The black and white austerity of H’lim’s apartment had been broken up by the makeshift mesh cages Abbot had installed around all the electrical devices and draped over partitions that contained power cables. H’lim had pronounced the measures acceptable in the wan tones of a teacher giving an E for Effort and then proclaimed the place his home.
Now, when Abbot strolled in unperturbed, Titus had to pause at the threshold for invitation. Never had he felt such a strong barrier. Its surface stung his whole body.
H’lim reached out to him, pulling Titus and Inea through while saying in the luren tongue, “Thank you for honoring my threshold.” He added, “Your manners do you credit, since the threshold is merely symbolic.”
“Symbolic?” repeated Titus dazedly.
“Perhaps,” added H’lim wistfully, “when I’ve regained my strength, I will again have a real home.”
Titus looked back at the now closed door, understanding anew the gulf between Earth’s luren and genuine luren. He switched to English for Inea’s sake. “I hope you don’t mind that Inea came along? I can.”
“It is to be expected,” answered H’lim looking at Abbot, who had come alone. “You did understand my message? I have the first sample of genuine orl blood for you.”
Abbot turned away and Titus knew he was only pretending to examine his mesh installations. “Have you tried it yet?”
“Yes.” H’lim’s tone was curiously flat. “Andre insisted. It was a great trial to conceal.”
H’lim’s goggles angled toward Inea and Titus said, “She’s seen the worst. She won’t be offended.”
H’lim turned to study Abbot’s back. “You know, don’t you, Titus?”
Overwhelmed with sympathy, Titus asked, “You’ve never had to use cloned blood before, have you?”
“I thought I was prepared-after what you and the humans have been supplying me.” He met Titus’s gaze steadily. “I wasn’t.”
“I managed to choke it down without letting him see how– inadequate-it was. At least it was orl, and that helps. I feel better than I have since I woke.”
Neutrally, Abbot asked, “It’s that much different, orl?”
“Yes!” With an eloquent shrug, H’lim apologized to Inea for his vehemence. “I hope it will help you as much as it does me. Here.” He went to the kitchen counter where a large barrel-Thermos sat, the spigot thrust out over the sink. Titus caught the hard glitter of barely suppressed esurience in Abbot’s eye as they both converged on H’lim.
He took down two glasses, gorgeous examples of the unique lunar product. They were beautiful enough to have been exported to Earth rather than consigned to lunar use. It was cheaper to manufacture glass here out of rock and solar power than to lift it from Earth. And it was cheaper to recycle wash water than to use disposables. Titus realized he was dwelling on the economics of lunar life to avoid admitting his own eagerness for the orl blood. “H’lim, have you any idea if this might be harmful to us?”
Filling a glass with the thick, purple-red fluid, he answered, cross-matched as best I could. There doesn’t seem to be any gross incompatibility. But I’ve hardly started my analysis.“ He handed a glassful to Abbot and turned to fill one for Titus. ”It might, however, prove unpalatable.“
As H’lim handed Titus his glass, Abbot sniffed and then tasted his, expression unreadable. The fumes invaded Titus’s head, seeping through his brain and triggering responses he’d never felt before. His hand did not want to bring that glass up to his lips, but his hunger demanded it.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Abbot’s hand trembling, his face chiseled from granite as he tilted the glass. A distanced part of himself admired his father’s self-control, knowing full well what this experiment was costing Abbot and knowing also that the Tourist could not have resisted the chance to taste orl, however artificial.
Titus closed his eyes and tilted the warm fluid to his lips, touching it with his upper lip before sipping. The texture was wrong, the smell was wrong, but it wakened a searing hunger. His lip arched to let a drop past. It was dead, flat, like all reconstituted blood. But that was familiar, and his throat closed willing around the first runnel of the strange stuff.
He swallowed again, the odor filling his nose. On the fourth swallow, his gorge rose. Simultaneously, he heard Abbot stagger to the sink, and bend over retching, coughing, fighting for breath. Seconds later, Titus shoved H’lim out of the way and joined his father, tied in knots. His brain seemed on fire and he needed to scream but couldn’t.
Abbot’s knees buckled, and from somewhere Titus found the strength to grab him around the waist as together, almost in rhythm, they emptied themselves convulsively of every last drop of the foreign substance. As H’lim stood helplessly aside, Inea turned on the water to wash the stench away.
She made them rinse their mouths out with water, which almost triggered more retching, and said to H’lim, “I guess that experiment was a failure.”
This jarred him into action. From somewhere, he produced a blood pressure monitor and a body fluid specimen collector. Pushing the two down into chairs, he administered a very thorough, very competent medical once-over sampling tears, saliva, blood, sweat, and vomitus while demanding an exact description of what had happened.
In the end, it appeared that Titus had swallowed more than Abbot before experiencing the rejection, and the two rejections had been different.
“My eyes are still burning,” said Titus, “and my head feels full of hot coals.”
“My stomach,” said Abbot. “I’ve never had such cramps.”
H’lim pondered for a moment, then speculated. “Abbot, perhaps it’s just as well that you tried it unenergized at first and that caused you to reject it. It could be wholly incompatible with your metabolism. But Titus-you seem to have had a central nervous system reaction. Nutrient had begun to pass into your blood before you rejected it.”
“Those are the worst poisons,” agreed Titus. “I probably swallowed more than Abbot because I’m used to the flatness of uninfused chemical.” He glanced at Inea. “It’s a hellishly difficult thing to learn to tolerate.”
Abbot climbed to his feet. “Some difficult things are worth doing,” he observed, “and some aren’t. Thank you for the instructive experience, H’lim, but I won’t try it again.”
“Wait until I’ve done some more tests,” protested H’lim. “I can tolerate human blood. Certainly you can-”
“If you clone an orl, I may consider trying it again.” With that Abbot was gone.
Titus glanced at Inea. “Maybe we should have tried to infuse his first?” Could I order her-even to feed Abbot?
H’lim said, “No, I don’t think so. He might have drunk more, and it might have poisoned him.”
“You think I’m poisoned?” The way his head felt, Titus could easily believe he was about to die the final death.
“Your genetic makeup is very different from his. I think there’s something in orl blood that your body is equipped to use, but that you’ve never encountered before.”
“You mean that I’m more luren than he is? I don’t think so. He’s much older, has fewer human ancestors.”
“Yes, that much is immediately evident. But the interbreeding has selected for different factors. It will take some time, but I can determine if orl blood is really a poison for him-or for you for that matter.”
“Interbreeding,” said Titus heavily. “Just why is that even possible?”
Ignoring Titus’s direct question, as always, H’lim mused, “Perhaps I can filter out the incompatible factors for Abbot.”
“It wouldn’t be worth the time,” said Inea unexpectedly.
“Why?” asked H’lim blankly.
“Haven’t you figured Abbot out yet?” she asked. “It’s not the blood that nourishes him, it’s the subjugation. He is a vampire, not a luren.”
H’lim frowned. Titus, unsure if it was in disapproval or disagreement, changed the subject. “Inea’s got a good point. We don’t have time for pure research. You not only have to do this in odd moments stolen from Colby’s work, but you have to hide it from everyone looking over your shoulder. Between the limited time and the risk, I think your better investment would be your booster. If that works on Abbot or on humans to stimulate blood and ectoplasm replacement, it would be acceptable to Abbot and would let us survive.”
“Time,” said H’lim heavily. He toyed with the specimen kit. “Do you know if you’ll be getting a shipment soon?”
“No. If any convoy does get through, though, I’d expect some of my supplies to be on it.” Connie is that good.
H’lim seemed skeptical, but he said, “Since the booster was designed for orl, the two projects are related. I’ll pursue both goals simultaneously. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, you know. I’ve made orl for use in medical testing. The genetics is flexible and the blood composition can be altered to mimic that of diverse peoples.” Staring at the Thermos, he lapsed into the luren tongue.
Titus puzzled over the words “teelee-odd” and “metajee”. Those were the only terms he could separate from the mass of the unfamiliar ones, and he realized that his own lack of a biological and biochemical vocabulary had left H’lim unable to think professionally in English. What other flaws had he left him with.“
What other communications problems lurked beneath the facade of normality?
Inea followed H’lim’s gaze and rose to fill a glass with the orl blood, returning with it cradled between her hands. H’lim tracked her movements with a quiet reverence then dragged his attention from the glass she held and asked Titus, “Did you tell her to do this?”
“No. It’s her own idea.” He wasn’t sure it was even a good idea, but he followed her reasoning and her heart, so he said nothing as H’lim savored the act of a sentient orl-a willing human. Ectoplasm carried a different texture when it was a deliberate, wholehearted gift.
He was curious to see how this would strike H’lim. But the luren didn’t reach for the proffered glass. He clasped trembling hands in his lap. “Titus, she wears your Mark.”
“Only to keep you or Abbot from taking what you will of her. She’s a human being, free to give what she chooses to whom she chooses. You’ve partaken of her gift before.”
“I don’t like being discussed in the third person.”
H’lim seemed perplexed, so Titus explained, “It’s impolite most places to ignore a person’s presence.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t intend-Inea, there’s no way I could ignore your pervasive presence. I would like very much to accept your gift.” He held his hands out just short of the glass waiting for her to place it in his grasp.
She breathed on it one last time, then put it in his hands, cupping hers about them. “This is so you’ll have the strength to find a way to feed Titus-and Abbot too. I just wish I could do more to help.”
Titus thought H’lim didn’t even hear her last words. His attention was riveted on the glass and he was shaking. When at last he drank the energized orl blood, the beatific expression on his face made Titus’s hunger surge like a trapped tiger. She is free
0 give as she chooses. Besides, damn it, she’s right!
Two weeks later, Titus was in the centrifuge with Abbot and H’lim. Colby had noted the drawn, haggard appearance both of them presented and had ordered them off duty to sleep, eat, and exercise. “I don’t care what the medical records show about you two, you’re both about to fall on your faces. You’ve each been doing the work of three men for months now. Nobody can sustain that kind of pace.”
She had gone on to warn them that a parts shipment for the probe vehicle would arrive soon, and then the pace would increase tenfold. “So I’m doubling your rations for a week, and taking you off the duty roster-except for escorting H’lim. If I catch either of you at work, I’ll commit you to the psych ward!”
Looking in the mirror, Titus couldn’t argue with her appraisal, only with her therapy regimen.
But he did need the time in the centrifuge, as did H’lim, who was willing to wear a special suit Abbot had made for him to attenuate the noise the centrifuge motors made. As uneasy as the centrifuge made Titus, especially the first time he’d gone in there after nearly being killed, it was worse for H’lim.
For the alien, they dimmed the lights, increased the gravity and adjusted the air mixture. Biomed invented half a dozen new telemetry sensors, and the physical therapists who ran the gym devised a new exercise machine to accommodate H’lim’s physique. When H’lim used the centrifuge, only Titus and Abbot stayed with him-and that was only after Abbot had reprogrammed the computers to show proper human stress patterns under the new conditions.
Actually, Titus enjoyed the changes. His body had to work harder, but afterwards he always felt better, especially when he spent some time sweating and straining on H’lim’s bicycle while H’lim jogged around the track.
The one great advantage about time spent in the centrifuge was that it was utterly private, so they could talk as they wished. The noise was great enough so that H’lim, working out on the opposite side of the drum, couldn’t hear Abbot and Titus, who were riding side by side on the ordinary bicycles, unless they shouted.
“Abbot, I’m sure of it,” Titus insisted in low, urgent tones. “He’s not telling all he knows. When you ask him anything truly important, he pours out data on other intriguing but irrelevant topics. He’s a master of the snow job.”
“Would have to be,” grunted Abbot, peddling hard, “to be a successful merchant in intragalactic trade.”
“Maybe,” conceded Titus. “Have you ever dealt with an Arab? They don’t cheat-not by their code-so they always come across as honest because they are satisfied that their honor is spotless. But there are certain things they don’t feel obligated to disclose, even if you ask. It’s your fault if you’re so naive as to believe what you want to believe.”
“H’lim is just protecting himself,” countered Abbot. “He explained that when he gets home, they’ll have ways of checking to see if he’s broken any laws. He’s not allowed to tell us everything. That’s for others, later.”
“Maybe, but I’m sure he’s withholding something crucial. If we knew it, we might not be so eager to send his message.”
“Oh, so that’s it. You’re still trying to convert me. Well, I might be willing to listen if you can show me another way for our people to survive. I don’t know why you keep losing sight of that single fact. We’re battling for our lives, and it’s now or never. Doesn’t the secession tell you anything about human attitudes?”
“What that message brings down on us may be worse than all the panicked humans on Earth. And I think H’lim knows it will be worse. Abbot, I like him, but I don’t trust him.”
Suddenly, his father turned to him with a most peculiar expression. After a bit, he observed, “That’s exactly how I felt about you a week after I revived you.”
Their eyes met. A momentary rapport flowed along Titus’s nerves like honey. He suddenly realized that part of his chronic hunger, the part Inea could never fulfill, was the deep need for his father’s approval. H’lim had said something about that, once. I’ve read that humans have no instincts. If this is true, it’s a point on which human and luren differ, for luren do have some important vestigial instincts. The parental power is one such. The gratification can sometimes be worth dying a final death.“
In that moment, Titus could believe it. When Abbot murmured, “I still like you, Titus,” he could see in his mind the contrast between this lined, haggard, and worn Abbot and the young, zestful, and immortal Abbot. It took all he had to dismount his bicycle and begin his job. He was able to regain his perspective only when he recalled, in gory detail, just how that young Abbot had taught him to feed. But the perspective decided to slip whenever his concentration did.
Five days later, Colby came to H’lim’s lab for the broadcast to Earth of a demonstration of his progress against Alzheimer’s Disease. The vaccine introduced decades ago on Earth had recently proven only partially effective, and now H’lim was close to being able to reverse the progress of the disease without wiping the patient’s brain clean of memory.
“Life in the galaxy,” lectured Dr. Sa’ar in a perfect Harvard accent, which he had not acquired from Titus, “has followed certain broad patterns. Earth belongs to one of those patterns, and so solving its problems does not require so very much original work as one might expect. This is one reason the Earth has nothing to fear from the infectious diseases of the galaxy. Most are analogous enough that your existing defenses are sufficient. The rest, you would encounter only if you travel widely, and in that case you will be properly immunized first.”
He was about to key up a computer model of the relevant molecules when the monitor screen that was showing what Project Station was sending to Earth went blank, flickered, sizzled, and then cleared to a stock view of the lunar landscape. A news announcer was saying, “We regret that we have lost Project Station’s signal. Please stand by.”
“We’re getting them, how come they’re not getting us? asked a tech by the pile of broadcast equipment.
Colby answered, “That’s what you’re paid to know.”
Blushing, the tech fiddled with connections as Abbot knelt over a digital circuit probe. H’lim drifted toward them. He was wearing the contact lenses Biomed had made for the broadcast, so people could see his whole face. Circling Abbot, he announced, “The fault is not in your equipment.”
“I wouldn’t expect so,” muttered Abbot. “Blockaders are jamming us, of course.”
Unless there’s a traitor on the staff here, thought Titus. He knew that no new assassins had been brought onto the station, because nobody had been allowed onto the station-nobody at all. However, that didn’t prevent factions from developing among the station personnel. It was mostly among the workers, but Titus had seen it at the highest levels. Still, people on the station tended to see themselves as a third faction in the war, a faction dedicated to galactic exploration yet unwilling to sacrifice their lives just yet.
As he listened to the bursts of static produced by the technician, Titus wondered how much longer they all could endure. He glanced at Abbot. When will desperation create heroes and martyrs?
Abbot raised his brows in silent query.
Then the screen flicked to stars, the Earth cutting across one corner of the shot. “. view from Central Pacific Stationary, the only satellite that can see the battle.” The news announcer’s voice wavered under bursts of static. “High Changjin, the satellite that was relaying Project Station’s signal, has been destroyed with all aboard, some five hundred souls. Secessionist forces continue to fire on the unarmed supply ship. We have no confirmation yet that this ship was indeed heading for Project Station with parts for the probe vehicle, as the rebels claim. There are three men and two women aboard that unarmed ship.”
As everywhere on the station and on Earth, the group in the lab remained glued to the screen for the next several hours. Only after the flash of destruction and the burst of particles arrived at the lunar detectors did the tension break to be replaced by despair.
Grimly determined to keep up morale, Colby had them record H’lim’s presentation, and a few days later got it through to karth piecemeal despite the jamming. Computer reconstructed, it went over very well in W.S. territory and shored up W.S. determination to launch the probe, which meant W. S. had to get a supply ship through the blockade.
Titus, still unable to communicate directly with Connie, focused his efforts on keeping track of Abbot. He was still not certain Abbot’s message had to be stopped, but he was even more skeptical of H’lim’s honesty. He could only pray he’d know what to do when the time came, and that he’d be ready to do it.
To that end, he was at his desk at home, using Inea’s bugs to watch Abbot puttering about H’lim’s lab, when Inea arrived with Mirelle in tow. As the door closed behind them, Mirelle wavered, and then collapsed. Inea draped the limp form over her shoulders in a fireman’s carry and deposited her on the bed. She turned, hands on hips, eyes blazing, and spat, “Well? Now, what are you going to do? This is all your fault, you know!”
Stunned, Titus bent over Mirelle. He could sense the wispy character of her aura before he found the weak, thready pulse under the sheen of cold sweat. The crook of her elbow showed recent needle marks, and from the look of it he knew it was Abbot’s doing. Over his shoulder he said, “There are extra blankets in the closet. I think there’s a heating pad in there, too. Get it.”
He began loosening Mirelle’s clothing, then he noticed Inea was not moving. “Move! She’s lost a lot of blood.”
Silently, Inea helped him to wrap Mirelle and, as she regained consciousness, to get some fluids into her. But Inea was still angry when they’d done all they could. “Titus, I want to know what you intend to do! You can’t let him get away with this!”
“Why didn’t you take her to the infirmary?”
“And let them find out? They would, you know, and then the witch hunt would be on.”
Titus nodded. “Exactly. We’ve held off that witch hunt by adhering to a very strict set of rules. One of those rules is the respect for the Mark, and another is the filial duty. I can’t do anything about what Abbot chooses to do to Mirelle.”
“Not even if it threatens to expose you all?”
“I don’t know why she’s walking around in this condition. He’s usually more careful.”
“Walking around in this-” she repeated, aghast. “All you’re worried about is that she’s ”walking around,“ not that she’s in this condition to begin with? Titus, he’s killing her!”
Her outrage beat against him. He wanted to make excuses for Abbot, and he wanted to placate her all at the same time. And he ached horridly for Mirelle. She was so pale and thin, the glowing beauty of her faded to gray.
He turned away from them both and spoke to the computer console which still showed H’lim’s lab, Abbot’s back to the pickup. “Inea, there is something about luren law that you have to know, about luren politics on Earth.”
“Politics? Politics! How can you-”
He lowered his voice and cut across her hysteria. “I know how you feel, Inea. It’s the reason I left Abbot to begin with. I’ve had moments when I wanted to do more than leave him. I’ve actually wanted to kill him. I got over that only when I discovered he’s not one of a kind, but a representative of a group, the Tourists. And Abbot’s one of the least worst of them. He’s kind, considerate, and sane by comparison.”
She approached as if creeping up to a cesspool. “Titus, the way he’s treating Mirelle isn’t kind, considerate, or sane. If anyone finds out-”
“Listen to me! The Tourists constitute fully half of the luren on Earth. My presence here constitutes an act of civil war, but it is war under more strictures and conventions than humans have ever heard of. If we had known who the Tourist would be here, I would never have been sent here. Never! They’ve tried to send someone who could deal with Abbot, but he couldn’t get through. But even if he had, he couldn’t do anything about Mirelle. Abbot is within his legal rights with her, and no Resident will challenge that. We don’t kill humans, but they do, and the Law of Blood says Marked stringers can be killed. Abbot can kill Mirelle, and it’s perfectly legal, under some circumstances.”
She recoiled, white-lipped.
“Yes, it’s disgusting, and yes I hate it, and yes I’d like to wring his neck. But I won’t. I wouldn’t if I could. Not for this.” Don’t remind her she’s Marked!
“Titus-” It was a tiny, strangled plea that stopped his heart.
He watched her lip quiver, somewhere between disgust and tears of bereavement, and he realized that he had to do something or lose her forever. He couldn’t argue that Mirelle would probably survive the few days until H’lim’s booster was ready. That must be what Abbot was thinking. Or maybe he wasn’t thinking too clearly. Hunger could impair the ability to assess risks. And the vision of how much hunger it would take to do that to Abbot horrified Titus.
Damn the blockade! Damn this goddamned war!
“There is one thing I can do. I don’t know if it will work. I can only try.” He went to the cupboard and stuffed the few remaining packets of blood into a net bag lined with a lab coat. At the outer door, he said, “Maybe this will keep him from leaning too hard on her. Take care of her while I’m gone.” Then he turned to meet her eyes. “I’ll be back soon, Inea.”
In H’lim’s lab, he found H’lim and Abbot tinkering with the temperature controls of an empty incubator on a workbench screened from the rest of the lab and from the one bug he’d planted, by a noise partition. H’lim was shoving a notepad under Abbot’s nose, the screen lit. “In the Teleod, both luren and human-stock people are legally enfranchised, and this is the genetic tag they look for to determine stock. You have it, so you should have no trouble with the courts.”
He’s lying. Why is he lying? Why do I think he’s lying? Titus had never been one to suspect others of prevarication, but he could not shake this conviction. Simultaneously, he filed away the datum that Teleod was a political alliance, not a chemical term, and in the Teleod legal enfranchisement was a matter of genetics, not loyalties. The lessons of Nazi Germany sprang to mind, but he put aside his suddenly dark suspicions and strode forward.
Without looking up, Abbot said, “You’re early, Titus.”
H’lim thrust his pad at Titus. “Look!”
H’lim’s pad screen was divided into five areas. In the center, four colorful molecular models were superimposed over each other in three dimensions. Around it, each of the four curled helices was displayed alone.
H’lim pointed as he explained with real enthusiasm, “This is you; here’s Abbot; here’s a textbook example of human, and here’s me. I have orls, too, but this pad is too small. I haven’t translated any galactic races into your coordinates yet, but just by inspection I can tell you that you and your humans have some peculiar anomalies. Other than being oddly suggestible, your humans might be the find of a lifetime for me.” He pointed at various parts of the screen. “I’ve never seen or read about anything like this-or this-or even this! Once I discover what traits are linked here, and there-and this one, too-I may actually have found the single most marketable commodity on Earth. And Titus, I assure you, I am the one who can best market it.”
Abbot turned, gesturing with the probe he’d been wielding. “Now do you see that I’ve been right all along?”
Triumph, and Mirelle’s blood, had glossed over Abbot’s hunger, but Titus saw an ashen tinge of exhaustion in him even before he noticed the way the probe vibrated with his hand’s uncontrollable shaking. He’s on the edge, and it’s partly my doing. His efforts to stop Abbot had only amounted to harassment and inconvenience, with his mistakes adding a modicum of busywork, but all together it had taken a toll on his father and Titus felt a luren’s guilt for that.
Absorbed in his models, H’lim mused aloud, “This may account for the suggestibility of humans, though why it should vary so much, I don’t know. Can you get me a specimen from Inea? And one from Mirelle? Comparing the strongest with the weakest, perhaps-”
“It’s Mirelle’s weakness I’ve come to discuss,” Titus interrupted. “Her exceptional weakness today.”
“She’ll recover,” declared Abbot.
“What?” asked H’lim, yanked out of his reasoning.
“I intend it should be so,” said Titus.
H’lim backed off a way, suddenly sensing the cold tension, advanced to set the net bag on the counter beside Abbot’s tools. It sagged open, partially revealing the contents, which he recognized. “Inea half carried Mirelle to my room. She fainted on the floor. What if someone else had found her and taken her to the infirmary? In the name of the Law of Blood, take what your son offers. Use it. Let her recover.”
Abbot’s fingers rested thoughtfully on the packets. “My son. Truly my son again, at last?”
He met Abbot’s eyes and yearned with all his soul to say yes. The moment stretched unendurably as his lips almost formed the word. He felt the first tentative stirring of Abbot’s power, offering the enfolding warmth of a parental welcome, stirring the depths of his being. The tentative joy dancing in his father’s eyes, the scream of hope poised at the edge of his Influence, and the ache in Abbot’s soul at the loss of his son-an ache Titus, only recently a parent himself, could now understand-all combined to show Titus that Abbot had two distinct objectives in coming to the Project: to save Earth’s luren by getting their message out, and to win Titus back from the darkness, to do his parental duty by his son whom he loved as any luren would.
Yes! The word pushed up from his heart, threatening to explode from his throat. But there was the vision of Mirelle sagging helplessly in Inea’s grip.
With a wordless cry of anguish, Titus broke away from Abbot’s seductive gaze and fled, running into the corridor and not stopping until he got to the lift where he fetched up against the closed doors and pounded his fists against them. It was only sheer dumb luck that nobody saw, and that he recovered before the security camera swept across him.
Facing his own apartment door, he straightened his clothes and smoothed his expression, suddenly realizing that for all the pain still surging through him, he felt uncommonly good about himself for the first time in a very long time. He had done his filial duty. I feel good about starving so Abbot can feed? God, I must be insane. But there it was, a tremendous release of tension he hadn’t felt until it was gone. I can’t fight him. I can’t win against this because it’s inside me.
But he also knew that he couldn’t win as long as his own son opposed him-and had won Abbot over with lies. Yet if he had been in H’lim’s place, he would have done the same. He couldn’t blame the luren.
Squaring his shoulders, he went in to confront Inea. She was spooning soup into Mirelle, who was propped up in bed, eyes drooping half shut. She was wearing one of Titus’s pullovers now, cuffs rolled into massive donuts around her wrists. Inea looked up. “I went and got my ration. And I’ve given her two of the pills. I’ll take her home in a while-if you think I should.”
The implication was, If it’s safe. Titus answered her unvoiced question. “I don’t know, Inea. But there’s no choice. She doesn’t belong here.”
He didn’t feel awkward discussing Mirelle like this because there seemed to be a dull film over her awareness, the cumulative effect of heavy Influence. How Abbot had avoided detection so long, Titus didn’t know. But both he and Abbot knew it was too dangerous a game to play now. Or if Abbot didn’t know it, H’lim would convince him of it.
In a heavy silence, he helped Inea prepare Mirelle and then take her to her own room, which was a tumbled mess, tangible evidence of depression and enervation. There wasn’t even a threshold barrier, so diffuse was her presence. But Titus could sense the dregs of Abbot’s presence-bitter, savage dregs summoning images of what had occurred here. That almost turned his self-satisfaction to self-hatred. While Mirelle fell into a heavy sleep, they straightened up the place as best they could, then left her alone.
Back in Titus’s apartment, Inea stripped the bed and remade it while Titus went to the refectory to get his own rations. They worked together with only casual comments on what they were doing, as if the deeper subject was a glowing coal, too hot to touch. But while Inea was nibbling on the last crusts of the inadequate meal, she asked point blank, “How long until you’ll have to take my blood?”
Startled, Titus recoiled, “What?”
“You heard me.” Her expression shifted. “You weren’t thinking-of taking from someone else without telling me? Titus, I won’t permit it.”
He laughed out loud. He couldn’t help it. After all the grave, grim tension of the last few hours, the image of a human woman sitting over his kitchen table, eating his rations, wearing his Mark, and dictating terms to him in a “be reasonable” tone was just too much.
Catching the edge of hysteria in his laughter, she frowned. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I wouldn’t think of disobeying you,” he said through a veil of chuckles, and suddenly, she understood the irony and together they laughed uproariously.
In the end, she said, “Well, Delilah could wrap Samson around her little finger, why shouldn’t I boss a vampire around?”
That almost set them off again, but Titus sobered. “Inea, I had no intention of taking your blood-or anyone else’s. I’ve been well-fed, compared to Abbot. I’ll be all right until my supplies arrive.”
“There’s no way to know how long that’ll be. You’ll have to take some blood. What had you planned to do?”
He thrust himself out of the chair and caught himself against the edge of the sink, wanting to run, wanting to accept, and wanting to appear in perfect command. The truth was like bile in his mouth. “I didn’t think about how I’d survive.”
He turned to watch the bewildered shock flicker across her features. “Inea, you’re going to have to grasp something else that may be even harder than the idea that Abbot has the right, under luren Law, to kill Mirelle. I will not take the living blood of a human. I don’t want it.”
“That’s not true. I’ve seen the look in your eyes, over a bleeding wound.”
“So? I’m mortal. I’m subject to temptation. I thought Id explained this before. Haven’t you grasped yet what it is that deters me when I am tempted?”
“How could I? I’m not even sure what’s so tempting. Cloned blood is genetically identical to real blood. If it’s infused with ectoplasm, it ought to be really identical. All this fuss makes me wonder if maybe there isn’t something-unique-in giving blood directly to a vampire. Maybe I’d enjoy it!”
He surged across the floor and plucked her out of the chair by the shoulders, shaking her. “Don’t you dare-!”
The hurt shock that flashed through her knifed across his anger and he froze, horrified at himself. He enfolded her in his arms, burying his face in her hair and rocking her back and forth as he moaned, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
How could he explain to her the ghastly trap he had dug himself out of when he’d left Abbot? He pushed her away, caught her eyes, and repeated what he’d told her so many times. “Inea, it’s addictive. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to break away again. I could do worse to you than Abbot has done to Mirelle and feel just as little remorse over it. I’ve done that, under Abbot’s direction. I lived that way, Inea, and I won’t go back to it. I won’t. Can you understand that?”
“You’re scared,” she said. “That I can understand. Maybe I’ll come to-”
The door signal interrupted her, and only then did Titus feel H’lim’s familiar presence. But not Abbot’s. Not the four guards. “Oh, my God!” He dashed to the door, flung it open, grabbed H’lim by the elbow and yanked him inside, shutting the door and leaning against it. It was the middle of the night for the station. Hall traffic was light, but not wholly absent.
“H’lim, you fool!” hissed Titus.
“I won’t stay long,” he answered with equanimity. From under his capacious lab coat he produced a fat Thermos. “I was trying to explain before you left, that I think I’ve got orl blood you can manage to take. Abbot can’t use it, but I talked him into accepting your gift.”
Titus let him shove the Thermos into his numb hands. What about your guards-the recorders? Carol will-“
“They’ll never know I was gone!”
“I’m going. Don’t worry.” With one hand on the door, he Paused to say over his shoulder, “I just wanted you to know, I’m around to count you Fourth Father. And I’ll be proud to introduce y to my First Father.”
Then he was gone.
Titus sank into a kitchen chair, his knees too weak to support him even in the lunar gravity. The Thermos clutched to his chest, he bowed his head over it and blinked away unaccountable tears. I must be as close to the edge as Abbot is.
Inea lifted the Thermos from his grasp. With her help, he choked down the alien substance and kept it down, and by morning, he had regained his equilibrium and soaked up some of Inea’s optimism and determination with her ectoplasm and her love.