It was typical for storm clouds to gather over the dense jungles of Shankera around this time of day. Flooding was a daily occurrence in the small, southern rain forest island. And the dark storm front was moving in right on schedule, piling high over the thick vegetation. Fortunately for most of the deadly predators that stalked the island, deep wells had been built by some ancient civilization that gathered the torrents of rain to prevent flooding and supply fresh water. These wide, circular wells were lined by sheer marbled steel that dropped several stories into the ground.

And right in the dead center, half way down one of these wells, Suzie Starstress groggily came to her senses. Repulser beams hit her from every side, pinning her limbs to her core and suspending her in the middle of nothing, seemingly floating. The first, heavy rain drops from the approaching storm traveled down the well and splashed into her face pulling her back to consciousness. As her eyes slowly opened, she began to remember her encounter with the pirates as she tried to infiltrate their asteroid base. Obviously it hadn’t gone well.

The cold dampness of the pit revealed that she had been stripped down to her underwear. Obviously the pirates had found some of the tools and weapons carefully and cleverly hidden in her clothing. So she was unarmed and had nothing that could help her in any way. And to make it worse the Armeni Secret Service had no idea where she had gone, so there was no really no hope for rescue. She was on her own and obviously in deep trouble.

Trying to shake the water from her eyes, she quickly realized just how restrained her mobility was. She squirmed just enough to find that the tractor beams held her firmly in place. Moving her head as much as possible, she was barely able to make out the slightly less dark opening of the well far above her. Below her she could hear the rain splattering into the pool of the well. A typical evening storm would quickly fill this well. Unfortunately Suzie didn’t think the tractor beams would allow her to float to the top. And even if she did, there would be no way to fight off all of the dangerous predators on the surface unarmed.

“Aww, you poor thing, you look so helpless” Suzie froze as the voice echoed through the chamber. The voice belonged to Captain Klawe, the leader of the pirates she had been sent to destroy. Suddenly a giant holographic projection of the captain’s head circled around her right side, easily twenty times its normal size. Suzie would have jumped if he could have. As it hovered around her, Suzie felt more exposed and helpless than she ever had, but she refused to give the monster the satisfaction of showing any emotion.

“I’m sorry we didn’t have more time to play,” Klawe’s tongue touched his lip for just a moment. Suzie fought to repress the image of the giant mouth closing around her and swallowing her. It was just a hologram. “But if you found me and my lair, I’m sure your friends can’t be far behind.” The sensation of being a specimen in a jar continued as Klawe’s holographic face circled back behind her, examining her from every angle. For a long moment, she thought she had been left alone again, until his face appeared again circling around the other side.

“I know it doesn’t seem very fair to do this to you after you helped us so much, but that’s what truly evil men do.” Suzie tried to look away at the memory of her betrayal. She hadn’t known that one of Klawe’s pirates had infiltrated the Armeni Secret Service and positioned himself as her partner in the attack on the pirate stronghold. During the flight to the Kiuba system she had fallen for the dashing rogue and in a moment of romantic weakness had told him about the location of the codex bracelet, a device that would lead to the treasure of the legendary pirate Bloody Red. With that treasure, Klawe would be able to build a pirate empire that no government agency would ever be able to take down. Once the raid had begun, the infiltrator had turned on Suzie and revealed the location of the codex bracelet to his captain.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed it yet, but the repulser beams holding you in place are gradually building in intensity. Pretty soon they will be crushing you into a pulp far beyond anything your friends would recognize.” A flash of lighting momentarily lit the dark pit accenting the sinister prediction. “I know you’re probably hoping for the power to go out during this storm, but I’m afraid that won’t help much. In the water below you is a Calibarutus. Are you familiar with the species?” Suzie couldn’t hide the look of horror that confirmed that she did know about it. So even with the increased flow of rain causing the water to rise ever faster, drowning would not be her biggest concern. Calibarutus were ravenous carnivores with multiple tentacles that took great care to play with their food with the comfort that nothing could escape their grasp. No matter how she died, she would ultimately end up being its meal.

“You might actually have a better chance with the predators on the surface, but obviously there’s no way you could climb these walls even if you could get to them.” The image of Captain Klawe hovered closer, directly in front of her. “However, I am a sporting man. I like to keep things interesting. Games of chance make everything a little better, don’t you think?”

“What do you want?” Suzie finally said as she grasped at the straw of hope.

Klawe’s face vanished and suddenly the well lit up with six laser saws positioned horizontally around the pit. Flat disks of plasma pulled lasers into tight circles that spun and cut through any known matter. The six spinning disks closed into the center irising in on Suzie’s abdomen.

“I want to place a bet on exactly how you’re going to die! Right now live feeds are being broadcast to our betting parlors around the galaxy. As we speak, patrons are choosing between crushing, drowning, disemboweling or being eaten. Even being ‘frightened to death’ has better odds then you would think.” With the rising water, the crushing beams and the closing saws Suzie had to admit that she would have a hard time choosing.

“Unfortunately, I can’t stick around and watch. I have a pirate treasure to collect. I’d place a bet for you, but I’m afraid you wouldn’t be able to collect.” His final laugh echoed through the chamber until it faded into the sizzle of rain hitting the sheets of plasma making up the approaching laser saws.

Suzie used all of her strength to squirm and wiggle against the crushing forces that gripped her. As Klawe had gloated and bragged, Suzie had been assessing her situation. If she could get above the saws, she might be able to make it above the beams that held her, but with no way to get to the sides or grip them to climb, if she did get above the repulser beams she would just fall back into the laser saws. So her only choice was to work with gravity and try to shimmy down.

With no reference, it was hard to tell if it was working, but as the saws drew nearer she could make out some slight progress. Instead of aiming for her belly button, they were now at the level of her chest. But it wasn’t going to be enough. She already had to fight harder and harder for each breath against the crushing forces, and she could feel the cold water start to creep up her bare feet, and she could feel the breeze from the spinning blades on her shoulders, and something brushed against her toes.

With a final thrust she was able to push her left shoulder below the level of the blades, but a sting on her right shoulder told her that the blade on that side had struck. She quickly forced her right shoulder down with just a scratch, but the severed strap of her scant top dropped away. It bought her a couple of inches, but it wasn’t enough, the blades circling her neck continued to close. But she couldn’t move any more, as the water crept up her thighs, buoyancy took over and gravity stopped helping, making it harder and harder to creep down. And with the last of her breath forced from her lungs her vision started to fade…

To be continued…