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Pirates Round Robin

Chapter 3

By Carson Maynard

Mel yelped in surprise as her glass of carrot juice abruptly shattered, shards of glass exploding outward and orange liquid spattering her robe. Fortunately, the piercing sound died away after a moment, to be replaced by an angry thrum.

Chris looked at Mel in alarm. "Are you hurt?" he asked, eyes wide.

"I don't think so," said Mel, who was examining the skin of her unprotected arm. After a moment, she shook her head, red curls bobbing. "No, the skin's not broken," she told him. "But I'd better clean up this mess before someone does get hurt." Mel started to gather up jagged bits of glass.

"Hang on," said Chris. "That sound. I think we can guess where it came from?"

"The crystal," breathed Mel. Leaving the minefield of glass behind, she and Chris raced to the lab.

Thella was just stirring from her sprawled position on the floor when they burst through the door. The crystal, infused with a bright crimson color, faded to a faint pink, and the thrum it was producing died away.

"Thella!" Mel said, worried. Chris was again impressed by her memory - she seemed to know every crewmember on sight. Mel knelt by the scientist's side and helped her into a sitting position. "What happened?"

"I cannot say precisely," said Thella, getting her bearings. She slowly got to her feet. "I was attempting to take a microslice of the crystal in order to examine the lattice structure, when I was thrown to the floor." She looked at the crystal, still firmly held in the grip of an impressive- and confusing-looking machine. "Presumably some factor in its composition interfered with the operation of the sonic lance."

"You tried to cut it with a sonic lance?" Mel asked, eliciting a terse affirmative from Thella. "Well, I suppose it probably caused the lattice to vibrate and produced some kind of powerful blast." Thella merely raised an eyebrow, obviously having thought of this already.

Chris, however, didn't look quite so sure. His brow was furrowed and a frown marred his ordinarily peaceful face. "I don't think so," he said, shaking his head. "It wasn't a passive reaction at all. I think she was protecting herself."

Now it was Mel's turn to raise an eyebrow. "She?"

Chris looked a bit uncomfortable. "Erm...yes. It's just a feeling, but..." He shrugged. "I can't shake it." The crystal turned back to its customary cloudy white and began to hum soothingly.

A light mounted on a nearby console began flashing. Mel crossed to the console and flicked a switch. "This is Melanie," she enunciated.

"Is Krimda Vib, me," crackled the voice of Krimda Vib. "Is need that you return at most precipitous convenience, chop chop!"

"Why, what's going on?"

"Must come! Found location of pirate ship, have we!"

"We'll be right there!" Mel severed the communication and looked at Chris. "Adventure off the port bow," she said cheekily.

"You go - I'll join you in a moment." Chris sounded preoccupied.

"All right. Come up as soon as you can." Mel smiled understandingly, then walked out of the lab.

Chris indicated the crystal. "May I...?" he asked.

Thella nodded. "Certainly. I would prefer to postpone further tests for the moment."

"Thanks." Chris slowly unhooked the crystal from the sonic lance. It sent a warm vibration up his arm that seemed to go straight to his brain. Chris closed his eyes in relaxation, but, remembering that he had to get the bridge, quickly regained his senses. He pocketted the crystal and chased after Mel. Thella watched him, unblinking, then turned to some less perilous tasks.

"Is here! See dot?" Helpfully, Grinker Whup yanked the crosshairs over to a flashing red dot on the viewscreen. It was positioned in the northern hemisphere of a mottled green-and-orange planet that the Reklonian declared to be Tazhyrym.

"That's the planet with the famous singing mollusks, isn't it?" Mel asked. "I remember reading about that a few years back."

"Yes," piped up Lathra Twr, an excitable Sloathe who was busily engaged in launching hirself from the floor in an attempt to touch the red dot on the viewscreen. "Is delicious, mollusks. And is make pretty sound, too."

"Mollusks, pshaw," spat Grinker. "Is tone-deaf."

"Yes, is tone-deaf, you!" cackled Lathra, whose greatest leap was still almost a meter from the blinking dot.

"Avast ye, blaggard!" Grinker shot back. "Walk the plank! Swab the decks with yonder wenches!"

Mel shook her head good-humoredly. "Well, how long will it take us to get there?"

"A few hours, not much more," said the Reklonian confidently. "We might increase the time if we divert more power to the starflight drive."

Mel nodded. "Do it, then. The quicker we can get there, the better chance we have of stopping them before they do something they oughtn't."

Chris entered the room, taking his seat beside Mel. "That's where we're going?" he asked, indicating the planet.

The very place," Mel replied. "It shouldn't take more than a few -"

"Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!" sang Lathra, who had finally reached the dot. It was now clinging to the viewscreen, attempting to blink in time with the red disc.

"Is blocking view have we, stupid!" yelled one of the Sloathes wrapped around the third-level railing. Instantly a furious debate broke out amongst the creatures as to whether Lathra's accomplishment was worthy of high praise or just an idiotic thing to do.

Mel looked at the Reklonian. "Could you start diverting that power to the starflight drive, please?"

"I'd like to get to the planet before my hearing goes," added Chris eagerly.

After an hour of flight, when Mel and Chris were well on their way to developing painful headaches, the Sloathes settled down. They hadn't actually decided anything, but had tired of arguing; and besides, Lathra had detached hirself from the viewscreen. From that point on, the trip was relatively uneventful, and soon enough the Nosferatu II was in orbit over Tazhyrym.

"Right," said Mel, "Chris, Grinker and Lathra, we're taking a shuttle down to the surface. Grab your kits."

The four of them marched to the shuttlebay, where they each took a stunner and a matte-black carryall stuffed with useful equipment. Chris ran the shuttle through its pre-flight checks as the others settled in. The Sloathes got into a brief scrap over who would get the front seat, but Mel settled it by sitting there herself.

The shuttle made the trip quickly, and it was not until it had entered the planet's ionosphere that Chris detected something on the shuttle's sensors.

"It's a ship!" he told Mel. "It must've been around the other side of the planet."

"Another one? You didn't notice it before?"

"No!" Chris was looking somewhat panicked. "It's going straight for the Nosferatu."

"Well, we can't turn back," Mel reasoned. "We'd only get caught in the crossfire, if there were any. We'll have to press on."

Chris nodded and continued steering the craft toward their landing spot.

"Is not meaning to be alarmist," said Krimda Vib, "but ship look very very very mean and very very very much weapons is coming straight at we!"

"Weapons! Weapons!" screamed a Sloathe in rage, bouncing up and down in bloodlust.

"We don't have any weapons!" the Reklonian reminded them. "Maybe this ship doesn't actually have any, either. Maybe they're peaceful."

"Is fiiiiiiiiiiriiiiiiiiiiing!" yelled Krimda. All the Sloathes cringed.

A long moment passed, but nothing happened. Krimda re-formed three little eyes and looked at hir readouts. "Is firing, *think* we," it added. "But is not detecting anything." It thumped the computer console with a huge fist. "Splerp," it pouted. "Is not work, maybe."

"No..." said the Reklonian. "I don't think they fired. Perhaps they're not pirates."

Krimda made a noncommital gesture. "Want that we start chit- chat?" It moved toward the communications console.

"Not yet. Let's wait and see what they do..."

Mel stepped out of the shuttle onto spongy purple soil, making her clutch the side of the craft to keep her from losing her balance. The Sloathes, of course, loved it, bouncing happily around tufts of soft green grass. Chris finally emerged too, and locked up the shuttle, then put the strap of his stunner around his neck. Satisfied that he was well-prepared, he nodded at Mel.

"There's a town over there," Mel said, pointing. "Shall we look there first?"

"That sounds like a likely spot to me," Chris agreed. Walking carefully on the soft ground, they slowly made their way to the town outskirts.

A gentle musical sound reached Mel's ears. Smiling, she looked around for the source, and found it at a nearby pool of water. Anchored at the bottom were three iridescent bivalves, rippling the water with their musical communication.

"They're lovely," she breathed, crouching to get a closer look.

"Arrr, why is pretend-move Mel hominid look at mollusks?" Grinker asked condescendingly. "Must find pirates, mateys!"

"You're right," said Mel. "I'll play the tourist later." She stood up and followed the others further into the city.

"Where do you think we should start looking for these pirates?" Chris asked as they started down an alley that, they hoped, led into the town centre. "I mean, are these the sort of pirates who sell their wares to the underground market, or do they do business with honest merchants?"

"I wouldn't call anyone who does business with such distasteful people honest," Mel pointed out. "But you're right, they really could be anywhere. It's more likely that they'd go to the -"

A group of rough-looking aliens stepped out at the end of the alley just as Mel and Chris came to it. The Sloathes dived for cover in the corner shadows.

Chris stepped protectively in front of Mel, ignoring her harsh whisper of "I don't need a bodyguard, you know!"

"Excuse me, please, but we need to pass," he said politely.

One of the aliens brandished a length of metal wire. Another said, "You looking for pirates, and pirates you've got."

Mel peered around Chris' muscular biceps. "So you're the ones we were looking for. You've no right to -" Mel's gaze alighted upon the taut wire stretched between the other alien's hands, and her voice died away.

"No right to what, cutey?" The head alien leered and moved toward Chris and Mel. The blonde man snagged the pirate's arm.

"Stay away from us," Chris warned.

The alien looked defiantly back at Chris, then clacked one of his claws. Four of his fellow pirates rushed forward, securing Mel and even the furiously-struggling Chris.

"You're not going anywhere." The alien leaned forward, breathing his fetid breath in Chris' face, a claw around the man's tender neck.

Chris gulped. "I...hadn't thought about it."

The alien moved on to Mel, who was trying desperately to hold back a shriek. "Pretty," he said, and snapped off a lock of her hair.

That did it.

Mel screamed.

Part 4

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