The crew of the Caprice find themselves unwilling guests of an alien Command Ship where they are assigned the awkward task of helping the aliens’ scientists fix their population crisis. When a dissenting cult intercepts their solutions, Bit and Wic must journey into the giant command ship in hopes of not only saving the dying-out alien race but their own hides as well.
Blood coated the shard of metal Bit gripped in her right hand. Granted, the blood was blue. The same blue ichor stained the left shoulder of her EVA suit, glazed down her arm, and dripped off her glove. Her own red blood oozed from a variety of shallow cuts on her other shoulder. She couldn’t hear the droplets of blood and ichor hitting the ground over the sound of the crowd cheering—as it turned out, aliens sounded a bit like elephants when they cheered—or her own suit warning her of decompression.
The prison attendants dragged the latest body away from her and out of the arena, their large eyes avoiding her entirely.
Bit took a deep breath and began coughing. Before the aliens could provide her a new opponent, she yanked a strip of seal tape off her belt and slapped it onto her shoulder, grimacing with the pain. She managed to repeat the motion three times before the door opened again.
Her body ached after the last three fights. Bit had no idea why she was fighting. She’d been pushed into the arena whose floor was dotted with pieces of metal and glass like the one in her hand. A second later, a scarred alien had joined her. It eyed her for a moment, looking a little skeptical, before launching itself at her.
Three aliens later, and she was ready to be done.
Despite the many times she asked, no one would tell her why she was fighting or when she would be finished. With each new alien, she gave them a chance to stop the carnage, but each one attacked within a minute.
Like the others, the newest entrant eyed her, taking long, slow steps around the perimeter of the arena. Unlike her battle within the Caprice, these aliens carried no high-tech weapons. Like her, they could only use something available in the arena.
The alien, clearly thinking he was the one destined to kill the evil “hooman” as they called her, turned toward her, swinging his extra-long arms to back hand her in the face. He wasn’t the first to start with that maneuver, and Bit dodged it with a quick duck. The aliens appeared to be confused by speed. Everything they did was slow. Even their language sounded slow.
Bit spun around, her legs still bent in a squat. At the end of her spin, she jumped up out of the squat and slashed with her pointy piece of metal, slicing at the outstretched arm. It bit into the gray flesh, blue ichor pouring out over her hand.
In a move dissimilar to her last few adversaries, the alien brought its other hand down, hitting her in the right shoulder and knocking her off her feet. Bit rolled away faster than the alien could adjust and chase after her. When her knee hit the arena wall, she flopped onto her back, jerked her feet up and then back down again, and launched herself back up onto her feet.
The alien said something to her. Bit couldn’t understand their language but she had no doubt it was some sort of curse or taunt. She gave him a grin and danced across the space, making it clear that she would always be faster than him—even in her simplified EVA suit.
Bit dipped forward, dropping into a roll just outside the alien’s reach and coming up at its knees. Of course, the alien was twice as tall as her, but she was more than willing to stab it in the groin. She did, and it fell backward, taking the make-shift dagger along. The rough edge of her dagger tore into her glove and took a few layers of skin with it. Bit grabbed her wrist to stem the flow of blood and air, and glared at the dying alien as though it was his fault his death had caused her pain.
Her suit’s alarms continued to shriek into her ear, momentarily distracting her from her surroundings. Before she could do anything more, the arena doors opened and the dying alien was dragged away. Without warning and before she could tape up her glove, the entrance behind her opened. She had barely begun to spin when two large hands landed on her arms. The newest alien lifted her off the ground and tossed her across the arena. She hit the barrier. The strange shield sizzled against her back, feeling like a large jelly-fish sting. She grunted when she hit the ground, the filth of the arena mixed with her drying blood creating a sort of mortar.
This time, it took her another half-minute to climb to her feet. She staggered up, aware that she had no weapon. While she might be able to kill a human easily enough barehanded, the elongated aliens were another matter. Their arms and legs were half-again as long as hers. Besides, she didn’t even know the layout of their anatomy.
The alien lunged at her, going to its knees. Their legs didn’t bend like a human’s. Instead, its knees seemed to curve, a bit like a spine. Bit took the opportunity, grabbing the alien’s outstretched arm and charging sideways, dragging the bendy arm across its chest. It let out another complaint, sounding like a walrus as Bit pulled the limb up toward its throat. She added her own arm, trying to choke the tall alien. It rose to its feet. Bit grimaced as she kept her arm wrapped around its neck, her own blood making her suit slippery. She released the alien’s arm, cupped the inside of her elbow, and grabbed the back of the alien’s neck with her free hand. With the help of her other arm, she tightened her grip and hoped the aliens breathed like humans.
The alien stumbled backward with her hanging from its shoulders until her back hit the barrier field again. Bright lights flickered around her, the field sizzling across her suit and through it to her skin. She ground her teeth and let out a low growl as she fought through the pain. She hoped the barrier only caused pain instead of actual damage. Pain, she could handle. More damage? She’d had enough of that.
The arena filled with a buzz, followed by a voice speaking in the alien language. Her attacker froze, still pressing her against the barrier. When the speaker finished, the alien in her arms took a step forward and released its frantic grip on her arms. Bit followed his example, hoping the announcement had been some sort of surrender.
Jack held back a growl as he laced his gloved fingers together. “We’ve gone through all this already.”
“I just need un’erstand what you do outside… mmmm…you Sol System.”
He stretchedhis neck in an attempt to release the ever-growing tension. “As I said, we are exploring. We had no idea other living beings were out here. I thought we were going to be friends. You saved us. Why am I now being interrogated?”
The alien didn’t answer his question. “And where does you travel from?”
“From the Sol System,” Jack replied, repeating the same information the alien had just provided.
“And you have army how big?”
“We did not bring an army. We have a security team with us just to keep us safe… from attacks such as your ‘pirates.’”
The top-dog alien stared down at Jack for a long moment. One of his three long fingers tapped out a rhythm on the tabletop. The seconds ticked by.
“Oh for crying out loud!” Jack snapped, unable to wait any longer. He jumped up out of his oversized seat. “Where is my crew?”
“They is all safe.” The alien paused. “So long.”
Jack frowned at him. After a moment, he realized the alien meant “So far.” “What do you mean? So long? You mean one of them might not be safe?”
The alien tilted his head as though processing Jack’s foreign words. “Your fighter… the one what killed much of my race…is fight in the pool.”
“The one who… You mean Bit? The blonde one?” He waved at his EVA helmet before realizing the aliens might not understand the word blonde. “The small female. Do you even have different sexes?”
“Yes… like…you need one of each sex to reproduce… to make a baby.” Jack made an awkward gesture, inserting one finger into a hole made by his other hand.
“Ahhh… we have three sexessss.”
“Three?” Jack swiped his hand across the space between them. “Never mind. That’s not important. Who’s fighting?”
Once again, the alien paused to consider his options. Finally, he rose to his feet in a fluid motion. “Came.”
Jack took that to mean follow him. Sure enough, the alien opened the door with the device implanted in his wrist and led Jack out of the small cell. They emerged into a glistening corridor lined with evenly-spaced doors. Though Jack couldn’t hear any voices, each door seemed to be sounding a periodic thump. He could easily guess that each door divided him from one or two of his crew members.
The alien slowed his pace, and Jack increased his in an attempt to keep up. It helped that the alien ship was kept at a gentler rate of gravity than the Caprice. At the end of the corridor, the alien led him into a small room. It was only when the room shifted that Jack realized it was a sort of lift. They remained in the lift for a long time, making Jack wonder just how large the ship was. He wanted to ask but doubted things like square-footage would translate well.
Eventually, the room gave the slightest shift, suggesting they had come to a stop. Unlike humans, the alien seemed completely content with silence—not the silence of ease with no talking, but rather a sort of contentment that seemed to come from his mind shutting down. Jack glanced up at the alien, who appeared to be completely oblivious to his very presence.
When the door slid open, the alien came to life again, giving a slight jerk as if waking up. They stepped out of the lift and proceeded down another corridor. They stopped in front of a door which blended in with all the others. Once again, the alien used his wrist implant to open the door which slid to the side to reveal a sort of technical booth manned by another alien. Though the alien looked similar to his guide, Jack suspected the one working the controls was considerably younger. There was an innocence to his gaze which was lacking in his guide.
A cheer filled the room bringing Jack’s eyes up to the panoramic windows. Some distance below them sat a cage lined with an electronic barrier. To Jack’s horror, Bit hung from the back of a scarred alien, who had her pressed up against the electrical boundary. White power coursed across her back in lightning streaks and out into the barrier almost as though her own body was adding to the charge.
Neither alien moved.
“Stop this now… stop this now or I swear to whatever god you serve I will destroy this entire ship.”
The younger alien looked up at Jack’s guide, who finally nodded. The worker hit a button and spoke. The alien in the cage with Bit froze and stepped away from the barrier. Bit hesitated a moment before releasing the alien’s neck and dropping to the floor. She looked exhausted—covered in blue ichor with hints of her own blood trailing through the thicker liquid.
Blood meant her suit had been punctured. How much oxygen did she have left?
“What is the meaning of this?” Jack demanded.
“That one,” the alien pointed at Bit. “Killed many number of our beings. She will fight that many in the pool. If she win each, she would live.”
Jack frowned. “She killed pirates… bad guys.”
“It are not for her to decide what bad and good.”
“She was defending herself… and her ship. She was doing what she had to to keep us alive.”
The alien took a deep breath, his colored atmosphere swirling around his mouth. “And she killed much well. More much well than any others. We take loss life much important.”
“So she’s good at it, that doesn’t make her a criminal.”
Again, the alien paused, glancing at the younger one and speaking in their own tongue. After a brief exchange, Jack’s guide motioned toward the controls. The youth pushed the button and spoke. Without warning, Bit’s enemy swung around, hitting her with his outstretched arm.
Bit rolled with the blow, still relaxed in preparation for the fight to continue. She came back up to her feet with the lightning reflexes that made her so deadly.
“What! No,” Jack cried after the first second of shock. “Stop this. Why are you doing this?”
“She kill only one more. Then free.”
Jack’s breath caught in his chest as he watched Bit dance away. Her foot seemed to hit something, which she quickly scooped up. Jack couldn’t tell what it was. She charged forward with the abandonment of one out of patience. If Bit had a weakness, it was her impatience. Nonetheless, she managed to dodge the long limbs and reach the alien’s core. She slashed with the object, creating a jagged gash across its belly.
The alien in the arena froze for a moment before letting out its version of a scream. Its limbs flailed about, giving Bit a chance to slash at him again. The second attack created an X on the alien’s stomach. It opened up, spilling out more blue ichor and a few lumps that must have been organs. The alien dropped to the ground.
Jack’s guide turned to him. “She has collect his democracy… and the democracy of your persons.”