RICK JOHNSON

THARKS IN SPACE


by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
Tucson, Az.
85717
RikJohnson@juno.com

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I “My name is Eibhlin Inghean Ui Bhrian. I was born Tierna, a Noble, just outside Belfast, Ireland in the Year of our Lord, 1635. I’m sorry, it’s just a habit. I was born and raised Catholic though I don’t know what I am now for I stopped believing in God when he abandoned me and my family. I’ll try to not say that again. I was born in the Common Year of 1635 by Terran Reckoning. I am, well I don’t know how old I am now. I was not quite five foot tall and perhaps ninety-five pounds and a few months shy of my eighteenth year when I died. Yes, died, at least I think I died. England had conquered Ireland and my family fought to free our nation. My mother was taken away when I was 15, my father hanged at sixteen and at seventeen, the British gang-raped and shot me and left me to die on the morass. That’s when the Demons found and took me. They changed me into what I am now and in addition to adding my tail, antennae and medial thumb, they changed my eyes and ears, gave me bigger and firmer breasts and wider hips and I stopped ageing. They tell me that I’ll still look 18 when I am four hundred years old and more. And since a calendar relies on how fast your planet rotates on its axis and how long it revolves around the sun, well, on Earth we had 24 hours to a day and 365 days to a year. But the Demons used a different calendar so I don’t know how long their days or years are. I am told I was aboard their ship for three years but were those Earth years or Demon years? For all I can figure it may have been as many as five Earth years. So I suppose I could be anywhere between twenty and twenty-three years old. Is that important? It is? Then let us say I am 25. Twenty-three? I’m not trying to be difficult, I just don’t know for certain. I’m sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, the Mairead attacked the Demon ship that I served as a Technician and when it was taken and most of the crew killed, the Demons gave the ship to me. Mairead, no, ‘mahr-AhYD’, That was my mother’s name. I renamed the ship when I took possession. Yes, it was a legal prize of battle. Your people attacked mine and we retaliated. It’s all in the Admiralty records.

“So, why do I want to register as an arms dealer? Isn’t it obvious? My country was invaded and conquered by the English. I want to fill the hold of the Mairead with enough weapons to kill every English in Ireland and ensure that neither they nor any other nation will ever invade my nation again. No I have no plans to become Ard-Ri of Ireland, … that is Ard-Ri, High King. I don’t know the Saxon or Spanglic word for it. I just want my country free, the English dead and my own lands back.

“What do I want? The English use match-lock and flintlock slug-throwers and swords. Mine must make do with match-locks, cross-bows and whatever we can steal from the English. I was thinking of a few thousand repeating slug-throwers, both hand and rifles, a few thousand lasers, some rocket launchers, smart missiles, maybe a couple dozen nuclear warheads for the missiles, grenades, mines, body armour, medical supplies, communications gear. Basically enough weapons, ammunition, power-packs and gear to equip an army of maybe ten-thousand people for a five year campaign. It’s all here in the forms.

“Yes, that’s why I have been so busy working here these last months. The Demons trained me to be a technician and your ship-captains and Navy are desperate for what I know, so they hire me to upgrade their ships and pay me very well. I believe that my credit chit here will cover all that I wish. Three days? Well, I’ve waited all these years, another few days to get the license isn’t too bad. Yes, I can be found on my ship, I haven’t taken outside quarters so am either there or working around the station. Thank you.”

***

Saxons! These Vanthi may have been British Saxons in the past but now they believe that nothing can be done until the papers are signed and approved by someone other than themselves. Yes, they still made sacrifice to Woton and Thor and they still raided their neighbors and had a warrior mentality but unless they were in space fighting, they spent all their time filling out papers to justify what they did or wanted to do. I wonder if they considered those Saxons the Demons killed as still being alive because someone hadn’t remembered to sign their death certificates yet. Fortunately, they don’t hold a grudge for the Vanthi Merchant-Raider I now owned was once based here and a few months ago, the people with whom I now associate were drinking and whoreing with the dead-men who used to own my ship.

The problem was that I didn’t know how to deal with people. Up until I was fifteen, it was expected that I marry who my father chose, bear sons and let my husband rule my lands. The Ri of Ireland stopped training women to rule when Patrick arrived. Then I spent the next three years fighting and so had no normal life. When the Demons took me, broken and bleeding and then they healed and changed me, I had no real human contact for years so now I was forced to learn how to deal with people. And since the Vanthi had no telepaths, they didn’t understand how I could estann their motives and surface thoughts. Also since the Vanthi were Saxons, they respected men and might, both in the same body and myself, being a young girl a foot smaller that any man and easily a span shorter then even their women, and an alien at that, none considered my words worthwhile.

Oh, they valued my technical abilities but saw me as little more than a freed slave of the Demons. Fortunately, there were a number of Vanthi women who had proven themselves to be as capable as any men so I wasn’t the first or only female ship-captain they knew, I was just the smallest and youngest. Thus I had to work twice as hard in flight school to be thought of as half as good before I could fly my ship alone. But I learned and learned well and although I wasn’t at the top of my class, I was in the top ten percent. I had been raised to be Lady of a manor, forced to become a soldier, trained to be a technician and now was learning to fly a star-ship. I lead an interesting life and I needed a drink.

***

Every human settlement has a tavern. I found this to be true in Ireland, on Mon worlds and any Skree world that catered to human-descendants and it was true here. Even though this was a space station more than a mile across, it still had bars and whore-houses that competed with all other businesses. Fortunately for me, I had a crew that was loyal and capable, at least so long as I paid them to be so.

Ecgbeorn Thansson, the man I had saved from the Demons and who was now my pilot was waiting as usual. He didn’t care if I used the weapons to carve an empire for myself, he only wanted to know how much he would be paid and in that he was a typical Saxon. The fact that our ancestors raided each other’s shores mattered not at all to him and I had to remember that he was Vanthi, not English.

“How goes it Captain?’

“Three days and we should have our license to buy and export the weapons.”

“Good, I’m grateful that you gave me my full share of the cargo you sold but I am getting bored here and want to fly.”

“Which means you are broke and the whore-houses won’t take your credit?” I laughed. The man was like a satyr from Greek legend and the only reason he never approached me was that he remembered how I had tossed him to the floor so easily when he tried to take me prisoner. The Demons had engineered me to be twice as strong as a human man and the thought of a five foot girl being able to humiliate a man twice her weight and more than a foot taller embarrassed him.

“Not quite Captain,” he laughed back. As all Vanthi do, he called me Captain when dealing with me as his employer and as Lady Eibhlin during our rare personal times. “But Leofwine is bored and it’s not wise to have a loadmaster hanging around with nothing to do. Plus you pay him even if he does nothing but sleep.”

“Then tell him to prepare for the cargo. He’ll need to decide how to strap the weapons down and disarmed. Especially keep the arming triggers separate from the nukes.”

“Done and done, Captain. Anything else?”

“Just make certain that we have a good course to Earth. I’ll not wish to crash into a star because you got us too close to a gravity well.”

“Fear not, Captain. I may not have voyaged more than a hundred light years from Vanthi but there isn’t much difference between a hundred-c trip and a 10,000-c one other than you have more course changes to plot. I’ll get us there safe and sound, though it may take a few months.” I hoped the man was as good as his talk, I thought as he left me alone.

I did notice that I was forcing myself to be calm with him so it meant that I needed sex soon. The Demons may have made me stronger and eternally young but they also gave me a need for sex that forced me to bed a continuous number of people lest I die. Unfortunately, my taste runs to women so I visited to Purple Hog to see if Cuthflaed was there. The owner of the Hog had never seen one so didn’t know that swine were brown and that they had tusks, not horns but the beer was good and no one cared that I flirted with the beer-maids. The beer-maids encouraged this hoping for a bigger tip though I was yet to entice one into my bed.

I entered and made my way to my usual table, conversation ceasing as I entered for everyone in this sector was either totally human and Saxon or a totally alien S’kree which were so rare that most people never saw one. They knew that the Demons had engineered a number of humans into Weir and Mon but, aside from a few pirates who raided Mon Space, they had never seen any before I and the Mon and the Demons visited a few months ago to destroy their isolation, so I was still an object of interest. All watched me wiggle to my table, for as I entered Need, my body exuded the smell of a woman in desire and my hips swayed to attract attention no matter how much I tried to walk normally. I was not looking forward to visiting the whore-house again. A good man, which I hated bedding, once a month would keep me alive. A good woman thrice a month would do the same but as I said, I preferred women and hated my bodies need for a penis. Maybe it was being gang-raped by those British soldiers when I was seventeen, maybe I was born this way, maybe the Demons screwed up with my sexual desires when they screwed up my sexual needs. I don’t know and was afraid to ask them to fix it because you never knew what a Demon would do to you once they had you in their med-bay.

But Cuthflaed was attractive and being a bio-science officer, she was interested in me for any number of reasons. I was into my second beer and had to near break the wrist of only one man who couldn’t understand my desires. These Saxons thought a woman was happier underneath a man and if she said ‘no’, it meant that she enjoyed it rough. And the older patrons of the bar enjoyed telling the newer customers that I liked a variety of casual and aggressive men. It took me a month before Ecgbeorn told me that they were betting on long it would take me to send them away and how much force it would take. Since then, the two of us made a lot of money winning these bets, he laying the bet and focusing his thoughts on what and when I should do.

The object of my desire soon entered and ignoring all, sat at my table. “Good evening Eileen OO-Brian, she said, touching my hand with hers, a touch that sent thrills up my spine and made me very wet ‘down there’.

“Good evening, Cuthflaed Aelfsdottr,” I replied, wishing that I could kiss her in greeting. I had fantasies about her lush full lips.

She motioned for a drink and said, as always, “Have you given more thought to my offer?”

“Which one?” I replied, knowing what she meant. “The one about working for your company as a tech or the one about breeding Saxon brats?”

“Both actually,” she laughed. She herself was a bachelor and childless. “We are too inbred and need outside genes. That’s why we raid other human worlds for breeding slaves.”

The original Saxons who formed the Vanthi Nation numbered less than a hundred so over the centuries they tended to look alike in more ways than one. Opening up to the Demons and Mon would help them there too.

“And, my dear, were I to hand over my eggs to you and allow myself to become pregnant by an endless line of hairy ugly men, what would your people do when they were born with tails?”

“I’m certain that we could repress those genes.” She laughed at that for this was the same conversation we always had. As a Vanthi, she was absolutely loyal to her nation and had she been asked, she’d have had a dozen babies by a dozen men by now. “But were I to convince you to accept employment with my company, it would mean a big promotion for me. Besides, my dear, your tail fascinates me and I do have the occasional dream about how you would use it.” She leered at me, making me separate my thighs for fear of what I would feel were I to cross my legs here in public.

I looked into her eyes and suggested, “I am more than willing to show you, now, in my ship or your room. You know how I feel towards you.”

Now she was embarrassed for the Vanthi see rape, be it man on woman or man on man as a sign of masculinity but a man who willingly submits to another man is killed as a faggot and a woman who beds another woman is asking for a gang of men to teach her how wonderful men are. Having suffered that in Ireland, I made certain that I was armed while here.

“You know my answer.”

“And you know what your answer will force me to do tonight.” Strangely enough a woman could buy a female whore and nothing was thought of it. But let those same women be together outside the whorehouse and the situation was different.

“Eileen, let us speak of other matters. I hear you have been trying to purchase weapons?”

“My plan to free my country has never changed.”

“You own a Merchant-Raider. It has speed and power and enough weapons to easily conquer such a primitive nation as is England. Why arm your countrymen?”

“We are a prideful people. If I freed the country alone, they’d see it as an insult for a woman to do what they could not. This allows my countrymen to save face. Plus, one lucky musket-ball and the way is free for England to invade again. But if my nation is armed, then no one, England or her colonies or even Spain, would dream of attacking us.”

“It’s a long trip to Earth. Only a few ships have tried the journey and none returned to tell the tale.”

“I have the advantage as I refuse to fail.”

She laughed and finished her drink, “Had you pursued me with such determination, I would have been yours long ago. Enjoy your evening my dear and call for me when your lips are not so red with desire.” Like my nipples and labia, my lips reddened and swelled as my Need for sex increased. Then when satiated, they all returned to pink.

Alone again, I had another drink to steel my nerves, then left for the whorehouse, not knowing if I would rent a single man or a brace of women and wishing that there was another way to keep me alive, like marriage to a women who would love me.

***

Finally we had work. Rather, finally my crew had work for as a Demon Tech, I was always in demand. But the papers had been approved and a message to the arms dealers brought a couple freighters to the station (I had yet to see the Vanthi home-world) and so we all pitched in to help load and secure the cargo. It was here that Leofwine was in charge, checking over every crate to be certain that we got what we had purchased and that every weapon was unloaded and that we had the proper ammunition for each. Then the ammunition and power cores had to be stored separately and under lock and all secured to prevent a crate breaking free under acceleration. That alone took days of hard work and I would fall asleep exhausted despite my being so much stronger than any of my crew.

Finally we were done and I called my crew together for last instructions. There was Ecgbeorn Thansson, the man I had saved from the Demons and now my pilot and navigator, Leofwine Norfolk, my loadmaster and a bear of a man who was so hairy he braided his chest hairs and Frideswide Gyosdottar, a woman far past middle-age who chose to become an engineer after bearing a dozen children who left her overweight and near-afraid to be touched by another man for fear she’d become pregnant again. Neither of us had any desire for the other and I did wonder how long it would be before she and one of the men in the crew explored each other out of boredom. The others were here because they needed a job, she was here to run from her husband who wanted still more children and a wife willing to remain home and raise babies. Since Saxon women were forbidden to divorce, running away would allow her husband to divorce her and marry another, younger woman. Giving up her children was simply the price she was willing to pay for freedom.

I looked them over as Frideswide leaned over to adjust her boots, her bosom almost falling from her open tunic. God, that woman made me look flat and never saw what that sight did to men. Finally, “Are we ready? Good. Tomorrow we leave for Earth where we will turn our cargo over to the Irish. Don’t worry, you will get paid well for this. But the trip will take some five, maybe six months to cross the ten thousand light years so tonight, when you say goodbye to your friends, please don’t get arrested. Once on Earth, we remain until Ireland is free or forever, depending for I imagine that each of you could probably carve a small kingdom of your own with what we will have left on board. I don’t care so long as you remember that my plan comes first. So enjoy your last night and remember that I cannot now afford bail for you. See you at noon.”

Each left and I was heading out myself as Cuthflaed joined me. “Where are you going Eileen? I hear you leave tomorrow.”

“I do. I haven’t seen my home in years and am lonely to meet my cousins. But now I need a good woman so am thinking of buying a slave from The Chained Gibbet to keep me alive the next year.” The Saxons still believed in slavery though the other humans of the Commonwealth had outlawed that shortly after their abduction.

“A slave girl? Why not Frideswide Gyosdottar? With all her children, she’d probably be glad to lay with you for escape from childbearing.” She laughed at that.

I laughed back, “I’m afraid that were she to say yes to me, I’d suffocate under her breasts.”

“At least if you run out of supplies, she could feed you all with that bosom.”

As much as I loved my own breasts, I had to admit that I often wished they were smaller like when I was still human. The things did get in the way sometimes so our jokes at the expense of Frideswide were in good humor, especially since she never seemed to notice her own chest. Personally, I think that Cuthflaed was jealous as she was small-chested and men never stared at her the way they stared at me and Frideswide and other larger-endowed women.

“Since you are with me, you can help me find a nice girl-slave to buy.”

“What are your qualifications, other than being good in bed?”

“Well, I find that I am a terrible cook. Between eating whatever I could find in Ireland which wasn’t much, and letting the Demons feed me, I never learned and find I have little desire to learn so she should be a good cook. Plus intelligent and a good conversationalist. Yes, the ability to talk is definitely important.”

“I wonder that you have time to talk. Between your attempted seductions of me and the time you spend in the whorehouses, I wonder you also find the time to work.”

“The Demons forced me into a life of sexual need. Before this,” I lifted my tail to her eyes, “I was a virgin and never thought of sex. Now, thanks to those lizards, it is all I do think of and I need a constant entry to prevent my maidenhood from re-growing.”

“Sounds terrible. But we’ll find you a nice intelligent girl. Now for the reason I sought you out so late. I never planned to say goodbye, I want a berth on your ship.”

Now I was shocked. “Why?”

“Because I am bored here. I’m a med-tech and all I can do is work on genetic diversity and look over returning ships for alien diseases. I think I’d like to explore the galaxy for awhile. And you need a med-tech in case one of you gets injured. Plus my boss is harassing me because I cannot convince you to work for him. So why not?”

“Of course you are welcome. Though I cannot promise that I’ll stop trying to seduce you.”

“So long as you don’t get jealous if I bed one of the men aboard.”

“That I cannot promise. But we’re here so let’s focus on my needs for now.”

The owner of the slave shop sat us in comfortable chairs, brought us wine and sweetmeats to eat as he paraded his stock. Some of the women had been sold by their parents, hoping to relieve their own poverty and to ensure that some of their children would be fed regularly. We had the same custom in Ireland centuries ago though now we foster our excess babies out to relatives. Others were prizes taken in raids and a few were born into slavery. But most were criminals who were sold as the Vanthi had no prisons and saw selling their convicted as a means of income and allowing their new owners to worry about discipline and rehabilitation. The duration of the slave in chains ranged from years to life, depending on the crime. Technically it was illegal to know why that person was enslaved but you always found out if you wished. If the dealer said, “This man is cheap because he must be freed in four years,” you knew he was serving a sentence of the courts and a simple bribe would tell you the crime.

I had chosen this dealer as he had a reputation for decent stock and rarely dealt in dangerous criminals. So we sat and drank and listened to his speech, “This, My Lady, is item number 1245h,” Saxon slaves never had names until they were sold and given one, or their owner asked for their original names. “She is an excellent cook, as her thighs show and very docile. She has ten years enslavement left. No? Then here is item #39984g, though not born to slavery but with another fifty good years left, she has been trained to pleasure. I am certain that you will find that she adapts to pleasing a woman as easily as she does a man. Notice the firmness of her breasts, which though inferior to your own, are remarkable for their sensitivity. 4G, show the noble lady Aileen how you kiss.” I admit that my toes tingled as her lips touched mine. She did know how to kiss and I almost bought her on the moment. Then images of my own mother…

Cuthflaed leaned over and asked, “What’s the matter? Your expression fell.”

“I was thinking of my own mother, stolen and sold a slave-whore in the Americas and I cannot do that to these innocent girls.”

“Innocent? Half of these are criminals, the others sold themselves. You there, 4G! Tell us your history and no lies for we can find your records easily.”

The girl knelt before us and why I called her a girl I know not for she was older than myself. “Lady, my family is poor and rather than live in poverty, not knowing where my next meal would be, I learned all that I could of sex and sold myself knowing that a pleasure slave would have a better life than a free dirt-drubber.”

“There you have it Eileen, you wouldn’t be stealing a mother from her daughter but giving a decent life to someone without hope. 4G, can you cook?”

“Yes, mistress, I can cook all manner of pleasure foods from spiced hummingbird tongue to pickled morsfoll testicles to…,” and she named things I wouldn’t think of eating and must have come from the writings of a Roman orgy.

“No, no. Food, real food. The Lady Eileen is Captain of the Merchant-Raider Mairead and leaves for Earth tomorrow. She is looking for a pleasure slave to service only her,” she smiled at me at this, “and to feed the crew of five plus herself. But she must also be intelligent and able to hold a conversation. Can you do this?’

The slave thought then answered slowly, “Mistress, I can cook. I can cook simple fare and pleasure meals to encourage the libido and I suppose I can combine the two to please a hungry starship crew. As for intelligent, I am, for a pleasure slave is more than breasts and face and loins and must keep a man interested as he recovers between tries at love lest he sell her to common folk, so I can converse and play at games, both riddle and board including chess and look well upon the arm of any man or woman at a party and know when to be silent.”

I jumped in then for the woman was beautiful and seemed intelligent. Holding my hand out the dealer placed her file in my palm and as I read, the more impressed I became. “What is your name?”

“Ethelinda, if it pleases the Lady Aileen.”

“Eibhlin, not Eileen or Aileen but Eibhlin.” I corrected.

She fell to the floor and begged, “Forgive me Lady for your accent is different but I will learn.”

“I’m not angry, just determined. Well, Ethelinda, I am going to Earth, the homeworld of your race to free my country from conquest. If you serve me well, I shall not only free you but hire you as crew with shares committed to your job as cook and crew. All I ask is that you pleasure only me for my race needs good regular sex or we die, that you feed my crew and that you keep them from being bored, for boredom is a danger on a long voyage. Can you do this? And more importantly, will you do this?”

“I bed only you, My Lady, I cook for all and I entertain the crew and distract them from boredom. Yes Lady, I can do that easily. And pleasuring one beautiful woman is far preferable than a dozen sweaty, hairy, dirty men. Agreed, My Lady and if the money you pay isn’t enough, I can always sell myself again later. I think that you will find my services in every way without reproach.”

It was the way she caressed the sole of my foot that convinced me. I near climaxed on the moment and was about to hand my credit chip over when Cuthflaed interrupted, “Obviously the Lady Eileen is taken with 4g but is currently unable to deal so let us visit your office and dicker for her price. Eileen, there are no free samples here but talk all you want. I’ll return shortly.”

We talked for some minutes and found her to be as pleasant to talk to as she was to gaze upon and when Cuthflaed returned, she handed me the key to Ethelinda’s collar, actually a silver chain of deceptively fragile appearance, and said, “He argued well and I paid more than I believe she is worth but better she than you lusting over me the next year.” She laughed at this last part for she enjoyed my advances as much as I desired her for I listened when she said ‘no’. “But the advertising he’ll get from selling to you was worth what he claims he lost on the deal.”

So I looked at my new lover and said, “Ethelinda, gather your belongings and meet me aboard the Mairead at dock F32g before noon tomorrow. You can take tonight to say goodbye to your friends and family and you can sleep with me tonight or another single bed of your choosing.” Then I kissed her again and the tingling made me want to recant and order her to my bed immediately. But a Tierna keeps her promise and I had to let her go.

She bowed to me and said, “Thank you Lady and I shall see you anon, with great eagerness to please you in every manner.”

On the way back, Cuthflaed commented, “It was nice of you to give her a last evening free. Even slaves have lives and friends.”

“After that kiss, I regret my goodness already.”

She laughed and hugged me, “Then, let us get drunk tonight and not think of anything at all.”

II
In the morning I awoke with a hangover but alone in my cabin and wondered, for a moment, if Ethelinda would actually show up or take the time to escape. In Ireland we held slaves, occasionally English and Scot and Welsh taken in raids, but mostly criminals who had been sold to serve their sentence and these were always seeking to escape their chains. Making my way to the galley, I saw Cuthflaed already making something to drink, “Here, drink this, it will help the pain. I was thinking that you may be serious about freeing Ethelinda. If so, wait until you have no more use for her.””

“Why?” I asked, forcing her concoction down. It did help.

“Because, Eileen, you know our views on homosexuality. You are an alien so we tolerate your strange customs and needs. And she is a slave so must do as you command. But were she free, she could no longer be your lover for fear of retribution, punishment and rape. So it is safer for her to remain in your collar. If you insist, place her pay into an account and give it to her as a gift when she is freed. I’ll explain it to her so she won’t hate you.”

“Thank you. My head feels better but my throat is raw. What did I do last night?”

“I remember you hitting some man who tried to kiss you. Then you challenged the entire bar to a wrestling match and almost lost near the end. That’s when I dragged you away.”

“Why is my throat raw?”

“I’m surprised your knees aren’t sore too. You must have given a hundred blow-jobs last… I’m joking! Don’t look at me like that. Between what you were drinking and your yelling that any Irish could defeat any Saxon, I’m surprised you have any voice left, or that your skin remains on your bones. You really are an obnoxious drunk and should consider limiting your intake.”

“Considering the way I feel, I tend to agree with you. When everyone is aboard, I’ll introduce you and Ethelinda to the crew. Do you have everything you need aboard?”

“Almost. I had my personal gear moved over last night and have been looking over the med-bay and the crew’s medical records as well as your own and I have a list of supplies I want to purchase before we leave. If we are going so far out, we’ll be months from a decent hospital and I’m only a med-tech, not a doctor so want to avoid any real problems. This sex-need of yours is fascinating. I enjoy sex but you actually need it. I’d love to watch you go through celibacy and record the bio-effects you endure so I can have an idea of what to do.”

“What happens is I get really cranky, my lips and nipples turn red, I am always wet and I stink like a bitch-dog in heat. Then I die. When it gets that bad, I need a man for an hour or two. Normally a good woman every few days will prevent that which is what I prefer.”

“Interesting. Well you have a few men who will be willing to save your life if you get that bad.” She was laughing at that. “The rest of the crew is normal which is expected from ship-crew though I wish Frideswide would loose 50 pounds. She isn’t overly fat and carries it well but I worry that too much acceleration or hard work under high-gravity may strain her heart.”

“She wouldn’t have her Spacer-Certificate if she weren’t healthy. Besides any woman who can birth that many babies and survive will outlive both of us. Though how she can walk away from them I’ll never understand.”

“Sometimes, dear Eileen, your own sanity and survival are more important then anything else. I know her type. She had dreams and they were crushed by family obligations. Then one day you wake up, look around at the dirty dishes, years of diapers and know that you will be cleaning shit from red asses for the rest of your life and it takes every bit of your strength to resist to urge to grab a hot skillet and pound your husband’s face into a bloody pulp. So you run away partly for your own sanity and partly to save your children from yourself.”

“Sounds like you know that too well.”

“My sister was like that. Only we never listened to her until she tried to walk off a building. She spent three years in a mental home until she was safe enough to return home. By then, her husband had divorced her and re-married.”

“We all have sad tales. At least she lived and is better. Now I am starving, you can eat what I cook or cook for us both.”

She laughed again, “If one of the conditions you made for your girl-toy is the ability to cook, I think I will make us breakfast.”

We left after eating and spent the remainder of the morning shopping for her needed medical supplies. It took most of my remaining capital but she insisted that it was necessary and once away, barring a ship emergency, we’d neither need to buy anything nor find a place to sell us anything. Space between the Commonwealth and Earth was mostly barren save for the Shitai, the Green pirates and a few isolated civilizations. Even the Demons didn’t know how many civilized worlds there were and they had been exploring the galaxy for ten million years.

We had an idea of the number for there were two hundred billion stars in the galactic plane, another hundred billion in the satellite clusters and another hundred billion in the halo and maybe fifty billion or more in the Core. About half of these were G-Type stars which had the lifespan to develop life for a Red Giant star would be long dead before it’s worlds had cooled enough to start life. About ten percent of these would have a stony-iron world within the Carbon eco-sphere and almost all of these would develop life. So the Galaxy had about twenty-five billion upon which carbon-based life could easily evolve. Half of those would have left-handed life like us, and a fraction of a percent, maybe one percent or less would have proteins that we could consume so give the habitable worlds at one-hundred-twenty-five-million Earth-type worlds scattered across thirty-one and a half billion cubic light years. So guestimated one Earth-type world every two-hundred-fifty cubic light years. It sounds like we’d meet a Class-M world every seven light years but the truth is that you would be lucky to find one every couple-hundred light years. The universe only pretends to follow the laws of statistics.

Both Demons and the humans they abducted from Earth had gone crazy terra-forming worlds only in different ways. The Demons would choose a star they liked, move a world into a proper orbit then plant biologicals to spread and change the planet over a million years. Humans planted gigantic terra-forming machines on Class-M worlds and used the machines to change the world to something that could support human life, then they’d return in a few decades and seed the world with plants then a few decades later, with animals and in a century, they would have a supposedly perfect planet to colonize. Thus in Commonwealth Space, Class-M worlds were so clustered you couldn’t move without striking one.

I recalled how the Church would teach us that the Earth was a flat disc in the center of which was Jerusalem and Ireland was near the edge and if we sailed west only a few miles, we’d strike the Crystal dome upon which were all the stars and worlds and which separated the grossness of the Earth from the perfection of Heaven. They would burn anyone who even thought that the stars were suns and that life could exist on other worlds. They were wrong about so many things.

Some astrologer from India proposed almost fifteen hundred years ago that the Sun was the center of the universe and then a few decades ago Galileo was almost burned at the stake for proposing that same pagan belief and I heard that recently, at least when I lived on Earth a few years ago, a Polish astrologer called, I think, Copernicus, was expanding on this idea but the Church insisted that he was the tool of Satan and any who follow him will burn in Hell. I wonder how the Kris of the Holy Empire of God in Christ with whom the Demons and Mon are at war deal with the truth. For all I know, my last few years out here are but an illusion created by Satan for my dieing in sin when the British gang-raped and shot me.

“Eileen? You are drifting off.” Cuthflaed was touching me. “Be careful for staring at the stars like that for they can hypnotize you and you will spend so much time lost in thought that you die within your dreams. Breakfast is ready and the crew is beginning to arrive.”

Frideswide arrived with Leofwine though it was clear that their mutual arrival was a coincidence. He lusted after her and she saw in him a simple labourer while she was an educated engineer. Both sat and helped themselves to the meal, discussing their evening and other such small talk then Ecgbeorn arrived, lipstick still on his collar and probably broke. Well, his life was his to lead so long as he kept his whoring away from my flight deck and my cabin. Then conversation ended as Ethelinda came in wearing something so slinky that even Frideswide stared in jealousy. She set her bags on the floor, curtseyed to me and called out, “Mistress, I hope that I am not too late. Oh, I see I am since the meal is cooked and served. Please, let me finish and I apologize for being tardy though you said before Noon and it remains still an hour and more of the time.” Then totally ignoring the men who were drooling into their meal, she kissed me on my cheek and refilled my drink and attended to my needs the entire meal.

Finally tiring of this game I called, “Attention please. Since we last spoke we have hired two more crew. This is Cuthflaed Aelfsdottr who is our med-tech and bio-sciences engineer. And this is Ethelinda, our cook, morale officer and my personal slave. One thing more and I will say this once and no more. Ethelinda is off-limits to all save me. And both Frideswide and Cuthflaed are free to choose to say yes or no as they choose. ANYONE who seeks to force any of these or me will find themselves floating out an airlock before they can un-tie their pants. There will be NO second chance. Now, we leave at noon so I hope you are all sober and ready to do your jobs. As soon as you finish your meal, please go to your stations and prepare for separation. Call me at the bridge when you are ready.” Then I left for the bridge to clear our separation with the tower.

Shortly after Ecgbeorn arrived, sat in the pilot’s chair and began to check over the controls. “No stop before that Demon world, Captain?”

“None planned.”

“That is near a hundred light years away. A long trip in one multi-jump.”

“Are you implying you cannot do that?”

“No Captain, I can. I’ve done near that long before but we will be passing through both Londinium and Edward and it’s only a day and a half away. Maybe two depending on what we meet.”

“Then what?”

“We raided Londinium.”

“We as in the Vanthi or we as in this ship?” Now I was worried.

“Both.”

“Then it is a good thing I had the Mairead repainted and her registration changed. Hopefully you personally are unknown to them.”

“So do I captain….” He trailed off as Ethelinda arrived, came to me and laying her arms over my shoulders said, “I have cleaned the galley Mistress. Next meal in six hours. Have you any ... duties (she whispered this into my ear) for me until then?”

“Ten minutes to separation, captain,” this from Ecgbeorn who deliberately was looking at his console and not at us.

I managed to rasp, “Not now. My cabin is first on the right, set your things there.” She licked my ear as she moved away, causing me to almost moan in pleasure. A power play so I reached out and caressed her inner thigh with my tail as she turned causing her to gasp. Good! Now we are even and it will be fun to see who rules who in the bedroom.

Then, “Tower, this is Captain Ui Bhrian of the Mairead requesting separation.”

The pilot began to read, “Ship airlock sealed, station airlock sealed, umbilicals separate, loadmaster reports all is well, engineer reports all is well, engines ready and hyper-drive on-line. We are ready for push.”

“Mairead, this is Tower control, all is good, the skies are clear and ready for push in thirty seconds.” Then, “Push in ten, nine, eight…” the tower was counting and we all readied, then, “… one, push! Mairead you are free of the station. Clearance to thrust in three minutes.”

We now drifted, pushed away by the station until we were far enough away that we’d not accidentally damage it with a bad take-off. Now we waited as the station moved further to the left. It was traditional to dock with the left airlock but pilot from the right seat. There was no reason other than the old sailing ships had their steering oar on the right so had to tie to the dock on the left.

Eventually we heard, “Tower to Mairead, you are clear of the station, the skies are clear and the winds are right. Clear sailing!”

“Mairead to Tower, thank you. Good weather. Thrusting now!” and Ecgbeorn adjusted attitude and started the thrusters to our new course. “Pilot to crew, hyper-drive in three minutes.” This over the intercom as the ship accelerated to near light speeds. Technically it was impossible to reach the speed of light so the Thrusters got us as close as possible in three minutes and then the hyper-drive took over and rocked us into that place where physics and magick and religion met. Strange how we were now at one-half the speed of light and the stars hadn’t moved an inch. Then Ecgbeorn called as we both removed our hands from the controls and placed them in our laps, “Hyper in ten seconds, tense up! Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, relax and engage!”

This was the most dangerous part for a slight touch of the controls could send us into hyper-space at an angle and then the station would see a multi-megaton fireball as the reactor tore itself apart. Better to allow the ship to fly herself now.

The stars turned blue but still never moved. We both read the indicators and finally, “Pilot to ship, all is well. We drop from warp in 32 hours sixteen minutes.” Then to me, “I can handle the rest Captain if you have other matters to attend to.” He didn’t even leer or I’d have slapped his face off.

“I wanted to make some comment like ‘I’ll be in the galley’ just to dash his hopes but we both knew where I was going. Most of the crew slept near their stations and the two cabins next to the flight deck were his and mine, close enough so we were seconds from the deck and as I reached my room, Cuthflaed appeared down the corridor and motioned for me. “Eileen, before you get your hopes up, consider that she brought in but two bags. A good pleasure slave receives many gifts in her service so she either lost everything to a bad habit or converted it to something valuable or used it to pay fines. Just be aware of this please.”

Nodding I entered my room to find her kneeling on the floor, her back straight, small breasts forward and head down, “I await my Mistress’ pleasure.”

***

I missed dinner but Ethelinda brought me something to eat from when she left me, for her duties also included feeding the crew. I did manage to relieve Ecgbeorn that evening though there was no need since he had plotted a course well wide of the stellar gravity wells and even the Vanthi had decent charts this close to home. In fact I found him leaning back and reading a book, only occasionally glancing at the mass-detectors though we were moving so fast by the time we detected it, it would be too late for human hands to adjust course. The computer flew the ship and we could easily have abandoned the flight deck until we arrived had we wished.

“Is all well?” I asked.

He glanced at the controls again before answering then said, “All is well, Captain. And you?”

I stretched then slid into my chair, my tail moving aside as I sighed, “Better and more relaxed that ever I have felt in my life. Feel free to seek your bunk if you wish.”

“Thank you but … what the hell!” We dropped from warp suddenly without warning.

“All stations report!” I commanded. Ecgbeorn commented, “Nothing struck us, the hyper-drive just shut down. Engineering!”

“On my way,” we heard the voice of Frideswide calling through the ship’s intercom. She obviously wasn’t in engineering but may have been anywhere. Then…

“Vanthi ship, stand down. This is the Starfleet cruiser Vengeance, Ship-Captain Cooper commanding.”

“There!” he pointed to the scanner, “Behind and above in attack position about 50,000 miles away.”

“Vengeance, this is Mairead, Lady Eibhlin Inghean Ui Bhrian commanding. Is there a problem?”

“A Vanthi Merchant-Raider carrying arms and nuclear weapons entering Londinium space is cause enough to stop and question you. You aren’t Vanthi? Weir? Commanding a Vanthi ship? Curious.” He had glanced aside to read reports and I was also curious as to how he knew my ‘race’ since I was the only Weir I knew of. That is unless the Demons were taking and changing more humans than they told me about.

“The ship was a lawful prize and I needed a crew. Also I am a legally registered arms dealer. We are just passing through on our way to the Demon world Sslthlssh and bear no ill will to the Commonwealth.”

“Your course passes through both Londinium and Edward. Have you intentions to stop-over on a Commonwealth world?”

“None that I know but I have friends in Edward that I may decide to visit.”

“In that case, since you have declared possible intent to land-fall, I must consider a Customs inspection. Request permission to board.” It wasn’t a request and so I had to agree.

“Of course, though you may find our ship a bit cramped.” He nodded and severed connections so I opened ship-com, “Attention, we are about to be boarded by the Mon Star Fleet. Remain calm and unarmed and cooperate and we’ll be fine.” Then to my pilot, “I hope no one is carrying anything illegal and not on the manifests.”

He pointed to Ethelinda who had remained behind me the entire time, “That girl-toy alone is cause. Slavery is illegal here and they saw her collar. Be careful Captain. Be very careful… Damn, energy spike in the cargo bay.”

We near ran down there to find a half-dozen Mon scanning the cargo. From a distance they were as human as the Vanthi as they both came from the same English Village six hundred years ago, being abducted shortly after the Norman Conquest of Britain. Unfortunately the resemblance ended when I approached and looked up and up and up to them. I am barely five foot tall and the average Vanthi man was six feet or more. Even the Vanthi women towered over me by a good six inches which is a reason I chose Ethelinda for tall as she was, she was the shortest slave in the shop. But walking up to a Mon reminded me of the joke about a perfect woman being waist high to a man and with a flat head. This Captain may have been taller or normal size for his nation but at near nine feet tall and looking like a body-builder, it hurt my neck to talk to them. Even the Vanthi were cowed.

I handed him my ship-chip and as he scanned it I commented, “As you can see, my cargo is all listed and all arming devices and ammunition are separate and locked down. The remaining cargo is mainly trade goods.”

He looked to his men who had been scanning everything including the walls though they knew every molecule of this ship long before they had stopped us. He glanced at their readings and sighed, “Captain...” he paused then touched behind his ear where his comm-implant was and listened. I didn’t know if that was a part of the changes the Demons made when they changed the Normans into the Mon or specific to military but they all seemed to have them. He corrected and began again, “Lady Eibhlin, are you the same woman who repaired a number of our ships over the last few years?”

“I repaired a number of Mon ships during my service with the Demons but if I am the one you refer to, I don’t know.”

“And are you the one who opened relations with the Vanthi?”

“I am.” Now I had power of a sort.

“Then, Lady, you place me in a difficult position. Your work has saved many Mon lives who would have died in or after battle so we are grateful to you. And relations with the Vanthi will stop their raids on our worlds for which I am personally grateful.

“Very well, Please accept our invitation to the Commonwealth. I have noted your visa on your chip but please be aware that although you may be a legal Arms Dealer to the Vanthi, that does not apply here so please make no attempt to sell your weapons to any Mon or Kris world or to any others who would use them against us. We will also have to scan your cargo when you leave to ensure it is complete.

“Now for the unpleasant part. Are you aware that slavery is illegal in the Commonwealth?”

“I am. But I claim extenuating circumstances. I am Weir and unless I get regular sex, I will die. Since I prefer women over men, and since the Vanthi outlaw lesbians, owning a female slave is the only way I can survive. I have promised her freedom when this voyage is over with a share in the profit.”

“Why Vanthi and not Mon? Our people are mostly heterosexual but there are some who prefer their own sex and we don’t punish them for that.”

I laughed at that, “Captain, look at me and look at that woman over there. She is feet taller than am I. You Mon are giants and so physically incompatible to me.”

“Not all of us were changed into Mon. There are entire worlds within and near the Commonwealth that avoided the Demon engineering that made us … giants. And even the older people who bore Mon babies are still human. Still, I must talk to her alone.” Then motioning to Ethelinda, they moved away and I could barely make out him offering her freedom and amnesty. Had she wished, he would have beamed her away from me instantly and I would have been helpless to stop them. Instead she bowed, said something, he tried to argue then gave up.

“It seems, Lady Eibhlin, that your slave enjoys her position and wishes to remain here. She isn’t certain if you will keep to your promise of freedom and that doesn’t seem to concern her much so I must respect her wishes. But please hide her collar when you are on a Mon world.”

“I will, Captain, and I AM truthful when I promised her freedom and payment. It is in my ships log which is a legal document.”

“Very well, we’ll respect your decision and hers though I must also warn you that beating even a slave or a pet is considered to be criminal assault here. So if she requires discipline, please find another way. Enjoy your trip.” Then he saluted and stepped back and they vanished.

“Captain,” Frideswide called over the ship-com, “The warp-drive is back on-line. No damage that I can see.”

“Thank you! Ecgbeorn, let us continue our journey.”

“We were lucky. This could have gone bad for us but you seem to have a good reputation with them.”

“Maybe I am finally learning how to deal with people,” I joked.

Within five minutes we were back in hyper-space and delayed only a quarter hour though finding another human world in the Commonwealth was now something I wished to pursue.



III As we left Edward space we were hailed and requested, not ordered to drop to normal space and when we did so, the ship-captain came alongside us (a more polite position), introduced himself, wished us a pleasant trip and left within a minute.

“I know they scanned us but I couldn’t see anything on our sensors. I wish I had their technology.”

“A few years of open trade between the Commonwealth and your nation and you will,” I commented. “How long to Sslthlssh?”

“A couple more hours. I’ve never seen a Demon other than the ones that killed my captain and crew-mates and any other Vanthi who did, died. I admit that I am terrified of this meeting.”

I laughed. “As was I when I awoke on their ship. It took me days to stop hiding from them and months before I was comfortable. So remember to be polite, be honest and never threaten them and you should come out alive.”

We broke hyper above the plane then dropped to the planet, being certain to NOT approach directly. If you did so and didn’t respond fast enough to their controllers, they’d see you as a threat and destroy you instantly. Or if you lost power and were pointed at them, you’d crash into the planet. So by approaching at a slight angle, it signified our peaceful intent and ensured a safe visit.

Like most Demon worlds, this was mostly nature preserve with a very few cities and these only for technology. We chose the largest and settled down with no contact at all. Most races saw Demon casualness as vulnerability but the truth is that had they seen us as a threat, we’d never have gotten within a dozen million miles of the planet. The fact that we could go where we wished without comment showed how harmless they saw us.

I had Leofwine load the alcohol I had bought onto the skiff and we took it to the nearest ship-port shop where I contacted the nearest Demons and asked, “I am Eibhlin, I’m going on a long voyage where there are few fuel depots and so need to scoop up free water or Hydrogen gas, filter it and convert some to Deuterium and Tritium. I have alcohol from Vanthi to trade for such a device.”

The Demon looked at the skiff, glanced at the ship then broke a crate open and took a long drink from a bottle. By then a dozen more were approaching and I left them to their drinking as I took my crew to the parts shop. “They accepted our payment so we are free to do as we wish. Wander around and take whatever you think we will need but NOT what you want for yourself. Demons don’t understand theft but they do understand killing people who abuse their stay.”

A few minutes later a Demon arrived with a loaded skiff and said, “This may fit your ship. Better you change from Cold-Fusion to Total-Conversion.”

“I agree but the Mairead won’t accept such a conversion so I must make do with upgrading the reactor I have.”

He nodded and I climbed aboard, holding on with feet and tail and supporting Cuthflaed and Frideswide with my hands as we returned to my ship.

Installation took two days but by then, like all demon technology, it was perfect and as I did most of the work with Frideswide assisting and the Demons bringing me whatever they felt I could use, I was happy with the result. “Now, all we have to do is to skim a gas giant or filter water on a stony world and we can refuel anywhere.”

“I’m not happy loosing so much cargo space for that thing,” complained Leofwine.

“We still have enough. And what we loose in cargo, we gain in fuel savings. You were always dependant on fuel depots for the H, H2 and H3. Now you can go further and cheaper and it only cost us a few crates of alcohol.”

“I wonder if that’s why we never returned to Earth after the Abduction and Diaspora? Ten Thousand light years is a long way to go when you can’t be certain you will have fuel. Most of the ships we sent Homeworld probably ran out of fuel and are drifting dead between the two.”

That was possible. Space was large and habitable worlds few between the clusters of civilization and you could pass a stranded ship by a very few millions of miles and not know it was there. Another dozen light years and we will be out of the Galactic Arm where stars are fewer and further apart. Aside from the Shitai, which we will avoid, there may be nothing of consequence between us and Earth. “Ethelinda, don’t expect to find a world where we can shop so collect as much food as you can while we are here. Assume that for the next six months, we eat only what we carry.”

“Yes Mistress. If Leofwine Norfolk will find room, I will shop as best I can though these Demons terrify me with their six limbs, their reptilian features and their claws and teeth.”

“I have an idea,” then I called to a Demon and asked in his language. “He says that down this road a mile is a Mon hostel with a store inside. I suspect that they will be expensive but what they can eat, so can we. Take the credit chit with you while I fine-tune the new filters.”

“Yes Mistress,” she curtseyed and started off when Cuthflaed called, “I’ll go with her. I want some more bio-scanners in case we have to set down on a strange world.”

“Fine. I’ll see you when you return,” then I again became lost in the technology. The Demons chose me more for my innate abilities and inclinations in this field, abilities I never knew I had as I grew up on a world where the village smithy was the height of technology. Fortunately, the first humans they Abducted were centuries behind even my Ireland and so all Mon and Vanthi technology was Demon-based and built upon what they took from the Demons and so all we had to do was make a few modification to our ship to fit the new fuel filters. Skree technology was as alien as the Skree insects themselves so this wouldn’t be possible had we settled on a Skree world for assistance. Frideswide was learning and when she returned to Vanthi, her new skills would make her very much desired and so highly paid.

We remained longer than I expected for the simple reason I wanted to breath fresh air, smell flowers and feel the sun on my face. I had spent the last months on a Vanthi space station and the years before that aboard a Demon ship with only the occasional visit to a planet and I missed walking in the fields. At this point I’d even welcome stepping in a cow-pie and was laying there in the grass, naked and feeling the sun on my skin when Cuthflaed and Ethelinda found me.

“We spent most of your cash reserve but got what we feel we’ll need.” Cuthflaed was staring at me for unlike Ethelinda who had explored every inch of my body our first night, my naked sight was new to her. “Join me,” I called and instantly Ethelinda was naked beside me, chewing on a piece of grass.

Cuthflaed lay with us, still clothed and as we commented on the shapes we saw in the clouds, the med-tech asked, “Eibhlin,” she was finally learning how to pronounce my name properly. “I know pleasure slaves remove all body hair but you are hairless save for your pubes. Is this natural or by intent?”

“Demons don’t like hair. When I was human and on Earth, I was as hairy as are you but the Demons removed it all and now I cannot grow any on my body save my head and woman’s area. I thought the S’tyr shaved their body but found that they were born hairless and I found that I liked the smoothness of the skin so I am glad that Ethelinda removes her hair for me.”

“It must have been difficult to get used to your new body. When we transplant a brain from a broken body to a new one, it takes up to a year for the mind to accept it’s new form and move naturally.”

“Strangely enough, when I awoke, this body moved as if I had been born to it. Tail, eyes, everything. It was me accepting that I was no longer human that took weeks. Even now, I have a difficult time remembering what I once looked like. That tickles!” Ethelinda was teasing my nipple with a flower.

“I can see you will soon forget me so I will return to the ship and repack the new supplies.” And she left us alone.

“Mistress,” my love-toy spoke when we were alone. “I know that the trip will be dangerous and I am grateful for your promise to me though I would serve you as well without it. To be truthful, your soft touch is a welcome change from the harsh pounding and grasps forced by men. And somehow I find it… erotic that I am taller than you.”

She sighed, lay back and as I caressed her cheek with my tail, she turned and kissed the sensitive tip-pad then continued, “when I was still free, I lived in a slum with no hopes. I saw my brothers and sisters work at menial jobs in the factories or whatever they could and so seeing that I was somewhat attractive, I chose this path. I found a nice man with some wealth and sold myself to him as a virgin. I knew nothing of sex but learned quickly. I listened to him talk for I knew that eventually I’d no longer be desirable and he educated me and when he married, he sold me to another who was kind and who encouraged my education. Lady, you chose me for my sexual abilities for I know that without me, you will die. But you also chose me for my mind and with your permission, I will study as much as I am able and become more than a toy and cook.”

Leaning closer, for her body was so desirable, I repressed the desire to ask what was natural and what enhanced by Vanthi surgery, I kissed her lightly and said, “Please do. I am an excellent engineer but if you learn to pilot you can take your turn at the controls and make our journey safer. Also, Cuthflaed is but a med-tech and visiting a new world exposes us to new diseases and parasites and so helping her may be vital to our survival. I know you can learn this for your file shows you to be intelligent and your history proves that you chose your path to better yourself and you did so with planning that belies a blonde mattress.”

“Thank you Lady. I am accustomed to… I know that women who love other women are rare among my people but those I met hate the thought that their lovers had been with a man. I knew one who beat and sold her girl-slave because she found that the girl had had a baby and that was a constant reminder that she had once had a man inside her. You seem more accepting of my past.”

“I was raised to marry and bear sons. When the demons changed me there were no men and so my first lover, well, the first who didn’t force me, was a gentle woman. So do I prefer women because I had been gang raped by men and wish to avoid that or because my first real lover was a woman or because the Demons made a mistake when they changed me or because I was born this way? I don’t know. My past is so long ago it seems that I cannot remember my former dreams. But I’ve had my share of men and enjoyed their attentions, though I find I must pretend they are women with a toy strapped to their loins. So I cannot fault you for what I also did. Just be aware that occasionally, the need grows so strong that even you cannot satisfy this Weir body and then I must seek a man. Please don’t become jealous when that happens.”

She kissed me again, tenderly, and whispered, “I cannot,” and she ran her tongue around my ear and we lost ourselves in making love under the sun.

***

But all good things must come to an end and so we left the Demon world and even Demon Space shortly after for our lonely half-year cruise to Earth.



IV It was almost two weeks later when trouble struck. Ecgbeorn discovered that my charts I had uploaded form the Demons were far better than any the Vanthi could dream of and so he was able to navigate closer to the stars without being caught in their gravity wells and so we made better time. Once he even commented that he’d like to sell copies to his own people and retire on the profits. I remembered listening to an uncle tell me how his ship had been chased by an English Galleon and he knew the waters around Ireland so well we was able to sail between the rocks which stove in the bottom of the larger ship that tried to follow him. Had the English hired an Irish Pirate instead of hanging them, they would have known where to sail in safety.

Basically we were making a course change to avoid a white dwarf and our scanners detected a greater mass fast approaching. “What is it?” I asked. Despite my pilot’s license, I was still new to this, being mainly a tech-slave of the Demons.

“A ship, a big one, easily ten times our mass and with bigger engines it is fast overtaking us.”

”Why do you think?”

“Who knows? Maybe they are pirates seeking prey, maybe Navy protecting their borders, maybe … you’ve seen more of space than I have. But no messages so either our communications are incompatible or they are deliberately avoiding communication. Whatever, I think running is a good idea.”

“I agree. If we cannot outrun them, perhaps our charts are better and we can out maneuver them. See what you can find.” As he did so, I called to the crew, “We are being followed by an unknown larger ship of uncertain motives. We are trying to outrun them or find a place to hide but just in case, Leofwine, break out some weapons for us and arm the big guns. Frideswide, we will need as much power as you can give us.”

Looking over the charts, I commented, “That G-Type star, slingshot us around it as close as you can make it. With their mass, they’ll not be able to cut as close at hyper-light.”

“Assuming, Captain, that this isn’t their neighborhood and they don’t have as good charts as do we.”

“Someone once said to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Damn! What was that?”

“Engineering here, we’ve been holed. Hyper-drive is down but I can still give you maybe point-five in normal space.” She sounded calm but then, she had a lifetime of caring for injured kids to force her to repress panic.

“At least we’re inside the system and they’ll have to drop to sub-light to catch us. Same plan Ecgbeorn, cut it as close and as fast as we can around the star. Also look for a Class-M world where we can park and repair then sling us there. Leofwine! Arm a nuke or two for proximity and get ready to toss it out an airlock.”

“What in Hel’s Kingdom are you planning?”

“They have to drop to sub-light to catch us. If we sling around the star at point-5 as close as possible, they’ll have to follow to ensure that they don’t loose us. A larger ship closer to the star at faster than point-5 light speed means more time dilation. They’ll have to angle their shields to the star and use all their power to avoid the gravity-well. A nuke exploding on the far-side may damage them or push them into the well and with their time dilation, it will detonate before they can react. I’ll do the math, you get us as close to the star as possible and slow enough to keep our time near normal.”

“Yes, Captain.” He was actually speaking with some respect. Now I had to do some close calculations.

“Three minutes to Well,” this was the pilot beginning his readings. “Aggressors are sub-light and following at point-7. They’ll catch us before we sling free.”

“Nuke ready to dump!” this from the loadmaster.

“Hold the nuke, I don’t want to give them a chance to avoid it. And ready some debris to make them think we’re breaking up. Dammit! The computer identified their ship, Green pirates! Now we have to escape or die trying.” Green pirates. Six limbed and fifteen feet of olive nastiness. They had eyes on the sides of their heads, no hair and tusks that followed their face. They had a reputation for torture and anyone who fell into their hands didn’t stop screaming for weeks. They also never gave up. The Mon believed that they had been abducted from a less technical world as were we only instead of making friends with their abductors, the Green Pirates took over, killed their hosts and used the technology they captured to terrorize this part of the galaxy. But this was all conjecture for they never talked when captured and were rarely captured.

“Entering the Well at point-5, we can push to point-7 if you want, Captain.”

“No! I need the time and them to get close.”

“Entering corona. Sixty seconds to sling-out. Pirates sixty seconds behind and accelerating.”

“Loadmaster, dump it in thirty-five seconds!”

“Forty seconds to sling-out! They are within weapons range and they are firing. A hit and shields buckling! Nuke away! Sling out and detonat….”

We saw the flare in the shields even over the stellar glow, the blast burning our tail and blinding us.

“Report!” I screamed.

“Engineering here. Sub-light is out and we are drifting. Damage is outside mainly but I’ll do what I can inside for now but someone is going to have to check the stern.”

I stared at Ecgbeorn who was reading his console then, “I think it worked. There! Mass readings show them in the Well and breaking up. We didn’t destroy their ship but we damaged it enough that they couldn’t get free.”

Cuthflaed and Ethelinda were now there, my lover the entire time but trying to remain out of the way, the Tech arriving from assisting the loadmaster. Cuthflaed wearing Spacer coveralls like Frideswide and Leofwine and Ethelinda wearing a dress that covered much. After a few days she had changed from her normal sexy clothing to this for having the men stare at her made us all nervous. I still wore my Demon clothing as it was very comfortable once I had their computer understand that my skin preferred something soft.

“What just happened?” Cuthflaed asked. Ethelinda just listened for no slave interrupts a free person with questions. Vanthi philosophy is that if you wanted your slave to know something, you would tell them.

Ethelinda came to me and placed her arms around me, breathing hard from fear so I caressed her cheek with my tail and held her arms as I explained, “Relativity. We slung around the sun as close as we could and the Green Pirates had to follow for fear we’d sling out with the sun between us to hide among the planets. They were bigger and faster than we and came in faster and closer to the sun to catch us. Since time is a function of mass and velocity, their greater mass and velocity that close to the star caused their time to compress. They were moving in slow motion and so had no time to react. We dumped a nuke out the airlock to give the impression we were breaking up and the nuke moving slower had a faster time-frame so to them it was moving very fast. And by the time they caught up with it and realized what it was, their time was too slow to react to the danger and the proximity fuse detonated on the far side of the ship.

“Since their shields were angled to the sun and their engines were straining to keep them accelerating and out of the star’s Gravity Well, the nuke detonated on their unprotected side, damaged them and pushed them into the Gravity well. We saw them break up as they spiraled in and burned up.

“Now we find that Class-M or any stony-iron planet and repair.”

Frideswide called over the intercom for she had listened in, “It’s worse than that. The sub-light engines weren’t designed for that maneuver and overheated. I have to shut down to cool off and make repairs. Also we burned half our fuel pushing at point-5 light in normal space and most of the remaining keeping up out of the sun. We are drifting. We drift fast but still drift.”

Ecgbeorn made some calculations and added, “She’s right but we are on the right course and in about two days, we should reach that planet we sighted. Hopefully, by then, we can maneuver and have enough fuel to land. And hope that there is water to break down into fuel. If orbital scans show no water, we have to find a gas-giant in the system and suck in atmospheric Hydrogen. I’ll keep the fuel consumption as low as possible and calculate as easy course changes as possible. I might be able to work out an orbital fly-by and use the Class-M to sling us to the Gas Giant. Then if we find water, we land. If not we sling out. We’ll be cold and dark to save power but we might make it.”

“How long if we need that gas-giant?”

“Two days to the Class-M, a month to the Gas-Giant.”

Frideswide added, “I don’t know if we can finish repairs in space. We may need to land for some.”

I thought then smiled, “Then we hope for water on the Class-M. If not we sling to the gas-Giant, re-fuel and then return to the Class-M to finish repairs.”

Ethelinda whispered into my ear so only I could hear, “And hope that the Class-M isn’t the home of the Green Pirates.”

I squeezed her hands and added, “Check that Class-M and Gas-Giant for radio transmissions. I’d like to know if there is a base on either. We have work to do now so let us go to it”

Cuthflaed insisted, “I want everyone to visit the Med-bay. A nuke that close probably irradiated us all and I want to fix any problems before they turn to cancer. And though we all are using birth-control implants, I hope, those don’t stop DNA tearing in the gonads by radiation.” Ecgbeorn’s legs immediately crossed and he looked down. Men! They always think with their dicks. I’d miss not having children but could accept sterility easier than a man who saw his sperm as important as his inches.

As I left to fetch my kit, Ethelinda asked, “ a moment alone Mistress, please.”

Inside our room, she commented, “Mistress, when Cuthflaed Aelfsdottr made that comment about radiation, you became so sad I .. I felt it through my arms. Like I feel your emotions when we make love. What’s wrong?” Concern radiated from her. Not the concern of property to owner but from someone who really cared.

I tried to talk but stopped then tried again, “I want children someday. I never knew I did until just now. When I awoke on the Demon ship and my body changed, I feared I was pregnant by those men who raped me. When I found I was not, a small part of me was sad. But… what would they look like? What father could I find? A Vanthi Saxon or an Irish man on Earth or a Mon so large that he’d kill me trying to mate? Would my children be human or Weir like me? And could a human father accept his alien baby? My life has suddenly become so much more complicated.” Now I was crying so she held me and let me cry myself out.

When I was done, I kissed her, said, “Thank you,” and left with my kit to repair my ship.


V
I always felt calm when on the hull, staring at the infinite vastness of space, the stars unblinking but everywhere is such a vastness that I often wanted to let go and fall into their beauty forever. I loved going out but hated returning and so often spent so much time outside that my diaper would be full and my air tanks empty even with the re-breathers.

This time I returned and commented as I removed my helmet, the rest of the suit would be removed in the shower to avoid the stink, “There was some cooking of the hull but nothing serious. The big problems were the sensors that burned out by the blast and the shields that overloaded. Some of the hull needs to be removed and repaired but we cannot do that in space so I hope that Class-M works out.”

Ethelinda helped me remove my suit in our cabin and sponged me down for we had five gallons of recycled water per person for a shower and even that was reused as it was sucked down the drain, filtered and returned to the shower. So for the sake of my emotions, I sponged first then showered. Then when done and in a clean outfit, sought the bridge where Ecgbeorn commented, “See there! At first I thought it was a sensor ghost created by the flare of the nuke burning the sensors. But it falls behind so must be a ship. Or ships. I think that the Green Pirates didn’t break up as they burned but lifeboats or assault craft ejected and are following us.”

“How far behind are they and how many?”

“We’ll have a day at the Class-M at the most maybe three at the Gas Giant before they catch us. We had the advantage of the slingshot effect to toss us away. These had to eject and burn most of their fuel to escape the sun’s gravity. But they must really want to catch us and I don’t blame them. As for their numbers, I can’t tell yet. At least three big ships, maybe a half dozen or more smaller.”

“They must be really angry with us to keep chasing like that.”

“Or desperate. We have life-pods but none are capable of interstellar flight. If these are the same, they are trapped in this system as are we until we repair the hyper-light drive. Unless that Class-M can support our life, and the odds of any Class-M being a Clone are less than a hundred-to-one, they will die here within days unless they take our ship to escape.”

I had never faced Green Pirates in battle. My Demon ship met them once but easily destroyed them from a couple dozen thousand miles away and never considered examining the wreckage so I knew of them only by the Demon records. They raided the Commonwealth and survived mainly because Mon and Demon efforts concentrated on bare survival as the Kris expanded and now are focused on extermination as they push the Kris back. Thus Pirates tend to have a much freer hand with the Fleets fighting the war.

Come to think of it, I had never fought anyone in battle save the British and most of those were me leading a single soldier into an alley or forest and knifing him when he thought I was but a helpless girl or shooting them from afar with crossbow or matchlock. Thinking of a battle with six limbed creatures that were thrice my height and saw torture as a pleasant way to pass time scared me. Demons had no fear of anyone or anything and lost only when massively outnumbered but I didn’t have a Demon ship, only a Demon space suit and a few Demon weapons of my own that I had taken when I left. So I would face them with a crew of two men and two women for Vanthi, like Irish, send their women into battle, myself and whatever weapons I had aboard. And the ones I bought to arm Ireland were not the top of Vanthi technology. “At least we destroyed their main ship. We shall see how we do against these,” I mused.

“Captain?” he asked, overhearing my comment.

“We destroyed their main battleship, I expect we can do the same with these smaller ships. I’ll start work on the main guns. Plot a course if we decide to toss another nuke at them.”

“Yes Captain, though I’d like to take their craft intact and see what is worth keeping.” The raider in him was leaking through. Honestly, I felt the same but Ethelinda was not a fighter and would be helpless and both Cuthflaed and Frideswide were not trained soldiers though both Ecgbeorn and Leofwine had raided and fought in the past.

“Would that be worth your life?” and I left him hopefully to think.

That night we were laying together after a particularly passionate event when Ethelinda asked, “Are we going to die?”

“Why would you think that?”

“I’ve heard stories about the Green Pirates. How they are fifteen feet tall with ten inch tusks and four arms and green skin. How they love to torture their victims and try to take them alive. Everything I heard of them sounds terrifying. Mistress, I’m not a soldier. I never even fought with my brothers and chose this life to avoid the army and poverty. I’m really scared.”

“We used to have the same stories about the British back home. How they were ten feet tall and had tails and breathed fire and somehow, when I watched my father kill the first one I saw, all those stories were just smoke in the wind. Yes, the Green Pirates are dangerous but then, I think that I’ve proven that I am too.”

“Still, mistress…”

“Shhh. The British killed me in Ireland and here I am. The Kris killed me on that Skree world and here I am. The Demons killed me and here I am. Even your own people tried to kill me and still, I am here. And so long as I am alive, I’ll not allow anyone to harm you.”

She snuggled closer and we fell asleep, her first as I planned my tactics.

***

The scanners were mapping the Class-M and none of us liked what we saw. Yes it was habitable but that meant that we’d have to land and not look further for a better world and with the Green Pirates but a day behind, we had a tight schedule.

“I wonder that your ships have such good sensors to map the world beneath that cloud layer.” For the planet was at the nearest edge of the eco-sphere. Any closer to the star and it would be baked.

“We like to know if a prey is worth chasing or not,” Ecgbeorn commented absently as he mapped. “It’s hot, very hot and too much cloud cover that contains the heat and generates Carbon Dioxide. No snow at all but the poles have free water. I suggest the north as it is Winter there now and should be cool enough for us.”

“I cannot imagine how you consider that heat to be ‘cool’? Especially with so much CO2. We may be able to survive without space suits but we’ll need scrubbers to allow us to breathe. Frideswide, go nurse your reactor and engine for we are going down and those cloud storms concern me. Ecgbeorn, aim for that eye near the pole and land us at the forward edge of it. That will give us some time to work before the trailing storm strikes. Ethelinda, help Cuthflaed with the bio scans. We have a limited time and will need to know if we can live there unencumbered by suits. Until then, we work in space suits.”

By the time Ecgbeorn had landed, the rest of us were suited up and then we were outside working on the damaged hull and engine. We had a day or less to make as many repairs as we could and to filter enough water to fill our tanks before the Green pirates arrived and so Cuthflaed had given us all stimulants to keep us awake and alert though we’d suffer later. Then as Frideswide and I cut panels free, worked inside and re-welded them, Leofwine and Ecgbeorn ran hoses to the nearby pond, scanned to determine it was really water, tossed a filter in and began to suck the liquid into the ship where our new separators converted it to gas, the Oxygen filling our life-support tanks, the Hydrogen filling the fuel tanks. If need be we could start a reaction with plain Hydrogen though it would damage the engine and cause a quick need for rebuilding at a star-port.

We worked until we dropped, then took more stims and worked again and finally we felt that the ship would hold together. I’d hate to take her through another battle without a decent rebuild but she’d make Earth easily. We even had to move twice to keep in the eye of the storm before it weakened enough to allow us to survive the gale.

Then the Green pirates landed.

We tried to lift off but a relay blew and we dropped hard! It shouldn’t have happened but it did so we had no choice but to fight. Ecgbeorn commented as he closed the blast shields over the ports and ran for his weapons, “At least they’ll want our ship intact so no big guns.”

Ethelinda was scared and holding a dagger as if that would do any good. “What does that mean?” she begged for confidence.

I kissed her and explained, “From what little we know, Green Pirates aren’t builders, they are scavengers. That ship of theirs is damaged or never had hyper-drive so they either live here forever or they take our ship for parts or they just take our ship. No matter what, they want us to torture and eat. Here, take this laser and use it if they get inside.”

“Where are you going?”

“Ecgbeorn, Leofwine and myself are going to meet them outside. Frideswide and Cuthflaed are to stay here to protect this ship. You stay out of the way.”

“Mistress, I’m not a fighter. All I know how to do is give pleasure. I’m scared.”

The woman was inches taller than me and still looked to me for strength. “I know dear, but I’m not asking you to fight, just to defend yourself if they get inside. Listen to Cuthflaed and you’ll be ok.” I wanted one more taste of her body on mine, her smell on me as I went to war but had to go quickly so calling to my crew, they in body armor, me in my Demon suit, we carried our gear outside.

The winds and rains were still bad but we could walk so Leofwine started to lay mines around the ship as Ecgbeorn climbed a hill and looked them over and reported via radio. “Captain, I see their ships. The winds blew them all over the place and they are trying to gather in one place. Winds are fighting them. I think we have some time before they are ready to attack. So far I see what looks like three assault craft, sub-orbital but armed and a dozen or more unarmed. No way to see how many they are yet but unless they are really crowded, the assault craft can hold maybe a dozen, the others half that so… maybe a gross, less if Thor is with us, more is Woton is!” These Saxons prayed to Woton but never trusted him for their god wanted the best warriors in Valhalla and so would often arrange for the best to die. Since God had betrayed me in Ireland and I no longer believed in him, I didn’t know what would happen to me and I wondered if praying to the Mother Goddess of the Mon and S’tyr would help. But those Pagans had no war god or evil god and I needed either or both right now.

I called the ship then, “Cuthflaed, arm the big deck gun and scan the skies. We have a gross, possibly, of them with ground vehicles, possibly. They won’t destroy the ship but they may shoot the gun and will board so be careful.”

“Captain,” this was Frideswide, “the mines are placed and we used most of them. We can recover what we don’t use but this may cost us a big part of your cargo.”

“Cargo we can recover easier than our lives. Leofwine! How are the stitchers?”

“Still working. Setting them for motion and auto-fire is easy, once they open up, the Greenies will know where they are and take them out. I’m setting grenades for that to stop them being used against us.”

There were three of us outside. A couple rings of mines around the ship, stitchers and lasers beyond those, another couple lasers under the ship near the air-locks and we three at the quarters with heavy missile launchers. Too bad they were too close to nuke for I still had a couple left. The bad thing was that most of our defenses relied on automatics and computers and with the storm rising, these couldn’t be depended on to work well.

Finally we were ready and Ethelinda called, “Mistress, the reading are in. There is a lot of Carbon Dioxide and not enough nitrogen but the air is breathable if need be. Cuthflaed Aelfsdottr says you can remove helmets but keep your masks on to prevent the oxygen from burning your lungs.” I saw Ecgbeorn crack his helmet, take a breath, then sneeze and place his mask over his face. I followed but held my breath for the Demons believed in pure air and water so my lungs were not as accustomed to harshness as were the Vanthi who had spent centuries dealing with pollution.

Though they were miles away we watched them through the passes of the hills and saw two fliers try to lift off. One tipped on take-off, the winds catching its stubby wings and bringing it down. The second got away fact but too fast and once it passed the hill-tops, the higher winds flipped it and soon it was out of control and slammed into another hill to explode as it’s munitions detonated. Then Ecgbeorn called out, “Captain, that upset them. With this storm they just lost air cover and are offloading Stalkers.”

I wanted to fly out but their big assault craft had locked onto us after we repaired the relay and I wasn’t certain that another wouldn’t blow under fire. Like it of not, we’d be fighting on the ground. Our only advantage was that that wanted the Mairead intact. “What are Stalkers?” I called out. I could barely see him in the distance, on top of his hill with a sensor-scope but his comm allowed us to talk easily.

“Like armoured spiders carrying big guns and missiles. They are slow, about a horse-gallop, but can climb any terrain and the main body is so high it is immune to mines. I see six being readied.”

“Suggestions?”

“Wait until they come down the further hills then hit with missiles and run before the infantry can lock in. Keep moving around or they’ll lock on our weapons-fire or body signature.”

“Agreed. If they get past us, will the stitchers or mines stop them?”

He laughed through my comm., “Hardly. If they pass us, we’re better off shooting ourselves.”

“Then they’d better not pass!” I commanded.

I heard humming then singing as the others joined in. Some song about Thor deflowering a Frost-Giant’s daughter then having to fight her father, brothers and cousins when they caught him in the act. There was also an obscene verse about his seed freezing and being used as arrows when he masturbated at them. It was all very Saxon and needed a lot of horns and drums to accompany it. And maybe a big fat lady to sing along.

After what seemed like hours the mines were planted, the stitchers set up under the ship and on hills overlooking the passes and all we had to do was wait. My stims refused to let me nap even if I could though I heard Leofwine snoring though the comm..

It didn’t take long for the first Stalker to mount the hill and scan for us. We both ducked and waited, then when I peeked again, hoping my Demon space suit would deflect their scanners, I saw the first still waiting on the hill, weapons ready. Moments later some green rocks moved and the Green Pirates moved down the hill, most erect but some on their legs and intermediary limbs like a centaur out of Greek mythology. Then a number more Stalkers mounted then slowly moved down the hill. As the last started down, their weapons pointed down, Ecgbeorn fired twice and ran as the Green Infantry sighted on their location. By then he was gone seeking another position and one Stalker exploded, the other crumpled and slid down the hill, killing a number of the ground troops.

Having an idea, I sighted and fired twice then ran myself, getting far away as the Green Pirates were forced to change angles. I ignored a good location and choose a less tactical one which was good as the better location soon exploded as the Green Pirates began to eliminate every possible attack location.

One of the Stalkers I had shot had rolled down the hill, entangling legs with the one below and both were burning, with another in pieces, the ground littered with those who had been killed in the explosion. Five down and one to go. This one set itself behind some rocks and fired rockets at the hills as the infantry moved forward.

“Draw its attention, Captain,” I heard, so I lifted my launcher and fired then ran, leaving it behind as weapons fire destroyed the remaining missile. Fortunately, my suit was designed to deflect meteorites and flying metal shards as I worked in space so after forcing myself to my feet, the rocks sliding off I heard the last Stalker explode and saw Ecgbeorn running.

I moved and then an olive nightmare thrice my height stood before me, armored and armed, it’s tusks ending where it’s eyes should be, eyes that were on the side of it’s head watching me for they appeared to need no help breathing this atmosphere.

We stared at each other forever. The Mon were half again as tall as was I but this monster was thrice my height and would have dwarfed the largest Mon giant. Chrysiese laughed once that I could suck a Mon cock without kneeling but if this thing had one, it would hang far above my head.

Maybe it had never seen a Weir like me as we stared at each other. So far as I knew, I was the only one in existence. But then it raised its weapon and I cut it in half with my beamer, both parts falling to the ground. Unlike lasers that burn and cauterize, beamers just cut, caring little if what is before them is steel or flesh so as the parts separated, blood, surprisingly red, exploded all over the ground and me.

I glanced over and saw Ecgbeorn kill another and run for cover as three chased him. Leofwine still was waiting, hidden. So I ran myself! Keep moving! Don’t let the British locate you! Wait until they fire on the wrong position then shoot them in the back and run again! My father had taught me this before they had hanged him, letting him kick for minutes as he slowly died. They called us terrorists, we called ourselves freedom-fighters but here I was just trying to stay alive.

A number more appeared and I waited, then fired, my beamer cutting them all in half. Although designed to cut and weld steel, a simple adjustment in focus turned it into a devastating weapon of destruction. I ran again then tripped as an olive hand grabbed my ankle.

The impact cost me my beamer and I swung from the ground as the Pirate stood, easily holding my weight at arms length, my head ten feet above the ground. Unarmed, he thought I was helpless and turned to call for his fellows but I wasn’t a human to panic when held like a rabbit, I had been engineered by the Demons to move around internal struts and external hulls so when it turned away to call for its three fellows, I wrapped my tail around its wrist then chambered my free leg and kicked the side of its head with all my strength. As massive as the Green pirates were, I was twice as strong as any human male so my blow either snapped its neck or cracked its skull, either worked for me as it fell, I was able to free my ankle and twist to land on my hands and feet, then before the others could react, I rolled, grabbed my beamer and cut, though at this distance I could only wound them but they stopped and I ran for cover only to fall over a cliff.

I grabbed a tree, twisted and landed on a ledge protected by an overhang and tried to breathe in the muggy air while my scrubbers fought to replace the CO2 with O2/N that I could breathe. I was scared and hadn’t felt this way since the British gang-raped and tortured me before shooting me in the back. Well, at least these wouldn’t rape me, I hoped. Not having seen one naked I didn’t know how they bred and for all I knew, they had a taste for Earth-Girls.

I heard the stitchers go off and glancing over I could make out the one on the hill cutting down ground troops as they advanced. With a high and open field of fire, there would be a lot fewer Green Pirates to take the Mairead and so fewer for Cuthflaed to kill as they boarded. It never occurred to me to think that Ethelinda would be useful as she was a simple girl-toy, trained in sex and not much else save a whip for those whose tastes ran to perversion.

After a couple minutes, the stitcher fell silent which meant that it was destroyed for the bursts were too short for it to have run out of ammo. Then hands reached down for me so I anchored my feet and tail around a strong bush on the cliff, grabbed one if the hands and pulled with all my strength.

The thing screamed as, unbalanced as it reached down, it fell over the cliff to its death. Then I moved and backed as weapons reached over and shot blindly for me. These were in range and I cut the limbs off with my beamer and was satisfied with the screams as the Pirates pulled back and tried to stop the blood-flow. So, taking advantage I tied a string to a grenade, touched the arming button then used the string as a sling to toss the grenade up and over the cliff. The explosion tossed another Pirate over the edge plus parts of a third and I climbed up fast before the ground collapsed under me.

I had a moment so crawled under a bushy rock and looked over the battlefield to see dozens of green bodies laying where the stitchers had cut them down before being silenced. Another troop was advancing on the ship but not fast which meant that they were being very careful or….

Three fliers came over the cliffs on the opposite side of the ship. They had flown at an impossibly low altitude around the valley then moved over the hills low enough to scrape their landing gear but avoid the storm winds. Rockets fired and the stitchers were silenced almost before they opened up. But one flier shuddered, rolled and crashed into a hill, the other two tried to slow then were forced to pull up to avoid the cliffs and the winds slammed them, twisting away. I hoped that they’d be slammed into another cliff before they caught control.

Now two life-pods lifted over the hills and set down to discharge troops. A beautiful maneuver that I’d appreciate later if I survived. Fortunately, they still wanted the ship intact and as three more pods rose over the surrounding cliffs, the main deck gun of the Mairead opened up, turning and firing. Pulse blasts made to melt their way through hull armor of a freighter or military cruiser tore through the pods and fried their contents without slowing and I could hear the others scream in joy, screams I added to promising Cuthflaed a bonus if we survived.

The ground troops didn’t hesitate, being inured to the slaughter or maybe they enjoyed death so much they didn’t care whose death they witnessed. Regardless, with the main gun occupied, they ran forward and then the mines rose and exploded.

If any survived, the stitchers under the hull would handle them so I turned back and was alone. “Ecgbeorn! Leofwine! Stand and Report!”

“One moment Captain,” from Ecgbeorn and Leofwine called in, “I’m bleeding but alive. One of the bastards got through to me but it looks like the mines and stitchers stopped them.”

“What do you think they’ll do now?” I asked. This was my first real battle with an alien race, my years with the Demons kept me away from such violence.

“Ecgbeorn here, Captain. I can see them milling around their ships about a mile away. Half their pods are gone but they are unloading more stalkers. I don’t think we can stop another rush.”

“I have an idea. Do you have any missiles left?”

“One Captain. Why?”

“Frideswide, arm another nuke and help Leofwine haul it towards the Pirates. Assuming he can walk and carry.”

“I can, Captain, or I’ll die trying.”

“Don’t die, just hurry. Ecgbeorn, I’m coming over. Cuthflaed, keep on that big gun and send Ethelinda to bind Leofwine’s wounds.”

Reaching Ecgbeorn, I told him my plan and asked, “How close can you get this launcher to them? I want to damage that assault ship.”

“Close enough and if I set a remote, I can be back here in time.” He then saluted and ran off, carrying the tube with it’s remaining cargo. I now regretted abandoning my own but I did the best I could at the time and waited for the nuke to arrive. If this worked, we could reach orbit and have the last nuke in case they got a distress call out.

When the nuke arrived I told them, “I want it mounted as high as we can put it. On their side of a mountain to deflect the blast to them. If we can damage that assault ship of theirs or fry their electronics, we can take off safely and get away before the nuke goes off.”

They looked over the area than commented, “Keep us alive and I can plant it there, maybe a half-mile away for them. Then when the missile fires, we take off and detonate while still close.”

“Good, let’s go then,” and I led them to the hill we had chosen, hopefully not to our deaths.

It took almost an hour to plant, arm and hide the thing then we ran like scared rabbits. Fortunately, I had met only two Pirates and they sighted on Leofwine which gave me a chance to get close and beam them down. And soon we were all in the ship, Ecgbeorn at the flight deck and me trying to untangle Ethelinda from me though the passion of the fight was making me really wet for her kisses.

“Engines on and ready,” called Frideswide from the engine room.

“Load secure,” from Leofwine.

“Hang on!” and we lifted, activated the missile tube and hoped it would strike the assault craft, damage its trackers and buy us the time to get away. I couldn’t hear the blast but we did lift over the hills and in one piece so at ten miles I detonated the nuke thinking I’d clear the skies of any of their craft that tried to follow.

The ship shook as the shock-wave hit us, two nukes in as many days wasn’t good but we rode the blast and our shields saved us from radiation as the mountains directed the blast to the Green Pirate Valley and moments later we were in orbit.

“Scanning,” Ecgbeorn was looking around without my asking so I checked the controls for damage. Finding none, I waited and soon, “Nothing in space or atmo. I think we are safe. What now?”

“Now we get the hell out of this system and find a place to set down and make some decent repairs. Do you know anyplace nearby?”

“Nothing within range and we have enough fuel for maybe 50 light years.”

“Then find a Class-M within thirty, twenty if you can, and head there. I want to be light years away before their friends arrive in case they got a distress signal out.” Then I headed to the galley, dragging Ethelinda with me, “We are starving, thirsty, dirty and tired. Please feed us then once away, we sleep.”

“Sleep, Mistress?” she had that smile now that she was safe.

“Well, maybe sleep afterwards, but I need a bath first.”

“I’ll have the sponge and basin ready with scented water when you are finished with your meal.” And she set out cooking something filling and plain and quick to make. A sponge-bath. Sometimes having only five gallons per person for washing was a good thing.


VI
I had heard it before but needed to hear it again. Five Saxons and an Irish Celt, normally racial enemies but now companions and with a bond made by war. Frideswide had been brewing beer in the engine room and I was grateful enough to let her get away with it. So we sat around the galley table, eating and drinking as the ship flew along that part of space that really made my stomach empty when I looked at it from outside the ship.

Leofwine gulped his beer then said again, “We lost all but two stitchers for which we have less than a hundred rounds apiece. We used all but one-half crate of mines. We have one nuke left, no missiles and one crate of grenades. In short, all we have left is one nuke and a bunch of small arms but nothing large enough to stop a powerful force.”

“It will do. The British use horse-cavalry and steel armour. Even the hand-guns, slug-throwers or lasers will find the English breast-plates naught to hinder. They do have muskets but most are matchlocks with some flintlocks and it takes about two minutes to reload after each shot and their range and accuracy is limited. They do have good cannon but these fire solid balls at a distance and grape-shot close up and take minutes to re-load. We’ll use some laser snipers to detonate their gunpowder to render them useless. We can still free Ireland, it will just take more time and effort than expected and,” I looked at them for they cared not who owned my country, “we will simply charge more. If need be, we’ll land the shuttle in the Tower of London and rob the English Crown Jewels.”

They laughed at this for Saxons were merchants but faced with the prospect of dwindling profits, they saw nothing wrong with a little piracy to make up the loss.

“And horses are cowards. A low fly-by on even a partial burn and those cavalry that survive will trample their own army to escape.”

Frideswide laughed, “I can cause a quick burn to send a fireball of ten-million degree hydrogen plasma rolling down their lines. That should cause some trouble!”

“Honey, you can be a real bitch sometimes. Remind me to not make you angry!” laughed Leofwine.

“If you do…”

“What?” Cuthflaed queried.

She took another drink, belched and continued. “It was shortly before I left. The twins had colic, the rest of the kids had the runs and I was mopping shit all day. Then my husband came home, drunk and demanded dinner. I shoved a baby into his arms then slammed a cast-iron frying pan across his head. Even managed to catch the kid before his father hit the floor.” She belched again and continued, “I think he liked it. Kept asking if he was a ‘bad boy and needed a spanking’.”

Cuthflaed changed the subject. “I know that Earth is too far out for most ships to reach though your Demons seemed to have no trouble. But I wonder why no others have conquered it before. We could with what we have here.”

“Maybe they did.” I suggested. “Perhaps the Frost Giants and the Aesir are aliens fighting a war with Earth as a battlefield.” Living with these pagans made me remember some stories I had heard and if lightning bolts from fingers and sky chariots were the ancients views of lasers and shuttles, then the Greek and even the Celtic Gods could be aliens who were doing just what I planned to accomplish.

“Sounds like heresy,” Leofwine warned.

Ecgbeorn shoved another stein to him and said, “If Woton and Thor dislike this conversation, then let them smite us now!” And he made the hammer sign over his beer before drinking some and pouring a libation to his gods, an action that all but myself followed. Even though I no longer believed in god because he had abandoned me and my family, still a lifetime of catholic upbringing wouldn’t let me participate in pagan rites.

“So Lady Captain,” Leofwine leaned over, “do you plan to marry on Earth? Bear and raise a castle full of Irish brats with tails and pointed ears? Start a dynasty of alien queens?”

I sipped my own beer to buy time. What did I want? Ireland free and the British gone yes, but after that? I would be Ri, Queen of Ulster and maybe even regain the Munster of my father for my mother had been Tierna of Antrim and my father a lesser Tierna Obrien of Munster who married her for better prospects than being a fifth son of a Munster Ri. I had no ambitions to rule the Island but I did want my own lands back. But then what? I still preferred women and would have to marry a man to bear sons to rule after me, though my reign would be near 500 years and I could easily bury a dozen husbands and lovers during that time. Children, Weir children damned by the Church as devils because of their physical appearance. Would I be forced to conquer Ireland to allow my children to rule, each their own lands and would I be forced to destroy the Church as Patrick destroyed the Druids just to prevent myself and my children from being burned at the stake? Men would find my countenance upsetting. The Church would declare me a demon for my antennae and eyes, the people would call me fey for my ears and eyes and the English an animal for my hands, feet and tail. Yes, men would seek my hand for my wealth and position and they would take others as lovers as would I. So expecting fidelity from either me or they would be useless though we would both have to be discrete about our affairs. I did want children but with a life measured in centuries, there was no rush. And I would still be young and attractive centuries after Ethelinda died of old age. Even now I still looked seventeen but was more than five years older for the Demons had stopped my ageing process when they changed me from human to Weir.

“I don’t know,” I said simply. “We’ll start with freeing Ireland and worry about the future after that.”

***

It was months later we reached Earth. As always we arrived a few light years out, scanned to locate the rotational plane then jumped to a half light-year above the solar pole to avoid materializing in the path of a planet or asteroid. Then we scanned again, calculated the current position of Earth and jumped to a few dozen thousand miles above the north pole and coasted in to a low orbit.

“I’m not reading any radio or major energy signatures.” Ecgbeorn commented. We were all on the Deck for I had never seen Earth from space and my crew’s ancestors had been abducted near 700 years ago so to them, Earth was a legend.

“You wouldn’t. I left in 1653 and the highest technology was the village blacksmith. Even now, five years later, they wouldn’t advance any further save maybe make a few more flintlock muskets. And even if we rode the Relativity Curve too close, we can’t be more than a decade later and that wouldn’t be time for them to develop much that we can detect. The English are fighting their own Civil War and barely have time and troops to repress Ireland so if that war is still being fought, our job will be all the easier.”

“Still, I should read something. Population centers, heat sources from the fireplaces of a large city. That map you drew for us doesn’t quite match what my sensors are showing.”

“We were a people whose idea of measurement was to walk across the country counting our paces or sail and guess how far away the next port was. Plus I was drawing from memory. Still, THERE! I see Ireland and England. Lets do a low orbit over them. Maybe 200 miles. We have fuel to waste.”

“Yes, Captain, but holding at two hundred miles will burn fuel more than a normal falling orbit. Still, I’m looking for Belfast and see a city but no heat signatures. Let me try London. Same city, still no heat. Something is wrong. I wouldn’t detect a farmhouse but a city that size should glow in IR from cooking, heating and body heat.”

“Then we land. Everyone in armor and armed. Ecgbeorn, raise us to stable orbit while we prepare. Then we’ll land in my father’s father’s land in Claire and ask for intelligence before we go to Ulster and contact my mother’s kin.” I remained behind as we rose, staring at the beauty of my country that I had never seen from above and hadn’t see in at least five years. Explaining to my kin that I was still the same Eibhlin Ui Bhrian despite my appearance would be hard but the weapons I brought would help. Finally we were at 500 miles and the planet was passing beneath. I watched England pass, knowing that its time was limited. Maybe I’d help the Royalists defeat the Roundheads and put Charles back on the throne or maybe I’d just find an easily manipulated son and make him a puppet king subject to my will, what irony. With no more nukes and only hand-weapons, conquest wouldn’t be as easy as I had planned on that Vanthi station but it could still be accomplished.

Ethelinda and I helped each other dress, she in Vanthi armor, me in my Demon suit which though not made for combat could pass for clothing were I to leave the helmet off. It was made to deflect meteors, moving debris and depolorize heat and radiation and so was proof against lasers, slug-throwers and almost anything I would come across. It just looked like coveralls.

“Are you anxious about seeing your family again?” she asked.

“My family is dead. My mother sold into slavery in the Americas, my father hanged. I have no brothers or sisters as my mother was seen to be barren and my birth a miracle. My father’s kin said he shouldn’t have married mother until she was well pregnant but he wanted her lands and title and felt he could have children by his mistresses. Funny thing, although my parent’s marriage was arraigned for political reasons, they actually loved each other so much neither took lovers. So I have no family but I do have kin. I don’t know if they can accept what happened to me for the Church has a strong hold on the Irish race and if they excommunicate me for what I am, then I cannot rule.”

“Will that stop them from buying our arms?”

“It should for you cannot deal with ex-communicants. But we Irish are a practical race and if they want the weapons, they will show their arses to the Church, hand over gold, and seek confession later.”

When I returned to the flight deck, Ecgbeorn was already there and commented, “I’ve been scanning the rest of the planet as we pass and have found dozens of large cities, some capable of holding millions of people but no heat signatures. BUT, look here, this belt of radiation. I think it came from a series of nukes and there are others. We’re too high to see craters or battle damage but I think this planet suffered a war or invasion.”

I sat heavily. “It couldn’t be war so it must have been an invasion. If so, shouldn’t we find satellites or stations?”

“I did! There are dozens in orbit and all are dead. Not damaged dead but run-out-of-power dead. And none carry weapons. That one is a telescope aimed to deep space. There, those are for communications. All have decaying orbits and I watched one fall and burn up. None of these can be built by your people and none are what would be planted by an invader. Something is wrong here.”

Yes, something was wrong. “Then we land. In Belfast. If there are people there, we learn what happened. If not, we search for someone who can answer our questions.”

As we came down, slowly, Frideswide at her engines, Leofwine manning the deck-gun and Ecgbeorn and myself at the controls, scanning for anything, mainly weapons lock or other ships, I wondered who had done this. The Red Indians of the Americas still were fighting with stone knives which is why they were being conquered by the English, French and Spanish. The Chinese and East Indians had swords but no firearms. England and Spain had the highest known technology on the planet and they were centuries away from nuclear weapons.

So that left alien conquest but who?

Demons had no desire to conquer. S’kree did but were too small and far out to bother Earth as were the Shitai. Green pirates? But they were 9,000 light years out and there were better victims closer. The Pagan Mon wouldn’t do this and were too busy fighting the Holy Empire. The Holy Empire would do this if they saw the Protestant Reformation as heretical and they’d have no hesitation to nuke the Protestant or Mohammadan cities from orbit. But the Holy Empire was being pushed back by the Demons and their pagan allies so why lose a ship vital to their defense by sending it here? And if the Vanthi couldn’t reach Earth, the Holy Empire couldn’t either. No, there must be another race nearby. It would be like when we allied our clans to fight the British and then the Scots arrived over the hills behind us to take our undefended rear.

Ecgbeorn did a pass over what he thought was Belfast. At least it was a city on the River near the Belfast Lough as closely as I could locate from memory and an altitude of hundreds of miles. But what a city. It stretched for miles and had buildings a dozen stories high and looked more like a Mon city than the Irish town I remembered. Ecgbeorn glanced over at me and I shrugged as I felt Ethelinda’s arms around me. I tried to caress her cheek with my tail but the suit prevented me from feeling much. Strange how a few years ago I never had one and today, using it in such a loving gesture was somehow normal to me.

“Another pass, Ecgbeorn, then if we take no fire, we’ll land in a field with cover and a way out.”

“Done and done, Captain!” and he turned the ship over the sea and made for shore again.

Ethelinda commented in my ear, “It looked dead. As if no one had lived there for years. Something isn’t right. Are you certain we are on Earth?”

I double checked the Charts before answering. “Yes, the Demons were very good at charting the worlds they visited and the stars and descriptions matched. Unless someone made an Earth Clone in the same orbit, this is Earth.”

We slowed and hovered over a section of tall buildings, risking fire but nothing. We scanned and found no life, at least nothing human or cattle or even pigs or sheep. He looked at me again then I pointed to a field and we landed, engines ready to blast off but nothing. Even the grass beneath seemed dead. “Cuthflaed, do a scan outside please. Check for bacteria, poison, pollution, anything,” I called over the intercom and then motioned for Ecgbeorn to shift engines to standby. “Now we exit in full suits.”

Ethelinda ran for my helmet as the crew began to replace their coveralls with space suits and replace their armour over their suits. I didn’t have to tell them how, Ecgbeorn went first then relieved Leofwine at the deck-gun as he changed and so on, always keeping one person at controls, gun and engines. Yet still nothing. Scanners detected a nearby rat, half starved but no birds. And the vegetation was near dead. Half the trees were dead, the rest dying and the grass beneath was mostly dead as if it were trying to survive some plague.

By the time Ecgbeorn returned to the deck, Cuthflaed had reported, “I’m picking up a series of plagues. Some seem specific to mammals, others to plants. Maybe a biological war? So report here for immunizations before you exit and keep your suits sealed. I don’t know what else is out there.”

Ecgbeorn was scanning the city, “No battle damage. Windows broken, weather damage as if an earthquake or storm had struck, killed the people and the city began to fall apart from lack of maintenance.”

“Radiation?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“None. The belts I saw were small and limited and there were none in Ireland though I saw a couple in England and a lot in the Americas and China. Look at those carriages over there. Steel! Horseless and rusting. Those aren’t from your world, they are from our past, your future.”

“What say you,” I was suddenly scared.

“We are in the future. Centuries at least. This planet advanced to space travel then destroyed itself. I hear that is a common event and even the S’kree barely survived that stage.”

“How did we do that?” I demanded.

“Remember when we cut those stars close? First when we ran from the Green Pirates, then later when we sought a closer path? I think we shifted the mass-velocity curve too much and relativity took over. I’ve never been more than a hundred light years from Vanthi and rarely more than fifty so when we Rock the Curve we shift a day at the most. But here, ten thousand light years away, those days build up. I didn’t think of that or I’d have compensated. I’m sorry Captain.”

I collapsed and couldn’t think. No, I could and didn’t want to. If Earth was dead, then why save Ireland? It was doomed to die regardless if it was free or enslaved. “Out, I want to go outside!” But as I left the deck, with Ethelinda holding on and being dragged with me, Cuthflaed stood in my way, “NO! Not without immunizations. Your Weir body may be able to survive those diseases but we cannot and you risk us all. Give me an hour to make vaccines and then you can leave.”

Beaten, I agreed for she was right. The Demons kept me immune to almost every disease and most poisons that could harm a human but the Vanthi had none of these. Isolated for centuries with a too small gene pool, they could die from cowpox or a mild cold and if a biological war had taken place here, they couldn’t take any chances at all. We’d even have to fly through the Sun’s corona to burn off anything sticking to the hull to be safe.

I returned to my room and tossed my helmet across the room then sat and cried. I felt arms around me so I turned and cried into Ethelinda’s shoulder for what seemed like days until I could cry no more. “Mistress, I understand but don’t feel. Please help me feel your pain.”

She was such a dear as she looked down to me. I, younger and smaller than she yet I owned her. She wasn’t telepathic but I could take her hands and as I explained, she could estann my feelings and emotions and partially know.

“I was born a noble in a conquered country. I was raised to fight the English, raised to marry and bear children, sons to continue the fight, raised to obey my husband. Then that changed terribly. The British took our lands and burned our home leaving me homeless, penniless. Then they took my mother and father and my virginity and even my life. All that I was raised to be ended and I failed myself, my family, my Clan and my nation. Then the Demons took me and stripped even my humanity from me.

“But over the years I gained some of that back. And when I was given this ship, I knew I could at least help my nation. I failed my mother and watched as they took her away to slavery. I failed my father and watched as they hanged him. I failed my family as I saw the smoke from my manor but with this ship, I could regain some of that by saving my country.

“But look out there! It’s all gone! Even if we went back to my time and freed Ireland, why? It would die anyway and all that I did or do would still be empty. Even the English are dead! I’ve failed everyone!” and I found I could cry again.

Later, she whispered, “I hate to say this but you have another problem. We respect you but you are not one of us. You are still an alien and we are merchants and pirates. We need a profit. A Vanthi Captain can loose money two or three times before he is tossed out an airlock but you don’t have that time. We respect you for what you know and how you fought the Green Pirates but you must make a profit this trip or they will wait until you are outside and then they’ll take the Mairead and leave you here, alone. I tell you this because you are kind to me and deserve better.”

“They hate me so much?”

“No, Mistress, they don’t hate you at all. They respect you more than you can know. But you are young, woman and alien and they are what they are. Give them profit and they will follow you to even the Lair of the Frost Giants to steal the Necklace of Frigga. But without money, all your skills elsewhere will be for naught. They’ll regret it and wish you were still Captain, but that won’t stop them from marooning you. You’ve earned their respect as a fighter, now you must buy their loyalty with profit.”

I kissed her and asked, “Will you please fetch my helmet.”

“What will you do?” she was concerned.

“What I must!” And left for the med-bay.

“Cuthflaed Aelfsdottr,” I called as I slipped from my suit and held a bare arm to her. “The Demons gave me a body that fights disease. Perhaps you can find something in my blood that will help you do the same.”

She smiled, took some blood and commented, “I have samples from outside already and am creating vaccines for what I found but that works only for what is on the ship. Anything in the water or bugs or rats I know not. This will help. Can I have a day?”

“All you need. I’m going outside now unless you have objections?”

“None, Eibhlin. I’ll let you know when I am done. But please try to keep your suit sealed because if you are infected, I cannot allow you inside until I have a cure.”

“I have faith in you, Cuthflaed Aelfsdottr.” And I took my beamer and sword, sealed my suit and left for the airlock. If they wanted to leave me, I’d make it easy for them and die on the land of my birth. The thought made me, somehow, comfortable.

Once outside I was lost. The sky was blue, the clouds white and fluffy but I couldn’t smell the air or taste the breeze or feel the peat beneath my toes. Then, “I am going to find my home. It should be about five or ten miles that way. Maybe an hour’s walk or more. I have enough food, water and air for a week so keep me informed as to Cuthflaed’s progress.” Then I walked away and didn’t look back.


VII
Beal Feirste, the city on the Feirste River though the Lagan river was larger, was much larger than I remembered or even imagined it could be. From the air the city covered miles and could hold a half million people though in my time it had barely a thousand and the sheep outnumbered the people. Even then it swelled as the Manx and Scots arrived to displace the Irish. We had landed near the north west of the city and I made my way towards my home though my only landmarks were the hills in the distance and the bay to my right. About a mile from the ship, I removed my helmet and breathed good Irish air for the first time in years. Home! I could smell the sea. I lay my helmet on the ground and removed my suit, bundled it into the helmet and slung it on my pack that held my air and other survival gear. My diaper I shoved with most of my clothes into another bundle and wearing little more than a bra and panties and my booties, walked home. No one would see me for everyone I knew was dead. Even the dogs and ravens had died so it was fitting that I would join them.

After a few more miles, I saw more and more roads and buildings, all magnificent and all totally strange. Not once did I see anything familiar save the hills in the distance. Then I stopped, looked around and had to return a half mile. Yes. Those hills and those. I think this is where I was born, or within a mile or so. Now it was a pub or bar or such. I tried to decide where I was born, where my room was but couldn’t for all traces of my house that the English had burned were long gone and replaced with businesses and slums.

Nearby was a park so I went over there, stripped naked and lay in the dying grass as I watched the clouds pass by. There were no birds, no dogs, no sheep. Nothing. The city was dead and dying as was my life and dreams. Then, naked, I removed my sword and practiced the Dance of Steel that Brount had taught me, the Dance that kept my werewolf nature under control and gave me peace and calm in the Demon ship. After a few reps, I re-sheathed, picked up my clothing and gear and walked, still naked, away from the city and to the hills where I had played as a child and hunted English as a girl.

I never did find the place where I died and camped under the stars wishing for an owl or mouse or even a bat to break the silence.

***

The sun was high the next day or the next for I lost track of time when the Mairead flew overhead and then landed nearby. Almost immediately Ethelinda ran from the airlock and held a robe to me crying, “Mistress, cover yourself for the men are staring at you.”

“I thought you had left me.”

“No Mistress, you need time to grieve for your loss. We aren’t heartless, just Saxon.” And she smiled as she tied my robe around me.

Ecgbeorn exited, smiling for he had probably stared at me from the viewport though if he filmed my nudity, I’d erase the chip before he could make copies. “Well Captain, what did you learn?”

“Nothing much. Too much has changed and I cannot even find where I was born. But I have an idea. If there are no people left to sell arms to, that means that the money-lenders have no more need for their gold.”

“Captain, I like the way you think. Gold, natural gold and not transmuted, is still valuable. So where do we find it?”

“Banks are where people and businesses congregate and they would store valuables in as secure a place as is possible. Let us look for someplace with thick walls and strong doors.” They came back for me. They actually came looking for me. That alone made me somehow happy.

We scanned the city and found nothing worthwhile for we couldn’t tell if the city was in ruins because of the destruction or because the English had bled the land dry and there was nothing left to take. So to prevent depression I suggested, “Let us go to London. The Kings of England live there and so would keep their wealth nearby. It’s fitting that we rob the English who have robbed so many before.”

It was a matter of minutes before we saw the city below. If Belfast was large, this was colossal. There must have been millions of people there when alive. “Look for the largest and grandest building that could be a palace.” Then as we cruised and rejected building after building as too business-like we saw it. That must be a palace because only a king would live in such a place.

Landing we saw the nearby sign that only I could read, ‘Buckingham Palace’ followed by a history of the place. “This is interesting. It says that the royal family lives here but seems to warn that the Crown Jewels are in the Tower of London. That must be that old castle over there in the distance. Well, while here, let us search for valuables.” Why would the English advertise where they lived and where they stored their wealth? Why tell the world this information? Why, anyone who passed by and could read would know the history of the palace but the English were illiterate. We Irish understood the value of the written word but in England, only clerics could read and that poorly for literacy was suspect.

The gated had been knocked down, doubtless by the hoards of starving peasants who couldn’t take their leaders growing fat as they starved. Of course, this usually meant that the place would be looted years ago. I did wonder how many years ago the planet had died. Ten or a hundred? Things tended to rot fast in this weather but gold and jewels would not care about the rain and fog.

“These are guard-houses and well armed they were,” Frideswide commented as we passed. The palace itself had been looted time and time again so we scanned for thick strong walls and finally, “Captain, here! A steel door behind this wall. Look at the size of that thing! My scanner can’t even tell how thick it is but anything that is so important that it needs a steel door that thick and strong is something I want. Leofwine, can you get something to pull it from its wall?”

I interrupted, “Why pull when we can cut. Put your lasers away, we don’t want to burn whatever is inside.” Then I removed my beamer and set it to one inch and cut a hole a foot across. Looking a the groove, Ecgbeorn whistled, “an inch and still more steel beyond. Try another inch Captain.”

Well the door was easily six inches thick and then we reached the controls then another two inches behind those we found the vault. Once I knew the depth, I cut an opening large enough to walk through and we stepped aside as the steel fell outward. Leofwine laughed at this, “See how many people tried to cut and blast their way through this and all they did was damage the mechanism and prevent anyone from ever opening the thing.”

Inside the vault which was larger than most cabins aboard the Mairead but contained mostly paper. “What do these say Captain?”

I read some then others and finally gave up. “Mostly military papers telling about troop strengths and locations. Something called a ‘Certified Bond’. This pretty stuff seems to be paper money or such from the face on the papers. This is a budget to tell how much they spend on running the country and here, this seems to be a list of assets. Lets see… business they own, lists of lands they own. None of this is worth anything to any of us unless you know someone who collects old papers.”

“Captain, this vault is too shallow. Scanners show it twice the size of this open area. There must be a false wall here.”

“I wish your scanners could tell us what is behind that wall.” I commented as we tossed everything from the vault and I began to cut through the false wall. Once that was pulled, we all cheered for behind was wealth. Gold and silver and jewels and art. “Someone did not trust this ‘Tower of London’ very much,” I commented.

“More like they told the public were they pretended to put the wealth so the criminals like us would ignore this vault.” Frideswide laughed.

I let them unload the wealth for I cared not for this. To me wealth was only to buy Irelands freedom and even were we to return to our own time, anything I did would be useless for they all were doomed to die anyway.

We loaded the ship and since much of our cargo had been used or left on other planets, we had enough cargo space. Then we visited the Tower, robbed that and scanned for any building with a steel room and emptied each in turn. After a week, London was as poor as Belfast and then I asked Ecgbeorn, “Can you get us back to our time? You’d hate to return to Vanthi to find as many changes to your home as I did here.”

“Easily Captain. I’ve had the computers working on the course. It’s just a matter of how close we pass to a star and how fast we do it. We can return to our time then return here to finish your task.”

I sighed and tossed a rock at a bug on the road. “Don’t bother. They will all die anyway. Somehow my dreams all seem empty now so I suppose we should go somewhere and find new dreams to fulfill. Ethelinda, come her and give me a kiss. You have a 5% share in this take and as soon as we reach a world where I can find a lover to keep me alive and not worry about being stoned as a lesbian, you are free to go where you will with your share. Let me know when you are ready, for I keep my promises.”

She fell into my lap, wrapped her arms around me and whispered into my ear, “When I am ready to leave you, I’ll help you find a replacement. For now I am content with things as they are.”

END


THE CREW
Ethelinda- Eibhlin’s slave-girl (Lady Aileen)
Cuthflaed Aelfsdottr- Eibhlin’s friend & science officer and medic (Eileen OO-Brian)
Ecgbeorn Thansson- pilot saved by Eibhlin (Lady Eibhlin)
Leofwine Norfolk- loadmaster
Frideswide Gyosdottar- engineer

THE FAMILY
Eibhlin Inghean Ui Bhrian
Mairead (mar-AYD) Bean Ui Bhrian- Eibhlin’s mother
Mairead- Eibhlin’s ship

END



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by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
Tucson, Az.
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