Prey: Book Three: The Hall of Heroes
“You should’ve seen it. I shot that Breen right in the snout!”
T’shantra winced as she heard the jubilant whoops out in Dinskaar’s hallway. The other Orions were still chattering about the battle, as short-lived as it was; such engagements were the high points of their lives. For a pirate, no day was better than one following a successful capture of a hapless vessel.
And few days were as hard on the slaves those pirates owned.
The emerald-skinned beauty had seen it many times. Once the killing and the looting were finished, the pirates always celebrated nonstop. Drunken revelers emptied the ship’s pantries and damaged its mess halls, making life miserable for galley workers. It was worse for T’shantra and the others like her: despite being Orion, she was a slave required to provide “entertainment” to such louts and brawlers. Often the weeklong post-battle binges resulted in more casualties than the engagements they were celebrating.
Dinskaar’s latest capture, a Breen shuttle ambushed while creeping alone from Kinshaya space toward neutral territory, normally would have portended another unpleasant week for T’shantra. Instead, it had gone wrong for Wogan, keeper of the weapons stores and her latest master. Insensible, Wogan lay bleeding to death on the floor of his office, his favorite jewel-encrusted dagger sticking out of his back. The yell he had made when T’shantra plunged it in had sounded like just one more celebratory cheer.
The dark-haired young woman glanced back at him with indifference as she packed her satchel. While she had never
killed before, T’shantra had lived surrounded by death and found little objectionable in it. At least she had not had to suffer Wogan’s company one day more; Leotis, Dinskaar’s boss, had only traded her to him three days earlier to settle a gambling debt. Leotis had pulled that stunt twice before, winning her back each time. She would not give him another chance.
Her bag stuffed full of food pilfered from the galley and weapons liberated from Wogan’s arsenal, she turned and looked toward the door. Nobody had missed the weapons master yet. T’shantra quickly knelt and rifled through his pockets. She found several gold-pressed latinum strips, more than enough to make it worth leaving the bloody dagger right where it was. She shoveled the currency into her pouch—and after a thought, she fished inside the bag for something else. She would leave it as a gift for those who found Wogan.
T’shantra slipped out into the corridor, sealing the door behind her. No one bothered her as she made her way to the deck with the docking port. Everyone aboard was headed away from Psocath, the Breen vessel, arms full of plunder. Leotis had ransacked the ship first, as was his right, followed by his favored minions. Watching the raucous looters filing past her, she could tell her timing was right. No guards at the airlock meant little was left to steal. Looking both ways, she took a breath—and slipped into the hallway connecting Dinskaar with the Breen shuttle.
A trail of fallen Breen warriors led to the top level. Past experience had told Dinskaar’s crew there was little of worth inside the creatures’ armor. It was useful, but only to the Breen, who appeared to be more of a social construct rather than a single race. Only they were able to make sense of their gear’s complexities.
Hearing motion as she approached Psocath’s bridge,
T’shantra anxiously drew her weapon-stuffed satchel closer to her. Someone was lying on the deck behind the captain’s chair, working at the furnishing with a spanner. She tensed. A green face peeked over the armrest and smiled broadly at her. “Hey, beautiful!”
T’shantra let out a breath of relief. “Hi, Tuthar.”
Bald and skinny, Tuthar worked in Dinskaar’s supply room. While his station was higher than hers—whose wasn’t?—he was lowliest among the pirates, meaning he got last pick of the loot before Leotis moved to dispose of the captured vessel by sale or scrap. Tuthar had never presumed to impose himself on her, and T’shantra found him mildly amusing. “You’re stealing a chair?”
“It’s a nice chair,” he said, standing up. He gestured to three bodies, piled in the corner. “Those Breen have to live in those suits all day. You’ve got to figure they need their lumbar support.”
“Are they all dead?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.” He clapped his hands on the armrests and gave the chair a good tug. “My father always said people overlook the real treasures in plain sight.”
“Your father sounds like a smart man.”
“Not smart enough to be rich.”
T’shantra’s father, Fortar, had been very rich—trafficking in everything, with love for no one. He had sold her to Boss Leotis as if his daughter were just a second-rate good from his Azure Nebula warehouse. In retrospect, she should not have been surprised. Her mother had left the family—a malapropism, family—in the same way, only to die as collateral damage in a syndicate war.
She couldn’t waste time. “Here, let me help,” she said. She stepped beside the chair and helped him pull at it. With a groan, it snapped free from its moorings.
“Thanks.” Tuthar hefted the chair. “What are you doing here? I wouldn’t think Wogan would let you out of his sight.”
“I was . . . looking for him.” She turned to the command interface, now minus one chair. “Do the systems still work?”
“I think so. We just gave the shuttle a few love taps. The Breen weren’t expecting us.”
Something had happened recently in Kinshaya space, according to the bits and pieces she had been able to gather from Wogan. The Holy Order, the scripture-spouting outfit that ran the Kinshaya government, had just lost political control in some kind of coup. The Episcopate’s Breen allies had unwittingly triggered the uprising by participating in a massacre of dissidents on Janalwa, the Kinshaya’s new capital planet. The backlash had driven one religious sect from power—and it had also sent the Breen packing in a hurry.
That included whoever was aboard the shuttle Psocath. Ordinarily, the Breen traveled the local spaceways with confidence, protected by their warships and privateer vessels. This was no ordinary time. Psocath was the second easy picking the Orions had found during the exodus.
Tuthar heaved his bulky prize toward the exit. “I guess I’ll see you later, T’shantra. Big party tonight.”
“And tomorrow. And the next day.”
Tuthar laughed. “Wogan’s a lucky man. Maybe I’ll win a dance from you one day.”
She smiled back at him primly, and he departed. She had thought to tell him to avoid the Dinskaar deck that held the arsenal. But Tuthar was no different from any other pirate on the ship. Some were monsters; others were monsters in training. It was time for her to be rid of them all.
T’shantra struggled to make sense of the controls. The Breen language was unknowable, whether spoken or written; the creatures’ obsession with opacity was infamous.
In three minutes of searching, she had figured out how to seal the airlock and nothing more. She was running out of time and options. Closing off the ship would certainly draw attention; Orion forces could reboard Psocath at any moment. She rustled in her bag for a disruptor pistol—
—and then she saw him. One of the Breen warriors that had been piled in the corner was very much alive—and advancing across the bridge toward her.
“Stop!” she shouted, whipping out the weapon. She did not understand the squawks and squeaks coming from the gray-armored figure, but the Breen apparently understood her, stopping halfway across the deck and lifting his hands in the air. The Orions had at least remembered to strip the Breen bodies of weapons, even if they had been less than thorough in guaranteeing all their foes were dead.
The Breen chattered more. T’shantra didn’t know much about the Breen, but the creature seemed less fearsome than the others the Orions had faced. And more rational: a Klingon wouldn’t play dead. If that was the case, she thought, then perhaps there was a deal to be made.
“Do you understand me?” she asked. “Squawk once if you do.”
The Breen gave a low electronic snort.
“I’m not one of the people who attacked your ship. I’m trying to escape them. Do you understand?”
The Breen’s head tilted sideways a little. Then, another chirp.
She gestured to the interface. “I can get us away—but I need your help to activate the ship’s systems. You can help me—or I can shoot you.” She adjusted the disruptor. “This is on full power. It will chew through whatever you’re wearing.”
Her prisoner simply stood and watched. Was he ignoring her?
Calculating? Was “he” even the right pronoun? There was no time to wonder. Hammering sounds came from beyond the hallway—and out of the corner of her eye, she could see images from the sensors. The Orion guards had noticed Psocath’s closed hatch, and were trying to get back in.
“You see?” she said, gesturing to the screen. “They’re going to get us both, unless you help.”
The pounding grew louder. She shook her head. “I’m wasting my time.”
Just as she aimed the disruptor, the Breen responded by reaching for his helmet. A hiss of air escaped as the seal opened. The naked face that looked at her was furry and golden, with a lupine muzzle and short fangs. Dark oval eyes darted between her and the screen. “I will do as you say,” he said in a rasping voice not much louder than a whisper.
T’shantra allowed the unmasked Breen to access the interface. The Breen touched the controls once before pulling back. He looked over at his dead comrades in the corner—and then at her. “This is futile. We will not escape the Orions’ tractor beam.”
“Leave that to me,” she said. She reached into her pouch and withdrew a handheld communicator. Composing herself, she pressed a key. “Leotis!” she cried out. “Leotis, it’s T’shantra. Please answer!”
“What is it?” replied an irritated Orion voice. “I’m busy. Someone’s messing around aboard the Breen ship—they’ve locked the hatch. And you shouldn’t be using Wogan’s comm unit, my dear. Unless you’re ready for me to buy you back from—”
“Leotis, Wogan is dead! Come quickly!”
The unmasked Breen studied her as she recited the lines she’d practiced. “I’m scared, Leotis. Please, hurry!”
She raised an eyebrow, confident her performance would convince.
It did. “I’m sending the sentries on that deck to you. Be careful, T’shantra.”
“I will,” she said. She deactivated the comm unit and threw it away. “I just wish the bastard was going to look at Wogan himself.” She pointed to the Breen. “Hurry and start the ship. Don’t worry about the tractor beam.”
Puzzled, the Breen touched more controls. Psocath shuddered, its engines coming to life. “What was the meaning of your call?” he asked as the ship wrenched away from the docking clamps, turned, and lurched forward.
“They’re about to find Wogan. And when they try to move his body—”
Psocath shook violently, struck from behind by something metallic. The helmetless Breen grabbed at the interface with both hands, steadying himself. “I told you this wouldn’t work,” he said. “They’re shooting at us!”
“No,” T’shantra said. “Look.”
As Psocath cruised in a wide arc away from the pirate ship, the pair spied Dinskaar through one of the starboard ports. Several decks of the larger vessel were ablaze, with others venting to space.
“As I was saying,” she said as the Breen gawked, “moving Wogan triggered the grenade I tucked underneath him.”
“Just one grenade?”
“Did I mention his office was in the armory?” She looked outside with a canny smirk. “I suspect the magazine’s gone up. It won’t destroy the ship, but it’ll buy time to get somewhere.” She just hoped her stunt had taken out Leotis too.
The Breen regarded her, clearly impressed. After a moment, he asked, “The other Orions. They mistreated you?”
“You could say that. So I’m leaving.” Her grin faded. “I—uh, haven’t figured out where to go yet.”
“That I can help with,” he said as he turned back to the interface. “My people have . . . a facility near here.”
“Aren’t the Breen from the Alpha Quadrant?” T’shantra looked over his shoulder at the map display. She had seen plenty of maps in her father’s operations center as a child, and the Breen’s statement didn’t make sense to her. “I didn’t think you controlled anything around here. What kind of facility?”
The Breen said nothing. T’shantra filled in her own answer: The kind of facility no one knows about.
She grew anxious as her prisoner set the heading. “Who said I wanted to go to this place?” She fingered the disruptor trigger. “Listen, I’m not trading one prison for another. I just want to get away.”
“It is no prison, you will see.” Intelligent eyes looked back at her. “And among the Breen you will never be harmed again—one way or another.”