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 Chapter 10

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Marta Cyrelle was furious.  Slouched in the command chair of STAR-MANTA's bridge, she glared at the main view screen, her face set in a sullen frown.  The bridge watch-standers were all hunched over their work stations, carefully attentive to their duties.  Marta would love to be able to vent her anger on her minions—maybe bind a few of them together in some hideously painful and aesthetically pleasing contortion—but, for the immediate future, that wasn't possible.  More than half of her crew had been captured by the Carmow, and the same was true of LADY WASP.  Both ships' personnel resources were stretched to the limit, with many critical watch stations manned by inexperienced crew members, and this was greatly frustrating Marta's ability to deal with the situation.

If Chel's shuttle hadn't been equipped with those cursed provisic emitters, the situation would almost certainly be very different.  The cat-bitches would probably still have some captives, but Marta would have captives, as well.  As it was, when the emitters burped, effectively disarming her entire crew, Marta and only about a quarter of those on the ground were able to escape.  Thanks to Chel, the Ruby Queen had been left holding a very weak hand.

It had been so humiliating—transported to her own bridge—naked, bound and gagged!  If every one of her crew weren't musk-enthralled, there probably would have been a mutiny.  As it was, her musk-slaves had freed her—immediately—but she was still angry.  And her burning desire to take things out on the true guilty parties remained frustrated.  Chel, the Carmow, and the Feddies, especially the little Orion traitor who had tied her so tightly, were beyond her grasp.

The sensor suites of neither of her ships were military-grade.  They were quite adequate for targeting civilian vessels in deep space or for surveying unprotected settlements on planetary surfaces—but finding a well-hidden shuttle equipped with sophisticated countermeasures?  That took a skilled operator, one able to tweak the equipment and pull a signal from the noise floor.  It was far from a sure thing that her best technicians would have been able to find the fugitive Andorian shuttle, but it was a moot issue, as most of them were Carmow prisoners.  Her remaining techs couldn't even reliably isolate Carmow life signs.  The cat-women had abandoned their towns and villages and were... where?  Hiding under log barricades in the jungle?  Cowering in caves?

And then there had been the disastrous incident aboard LADY WASP when they isolated what they thought was a cat-woman, and instead beamed up a large, cat-like predator.  Two near-fatal casualties had been the result, with nothing to show for the debacle but an unusual trophy skin.

"Tactical!" Marta barked, and the main screen flashed from a display of the planet below to a 3-D chart display of the Scatara system.  "Show me the Feddie warship."  The scale shifted to show most of the Expanse, and a symbol appeared on the edge of the screen, several systems distant.  A second symbol had also appeared, nearly equidistant from the Starfleet ship and Scatara-IV.  It was YES-PLEASE, still in pursuit of that surprisingly fast Federation shuttle that had fled the pirate fleet's initial attack.  "YES is still not responding to our hails?" Marta demanded.

"She is not, Prime Suzerain," the comm-station watch-stander responded.  "Should I boost the signal strength?"

"No, idiot!" Marta growled, then sighed.  The young Orion manning comm was very inexperienced, and had been standing watch for nearly twelve hours.  "There's a chance even an encrypted pulse would be detected by the Feddies' spy-buoys," Marta explained.  "It would probably be dismissed as noise, but we don't want anything to draw their attention back to this system."

"I understand, Prime Suzerain," the watch-stander responded.

Suddenly, an alarm klaxon sounded!

"Ship de-cloaking directly aft!" the weapons watch-stander shouted.  "Klingon cruiser!  It's a Klingon cruiser!"

"How close?" Marta demanded.

"Less than a thousand—"

WHAM!  The ship shook violently.  The bridge displays dimmed and flickered, then came back to full power.

"Aft shield is down!"

"Communications!" Marta barked, "direct LADY WASP to—"

"Comms are down, Prime Suzerain," the watch-stander interrupted.

Marta was busy tapping the pads on both arms of the command chair.  "Cycle side shields aft to compensate.  Emergency warp on current heading!  Get us out of—"

WHAM!  The ship shook, again, and the deck lurched under their feet.

"Direct hits on port nacelle and impulse engines!" the watch-stander at engineering announced.  "We're dead in space!"

"Shields are down!"

Marta pulled her disruptor-pistol from its holster.  "Prepare to repel board—"

Several shimmering shapes appeared.  They resolved into six figures in armored spacesuits.  Five were very large and Klingon, complete with fleet and ship markings, and the sixth was significantly smaller and bore the emblem of Starfleet.

Marta scrambled to change her pistol's power setting from 'stun' to 'full'—but before she could bring the weapon to bear, she was hit by two stunning blasts, one from a Kilingon disruptor and the other from a Starfleet phaser.  The Ruby Queen crumpled to the deck and the remaining pirates dropped their weapons and raised their hands in surrender.

One of the Klingons and the Starfleet boarder stepped forward and gazed down at Marta's unconscious form.  Both raised their helmet visors.

"She's mine," Captain Larga growled.

"I would be a rude guest, indeed, if I demanded precedence," Ezri replied, "but she is Orion."

"The engine systems of this vessel were stolen from an IKDF vessel," Larga snarled.  She picked up Marta's pistol and crushed it in the powered glove of her suit.  "I claim this one as an Honor Captive of the Order of Lady Lukara."

Ezri holstered her phaser-pistol.  "In the name of my Captain, Starfleet Command, and UFP Admiralty Court, I protest."  A dimpled smile curled her lips.  "Resolving the issue will probably take some time... possibly years.  In the meantime, don't let her escape."

Lukara laughed.  "Escape?  The legendary Ruby Queen won't escape from my brig.  And when I get her back to Kronos, I think she'll find the Windowless Tower of the Fortress of The Lady equally confining."

The remaining Syndicate pirates were being bound and gagged with repair tape and tagged with transponders.  One by one, the captured Orions shimmered and were transported away.

"I will extent the honor of letting my guest deal with my captured prey," Larga chuckled, gesturing at Marta with her pistol.

"Ever the gracious host," Ezri chuckled, then pulled several long zip-tie ribbons from a compartment on the left forearm of her combat suit.
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 Chapter 10
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"You promised you'd let them go!" Angie shouted.

The ramp of the shuttle was down, and Chel was depositing Lyra on the floor of the jungle clearing, next to Olena and Gwen.  All three were still naked.  Their fingers and hands were still encased, and they were bound head to toe and gagged with the same silver-gray polymer bands that had restrained them against the back walls of the shuttle's slave-cell alcoves.  They glared up at their booted and bikini-clad Andorian captor.

Angie glared, as well.  She was on her side on the cargo bay deck with her hands behind her back.  Her wrists and ankles were bound with silver, ice-spider silk cord, and she was as naked as her shipmates.

Chel's antennae twitched with amusement.  "I am letting them go," she chuckled.  "I'm sure the cat-women will find them... eventually."

"Untie them!" Angie demanded.

"Don't give me orders, little one," Chel chuckled.  "I'm inclined to indulge some insubordination on your part, seeing as how I've not yet had a chance to properly train you, but don't push me."

"Please," Angie begged, her eyes welling.  "Don't leave them like that.  There are predators in this jungle."

"Say goodbye to your friends, my pet," Chel said as she climbed the ramp.

"Please," Angie sobbed, squirming in her bonds.  "Please, Chel, untie them."  Chel had thumbed the control pad and the ramp was rising.  Her writhing shipmates were already out of sight.  "No!"

The ramp closed with a thud.  Chel stood over Angie's prostrate form, still smiling.

"I hate you," Angie muttered, turning her face away.  "You lied to me."

"My pretty pink pet," Chel sighed, then knelt and cupped Angie's left breast.

"No!" Angie muttered and shrugged her shoulder, knocking Chel's hand away.

Chel laughed and rolled Angie onto her back, then straddled the diminutive prisoner and settled some of her weight on Angie's waist.

"You're crushing me," Angie objected.  Her distress was obviously more anger than discomfort.

Chel's smile faded.  "You'd really do it," she said, cupping both of Angie's breasts and giving them a gentle squeeze.  "You would be my willing pet—resentful, sullen, slow to accept your training—but my willing pet, to save your friends.  I'm going to miss you, pink-skin."

Angie shivered under Chel's caress.  "W-what?"

Chel's smile returned, and she pulled a dagger from her her belt.

Angie's eye's widened.  "What are you going to—"  Her mouth closed.  Chel had reached back and sliced the cords binding Angie's ankles.

Chel stood and stepped to the side.  "Get up, little one," she ordered.

Angie awkwardly climbed to her feet.  "Please don't put me in one of the slave-cells."

"Turn around."

Angie sighed and turned her back to Chel.  "I promise, I'll be good, just don't put me in—hey!"  Chel had cut her wrist bonds.  Angie twisted and tugged until the cords fell to the deck, then pulled her hands to the front and began rubbing her wrists.  She turned and gazed at her captor.

Chel had drawn a pistol, transferred the dagger to her left hand, and was using its butt to gently tap the control pad.  The ramp lowered, once again.

Angie gazed down at her bound and gagged shipmates on the jungle floor below, then turned back to Chel.

"Go, little one," the Andorian said, waving the pistol.  "Go, before I change my mind."

Angie was confused.  "I—"

"Before I change my mind, you little idiot!" Chel chuckled, then her smile faded.  "It would have been fun, little one.  A lot of fun—but Chel ch'Eclat pays her debts, when she can, in her own way."  With one fluid motion, she threw the dagger.  It quivered in the trunk of a tree across the clearing.  "Go."

Angie nodded, then turned and started down the ramp, then stopped and turned back to face the Andorian.  "Surrender.  We'll testify on your behalf.  Come back to the Federation with us and we'll testify on your behalf."

Chel shook her head.  "Hard labor at a penal colony, personality alteration therapy, rehabilitative community service, probably all three?  Not for me, little one.  Not for me.  Beware hidden pressure ridges, my pet."

Angie stepped off the ramp.  "Smooth ice under your runners," she replied, completing the traditional Andorian farewell.  The shuttle ramp rose and sealed.

Angie raced across the clearing and pulled the dagger from the tree.  She then hurried to Olena and began slicing her bonds.  The polymer bands were tough, and Angie had to be careful not to cut her shipmate's skin with the two-sided blade.  She'd succeeded in freeing Olena's wrists and half of the harness binding her arms when the shuttle hummed to life and lifted into the air.  The wind of its passage shook the leaves and fluttered their hair as the Andorian craft disappeared over the tree tops, heading east.

"Exactly what sort of deal did you make with that pirate?" Olena demanded when her gag came free.

Angie began freeing Gwen.  "She offered to let you all go free if I'd be her 'pet'," Angie explained, "whatever that means."

Olena stood and crossed her arms under her breasts.  "You know perfectly well what that would have meant."

Her cheeks flushed bright red, Angie sawed at Gwen's bonds in silence.

"Lighten up," Gwen huffed when her gag was removed.  She gave Angie a warm hug, then took the dagger from her hand.  "I'll deal with Lyra," she said.

"Just don't expect a medal for heroism," Olena muttered.

"I did what I had to do," Angie responded.

"A commendation, maybe," Olena continued, "once I decide how to compose the citation."

"Look Lieutenant," Angie muttered, "what did you expect me to...  A what?"

"A commendation," Olena said with a grin, "for both of you."

"Both of us?" the Middies said, in unison.  (For Lyra, it was a gagged mumble, of course.)

"Coolness under pressure, quick thinking, decisive action, etc., etc."  Olena grinned.  "It was your first away mission.  I'd have been satisfied if you two had just not bumped into the trees."

"She's kidding, of course," Gwen chuckled.

Olena smiled and put a hand on Angie's shoulder.  "And don't worry about giving yourself to the Andorian.  If she'd taken a shine to me, I'd have done the same thing."

"Oh, pl-ease," Gwen muttered, "like any self-respecting pirate would take a shine to you."

Lyra giggled through her gag as Gwen cut her bonds.

"We're all grateful, Midshipman," Olena added.  "Let's see if we can find some wood suitable for clubs or spears," she suggested (ordered), and motioned towards the jungle.

"I'll be right behind you with the blade!" Gwen called after them, then resumed cutting Lyra's bonds.

"I'm so proud of her," Lyra said, after the band of her gag was cut away and the plug pulled from her mouth.

"Same here," Gwen agreed.

"That was really hard for Kipper," Lyra continued, "to offer herself like that.  That sort of thing is frowned upon among the Navalons, to say the least.  On the New Avalon Colony, I mean, where she came from."

"To say the least," Gwen chuckled.  "Then again, 'Lie back and think of England' is a bit of a tradition, isn't it?"

Lyra blinked.  "I... I don't know that one."

"I'll explain later," Gwen said with a grin.  "C'mon, let's help Olena and our selfless heroine.  And we need to think of a way to find the local Carmow."

"Uh, that won't be a problem, doctor," Lyra whispered.

Thirty or more Carmow had entered the clearing, emerging from the jungle on all sides.  All were booted for war and pointing m'rrtu lance-points in their direction with obvious hostility.  Angie and Olena, their wrists bound behind their backs and their mouths cloth-stuffed and cleave-gagged, were being none-to-gently pushed forward by Carmow handlers.

"Green-skin, blue-skin, and now pink-skin demons from the stars," one of the Carmow growled.  "Is there no limit to the humor of the gods?"

"I am a sacred healer," Gwen announced, raising her hands.

"And I'm a thousand-year-old tree," the Carmow replied.  Her companions laughed.  The speaker, obviously the leader, had gray fur with tawny highlights.

"With patience and compassion I move among the clans," Gwen continued, "harming none, helping all, a willing tool of the Goddess of First Rain, all my days."

"Well," the Carmow huffed, "you know the correct speech.  That much is true."

"We are all guests of the Bendwater clan," Gwen added.

"Guests of the Bendies.  Pull my tail, why don't you?"  The Carmow motioned with her m'rrtu and several warriors surged forward and began binding Gwen and Lyra.  "Bendie-town is many days away.  Perhaps the council will send a runner.  Perhaps not."

Gwen squirmed as her wrists were tied.  "We're not your enemies—m'rrrf!"  A rag had been stuffed in her mouth and a cleaving cloth cinched tight.

Lyra had been prudently silent, throughout their capture.  Now, bound and gagged like her shipmates, silence was her only option.

"Three Hills clan will decide who are our enemies and who are our friends," the gray-furred leader huffed.

All four captives' bonds were reinforced.  Soon, they were box-tied, their arms pinned to their sides and their wrists to the small of their backs; their upper thighs were bound together, hobbling their steps; and they were coffled, neck-to-neck.

At a signal from their leader, half the Carmow melted into the jungle.  The remaining warriors formed themselves into front and rearguards and led the captives away.
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 Chapter 10
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Captain T'Pax was in her office, in conference with Captain Larga and Lieutenant Dax.  "That deals with the ex-Gorn corvette the pirates renamed LADY WASP," she said, tapping the screen of the PADD in her hand.  "When we've finished making essential repairs, I'll send her on her way to Starbase Seventeen.

"Ah, to behold the face of their captain when you suddenly appeared," Larga chuckled.  "Trillions of killikams, in an instant.  They must think you either demons or demigods."

"Penetrating their sensor net was decidedly fortuitous," T'Pol intoned.  "Would you like a copy of her data core?"

"Yes," Larga answered, "and I'll provide copies of the data cores of the three ships that NING'PARA captured.  We already have more than enough to convict these scum a dozen times over, but perhaps we can reconstruct the full details of their crimes and reconstruct their client lists."

"And rescue their victims," Ezri added.

T'Pax nodded.  "Perhaps some of them.  The ex-Tellerite vessel, STAR-MANTA, is beyond repair?"

Larga nodded.  "My crew is cataloging the origin and registration of all of her components.  I shall then place the hulk on an intercept course with Scatara's sun and use her as long range target practice for my junior gunners."

"We agree that control of the system is not an issue?" T'Pol inquired and Larga nodded.  "That brings us to the topic of my missing officers."

"Preliminary interrogation of our new prisoners has provided some answers," Larga said.  "Supposedly, they escaped in a shuttle the Syndicate scum had captured from an Andorian renegade."

"Obviously, something happened," Ezri muttered.  "They would have responded to our hails by this time if—"  She focused on her Captain.  "Sorry.  I'm stating the obvious."

"Your mind is preoccupied by concern for your friends," T'Pax said.  "You will serve them better if you control your emotions."

Ezri blushed, and nodded.

"I confess I am worried, as well," T'Pax continued.  She tapped a button on her desk.  "Number One, place us in geosynchronous orbit above the away team's last known position and commence a category one search for life signs and shielded technology."

"Aye, Captain," B'Elanna's voice answered.  "Will NING'PARA remain on system over-watch?"

T'Pax waited for a nod from Larga.  "Affirmative.  Let's find our shipmates."  She focused on Ezri.  "Science Officer, find our shipmates."

"Yes, ma'am," Ezri responded.  "Captain," she said, nodding at Larga.

"May the Lady aid your efforts," Larga responded.

T'Pax and Larga watched Ezri exit to the bridge.

"I can relieve the crowding in your brig," T'Pax offered.

Larga shook her head.  "No longer an issue.  We have salvaged the slave-handling modules formerly attached to the hull of the pirate flagship and brought them into our shuttle bay.  We now have more than enough capacity to confine all of the prisoners."

"Slave-handling modules?"

Larga smiled.  "Six cargo carriers with self-contained life-support systems.  Each is composed of sixty-four coffin-sized chambers.  Not exactly comfortable accommodations, even by Klingon standards, but adequate in number.  I doubt if you approve."

"I do not," T'Pax responded, "but I can appreciate the irony."
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 Chapter 10
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It was their second night as prisoners of the Three Hills Carmow.

They were in a hut with a thatched roof, mud-brick walls, and a thick, solid door of timber planks.  Four vertical, ten centimeter-thick posts were sunk in the dirt floor and solidly lashed to the roof joists.  Olena, Angie, and Lyra had spent most of the time since their capture tied with their wrists crossed and lashed behind a post.  Their gags had been removed, but their ankles were tied together.  They were hardly comfortable, but at least they could sit on the dirt floor and some motion was possible.

Gwen's initial treatment had been the same, but the morning of the first day she'd been untied and hustled from the hut.

Around noon that day Gwen returned, escorted by two Carmow guards.  Her wrists were bound together in front and she was carrying a jug of water.  The necklace of a Sacred Healer was around her throat.  "I convinced them I am a healer," she explained in a whisper, "but they still think we're pirates."  She gave each of her shipmates a very welcome drink.

"Are they sending a runner to Bendwater?" Olena whispered.

"I think so," Gwen answered.

"No talking!" one of the guards barked.

"I'll try and bring some food," Gwen whispered, and left.

She did succeed in bringing food, and that night she was tied to her post, like the others.

Hours later, they were awakened by the familiar hum and shimmer of a transport beam.  Four figures appeared: Ezri Dax, in her usual black and teal-blue uniform, B'Elanna Torres in black and maroon, and two camouflaged security personnel.  All four had drawn hand-phasers.  The security pair deployed to guard the door.  B'Elanna and Ezri holstered their phasers, drew blades, and began freeing the prisoners.

"If you're all quite finished playing with your new friends," Ezri chuckled, "the Captain would like a few words."

"I'm finished," Olena answered, then turned to Gwen.  "How 'bout you, doc?"

"I suppose I can spare a few minutes," Gwen answered.

Angie and Lyra simply stared, overcome with relief.

"I take it the Syndicate pirates have fled the system?" Olena asked.

"Not exactly," B'Elanna answered.  "Much has happened while you've been on vacation."

"Beam us directly to sickbay," Gwen said.  "I assume we have time for me to perform checkups, dispense a few drugs and beam away any muscle cramps, not to mention sonic showers and uniforms."

"That shouldn't be a problem," B'Elanna chuckled, then nodded at Angie and Lyra.  "I see you managed to take care of the Middies."

"Quite the opposite," Olena said.

"They took care of us," Gwen agreed, smiling at the blushing Midshipmen.

"I look forward to reading your report," B'Elanna responded, giving Angie and Lyra an appraising look.

"Showers and uniforms," Angie sighed.

"And food," Lyra added.  "I'm starving!"

"In that case..."  B'Elanna tapped her comm-badge.  "Eight to beam directly to sickbay."

The transport beam hummed, the away team and their rescuers shimmered... and were gone.

Suddenly, the door opened and two Carmow entered the hut.  One had gray fur and the other black.

"No talking!" the black-furred warrior ordered, brandishing her m'rrtu, "or—"

The cat-women stared at the empty space, blinking in surprise. Tangled lengths of cord lay at the base of each of the four posts, but the prisoners had vanished!

"We are in so much trouble," the gray-furred Carmow whispered.

 Chapter 10

Chapter 9
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Chapter 11