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dawn sets in hell: Nastragull—Book three Copyright © 2015, 2017 Erik Martin Willén All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published by Indigo an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2017945130 ISBN-13: 978-1-946848-42-0 ISBN-10: 1-946848-42-5 Also available in ebook Visit the publisher at:

also by Erik Martin Willén NASTRAGULL PIRATES BOOK 1




prlogue Thick black clouds streamed fast across the sky, fighting each other for dominance. Red-tinted lightning repeatedly transformed the sky into an infernal scene, painting the desolate landscape below with blood, followed by thunderous roars vibrating and echoing through the mountains. Occasional spikes of lightning reached down to blast shrapnel from the cliffs, leaving clouds of short-lived dust that was churned into mud by the torrential rain. Between strikes, the rocky ground lay like a thick rug rendered in shades of black, with sharp, stony projections jutting from the valley floor. The surrounding hills were jagged and sharp, like a monster’s teeth. Despite the cacophony of the storm, angrier sounds rent the night. The one most repeated began as a high-pitched wail before scaling down into a deep bellow. It sounded natural—and yet, somehow, it did not. In fact, it was a sound not heard for thousands of years by any living being, a peculiar noise that seemed almost to issue from some type of bizarre musical instrument—a deranged

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horn, perhaps. The sound intensified as it echoed through the tortured, twisted lava flows inside the dormant volcano. On the rocky floor of the crater, the Oman stood breathless, hands on his hips, gulping down what passed for air here while listening to that strange, hellish sound. The air stank of sulfur and scorched stone, and it was as hot as a furnace. He wore nothing but a loincloth, and his muscular and sweaty body gleamed in the erratic light, covered with scars from many fights. His shoulder-length brown hair was long and unkempt, shedding the water as well as a duck’s back. His clear blue eyes, which normally reflected warmth and good humor, now did anything but; he surveyed the landscape as a natural born hunter, in his element and moments from victory. A week’s stubble shadowed his cheeks. The rain was annoying, but at least it washed away the mud and blood from his wounds—countless lacerations and bite marks covering his exposed body. Frowning, he tried to control his heavy breathing while checking his ears. He reached down to paw at the soil, then pushed more mud into them in a desperate attempt to keep that bloody, bone-chilling sound from penetrating his brain, just enough so he could still hear some. It was one of the thing’s primary hunting strategies, because it reached into the frequencies that caused most to freeze in terror. A cold wind blew in from nowhere, feeling almost welcome as it raised goosebumps on his skin. His breath finally caught, he tilted his head towards the dark sky in an attempt to quench his thirst, grateful there were only natural pollutants in this atmosphere. No sentient creatures, with their tendency to foul their own nests, had lived here for half a galactic revolution. Nonetheless, the water tasted bitter. Or was he just letting his thoughts cloud his senses? Without thinking, he closed his eyes while letting the rain fill his mouth... but intuition quickly reminded him of his mistake. He hadn’t heard the monster for at least a minute, and it was smart enough to hunt quietly if it cared to. His eyes snapped open and his head to the right—just in time to see the monster plummeting toward him from a rocky cliff, knifelike claws spread to eviscerate and behead.

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He flung himself aside in a desperate attempt to avoid the danger from above—too late. The monster landed on his legs, sending him sprawling to the muddy ground. But it had misjudged the Oman’s quickness, and lost its balance as it struck, rolling to the side, claws scrambling and eyes blazing. The monster twisted to its feet and stood on all fours, retracting its claws to reveal strange hoofs complete with what appeared to be delicate fingers. It glared about in the strobing light from above, not seeing its prey; but it didn’t take long to relocate the Oman, because there came an unnatural pain from its tail. The Oman had grabbed the three meter long appendage, careful to avoid the natural bone razor at the tip, and jerked hard. The creature felt as though the Oman had all but pulled its tail out by the roots. For a second, the enormous pain blurred its vision; and when the vision came to, the Oman was crawling away with a meterlong souvenir. Inspecting its tail, it saw that it had only two-thirds of it left; aquamarine was blood pouring from end, painting the landscape in stripes as it whipped its tail around furiously. It spun around and gathered itself for a final blow with the deadly meterlong horn protruding from its high forehead. Not counting the tail, the beast was about the size of a horse, and among other things, it could alter the joints on both its front and hind legs. Its body was covered with sleek scales that could change color to match its surroundings. A thin fur like silky grass— now soaked and filthy—accentuated the scales. The orange-red eyes emitted a faint glow that it used to detect nearby objects in the infrared, using shallow pits that lay between its nose and mouth. Said mouth hosted an array of fangs suited to the life of the obligate carnivore; at the moment, they dripped saliva as it scented the blood on the air, its own and the Oman’s. Its long, almost Omanlike tongue darted out regularly to taste the air, but the pouring rain seemed to defeat that particularly sense. The infuriating Oman snapped the beast’s own tail in the air like a whip, emitting a slashing sound, hoping the beast would go ballistic at both the sound and the loss of its tail and, hopefully, lose its concentration. He was exhausted; hopefully the monster was too.

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This fight had lasted since dusk and had already gone on far too long. Dawn was near, and he had to finish this fight, or he would surely meet his own demise. The last thing he wanted was to be killed and eaten by this ridiculous monster. They circled each other, locking eyes and observing each other cautiously, before charging like two mad bulls. Just as the horn was about to impale him, the Oman slashed his “whip” to his left, distracting the monster as it flicked its eyes in that direction—and that was all he needed. The man dashed to the side and flung himself at the beast’s head, avoiding those devilish fangs—they’d already tasted his blood too often—and latched onto the horn with both hands. The beast was furious as it lurched to a halt, shaking its head wildly. But the damnable Oman wouldn’t let go; as a matter of fact, the bastard ended up swinging around and, outrageously, landed on the beast’s sinuous neck. The Oman hooked his legs together at the ankles in order to hold on, still hanging onto the horn for dear life. It was like he’d grown there, he clutched so tightly; and as he twisted the thing’s horn, he eventually forced the monster to the ground. With his last ergs of strength, the Oman let go with his legs and vaulted himself forward over the beast’s head. A loud, painful-sounding crack echoed through the valley, followed by an even louder, anguished roar from the monster. The horn was off. The Oman rolled away from the monster, fetching up against a boulder, where he took deep, jagged breaths. The outraged monster leaped aside as the joints on its forelegs altered, and when it landed on its rear legs, it was a bipedal creature with two arms ending in sharp-fingered hands. Snarling, it straightened to its full length and clapped its strange looking hands over the injury, stanching the flow of blood. There was a brief moment of silence from the storm, and the two fighters waited. The monster’s eyes were no longer orangered, but pure black; it moved almost like the Oman it faced, and there was an eerie crackling sound as its joints altered yet again to improve its footing. It lowered its head and charged with a single minded purpose; to kill the predator in front of it.

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The Oman lay near against the boulder, holding himself up with his left arm, his legs immobile. He watched his oncoming death with dead, calm eyes. He lifted the horn and smashed off the tip on the rock, then took a deep breath, raised the jagged opening to his lips, and blew. Nothing emerged but a guttural rasp, combined with a fine spray of tissue and blood. As the beast reached for him, he blew through the horn again with what he knew might be his last breath— and there it was. Not much, but enough: a low, faint howl. The beast scrambled to a halt, nearly falling in the treacherous mud. It stepped back and shook its head, not knowing what to do; then it backed away and let out a roar of anguish, trying to cover its ears and eyes simultaneous: an impossibility for its stubby hand/paws. The Oman blew through the horn again: another blast sounded, higher-pitched and fuller this time. The beast fell on its back and began convulsing, yowling in pain. It tossed and turned violently in the mud, in a futile attempt to escape the throbbing sound boiling in its brain, taking charge of its mind. Using his last strength, the Oman stood, trembling. For a long moment, he looked at the monster thrashing in agony on the ground, still fighting like mad against its fate. The man tilted his head, closed his eyes, and took a heavy breath as he raised the horn to his mouth; then he lifted his head, and with the horn pointing towards heaven, he blew strongly into the horn, producing the purest, most beautiful sound in creation. The peal echoed through the valley and took wing on the wind, venturing far, far away from its origin, echoing over the landscape and beyond. Mountains trembled, while cliffs crumbled and fell. The third time the horn sounded, the monster snorted in tears as it made one, last futile attempt to escape—then gave up. It lay on the ground quivering, breathing hard, head bowed to its inevitable master. Its eyes changed color again, this time from black to a dark midnight blue; not a great change, but a significant one. The Oman, exhausted, knelt and crawled up to the defeated animal’s mouth, extending his left arm before him. The monster folded back its primary tongue and another, forked like a reptile’s, shot out and speared into the vein at the crook of the

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Oman’s left arm. Crimson blood pulsed through thin, hollow fangs, passing from Oman to creature, and continued for a short time. As the flow ceased and the tongue withdrew, the monster’s wounds began to heal rapidly. When the beast had finished feeding, it began to lick the Oman like a dog—and his wounds started to heal as well. Soon the Oman was able to stand again. He walked over to the spot where the fragment of the animal’s tail lay, and picked it up. The K’Drak observed him calmly. Oman and beast looked at each other. This time there was no animosity, but instead a warm respect, bordering perhaps on love. The Oman scratched the beast behind one of its bat-like ears, and in return, it purred like a cat. The K’Drak had been tamed; it was a beast no more. The damage from the torn horn had already begun healing, slower than the rest of its wounds, for it was greater. The Oman gently touched the fracture, knowing that another horn would soon replace the old one. The K’Drak lowered its head to the ground, allowing the Oman to straddle it back behind the shoulder blades. He nudged his heels carefully into the great carnivore’s ribs, and the K’Drak flexed its joints and stood up like a horse. It snorted, and vapor emerged out from the nostrils. It started to kick its hoofs on the ground eagerly, while folding in the fingers and claws for the long ride to come. The Oman gently kicked his heels, and the K’Drak took off like a bolt of lightning. It moved through the valley faster than the eye could easily follow, the wind of its passage all but tearing the Oman from its back; and when it reached the high rock wall on the side of the volcano, its claws and hands emerged from under the hoofs, joints altered with an osseous crunch, and it climbed the cliff smoothly and easily. It further altered the forepart of its body to make sure the Oman remained seated. At the rim of the volcano, it stopped as if waiting. The Oman raised the Horn to his mouth, and this time, the sound from it was eerily different: low, dramatic, and compelling. K’Drak stood up on its hind legs, and from the hole where the horn had once been embedded in its skull came an accompanying roar so horrible, so

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filled with pain, threat, and longing, that it sent chills down the rider’s spine. The storm answered, lashing the ground around them with dozens, hundreds of lightning strikes, setting up a continuous deafening rumble that spread in all directions...and abruptly stopped. As the Oman and K’Drak caught their breath at the volcano’s edge, the clouds peeled back, and from behind them emerged a new dawn as the swollen red sun came into view; a second later a second sun emerged from behind the red giant, a buttery yellow young sun that dispersed the carmine shadows and painted the world in the colors of life. But its reign was all too brief, as a dark shadow passed before its face, the intruder blocking the yellow sun from above and descending over its red companion until all that remained were two red, burning celestial horns. The Oman and K’Drak stood silhouetted heroically at the crescent’s center, as if the universe had planned the dramatic image; and given who they were, perhaps it had. At the base of the volcano waited millions of people, their presence previously hidden by the raging storm. The masses raised their arms towards the sky and cheered in unison, greeting the Oman and K’Drak they worshipped, and from the interior of the volcano came the sound of thundering drums. Thus the legendary monster was tamed again, as per prophecy, a beast no more... Only to be replaced and subjugated by another, even more terrifying beast, of the species that was perhaps already the most terrifying in Creation: that species known as Oman.

one She looked at her reflection in the mirror; doe-brown eyes and a bloody, bruised face stared back at her. It wasn’t pretty. Her hair was dirty and ragged, and she trembled as she attached temporary first aid braces over her jagged and broken front teeth. It took several attempts, but finally the kit was attached. When she finished, she leaned her hands on the sink, staring at her own image. Tears streamed down her cheeks now, uncontrolled. She was sobbing and hiccupping. She had to brace herself on the sink to remain standing. As she cried, she banged her right fist into the wall repeatedly. She stopped and leaned back, cleared her throat, and then she walked into the shower and turned off the steam and let the water stream freely, a luxury that was forbidden on most spaceships. When she finished, she walked naked into the adjacent cabin and looked down at the bed. She had made it herself, and it looked very neat indeed, with a clean set of sheets and a new cover. Her clothes and equipment lay perfectly organized on top. She hadn’t

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dried herself off, and her hair fell straight toward the deck, water dripping from the ends. She dried herself with a thick, fluffy towel, then got dressed and prepared her equipment—a series of lethal weapons. While checking her equipment, she noticed that something was missing. She walked over to a wall equipped with several storage and closet compartments, opened one of the closet doors, and reached for her black waist jacket. On the floor of the closet, pushed up into a sitting position, sat a man, bloodied and dead, with a gag in his mouth. The gag had once been his penis. His eyes stared blankly at her, as if trying to force some guilt, but she ignored them. By now, she was immune to guilt. He’d deserved what he’d gotten anyway. Just as she was about to shut the door, she noticed a thin black cord hanging from one small hook. She took it and held it for a while, closing her eyes and remembering. For a brief moment she smiled; but as she came back to reality, her smile vanished. She tied the cord around her head, looping it several times before knotting it in place. Then she walked—slowly and confidently, as if she had a purpose, in no hurry whatsoever—to the small office area in the cabin. She pushed a button, and several screens lit up. She tapped a few keys, checking on the whereabouts of the mutineers and the hostages. Some of the mutineers were gathered near the bridge, while most were in their quarters resting, and all the surviving hostages were imprisoned in Cargo Rooms 5 and 7. All her friends were attached to a slave block in Cargo Room 5; the rest of the prisoners were in Cargo Room 7. There were only two mutineers outside in the corridor; arrogant fuckers. She changed screens, searching for battle and guard androids, and found that all been disabled. Alexa cursed. Typical of Myra, not trusting someone’s else ‘droids. She flicked to a new screen, which showed a large shuttle in a docking bay. It appeared intact, and there were crew—or rather, mutineers—making repairs. In the smaller docking bay, there were only two small fighters left; both looked

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unharmed, and it didn’t seem that either had been cannibalized for parts yet. When she was finished with the surveillance, Alexa headed back into the adjacent cabin and climbed into a spacesuit. She then proceeded to the sleeping area and knelt by the bed, opening small secret compartments and disabling a couple of subtle traps. Inside the compartment were several debit and ID cards, along with some computer map-sticks. She placed half the cards inside a hidden pocket of her jacket, and the other half into another secret pocket of her trousers; she’d sewn the pockets in place herself. The rest of the stuff in the compartment she tossed into a small trophy-bag she’d attached to her belt. Lastly, she carefully removed a small box from the compartment. It contained three small hypospray tubes, each marked with a colored stripe: white for sleep, red for paralysis, and black for death. The white tube had been used; it was empty. With a sigh, she inserted the black tube into a small, unobtrusive opening in the bulkhead above the bed. Next to it she attached a small explosive with a primer; attached to the primer was a sensor detonator. Should anyone enter the cabin once she had armed it, it would set off the primer, driving the explosive into the wall, tripping a switch that would dump the contents of the black-striped vial into the life support system, killing the entire crew—except for those who happened to be wearing spacesuits. She checked her wrist computer and set a remote detonation code, just in case it became necessary. The last thing she would do was arm the death trap with her remote, after she had left the cabin. “Captain’s privilege,” Alexa mused quietly. She had only two things on her mind: to rescue her friends and then find her true love and marry him... whether he liked it or not. Never once did she think that Alec was dead, or that it might be too late to save him. Before she left the cabin, she picked up her helmet and put it on, twisting it sharply to the right so that it locked into place. Then she Locked and loaded her magma rifle, attached several extra magazines to the stock with tape—the rest of her weapons would be under her spacesuit and unavailable—and took one last look in the

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mirror. For a moment she thought of her life; she could see it in the mirror, everything from her childhood and being sold into slavery by her siblings, who would be painfully dead very soon, on through her life as a pirate... and finally Alec. Oh, Alec, she thought desperately. A shadow passed over her face as she remembered the last time they’d been together; the horrific sound he had made, and the image of him lying on the ground, becoming smaller and smaller as the fighter lifted towards the sky. Those memories were the worst of her life. Something told her that Alec was still alive... well, she had to believe that he was, or she had no more reason to live. At the same time, though, she also realized that his spirit might be gone forever. If that were the case, then why should she keep living in this horrible universe? The hardship she and her friends had endured was neither right nor fair. Why is there such evil amongst us? she wondered, and not for the first time. She knew she herself could be a monster, but it had never been by her own choice; she had been forced to become one if she wanted to survive and keep her friends alive. It wasn’t right, it never had been, but it was what it was. What she was preparing to do would be considered the act of a monster by anyone observing it from outside. But it might be necessary; and if it were, she would handle it. The thought almost crushed her, and she was just about to give up everything when she thought, For far too long, your mind has been misguided; your destiny has been decided for you. Perhaps you should decide your own destiny. Wait. Had that been her own thought, or had she “heard” something or someone else? She removed her helmet and peered closer into the mirror. At first, she felt frightened; then she laughed nervously at her silliness—just as something like an electric surge flowed through her body. Instead of feeling weak and powerless, she suddenly felt a new sensation, something she had never experienced before. She didn’t have the words for it, except that this new sensation was wonderful and beautiful, calming and soothing—like the high you get from

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certain kinds of drugs. It started at her toes, working itself up her legs and then along her back, where it remained for a while; and then it intensified. The new sensation was almost orgasmic. When it reached her head, she dropped the helmet on the deck, squinting her eyes at the sharp pain that followed. She fell down to her knees, then sprawled on all fours, her limbs trembling... but not from pain. The only thing she could feel was a surging, orgasmic sensation overwhelming first her body and then her mind. Images flashed through her mind, taking her from childhood through the present; but this time, she didn’t feel helpless or angry. She felt joy, because now she saw the life that could be: strange images of a possible future. Some images were less pleasant than others, but overall, it was all good; somehow she simply knew this. For far too long have the anti-materialists reigned over Creation, through deceit and lies; now, open yourself to yourself, and live your life as Creation intended for you... let go of your emotions, allow us to stand by your side, and feel true life and its freedom. Her eyes closed, swaying from side to side almost as if she were in a trance, Alexa whispered, “How do I know this is real, and not just some childish dream?” Open your eyes... She was sure now that she must be dreaming, but still, it was a wonderful dream; and at first she didn’t want to open her eyes and wake up, because then the dream would vanish, as all dreams do. She stood slowly, keeping her eyes tightly shut Open your eyes! Hell no! She wasn’t going to open her eyes; this new sensation was too wonderful, and she wanted it to last forever... but what if she had somehow died just now? The last thought scared her, so she opened her eyes wide, staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes were bright blue. Alexa stared in disbelief as cold chills skittered down her spine. She closed her eyes and shook her head, then looked back into the mirror and calmed down. Her eyes went back to their normal color: doe brown. She tensed up, and again they turned blue. She calmed herself again, and smiled mischievously at her own image.

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“Now that’s cool,” she said aloud, only to be interrupted by a chime from the door. Annoyed, she glanced at the monitor, and recognized two former comrades from her time on Zuzack’s ship, the Bitch. A smoldering anger roiled in her gut. Alexa knew the women somewhat, but Jabe and Hilly were loyal to Myra, which made them her enemies—and both stood in her way. Again the door chime sounded, followed by Jabe’s impatient pounding on the door. Hilly shouted into the communicator, “Beck, hurry up, Myra wants to see you ASAP!” “Perhaps you should address him as Captain,” Jabe suggested with a smirk. “Captain, my ass. LISTEN UP, YOU…” Hilly’s rant was interrupted by the door’s abrupt opening. Both she and Jabe jumped at the sudden motion; though neither wanted to admit they’d been startled, they did exchange a nervous look before turning their attention to the spacesuited person standing before them, head bowed. “Yoho Beck, what’s goi…” Jabe broke off as the helmeted head lifted, and her eyes met Alexa’s transformed gaze. Both she and Hilly froze. Neither had time to make a sound; in seconds, both lay on the cold deck, trying in vain to stop the bleeding from their throats. But with both carotid and jugular slashed, it was no use; the pirates bled out in less than a minute, painting the deck with another ugly pool of Oman-red blood. It wasn’t Myra’s muddy green, but it would do for now. Alexa retracted the blades into her wrist-caches. She had several different blades and other deadly tools loaded into each apparatus. She dragged both bodies inside, leaving a crimson trail on the deckplates. When she’d finished, she made sure the platisma shield was still raised, and added an electromagnetic shield, which left armored form imbedded in a slight shimmer. She tossed her trophy bag over her shoulder and picked up the magma rifle, clipping it to her back. She peered at the comp on her left wrist, entering a few commands that armed her traps, then let the hatch to her and Alec’s

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quarters fall shut and seal tight. She had no idea if she’d ever be able to return. Alexa hurried down the hallway, weighted down with all the extra equipment. She checked her wrist comp to see if it detected any movement nearby, flicking through several screen configurations. Nothing. Most of the crew was still asleep. She knew, however, that there were active crew in the cockpit area, the command bridge, and down in the main shuttle bay. Alexa didn’t want to use any lifts; they could easily be shut down, trapping her. Instead she opened a maintenance hatch and took the ‘tween-decks ladders, hurrying towards the armory. There was no point in rescuing her friends and the rest of the crew if they couldn’t get to their weapons. Five minutes later, after a last glance at the ship’s schematics, Alexa shut down her wrist comp. Though the passageway she was in now was unfamiliar territory, it was also enemy territory, so she had to turn off her comp so it wouldn’t be detected. After having walked or crawled through endless maintenance corridors with barely any light, she climbed one more level and finally reached the hatch nearest her destination. She put her bags and spare equipment aside, then took off her helmet before cracking the hatch and peeking out. No one was in the immediate vicinity, thought hatches to the chambers further down the corridor were opened. She could hear voices from at least three people. They were laughing, and from the sound of it, were probably getting ready to have some sex. Instead of moving stealthy, she decided to use the head-on approach. She stood up from her crouch slowly, allowing her eyes to acclimate to the well-lit corridor. She had to be careful here, as using her magma rifle was definitely not ideal inside the armory. When she reached the wide-open, unguarded entrance to the armory and slipped inside, at first all she saw was a series of shelves stacked with boxes. Ammo? She turned to look at the opposite wall, and that’s where she found the hundreds of toys displayed, from bladed weapons to slug-throwers and different types of guns and blasters. She moved with purpose, following the

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sounds towards an office down a hallway. Yep, from the sound of it they were definitely doing the deed; idiots. Just before she reached the entrance, she stopped and used one of the many different attachments on her wrist-cache. A thin, snake-like cord equipped with a tiny camera at the tip extended itself around the door jamb; she looked at her wrist comp, and smirked as she observed two couples inventively having sex. She genuinely hoped they were enjoying it as she retracted the camera. With lightning speed, she spun around through the door and fired off one of her wrist blades at the couple farthest away. It slammed through the man’s back and into the woman he was thrusting into, pinning them to the wall, already dead. The second couple didn’t even notice the woman’s dying scream; they lay on the floor right in front of her, with the guy on top of a woman with both legs in the air. She stepped over them to yank the blade out of her first two victims. They finally noticed when the corpses collapsed bonelessly to the floor, but didn’t have time to respond as she skewered them. “No challenge at all,” she muttered as she cleaned her blades and slotted them back into the wrist-caches. She looked over the mutineers. The women she recognized, but didn’t know either one of them very well; but to her surprise, she recognized both the young men. Nina and herself had blown them in a silly competition. Nina had won. What surprised her was that both were Nastasturan soldiers that Admiral Cook had sent to help Alec, hardly men she’d expect to throw in with the mutineers. She took a few still pix of both soldiers for future records. Alec might want to know about them. She left the office, then gave the large storage room a quick once-over before she started filling two large crates with various types of weapons and other destructive goodies. As she was checking some grenades, she noticed a large covered box; curious, she removed the blanket covering the cylindrical container. Oddly, there were no markings on it, but there was a small red button. She doubted it was any kind of bomb, so she pushed the button, and the cylinder opened up. Sudden movement caught her off guard, and she scrambled backwards, eyes wide with fright as the

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large android inside extend its limbs and stood up. It was shaped almost like an Oman, except that it had four arms, and its head was an oval blank ball. She immediately recognized it for what it was: a Nastasturan bodyguard ‘droid. “Why didn’t Alec activate you before?” she wondered as she gazed up at the much taller construction. It stood at attention, waiting for orders. Alexa knew a little about the feared battle and guard andies that Alec had received from his Uncle Cook when they were at Tota’s Star-Dice station, but she had no idea about this one. They were very rare and extremely costly, and their capabilities made any normal battle andy’s like a child’s popgun. She began looking it over, and soon she found a small compartment on the chest. Holding her breath, she opened it, while the large android stood there emitting a low, throbbing hum, almost as if it were breathing. Once she’d looked it over the contents for a while, a smile crept across her face. She knew she could activate it. After a moment, she did. Meanwhile, her fellow Vixens—Nina, Tara, Kirra, Zicci, Mohama and Miska—sat locked, nearly naked and filthy, in one of the dreaded slave blocks in Cargo Bay 5. “Maybe we should take Myra up on her offer,” Zicci suggested, and was immediately booed by the rest. “Take it easy, I was only joking,” she defended herself while trembling. “Bloody cold it is in here.” Like the others, she was dressed only in her underclothes. “Yeah, that cold bitch Myra thinks she can break us. GO TO HELL, MYRA!” Mohama screamed. “Stop wasting your breath and energy, sis,” Miska said calmly. “You’ll need it for when we escape.” “If we only could get out of this thing,” Nina growled, struggling with her wrist and ankle restraints. Kirra, sitting next to Nina, snapped, “Stop it, Nina. We’re serially connected—when you struggle, all our bindings get tighter. You may have scrawny ankles, but mine are hurting like a bitch.” “Then why don’t you lose some weight, bitch,” Nina responded. Suddenly, bright light flooded the bay as the big double doors as the entrance slid ponderously aside. A large android filled the

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space between the doors, and the buzz of the servomotors in its joints filled the room as it strutted forward. “I thought Myra trashed or shut down all the andies,” Tara said, craning her neck to peer over the shoulders of Nina and Kirra. The sound of heavy boots echoed through the bay as someone stomped inside in the wake of the andy. Now the girls could see someone wearing a spacesuit approaching. It was decorated with fresh bloodstains all down the front; Oman, by the look of it. When the person stopped in front of the slave block on the side restraining Mohama, Miska and Zicci, it removed the helmet and cocked its head. “What up, cunts?” “Alexa!” all of them breathed. “So, you kinky bitches wanna hang here waiting for an ass-fuck, or do you want to kill some mutineers?” “Who you calling cunt, cunt?” Nina called out from the other side. “Yeah, bitch!” Tara shouted. Alexa just nodded, and leaned towards the small computer on the side of the block, looking for the release button... and then it dawned on her. She placed her right elbow on her left hand, while resting her chin on her right palm, looking at the girls with a stern expression. “Y’know, I could really get back at you sluts now that you’re stuck like this. Each and every one of you shitheads.” All the girls shut up, and several of them gritted their teeth. “But I guess we’re in a hurry, aren’t we?” Alexa hit the release button, and the girls massaged their wrists and ankles as the restraints loosened and let them go. Meanwhile, Alexa removed a hypogun from a medikit and started shooting her friends up with some well-needed medication, ranging from full-spectrum antimicrobials to stimulants. As the girls emerged from the block, one by one, she tossed them each an energy bar and a bottle of water. Alexa ordered, “Help the others, suit up, and then get your kits. Most of them are outside.” “Still?”

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Alexa just nodded her head towards Nina in response as she focused on her wrist comp. “Hurry. Myra’s going to catch on pretty soon—sooner if she finds the bodies.” “How much time do we have?” Miska wondered. “Hopefully a few minutes or longer... I don’t know. Most of the crew is sleeping off the party, but the old bitch is still awake.” The girls hurried towards the double doors, but quickly stopped, staring frightened at the huge andy just standing there. Alexa passed them and said, “Don’t worry about him. He’s the last bodyguard andy left. Found him at the armory—Alec must have forgotten about him. I’ve programmed it for me, but you guys should put your hands here.” She motioned towards a small, flat gray screen. Zicci jumped up first, placing her hand on the screen. The android scanned her in as a friendly. The rest followed suit. “What do we call him?” Nina wanted to know. “No name, just a number.” “Yeah, well, I think this stud should have a name.” Tara turned towards Nina. “What makes you think it’s a dude?” “Because I say he is, and his name, henceforth, is Dildo. Mr. Dildo to you, slut.” Mohama passed them, muttering something about a “horny toad” while giving Nina a caustic stare. Behind the android were two large crates, and the girls helped themselves to the weapons inside. They ignored the two dead guards laying in pools of blood on the ground; as longtime slaves and pirates, violent death was nothing new to them. They knew life was cheap. When they were done selecting their new tools, Mohama and Miska took up guard position down the hallway, and Alexa ordered “Dildo” to follow her. Then she and the rest of her team entered Bay 7 to release and arm 27 more prisoners. When everyone was armed and prepared for battle, they followed Alexa into the corridor, where they were joined by Mohama and Miska. In eerie silence, they stopped and waited until Alexa turned to regard them. Everyone, including the two ship’s officers the Vixens had released, seemed to assume that Alexa was in

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charge. It made her feel less than comfortable, but Nina came to her rescue when she asked, “What are our orders?” Alexa looked over the people waiting for her to say something. “We’re taking back the ship,” she told them firmly, “and then we’ll send a signal for help. There’s a Marengan cruiser not too far from here. Nadia and I... by the way, where is Nadia?” No one would meet her eyes. “Did anyone see her fall during the battle?” Lieutenant Mors, a Nastasturan officer, stepped forward and asked, “Ma’am, are you talking about the Grisamm sergeant?” Alexa gave him and the other eight Nastasturan soldiers, who stood a bit off from the rest, a suspicious look. “Yes, I am. Do you know what happened to her?” “No ma’am, but I think she might have been taken by that scum Myra for interrogation. I know my own Commander Taya was taken away, and I heard Myra say that she had some questions for her.” Alexa gave it some thought, and concluded that her first priority was to help her friends. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I don’t want to leave anyone behind, but if we fail to take back the ship, then the only alternative we have is the one large shuttle we have left. It will be cramped.” “We can’t make all fit in just one shuttle... well, not for long, at least,” someone objected. Kirra interrupted, “Let’s deal with that when we get there. For now, let’s take back this bloody tin can.” “We can’t escape in the shuttle anyway. We’d be shot down just after launch,” Nina pointed out. Her words were cut short as the Predator lurched, then trembled along her entire length. Curses and shouts came from the assembled team. “What the hell...?” “Shit, something just exploded.” “Did an asteroid hit us?” “No, that was a missile impact against the shielding,” Mors called out calmly, bracing himself against the wall. Someone’s firing on the ship.” Zicci activated a wall monitor and flipped through several white noise channels before she found one on displaying the

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space outside. She tapped the keypad to move from camera to camera until she pulled up an image of a large cruiser picking its way through the asteroid cluster, destroying any large rock in its immediate vicinity. “Thought you said that there was an Marengan cruiser out there,” Mors said, not hiding his disappointment as he looked at Alexa. “There was,” she growled. Belatedly, alarm klaxons sounded through the ship and warning lights started to flash overhead. Someone wasn’t doing their job; no surprise. Alexa stepped next to Zicci. Both eyeballed the cruiser in the far distance—and when Zicci zoomed in on the ship, what they saw gave both women the chills. They glanced at each other, dismayed, and Zicci said, “Seriously, this can’t be happening. Can’t we ever catch a break?” Her voice sounded bleak and helpless. Mors straightened. “What’s happening? Who is it?” “The Night Hunters,” replied Alexa, staring at the ship and its distinctive markings. “The who?” “A pirate band let by Ogstafa, a warlord almost as bad as Horsa,” Nina answered. There was some commotion then, and arguments broke out among the few remaining loyal crew. Before long, most of them were arguing amongst themselves about what constituted the best course of action. “ENOUGH!” Alexa shouted, and that shut them up. “I don’t give a shit what anyone does. If you want to follow me, I suggest you head to the suit locker down the hallway and get a spacesuit on.” “What are your plans? We can’t take the ship back under these circumstances, can we?” Lieutenant Mors demanded. “We don’t have to. I do have a backup plan, but if I... well, if I follow through with it, then anyone not wearing a spacesuit will die, and you just told me that Myra has one or more prisoners.” Mors, who was about Alec’s age, eyed Alexa and then shouted, “You heard the acting captain! Get into your spacesuits, you lazy, no-good refugees from a dark sun!”

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He then turned and muttered to Alexa, “I saw the way you looked at me and my comrades earlier. What was that about?” Alexa looked at Mors, and then motioned towards her wrist computer, displaying Nastasturan soldiers she’d killed in the armory. “They threw in with the mutineers.” “Those bastards! Your work?” “Mutiny is punishable by death,” Alexa said, without elaborating. “That it is. Please don’t worry about me and my people; we’re loyal to Alec and you, my lady. Those bastards”—he motioned towards the screen—“I can’t speak for, and I have no idea what they were thinking. Please don’t assume we think anything like they do.” Alexa stared at him for a moment longer, then nodded her head. “I believe you,” she said, over the clatter of the crew running towards the suit locker. No one talked as they pulled on the suit components, then lined up in two rows, checking each other’s kits and gear. There were no more arguments among the crew, now that they had a purpose. “Remember, our priority target is the shuttle,” Alexa reminded them as the checked comm channels. “Kirra and Miska, you go for the fighters.” All 34 of them moved fast through the corridors. Meanwhile, “Mt. Dildo” rushed ahead and started its death dance with the mutineers working on the shuttle, taking them by surprise. Some of them reached for their weapons, but none of them were able to fire off a single shoot before they died. “Secure the shuttle and clean it out, Dildo!” Nina ordered, and the large andy hurried inside the smaller ship. “Nina, follow and check on the shuttle’s flight status,” Alexa shouted into her microphone. “Mors, have first and second squad secure our perimeter, while the rest of you help Nina.” “Alexa, we’re ready to launch on your orders,” Kirra reported for herself and Miska. The alarm shut down and the lights dimmed as a familiar voice echoed from speakers on the walls. Myra’s scowling face lit up several monitors around the bay. “And where do you think you’re going, idiots?”

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For a moment, everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at the nearest monitor. Their suit visors were shaded black, so Myra may not have known who she was dealing with. Alexa remedied that by stepping towards one of the monitors and removing her helmet. Myra stared for a moment in disbelief and then looked down, shaking her head. When she raised her head, looking at Alexa, she smiled in a friendly way. “My, my, Alexa dear, I should have known. So where’s my new captain? No, don’t tell me... dead?” Alexa’s expression confirmed it. “Oh well, never liked that moron anyway. Listen up, kid, I’ll get right to the point. Ogstafa’s flagship will be here soon, so you might as well stop whatever you think you’re doing and give up. You don’t have a chance. If you by some miracle manage to escape from us, the Night Hunters will catch all of you in no time. Surrender now, and all will be well.” Alexa didn’t answer. As the seconds passed, Myra begun feeling uneasy, and her friendly smile soon changed into something much more spiteful. “Two words,” Alexa said. Her voice was confident, and that made Myra uneasy. But she wasn’t going to let Alexa get the better of her, so she smiled and was just about to say something when Alexa continued, “Captain’s Privilege.” Alexa held up the black canister, and Myra’s eyes went as wide as saucers. Now it was Alexa’s turn to smile.

about the author

Erik Martin WillĂŠn has been creating science fiction worlds since the time he was a young boy, even working with a friend on a short-lived comic book version of Nastragull. Erik loves creating worlds of epic proportion and exploring those worlds in the stories he creates. Erik currently lives in a small village in south Sweden where he is working on the next Nastragull novel, the first in a new series called Vixens, and his first suspense novel, The Lumberjack.

Dawn Sets in Hell by Erik Martin Willén (Nastragull #3)  

Imprint: BHC Press/Indigo Genre: Science Fiction/Space Opera Release Date: 7/22/2017 Book Description: Alec von Hornet has somehow endured t...

Dawn Sets in Hell by Erik Martin Willén (Nastragull #3)  

Imprint: BHC Press/Indigo Genre: Science Fiction/Space Opera Release Date: 7/22/2017 Book Description: Alec von Hornet has somehow endured t...