Double Helix #5 - Double or NothingPeter David
BOOK FIVE OF SIX:
DOUBLE OR NOTHING
Double Helix Concept by John J. Ordover and Michael Jan Friedman
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Seven Years Earlier…
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Double Helix #6 THE FIRST VIRTUE
OUR FIRST SERIAL NOVEL!
STAR TREK STARFLEET: YEAR ONE
Seven Years Earlier…
VANDELIA TRIED TO CONCEAL her astonishment when her rescuer’s face fell off.
She had not been expecting a rescuer at all, much less one whose visage suddenly abandoned him. Only five minutes before, her situation had seemed utterly hopeless. Not that it was in Vandelia’s nature to admit that any situation was hopeless or in any way outside of her control. It wasn’t that she was eternally optimistic. She was just too damned stubborn, not to mention extremely fierce-natured.
She was a sinewy Orion woman, with thick green hair that cascaded about her slim, bare green shoulders. She was scantily dressed, as was the custom of her kind, in a clinging outfit that concealed almost nothing and accentuated that which it hid. Orion females preferred such attire because it made them more formidable fighters. After all, how was an opponent expected to concentrate fully on his own defense when there was so much exposed flesh coming at him? A male never quite knew where to look first, and consequently he never quite reacted properly to an assault. Before he knew it, razor-sharp fingernails would be slashing across his face, or filed teeth would be ripping a chunk of his jugular from his throat. Even Orion men were daunted by their females. Indeed, it explained the serious population problem that Orions were having. Granted, each new generation of Orions was stronger and tougher than the last. That was out of necessity, since only the hardiest of Orion males dared to try their luck with their females. Survival rate of such engagements was roughly 83 percent…less if the female in question happened to be in heat, a biological drive that was probably the only reason Orions hadn’t vanished from the face of the galaxy centuries earlier.
The sinewy Orion girl pulled with renewed determination at her bonds, but she had absolutely no more luck in severing them this time than she’d had the previous times she had tried to muscle herself free of her imprisonment. Even her formidable fingernails were incapable of severing her restraints. More out of a sense of pure frustration than any true belief that success would result from the efforts, she strained against the bonds, her clearly defined muscles undulating beneath her dark green skin. Still nothing. She was held tight.
Matters might have been slightly improved if she had only had an idea of where “here” was. Unfortunately, she had no clue at all. She had been captured, in her sleep of all things. How cowardly was that? How craven on the part of her captors.
Vandelia was a business woman, a professional entertainer. She danced at parties and social functions, and not only was she very good at it, but she had been extremely canny in investing the financial gains that her performing had garnered her. She had millions of credits stashed away as a result of her seven-plus years of playing to a crowd, plus additional activities on the side.
She had been dancing this night…except she realized that she had no reason whatever to assume that this night was the same night. She had no idea how long she had been unconscious. One night, two, five…no clue at all, really. The only thing she knew was that when she had woken up, she had been ravenous. Nevertheless, when some flunky had shown up in her bare-bones room to bring her food, she had spat it back in his face. He had cleaned the food off himself without a word. The next time he came to her, he had two assistants along, and they had pried open the woman’s mouth and poured the food straight down her throat. Obviously the actions did not endear them to her. They could not have cared less.
The flunky was not of a race that she recognized. He was short and squat, wider than he was tall, bald and jowly and with bright red skin. The assistants he brought with him had similar coloration, albeit different builds. But as far as Vandelia was concerned, if she never saw any members of the entire race again, she’d be the happier for it. She did, however, feel some degree of alarm when she started wondering what the coloration of any offspring would look like. She hoped like hell that she wasn’t approaching her heat cycle. Being out of control of her mating instincts was simply not aggravation that she needed.
They (whoever they were) didn’t have to keep her trussed up. There were, after all, various electronic devices capable of controlling her. Collars, wrist bracelets with shock devices, and many other options. But they had chosen none of those, instead going for something barbaric and debilitating to the spirit such as total immobility through heavy-duty ropes. It was as if her captors were almost daring her to slice her way free. If what they were trying to do was totally muck with her head, then they were succeeding. She was becoming angrier, more frustrated, more of a seething volcano with each passing day. The most frustrating thing of all was that she knew they were doing it just to anger her…and yet she couldn’t help herself, couldn’t do anything to fight back the mounting ire.
On her third day of captivity, she met her host.
He was red-skinned, like the others, but he sported a series of elaborate tattoos on his forehead and also at the base of his throat just above the collarbone. He had high cheekbones and deep set eyes that glittered fearsomely. He dressed primarily in loose-fitting black clothes, with a loose-sleeved tunic and black pants tucked into the top of knee-high black boots. He had an air about him, Vandelia thought, that made it seem as if he didn’t care one way or the other whether the individual he was looking at was dead or alive. Furthermore, he didn’t seem to care whether he was the one responsible for that death or not. Vandelia was most struck by his hands, which were huge in comparison to his admittedly muscular arms. Eve
ry so often, as he spoke to her, his hands twitched slightly as if he was envisioning what it would be like to be crushing someone’s windpipe.
“Greetings.” His voice was amazingly soft-spoken for one so large and apparently threatening. She had to strain to hear him, and she realized that that was partly his purpose for speaking so quietly. “Have you been enjoying your stay?”
She said nothing, merely snarled at him.
“You are a feisty one. That’s what I like about you. There’s not enough feisty females in the galaxy.”
This time, she spoke. “Come to my home world,” she said between clenched teeth. “You’ll find more than enough feistiness to keep you busy.”
“I daresay.” He bowed slightly at the waist as he said, “My name is Zolon Darg. And you are Vandelia.”
“And you are dead.”
The smile never wavered from his thin lips, but one of his meaty hands swung around so fast that she never even saw it coming. One moment his arms seemed relaxed and at his sides, and the next the hand was smacking her in the face. She lowered her head a moment, trying to compose herself and failing utterly. When she glared back up at him, it was from between strands of hair that lay upon her face, and her lips were drawn back in a snarl revealing her sharp teeth.
“Mind your manners,” said Zolon Darg. “This will take as long as it has to take.”
“What is ‘this’?” she asked.
“Why, to make you mine, my dear,” Darg told her. “I saw you dance. I was one of your many customers, your many admirers. But unlike others, I choose not to admire from afar. I wish to draw close, to be…personal.”
“Go to hell,” Vandelia said.
“Yes, yes…I’m sure you would like that,” he said in a condescending tone that made it sound as if he were addressing a child. “That will not be happening anytime soon, I’m sorry to say…for your sake.”
“So that is all that this is about?” Vandelia demanded to know. “You kidnapped me because you find me attractive? How pitiful. How mundane.”
“You misunderstand me.” He smiled, and although he did not have sharpened teeth as Vandelia did, his smile looked no less threatening than hers. He looked perfectly capable of biting a piece out of her if it suited his purposes. “It is not simple attraction. You are a challenge. There are few enough true challenges in this galaxy, and I take mine where I can find them. When I saw you dance, I knew instinctively that you’d be impossible to tame. But I thrive on impossibilities.”
“Then think about some impossible things you can do with your own anatomy.” Then she spat at him.
He hit her again. And again. The smile never wavered, his pulse never sped up. Three, four, five times and more, and again and again, across the face with those huge hands, first one cheek and then the other. The first couple of times she tried to voice, at the very least, a snarl of inarticulate rage, but when he’d slapped her the twentieth time, she’d stopped. She simply sat there, her head hanging, trying to breathe and laboring because of all the fury that had tightened her chest. She couldn’t get a sound out. He folded his arms and stood there with a quietly smug expression. He had the air of someone who was utterly confident as to precisely who was in charge.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” he told her, although he didn’t sound especially sorry. “I very much wish that I could tell you that there is some deep, greater meaning to your being here. That in fact you have something I need, or that you’ve actually got a microchip with secret information hidden beneath your skin, or you’re actually a long lost princess, or perhaps you and you alone are capable of finding the cure for a terrible disease. But it’s none of those things. You’re an amusement, a diversion.” He crouched down then, going to one knee so that he could regard her at eye level. “A pleasant diversion, granted…but that’s all.”
“Is this what you do?” Her lips were starting to swell up a bit from the pounding she’d taken, but she was determined not to acknowledge the pain. Even so, when she spoke her voice sounded thick and a bit uneven. “Divert yourself? Is this how you…pass your days?”
“Not at all,” said Zolon Darg. He straightened up and then bowed slightly at the waist as if presenting himself in most courtly fashion. “I will have you know that I am one of the premier weapons suppliers in the territory.”
“Are you now.” She didn’t sound impressed. “So what. You help people kill each other. As if that makes you someone of consequence.”
“You do me a disservice, woman. You oversimplify. I have supplied freedom fighters who battle for their crippled rights. I have supplied governments who fight to protect themselves from evil and unappreciative mobs of rebellious ingrates. I am always, always, on the side of those who are in the right.”
“And what makes one right and one wrong?”
“Money, my dear girl” he smiled.
She spat in defiance once more. But this wad didn’t even manage to cover the distance before it splattered impotently to the floor. Darg didn’t give it a glance. “You amoral pig,” she growled.
“The moral high ground, my dear Vandelia, belongs to whomever can afford to pay the toll.”
She said nothing, merely glowered at him. He smiled thinly, clearly finding the entire encounter very amusing.
Since she was seated, he naturally towered over her. But he took the opportunity to crouch and bring himself to eye level with her. He studied her thoughtfully, and then said, “Let me tell you what’s going to happen. We’re going to start putting you on a somewhat erratic eating schedule, for starters. Sometimes you will find yourself starving, your belly aching so pitifully that you’ll feel as if it would gladly rip through your body and go off in search of food on its own. Other times we will suddenly feed you in such copious amounts that we will literally be shoving it down your throat. The five or so gentlemen who have been overseeing your trips to relieve yourself in delicate lady-like fashion will be assigned other duties. We will simply leave you tied up at all times, so that you can wallow in your own waste products. When you begin to fall asleep, loud noises will be blared at you, blinding lights shined directly into your face. We also have one or two fairly belligerent empaths at our disposal…individuals who will be able to project into your mind whatever emotions it amuses me to have you feel. You have a very strong mind, Vandelia. At the outset, you’d likely be able to resist them. But that will only be at the outset, and we have a very long time available to us. We will, in short, do all that we can to disrupt you, discommode you, and utterly break you.”
“And once that’s done?” she asked levelly.
“Why then, at that point…you will be reeducated. Reprogrammed. The personality, the attitude that you have now…that will be like a bad dream. It will go far, far away where it can never be of any harm to you again.” As he spoke, his voice almost seemed soothing in its confidence. “Instead, it will be replaced by a calmer, more loving personality. Oh, but don’t worry. You will continue to dance. But you will perform your seductive dances…only for me.”
She looked at him with utter contempt. “You have no idea, do you.”
“What do you mean?” His head was tilted in a curious manner.
“My dancing. You think somehow that’s separate from who I am. That is, after all, what attracted you to me. You poor, pathetic fool, Darg. When I dance…that is an expression of my personality. And that personality holds you, and all your kind, in the utmost contempt. When I dance,” and she lowered her voice to an almost sultry tone, “I know that you all caress me with your eyes. I know that you think of what you would like to do to me. How each of you envisions possessing me. But you’re all too stupid to realize that in my gyrations, I’m letting you know just how little I think of your desires. I don’t dance to seduce. I dance to let you know what you can never, ever have. Let us say,” she continued as if warming to the topic, “that you somehow manage to break my personality. Make me less than I am. Do you seriously think that if I’m even capable of dancing a
gain, it will bear the slightest resemblance to anything you saw before? You will sit there and shake your head in frustration, wondering what happened to the passion, the fire, the sheer raw sexuality that drew you to me in the first place. And when you sit there in discouragement, when you mourn the loss of something that you truly adored…why then, my friend, you will have only yourself to blame. Only yourself. And even if you manage to have your way with the body you see before you now…” She grinned ferally. “Even if you manage that…you will never have me. I will be long gone, beyond your ability to touch or harm or seduce or even interest. Do we understand each other now, Zolon Darg? Have I made things sufficiently clear for even a brainless pig such as yourself?”
He smiled mirthlessly. “Abundantly clear, yes.”
“But it is still your intention to hold me here?”
“Yes. You see…it doesn’t particularly matter to me if you wind up being destroyed as part of my endeavors. At least I’ll know that I was able to bring you down, and I will allow myself to take some pleasure in that.”
Then he slapped her several more times. There seemed to be no particular reason to do so. But he did it anyway. Vandelia, for her part, couldn’t even muster the ability to spit.
That was when the alarm went off.
Vandelia was positive that that was what it was the moment she heard it. The loud, screeching klaxon jolted Darg, and he looked around in confusion as if he weren’t quite certain that he was in fact hearing the noise that was threatening to deafen the entire place. For the first time, Vandelia saw a momentary bit of uncertainty pass across Darg’s previously smug face. She was extremely pleased to see it. Her only regret was that she wasn’t the cause of it.
He tapped a comm unit that he wore on his wrist and said, “Central. This is Darg. Report: What is the cause of the alarm?”