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For about the hundredth time of the trip, India was subjected to the doom and gloom computerized warnings about entering this sector of space during a time of war. The automated voice worked its legalese throughout the passenger cabins of the vessel in three different languages, each repetition less convincing than the last. Anyone who had come this far wasn't going to turn back now.
India had been awake for hours, but remained silent while her Quebecois companion finished her sleep. Despite the younger girl's convictions that she was on her way to becoming a tough-as-nails mercenary, Sylvia seemed almost weightlessly frail against India's body. It was this out-of-place touch of weakness that had attracted India to the younger girl.
This predatory feeling was new. It was a gift from the McPhail corporation, given at the same time as the hardware implants, and physical modifications that made sleep largely unnecessary for her now.
While she kept still in the semi-dark of the cabin, India could feel these wonderfully new predatory urges pounding through her chest. In sleep, her young companion was helpless, and almost angelic in expression. Her amusing mixture of French and English, neither language spoken with competence, should have melted India's heart. This was exactly the kind of girl she would have fallen head over heels for in her college days.
But there were only traces of tenderness in India's heart. Mainly, the girl had been an amusement.
The sex had been rough and dirty, each session reinforcing India's dominance over the younger woman. And while Sylvia still did a fine job of projecting her mercenary exterior while in the public areas of the ship, when they were alone, the Quebecois girl was like a puppy-dog, anxious to please her new owner.
In some perverse way, it was this victory of spirit that pleased India more than any physical pleasure that came from sharing her bed. When the time came, and they reached port in the Shaw colony, India would cast the girl aside without remorse.
Somewhere inside of her, that detachment from emotion scared her. It was so unlike her. It was so ... McPhail.
"Morality can be a very dangerous thing, " India remembered the words of the McPhail head of covert operations, who's name eluded her right now. M-something, Mara or Maria perhaps. Truth be told, India couldn't even recall on which occasion she had heard those words, but she remembered the expression on the woman's face when she had delivered them.
Serious. Almost fearful.
And she remembered Hiroshi Nagato standing at the woman's side, nodding solemnly in agreement. It was this man who had overseen the implantation process. He watched sympathetically from the observation room while the porcelain-skinned doctor, Cue-Peg, cruelly made the illegal physical modifications without the benefit of anesthetics.
The tall doctor had paced around the room like a caged animal, toying with what live prey her captors had provided her. India could have sworn that she could detect the aroma of the doctor's arousal as she made those first painful incisions into her body. Each day that the sadistic treatments continued, India could taste the woman's arousal growing. Near the end, when she would black-out from the pain, India would awaken with that familiar taste fresh on her tongue.
At the time, the ordeal had been frightening. India remembered crying for mercy, and the twisted sort of smile those pleas would bring to the doctor's impossibly dark eyes. Looking back on it, however, there was no fear left. The time she had spent in that tiny room, strapped face-down to an operating table, felt like a fitting initiation to her life within McPhail.
That taste of sadistic pleasure remained with her too, and thinking about her time at the Macau research station always gave her a rush of arousal. India dropped her hand down beside the bed to find the leather belt she had left there after the previous evening's pleasures.
It was time for her little French girl to wake up anyway, and what better way to get her blood pumping than a little morning workout. Besides, there was still a tender area of pale white flesh high on the girl's inner thighs that hadn't yet tasted the leather.
India was glad she had saved a little virgin flesh for their last day together.
No one could say for certain why a place like Shaw colony was spared the ravages of war, while less than a day's travel away, the conflicts were waged openly. Some justified it by historical trends. Others called it dumb luck. Holy Moses preferred to call it the will of God.
However it was chosen, no one would violate the unspoken agreement that kept this port safe. It was just too useful to everyone involved. It was a place for mercenaries to be hired, and when the war was done with them, a place for remains to be shipped home. It was a gateway for armaments and refugees, a place for the tired to sleep, and a place for the scavengers to spend the spoils of war.
On this day, Moses spent his time touching up the paint on the outside of his small barge. Two new metallic patches had been added to the underside of the ship. Moses was hard pressed to find a shade of blue paint that would match the patchwork of other blues that had been added over the years. However, he spent more of his time meticulously cleaning and touching up the red and white emblem that donned the sides of the ship.
Through years of piloting in war zones, some would call it a plain fluke that the red and white shield emblem had never been struck by any kind of enemy fire. Moses preferred ascribe it to his close personal relationship with God.
"The Salvation Army? " a woman's voice questioned from below. " I didn't think they showed up for this kind of a war."
"They don't," answered Moses, not yet looking down. " Between conflicts, I do transport runs for their Op Shops. Don't ask me why they call it an 'Op Shop'. It seems a strange name for a thrift store to me. When I'm out piloting in battle zones, I make an effort to send any salvage I can back their way."
"So you don't work for them?"
"It's a volunteer thing, really. I do my best to see that some sort of good come out of the evil we see here. Right now, I'm contracted to the McPhail corporation, media division."
"Good. Then you're the man I'm looking for."
Moses stepped down from the metal rungs that led up the side of the barge to greet the woman. She held out her hand.
"India Taggart, " she smiled with teeth perfectly straight and proportional. She was strikingly perfect, like those obscenely expensive women who could only be seen on newscasts and pornography, not that Moses would know about such things. He was half way through a handshake before he remembered how much paint was still on his hands.
"Damn, I'm sorry, " he apologized, and offered the woman a cloth. " I'm Moses Adams."
"No problem, " she assured him, with a wink. There was something just slightly contrived about the moment, and it gave Moses a chill. Everything about her manner and appearance seemed calculated, by the algebra of human emotion, to illicit warmth and trust. There was no telling how much of her was natural, and how much had been enhanced. He'd seen her type before, just never this ... good.
Even her name. India Taggart. It was just too perfect. It was a stage name. There was just a trace of ethnicity in her refined features that hinted of an Indian origin. Otherwise, her hazel-coloured eyes and full lips seemed as fashionable as the most recent list of the 50 most beautiful people.
Damn. He'd never seen such a piece of work.
"Why don't you show me around Shaw colony before we get going? It might be good for some background footage."
"Uh, okay. But could I give you a little advice?"
"The thing is, it looks like you're on a fashion safari or something, " Moses told her, not pulling any punches. " In your business, saying you're a war correspondent might carry some romantic Ernest Hemingway notions with it, but out here, you're just another target. Dressed like that, and, if you'll excuse me saying ... looking the way you do, you're a target worth taking."
India looked down at her clothing self-consciously. "What do you suggest?"
"If you're flying with me anyhow, you may as well just slip into a flight suit. As you can see, they're none too flattering. Tie up your hair, wear a baseball cap, and don't flash your pretty teeth to strangers. That ought to do it."
Twice before, Moses had taken on war reporters for the McPhail corporation. On other occasions, he had worked for competing media outlets. He had brought all of the reporters home alive, which is more than could be said for most freelance pilots that could be hired around here. Hell, most of these guys would already be planning how to spend the money they would get from selling a pretty thing like India into sex slavery.
Not Moses. That wouldn't be Christian.
India stripped out of her clothes in the cabin of the barge. She swore at herself silently for the mistake of wearing the stylish khakis to this assignment. It was a rookie mistake. Amateurish.
.... There is more of this story ...