Thurston followed but not too closely. He didn’t want to disturb the ground until she had a careful look at it. It was plenty distrubed but there was a lot of sign. She took her time to look around, then said, “Could be either Cruiser of the Chimpanzee people.”
“You can’t tell for sure?” Thurston said.
She pointed. “Bare footprints, and they’re probably chmpanzee people. But the way things are distrubed there aren’t very many of them visible. And there’s no telling who Cruiser’s hiring these days. They took McGuirk and Urgus by surprise and carried them down to the lake.”
“With our luck,” Thurston said in his morose voice, “I don’t suppose they threw them in.”
Ignoring him, Shivers returned to the edge of the water and peered across at the single large island that sat about midway between here and the other shore. “Since we checked the other side and didn’t find a campsite or village, I’m guessing that whoever attacked them came from that island. It’s probably a good sign that they carried them off. It means we have some time, though probably not much. Cruiser would use them to bait us into a trap, of course. But the chimpanzee folk will want to sacrifice them ceremonially. From what I’ve heard about them, that means tomorrow at dawn. It’s going to be close, whichever it is – what’s that noise?”
Something crashed in the jungle behind the camp. Shivers turned just in time to see a dinosaur burst from the trees and streak across the campsite. Thurston tried to get out of the way but couldn’t. The dinosaur ran over him.
“Damn you,” snarled Captain Shivers, yanking her gun from its holster. She fired.
Red, blue, green and yellow rings of photonic energy expanded like wreaths of colored smoke from the muzzle of her D-gun. At the sight of them the dinosaur put on its brakes and tried to turn. The first ring burst against the monster’s hide in a shower of sparks, expending stored energy against the leathery skin. The saurian reared back and yelped in pain. It’s gyrations were impressive and somehow it managed to evade the other rings. It was amazingly fast for a creature that was supposed to have that primitive a nervous system. Shivers’ second shot missed entirely. The dinosaur made a wide circle and reached the bottom of the hill several yards away from where she stood. It charged toward her at top speed.
Captain Shivers took her time to aim carefully, despite the monster’s speed. The boat was between them. The dinosaur trampled it to splinters. Captain Shivers snarled again and fired. The man-colored donot like rings of energy spread from the gun to wreathe the head of the beast. This time it had no time to escape. The rings burst and sparks showered all around it as deadly energy crackled through its body. It froze in its steps a moment befeore toppling, then hit the beach with the impact of a dropped building.
The ground shook as if there were an earthquake. Somehow Shivers kept her footing. She stood there a moment, watching until she was sure the dinosaur was dead, then ran up the slope to see about Thurston.
She found the Smileyfacian pounded into the dirt. As she reached his side she heard him groan. She bent down to help him flop over and sit up.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“It flattened me.”
“It’s a good thing you were already flat. What kind of dinosaur was that, anyway?”
“I think it must have been a stomposaurus.” With her help, Thurston got to his feet, just a bit unsteadily. “Oh, bummer. It destroyed our boat.”
It was true. The boat was toothpicks. Only the mast and one oar survived. Sailing it would be impossible. “Now we’ll never rescue McGuirk and Urgus,” said Thurston.
Captain Shivers lifted one end of the toppled mast. “I’m not so sure about that,” she said.
“But there’s no way to get to the island.”
“Sure there is. You know how to do the backstroke, don’t you?”
“Well, Urgus, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
“Me?” shouted the young space kid. “Golly gee, Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk, sir! None of it’s my fault this time.”
It was an indication of their plight that at the sound of the word ‘uncle’ McGuirk neglected to smack his young companion. They were each slung like hammocks from poles being carried through the jungle by the native chimpanzee people. The chimpanzee people were short, most of them about Urgus’s height, and McGuirk was becoming damned annoyed at the way his lower portions were being scraped over rough ground and far too many thorn bushes.
One of the chimpsters ran up and prodded McGuirk in the short ribs with the knobby end of his warclub. All of them carried the things. McGuirk took it as a request to shut up and complied. Besides, it was all he could do to keep his cigar from flying out of his beak as the bounced over the uneven terraine.
The chimpanzee people’s village was in the center of the island. It consisted of a few dozen grass huts, all quite primitive. The largest hut was at the far side of the village and it was to this that they were taken. They were untied and pushed into the building.
A third prisoner was seated on a stool inside the hut. He was a lanky Earthman with a bony nose and red hair. “Oh, hello,” he said. He blinked at McGuirk. “Are you a Macaw Man from Xythprab 11, or a mutant?’
“I’m a prisoner, by fragnagerries,” McGuirk snarled, brushing off his feathers. “A mutant also, since you brought it up. And I’m mad as hell.”
“I don’t much blame you. My name’s Winston Kazoo. I’d be a famous explorer if someone would just let me out of here to explore something.”
“Jeepers, Mr. Kazoo,” said Urgus. “How long have you been here, anyway?”
“I think it’s been eleven years, now. It’s hard to keep track of time here. It’s a very boring place. I guess the only reason the chimpanzee people let me live is because I came up with this great way of alleviating boredom.”
“Well, this is all very interesting but I for one have no intention of staying long enough to get bored, much less no eleven years,” McGuirk said.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Kazoo. “I’m pretty sure they plan to sacrifice you to their gods first thing tmorrow morning.”
“I don’t intend to stay even that long,” McGuirk said. He went to the door and looked outside to see if the coast was clear.
He saw one of the chimpanzee people about sixty yards away take its warclub and strike a small white object on the ground. While McGuirk watched all this with interest, the white object flew toward him and carommed off his forehead.
McGuirk lay flat on the ground in the doorway, his head throbbing. Kazoo ambled over and looked down at him. He said, “As I was about to tell you, so I wouldn’t be bored, I taught them how to play golf.”
“You could have done a better job of it,” McGuirk snarled.
“Oh, I don’t know. That one shot a birdy.”
It was beginning to occur to Captain Shivers that the water might not be all that safe. Far across the lake something long and serpentine broke the surface and then disappeared, She hoped it hadn’t noticed them. She hoped Thurston hadn’t noticed it.
Although Thurston was by no means an ideal boat, he passed muster. Lying on his back, tightly holding the mast with his teeth, he propelled them furiously through the water with his powerful little arms. He was thin and had no railing, of course, so water lapped around Shivers’ feet. While Thurston drove through the water with his arms, Shivers used the oar to steer them.
Whether or not the lake serpent noticed them, it didn’t reach them before they got to the island. As Shivers jumped off, Thurston sat up and spat the mast out. “I’m probably the only boat on the island, too,” he said. “With my luck we’ll rescue Urgus and McGuirk and I’ll have all three of you standing on my face for the return trip.” He stared out across the lake. “Is that a sea serpent over there?”
“We’ll find another boat,” Shivers said, heading toward the jungle. “I promise you we’ll find another one.”
Thurston clambered to his feet. “You’ve never broken your word to me,” he said. “I keep wandering when that’s going to happen.”
By that time she was already among the trees. Thurston scrambled to catch up and when he did he was almost, but not quite, too out of breath to complain. He peered through the jungle and would have scowled if that were possible for a Smileyfacian. He said, “I don’t like this. It’d not like me to get through a dangerous situation unscathed like that. I’ve probably used up all the good luck I’ll ever have. Not that I was going to ever have any, that is.”
He was much wider than the sveldt captain, as wide as he was tall, which he suspected might happen at any minute. It was difficult for him to move through the thick jungle. But his strong arms managed to push and pull the foliage out of his way and rearrange it with little loss of time and surprisingly little disturbance of the jungle itself. They made about fifteen minutes progress befeore it occurred to him that jungles were not particularly healthy places and he began asking Captain Shivers about the symptoms of malaria.
Suddenly Shivers stopped and signaled for silence. After a moment she said, “I thought I heard something.” For a long moment she peered through the bushes at the clearing ahead of them. “I don’t think I like this.”
“We could go back to the beach,” said Thurston.
“No we can’t,” she whispered. “McGuirk and Urgus are in trouble somewhere on this island.”
She sighed. “To think I had the opportunity to hire Grag and Otho. Can you believe I turned them down just because they were carrying someone’s brain around in a box?”
“Well, that does put them them one up on McGuirk and Urgus,” he said.
They were almost at the edge of a clearing and she moved quietly forward, peering around but seeing nothing suspicious. She stopped a moment then took another two cautious steps forward. Still nothing except the vague tingling up and down her spine. There was only one test remaining to tell her whether or not she was walking into a trap.
“Thurston,” she asked, peerring around a tree trunk toward the innocent seeming clearing ahead. “How do you feel about this clearing?”
The Smileyfacian peered over her shoulder for a moment, then said, “It seems perfectly all right to me.”
She snatched her pistol out of its holster and said, “Run for it!”
But it was already too late. A net fell from the branches above. Thurston squawked as its strands snared him. Shivers found herself caught but only for a moment. She was closer to the edge and when it caught on Thurston, she ducked and slid sideways, rolling to the ground. Gun in hand, she started to her feet.
Captain Cruiser, up in the tree, fired her own gun, a paralaser.
The numbing blast caught Shivers in the shoulder. The pins-and-needle sensation spread through her body. She fell to her knees and her donut gun dropped to the ground. It was a glancing blow, but it was enough. Two of Cruiser’s pirates ran forward and grabbed her. Her gunbelt and the knife sheath on her thigh were removed and tossed away.
She was dragged to her feet and though she stryggled, she could not get free. Thurston was entangled in the net and at the mercy of two other pirates. Cruiser dropped gracefully from the tree and smiled at her captive.
Like Captain Shivers, Cruiser wore an Earle K. Bergey design lady space captain’s uniform. She had twin gunbelts crossed at her hips. Her costume, however, was black with the pink skull and crossbones insignia that said it was the lady space pirate’s version of the uniform.
Cruiser’s lieutenant, Oswald the Howitzer, snarled, “Now we can have a little fun, right, Cap’n, ma’am?”
“I should say we will,” Cruiser drawled, enthusiastically. “But not here,” she added practically. “We’ll have to wait until we get them safely to our camp.”
Most of the numbness from the glancing paralaser blast was gone now, so Shivers kicked the knee of the pirate on her right and pulled the one on her left off balance.
He fell forward and would have knocked Cruiser down had she not jumped back. Shivers leaped for her gun on the ground several feet away. She never made it. This time the blast from Cruiser’s paralaser caught her full in the side.
“Drop dead,” said Captain Shivers. Her strength was returning and with an effort, she managed to sit up.
She saw Thurston. He was tied between two trees at the far end of the camp. His feet barely touched the ground, though he seemed otherwise unhurt. “If you harm him or any other member of my crew,” she said to Cruiser, “I’ll make Urgus a new pair of boots out of your hide.”
“Why, it’s just so hostile of you to say that, Veronica,” said Captain Cruiser. “I do declare. Oswald! Come over here right now. I want you to go right ahead and do what I told you to do, before our guest says something else that’s not fit for my lady-like ears.”
The giant pirate came over and began tying Shivers’ hands. She was still not strong enough to offer any resistance. Within moments he had her hands and feet tied. He picked her up and carried her to the edge of the cliff.
He paused to let her look down. There did not seem to be many rocks below, but there was lots of water. It was about a twenty foot drop. The cliff rose straight up from the water with no indication of any beach she could easily reach. She remembered the sea serpent she had seen earlier.
“Oswald,” said Captain Cruiser, angrilly. “Don’t you dare throw her into the lake that way.”
Oswald looked around, perplexed. Captain Cruiser sidled up, peered over the cliff at the water below, then smiled in her evil way at Captain Shivers. “You’re forgetting the best part.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Oswald. He laughed and put Shivers down carefully on the ground. It was like being lowered half the distance to the water. Oswald went over to a pile of boxes and began rummaging around while she sat there, testing the ropes and finding, unfortunately, that they passed. Cruiser watched her struggles with a cheerful smirk.
“You’ll be just thrilled, I know, to learn that the tide is coming in.” She giggled. Then she looked back at where Oswald was and said, “What’s the matter? Can’t you find it?”
“Here it is,” he said. It was an anchor. It looked small in his hands as he brought it over to where she sat. It did not look small at all as he tied it to her ankles, with about ten feet of rope. It looked like it must weigh about five hundred pounds.
One of the other pirates came over at Cruiser’s command and picked up Shivers. Oswald lifted the anchor. At the count of three both the anchor and Captain Shivers were tossed over the edge of the cliff into the water below.
Oswald stoof at the edge of the cliff and looked down. “That doesn’t seem like a whole lot of fun,” he said.
“I know,” said Cruiser sadly. “But every time we plan something too elaborate, she weasels out of it. Anyway,” she went on, brightening, “I have something else that I just know is going to brighten up your day.” She pointed to the hapless Thurston, suspended between the two trees. “Oswald, I want you to get a can of paint and decorate our other guest.”
“Decorate how?” asked the puzzled henchman.
“Why, with concentric circles. What else?”
“Jeepers, Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk, sir,” said Urgus, standing well out of reach of his mutant chum’s backhand. “I don’t see any way out of this one.”
McGuirk puffed a cloud of rancid smoke in his direction and said, “You’re giving up too easy, ya little twit. I mean, after all, aren’t I always the one that comes up with the ideas that get us out of these things?”
“Well, sort of,” Urgus admitted.
“And what does that mean?”
“Well,” said Urgus slowly, realizing he was probably going to say the wrong thing, “you usually say something but it’s Captain Shivers, the greatest leader a space crew ever had, who sees through the sheer dumbness of what you say to the tiny kernel of actual usefulness buried really deep inside it.”
“Well, she’s not here,” McGuirk poited out. “That means it’s up to us. We’ll just have to save ourselves, now, won’t we? After all, this guy did it didn’t he?” He hooked a thumb in Kazoo’s direction. “If he can do it, we can.”
He glanced at Urgus, who was writing something in his official crewmember’s notebook. “Ya taking notes on my profound wisdomness?” McGuirk asked.
“No. I’m trying to fight boredom by playing tic tac toe.”
“Are you winning or losing?”
Before Urgus could answer, a golf ball bounced in through the door and hopped three times to come to a stop in McGuirk’s lap. A chimpster with a number three driver came through the door, saw where the ball was and rushed over. McGuirk leaped to his feet befeore the small ape could do any damage. The chimpster glared at him but took the shot from where the bal had landed on the floor. McGuirk did not sit down again until the chimpster was gone.
He glanced at Urgus who was still busy with his game. “Will you knock that off? For Pete’s sake, Urgus, you’d think you intended to get us out of this mess by teaching those monkeys how to play tic tac toe.”
“What?” shouted Urgus, looking at McGuirk in amazement. The youngster jumped to his feet excitedly. “That’s it! They’ll love the game!” He ran over to McGuirk and planted a big wet kiss on the mutant’s condor-like beak. Then he ran outside.
A moment later he was back, standing in the doorway, a sheepish look on his face. He opened his mouth and carefully took the cigar out. He said, “I think I burned my tongue.”
McGuirk snatched the stogie out of Urgus’s grasp and shoved it back into his beak.
After Urgus was gone, McGuirk said to Kazoo, “Tic tac toe. That’s the dumbest idea yet. The only good thing about it is he can’t get into his usual amount of trouble with it. Now maybe you and I can talk about finding a real way out of this mess.”
“Capital idea,” Kazoo agreed. “After eleven years I’m ready for one.”
Suddenly Urgus came back into the hut. Behind him came a female chimpster who was talking excitedly. Kazoo listened respectfully a few moments, then said, “This, by the way, is Princess Bonzo.”
“They got princesses here?” McGuirk asked in amazement. “I didn’t think they were that advanced. What else they got here?”
“Short engagements,” Kazoo said.
“Short?” said McGuirk with sudden suspicion.
“Please help me Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk, sir. Please, please, please!”
“You bet kid. What can I do for you? Be your best man?”
She gulped in more air. Now she understood why Cruiser made a point of telling her the tide was rising. The rope was long enough to allow her to have her face above water for the time being. This cruddy planet had fourteen moons. Tide came in a lot here and if you didn’t like the speed it was coming in at now, you could wait five minutes and it would come in a lot faster. She couldn’t count on anything.
She dove for a look at the anchor. It was half buried in the mud and silt on the floor of the lake. The rope was fastened to it with a splice and wire instead of a knot, so there was no untying it. She went up for air again. The cliff loomed over her and she saw no one peering down. That was a bad sign because if Cruiser’s pirates were too busy to watch a good drowning, it meant their captain has offereed them something more entertaining. Poor Thurston.
It seemed to her that the water had risen a bit and it was harder to keep her mouth above water. She somehow mahaged despite that to gulp enough air to allow another dive.
The water was clear. She went down to examine the anchor rope again to see if she had missed anything. She hadn’t. She started up again.
And as she did, she saw movement some distance away in the water.
This time the level of the water was too highfor her mouth to reach air. She filled her lungs by breathing through her nose, and knew that soon she wouldn’t even be able to do that. But with whatever it was that was heading her way, that might be an academic consideration anyway. She was angry with herself for walking into Cruiser’s trap. She knew Cruiser and she knew how dangerous she could be. She and her crew were exploring this planet because Inspector Sharpe of the Space Cops suspected Cruiser was currently using the world as a base for her pirate operations. Because of a diplomatic dispute with the Uooltalops, the Space Cops couldn’t land here, but Shiuvers with her unofficial status could. All she was supposed to do was look around and report back.
She and Cruiser were old enemies who had grappled many times before. The difference was Shivers won the previous encounters.
She dove again. The thing that was coming to see what sort of lunch she might provide was not a sea serpent; there wasn’t depth enough here for the monster she saw before. Not that this one did not look more than adequate to the task of finishing her off. It was long and thick-bodied, something like a shark but with short slender arms in addition to fins. It was close enough that she could tell how wonderfully stocked with sharp, evil looking teeth its mouth was.
She used the anchor rope to pull herself all the way to the bottom.
One of the many advantages of the Earle K. Bergey design lady space captain’s uniform is that it gives the illusion of not having enough room to hide anything. Captain Shivers hadn’t forgotten about the knife in her boot, and the pirates had missed it when they searched her. But it was a knife with a slender blade that she realized could not saw through the heavy anchor rope before she drowned. Still, it was a knife, and though the blade was small, it was sharp. She pulled it now and, holding it in her bound hands, she waited for the approach of the monster.
It tried to reach her with its short arms and as it grabbed, she let go of the rope and slashed. It was not easy using the knife with her hands tied, but somehow she propelled it in an arc that intercepted the creature’s reach. She felt the blade contact something and go through. The water churned as the beast thrashed in pain. As she shot upwards the monster swam away and she caught a momentary glimpse that told her one of its arms was dangling unnaturally.
The rope tugged her ankles with her mouth well short of the surface. She fought down panic. She grabbed the anchor rope and pulled herself down, propelling herself almost by will as her lungs cried out for air. There was only one chance that she could see and it was a long shot. She reached the bottom of the lake and closed her hands on the anchor and waited.
Blood formed dark, inky clouds that followed the monster and made it hard to see – though it marked its trail. She knew it was coming back.
She knew how unlikely her plan was to work, how much of it was conceived in desperation and nothing more, but there was now no other hope. Killing the beast was not enough. Everything depended on timing – and on her lungs holding out.
And then the monster darted toward her with a burst of speed, but she made herself wait, wait, wait until it was almost on top of her and her lungs were about to explode, and she saw the gaping mouth with the razor teeth set to shred her to tasty ribbons. Hoping she was judging this entire insane act correctly, she let go of the anchor, kicked with her bound feet as hard as she could against the floor of the lake and shot straight up.
Past the thing as its jaws snapped.
The jaws closed underneath her feet and for a moment something tugged the rope and yanked her down again. Then the monster was carrying her along like a balloon on a string and she knew her plan had failed and it was now a race between drowning or being eaten alive.
Then, just as she thought she could hold her breath no longer, the rope parted. She kicked again and shot up and up and up, and her lungs burned and threatened to burst.
And then she broke the surface of the water and there was air, which she took in in great welcome mouthsful.
But there was no time to pause and enjoy that. Looking down she saw the shadow of the monster coming back around and up toward her. She dove and, with her wrists and ankles still bound, managed to push herself in an arc that cleared the lake monster’s jaws and allowed her to drive the blade of the knife into its eye.
She yanked the knife out without snapping the blade. The creature thashed and she could hear it scream. She turned and moved away from the agitation of the water. Swimming was awkward but she headed for shore and did not look back until she was out of the water. She saw the monster floating on its side, its thrashings already slowed down so she couldn’t tell whether it was moving with the the current of the water or its death throes. She didn’t much care. She pulled herself several yards further onto the beach, not that she believed for a moment the thing would come after her or be able to come ashore, even if it had.
Then she just lay there for a while and thought about her own death throes as she struggled for air. The air finally came in heaving gasps.
After a while breathing no longer monopolized her actions and she started working on the ropes around her wrists. She got the knife positioned and worked it back and forth and the ropes parted. Somehow she did that without slicing her wrists. As she had thought, it took longer to cut the anchor rope around her ankles, but she no longer had to worry about finding air or being eaten alive and she managed.
“Damn,” said Oswald the Howitzer as his arrow went left and struck a tree trunk.
Thurston sighed sadly and said, “I know just how you feel.”
“It’s you talking,” complained Oswald. “Targets shouldn’t say things about entropy and so on. It makes a guy feel bad and lose his concentration.”
“As well it should,” Thurston said as the next pirate stepped up and aimed. “After all, nothing’s guaranteed. Do you know how many atoms there are in just one arrow? What if that thing went nuclear while you were holding it?”
The pirate glanced down at his arrow for a moment, then dropped it to the ground and walked off.
“That’s the seventh one,” snarled Oswald, yanking an arrow from his quiver and fitting it to his bow. “By the twenty-two gravity wells of Xardinia, it’s about time someone did you in.”
“Isn’t it?” agreed Thurston. He gave another sigh. “Listening to me is as depressing as thinking about all the alien bacteria floating around in the atmosphere of this planet, isn’t it? Or whether or not there’s fungus growing in your lungs. Or what all those ordinary little aches and pains you hardly pay any attention to really are. Or if Captain Cruiser can afford to meet the payroll this Saturday. Or –”
“Enough!” shouted Oswald, throwing down his bow and arrow and jumping up and down on it. “Enough!” He walked off, leaving poor Thurston all alone.
“Or whether my muscular little arms will pull loose from my body before or after I starve,” said the Smileyfacian.
Captain Shivers always found a swim invigorating and escaping from certain death even more so. As she made her way through the jungle toward the space pirate’s camp, she almost felt refreshed.
Her major concern was Thurston. Al;though she had departed too soon to learn any details, she knew Cruiser must have something special in mind for the Smileyfacian. That meant his plight was probably more urgent than that of McGuirk or Urgus who were probably safe until morning. It was only mid-afternoon.
Her home was space but somehow the jungle made her feel as perfectly at ease as the deep vacuum. It was, she suspected, mere atavism. A bit over a thousand years ago, in the Terrestrial Golden Age of Adventure, one of her ancestors had been raised and became a legend in the jungles of Africa – if you can imagine that continent ever having jungles.
Now, knife in hand, Shivers moved with such skill and silence among the trees that her lady space captain’s uniform might just as well have been a leopard skin; and her education might as easily have come from the paws of some jungle cat as from the hands of the faculty of Miss Amelia Tidwell’s Space Academy for Genteel Young Ladies.
Perhaps that was why, after several minutes, she climbed a tree and studied the prospects of a more direct route. Before she was a space gymnast, she had been one on the ground. She discovered that the tree’s branches reached close enough to those of other trees that could jump from tree to tree with ease. There were also vines in those rare cases where one proved necessary. Of course the vines were usually covered with insects similar to Terrestrial ants, but the Earle K. Bergey design lady space captain’s uniform was cleverly designed so as to provide as much protection against insects as her ancestor’s leopard skin.
She moved quickly through the upper terraces, much more quickly than she would have on the ground. It took her minutes instead of hours to reach the pirates’ camp.
When she saw the pirates gathered around the central tent, listening to a pep talk from Captain Cruiser, she had a sudden sinking feeling for there was no sign of Thurston. She went closer so she could hear what was being said. The pirates seemed dejected, even depressed. She realized Cruiser was trying to cheer them up. That was a good sign. She realized that when she last saw Thurston he was closer to the cliffs. She moved off in search of him.
She found him where she had seen him last, tied between two trees. He was painted like a target. While he did not seem to be enjoying his ordeal, there was no sign he was harmed yet in any way. She dropped to the ground. Knife in hand, she ran toward him.
“Oh, bummer, she’ll be killed before she gets here,” said Thurston. It was so like him, it took her a moment to realize that what he would normally have said was, “She’ll probably be killed before she gets here.”
By the time that sunk in, it was too late. She was directly under the tree limb and the snake dropped.
It was not so different from one of the larger snakes of her native Earth. It was long, it was thick. And it coiled around her, trying to crush the life out of her.
She fought the thing for what seemed like an eternity, although it could only have been seconds. Again and again she drove her knife into the snake’s head and torso. It writhed and twisted and tightened its hold. She thought it would squeeze her in two.
At last it let go. She crawled away from the coils of the dead snake and gasped for breath. “Damn,” she heard. “I think we wasted a perfectly good anchor.”
Shivers scrambled to her feet. Oswald, Cruiser and the other pirates stood at the edge of the ckaring, weapons ready. All she had was a knife.
And her wits.
As fast as she could move she darted to the left, away from Thurston. Cruiser shifted her D-gun, fired. Shivers reversed toward Thurston. The shot went wide. Reaching Thurston’s side, Shivers jumped and the blade of her knife sliced the ropes holding one of his arms. “Oh, bummer,” Thurston said. “Now I’m going to die in a fight.” There was simply no satisfying some people. There was no time to free Thurston’s other arm. The pirates were rushing them. Shivers whirled and pushed the knife into the first breadbasket that presented itself and felt a genuine pang of regret that it wasn’t Cruiser’s.
Thurston, meantime, managed to put a stranglehold on one pirate whose normally lavender face slowly turned brown from lack of air. Shivers jumped out of the way of one pirate, slashed the fortentacle of another and managed to reach Thurston’s side. One quick slash freed his other arm. With both arms available, Thurston simply lifted his pirate and hurled him into the jungle. But there were too many pirates and they were attacking all at once. Shivers lashed out at the nearest target but Oswald, behind that pirate, reached over and slapped the knife from Shivers’ hand. It went flying off across the clearing and suddenly all the pirates were swarming over her and she went down beneath the pile.
Cruiser snapped orders. “Grab her boys! Hold her! If we give her half a chance she’ll escape again.”
Captain Shivers continued fighting but there was more desperation than cunning in her actions now. It was hopeless. Oswald the Howitzer grabbed her at last and pulled her to her feet. He held her arms from behind. He forced her down on her knees. Cruiser shouted something and grabbed up a large machete. Her eyes gleamed with joy.
Oswald forced Shivers to bend forward and Cruiser raised the machete.
“Oh, quadruple bummer,” shouted Thurston. “Cut off my head, instead.”
“All that’ll do is just shorten you by a leg,” the pirate queen yelled, moving into position above her intended victim. “This will be much better.”
The first golfball spanged off the machete knocking it from Cruiser’s hand. The second one bobbed authoritatively off Oswald’s forehead. It was not enough to put the behemoth out, of course, but it made him lose his grip. Shivers shot free of his grip and caught Cruiser a good one on her jaw. The pirate captain yelped with surprise then dropped, down for the count.
Chimpanzee people streamed from the jungle. Most of the pirates were utterly panicked by the attack. And those few who tried to resist were rewarded with small, round white sleeping pills off their skulls. It took three of those for Oswald the Howitzer but then he dropped like Christmas tree prices in January. Shivers looked around for someone she could beat on but only she and Thurston were still standing.
The chimpanzee people rushed up, McGuirk, bringing up the rear of one especially ferocious group. She saw Urgus riding on a litter together with an elaborately dressed chimpanzee female. The young spaceman looked at his captain with desperately pleading eyes. “Do something,” he begged. “If you don’t stop her she’s going to make me marry her.”
“Damn,” said Captain Shivers. “I’d like to help you out, Urgus, but I owe these people my life.”
“See Thurston?” she said a couple of hours later. “I told you I’d find transportation. Now you won’t have to be the boat.”
They were standing on the deck of the ship that had brought Cruiser and her crew to the island. It was a sturdy craft built to pirate specifications. That meant there was plenty of room below for the prisoners, who would be duly loaded onto the Starsnipe and delivered to the Space Cops, waiting in orbit. “Boats never get seasick,” Thurston grumbled, then moved off searching for leaks.
“Shall we cast off, Captain?” McGuirk said.
“Urgus isn’t here, yet,” said the captain.
“He’s got another life now,” McGuirk said. “He doesn’t want us bursting in and –”
“Stow it, McGuirk,” the captain said, her tone menacing. “It’s almost dark. I figure just after sunset is the best time for me to go back to the chimpanzee village and rescue Urgus.”
“Oh bummer,” Thurston said, peering suspiciously at a bilge pump. “Urgus has such a depressing attitude.”
“And maybe he doesn’t really expect to be rescued,” McGuirk said. There was a hopeful quality in his voice.
“Of course he does,” Shivers said. “Don’t I always rescue you guys?”
“Well then,” said McGuirk. “The least you can do is wait until after the frapdappin honeymoon.”
“Urgus would never forgive me,” Captain Shivers said, managing to look shocked.
“It would be good for him.”
“We’ve got too tight a schedule as it is. We can’t wait.” She checked to make sure her weapons were on stun, then started for the rail of the ship. “Of course,” she said slowly, pausing before debarking.
“Of course what?” Thurston asked suspiciously.
“Well, naybe I could talk the princess into coming back with us.”
“That’s a ridiculous idea,” said McGuirk. “Urgus would hate it. But still, it is an idea.” He picked up two burlap sacks that were conveniently lying on the deck and handed one of them to Captain Shivers. “Why not let me go help you?” he said.