Jette was face-down and unmoving on the medical scanning bed. Elexa held her hand. She leaned down and carefully stroked Jette’s unconscious face just as the door to the med lab opened.
Riesga hurried in, moving directly to the bed. Elexa let go of Jette’s hand and wiped her red eyes self-consciously.
“I think she’s stable,” she said. “I did what I could. I’m not a doctor.”
“Neither am I.” Riesga checked Jette’s bed monitor. “The computer is still evaluating her condition. Until then, we just have to keep on top of her vitals, keep her immobilized and hope we hook up with a passing ship with a medical facility. The closest inhabited planet is 12 hours away.”
They both stared at Jette’s motionless body in awkward silence.
“I’m sorry you didn’t find your friend,” Elexa offered.
Riesga nodded. “Never underestimate someone wearing a suit of armor.” She forced a smile. “Thanks, Elexa. I owe you.”
Carpenter entered, joining them at the bed.
“We’re out of Te’ Sareez space. On auto-pilot, headed for home. Our passengers are doing okay under the circumstances.”
She took a peek under the medicated wrap across Jette’s back. She put her hand to her mouth.
“Oh my god.”
“Steady there, Carpenter. We’re still not out of the woods. Better get back to the CM. We may still get company.”
Elexa shook her head. “They let us escape. It’s the only explanation. Zeta has what she wanted.”
“But why let us go?” Carpenter asked. “She knows the GSL and SRC are going to respond.”
“Are they?” Elexa’s bluntness took them both by surprise.
“Zeta isn’t content with just ruling Te’ Sareez.” Riesga looked at them with apprehension. “She wants the galaxy. That’s what it’s about. That’s what it’s always been about.”
Jette was running.
She was running through the meadow, frantic and crying. She could see her house. The house was engulfed in flames. Her mother inside.
Every wall was on fire, but Jette searched for a way in as she reached it. The heat slapping at her skin. She stumbled and fell. Where am I? She was on both knees looking at her legs: the muscles, the tanned skin, a mole, the tiny hairs. She felt as if she were rocking. She stared at her hands. She tried to force herself up, but something was holding her down.
“No. You won’t die here. Not here. Not yet.” Jette knew that voice but couldn’t remember why. “I am your past and your future, Jette Jones. We will meet again because I desire it. I desire your body. Protected it, watched over it all these years. The time is near. Hear me well, Captain Jette Jones. You are to return to Te’ Sareez. You will come because I demand it. Then I will take what is mine.”
In the present …
Captain Jette Jones was seated, her eyes slowly coming into focus as if waking from a dream. But it was no dream.
Riesga’s hand was on the shoulder of the metal-framed body cast. Jette looked at her own hands and the golden, ribbed digits. Riesga turned her waist to face her, eyes wide.
“So … you mean, Flock did this?”
They were still at Space Port B, but had moved to a nearby lounge, thankful that it was all but empty.
“I had her listed as missing, presumed dead. I don’t know what’s happened to her. But I have a pretty good idea.”
“Why? … How?”
“That’s what I need to find out. Unfortunately, I’m grounded. And there are no longer any flights into Te’ Sareez space, per the GSL.”
Riesga recognized the look on her captain’s face. Her lips curled.
“But you have a plan.”