Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine
A Planet-Hopping Science Fiction Adventure in 6 Chapters!

The Jewel of Besminur

"Swashbuckling" Kirk Straughen

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Previously...Taken captive by the pirates who boarded his space ship, Taxa challenged the leader to a Trial by Combat -- but it was a ruse. Taxa really used to opportunity to unleash one of the pirate's own creatures -- kept in thrall by a device -- upon the pirate and his men. Seeking to escape in the confusion, Taxa fled into another compartment...only to find a knife at his throat...

Chapter 3:  A Gauntlet of Enemies

An efficient hand roved over his body looking for weapons, finding none. The pressure of the blade eased as who ever it was stepped back to unhood a light-gem, which flooded the room with its soft radiance.

“You may turn around but, if you value your life, make no other movement, for I can cast a dagger with great speed and accuracy.”

Taxa turned and stared. The speaker was a young woman, a Besminuran. Her skin, the color of antique gold, glowed softly in the gentle light. The girl’s eyes, pure turquoise (as were her lips and the nipples of her bare breasts), widened in surprise, perhaps recognition? Her face was elfin and framed by frizzy translucent hair the shade of rubies that glowed faintly with refracted of light.

A crimson girdle, slung low on her shapely hips, supported her only apparel – a narrow strip of black gauze that hung between her thighs. She was very beautiful, and also a horii* (as indicated by the tattoo on her forehead) – one who is born locked in a single gender – a freak by the standards of her own people, and therefore made a pleasure-slave by the prejudice of custom.

*Besminurans are normally hermaphrodites. The yonim (sexual organ) is composed of eight fleshy turquoise petals that form a bud-shaped protuberance about four inches in length and three in diameter.

During the female stage of the sixty-day sexual cycle, the yonim opens like a flower during arousal to disclose the vaginal entrance; however, during the male stage, the yonim remains closed during arousal, and elongates to about six inches forming a phallus-like structure that is used for impregnation, the sperm being discharged from the internal testes through ducts at the tip of the organ.

With the female version of the horii (about 60% are female), the testes have not developed; the yonim is shorter in length (about two inches) and also the same color as the rest of the skin. In the male version, the yonim is fused, golden in color, and never opens because the internal female organs have not developed.

Taxa knew his situation was desperate – trapped within by an armed beauty; pirates without hunting him like beasts of prey. He wondered if he should make a frantic lunge and hope her vaunted skill was just mere bluff.

Suddenly, the door burst open, sending Taxa sprawling to the floor. Staggering upright he beheld Torquimis, his scarred face livid with rage, axe dripping with the Tekyisan’s slimy blood, the scale armor that had saved his life glinting through rents in his apparel.

Bloodlust burning in his eyes at the death of all his officers, and sunk in atavistic desires to rend his foe with bare hands, Torquimis cast aside his axe, sprang upon the Yaxkanite like a savage beast knocking him to the floor, and locked his calloused hands about his throat. The world grew dim as death began to draw its veil across Taxa’s eyes.

Is this the end? came his frightened thought as, with weakening hands, he tried to prize apart the iron hard fingers about his neck.

The girl watched, frozen, a raging storm of emotions in her breast. To whom was her greater loyalty, to her master? She knew she must act quickly, or not at all. Her heart, perhaps her soul, hung in the balance. With a cry, she made her choice, flung herself upon Torquimis’ back, pressed her dagger to his throat.

“Release him or you die,” she hissed. And to the other pirates milling at the door: “Back you lackeys. Drop your weapons and get to your bunks, or by the gods I’ll slit his throat.”

“Do as she says,” cried Torquimis, letting go his grip, the sting of the blade cutting through his madness. “Vesula, you she vanth! What treachery is this?”

The girl uttered an ironic laugh as she watched the pirates reluctantly retreat. “No more so than you,” came her sharp reply.

I’ve leapt across an abyss and can’t turn back, she thought. Fate willing, I’ll reach the other side.

Then, turning to Taxa, who still lay on the floor gasping for breath: “Quickly, bind his hands with cords from those hangings. We haven’t a moment to lose.”

Struggling to his feet, he complied, spurring his shaky limbs into motion, all the while wondering at the strange turn of events. Quickly, he bound Torquimis, who cursed him with a stream of vile oaths. Then, hauling the snarling pirate to his feet shoved him out the door, prodding him with his own axe, Vesula following close behind.

“I swear I’ll seek my vengeance from the grave if I must,” growled Torquimis, furious with helpless rage.

Vesula ignored his outburst, as did Taxa, who glanced at the girl. I feel we have met before, he thought. But where, and why did she save my life? Never mind. Best I watch for lurking pirates or neither of us will live to ask such questions.

“The falkora* are this way,” whispered the girl.

* Falkora (the plural of falkor) are small but swift attack craft that, in emergencies, double as escape modules.

“Are any accessible from the power room?” asked Taxa, a plan forming in his mind.

“Yes, but the way is longer.”

“Be that as it may, we’ll go there. Lead on.”

She gave him a questioning look, but said nothing, sensing that he had something in mind he could not yet reveal. Moving on, they traversed the corsair’s central gangway. It was a nerve-wracking journey, for here and there buccaneers still lurked in the shadows, menacing them with sinister silence, eying them with predatory looks, waiting for an opportunity to pounce and rend like the animals they were.

The tension mounted. Slight sounds and strange shadows startled them, much to Torquimis’ amusement, and it was only by using him as a shield that they passed through this gauntlet of enemies.

After a time, they entered the power room and Taxa gazed in wonder at the huge mechanisms ranged about them. He had never been within a Masmoonan ship before, but had gained an understanding of how they worked from talking with their crews.

Even if we use a falkor to escape, thought Taxa. The Nemesis may overhaul us, and the boldness of the buccaneers shows Torquimis’ value as a hostage is almost at an end. What I am about to do is virtually suicidal, but circumstances force my hand.

His searching gaze fell upon a large silver colored sphere – the boiler for the ship’s generators – that occupied the center of the room. From its base protruded a slim graduated plunger that controlled the distance between two thin metallic discs – one of raythnis, the other of uthoris - that hung suspended within the globe’s core.

When these elements were in proximity, their radiations began to interact producing increasing temperatures as the distance decreased, eventually liberating a tremendous burst of energy if united for too great a time.

To prevent this catastrophic explosion, a flange about the plunger limited the inward movement of its discs, and it was this flange that Taxa now attacked. With a swift blow of his axe he broke it in two, rammed the device to its fullest extent, and snapped off what little remained.

For a moment Torquimis looked on in horror, temporarily paralyzed by the knowledge his ship was doomed. Then, with a wild cry, flung back his head, striking Vesula on the chin, rendering the startled girl senseless before she could react.

Taxa spun about, but too late. The pirate captain, with a terrific surge of strength, broke his bonds and lunged, catching him by surprise.

As the two men wrestled for position of the axe - Torquimis amazed at Taxa’s wiry strength - an ominous radiance grew and grew within the boiler’s heart. Searing forces discharged between the discs with increasing intensity as the roiling energies mounted towards their flaming zenith.

“I’ll see you in Hekmeth's* realm,” raged Torquimis, as the gauges swung into the danger zone, triggering the alarm gongs to voice their warning cry.

*Hekmeth: The Masmoonian god of the underworld

next - Chapter 4 - Treasure of the Elder Race

back to Chapter 2 - A Choice of Gruesome Deaths

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This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)