The black hole of the snub-nosed barrel stared her down. “We don’t want to hurt you,” its wielder told her. “A woman of your skills can fetch…”

A sliver of silver few across the room to embed itself in the gunman’s eye. Captain Gili followed close behind, crossing the space between her and her attacker as quickly as the cocktail fork she used as a dart.

The captain’s palm drove the fork deeper into Talen’s brain. “You do not draw a gun on someone in their quarters,” she yelled, her voice loud in the closed space, “then tell them you don’t want to hurt them! One hand curled around his collar to support the collapsing figure while her other kept pummeling his face. Each blow punctuated a word. “It’s… not… very… fucking… SMART!”

Bone snapped and crackled under her continued assault. The body trembled and shuddered in her hands under the abuse. Captain Gili didn’t even notice when Talen breathed his last.

Her motions slowed. The sound of her ragged breaths echoed in her quarters. She dropped the beaten corpse suddenly, her eyes opening wide at the damage caused by her hands. Her communicator slipped under her bloody hands, refusing to let go of her belt without a struggle. Eventually, it came to her lips.

“Dede! Dede! Where in the fifteen hells are you?”

*****

The leading edge of the 15 centimeter bulkhead passed a hair’s breadth from the tip of her nose. Hours of dramatic escape practice served her well. Yes. Mate Spivakovsky practiced dramatic escapes during the down time of the Gazelle’s travels. She knew her captain that well.

The blast door slid into place behind her with a satisfying thump. A second thump followed as her pursuer ran into the portal.

Dede shimmied up against the wall, frantically tapping on her pad as her breath started to slow. A banging started on the other side of the door. She kept working the checklist, satisfied nothing short of a nuclear torch could penetrate the barrier.

A few taps summoned a video feed of the green haired man’s futile efforts to break through. A few more brought her live audio.

“Avis! Hey Avis!” she called through the link. The man looked around, puzzled at first. His eyes darted around, looking for a camera. “You’ll never find it,” Dede told him. “We’re sneaky, that way.”

“Let me out of here, you bitch!”

“That is not the way to talk to someone holding you captive.”

“You’re the captive. My boss is with the captain, right now! We’ll have your ship in a minute flat.” Dede bit down the worry and returned to the task at hand. Her board read all secure and the captain could take care of herself. “Avis. I think your boss might be the one in trouble, there. Your teammates and still sleeping in their rooms and don’t even know that we’ve locked the doors on them. So now, in this little moment of peace, we’re going to sit here and have a little chat.”

“Fuck off.”

The Mate tapped her pad then watched as Avis frantically searched for handholds as his feet lifted from the floor. “I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation,” Dede quipped.

“The cargo,” Avis shouted, his hands reaching for anything to cling to, “you’ll….”

“The cargo is neatly stowed,” the Mate reminded him. “Don’t worry. It’s not like I would turn off the inertial dampers in there. Now that would mess up the cargo, and leave a slimy, pink film across the bulkhead that would take days to clean up.”

“But, let’s see…. Those crates look pretty tough. I bet they could handle what? 3 standard gravities?” Her fingers took a walk along her tablet one more time. Avis let out a scream before plunging awkwardly to the deck. The cracking noise carried through the audio feed. “Avis?”

“Avis?” Dede waited for a response and sighed.

“Dede! Dede!” her communicator screamed. “Where in the fifteen hells are you?”

The device slipped from her belt. “Passageway Alpha, just fore of the main cargo hold.”

“Are you OK?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

“Is there anyone with you?”

The Mate looked at the video feed from the other side of the door. “Yes. But I think I broke him.”

*****

They watched the two for a short time, watched them as they struggled with the door, tried to pick the lock, then took a stab at wrenching it open. Dede and Giselle giggled at the futility, then eventually flipped on the audio.

“Good morning. This is Captain Gili. By now you’ve noticed you’ve been locked in your quarters.” The two stopped working on the door to look at each other.

“Where are Avis and Talen?” one of them ventured. Giselle swallowed before answering. “Talen is dead. I killed him with a cocktail fork. Avis is unconscious in our med bay suffering from broken bones and contusions.” The two captives looked at each other with eyes wide. “That means neither of them can talk. So we’re going to talk with you.”

“We’re not telling you anything,” one of the two men blurted out.

“Seal up the section and vent it into space?” Dede suggested over the open mic.

“It’s the only way to be sure,” Giselle agreed. The sound of escaping air carried over the audio after a few taps on Dede’s tablet. The two men panicked, scrambling around the room with bed linens, looking to plug the leak. A few minutes of frenzy left the two breathless and pale. “OK. We’ll talk.”

*****

Captain Gili pried the last panel of camouflage away from the hibernation capsule, surprised that the sinkhole in her stomach could dip any further. Bodies, rows and rows of all shapes and species, locked in suspended animation, lined up in her hold.

“Slaves!” Giselle exclaimed. “Our legitimate cargo is a gross of slaves!”

“Two gross, actually,” Dede corrected, her face twisting into a frown. “We are in so much trouble.”

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