The Burning Claw
The least imposing reptilian stepped forward, his full, striated lips nearly kissing the energy field confining the Starfleet officers. Though he was tall, his limbs were spindly. He had a long, thick heavy jawed face, with rough gray skin and four bony spikes protruding from his face, two right above eye ridges and two longer ones jutting out from the part of his cheekbones right beneath his eyes. He was dressed in a green tunic, with a yellow V-shaped harness-belt bisecting his chest to assumedly hold up his black jodphurs.
Though the man looked completely different from the squat, pink-hued captain and the husky guards accompanying him, she knew them all to belong to the Venturi species. She had served with a gray-skinned Venturi, one of the few left in the Fleet, early in her career. He hadn’t been too talkative but he had at least told her that Venturi race was comprised of two races.
The Venturi’s pink tongue darted out, tasting the air, as if seeking out their fear. It took all of Shashlik’s restraint, and a steadying hand from Ramlo, to keep her from rushing the forcefield. The humid air thickened with hostile intent, mostly radiating from her.
The Kaylar was at least glad that the pirates had removed their EVA suits because they would’ve boiled in them assuredly in the sweltering temperatures. Both officers had peeled out of their gray and black jackets, down to their short-sleeve undershirts. But it had been little help, and now the fires of her rage had been stoked.
Shashlik wanted to rip the reptilian’s head off and she didn’t care about the two barrel chested guards at his sides, their black neural truncheons at the ready. The master of this wretched vessel had wielded one against her. She now remembered what the baton was from the war. The truncheons had been favorite melee weapons for the Breen. And she had remembered reading about how they emitted painful electric shocks, sometimes with enough force to cause concussions or induce comas. Brain damage in victims was not uncommon, and now that she had experienced the agony first hand she could see why.
She wanted to tear through them too, and then get to the captain, and finally the giantess that had nearly murdered Ram. “Don’t do it, Shash,” the Arkenite hissed, with uncharacteristic trepidation and heart rending concern. His hand dropped from her shoulder to trace down the intricate tattoos running down her left arm.
A new one had been added for each year she had survived after coming of age. She refused to believe that the limb would receive another decoration. He wrapped his hand around hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze. If she wasn’t in such a blood red haze she would’ve thrown the man to the dirty floor and engaged in frenzied lovemaking for his concern. Instead, she did the near impossible and took a step back.
Shashlik knew that running headlong at their captors was suicide and a more cunning approach was necessary. Her anger was robbing her of thinking that way, and she trusted Ram enough to follow his lead.
“What do you want?” Ramlo stepped forward, not so subtly in front of the security officer. The Venturi took a step back and nodded respectfully.
“I am First Mate Gedrik,” he said, adding with an ironic smile, “welcome to The Burning Claw.”
“I think you should stick to the looting and pillaging,” Shashlik couldn’t help herself, “comedy is not your thing.”
Gedrik shrugged, nonplussed. “The crew doesn’t complain.”
“What do you want with us?” Ramlo asked, cutting off Shashlik before she could get another verbal jab in.
“I wish to discuss my findings…and yours,” he said, his eyes bright with excitement.
“I will not divulge such information to you,” the Arkenite’s voice was matter-of-fact. Shashlik flexed her arms, preparing for a violent reaction.
But the gray Venturi merely waved away Ram’s defiance. “There’s no need, I am quite adept at hacking into Starfleet computer systems,” he replied. “Your tricorder has already provided a wealth of information about polaric ion energy, far more than what we had in our shipboard computer.”
The Arkenite twitched slightly, a dead giveaway to Shashlik that the scientist was deeply troubled. “What do you plan to do with that information?” She was proud there wasn’t an ounce of concern in his voice as he asked the question.
“That’s the part that might surprise you,” the reptilian’s voice was conversational, his manner open, as if he wasn’t talking to a prisoner, but a colleague. “We are pirates, true, but we are also patriots,” the man said, “and I think this polaric ion regulator holds the key to reigniting Alpha Venturi Major!”
Ramlo’s head swiveled around quickly, his irisless green eyes blinking rapidly. “Did I hear you correctly?” He said, looking at Shash, but the question was clearly directed at the Venturi. Shock and confusion were etched over his face.
“Yes,” the other man said. “And I need your help. Will you assist me…Lt. Ramlo?”
“This is a trick,” Shashlik snapped, “A lie!”
“I assure you it is no such thing,” Gedrik said, briefly recounting his failed attempts to rescue the star and the Venturi homeworld. “I’ve been researching and hoping…often against hope that one day I might find a way to save my people and this device has come to us…like a divine gift.”
“One bought with the murder of an entire ship of people!” The Kaylar gently moved the still stunned Ramlo to the side. She faced the Venturi. The lack of deceit in his manner made her angrier. She hated liars, especially good ones.
“I wish I could say that I am sorry,” he briefly lowered his head, “but it is too late for such platitudes. I have done things I am not proud of, I’ve dishonored myself, my wife, many times over as part of this crew…even before it, and I would gladly do it all again to be so close to this discovery.”
“You’re a monster!” Shashlik clenched her hands, wanting to place them around the reptilian’s scrawny neck. The energy field didn’t look like that much of an insurmountable barrier and with him being so close she just might get to scratch him before the feedback knocked her to floor or worse.
“I am worse than a monster,” the first mate nodded, his tone sober. “But none of that matters now. I will gladly surrender if you help me.”
Shashlik snorted, eyeing the two guards, measuring the surprised looks on their faces. “I’m guessing you don’t speak for the rest of the crew?”
Gedrik shook his head, “No, I don’t.” He looked at her squarely. “I can only answer for my own crimes.”
“No deal,” the Kaylar said, pointedly turning her back on him, and folding her arms.
“I don’t think you are in any position to negotiate,” Gedrik said sharply, “You in fact are no value to me at all. It is Lt. Ramlo’s intellect that will be of value here.”
“Ramlo will never help murdering scum like you!” Shashlik roared, whipping back around.
“Yes he will,” Gedrik’s confidence infuriated her more, “because he is a decent being. I am sure he is thinking of all the probabilities of what I am proposing because he wants to save millions of people too. And because he can first start with saving one…you.” He produced a small rectangular device from the pocket of his pants. He pressed a button.
“What do you…” Shashlik asked before an agony she could never imagine exploded from her chest and spread throughout her body. She hit the floor, her body cracking against the unforgiving metal, yet she was still so gripped in pain that she had yet to feel the effects of the fall. Every nerve ending was on fire, she tried her best not to bite through her tongue as her convulsions overtook her.
Somewhere far away she heard Ramlo shouting and then felt a shadow over her, and the Arkenite had her in his sure grasp, but the pain was too strong and she fought him as she attempted to fight it, bucking and writhing, the room filling with the stink of her vacating bowels.
As suddenly as it started, the horror was over, and she was left to curl in her own filth and drool. Though the fire had stopped, the burning receding slowly, back into her bone and tissue. Ramlo tried to comfort her, but with what little force she could muster she pushed him away. She had never been so powerless or ashamed. The only thing that kept her from the edge was thoughts of the blackest revenge. She would hold on till then, and then she would joyfully go over the precipice.
Above her, she heard the Venturi, a weathered strain in his voice, “The subdermal agonizers were something we picked up from a rather sketchy Cardassian. Our medic surgically implanted four into your friend. Normally we only use one per prisoner, but after her performance on the alien vessel, I thought more would keep her docile enough until we reached the Orions.”
“And what about me? I’ve been in this cell the whole time.” Ramlo asked, his voice fraught with anger, disgust, and the customary curiosity. She opened her eyes, the light stabbing into them, but she fought through the new pain and the tears. The Arkenite stood tall, resolute, and in front of her, to defend her and shield her from the prying, leering eyes of their captors as best he could.
“There was no need to implant you,” Gedrik replied, “We knew that you would do as we asked if you realized how great the threat to your friend was. Was I wrong in assuming that?”
“No,” Ramlo said hurriedly, “I will help you…but on one condition.”
“What is it with you Starfleet types?” The first mate was exasperated. “Time is wasting Lt. Ramlo.”
“Lt. Shashlik needs medical attention,” he said, “Get that for her and I will help you.” Gedrik’s words were garbled, but the forcefield shimmered off and the two thickset guards trudged into the cell. They grabbed her arms and hoisted her up, hissing with displeasure at her stench. The woman wanted to fight them off but her limbs felt like rubber.
“Careful,” Ramlo demanded and Gedrik echoed.
Shashlik grinned savagely. She could at least take heart that her bodily waste had been so discomfiting to the guards. The Kaylar promised that it was only going to get worse for all of the pirates from this moment forward.