Abbot’s urbanity returned. He even smiled with
paternal pleasure. "I honestly didn’t think you could defy me so
strongly. You’ve grown, Titus. I’m proud."
Next door, the human stopped retching. Abbot was now using Influence only to blank their conversation and his conspicuous perch. "But we’re on the same side of this, you and I. We’re both luren."
"Are we?" Residents preferred to think of themselves as vampires—humans living a post-death existence nourished by pre-death humans—but still natives of Earth. The Tourists, however, insisted on the ancestral name for their species—luren—which presumably meant blood-kin, or The Blood, and regarded themselves as temporarily shipwrecked on a primitive planet.
"We are," said Abbot, "and now humans will signal luren space. Even if you misdirect the message, someone will hear it, eventually. Luren will find Earth. It’s all over, Titus. There’s no point in you and I opposing one another over an obscure philosophical point."
It sounded so reasonable, and Abbot wasn’t even driving his words with Influence. Doggedly, Titus repeated the Residents’ argument. "Without your SOS, it could take centuries for them to find us. By then, humans may be able to defend themselves."
"Never effectively," replied Abbot. He glanced at the human who’d been sick. "They’ve no natural defenses against us. Are their genes going to change in a century or two?"
Titus’s faith in humanity, which had sounded so practical in meeting rooms on Earth, seemed a feeble argument now.
"Titus, with your greatest effort, you have not managed to strike a blow against my mission—but only against our Blood. I’ll fabricate another targeting device, but it won’t fit as neatly. Your destruction has increased the chance that the human inspectors will discover my device. And if they do, and if they discover that my message is not in any human language, what will they think?
"If humans discover us before rescue arrives, they’ll slaughter us—just as they did in Transylvania." Abbot’s genuine anguish echoed off the hard walls. "We’re so close to going home, safe, and you have to do this!"
Shame overcame Titus and he could summon no answer.
The paging speaker interrupted, a pleasant woman’s voice urging, "Dr. Nandoha, Dr. Abbot Nandoha, please report to medical. Dr. Nandoha, to medical immediately."
Abruptly, Abbot was gone, the outer door closing softly behind him. Titus leaned on the stall door, shaking.
Two hours later, all the scientists had been processed through medical and assembled in the moonship lounge to await boarding of the orbit-jumper Barnaby Peter.
Mirelle had gathered her poker players around one end of the bar. Behind the bar a huge screen, clear as an open window, displayed an exterior view of Barnaby Peter.
Titus played with the bulb of Rum Collins he’d ordered for appearance’s sake and gazed into the depths of space. Inwardly, he was drained. His best effort would not prevent the Tourists from bringing a ravening horde of luren to Earth, a horde that would devour the only home he’d ever known, and crush him under their heels because he was no more luren than the humans they would feed on.
"Titus, pay attention!" Mirelle nudged up to his side and waved an open hand in front of his eyes. "I said we’re settling up now. Are you ready to work the Varian?" He had been only peripherally aware of them playing with the instruments. He fished the Varian out of his jacket and laid it on the bar. Negligently, he poked keys and it responded with a syncopated "Jingle Bells." Mirelle laughed, delighted, but Titus could summon no response within himself.
He touched her hand, drinking in her warmth and that intangible life which was the component of blood that could not be synthesized. He began to thaw inwardly, to recall how precious a human could be, and the real reason he was here, fighting a battle he couldn’t win. However small, the chance of winning was worth his life. Humanity was worth it.
"Well, then, here you are," said Abner Gold as he slid the Bell 990 over to Titus. "Took me eight tries to work yours, though. Forgot the quotation marks and kept getting the Southern Cross instead of the Big Dipper." He glanced at Abbot and added jocularly, "The embarrassing part is that I couldn’t see the difference!"
Mirelle laughed at the strained joke, her voice ringing through Abbot’s glum silence as he nursed a Screwdriver he had no intention of drinking. Looking past Abbot, Titus saw Mihelich watching the bet settling ceremony with more than passing interest. As their eyes met, Mihelich turned away as if he hadn’t been watching them at all.
Mirelle said, "Okay, Abbot. Can you work my custom?"
With a slow smile, he poked at the controls, producing the Rosetta stone closeup she had shown them. Then he tapped another command. The image rotated. "Good enough?"
Abbot seemed genuinely amused by the human game. Titus marveled as he returned the Varian, sans its most vital component. But as Abbot accepted the gutted instrument, his eyes lingered on Mirelle, then measured Titus.
Self-consciously, Titus moved away from her. "Mirelle, let’s see what you can do with Abner’s Alter."
"Nothing so fancy," she said and put the instrument on the bar. Abbot moved her custom up next to Gold’s Alter.
With great concentration, she plucked out a combination and got a Periodic Table with the metals outlined in purple. "Is that right? I wouldn’t know if I got the wrong one."
"There is only one," assured Gold, not bothering to hide his disappointment. "The table is the basis of our message to the aliens, you know."
"That’s not my part of the project," she replied.
"No?" asked Abbot, searingly alert. "So why a linguist on this project? Your other communications skills won’t be much called for, so are you going to spend all your time translating at meetings?"
"Don’t you think that will keep me busy? And then there are all those documents on subjects I know nothing about."
Her bored resignation rang false, and suddenly Titus wondered just why she was on the project. A medic who isn’t a doctor and a linguist who isn’t working on the message—Mihelich had cut himself off from others, and Mirelle had been dissembling so persistently it was hard to say who she really was. Titus glanced about and spotted other loners. Could there be something else going on besides Project Hail?
If the humans were up to something different from what had been announced, it was imperative that the Residents find out about it, and quickly. Mirelle had to be the key.
Just then a man’s voice announced, "Attention members of Project Hail. I am honored to present to you, the on-site director of the Project, Dr. Carol Colby."
People turned toward a woman who stood on a chair, a microphone in one hand and an electronic clipboard in the other. She was wearing the same Project Hail uniform as the rest of them, an unprepossessing blue coverall with indigo piping. She had her flight jacket tied around her waist by the arms. Her sandy hair was cut short and flipped back, secured by a headband that held an earphone near one ear.
"There isn’t much time, so I’ll make this short." Her pleasant contralto voice suggested a trained broadcaster or singer. She appeared no more than fifty, and was trim-figured, with pale skin. Titus saw a scattering of people move to a counter by the boarding ramp where translator headphones were plugged in.
"Everything is ready at Project Station, your quarters and labs—even the computers are up and running. We’ve worked hard to reach this point so quickly, and I must now ask something even more special of you.
"As you know, having come directly from Earth today, sabotage has not been rare despite Project security. The controversy is so heated, the project could be canceled.
"You’re all volunteers, here because you believe in the Project, so I’m confident you’ll respond well when I ask you to work longer hours than you expected. Our supporters on Earth can give us another eight months at the outside. So we launch in eight months, not fourteen. Can you do it?"
A roar of voices chanted "Yes!" in a dozen languages.
Titus noticed a small knot of men and women moving toward Colby, leading the chanting.
"Abbot?" asked Titus, nervously cloaking his words in Influence. "What are they up to?"
"I see no threat, only suppressed amusement."
Titus wondered if he’d ever develop such powers. He forced his attention back to the director, who was saying, "Since this decision was taken only hours ago, we haven’t yet consulted heads of vital departments, so let me put you on the spot here and now. Dr. Nancy Dorenski?"
One of the group of chant leaders presented herself. She was a diminutive brunette.
"Dr. Dorenski, can you complete programming of the message in such a short time?"
"If nothing goes wrong," came a tiny soprano voice, "we can make it."
"Good." Colby made a note on her clipboard with a light pen. "Dr. Shiddehara, Dr. Titus Shiddehara?"
"Here!" answered Titus. "Back by the bar."
"Ah, you speak English!" Her own English had a slight French Canadian tang to it. "Can you locate the point of origin of the aliens in only eight months?"
"There’s no way to know, Dr. Colby. But if, as you say, the computers are ready and the crews working on the alien craft complete the analyses I specified, you can count on my department." In truth, he expected that within a month or so he’d have verification of the luren tradition that identified their origin.
On the other hand, as with most legends devoutly believed in, this one might contain only a kernel of truth, embroidered for effect by storytellers impressing children.
Colby continued calling on department heads and all answered as Titus had. He caught Abbot eyeing him narrowly. How long would it take Abbot to make another targeting device? Had he counted on fourteen months? Suddenly the future didn’t look quite so bleak. If only Connie managed to get a decent quantity of blood through to the Station…
Titus’s brooding was interrupted when a member of the small group of chanters, a young woman who couldn’t be more than twenty-five, dragged a chair up to Colby’s and climbed up. "May I borrow your microphone for a moment, Doctor?"
Puzzled, the Director handed the instrument over, while the woman held out a packet wrapped in white tissue. "This is from the six technicians of the Air Scrubbing Plant—to help you maintain discipline."
The Director unwrapped the package, unrolling a green cloth and holding it up. It was a T-shirt with the words BIG CHEESE on the front and a moon shaped slice of cheese balanced on a photograph of the moon. In silence the Director stared at it blankly, then she burst out laughing. She took off the jacket tied around her waist and pulled the huge T-shirt over her head. It went almost to her knees.
Colby took the microphone back, and said, "I’ll be the Big Cheese on the Moon if you folks remember that this Colby doesn’t crumble!" With that, she stepped down, leaving everyone cheering. The boarding announcement cut across the noise, and people lined up to board for the trip to the moon.
Abbot, Titus, and Mirelle rated private cabins far forward of the drive and so were funneled into the same line. Titus wanted nothing so much as to get away from Abbot, but he turned when Mirelle called, "Titus, wait!"
She caught up with him and this time shyly waited for him to take her arm. He hesitated. He had made a pact with himself not to touch human sources of blood. He was used to synthetics, supplemented with ectoplasm only from volunteers. But his blood supplies had been stolen.
And Mirelle had chosen him over Abbot. If he rejected her, she’d turn to his father. Titus could not abide the way Abbot treated his stringers.
He slid his arm around her waist, feeling the layer of hard muscle under feminine contours, and guided her to the line moving up the boarding ramp. She cuddled closer. "Maybe I can get my cabin changed to one next to you?"
"Mirelle, I don’t know what to make of you. You’re never the same woman twice. What game are you playing?"
She looked up with wounded dignity turning to innocence. Just then Abbot inserted himself into the line beside them, exerting Influence to keep others from objecting to the cut.
"Mirelle," he said, displaying his boarding card. "I’ve switched to the cabin next to yours." Enhancing his words with Influence, he put his arm around her and murmured in her ear, "This’ll be an interesting voyage. We’re far enough away from that stuffy physicist"—he indicated Titus— "to have some real fun." Over her head, Abbot met Titus’s gaze and hardened his Influence around Mirelle.
Abbot was only exercising the elder’s right of choice in taking Mirelle. But the way he did it rankled.
Yet it was the Law of Blood. Titus relinquished his hold on the human. He could barely breathe against the outrage flooding through him. His lips curled in a snarl. Tourist! But he dared not spit an obscenity in his father’s face. Cloaking his words, he said, "Humans aren’t orl. They have the right of choice." Orl were just animals evolved for luren to feed on, but Tourists often used the word for humans.
Abbot whispered to Mirelle, poisoning her subconscious against Titus. "I won’t let that physicist pry anything out of you. You can always depend on me to protect you."
Offended, Titus choked, "What do you think I am?"
Abbot raised an eyebrow. "Luren, of course." He turned Mirelle toward him and moved his left forefinger toward the point between her brows. His Influence focused to a barely discernible blue-white light emanating from the tip of his finger. If that finger should once touch her, Mirelle would be Marked with the complex pattern of Abbot’s personal sigil.
Until Abbot cared to remove the mark, no other luren would touch her. She would become Abbot’s puppet, his eyes and ears, his hands, doing his will.
Titus grabbed Abbot’s wrist and—surprised that he’d caught the older vampire off guard—yanked him off balance. Startled, Abbot forgot the light gravity and stumbled, drifting to the deck, Influence disrupted.
Security guards converged, moving with that sliding gait that marked experienced spacemen. Mirelle came out of her induced stupor. "Abbot! What were you doing?"
Appalled at himself, Titus spread his Influence, projecting boredom. It was just a clumsy grounder stumbling around. He waved the guards away and bent to help Abbot up.
The older vampire bemusedly added his power to Titus’s efforts to distract the guards, then soothed Mirelle. As the line shuffled forward, he grunted, "Titus, that was unprincipled. Undisciplined. UnLawful. And foolish. Didn’t I go to considerable pains to teach you the penalties for violating Blood Law?"
"Your people stole my supplies. Who violated Law first?"
"Supplies!" he scoffed. "Powdered ichor, cloned, freeze dried—lifeless! That stuff isn’t covered by Law. Mirelle is. There’re other passengers. I deny you nothing in exercising my priority. Defy me again on penalty of death!"
Surrounding Mirelle in a bubble of Influence, Abbot touched her forehead and set his stamp into her aura. She darted a hurt glance at Titus, then succumbed. Her eyes were dull as she gazed adoringly up at Abbot. With a triumphal swagger, he escorted her onto the ship.
Calm enough to think again, Titus realized Abbot hadn’t taken Mirelle just because Titus had won her over. He sensed, as Titus did, that she was involved in something clandestine within Project Hail. Abbot took her as Titus had taken the transmitter component, as part of his job.
And there was nothing Titus could do about it. Abbot, as his father, had both right and responsibility to destroy him if he turned unLawful and thus became a danger to luren security on Earth. Abbot never shirked a responsibility.
Once onboard the orbit-jumper, Titus went directly to his cabin and locked himself in. He spent the trip pacing the cubicle, on the floor when there was gravity, in the air when there wasn’t. Through his growing hunger, he told himself that Connie would see he was supplied. She was wily enough to get his supplies past the humans and Tourists. But until he got to Project Station and found his baggage empty of blood crystals, he wouldn’t think of taking a human. He just would not.
By the time they arrived at Luna Station, he was determined that within a month, two at the outside, he’d be on his way back to Earth, his part of the project completed. Meanwhile, he’d have to send a message to Connie demanding she get somebody else to deal with Abbot.
At Luna Station, they were loaded onto Toyota moonbuses for the twelve-hour trip out to the crash site around which Project Station had been built. Titus was in the lead bus, Abbot and Mirelle five cars behind that. With a heavy escort, they caravanned across the lunar landscape, following a well-worn track.
The scientists were all beyond misery and into dim-witted exhaustion by the time they first saw Project Station.
It was inside the new crater formed by the alien ship’s impact. Dust from that impact still orbited, interfering with the observatories’ work. The station consisted of a circle of interlocked domes clustered about the wreck. Trails worn by vehicle treads crisscrossed among the domes, some marked out by large boulders or cairns, leading off the station out over the jagged horizon.
Titus knew these were made by maintenance crews going out to work on the farflung solar collector installations that powered, via landlines, both Project Station and Luna Station. But some of them also led to the eight Arrays, the huge assemblies of antennas that would be tied into his own observatory computers, Arrays through which he’d map the sky.
The outer circle of Project Station’s domes housed power and environment plants, and, off to one side, Titus identified a motor pool park and maintenance shed. A tall, ridiculously slender antenna mast lofted high over the complex, and held reflectors and dishes for Earth or local communications.
Far off on the rim of the crater, Titus could see a field of solar collectors, most tilted toward the sun. For part of the month, the station had its own power. At "night" they were powered by landlines from the distant solar collectors, by battery, and by experimental generators.
Through the driver’s forward screen, they could all see the probe’s launch pad. The probe itself was still under cover in the huge hangar at the edge of the station, its gaping maw floodlit, dozens of suited figures around it. The probe was being designed and constructed here using every bit of knowledge that had been wrung out of the alien craft. It would be launched toward a point of Titus’s choosing, and programmed to beam a message where Titus designated.
The domes housed the labs and offices from which the scientists would continue to study the alien craft. Beneath those labs were the residences, connected by airtight underground corridors. Theoretically, only those working on the alien craft, the probe, or Maintenance had to go out into vacuum. But they had all been trained for it—just in case.
"It feels like a safe place to live," remarked a man at the back of Titus’s transport.
"Safe, I don’t know," responded a woman up front, "but live, yes. It’s bigger than any campus I’ve worked on, and I’ve lived happily without going off campus for months and months at a time. They say there’s even a shopping mall."
The driver contributed a laugh. "Yes, but everything’s so overpriced you’ll only buy what you can’t live without." She steered into the motor pool parking lot where a dozen suited spacemen swarmed over their bus.
In turn, each of the carriers was attached to a dome’s lock to discharge passengers. Titus suffered stoically through the brief ceremony of welcome. He was hungry. He told himself it was more a psychological than a real physical crisis. Since he’d first rebelled against Abbot, he’d never doubted the source of his next meal. But his patience was dangerously thin by the time they were escorted in groups of six—an airlock full or an elevator full—to their assigned quarters where, presumably, their luggage would be waiting.
The trip took an unconscionable length of time, as they were given maps and their guide encouraged them to trace out their route. At each intersection, he stopped and lectured on emergency procedures. Eventually, one of the women with Titus’s group chanced to object, "We’ve learned all this in training. I’m tired and I want to get to my room!"
"And that, Doctor, is why I must repeat it. You learned it, so you think you know it. You think that being tired is a reason to make haste and take shortcuts. That’s the attitude that gets people killed out here."
From then on, the guide was more meticulous, making each of them work the controls on every emergency device they passed. The fourth time Titus was required to heft down a fire extinguisher and blow foam on the floor, he said, "You know, don’t you, that we’re so tired we’re not listening well."
"Yes, of course," agreed the guide. "That’s the point. You’ve learned this stuff, but now it’s going in on the deepest, unconscious level so you’ll react rather than think." He grinned. "It’s the principle behind an M.D.’s grueling internship. Take it from me, it works."
"You’re an M.D.?" asked Titus with interest. He had not forgotten Mihelich, the outsider like Mirelle.
The young man nodded. "We all do extra duty, especially when new groups arrive. Yours is the biggest so everyone has to work overtime getting folks settled. Yesterday, three astronomers and five engineers hauled your luggage around. The moon doesn’t know from class." He waggled a finger at Titus. "You may find yourself assigned to cook next week!"
Titus chuckled. "I doubt that. At least not twice!" The others laughed, and agreed that none of them could cook either. As they entered their residence corridor, Titus moved up beside the young physician. "What’s your name?"
"Philips. Morrisey Philips. Yours?"
Tucking the name firmly into his memory, Titus gave his current alias. He’d been Shiddehara since his wakening, with only short times under other names to build identities he might need. "How big is the medical department?"
"Big enough. Why? Feeling bad? You’ll have another round of checks soon to adjust your gravity medication."
"I’m fine," said Titus. "But perhaps I’ll drop over to check out the place tomorrow. Will you be on duty?"
"Most likely. Always am. Here you are, number forty-three." He presented Titus a key. "This way, folks."
Eagerly, Titus opened the door and went in. Instantly, he was relieved to see his luggage piled in the middle of the floor, looking untouched. Locking the door behind him, he turned on the overhead light and squinted against the intrusive brilliance. He attacked the cases, dumping the contents in a frantic search for the packets of dark powder.
The relief made him sag onto the bed clutching two bags to his chest. Then he was acutely embarrassed at the mess he’d made. He forced himself to unpack meticulously and stow his belongings properly. He collected the little bags, boxes and bottles of precious nutrients, and the vials of tablet supplements with all their different, false, labels on the counter that served as a kitchen.
He noted that he would have to refill his prescription for blood pressure medication, and dumped today’s tablet down the disposer. The drug rendered humans sensitive to ultraviolet, and the false prescription was his excuse not to use the solarium.
There was a sink, wet bar-sized Frigidaire, and a Sears microwave. Over this was a cabinet with dishes, cooking implements, and basic supplies including the ubiquitous Nescafé, Earl Grey tea, and a package of Osem crackers with Fortnum & Mason marmalade which bore, on an attached card, the compliments of the King of England. Titus found a quart pitcher and managed to fill it with water. Then he warmed the water in the microwave and dissolved his powder.
His hand shook as he poured some of the solution into a disposable cup. He made himself carry the pitcher and cup to the small table and sit down before even tasting the divine liquid.
Only then did he give himself up to the shivering ecstasy of it. He’d drunk three cups before he came to awareness of the room he must call home for the duration.
It was cheerfully decorated in yellow and brown with a short pile carpet and heavy drapes across the wall beside the door. Peeking, Titus discovered he had a round window, a porthole actually, with a view of the corridor.
The room was large. With the bed folded up into the wall, there was enough space to throw a party. One closet held an extra Samsonite table and several ultralight chairs. Another door led to a bathroom which was plastered with bright signs prescribing dire penalties for wasting water.
An alcove harbored a desk and computer terminal. There was a lounge and some easy chairs. On one wall, a viewscreen displayed a moonscape at Earthrise, but Titus saw the bank of controls below it and realized this was his vidcom as well as his outside window. Playing with it, he discovered the Project Station cable channels and found the news and two entertainment selections. Then he read the instructions.
There was a slot for videotapes. Surely tapes would be traded briskly at the shopping mall.
He found the channels that showed angles from cameras set all around Project Station, and even one of the alien craft.
Arrested in mid-motion, he feasted on the sight. He had no more idea what he was looking at than any human on Earth. Except he was certain now—certain down deep in his bones—that it was a luren ship.
It was a space vehicle, only vaguely streamlined. Tiny suited figures moving about the area attested to its size. It had housed and fed fifty luren. By the humans’ count, there had been two hundred orl aboard. The one-to-four ratio was standard in space, or so legend held.
This had been a cargo carrier, and its holds were filled with intriguing artifacts. The investigation had been going on now for two years, and a cloak of governmental secrecy still shrouded every detail. Some of it was classified above even Titus’s rating. "Weapons," they whispered, but Titus doubted that. Weapons would be shipped on an armed vessel. This seemed like nothing but a trader.
I’ll have to go out there—get a look at the corpses.
He laughed at himself, amazed at what a meal could do for his ambition. Finishing the artificial blood, he told himself the station was so big he might complete his job here and still avoid Abbot, avoid defying him again. Things might not turn out too badly at all.
He was washing up when the vidcom chimed and an unfamiliar face appeared in one corner of the huge screen. "Dr. Shiddehara? This is Shimon Ben Zvi. I’m sorry to wake you after your trip, but something very odd is happening to your computer, and we think you ought to know about it. Dr. Shiddehara?" Clearly the man, who spoke with a distinct Israeli accent, couldn’t see or hear Titus.
Abbot! Abbot’s done something! With quick, grim strokes, Titus opened channel and answered, "This is Dr. Shiddehara. What’s this about my computer?"
"Oh, Doctor! I’m Shimon—in charge of operations for you. Carol, uh, Dr. Colby told us you were counting on the computer being up and ready to meet the new deadline. And it was but about an hour ago it began throwing strange error messages—ones that aren’t even in this unit! I know they aren’t in this unit—"
"I trust you," Titus assured him. "Your degree is from the Technion, right? They told me you were the best."
"I am, but Doctor, I think you should come look at this. I don’t think it’s salvageable with less than three weeks of work. And Carol said—"
"Three weeks! All right, I’ll be right there." He started to switch off. "Wait! Shimon. Where is there? I mean, how do I get there from here?"
"They should have given you a map." Shimon gave him a room number in another dome, on an upper floor. "Shouldn’t take more than ten minutes to get here from almost anywhere else."
"I’ll be there in twenty."
Fifteen minutes and five wrong turns later, Titus swung through the door to Lab 290, paused at the top of the three shallow steps that led down to the floor, and stared into chaos. Ten or fifteen people in white overalls were shouting and gesticulating as if working to patch an air leak. A large one.
Some of them had access panels off the walls exposing circuit boards. One wheeled an oscilloscope cart over to a pair who were gutting one of the many consoles. Another pair argued in Japanese. Someone swore in Russian and was answered luridly in a thick, incomprehensible Aussie dialect.
Far in the back of the room, glass walls set off the observatory area. It was tied to the antenna mast he had seen on the way in, and to the antenna arrays, thus to all the observatories in orbit around Earth and around the sun. His observatory could direct or debrief most of the instruments in the solar system, even some of the farthest probes, and cross-correlate any new data with all archived data from the last several decades. A slender, somewhat feminine figure shrouded in white bent intensely over a screen in that glassed-in area, ignoring everything going on outside.
Titus drew a deep breath, and bellowed, "Silence!"
In the ensuing breathless quiet, something crackled and suddenly sparks jumped and smoke rose from several different locations. Agonized comments popped along with the sparks. "Oh, shit!" "Ditto." "Randall!"
The Aussie muttered, "Told you those fuses weren’t enough."
A fire extinguisher whooshed.
"That’s done it. Somebody turn up the air circulators."
This last was Shimon Ben Zvi, rising from the cloud of vapor, coughing. Out of that same cloud, appearing like an apparition from a horror movie, came Abbot Nandoha, his white coveralls accentuating the pallor of his face.
"I knew it," groaned Titus.
Innocently, Abbot raised one eyebrow. Cloaking his words in Influence, the older vampire explained, "All I did was insert a little glitch in the operating system. Their frantic chasing of it did all the rest. Oh well, I did play some tricks with the voltage too of course." He smiled. "That should give me time to build a new targeting device."
Through gritted teeth, not cloaking his words, Titus said "This is my lab. Get out and don’t come back."
Still cloaking his words, Abbot said, "I see your meal wasn’t very satisfying. Mind your temper, Titus. I’ve always said your temper was your worst flaw." He sidled around Titus and sauntered out the door.
Clean air began to dissipate the fog. People gathered in small groups staring at the mess. Even the person from the glass-enclosed observatory emerged to join them.
Shimon looked up from the ruin. "At least four weeks, Dr. Shiddehara." At this, everyone turned toward Titus. The woman from the back squeezed through the group and squinted up at him through the haze. A frown gathered on her face as she mouthed his name, Shiddehara.
But even through the frown, Titus recognized her. Her hair was cut differently, and she was nearly twenty years older. The planes of her face, honed down to emphasize the nose and cheekbones of the British aristocracy, were oddly coupled to the sensuous mouth and dimpled chin he had loved to kiss. His heart paused then skittered into a panic rhythm, spurred by joy and terror. Inea!
A puzzled wonder replaced her frown as she moved up to him, staring fixedly at his face. To her, he was dead, mangled in a car crash and buried. Yet certainty grew in her as she approached, a certainty born of shock and not yet tempered by embarrassment at the mistaken identity.
If he spoke, she’d recognize his voice. She’d blurt out his identity. No matter what he did, somebody would check. Project Security was vicious. All the luren on Earth could be in danger from this one human. Titus knew he ought to use Influence to blur her perception of him until she got used to it and decided it was just a haunting similarity.
But he could not.
He had always hated Influencing humans. They were defenseless against such treatment. For this mission, he’d resigned himself to the necessity, but he couldn’t use it on Inea. She was sacred in his memory and in his heart.
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