The Book of Five Rings

Episode 1

"All right, Judge, the masquerade's over for you and your ring of extortioners." Mags Hardbottle coolly kept the long, sleek blaster pointed at the galaxy's foremost arbiter of justice. With her other hand she inserted a slender white cigarette between her coral lips. As always, the visor hid her eyes, so that her nemesis had no idea if she felt regret or triumph at bringing a great man down. "I'd hate to turn you into lunar dust, so don't move, and don't reach for that little assassination device in your pocket."

"You tricked me, Mags Hardbottle," the judge hissed, his Salafian complexion becoming a richer blue as he contemplated her treachery. "You only played along for spite! You're nothing but a treacherous human!"

"I played to win Judge," she said grimly. "I told you that from the first: Mags Hardbottle only plays to win."

Behind her, Paterson Start gasped and looked at her with anguish in his wide dark eyes. "Was it all a lie, Mags?" he asked. "I thought we had something; I thought we shared something--"

"It was to save your life, Pate." For a moment, the young sleuth's voice halted, and then she said, without turning towards him, "I'm sorry, guv, I never really cared about you, not that way. I was just bringing the old man down. I'm sorry I used you."

"Mags," he sobbed. Just then, the clamoring voices outside the door turned into a cheer. The pneumatic catches on the outside at last engaged, and the reinforced blast door slid back. Major Hawke leaped into the room, his blaster in his hand.

"Paterson Start!" he exclaimed at the young man. "Who would have thought it? So it was you all along!"

"Nix, Major. The Judge here is your man." Mags Hardbottle gestured with her weapon at her prisoner. "He done in the rest home people and had them two hookers drowned when they threatened to blab. You'll find plenty of evidence right on him, starting with that assassination device in his pocket."

"Oh, good job, Mags!" the Major exclaimed. "So this is the mysterious Mr. Sin! Well, Judge, we'll see how you like prison from the inside now!"

As the Major's men streamed in, the young detective at last lit the cigarette between her lips. Her blank visor turned for one instant toward the sobbing Paterson. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "You deserve a better woman than me, anyway."

"There won't ever be another you, Mags," he sobbed. "If only I could make you care for me as I care for you!"

Mags Hardbottle slid the long blaster into its holster on the belt of her tight black jumpsuit. She withdrew the cigarette to exhale. "Solving crime's really the only thing I do care about Pate," she said at last. "But I am sorry. Goodbye."

She slid around the mass of uniformed men, slim and composed, her agile form swiftly blending among the crowd and then disappearing through the open door.

Static electricity had been building over the city all day. As night fell like a hot and weighty curtain, the dry landscape of white sand and pulverized mica released a moistureless dust into the charged air. The dry, stifling fog rose like a low mist and crackled in places with blue sparks. Just as the casinos were lighting up for the evening rush, the static suddenly discharged from horizon to horizon in a single, brilliant flash. For a moment, the huddle of glowing signs and false fronted buildings were bleached white by it, and the clutter of living units on the edge of the city were pulled from shadow: hive-like clumps of huts and one-room cottages built with sagging, fibrous walls.

Few inhabitants were at home to admire the lightning flash. It lasted just long enough to illuminate a solitary figure that strode towards the casinos from the slum of crazily tilting living units. And it afforded her a moment to glimpse a flurry of motion on the edge of the waste disposal zone that bordered the enclave of squashy, bulging huts.

A single, featureless biped creature-perhaps Human, Tark, Salafian or the like, suddenly leaped from the heart of the waste dump and scrambled to the top of a great heap of cast-off bottles and broken glass. He plungeed over the summit, slid, and then scrambled down the other side toward the street. Five larger pursuers charged to the top of the mountain of shards and then leaped off the pile and came down on top of their prey. They seized their captive and dragged him back over the mound and into the dump, all of them caught for a moment by the flash of lightning. The night rushed in to hide them, but the light had revealed the extra pectoral limbs of the pursuers. As they pulled their struggling captive back over the mound of garbage and into cover, the person on the street stopped. Robbery at the dump was nothing unusual, but this was a rarity. A four-handed thief was almost unknown in the galaxy, even among the casinos.

"You'll pay for this!" a voice shouted from the waste zone. "I tell you, I am the Master, a name your kind has yet to learn to fear!"

This claim was followed by the sound of several small explosions, and instantly the smaller, two handed creature raced to the top of the garbage heap again. The female on the street broke into a run towards it, just as three remaining pursuers once again came up the heap after it.

Alarmed at sight of a new adversary from the street, the quarry gripped something and turned from side to side, seeing himself caught either way.

"Need a hand?" the newcomer called, and she scrambled part way up the slithering pile of glass, crockery, rags, and other refuse. "Come this way!"

He abruptly decided to trust her and came down, but one of those from the dump suddenly launched himself down the mountain of shards in a tackle.

The small, slight onlooker stepped in close, embraced the bigger attacker on his outer arms as he came down, rolled under him before his inner hands could grip her, and straightened her legs up into him as he flew over her. He was catapulted off the hill of glass shards and onto the brick street below with a thump that told of broken bones.

"Tark!" she shouted after him. She rolled to her feet. "Practice your basics and live longer!"

"Shoot the small one!" one of the pursuers shouted, but her new ally suddenly threw something back at them, and the two remaining creatures fell backwards off of the towering heap as they recoiled while trying to draw weapons. An explosion rocked the debris on the heap and sent shards of glass and stone flying everywhere.

"Let's go strip them!" she exclaimed. "They're our rightful prey now!"

She would have gone up the hill of rubble, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her away. "There are more of them coming! It was an ambush!" he exclaimed. She followed him down the pile to the street, but another flash of the noiseless lightning showed her that a second band of Tarks was running towards them from the city.

"Tarks aren't thieves," she exclaimed, confused. "They don't steal!" But she pulled her new ally by the hand towards the slum of living units.

Loud outcries from the pursuit told them both that this was what the pursuers had feared. In the maze of tilting houses, bits of fence, and twisting footpaths, they could lose their followers and perhaps even pick them off one at a time.

The one who called himself the Master let her lead him into the incredible maze. Her hand was small but strong with a wiry grip. She seemed completely unafraid, and even as he contemplated the necessity of killing her in order to be able to go on alone, he felt a certain admiration for her coolness. For several minutes they ran without stopping, twisting and turning around the sagging huts and cottages until there was no sound of pursuit from behind. The smell of poverty was all around them-reeking, rotting bits of flesh from leftover meals, excrement from several different intelligent species all crammed together, acrid smoke from cooking fires and cheap fuel. She stopped to catch her breath with him in the lee of one of the baggy, tilting huts, and he said quietly, "I assure you, I will reward you very well if you get me out of here." He dismissed the necessity of killing her. She was a good and useful ally. In a very different voice she startled him: "Come off it, guv. What'd you do, end up on the wrong side of a casino? Them was Tarks back there. What'd you do to offend them?"

"Nothing," he said curtly. "Even I have my limits, and I would not try to offend the Tarks."

"Then you offended someone they owe loyalty to," she said. "What'd you do, get in debt to a casino? Gonna slope off on your bill, then?"

Her London accent was so incredibly bad, so much like a staged version of a cockney, that he stopped from his own account and said, "May I ask who you are?"

"Sure, guv. I'm Mags Hardbottle, Detective to the Stars. At your service. But I don't expect much in the way of reward from the likes of you."

"Please be serious!" He snapped. "Who are you, really?"

"I'm Mags Hardbottle, mate. And you can put that into your pipe and--uh-oh, come on!"

They were unlucky in that the lightning flashed again, illuminating them just as a band of the Tark pursuers came wending up one of the alleys between the fiber walls of the houses and huts. She led him again through the twisting paths at a run. They slammed into a light, wire fence where evening insects had collected to cool off from the hot and dry day. She rattled up hand over hand, heedless of the slithery mass that swept under her and over her to escape the disturbance. He expertly followed. A phosphor dart skimmed past her shoulder, and they heard one of the Tarks cry out an order not to shoot again. She and the Master dropped over the top of the fence and resumed their running.

The Tarks hit the fence, but they were too heavy to get over it easily. It swayed and billowed as the first three tried to climb over, then crashed down part way, caught like sheeting between the walls of two of the houses. As it gouged into the fibrous walls of the frail housing units, the Tarks slipped and rolled into each other. The creature who called her self Mags Hardbottle laughed as she and the Master ran again through the twisting alleys. She took his hand again in her small, wiry grip. "Come on, guv. I got an idea. Them Tarks'll burn these huts down if they want you bad enough."

"Are you human?" he asked her as they burst out from the clutter and stench of the slum and into the dry, hot darkness.

"Course I am. Ain't you heard of Mags Hardbottle? I'm the galaxy's most famous detective."

She brought him out to the top of a great embankment of sand, and they slid down. In the rainy season, the river would flow here, but now the dry bed afforded them the cover of low ground. He jerked on her hand to indicate that they should run to the west, towards the spires of the city. There were piers up ahead, and they could hide among the pilings and stored boats.

They scurried to the cover of the first pier, a high rickety structure that soared above them.

Both of them were panting, and they dropped into the shadows under the planks above. She swept a few of the insects from his shoulder and with no shyness at all ran her hands quickly over his face and head. After a pause, he did the same for her, avoiding the visor that masked her eyes.

"Ugh! Hate those things. You run all right for an old duffer," she said in a low voice. "You come here all alone?" She slapped her arms and sides, and he did the same, ridding themselves of the last of the insects and the slithery feel of them.

"If you are taking me for a human, you are mistaken," he said woodenly. She glanced at him, her vision apparently uninhibited by the dark visor. She sized him up quickly. He was compact, dressed in dark clothes, with a small dark beard. Even in flight from a band of very warlike Tarks, there was a steady, almost aloof composure about him, as though he were indeed master of himself in any situation.

"Well what'd the Tarks want you for?" she asked.

"I don't know," he whispered. "I had to crash land here--this waste land of yours. I wasn't eager to go out into it at first, but there was no other way."

She snorted and said something that sounded like "fancy pants," and he added, "Small time gambling is beneath me. And all the rest--the thievery of this place, the body piracy. Scavengers all. All of you."

"Yeah, well, thanks," she replied coolly. "It ain't much, but it's home. And if this scavenger hadn't showed up, them Tarks would be testing their knives on you right now. But Tarks don't steal, and Tarks don't sell blokes to the body pirates. What'd you do to get 'em mad?"

"Nothing!" he snapped. "A circuit in my ship burned out, and I at last ventured out to buy or trade for a replacement. I was just leaving a vendor's stall when those mercenaries tried to cut me off and drove me towards the city's garbage tip."

"That don't sound like Tarks," she muttered, but she did not contradict him. She sighed and then said, "All right, let's see this through to the end. Which way to your ship? I'll help you get there."

* * * *

Oh I love a girl from an alien race!
She chews with her bottom and sits on her face!
We trundle about in time and in space!
Just me and my girl from an alien race!

The Doctor's voice, happy as only a time lord's voice can be when his exile is over and he is free to roam the stars again, woke Jo Grant up from her sleep. He strode through the open doors into the interior of his TARDIS, to see her curled up in one of the chairs from the lab outside. She grimaced at the protest of cramped shoulders and knees as she woke up and moved. Stiffly, she sat up and looked around.

"Wake up, Jo," he said, a trifle cross with her for keeping a vigil inside his precious time and space machine. He strode over to her and looked down at her indignantly, his eyes stern in his lined face. "What are you doing in here this early in the morning? Did you spend the whole night in here?"

"Yes I did," she replied innocently. She stretched and tried to look as though she were not very sore from sleeping all night in a cramped chair.

"Oh I see," he began. He abruptly turned away from her and went to the hexagonal console that took up the center of the vast, gleaming interior. He pushed one hand through his shock of white and gray hair, a sign of agitation. "Look, you aren't going to stop me, you know!"

"I know," she agreed.

"I'm free to go, and I'm going!"

"I know," she agreed again. She sank back into the chair, closed her eyes, and wished for coffee.

"Well what's the point of this ridiculous vigil of yours, then?" he demanded. She did not answer. Ever since the High Council of the Time Lords had forgiven the Doctor and bequeathed a dematerialization circuit to him, she had known that he would leave Earth. It was everything he had been waiting for. The blocks were out of his memory, and he was now able to install the circuit properly and correctly assess other bits of damage that the TARDIS had sustained. So she had taken up her watch. She was very weary now-part of her wondering what she would do with herself if he should leave, and part of her still considering his offer to join him. She heard him activate the central piston unit, running it up and down very slowly to test the drive features. The doors to the TARDIS were interlocked to close should it travel, so she knew he wasn't going anyplace. The doors were wide open. He had been running this test for several days now.

His voice spoke again, this time right over her, startling her into looking up at him. He looked fresh and alert in his narrow trousers, starched dress shirt, and black velvet jacket.

"You're wearing yourself out, Jo," he said gently, his voice subdued. "I promised you I would at least say good-bye."

She looked up at him, her dark eyes filled with worry. "You won't though," she told him. "You'll forget. Or you'll tell yourself that you're just going off for a test flight. And then I'll never see you again."

He leaned over her. "You could come with me," he said quietly. "You know I want you to." For a moment his eyes, deeply quiet with that quietness she had seen only in him, met her wide, dark eyes. Her own fears of the unknown universe quieted under his gaze. But she looked away, not answering. She had been with him once or twice before on journeys in the TARDIS--running errands for the time lords, usually. But this was different. This was a real commitment to go--to jump off the earth into the unknown universe. And there was always the chance of being lost or left behind on some distant planet. Even with her limited experience in interstellar travel, she knew that the potential for catastrophe was enormous. He crouched down to get on eye level with her.

"I've always taken care of you out there, Jo," he said. "The few times you've traveled with me. Haven't I always taken good care of you?"

"Yes of course," she said. "But Doctor, I have responsibilities. I-"

"You're my assistant," he urged her. "You have every reason to come with me. Why, who's going to look after me? Isn't that your sworn duty or something? It was when we went to Atlantis!"

She laughed and turned to look at him. "Look after you, indeed! We were on a mission in Atlantis. This is different. This is your escape, isn't it?"

"Certainly!" He stood up and turned back to the control console, but less enthusiastically.

"Why what would the Brig-" she began.

"You know, Earth is a TARDIS, Jo," he said suddenly. "She travels through space and time, but at a different pace; that's all." He looked at her over his shoulder. "You've seen enough here the last few years to show you there's no such thing as permanent safety. The broadcast waves are out there now, you know: Radio transmissions from Earth have been emitted from this place for over half a century. So everybody knows Earth is here. And Earth already has enemies. You know that, too." He turned to face her and leaned back against the console. "So you may as well come with me. It's really the same whether you go or stay, Jo."

Seeing her waver, he held out a hand to her. "Just come look at this," he said coaxingly. "Come and take a look." She stood up on stiff legs and joined him at the console, but when she came, he looked down at her. For a moment he said nothing, and then he nodded down at the console and told her, "I'm checking the interface between the TARDIS and the vortex: essentially creating a channel from the console into the vortex right now--sending a signal." He sighed wistfully, and she realized that he had been postponing the final moment in an effort to convince her to come along. But his comment startled her.

"I say, is that safe?" she asked. "Fooling with the TARDIS like that?"

"It's necessary after all this time in dry dock. The TARDIS has to transmit itself in ways that defy the physics of matter, Jo. If I'm to bring you along, I have to make sure that everything functions properly." He switched off two toggles on the console. The piston unit slowed to a stop. "The signal went through and echoed back undistorted. That means the TARDIS should do so as well. We could leave at any time." He hesitated and then put his arm across her shoulders, gently pulled her towards him, and looked down at her again. "So do we say good-bye?" he asked her. "The adventure has hardly started."

His arm felt heavy on her shoulders, and she knew she was defeated. No matter what bound her to Earth, and no matter how much she preferred the ordinary to the esoteric, she was too firmly tied to him to bear a good-bye now. And she knew that really, that was why she had maintained such a vigil against his departure. It was the same old fear: the fear that the Doctor would leave without her, go off before she was ready to go with him. She drew in her breath and willed herself to be ready.

All the same, in dealing with the Doctor, it was useful to bind him to solemn promises. Her three days of stalling him had gotten his attention and made him more willing to make concessions. "But if I were really, really homesick, Doctor-" she began.

"Right back!" he exclaimed. "I give you my word. Besides, you know I'll report in to the Brigadier now and again anyway. I have a certain obligation to him."

"You mean he's got this great big lab where you can get free spare parts," she added slyly. But she smiled up at him. "You really think you can slow down for me out there so that I can keep up with you?"

Sometimes the Doctor's impatience to get on with things made him shuffle aside his human companions. He took the hint. "Haven't I been doing better?" he asked her. Then he scowled at her. "Besides, I've learned it's easier to keep you with me than to let you go off into trouble. All right?"

This answer pleased her. She nodded. "Right then. I'll just come along to look out for you."

He grinned, chucked her under her chin, and said, "Just what I wanted! Now we're really ready." He turned back to the console. An enormous blue spark suddenly erupted from the panel. She jumped back without thinking, but he frowned at it. "Now what's going on here?"

He glanced at the piston in the center of the console as it slowly and unevenly rose and fell and stopped again. It was shimmering as though its matter were becoming unstable. Behind him, Jo gasped, and without thinking he reached his bare hand towards the shimmering piston. A tremendous push threw him all the way back to the doors. They swung halfway closed as the interlock engaged, and then stopped. For a moment, everything swam before his eyes.

He shook his head to clear his vision and then sat up. "Jo?" Everything in the TARDIS was still and quiet. The piston unit had come to a halt, half raised. "Jo?" he asked. The chair and Jo were both gone. He leaped to his feet and darted to the console, furiously checking the controls and the readings.

"Doctor? Are you there?" From the doorway of the TARDIS, Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart strode into view, crisp and military. His old world courtesy forbade him from entering the Doctor's domain without invitation, so he stopped outside the doorway. "We've got that morning conference-" he began.

"Not now, Brigadier-" The Doctor raced his hands over the controls, scanning and adjusting, reactivating the signal he had sent and checking the diagnostics.

"Well, send Miss Grant down."

The Doctor turned sharply from the console. "Something's happened. Something's invaded the TARDIS. Jo's gone!"

* * * *

Along the dried out waterfront, the person who called herself Mags Hardbottle expertly led the Master towards the city. Their immediate landscape was the domain of fishermen during the wet season, and it was a jungle of crates, netting, and the piles of sacking that were favored on this nearly treeless world. She jogged from cover to cover, taking advantage of the disused piles of fibrous containers and occasional columns of wooden crates. She was leading him along a curving line towards the other end of the city. He began to suspect that she was not human. A human male would have found it difficult to run for so long in such a low crouch, and a human female would have found it impossible unless she had undergone specific training to do so.

She stopped and waited until she had her breath. He came and crouched alongside her, and she whispered to him, "There's a gate yonder, a sluice gate for when the water's high. I got me lock picks on me. I can get us through it." He followed the direction of her visor's blank gaze. The outskirts of the city were protected by a high fence of upright titanium spikes-insurance against both invasion from outside and escape from the casinos within. The narrow sluice gate was the type that rotated on an axis and had four lockable paddles. One person could pick the lock and pass through, but the paddles would rotate to admit only one person and then the next paddle would lock into place, requiring a few minutes for the next traveler to pick the lock and get through. He felt for the silk cord in his tunic and decided to garrote her if she did not let him pass through first. She was likable and somewhat enigmatic, but she was not going to keep him from his escape.

It was open ground before them, a short run across the sand into the sluice ditch, and then they could crawl up the ditch and try to get through the gate. She paused and considered, listening. From the faint luminescence of the sand and pulverized mica of the dry riverbed, he could see her more distinctly. She was several inches shorter than he, and slim, small-breasted, and she wore the visor-like sunglasses made famous by crime fiction's most popular heroine. The visor hid most of her face, and her hair was tightly curly and rather unruly. Sensing his inspection, she turned to glance at him.

"What is Mags Hardbottle, the galaxy's most famous detective, doing in this out of the way hole?" he asked dryly. "Brushing up on your lock picking?"

"That's what we call classified information old son," she told him. "You just wait there, and I'll see if I can't get that gate open."

She moved forward, and he suddenly jerked her back as a phosphor arrow skimmed into the space where she was moving. It sank into the fibrous baggage alongside them. The crating and sacks instantly shot up into green flame. She shouldered him away as liquid flame spewed out. They rolled across the sand and into the run-off ditch.

"Looks like we've had it," she said calmly. "We can't get over that fence and we can't get through the gate with them on top of us." She loosened the belt of her tight fitting black jumpsuit. Their pursuit edged closer from the piles of packing material while the ignited pile shot its green flames into the air and then slowly sputtered out.

He suddenly stood, threw what looked like several small rocks at the enclosing Tarks, and ducked back into the ditch. Three small explosions and sudden outcries told them that he had driven off the attack for the moment.

"They don't shoot at you," she whispered.

"No, my dear. They must want me alive. I'm sorry to say that I observe that you are not quite so fortunate."

"Well maybe we can get you out of here, then," she said. "If they don't shoot them arrows at you, you might be able to get through the sluice gate." She reached into a tight pocket and pulled out two tiny lock picks. "Can you use these?" He touched them, felt the tremble in her hands, and then shook his head. "No, Miss Hardbottle. Look there." He nodded over at the gate. More shadowy forms were on the other side, working on it to get through into the ditch.

"Mother of pearl!" she exclaimed, a classic Mags Hardbottle expletive. She tucked the lock picks away. "Shh." She hissed. He waited, not hearing anything, but saw her curly head turn away. No, he thought, she was not human. Her ears were more finely tuned than his, and his ears were far superior to human ears.

She suddenly lunged up, arms outstretched, and pulled somebody halfway into the ditch. The stalker came down, startled, but willing to grapple with her with his inner hands. There was a sound as cloth fasteners burst apart. The Tark screamed, his strong inner hands inexplicably pinned. She hit him a stunning blow on the side of the jaw as he came down, and a second on the temple, then rolled him over her shoulder into the floor of the ditch and stomped with her booted foot-once.

"The end," she muttered, and turned. Her two inner hands were out, hung where her breasts should have been, had she been human. The front of her jumpsuit hung down like a bib.

"You're a Tark," the Master gasped, but just then two more of the Tarks dived into the ditch. "They're comin' in rounds!" she yelled. This time she was not as lucky. While one Tark wrestled with the Master and used his four hands to try to subdue the time lord, the other turned to her, kicking her in the chest right between her pectoral hands with enough force to throw her backwards. She fell across the body of the first Tark. The second dived onto her, just as she slipped a short, two-sided blade from her belt buckle. She heaved it up with all her strength and twisted.

"Throw them things, guv!" she shouted. "Throw them things before the next round comes!"

Two more explosions lit up the sky for a moment, and suddenly the wounded Tark on top of her was pulled away, and the Master jerked her up by her outer right hand. His own previous attacker lay writhing further up the ditch.

"Go down the ditch," the Master gasped, and he pushed her ahead of him, away from the sluice gate, further down the ditch.

"Mother of Pearl, they're coming up the ditch from the riverbed, too," she exclaimed, halting.

"Kill the little one!" one of them shouted, and she saw the glow of phosphor arrows drawn back.

"No, she's a half-grown Tark!" one of them shouted. She jerked out her knife and would have pulled it across her throat with an outer hand, but suddenly the Master's hands grabbed her wrist from behind.

"You alone can save me," he gasped. "Don't kill yourself. They won't shoot you. You're one of them."

"I ain't one of them. I'm Mags Hardbottle, Detective to the Stars." she said faintly. He jerked her hand down as the Tarks swarmed after them.

"Here is the key to my ship-my TARDIS," he told her as he slipped something flat and hard into her pocket. "Find it. Protect it. It sits on the end of the main street, beyond the wine shops. I don't know what they want, but you're my only hope of rescue. Question and kill anybody who approaches my TARDIS." He stripped off her visor, revealing inhumanly green eyes beneath, grasped her face in his hands, and stared down at her. She gasped. "Obey me," he said.

They were grabbed and pulled apart as Tarks came up the ditch and others swarmed over the top. A stunning blow across her face threw her into the wall of the ditch. She was lifted up, but she heard the voice order, "No, she's a young one of us. Don't kill her! Take him!"

She forced her eyes open in time to see the person called the Master dragged up the ditch, his arms bound behind him, his mouth quickly gagged. But even in the darkness and the dust of flying sand, she felt his eyes go into hers. Then three Tarks surrounded over her. They jerked her by her shirt front out of the ditch and onto level ground. Their leader scowled down at her, but there was a glimmer of respect in his eyes. "It's the little one from the casino, the one who runs the observation post on night shift." He hesitated. "I never knew she was a Tark."

"Tarks don't do things like this!" she shouted up at him. "Where are you taking him? You ought to be honorable and not kidnap strangers!" He slapped her with the back of his outer left hand. She would have flown at him, but one of the others grabbed her outer hands and pulled them behind her back.

"The fire in her is bright for one so small," her captor observed. He twisted her arms up behind her back and forced her up onto her toes so that she could not kick. "The prey would never have gotten so far without her."

"Aye it was a good chase in the end," the leader agreed. He eyed her up and down. "And to think I took you for a human when I saw you working in the casino."

"You're sunk down to criminals," she snapped. "Like humans, or Salafians, or them wretched Ogrons. You're in a criminal business--shanghaiing strangers. That's goon work."

"Tarks are men of honor always," the captain growled at her. "You don't understand this business, so stay out of it." He glanced at his two subordinates. "Give her a beating with your belts to teach her not to interfere with us. But we have to leave soon." And then he strode away.

The one who had her outer arms nodded to his companion and expertly wound Mags' arms around the front of her, pinning her strong inner hands. He pushed his knee into her stomach so that she fell forward, and he held her down with his own inner hands-strong and immovable as steel rods.

"No!" she sobbed. "I'm Mags Hardbottle, Detective to the stars! You can't beat me! It was a fair fight!"

She cried out as the first blow from the other man's wide belt struck her back, and then clamped her teeth together as he hit her again and again while the first man held her in sweating silence.

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