Tainted Love
Diana DeRiggs

With thanks to Csillag and Wraith6 for editorial assistance and plot development meetings,and again to W6 for the title!


Dia tossed and turned, wishing she could give herself a nerve shot or something. She had been a slave from childhood, trained and bent to her masters' wills, considered a valuable piece of property by those who owned her. Her innocence was auctioned to the highest bidder by the slaver who first captured her, then she was sold to a trainer, who later sold her to a rich, corpulent merchant with a fetish for eating his dinner off the body of a young, beautiful girl. She was a "dessert plate" and would be washed carefully and positioned every third night for her assignment.

The other days and nights, she was used for work as well as for pleasure among her master's retinue. She was summoned several times a day for tasks ranging from feeding and washing a baby, to being attached like a charm on a bracelet to a chain of girls. They would be made to pose and perform for the amusement of invited businessmen and customers. She was taught to dance alone, as well as with others, and became a pleasure slave.

She was perfunctorily sold for a higher price when she reached puberty, to her next master, a politician who traveled. She was among his personal valet staff, seeing to his rooms and needs, wherever they landed.

There were several other masters and even some mistresses. Twi'leks were commonly seen throughout the galaxy as servants and slaves, even though slavery was generally outlawed by the Old Republic and even by the Empire. There were many loopholes in the laws, however, allowing for indentures and indefinite servitude or ownership of personal debts. But no matter what it was called, it was still slavery. Dia knew that not all of her species were slaves. It was just bad personal luck that she'd been captured. She knew free Twi'leks are common, they weren't a slave culture, strictly speaking, and she longed for her freedom, refusing to accept her servitude as status quo.

At her first chance on Coruscant, she ran away from her master's skyhook, carrying information valuable to the New Republic, ensuring her freedom. She'd taken a ship, learning how to fly it by asking questions and flirting with the pilots, and forcing those who knew how to fly it for her. Her reward was a new life, and she chose to serve as an information and analysis specialist in the New Republic military. She specifically asked to be placed in Commander Wedge Antilles new commando-starfighter squadron, called the Wraiths.

She crafted a persona completely opposite the compliant, submissive slave she had been required to be. Dia's anger and resentment created a hard, impermeable shell. She was ruthless in the battle sims, learning to fly and shoot skillfully and efficiently, in time to replace one of the mission casualties in Wraith Squadron.

Dia walked tough, talked tough, kicked butt where it counted. She didn't take any flak from anyone in her new unit, whether is was the breathtakingly handsome Face Loran, the icy cynicism of corpsman Ton Phanan, but giving respect to Wedge Antilles, since he deserved it. She worked hard to get where she was.

So it frustrated her that she just couldn't shut down her libido. As a slave, she was used to having sex everyday, whether she wanted it or not, with whomever she was ordered to have it. To her horror, now free of such degrading orders, Dia discovered she actually wanted and needed sex.

So here she was, mid-mission, deep in Zsinj-space, trying to prove her mettle, earning her place on the squad ... and she was horny. It seemed ironic to her.

Dia tried to fight it, eventually succumbing to masturbating in the solitude of the quick shower each person was allowed daily. Then, late at night, when her roommate Shalla Nelprin was snoring loudly, she'd work on her own body, bringing it to its peak of excitement. The nightly release was enough ... for only about a month.

Now she was quietly walking around the base, talking to herself. "No, no one's anywhere around. Get back to bed. There are no men who'd be happy to see you-"

But she was wrong. That's how she ended up beneath Castin Donn, feeling his long, hard, thin member pushing into her rapidly, her near-human gentalia admitting him. Twi'lek male anatomy was, on average, longer and thinner than human males, and Dia didn't always feel fulfilled by humans. But Castin was well-equipped for her physiology, and not having had sex since before she'd escaped slavery, she felt blessed.

When it was over, Castin got off her and quickly buttoned back up, not even bothering to clean up. Without a word, he ran back into the programming studio, slamming the door.

Dia lay on the meeting module table, savoring the incident for an additional moment. She slowly gathered her clothing and headed for the refresher. She wondered if she'd come on too strongly to the young man.

She'd heard him whooping for joy, screaming and dancing a "victory jig" over his success over a programming bug. She barely recognized him in this mood. He was normally a dour, angry young man, resentful perhaps that the others didn't understand his genius. He was not really a team player, in the normal sense of the phrase.

But tonight, he embraced her warmly, thanked her for coming by, he was so happy to show her what he'd done. Dia was unable to understand much of it, but basically, it was a self-slicing program that behaved like a virus to several major styles of navigational programs. It was virtually undetectable, easy to install, required no intervention, and was the result of months of work. Dia found him charming, interesting ... and half naked!

She realized as he explained to her that his trouser fastenings were undone and that he was visibly stroking his penis. She wondered if programming was akin to sex for him.

After a while, she couldn't ignore his unusual actions. She noticed that the glans flared when he got to an exciting part of his explanation and she wondered what it would take to have him orgasm. So she put her hand on it.

He stopped abruptly and looked at her, then slowly down her arm, to her hand fondling the top of his penis, then back up to her face. He reached for her nightshirt and pulled it open. Dia's nipples hardened in response to being exposed to the cold air of the asteroid base and to her hormonal need. She arched her back, pushing her breast toward Castin, parting her legs. He placed himself between her legs and wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her off her chair, and carried her into the conference room, placing her on the table. He pushed her shoulders down and lifted her legs, hooking her feet over his shoulders, placing himself inside her, pushing and sliding deliciously.

She was delirious with pleasure to feel him. To her amazement, her body had forgotten none of the slave moves she'd been taught, to give her masters and their guests degrees of sensation that would drive them wild. He hips bucked and rolled, her hands reached down to grasp his testicles. His pace increased in response, his teeth clenched, his eyes glazed over.

Dia clutched at him, placing her ankles around his shoulders, using the leverage to push her vagina up toward him. He seemed to like that.

As she finished washing, her mood sobered. Why didn't he stay to chat after? Was it just sex? I guess that's fine by me, I suppose, Dia ruminated as her body dried, that's all I want, right?

Opting not to go back to sleep, she headed for the mess and started on her KP duty that morning. By the time Runt Ekwesh had come in, most of it was done. The tall being, small among his native Thakwaash, blinked at Dia's industriousness, "Wow, we are sorry! We obviously overslept??" Thakwaash had multiple, interchangeable minds, and Runt normally used "we" as "I," so Dia took no notice of his use of the collective pronoun.

Dia shrugged, "Couldn't sleep, so I got an early start. You can owe me on the flipside in cleanup. Want some caf? It's fresh!"

"Some of my minds are still slumbering," admitted Runt, "though perhaps this is not a bad thing, considering how much has been going on. We have been considering putting some brains on swing shift."

Dia laughed, despite herself. She wondered if she could put her libido on swing shift. Runt look startled, "Was this funny?"

Putting down two mugs, Dia smiled, "No, just made me think."

Runt looked confused, but smiled after sipping the caf, "You make the best caf among us. Kell's and Ton's are like the acid matrix used in the scrubber batteries. I have tasted that."

Dia spurted her caf all over the table, and choked as she failed to hold in her surprise at Runt's comment. Runt patted her so hard on the back that she kept banging her head against the counter surface, but at last she expelled enough liquid out of her breathing tubes to stop gasping.

"When did you taste battery acid??" gasped Dia.

Runt shrugged and looked down into his mug, "It was a joke by some people I trained with. Nothing more."

Dia looked concerned, "That's terrible! Why would they do that to you?"

"It was a misunderstanding. One of the classmates thought that his sister and I were ... well, together. He took exception and threatened to de-fur me "inside and out." He replaced our liquids with the acid mixture, and we actually had to drink much of it to keep from dehydrating in the field." Runt took a sip of his caf.

Dia's eyes grew wide at this confession, "You must've been sick, Runt!"

"The flavor was the worst of it," he smiled, "it seems our metabolic and digestive processes handled it without too much trouble. But it wasn't worth it." The shy, horse-like face blushed, "We hadn't been with his sister, after all."

Dia's eyes grew wider, "Oh, poor Runt!"

Runt's eyes focused on some point far away, "We wonder if ever we will be with another. We never have."

Dia grabbed Runt's hand, "Don't worry about that! Look, it's not worth much, if you're wondering! Sex is all just hormones and a lot of complications to follow. You're a good being, Runt. You don't deserve the idiocy of sex."

"How is sex idiotic? We have never heard it described this way."

Runt's eyes were so full of yearning that Dia momentarily forgot her hardened emotional shell. Stupid of me to fret my libido when a nice guy like Runt probably doesn't even jerk off!

"It makes us do stupid things, Runt. Makes us want to be with people we shouldn't be with. Like, say you want to have sex with a beautiful girl, but you know she works for Black Sun. You know you shouldn't do it, but she comes to you for help and blows in your ear, promising to be your girlfriend if you can help her out. You do it, then you get killed or captured and tortured. All because you want her and you want to have sex with her."

The Thakwaash nodded. "Sex is so powerful, Dia?"

Dia nodded, sipping again at her cooling caf. "It's destroyed systems. Princess Leia Organa married Han Solo, gave up a New Republic alliance with the Hapes Cluster, for the love of a man not politically worthy of her. It worked out, but I know the Alderaanian forum and the government were furious. And we still don't really have an alliance with the Hapes."

Runt nodded, "But it is the subject of many romance novels and holovids, isn't it? Love conquering all?"

Dia smiled sadly, "It doesn't happen in real life, Runt. You grab love where and when you can. In my former life, I was afraid to love, because those you love could be taken away from you so easily. But sometimes, you had to do it, take and suffer the risks."

"Does it work the other way, too, Dia?" Runt asked the question slowly, "Could a person create a situation where love was the only option? That to live in a vacuum of love causes you to create it, even if it isn't really there?"

Dia finished her caf, "Yes, Runt. That's what makes it so dangerous. Best to keep sex separate from the rest of your life. I envy you that you don't really know what it is." She headed for the cooking station, to finish making breakfast for the rest of the squad, who would soon be arriving for the first meal of the day. Dia thought it odd that 'breakfast' was the meal designated to be eaten after awakening, regardless of the real time on this asteroid base.

Runt asked, as he washed the mugs and other utensils Dia had used, "Can sex be used against you? I mean, what if sex was so separate from the rest of your life that it had a life of its own?"

** * * * **

Dia found herself tossing and turning again. She'd spent the day scolding herself for dabbling at sex with Castin Donn, trying to quiet the hormonal monster within her that demanded intercourse. Runt, with whom she'd pulled KP duty that morning, had never experienced sex at all. She really felt for him, knowing that being the only Thakwaash in Starfighter Command, he was likely very unusual and likely to never find a female to experiment with.

But she couldn't help it. She was horny again, and her mind wondered if Castin would be up late with his coding again.

Finally, she pulled on an overshirt and strolled over to the conference module. She saw the glow of a datapad screen and her breath stopped, hoping to see Castin.

Hearing someone approach, Castin popped out of the tiny room and a broad grin broke over his face. Reaching out, he grabbed her and planted a hard, inexperienced but passionate kiss on Dia, bruising her lip and making her dizzy. He pushed her up against the wall, his trousers already open, and slid his hard penis into her moist opening. Sighing, Dia skillfully wrapped her long legs around him, pressing her back against the wall, keeping her balance.

His face pressed hard up against her. At first, she thought he was just breathing raggedly, but she noticed a pattern in it, and realized he was saying something to her. She tried to ask him what he was saying, but he looked at her, confused. Then they were at it again.

He was panting, but Dia heard something, almost like an undercurrent. By concentrating on it, she heard him.

"I know you did it. You killed her."

Dia's eyes snapped open and her body became rigid. But she heard it again.

"She was only a child, Dia. You monster!"

Panicked, she tried to unwrap her legs from him, but he pressed her closer, growing more urgent to his need. Pushing against him, she only succeeded in exciting him more and he orgasmed loudly and long.

Dia lay beneath Castin, wide-eyed with terror. How did he know? How could he possibly know?

He smiled down at her, panting, and she heard, "I know, because now ... I am in you."

** * * * **

Dia spent the rest of the night silent and hiding under her bed. The base was essentially filled with mobile or camping furniture and equipment, so it wasn't an easy task. Having been a dancer, it was a bit simpler to do than for other mortals her size. The torturous position was good for one thing -- it assuaged the feelings of guilt she'd had earlier that night.

As the base woke up, she allowed herself the luxury of stretching out of her cramped position. She did this to herself to serve penance. It interested her that the major religions and justice systems of the galaxy emphasized suffering for sins committed, and that sentences usually took that form of suffering, that were often simple antidotes to guilt. She did feel a bit better for having suffered uncomfortably and sleeplessly. Dia sighed, wondering what else she retained of her slave upbringing, and how long it would take for her to lose this aspect of it.

** * * * **

Soon, she no longer had to seek out Castin for sex. He was simply there, waiting, same time, same place. On nights she managed to resist the call and to not show up, she avoided him the following day. She didn't have to, for Castin behaved as if nothing was untoward; he was merely his normal, grumpy self.

Queerly, Castin never commented or behaved differently to Dia after their affair started. He continued to treat her like he treated everyone -- with disdain during the day, not responding to suggestive winks or quick caresses. It seemed he would be receptive to her only when the base was completely asleep, no matter how alone they were together during the day.

She hadn't wanted to go to him since that creepy night when that voice mocked her, but her need became too great and she succumbed.

Dia was straddled over his knees, writhing and lapdancing with his member buried in her. He held her hard and was licking her nipples, grunting and moaning with her movements. As she sensed Castin's impending orgasming, she heard it again.

"You were a coward. That's why you killed her."

"HUH?!?" Dia stopped moving.

"You didn't want to screw up, right?"

The former slavegirl gulped. Perhaps Castin took her sudden rigidity as her orgasm, for he moved harder and faster against her until he howled his release. Sweating and glassy-eyed, he slumped into her, breathing hard. Despite his gulps for air, she heard that murmur.

She jumped away, "What are you saying? Why are you bugging me like that?? I didn't want to do it!"

Castin had tumbled to the floor and was lying with his head on the cool tiling. He peeked up at her, "What are you talking about?"

It suddenly occurred to Dia that Castin didn't know. A split personality? That would certainly explain a number of things. Surely, Starfighter Command wouldn't allow a man with a major psychiatric problem to serve? Then again, Dia's memory drifted to the first time she'd spoken to Ton Phanan and Face Loran; they'd essentially asked her what her screw-up was. They'd implied that to be a member of this unit, you had to be a loser, or on your last chance.

She'd been insulted at their apparent teasing, but as she got to know the previous members of the unit better, she understood. These really were men and women who had not fit into the New Republic's military, yet had skills too valuable to trash. Maybe Castin's psychosis was known, but ignored in light of his programming brilliance?

These thoughts linked together in a flash, just before Castin (apparently) came to his senses, "Holy muthe-... Dia, what are you doing here? Dammit, I fell asleep on the floor again ..." He rose to his feet and noticed his trousers undone, "Uh, sorry, I think I was jerking off, do you mind turning away, thanks ..."

** * * * **

Dia felt somewhat ashamed of herself for having taken advantage of Castin's mental state. She chided herself that she wasn't to know, but she should have realized that he wasn't all there. In a way, it was like taking advantage of a dumb beast.

Still, the sex had been enjoyable ... she was alone in her shared room. Shalla was out on piquet duty, doing flyby scouting and training runs in some newly acquired Imperial craft for the next six hours. Dia didn't have to be anywhere for the next couple of hours, so she took advantage of the privacy to lie naked on her bed, feeling her body.

It's been ages since she could explore herself like this. As she remembered the nights with Castin, her hands played over her body, rubbing and pulling the smooth tissue. The hormones in her body bubbled and popped, causing her pleasure and longing. She rubbed herself to a wreck of an orgasm, moaning as she went.

"It's because you think you had no choice, Dia."

"But there must have been other ways to keep her quiet, girl. No need to kill her."

Dia sat up in shock, her breath coming short and shallow, despite her need for air. Who was that?

She heard nothing. Funny, she could have sworn she heard the voice again.

Dia made herself comfortable again, tried to pick up where she'd left off. She hated not being able to complete her orgasm.

"I live here now," whispered the voice, as her body responded to her fingers, "all the time. You can hear me in some states, baby. Like when you're about to c-"

"NOOOO!" Dia screamed, racing toward her finish as fast as she could.

** * * * **

Ton Phanan would be wheezing with delight, "You caught a disease? I'm sorry Dia, but a former sex slave catching a venereal disease, oh excuse me ..." The normally deadpan looking cyborg might even fall on his back and giggle heartily, clutching his stomach as it cramped on him.

Dia shook the horrible vision from her brain. No, she couldn't go to the squadron medic. For one, his bedside manner would offend her, and he'd end up telling Face Loran, his partner in crime and practical jokes. And they'd probably tell Lieutenant Jansen, the self-appointed squadron jokester, who'd tell the commander. Though consorting with her fellow Wraiths was not forbidden, she cringed that people would think she was having sex with their dweeby, young, antisocial slicer.

So who else could she go to? She seems to have caught some sort of virus that was giving her hallucinations. As she approached orgasm, she could hear a voice reproaching her for a past crime.

Why now? She was guilty but she had been absolved, and it was something she thought she'd left behind her. The day she and some of her fellow slaves escaped their master, destroying his skyhook high over Coruscant, she'd been charged with caring for the family's princess. She was just an infant, but the only-born of her master and his legal first wife, and thus heiress to the vast fortunes. The child would come along as a hostage, to ensure they could leave safely.

Dia sighed as the scenes unfolded from her memory, bright, despite her will to push it aside.

The child had wailed, afraid of the damp, dark vents and plumping shafts the slaves crawled through. The high whine echoed, and Dia was ordered to shut the child up.

Dia actually cared for the baby. She really did. She didn't want to bring her as a hostage. She knew that the leader of the escape would dispose of the girl as soon as they were free. Dia couldn't let him do it, she'd resolved to kill the baby before letting him pitch her off their escaping ship.

The wailing grew louder, despite Dia's assurances, despite her hand clasped over the child's face, despite her pressing the child's face to her breast to mask the noise. The tension mounted as the child became more hysterical and the leader pointed a blaster at Dia, "SHUT IT UP!"

So she did. She left the body in a ventilation shaft below the mother's bedroom, hoping the child's spirit would be comforted by the body's proximity to those who valued her.

The leader was incensed to lose his hostage, but Dia had resolved to kill the baby before she could be used in such a way. This was only just a bit different from what she'd planned.

The escape was sloppy. Having no hostages meant they had to run and duck and hide and hope not to get blasted. Still, some of them had made it, and Dia hadn't been forced to dispose of the baby like a sack of rubbish.

She delivered the evidence and documents to the New Republic and she had been given her freedom and immunity from persecution regarding any event concerning her escape. This included the murders of the others who had escaped with her.

Well, they had drawn on her first.

** * * * **

She took a chance and approached Castin during the day. He blinked at her.

"Er, ah ... Dia," he was really awkward about it, "I can't think of a way to ... mmm ... , say this without being ... well, without being kind of offensive, but ... you must be kidding? I've never have sex with you!"

"WHAT?"

"I couldn't! I mean, this is going to sound bad, but I couldn't. I guess some people would consider it a problem, but it's not an unusual thing, among humans. I just don't think it's right ..."

Dia was dumbstruck. How could Castin deny what they had been doing all those late nights? She was good wasn't she?? Is he saying he could do better? The nerve! It was probably the best sex he'd ever had!

Castin shifted uncomfortably, "If you've caught me in the programming cube at night napping, it's because I can't sleep in my room."

"Every night?"

"Okay, it's because I WON'T sleep in my room. And Wedge won't change my roommate assignment. Well, I have a choice of Runt or Piggy, and well ... they're as bad as each other ..."

Dia was hit between the eyes with what Castin was saying. She has been screwing a bigot! "And although I think you are beautiful and have a very nice, human-like body, I couldn't ... not that I wouldn't, I just couldn't ... I mean, I never have, not even with a human, and I mean, you're not human ... it didn't happen, that's all ..."

** * * * **

Minute after minute, she tossed and turned, dozing fitfully. The same thought roiled through her, over and over. How dare he??? Castin was a bigot, and he was in denial about the sex he'd had with Dia. He couldn't even admit to himself that he'd done it, much less enjoyed it. The nerve! What's worse, it was great sex! Better than a creep like him deserved! And he refused to even acknowledge it!

Finally, she'd had enough and crept out of her room, oddly comforted by Shalla's sometimes raucous snoring.

The cubicle light was on, and she saw his form hunched over the datapads, plugged in directly to the base's central computers. She leaned against a module wall, down the space that served as a corridor from module to module. Arms crossed in front of her, she glowered at the light, but in reality, she was scolding herself.

No, Dia, you are NOT going near him again. You're just here to gloat at a pathetic loser. Yeah, right, who'm I kidding ... The sex was not... excellent. Yes, it was. And over and over.

Though she'd disdainfully told Face Loran that she had never seen a holodrama, this was a lie. As a slave, she often accompanied her owners to events and premiers, and though she'd never sat down and watched a whole one from start to finish, she'd enjoyed the snippets and bits she'd seen. Most of the stories were simple; she really hadn't needed to watch every second of it. Love lost, love found, happily ever afters, or tragic separations, she enjoyed all of them.

But she'd wondered about women who fell in love with bad men. Good, beautiful women who didn't want the hero, but the black-hearted villain. Or even preferred poor, desperate, completely inappropriate men rather than rich, shallow ones.

Her hand was on the door now, about to punch in the entry code. She was insane. She did NOT want this.

But she felt so much better, feeling Castin succumb to her, mouthing her, breathing deeply of her. I think I'm addicted, she sighed.

** * * * **

Dia woke up the next morning, and remembered she hadn't heard the voice as she started her orgasms the night before. Peering over to the mirror on the other side of the room, she saw that Shalla had left her bunk and that Dia was alone.

Remembering the thrill of Castin's greed, she allowed her hands to roam over her sex, rubbing herself quickly.

She approached her orgasm with trepidation, so it took longer to take hold, but when it did, she moaned in relief. No voice! This was going to be a great day!

Dia just about skipped through her day, even though Castin pointedly avoided her, sleeping during the day when he wasn't required for drills. Understandable, since he was still in denial about having had sex with an alien. Dia wasn't as perturbed as she might have been; she convinced herself that he's a schizophrenic of some sort, and the stress of keeping their affair a secret was causing her to hear voices. She was fine now. No need for anyone to know; it certainly seemed Castin would never tell anyone he'd had pleasurable intercourse -- with an alien!

He seemed to imply that he was a virgin, too. Interesting.

** * * * **

In her dream, the voice at last took form. He was a tall man, a human who resembled Castin. He bowed deeply and said hello. He'd been nosing around her memories, finding many interesting things. How she'd sent another girl for a task that resulted in the girl being maimed. How she'd stolen credits and jewels from various masters and mistresses.

Dia got to the point and asked him what he was, and where he came from? Why are you picking on me?

He smiled in that way in dreams, where you can't tell if someone is smiling, or frowning upside down.

Ever notice anything usual about Castin Donn, my dear? His wholehearted dedication to his slicing and coding, his egotistical sense of what's right and perfect? Did it ever occur to you that he might be right? That he's a sort of master?

I am a part of Castin Donn. He is me, within you. Anyone he makes love to, male or female, human or alien, will receive him. We are parasites, feeding on your memories ... when you become insane, then our personalities will overcome yours. You'll be weak enough for takeover. Your body will be mine.

** * * * **

Dia awoke with Shalla shaking her.

Shalla was holding her, "You slug me again, Passik, and I'll vape you, I swear."

Dia blinked at her, recognizing her, "I -- I'm sorry if I did. I'm not awake yet ..."

"What was all that yelling about Castin? You have a thing for him? I'll vape you if you say yes, just to spare you."

Dia laughed nervously, "NO! Are you kidding? I just had a run-in with him yesterday, I guess it's still on my mind. Did you know Castin's a bigot against non-humans??"

"I do now," replied Shalla, easing her hold, "It makes sense, anyway. But I think he's a bigot against humans, too."

Dia laughed, "Right ... Right! He is, isn't he? He believes in a universe of Castins only ..."

Revelations tend to hit you all at once, showing truths in one crystalline moment. In that moment, Dia understood. It hadn't been a dream. Castin's ego, or whatever it was inside her, told the truth. Castin would deposit himself in every being he made love to. With time, the universe would be filled with Castins, whether human or alien, female or male.

Could it be possible? Was Castin a mutant? A single incidence? Were there more of him?

** * * * **

Research into Castin's family revealed nothing remarkable. He had a lower middle class Imperial City upbringing, human parents, human schoolmates, nothing unusual. He could have easily acquired his bigot attitude from being constantly with humans only. There seemed to be no arrests or protests against any alien presence. Nothing at all untoward showed up.

Medical and psychiatric evaluations noted extreme surliness, but no red flags. He was noted to be particularly selfish and stubborn in attitude, but nothing a clever young man wouldn't suffer proudly. His personality traits were sort of a badge of honor among slicers, anyway.

It was crazy, but in her gut, Dia knew it was true. Castin might be a rare mutation, a creature that imposed his personality on the population through sex. She was a carrier of Castin -- he was a sort of venereal disease. She wondered if she made love to someone else, would they catch Castin, too? In the back of her mind's ear, she heard, "Clever girl!"

Damn him. His egoism couldn't help but gloat.

So how was she supposed to get rid of him? Who could she go to for treatment?

** * * * **

She felt him moving within her all the time now. He pried into her memory, dangling up choice bits for her to suffer and justify to him. She could hardly sleep anymore, knowing he might visit. The worst part of it was needing to make love to Castin. Who else did she dare go to for satisfaction? She might infect anyone else.

Dia did notice that the ego-visitations, as she termed them, didn't happen randomly. It seemed that when Castin was asleep, as he tended to be during the day, this ghost didn't bother her memory. But during the night, when she knew he was awake, the ghost would taunt her.

That's how she came to concoct sleeping potions from their medicinal and herb stores, and put them into Castin's food. She slept peacefully on those nights.

The past 24 hours had been particularly hard. Castin had been scolded in front of the whole squadron, and his idea rejected by the commander. He'd stubbornly insisted that his idea be implemented, and was muttering to himself hours after. From the way his ego-ghost rattled around in her head, he must have been railing and screaming in his cube.

She'd been chosen to play Captain Seku, second in command to Face Loran's General Kargin. As members of the piratical Hawkbats, Warlord Admiral Zsinj had contacted them, asking for a meeting. He probably would try to draft them into his fleet as front line fighters. It represented the fruit born from their many months of effort in establishing themselves as a skillful pirate band. Now Zsinj, the stalked enemy, was asking them to fight beside him!

This was an important mission, requiring acting skill, nerves of steel, presence of mind. She seriously contemplated drugging Castin so the ghost didn't bother her, but honestly couldn't find an opportunity to do so. She spent all her time applying tattoos to her lekku and sewing metallic claws onto her clothing. Lara had been helping her lathe the claws out of scrap and beating them in a tumbler and over an anvil to make them look worn. Wearing the garment would make Dia look like a vicious princess, primitive yet cool and sophisticated. Preparing for her part made the pacing beast that was Castin inside her easier to ignore.

** * * * **

She was relieved that Castin had been ordered to stay on base by Commander Antilles. Dia actually felt his presence quite strongly. She had been hoping that the effect would lessen if she got further away from him. Well, no matter, there were simply too many other things to think about on this mission. She found herself not thinking much about Castin's ego-ghost.

Even so, after they had been welcomed to dinner on board Zsinj's Iron Fist, she was suddenly started to feel a lack of the ego-ghost. Face was concentrating on talking to the warlord, but Kell noticed her change. He touched her fingers when he asked her to pass a plate of something to him. She smiled to him, letting him know she was fine.

It bothered her enough to wonder what had happened. One moment, the ego-ghost was talking to a woman whom Dia recognized could be her mother. It was very distracting and she was gritting her teeth in concentration to take in her environment. Then suddenly he was gone, not so much as a parting insult. He left behind the mental mess from pulling up so many long-buried memories, but Dia definitly knew he was gone. Perhaps Castin had gone into a deep sleep?

Her confusion was answered within the half hour, when guards brought in a non-mobile Castin, disguised as a stormtrooper. Though Kell had checked, Castin must have found a way to stow away undetected in their shuttle after all, disobeying Antilles's direct orders. He had apparently been knocked unconscious. His armored chestplate rose and fell, showing him to be breathing.

But Dia knew better. She peered at him closely. The reason she no longer felt the ego-ghost of Castin within her, is because Castin was dead. The logic flared in her brightly and clearly. For some reason, the "virus" needed the host to stay alive. Perhaps it needed to draw live psychic energy from the host, being an ego extension of Castin? Perhaps once she went insane and the ghost could take over her personality, it wouldn't need Castin to be alive and functional anymore?

All of these thoughts drilled through and washed over her in an instant, leading to a joyous, impossible conclusion: She was free! If he was dead, she was free of his psycho-virus.

She heard Zsinj ask Face to execute this prisoner. She knew Face would find a way not to do it, to try and save Castin. He'd think Castin was still alive. But she knew different.

She needed to save themselves, before Face did something stupid. And at the same time, she could ensure she saved the universe.

She took the blaster offered by the warlord's lieutenant and smiled prettily. Dia saw Face's anticipation, thinking she'd shoot her way out.

Dia took aim, and shot Castin's corpse in the throat at point blank. She watched his head ignite and vaporize, then the skin and muscle peel away from the skull. She watched the skull and brain contents bounce toward the bulwark of the deck, and Zsinj's staff scurry to get out of its way. It happened almost in slow motion for her.

The stormtrooper guards dropped the body, and Dia would have blasted it further if she thought it might do any good in preventing Zsinj from ascertaining the indentity and mission of the young man. She settled for what she'd done, and avoided Face's glare.

They took leave of Zsinj and his party and walked back to their shuttle in silence. She'd have to tell Face why she did it. Something he'd believe. Neither he nor Kell would ever believe the truth.

Again, the answer came to her suddenly. It was easy. All those weeks of carrying the ego-ghost, he'd tried to erode her sanity. She felt her control slipping now. He had succeeded in making her crazy. She'd been holding back, not wanting to lose her body to him. Now that he was gone, she didn't have to worry. She could just float right into the land of craziness. It would feel so good to let her mind wash along with that stream.

She held on as they went through the shuttle check list and launched away from Iron Fist, leaving the warlord and Castin's body behind. She held her breath, hoping she wouldn't crack before Face asked for her reasons. Dia was ready to babble, to make no sense, to succumb to her feelings of anxiety, to shoot herself in the neck. It would feel good to let go now. Nothing to worry about. She wouldn't lose her body. If she died, she'd take her body with her.

She watched Kell fly the ship, felt the small enclosure become claustrophobic. She wasn't going to make it ... the panic was gagging her, scrabbling at her throat ...

"Report," ordered Face.

FINIS


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