Gimme Shelter (Set in Stone)|
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Copyright ©2017 Kate Steele
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When the hangar bay doors were again secure, the safety zone doors automatically opened and Zen and Clay headed toward the shuttle. A chime informed them of an incoming transport. Both men paused and looked back as the bioport's interior doors slid open. A tall man and a slim woman stepped out. Without a word, Clay handed each of them a holstered scorch pistol.
"Dukati shuttlecraft. Latest design too. We salvaging this baby?" Meral Jackson, ship's engineer, asked as she belted on her weapon. Her hazel eyes twinkled with good-natured avarice. "I'd love to get my hands on her."
"Why does something so innocuous sound so lewd coming out of your mouth?" Doc's thin lips were pinched in a grimace as one eyebrow rose.
Jackson grinned. "Can I help it if I admire a shapely hull?"
"Shouldn't you concentrate on getting the hatch open? Serk's last report gives the passenger approximately seventeen minutes before the oxygen runs out."
"Seventeen minutes? Piece of cake. I'll have it open in less than two."
Doc's snort of disbelief brought a speculative gleam to Jackson's eyes. "Wanna bet?"
"Five greens at the next poker game."
"A hundred and twenty-five credits?"
"You in or out?"
Doc aimed a squinty-eyed scowl at Jackson. "In."
"Time me." Jackson turned her attention to the shuttle and dug into her tool pouch, which was perpetually attached to her by a cross-body strap.
Directing a look of sympathy toward the ship's main medical practitioner, Zen shook his head. "I'm pretty sure you've been suckered, Doc."
As Zen watched, Jackson found whatever she'd been looking for and set to work. Muscles flexed under the smooth tanned skin of her bare arms as she punched a series of keys on the flat, rectangular unit she held in her hand. A slight turn of her head brought her profile into relief and set a few glimmers of light chasing through the strands of her blonde pixie-cut.
Having learned at her father's knee from the time she was old enough to pick up a sonic wrench, Jackson knew her way around a multitude of ship types and systems. Zen had little doubt the shuttlecraft door would give her any trouble.
From the small unit she held in her hand, a continual series of chirps issued as a cycle of colored light beams played over the closed shuttle hatch. As the seconds passed, one by one each beam turned green.
"Twenty seconds," Doc warned.
"No worries. It's... done!" Jackson's announcement was triumphant as the hatch slowly lifted. Stepping back, she made way as the steps began to lower.
"Damn," Doc cursed softly. "Don't you have anything better to do than practice breaking and entering?"
"For your information, nothing broke and no, I don't. As ship's engineer I see to it the Brizo performs like a Xanasian courtesan being paid double. Smooth and compliant."
"A girl's gotta have her fun." Jackson's unabashed wink brought a quick grin to Zen's lips and snort of amusement from Clay.
All four of them quickly sobered as the now fully opened hatch ceased all movement. Zen motioned Jackson and Doc back. Weapons drawn, he and Clay approached the yawning hatch. Touching the small, round and flat metal disc attached to his collar, Zen voiced a soft question. "Serk, any change in the scans?"
"None, Captain. All readings remain within normal parameters. The passenger hasn't moved. Nothing on long range scanners."
The shuttle's inner lights were dim, the interior shadowed, with no sign of the passenger. About to take a step forward, a quick negative motion from Clay stopped Zen in his tracks. Zen gave way and allowed his security officer to precede him. Clay went aft where the last scan placed the shuttle's passenger. As soon as Clay stepped within the murky interior of the shuttle, Zen lost sight of him.
His own foray into the ship was accomplished without incident and he turned to the fore and the ship's controls. Each space along the way was examined, between and under seats in case something had remained undetected. Every unoccupied space was clear and the shuttle quiet as a tomb.
Reaching the ship's controls Zen gave them a quick once over. Except for the blinking lights indicating the failing life support system, everything else seemed in order.
Zen touched his communications disc. "You find our guest?"
"Yeah. Can you bring up the lights? We need Doc in here on the double and he's gonna need 'em."
Zen called Doc and Jackson in and adjusted the lighting while waiting for Jackson to join him at the controls. "Do a thorough exam on all systems, Jacks," Zen ordered when she appeared. "Make sure this thing can't be traced. Something doesn't seem right here. Why would the life support fail? This shuttle's so new the paint's barely dried."
"I'm on it, Zen." Jackson seated herself at the controls and began running ship diagnostics.
Leaving Jackson to her work, Zen made his way back to Clay and Doc. The closer he came, the more pungent the scent. The coppery tang assaulting his heightened sense of smell weighed heavy on the still air. Doc was squatting near a body, his med scanner beeping and flashing in a way Zen could tell bode ill. Side-stepping Clay, Zen was able to take in the full picture. He drew in a sharp breath. What once had been a vision was now covered in blood and lay still as death on the deck.
The shuttle's passenger was male. In contrast to the obsidian darkness of his softly curling hair, his skin was bone white. Sweat dampened bangs adhered to forehead and stuck there. His full lips were slightly parted and his finely chiseled, androgynous features were slack. His almost too-delicate-to-be-male appearance was emphasized by his current condition.
He wore a pair of near-diaphanous pants that hugged his body from the waist down like a second skin. Other than a pair of wide, embossed silver bracelets that encircled his wrists, his upper body was nude. The man lay on his stomach, his back clearly visible, the damage done to it horrendous. Thin strips of skin had been peeled away leaving raw open wounds that had bled profusely before clotting. Rusty spatters of blood had soaked into his pants, as well as the matted curls that touched the back of his neck.
Shock, fury and the raw reminder of a familial tragedy pummeled Zen in equal measure at the sight of such torture being visited on someone who appeared to be little more than a helpless captive. His hatred of the Dukati -- something that was branded into his very soul -- twisted within him.