Zander forced her to key in the security codes. The stupid science planet staffed the spaceport with morons, and they accepted her premature request for departure and sent the Slug One merrily on its way complete with pirates, a cargo of rare slug eggs and one, pissed off pregnant chick.
His crew made themselves comfortable on the bridge. Her bridge. Her damn ship. The whole day had turned into people taking her shit.
Zora glared at the huge, grey gorilla pointing a stunner at her. It could have been worse. If she remembered right, their leader had disintegrated part of her sister’s midriff once. She wrapped one arm around the bump of her belly and scooted farther back on the bench.
A skinny, lavender Pescine worked the panel from the co-pilot’s chair, and a pair of Bomorian twins, without tentacles, guarded the door to the bridge even though they Slug One had already cleared the atmosphere and now rocketed toward deep space.
Where nobody would ever find her.
“Where are we going?” She stuck out her chin, but when the gorilla waved the stunner closer, cringed away again.
“We?” Zander swiveled the captain’s chair around and leaned back, placing his hands behind his head and grinning wide enough to show teeth. His hair fluffed dashingly over one eye. In another life, she’d probably have slept with him by now.
“Well, what are you going to do with me, then?”
“There’s always the airlock.” He shrugged, but his eyes fell to her belly and the arm curled around it. “But I usually draw the line at killing expecting mothers.”
“You do?” The Pescine turned to face him, and he waved off the question and the look.”
“I do.” He squinted at Zora again, “But I didn’t plan on a hostage either.”
“Pirate,” She scrambled for a plan, cleared her throat and tried again. “I’m a Pirate, not a hostage.”
“Could have fooled me.” Zander’s eyes dropped to her belly again. He shook his head.
“They called me Bloody Red.”
The cabin fell silent. The twins leaned in and whispered. Gorilla grunted, the Pescine swiveled to face Zora, and one of Zander’s eyebrows lifted. “Bull shit,” he said.
“Prove it.” He kept his eyes on her, but reached one hand out toward the console. The bastard hadn’t been on board twenty minutes, and he flicked the view screen toggle without looking, pulled up a sector map. “Show me where the Lunar Wind is.”
“Nice try.” Zora sat up and shook her head. “That’s the wrong Sector.”
His mouth twitched, but he tried to hide the fact. “Anyone could have guessed that.”
“Bring up thirteen and I’ll show you.”
The Bomorian twins were actively chattering now, in their native tongue however, so Zora wasn’t privy to the conversation. She figured she could come close on a guess though. Bloody Red had a reputation with few rivals. She’s made certain of it.
Zander turned to the console now and programmed a view of Sector 13. The binary system of Ave’Dutal dominated the area, and within it, a covert, orbiting space station housed the Pirate market. She stood up, waved the armed gorilla aside and marched to the front of the ship. No way they’d shoot her now, not until they’d found out if she was lying or not.
She slid between co-pilot and bastard-pilot and started pressing buttons.
“Careful,” Zander warned. “Nothing tricky or I’ll have to adjust my little policy.”
Zora shrugged and zeroed in on Lunar Wind. “There, right beside Little Vega.”
“Vega minor,” Zander corrected.
“You haven’t been a pirate long, have you, stud?”
Gorilla man laughed, a low rumble that the shaking of the Pescine’s shoulders mimed. It was the answer she’d expected. Their Zander might have control, but he was new to the drill, just the same.
“You interest me, Bloody Red is it?” He changed topics, slick as all get out.
“Yeah. It is.”
He stared at her for a minute, long enough for the chatter to die down and the crew to settle. New, he might be, but he understood how to work people just fine. “All right, Bloody Red. Why don’t you tell me what you’re doing on Mercur with my stolen slug’s offspring?”
“The female is mine.”
“Is it now?”
Zora stuck out her hip and stared back at him. “It is”
Zander stood up. He leaned forward. Zora waited. He didn’t move, and she damn sure wasn’t going to. The crew would take note of the smallest flinch, an involuntary twitch, a blink. She held her ground and prayed the baby didn’t poke her in the bladder again.
“Does that mean you were involved in the raid on my zoo?”
“Oh yeah, I was involved.”
“And stealing my Space Slug?”
“You stole mine first.”
“So I did.” He leaned back slowly, deliberately and stretched his grin to its limits. “So I did. Ha! Well, we’re even then.”
“Nope.” She shook her head and watched his eyes narrow.
“No? And why is that?”
“Because I believe you’ve just stolen my ship as well.”
He squinted now, and she could see him trying to figure out his plan of attack. He hadn’t expected her, surely. But then, she hadn’t expected him either.
“I see.” He laughed louder than he needed to, but enough to make sure they all heard. “All this time I thought I was up against radicals, crazy bleeding hearts out to save the species or something. All this time. If I’d known I was dealing with a pirate, with Bloody Red herself, it would have been so much easier.”
“How do you figure?” She smelled his trap, but knew she had to step in it. She didn’ t have any other options.
“How? Because we’re pirates, Red.” Zander moved quickly too, when he wanted to. He stood up, threw an arm around her shoulders, and made a show of camaraderie that had a very dangerous edge to it. “Pirates all want the same thing, don’t we? We want profit. And with all the baby slugs between us, well, we should have plenty of that to go around. Plenty profit for all of us.”
“Profit. Right.” Zora smiled and felt his arm tighten. He knew damn well she didn’t care about profit. He knew she’d meant to keep the babies from him, and he knew she couldn’t say it now. Not when she’d just played the Bloody Red card to save her neck.
She wasn’t that old, hadn’t lived THAT much. How the hell could one chick get shanghaied twice in the same short lifetime? Like it or not, Zora had a feeling she’d just signed on as a part of his crew.