Eyoline poses as a sex worker on a mission to infiltrate a gang of space pirates and assassinate their leader, for the good of the Merovingian people; by David W Landrum.
"Because iridium is so rare they'll confiscate the mine the moment they find out about it - 'nationalize it,' they'll say. And they don't protect us from Biddle's pirates. We've got to pay him protection money, and we're tired of it."
"The Mervogian military can't bring ships and troops into your prime system. We can't set up a base here either. It's too dangerous."
"You can do it if we hire you as private contractors."
This time, Menv did not have a sarcastic comeback.
Prasata, who sat next to Stang, and who had been silent all this time, spoke up.
"We've checked the books, reviewed the laws, and know we're right on this one. Businesses near the borders that have to be careful about pirates and hostiles like the Golorians and the Housali have contracted with the Omrite military, the Barzalians, and, I'll add, the Mervogian Defense Force. If your government finds out and comes sniffing around here, we can show them the literature documenting other enterprises doing what we plan to do and tell them to fuck off." He looked over at Eyoline, whom he knew spoke English. "Sorry, ma'am," he said, though really he was not sorry.
"And if we agree to this, you'll sell it all to us."
"We don't want our government knowing anything about our mine. They think we're mining gold, which we do find a lot of around here, I'll add. We'll sell 100% of the iridium to you. These asteroids are remarkable. They're solid chunks of iridium encased in sheathes of silicate and iron. They're like a plum or like one of your planet's blood melons: punch through the though skin and it's all juice and delicious flesh inside. We can supply you with enough iridium for the next fifty years - and there might even be more. We have mineral rights on a good chunk of the belt and haven't explored a quarter of our territory. I imagine there is a lot more of the element on some of the other rocks we own out here. Just keep Biddle and his cut-throats away from us and we'll do the deal."
Menv pondered. Eyoline decided to speak up.
"If we can take the pirates out, destroy their base, and kill their leader would that solve your problem?"
Stang and Prasata both smiled, gratified to hear a direct question after an hour of Menv's circumlocution.
"That would cause the problem to end," Prasata said. Eyoline had seen his file and knew he came from a Hindi-speaking plane and spoke English with an accent. He added, "Of course, first you'll have to find him."
Eyoline did not reply. They were operatives for Black Diamond, the top-secret intelligence organization of the Mervogian Defense force, and knew where Biddle was.
"You should have waited a little longer to play our trump card," Menv complained. "I was planning to draw it."
Eyoline only shrugged.
"Well, what's done is done. We just need to be careful."
"You said you cleared it with the Command."
"I did," he grumpled, "but I get the feeling they're a little iffy on it. If we fail, I imagine they'll kill us."
"If we fail, we'll be dead anyway."
"No doubt about that. Biddle has enough firepower to mount an attack on Earth itself." She gave him a look. "Well," he said, backing off a bit, "I'm exaggerating - hyperbole. But it won't be that easy to take him out."
"However much firepower, he doesn't have what we have."
"Then you're in?"
"I'm in. I think your plan will work."
"I wouldn't have taken on the assignment if I weren't."
Iridium, Eyoline thought, the element the Mervogians (and almost everyone else) used as a prime element in space communications systems. Rare, expensive, miners throughout this section of space and in the Besrid sector, where Mervogia lay, searched for it. Prasata Enterprises had hit the mother lode but did not want their find seized under the emergency clause that allowed the Terran government to confiscate any material "vital to the defense of the Alliance." Prasata and Stang were smart. Their offer would be a chance for Mervogia to finally get all the iridium they needed.
"We leave in two days," Menv said.
Eyoline nodded, returned to her quarters and reviewed the information Black Diamond Central Command had given her.
Biddle had concealed his hideout well. The asteroid that housed his basecamp lay in an area crowded with millions of rocks, small formations, planetoids, and larger bodies. The composition of the asteroids around him made detection of his command site almost impossible. Black Diamond had located it by bribing the Renant merchants who supplied him. Biddle had his supplies delivered to a remote location and ferried them to his operations center. Black Diamond had attached celluloid sensors that dissolved with exposure to space, but not before they had transmitted in codes closely resembling the radiation bursts that punctuated space in the area, making them undetectable. They had zeroed the location before dissolving into cosmic dust.
Eyoline took a ship to Ledava, a planet in the Sirius star cluster, and checked into a hotel. At six o'clock she dressed in a short, tight-fitting dress, joined a number of similarly attired women from various races of beings, sat down and waited to be interviewed. Terrans of all colors, Mervogian women, two Housali girls, an Omrite woman, two others who could be Barzalians or Italians, filled the chairs in the waiting room.
Eyoline looked through the viewing port at the double star that shed light on the small planet. Someone called her name. She walked into an office and into the presence of a hard-bitten but beautiful older woman. The markings on her cheeks told Eyoline she was a Geran, from a race which was persona non grata in this sector of space. Any Geran discovered in a Terran-controlled area was detained.
"Eyoline," the woman said. "One name? You're Mervogian."
"Eyoline isn't a Mervogian name."
"It's Terran. My mother converted to their religion. She gave me a Terran name."
The explanation seemed to satisfy the woman. "Work experience?" she went on.
"I worked five years on Space Station Shepherd."
"The Kitten Cove."
The Geren woman smiled. "Where else?"
"I worked on my own and as an escort for an agency on Shamm."
"All right. You've seen the terms: three years, $100,000.00 a year, expenses paid. This is a military operation and it's top secret. You won't know your location. You will be able to return home every three months, but it's imperative we conceal the location and not say anything about it."
"I'm a little nervous about going to some place and not knowing where I am."
"Our agency is registered. If we were doing anything amiss, we would be denied certification."
They were registered with the Terran government, which monitored the sex industry in their territory. Women had returned from working sites the agency managed. A few were Mervogian women. They said they had gone to an asteroid, lived at a compound there, serviced men, and were given vacations on Mars and Earth and on nearby moons that been terraformed. The accommodations were pleasant, the women said, the pay good, the conditions maximal. None of the women knew for which military force their clients worked and noted that they were quite secretive about this.
"Well, your work experience is sufficient and you look very good. I'm inviting you to work for us, Eyoline."
She smiled. "Excellent."
"At 17.00 hours we'll host a supper for all our new employees and take care of paperwork."
Eyoline returned to her room. The madam at the Kitten Cove knew Eanna, a Black Diamond agent who had worked there on assignment once and would vouch for Eyoline when the people here contacted them to check her story out, which they undoubtedly would. Klemestra, a large luxury brothel on Shamm in the Mervogian prime system, also cooperated. Eyoline had her ticket into Biddle's command center.
She knew they were watching her. She imagined they had wired her room so as to monitor any communication she would send out. They were professional and secretive. The assignment called for courage and imagination.
Eyoline slept and, after she woke, talked with one of her sisters who lived on Shavin, a Mervogian colony planet with communication range. When 05.00 rolled around, she found her way to the reception room where the introductory dinner waited.
They had hired six women: the Omrite woman, three Terrans, another woman who might be Mervogian, and one of the blue-skinned Housali.
The meal passed pleasantly. Eyoline knew Biddle's intelligence-gathering capacity was formidable, but it was amateurish compared to Black Diamond. She would be safe. She and one of the Terran women chatted with the Housali, who had been a comfort woman for their military, survived the crash of a starship in a battle with the Terrans, and decided to stay in Alliance territory, where she continued to ply her trade. Eyoline and the other woman helped her with her English. The Omrite woman, sitting at the table across from them, spoke English fluently.
Housali women, Eyoline reflected, attracted Terran men due to their exotic appearance - light blue skin and dark blue hair. Omrite women, with their pink skin, green hair, amber nails, irises, and nipples, always brought a high price. The trump card for Mervogian women was that they purred when sexually excited. The Terran women, she noted, looked as if they might come from different worlds: one had black skin, the other golden skin and almond eyes, the third red hair and red spots covering her skin. Biddle kept women who would appeal to his men for their uniqueness. Black Diamond had calculated his force at the base camp at 200 - a menagerie of men (and a few women) from all over space. It would be an interesting couple of weeks.
Biddle's operatives did their job of concealing the destination well. The women took ship. They did not know their destination, though the voyage was not a long one. They flew into an underground bunker and disembarked. The compound lay completely underground. Good move, Eyoline thought. This made his lair harder to detect. Asteroids often contained deposits of metal that interfered with scanners and sensors. Only Eyoline would have any idea where they were.
They were shown their rooms, which were quite nice, and given a tour of the "Rest Facility," as the docent called it. The women passed knots of men who eyed them appraisingly. They also toured their "work quarters," as these were called: small, square rooms with a bed and a small bath to one side; a linen closet filled with towels, and a communications monitor. She had smuggled in a communicator - a thin membrane of non-detectable material easily carried in her vagina. Upon arriving in her room, she took it out and carefully hid it. The room did not seem to be monitored, but she could not take the chance it was so she turned in such a way as to block view of the small, folded square as she hid it away.
The organization had already posted photos of them on the organization's communications net. The men had had time to look at the profiles, see photos of the new working women, read what they would and would not do, and arrange times. Two ships had just returned from patrol. All the new women had appointments. Eyoline already had three. She began work three hours after her arrival.
The men had been out in space a month, so it was fast and furious. Eyoline gasped, moaned, rolled her hips; she bit her customers' ears, kissed, shouted, cursed, and kicked. Most importantly, she purred. They liked it. It made the times much shorter. At the end of the day her console said she was free. She had two clients tomorrow morning; nothing for the rest of the night.
Eyoline went to a lounge and met two women, both Mervogian, who had worked there a year. One had served a two-year stint, returned home, and come back under contract for another year.
"That's a relief," Eyoline said. "They're so secretive I was starting to think I might be walking into a scam - slavery or something like that."
The women assured her this was not the case. Besides the one who left and came back the other, Lis, had gone home when her mother died, returning after the funeral.
"They're just a top secret place. No one knows what they do - some kind of military operation, that's all I know."
"Are they our people?"
"Terrans run the place, whatever it is."
The three talked and drank. Eyoline made up a story about where she had worked. The women were both from her home planet and she enjoyed talking with them. She was getting tired of speaking English. They explained the rules, described the facilities and procedures. They mentioned there was a viewing port.
The port, a dome, larger than Eyoline had imagined it would be, afforded a spectacular view. Asteroids floated in the ether of space. Stars glimmered in the gaps between them. A planet shone, too, reddish in color, the planet Mars, she knew, in the Terran prime system. This was a good place to hide a secret base, she reflected. The dense stones of the belt would prevent an attack by full-sized starships. Their metal deposits would cut off sensor scans. After half an hour of gazing in the dome, she returned to the lounge. She had supper with Lisa and Maud, excused herself, and returned to her quarters.
The first few days she did nothing that might call attention to her. She gave it out as her job demanded, the number of customers varying from a low of two to a high of ten. Eyoline had infiltrated sites by passing as a prostitute before. While she played the role she had played a few times, she listened. Listening always yielded valuable results. On her second day at the job the second customer she serviced mentioned the iridium mines.
"Those two guys are sitting on enough money to buy a planet," he said. He was a Rennat with dull red skin and tangled back hair. "They've found three asteroids full of iridium."
"I hear that's valuable."
"It's more valuable than gold. We keep our cut low. We don't have to take a lot of the money they make - not a big percentage, I mean. And it's close. We don't even go into hyperspace and can get there in a couple of hours. They got asteroids full of gold, titanium, not to mention silver and a lot of other rare earths. We won't have to run protection to anyone else if we keep the pressure on these guys."
"Are they Terrans?"
"They're Terrans, both from Earth, I think: a whitey and a curry-muncher. They know better than to give us trouble, though, since their base is only a few thousand kilometers away from us. And we've got a strike force on Hygiea. It's real close to their installation. If they give us trouble, we can get at them in an hour."
She knew Biddle's men could be brutal. The merchants and miners in the belt paid them protection money. If they missed a payment or resisted, they were killed. His ships had harassed shipping here for eight years. Once he had learned a small Terran fleet had assembled on a base camp on Ganymede, the largest moon of Jupiter; he had enough strength to intercept the fleet and destroy it, though, she had learned from other men she serviced, his losses had been heavy and everyone who worked him thought it an ill-advised action.
The next day she came into the viewing port and saw several of the working girls wearing skimpy bathing suits, lying on chairs in bright sunlight. The whole dome radiated. As she gazed up at the brightness filtering down, a Barzalian she had rolled with two days ago noticed her wonder and came up beside her.
"Weren't expecting this, were you?" he smiled.
"No," she answered. "We're so far from Earth's sun and there is so much here to block the light..."
"A lot of the asteroids are silicon and lots of them have fused sand bodies - in other words, they're made out of glass - colored glass usually, and light reflects off them. The spot we're at is a place where light shines well. The asteroids are kind of like a series of mirrors that relay the sun here, so it's bright. We get quite a few rays reflected off Ceres, which isn't too far away."
"It's beautiful," she murmured.
Sex loosened men's tongues and made them voluble. Any female spy knew that. For the first few days, she listened and calculated. One afternoon when she had a gap between clients, Eyoline went to the viewing port, found an isolated table - a carrel with an enclosed reading space - sat down and took her communicator out of her pocket. Double checking that she was alone and no monitors scanned the room, she began to punch coded data into the device.
She worked feverishly, concealing the device and the rapid motion of her fingers. Mervogians had depended on solar power from their earliest days of technological advancement. Sunlight propelled their ships through space and provided energy on all their worlds. A thousand years of working with light - the light of their sun but also the golden light reflected by the Besrid nebula, which they considered sacred - had unlocked its secrets for them. They possessed knowledge other civilizations could not understand or process, let alone adapt to their own use. Mervogians knew how to transmit through light. They could send communications through light. Since the transmission did not create a signature of its own but travelled through particles of light, no instrumentation the Terrans (including Biddle) possessed could detect Eyoline's transmission.
Just as she finished, a tall woman in a khaki skirt and white blouse strode into the room, heading straight for Eyoline, who stuffed the communications device back into the pocket of her frock.
"You," the woman said "Are you Eyoline, one of the new whores we brought on board?"
The woman, tall and strong, had to be one of Biddle's operatives. Eyoline knew a woman soldier when she saw one.
"Come with me."
Eyoline winced inwardly. "Where are we going?" she whimpered, acting a role.
"Don't ask questions."
Still playing the character she had taken on as her cover, she began to cry. "I'm not in any trouble am I? I didn't do anything wrong. Are you going to kill me?"
The tears worked. The woman sneered. "Settle down, you stupid little cunt. The Commander wants to see you. He thinks you have a nice ass. Now let's go!"
They left the dome. The woman used a key pad to open doors. They moved quickly down a series of corridors, finally turning into a tunnel carved out of rock. They passed into a large room. Eyoline memorized the spaces as they passed through them, noting where the doors were located. The woman stopped and waited. After only a moment, a figure entered the room.
Eyoline assumed this was Biddle. He was tall, burly with broad shoulders and strong arms, had blue eyes and long, wild blond hair. A natural smile covered his face - a kind of smirk. His gaze was ironic, almost humorous. Despite his reputation for brutality, he looked merry and jocose.
"Thanks, Colestah," he told the woman. "You can go now."
She gave Eyoline a hateful look and stalked out. Biddle laughed.
"Don't mind her. She doesn't like being challenged. You're Eyoline?"
He laughed. "Cut the 'sir.' It's Mike. I've heard some good things about you from my men, and your profile is enjoyable reading."
Eyoline imagined he enjoyed the nude shots of her - which left absolutely nothing to the imagination - more than the text on her page. She smiled a simpering smile and shrugged. Her facile manner pleased him.
"Come on," he said.
Unknowingly, he had done exactly what Eyoline had hoped he would do. He had begun to walk into the trap.
Biddle took her through the wing of the installation off-limits to Eyoline and the other sex workers. They walked right by the command center. She saw their monitoring devices and defense grid; he even took her through the rock corridors and past three gun emplacements.
"If anyone comes near the place, we'll blow them to bits," he said, gesturing, never imagining she was a military operative who knew the specs of all the ordinance they looked at. "Those guns can take out a Class A Starship." Eyoline acted as if all this bewildered and slightly bored her as she noted the locations of weapons, and escape tunnels. When they passed viewing ports, she noted the positions of stars and asteroids so she formed a more clear idea of the location of base defenses. Biddle's tour gave her an idea of how his headquarters was laid out. He even said something about the power plant (he was obviously proud of the facility he had constructed) when they walked by it, gesturing to the generators.
"They're solar generators. I've got some operatives on Mrkosa who supply me with Mervogian equipment. They come here now and then to service it."
Mrkosa, a Mervogian colony planet, lay near Terran space. Eyoline felt her mind filling. She did not want to forget any of vital factoids Biddle had revealed - especially where the power plant was located. She remembered her character. She walked over to Biddle, snuggled against him, and ran her hand over the front of his trousers.
"I don't know much about how to generate energy," she said, "but I sure do know how to generate heat."
He laughed loudly. "Sorry, I'm boring you. Come on."
Biddle led her to a room just off the Command Center. His living quarters were not ostentatious. They had a decorative flair Eyoline liked. When she saw this, she knew Biddle would not be as much of a threat as she had first assumed. He was too nice - not the kind of cold, calculating criminal her assignments with Black Diamond had often brought her up against. She had fought, assassinated, and infiltrated (usually as a whore) the facilities of slave traders, warlords, renegade Terrans, Mervogians, and Golorians who lived by murder and rapine. Biddle displayed none of the ruthlessness of these types. He struck her as a good-natured man who liked nice things but had found crime the only way to obtain them. As she looked around the quarters, she gasped. When he led her to his bedroom, she began to purr.
"This is so nice," she said, snuggling even closer to him, her eyes wide.
Purring, she thought, the ultimate weapon. It would serve her yet another time. Biddle laughed, his eyes showing signs of agitation.
"Let's go," she said.
They walked down fine marble steps into a sleeping pit - a circular area sunk four feet into the floor of the room, covered with a mattress that fit the circle, pillows, blankets and quilts. Sleeping pits were popular on Barzalian planets. Intelligence reports said Biddle was Terran. Of course, he might just like the design of Barzalian sleeping pits.
Eyoline made a show of stripping naked, removing her clothing piece by piece, and she swayed her hips, tossing the clothing out of the pit onto the floor above them. It had its desired effect. She laughed and dove under a quilt. He undressed, hurried after her, took her in her arms, and pushed into her.
She had been coached by the sex workers Black Diamond hired for some of their operations - women they used in routine missions of entrapment and information gathering. The women had told her what to do; the age-old techniques of prostitution. She did the right talk, squealed and moaned, murmured endearments and - as she was a Mervogian woman - purred so that the core of her body reverberated with a deep, rhythmic sonority.
Her tactics succeeded. Biddle finished. When they quieted, she could tell she had pleased him. After a time of quiet talk, laugher, and endearment he said she could go. He would get Colestah.
"She'll escort you back to your place. That's policy. We can't have people just walking around. This is a top-secret facility. I'll have you back here soon."
She gave simpering smile. "Sure. I'll love that."
"You're good," he said, slapping her gently on the buns. "Go get cleaned up."
He showed her to a small bath with a shower and went off. Eyoline showered. She did not like having the communicator in the pocket of her frock, so after cleaning up she sat down, spread her legs, and pushed the folded square into her vagina. As she did so, the door to the bathing chamber abruptly opened. Colestah stood there. She immediately saw the communicator.
"What's that?" she demanded, point. "What are you doing?"
In moments, dozens of thoughts crossed Eyoline's mind. At first she decided it might be time to move. She could kill Colestah, get the blaster she carried, assassinate Biddle, and then summon the attack force Black Diamond had put at their disposal. Then she decided this was a strategy that would almost certainly get her killed.
"It's a bio-guard," she said. "A patch for disease prevention." She carefully pushed the device into her opening, reached over, rinsed her fingers in the sink, and stood.
Colestah stared a moment and then said, "You don't need anything like that. Every man you fuck goes through a monitor before he comes to your room and gets a bio scan."
Eyoline remembered her briefing.
"Your scanners won't detect ehrichia."
Eyoline waited for Colestah's reaction. She made her certain she looked calm and natural outwardly; inwardly, she calculated how she would kill Colestah if she did not accept her explanation.
Colestah licked her lips.
"That will really protect you from ehrichia?"
"It sure will. A woman who hired on here said one of your girls just died from it."
This was a complete fabrication, but Colestah seemed to believe what Eyoline had told her.
"Two whores on station died from it; so did one of my friends. She and I were really close. Her boyfriend caught it on one of the Glinn planets. Poor kid. I'd hate to die like that."
Ehrichia, a venereal disease originating on the Glinn planets, left a tiny parasite in the body of woman who had sex with an infected man. The parasite lodged in the urinary tract, laid eggs, in the bladder and kidneys. The eggs hatched in a few months and destroyed the host's urinary tract in a feeding frenzy that lasted an hour. The infected woman died in agony. The tiny parasites could not be detected by existing medical equipment; no preventative drugs or vaccination guarded against it. Once the eggs hatched the death process began, nothing could reverse it.
"This patch will stop ehrichia. It's just been developed in Mervogia." She looked. "I only have this one, but I'll give it you if you want it."
Colestah's face hardened. "I don't want something you've been sticking in your pussy, you worthless little tart. I can order one for myself. Now get dressed. I don't have all day to lead you around by the nose."
Eyoline got her clothes on. Colestah led her back to her quarters.
Back in her quarters, Eyoline checked her monitor. She had four men to service tomorrow, starting at ten in the morning, and decided she would get a good night's sleep. The tension of establishing her cover had taken its toll. Before sending more information to Menv, she would rest.
After a night of sound sleep, she woke and went to breakfast. The dining hall afforded a magnificent view of the chaotic sky above the asteroid. An endless stream of meteorites tore through the ether of space. The mass of asteroids broke the weak light of the sun into odd tones. Magnetic fields of larger planetoids split light into pulsating auras of red and green. The congealing dust of planetesimals glowed like huge, eerie amoeba. Eyoline sat with Cora, a Terran, and with Kempal, an Omrite woman. They talked about their families. Kempal was the woman who had worked here, left, and returned two years later. She was assuring them of the operation's legitimacy when four space cruisers loomed into the area visible from the viewing port.
The sex workers screamed when they saw ships so close. Soldiers sitting nearby sprang up and ran for the exits. Alarms sounded. An explosion shook the building. By now everyone in the cafeteria had stood and was looking frantically about. More explosions sounded. Colestah burst into the room.
"We're under attack," she shouted. "Go to the shelter. Now!"
Colestah had shown them to the shelter during orientation. Eyoline noticed she carried a fully charged blaster. As she followed the working girls into the shelter, two other soldiers with charged blasters joined her. They were going to kill all the women.
They raised their weapons. Colestah ordered them to line up against the back wall. The women, realizing what was happening, began to scream and plead. Eyoline picked that moment to act. She whirled, kicking the woman guard next to Colestah in the head, snapping her neck, grabbed her body as she fell, took her blaster and, using the dead woman's body as a shield, fired on Colestah and the male soldier with her, wounding and disabling both them. She immediately followed up, finishing the two of them off without ceremony, and turned to the women.
"I'm a Mervogian agent," she said. An explosion shook the room. "I'll keep you safe, but I've got to take out more of their troops. Has anyone in here ever served?"
To her surprise, two of the women, a Glinn and a Mervogian, had served in their respective militaries. She gave them a security code to recite when the Eunoma broke in and blasters from the dead pirates. "Guard the door," she ordered. Eyoline then stepped into the main corridor, ascertained that she was safe, opened a regular communicator she had taken off Colestah's corpse (she also took a knife sticking in her belt), and put in the Black Diamond code she knew worked on most any type of communication device. Menv answered. After throwing the most scurrilous epithets she knew at him, she asked, "What the fuck is going on?"
"Optimal time for attack," Menv said.
"Stop posturing, Eyoline. You know this is the best plan and you'll be fine. I also imagine Biddle has given you a tour and you know where to find him."
She did not reply.
"I thought so. Now go get him."
"You know, you are the most reprehensible son of a bitch in the three planets."
"That's quite a compliment coming from you. The Eunoma have landed. It's only a matter of time. Go get him. Capture him if you can."
She clicked off the communicator. A blaster rifle was too heavy. She threw it away, gripped the knife and moved toward the corridor that led to the command center.
Moving forward, she noticed the door had stuck open. The Eunoma, a Special Forces branch of the MDF, always followed procedure and destroyed the power source for the base early on. Running off emergency power, serving only essential functions, the center would not waste energy sealing doors in what they deemed a secure site. She moved forward, expecting to encounter soldiers at any moment and running into two only a moment later.
They gaped at her, probably wondering what one of their comfort women was doing in the corridor, perhaps assuming she had lost her way. Eyoline threw the knife, which was a nicely balanced military blade, striking one of the two in the center of his throat. In the second the other glanced over at his comrade, Eyoline rushed upon him, seizing the barrel of his blaster rifle and pointing it in the air.
The struggle lasted only seconds. She had always reflected on how people romanticized pirates, envisioning them as dashing, swashbuckling gallants skilled at the arts of war. Her experience showed just the opposite. They were, by and large, crude, stupid, poor fighters, and generally disorganized. Only their leader and one or two of the leader's close associates possessed any organizational skills, and usually those were not highly developed. They were opportunistic thugs and criminals. Once someone figured out their scams and their mode of operation, defeat for them was certain.
True to form, the man she faced could not fight well - he was strong and quick, but unskillful. She landed three sharp blows to his head, dispatching him.
By now the fury of battle had gripped her. Instinct drove her with its almost supernatural perceptions. She still did not want a blaster rifle and neither soldier carried a hand blaster. She took their knives and moved onward toward where Biddle had to be.
Explosions shook the compound. She saw men running through doors to defend posts outside the building, which told her the Eunoma had effected a successful landing and begun their ground assault. The defenders were doomed. The Eunoma took no prisoners. Eyoline advanced through the chaos and encountered one of Biddle's women operatives. She leveled her blaster at Eyoline, who rolled to the floor before she could get a shot off and slashed her left hamstring. As she tumbled to the floor, Eyoline battled her weapon away and pulled back the woman's head to cut her throat.
"No," the woman sobbed. "Mercy! For the love of God! I'm not here because I want to be!"
Eyoline noticed a necklace with a gold cross around her neck. The woman, who had to be in her early twenties, looked at her with terrified eyes.
"This compound will be overrun soon. Play dead. When our shock troops come in, they will roll you over to make sure you're really gone. Say 'Code 3-Q.' Say it right away and they won't kill you."
Eyoline ran off.
Alarms continued to sound. Unarmed soldiers ran past her as she pressed on. She slowed on approaching the control room.
Eyoline could see Biddle and three others directing what was left of their fleet, probably preparing to flee themselves. If he was a prudent leader (and he was), he would have an escape vessel stashed somewhere. Two guards flanked the door. They looked ready to bolt. An explosion sounded in the main access corridor. The Eunoma had breached the defenses and got into the command building. It would be over quickly now.
The guards at the door would be formidable. Operatives like Biddle chose the best fighters for bodyguards, and usually they were better trained and more skillful than the average cadre in organizations such as this one.
As she formulated a plan of action, the lights went out.
The guards, Biddle, and his staff, had on luminous patches. A glow of dim light radiated from them. The patches also made them easy targets. Tactical error, she thought. He should have spent money on starscope glasses. She watched the men - seven, she counted - gather and move toward one open door in the side of their command center. Undoubtedly a tunnel leading to where an escape craft lay.
The dark would work to her advantage. The glow from the pirates' luminous pads gave her just enough light by which to see. She crept toward them, switching her communicator to scan. The corridor, a long one, pitch dark, led in a straight line to a part where a vessel lay moored - a Housali stealth cruiser with cloaking capability, she saw. Radiating ghostly light, Biddle and his crew made their way toward the ship.
Eyoline sent out a sensor pulse. It scanned the configuration of the corridor. She put in a code, and sent the scan to Menv.
"I knew you'd do it," he said, his voice metallic on the communicator. "We're waiting for him."
"Just make sure the Euies don't gun me down."
"They won't. I sent out your picture and said you would be the only woman at the battle sat wearing a miniskirt and a tight blouse."
She heard the sweep of feet and pressed Code 3-Q. The Eunoma tended to be a little trigger happy, so took the extra precaution. They would locate her on sensor probe and identify her as a non-target. A moment later they burst into the room with weapons at ready. One of them came up to her, saluted, and lifted his facemask.
"Major Eyoline," he said.
"Yes. Tsolak, isn't it?"
A look of surprise came on his face. "Yes, commander."
"We fought together in the Nilrem incursion. Are the working girls safe?"
"And the woman I wounded and left in the corridor?"
"The medics are treating her wound."
"Then I think all is in order. Good work, Tsolak."
He smiled, though dubiously. Patriarchy reigned on Eunoma. Women were consigned to childbearing and homekeeping. The men were dismayed and astonished that so many women served in the Mervogian Defense Force and in Black Diamond. But they knew to be quiet about it.
The lights came back on. Her communicator signaled. Menv told her his forces had captured Biddle's spaceship.
Eyoline sat down beside the wounded pirate woman's bed. She tried to sit up.
"Don't," Eyoline told her.
"Are they going to hang me?" she asked, her eyes large, her expression hollow with fear and stress.
"No. you're my prisoner, actually. That's how we do it in my unit. I'll decide what to do with you."
"Thank you. Those soldiers killed anyone they met. I started shouting that code you gave me the minute I saw them."
"Wise choice. They don't take prisoners."
"I've never seen beings like that. Are they Housali?"
The Eunoma were a sub-race of Housali, but a different culture and their blue skin was lighter, they were shorter and had folded eyes.
"All of that's classified information. Don't ask too many questions or you might end up being hanged after all. What's your name?"
"You speak English. Are you Terran?"
"Barzalian. I'm from Saint James."
"You said you weren't here because you wanted to be. Why are you here?"
The woman hesitated.
"Better tell me everything."
"I'm sorry. I killed someone - another woman. I murdered her because she took my boyfriend. I was convicted and sentenced to die but managed to escape. I knew they would hunt me down. I'd been in the army and trained as a pilot, so I got a job with some smugglers and then eventually made contract with Mike. I didn't like being in his organization or being one of his women, but I didn't have any choice."
Eyoline saw the emotion on her face. She patted her hands, which the girl had crossed over her breasts, a gesture common to Barzalians.
"You're safe. You don't need to worry. My name is Eyoline."
"Am I your slave? I mean, if I am that's okay. I just want to know."
"Not exactly, but you are under my control. That's not bad, considering the alternatives."
"I work for Mervogian intelligence. I'm thinking you might be a good candidate for training. You could work for us for a while and then - usually after seven years - you can gain Mervogian citizenship and start a new life on one of our planets. I don't think you want to go back to Barzalia."
"I'm under sentence there. If they ever catch me, I'm a dead woman."
"I think we're good, then. You'll be treated well. You're not a slave and will not be abused or exploited in any way. You need to rest now, Agnes, but rest assured. In the morning we'll get you settled and make some plans for your training."
Tears rolled out of Agnes' eyes. "Why did you spare me?"
"You asked me to spare you in God's name. I guess that counts for something with me. Now. Rest. Sleep. Everything is going to be okay."
Eyoline went up to see Menv on the bridge of the spaceship. He was still in the glow of his success.
"You always amazement me, Eyoline," he said as she sat down.
"I amaze myself."
"Command sent us a commendation." Menv said. "Starov told me you might be up for promotion."
"Good and bad. Higher status, more money, more responsibility," Eyoline replied.
"But lots more opportunity. What do you plan to do with that girl you captured?"
"I want to get her in the organization."
"As an operative?"
"Maybe, though I think she might do well as a commander for Euies."
He burst out with a loud laugh. "A woman commander? They won't like that."
The Eunoma originated on a planet the Mervogians had taken as a protectorate, rescuing them from the Housali, who considered them a degenerate race and enslaved them. When the Mervogians took control, they found the world sparsely habited and poverty-stricken and began the program by which the planet supplied soldiers for Black Diamond (though all the officers in the Eunoma army were Mervogian). Over the years, those serving as operatives for the MDF and Black Diamond had proved themselves courageous and effective soldiers. The planet's population had quadrupled. Prosperity and stability had replaced the abjection that characterized it in the past. In deference to the patriarchal Eunoman culture, no women served as officers in their force. Eyoline thought that needed to change.
"What happens to Biddle?" she asked. "Has Command released him to our jurisdiction?"
"He's all ours. I thought about turning him over to the Terrans so you and I could split the reward money."
"I wouldn't do that. He'll tell them about the iridium mines."
"I thought about that too. We'll see. He may be useful to the organization."
"You know someone will come along and fill the gap Biddle left. Trying to put a stop to privateers in this part of space is like trying to kill off a hydra plant. Cut off one part, two grow back."
"We'll take them as they come."
Eyoline made her way back to her cabin. Tomorrow she would make arrangements for Agnes to enroll at Black Diamond's training academy. She would also make certain the two working girls that had seen military service and had guarded the other women during the battle were paid handsomely for their service. They were out of a job now. They would have to find work elsewhere. She poured herself a glass of wine and sipped it, looking out the viewing port of her cabin, marveling at the swirls of light weaving through the asteroids covering this sector of the Terran planetary system.