The Courier

The Courier

by Melanie Brown

Copyright  © 2014 Melanie Brown

He knew the job was dangerous when he took it.

“How long until the shuttle leaves, lieutenant?”

Lieutenant Crockett glanced down at the communicator strapped to his wrist and said, “In about an hour commander.” He glanced nervously around us as we stood in the middle of the Naval Shuttle Terminal on planet Krindel. “I suggest we leave this public area of the terminal and head directly to the shuttle launch area.” He started to walk in the direction of the wide, spiral ramp that led to the interior of the terminal.

I lifted a hand and said, “Just hold on a second, Lieutenant. We don’t leave for another hour. It’s an hour’s flight from this terminal to the CSS Dunbar. I’m hungry and the commissary is right here.

The lieutenant frowned and said, “Commander, sir, I most respectfully suggest we go to the lower levels immediately.”

I smiled at the lieutenant, understanding his need to avoid performing his duty. Some consider being a courier escort as a skate job since it usually is light duty, spending upwards of a few weeks following an officer around praying that he’ll never be called upon to send a bullet exploding through the courier’s skull. Most means of moving data can be hacked into, decrypted, or even if a device is physically damaged, forensic recovery can retrieve most if not all of the data. But a brain splattered across a wall is difficult to reconstitute.

I said, “I understand your need for security, Crockett, but we are inside a naval facility. Granted, this is a frontier planet, but it’s well protected and I doubt any Lodorean spies have been able to penetrate the defenses. And, I’m hungry.”

Heaving a large sigh, Lt. Crockett said, “As you wish, Sir. But I want the mission log to note I allow your lunch under protest.”

I chuckled and said, “Duly noted, Crockett. Let’s eat.”

The lieutenant and I turned around and walked the dozen meters or so towards the commissary. While I attempted to be light about our mission with Crockett, the weight of the responsibility I was carrying on my shoulders, literally, was attempting to pull me down. Along with the data holographically implanted in my brain were the ghosts of the men who died getting the raw data out of Lodorean space. And then there was the captain whose name I never knew who sacrificed the destroyer class ship he commanded to delay the pursuit of the fast scout ship in which I and its small crew escaped after having the holographic overlay imprinted in my brain. I had no idea of what information was stored in my head, but I was told that it could change the course of the war. Possibly even end it with the Consortium coming out on top.

We set our trays down at an empty table in the busy commissary. I was starving and I couldn’t wait to dig in. Navy commissaries truly had the best food of any of the service branches. I was just savoring my first bite when an officer started to walk past our table. He did a double take at me and came up to the table, wearing a big smile.

“Commander Stockton! How good to see you again, Sir,” said the officer as he pulled a chair out and started to sit down. “May I join you for a minute?”

Shrugging I said, “It seems you already have…um…ah, Captain Rollins. Good to see you.”

“Haven’t seen you since that wretchedly botched landing on Brockton’s Planet when I had to drag your…” His voice trailed away when he noticed Lt. Crockett sitting next to me wearing his Courier Escort Service patch. He hesitated a moment and then as he started to stand said, “Um, well yes. I should probably let you carry on. Godspeed and quite frankly, Commander, I don’t envy you at all. Good day.”

I looked over at the lieutenant and said, “You’ve done escort duty a few times. Are all couriers treated like pariahs?”

Crockett took a drink and shrugged. He said, “As you learned in your briefing, couriers are often targets. Do you blame them for not wanting to risk collateral damage? That’s why I still recommend we go to the more secure launch area.”

I laughed and said, “You are relentless, lieutenant. I’m almost done and then we can go. Do you worry about being collateral damage?”

Lieutenant Crockett smiled wryly as he leaned back in his seat, taking another drink. He did a quick scan around the room and then said, “It all depends.”

Leaning my arms on the table, I said, “Depends on what?”

“Depends on whether or not you’re marked for assassination or capture. If it’s assassination, nobody is going to waste a bullet on the escort.”

*          *          *

“Docking with the Dunbar in fifteen minutes,” announced a disembodied voice through the overhead speakers.

“Still nervous?” I asked Crockett as I latched myself back into the padded seat with the five point belt system.

“I’ll be more comfortable once we’re on that frigate and made the first jump, Commander,” said the lieutenant as he checked the data tablet attached to his arm. “I know we control this system’s space, but we’re still sitting ducks out here.”

I watched the monitor mounted on the wall of the passenger compartment showing the CSS Dunbar loom large as we approached it. The Dunbar was a fast frigate class ship, a well armed, medium sized ship and able to recharge the jump engines fairly quickly. That was an important feature as our trip was going to consist of a series of short jumps instead of just one long one. The thinking being that as it takes sometimes over an hour to calculate a jump, predicting a destination becomes almost impossible after multiple jumps.

There was a low vibration rumbling through the shuttle as the braking jets got a little too aggressive to slow the ship down. The was a unsettling quiet just before the metallic sound of the shuttle mating with the frigate’s airlock.

“Attention all passengers. Prepare to disembark as soon as the airlocks have been purged. We know you don’t have a choice in shuttle services, but we thank you for flying with us anyway. Have a good day,” announced the disembodied voice.

Naturally I failed to notice the orientation diagram as we floated in zero-G through the umbilical tunnel between the ships and arrived in the inertial dampened environment of the frigate upside down. Fortunately for me, this happens fairly often so there were two crewmembers to catch me. It’s very disquieting to find yourself suddenly being catapulted towards what you thought was the ceiling.

As soon as I was standing and had recovered my composure, an obvious officer in his khaki uniform gave a smart salute and then extended his hand and said, “Welcome aboard the CSS Dunbar, Commander Stockton! I’m Lieutenant Commander Martin, Executive Officer. The captain is waiting for you on the bridge. The verification for the calculation for the first jump just completed a few minutes ago and he’s anxious to get underway.”

“Thank you Lieutenant. Please lead the way,” I said returning the salute and putting my officer’s cap under my arm.

The companionways were narrow and cramped with pipes and hoses branching in all directions. Some berthing rooms we passed by were actually more spacious than I anticipated. One room we passed by was bathed in red light, the doorways closed and latched visible through windows made of virtually indestructible glass.

Lieutenant Martin pointed at the glass as we passed by it and said, “That’s the CIC. You’ll get a tour tomorrow if you want. We can track predicted jump destinations as well as vessels and their ID using our Deep RADAR. We’re in constant communication via wormhole tech with the region’s outposts as well as Naval HQ.”

Lieutenant Crockett laughed and said, “Commander, if they can ever get the band-width high enough on that wormhole tech, they won’t need couriers anymore. The Lodoreans don’t even suspect we have this kind of technology.”

Grinning like a kid with a shiny new toy, Lieutenant Martin said, “Our latest development that we’re retro fitting on all military ships is take a snapshot of a Lodorean ship’s memory if it’s close enough and broadcast it through the wormhole tech. That way somebody in the network will get it and then decode it. The Lodoreans should just surrender now.”

I frowned and said, “Don’t forget they’re currently winning.”

Looking suddenly serious, Martin said, “That thing in your brain is a game changer.”

As we reached a closed hatch at the end of the cramped corridor, I said, "I sure hope so, considering the cost of getting it."

Nodding, Martin’s face darkened as he released the four latches on the hatchway door. As the hatch door swung in, he said, “It has to. We can’t let those butchers win.”

As we entered the bridge of the CSS Dunbar, a crewman at the console said in a monotone, “Shuttle disengaged and plotting landing curve.”

On the bridge was what I expected to see. The captain, a pilot, a navigator, communications and computer operations were all at their stations when we stepped through the hatchway.

A man in his mid-forties turned to face us as we entered. With a broad smile he said, “Welcome aboard, Commander. I’m Captain Bane and you’ve of course already met my XO.” He returned my salute and continued, “We understand the seriousness of your mission and we’ll be underway in our first jump just as soon as we get enough distance from the planet’s gravity well.”

“Thank you Captain,” I said. “My jittery escort won’t be able to relax until we go interstellar.”

Frowning, the captain said, “He’s not the only one.” He pointed across the bridge and said, “Find a seat and get yourself strapped in.”

I could feel the low vibration as the ship began to move out from its orbit. I watched the planet below start to leave the monitors showing the view fore and aft. Of course, on a military ship there were no windows looking out into space as they would create weak points that would be perfect targets to an attacking vessel.

Captain Bane said, “Pilot. Begin countdown to jump.”

The pilot flipped a series of switches on the control panel before him. He said, “Aye, Sir. Jump in twenty minutes.”

Captain Bane punched an intercom button and said into it, “CIC, is the area clear?”

Through the speaker came a voice, “Aye, Captain. We are clear for jump.”

There was a growing steady whine coming from the bowels of the ship as the jump engine spun up to full power. The minutes before a jump, a ship is the most vulnerable as almost all the ship’s power are directed to the jump engine. Once a ship goes interstellar, it is safe from attack or being tracked. Travelling through a jump always leaves the traveler a bit disoriented. From inside the ship, the trip might take a few hours, but days will have passed when the ship finally emerges. Coming out of a jump is always extremely dangerous for military ships as the end points are kept secret so there’s always a possibility of a collision. It’s a very small possibility, but it’s there.

The whine from the jump engine was reaching a pitch and volume to start to become really annoying. The vibration grew to physical shaking. This jump must be really long as the vibration and whine seemed to go on forever.

The pilot said in a calm voice, “Ten seconds to jump.” He then began a countdown and then pulled a lever back on the control panel. There was a sudden sense of queasiness in the pit of my stomach as the ship jumped from normal space. The monitors showing the view outside the ship turned gray.

The pilot took his hands off the controls and said, “We are interstellar…”

Captain Bane popped the restraints on his seat and stood up. “Now we can relax. We should re-enter normal space in a pretty remote location, free of military and civilian traffic.”

Lieutenant Martin said, “And it should be the same for the next two jumps. The last jump should put us solidly into Consortium territory.”

I looked over at Lieutenant Crockett and it was the first time since he’s been my escort that I’ve seen his muscles relax. He closed his eyes and stretched. He said, “Finally. The easy part of the mission.”

I got up and wandered over to the navigation console. There was a display showing estimated real space locations we were passing. From the speed at which the text on the display scrolled on the display, we were travelling at a tremendous rate. Another display showed the navigation computer busy at calculating our next jump based on our presumed exit point.

I went back to my seat and closed my eyes. I’m with Crockett on this. Finally some time to relax and maybe sleep the rest of the way in. I couldn’t wait to get this data removed from my brain.

*          *          *

I awoke with a jolt. Alarms were sounding all over the bridge. The pilot shouted, “Proximity alert!”

Captain Bane ran up to a monitor and said grimly, “That’s impossible!”

I got out of my seat, along with Crockett and stood next to the captain. I said, “What’s going on? Why the alarms?”

Ignoring me, Captain Bane flipped the switch to the One-MC and said in a calm voice, “General Quarters! All crew to their battle stations!”

“What’s going on?” I repeated.

Captain Bane pointed at the monitor and said, “That’s going on. It’s impossible. When we came out from our third jump, a Lodorean ship exited at the exact same time, matching our velocity and heading. And only meters from us.”

There was a sudden series of dull thuds and then a jolt as the Dunbar slid up against the other ship. The captain’s face went pale. He said, “Oh my God.” He flipped the switch on the One-MC again and shouted, “Attention all crew. Prepare to repel boarders!”

Lieutenant Martin said, “Those impacts you heard were grappling hooks penetrating the ship. They’re coming along side to blow a hole in our side to force an entry.” To the captain he said, “Sir! How is it even possible for them to arrive at the exact some place, time and heading?”

Captain Bane looked slowly over at the navigator and said, “Only if someone gave them that information before we left.”

The ship’s comm system erupted in shouts and the sounds of both projectile and energy weapons being discharged.

Before anyone could react, the navigator stood up and pulled his side arm and shot the pilot in the back of the head. Captain Bane and Lieutenant Martin started to remove their side arms from their holsters. Lieutenant Crockett already had his gun aimed at my head. I saw his finger start to squeeze the trigger. Just as he fired, I saw his head snap back. His shot, instead of going through my brain, exploded in my chest.

Everything seemed to go in slow motion as I saw my blood eject from my body, seeing Crockett go limp and start to collapse. I felt no pain and heard no sound as my vision faded. I knew I was dead. Crockett had failed in his job, but still managed to kill me. Maybe that was enough. My last thought was that I had failed.

*          *          *

“The prisoner is awake, Sir.”

I slowly became aware of things. I wasn’t dead. That’s not possible. I was cold. Maybe they had my brain in a jar or something. My vision started to clear and I could start to make out figures standing around me. I could feel that I was bound to a chair. I also realized I was naked. I shook my head trying to clear it.

Another voice said, “Welcome to my ship, Commander. I apologize for strapping you to the chair. We didn’t want you to fall out and injure yourself.” He chuckled and then said, “You’re my prisoner and the only surviving member of your crew. They put up a noble fight. At least until we evacuated the ship’s atmosphere into space.”

I could finally see my surroundings. I said, “Where am I? And who are you?”

He shrugged and said, “Forgive my manners. I’m your host, Captain Jostens. You’re on a Lodorean ship on course to rendezvous with a cargo ship carrying other Consortium prisoners. I also apologize for your current condition. We had to make some an emergency accommodation for you. Our spy was to shoot your escort first so you would be undamaged. He was jettisoned into space with the rest of your crew.”

Current condition? What was he talking about? It was then that I started noticing things were not right. I looked down at my nude body and long strands of dark brown hair fell across my face. I saw that I had breasts. What the hell?

I looked back up at Captain Jostens and said, “What’s going on? What have you done to me?”

The Captain Jostens grinned and said, “We didn’t have much time and our ship is too small to have stasis cells. Our medical advances are superior to your Consortium’s medical science. Your body was dead and we didn’t have much time. We moved your brain to another host. All the rest of your ship’s crew was dead, and I wasn’t going to use any of ours, so we picked one of the prettier prostitutes we carry on the ship for the crew’s pleasure. I believe she was a young farm girl from one of your Consortium’s frontier systems. Anyway, we tossed her brain and inserted yours. You’re alive now. But I don’t expect any thanks from you.” He then laughed.

I looked down at my naked body in shock and horror, confirming the captain’s words. I could feel the long hair across my back and I could see naked breasts. How could such technology exist? I said, “It’s impossible to transplant a brain into a new host! This is some kind of mind trick!”

The captain laughed and walked over to me and slapped me hard across the face. The stinging impact jarred my vision and hurt like hell. He said, “Does that feel like a mind trick, little whore? Oh, it’s real. It’s our closest guarded secret. Makes it real easy to place spies. Just like the one who was your ship’s navigator. We captured the host body months ago as he stepped out of a bar, so drunk he could barely move. We discarded the brain, and put in a brain from one of our brave soldiers…the one we flushed out into space. Oh well. We have spies like this all over the Consortium. That’s why we’re winning.” He grinned broadly.

“Why did you do this to me?” I asked as I looked again at the small, female body I now inhabited. “I’d figure you’d just get the image out of my brain and kill me.”

Captain Jostens smiled at me and said, “That’s a great idea! Don’t worry. You’ll not only die later, you’ll probably be begging for it. While we can move brains around, we don’t possess the technology to extract that hologram overlaid in your memory. That’s why we’re transferring you to another ship that’s already on its way to one of our large bases. We need to know what was leaked. Sadly, since we don’t fully understand the technology involved, your brain is shredded in our extraction process. But don’t worry! We’ll recycle that lovely body by putting another high value prisoner inside it.” He laughed heartily.

“You monsters! Butchers!” I sneered. I expected to be hit again.

The captain stepped up close to me and said very seriously, “I don’t think you should be calling us butchers. Have you forgotten those four, heavily populated planets the Consortium completely blew up?” To a crew member standing behind me, he barked, “Take this whore back to the prostitute’s quarters. The men can enjoy this whore as much as they want as long as they don’t hurt her beyond repair or kill her. Any man that kills her goes out the airlock.” He turned to me just before he left and said, “I don’t expect you to break. Couriers never break. Too disciplined. So, it’s just fun. Enjoy the slow trip to the rendezvous point.” He walked out of the small room chucking to himself.

The crewmember untied me and jerked me roughly out of the chair. He then shoved me towards the door. “Come on, bitch. We don’t have all day.”

As I stumbled along, my mind raced. How is this possible? I knew I now had a girl’s body, but I just couldn’t force myself to believe it as possible. I wondered how much was just boasting about the number of spies in the Consortium or if it was true. How could I get this information back the high command?

“I’m cold,” I said truthfully. “Do I get clothes?”

The crewmember poked me with his rifle and said, “You’re a whore. You don’t need clothes.”

“It never hurts to ask,” I said. The crewman jabbed his rifle into my ribs. I groaned and said, “I guess it does hurt…”

A few moments later, the crewman unlocks a door and shoves me inside. I stumble inside as the door is slammed shut and locked behind me. The room looked like a lobby, with girls, either nude or barely dressed in lingerie lounging in large chairs. One who was doing her make-up looked up when I was tossed into the room.

“Sandy!” the woman exclaimed. “You were gone so long, I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”

I looked at her quizzically and said, “Sandy?”

She gasped and motioned me over to her. She said, “You’re not Sandy, are you?”

Frowning, I said, “Sorry. I’m not Sandy.”

Tears welling up in her eyes, she said nervously, “Where is she? And who are you?”

“I’m sorry, but your friend is dead,” I said without emotion. I was drained. I was still trying to grasp the idea that I was now and probably for the rest of my life, a girl. Not that I had much life left.

The woman set her make-up brush down and her eyes took on a faraway look. She said, “That’s too bad. I really liked her. She was just a farm girl. She deserved better. So, who are you?” I wondered how often they swapped brains with prostitutes. This woman didn’t even bat an eyelash at the idea that there was a different brain in her friend’s body.

At first I was hesitant to let on who I was. There’s no telling anymore who is who and what side they’re on. I mentally shrugged and decided that it really didn’t matter much anymore. I said, “I’m Commander Stockton of the Consortium Navy at your service.” I bowed slightly.

The woman laughed lightly and said, “Cute. I’m guessing that because of the no kill order on you that you are most likely a courier. Relax, I’m…or rather, used to be Captain Wilson, Consortium Ground Forces. That’s right. Don’t look surprised. I used to be male like you. The Lodoreans seem to take perverse delight in making prostitutes out of their enemies.” Picking up a jar of make-up of some sort, rolling it in her fingers, she said, “I’ve been a whore so long, I really don’t remember my life before that. You’re lucky. You’ll be dead soon.”

I said, “I have to hold on to the idea of escape. The information I’m carrying is vital to the war effort.”

“Sandy…I’m going to call you Sandy…Are you really that naïve?” asked the former Captain Wilson. “Do you honestly think the Consortium is going to risk putting all its apples into one basket? There’s probably a dozen or more of couriers like you trying to get back to HQ. Ha. Wouldn’t it be funny if yours is a blank? Just a decoy and they don’t discover that until after your brain is scrambled?”

“Hilarious,” I said without humor.

The door opened a bit, and one of the girls walked over to it. After a few moments, the girl called out, “Bambi! The third deck gunnery crew is demanding you come to them now.”

Bambi, otherwise known as Captain Wilson smiled with tired eyes. “Lucky me. I’m their favorite. I don’t even bother to resist any more. If you’re smart, you won’t either. Unless you just enjoy being slapped around.” She then turned and walked slowly towards the door.

A girl got up and walked past me towards what looked like living quarters. She said, “It’s funny. I remember that I used to enjoy using prostitutes.” She walked down the hallway and entered a room.

*          *          *

The slap stung and jarred my vision. I said, “I’m sorry sir. I thought you wanted…” My neck hurt from the jarring slap on my other cheek.

“Think?” boomed the man standing naked in front of me. “Whores don’t think! If you had brains, you wouldn’t be a whore, now would you?” He then laughed at his little joke. He pointed at his penis and said, “I need to take a piss.” He gestured towards his penis again.

My stomach churned. I felt nauseated. The crew on this ship was made up of some of the sickest people I’ve ever encountered. I realized that they took great pleasure in having their way with a member of the Consortium military. But the abject depravity disgusted and horrified me. I think it has only been a week and I could no longer remember how many times I’d been raped and brutalized. I looked at the man pointing at his penis and decided I’d had enough. I mean, what were they going to do to me?

I lunged towards him before he could react and took all of his genitals into my mouth. I ignored my gag reflex as his manhood filled my mouth. And then I bit as hard as I could. The warm flow of iron tinged liquid flowed into my mouth as my teeth came together and his genitals separated from his body. The man’s blood curdling scream was terrifying as I spit his blood and manhood onto the floor.

Blood spurted down his legs as he clamped his hands over the place where his penis used to be. He screamed, “You fucking bitch! Arrgh! I’ll kill you!” He collapsed to his knees, howling in pain.

The door flew open and in burst several armed men carrying what looked like long poles. They were shock rods and they hit the man with one in the back of his neck and struck me with one as well. I passed out.

When I came to, I found that I was hanging from my arms, tied to the ceiling. My legs were shacked together. My arms ached from holding my body up. Captain Jostens stood in front of me. Several other officers stood around, all of them holding girls by their hair.

The captain saw that I was awake and he grinned. He said, “Now that was fucking funny! No really. I’m sure that ass-clown deserved it. But it was a pointless gesture. His cock has been re-attached. But you know, as funny as that was, we just can’t have our prostitutes being so blatantly insolent. I brought a few of them here so they can watch what happens to naughty girls.” The captain gestured and two men approached me carrying shock rods.

They had the power turned down so I wouldn’t pass out, but the pain was agonizing as they shoved the shock rods against my nipples and into my vagina. I screamed and tugged against the ropes that bound my arms. The girls watching cried.

*          *          *

“Wake up, sleeping beauty!” shouted the Captain Jostens. There constant drone of the ship’s engines was gone. He said, “This is where you get off. We have docked with the cargo ship carrying other prisoners on the way to one of our frontier worlds. Don’t look so sad! Rejoice, whore. In just a few days from now, you will be free of all pain and misery.”

I looked up at him with dull eyes. I ached and hurt all over. I looked into his eyes and couldn’t even muster enough strength to hate him. I had wanted to kill him with my own hands, but I knew I’d never see him again after I’d left the ship.

I just laid there in my bed and groaned. I no longer cared at all. I said, “Go to hell.”

The captain snapped his fingers and two men picked me up by my shoulders and dragged me from room. I was dragged through the common room and several girls sat in their chairs and watched me being dragged away.

The girl formerly known as Captain Wilson said, “Sandy, remember. You’re a Consortium officer!”

At first I wanted to tell her to go to hell too. But instead I stood up straight and shook my arms free of the men’s grip. I tossed my hair over my shoulder with a whip of my head and naked and aching, I walked under my own power out into the cramped corridor.

As we approached the airlock, crew from the other ship walked through, one of them holding a leather collar. The captain waved his hand and said, “That’s unnecessary. She’s very docile now. Except in bed!” He laughed.

The man holding the collar nodded and said, “Follow me, girl. You’ll be tossed in with the rest of the ship’s prostitutes.”

As the airlock’s hatch began to close, Captain Jostens pretended to wipe away a tear. He said, “I’ll miss you!” He laughed again.

After we cleared the airlock and were in a narrow passageway of the cargo ship, the crewman escorting me said, “This isn’t a combat ship, girl. The men here aren’t quite as gruff. You won’t be abused here. Well, unless you don’t do as you’re told. I know you’re special cargo, but I still expect you to perform.”

We walked into the common room. Several girls were sitting around talking, and doing things like combing or braiding each other’s hair. My escort said, “We have a new whore. She’s only with us until we reach the hell planet Abrams, which is in about a month. Show her how to make herself more presentable.” He turned on his heel and left, closing and locking the hatchway behind him.

One of the girls, an older woman who seemed to be the queen bee among the prostitutes said, “Oh honey, please. Follow me. You’ve been mistreated. I’ll never understand why men think they have to hurt women. Since we’re here to give them pleasure, you’d think that’d be enough.”

The woman led me back to a back room where there was a swirling, hot bath. I’ve only had a wet cloth to clean myself on the other ship. Oh God that bath looked so inviting!

“Here, honey. Let me help you settle into the bath. I’m sure you’ll feel so much better.”

“Thank you,” I managed to say as she and another girl helped lower me into the bath. Oh God, the bath felt like heaven, with its swirling, hot, bubbling water. I closed my eyes and for the first time since my capture, I relaxed. Never had a bath felt so wonderful before. The woman poured water over my head and lathered up my hair and proceeded to wash it.

The woman said, “The men on those war ships are animals. I guess I can’t really blame them in a way. Any moment they could be dead. But they don’t have to be so rough. So, what’s your name, sweetie? I’m Maura.”

There was no reason for any of these girls to know my past, so I just said, “Sandy. My name is Sandy. I’m happy to meet you, Maura.”

Maura smiled and said, “We’re happy to have you here, Sandy. Follow the rules, please the man you’re with and keep your appearance up, and you should have a more or less pleasant month here.”

I felt like a new girl after getting out of the bath and dried off. Maura showed me my quarters and I was surprised to see such a nice bed. We were on a cargo ship after all. The room, while small, had a closet full of sexy clothes, and a vanity table complete with cosmetics. After everything I’d been through, seeing these things made me happy.

*          *          *

I was lying in my bed on top of the satin sheets, feeling fresh as I’d just come from the bath. I had been a prostitute for a week so far on this ship and considering my previous experience, it had actually been pleasant. If you consider not being slapped multiple times per visit, or kicked, punched, dragged by my hair as “pleasant.” Mind you these things still happened, just not with the frequency and brutality as on the other ship. I almost felt like I was on vacation. There were a couple of the men that were becoming my favorite sex partners because they hit me the least. But if the man wasn’t pleased, there was always punishment. It was going to be a long month.

I tried not to think of what was going to happen to me when we reached our destination.

Maura stepped into my room and said, “Sandy, you need to make yourself presentable, sweetie. You have a VIP in the officer’s quarters. They expect you in half an hour.”

I sat up and said, “VIP? Is it the captain? I don’t think I’ve ever met him.”

Maura shrugged and said, “Maybe. But I doubt it. I understand he doesn’t like prostitutes. Anyway, get ready. You need to hurry.”

While it had only been a week, I had become quite expert at applying make-up. I wasn’t given any instructions, so I decided to go with smoky eyes with long, black lashes. A pastel pink lipstick matched the color I already had on my nails. Unless told to ramp it up with darker reds, I tried to stay understated. I spent several minutes brushing my long hair out and I decided to put in my large, silver hoop earrings. On this ship, they expected you to look the part, not just be a breathing female like the other ship.

We were rarely allowed to walk through the ship, but when we did, we couldn’t travel through the corridors naked. We had to wear a simple, white dress and sandals. A crewmember was waiting for me outside the whorehouse and I followed him to the officers’ area in the center of the ship. The rooms were definitely larger than the regular crews’ quarters.

“Girl. Wait in this room. Your VIP will be here shortly,” said the crewmember.

The room was largely empty. I guessed no one lived in this particular room. I tried to turn on the computer, but it seemed most of the items in the room had had their power removed. I sat on the room’s bed and fretted about what I faced next. I turned to face the door when there was a single knock on it. That was odd. Nobody ever knocks.

A tall, ruggedly handsome man entered. He looked tired, and his eyes revealed an even greater weariness. As the door was closed behind him, he just stood there for a moment with a confused look on his face. He looked quickly about the room. He approached me and looked me over and shook his head.

He said, “Don’t worry, girl. I’m not going to harm you. I’m not even sure why they brought me here to this room with you.” He studied me again and continued, “My God. What do they do to you girls?” He touched my arm under one of the bruises I have accumulated. He shook his head and under his breath, he said, “Savages.” He looked away and stared at the wall as he frowned.

I stood up and took a step towards him and touched his arm. I said, “Am I not pleasing to you, sir? Please, let me bring you pleasure.”

He moved gruffly so my hand slipped from his arm. He looked at me with disgust. He said, “I’m sorry girl. I don’t blame you for what they have you do. I’m sure you’d rather be back to wherever they snatched you from.” He studied me again and said, “You are pleasing. You are very beautiful. You’d be even more so if you were not so bruised and cut. But I do not want your services.” He looked away from me. He muttered to himself, “I guess they thought a prostitute would soften me up.”

I slid to my knees beside him and touched his pants leg. I said, “Please sir! If I don’t please you I’ll be punished! Let me bring you pleasure.”

He smiled at me and said, “Stand up girl. I’ll tell the Lodorean scum that you pleased me very much. We don’t brutalize women in the Consortium Navy.”

I stood there silent for a moment with a confused look. Did he just say Consortium? Was this a trick? He turned to leave the room. I shook my head to clear the weeks of abuse and said, “Are you Consortium?”

He turned to me and smiled. He said, “Yes I am. I’m a prisoner here. I think by giving me you, they thought I might loosen up and talk.” He again started to turn towards the door.

My eyes went wide as I leaped forward and grabbed the sleeve of his shirt. “Don’t go! Please! Can you help me?”

He pulled my hand from his sleeve. He said, “I wish I could help you, miss. I really do. But I’m a prisoner. I can’t do anything for you.” He turned again to go.

“No, wait!” I pleaded. “You don’t understand. I’m a Consortium officer! I’m a courier!”

The man laughed. He said, “The Consortium doesn’t commission young girls. I’m not sure where you heard some of these terms, but nice try.”

I tugged on his shirt and said, “I’m not really a girl. We can’t let the Lodoreans get what’s inside my brain! Then they’ll know how we got it and probably who gave the data to us!”

He frowned and said, “You look like a real girl to me. I can’t tell if this is a joke or a trick.”

“Listen! I’m Commander Stockton. I’m a courier and I was being transported on CSS Dunbar. There was a spy who sent our jump data to the Lodoreans. They intercepted us and killed the crew. My escort only managed to kill my body, not destroy my head. The Lodoreans medical technology is more advanced. They were able to transplant my brain into this farm girl’s body. Don’t look at me like that. I’m telling the truth!”

He just looked at me for a moment. He said, “That’s quite a story, miss. How did you find time to make it up?”

“What’s your name and rank?” I asked, losing patience.

The man frowned and said, “Since it doesn’t really matter if I tell you, I’m Captain Walker, commanding officer of the CSS Holcombe. Well, was anyway.”

“Captain, what I’m about to tell you may sound fantastic, but it’s true, and it’s a major threat to the Consortium,” I said, trying to look as earnest as possible.

Captain Walker sat down in one of the room’s chairs and said, “Well girl, as I have no real desire to return to my prison cell, I’ll humor you. Just what is this threat?”

“Listen carefully, Captain,” I said sitting in the other chair and rolling it close to Captain Walker so I could speak in low tones. “The Lodoreans have some method of transferring a living brain from one host to another. The navigator aboard the Dunbar was a Consortium officer in the Navy. Fingerprints, DNA – everything. No question of his loyalty. And that was the problem. In his head was a Lodorean’s brain. He had all the jump locations, which he sent to the Lodoreans. On the third jump, they matched vector exactly and boarded the ship. My escort tried to put a bullet in my head, but was killed just as he shot. Only my body was hit. The Lodorean captain of the attacking ship put my brain into the body of a poor farm girl who had been forced into prostitution on his ship.”

Captain Walker looked as if he was almost buying it, but he said, “How can they have this ability? Wouldn’t it leave some evidence of surgery? Like shaving your head or something?”

“I just know they can do it, Captain,” I said, starting to get frustrated. “You’re not understanding the gravity of this. They can capture one of us, replace our brain with one of theirs and now a trusted crewman is in fact a spy or saboteur. How was your ship captured?”

Walker looked thoughtful for a moment. He said, “Good God. If what you say is true, the threat could be widespread and undetectable! I’m still not sure if I believe it though.” He shrugged and said, “Our ship was taken by surprise after a problem with the navigation computer dropped us back into real space by chance on the same course as a Lodorean vessel. It was almost as if it was waiting to ambush us.

“I know what you’re thinking. Just like the rest of my bridge crew, my navigator’s loyalty is unquestioned. I’ve known him since just after my commission.”

I thought for a moment and then said, “What about your computer engineer? How well did you know him?”

The captain looked thoughtful for a minute. He finally said, “He was a last minute replacement. But I checked him out myself. He’s a lieutenant and has served in the Consortium Navy for over five years.”

“That’s him!” I jumped up. “I’d stake my life on it. He’s the Lodorean spy that got you captured.”

The captain stood up too and said, “That’s quite a charge to make, miss. Especially for someone you’ve never met.”

“I don’t have to. I’m positive there’s a Lodorean brain inside that lieutenant’s head.”

Captain Walker said, “I’m not sure if I believe you, but Lieutenant Smith has always kept to himself. Whether he is or not, what you’re saying does make some sense when you think about what happened to you and to my ship. It’s got me thinking…

“From what I’ve been able to garner from the crew of this ship, we’re not going to one of the many prisons the Lodoreans operate on numerous asteroids. We’re going to a region head quarters. You’re going there I imagine, because they’ll have the facilities to remove that hologram from your brain. But for us…for us they could change out our brains and infiltrate us with people with unquestioned loyalty! This could be a disaster!”

I nodded and said, “I agree Captain. The problem is what can we do about it?”

Captain Walker looked suddenly very serious. He said, “We’ll have to do whatever we can to make sure none of us live to be taken to the surface.”

Leaning in towards him, I said, “If you do that, you must either find a way to destroy this ship or you must kill me. If you fail, they’ll get the data in my head.”

*          *          *

Maura looked up as I entered the prostitute’s common room. As I approached her, she said, “Well, Sandy. How was your VIP?”

I wasn’t going to tell her the truth. I said, “He was great. He was a Consortium prisoner and he was very nice to me. A perfect gentleman. Did you know they don’t have prostitutes on their naval vessels?”

Maura smirked and said, “It must be boring for the men.”

Sounding irritated, I said, “The point is that they don’t force us to have sex with them. They don’t do that to us!”

Obviously peeved, Maura said, “Look. I don’t care where you are from. You’re no longer part of the Consortium. You are a whore for the pleasure of the men on this ship and that’s all you will be until the day you die. You got that, whore?”

“What’s biting you?” I asked. “I was telling you this time I wasn’t smacked around for once.”

“Sandy, you and the other girls here are here for one purpose only,” Maura said after taking a deep breath. “And from what I’ve been told, you’re doing that quite well. You’ve only been disciplined twice. You get asked for by name a lot. That doesn’t happen often with the other girls. I thought you enjoyed having sex. And now here you are, suggesting that our enemies are better men. You’re a prostitute. Men are just men. Doesn’t matter where they come from.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I just tend to notice when someone doesn’t slap or beat me.”

Maura shook her head and gave me a weak smile. She said, “They all do eventually, honey. They all do eventually…”

*          *          *

I sat on my bed, trying to keep from crying. I was an emotional wreck. I’d been a woman and a prostitute for well over a month now and none of that bothered me anymore. In fact, it was almost routine. No, what was bothering me now was that the overhead comm system had just announced that within the hour we’d be re-entering normal space at the Lodorean planet Abrams. Our final destination.

None of the other girls cared much. It’s not like they were going to get a few days off planet-side. It was just another day for them. But for me, this was probably my last day to live. Captain Walker must not have been able to find a way to hijack the ship or at least find a way to get everyone killed so their bodies couldn’t be used to infiltrate the Consortium.

Maura walked into my room and looked at me with a puzzled look. She said, “I just got word to get you ready to leave. You’re being transferred to the base down on the planet. I’m jealous. The official military brothels are so much better than on these ships.”

I just smiled at her and said, “Oh? That’ll be a nice change.” I wasn’t going to say I was on my way to have my brain scrambled.

Maura seemed irritated. She said, “Still, I’m surprised they wanted you.”

I looked at Maura sideways and said, “Is there someone more deserving?”

Eyes flashing, Maura said, “Yeah! Me! I’ve been on this tin can long enough! I’ve done my job. I’ve kept you girls in line and kept the crew happy. It’s time for a change.”

I smirked at Maura and said, “Remember, you’re just a whore. Your feelings don’t really count for anything.”

Scowling, Maura said, “Okay, bitch. Put some make-up on and change into your white dress and sandals. The transport will dock with us as soon as we reach orbit. I want you ready before we dock.”

I was a little surprised that Maura thought she’d have some kind of reward for being a good custodian of a whorehouse. I don’t blame her for wanting something new, but we really are little more than entertainment.

I had just slipped into my dress when the overhead crackled to life. The voice said, “Stand by for transport shuttle docking. Stand…Holy shit! Where did that co…”

The ship was suddenly rocked by an explosion coming from what I took as the fore end of the ship. The hull was suddenly pelted by scores of small impacts. The ship rocked from another explosion.

The overhead shouted, “Repel boarders! General quarters!” and then it went silent.

I laughed out loud. Captain Walker must have finally made his move. I rushed to the door to get out into the rest of the ship.

Maura shouted to one of the girls near the hatchway, “Latch that door! Now! We’re under attack!”

“I’m getting out of here!” I shouted to Maura as I tried to rush past her towards the door.

That’s when I noticed Maura had a gun in her hand. She said, “Stay where you are, bitch! That includes the rest of you. Nobody leaves. It’s my job to keep everyone safe in this room until the crew have defeated the attackers.”

“Get out of the way, Maura,” I shouted. “You’ve been nice to me. I don’t want to have to hurt you.”

Maura laughed and said, “You and what army, bitch? You’re not ruining my chance to get my life back! I was told if I do everything right, and keep you girls safe and quiet, I’d get my body back!”

Alarms were ringing all over the ship. Even though the bulkheads shouts and gunfire could be heard. I didn’t know what Walker’s plan was, but I really wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t have time for this nonsense.

I said, “You’re a man?”

Maura sneered, “I was. This was my punishment. My way back to good graces with my commanding officer!”

I laughed, “You’re a girl forever, Maura. Deal with it and let me past.”

Maura pointed her gun straight at my head as she shouted, “You’re wrong! Nobody move or I will shoot!”

At that moment there was a blinding flash and a deafening explosion as a breaching charge blew in the heavy metal hatchway. The door flew from its hinges and smashed into Maura and knocked her to the floor, her gun flying from her hand. The hatchway door landing on her head. A dark pool of blood spread from under the door.

Holding an assault rifle, Captain Walker rushed in through the open door. He shouted, “Commander! We have to hurry. We’ve set the jump engine to overload.” I rushed up to him and he took my hand and started to pull me through the door.

“Wait! Wait!” I shouted. “What about these other girls? We can’t leave them here!”

He frowned, but then Captain Walker nodded his head. He shouted, “Marine! Escort these women onto the Bronson, quickly. Until we can interrogate them for spies, put them into a holding cell.” He then pulled me from the room.

Alarms and flashing lights permeated the ship’s interior as we ran past crumpled bodies of Lodorean and a few Consortium marines. The ship vibrated wildly as the jump engine sped unrestrained. There were still shots and small explosions.

Captain Walker had a death grip on my hand as he pulled me quickly through the ship. I could barely catch my breath, but I said, “Captain! What’s going on?”

Pausing to make few shots down a corridor, Captain Walker turned to me and said, “A new device on Consortium ships allows it to extract data from an attacking Lodorean vessel and send the data via worm tech.”

I nodded. I said, “I was told about that on the Dunbar.”

“Well, the Dunbar managed to capture data from the ship that attacked it, and my ship did the same thing with the attacking ship. High Command was able to discover that this cargo ship was going to be arriving in orbit at this exact time. It was daring, but they sent a ship to drop into normal space almost broadside with this cargo ship. The instant they dropped, they destroyed the transport shuttle and blew a hole through the bridge of this ship. They then breached the hull and boarded. We need to get off this thing and make a quick jump to anywhere before the base below can react.”

We finally made it about halfway through the ship to the breach airlock. There was viscous fighting as the Lodorean crew massed a huge retaliation attack. They wanted desperate to stop the jump engine from detonating and Consortium forces were in the way. If nothing else, they wanted to make sure nobody got away as the resulting explosion would take out the Consortium ship as well.

Captain Walker said, “Damn! We can’t get past them!” He turned to a young officer next to us and while bullets ricocheted around us, he said, “Lieutenant. Take this girl and some men and find a way around this fighting back to the Bronson. She is why you are here. You are to defend her at all costs. Wait as long as you can, but even if the rest of us are not on the Bronson, you are ordered to leave to return her to the High Command. Is that understood?”

The lieutenant looked at me with an odd expression and said, “Understood sir.” He pointed to three other marines and indicated that they follow him. We then hurried down an empty corridor.

“Stay close to me, miss,” said the lieutenant. “I think we can squeeze through this maintenance tunnel up ahead.” He studied the device showing a map in his hand for a few more moments before putting it back into his pocket.

The tunnel was small, cramped and unpleasantly hot. A few times, the lieutenant had to remove bolts to open a panel for us to go through. The whine from the jump engine was reaching a fever pitch. I no longer believed that we were going to make it. The skirt of my dress caught on some bolts or something several times, slowing us down.

I heard a marine behind me whisper to his buddy behind him, “Maybe she should just take her clothes off.”

We finally reached an open corridor. There was a loud report and the marine on point went down in a shower of blood the moment he exited the tunnel.

“Shit!” yelled the lieutenant. He pulled some device from the belt on his waist and pulled a pin. He turned back to look at me and said, “Don’t look, miss.”

I turned away and closed my eyes. There was a very loud explosion and I saw a bright light even through my closed eyes. I was horrified when I felt the lieutenant leave me and heard scuffling sounds. I opened my eyes.

A moment later, I heard several shots ring out and then the lieutenant’s voice shout, “Clear!” I got a push on my butt from the marine behind me, indicating that I move forward.

The lieutenant said to the other marines as they filed into the corridor, “Stay frosty. I think it’s a clear shot back to the breach. There might still be some stray crew about. Remember, protect her.”

One of the marines picked up his fallen comrade and slung him over his shoulder. We then proceeded quickly but cautiously down the corridor. A few minutes later, we arrived at a make-shift command center. Several marines were guarding the corridor entrances and several more were managing the communications.

The lieutenant walked up to a marine standing near the breach airlock, holding me by the arm. He said, “Marine, take this VIP to a safe place on the Bronson. You are to remain with her until further orders. Should it appear the Lodoreans succeed in repelling our attack and enter the Bronson, you are to put a bullet in her head. Understood?”

The marine looked shocked, but said, “Understood sir.” To me, he said, “Follow me, miss.”

Before the airlock door closed to begin cycling the air, I heard over the radio, “We’re through. We’ll be at the airlock in five minutes.”

*          *          *

“Sandy! Hey wait up!”

I turned around to see the familiar face of Captain Walker running up to me from behind. I had just left the Administration Building where there had been a closed door hearing on what the military should do with me.

I smiled as he approached and said, “Captain…” I then saw the rank on his uniform. “Oh, Rear Admiral Walker! Well congrats! It’s good to see you again.”

Walker grinned back at me. “Yep. At twenty-three, I’m the youngest admiral in the fleet. I see you made captain. I’m surprised they didn’t make you an admiral. I mean you single-handedly saved the Consortium! I saw you on TV standing behind the tribunal as the Lodoreans formally surrendered.”

I frowned. The press had gone crazy over me, which was causing me a lot of problems. I said, “All I did was delivered the data.”

“You were the only surviving courier,” said Admiral Walker. “They didn’t have time to create more than three of you. That data contain everything! Including about the Lodorean plans to swap brains to infiltrate. We cleaned house pretty quickly. And it’s all due to you.”

I smiled at him and said, “Well, you did get me off that cargo ship, Admiral.”

There was a sudden awkward silence for a few moments. Then Admiral Walker said, “How did your hearing go?”

“Oh, it went great, I guess,” I said. “They didn’t know what to do with me. The girl I am now was underage to be in the military, despite where the fact that my brain is old enough. The press showed me, as a young girl, being the hero of the Consortium so they were basically stuck with me. Not that they were trying to get rid of me. They just didn’t know how to make me fit in all the rules. Since no one knows how old this girl was as there are no records since we don’t even know her home world, they just declared me as being eighteen and eligible to be in the military. It also makes me eligible to date non-teen agers.”

“That’s great news about being able to stay in,” said the admiral with a smile. “Say, would you be interested in joining me for lunch?”

“Why Admiral! Are you asking me out on a date?” I asked grinning.

Admiral Walker shrugged and said, “I guess I am.”

I smiled and said, “I’d love to. I’m starving.”

He took my hand and we walked slowly to the base commissary.

*          *          *

The End

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