“People die on Krim all the time,” said Benedicta. “It’s no big deal.”
She sat on one of the two lower bunks in a four-bunk stateroom on the pirate ship Queen’s Revenge. With Wynefrede, Margarett, George and Pleasance in the same room, it was crowded. And, with one more person than bunks, there was going to be an awkward moment when it came time to decide sleeping arrangements.
Wynefrede rubbed her wrists. At least the pirates had taken their chains off after they’d nailed the porthole window shut.
“How about…” Benedicta looked at the four of them. “How about I choke George to death first, so you see it’s not so bad?”
George, sitting on the bunk across from her between Wynefrede and Margarett, scooted back towards the wall.
“You could have just waited to be ransomed,” said Wynefrede. “You heard them. They only want to keep me.”
“Why do they want you so much, anyway?” asked Margarett.
“Maybe she’s got a stalker somewhere who thinks they’re madly in love with her,” said Benedicta. “And this is all a plan to win her over.”
“I don’t have any stalkers,” said Wynefrede.
“Not that you know about,” said Benedicta. “Some stalkers can be very patient. I once had a guy… you know what, never mind.”
“If they want Wynefrede most of all, maybe we should choke her to death first,” said George.
“I think I’ll wait for the ransom.” Margarett turned to Wynefrede. “They’ll find out I’m not you eventually, and then there will be no point in keeping me around.”
“That’s a good plan, too,” said George. “I like the sound of it better than dying.”
“Dying’s not so bad,” said Benedicta. “I mean, we saw Captain Lastrange die right in front of us. Quick and easy. Or maybe we can get a chance to jump overboard. I heard drowning isn’t a bad way to go.”
George shook his head. “I don’t want to drown,” he said. “Maybe we can all stay and wait to be ransomed.” He glanced at Margarett. “We can share a bunk.”
“Scared of the water?” Benedicta asked.
“More like scared of the deep,” he said. “The idea of the ocean going down and down and down creeps me out. And there are sharks down there.”
“Still, if I had to choose, I’d pick drowning,” said Benedicta. “I heard it’s painless.”
“But chocking to death won’t be,” said Margarett. “And have you read the terms of service? There’s a warning that if you have an undiagnosed heart condition or untreated anxiety that you might die for real.”
“You don’t actually have a heart,” said Benedicta.
“I mean, physically. You’re on a computer chip somewhere. Those warnings are for people who still have physical bodies.”
“What about the man who died last year?” asked Margarett. “It was all over the news. He was murdered on Krim. He died for good.”
“They brought him back,” said Benedicta.
“Eventually,” said Margarett. “But they almost didn’t. I read that it was really close there for a while.”
Pleasance scooted forward on the cot and turned so that she was facing Benedicta.
“I’m not going to wait around to see what happens,” she said. “I need to get back to the office.” She looked at the rest of them. “It’s your choice whether you’re willing to die or not. And it might be a little unpleasant. But millions of people are killed on virtual worlds every day and they’re just fine. If anything does go wrong, you all have life insurance.”
“So you want one of us to choke you to death?” George asked.
“The only thing I’m worried about is how the pirates will react if they find me dead,” said Pleasance.
“You mean, they might treat the rest of us worse,” said George. “Put us in isolation.”
“Put the shackles back on,” added Margarett.
“Torture us,” said George. He lifted a hand to his throat and swallowed. “Maybe we should all die.”
“How?” asked Benedicta.
“I’ll stay alive,” said Wynefrede. “They won’t hurt me. I don’t know why they want me but I think they want to keep me safe.”
“But then you might never escape,” said Benedicta.
“I told you, I have a plan,” said Wynefrede.
Benedicta leaned back and crossed her arms. “Oh, yeah? What is it?”
Wynefrede looked around at the walls, then leaned in and lowered her voice. “I have a deposition scheduled in eight days,” she said.
“So?” Benedicta raised an eyebrow. “Should that make you more interested in escaping?”
“No,” said Wynefrede. “If I don’t show up, the opposing legal team will file an appearance warrant.”
“Oh, that’s smart,” said Margarett.
“Why? Doesn’t it just mean that she’ll get fined?” asked Benedicta.
“No,” said Margarett. “It means that the courts can force her appearance. Extradite her from whatever grid she’s on. But they only do that if it’s a really big deal if you don’t show up.”
“How big a deal is the deposition?” asked Benedicta.
“It’s a very big deal,” said Wynefrede.
“It’s not a civil case,” said Margarett. “They won’t extradite for that.”
“No, it’s a criminal case,” said Wynefrede.
“Hold on, are you in some kind of trouble?” asked Benedicta.
“No, not me,” said Wynefrede. “I’m a witness. I’m not allowed to talk about it, though.”
“Maybe whoever you’re testifying against are the ones who had you kidnapped,” said Margarett.
“I don’t think so,” said Wynefrede. “I don’t think they even know they’re being investigated. Besides, they don’t have anything to do with Krim.”
“How do you know?” Margarett glanced at the door and lowered her voice further. “The pirates could be taking us to them now.”
“They’re not even in the solar system,” Wynefrede said. “Trust me, it’s not the reason I’m kidnapped. Benedicta’s probably right and it’s some stalker who’s secretly in love with me.”
Pleasance stood up and shook her arms. “Let’s do this before I change my mind. If the rest of you stay here, I’ll get a rescue organized.”
Benedicta stood up and faced her. “Are you sure?”
Pleasance nodded, then glanced down at George. “You might want to hold my arms,” she told him. “In case I try to fight back.”
George looked like he was going to be sick, but stood up and squeezed around her so that he was at her back. Wynefrede and Benedicta scooted back on their cot.
Pleasance stretched her arms out back for George to grab, then lifted up her chin.
George clasped her wrists.
“Right,” said Benedicta. “Let’s do this.” She stepped forward, placed her hands around Pleasance’s throat, took a breath, and squeezed.
Pleasance took a step back into George, trying to gasp for air.
“I don’t think you’re doing it right,” said Margarett.
Pleasance’s face started turning red and she tried to twist away. Benedicta stepped closer and squeezed harder. Then Pleasance ripped one arm out of George’s hold, turned and struck him with an elbow, then punched Benedicta in the stomach.
Benedicta let go and staggered back, clutching her belly.
Pleasance whipped around and kneed George in the groin then stopped and grabbed hold of the top bunk, gasping for air.
George curled up on the floor, moaning.
Benedicta collapsed back on her bunk. “What did you do that for?” she asked, her arms still clasped around her middle. “That really hurt.”
“Give me a minute,” said Pleasance. She took a couple more breaths. “It really hurt. I acted out of instinct. Hold on.” She took another deep breath. “Let’s try this again. I promise not to fight this time.”
“We can wrap her up in blankets,” said Margarett. “That way, she won’t be able to fight.”
“And we can all help hold her down,” added Wynefrede.
George didn’t say anything, just curled a bit tighter into a ball.
Then they heard the sound of keys at the door. Pleasance turned to face it.
The door creaked open and one of the pirates peered in. “I heard some commotion in here,” he said. “What’s going on?” He tried to push the door open further, but George was in the way. The pirated kicked hard at the door and George moaned.
The pirate called back to someone else to come help him and shoved the door again. George pulled himself to his knees and edged out of the way.
With the door open the rest of the way, the pirate looked them over, as a second pirate’s face appeared over his shoulder.
“I think that the guy there,” the first pirate pointed at George, “attacked the women and they fought back. Look at her throat.”
Pleasance’s throat was starting to show bruises.
“And he must have hit the other lady,” the first pirate added.
“No, no, I’m okay,” said Benedicta, moving her hands away from her belly. “He didn’t hit me.”
“Isn’t Wynefrede Aumberden supposed to be a woman?” the second pirate asked. “And we only need her, right?”
“You’re right. Woman, brown hair, wearing glasses,” said the first pirate.
They looked over the women.
“None of them are wearing glasses,” said the second pirate. “But that one is blonde,” he added, pointing at Margarett.
“Blonde? Or light brown?” asked the first. “It looks light brown to me.”
“No, it’s more of a dirty blonde,” said the second.
“That’s the same as light brown.”
“It really could be any of them,” said the second. “We really should have gotten a better description.”
Wynefrede decided not to point out that Benedicta’s hair was more red than brown, and Pleasance was more of an off black.
One of the pirates took half a step into the room, grabbed George by the back of his shirt, dragged him outside, and pushed him toward the other pirate. “Throw him overboard. We don’t need him, and he’s just causing trouble.” He glanced back inside. “And let’s tie the rest of them back up. I don’t trust them.”