In a world without rape, Noksalika should have been shocked by it – both the idea and the experience. But she wasn't. She was strangely used to it.
It could have been worse. She'd blacked out for a lot of the ordeal. The Ethe made a record of all memories, sights and sounds in wonderful video – but only when you were awake.
When the "entertainment" had finished, and the last pirate was spent, they'd mostly mooched off to do their own thing or hung around the main hall playing cards. The Captain had declared he was going to drink rum in his quarters.
Noksalika was bruised and in pain, but they'd dragged her outside again, and tied her back to the rails. Her lungs bubbled again as seawater poured in and the pores in her skin breathed once more. And they left her, strapped to the deck on the side of the boat, completely naked.
She drifted with the current, staring lazily out into the wine-coloured murk. She spied various lights, but every time she checked, they weren't other boats. They were fish.
On the bright side, when the mantrel sailors had screwed her with their average-to-small-sized cocks, she'd barely felt a thing.
But the Captain…
In a world without rape Noksalika should have been shocked. But she was used to it. Being in pornography, you had to have sex with strangers, often unpleasant ones. It came with the job – which is more than she could say for most videos she'd made.
The only difference was she'd called them "colleagues".
She'd even – god – she'd even acted out some "rape" scenes. Domination, control, submission, that kind of stuff was fairly standard. But the harder stuff was always rather fake, because, well … rape just didn't happen. The actors knew it, the film-makers knew it, and the audiences in the picturehouses knew it. It was a novelty, and often (in her opinion as a connoisseur) turned wholesome good quality porn into just fantasy entertainment.
This wasn't light entertainment. For the most part, it was strange and extremely uncomfortable, and just felt like work. So she'd just drifted off, separating herself from her body. Her body wasn't her. It just was a kind of shell – she was her mind, her personality, her experiences. And her body wasn't hers, anyway: it belonged to the fans, the voyeurs, the millions of strangers watching on screens out there somewhere.
But the Captain. Fuck.
She'd had to stretch her vagina with the Ethe. It wasn't technically legal – only collectors on Migration were allowed to mess around with living flesh using the power of the Ethe. But it was very common for those girls and guys in the pornography industry to get tips, tricks and codes from collectors on how to stretch their inner parts. It was simply necessary for some of the inter-species work. She'd stretched herself as much as she could before the Captain entered her, even loosening some of the bones around that area, and he'd still left her feeling broken and sore.
'Nice view, eh.' The Captain hung from the rails by his big ringed hands, leaning his huge body out into the current. He must have run out of rum. She swayed gently, unclothed, and didn't say anything.
'I know who you are,' he said across the Ethe. She flinched, turning to look at him; he just carried on looking out through the gloomy depths. 'I mean, who you really are. The others don't. Thankfully they ain't clever enough to wonder why we're kidnapping some arts and crafts girl.' Then he turned, and stared at her with those huge, azure blue eyes. 'I am.'
She blinked, still holding his gaze. Opposing forces of blankness and fury gripped her while she looked at this, this monster. The blankness won, for now, and she turned away. 'How did you lose your horn?'
He grinned at the back of her head. With one hand he let go of the rail and ran large fingers gently over the worn, broken stump. 'Some golem a few years ago. Had a bit of a disagreement over … well, it's not important. Let's just say something less than legal.'
'So you escaped then.'
'Escaped?' He seemed affronted. 'I killed the fucker. Could've gone either way – they're big bastards, so they are. But I'm pretty attached to my body. No-one does that to me without an altercation.'
She gawped. Golems were maybe twelve feet tall and cased in metal armour. The Captain was a good eight feet, and built very big, but still…
Some small blue fish started examining the back of his head, his long mohawk drifting in the water.
'Funny bugger, ain't it,' he chuckled, without moving his head. He could sense the whatfish behind his head. 'Somethin' about it. Can't work it out. Damned if I know what it actually is, but it's definitely special.'
The slender fish swam in and out of the dark hair, playing with each other. Then they all turned to look at Noksalika. She suddenly felt very self-conscious, and realised her make-up had probably all worn off long ago.
The whatfish swam up to her body, sniffing around her breasts and waist. The Captain turned his head to look at it. She still couldn't tell if it was a group of fish acting together, or some large animal in its own right.
As if to answer this, they all shrank back together into a single close shape, and darted off round the boat.
The Captain continued looking at her body.
She felt her body – her shell – widening and loosening again, as he swung his huge body on top of her and kissed her neck with giant teeth…
She woke one afternoon to find the boat had crept up on land. They must have been around two weeks at sea, although it was hard to tell – the days seemed to merge into one another. The mantrels were overjoyed at the chance to pick up more supplies; Noksalika was just pleased to be out of the water. Her lungs were raw, and her skin was pale and dry from her pores constantly growing and shrinking.
They sailed inland, close to the coast, and then up a large enclosed river, which became a smaller river. There were a few sparsely-spread villages and hamlets, but nothing on the near horizon you could call "civilisation". Mooring up near an isolated tavern, she could tell already it was pirate-friendly, somewhere they would have contacts and safe passage. Hell knew how they could get away with it; she found it strange that everything in the city was so regulated and enforced, and yet here in the sticks, these things could go unnoticed. Or maybe law enforcement over long distances was just inefficient.
Or maybe, in this circumstance, it went higher than that.
She gasped as she staggered out of the river's shallows, pulled on a rope around her neck by the mantrel called Kurrika. He goaded her as she hacked up water from her lungs, laughing as it dribbled out of her nose.
The river's tunnel split into two – once it had travelled around a bend, but had found a shorter path and left a long dry passage about fifty feet across. Strange ferns and shrubs she'd never seen before grew all around, rich greens and iridescent blues. She saw the wooden tavern further along the tunnel, faded garish colours in old flaking paint. But they made camp where they were, near the river.
A fire was started in a blackened earth pit, and they tied her rope around a log; she was still naked and looked like an extra in some really bad bondage film. She sat on the log, staring at the fire as the mantrels skipped whooping and braying into the tavern. The Captain turned at the door, giving her a wink with a mad, glacier-blue bull eye.
'Stay sweet for me, princess,' he said on the Ethe. 'Shame you can't get tanked up with us too!'
Domatri, in his dirty blue robe, gave her a similar wink and a dirty grin, before slipping in the door.
She was left with Kurrika, and another pirate whose name she didn't know, and a bottle of rum. She eyed it carefully as the mantrels chatted and laughed and drank it rough and straight.
She could try and contact Tarabonitz's parents. It made sense – they would know she was missing, they would care. She'd already received several messages on the Ethe concerned about her lack of contact. It made sense until you considered the result of being rescued, when they realised it wasn't actually Tarabonitz; Noksalika could picture their faces, looking at someone who wasn't quite their daughter, before being hauled away by golems for crimes against society. No thanks. Not until it got desperate.
As if things weren't already desperate?
'Why was we put on first shift Kurrika?' said the unnamed mantrel as they sat down. He had short, greasy black hair, and long, twisty horns.
'Beats me,' said Kurrika, raising the bottle to his lips. A small part of Noksalika's brain was annoyed he didn't call the mantrel by his name. She watched the rum glinting orange and black in the firelight as they told trashy tales of debauchery.
'…so anyway, I was there doin' this girl on the table, when—'
'With the classical music playing?'
'Yeah, and the waiter says, "Did you want sauce with that?" Hahaha!'
'Could I have some of that?' she interrupted.
They both burst out laughing at her timing.
'The rum,' she clarified flatly.
Kurrika handed her the bottle, which was half empty but still heavy. She took a swig, smacked her lips (which really weren't as full and sexy as they usually were), and weighed it up in her hand. Then she neatly put the cap back on, before smashing it against the log.
The mantrels stopped talking and stared at her.
'Whoah whoah whoah,' said the nameless mantrel, 'what the hell are you doing?'
'Yeah bitch, what is this?'
The bottle remained in her clenched fist upside down, completely solid. The log hadn't broken the glass, but had managed to jar her wrist painfully.
'Are you,' began Kurrika heavily, 'going to do that again?'
'Um … no?' she said sheepishly.
'Good. Cos you break that and not only are you breaking the rules, you're wasting our fucking rum.'
She nodded, eyes wide, and took the cap back off. The mantrels went back to talking and chatting, thrashing at the fire with a long black poker.
'Why can't I go to the tavern?' she whined wearily, taking a deeper, longer swig. She looked at the mantrel, full of swagger poking at the fire. Having seen a guy's cock and felt it inside of her normally gave her a feeling of power, a smug sense of knowing … a central, ridiculous certainty in the background of any situation. But somehow, not here, not now.
The mantrel watched her sipping the rum dejectedly. 'Dunno really. Why can't she go to the pub? Oi, not too much,' he said, grabbing the bottle back.
'Cos she's a prisoner and needs to know her place,' Kurrika replied without turning. His muscles glinted in the firelight under torn scraps of his jacket. He parted his lips into a dark grin. 'Besides, I think it's no pets allowed.'
Something was moving on the Ethe. She flinched, and fought the urge to look around.
'Haha, aye,' said the mantrel whose name she didn't know, dropping the poker and shuffling over to her. He cradled her face in a hand as coarse as dry leaves; she looked up, feigning laziness.
'I think it's time for a little more fun with our pet.'
Oh no, not again.
He pulled her off the log and to the ground by the fire, and she found herself parting her legs automatically; it was easier than struggling. She probably wouldn't feel a thing anyway. Especially not after all those rugged, rough sessions with the Captain…
She was still naked, and he couldn't be bothered to take his clothes off, simply pulling his furry erection out from a stained loincloth. She felt more of the roughness of his clothes against her hips than his penis inside her worn, tired parts.
Again, she thought she felt things moving on the Ethe, off in the trees – but when she focused, they vanished like electronic ghosts.
Kurrika wandered over and picked up the discarded rum, chuckling to himself. 'When you're finished, mate!'
The mantrel on top of her didn't seem to notice him. 'You like this?' He slapped her face with a hand, and again, scraping an already tender cheek. 'You like this, huh?'
'Is that really necessary?' she growled.
She feigned boredom and laziness as he heaved away on top of her, but there was definitely – something on the Ethe. Shapes moved around, blocky outlines of nothing. It was weird. But neither mantrel seemed to have noticed. How come they haven't seen it too?
Then his head suddenly jerked sideways at a harsh angle. Looking up, she saw a part of his head had been replaced by a metal ball. His skull appeared to have caved in, with his right eyeball poking out, while the firelight played over the shiny, bloody metal. There was a cord attached to the ball, wrapped around the mantrel's head.
After a small pause, he fell on top of her.
She instinctively drew in breath to scream. But just as she thought the better of it, she saw Kurrika in the corner of her eye open his mouth – and a sudden whoosh made him crumple to the ground. With the mantrel's penis still inside her, she leaned up to see a crossbow bolt had been shot through Kurrika's mouth, and was now propping his head up on the ground.
Now could be the right time to get the hell out of there.
She pushed the mantrel's body off her, but before she could think about where she was going to run in the wilderness without any clothes, a frantic rustling came from the bushes, and a hand clamped itself over her mouth.
Great. I'm being kidnapped. Again.
Everything happened quickly. A sword flashed out of nowhere and sliced through the rope tied to the log; more hands came and grabbed her bodily, hauling her upright. She put weight on her own feet and saw that the hands belonged to small figures dressed in tight beige robes with hoods, like some kind of sandy ninjas. There were four, five of them; two went immediately to search the fallen bodies, while another held her arm tightly behind her back with one hand and covered her mouth with the other. She strained weakly, unable to see any of their faces under the hoods in the dark.
They rushed away, dragging her into the darkness of the ferns and bushes. The lead ninja uncovered a hidden hatch in the dirt under an ancient sprawling tree, and they dived in one after another – it was a tunnel barely wide enough for her shoulders, and she felt the cool earth and tree roots scrape along her arms. They crawled through, hurriedly, silently.
Suddenly she burst up through foliage again and found herself in a large passage, maybe twenty feet across. It led to a greater space, a larger cavern with flat land all round its surface.
Waiting were more beige-clad ninjas holding the reins of a dozen or so animals, faces all hidden ominously by hoods. But despite the adrenaline pumping in her head, she had to stifle a laugh – they were riding llamas. Fully saddled, shaved, muscly llamas.
Noksalika was breathless – from exertion, and from the chill of excitement and fear. The figures all stood at various angles in the passage, stock still, looking at her in the dark.
One close to her pulled his hood back.
'Surprise,' said Hanaman with a deadpan smile.
She frowned and gaped and clenched her fists all at once. 'You…!'
'Oh come on, who else would it be,' he beamed up at her. He turned to indicate the llama nearest him. 'Get on, we've got to go. You'll have to share my ride.'
'You set me up, you little shit,' she hissed.
'What, just to trek twelve hundred miles to save you?' he snapped. He turned his back to her and pulled down the stretchy beige material, revealing tight, muscly shoulders – and a large, rough, white scar. 'I got screwed by those bastards too. I'm here because I – because we need you.'
'Can't explain, no time.' He jumped up into the long, flat saddle, the other ninjas following. 'Get on!'
She flounced about anxiously, unsure of anything, looking back at the tunnel. The sliced end of the rope hung between her breasts. 'Have you got any clothes?'