Chapter One: Primal Blood
Ensign Tom Paris was a cacophony of annoying sounds. If he wasn’t drumming his fingers and patting out rhythms on the controls panel, then he was whistling something tunelessly or grinding his teeth or making some other distracting sound. Lieutenant Nick Knight had snapped at him twice already, but without effect. Tom shrugged, flashed his arrogant, carefree grin and fell silent for a few moments, only to replay the entire scene again like some boring holoflick with a glitch.
Nick had first met Tom in the Maquis, the band of rebel soldiers who fought tyranny and oppression, attacking the Cardassian warships that raided unarmed colonies along the demilitarized zone regardless of the Federation peace treaty that made such actions illegal. Nick had joined the Maquis to protect the human mortals he admired. Tom had joined because his recklessness had got him kicked out of Starfleet and it was the quickest way back into space.
Still, Nick liked the younger pilot. Tom had a sense of adventure that Nick found almost addicting. He had never planned to be stranded out here in the delta quadrant, 75,000 light years from Earth, from others of his kind, from reliable food sources, or the guidance of his master, LaCroix, to rescue him when a situation got out of control. So far Nick had managed by trying to remain insignificant. He piloted during the “night shift” when the artificial circadian rhythms of the ship dimmed the lights and Voyager operated with only a skeleton crew and most of its systems shut down. Nick hardly ever volunteered for away missions, as his extreme sensitivity to sunlight kept him ship-bound most of the time. Now he and Tom were alone on the small shuttle, flying beneath the heavy clouds of a small M-class planet, to gather information and launch it back to Voyager in a probe, since the cloud’s density interfered with both transporter and communications technology.
Nick continued to scan the surface. It’s perpetual night intrigued him. He couldn’t wait for the chance to get out of the shuttle and actually walk on the soil! It had been more than a year since his last shore leave, and he sensed he was getting just a little bit space-crazy.
He hummed along with Tom for a few measures, feeling his own sense of excitement mounting. The planet below had a wide variety of plant and animal life, even though it existed in almost total darkness. Maybe it would be safe for him to venture outside there! Sweet little Kes had helped him on his last shore leave, making sure that he landed at night, had food available, and made it back to the ship before the planet’s sunrise fried him to a small pile of ash. She had begged him to tell the captain about his peculiar needs, but Nick had refused. His kind existed only in secrecy. He could not violate the code. That Kes knew of him was bad enough, but it was a danger he had to contend with, as he had been unable to erase her knowledge of him with hypnosis.
The memory of sweet little Kes pained him. The elfin woman-child, with her untrained telepathic ability, had discovered who and what he was upon their first meeting, yet still she loved him. Not romantically- Nick would not have permitted it anyway- but she wasn’t interested. He sensed that although she looked mature by human standards, she hadn’t yet reached that stage of Ocampan development.
Kes was gone now, and with her passing he lost his only accomplice in the endless search for food. Since she had worked in sickbay with the doctor, she’d been able to smuggle him enough to at least meet his basic needs, so he wasn’t forced to prey upon the crew. Now, he was hungry all the time. The incessant need for blood, the primal hunger, the consuming drive to feed plagued him. Normally he could survive on as little as a couple of pints a day, as long as he refrained from using any of his special abilities, but recently something had changed. The blood he consumed no longer satisfied. He was needing more blood, feeding more frequently, yet still he was hungry. His uniform hung loosely.
Tom’s whistling grew too tiresome. Nick turned on him, barely managing to conceal his darker nature. He locked his eyes on the other man, hypnotizing him with the ease of centuries of practice. “Go to bed, Tom. You’re tired,” he commanded. Then he released him.
Tom shook his head, momentarily disoriented. He raked his fingers through short-cut sandy blonde hair and yawned loudly. “Oh, geeesh,” he yawned again.
Nick forced a light-hearted laugh. “Hey, Paris. I can manage for a bit. Why don’t you just go lie down and catch a few zeez.”
Tom hesitated, but then he rose and moved to the back of the cramped shuttle. Slapping the rear panel, a narrow cot unfolded. Within minutes he was snoring softly. Nick sighed.
The sensor scans were tedious. The dense cloud cover shielding the surface repelled sunlight and all scans from Voyager’s more sophisticated equipment, making this shuttle mission necessary. The lack of sunlight was good news for him. If there was nothing potentially dangerous and Janeway authorized a landing party, Nick had to make sure he was on it.
His teeth tingled. The faint sound of Tom’s even pulse filled his head, growing louder and more enticing. He felt the hunger grow; it consumed him. He tried to concentrate on his task, but the drive to feed was too compelling. With a fierce, chilling growl he demanded two units of artificial blood from the replicator.
He tore the bag open and drained the contents. It tasted flat and unsatisfying. The second package disappeared as quickly as the first, but did nothing to slake his burning hunger. He had only felt this way twice before in all his 1147 years as a vampire! First, when LaCroix, the ancient vampire who brought him across with the promise of immortality, back in the thirteenth century, and then many years later when he became infected from a medicine developed to cure aids at the end of the twentieth century. But now he was hungry again. The hunger of the first blood. He was sick, and he was alone- a lone vampire among a small band of red-blooded mortals who knew nothing about him.
When he could tolerate the consuming torment no longer, he grabbed a small phlebotometer and snapped a bag into it. Advancing on Tom, he pressed the tool to the spot on the neck where the jugular vein brought the thickest, sweetest blood, oxygen-rich and life-giving.
Nick never bit his victims anymore, afraid that he lacked the self-control to stop. He didn’t want to kill them. He couldn’t leave bodies and remain inconspicuous.
The phlebotometer was quick and painless. It drew blood through a beam so narrow that the skin didn’t even bruise. No marks remained as evidence of his heinous crime. The victims were left just a little low, and a little tired as a result.
When the bag was filled, he withdrew the tool. Piercing the bag with his fangs, he sucked deeply. Tom’s life opened up to him. All Tom’s dreams and disillusions, all his adventures... Tom, the golden boy, the Admiral’s son, the ex-convict, temporarily rescued from Auckland Penal settlement for a short mission that was now extended by many years,… everything about Tom was revealed in the first taste of his blood. Nick knew him completely. He tossed the empty container into the recycler. The hunger withdrew, if only partly. At least he could control his urge to feed for a little while longer.
Suddenly the shuttle lurched. Nick felt the bottom drop out from under him as the artificial gravity fluctuated. His stomach, now filled, threatened to heave. Tom’s eyes flew open as he sprang from the cot. “What’s happening!” he shouted.
Nick eyed the controls. “We’ve lost altitude. Something hit us!”
“Something? Like what? Animal, vegetable or mineral?”
Nick shook his head. Once Tom’s tendency towards inane prattle had irritated him, but now he saw through the other man’s attempts to hide his deep feelings of insecurity. Now Nick experienced Tom’s pain of rejection. Sometimes knowing a person so clearly had it’s drawbacks.
“We’ll have to land,” Tom said smoothly. If he was nervous, it didn’t show. Nick suspected Tom was looking forward to getting outside just as much as he was.
“Are you sure?” Nick asked.
“Well, we might limp out of here okay, but without communications or transporter capability, I’d feel a lot more secure knowing the shuttle was going to survive the trip.”
Tom was right. “I’ll launch another buoy then, and inform them what is happening,” Nick said. “The atmosphere is breathable, but the outside temperature is pretty warm and humid. Some of the animal life reads fairly large... we’ll have to keep an eye out for them.”
Nick smiled nervously. An entire year cooped up, a wolf among sheep, unable to feed, to hunt, to fly. This away mission was promising to be the adventure he craved after all.
Chapter Two: The Twilight Planet
Captain Kathryn Janeway plumped the pillows on her couch and called up two cups of coffee. Her first officer, Chakotay, would be arriving in a few minutes for an informal discussion of the planet below. Primia, they had named it. The first. It was a young class-M planet at or near the beginning stages of development, possibly it could give them a glimpse into Earth’s past. It was hidden beneath dense clouds, impervious to scans, so she had sent two officers on a reconnaissance mission to fly beneath the clouds, collect information, and send it back.
She felt eager to feed her scientist’s curiosity when so much of her time was devoted to her duty as ship’s captain. With any luck, the planet would pass these initial surveys and she could authorize a landing party to continue the research.
The door bleeped softly, then Chakotay stepped inside. He was handsomely dressed in an off-duty shirt half open down the front and stitched with bright colored ribbons. He moved with easy grace to sit beside her on the plumpy couch.
She smiled at the tall Maquis rebel with the tattooed Eagle feather and casul ethnic attire. He’d had a lot of experience fighting against impossible odds. It made him an excellent First Officer for this journey as they were all alone in the delta quadrant, seventy-some thousand light years from home.
Janeway wished momentarily that she had also taken the time to change. Somehow, the singular act of removing the uniform did much to relax her frazzled nerves, as if by merely changing clothes she could rid herself of the enormous responsibility of seeing to the safety of 149 people. Yet, she found the black and red jumpsuit really very comfortable. She passed Chakotay his coffee, then drew her feet up onto the couch and tucked them under the edge of a cushion.
“We received the first communications buoy from the shuttle,” Chakotay began. He sipped the dark brew, and nodded appreciatively at its sweetened flavor. “The information is really quite remarkable. The cloud cover is so thick that no sunlight can penetrate, and yet the land is covered with hundreds of species of plant and animal life.”
“Animal!” Janeway exclaimed.
He nodded, a slight smile curving the corners of his mouth.
“That is most irregular.”
“Aye, Kathryn. This planet so closely resembles our native Earth- maybe a million years or so ago- and yet it is quite different than what our science books hypothesize. Mythology states that first there was darkness and light, then they were separated, and the sun was made to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night.”
Janeway nodded, only half interested. Being a scientist left little room for mythology, she felt. But she didn’t want to insult Chakotay, who placed his own spiritual beliefs on the same level as proven fact.
“Our science believes that when earth was covered with the dark clouds no life existed. Only after some cataclysmic event- an asteroid explosion or something similar- did enough of the cloud disperse to allow sunlight to filter through, and then life began. Yet, Tom and Nick have recorded the presence of large trees, bushes, fungi, and hundreds of animal species, all existing in total darkness.”
“They haven’t gone outside of the shuttle yet, have they?” she asked.
“No, captain. This first mission was just a closed fly-by. They have three more orbits, then they will be returning. I hope, however, after reviewing more of their data, to send several science teams to the surface.”
Janeway nodded. She felt a sudden excitement as she contemplated assigning herself to one the science teams. Not on the first mission, perhaps. She was still very tired. Perhaps, though, while the ship was in orbit she could sneak in a nap or two, and then enjoy a little scientific investigating on her own. Now that they were more or less resigned to exploring the delta quadrant, they decided to do it right. If... no, when... they returned, they would probably be very out-of-date. She was separated, cut off from all of the latest advancements in Starfleet. When she returned, her knowledge of the delta quadrant might be the only thing useful she could contribute.
“I don’t know this Lieutenant Knight very well. He’s been very private, almost aloof. What can you tell me about him,” she asked.
Chakotay smiled. He set the empty mug down on the table and leaned back into the cushions. A pleasant smile set on his features as he traveled back through his memories. “He is well-named. He was the best soldier I had in the Maquis. I know he’s young, but he has an old-fashioned quality, I don’t quite know how to put it. He’s... chivalrous. If he’d been at the helm that day we ran from Gul Evek, …well, I don’t think we’d have ended up here.”
“Why wasn’t he?” she asked, curious.
“He’d been injured. The helm exploded-half his face was gone. I thought he was dead. I couldn’t grieve for him yet, we were in a fight for our own survival. Torres pulled him out of the way, and took the helm herself. She’s a great engineer, but… well, she didn’t pilot very often.”
Janeway nodded. She tried to get to know everyone. It was something she’d thought would be easy, since she was going to be with this crew for such a long time, yet somehow there were people she barely ever saw. And Lieutenant Nicholas B. Knight was one of the unknowns. Coming from the Maquis crew with no previous Starfleet training, he’d been assigned to several low-ranking tasks, from guard duty to minor repairs to record-keeping. He never volunteered for away missions, which struck her as odd. Did it suggest a lack of courage? It wouldn’t fit with Chakotay’s description of him. She would have to make a point to have dinner with him soon, if only to learn what the “B” stood for in his middle name.
“Captain,” sounded a worried voice over Janeway’s comm badge. It was Ensign Kim, her young operations officer. “We’ve just received a second buoy from the shuttle. They’ve been forced to land.”
“On my way,” she said, already on her feet and half-way across the room. She cast a concerned look at Chakotay. “Maybe putting those two together wasn’t such a good idea.”
Chapter Three: Survival Hunt
The shuttle leveled out and landed gently. Tom shut down power and flipped open the hatch. Nick jumped backwards, away from the opening. The planet’s atmosphere blew inside, smelling sweet and damp. Tom was already out, stretching his arms and yawning. Nick hesitated. Tentatively, he reached out with one hand, letting the warm air of the alien night touch him. Nothing happened. Heaving a sigh of relief, Nick left the shuttle and joined him.
Tom aimed the wrist-lamp up to look at the shuttle and he whistled between his teeth. “Will you look at that! I leave you in charge for a minute, and you can’t see something that big coming at you?”
Nick winced. “Guilty. It came fast. I guess I was distracted, reading data from the sensor scans.”
“Don’t sweat it. I shouldn’t have been sleeping.”
He yawned again and rubbed a spot on his neck. “Anyway, your secret’s safe with me. Let’s pull that thing off and check for damage.”
Nick climbed up onto the roof of the shuttle. He’d have flown if Tom hadn’t been right there. The messy remains of a bat-like creature smeared over the front half of the shuttle. It’s body fluids were nauseating. It took him and Tom most of an hour to scrap off the guts and clean the hull. He couldn’t find evidence of any microfractures, however. The shuttle should be just fine for the return trip.
Tom was unconvinced. While Nick suspected the young maverick was simply in no hurry to leave, it didn’t really hurt to be thorough. Tom programmed the shuttle to run a complete systems diagnostic. That would take several hours. “So, Knight. Why don’t you grab some phasers, and let’s take a hike?”
Nick grinned. Technically, he was the senior officer, but he liked the way Tom thought. It might have just been that he was still influenced by Tom’s blood, but he suspected that they shared the need to be free from Voyager, to do something daring and independent, if only for a little while.
He took more than just the phasers. He grabbed a couple of tricorders, a canteen of water for Tom, an extra wrist-lamp and as a last minute decision, the phlebotometer as well. Then he joined Tom’s off-key whistling as they set out on their journey.
Nick breathed deeply. It wasn’t really necessary for his kind. He could go for long periods without breathing at all. He could even tolerate atmospheres that were dangerous to humans. But as the fresh new air filled his lungs, he could almost believe in his own rebirth.
Being a vampire gave him excellent night vision. The alien foliage appeared as black shapes against a blacker sky, but the various animal life-forms glowed. The cold blooded ones were visible in cool tones; warm-blooded ones would have been seen as red glowing shapes, if there had been any. There were little lizard-like creatures every where. Tom seemed oblivious of them, even as they scurried to avoid being stepped upon. Nick aimed a tricorder at one, and felt comforted to learn it wasn’t going to be poisonous to his human companion.
Tom followed a hunch, as he hiked through the alien woods like a boy scout. He observed the direction the plant life leaned, the way the dirt seemed to wash away, and lead Nick straight towards a river. The rushing water swirled over large rocks, swift and cold and inviting. Again the tricorder assured Nick it was safe, although Tom had already stripped off his clothes and dived in.
“Come on in, Knight. You can swim, right?”
Nick flashed a grin, grateful that in the darkness Tom would not see the fangs of a tired, hungry vampire. He would enjoy the swim. It had been far too long since he’d set foot on solid ground. But now he would have to feed on Tom a second time. He must ensure that Tom didn’t delay their return any longer. It would not be safe for either of them to remain here.
Chapter Four: The Afflicted
Captain Janeway entered the conference room and smiled at her senior staff. They all looked so alert, more so than normal. Except for Tom Paris. His complexion, though normally quite fair, looked ashen. Circles shadowed under his eyes. He smiled easily, however, with his usual brash cockiness. She almost blushed when she thought about all the ways he might have spent the night besides sleeping, so she pushed her concern for him out of her mind. She sat back and waited for each person to give their report.
Ensign Harry Kim summed up much of the data Tom and Nick had collected. Kim’s youthful enthusiasm had toned down quite a bit since the outset of this mission four years ago, but today was an exception. He sounded more like a first year cadet with his rampant use of adjectives.
Tuvok, her Vulcan chief of security, followed with a litany of safety concerns. His stoic reserve sounded almost boring by comparison.
B’Elanna Torres uttered a few colorful expletives under her breath. Janeway ignored the breach in Starfleet protocol again, knowing that the brilliant engineer struggled constantly with her Klingon temperament. “I haven’t been able to find a way to penetrate the cloud cover, Captain. The away teams will have to manage with Transporters and Communicators.”
“I don’t see the necessity of investigating this place,” Neelix complained. “How could anything useful or nutritious grow in the dark? It probably has no more food value than Kazon mushrooms.”
“I agree,” Seven stated firmly. She was unimpressed with their enthusiasm. Her borgish single-mindedness couldn’t see the point in making such diversions which only served to lengthen their already seemingly endless journey. Janeway hoped to plant the seed of curiosity in her, that she might rediscover her human heritage, but it had not happened yet.
The doctor wasn’t present. He had a few patients in sickbay, nothing serious he had assured the captain, but he didn’t feel he should be away.
Janeway stifled an urge to yawn. “All right, we’ll send down three shuttles, three teams on each, and cover this planet as quickly as possible. Tuvok?” She caught her security officer’s attention and thought she saw the slightest trace of apprehension on his emotionless face. “I want you to remain on board and coordinate your security crew from here.”
Tuvok offered the briefest of nods, but Janeway could almost imagine a look of relief in his eyes. The humid planet below would be most uncomfortable to a Vulcan, probably even unhealthy, yet her officer would not have brought it up himself.
The senior staff stood and most of them left, eager to begin work on the new project. Only Chakotay held back. Janeway could sense his concern for her. It radiated from him, almost suffocating her. She snapped at him.
“What now, Chakotay?”
He did not respond. She turned slowly. The ghost of a smile touched the corners of his lips. He remained tall, silent, strong. He was a bulwark for her. They had ridden through many storms together. She valued his counsel, even when she disagreed with him. She sighed, realizing that he deserved better than she’d just given.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound impatient. I’m not sure what’s wrong. Guess I haven’t been sleeping well,” she apologized.
“Yes, I’ve noticed,” he said softly.
She narrowed her eyes, ready to fight. Then she blew out air between her lips and rubbed her neck again. “Maybe I’d better go see the doctor, just to make sure there isn’t anything wrong.”
Chakotay nodded his assent. “Then I will wait for you on the bridge,” he answered.
She smiled to herself. How did he do it? How had he managed to get her to admit the problem and agree to medical treatment without ever saying a word about it? He was good. It must have been a dark day for Starfleet when that man resigned his commission.
She rubbed the soreness in her neck and headed out towards sick bay. A woman was just leaving and the doctor reminded her to get some rest. Was it Paulus? She looked about as tired as Janeway felt. The captain looked at the holographic doctor questioningly.
“Nothing serious, Captain,” he responded. “Now, what may I do for you?”
Janeway started to explain away all her aches and pains as nothing more than working too hard, when the doctor interrupted her.
“Please, Captain. You came to see me, at least let me make the diagnosis. Tell me, exactly, how do you feel?” The Emergency Medical Hologram began to run his small, hand-held mediscanner over her, appearing to listen with only one ear as she answered.
“I’ve been tired, doctor. Bone-weary tired. My muscles ache. My neck hurts. Yet, I’ve been getting the same amount of sleep as normal. We haven’t even been under undue stress lately... no Borg cubes, no Vidiian pirates... but I feel a little out of control.”
As if to prove her point, she gave in to a long yawn that ended with a shiver along her spine.
The doctor snapped his scanner closed. “Interesting. You are anemic, and have a slight loss of total blood volume. Eat more iron-rich foods, get some rest, and let me check you again in twenty-eight days.”
Janeway glared at him. “What the hell is that supposed to mean!”
“I believe that my basic programming of the human reproductive systems does state that anemia and blood loss is not uncommon in females on approximately a twenty-eight day cycle.”
Janeway felt her face flush and she tried to hide her embarrassment with anger. “You mean- that this is- that’s ridiculous! Doctor!” She grunted forcefully and stormed from the room. See if she ever went to him again!
Still, as another yawn shook her all over, she decided to get some of that rest immediately. It would be several hours before the science crews were ready to launch. Everyone had their own task to do, and Chakotay to oversee them. She notified him to call her if something came up, and went to her quarters. A nice, hot bath and a short nap would do just fine.
Four hours later Janeway bolted from her bed, ashamed to have slept for so long. Dressing quickly, she raced to the bridge. Chakotay sat at the helm. The view of the fourth planet, Primia, filled the screen. A small shuttle launched, arced away from Voyager and descended towards the dense clouds below.
“All right, B’Elanna. I’ll expect you to fire a communications probe every four hours, or I’ll send in the calvary,” Chakotay said.
“Understood,” came her reply already distorted and fuzzy from interference.
Chakotay turned around, sensing Janeway behind him. He smiled at her, but made no teasing comments about her nap in front of the crew. She could see the amusement in his eyes though, and knew she’d hear it in private.
“Where’s Tom?” she asked, as though to change the subject.
A concerned look entered his face. “Tom didn’t look well, Captain. He, um... fainted. I sent him to sick bay.”
At the mention of sickbay, Janeway felt herself flush again with embarrassment. “Any thing else?”
Chakotay returned to his controls, avoiding eye contact. “He looked really tired. He was weak, lethargic, and complained of a neck ache.”
For a moment Janeway was stunned. The same complaints she suffered, and yet, Tom’s could not be excused as easily! “I’ll be in sick bay,” she said.
When she entered, Tom was asleep on one of the biobeds. She took a moment to view the medical readouts above him before facing the doctor. Tom looked fine. All scans were normal, except his blood pressure was low, and he was also anemic.
“What is it, doctor? Another virus? Some nutritional deficiency?”
The doctor’s forehead creased, as the hologram imitated the human reaction of puzzlement. “I don’t think so, Captain. There are no antibodies attempting to fight this off. The symptoms simply indicate blood loss, as from a wound, and yet he hasn’t suffered any wounds or accidents. I’ve given him a transfusion of iron-rich artificial blood for the anemia. He’s resting here, where I can keep an eye on him. He should be fine in a few hours. But I haven’t a clue to the cause.”
“Is he contagious? What about the crewman in the shuttle with him? How was Lieutenant Knight?”
“Knight said he was fine, Captain. He always looks pale.”
“Just the same, I think he should have a physical. We need to get this illness stopped, before it incapacitates us.”
“Captain,” the doctor began. “I can’t examine Knight. He went back out on the next shuttle, with Lieutenant Torres.”
And Torres would not be sending out a communication for another four hours, and she couldn’t receive messages either. Well, if Knight became ill, surely she would have enough sense to abort the study and return him to Voyager.
Chapter Five: Dark Passion
Lieutenant Knight maneuvered the shuttle gracefully through the cloud cover and settled it in a clearing. Torres whistled through her teeth.
“Not bad, Knight. Why don’t you fly more often?”
Nick Knight shrugged. “Busy doing other things, I guess.” Like avoiding people, as much as possible, he thought to himself, especially the dark, exotic smelling woman next to him. They had served together under Chakotay’s command, when they had been with the Maquis. Torres hadn’t noticed him much then, as she had been infatuated with some one else. But her explosive, violent klingon temperament combined with her softer human femininity were so alluring, and the sweet scent of her mixed blood, the scent of lilacs and wine, were nearly driving him over the razor--sharp edge of his control.
There were four others on board besides Torres, and all of them human. For a moment his teeth tingled with the close proximity of so much food. He flipped the switch and opened the hatch.
The humans split up into groups of two, shouldering heavy packs of equipment and supplies. Torres waited for Nick outside of the shuttle.
“We’ll head this way,” she began.
Nick lifted his pack and nodded. The shuttle door hissed closed behind him and he took tentative steps outside. His hands felt clammy and trembled slightly. He paused, close to the shuttle, close to sanctuary. Nothing had happened before, on his previous trip with Tom, but the drive for self-preservation had become stronger since learning of the destruction of the Maquis back home.
“Hey, Knight! You can take pictures later. We’ve got work to do.” Torres was already twenty paces away.
Nick came back to the present, tucking the painful memories away. He nodded at her with an odd half-smile and stepped from the ramp. He sprinted to catch up.
The planet wrapped him in it’s warm, humid embrace. He was not directly affected by either the temperature or humidity, but the combination had kept Lieutenant Commander Tuvok on the ship, which was serendipitous. Nick had to avoid him more than any other crew member, which wasn’t easy, when he was assigned to security much of the time. Vulcans, perhaps because of their extreme mental training and telepathic abilities, were resistors as a whole, and the Vulcans who had come into contact with his race in the past had all uncovered their well-kept secret with surprising ease. The Enforcers had been forced to destroy them, yet their green, copper-based blood was inedible. Such a waste. So his race avoided all contact with Vulcan, which wasn’t as difficult as it would seem, since Vulcans tended to keep to themselves.
The black sky was quite different from his home world, as no starlight penetrated the thick clouds. However, the clouds themselves were oddly illuminated an opaque, smoky blue, like a child’s night light. It wasn’t really enough light for the mortals to see by, but was just enough to fill the darkness with shadows.
Torres aimed her tricorder at the planet’s flora with brusque efficiency. Her entire manner was one of getting the job done quickly and getting out of here. Nick sighed, wishing she could slow down a bit and let him enjoy it here. But Nick remembered how she had always been back in the Maquis. When she had a job to do, she would do it quickly, fiercely, efficiently. She was conflicted, angry with herself much of the time, and took it out on the people with whom she worked. It was a habit he was personally familiar with.
Nick’s thoughts traveled to the past, to his vampire master who had been father, brother, and friend… how LaCroix must have agonized over him! Nick had been a difficult fledgling, obstinate, defiant, often resenting his vampire nature and the one who gave it to him. What would LaCroix think now, if he knew his son had returned to the life he promised? Nick felt a sudden pang of homesickness. Seventy-five years was not that long in the life of a vampire. They would meet again and reunite their little family. Nick could not wait to see them, to see Janette again... once his lover, his sister, now his child. Vampire families were complicated things, he thought with a smile.
Nick felt the hunger begin to creep up on him again. He tried to push it from him, concentrating instead on his task. He held the phaser ready, but tuned his fine hearing to catch the blips on Torres’s tricorder. With his night vision, he scanned the alien foliage. The little lizard-type creatures stared back at him. Their cold-blooded bodies glowed with a soft, blue light.
His teeth tingled. He felt his fangs descend. Torres was too near, her half-human blood smelled sweet... almost intoxicating. Nick had been on a starvation diet for too long. The replicators on the ship would provide him with artificial human blood, when he had ration coupons. Most of the crew had to eat whatever food the talaxian chef, Neelix, prepared, as the replicators were not functioning properly, and they saved their rations for rare treats of chocolate or some other favorite meal. Little did they know that they were also rationing the predator among them. Not that unlimited use of the replicators would have made much difference. The replicated blood was not sufficient to keep a vampire healthy, It would keep him alive, but just barely. He had to have a steady supply of fresh, warm… red…
“Knight, look at this,” Torres said, holding the tricorder for him to see.
Nick jumped backward, trying to put a safe space between them. He was grateful for the dark. With great effort, he forced the vampire to recede and glanced at her tool without getting any closer to her than absolutely necessary.
The readings were odd. Something, half animal but half not, and quite large, lay ten meters to SSE. The creature wasn’t moving. It registered as plant- with a central trunk and fungal growth branching outwards, and yet as they watched the readings, the creature consumed a small lizard-like prey.
“Carnivorous plants, nice,” Torres grunted sarcastically.
Suddenly she screamed. Something jumped at her, knocking her to the ground. Her arms were pinned, she couldn’t reach her phaser. Nick grabbed the beast and yanked it from her, even as a second one bit his shoulder. He flung the first one forcefully to the side, hearing it thunk into a rock.
Torres rolled to a crouch-attack position and drew her phaser. She was too close to Nick to fire and the beast had it’s teeth sunk into his shoulder. Nick grabbed at it with his other hand, tightening his fingers around its throat. Something dark oozed between his fingers. The first beast leaped back out of the shadows to rejoin the fight. Torres stunned it.
The second one emitted an ear-splitting screech, releasing it’s death-hold. Nick threw it into the rocks as well. For a moment both he and Torres just stared at the fallen beasts. They were large, about a meter long, with mole-like snout noses and hairless hides. They had four large teeth for ripping and shredding, with rows of powerful, bone-grinding molars set in their powerful jaws. Torres’s breathing slowed to normal, the scent of her pounding blood bewitching Nick. She stepped nearer. Nick stepped back away from her.
“You’re hurt,” she said.
Nick glanced at his torn shoulder. The black tunic revealed very little in the dim light of her wristlamp. He felt the blood seep beneath the fabric. It dripped down his arm, over the hand and puddled on the ground. Normally his wounds healed very quickly, but in this weakened state induced by hunger it might not even heal at all.
“We’ll have to abandon our mission and return to the shuttle,” she announced.
“Nonsense,” Nick snapped. He’d only just got here. He couldn’t go back so soon. “It’s just a scratch... I will be fine!”
A look of relief crossed her delicate features, and the extra ridges on her bony brow relaxed. “Well, if you’re sure,” she said slowly.
Nick nodded. “We should warn the others, though.” The thick cloud cover which prevented transmissions from leaving the planet weren’t a problem for local calls. Torres took the tricorder over to the stunned attacker-beast while Nick contacted the other two teams from their shuttle group. One had already spotted the beast, the other team received information on it from Torres’s tricorder. Now that they all knew what to look for, the tricorder would warn them if any more approached them.
Nick followed the engineer as she continued to thread her way through the dense foliage and he allowed the vampire senses to surface again. He must resume his search for a delta quadrant food source, something he had to do alone. Given that sunlight was still an obstacle preventing him from many planetary excursions, he hadn’t had much success. Most of their shore leaves had been at daytime on sunny planets.
He couldn’t smell anything tasty, except the lieutenant. Neither could he see anything in warm-blooded, golden tones, nor could he hear anything. Hunger and exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him. The small tastes he’d taken from Paulus and Ensign Paris had long since worn off. He stumbled.
Torres swung around and glared at him. She looked ready to chew him out, but stopped. She seemed to be moving strangely. She appeared too close, distorted, like viewing her from a prism-shaped glass. She was speaking to him, but he couldn’t understand her words. He was too tired. Too weak. His knees buckled and he fell to the ground.
Torres dropped her pack and rummaged through it for the emergency medikit. She wished that Tom had come along! He had more experience with first aid training. But then, if he’d been with her, instead of this Knight, she would have been seriously injured by the beast. Tom wouldn’t have had the strength to fight the thing. In fact, this Knight shouldn’t have been able to, either. Klingons were much stronger than humans, and yet Knight had flung the beast more than thirty meters as though it had weighed no more than an old shirt.
“Good going, Knight,” she cursed. “This is no scratch, and now you’ve endangered both of us.” She pulled the fabric free from his shoulder. She nearly retched at the sight. A large chunk of flesh flapped open, revealing bone and muscle. His entire shirt front was soaked with blood, and it ran down his leg..
She trembled. Not much unnerved her. She was half Klingon. It was dark enough that the sight of the blood wasn’t too nauseating, but she was afraid for him. Afraid that her ineptness could very likely cost him his life.
Knight blinked. He grasped her wrist tightly.
“It will be fine,” he repeated. “Just… let me rest.”
A bruise formed on her wrist. He was much too strong for a human. His presence unnerved her like no one else on the ship. His strength and courage, the blood he shed in battle, was stirring a passion she hadn’t known existed, and she struggled just to remember what she was doing. Then he passed out and she was better able to concentrate. She cleansed the wound with a can of antiseptic and closed it with the multipurpose meditool. Laying several thicknesses of bandage over the shoulder, she secured it with adhesive.
B’Elanna fired her phaser on a small pile of woody mushroom-like sticks to build a smoky fire, for light as much as for heat. Hopefully it would keep the attacker beasts away. She pillaged the pack again for the food rations. Somehow the rations tasted more like plastic than something edible, but eating gave her something to do.
She stared at the resting officer beside her, remembering all the times she had seen him risk life and limb in the past. He might very well be the bravest man she had ever met. Against the Cardassians he had been deadly accurate and deathly calm in the heat of battle. On more than one occasion he had entered a radiation-flooded chamber to rescue crewmates more dead than alive, then his rudimentary first aid skills had kept them alive until she could patch the ship together enough to limp to a medical facility. Yet he was quiet and unassuming, never boastful or conceited. How unlike Tom!
She realized that she really didn’t know Nick very well- where he came from or what was his background. They’d been on this ship together for four years now, but they seldom worked together. He’d made friends with Kes almost right away, and Torres had pretty much stayed away from the frail, sweet elfin-girl. Nick almost never went on away missions. He didn’t ever work in engineering. She never even once saw him in the mess hall. So why now?
Visions of how he’d rescued her from the attacker-beast filled her mind. Again and again she saw his strength, his speed, his utter fearlessness. Although she tried to deny her Klingon heritage, it was the Klingon blood in her that stirred with these thoughts. She felt her pulse quicken.
The officer moved slightly. She leaned over him, in case he should awaken. Soft glowing yellow eyes stared up at her. He smiled seductively, two long, sharp teeth catching the fire’s glow, almost like Klingon teeth. He was beautiful!
“Come here,” he whispered, his words soft as velvet. “Come closer, B’Elanna.”
She moved like one transfixed. Slowly she lay beside him. He wrapped one arm around her, pulling her on top of him. He stroked her thick, dark hair, and breathed in her ear, whispering softly.
“B’Elanna, ...you smell so... tempting.” His voice sounded husky, he words oddly accented.
She felt a burning need form deep within. The mission, the night, the ship all faded from her thoughts, even the injury Nick had sustained earlier. She lowered her mouth to his neck and bit him.
Nick groaned. The sound was not one of pain, but pure delight. Nick had been alone for too long! And he bit her back.
She felt her blood flowing into his mouth, felt him feed on her hungrily. She became more aroused. His blood tasted different. It wasn’t unpleasant, but just enough to remind her that he wasn’t supposed to be Klingon. Yet, he seemed to know Klingon foreplay pretty well.
A brief image of Tom ghosted through her mind, Tom the arrogant, Tom the eternal child, Tom who was in sick bay, while Nick was here now, to fulfill her need and slake this burning desire. She shoved Tom from her mind even as she slipped a hand inside of Nick’s torn jacket.
Nick pulled his teeth from her throat, gently licking the two small wounds. He rolled over, pinning her beneath him. He kissed her face, mortal fashion, nipping at her ears. Her hips rose up to press against him. An animal growl rumbled deep in her throat, as she pulled the remainder of his jacket free.
Briefly Nick tried to stop himself. He had not allowed himself to make love with a mortal for centuries... the risks were just too great. Death was always a very real possibility for the vampire’s partner, and maintaining control had never been one of his strengths. And he was afraid to allow anyone that close to him, afraid that it made him too vulnerable.
But Nick’s self-control was at an all-time low. Between the hunger, the injury, and the loneliness of his cursed existence, Nick decided there must be worse ways to die. He sank his teeth in her smooth neck and drank deeply of her exotic flavor.
Intently she undressed him. Her movements were fierce, demanding. She bit his arms, his stomach. Her hands were everywhere. Nick released a growl equal to her own.
The experience was extraordinary. For a brief time, he forgot his private hell, his lonely curse. He was her ardent lover, she was his fitting mate. She was so different from the aristocratic Janette, or even Erica, the affable playwright. B’Elanna was alien, strong, enduring, alluring.... He drank enough to fill his need, his shoulder completely healed, and still she held both energy and life. The small campfire dimmed yet their own fire burned constant.
Her blood filled him with images... of him! She was thinking only of him as they embraced one another. It was the most erotic experience! Never had he been with a woman so intense, to feel such complete and total connection.
At length, they drew apart. She lay beside him as her breathing slowly returned to normal. Then abruptly she sat up and began to pull her clothing back on. She stammered incoherently for a few moments. “Uh, this, uh,...never happened,” she snapped.
Nick was dismissed. He watched her dress, but the memory of what they had just shared still aroused him. His loneliness grew more painful after the glimpse of a better life. He had found someone strong enough to survive intimacy with him, yet she spurned him.
Images of her life clouded his thoughts. They were not as clear as when he fed on humans. She was afraid of him... but not afraid of his dark, violent nature. She was afraid... of being abandoned! That was the common ground she shared with Tom!
He pulled what remained of his clothing back on. The jacket sleeve was badly torn and the fabric was stiff with crusted blood mixed with dirt. He ran his fingers through his golden curly hair in a half-attempt to straighten it.
How much did Torres remember? Had she seen his fangs? Would he have to make her forget? She seemed to be trying to forget it all by herself, embarrassed by what they had just shared. Nick wished he knew more about Klingon social customs. Had he insulted her somehow?
She muttered a familiar Klingon curse. “If we don’t hurry, we’ll be late to launch that communications buoy. Do you feel up to running?”
Without waiting for his reply, she set off in the direction from which they had come. Nick followed her easily. He could have flown ahead and waited for her there, but decided he’d revealed too much of himself already.
Her blood wasn’t sitting comfortably. It had been so delicious, so sweet, thicker and richer than straight human blood. It had been like eating a whole chocolate cake after a four-month fast.
The shuttle loomed ahead. Torres opened the hatch and snapped her tricorder into the telecommunications console. It would take just a moment to download, then she would launch a probe with all the collected data. Nick staggered into the shuttle. He fell on the floor and doubled up in pain.
Vampires healed quickly. Few things could hurt them. Nick was impervious to most projectile weapons. Phaser blasts were little more than annoying. Stay away from sharp objects, sunlight and garlic, and he would live forever. But the pain in his gut made him wish for an early death.
Torres dropped to her knees beside him. “Nick! Nick, what’s wrong!” she shouted.
He couldn’t even speak. He groaned, clutching his stomach and feeling like his entire insides was being torn to shreds. Maybe it would help if he could split open his own gut to rid himself of her alien blood, but he didn’t have the strength to do it.
Torres slapped her comm badge and shouted a few hasty words to the other crewmen. “I’m rushing Knight back to the ship, I’ll return the shuttle to you later!” Then she fired the launch sequence. Programming it to return to the same landing, she waited impatiently for the shuttle to clear the cloud cover.
She slapped the controls several times, shouting into them, before anyone at Voyager answered. Then it was Chakotay’s deep, concerned voice she heard first. “What is it, B’Elanna?”
“Two to beam directly to sick bay!”
“No!” Nick shouted, even as the transporter beam grabbed them.
Nick could not allow the doctor to examine him! A mortal might be hypnotized, but the computerized holochip program was too complex. He didn’t know enough about the technology to tamper with it.
He felt the odd tingle as his molecules reformed on the floor of sickbay. He rolled to his feet, still clutching his stomach and tried to run for the door.
The doctor stepped into his path with a mediscanner in his hand. “Please hold still, Lieutenant, this won’t hurt a bit.”
Nick swung at the mediscanner, sending it sailing across the room. “No!” he shouted. “It’s... it’s… against my religious beliefs!” Then he staggered through the door, leaving a surprised doctor and a bewildered B’Elanna behind.
Chapter six: The IDIC Principle
“What the hell?” B’Elanna accused the doctor. “Go help him! Can’t you see he’s sick?”
The doctor leveled her with an icy glare. “The patient has refused medical assistance. There is nothing I can do for him.”
“Religious beliefs, my ass,” she cursed. “No one gets into Starfleet with screwy beliefs like that!”
“Then that would be religious discrimination,” he reminded her.
“Such a belief system is not compatible with any sane mind! How can anyone survive space exploration long without medical services!”
The doctor shook his head at her, like a patient parent with a very obtuse child. “You are letting your personal bias interfere with intelligent thought, Lieutenant. I suggest that you spend some time researching his religious beliefs for yourself.”
Then he turned his back to her and resumed his work. Torres hung around, dumbfounded, for all of two minutes. Should she check in on Knight? The memory of their liaison was still too fresh, and the curt way she’d dismissed him afterwards... she wasn’t ready to see him again. Chakotay would be expecting to hear from her. What could she tell him?
Even while she thought about it, her comm badge bleeped. It was Chakotay.
“On my way,” she answered.
Something about the way she stormed onto the bridge alerted Chakotay that this meeting would best be held in private. He motioned Tuvok to take charge and escorted Torres into the captain’s ready room with a gesture. The door quietly hissed closed behind them, offering the sound-proof privacy she required. Torres exploded.
“Knight! What kind of wacko-fanatic is he! Where did you dig him up, Chakotay! You can’t tell me that the Maquis were so desperate that they took any witless body that volunteered!”
Chakotay moved calmly to the replicator and ordered two cups of coffee. “Cream or sugar?” he asked politely.
“Cream! And don’t change the subject!”
He lifted the two mugs, placing the milky-colored brew not too near Torres on the edge of the captain’s desk, then sat down with his fingers laced around the other cup. He waited, unspeaking, until Torres plopped into the chair.
“Knight’s a good man, Torres. What has he done to upset you?”
“He hasn’t done anything to me,” she quickly lied, feeling the human blush stain her cheeks. “It’s just that he got violently sick, so I rushed him back here, but he refused to allow the doctor to help him. So, like why did I hurry? And why didn’t I know about his ridiculous aversion to medical treatment?”
Chakotay nodded, as comprehension filled his expression. “Ah, Knight does have some peculiarities.”
Torres made a rude noise.
“But the Federation is filled different cultures. It is one of the cornerstones of our philosophy. The Vulcans call it “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination”. Knight is entitled to his personal beliefs, and we must make every effort to accommodate him.”
“But he was sick, Chakotay! He was rolling on the floor, doubled over, like his insides were ready to burst!”
“Then that is his choice. He has that right.”
Torres flew from the confines of the chair and resumed her pacing. The room was too small to get in a good stride. Chakotay watched her lithe figure, observed the predatory-nature of her movements. He had tried once to help her to control her violent passions, by letting her discover her spirit guide and gaining insight from the venture to the spiritual realm. She, however, had killed at eaten her spirit guide.
“Torres, there is more to it than your concern for his health, isn’t there?”
“No!” she shouted defensively. She sank back into the chair, defeated. Chakotay knew her too well. “Yes. More than I am ready to discuss... or admit.”
Chakotay sipped his coffee thoughtfully. It didn’t take any particular genius to guess the nature her relationship with Knight, but he would allow her the benefit of privacy. Instead, he chose to tell her about the man with whom she had chosen intimacy.
“Knight was an ambassador to Cardassia. He worked for years to smooth the roads between them and the Federation.”
“Pigs!” she interrupted.
“The time for flinging names had not yet arrived, Torres. It is always better to try to maintain peace. Even as Cardassia and the Federation signed their misbegotten peace treaty, he was taken prisoner. The Federation parleyed for his release, but Cardassia denied any knowledge of his existence.
“Knight was tortured. He never spoke of these events; I heard about it from Grutol, who shared his prison cell. Later, when Knight escaped, he took Grutol and eleven other hostages with him. Two were so badly beaten that they never recovered. The others all joined the Maquis.
“Knight was one of the best soldiers I’ve ever had in my command. He fought with honor, like a crusader. And he was totally fearless. But, he is different. Probably because of his allergy.”
Torres stared at him. Allergies were quite uncommon. Most of them were curable and all of them were treatable, weren’t they? “What allergy?”
Chakotay looked surprised. “Why, he’s allergic to sunlight. I thought you knew.”
Her mouth hung open. She sputtered twice before any words came out. “Sunlight! That’s why this mission... I wondered why I had never worked with him before. Of course... there is no sunlight on Primia.”
The two friends fell silent. Chakotay recalled battles, fighting Cardassian war ships with Nick Knight beside him. Torres recalled the passion she had so recently discovered in the dark.
“So, what can I do?” she asked.
“If you’re worried about him, then go see him. But accept him as he is. Never try to remodel someone in your own image.”
She nodded meekly. Replacing the empty mug in the replicator bay, she slipped from the room with the slinking grace of a feline.
Chakotay watched her leave. He knew he would have much the same sort of conversation with Captain Janeway shortly, although her movements were always more controlled. She was still under the weather, though, and that sapped some of her self-control. He’d known all along that Nick would have difficulty integrating into this Starfleet crew. It amazed him that the man had managed to stay unobtrusive for so long- Kes must have had much to do with that. She and Knight had become friends almost immediately. She could have befriended anyone... even Torres, if the volatile Klingon would have permitted it. But now that Knight’s presence was being felt, Chakotay sensed that things would only get more complicated until everything worked itself out, as it was wont to do.
Chapter seven: Images
Torres stood outside the door to Knight’s quarters for many long minutes. What could she say? Chakotay and the doctor had both tried to tell her to accept Nick’s beliefs, even if she disagreed with him. But how could she watch him suffer, when help was available? Maybe Nick could explain it to her himself. Summoning her resolve she stepped closer, activating the automatic door chime.
There was no answer at first. She worried, and sounded the door chime again.
“Enter,” he called, even as the door slid open silently.
Torres stepped inside. Nick emerged from the shower with only a towel draped low around his hips. His hair was damp. The golden strands hung in loose damp curls around his pale face. No sign of injury remained on his bared shoulder. He stood erect, no sign of internal pain either. He looked at her with open adoration in his innocent, baby-blue eyes. Then, like a door closing, his look became more guarded.
He turned away from her and pulled a clean shirt on over pale, strong shoulders. For just a moment he stepped out of sight, then returned fully clothed and ready for work.
“I can take you back to the planet, Lieutenant, as soon as you wish,” he stated flatly.
Torres felt her face burn. She probably deserved that. “Nick, I was worried. You seemed in such pain....”
It was his turn to act embarrassed. He fidgeted guiltily. It made her curious. Being sick was a nuisance, but certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
“I’m sorry that I caused you to worry,” he whispered. “I won’t let it happen again.”
“But?” What could she ask? Why are you not still sick? What was wrong? And what was going on between them? She realized the questions were too personal. Absently she rubbed her neck where he had kissed her so fiercely only a few short hours ago. Again, Nick blushed with embarrassment.
She stepped closer to him, wanting to say something about the moment they had shared. Wanting to know what it might mean, or where it might lead to... but not knowing what to say.
Then her comm badge took the opportunity from her. Tom Paris called, wondering what the hell she was up to, and warning her that Captain Janeway was really pissed off. She gave Nick a half-smile and shrugged. Tom’s human colloquialisms didn’t always make much sense, but she understood the general content.
Nick stared into her eyes. Neither of them breathed. His eyes, once blue, took on a faint amber glow. Torres touched his neck, fingering the place she had bit him. It too had healed. Not even the trace of a bruise remained. She stared into his amber eyes, entranced, unable to look away.
“I can make you forget,” he whispered. “If... it would be easier for you.”
Slowly B’Elanna shook her head. “No. Please don’t.”
The amber tone vanished. Startled blue eyes gazed at her. “But, you seem uneasy- embarrassed or ashamed. ...did I hurt you?”
“No,” she whispered. “You terrify me, only because… I think I could fall in love with you.”
Nick ran his fingers through his hair. He had no idea if it looked acceptable. He hadn’t been able to see his reflection once in the past three years. For centuries he had deluded himself that regaining his mortality was a possibility, that all it needed was faith, hope, perseverance, and some one to believe with him. There had been a brief time, back in Toronto a few centuries ago, when he had come closest to succeeding. A mortal, infatuated with him, used her medical knowledge to try to discover a cure. He’d eaten a plateful of French Fries (smothered in ketchup), spent an entire day in the sun, suffered actual pain from a gunshot wound, and his own reflection would look back at him from mirrors or window glass. But the woman had grown old. All the mortals he knew grew old. They left him, or he left them. Either way, it was the same. He was alone. Now, stranded out here, too far from a supply of bottled cow’s blood, he’d had to resort to hunting, to feeding, to protecting himself again as a vampire. With it, he had lost whatever ground he had made. He could not see his own reflection. He could not tolerate even a mouthful of solid food. Garlic weakened him, crosses and sacred symbols chilled him. And human blood smelled... so... delicious!
He’d seen his face enough in the past thousand years to know pretty much what it looked like. A few hairs out of place would have to be acceptable. The captain had summoned him, and she didn’t sound like she was very patient at the moment.
Involuntarily, he shuddered. He had avoided her as much as possible. Something about her frightened him. She wasn’t a religious person, so that wasn’t it. She wasn’t especially violent, or potentially dangerous. He’d have to consider it more later. Squaring his shoulders, he strode from the security of his quarters to face her.
Chapter eight: Blood’s Wisdom
Janeway sat on the couch in her ready room with a deceptively relaxed air, an arm draped casually across the back of the couch, the other arm resting on her knee. She nodded almost imperceptibly to him as he entered. Nick stood stiffly at attention.
“You’ve had a busy day, Lieutenant,” she stated.
Nick wasn’t sure how to answer such a statement. He remained silent. He felt her eyes on him, investigating, dissecting, cataloging... she was too curious. That was the danger about her. She was perceptive. She would soon notice the inconsistencies, the small deceptions, and she would never let it rest until she’d solved the mystery. Nick shuddered, sensing his anonymity and therefore his survival, was coming to an end.
Janeway stared at the young officer before her. He was about Tom’s age, maybe a little older. He had blue eyes, and fair hair like Tom’s. He’d also fought with the Maquis. He was a rogue, a maverick, a non-conformer. And yet, there the similarities ended. She saw innocence in his face that Tom never had; or else he’d lost a long time ago. She saw insecurity, fear, courage, honor, hope, all mixed up and scrawled across his countenance. She felt drawn to him in spite of all the trouble he’d caused.
“You requested to go on this mission, then you ended it abruptly, then you refused medical treatment. Do you have anything to add, Lieutenant?” She kept her tone light, even though the words were harsh.
The officer fidgeted under her scrutiny like a small boy. “I... did not end the mission, Captain. And I am ready to return immediately.”
“The mission has been temporarily aborted.”
“Captain!” He had a look that was so guilty it gave her pause.
“No, Knight. It’s not because of you. There seems to be a strange illness overpowering the crew. I don’t want anyone going anywhere until it is solved. And, I understand that you will not submit to a medical examination?”
The pale face blanched even further.
“Very well,” she said. “Will you at least inform the doctor if you feel any of the same symptoms as Paris and the others have expressed? Fatigue, muscle aches, tenderness in the neck...?”
The lieutenant nodded his assent. He waited expectantly for permission to leave. Janeway considered it for a moment, but then she motioned to the other end of the couch. “Sit down, Knight. I try to get to know everyone on board, but somehow I’ve missed touching base with you. Chakotay tells me you were once a prisoner on Cardassia. Would you like some coffee?”
“No,” he answered. He sat down nervously on the edge of her couch, as far from her as he could and still be in the same room. “No coffee, I mean. Thanks. Yes, I was on Cardassia.”
An uneasy quiet settled between them. Janeway momentarily forgot the young officer’s presence as the painful memories of her own experience with the Cardassians resurfaced. She had been very young… right out of Starfleet Academy. Something had gone wrong, and she found herself a prisoner. She could still hear the screams of her commanding officer as they tortured him... knowing her turn would be next, if he didn’t submit to their will. They would further torture him by forcing him to witness her own painful death.
But she had been rescued! That brought about another wave of grief, for the rescuer became her fiancé… and she had watched both him and her father drown.
“They loved you very much.”
The gentle words, softly spoken, shook her from the dark, painful thoughts. Janeway stared at Nick, wondering briefly if she had uttered something aloud.
He must have suffered, too. There was pain in his eyes, and an ancient look-too old and wise for such a young man. He looked straight at her. All of his boyish squirming was gone. He was controlled and filled with compassion.
She started. She knew she hadn’t said a word about the two men in her thoughts. How had Nick known? “Who!”
“Your father, your fiancée. Even as they were drowning, they understood. They would not have had it any other way.”
Janeway blinked back sudden tears. Her throat constricted. It had been such a long time; she was all over that now! Why did he have to bring it up? “But I should have done something,” she whispered. “I should have made a decision, and not wasted what little time I had to help them...”
“You didn’t have any time, Captain. The shuttle filled with water and sank within seconds of the crash. The only thing you can do for those two men now is to forgive yourself. They did, a long time ago.”
Janeway was silent. She knew he spoke the truth. It wasn’t anything she hadn’t already told herself, but... she just needed to hear it again. She had no idea how he knew, only that he’d given her great comfort. “Thank you,” she said.
“Captain, forgive me if I sound presumptuous, but... I know how hard it must be for you. Always having to be strong and in control, never able to let the crew see you as anything less than positive. If... there comes a time, when you need some one to talk to, someone outside of Starfleet...”
Janeway closed her eyes. She shut the personal side of her nature away. She rose and put a few paces between them. “Thanks for the offer, Lieutenant, but we are all a part of Starfleet on this ship.”
“Understood, Captain,” he answered. He rose, and waited stiffly to be dismissed. Sometimes, it was hard to follow the foolish, mortal protocols, such as obeying this woman’s every command, when she was so incredibly young and inexperienced by comparison! He regretted ever having sampled her blood. It had been years ago, before the Maquis had even officially joined her crew, and he hadn’t known she was the Captain, then. But it would be easier to obey her now, if he didn’t know that behind that proud, commanding officer was a very mortal woman with insecurities and concerns just like all the others.
Janeway shook her head, clearing away the poignant memories, and faced the young lieutenant again. “Dismissed.”
Knight started for the exit, but she stopped him with one more question.
“Knight?” Her tone of voice had changed with her mood. “What does the “B” stand for?”
Nick grinned. Light conversation generally implied he was off whatever hooked he’d been caught on again. “Brabant,” he replied, with a very French accent. And he left.
Janeway remained perplexed. The young lieutenant’s visit bothered her in too many ways. His records hadn’t listed him as French, but rather that he was from one of the tiny colony worlds in the demilitarized zone-very close to Chakotay’s home, in fact. And how had he known about the crash that killed her father and lover? No one on the ship knew! Not even Chakotay. Was he telepathic? Wouldn’t Tuvok have suspected it? But Nick had been a close friend of Kes....
And what about that strange, anti-medicine religion of his? Why hadn’t this ever come up before now? How had he survived as a Cardassian prisoner? They were brutal, savage, without conscience.
And what exactly had happened down on the planet’s surface? Torres was not the kind of person to overreact to situations... at least, not medical emergencies.
She tucked all the questions away to be dealt with later. There was still the strange ailment to deal with, which affected her personally. She’d rested, taken iron supplements, even a blood transfusion, and still felt too tired to think clearly. She rubbed the aching spot on her neck, and chugged the remainder of her now- ice-cold coffee. She would deal with these problems later… when she felt better.
Chapter nine: The Thief
Voyager maintained high orbit around Primia, the infant planet. Tom was back at the helm, although his coloring was still pale as a result of the anemia. He claimed he felt better, and restless energy radiated from him as he fulfilled the rather mundane task of orbital control.
Tom had tried to set up a dinner date with Torres, but she’d turned him down. The illness seemed to be striking more women than men... maybe Klingon women weren’t immune? Ensign Kim and the Delaney sisters were counting on him to program another holodeck adventure for them, so ideas were running through his mind, distracting him from the task at hand.
Torres was using the period of inactivity to go through the ship’s systems, one at a time. Running a systems diagnostic was fine if a problem already existed, but locating a potential problem before the fact could only be done by visual inspection. She chose to start with the warp drive system, then impulse engines, and work backwards. Her crew was down by nearly a quarter, thanks to the unnamed virus. Nearly all of the ill patients were women, and all of them were human. Not a sick Bolian, or Vulcan, or Talaxian, ...even their resident Borg was spared the affliction.
The doctor had called her three times already to come in for a physical. He claimed that since she was part human, she might be susceptible. Torres had argued that she felt fine, rather snappishly, which hadn’t helped her case any. The doctor then insisted that the illness might just be dormant, and she could still have it. If she didn’t ever show symptoms, then something in her Klingon make-up might point the way to a cure.
She had avoided him by claiming to be just too busy to make the time, although she was really too bothered by guilt and memories. Her brief tryst on the dark planet filled her waking moments and dream-filled sleep. Her blood pulsed quickly, her temper flared hotter than normal.
Janeway called and ordered her to report to the doctor. “Aye, captain,” she agreed, growling as she terminated the communication. Shouting a last command at Vorik, she strode down the corridor.
“Here I am, doctor,” she snapped. “Make it quick!”
Crewman Paulus was sleeping in one biobed. Janeway was sitting on another one, receiving yet another transfusion. Dark circles shadowed under her eyes. She looked pale, drawn, irritation emanated from her. Torres could almost empathize with her. It irritated her to have to spend any time here, too.
The doctor held his meditool near Torres, watching it as a series of bleeps registered. “You’ve had a sudden loss of total blood volume, no anemia, but then your blood has excessive iron anyway. And you say you felt no symptoms, B’Elanna?”
Torres took a step back from him. Why did medical evaluations always have to get so personal? “I am fine, I told you,” she growled.
“Torres, I will have you removed from duty if you don’t comply with the doctor,” the captain snapped. “This isn’t a test of physical stamina. We’re trying to find the cause, so we can treat it.”
Torres stammered awkwardly. “Yes, captain, but I-I- ...I am not suffering from a disease. It, ...”
“What are these- bite marks?” the doctor demanded.
“Yes!” Torres shouted. The full range of her temper vented on the holographic doctor and her captain. “I am not sick! It has to do with... with Klingon... biology!”
The doctor nodded slowly, as he accessed the correct database, then tried an appropriate subroutine to offer her a neutral expression. “Ah, yes, I see. I apologize, Lieutenant Torres. You may go.”
Torres ran from the sickbay, wishing there was a door somewhere to slam.
Janeway hopped off the biobed rubbing her shoulder. “Well, I don’t see, doctor. I know I’m a little slow on the draw these days, but what am I not getting?”
He gave her a condescending look as he busied himself with his research. “Biting and blood letting are part of the Klingon mating ritual. She is not ill.”
Janeway remained dumbfounded. Torres had a lover? She’d known that Torres and Tom had been dating, and she never kidded herself that her crew had remained celibate, but Tom fulfilling a Klingon blood-ritual was more than she could imagine. And he’d been really weak lately with this illness. Maybe... the partner hadn’t been Tom. That would explain some of Torres’s anger. Janeway tried to stop the images that swept through her mind. Whoever the partner was, it was none of her business, and not important to the search for a cure.
“What else have you learned about the illness, doctor?” she said, bringing herself back on track.
“Eighty-five percent are human females, and all seem to become ill at or very near their cycle. I would have guessed it was somehow a disease of the reproductive system, except that the remaining fifteen percent have been male, and more men are succumbing to this every day. Their symptoms are not related to reproduction at all. The only clear symptom is a drop in blood volume, which would in itself cause the feelings of fatigue, muscle aches, even anemia. But what is causing the blood loss, or where is all this blood going, I haven’t a clue.”
Janeway drummed her fingers against her chin. “All right. A drop in blood volume. How is it leaving?”
“Until Tom became ill, Captain, I thought I could answer that.”
“So. Get Tom back in here, and don’t let him go until you can find an exit site. The blood was not sucked out by magic! It did not just disappear. There must be a wound, or mark, or something!”
A very unhappy Tom shuffled into the sickbay shortly. “I want you to know that you’re ruining the entire evening for a lot of people,” he complained.
“That’s nice,” the doctor retorted. “Just lie here and shut up. I need your body, not your mouth, so I could have you sedated.”
Tom reclined on the biobed without another word, although his body language still rebelled. He lay still for only a few moments before he fell asleep. The doctor grunted, then continued the fine scans of Tom’s entire form. He concentrated his search in the neck region, since most of the patients complained of pain there. Nothing showed up with a level one scan, or visual scan, but then he altered the tool to search at the cellular level. That was when he found it. Allowing Tom to nap a little longer, he scanned Crewman Paulus, too. She had the same, small tell-tale mark. He contacted the Captain.
“Yes, Doctor?” she responded.
“I think you’d better come here, Captain. I don’t want to discuss this over the comm system.”
He didn’t have to wait long for her to return. She came striding through sickbay doors as though all their lives depended on it. He wasn’t entirely certain that it didn’t.
“Captain, that’s it,” he said, holding the readout for Janeway to view. “The microcellular exit wound of a phlebotometer. This is not a disease, captain. Someone is stealing blood.”
Her mouth hung open, dumbfounded. “Stealing blood?” she repeated. “For what reason?”
“I can’t even speculate, captain. I can’t think of a single reason. Not for science or study, as complete blood samples of every imaginable type are archived in the records of even the simplest medical lab. There is no use for blood,...except maybe in forbidden religious customs of a few demonic cults.”
That struck an odd cord. Religious customs, Nick Knight, and at least some of the “affected” crew, all had a common connection. Nick had been on the shuttle with Tom right before Tom became ill. However, her suspicions were ungrounded yet. She wouldn’t even mention them, as an ungrounded suspicion had a way of becoming a witch hunt.
“So, some one drew Tom’s blood. When? How? Why wouldn’t Tom remember? If he was drugged or stunned, you would have discovered that in your examinations.”
“Unless,...” the doctor’s brow furrowed. “I should run a neurological scan.”
Janeway hovered over his shoulder as he ran the tests. Tom slept through it, as the undulating patterns of his brain waves filled the viewer. The doctor flipped through the images faster than her human eyes could focus. Finally, he magnified a screen and outlined a patterned section. Then he scanned Paulus as well, immediately filtering through the layers of information, to pull up a pattern that even at a casual glance looked identical to Tom’s.
“These are brain waves from the area associated with memory. Here, and here, some one or some thing is dampening the field, effectively blocking recollection.”
“Can you change it, Doctor? Can you stimulate the memory, help us to recall what it is?”
He snorted. “Captain, if we were dealing with a machine, I would say yes. But to tamper with the brain, without a better understanding of the nature of the inhibitor, could be dangerous.”
Janeway nodded. She had suspected as much. “But I think that it is time to call a meeting of the senior staff. Wake up sleeping beauty here, and tell him to join us at 0830 hours.”
“Aye, Captain,” the doctor replied to her retreating back.
Chapter ten: Suspicions
Janeway paced impatiently in the small area between the conference table and the large, sloping view of the planet Primia. Chakotay was the first to enter. He seemed alert, sharp, focused. Whatever or whoever was violating them, had not yet chosen to attack him. With his tall, commanding stature, Janeway wasn’t surprised. A lot of people would think twice before confronting him. Perhaps, too, his mental training would make hypnosis difficult. She fumed. She felt weak and victimized, that she had become a target. She would change the access codes to her quarters immediately, and yet, that might not protect her. The blood thief could steal any time, any day, and simply wipe her memory clean.
Torres flew in with a burst of energy, reminding Janeway that she was not a victim. Poor Tom, though, was probably ignorant of the new development in her life.
As the rest of the staff filed in, Neelix, Seven, Kim, the Doctor, Tuvok, and finally Tom, Janeway forced herself to sit. She had to at least look like she had it under control. A sudden image of Knight’s concerned face, the clear blue eyes and gentle mouth, came to her, as she recalled his words, “...I know how hard it must be for you...always having to be strong and in control....”
She nodded to the doctor. “Tell them what you’ve uncovered about this illness.”
The doctor’s holographic programming seemed to increase in height as he garnered the attention of everyone in the room. “Some one has been using a phlebotometer to remove blood from the neck of the victim. There is no disease. Also, there is evidence that the perpetrator has hypnotized the victims, blocking specific memory patterns of each incident.”
The silence was complete. Shock turned to horror, which then turned to disgust. The only other victim in the room, Tom Paris, seemed more unnerved than the rest, as the reality of the crime hit him. “When! How!” he demanded.
“Well, Tom, for most of us, the answer is too vague. It could be anybody, any time, any day. But you were fine before you went out on your last mission, and you came back weak,” Janeway suggested.
“Captain,” Chakotay interrupted. “That’s pretty circumstantial! You can’t destroy a man’s career on suspicion alone! I’ve known Knight for a very long time, my father knew and respected him! What you’re suggesting is unthinkable.”
“I am not suggesting a thing, Chakotay. And what we discuss here is not to leave this room. Only, I think we should look at him more closely. Something isn’t adding up.”
Torres began to drum her fingers. She flipped back her shortcut hair defiantly, but said nothing. The motion was lost on the others, but Janeway was no longer curious about the identity of her new lover.
“B’Elanna. You just spent some time with him on the planet. Anything unusual about him? Something you could add to this conversation?” She hoped that she sound as awkward and tactless to the others as she did to herself.
“No. Not really. Except, he’s pretty strong… for a human.”
B’Elanna shrugged. “You read the report. The attacker-beast knocked me down. I couldn’t lift it. Nick picks it up and flings it thirty meters, one-handed. But, I’ve heard about how adrenaline can give humans superior strength, if only for a brief period of time.”
Janeway nodded. “Yes. But what about his injury. You aborted the mission for it.”
B’Elanna squirmed. The stain on her tawny complexion was a dead give-away to the embarrassment she was trying so hard to conceal. “I must have been mistaken, Captain,” she muttered.
“You said, in your report, that his shoulder was severely injured. You described muscle torn away, bone exposed, excessive blood loss. Did you exaggerate?”
“No, Captain! ...at least, I don’t think so. I really don’t know what to think now. Except that he saved my life. That beast came out of nowhere. That doesn’t sound like a crazed, thieving human sneaking around stealing our blood while we sleep.”
Tuvok made the slightest gesture, and everyone turned to him expectantly. “Perhaps, B’Elanna, he is not human.”
Janeway icy glared took in everyone in the room. “Come on now, people. Surely we know at least that much about the man? I mean, after Seska pretended to be Bajoran for so long... we couldn’t fall for the same trap twice?”
The doctor shrugged. “I have never examined him. Religious exemption, remember? Kes saw him. But for all we know, he could have altered whatever records she made.”
Chakotay shook his head. “No. He served under me for longer than anyone. All the transporter logs read him as human.”
“Then I suggest we examine the transporter logs more closely,” Tuvok suggested.
It didn’t take long to access the information from Knight’s last trip through the transporter room. The readings were very normal for a human male, thirty-six years old, correct weight, height, mass, and DNA structure. Then Tuvok located three other times Knight had transported. That took longer. Knight apparently didn’t leave the ship very often. One of the times had been over a year before. As Tuvok laid the transporter readings next to each other, he nodded slightly with the look of discovery.
“It is as I suspected, Captain. Each reading is exactly the same.”
“Showing that he’s a very normal human, then?”
“No, Captain. It shows that he is masking his true readings with a blocker chip. Life forms are in a constant state of change. We grow, we consume food and drink, we cut our hair. Transporter logs should remain fundamentally the same, yet reflect these minute fluctuations. It is impossible for someone to remain completely unchanged.”
Janeway felt chilled. Until now she just had suspicions. Now, Knight was definitely guilty of something. “Take him into custody and hold him in the brig.”
Chapter eleven: Death Ritual
Nick stared at the viewscreen until it’s small face blurred making the lighted words impossible to read. He didn’t need to see them to know they were there. Behind each word came a face... cousins, little brothers and sisters, distant relatives... all somehow interrelated through the complex social structure of the vampire family. All these young vampires were dead.
Tears of blood formed at the corners of his eyes, then trickled down pale cheeks. He mourned for them as he mourned for himself. Their lives had been cut short, their immortal bodies ripped apart and the atoms scattered in the endless void of space. Vampire deaths were private things. Just as they could not proclaim their existence, neither could their passing be commemorated. Nick’s grief was almost overpowering.
Slowly he rose and approached the large canvas on his easel. Yesterday he had painted it black, venting his anger, his frustration, giving form to emotions he could not contain. The black had evolved as space, broken only with small specks of light, the stars of his hope. There had been only a few stars yesterday. He lifted a small brush, not even glancing at his palette as he picked up a color and added it to the canvas. Suddenly, an image formed in his mind, a face. A young vampire, a little brother, brought across by the one he called father, ...Lucien LaCroix. He stared at his palette, now inspired with a burning need to portray all the faces of the dead... to create one permanent record that they had once existed.
The colors were wrong. He tore the paper palette loose and tossed it. Tubes of oils lay on the table. He squirted small amounts in a circle around the perimeter of a fresh palette. The pigments were rich, vibrant colors. Then the vampire in him surfaced. He sank his fangs into his wrist drawing his own blood. Holding the small wounds over the palette, he caught a stream of the dark fluid before the wounds healed. Mixing his blood into the pigments, he began the monumental project.
First a small oval egg, placed near the center of the black space. Then the face emerged. The brother’s name had been Anton. Nick concentrated, calling up an image, a memory. Anton, oddly enough, had also been a painter.
Anton’s eyes were brown. They danced with mischief. Anton had been barely twenty when LaCroix made him immortal. It was young, almost too young, to be capable of making such a choice. Anton was vibrant, filling the lives of the older vampires with excitement and renewed energy. He cared nothing about politics and the threat of war with Cardassia. He had simply joined the Maquis for the experience, to have something to paint.
“Good bye, my brother,” Nick whispered, as he finished the small portrait.
Next to Anton he placed a second egg, this one with skin the shade of chocolate, silken strands of jet black hair, and almond shaped eyes. Michelle. She was somehow a distant cousin, although he wasn’t sure just how she was related.
Michelle wouldn’t show up well on the black background. With a few quick brush strokes, he placed a rose nebula behind her. He hadn’t known Michelle well. They had met on occasion, even danced a few dances. That was it. He couldn’t quite get the right look in her eyes. He altered the shape, changed the direction she looked, made them look sad, then reflective. Nick was almost ready to drop his new project. Another blood tear streamed down his face to land on the palette. Nick dipped a fine brush in the tear and placed it on her cheek. Her portrait was finished.
In what would become his ritual, he whispered to her also, “Good bye, Michelle.”
Another image formed. Rosalie. Aristocratic, refined, elegant Rosalie. No, not her! Had she still been with the Maquis at the end? Nick stared at his canvas and wept bitterly. The project was too painful.
Then, ever so faint, he felt a familiar presence.
A sort of sixth sense connected him to other vampires. He had learned as a young one to develop that sense, even to tell which vampire it was. The closer the vampire was to kin, the stronger the sense. But this presence that he felt could not be! He was alone here!
“Grieve not, my son, for what you cannot change.”
Nick jumped, dropping his palette. “LaCroix? Where are you?”
“I am with you, Nicholas. As always.”
Nick looked around the room. LaCroix was not here. He knew that. The presence he felt became stronger when he closed his eyes. The brief moment of joy that he had felt, the relief that he was no longer alone, faded. LaCroix was not on board, he wasn’t even in the quadrant.
“Yes, Nicholas,” the familiar voice whispered. “I await you at home.”
Home... it was such a long way off.
“I mourn for these children, too, Nicholas. So many, so pointless. But their deaths are not in vain, for I sense new strength in you, my son.”
“LaCroix. I am sick,” he confessed. “I feed, but I am still hungry. I am losing control. It will not be long before I am discovered.”
LaCroix’s near-perfect control slipped for just a moment. Nick sensed true fear from him. Then the ancient vampire consoled him as though he were still a little child. “You are not ill, Nicholas. The mortals upon which you must feed are ill. Their disease has caused this hunger in you.”
“They’re not sick,” Nick explained. “They are only tired, because I have taken blood from them.”
“Their blood is tainted, Nicholas! Can you not tell the difference?”
Nick felt a flavor in his mouth, a taste so strong, that he had to swallow as though he were actually feeding. LaCroix drank deeply and sent the sensation across 70,000 light years. Nick licked his lips hungrily.
“Yes! You are right! Their blood is flat... something is wrong. How did you know?”
“Take care, Nicholas. You... Must... return to me. I am eager to see your painting.”
For a moment the link he shared with LaCroix drifted, unfocused. He sensed LaCroix’s grief mixed in with his. Somehow, the sorrow shared was not as intense.
The door to Nick’s quarters slid open. Tuvok and an armed patrol stood outside. So... he had been discovered. Now it was too late. He didn’t dare try to speak to his father again. He shut his eyes and tried to recall the ancient’s face. With concentration, he found the small area where he sensed the presence of the other vampire. “Good bye,” he thought.
“Until later,” his father responded quickly.
“Lieutenant Knight, come with us,” Tuvok stated.
Nick glanced at the brushes. He placed them in a small jar of turpentine. The painting might not get finished, he thought sadly. “Good bye, Rosalie,” he whispered to the spot of pigment that had not yet become a face.
Nick walked silently beside Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok through the curving corridors. Two armed guards followed several paces behind. He had always known this moment would come. Sweet little Kes had only been able to give him hope and the reprieve of several years.
It was somewhat amusing to him the charge they had brought against him- falsifying transporter logs! Of all the things of which he was guilty, that was probably the smallest crime! It must mean, however, that it was the only crime they’d found evidence of, yet he was probably still their prime suspect for a few others.
He remained silent. There wasn’t much point in offering a defense when he truly was guilty. And he could never explain why. Once he’d fought his own condition, trying desperately to find a cure- a way to return to mortality. Then he had been disdainful of his vampire family, but he had never intended to annihilate them!
Somehow, learning of the end of the Maquis, and therefore, possibly, the end of so many vampires, he’d been on edge. He didn’t like to think of himself as the last of a dying race, and wondered if he should take steps to preserve it. Was it akin to ethnic pride?
Tuvok waited as Nick stepped into the cell, then he activated the force field. “When you wish to make a statement, you may notify the guard to contact me.”
Nick nodded mutely. That wasn’t going to happen. He remained standing, with his back turned to them. He listened until he heard them leave. One guard remained in the outer chamber. He felt a little like a goldfish, with his every movement being watched, and most likely recorded. Fighting the urge to throw something, he rolled onto the narrow cot and shut his eyes.
Chapter twelve: The Prisoner
After twenty-four hours there were no new cases of the strange “ailment”. Janeway didn’t really feel much better, but she was no worse, either. The whole situation was still a little too weird for her, but she felt fairly confident that the right man was in custody.
The study of Primia resumed. It would be good for the crew to have something to do besides engage in the endless gossip. Still, the interest in the infant planet paled in comparison to the Gothic tales of blood sacrifice being spread around the ship.
Their prisoner had not yet spoken a word. She hoped that after a few days he would be a little more inclined to talk. Tuvok would inform her of any news. She decided not to see the lieutenant personally. Yet, the image of his sensitive, boyish face troubled her.
Tuvok had conducted a thorough search of Nick’s quarters. The results were unsettling. A large painting, unfinished, yet haunting and still damp, was displayed on an easel. The room was simply decorated. The Maquis rebels had not had time to bring any of their own belongings on board- their ship had been about to explode. They were lucky to escape with their lives. Yet, between the replicators to replace what they had lost, and shore leaves on hundreds of exotic places, most of them had been able to create a sense of “home.”
There were candles all around- not unusual in themselves, as candle light was still enjoyed for quiet dinners and even religious ceremonies, but there were so many candles, and judging by the melted wax, they were used frequently. There was also a key board, unrolled and spread across the table. More candles graced either side of the keyboard, and a few sheets of music- original compositions- lay nearby. A few finished paintings hung on the walls. Nothing else. Except, two files, rather large, and completely sealed.
The files frightened her. What could they contain? Who could he be working for? Tuvok had spent hours already, trying to break the code and open them, without success. Janeway couldn’t wait any longer. She contacted Torres, and told her what she wanted her to do.
B’Elanna entered the brig. It was becoming a habit, she thought dryly. She’d visited Tom here often enough. She nodded to the guard on duty. “Let me in to speak with him,” she said.
The guard rose and approached the cell. He lowered the forcefield, waited for her to enter, then turned it on again. Moving to his desk near the door, he opened a book and ignored them.
Nick lay on the narrow cot, his fingers interlaced behind his head, his eyes staring at the ceiling. B’Elanna stood awkwardly. There wasn’t much in the room- a cot, a small table and one stool. She moved nearer to Knight, perching on the edge of the cot.
“Hello, Nick,” she began.
He didn’t respond.
She fidgeted. She didn’t want to be here! Janeway expected her to get information from him, but she felt somewhat like a traitor. Well, Janeway might be angry with her, but she could try the honest approach.
“Nick. They are worried about some files in your room. I’m sure you can see their concern, after Seska. Can you tell me what’s on the files?”
“What is it that you think I’ve done?” he asked. His voice sounded hollow. “Seska was Cardassian. I was a Cardassian prisoner.”
“Can I read them?” she asked.
He shrugged. “If you like. It was never meant to be kept secret. I put a simple alpha-numeric code on it, only to protect it from accidental damage.” Nick then gave her the sequence of numbers and letters.
B’Elanna repeated them, recording the sequence on a padd, although she and Nick both knew that the conversation was being recorded. No doubt Tuvok would have the file opened before she even left the brig.
“It isn’t so simple,” she said. “I can’t see a pattern at all.”
Nick leaned up on one elbow. He pointed to the numbers as he explained them. “The first four digits is my birth date. The next series is the license plate to the caddy, and the last set is the entrance code to my place back on Earth.”
B’Elanna looked at the first four. 1228- was he born three days after Christmas? Depends which dating system he used, she decided. “What’s on the file, Nick?”
He lay back again, resuming his inspection of the ceiling. “Tuvok can tell you. It’s not important. Not now. I will never finish it.”
She turned away from him, blinking back tears. She couldn’t help him,... she couldn’t even help herself. It was just her dumb luck to always attract the troubled ones.
“I saw the painting you were working on. It’s a lovely start. Who are the two people? I thought I recognized one of them.”
“Relatives,” he whispered. “Dead.”
Yes. With sudden insight, she knew, they were Maquis rebels. That was where she had seen the one before. “That’s a wonderful gift, to be able to paint them, to have something to remember them by.”
“I guess I won’t finish that project, either,” he said.
An idea formed, giving her some hope. “Nick. What if I could get you your paints? I... I don’t know what’s going to happen, or how long you’ll be held here, but, maybe I could speak to the captain, and you could work on the painting while we wait?”
With lightning speed, he snatched her wrist. His eyes flicked from clear blue to the odd, amber glow. She thought his teeth looked a little sharper, too, but she was drawn to his face, to the compelling amber eyes. He seemed about to speak, but then he simply brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her.
She stood up. Smiling at Nick, she called the guard to let her out.
Chapter thirteen: Curiouser
Janeway absently munched on the handful of dried fruits. She was still somewhat anemic, according to the doctor’s last exam, although there had been no more episodes of stolen blood since Knight was incarcerated. The doctor suggested that the victims all increase their consumption of iron-rich foods. Iron was a tricky mineral, and sometime hard to replace.
She was having difficulty concentrating on the reports from Primia, the bone-weary tiredness had not lifted. They would only spend another day here, at most, then resume their home-ward journey. The information could be studied more enroute. She only wanted to make certain that they hadn’t missed something important in their research, as she would not be coming back.
Torres had nearly finished her inspection of all ship’s propulsion systems. There was one positive side-effect to her complicated personal life... Torres was venting her frustration with some really productive work. Janeway tried to push the image of the concerned, caring young Lieutenant Knight from her mind, tried to replace it with one of him stealing in to her quarters, violating her privacy, and doing God-knows-what with her blood. Chakotay was right... some things still did not add up.
The door to her ready room bleeped softly. She stacked the reports neatly to one side as she invited the visitor to enter.
Tuvok stepped precisely one point three meters inside. He stood perfectly erect, his uniform still immaculate, his face neutral, and yet she had the impression that he had not slept in several days. He held a larger padd out to her. “One of the two files from Knight’s quarters, Captain.”
Knight had cooperated, giving Torres the access code to the one file. But opening it had only been the first step- it had not been written in Federation standard. The first translation attempts, using the universal translator, had turned up gibberish.
“So you were able to decode it,” she stated.
“Not exactly, Captain. It was never coded. It was simply in a different language, one our translators no longer had on file.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “No longer on file? Why?”
“The file was written in French, an old, archaic form, that has not been spoken since the middle ages.”
She held up both hands in a gesture of defeat. This case got more confusing the longer she looked at it. Accepting the file, she started to read it.
The first paragraphs were not important. She scanned more quickly, trying to discern the intended audience. But the files never said. It was written simply, beautifully. The beginning was a story about their trip to the delta quadrant, from the Maquis point of view. It was different from the official log reports only in that it was written as a narrative.
“What is this?” she asked.
“It appears to be a history of our journey, Captain.”
She motioned towards a chair. “Please, take a seat. A history of us?” She read further. The story was very accurate, and written with a simple clarity, a conversational tone, like a child telling his father about a day at school. It was thrilling! Nick had a gentleness to his writing, and a profound insight of the crew. It was hard not to feel something akin to compassion for the perceptive author of such a work.
After quite some time she glanced up, surprised that Tuvok was still present. Reluctantly she laid the history aside. “What do you make of this?”
Tuvok cocked one eyebrow speculatively. “It is what it appears to be. There is no encoded message or ulterior motive. It is a history of Voyager.”
“I gathered that. But, where does that leave Knight? What crimes has he committed, and why? I had hoped that this would help make some sense, but now I am even more confused.”
“There is still the second file, captain. It is smaller than this, but we have not been able to access it. Knight has refused to tell us the code, or even give us any indication as to what it contains. Ensign Kim continues to try to open it.”
“So we’re left with a sensitive, if disturbed young man, who paints, writes, and plays the piano, and uses human blood in his religious practices.”
“That is essentially correct, captain, although we are not even certain that he is indeed... a man.”
Chapter fourteen: The Madman
“Good bye, my friend,” Nick whispered, as he finished yet another small face on his painting. The starscape was filled now with tiny portraits. The faces were varied, some quite young, others had stopped their mortal aging at a later time in life. Their hair and eye coloring differed, even their expressions. Although he had portrayed the first vampires with the same sense of tragedy that he felt, as he tried to capture more of their essence, he found that some needed to have smiles on their lips and an air of adventure. Though tempted, however, he painted none of them with glowing eyes or distended fangs. To all mortal observers they would appear fully human.
“I am eager to see it first hand, Nicholas.”
Nick smiled as he felt LaCroix’s presence again.
“I think you will be pleased,” he said aloud.
The guard across the room stared at Nick, then shrugged his shoulders. That one was really batty, he thought, if any of the rumors were to be believed.
“So have you discovered the illness that infects your food,” LaCroix inquired.
“No. I am rather... tied up, at the moment,” he said, with a touch of irony.
“Do not wait too long, my son. I sense your hunger, and I find it... annoying.”
Nick burst out laughing. The guard shook his head with irritation, shivering at being cooped up here with a nut case. It was giving him the weegies.
“I have a lot to offer these people, LaCroix. I never really thought about it before. I sense that my unique... traits... can help them, in a way that I could not, were I human. I still wish to continue my quest, to regain my own mortality, but there is more to becoming human than just flesh and blood. It is a way of thinking, of behaving. I guess I’ve really slipped up there though, haven’t I?”
Nick began another portrait as he spoke aloud to his father. Just as he dabbed blue where the eyes would go, he felt his father’s surprised response.
“No, Nicholas! That one lives. He... disappeared from the penal colony in New Zealand. The case is still under investigation... you know how tenacious these humans can be sometimes.”
Mikki Girard survived! Nick stepped back from his canvas, wiping a fine sheen of reddish perspiration from his brow. “Who else? Have I missed anyone?” he asked.
LaCroix was silent for a moment. Nick stared at his painting hard, willing that LaCroix should get a sense of each portrait. He wondered briefly at how close his mental link was with his master just now. It was stronger, clearer, than it had ever been, even stronger than when he had lived in the same town on the same planet. Was it just part of some delusion brought about by hunger or disease?
His mouth watered. Images of feasting filled his memory. His fangs extended fully, his eyes became blood red. His father was baiting him, as the ancient fed on something pure and tantalizingly sweet, certainly the rare vintage of a true connoisseur.
“Stop it!” Nick roared.
The guard jumped from his chair and approached the cell. He drew his phaser as a precaution, although there was no visible threat.
Nick dropped his palette and brushes, staggering to the narrow cot. With his back turned to the irksome guard, he sank his teeth into his own wrist, sucking on the cold dark blood of a starving vampire. It did nothing to assuage his hunger. He couldn’t even pretend that it was something more satisfying.
He felt LaCroix laugh. The ancient one purred with the dark undercurrent of evil power that never failed to intimidate Nick. “Then do... something, my son! Do not permit these feeble beings to torture you any further!”
LaCroix stopped. Nick stared at his wrist, watching as the two small circular wounds ceased to bleed, yet they did not immediately heal. The dark blood crusted, the sores remained. His situation was becoming desperate....
“You have neglected Vachon’s side of the family,” LaCroix informed him.
Vachon! He had forgotten all about him. Vachon was a New World vampire, about three hundred years younger than Nick. He was a different breed- even Aristotle did not know where his origins lay. But Vachon was only loosely related to Nick, through their mortal friends. Vachon had dated one of Nick’s partners, when he had been a homicide detective in Toronto, back in the twentieth century.
“Not Vachon?” Nick asked, suddenly anxious.
“Lieutenant Commander Tuvok,” the guard called, tapping the comm badge on his jacket. “Would talking to himself be considered unusual behavior? This guy’s been at it for over an hour, and believe me, ...it’s pretty strange.”
“No, Nicholas. Control yourself.” The ancient one seemed to grow impatient, even from across the galaxy. Still, sensing his offspring’s despair, he sighed with resignation. “Vachon was never what you might call a “joiner.” But he had a number of his creations in the final battle. You might not have even met them all. Do you wish to add them to your work?”
Nick stared at his painting. It was monumental, impressive just as it was; yet he felt it was somehow incomplete. It would be difficult to add any more portraits to the canvas... he could superimpose some, in a collage fashion. Yes, he decided, he needed to include all the victims. Only then would the work be done.
LaCroix patiently considered each of Vachon’s children, one by one. He gave Nick an image of them, their names, and a little about their personality, although he saw them differently than Nick would have. LaCroix had been brought across more than 2400 years ago, by his own daughter, which gave him a unique perspective. He viewed others with an ancient wisdom, a satirical glare, impatient and disdainful.
Nick used to wonder why the ancient one demanded so much from him. LaCroix had created other children, but he let them go. Nicholas was more slave than son to him, forbidden to wander very far from home. LaCroix constantly interfered with his life, chose what friends he could keep, demanded he move on whenever a particular life became too important, even told him what and when to eat!
It struck him as funny that he should suddenly find himself free from the other’s constant meddling and at the same time, very homesick. Perhaps LaCroix had known what Nick was only just now suspecting, that he needed him.
“What is so amusing, Nicholas?”
“Nothing. Please continue,” he said, laughing as he painted the wispy strands of hair from another portrait. The strands swept up away from the face, blending into the tail of a comet in the background. Somehow, Vachon’s children all looked a little bit like him, even though in the vampire family genetics had nothing to do with it. He shook his head, suspecting that when he returned to the alpha quadrant, Vachon would have to help him finish these newest portraits.
B’Elanna came into the brig. She had heard Tuvok tell her that Nick was talking to himself, but she hadn’t believed it. She blinked back tears. He stood with his back to her, working on that magnificent painting, and talking nonsense to some one he called “LaCroix.” What was it about her that attracted the disturbed ones?
“It’s lovely,” she said, trying to get his attention.
Nick turned and smiled. His eyes were clear blue, his complexion pale as always. He looked sane enough. “Hello, B’Elanna,” he said.
She hesitated to go inside with him, though. He was starting to frighten her.
“There are so many of them. I thought you said it was just your family?”
Nick nodded. “Well, technically, these three aren’t. But they are offspring of a close friend, so I decided to include them. Do you like it?”
He looked at her with apprehension, like a small child seeking approval. She signaled the guard to let her in.
Nick took her hand eagerly and pulled her closer to the painting.
“So tell me- which ones are your siblings?”
Nick shook his head. “None of them, really. I had a... foster father, I guess would be the closest term. These-“ and he pointed out a handful of faces, “are his children, but not really my brothers. These are cousins, these are children of cousins...”
Nick proceeded to tell her a little bit about some of the people in the picture, but she dwelled on the one comment he had made. “Foster father.” So he hadn’t grown up in a real home, with two parents that loved him, either.
“How come you never had kids, Nick?” she asked abruptly. Maybe what she asked was too personal, but the words were out now.
Nick’s face darkened. He turned away from her, his shoulders drooped. “I had a daughter once. Alyssa. On the night she was... born... she died in my arms.”
Torres wasn’t sure what to say. A human behavior would be to offer comfort, to make senseless condolences. A Klingon would only discuss death if the deceased had died honorably, in battle or some other such nonsense. But the death of an infant was always tragic. Words were meaningless. She wrapped Nick in her arms and hugged him silently.
Nick seemed to melt in her embrace. He turned to her, holding her close to him. She felt how weak his hold was on her, and it frightened her. The soft scrape of his beard rubbed against the tender skin of her throat. She felt the warmth begin to climb. He nuzzled her neck, moaning softly into her ear. He felt so cold! He nipped the skin on her neck and a low growl escaped her lips. Then Nick jumped, pulling away from her abruptly.
“Are we still circling Primia?” he asked. B’Elanna knew he was deliberately changing the subject. She took a moment to try to compose herself, never an easy task.
“Ah, yes, we are... but only until the last shuttle returns. Paulus is-“
“Paulus!” Nick shouted. He whirled around so quickly that he staggered. His eyes were no longer clear and open. He was dark and barely controlled, the evil within him so near the surface that it both frightened and excited her. Her breath came faster, her pulse quickened.
“Paulus is sick! She’s dangerous! She should not be assigned to anything more difficult than KP!”
B’Elanna stammered. “Sick? Nick, what are you talking about?”
Nick approached her, stalked her. She stared into the amber pools, transfixed. Then he dragged himself away. “Get out of here,” he growled. He no longer seemed so weak and helpless. He tone was menacing. “Out now!”
The guard was already at the controls, dropping the forcefield for her while holding a phaser on the crazed prisoner.
B’Elanna stepped out, confused and bewildered. “What about Paulus, Nick?”
Nick approached the forcefield as though each step took more energy than he could spare. He slunk to the floor, kneeling in front of her. Only a few centimeters separated their faces, with the soft hum of the forcefield between them. Nick’s voice was low, husky. The guard and the recording devices could not pick up his words.
“She is sick, B’Elanna. All the humans are sick- they’re… flat, no iron…but she is also severely depressed. Her mind isn’t on her work. She’s a danger to herself and the people she works with. Go- take her to sick bay. Ask her about her daughter. Go!”
B’Elanna stepped backwards. Then she turned and ran from the room. She had to go find Paulus, partly afraid that the woman would be fine, proving Nick’s insanity... yet partly afraid that she really could be in danger. Nick sounded so positive.
She would have to get Janeway’s permission, though. And Janeway wasn’t likely to take the advice of a mentally unstable prisoner who talked to himself. She practiced several conversations in her head as she hurried to see the captain. None of them made much sense even to her.
Chapter fifteen: Pressing Matters
Janeway stared at B’Elanna without interrupting while the Chief Engineer stammered through her request. “So, Nick thinks Paulus is in some sort of trouble. And he knows this because...?”
Air exploded between B’Elanna’s lips. “I don’t know, Captain! I only know that he was so certain! Maybe he’s psychic, or telepathic, all I know is that I have to take a shuttle to the surface and find out for sure!”
Janeway rubbed her hands together as she thought. Nick had known so much about her, and she couldn’t explain it. Nick had shown such understanding in his writings. Even though he appeared completely unstable, she felt she couldn’t ignore this request. At length she nodded. “You may go, and take the doctor with you... just in case. Let us hope Nick’s suspicions are groundless, but it won’t hurt to be cautious.”
“Thank you, Captain,” B’Elanna called as she fled from the room.
The doctor met her at the shuttlebay. He carried a medikit and his perpetual scowl. “So now I am little more than a toy, sent on some fool’s errand, at the whim of one insane being of unknown origin, and his-“
“Shut up,” B’Elanna snapped, before he could start on her. “I hope to find nothing wrong. You’re just along for the ride.”
“Now that’s comforting,” he remarked.
“I could ask to have you deactivated, and just bring your mobile emitter along,” she threatened, as she programmed the flight into the computer.
The doctor raised his eyebrows disdainfully, but refrained from further comment.
She closed the hatch and started the ignition sequence as the technician opened the shuttlebay doors. It was a brief flight to the planet, as Voyager had dropped to a lower orbit. Then the bumpy ride through the thick clouds, and she emerged beneath the dark blanket to the eternal night of Primia. “We should be coming up on their coordinates,” B’Elanna said.
The scans revealed nothing. No shuttle was nearby, where it should have been. No humanoid life forms were in the region, either. B’Elanna suppressed a momentary panic, focusing only on her duty. She moved to a higher altitude, to improve the scanning range. Paulus was a fair pilot and it should have been a routine flight. She was supposed to fly the shuttle to the set coordinates, wait for the science teams to return, and bring them home again. She should have landed hours ago, and she should not have left the planet yet. That B’Elanna could not find her meant that something had most likely happened to the shuttle on the way to the coordinates. She yanked the shuttle around back the way she’d come.
“Please, Lieutenant, I’d rather not have my programming scrambled,” the doctor complained. He seemed to sense the possibility of disaster, though, as he started to help her scan for the missing shuttle.
“There it is,” he pointed, indicating a small blink on the edge of the screen.
Without comment Torres altered course to land very near the site. The scans told part of the story as they drew nearer. The shuttle had crashed.
B’Elanna threw open the hatch, leaping into the dark clearing. The doctor followed closely behind.
There had been four people on the shuttle, three science officers and Paulus. One officer staggered outside of the shuttle, dazed and confused. He must have been knocked unconscious in the crash, and only recently even came to. He didn’t seem to know who he was or what he was doing there.
“Leave him for now,” the doctor commanded. “He isn’t critical.”
B’Elanna whistled through her teeth at the ruined shuttle. The officer must have been thrown free on impact. The front viewer was gone, and a gaping hole stood in its place. The pathetic sounds of someone in pain erupted from the opening. B’Elanna pulled against the hatch, but it had been severely damaged and refused to open. The shuttle was too tall to reach from the hole in the viewer. B’Elanna grabbed a rod from her toolbox to pry the hatch. With a screeching groan it gave way.
The doctor quickly glanced at the three wounded inside, assessing which was most crucial. The one officer that was awake and in such pain was bleeding from several injuries to the face, arms and shoulders, but was not in imminent danger. The doctor gave him a hypospray for the pain, and went on to the next.
Another patient lay with a beam crushing her pelvis. She had some internal bleeding, as well. The doctor worked quickly to heal the bleeders, as Torres lifted the beam, tossing it aside. Later, a salvage crew would have to come clean up the mess. They couldn’t afford to waste the parts, and Janeway wouldn’t want to leave any evidence of their passing through for whatever primitive life forms might evolve here.
Then Torres turned to Paulus, trapped in the pilot’s seat by debris. She sat erect, her face drained of all color, tears flowing freely down ashen cheeks. One leg was badly broken. The pant leg, soaked and crusted with blood, was torn by the splintered bone, yet Paulus seemed almost oblivious to the pain she should have suffered, as she wept, trapped inside a private hell.
The doctor gave her a sedative, then with Torres’s help, he laid her on the floor of the shuttle. Cutting away the uniform, he muttered his own expletives, which he had been adding to his programming at Torres’s suggestion that he try emulate human speech more closely.
Torres stared at the shattered leg bone. The soft, spongy marrow was filled with little maggots.
“What the hell is that!” she demanded.
The doctor ran his medical tricorder over the infestation. The tool remained blank. Torres snapped open her own tricorder and made an adjustment. “A delta-quadrant parasite, doctor,” she remarked. “How did he know?”
The doctor immobilized the break. He wouldn’t use the knitter to repair it until the infestation was treated. “How did who know what, Torres?”
“Nick. He said, “all the humans are sick.” He knew Paulus was sick and that she was depressed. How?”
The doctor prepared Paulus for transport. “I don’t know, Lieutenant. But, this infestation may explain a lot of things. The pervasive anemia, for one, I’ll wager.”
They finished their triage work quickly and in silence. The doctor worked furiously, his holographic hands a blur, while Torres piloted her shuttle as fast as she dared through the oppressive cover of clouds. Once free, Torres ordered all of the patients and the doctor to be transported directly to sick bay.
Her passengers faded, then they were gone. Only then did B’Elanna allow herself to think. Nick had been right. And, because she had listened to him, those four crewmen had a chance to survive.
Chapter sixteen: Blood’s Cure
“Captain Janeway, please come to sickbay,” the doctor called. Janeway jumped. Had she fallen asleep at her post? She glanced nervously about, but none of the bridge crew seemed to have noticed a thing. This damn anemia had better clear up quick!
She nodded to Chakotay, then walked briskly towards the turbolift. Moments later she stood in sick bay. Paulus lay in a biobed, staring blankly. Janeway shuddered at the glazed, far-off look in the young woman’s face. She turned to the doctor, and followed his gesture to Paulus’s broken leg.
Tiny little magot-like parasites wriggled and slimed their way in the marrow. Janeway couldn’t stop the retching reflex. She’d seen a lot in her career. Burn victims, plasma injuries, tortured crewmates, but this was totally nauseating.
“This is the cause of the anemia, Captain.” The doctor prodded one of the little maggots with his meditool, then placed it in a clear dish. He placed a drop of liquid on the alien parasite, and it melted, leaving a smoky, acid scent in the air.
Janeway stared at him, her mouth open. “But, I thought, the anemia was a result of… of blood loss?”
“So did I. But, the crew has continued to feel tired, even after Knight was incarcerated. I’ve tried everything- blood transfusions, iron-supplements, even dietary changes, and the anemia remained. This parasite didn’t show up on any scans, because it wasn’t known to exist. The medical scans and tricorders didn’t identify it. And I concentrated my research on the iron-poor blood, the strange neck pain.
“I might not have found this in time, if Knight hadn’t told us she was sick. We should all be thankful that Paulus was piloting. The parasite weakened the bone, so it shattered in the crash.” Even as he gave his monologue, he ran his medical tricorder over Captain Janeway and nodded.
“I have been able to study this pernicious little beast, and reprogram the tricorders to recognize it. You, Captain, are similarly infected. I would imagine that all of the human crewmembers are, as well.”
Janeway felt her skin crawl as she envisioned the maggots inside her. “What now? Can you destroy them?”
The doctor smiled smugly. He gestured to a biobed and waited for Captain Janeway take it. Then he ran a microtool along the length of her leg bone. “This should do it,” he crooned. “The anemia and sense of exhaustion should clear up in a few days. I will have to treat everyone individually. If you could set up a schedule, and send Mr. Paris to assist, we should have it licked by this time tomorrow.”
Janeway looked again at Paulus. There was something else wrong with her, something very wrong. “Can you help her, doctor?”
The smugness fell from his face instantly. “I thought I had, Captain. I feel it is my fault, that I failed her, that I … am personally responsible for the crash.”
“She came to me, depressed. I talked to her and sent her on her way. I’m not a psychologist, you know.”
“But Nick knew. Our mystery man knows more than he’s telling us.” Janeway yawned. She’d have to confront Knight soon. But, maybe not today.
B’Elanna threw the entire contents of the toolbox against the far wall. Bits and pieces flew apart. The wall was fairly indestructible, but many of the tools were not. The other engineers in the room fell deathly silent, as if they were afraid for their lives. She growled, then bit her lip, always embarrassed to allow the Klingon side of her nature be seen.
Without so much as an apology, she rushed from the room. She’d have to make it up to them tomorrow.
Her furious pace took her past her own quarters. There was no solace there. She marched away from Tom’s rooms, the mess hall, even the holodeck. Her feet carried her to the brig, before she made the conscious decision to go there.
The guard nodded to her as she stormed in. After a brief look at her, he jumped to his feet and began stammering. “I, uh, can just wait outside, Lieutenant, if you’d like.”
She growled at him, then turned to face Knight. She stood just outside his forcefield, arms folded tightly across her chest, and glowered at him. “What the hell is going on!” she demanded.
The young man lay stretched out on the narrow cot. He didn’t move or make any acknowledgement of her presence.
“Talk to me, Knight! They tell me you won’t eat, you won’t talk! This is madness! Knight!”
He still didn’t move. She hesitated only a moment, before she lowered the forcefield and stepped inside. She glowered down at him. Then she froze. He looked so still... almost... dead.
She laid a hand on his forehead. The skin was so cold, and her palm came away with a fine sheen of blood. She tried to feel a pulse, but found none. Grabbing his shoulders, she shook him roughly.
“Knight, don’t do this!”
His eyelids fluttered. The eyes were golden, then faded to blue. He had the most beautiful eyes, she thought. He stared at her with hunger in his eyes, lust, then recognition. “B’Elanna. What are you doing here?” His voice was weak. The words were barely spoken above a whisper.
“Nick, you’re scaring me. Come on, sit up.” She helped him into a semi-vertical position. He leaned against her. He cradled her head in one hand, drawing her closer. The eyes glowed amber again. He breathed on her neck, and whispered to her.
For a brief moment she returned his embrace. Her fingers twined into his golden hair. Her heart raced, the blood pounded in her ears. But as she felt the sharp points of his teeth against her neck, she pulled away. “No Nick! Not here, not now.”
She stood up, to put a little space between them. Nick struggled to his feet. “What are you doing here!” he spat. “Get out!”
B’Elanna whirled around. Nick staggered away from her. He placed his hands against the back wall of the cell and leaned his head on it.
“Nick, how did you know about Paulus? You saved her life.”
“It doesn’t matter any more.”
“Nick, what are you talking about?” she asked.
“I’m dying, B’Elanna,” he whispered.
“Nick, talk to them! Tell them what they want to know! Tell them you didn’t do these crimes!”
“I’d be lying.”
Silence stretched between them. B’Elanna stared at his back, trying to make sense of it, but she didn’t have enough of the pieces. She only knew that he was the most beautiful man she’d seen in her entire life. He made her feel special; he made her feel whole, at one with her Klingon nature. She couldn’t lose him!
“Then, let the doctor help you,” she pleaded.
He shook his head.
“At least eat something? You’ve been here a week, and the guard reports that you’ve had nothing to eat or drink in all that time. Why must you do this to yourself?”
“Get out.” His voice was low, dangerous sounding.
She hesitated. He still seemed so weak and vulnerable.
“Get out, now!” he growled.
B’Elanna stepped outside, reactivating the forcefield, and left.
“Captain,” Torres pleaded. “You have do to something. He’s disoriented, dehydrated; he’s weak and confused. He says he’s dying. Is that what you want?”
Janeway rubbed her forehead tiredly. She’d been deliberating on this matter for days. She couldn’t force him to accept medical treatment. She couldn’t force a confession. She couldn’t even force him to eat. Yet, she didn’t doubt that he would die if she didn’t do something soon.
Janeway finally brought herself to the brig. It was something she had avoided, hoping that it would not be necessary. Once she had hoped that the brig would be wasted space, never needed, extra storage. Yet, this was not the first time she had had to use it. It was one thing when she’d had to throw the alien Hrogen in it, but it had hurt deeply when Tom was confined for thirty days. This time was the worst. Young Nick Knight might be confined for a very long time, if he didn’t kill himself first.
“Nick,” she said, trying to get his attention. The prisoner looked nothing like the sweet young man who had comforted her only a short time ago. This man was deathly pale, and there was a wildness in his eyes, a lack of comprehension. He paced the confines of the small cell relentlessly, like a caged beast, refusing to look at her.
“Nick, I want to help you. But you’re going to have to work with us. I want to understand why you did the things that you did.”
“Nick, what’s in the second file? Who is it for? Were you working with Seska? Are you here for the Cardassians?”
Nick began to speak. His words were not in Federation standard, however. The words were soft and lyrical, it sounded a lot like French, but she could not understand much of it at all. “Nick, talk to me! Talk in standard, and let me help.”
The French-related language continued. The brig’s viewer would record everything. She could have it analyzed later.
The doors opened as a yeoman entered with a food tray. Janeway stepped aside. The yeoman waited unmoving until Nick stepped back from the forcefield, then she lowered it and placed the food tray inside on the small table. She stepped back out and flipped the power back on.
The prisoner ignored the food. Janeway looked at it- it was still warm and pleasant smelling, even if Neelix had made it. It was a square meal, complete with desert and a cup of steaming hot coffee. Still, Nick ignored it. He slunk to the floor and leaned up against the wall quite near her.
He looked terrible. A fine red sheen, like blood, coated his forehead and dripped down the side of his face. Janeway felt torn between honoring his rights, and the need to get some information to close this stygian investigation. Grasping at straws, she rationalized that if he were declared mentally unfit, then he could not be granted the right to refuse medical help and she could justifiably make those decisions for him. Of course, one could argue, that any person who refused medical help, thereby risking pain and even death, was not a sane person, but that argument bordered on religious intolerance.
“Nick, if you don’t start eating, then I will be forced to allow the doctor to give you nutrients intravenously,” she warned.
In one fluid movement he was on his feet and threw the food tray against the back wall with enough force to splinter it into tiny shards. Nick turned on her, his face only millimeters away from the powerful forcefield; his eyes were glowing an odd, inhuman amber shade. His voice was dark, threatening. Janeway fought the urge to back away from him.
“Then give me something I can eat,” he roared. Suddenly he threw himself against the forcefield.
Even though the electronic shield held fast, Janeway was so startled that she took several steps back. The field jolted him, throwing him back into the cell. The power should have been enough to make him too weak to try it again, but the young officer staggered back to his feet and threw himself into the field again. “Nick, stop it!” she shouted. “Before you kill yourself!”
Nick’s anguished cry tore through her anger and fear. “You... are killing... me!”
Janeway slapped her commbadge. “Security, to the brig. Doctor, stand by. Lieutenant Knight will be there immediately.”
“No! You can’t!”
“I’m sorry, Nick. You give me no choice.”
Tuvok and five guards entered. Tuvok lowered the forcefield even as it tossed Nick to the floor again. With a quickness Janeway didn’t know the prisoner still possessed, Nick lifted Tuvok and flung him against the cell wall. Tuvok was momentarily dazed; his green-hued Vulcan blood dripped from a small cut just below the hairline. Nick tossed two other guards aside. A fourth aimed his phaser and gave Nick a full shot on stun. Nick spun around and flew into the guard, knocking the phaser from his hands.
Tuvok grasped at the spot between the shoulder blades and the neck to give the Vulcan nerve pinch, but Nick was unaffected. He lifted Tuvok again and held him over his head. One guard struggled to stand, holding his arm awkwardly, another was unconscious.
Chakotay barged in with a knife drawn and threw it, sinking the blade to the hilt in Nick’s chest, just a fraction below the heart. Nick stopped. He dropped his Vulcan cargo. Turning to Janeway for one awful minute all the wildness and rage was gone, even the yellow light faded, and clear blue eyes gazed at her, full of regret.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. Then the light faded. He took one step, passing out mid-stride. One guard and Tuvok caught his arms, snapping wrist restrains on him.
“Get him to sickbay!” Janeway ordered. She shook a fist at Chakotay. “And you! You have a lot of explaining to do! A knife? And you the only one who still held on to his innocence... what were you thinking!”
Chakotay stared, confused and disoriented. “Knife?”
She grabbed his forearm and dragged him out into the corridor. “You’ll see the doctor, too.”
Tom was called to assist. He gave one guard a neuro-inhibitor for pain, as Tuvok removed the small restraints from Nick’s wrists and secured him with the heavier bonds on the biobed. The doctor argued that it was no longer necessary as the patient was unconscious and barely alive, but Tuvok was immovable.
The doctor cut away Nick’s clothes. He looked deathly pale. His chest didn’t rise at all; he didn’t appear to be breathing. Janeway choked, fighting the constricting in her throat. Her eyelids burned. She’d wanted to help him, not kill him. A postmortem might give them insight into who he was, but why he had done what he did. Nick’s reasons would die with him.
The doctor’s eyebrows raised and he nodded as he located the subdermal chip on the right side of Nick’s ribs. With a simple cut he removed the evidence and handed it to Tuvok. Then he reset the biobed controls and scanned Nick’s readings.
“He is definitely not human,” he commented dryly.
“We figured that one out on our own, doc,” one of the guards commented.
“What was he,” Janeway asked.
“Is, captain. He has a heart beat, although it is incredibly slow. I don’t know why he is still alive, but he is. And I do not have a clue what he is. None of these readings match anything in my programming.”
Then he pulled the knife from Nick’s chest. He began to run the meditool over the cut to close the wound and repair the damage, but even as he watched, the blood which oozed from the wound slowed and stopped, then retreated, flowing back inside of Nick’s chest. The puddled blood on the biobed also retraced a silent route into the gaping hole. They just stared, dumbfounded.
The wound remained open, the exposed heart pulsed with a single beat, then was still for many minutes. The meditool was useless in closing the wound. The doctor eventually gave up, and covered the wound with sterile bandages. The prisoner remained unconscious, however. His chest lifted slowly with another inhale, at approximately eleven-minute intervals. The doctor put down his tools.
“Captain. I can’t treat this patient. I can only observe. I don’t know what is normal for his species. I can’t tell you when I have ever felt quite this powerless.”
Janeway indicated Tuvok. “Well, you have other patients, doctor. And I’ll expect a full report on the prisoner in the morning. He alone was almost more than six of us could handle, what would we do if any more of his kind show up?”
Tuvok’s cut was not critical. The doctor patched it, then dismissed him to get some rest, and treated the injured guards. More guards were placed, two inside of sickbay, and two outside. Tuvok transferred what little information the doctor had gathered on Nick to the science console in records, then asked Ensign Kim to search for any mention of a similar being in Federation history.
Tom left and soon the doctor was alone, except for the stoic security detail, with the patient.
“Kes worked with you, Knight. She befriended you, and I suspect, she covered for you, for the years she was with us.” The patient made no sign of having heard, but the doctor continued to use the vocal subroutines. He found that “talking to oneself” was comforting and not entirely useless. “Kes liked nearly everyone, but she was not as naïve as we assumed. She understood people. I don’t know where she got her wisdom. But I want you to know that I will do all I can to help you, not just because my programming requires it, but because you were her friend.”
Nick slept through an entire shift. His life signs were slowing, ever so slightly. The doctor worried about the weak heartbeat more than the extremely slow rate. The patient needed something... and he didn’t have a clue what.
The patient was suspected of stealing blood. Human blood only. And bags of blood were no where to be found, so what was he doing with it? Making a leap in what might have been his first, truly inspired thought, the doctor guessed that his patient consumed it. He gave the patient a transfusion of replicated plasma, but saw no change. He almost dropped this approach, but then he went on to make a second hypothesis. If Knight could have survived on replicated blood, then why would he risk stealing the real stuff? He looked around the sick bay, and his eyes settled on the two guards. Grabbing a plebotometer, he approached them. “How would you two like to be heroes?”
The guards exchanged a worried glance, before the hologram held one in a vise-grip and extracted a pint of blood. He turned to the second one and took another pint. “Drink plenty of fluids, and you’ll be fine,” he told them. They watched, horrified, as the doctor took one pint to the unconscious patient. Fitting a plastic tube onto one end of the pouch, he proceeded to give the human blood to his patient.
Suddenly Nick awoke. His eyes were the color of blood. He snapped one arm from the restraints with amazing ease, snatched the plasma from the doctor and drank its contents. His canine teeth had emerged, longer than normal teeth, two sharp fangs. The doctor made sure his tricorder was functioning, recording everything, then he handed the second bag of blood to Nick. The guards both raced to a small sink as they lost the contents of their stomachs in loud, disgusting sounds.
The blood seemed to calm Nick. His face relaxed, the eyes faded back to blue. He sucked the last drops of blood from the container, then let it fall. The empty bag slipped to the floor. Nick stared at the doctor. His head sank slowly back onto the headrest. His eyelids fluttered and closed. “So now... you know,” he whispered.
Then he fell back into a deep sleep.
Chapter seventeen: The Damned
Janeway entered sickbay, unable to wait any longer for some answers. She listened, horrified, as the doctor told her what he had learned.
“It appears to be his only source of nourishment. His bioreadings are very similar to human, but there is something totally alien about him. According to Starfleet medical records, his kind does not exist.”
Janeway nodded, to give the appearance of paying attention. She stared, confused, at the face of the young officer on the biobed. In sleep, he looked even younger. His features were gentle, smooth. The soft stubble of a beard instead of giving him a toughened look just accentuated an adolescent-quality of his youth.
“His blood itself is unusual. It is a red, iron-based blood, but it contains a unique nucleotide-probably the element that makes him allergic to sunlight. This element is tenaciously indestructible. I have tried a dozen ways to neutralize it, but it mutates instantly. Internally, he has all the same viscera as a human, but they function differently. His stomach looks human but has no acids or proteins to be able to break down and digest food. And his body seems to have an incredible ability to heal itself, which you witnessed.” He drew back the light blanket covering Nick’s bare chest. The knife wound had completely healed.
“Can you wake him,” she asked.
“I can try.” He filled a hypo with a mild stimulant and gave it to Nick. There was no response. He doubled the amount, after warning her that since he had no information on Nick’s species he could not predict the effect. At the second attempt, Nick began to move. He struggled, like one caught in a nightmare. The new restraints Tuvok had installed held fast. The patient pulled hard enough that bruises formed on his hands, bruises that healed even as they formed. Then with a gasp, Nick opened his eyes.
Now that he was conscious, Nick stopped fighting the restraints. He lay still, a look of resignation on his face.
“Captain,” he said. “You can’t destroy me with drugs. All the advances medicine has made over the centuries, and the only ways to kill my people remain decapitation, wooden stake through the heart, or sunlight. Although, being on a starship as it explodes works as well... one could assume that total molecular destruction does effectively decapitate the victim.”
“Who are your people?” she asked.
“I am a race that dares not even speak its name,” he whispered. “We are the last of the persecuted... the only creatures in the alpha quadrant to still be denied the right to exist.”
“You are from the alpha quadrant? How can this be? Why are there no records of your kind?”
Nick looked away from her. Turning his head was the only movement the secure restraints would allow. “Just kill me and be done with it,” he said. “I will not betray my people, too.”
“I am not going to kill you, Lieutenant. You are still a member of my crew, still subject to the law and protected by it. I don’t know why Chakotay attacked you, he certainly was not operating under my instructions.”
“No. He was responding to a hypnotic suggestion. I gave it to him when I first joined his crew. He has no memory of it. …Should have been wood, not metal… Chakotay is difficult to hypnotize.”
“Why?” Janeway exclaimed.
“For his safety... and that of his crew.”
“Why? I need some answers, Lieutenant.”
“Get used to frustration,” he replied. He closed his eyes. He didn’t respond to any more questions. His abnormally slow heart rate dropped even lower. He was in a deep sleep, a sleep so sound as to emulate the dead. Only the sensitive medical scanners showed that he still lived.
Captain Janeway stared at the records from Primia, the collected research of various departments, and tried to conjure up a little interest in it. The mystery of a cold rock planet paled by comparison to the strange being chained in her sick bay. The excitement she’d once experienced at discovering the infant planet was now completely overshadowed by the anxiety and dismay of discovering a new “race” masquerading among them, preying upon them. A race yet without a name.
The victims of the shuttle crash had healed and returned to work, except for Paulus. The woman was still severely depressed and uncommunicative. Her husband knew the cause, but it did nothing to help.
“We left a daughter behind,” he had told the captain. “After this mission, we were to be transferred to the Excelsior, and she was going to join us. My wife … we… miss her terribly. I thought she was dealing with it, though. Yesterday was Peggy’s birthday. She’d be eight years old now.” The father had stopped for a moment. He blushed oddly, and turned away from her. “We’ve been trying to have another child… my wife gets teary every… every…” then he wept, and could not continue.
Janeway remembered hearing the doctor report that the parasite not only destroyed the iron in their blood, but it rendered them infertile. If the parasitic infestation had gone unnoticed any longer… the effects might have been permanent. Strangely, Nick Knight may have saved them all.
Ensign Kim had been pouring through historical records for any mention of creatures with Lieutenant Knight’s characteristics. Until this morning he had been unsuccessful. He called to tell her he wanted to speak with her. He sounded embarrassed, but he claimed to have found something.
She contacted the rest of her senior staff, and met them in the conference room. Harry Kim was already there, looking very nervous as he twiddled his fingers. Janeway sat down quietly. As the others slid into their seats, she waited for the ensign to give his report. She expected him to stammer a little, and so she was surprised when he stopped the fidgeting and spoke clearly, convincingly. He had grown during this voyage. No longer the “youngest”, the baby fresh out of Starfleet Academy, he had lost some of his ignorance, but not the fresh-faced honesty she’d always admired in him.
“There is nothing in Starfleet records,” he began. “If there has been contact with his kind before, all information has been destroyed or so deeply encrypted as top secret that we would have no access to it.”
The others remained silent. They all seemed to sense that he did have information, and waited to hear. He didn’t disappoint them. “So I left the historical records, the ship logs, the ambassadorial archives, and searched the mythologies of various species. This is what I found: a creature that preys on humans for their blood, can’t go in the sunshine, has superhuman strength and speed, and an amazing ability to heal, ...mythology claims the creature is immortal.”
When he did not continue, Janeway prompted him.
“Okay, we’ve just crossed over into the surreal, Ensign Kim. This isn’t some mythological being! Knight is here, flesh and blood...”
Kim blushed at her reproof, but Tuvok spoke up in his defense. “Captain, even human logic, however faulty, would apply here. When you’ve eliminated all the possibilities, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. By simple process of elimination, Lieutenant Nicholas Knight is a vampire.”
Chakotay slammed his hand down on the table. “But he is a good man! He saved Paulus, and very likely every other person on that shuttle! He saved B’Elanna, and even planned for his own death to protect us! Does this sound like a criminal?”
“He stole our blood, Commander! Doesn’t that make you feel violated?”
“No. He must have been starving. You can recall in our own history what starvation can do to people-Donner Pass? There are even accounts of cannibalism.”
“What about the encrypted file we discovered in his quarters?”
Tuvok interjected, “Ensign Kim has successfully opened it.”
Janeway looked approvingly at the youngest officer. He grinned, then went on to explain how he had managed it.
“I figured that he might have used a similar code to the first file, which was a simple alpha-numeric pattern which held meaning only to him. But the second file appeared to be a combination of numbers and a name. None of the languages in the translator could crack it. But he was using that archaic form of French, so when I programmed that language into the translator, it gave us a peculiar name. Some obscure Roman general of Pompeii, who lived in the year 79 AD ... a Lucien LaCroix.”
B’Elanna gasped. Kim stopped his recitation, and Captain Janeway looked questioningly at her. “That name mean something to you, Lieutenant?”
She gulped. “It’s the name of his foster father,” she said. “He didn’t have much of a childhood, from what I’ve heard, just a foster father who was prone to be abusive, a slew of foster siblings, so many he doesn’t even know all their names, and... And most of them died with the Maquis.”
Janeway didn’t respond. The whole meeting blurred as her scientific mind could not comprehend the existence of anything by faith alone. “So, what was in this file?”
Tuvok picked up where Kim had left off. “They are only a collection of stories, a diary perhaps, recounting events in his life.”
Her jaw dropped another inch. “Then why the secrecy?”
“Because, Captain,” Ensign Kim answered. “According to his diary, knowledge of his existence is forbidden by something called “The Enforcers.” Nick writes that if he cannot erase all knowledge of vampires from the memories of others, they are killed. If his diary is to be regarded as truth, he is very, very old. Some of his stories date back as far as the thirteenth century, including such details about the Crusades, the Black Plague, Joan of Arc... too accurate to be pure fabrication.”
Janeway rubbed her forehead. “So, I’m stuck with a hungry vampire, a crew full of potential victims, and I haven’t a clue what to do. Suggestions, people?”
“What about artificial blood?” B’Elanna asked.
“It is insufficient for his needs,” the doctor replied.
Chakotay rolled back his sleeve, baring a well-muscled arm. “I volunteer to donate, whatever it takes.”
Chakotay would stand by Nick, she knew, out of his overly developed sense of loyalty. They were both soldiers, a brotherhood forged in war, forever. “And if his needs leave you too weak to function? Sacrifice your life for his? That is unacceptable.”
Kim rolled back his sleeve as well. “I volunteer, too.”
B’Elanna shrugged. “I think... I think my blood made him sick,” she whispered. Her cheeks stained with a blush.
Janeway was thoughtful. Harry Kim would support Nick; he was already fond of heroes and demons. Torres stood by him for very personal reasons. The doctor was programmed to save all life forms. Tuvok would not form an opinion either way, other than to protect the crew from Nick. Neelix even seemed to want to help Nick, perhaps in memory of the woman he loved. Seven’s opinion didn’t concern her in this matter. Seven still thought like the Borg, with a collective mindset on the good of the many, regardless of the rights of the one.
At last, Janeway settled on Tom. How would he react? Tom’s reactions, Tom the victim twice over as he began to sense the feelings between Nick and Torres, might more accurately predict how the rest of the crew would respond.
Even as she watched, a host of emotions played across his wan, tired face. Tom seemed angry, guarded, apprehensive, even as he seemed to want to forgive Nick. Tom was a most forgiving young man, desperately seeking forgiveness for himself.
A small muscle twitched in his jaw, which he clenched tightly shut. Making a stand with Chakotay and Kim, Tom silently pushed up his own sleeve.
Janeway could not remember a time when she was more proud of her crew.
Chapter eighteen: The Prodigal
Nick grew restless. The doctor had brought him human blood every day since he’d awakened in the sickbay. The blood tasted different, too. The flat taste was gone; the blood filled and nourished him. He most likely could have snapped the bonds that held him, but where would he go? He could not escape the ship. He would die a slow, painful death from starvation.
The doctor’s conversation grew tiresome. He asked a thousand questions that had to do with Nick’s physical nature, questions that at times became embarrassing, and that he should never answer. Then he sensed LaCroix’s presence asking him about his renewed strength.
“You seem well, Nicholas,” he said, sounding pleased.
Nick hesitated to answer aloud. If only the hologram would terminate... but even then the room might record his conversation. It didn’t really matter, he decided, since they already thought he was mad.
Closing his eyes, Nick tried to think of LaCroix, to communicate without speech. He knew his mental skills were no match compared to the ancient one. They could probably only communicate across the distance because of LaCroix’s superior ability. Still, the sensation was not sharp and clear, like it had been before.
“I feel much better,” Nick thought. “But I have not resolved the situation yet.”
LaCroix seemed contented. Nick felt an image of his father with Janette. It was unclear, smoky, like a dream. They were dancing together, surrounded by vampires. Janette was happy. Nick wasn’t certain, but he suspected that she had opened another club, a haven for the lost and lonely. It was what she did best. Nick felt some of his own despair lift as he considered them.
“Hurry back, Nicola,” Janette cooed, her thoughts riding on a wave with LaCroix. Then they faded. A smile flitted across Nick’s face.
The door of sickbay opened. Nick reflexively pulled against the restraints, the instinctive drive of self-preservation. Paulus entered. She moved slowly, perhaps timidly, but without even a limp from her recent injury. She stepped closer to Nick. “I... I want to thank you,” she stammered. She blushed, fidgeting uncomfortably. Nick knew the source of her discomfort, even as he knew everything about her.
“Thank you for saving my life.” She stopped her fidgeting. She gulped back her fear and leaned down to kiss him. Nick could not have been more surprised. Then she left.
Tuvok entered shortly after that. Silently, he removed the restraints from Nick and held out a new black and red Starfleet issue jacket, still adorned with the rank and insignia of a lieutenant.
Nick accepted the jacket. Slowly he rose, confusion clear on his face. He stretched his arms, stiff from the extended stay in sickbay, then pulled the jacket on over his pale, muscled chest. He looked at Tuvok quizzically. The impassive Vulcan revealed nothing.
“The captain wishes to see you in her ready room.”
Nick stood once again in front of the captain. He had wanted to swing by his quarters first for a shower, but still couldn’t quite believe that he’d been set free. So he had come straight away.
Janeway said nothing at first. She regarded him with a hooded look. He couldn’t blame her, but he was weary of the tension. “Captain?” he asked.
“You may return to duty,” she said simply.
“But... not to sound ungrateful... why, Captain?”
She stood and paced a circle around him. Nick remained stiffly at attention.
“Because I can’t justify keeping anyone locked up in the brig for the time it takes to get back to Federation space just to find out what I am supposed to do with you,” she said, with more exasperation than she’d meant to reveal.
Nick lowered his gaze and when he looked back at her, his eyes were the color of blood. His fangs were fully extended. The little lost boy look was gone; instead Janeway stood too close to something very dark and dangerous. She knew he was intentionally trying to intimidate her, and it was working. Still, she refused to back away.
“It is not safe to let me live,” he said, his voice low and smooth, his words oddly accented around his teeth.
“You could be right. But in four years you haven’t killed anyone. In fact, quite a number of the crew very likely owe you their lives. You identified an alien parasite, saving us from its near crippling side effects. Right now you are guilty of nothing other than stealing a little food, ...and although I won’t get over that for quite some time, I can forgive it.”
Nick looked surprised. The fangs receded even as she watched, and his eyes returned to a beautiful shade of blue. Within moments he changed from something sinister to someone’s kid brother. Janeway tried not to stare.
“Parasite?” he asked.
“Didn’t the doctor tell you? Somewhere we contracted an alien parasite. Damned medical scans generally only pick up something they recognize. Anything so alien is only discovered as a result of the symptoms it causes, which in this case, it caused us to become anemic, and Paulus to miscarry. In fact, it would have eventually rendered all of the human women incapable of reproduction. The doctor has already found the cure and treated it.
“He thinks it also had the side-effect of neutralizing the “food value” of blood, acting similar to a tapeworm, so that the more you ate, the hungrier you became. That would explain why you became careless enough that we discovered you.”
Nick hung his head guiltily. Janeway held her breath a few moments. He should feel guilty, she reflected as she rubbed her neck. “And we will deal with the Enforcers later.”
“You read my journal!” Nick gasped.
It was her turn to look guilty. “Only part of it. I’m sorry, Nick, but I had a shipload of people to protect. You gave me no choice. Ensign Kim was ordered to break your code, to find out what you were working on. I’m sure you can understand my position. Then, he must have found it too interesting, because I think he read more that he needed.
Nick turned from her, and slowly paced the distance of her ready room. “But what am I going to do, captain? Did you heal me, and set me free, only so I can die a slow death from hunger? I’d rather be staked.”
“Chakotay has organized a list of donors. He has over forty volunteers already, people willing to donate in order to keep you healthy. Most of them do not know who or what you are, only that a member of the crew requires a steady supply of iron-based blood. The doctor will collect and store it for you. And Chakotay will help you to search for delta-quadrant sources whenever we stop to look for our own food.”
“Why?” he asked. His voice sounded thick with emotion. His expression was so filled with pain that she felt tempted to give him a hug. She couldn’t though... she had to appear strong. Wasn’t that what Nick had said to her?
“Because you are a member of my crew,” she said firmly. “Because you have a right to exist, and I believe that you have a purpose on this ship. I don’t know how you do it, but you have a wisdom, and insight, ...and I’m changing your duty assignment. I want you off of security. The history you are writing is beautiful. You are promoted to Ships’ Historian and Counselor.”
Nick stepped closer. Janeway wondered if he was going to seriously breach protocol and embrace her, but instead he took her hand. Tenderly, he brought her fingertips to his lips and kissed them. With a low, courtly bow, he said, “Thank you, Captain.”
She remembered Chakotay talking about his chivalrous behavior, and Kim saying that he had actually fought in the Crusades. Rather than reprimand him, she just nodded her head graciously. “You are welcome, Sir Knight.”
Chapter nineteen: Blood Brothers
Chakotay entered the readyroom. “Ready?”
Nick looked questioningly from him to the captain. “For what?”
Janeway simply nodded and stepped out into the corridor. Nick hesitated. Was he dismissed, or expected to follow? Chakotay waited for him to join them.
He walked along silently. They left the ready room, the bridge, entered the turboshaft and exited on the same level as the Mess Hall. There seemed to be a great noise emanating from Neelix’s domain... the muffled sounds of dozens of conversations all going on at once. Even with his vampiric hearing, Nick could not make out what they were saying. The voices had a pleasant tone about them, however.
As they neared the Mess Hall, several other crewmen met up with them. Nick felt their stares, sensed their discomfort around him. Janeway had said that most of them didn’t know he was a vampire, and yet they all must have known that he’d been in the brig. Ship’s gossip traveled faster than the speed of light. “Captain, maybe I should just go,” he said.
Janeway nailed him with one of her firm, commanding glares. “Nonsense. We are one crew. The sooner they all come to accept you, the better. And if you have any difficulty, I want to know about it immediately.”
Nick was surprised by the vehemence in her voice. He knew that she was speaking of herself, as well, for she was still having trouble believing he was a vampire. When they walked into the Mess Hall all the conversations stopped abruptly. Some of the crew stepped away clearing more space for him than was necessary.
The tables in the Mess Hall had been pushed back, some of them were removed altogether. A buffet was spread out at the back, with finger foods and punch.
The crew stood in small clusters, holding little plates and small punch glasses. Many had changed into off-duty clothes. It had all the trappings of a party.
Then Nick’s eyes fell on the easel. It was prominently displayed on a low platform, making it visible from every corner of the room. A huge canvas draped with a cloth sat on the easel- the right size and shape of his family portrait.
Captain Janeway stepped up onto the platform. Many of the curious stares left Nick to watch her. She cleared her throat, and waited expectantly for everyone’s full attention.
“The Constitution of the United Federation of Planets, the framework of all our laws and customs, was intended to protect the rights of the individual even as it guarantees entire planets. It is unfortunate that the rights of a few colonies were violated in the Cardassian peace treaty. These were minor planets, unimportant to the Federation when compared against the costs of war, and yet when even one person is denied his rights the entire constitution becomes meaningless.
“And so it is fitting that we commemorate some of the rebels, the proud individuals who stood up against tyranny to remind us once again that peace means more than just the absence of war. Friends, I present to you this memorial to the Maquis.”
Then Janeway pulled the drape from the canvas. There was a collective intake of breath, as nearly everyone in the room viewed his painting for the first time. The individual portraits were hard to see from a distance, but the power of the painting was in the sheer number of faces there were spread out on the vastness of space, the phantom outlines of small Maquis ships, the spirit of adventure, all entwined into a tribute for the dead.
No one made a sound. Nick stared at the floor awkwardly. They must not like it, he thought. Even after centuries of painting, of studying with the masters from Raphael to Picasso, he still lacked confidence in his work. But then, he’d painted this for himself; he’d never intended to share it.
Then someone clapped. Nick jumped, searching for the source of the sound. Even as he looked, another person clapped, and then another. Soon everyone in the crowded Mess Hall was applauding him. Nick squirmed. Should he bother telling them that these Maquis soldiers had not joined the fight out of any sense of moral justice, but simply because Cardassians tasted good?
Chakotay clapped Nick on the back and handed him a wineglass filled with a thick red liquid. Nick didn’t even have to taste it to know it was Chakotay. He accepted the glass, unable to speak.
Janeway shook his free hand, publicly showing her acceptance of him, even if privately she still had some adjustment to make. “Nice work, Nick. Would it be alright to hang it here in the Mess Hall?”
Nick nodded his assent.
“Good. Chakotay, I’ll be on the bridge,” she said. She offered Nick a brief smile, then departed.
One by one each of the crewmembers came by Nick, to praise his painting or make some other comment. Neelix flitted around nervously, refilling Nick’s glass whenever he took a sip. He’d have to straighten the talaxian chef out about how much it took to keep a vampire healthy.
Torres was conspicuously distant, although Nick could feel her eyes on him. And Tom Paris held back, pretending to join in the conversation around him, yet Nick could sense his misery. Tom stood awkwardly apart from Lieutenant Torres, too. Well, now that Nick was Ship’s Counselor, he’d have to do something about that. The smart thing would be to break it off with B’Elanna.
Then Paulus approached Nick, clutching the hand of a man that could only have been her husband. “Thanks again, Nick,” she said. “I was wondering... if it wouldn’t be too difficult... that is, if you don’t mind... would you do a painting of our daughter?”
Nick gave her a warm smile. “I’d be honored.”
She blinked back tears. Another client, he thought, and yet, a woman who could cry was a woman on the mend. She would be all right.
Her husband clasped his hand and shook it firmly. “I can’t thank you enough, Knight. You’ve saved my wife, and given me back something to believe in.”
Nick was feeling sleepy. It had been a long, stressful couple of weeks. He hadn’t slept well at all in sick bay- it was too brightly lit, and sleeping in the prison with people watching had not been restful either. Now, with a full stomach and the promise of friendship from so many, he was feeling the need to rest. After a few more handshakes he began to work his way towards the door. The conversations around the room continued with out him. There was one thing to say about this crew... they’d learned how to celebrate anything impromptu-style, with the same enthusiasm as time-honored traditions.
The corridor was empty. Everyone that could possibly squeeze into the Mess Hall was still there, while only a skeleton crew still manned the ship. Nick rode the lift back to his level, and sleepily entered his quarters.
Almost immediately his door chimed. He whirled around, startled that some one had been able to follow, without him sensing their presence. He must be more tired than he thought. “Enter,” he said.
B’Elanna stepped inside. Her large brown eyes were clouded, darting furtively around his room looking anywhere except at him. “Knight, we... Nick, um. We should talk.”
Nick steeled himself against the rejection he saw in her face. “Yes, B’Elanna,” he agreed. “We should probably not....” He couldn’t bring himself to say it.
She smelled so wonderful... even on a full stomach he couldn’t stop the sensation that being so close to her made him feel. His fangs descended. His eyes glowed with the soft amber light.
B’Elanna stepped closer to him, still avoiding eye contact. “I mean, I should break it off with Tom before I...”
She glanced up at him then. At the sight of his sharp teeth she blushed a deep shade. With a quick intake of breath she rushed into his arms. Her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. Standing up on her toes, she kissed him. “Oh, Nick!”
Nick held her close. His fingers caught in her thick hair, his breath trailed down her neck as he nipped her.
B’Elanna’s hands slipped up inside his jacket to press tightly against his cold, bare skin. Her breath came quickly.
She gasped as she felt his teeth break the skin and he started to lick the sweet lilac, Klingon blood. She stepped back. “Nick, don’t! It’ll make you sick!”
Nick chuckled, pulling her in to his embrace again. “Did you ever eat candy when you were a kid?”
She nodded, her breath coming in unsteady gasps.
“Did you ever eat so much, it gave you a belly ache?”
B’Elanna grinned. She smiled up at Nick wickedly. “Then you weren’t kidding when you said I smelled delicious, were you?”
B’Elanna pressed her hands against his chest, pushing him back towards the bed. “Just promise me one thing, Nick,” she insisted.
Nick began to loosen her jacket, gently nipping her smooth stomach. “Anything, B’Elanna.”
“Don’t ever come to Engineering while I’m on duty.”
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