A Vampire Romance  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Chapter Four




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chapter four


Kyllikki dropped heavily onto one of the bare cots and stared at the worn and blotched floor between her feet. The high-ceilinged Paitsmun barracks had been hastily converted for human prisoners of war by filling the open floor with rows of bare cots, leaving just enough room for a slender person to stand between them. Kyllikki had chosen a cot on the wide aisle that ran the length of the space, which was drafty, filled with sharp echoes and human voices aching with defeat. She kept her barriers opaque in both directions, aching herself.

As Prosperity's passengers and crew filed in behind her, a Teleod guard stood up on a cot and used a palm-held amplifier to direct them, men to the right of the aisle and women to the left. Elias and Idom took cots across the aisle from her. The guard droned on in a Metaji dialect with a distinct Teleod accent, assuring them that a privacy curtain would soon be rigged down the center of the huge room, which seemed more like a space-yacht hangar than the luxurious accommodation it was to the Paitsmun. "Meals will commence at sundown, then you will be issued blankets. Tomorrow, you will be more thoroughly examined by our medical department."

They had already been through triage at the landing field where the small craft had deposited Prosperity's refugees. Medical wagons, staffed by Barkyr's own hastily cooperative citizens, had taken away the most desperately ill passengers, but on order of the Teleod guards, had left Zuchmul's stasis unit sitting in the cruel sun.

Kyllikki had not let go of the unit even once after she, Elias, and Idom had detached it from the pod's bulkhead and wrestled it into the yacht that had collected them. She had clung to it while the yacht filled with survivors from other pods, and she had ridden down to the planet secured only by a makeshift safety belt attached to the massive unit. Once aground, several who had counted Zuchmul as friend carried the unit gently out onto the field. She had stayed with it until soldiers came for her. Even then, she had clung to the case with hysterical strength, repeating over and over how Zuchmul had to be revived by his own people, and they had to know, first, what had happened to him.

She had transcribed every detail in the unit's log, every bit she knew of Zuchmul's medical history and family affiliations, but she knew that wouldn't be enough. She had to go with Zuchmul, wherever they were taking him. Finally they peeled her away and forced her into an overcrowded truck that floated away across the pavement, Zuchmul's case receding into a tiny blot before she lost sight of it, abandoned out in the sun. What if the protective fields aren't enough for a luren? What if they can't protect him against the direct sunlight?

Somehow, in the middle of that long ride, she had found herself being held in Idom's arms. "Kyllikki, that was wonderful! Inspired. They'd never suspect you now."

Elias pushed up behind her, growling, "That was no act, old man. Here, let me."

He had turned Kyllikki into his arms, stroking her hair and making soothing noises until the truck halted with a jerk and they filed through security gates. The nonhumans had been segregated and herded by armed guards toward one of the looming buildings that dotted the flat, high-fenced compound. Then the humans had been escorted by the man with the amplifier, who never stopped talking reassuringly to them. No attempt had been made to reassure the nonhumans. Kyllikki knew why. Their opinions and feelings were unimportant.

Now, she sat on her bare bunk and heard the instructions and bland apologies, all very polite but firm, assuring them they'd be provided with bedding after they were fed.

Would the nonhumans? If so, she was sure there would be no attempt made to determine what sort of bedding would be adequate for each species.

Her musings were interrupted by another male voice. "Abtrel! Officer Abtrel, step forward."

A man with a palm amplifier paced past Kyllikki's cot, casting his announcement over the women expectantly, then moved on, the sound fading with distance and the incessant rush of hundreds of voices echoing off the cavernous ceiling. "Abtrel. Officer Abtrel, step forward."

"Kyllikki!" It was a penetrating whisper, and she started in surprise. Elias was squatting in the central aisle, pretending to be inspecting one leg of his cot, which was a bit shorter than the others, while over his shoulder he hissed, "Kyllikki! That's you! Kyllikki Abtrel! You'd better answer or they'll think you're hiding for a reason."

She gaped at him, then scrambled to her feet and pursued the guard who was calling her. "Sir! Sir! I'm Abtrel, Medical Trainee, Prosperity." The man turned to her, and before he could challenge why she hadn't answered sooner, she added, "I'm not an officer, sir."

He sighed and checked a display unit at his belt. "Come with me, Abtrel."

He scooped up her arm, trapping her elbow in such a way that she couldn't pull free, and marched in a long, measured stride toward the door. All eyes turned to her as they passed, but she had to pay attention to her barriers. The man who held her was a minimally sensitive telepath.

It was actually warmer outside than in, but the thin coverall was still not enough. It flapped in the breeze, and she felt naked. She concentrated on discerning the layout of the camp, concluding that it was a physical training camp for Paitsmun entering the Imperial Service. The wide open areas between the buildings were laced with the typical Paitsmun running tracks, and in one field she saw hurdles, obstacles, and strange rope constructions scaled for Paitsmun.

To one end of the compound was a low, squat building with no windows and a bright orange roof. That had to be the armory. At the far end, away from the armory, was the infirmary, and near it, an area painted in bright green stripes marking a landing field. There was a small space yacht parked there now. She recognized the make and model: a fast, expensive machine favored by the Eight Families. As she watched, guards ran from the ship as the distinctive gravitic whine split the air, and the yacht took off.

They passed work crews raising towers to hold security sensors, and she read the signs: DANGER, SCRAMBLER EMANATIONS, KEEP OUT, all in Teleod scripts. It occurred to her that she didn't have to hide her knowledge of Teleod languages. Before the war, there had been free trade between Teleod and Metaji, so only her accent and intonation would betray her.

At the infirmary door, the guard turned her over to a group of armed women—large, tough women with the look of high-gravity training about them. As they pushed her through the big, transparent doors into a typical emergency receiving room, a thrill of fear gripped her. Their elaborate plan had failed. Drugged interrogations would be done by trained medical personnel. Considering what she knew of Teleod practices, she was suddenly willing to reveal her identity. Maybe they only want a med tech to work for them?

The emergency receiving corridor was lined with rolling cots waiting for patients. The air was colder here, designed to relieve physiological stress for injured Paitsmun. A few twisting, winding turns under the high ceilings and she was lost. They came at last to an office that had been carved out of the Paitsmun's idea of a treatment room by installing temporary buff colored walls to define several reasonably sized areas.

But inside the office, instead of a desk, couches, lamps, and files, there was one metal chair rigged with sensor probes as well as a large display screen. Beside the chair was the familiar shape of a pod's stasis unit, activated.

Kyllikki tore loose from the guards and threw herself at the case, peering inside. She got one confirming glimpse of Zuchmul's face before the guards picked her up and put her in the interrogation chair. But they didn't activate the sensory probes, didn't strap her in.

"Stay there or we'll have to take measures," one of the guards warned her, her tone incongruously friendly.

Two of the women took up stations by the door, and the rest left. A silence descended in which she could hear the faint tick-sh-sh-clack of the stasis unit. She'd never noticed that sound in space, the other onboard systems making enough white noise to drown it out.

She knew the silent waiting was a war on her nerves, all very carefully metered. It worked. By the time the interrogators finally arrived, two women and a man trooping into the little room as if marching on parade, Kyllikki could not face the idea of giving up her life, her sanity, or Metaji military data to Teleod drugs, nor could she contemplate another meeting with Zimor.

One of the women spread a kit out on a high ledge and prepared an instrument as she said, "I am Dr. Itslin. You have nothing to fear, Officer Abtrel, for I will see that no harm comes to you. Hold out your arm."

She turned and, with swift continuous movement, grabbed Kyllikki's hand, shoved the blue sleeve up, and plunged a sharp instrument into Kyllikki's flesh. Swabbing off the dot of blood, she folded Kyllikki's arm up, saying, "I just took a small cellular sample for identification and immunization purposes. Purely routine."

Kyllikki's throat closed over a squeal of protest. If they processed her geneprint through Barkyr's Metaji register, they'd learn her real name. How many Lailas were there in the Metaji? How many would they think there were? Maybe they'd only check Prosperity's data from Captain Brev's log tapes. Then her geneprint would read "Abtrel."

While Dr. Itslin worked, the man cleared his throat, consulting a noteboard. "I understand you're a friend of this luren." He nodded distastefully at the unit.

"Not really," she answered, thinking fast. "He's a colleague, a tech from Prosperity. I never met him before I got this job. But when the ship blew up, he saved my life, then saved the lives of all of us in the pod several times over." She lowered her eyes, keeping scrupulously to the truth as she painted a false picture. "I feel responsible for his 'death.' It was an accident, but I feel guilty. At least I've got to see he gets properly awakened."

"That's what you're here to discuss. Now, tell me, what exactly would happen if we shut down this unit and allowed him to waken?"

She gave the textbook answer. "He'd very likely die, permanently."

"But he would crave blood first, and be so crazed by his need that he'd kill for it."

She gaped at him.

"I see you know that little luren secret. What do you know of how his people prevent that from happening?"

"Just what anyone knows—that they don't tell how."

"It's known that luren revere the one who wakens them as a parent, and serve that parent's welfare above all others. But what exactly does a parent do to earn that?"

"Why are you asking me?" She pushed back in the chair, wishing she could put some distance between herself and them.

The woman who hadn't spoken yet leaned close to Kyllikki. "Because you know! And you're going to tell us."

The man restrained her with a hand. "Gently. Kyllikki is an intelligent woman. She's just upholding her own honor as a human in trying to protect his rights."

The woman pulled free of the man's grasp. "We'll use the probe, soften her up, and then call in one of the telepaths to pick her emotions apart."

The man turned the woman around and instructed patiently. "Only if we have to, but I doubt it will be necessary." He came to lean over Kyllikki. "Now, if I turn her and the telepath loose on you, there won't be much left when they're finished. But if you cooperate with me, you won't even have to go back to the barracks tonight. I've reserved a private room for you in the officers' hall, with its own heater, a nice bed, and usable plumbing. Now, keeping all that in mind, what exactly is done to parent a luren and earn his obedience?"

Suddenly, she understood. They wanted to waken and control Zuchmul, force him to use Influence to control the prisoners—or extract information. They wanted Zuchmul as a weapon. His worst fear, come true. "I don't understand why you'd think I'd know such a thing."

The man knelt beside her chair. "There were many witnesses to your arrival. One was a telepath, of course. Living in the Metaji, you wouldn't know what that means. Our telepaths have skills your people would never imagine, and no law prevents them from using those skills. We know the truth about you, about how you feel about Zuchmul and his revival. The home planet of the luren is in the Teleod. We know a lot about them. We're going to learn a lot more."

The distinctive whine of the yacht landing shook the walls of the building, obliterating voices while she wondered why she hadn't spotted the snooping telepath, and what exactly had leaked through her barriers. A lesser telepath might have gotten only what she'd intended, a non-telepath's natural reflex barriers bursting from desperation.

As the noise abated, the man sadly shook his head. "If you really don't know how to parent a luren, we must experiment blindly. It'll go harder for him, I'm sure." He paused, and Kyllikki tried not to look too wild eyed. "On the chance that you do know, we'll have to do a full exploratory interrogation."

The doctor began preparing an injector. Kyllikki's mouth went dry, and she could hardly breathe.

"Regardless of the results," added the man, "we will waken him. If you want it to go easier on him, you'll tell us what you know of the process now. After an exploratory, you won't be able to help him through his ordeal. If you tell us voluntarily, we'll let you see him through."

Slowly, Kyllikki moved her head in denial.

The other woman grabbed Kyllikki's arm to expose it for the doctor's injector. As the doctor approached, she leaned close to Kyllikki's ear and said, "He was drinking your blood, wasn't he?"

Kyllikki's mouth dropped open in shock. At least they have no idea of the truth. But because of the mistake, the occupation commander probably thought he had a rogue luren captive, a luren other luren would be hunting down to kill, a luren he could use with impunity.

The door opened and closed. A man wearing a commander's uniform with the six red triangles of a Master Coordinator on the shoulders stood facing Kyllikki. Mentally, she tensed. The man was short, somewhat overweight, with bushy eyebrows shading sunken eyes. She didn't recognize him, but he had the rank to entitle him to a yacht like the one outside.

He raked over the hardened surface of Kyllikki's barriers with casual precision, then dismissed her as what she appeared to be, a terrified paramedic. He gestured to her interrogators. "Come with me. All of you." He jerked the door open and stalked out, the three close behind him, leaving only the two women guards flanking the door.

Kyllikki let out a tremulous sigh that was almost a sob. The man had to be the ranking telepath with the occupation, and he had perceived nothing out of the ordinary.

Three more deep breaths, and courage returned. If she was the only Eight Families telepath on Barkyr, she had an advantage she had to use before it was too late. Mentally, she followed the group, using the Metaji Search technique and keeping the indelible key image obscured behind her barriers. She had no trouble following the man who'd questioned her; his worried mental jabbering was distinctive.

She laid her head back against the apparatus behind her and closed her eyes, eavesdropping shamelessly, suffering only a small twinge of conscience for her Metaji oath. After all, they were under Teleod law now.

"Commander Aarl, do you realize what you just interrupted? I almost had her—"

"You had nothing but a woman paralyzed with fear. But that's not important now. I have new orders direct from Zimor, The Lady of Laila."

"A diving capsule?" asked the doctor.

The telepath sighed in exasperation. "How else would I get direct orders? But this one was bumped and rerouted twice before it arrived. Results were expected long ago."

Kyllikki knew Zimor used her Pools to send message capsules all over, controlling the progress of the war. Their wakes were reputed to be much more destructive than those of ships, but Zimor neither believed that nor cared.

"Then your interruption was justified. What can we do?"

"This is classified, not to leave this room. I'll know if any of you break security."

"Agreed," they chorused routinely.

"One of our prisoners, someone whom I believe must have come in on one of Prosperity's pods, is actually working directly for Zimor. She wants him extracted from the herd without blowing his cover. Then he's to be sent to the Dessiwan Internment Facility for potentially useful prisoners. I have his rebriefing tapes and documents."

The interrogator sat down at a desk and began pulling up data on a screen. "We don't have the detainees geneprinted and tagged yet, but I have the list of names they've provided. What name is the spy using?"

"The cover name is Elias Kleef. Something of a high profile name in Imperial circles, I'm told."

He is Zimor's! And with that, she knew beyond all doubt that he was a Dreamer, Bonded to her cousin, Zimor's Dreamspy. There was no other way that Zimor could have known to launch that message capsule days ago. In fact, it must have been sent while he was in Otroub's pod, expecting rescue from Barkyr—and ignorant of the intended takeover of the planet as well as Kyllikki's identity. But as soon as Elias knew, Zimor knew. It's the nature of the Bond.

The implications tumbled over each other in Kyllikki's mind, but her attention was called back to the pacing commander. "He's a triple-five operative, uniquely valuable though not irreplaceable, but he works, as I said, directly for Zimor herself. There was no facial view with the data, and no geneprint, no way to pick him out."

The doctor said, "We found Abtrel by just sending someone in to page her. Why can't we do that with this Kleef? He wouldn't have any reason not to answer the page."

The commander paced. "My orders are to get him out without anyone noticing. Where is he now?"

The man at the desk read from the datascan: "He came in on Prosperity's Pod Fifteen, and was judged healthy. He should be in Building Five-eighteen-A. I have an idea."

"Well?" prompted the Master Coordinator.

"Make them answer roll leaving their buildings for the meal, and you and I will be watching Building Five-eighteen-A for Kleef; then in the dining hall, I'll take Kleef out of the serving line with some medical excuse, and you can have him in space before they finish eating."

"He'd still be missed," observed Aarl.

The doctor said, "We'd planned to resort them into different barracks tomorrow, increase stress before questioning, but we could do that tonight after the meal. That way, everyone will have lost track of friends and family, and one missing person won't be conspicuous."

They reached swift agreement on the plan, and since they had so little time, the interrogator sent orders for Kyllikki to be taken to a cell, a converted walk-in storage closet with one tiny vent and a camper's latrine package.

She let herself lose touch with the interrogator. She had to think. But one thing Kyllikki knew now. She had to escape. She had to steal that yacht and escape. She'd need Idom. Somehow the two of them had to capture Elias and get him to the Emperor. Elias was the only proof worth offering of the fact that Zimor was raiding the interdicted Dreamer's planet, breaking the accord between Teleod and Metaji that had survived more conflicts than she could name.

If the Metaji Empire was really losing the war, this could turn the tide, this could be the weapon the Metaji needed—but only the Emperor could wield it. He'd have to find a way to convince the Eight Families to turn on Zimor. With Elias himself as proof, that wouldn't be impossible.

But she couldn't leave Zuchmul behind. She either had to destroy his brain so he'd be permanently dead, or take the stasis case with them.

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copyright © 2002 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg.  All rights reserved. 

Those of My Blood copyright © 1988 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Dreamspy copyright © 1989 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg