Ripley woke, looking into the faces of aliens.
Not the parasitic insect aliens whose planet she’d just nuked, but a humanoid variety. Two of them, both female, with long stringy hair and sharply ridged foreheads. Klingons, evidently, like the woman Ripley had rescued from a wrecked shuttlecraft on the insect aliens’ planet. Tall, muscular, not bad looking if you liked big powerful women, as Ripley did . . .
That was one of the problems with putting yourself in stasis for years; you always woke up horny as hell.
“Your name, human,” one of the Klingons demanded, leaning over until her large, heavy breasts almost touched Ripley’s face.
Not a bad view, but this rock-hard bunk wasn’t exactly Ripley’s idea of a love nest. Obviously, Klingons didn’t concern themselves with comfort.
“Ripley.” She glanced around the room and found no one else there. The unmistakable vibration of the engines made it plain that she was on a ship traveling through space, and it wasn’t her ship.
“We are B’Etor and Lursa, daughters of one of the foremost Houses of the Klingon Empire . . .”
Just what she didn’t need, a pair of long-winded prima donnas with some sort of gaudy pedigree. Ripley deliberately interrupted B’Etor before the woman could start reciting her entire ancestry.
“My companions were infected by a parasitic species, and if you’ve brought them out of stasis, they’re in need of immediate medical attention. I didn’t have the ability to remove the alien larvae safely, so I set a course for the Klingon Empire, which I understand has more advanced technology.”
“I already said you’re in the Klingon Empire.” B’Etor looked bored. “And from what I saw of your pathetic excuse for a ship, everyone in the galaxy has more advanced technology. We might be able to sell your ship to a Ferengi junk dealer, if we’re lucky. As for your companions, they’re just fine. They have fully recovered and will be on their way in here momentarily.”
That left another question. “Where are the alien larvae?”
“In the refrigerator,” Lursa answered promptly. “Should be quite tasty with a platter of targ liver and gagh.”
Ripley fought back the urge to vomit. “At least you killed them,” she muttered.
“Actually, we didn’t,” B’Etor informed her. “We Klingons prefer our meat still alive and moving. There’s great honor to be had, after all, in eating a meal that has the potential to eat you.”
Although Ripley got the distinct impression that her hostesses wouldn’t welcome an offer to provide armed backup for their lunch break, she intended to get herself a weapon, all the same. Swinging her legs over the edge of the bunk, she stood up, ignoring the momentary weakness in muscles that hadn’t moved at all for what had to be several decades.
No weapons were in sight, other than the ceremonial daggers that Lursa and B’Etor were wearing. Might be fine for buttering bread at a tea party, Ripley thought scornfully, but you’d have to be crazy to go into combat against an alien bug-creature with nothing better than that.
Maybe one of the cupboards was a weapons locker . . .
She heard footsteps in the doorway, and her two companions entered the room, both of them apparently normal and healthy. They were dressed in tight-fitting Klingon clothing, complete with the daggers. Vasquez’ dark eyes gleamed in the reddish light as she, too, seemed to be looking around for more useful weapons. Vixis, in contrast, kept her gaze fixed on Lursa and B’Etor.
“The last I remember, my shuttle had crashed on a hellhole planet, and some kind of alien bugs were trying to eat my face. Now I wake up and find myself looking at the two of you. Not much of an improvement, in my opinion.”
“We could always toss you back in your worthless space canoe, throw the bugs in with you, and see who comes out victorious,” Lursa suggested, with a loud guffaw in which B’Etor joined.
Vasquez took a step forward and spoke, glancing from one Klingon to the other. “You didn’t bring us aboard your ship out of charity. What do you want from us?”
B’Etor responded to the direct question with a nod of approval. “We’re hiring mercenaries, and the three of you look like promising candidates. No bug hunts, just good clean fighting. Interested?”
Don’t mind if I do, Ripley thought. She certainly didn’t owe her corrupt government any allegiance; as far as she was concerned, it could go straight to hell. Vasquez, also considering the proposal with a damn good poker face, no doubt felt the same.
Of course, neither she nor Vasquez knew anything about Klingon negotiating methods, so it would be prudent to take their lead from their Klingon companion. Ripley looked on while Vixis, without a moment’s hesitation, gave her answer.
“Kiss my ass.”
B’Etor smiled, baring jagged teeth.
“Don’t tempt me.”
Lursa smacked Vixis on the rump. “That could be one of the perks, but only if you’re a very good girl.”
Vixis drew her lips back into a snarl.
“How about the two of you?” B’Etor inquired, looking from Vasquez to Ripley.
This was starting to make sense. Giving her best imitation of Vixis’ sneer, Ripley growled, “Piss off.”
With a jovial chuckle, B’Etor thumped Ripley on the shoulder, not quite hard enough to knock her flat. “We’ll make a good team.”
“And now,” Lursa said cheerfully, “who’s for lunch?”
Commander B’Elanna Torres, acting captain of the U.S.S. Indomitable, had a distinct sense of déjà vu as she approached the edge of the Badlands. The ship would be hers for several more weeks, until Captain Tuvok returned from a shore leave on Vulcan that he’d taken for family reasons. Torres suspected that meant he was due for his pon farr, but Vulcans never discussed such private matters.
Starfleet Command had recently received intelligence reports of Klingon renegades in the Badlands, with human mercenaries aboard one of their ships. Both the Federation and the Empire wanted the matter investigated as discreetly as possible, by someone who had substantial experience with both Klingons and humans, and preferably some knowledge of the Badlands as well. Torres, everyone agreed, was the ideal choice.
The familiar view of jagged asteroids and bright nebula clouds filled the viewscreen. My first command, Torres thought, quite enjoying the feel of the captain’s chair. Now let’s just hope I have better luck than Janeway . . .
“And this is the breeding facility.” Lursa pointed out a vast new complex that loomed starkly above the small planet’s close horizon. “The laboratories will be ready for production in approximately thirty-six hours, and then we can start breeding Jem’Hadar.”
“They’re some of the fiercest fighters you’ll ever see, with no fear of death,” B’Etor put in, “and they take only three days to grow from embryo to adulthood. Although they were created to serve a shape-shifting Gamma Quadrant species, a minor modification in their genetic coding should be sufficient to change the object of their adoration. Oh yes, I really think I’m going to enjoy being a goddess.”
“With an army of Jem’Hadar behind us,” Lursa bragged, “we’ll have no trouble at all restoring our House to its rightful rule of the Klingon Empire and ousting that cowardly usurper, Martok. It was a dark day for the Empire when Martok became Chancellor. What true Klingon would have allowed himself to be taken prisoner by the Dominion instead of fighting to the death? His rule has dishonored all of us.”
Vixis breathed a growl of agreement, although it was clear to Ripley that she didn’t know any more about the current state of Klingon politics than her human comrades did. Probably just eager for a good fight. Ripley licked her lips, which left her thinking of alien larvae and gagh. Of the two, the larvae had been by far the more palatable.
A dry purple grass crackled under Vasquez’ feet as she took a step toward Ripley and said in a low tone, “Almost like breeding those bug-creatures.” Her expression was unreadable, but it wasn’t hard for Ripley to guess what Vasquez had thought of that.
Well, now you know what it’s like being a mercenary, Ripley thought. They don’t pay you to make goddamn moral judgments. What the hell did you expect . . .
Vasquez turned toward Lursa and asked the obvious question. “If you can breed all the soldiers you want, then what do you need us for?”
“The Jem’Hadar are excellent warriors, but they do have certain unfortunate shortcomings. For one thing, they make lousy drinking companions. Plus which, they don’t fuck.” The meaning of Lursa’s long stare at Vasquez couldn’t be misinterpreted.
“I’m a soldier,” Vasquez snapped, “not a stinking whore.”
A wicked grin spread across the Klingon’s face as she declared, “I wouldn’t dream of paying you for this.” And Lursa’s right fist landed a powerful punch on Vasquez’ jaw, knocking the smaller woman sprawling in the dry grass.
Lursa raised her foot to follow that up with a kick, and Vasquez rolled, scissoring her legs around Lursa’s to throw her off balance. Lursa fell heavily next to Vasquez, and they struggled together on the ground, punching and cursing one another. From the sound of Lursa’s excited growls, she obviously found it all very arousing.
“My sister never can control her hot twat,” B’Etor observed in a disdainful tone. Then her long fingers suddenly whipped across to grab Ripley and Vixis by their hair. With a vicious yank, B’Etor cracked their skulls together. Ripley, dazed, her head throbbing, looked up into B’Etor’s lustful face as the Klingon spoke again. “And you know what, girls? Neither can I.”
Vixis lifted her head for a moment, then abruptly sank her teeth into Ripley’s cheek and snarled as if she found the taste of human blood just too unbearably delicious for words.
Ripley dislodged Vixis with a stiff jab to the solar plexus. As the blow landed, Ripley felt an unexpected rush of arousal through her own body, reminding her of just how horny she was after all those years in stasis. Yes, there was definitely something to be said for this very direct means of getting out one’s frustrations . . .
On the bridge of the Indomitable, red lights flashed and a klaxon blared. The ship hung motionless in space, almost entirely drained of power after blundering right into the middle of a booby-trap composed of damping field emitters on several surrounding asteroids. Her first command wasn’t turning out at all the way B’Elanna Torres had planned.
She opened a comm channel to Engineering and barked, “Report.”
“The warp core is still completely shut down, and we’re not going to be able to restart it while we’re in this damping field.” Chief Engineer Cheng told Torres what she already knew. “Impulse engines are operating at minimum efficiency, enough to generate power for life support, but not enough for propulsion, shields, phasers, or transporters.”
In other words, we’re the proverbial sitting duck, Torres thought. She turned to her Bajoran tactical officer. “Can we take out those emitters with our photon torpedoes?”
“Unlikely. They’re very heavily shielded.”
“Well, try it anyway,” Torres snapped, when nothing more useful came to mind. She forced herself to resist an overwhelming urge to stand up and pace the bridge, which certainly wouldn’t help the situation at all.
A torpedo burst brightly against a small asteroid at the left edge of the viewscreen.
“No significant effect.”
Torres could feel her fingernails digging into her palms. Right about now, she thought, if I were the enemy, I would . . .
And before she could finish the thought, the glow of a transporter beam took her.
The salty smell of gagh and the reek of almost-raw meat assailed Ripley’s nostrils, along with the unmistakable tangy odor of bloodwine. She poured herself a mugful of the latter. Bloodwine could give a hell of a buzz, and if you drank enough of the stuff, it provided the added bonus that you didn’t even notice what you were eating.
The dining hall also smelled of sweat. And, Ripley imagined, frustration. She wondered if Klingons had the ability to smell sexual frustration. If so, there was a heavy funk of it in the air.
When the Federation ship had approached the planet, its proximity had set off alarms all over the compound. Ripley and her somewhat disarrayed companions had rushed back to the command center, slightly bruised but not much the worse for wear. Unless you felt like taking a casualty tally of certain overstimulated parts of their intimate anatomy.
Ripley took a swallow of bloodwine and tried to think of something else, which wasn’t easy while Vasquez was standing right there with her tits hanging all the way out of her ripped uniform, complete with bite marks. The Federation commander was going to get quite an eyeful upon being transported here for what B’Etor, with a mocking smile, had described as a taste of good old-fashioned Klingon hospitality.
A woman’s figure materialized next to the central table. The commander glanced around the room before turning an irate stare toward B’Etor and Lursa.
“You’ve certainly outdone yourselves this time, haven’t you? Do you really think you’ll get away with capturing a Federation ship?”
Lursa grinned. “It was only a matter of time before someone started breeding Jem’Hadar, so why not us? Just think, Commander Torres, you’ll have a front-row seat for the rise of our galactic empire. What could be better?”
“Until we dump you and your crew on some remote planet where you won’t get in our way again,” B’Etor put in. “Your starship, needless to say, will be a much appreciated contribution to our cause. The Federation won’t dare to protest once we have a billion Jem’Hadar under our banner. In fact, there won’t even be a Federation much longer.”
“In the meanwhile, enjoy your dinner, Commander. We have several tasty traditional delicacies to choose from.” Vixis, still wheezing slightly from the blow Ripley had landed on her earlier, sounded like a smart-ass waitress announcing the menu’s daily specials.
Torres clenched both hands into tight fists as she glared at her chuckling captors.
“Give me back my ship!” Torres lunged toward B’Etor and swung a punch that B’Etor easily blocked. Not a bad boxing match, Ripley thought, watching the impromptu bout with a critical eye. Except that boxing among humans didn’t normally feature head-butting as a primary mode of attack.
Torres, being smaller and less well equipped with cranial ridges, was definitely getting the worst of it. Blood trickled from several cuts on her forehead. Lursa and Vixis, gulping their drinks and chomping on crunchy dried insects that looked like the Klingon equivalent of beer nuts, hooted appreciatively.
In desperation, Torres snatched a platter of targ heart from the table and pasted B’Etor across the face with it. The heavy metal platter clanged loudly as it hit B’Etor’s thick skull ridges.
“You have no honor,” B’Etor hissed, wiping meat scraps from her face with one hand before advancing on Torres again. “You are afraid.”
Torres dove for B’Etor’s legs and took her down, both women crashing into the central table as they fell. The impact set platters rattling and overturned a bowl of gagh. The large sea worms, still very much alive, promptly crawled in every direction. A few of them landed in B’Etor’s hair as she pinned Torres, still struggling, flat on the floor.
B’Etor smiled triumphantly as she looked down on Torres’ bleeding face. Then she bent her head and began to lick the blood away, with low growls of excitement.
Torres cursed, spat in B’Etor’s face, and shouted, “I wouldn’t fuck you if you were the last humanoid in the universe!”
With another growl, B’Etor moved her tongue slowly across Torres’ lips, eliciting an involuntary whimper of arousal from the Starfleet commander. Torres’ lips parted just enough to allow B’Etor’s tongue to slide between them.
Vasquez sighed in delicious anticipation.
“And just what are you looking at?” Lursa promptly aimed another punch at Vasquez’ head, but this time, Vasquez had a better idea of what to expect and raised an arm to block it. Lursa advanced on her with a flurry of blows, followed by a powerful head-butt. A slightly dazed Vasquez sank to her knees, and Lursa pounced on her, sucking and biting those tantalizing tits.
A moment later, B’Etor got to her feet, crossed the room, and took an electrical device from a cabinet. From the shape of it, the device couldn’t be anything but a double dildo, although it didn’t look at all like the ordinary vibrating sort . . .
“This is a modified version of the traditional Klingon pain stick,” B’Etor informed Torres. “When used by a true warrior, it can be extremely stimulating. But then, perhaps you wouldn’t be interested, half-breed?”
Torres, quite beyond all reason now, began to remove her uniform in answer. With a broad smirk, B’Etor also undressed. The two women sat together on a bench beside the central table, apparently oblivious to the splattered targ heart and still-wandering gagh, and proceeded to insert the dildo. The howls that followed its disappearance into their dripping cunts might have been mistaken for dreadful agony, except for the fact that both of them were sliding up and down on the dildo with amazing enthusiasm.
Vixis then approached Ripley and, snarling under her breath, began sniffing Ripley’s face and licking the bite wound that she’d inflicted earlier. “Human, I want to taste you . . . in a more intimate place.”
Well, that’s not a bad idea at all, Ripley thought as she willingly took off her clothes. She’d been starting to wonder if Klingons ever did anything that remotely resembled human lovemaking.
The hard floor wasn’t very comfortable under her naked body, but then, a Klingon bed wouldn’t have been much of an improvement. And Vixis’ very competent tongue roaming over her bush provided plenty of consolation. Might have to revise my opinion of this species for the better, Ripley thought, with a sigh of pleasure.
Then again, poor Vasquez was beginning to look like a well-gnawed piece of meat, and Lursa hadn’t yet finished chewing on her. B’Etor and Torres shrieked as if in their death throes before they both toppled from the bench to lie dazed on the floor. After a look at all that, Ripley was quite convinced she’d gotten the best of the available females.
Until Vixis lifted her head, reached out with her right hand, and scooped up several of the escaped sea-worms.
“Ever had some of these inside you?”
Ripley’s high-pitched yelp didn’t seem to faze Vixis, who apparently interpreted it as a delighted response to the sensation of the wriggling worms. Goddamn crazy Klingons, Ripley thought, forcing herself not to puke. Why can’t they just use whipped cream and chocolate syrup like everyone else in the galaxy?
Vixis went back to licking Ripley’s crotch, occasionally pausing to devour a worm with a loud and vigorous crunching. Ripley was left wondering just how the hell she was going to get out of this disgusting situation without mortally offending Vixis’ Klingon honor. A duel with a comrade wouldn’t exactly be the best start to her career as a mercenary. Well, she wasn’t ordinarily in the habit of faking it, but under the circumstances . . .
“Escort our guest to her quarters.”
In response to Lursa’s order, the two human mercenaries started to put on their clothes — or, in Vasquez’ case, the tattered shreds of clothes. They each strapped a disruptor to one hip and a dagger to the other.
Torres got into her uniform slowly as she gave some thought to her next course of action. Considering the fact that her pelvis felt as if it might shatter into its component bones at any moment, getting dressed slowly wasn’t at all hard to manage.
The mercenaries gestured for Torres to precede them into a corridor. She did her best to maintain a haughty warrior’s stride, counting the effort a success when her body didn’t fall apart into several pieces, after all.
“I suppose the dungeons are this way?”
Neither of the mercenaries answered.
It probably wouldn’t be dungeons, Torres decided. After all, Lursa and B’Etor hadn’t been expecting company. Just standard quarters with a locked door and a posted guard, more than likely. Unless she could somehow manage to talk her way out of it.
“We haven’t been properly introduced,” she ventured. “Commander B’Elanna Torres of the Federation starship Indomitable.”
One of the mercenaries returned a somewhat lopsided smile, evidently finding it hilarious that Torres would see any need for introductions in light of their already intimate acquaintance.
“Ripley. And this is my valiant comrade Vasquez, also known as Dog Biscuit.”
“Very funny.” Vasquez grunted painfully. “Being a chew toy wasn’t exactly my ideal career choice.”
The women approached a door that opened before them. Standard Klingon quarters, all right. Better than a dungeon, but without even a hint of luxury or comfort. Can’t have warriors getting soft, after all, Torres thought. She paused in the doorway and continued the conversation.
“You’re not from Earth, are you, Ripley?”
“No. We had the misfortune of being born on a backward colony world where the government’s incompetence was exceeded only by its corruption. So if you’re trying to get us feeling homesick and mutinous, believe me, it’s not going to work. Now get inside.”
“Okay.” Torres raised her hands slightly, the open palms conveying a lack of hostile intentions. “But you must realize that what they’re doing here is wrong, too. Breeding sentient beings for use as slave soldiers — there’s no honor in that.”
Ripley bit her lip and dropped her gaze for just a second. Vasquez looked somewhat embarrassed as well, although her face was so bruised and battered that it was difficult to be sure. Not what either of them had in mind when they signed on, Torres surmised. They probably hadn’t known squat about either the Jem’Hadar breeding scheme or Klingon sexual practices.
“I’m not going to insult either of you by trying to bribe you to betray your employers.” Torres pressed what little advantage she’d gained. “But I can promise you that if you disable the damping field emitters, you’ll both be treated as guests aboard my ship, and there will be no breeding of Jem’Hadar by anyone.”
“We’re soldiers, not engineers.” Ripley still looked dubious.
“I wouldn’t know a damping field emitter control unit from an asswipe,” Vasquez elaborated.
Torres managed to control her impatience; she definitely wasn’t in a mood for jokes. “Look, I’m an engineer, that’s not a problem. Just show me to the control room, and I’ll take care of it.”
A long moment passed as the mercenaries exchanged glances. Vasquez finally gave a slow nod in answer, as if it hurt to move her neck.
“Yeah. I’m with you. If I wanted to be a whore, which I sure as shit don’t, there are a lot more comfortable places . . .”
“The control room is this way, to the right,” Ripley put in, gesturing toward a junction farther along the hall. Torres walked ahead, just as if she were still a prisoner under guard. Although there didn’t seem to be anyone in this corridor, she couldn’t afford to be careless.
Around another corner, and then Vasquez and Ripley plunged through a door, their disruptors at the ready. Before the four Klingons in the control room had time to react, they were all lying stunned on the floor. An efficient display of soldiering skills on the part of the mercenaries, Torres thought, looking over the control equipment.
And how nice of Lursa and B’Etor to label everything neatly in Klingon, too. Yup, they sure hadn’t been expecting visitors. Torres had the damping field shut down before the four warriors on the floor even stopped twitching from the aftereffects of the disruptors’ stun blasts.
“Torres to Indomitable. Three to beam directly to the bridge.” As her familiar ship took shape around her again, Torres continued giving orders. “Transport everyone in the enemy’s command headquarters to the brig. As for the others in the compound, they can be transported to a wilderness area on the other side of the planet. By the time a prison ship arrives to pick them up, I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to surrender.”
She turned to her second shift tactical officer. “As soon as the compound’s buildings are empty, Mr. Vorik, you’re more than welcome to employ the most logical method of reducing them to rubble.”
The young officer’s expression was the closest a Vulcan could get to a grin. “Yes, ma’am!”
A communication from the ship’s doctor, her accented Greek voice sounding rather embarrassed, interrupted Torres. “Uh, Commander, the transporter’s bio-scan readings indicate that medical attention would be advisable . . .”
No fake, Torres thought, realizing that she wasn’t in much better shape than the two mercenaries she’d brought back to the ship. The bridge crew seemed to be having a hard time keeping their faces straight. Torres remained on the bridge until the destruction of the enemy compound was complete. It was a good victory, but she found herself thinking more about what ship’s gossip would make of the cuts on her forehead and the fact that she hadn’t sat down in the captain’s chair.
Ripley, much improved after a visit to the Indomitable’s sickbay and a change of clothes, sat next to Vasquez in the captain’s ready room. She sipped her tea slowly, thinking just how good it was to have normal human food again.
“Looks like you two are rich in honor and out of a job,” Torres observed. “Any idea what you’re going to do?”
Vasquez responded with a shrug. “We’ll get by.”
“Have you thought about joining Starfleet? As acting captain of the Indomitable, I have the authority to accept enlistment applications when the circumstances warrant it. So, what do you say?”
Ripley and Vasquez exchanged glances, and then both of them — looking quite pleased indeed — spoke in unison.
“Kiss my . . .”