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 Chapter 5

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"And remember Olena's orders," Gwen's voice sounded over the speaker.  "You're to transport inside the tent, not out in the open, and don't forget to remove your boots."

"Yes, ma'am," Lyra answered, winking at Ezri as she leaned over the communications console.  "I've double-checked your list and have all your supplies ready for transport, and I've already removed my boots."

"She knows how to read a simple list and set transporter coordinates, Gwen," Ezri chuckled.

"When I want your opinion I'll tickle it out of you, Dax," Gwen's voice responded.

Lyra suppressed a laugh.  "I'm ready to transport down, Doctor," she announced.

"Transport away," Gwen answered.  "We're returning from a visit to one of the outlying villages and should be back to the clearing any second now.  Away team out."

The away team had erected a large, multi-room bubble-tent near the river and some distance from the Bendwater clan-town.  This established their neutrality among the clans and let Gwen interact with Bendwater's neighbors without everyone having to jump through diplomatic hoops.  A flagpole beside the entrance was flying the red and black banner of a Carmow "sacred healer".

"I remember my first away mission," Ezri said.  "It was a pre-warp planet in the Arcturus sector, and the locals had problems with the presence of a 'spotted freak'.  I had to watch myself."

Lyra smiled at the grinning Lieutenant.  She knew she was getting a gentle reminder to remember her intercultural training.  "I understand why the Carmow might react negatively to a 'green-skin' wandering into their midst," she shrugged.  "If cat-women had been raiding Orion-II and dragging off my relatives and friends into slavery I might have a similar attitude."

"You'll be fine," Ezri said.  "Olena wouldn't let you down there if the situation was all that hostile."

"Yes, ma'am."  She stood and made her way to the door to the aft compartment.  "Want Angie to bring you some flowers or something?"

"Thank you, no," Ezri chuckled.  "Just remind Olena she's supposed to be negotiating for permission for me to land this thing so I can start the surface portion of the Science mission.  I'm going stir crazy up here."

"Oh, sure," Lyra laughed, "I'll beam right down and tell my Department Head how to do her job."

"Just go, Middie," Ezri giggled.

Lyra passed into the aft compartment and donned her equipment harness, holstered her hand-phaser and tricorder, and slung her phaser-rifle.  She then stood next to the requested cargo container of medical supplies.  "Ready for transport," she said, tapping her comm-badge.  There was the usual shimmer and hum... and she was gone.

Back in the command seat, Ezri glanced at the side screen she'd set to monitor the transporter and noted Lyra's departure and arrival on the surface.

Suddenly, an alarm bleeped and the piloting system flashed from "standby" to "active".  A quick glance at the tactical plot showed two—no three very fast, very small craft emerging from around the edge of the planet.  Another alarm sounded and the communications console displayed a flashing error code.

"Pirates!" Ezri muttered, and began pressing buttons in rapid succession.  Communications were being jammed, which meant contacting the away team was impossible.  At least for now, they were on their own.  She sighed and triggered a final sequence. 

ATALANTA left orbit at full impulse, on the opposite heading of the attacking fighters.  Ezri's eye was on the tactical display, and just as she expected, additional contacts popped onto the screen directly ahead of her projected course.  Three pirate ships, all larger than fighters, were attempting to box her in.  "A pirate fleet!" she muttered under her breath as she tapped the controls.  Starfleet Intelligence had posited two or possibly three single-ship rival pirate bands operating in the Expanse, not a coordinated pirate fleet.  They must have approached the system on courses masking their presence behind the outer planets.  She had three alternative courses already keyed into helm control.  She made a choice and tapped the screen.  ATALANTA changed heading, and as soon as the gravity well of Scatara-IV was sufficiently distant went to warp.

One of the pirates went to warp in pursuit, but the rest continued closing on Scatara-IV.  Ezri realized she was heading away from both the away team and a possible rendezvous with ARTEMIS, but her options were severely limited.  Her attention shifted to the weapons console.  Piloting and fighting the ship simultaneously would be difficult, but not impossible.  ATALANTA seemed to be marginally faster than the pursuing pirate, but it was going to take some fancy flying to keep out of her pursuer's weapons range and bend her course back towards ARTEMIS.

Ezri's thoughts were on the away team.  Hang in there, she thought.  Hang in there 'til I can bring help.
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A few seconds after Lyra materialized inside the bubble tent her comm-badge gave a coded chirp.  Bleep-bo-beep!  It was a signal that it was being jammed, that powerful signals were being broadcast that were specifically designed to overwhelm all attempts at communication.  This told Lyra three things: (1) whoever was doing it had good intelligence on current Starfleet comm-protocols, (2) the jammer was powerful and probably nearby, and (3) the away team wasn't going to be able to transport back to ATALANTA.  Even if Ezri had the shields down, the transporter wouldn't be able to lock onto their signals.

"Pirates!" she exclaimed.

Lyra scanned the immediate area.  The tent was twice the size of ATALANTA and was decidedly spartan, both as a medical facility and as accommodations.  There were a few cargo containers of supplies neatly stacked against one wall, a simple examining table, and off to one side a field desk and computer console.  Lyra hurried over to the desk, set the computer in comm-mode, and began trying to circumvent the jamming.  Ezri would be better equipped to accomplish this on ATALANTA, but it stood to reason she was probably somewhat busy at the moment, assuming she was still in orbit.

Suddenly, a high-pitched, Doppler-shifting shriek sounded overhead.  It was the unmistakable sound of a small, fast-moving spacecraft on full-thrusters.  Lyra unslung her phaser-rifle, moved to the door of the tent, then unzipped a half-meter of the flap and opened it a slit to peer outside.

The tent was situated a couple of kilometers from the clan-town and close to the riverbank, and Lyra could see her shipmates on the far side of the clearing.  Olena, Gwen, Angie, and one of the natives—"Zeeka" Angie said her name was—were about two hundred meters away, just emerging from the jungle.  As she watched, two more spacecraft—Thruster-shark fighters—overflew the clearing, swooped low, and fired their disruptors on low power.  Her Starfleet comrades and Zeeka staggered and crumpled to the ground.

Lyra was about to open the flap the rest of the way and go to their aid when the air shimmered around her fallen friends and a dozen armed, green figures materialized.

Syndicate pirates, Lyra realized, and their ship is in orbit.  That probably meant ATALANTA was not in orbit—unless she'd already been boarded and captured.  Across the clearing the pirates were stripping her friends of their arms and equipment—and four of the pirates were jogging in her direction!

Escape and evade!  Lyra carefully zipped the flap closed, rushed to the computer console, and keyed a sequence that would lock the memory.  She then headed for the partition across the back of the tent.  On the far side was a row of cots, more cargo containers, the door to the sanitation facility, and a second exit door.  She zipped it open, stepped outside, and zipped it closed.

The river was flowing about ten meters away and the jungle was close, but not close enough.  There was no cover on either side of the tent and she'd be seen if she tried to run for it.  There was only one option.

Stepping carefully, so as to leave minimal tracks, Lyra went to the river's edge.  The grassy bank was only a couple of feet above the slow-moving river, and a large, willow-like tree was growing at the very edge.  Two thirds of its mass of tangled roots were in the soil and the remainder were in the water.  Lyra slung her phaser-rifle, climbed onto the roots, then eased herself into the water.

The current was weak and the water only a little cooler than the humid, tropical air.  Careful not to kick the bottom and raise a cloud of silt, Lyra eased herself under the roots, making sure she was as far up under the overhanging bank as possible—and waited.
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Marta Cyrelle transported to the surface with a half-dozen more of her crew.  YES-PLEASE was in pursuit of the Federation shuttle, which was proving to be surprisingly fast.  The rest of her fleet remained in orbit while she decided how to proceed.

One hand resting on her holstered disruptor-pistol, she walked over to the still unconscious prisoners.  Her crew had dragged them to the middle of the clearing and were in the process of stripping the captives to the skin—standard procedure for newly acquired slaves.  She surveyed the haul.  One was a young Carmow and the other three appeared to be Humans of the pink-skin variety.  All four appeared to be prime merchandise.

One of Humans had a short mop of blond hair and was quite athletic in build.  All three pink-skins were in excellent shape, but the blonde was exceptional, with lithe, well-defined muscles.  The second Human had long, black hair, and the third was shorter and younger, with long, brown hair.

Marta turned to a pirate who was busy examining one of the looted tricorders.  "Well?"

The pirate shrugged.  "It will take time to break the encryption, but I think that one"—she pointed at Gwen—"is a physician."  She waved the tricorder.  "This is a medical model.  Based on their uniforms and arms, I assume the other two are Security."

Marta used the toe of one boot to sort through the pile of rumpled clothing.  "Two Lieutenants and a..."  She frowned.  "One black rank pip?"

"Midshipman," one of the pirates volunteered.  "She must have just left their Academy."

Marta's smile returned.  "Yes, a youngster.  She'll fetch a good price.  The other two Humans are a little old, but I think we can sell that one—"  She pointed at Olena.  "—as a gladiator, and the other—"  She pointed at Gwen. "—as a science-slave on one of the pre-warp planets."  She stepped to the side to gaze down at the Carmow.  "This one's a youngster, as well.  A kitten with tan fur.  Nice.  I know the perfect buyer."

The Ruby Queen turned and walked towards the Starfleet tent.  "Take no chances with any of them," she called back over her shoulder, "especially the blond Human."

"Yes, Prime Suzerain," the pirate with the tricorder answered.  She gestured to the others and several pirates shrugged generous coils of red-dyed rope from their shoulders and knelt beside the captives.
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Lyra could hear the pirates ransacking the tent.  She was still submerged in the river with only her upturned face exposed.  She didn't think the pirates even knew she existed, so, unless they resorted to scanning technology, she was probably safe... for the moment.

"You idiots!" Lyra heard a pirate shout.  "Don't break anything!" the voice had the unmistakable ring of command.

"Yes, Prime Suzerain," several pirates muttered.

Their captain, Lyra realized.  A pirate with delusions of grandeur.  The Orion rank of Prime Suzerain was roughly equivalent to a Starfleet Admiral.  Lyra heard the back flap of the tent unzip, followed by the approach of more than one pirate.

"We'll set up camp further to the north."  It was the "Prime Suzerain", again, standing more or less directly over Lyra's head.  "That clearing we mapped from orbit.  Take it all, including the tent.  Even if we can't sell the Starfleet equipment, we can always use more cargo containers."

"Yes, Prime Suzerain."

"As long as we're here, we'll see if we can't catch a few more kittens," the Prime Suzerain continued.  "When YES-PLEASE returns with the captured shuttle, we'll warp out before the Starfleet warship even knows anything has happened."

"I'd love to see the expression on their faces when they learn we've snatched some of their fellow do-gooders," one of the other pirates remarked.

"Yes," the Prime Suzerain chuckled.  "Remind me to leave their captain a thank you note."

The pirates' laughter faded as they stepped back into the tent.

A clearing somewhere to the north, Lyra thought.  I'll stay put while they break the tent, then follow.  If they don't beam their prisoners directly to their ship, maybe we still have a chance.  Maybe I can save them.  And maybe my first away mission will be a 'KOBAYASHI MARU'.

KOBAYASHI MARU was the famous (infamous) training simulation all Starfleet cadets went through their final year at the Academy.  It was a no-win scenario, a puzzle with no solution, a test of character in the guise of a tactical exercise.   The lesson was deceptively simple: do the right thing, even in the face of overwhelming odds, even if it means capture or death.

Maybe there was a near zero chance that Midshipman Lyra D'Varas, all by herself, could defeat an entire crew of armed, experienced pirate-slavers—but she was going to give it her best shot.
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Angie's head felt like it had been stuffed with cotton... and set on fire... while someone pounded on it with a cartoonishly large hammer.  And would whoever the idiots were who were doing all the screaming and laughing please just—SHUT—UP?  Ow!  She'd have to remember not to think so loud.

Time passed.  Maybe a minute...  Maybe only a few seconds...

Angie realized she was naked, bound, and gagged.  Another tactical exercise on the holodeck?  No... we were attacked by—  Her eyes popped open.  Pirates!  She was staring at several pair of booted feet—booted feet attached to green legs—attached to scantily clad Orion pirates.  We were strafed by fighters, she remembered.  Disruptor cannon on minimum power are a lot worse than a disruptor-pistol set on stun.

As her mind continued to clear, Angie conducted a self-inventory.  She was nude, box-tied (red rope), and gagged (cloth stuffing and cleave-gag).  In addition, her hands were in tight fists and bound inside some sort of skintight mittens.  Otherwise, the bondage were essentially identical to what she'd endured during Olena's training sessions.

She realized something was happening.  That is, there was violent activity in her immediate area.  Angie rolled over and beheld Olena, nude, box-tied, gagged, and engaged in unarmed combat with a pair of Orion pirates.  Only her legs were free, and yet, she was giving the pirates a good fight.  As Angie watched, Olena executed an elegant, almost balletic swing-kick and landed a solid blow to the stomach of one of the pirates.  The green, booted and bikini-clad beauty oofed and fell back.  The other pirate lunged forward, attempting to grapple Olena's nude body, and was rewarded with a solid head-butt.  A dozen pirates were watching Olena's display of martial arts prowess, laughing and applauding as the bound and gagged blonde more than held her own.

Suddenly, the report of a disruptor-pistol on stun sounded—Bang!  Olena froze in mid-kick, then crumpled to the ground.

"Didn't I tell you piss-brains not to take any chances?" an angry voice demanded.

Angie squirmed and tucked her body until see could see the speaker.  She was a pirate, of course, and dressed like the rest, only her green boots and bikini were finer than the others' costumes and her accouterments were adorned with large rubies.  She holstered her pistol as she joined the group.  Their captain, Angie surmised.

"She's a terror," one of the pirates told the newcomer, pointing at Olena's unconscious form.  "As soon as she came to, she attacked."

"Oh, that's what happened," the ruby-adorned pirate sneered.  "Cut a pole and carry her," she ordered, "and for being so sloppy, you can all walk to the campsite."

"Is the transporter down, Prime Suzerain?" one of the pirates who had been battling Olena asked.

The captain rolled her eyes, then pointed at the speaker and the other pirate Olena had felled.  "You, and you.  Strip to your boots.  You're sex-toys for your mates for the next week."

The pair of pirates sighed as their fellow Orions laughed and cheered, then stood and began peeling off their equipment harnesses and bikini "uniforms".

Angie examined her fellow prisoners' conditions in greater detail.  All their bonds appeared to be identical: red ice-spider silk rope box-ties—cloth stuffing and cleave-gags—and tight, chamois-thin, leather mitts laced over their fingers, hands, and wrists.  "Mrfh!"  A boot had delivered a businesslike nudge to Angie's stomach, rolling her onto her back.  She found herself staring up into the smiling face of the "Prime Suzerain".

"Welcome to your new life, Starfleet," the pirate said.  "I am Marta Cyrelle, your first owner."

"Hail the Ruby Queen!"  One of the watching pirates shouted, and the others cheered.

Angie glared up at the gloating pirate.

"A strong one," Marta chuckled.  "Good.  Breaking the feisty ones to the collar is always great sport."  She held out an open hand to one of her crew.  "Wand," she commanded, and the rubber handle of a meter-long metal rod was slapped in her palm.  It tapered to a small, round, rubber paddle a few centimeters in width.  Marta lifted Angie's chin with the paddle.  "A useful tool, the slave-wand," the Orion purred.  "It can deliver a variety of sensations, such as intense pain, tickling torment, or—"

Angie tried not to show fear as Marta shifted the wand's paddle from her chin to her crotch, but couldn't keep herself from flinching as the cool rubber was pressed against her labia.

"Pleasure," the Ruby Queen purred, and thumbed a button on the handle.

"Nrrrrf!"  Angie shivered and squirmed in her bonds.  Zzzzzz...  The paddle was emitting multi-colored tendrils of energy that played across Angie's thighs and lower tummy.  Zzzzzz...  She tried to kick and roll away, but two of the pirates grabbed her ankles and splayed her legs and a third knelt and grabbed a fistful of her tousled hair.  Zzzzzz...  The sensation was indescribable.  Angie's eyes rolled up in her head and her nipples grew hard and rigid.  "Mrpfh!"

"Yes," Marta cooed.  "It feels good, doesn't it, Starfleet?"

Angie squirmed and struggled.  "Mmmmpfh!"

"Cum for your owner, Starfleet," Marta ordered.  "Cum like the pleasure-slave you are."

Angie tried to fight, but the wand was impossible to resist.  It was like a Klingon pain-stick, only tuned to stimulate her neurons in a way that was decidedly not punishment.  "Nnnnnn..."  She was panting through her gag, her breasts heaving and her pale skin glistening with sweat.  Zzzzzz...  The sparkling tendrils continued caressing her crotch, and eventually, despite her best efforts, Angie climaxed.  "Neeeee!"

The watching pirates laughed and cheered as Marta continued holding the paddle against Angie's crotch.

Finally, Marta lifted the wand, thumbed the switch, and the tendrils disappeared.  Zzzzt.  "Over," she ordered, and the pirates flipped Angie onto her stomach.  "The wand has additional properties which make it useful."  Angie watched over her shoulder as Marta thumbed the switch, again, then shook the wand.  Whip—whip—whip.  The wand was now somewhat flexible, no longer the stiff rod it had been before.  "Just so we understand one another," Marta said, then delivered a stinging slap with the now flopping paddle to Angie's right butt-cheek.  Whack!


"Yes, it hurts, doesn't it, Starfleet?" Marta cooed.  "Just imagine a prolonged whipping with the pain setting on 'high'.  White-hot agony, but no damage to the merchandise."  She nodded at the pirates and they released Angie's ankles and hair.

Angie rolled onto her side and glared up at the Ruby Queen.

"Still a strong one," Marta said, and her crew laughed.  "Good.  You're going to be a lot of fun, Starfleet."  She tossed the wand to one of her crew.  "Finish securing the blond 'terror' and pack up the Starfleet camp," she ordered.  "Transport the bulk loot to STAR-MANTA's hold, then hit the trail.  I want our camp set up before dark."

"Yes, Prime Suzerain," several of the pirates muttered.

Marta smiled at Angie—who continued to glare in response—then thumbed a communicator on her belt.  "Beam me to the bridge," she ordered.  The air shimmered, the hum of a transporter beam sounded, and the Ruby Queen dematerialized.
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Lyra remained hidden under the roots of the tree while the pirates struck the bubble-tent and packed up all its contents.  She heard the hum of a transporter, then eased herself out from under the roots and onto the side of the tree.  She slowly raised her dripping head above the riverbank and peered towards the clearing.

The tent and all its contents was completely gone, of course, with only a little trampled grass, the flagpole, and healer's flag forlornly flapping in the breeze to show it had ever existed.  Lyra climbed a little higher, eased her head around the trunk of the tree, and a pair of pirates came into view.  They were about thirty meters away with their backs to the river, and they were each carrying a looted Starfleet phaser-rifle in a slovenly, unprofessional manner.  About twenty pirates were waiting for them in the middle of the clearing, and among the pirates—

"No!" Lyra whispered under her breath.  Angie, Gwen, Olena, and the Carmow Zeeka were naked, bound, and gagged.  Olena was in a strict hogtie and suspended from a long pole.  A pair of pirates—naked, but for their boots—were carrying the pole by its ends, and the Orion criminals' wrists were lashed together with red rope.  Whatever that was about, Lyra could care less.  Her friends, on the other hand...

Angie and Gwen seemed resigned to their fates, standing relaxed in their rope bonds with their heads bowed.  Zeeka, however, was struggling to free herself and screaming through her gag.  Even at this distance Lyra could hear the little feloid's well-muffled howls of outrage, but just barely.  Her tawny tail whipped with anger.  Conserve your strength, Lyra thought, wishing she could project her thoughts to the agitated captive.  Wait for your chance.

The sauntering pirates rejoined the others and the group set off to the north.  The pirates bearing Olena were in the middle.  Next came the remaining captives, coffled by lengths of red rope, neck-to-neck.  Gwen was in the lead, then came Angie, and then Zeeka.  As they neared the jungle, the pirates became more alert and sorted themselves out into a front and rearguard.  Angie could see one of them using what was probably a hand-scanner.  They know the Carmow will try and set an ambush, Lyra reasoned.  She's scanning for life-forms.  The lead element of the pirate patrol was already disappearing into the jungle.

What to do?  Lyra saw two courses of action: (1) try and link up with the Carmow, who had to be aware of what was happening, or (2) follow the pirates on her own.  Or, maybe there's a middle ground.

Lyra waited several seconds after the last of the pirates had entered the jungle, then jumped off the tree and started jogging across the clearing, her phaser-rifle at the ready.  Did the rearguard hang back to set a counter-ambush?  That didn't seem a likely tactic for a bunch of pirates.  In any case, the longer she waited, the greater the chance she'd lose their trail.  Lyra knew her field-craft was adequate, but she was hardly a jungle huntress.  I'll know if I'm wrong when they stun me.

She reached the middle of the clearing—and skidded to a halt.  A pair of pirate bikinis, one a mottled brown and the other in a disruptive gray pattern, were discarded in the grass.  Lyra quickly grabbed them both, tucked them into her equipment harness, and jogged on.  Obviously, they were the clothing of the naked pirates carrying Olena, and their fellow criminals hadn't felt compelled to retrieve their shipmates' property.  Pirates, Lyra mused, shaking her head.

She paused as she neared the edge of the clearing.  I hope I get this right, she thought, then faced the jungle on the side closest to the clan-town.  She raised her left hand, and slowly began gesturing in "claw-speak", the Carmow sign-language Olena had ordered them to study.

"Four friend—many enemy—I hunt."

Just to be sure, she repeated the message, praying she was remembering the signs correctly and wasn't signing a bunch of gibberish.  She lowered her hand, checked the setting and energy status of her rifle, then entered the jungle.
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"I say she is a pirate," a gray-striped Carmow growled.  "She is green, like the others."

"She is the green kitten-warrior of whom Oleeena spoke," Purrgatah growled in response.  "She is a star-friend."

"We should take her," the gray-stripped cat-woman continued.  "We should bind and question her."

Purrgatah made a cutting gesture.  "No.  Follow with your hunt-sisters.  See where the green kitten and the green enemies go.  Already our clan-kittens are in deep hiding to keep them safe from the pirate's star-magic, as Oleeena advised, and our clan-sisters gather for war.  I must convince the elders to send the Bendwater war-stick to the other clans.  We must gather a force that even star-magic cannot defeat."

"It shall be as you say, Pathfinder," the gray-striped warrior nodded.  She crossed the lance-point of her m'rrtu with Purrgatah's.  "Unless it is the will of the gods, I swear they shall not take your little sister to the stars, Pathfinder."

"Unless it is the will of the gods, my friend," Purrgatah replied.  "Go."

The gray-striped warrior melted into the jungle, and was gone.

"May the gods favor our star-friends, as well," Purrgatah sighed, then broke from hiding and headed across the clearing at a loping run, abandoning stealth for speed.
 Chapter 5

Chapter 4
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Chapter 6