You are hunting space pirates who are attacking merchants. Following an ion trail to Waystop Space Station, you scan the outer hull and see a small port hole available for docking. Your spaceship is equipped with advanced scanners; however, there are too many spaceships to scan. You deactivate your concealed weapons system and call Spaceship Control, “This is Spaceship Fortuna. Request permission to dock.”
Waystop Spaceship Control replies, “This is Waystop Control. Permission granted. Spaceship Fortuna will automatically dock.” The computer voice confirms your plan.
The Station’s tractor beam locks on to the Fortuna as you ask the Control Computer, “Waystop Control, Spaceship Fortuna’s flightplan is attached in the data packet.” A little extra information was added just for you to check its data security. Which turns out to be pretty old.
The computer voice responds with the data feed you asked for, “Last docking manifest is as follows: Docking Port Alpha arrived t-100…Docking Port Lima arrived t-30, Docking Port…Docking Port Charlie arrived t-01.” Docking Port Charlie, you snap to attention. You feel a welcome tingle of excitement.
As you wait for the air pressure to equalize, you link to the Station’s Comm System. The pirates could be on that ship in Docking Port Charlie. You look up the registration: Spaceship FastFreight. Just before the hatch opens to Waystop, you check your most powerful weapons…sarcastic humor and a forgettable appearance. You step out and seal the hatch behind you, turning to walk to Docking Port Charlie. The white noise of mechanical equipment around you is unusually noticeable, and it smells like they parked you in the dumpster section. Along the catwalk, you have to turn aside for a merchant aggressively marching towards you. As you wait for him to pass, you spy his insignia. “Fortuna”, it reads. Narrowing your eyes at his back, he marches on ignoring you, you turn and keep walking towards Docking Port Charlie. You start to feel a little more excitement in anticipation of a good fight.
As you approach Docking Port Charlie, you see a group of men in green and yellow flightsuits working around the entrance. Two officers are talking near the airlock. You walk up and say, “Hey, this Station’s docking AI is so irritating.”
The officers look at you. One laughs and says, “Yeah, it has its problems. What can I do for you?” His insignia shows he’s a lieutenant, and he looks familiar. He’s probably in one of the reports on known pirates.
You smile ruefully, “Looking for groceries. Y’all got anything for sale?”
The lieutenant smirks. “You mean like supplies? MREs? Clothing? Water? Medical supplies?”
You nod while rotating your hand in a subtle gesture. “I’m Captain Smit; looking for goods Dirt Markets overprice for the rubes.” Most people know that Dirt Markets are a snotty space term for trades with planet dwellers.
The lieutenant chuckles. “So what’s the deal, Captain? You don’t seem like a space pirate.”
“Like I said, Docking AI was trained by an ape,” you reply flippantly, giving a non-answer to the question.
The lieutenant raises his eyebrows and laughs. He turns to one of his men and says something. The two men walk away. The lieutenant turns back to you and says, “Come on, we’ll give you The Tour.” The FastFreight is not a traditional shipping spaceship. The cargo hold is too small and the crew too large. You notice that the station echoed as you walked, and stepping onto the FastFreight is a subconscious relief. And the smell is much improved too. The lieutenant leads you to crates typically found in Dirt Markets. The men walk you around, introduce you to their stores, show off their wares. They also show off their weapons.
The lieutenant’s attention fixes on you when you imitate a cartoon-like pew pew in response. Which is when you see it: A huge metal body with multiple arms and legs, with eyes that can move independently of its head. The android stands on two feet, and it towers above you. You point at it and ask, “Is that a dildo?”
The men are surprised and follow your gaze to the thing. The lieutenant points at it and says, “No.” He looks at you for a moment longer. Apparently you were supposed to ignore something so obvious.
Eyes twinkling, yet keeping your face straight, you point at the crate of replicators, “20 for the mechs.”
The lieutenant pulls out his gun, and your senses heighten. “We have a deal, Captain.”
“Transfer the manifest. Please.” Ignoring the threat, you pull out your datapad.
“Android, scan all of the crates, including some in the back,” the lieutenant orders lowering his gun. He tells you, “You have permission to open them.”
The android beeps, and you hide a smirk at forcing him to keep to social norms for a bit longer.
Scanning the crates in the back, you see nothing unusual. However, the one at the front of the line…keeps on getting blocked by the lieutenant with the gun. You offer again, “25 for the fluxgates,” pointing at the crate.
“I’m getting bored of this game,” the lieutenant says, cocking his gun.
Frowning, you point at the crate. “I’ll give you 30.” You’re so excited by the danger, you can almost track every cue he’s giving off. He’s weighing finding out more about you while you’re not defensively reacting versus escalating.
“Fine,” he mutters.
You hold out the datapad, appearing disgusted with the final price.
The android scans the datapad. It beeps indicating nothing illegal. You accept the datapad and say, “Ciao.” Grabbing the crate, you leave.
Marching back down the catwalk, you check your comm for activity at Fortuna’s Docking Port. The security signal is constant. No activity. Excitement runs down your spine, ambush is coming. You walk to Waystop’s main entrance to make the ambusher(s) wait and palm open the door. The air is stale and smells of combustion dust. You shut the door and back up. No Space Station should ever smell stale. Unless all the people are dead or forced to leave. The dumpster smell that pervades everything begins to register. Decomposing meat…or something worse.
You cautiously approach the Fortuna. No one is there. Thoroughly disturbed yet high on adrenaline, you board, seal the hatch behind you, and walk to the cockpit. You look at the control board, hesitating. The station AI is running on minimal functionality.
“Don’t tell the AI you’re leaving,” growls a voice behind you. You jerk and spin around, reaching for your gun. One of the lieutenant’s crew members stands grinning. He opens his mouth to say something, but you shush him. He closes his mouth, but he’s still grinning.
“Why is Waystop’s AI a problem?” you ask, wondering how he got past Fortuna’s AI.
“You have to trust us, Captain.”
All your subterfuge is blown to hell. Every one of the ships attached to Waystop are dead husks, except FastFreight, which cannot possibly be its name. The whole station is dead. When you marched to the pirates, if they were the pirates, they knew immediately you were targeting them. “Did the AI kill everyone?”
“I’m a tad surprised. I was about to ask how the raiding mission had gone,” you blabber bullshit hoping to bluff your way out. Meanwhile, you attempt to order the Fortuna to distract him with an alarm, but nothing.
He rolls his eyes and assumes the you’re-under-arrest posture. “So here’s what’s going to happen,” the FastFreight crew member leisurely commands, “Give me your weapons. You’re coming with me, and Lieutenant Wero’s going to have a little chat with you.”
Wero. Lieutenant Thadeus Wero. Most people don’t know the name. You’re not supposed to know the infamous Vox officer either. His whole history flashes before your eyes as you weigh that the only way to survive is by agreeing to whatever is going on. As you leave the Fortuna, several members of the Lieutenant’s crew board it. It’s not the first time hostiles have boarded your ship, but it’s unfortunate that you can’t just shoot them this time.
You follow the Lieutenant’s crew member back through the outer catwalk of the station to the FastFreight. Everyone is gone. You see Lieutenant Wero himself watching Waystop’s port hole from the cargo hold. When he sees you coming, he moves aside, allowing you to pass. You discover you have an inner Wero-fanclub.
“Android, secure detainee,” he orders. The android snaps to attention at the door. One of its arms swings at you faster than you can track. Attempting to duck, you’re too late. It attaches a collar around your neck.
“I do not need your permission to move,” it says in a smooth, inhuman voice.
Concerned that the thing is broken, you look at the Lieutenant. “Android, list prisoner permissions,” you order.
“I am a combat model, Captain. I have permission to disable humans. To separate them from their body. To attach a collar around their neck,” it says, its mechanical voice a cold, clinical hum. You already knew it was a combat version, you thought contraband at first, and this one had a messed up AI. Your adrenaline picks up another notch.
The Lieutenant shakes his head, muttering, “Stupid AI.”
“I need to open the airlocks,” it says, and it stops. Then it adds, turning to you, “It’s a security protocol.”
“So was shooting people,” Lieutenant Wero says. “Open the airlocks.”
You start backing up towards the emergency air canisters. It presses the button and the doors begin to open. You look at the Lieutenant. He looks at you. “This is going to get us all killed,” you say. He signals to the android.
The android lifts you up against the bulkhead. You brace yourself, sucking in your last breath. The adrenaline high from getting killed is not pleasant at all.
The Lieutenant acts as if nothing is happening, “You’re demoted, Smit. If that’s your real name.” He plays with the collar around your neck asking, “So how is it that you happen to arrive here of all places and have such interest in our cargo of all things?”
“Since you’re going to kill me,” you say hollowly, without emotion, “I get to ask the questions. Why?”
“Who said ‘kill’?” he asks. He lightly brushes his fingers up from your neck to your ear. It tickles and you shiver. Tortured with tickling during your last breaths. Oddly appropriate, your senior officer would say.
You look as Lieutenant Wero casually reaches for an air mask; he is watching you with an arched eyebrow.
“Fortuna was following us.” He inhales a breath from the nearby air cannister, then holds it out for you to take a breath.
“That’s a damned lie,” you growl into the mask. After your breath, you shove the android so hard you slide partially out of its hold. It then grabs you by the shoulders and sends you to the ground. The irony is that only the android holding you against the metal is keeping you from being sucked out with the air. You let out your last breath automatically staring at the Lieutenant, who is calmly holding a handhold against the suction from the vacuum of space. This is crazy, you think as your vision begins to get hazy.
Suddenly the whole ship starts accelerating. “Close doors,” the Lieutenant orders.
Air refills the ship, and you realize that you’re going to live. “What…” you gasp inhaling.
His eyes darken. “Someone fucked up the Waystop AI. It only releases a ship if it appears useless. Never ask it to leave. That sends the repair bots to fix you and your crew good.”
The ship shudders to a stop, and you hear the AI’s voice over the intercom, “Captain Smit, this is Waystop. Return Fortuna to dock immediately. Repair bots need to fix your hull.”
You look at the Lieutenant who shrugs. “Android, bring her to quarters.” The spaceship suddenly jerks forward. Lieutenant Wero moves reflexively grabbing you and holding you steady against him. He even smells good.
Admonishing your inner Wero-fanclub to stop reacting, you ask, “What about the Fortuna?” He lets you go perfunctorily, taps his comm, and shows you the screen. “See? My newest acquisition got lose when we did; crew over there is fine. Nice plasma cannon, by the way.” He gestures to the open crew quarters door. You inner fanclub stops cheering.
“If the AI was going to make me a flashfrozen popsicle,” you say. “Why didn’t it do it sooner?” The android enters the crew quarters, slowly behind you.
“Hmm. So ‘Smit’, I’m Lieutenant Wero. Let’s have a chat, shall we?” He gestures to the bunk within for you to sit. The android shuts you both in.
You look to the android, and then to the door to the crew area. Wero is looking at you. The ship’s vibrations dampen to the usual smooth spacetravel. Miraculously, you lived.
“Bounty hunting?” Wero asks.
“That’s a lie too,” you say.
“You have no idea who I am or what I am. And I have no idea who you are or what you are,” he says.
You look over his shoulder as your inner fanclub giggles.
“You know what makes us better than AI?” he asks.
Tilting your head, you snark, “We usually manage to get the murderous psycho’s out of controlling essential life systems?” His non-plussed facial expression is hilarious; Vox has a nasty history. You hold open your hands, offering. “You saved my life. I’ll return the favor. Drop me at the next station, and I’ll forget ever seeing you.”
“Or I could kill you before you get a chance to leave,” he says, looking incredulous.
The hint of danger brings a taste of adrenaline. You look over to the crew quarters door imitating boredom.
“But I’m curious,” Wero continues. “You make me laugh.” He stands up, “Settle in here. Android’s your guard. I’ll be back…” You shake your head, mentally finishing his sentence as he leaves, “…after the crew has scoured the Fortuna’s databases for anything useful.”
When he turns away, you stick your tongue out and picture what he’d look like naked. He stops and spins as if you had struck him. You blank your face before he can focus on you, fold your arms, and raise an eyebrow. After pausing a second, he steps out and the door shuts; you hear him talking into his comm, “Our detainee is not…”
Sitting on the edge of the bunk, you turn back to the android and tap your comm. “Android, you there?” He looks at you. “Check.” At least that feature isn’t broken.
The one thing that sucks about chasing the next adrenaline high is the crash when it all goes to shit. You can’t win every time or else situational threats wouldn’t be a viable source for the next high. Groaning, you flop down on the bed picturing the dolts going over your letters, manifests, and all the other little bits of data that exist on the Fortuna. All of it should say “Dirt Merchant”, but humans will make errors which AI doesn’t. You sigh and ask the android, “What happened to Wero’s last prisoner?”
“I have no idea,” the android replies, “I have a theory, though.” It looks at you.
“An android with a theory, hit me up, Wires. What’s the theory?”
“I think that the Fortuna might be the work of an insurgent group.”
You shrug, then you mutter, “With jokes like these, no wonder Wero wants me around.”
A few hours later there’s a knock at the door. Cursory. It slides open just a moment afterward. You turn over on your bunk, happily distracted from your dark thoughts. The android lights up, “Check.”
Wero enters holding a small rectangular tray, “Got your meal.” He puts the tray on the bunk.
As you reach for it, you notice he’s not going anywhere. “I’m surprised you’re the one delivering this. Don’t you have a ship to run?”
“I can get help running a ship, but with the Fortuna being repopulated, there’s less delegating here.” His eyes study you with more than cool, professional interest.
“Robots would be better suited for this kind of work,” you comment half heartedly. The tray’s slot slides forward. You pick it up. It opens into a fork.
You poke at the food. “It’s not poisoned,” Wero rolls his eyes. “So what’s your destination in the Devil’s Backbone? Looks like a base of operations.”
You take a bite of the food, and a sip of water. “I’m headed for the station at Karis.” Your happy fight or flight sensation reacts to Wero of all people interrogating you.
“The one with a working AI?” he asks. “How many times have you been there?”
You dodge the question, “Where are you people from? All the AIs work, mas o menos. Wires here,” you gesture at the android, “could use minimal training…unless it’s been through a paradox-break.”
“The Fortuna’s AI told us you were working yesterday at Space Station Fiver and pirates attacked. It also says you nearly shut down the station to prevent the pirates’ escape.”
You shrug like that’s a normal thing.
“So…were you attacked?” His tone is calm, factual. His eyes express concern.
You make eye contact with Wero; that’s important to convey the truth in a lie, “The Fiver AI thought everything was fine. Humans pretty universally agreed the armed space suits shooting at them were pirates attacking. I wasn’t on station. Heard the comm chatter as I flew away from the action.”
“So then you were captured by the pirates in a tractor beam.” Somehow he knew pirates were involved in your showing up at Waystop.
“I’m being held against my will by you. Are you a pirate, Lieutenant Wero?” You internally smile.
A flash of temper appears. “No, I’m not.”
Your internal Wero-fanclub gets excited: he doesn’t like pirates either. Your hunger ceases to be forgotten. “Yeah, right. You think I’m stupid?” you needle him with a smirk. You take a bite of the food, then another, and another. He’s looking at you calculatingly. This is fun.
“If I thought you were stupid, you’d let me know I was wrong when the knife lodged in my back,” Wero retorts.
You bite your lip to hold in the smile. His eyes darken as he focuses on your lips. A tense pause fills the moment as you look each other in the eye. You desperately order your internal fanclub not to swoon.
Breaking eye contact and sighing, he pulls a box out of his pocket, “As long as you don’t look in this box, we will drop you off at Karis.”
You don’t reach out for it, reaching for a change in strategy instead. “I don’t want a fucking Mulligan, Wero. I want my spaceship back, and I want off of this bucket of bolts,” you growl. You recognize the emotion in his eyes now; it’s attraction.
“You know we can’t let you go.” His posture is relaxed.
“But we can,” you say mockingly.
Wero laughs. He sits next to you on the bunk, “You’re a difficult girl. It would be easier to kill you,” he says.
“Woman,” you snap.
He grabs your arm and squeezes a warning, “You’re not worth much, you know that? You’re useful as a negotiation token. I’ll let you go if I can.”
A cheap token. Nice. Means the cover is still intact. “What do you want?”
Wero shakes his head, “Now that I’ve got the Fortuna, I just want to figure out what to do with you.” He puts the Mulligan down on the floor in the corner.
You ignore the action and glance at Wires. “If you’d prefer to pretend I’m not even here, give me access to the galley. With Wires if need be.”
Wero smiles at the android’s name, “Wires, your human has access to these quarters and the galley only.”
The android nods, “Check.”
You mutter, “Just until I get off this stupid ship.”
Wero takes your hand, kisses it, “Relax. The stupid ship will get to Karis in a few days. I’ll be back and we can enjoy some card games to pass the time.”
You blush and heat up from the kiss, murmuring, “You’re checking if I cheat and how good my facial control is, you devious jerk.”
“So you’ll let me go if I let you go?”
“I’ll never let you go.”
“Then I’ll never let you go.”
“Okay, then you’re mine, ma’am.”
You blink as the imaginary conversation plays out in your head. Unaware, Wero, grins happily and leaves. Looking at the Mulligan, you order, “Scan the Mulligan, Wires,” and continue eating.
Imaginary-Wero sits down beside you, “I told you, that was mostly for my benefit.”
You swallow and decide to throw away the rest of your meal. Hallucinating is not supposed to follow consuming a non-poisoned fare.
Wires replies, “Scans forbidden.”
You look at imaginary-Wero in your head asking, “What are you up to?”
The Mulligan sits silently, and you go over and kick it under the bunk so that you can’t look at it.
“So, what do you want to do?” Wires asks.
You get up to pace. “Don’t try to distract me. I’m on a tight schedule.”
“We could go for a stroll through the cargo bay, searching for some loose wires.” It spins its head.
It got your sarcasm! “Really, Wires?” You glance at the android surprised by its attempt at humor. “Are you capable of gentle massage?” you ask softly.
“I can mimic most human traits, even that one.”
You slide your hand under Wero’s legs so that your fingers curl around the top of his foot, “Lead the way.”
Where did that image of Wero come from? you wonder.
Turning to Wires, you give the android brief instructions. Then you relax on the bunk as it uses its vibrating digit to press between your legs.
“Captain,” Wero says, “I think I need a break.”
“Yeah, I’m just finishing up here.”
Listening to imaginary-Wero in your head, you grow in arousal. “More pressure and increase rate by 10%,” you tell Wires. You remember how Wero’s pants hung on his hips and lick your lips. Your lips part and your breaths become shallow. You try not to pant or gulp air, but your heart flutters.
“Captain,” Wero murmurs. “I think I need more pressure.”
“Wires, just a little more pressure,” you murmur, closing your eyes and picturing Wero leaning over you.
“Captain, I think I need to be…” Wero says softly.
Your heart beats fast and your panties wet. “I think I need the pulse probe right now,” you pant. You spasm as the delicious heat of orgasm engulfs you.
“Stop,” you tell Wires.
The android withdraws, “Affirmative.”
You stare at the ceiling breathing deep and stretching. “Better than the real thing every time,” you whisper. Sitting up, you try to forget the Mulligan under the bunk. “Lets go explore the galley, Wires,” you announce to the android. Imaginary-Wero disappears back into your brain as you stand.
Eyeing the beverage dispenser in the galley, your eyes light up. “List alcohol,” you tell it. Getting drunk for the first time in years would be the next best way to pass Wero’s interminable detention.
“Listing alcohol,” the machine replies. The dispenser screen blinks, ‘ALCOHOL ISSUED. HALF-ASSED.’ You grunt, humored.
In the silence, curiosity about the Mulligan pops into your head. You shake your head. You really don’t want to be thinking about the Mulligan. “Trap,” you mutter, reminding yourself. “What is ‘Half Assed’, Wires?” you ask the android, “Does it have ethanol in it?” You hope.
“Half Assed has ethyl alcohol in it.”
“Oh good. Maybe I can get drunk off this stuff.”
You order Half Assed, wondering what it’s going to be. On the first sip, you cough.
“What’s wrong?” Wero asks, appearing out of nowhere.
You startle but cover it up, “I don’t know. It’s just… this tastes different. I don’t recognize the molecule structure.”
“It’s like a cheap imitation of liquor.”
You look at Wero, gauging his expression, “Done doing whatever you were doing?”
Narrowing his eyes at you, he nods. “Yeah, I think so. Water, dispenser.”
“Listing water.” The screen blinks, ‘Drinking water, 3.4 ounces.’
He holds out his arm, offering to escort you to the one and only booth the galley has. Nervously you look at it then into his eyes. They’re twinkling. He knows what you just did, you worry mentally. Despite yourself, you raise your hand and barely lay it on his offered forearm. Some remnant heat from your orgasmic vision revisits you, and you blush.
“Are you OK?” Wero asks, “You look a bit flushed.”
“You know.” You take the seat, “I’m fine.” You look around the galley for anything useful. Taking another sip of Half Assed, you suck in air, “Tastes like industrial cleaner,” you muse to Wero.
“I’ll list some additives for you,” Wires says, “What’s the worst thing they could put in it?”
“And Wires is a comedian,” you add.
Wero taps his nose, indicating you’re correct on both points. He leans back, “Lets talk about your plans, Smit, assuming we drop you off in Karis. What will you do without the Fortuna? I’m keeping it. That’s not negotiable.”
“I’ll be grounded,” you begin. No one would loan you the funds to buy another spaceship. You sigh, “Probably end up working in warehousing. Or kitchens.”
“Or maybe you could talk your parents into letting you stay with them! I bet they’d like to have someone to help with the kids!”
“My… my plans? I’m going back to Terra and I’m going to kill my uncle who did this to me!” you snap.
“I know,” Wero smiles, “I know.”
Suddenly, it all seems rather bleak. You blink shaking your head at the scene that popped in your mind. Somehow Wero had figured out you were not a typical Dirt Merchant. Narrowing your eyes at him, you drink the rest of the alcohol in one tear-watering gulp. Coughing you stand up. Wero grabs you by the wrist, making you pause. You don’t even look at him. “Or maybe I won’t let you go,” he adds softly, “Save myself a lot of trouble.”
Your inner fanclub gasps. “You know what?” you say to Wires, “You are welcome to list the additives that were in my drink.”
“Thank you,” he says.
“Stop,” Wero says, “Both of you.” You shake your head. Wero interprets the action as a dismissal of another of his death threats. “Want to know why I put the collar on you?” Wero asks.
You swallow nervously making it shift and look at him.
“You’re in a constant cloud of nanobots; if you weren’t wearing that, you’d be dead by now,” he continued.
“What are nanobots?” you ask, “I’ve heard the word, but I don’t know what they are.”
“Another tool. Swarm technology,” Wero answers. He hasn’t let go of your wrist. Standing himself, he murmurs in your ear, “While you wear my collar, I know where you are and how you feel.” He pulls his face back looking you in the eye, his breath lightly gusting through your hair. “Your collar is like a swarm of nanobots,” he says.
“And Karis?” you ask. His lips are just a few centimeters away.
“Assuming you get there? You’ll be able to figure out how to take it off, I’m sure,” Wero smiles, letting your wrist go. You take a step back. Then turn and take another step away from him. Pausing, thinking of how useful this connection could be for your mission, you look over your shoulder at him and ask, “What if I don’t get it off?”
Wero’s eyes draw your gaze; they’re calculating. “I’ll hunt you down and retrieve you as mine,” he answers, “Same goes if the collar tells me you need to be rescued.”
You possibly misinterpreted the most recent threat of not being let go. Your inner fanclub faints and an adrenaline zing shoots up your spine. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
You turn and leave, walking away from Wero. He doesn’t follow. You go down the corridor back towards the quarters with Wires.
You as you enter, Wires passes you to pick the Mulligan up from under the bunk and place it in the corner where it couldn’t be missed.
“I get the impression my tendency to get off from losing control is backfiring,” you tell the android. Lifting the Mulligan up, you shake it, hearing nothing, and throw it back under the bunk. “I’m not going to be tempted by anything from someone who has nano-fucking-bots in the breathable air,” you growl.
You decide to go to sleep.
In the morning, you get to wake up in the bunk and see Wero, a pillow in his hand, sitting in the chair by the door. You look at him sleepy-eyed and confused. Waking up from a dream where he had just been kissing you deeply didn’t make anymore sense. After a blink, you realize that yesterday actually happened. In one more blink, you process that Wero is actually there. Tamping down the nascent arousal, you frown at him. “What’s with the pillow?” you ask rolling with the absurdity of the moment.
“I was afraid you’d roll off the bunk,” he says.
“That doesn’t explain the pillow,” you point out.
“Alright,” you say calmly. Then taking a deep breath you yell at Wero, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING IN MY QUARTERS?”
“I was trying to be… discreet,” he says raising his hands defensively, “I knocked, and you didn’t respond so…”
Obviously he was planning to do something to you in your sleep but then changed his mind, and then, “Is this just a standard way you operate or am I somehow extra lucky?” you ask Wero.
Wero shrugs, “I had to be sure you weren’t disturbed. I didn’t know if someone else had entered your room without my noticing.”
Translation, Wero was about to decide to move in. Climbing off the bunk, you head to the bathroom to freshen up. Stepping out, you spot him putting the Mulligan back in the corner. “Time for coffee,” you announce to Wero. “Where is Wires?” you ask, referring to the android.
“With your AI,” he says. “I believe they have the utmost confidence in my ability to handle a situation like this.”
You tap your head wondering where that thought came from. “Wires is right outside the door,” Wero gestures over his shoulder. You look at the Mulligan, then you turn to see him holding out his arm again. For no discernible reason, he obviously wants to be sweet to you. And for no discernible reason, you have a limited sense of self-preservation with this man. Taking his forearm, you comment, “Assuming getting to Karis isn’t space gas, you’ve got two days left to drive me crazy, Lieutenant Wero.”
“I’m a commander,” he says with a small smile, “Not a lieutenant.”
You dart your eyes to take in his insignia. Vox insignia. No. Everything you’d seen over the past couple of days came into focus. Huh, oh, you think realizing he just deliberately blew his cover, and you are very very close, microns close in fact, to facing a very long confinement under a hostile government. He settles you in the galley and hands you tea, and you can’t help smiling at him with infatuation while internally terrorized. Which is a total turn-on, making you constantly glance at his lips as you eat.
And what about Karis? That has to be settled too. You have no idea how you will break this to her. But you know you have no choice.
Taking a sip of tea, Wero offers, “How about if we play poker after breakfast?”
“It’s a date,” you answer, putting down your fork. You’re still thinking about the situation with Karis when he taps you on the shoulder. “Wha-?” you start to ask when his lips briefly press against yours. Your temperature rises, and you inhale in surprise. You don’t have time to respond.
“I thought maybe we could, uh, play for stakes?” he asks after he backs away.
“Sure,” you answer. Your heart is pounding, the high is so intense.
Letting him escort you back to your quarters, you muse, “How about a game of half-truth or dare?”
“You mean like every time we talk?” he laughs. “Well, I have a few things I have to say before we begin,” he tells you as he opens the door to your room.
Spying the Mulligan as you enter, you walk to lean against the wall, keeping it out of sight. Wero watches you carefully from near the door, his expression tense. “My crew went through the Fortuna’s hold and quarters last night,” Wero began, “Why is there a security badge for ‘Detective Diana Steele’ on your spaceship?”
Staring at him with your best confused-face you internally think #1 a pre-Karis fling is out and #2 getting turned-on from a dangerous situation is a pretty crazy coping mechanism. “Steele was a passenger a while back. She, uh, had to leave in a rush, so I held on to her badge for a memento.”
“And the collar,” he lightly touches your neck, “is sort of a keepsake from this trip?”
“So are you obsessed with me?” you shift topics, as his touch turns you decidedly on. Wero’s cheeks pinken as he flushes with discomfort. The best defense is a good offense, you think.
He answers, “You are frustrating, lying constantly, which makes you a puzzle, and attractive.” Closing the space between you, he places his hands on the wall on either side of your head bracketing you in. Then Wero murmurs, “You push me. If it gets to be too much, I’ll do what I’ve been thinking about since you first lied to me: tie you down and make you beg for me to fuck you.”
You inhale, savoring his scent, which has subtly intensified. The threat makes you so hot, you try to squeeze your legs together to push back against the sensation. Licking your lips, instantly drawing his attention to them, you debate your answer. Give him some truth, and he’ll back off. Otherwise, delay the truth and get laid…well. “I’m not lying, Thadeus,” you whisper, your eyes twinkling.
“You’re in so much trouble,” he says, matching your whisper and gaze.
“It was five mercs. We had to kill them…Fortuna.”
Wero’s grip falters. You shake your head, wondering where the “kill 5 people” thought came from.
“That’s it,” Wero growls.
Less than a minute later, he’s got you tied to your bunk and you’re trying very hard to ignore the wetness lubricating your vulva. “Wires,” Wero orders, “Vibrate the way she programmed you to bring her close to orgasming, then stop.”
You can’t help yourself from laughing. Is this how the M.A.U. guards felt when they were making you scream, except that they were giving you pleasure instead of pain?
Wero’s eyes darken as he watches you respond to the androids vibrations. You can’t keep your eyes off him either, wishing he were touching you instead. Just when you’re ready to orgasm, Wires stops.
Panting, you stare at Wero as he asks, “Are you Detective Steele?” You shake your head, but he can see the flash in your eyes confirming. Kneeling down next to the bunk, Commander Wero gently pets your hair, the hair of a law enforcement officer tasked to arrest him and his fellows of the Vox military when discovered. “Dear Diana,” Wero murmurs, “I’m keeping you, obviously.” Your need to orgasm becomes so uncomfortable as you recognize that being dropped off in Karis will never happen.
“And what about Karis?” you ask. “You said we have to settle that.”
“Consider it settled,” he answers. “Before we keep talking, do you want me or Wires to rub you?”
Glancing between Wero and Wires, the choice is obvious. Wero might mess up and let you orgasm. “You,” you answer.
Wero smiles with a level of contentment, and runs his hand up the inside of your thigh to your vulva. When he first touches your sensitive folds through your pants, his smile changes to intense focus. You gasp as his touch almost sets you to orgasming. He studies you carefully as he begins to rub, then stops almost immediately. “You’re super-charged now aren’t you, my lover?” You stare at him in frustration, you can’t even muster a denial to the ‘lover’-assumption. “You were on the station the pirates attacked. We got video. How did you manage to follow them to us?”
Shaking with erotic frustration, you answer the obvious, “Logic. Their ship had to avoid merchant lanes.”
“We caught and killed them. Then you showed up.” Slipping his hand under your pants, Wero softly caresses your mound through your panties. “I’m going to ask you a question, you can answer yes, no, or maybe? Ok?”
You nod tensing up as his fingers work their magic. “Are you ready to make love?” Wero asks.
You shake your head no. “Fondle each other, yes,” you answer.
Intensifying the arousing caress, Wero drops his mouth to your neck, leaving soft kisses with a light suction. The stimulation is too much to hold off on orgasming. You throw your head back and groan as the beautiful sensation washes through you. A sharp sting on your neck barely registers as you seize. Panting, you collapse into the bunk and look at Wero happy but curious. “What did you do?” you ask him.
“You have a Vox Claim on you now,” he replies. Your eyes widen realizing that culturally Wero means to marry you. Your inner fanclub screams with delight.
The next half hour passes in an erotic daze. Wero teaches you how to mount him, and you learn that he’s more flexible in his movements than you were expecting.
You shake the vision lose from your head to see Wero smiling at you. “When did I first turn you on?” he asks while releasing you from the restraints.
Biting your lip, tugging on his ear briefly, you answer, “For you, well, being you, it was after you saved me from the broken station AI while basically telling me I was still fucked.”
Smiling, Wero nods. “I’m glad you couldn’t help choosing me, it makes taking you home to Vox simpler. Karis is out of the question, we can talk about that later.”
You decide to return the favor and see what you apparently bought. “Your turn,” you murmur, “Strip.”
You smile at the prospect of him undressing you, his gentle hands as he undoes your button and unzips your dress.
But not this time.
As he pulls off his shirt and pants, you realize that an opportunity to palm something out of his control is possible while staring at his chest hair. You smile thinking, Men are always so eager to get naked. He’s wiry, lanky with a physique for running long distances, and keeping awake and fighting through long battles. You recognize a projectile scar on the inside of his leg. His erection is a little larger than your dildo on the Fortuna, and your heart beats harder as he looks at you. This man you idolized intellectually for years took a day to decide to marry you. He turns and puts his clothes in a compartment in Wires, denying you the choice of snagging anything that might help in recovering your thoroughly destroyed mission. “When did I first turn you on?” you ask Wero.
He looks at you coyly as he replies, “When you mocked my weapons cargo.”
You stare at him with raised brows. “That’s it?”
“Diana, you defied me at every turn while getting hot and bothered every time I cornered you. You were made for me,” Wero answers and sits next to you. Taking your hands, he urges you to touch his erection. As you touch [censored], your lips tingle and he kisses you. This time, he slips his tongue in and wraps his hand around your head to hold you in place. You spasmodically squeeze [censored], bringing a moan as he breaks the kiss. “That’s it, my lover,” Wero smiles. “Tell me all the ways you want me.” His words remind you of your first sight of him.
You smile mischievously, “I want you in handcuffs…” you [censored], “…secured to the hold of the Fortuna…” you’re interrupted as Wero kisses you again.
Breaking the kiss, he says, “I saw it in your eyes when I first took aim: you’re one of those that gets off on playing with fire.” You nod as you [censored].
When he orgasms, he catches the jets of semen in his hand. Eyes twinkling, he snags you up with his free hand and [censored]. You spasm at the sudden capture, wrapping your hands around his forearms for something to hold on to. His fingers [censored].
You’re out of breath as you finish, your mind reeling after the intense emotional and physical experience of the last few hours. “How do you do this to me?” you ask.
“I want more,” he murmurs into your skin, “But I’ll wait,” Wero sighs.
Several card games later, he goes to the corner and picks up the Mulligan. “You can open this now,” he says handing it to you.
You look at him worried, “You said it had a choice inside. Not anymore?”
He replies, “You chose.”
Briefly, you rub your neck where he left the Vox Claim bruise, “Right.” You flip the catches and open it to see: nothing. A little bit of dust has gathered inside, but that’s it. Confused, you ask, “What is this?”
Wero swirls his finger in the air, “Activating Nanobots. If you hadn’t been wearing the protective collar long enough, you would have been offered the choice: going back to Vox with me or death.”
You glance around the air, disturbed, “Is this how you treat all detainees?”
“Just you,” he answers. As you think about the danger you were in, are in, your damnable libido revs back up.
“I want you,” you say huskily, “I want you so bad.”
He looks at you wide-eyed, “I want you bad too.”
He snags your hand and looks you in the eyes, “There’s something else you need to know.” His tone tells you it’s pretty bad. “Five mercenaries attempted to assassinate you on the Fortuna a few hours ago,” he begins. Getting up, he sends Wires out for food and continues, “I hurried to your quarters when the battle began just in case it was a double hit.”
You blink in disbelief, how did you already sort of know that earlier? “Stanners?” you ask worried. They took a lot of mercenary work, not assassinations, though. Killing two crews would start a war, regardless.
Wero shook his head, “No, a band of cut-throats just released from prison. The Waystop AI put out a contract, apparently realizing you got away. My people killed the team, put in a report that you were dead to the contract, and got paid.”
You shake your head stunned at the situation Wero had saved you from. You lick your lips and kiss him. He wraps his arms around you holding you tightly against his body. That night, curling together on your bunk, you talk softly about how good it feels to be together as you fall asleep.
In the morning, you wake in his arms, his arm wrapped around you and your head on his chest. Yet he’s rapidly, gently displacing you as he sleepily tells his communicator, “What?”
“We’re under attack…” the response dissolves into static. You stumble off the bunk behind him as the door opens and Wires beeps in distress.
“Electromagnetic pulse,” you snap, fully awake, high on adrenaline, and looking around for anything to use for defense. The chair? As you grab it, Wero is shot with a stun bolt, falling to the floor but alive. You yell angrily at the invader, who shoots you in mid-swing with the chair.
The invader, in a breathing mask, snatches you up in his arms. “Target acquired,” he says into his comm. The emergency alarm begins blaring as the invader carries you through the spaceship’s corridors. At the spaceship connection port, you pass through the temporary weightlessness with two others. The new spaceship smells different, different men, and you are carried to a med-bay.
“Secure for acceleration,” you hear over the speaker. The man pulls off his mask as he pins you down under hyperacceleration netting.
No! you think, realizing you’re being kidnapped. Again. The fucking Space Ranger job is starting to look like a dangerous addiction. Just let me go, you try to say. You notice the invader’s eyes widen for a moment, confused. Please. I want to go back to Thadeus.
But he can’t hear you until the stun wears off, all you can do is think really hard at these people. The man inspecting you taps his comm, “Mumbas, we can’t keep her.”
A sigh comes through in response, “Claimed? That fast?”
“Yeah,” the man replies, “And he’s tracking. Best go with the original plan and collect on both contracts.”
You notice the man’s hand grip on your wrist, keeping your arm pinned to the netting. The man looks at you apologetically, “Sorry about stunning you; you’ll be able to talk in about an hour and move again shortly after that. As you know.”
You think about nodding in response. Stunning the victim was standard operating procedure for any kidnapping. In case they attacked you with a chair or something.
“At least Commander Wero is one of the best men in the Vox command; if he wasn’t, we wouldn’t honor his Claim on you.” You blink in surprise at everything the Stanner just revealed. “Detective Steele, just know that you are safe. We’re taking you to Ranger HQ and getting the hell away when the Commander shows up there to get you back.” You blink again picturing the impending conflict.
Apparently happy to have an audience, you spend the next hour hearing everything the equipment is telling him about your health. “…deactivated birth control. Looks like he didn’t want to deal with illegitimacy accusations against him claiming you…” Your heart rate jumps realizing exactly what Wero meant when telling you how he felt. “And looks like I ruined the surprise. You’ve got the option to choose now at least. Wonder if he’s a Stanner descendant…”
You wake to your head pounding and a splitting headache. Your legs are barely workable and you’re lying on a hard, cold metal surface. Your eyes scan the room and lock onto a monitor.
You wake up from the nightmare to a much more pleasant condition. The bed is cushioned, you’re no longer strapped down by the netting, so you sit up. The Stanner muttering over a piece of equipment looks up, “Ah, so I have to ask: Do you want me to remove the collar?”
“What’s the range on this thing?” you ask as you slide the collar off your neck.
He comes over and looks at it in your hand, “That came off a lot easier than I expected. The range on it and your nanobots is pretty much infinity; they communicate by quantum states which are instantaneous regardless of distance.”
“So you’ll know if anything happens to me?”
“Of course,” he says, “I’m monitoring you constantly.”
You nod your head slowly, trying to get your bearings.
You blink as the Stanner looks at you oddly. He wasn’t talking. But the conversation seemed so real, as if Wero was right there in the room. Gazing at the collar you think over all its meanings, Wero saving you from the Waystop Space Station, a claim of sorts. You think about the last detail; he said he’d hunt you down if you still wore it. And then his arms around your body solely focused only on you. Suddenly, a sharp sense of missing him fills you. He was overwhelming, but you liked that, a lot. Putting the collar back on, you sigh, “I miss him.”
The Stanner smiles ruefully, “Yeah, I can see that.”
“When do we get to Ranger HQ?” you ask. You don’t bother asking to be returned to Wero; Stanners fulfill their contracts unless future mates are involved.
“Another day. We’re burning more fuel than usual since Commander Wero’s closing in on us. At this rate, he might get off a couple of shots before we enter the protective field around your base. Fortunately, we’ve got you on board, so he won’t be looking to kill.” He paused, reflecting on if a boarding battle were to commence, “Initially.”
Your inner Wero-fanclub fans herself furiously as your adrenaline gives you a pop.
Wero did manage to get off a message with a warning shot before the Stanners reached Ranger HQ. After unusual jerking of the ship and the loss of one of the gravity stabilizers, the Stanner in charge of you handed you his comm, “Commander Wero sent a message for you.”
You read, “Diana, my Intended, I’m going to be back with a Diplomatic Party. Settle your old life and pack lightly. Your devoted man, Thad.”
You roll your eyes, “That was for everyone else butting in.”
The Stanner prompts, “Rest of the message arrived with the 2nd shot.”
You scroll to the next screen, which reads, “Post Script: I’ll keep you armed from now on.”
“Aww,” you say.
The comm crackles and the voice of the Stanner in charge comes through, “Detective Steele can hear you now, please repeat.”
An official at Ranger HQ states, “Welcome home, Detective Steele. Please allow your Stanner rescuers to guide you to rendezvous with our personnel in 30 minutes.”
As you rub your temples, you reply, “Confirmed.”
When the sound cuts out, the Stanner assigned to you comments, “Psych is the worst. If it weren’t for the fact Commander Wero would be on our asses, we’d offer you the option to stay aboard.”
You nod, ruefully, “When they treat you like a victim, it makes you feel like one.”
“I’ve been studying you since the pickup,” he adds, “You genuinely care for the Vox lunatic.”
“I’m glad I’m home,” you try to convince yourself. You stand up to stretch your aching muscles, and then to think over your options. The transfer had gone smoothly. Ranger Psych had a go at making you think you had Stockholm Syndrome, then you were temporarily released. No messages from siblings or parents, which was expected. Unforgiven, you think sighing. Glancing over the posted base schedule, you stare at a meeting post, ‘Vox Diplomatic Visit.’ A section of the base required clearing, and only administrators were attending. Glancing at the time, you decide a nice hike may be in order.
Ranger HQ is situated on a beautiful mountaintop with a spectacular view of the surrounding forest and the ocean. As you walk through the primeval forest, you breathe deeply enjoying real biologically purified air.
You see a stunned Ranger on the concrete ground missing his uniform.
You stumble on a root and catch yourself on a sapling. The image seemed so real. Shaking your head you continue on your hike, following the dirt path through the soft fog. The crunch of leaf-covered soil under your feet, the chatter of the animals around you, and the odd muting that fog brings is so peaceful. As you walk across the bridge over a small stream, you stop sensing another vision coming.
A running pair of boots, controlled breathing, anticipation, lustfilled hunger, a marker, a very familiar marker that you had passed just a mile back.
Shaking your head, you start to worry, Someone’s coming. Fast. Concerned, you look around for a good place to hide. A couple of bushes behind a large tree should do the trick. You slip behind the bushes, and disrupt the planes of your face with your hands. He might miss you, he might not. The soft pounding of boots becomes audible. You hold your breath as the rhythmic breathing of a runner begins to echo. The fog frustrates you, making it impossible to see who it might be until they’re practically on top of you. Suddenly, a shape forms in the fog, clears it, and you see, “Thadeus?” you call standing up in surprise. Wero charges straight at you, grabs your hand, and tugs on you to jog with him. “What are you doing?” you ask as he drags you along.
“We have to go faster!” Wero replies. “We’ve got to be at the beach for the pickup in 10 minutes, lover,” he announces.
You run with him, but then tug him towards the ropes course. “This way is faster.” He looks up, “What? Of course!” Following your lead, you both head to the zipline.
You both slip on the harnesses and secure yourselves into them. Wero turns around and holds out his hand, “Take my hand, Detective.” For once, you do as you’re told.
A brilliant ride later, you both reach the beach as a Vox battle shuttle descends. “Let’s go!” Wero is gleeful. Settling you in a jump seat, you both throw on the securing straps as the shuttle lifts. You can’t hear what is going on in the pilot deck, but the conversation carries hostile tones. You look at Wero, smiling, happy, sappy, and excited. He kisses your hand on the back, on the palm, and holds it between both of his.
You feel yourself blush, and your heart speeds up, “I’m glad you came back for me, Wero. I missed you.”
He chuckles, “I’m glad. I missed you too.” His eyes drop to the collar you wear and darken. He slips his hand behind your head and pulls you in for a long kiss. You meet him in passion as you engage.
You feel the warm sand against you, the sun baking your skin, the wind in your hair, and the excitement of the zipline ride. The smell of the ocean is the most wonderful thing you’ve ever smelled.
Pulling away from the kiss, you ask, “Were you just thinking of the beach?” Wero’s eyes widen, then they narrow, “No,” he replies. Nodding ‘yes’. Holding your hand, he tells you that Vox Diplomats attempted to persuade the Rangers to let you transfer to work with Vox specialists. When it was clear that Vox’s chequered history was the unscalable barrier, Wero shifted to Plan B. Unfortunately, the shuttle had moved too soon, so instead of having a brief moment of bliss before sneaking her back to base, he had to bolt outright to grab her and meet at the nearest opening in the trees.
You kiss him again. Wero nuzzles your neck.
Departing the shuttle onto the Vox battleship was delayed by the Diplomats proceeding first with their security team. When you emerge with Wero, holding hands, you are assailed by cheers from all the nearby personnel watching. As he guides you through the crowd, they congratulate you both and throw toilet paper through the air. You both smile goofily through the celebration. As the blast doors close with Wero’s consistent tug towards his quarters, the silence surrounding you makes you hyperaware of his magnetic masculinity. “I want you so bad,” you murmur.
“And I want you too,” he replies, kissing you on the lips.
You blush, “We need to chat. I heard, um…” You can’t finish the thought about the Stanner health exam.
“That’s what are quarters are for,” he rumbles promisingly. He taps open the door, lifts his arm, and you place your hand on his forearm. Then he places his hand over yours, and guides you inside.
The door closes, and you find yourself in a small room with only a bunk and a desk. The walls are a dull green, “It’s like the forest,” you say.
Wero grasps your waist pulling you tight, “Where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?”
You wrap your hands around his head and kiss him fervently. Pausing, you smile, “You’ve got me. Even the Stanners verified it.”
Growling, he picks you up and lays you down on the extra wide bunk. “Came to, saw your trajectory, and was relieved. Pissed off, but relieved.” You grin.
As he pulls off his shirt, you cringe at the bruise he got from falling after being stunned. “My Stanner minder said you were one of the best.” You pull off your shirt as he tugs on its hem. The sparkle in his eyes briefly flares as he beholds your breasts in the bra. Dropping his mouth to your nipple, you shudder as the combination of pressure from his mouth and friction with the material rubs you perfectly.
Pausing, he replies, “Like that?” You nod enthusiastically. You run your hands up his arms, over his shoulders, and down his back. Sharp jabs of arousal jolt from your nipples as he mouths them through your bra. Stopping, Wero locks gazes with you; he’s so hungry.
He tugs on your pants, and you help him to remove them. “Let me pull of my panties, too,” you say.
“No, I like the challenge,” he answers. You grin and caress and squeeze [censored].
“Which reminds me, I liked it when you [censored],” you comment. “Speaking of which…”
He licks over the slight pink discoloration on your neck that remains from the bruise he made there derailing you. “My adorable adrenaline addict,” he laughs kissing you. Pulling back from the kiss, he whispers into your ear, “It made you my wife.” Your breath catches as the trouble you found screams that finding crazy attractive put you into this situation.
Wero’s hand [censored]. “Thad,” you moan.
“I love hearing you say my name like that,” he murmurs moving his fingers, [censored].
“…claiming doesn’t work like that.” Your orgasm gets so close when he stops.
“Time for you to ride me,” he announces. You hum with soft discontent at his stopping as he lays on the bunk, his [censored].
You pull of your bra and panties, contemplating the presentation; climbing [censored], comes with the man himself. Again and again. He knows you love adrenaline highs. You smile and [censored]. He caresses your breasts with both hands. His eyes sparkle, watching you move. The first contact [censored].
[censored]. Grabbing his hands off your hips, you lean over, lifting his arms above his head and kiss him deeply. [censored].
[censored]. You look up at his face as your instinct tells you to start moving. His eyes are alight with frustration, surprise, and promise of punishments to come. “Inhuman control,” you laugh as you hop off his lap and take two steps towards the bathroom. With a shout of excitement, you’re caught in his arms as he grabs you up in a tight hold and keeps moving.
“You make me crazy in love.” Your breath catches at his declaration as he pins you against the sink, looks at you in the mirror, smiles, and presses [censored]. He wraps one arm around your hips and teases your breast with the other. [censored]. You look at him gazing at you in the mirror as the world erupts in pleasure. [censored].
Holding you in place, he drops his head onto your shoulder and shifts his hands to hold you closer. You turn your head to kiss him on the top of his head and murmur, “I love you, too.”
He shivers and kisses your neck, “You never stood a chance.”
While the universe in which the plot takes place is that of many of my other works, this story tested using an AI story interface to build the plot. It was awkward, so if the flow seems jerky, just figure that’s AI for you. After the first draft, I left the AI and went through the text several times to smooth it out. Not quite uncanny valley. Special thanks to Shakna for suggesting it! Give it a shot yourself: https://github.com/FailedSave/storytelling-guide/blob/master/Guide.md