I ran through a warehouse. It was a large space. High ceiling with lights that seemed like stars in the night sky. There was smoke or fog on the ground. The space felt empty, but it wasn’t. There were endless rows of cages on each side of me.
Inside of the cages were massive tigers.
These weren’t Earth Tigers. They were five, maybe six times the size. Hell, each of the monsters’ paws was probably the size of an average tiger. I was but an ant in their presence, but the creatures all studied me with their huge elliptical eyes. They made no sound as they watched me, and while they didn’t seem aggressive, I was glad for the bars on the cage.
Then I heard a growl behind me.
One of the cats had escaped.
Its fur was black. Its stripes were a bright white, and its eyes glowed red. The monster took a step toward me and opened its maw to growl. The beast didn’t have teeth, just a pair of long fangs and a longer serpent tongue.
I got the idea and turned to run.
The other tigers started screeching when it sprinted past them. Their cries of hunger almost split my skull open. I brought my hands up to my head to try and cover my ears, but their screams made me dizzy. I fell into the fog that hugged the floor. Then I tried to crawl, but the black fanged monster was on me.
Its long tongue wrapped around my legs like a tentacle. My fingers slid against the smooth concrete floor as the tongue pulled on me. I thought about bending myself in half so I could punch it, but then I was hanging upside down in the air.
I looked up and saw the fanged mouth open wide to swallow me.
“Adam!” the creatures screamed, and it felt like my ears were starting to bleed.
I yelled and tried to pull out of the wrap of the tongue, but it wasn’t the tongue around my legs, it was a grouping of sheets.
I was laying on a bed drenched in sweat and hyperventilating so much that I thought I was going to faint. I was no longer in my half-tiger form, and I couldn’t actually remember if I had been human or animal in my dream.
“Shhh. I am here. Are you okay?” Eve asked from the side of my bed. There were no lights on in the room, and the woman was sitting in darkness.
“Yes. Where am I?” I asked. There was a tube connected to my wrist, and I looked up to the head of my bed to see a stand with eight empty saline drip bags. Eve or Z must have realized that I needed a lot of liquid to replace the blood I had lost.
“In your quarters. We are on our new ship in the Gliese Eight Seven Six system. Can I turn on the light? I didn’t want to earlier for fear it would wake you.”
“Confirmed. How long have I been sleeping?” I asked. I was naked under my twisted sheets, and somehow not covered in any dried blood. I did smell of fear, though, and I truly wanted to take a shower.
“Fourteen Earth hours,” she said as she turned on a sleek looking lamp on the nightstand next to my bed. The beautiful woman was wearing the same clothes she had during our escape from Trappist - 1e. “How do you feel?”
“Like I need to sleep another fourteen or twenty-eight.” I laughed and then ran a hand through my hair. “Are we safe then?”
“For now. I picked this system because one of the surface thoughts I remember reading many years ago. The B planet in this solar system has eight moons that have been terraformed. He had visited one of them during a port stay. This system is close to Earth, and far out of Elaka Nota Corporation’s territory. There are other threats here, of course, but they won’t be looking for this ship, you, Z, or me.”
“That is good news. Did you undress me?” I asked as I swung my feet to the edge of the bed. The I.V. tube moved with my arm, and I went about yanking the needle out of my vein.
“Z and I did,” she answered plainly. “We gave you a sponge bath while you were sleeping.”
“You both did?”
“Yes. I needed to make sure you didn’t have a bullet or piece of shrapnel stuck inside of you. It was easier with the two of us. Even when you aren’t in your changed form, you are still a large muscular man. I’m not quite able to move you by myself. Ahhh, you are a bit embarrassed.” Eve laughed. “It is okay. You are not nearly as embarrassed as Z. She tried to leave four times. I finally let her go.”
“Uhhh. Thanks. I think I would have preferred to be awake for that.” I laughed, and the beautiful woman joined me.
“Will you dress and join us on the bridge? We need to discuss our next move.”
“Confirmed. I’ll take a quick shower, then be there.”
“Good.” The woman smiled at me, and we both stood.
Our eyes met, and we stared at each other for a few moments. I might have been too bold to stand up naked, but the woman had seen me in the nude three times now, and I had seen her. She could read my mind and speak to me from inside of my head. She was beautiful, powerful, and dangerous.
I wanted her.
She leaned her head up slightly and wrapped her arms around my neck. My fingers found her narrow waist, and I pulled her to me. Eve’s red eyes closed and her mouth parted half a second before our lips met. It was a bit weird sliding my tongue past her fangs, but I didn’t mind. Her full lips were made of the softest silk, and the heat from her mouth seemed to fill my body until I thought I would never know cold again.
We both moaned at the same time, and our arms tightened around each other. The kiss was like no other I had ever felt, but Eve was like no other woman I had ever met. It was a soft joining between us, but I could feel her passion in the way her tongue explored my mouth.
“Ahhhh,” she sighed when our lips finally parted. Her cheeks looked a bit red, and my manhood was standing at full attention.
“Take a shower with me?” I asked. My arms were still around her narrow waist, and the palms of my hands rested on the curve of her pert butt. I noticed that her hair was trimmed, and it only fell to her mid back now instead of past her ass.
“Hmmm. If I do, I feel as if Z will be waiting another hour or two before we join her.”
“She can wait,” I said with a smirk.
“Work first, then play later, Captain. We have a mission waiting for us.” Her fingers stroked my cheek, and I guessed I might change her mind with a few well-spoken sentences.
But I’d always been a good soldier, and now I had a duty to my crew and this ship.
“Ahhh, confirmed,” I grunted. “Eve, I still don’t know anything about you. Why were you in that tank? Why did they experiment on you? How can you do the things that you do? You’ve seen into my soul. I want to see into yours.” I hadn’t meant them to be, but they felt like the most honest words I had ever spoken to a woman.
“We will have plenty of time. I want to tell you everything, but take that shower so we can get on with our mission. Once our ship is ready to dive into the deepest nooks of space, you and I will have plenty of time for conversations and activities that don’t involve conversation.”
“Ha. That’s the best motivational speech I’ve ever received. I’ll be on the bridge in ten.” I withdrew my hands from her waist.
“See you there.” She smiled at me, and I struggled to remember the dream I had just experienced.
My bathroom was larger than I expected. There was well sized bathtub, a shower with three heads, toilet, bidet, double sink, and a small cedar planked sauna. The walls had part of the ship’s visual feed displayed, and I saw the green, red, and gray swirl of the gas giant planet take up most of the view. It was more decadent than any accommodations I could have imagined, and I realized that the two women had probably dragged me to the captain’s quarters.
The warm shower was luxurious, but I didn’t take more than a few minutes to enjoy it. Then I changed into one of my spare pairs of jeans, put on a black shirt, and left my room. My suite was on the same floor as the bridge, and I walked past the elevator to reach the heart of the ship.
Eve and Z were standing in the center of the bridge. Both women were studying the holographic map projection of the gas giant and its eight moons. Eve smiled at me when I approached, but Z turned all different shades of red and pretended to be distracted by the control panel of the map system.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
“Z?” Eve prompted the blonde hacker.
“Ahem,” Z cleared her throat with her fist at her mouth but still didn’t look at me. “Welcome back. Ahhh, C-C-Captain.” The young woman stuttered a bit and she cleared her throat again.
“Thanks. Good to be back. How is your head?” I pointed at the bandage.
“I’ll be fine. Eve stitched me up. Thanks.”
“Thank you. We would be dead right now if not for your computer skills and tenacity,” I said, and the young woman’s bare arms, neck, and hands seemed to blush.
“So. Ummm. Here is the deal. We have no food and only enough water to last a few weeks. I’m going to need some time to figure out why the warpdrive isn’t working. I’m going to have to read that crazy stupid large manual, or we are going to have to hire someone to come inspect the ship.”
“Can we just use the hyperdrive or the foldingdrive?” I asked.
“Sure, but here is the thing about the foldingdrive: Do you remember the time after we took it?” She finally looked at me, and her cheeks somehow turned even redder.
“No,” I answered.
“I do not remember it either,” the vampire said with a shrug.
“Yep. We all passed out. Like for eight hours. I checked the time when Eve and I woke up. You’ve been asleep for another fourteen. I don’t think we should be using the foldingdrive until we’ve got a crew and-or know how to use some of the defensive stuff on this ship.”
“Which will be more time,” I said with a sigh.
“Yep. So we need supplies. Good news is that I’ve started reading a bit of the engine documentation. These engines are powered by a combination of solar radiation and alternating waste properties.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“We don’t need fuel, as long as we get plenty of sunlight, and we can figure out why the warpdrive didn’t work. Could just be that I need to go into the engine room and take the plastic off of the damn thing.” Z gestured around the bridge. Most of the surfaces were still covered with plastic wrapping.
“Let’s head to one of these moons and get some supplies,” I said. “Have you checked out the shuttle?”
“Yeah, and Eve has an idea of which planet we should visit first.”
“It is a trading outpost. The moon’s soil is rich in minerals. They will have plenty of food and water to purchase,” the raven-haired woman said.
“But that is our next problem.” Z pointed at the side of the long map table. Laid out on the flat surface was all of our cash, guns, bullets, armor, and payment cards we had stolen. “We have some cash from Trappist - 1e, but that is about as useless as the second wheel on a unicycle. We might be able to find a money exchange, but I’m guessing we’ll be needing to trade some of our weapons.” The girl shrugged.
“Or, we could find work,” Eve said.
“Yeah. There is that. I’m used to computers in the Trappist system, but computers are computers. I could find some gigs.”
“We can find other jobs as well,” I said. “There are always people looking for hired guns. Or for people willing to transport goods from one place to another without governments or corporations knowing.”
“Like smuggling?” Z asked with a raised eyebrow and a half smirk on her face.
“I like it!”
“We won’t know what options we have until we reach the moon. Our main objective should always be to help those who need it. This universe is swept in darkness. There are good people out there who have become victims of corporations like Elaka Nota. Some governments are exploiting their citizens, and there are bandits, brigands, or other criminals hurting innocents. We must help wherever we can,” Eve said.
“Yeah. Right. Okay, I’m not saying I don’t want to help people, but we aren’t going to be helping anyone without food, water, and crew. We can take the shuttle. I figured out how to set the security codes. Ideally, we always leave someone on the boat when we go planetside, but I think all three of us should go. Uh, that alright Captain?” the blonde hacker asked me.
“Yeah. Let’s all go. Load up the gear, grab the cash, and let’s see what this trading post has to offer.”
“Aye,” Eve said.
“Aye. Ha!” Z chuckled.
The three of us packed up our gear and then went to the shuttle bay over the starboard wing. The craft docked there was shaped like a smaller manta ray version of the starship, but it didn’t have a tail or the diamond shaped shoulder pads.
“I can fly this,” I said as soon as we stepped into the shuttle. It was an eight seater with plenty of storage space in the rear hold. I wasn’t the best pilot, but I’d handled a few of these types of craft, and the control terminal looked a few hundred times less complicated than the one on HAD-35.
“I had the drones set one of the empty water tanks out. We can grab it before we leave.”
Five minutes later I managed to connect the bottom hooks of the shuttle with the clasps of the large water tank. It was probably going to be a bit of a pain to carry it while entering and exiting the atmosphere of the city, but the terminal of the shuttle had an array of auto piloting functions, and I guessed one of them would just do the job for me.
“She is pretty.” Z said as she looked out the front window of our shuttle. Our starship hung in the view like a black bird of prey in mid-flight. “Now that we are alive, I can admit that it was worth the risk. I’m glad we went with Eve’s choice. We are going to need a crew, money, and months of training to make her run right. Then we will need more money to pay for that crew, and then more money to keep her repaired. But dang, she is one sexy ship, and I’m happy to be on her with both of you.”
“I am glad you are with us too, Z. She is beautiful. We haven’t named her yet. Eve, do you have one?” I asked the red-eyed woman.
“Yes,” she said as she looked out at our new home. “Her name is Persephone.”
“Like the Greek goddess?” Z asked.
“Yes. Queen of the Underworld, and bringer of changing seasons. She is both of those things.”
Z and I were silent for a moment as we pondered the words Eve just spoke.
“I like it,” Z said.
“I do as well. Persephone it is. Now, let’s go see if we can get her some supplies.” I angled the nose of the shuttle toward the distant moon and pressed on the engine throttle.
The Queen of the Underworld would be waiting for our return.
End of Book 1.
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