by John R. Plunkett
Labor transport Juan Cristobal, en route from Grandia to Eden Two
3rd Officer Jasper Lynch grunted softly with each thrust, his large, powerful hands squeezing Selah's buttocks and forcing her down against his loins as he thrust upward from below. He lay on his back, with Selah astride his pelvis. At each thrust she clenched her vagina, then relaxed as he drew back. She ran her fingers through the mat thick, curly hair covering his chest, which could almost qualify as a pelt. Though coarse compared to Selah's coat she enjoyed the feel of it. She liked the texture of his flesh, reasonably muscular but with enough fat to give it a delightfully squeezable softness. She even enjoyed the smell of his sweat; to her it seemed rich and excitingly masculine.
Jasper came with a series of quick, short gasps. He concluded with a deep, contented sigh, his whole body relaxing slowly. He massaged Selah's hips and thighs, smiling benignly up at her. Then he lifted her off and set her aside, giving her one last caress before rolling over and composing himself for sleep.
Selah slipped a cloth between her legs to soak up the fluid leaking slowly out of her. She squatted on the edge of the bed where Jasper had placed her, watching the slow rise and fall of his arm as he breathed in and out. She waited patiently until he settled into the quiet rhythm of sleep. It didn't take long; she'd encouraged him to make this a long, serious lovemaking session as opposed to the usual evening quickie.
Jasper didn't stir as Selah slipped off the bed. Her 122 centimeters (not counting her ears) amounted to a mere two thirds of Jasper's height. Her body, as delicate and elfin as his was massive and bear-like, weighed next to nothing by comparison. She picked up her dildo, peeling back the soft outer sheath to reveal a core of hard plastic. At a signal from the Link the memory plastic re-formed into a stiletto-blade dagger with an edge that looked sharp enough to cut moonbeams. Selah padded back to the bed, holding the weapon firmly but easily in her right hand.
This would be so much easier if he really were a bad person, Selah thought, rubbing the ball of her thumb against the flat of her blade. Jasper certainly looked as if he should have been; tall and heavyset to begin with, more than a little overweight, a florid face framed by curly hair, bushy sideburns, a generous beard that defied all attempts at styling, and the aforementioned hair that covered not only his chest but his arms, legs, and back as well. But when he smiled- which he did, frequently- his whole being lit up with a convivial air that women in particular found irresistible. In port he attracted more female attention than many of the younger, more conventionally handsome crewmembers. They'd do better if they weren't so full of themselves, Selah felt. Not as it mattered; they wouldn't listen even if it were her place to make the suggestion.
Selah took a deep breath, closing her eyes. After expelling the breath in a long, quiet sigh she opened her eyes again. No, Jasper wasn't a bad person. He didn't beat her, humiliate her, or force her to do disgusting, degrading things just because he could. But he never asked her for sex, nor did he thank her afterwards. That she should yield to his every whim was simply the way of things.
The blade flashed out in a short, sharp arc. Jasper spasmed violently, gobbling incoherently and clutching at his throat. Bright arterial blood spurted between his fingers and blew in a crimson froth from his mouth and nose, soaking the bedclothes and forming a pool that sloshed back and forth as he thrashed about. In a matter of moments his struggles weakened, then ceased. His face, now pasty gray, went slack. The terrified panic faded from his eyes, leaving glassy emptiness.
Selah forced herself to watch until the very end. She turned away spasmodically, as if doing so required a Herculean effort. She took a seat at Jasper's workstation, bringing it live with a touch, her fingers flying over the controls with incredible speed. On the bridge an indicator flashed, announcing that Jasper was altering the ship's navigation program. Nevertheless, Selah judged the odds in her favor. 4th Officer Carter wasn't known for his competence or initiative; his position owed mainly to his father being a major shareholder in the company. Very briefly, Selah reflected on the inherent irony of a people who believed so strongly in their biological superiority taking such steps to pollute their own gene pool.
The "Commit" button pulsated red and yellow, awaiting Selah's final instruction. She took a deep breath, picked up her knife, rose from the chair, and stretched out her arm to its fullest extent, until she could only just reach the button with her fingertip. That put her close enough to the cabin door that, when she reached out with her other hand, it hissed open. She tapped the button and took off like a shot, her whole body pumping so hard she didn't even have strength- or time- to breathe. Short legs diminished her stride length, but low mass increased her acceleration. The bridge door rushed toward her, as if she were falling. The corridor and everything else faded into a ruddy blur.
Selah's sharp ears picked up a beeping noise from the bridge. Loading the course change from Jasper's cabin had activated an audible alert; the program wouldn't execute until the watch officer confirmed it. Carter would call Jasper to ask what was going on. When he didn't get an answer he'd try again. Selah guessed he'd have to try three or four times before giving up. She'd be on the bridge long before then, even if she walked.
Captain Venkman, on the other hand, lacked nothing in the area of competence or initiative. When the alert sounded on the repeater console in his cabin he'd lose not a moment in finding out who'd ordered the change, and why. He probably wouldn't cancel it out of hand- there were good reasons it might have happened- but he would if a satisfactory answer didn't immediately present itself.
The captain had taken a pair of sweet, ardent young things from the cargo for his own, personal use. They'd delayed his arrival on duty before. By moments, no more... but that's all Selah needed.
Carter appeared in the bridge doorway, looking annoyed. His expression changed to shock when he saw Selah charging at him. He could have stepped forward and grappled, or stepped back and slammed the door in her face, but he didn't: he just stood there, blocking the way with his presence if not his intent. Selah leapt; a combination of her forward velocity and the thrust of her arm slammed her blade through Carter's sternum and into his heart. He fell back under the force of impact, falling in a heap. Selah scrambled over him, flipped up the cage over a large, red button on the security panel, and punched it with her fist.
An airtight door slammed with a ponderous boom, sealing the bridge. A series of indicators on the security panel changed from yellow to green as similar doors closed throughout the accommodation level, isolating it from the cargo area and also sub-dividing it into airtight cells. Selah released another caged button and pressed it with her thumb. Injectors roared, flooding the entire accommodation level with knockout gas. Then she leapt to the nav station. Her program still waited; the security lockdown also locked the captain's cabin workstation. But he could unlock it with a passcode, and if he'd managed to grab a breather mask or inject himself with antidote before the gas hit he might still be able to use it. Selah's fingers moved with lightning speed, enabling her program then setting a series of lockouts and redirections. They wouldn't hold for long, but all they had to do was buy her a little time.
There wasn't a panic button for what Selah wanted to do next. Activating the function required navigating past a series of lockouts designed to prevent casual or accidental use. And well they should; when Selah touched he "Commit" button a loud hissing communicated through the ship's frame as the accommodation level atmosphere vented into space.
Only slaveholder paranoia could possibly justify the presence of computer-controlled atmospheric dump valves, Selah thought as she watched the strip gages indicating the atmospheric pressure in various locations. There were any number of good reasons for a vessel to vent its atmosphere, and computer monitoring of the dump valves made perfect sense. But Juan Cristobal's designers had included a number of features intended to address the possibility of a "cargo mutiny." (And wasn't that a clever bit of Newspeak. As if they expected to be overwhelmed by a mob of unruly packing crates.)
A dump valve went offline, overridden manually. Several others followed, and pressure stabilized in one area. Selah opened a bulkhead door, allowing the now-sealed compartment to vent into another. More valves closed, and the rate of pressure loss slowed. Amazing how the crew could accomplish so much, between the lockouts and the gas, but Selah knew well how the threat of imminent death could sharpen the mind.
The strip gages turned yellow, then red. Pressure had fallen enough that anyone without a space suit would be suffering from anoxia and decompression. A valve went offline but didn't close. Nothing else happened as the gauges continued their inexorable march to zero. The crew had lost its race with Death.
So had the five other Morphs brought up from cargo to entertain the crew. Selah had met them, chatted with them. She even knew their names. Now they'd suffered death for the same crime as Jasper: being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As Selah rose from the security station her knees buckled. Her thighs and chest burned, incipient cramps twinged in her legs, and her hands shook uncontrollably from adrenaline reaction. She grabbed the back of the chair and hauled herself upright, gritting her teeth against the pain. She staggered to the nav console and dropped bonelessly into the seat. Her own race with Death wasn't over yet, not by a long shot.
The deck shuddered. Selah clenched her teeth, swallowing back the bile rising in her throat. The atmosphere in the bridge suddenly appeared thick and hazy. Lines that should have been straight curved and wobbled drunkenly and colors separated, as if Selah saw the world through a badly flawed prism. A sense of delirious unreality came over her; she seemed to float out of her chair, swaying back and forth like a frond of seaweed in the ocean. Sounds- possibly voices- whispered at the edge of hearing. One sounded like Jasper; he seemed to be pleading. Another sounded like Captain Venkman, and a third like Dr. Havershiem. Selah's gaze happened to fall upon Carter... and she saw him very deliberately turn his head to stare at her, his brow furrowing slightly in an expression of stern disapprobation. Flesh peeled back from the wound, baring his ribs, which opened outward like the petals of a blooming flower. A mass of insects boiled out of his chest cavity, swarming across the deck-
Selah blinked. There were no insects. Carter lay slumped against the wall. He'd pulled out the knife, which lay by his hand. Blood from the wound had soaked his shirt and pants and formed a pool around him, its brightness contrasting sharply with the pasty whiteness of his flesh. His face carried the same look of blank amazement it had when he first saw her.
If a ship in hyper-space jettisoned mass, the warp field became unstable. The more instable it was, the more... flexible the laws of reality became within the field. Air might not seem to weigh much, but the atmosphere of the entire accommodation level amounted to several tons. Scientists blandly asserted that the "warp phantasms" spacers experienced during instability episodes were illusions created by misfiring neurons. That bloodless explanation did nothing to prepare a person for the terrifying reality of it, Selah discovered. Not even close.
Selah started violently, drawing a long, shuddering breath like a drowning person gulping air. She felt as if she'd just woken up from a nightmare; everything in the bridge looked echoingly ordinary- even Carter's dead body looked reassuringly normal- but the terror echoed in her mind. A scream exploded from her mouth; she flung herself full length of the floor, pounding and clawing at the rubber traction matting, shrieking and wailing while tears streamed down her face like a waterfall. "I'm sorry!" she screamed. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
She curled up in a ball, shivering. "I'm sorry," she whispered, over and over again. Her eyes stared at nothing, as empty as Carter's.
The nav console pinged. It had finished loading the new program. A display appeared on the main screen. It predicted a de-fold location well on the Federation side of the border.