Characters: Chase, OCs
Summary: His whole life is gone in moments.
Warnings: YES. Violence, off-screen sexual assault.
Notes: We left off with House and Wilson having escaped Cierros, and Wilson recovering. This is elsewhere in the galaxy, around that same time. We know it's been ages; the Big Post of Chapters is here. This chapter ~4,800 words.
It's the cessation of noise that awakens Robert Chase.
The constant low-level thrum of the ferry engines, just on the very edge of human auditory range, the minute vibrations of the cheap nu-plast tables and chairs, scavenged and cobbled-together from older, decommissioned freighters -- everything falls silent, and Chase sits up in his bunk, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
We've ... stopped? His thoughts are slow, his mouth feels like someone emptied an ashtray in it, and his skull is pounding from the inside out, in a perfect, syrupy rhythm with his heartbeat. He squints. His last glass of tequila is still sitting on the nightstand, a quarter-full. The clear liquid is completely calm, a tiny alcoholic pond. Chase scrubs a hand over his face.
Not due to get into Morro Station for another two days. How long was I asleep? The wall chronometer reads 02:15 -- he'd fallen into bed around midnight, still half-dressed in trousers and a t-shirt, so only a couple of hours. He looks around; it's a weird, anticipatory silence, almost as if this backwater little quadrant of the universe was holding its breath, waiting for --
And then the ship's alarm system goes off, the booming klaxons splitting the air, and nothing is ever the same again.
Chase stands in the ferry's belly bay, trying not to attract attention to himself in the crowd of shell-shocked, frightened prisoners. He's still trying to sort out exactly what is going on, replaying all he knows, up to the present moment.
He'd opened his cabin door onto chaos, passengers and crew alike running in all directions. He had recognized one of the guys he'd been drinking with, managed to pull him out of the mob.
"What the hell's happening?" Robert shouted. The guy, and that was actually his name, Guy Hsieh, had turned wide, panic-stricken eyes on him.
"Pirates!" Guy yelled back. "Pirates everywhere! Get to the pods! Abandon ship!" And he'd torn loose from Chase's grasp and disappeared down the corridor, unbuttoned dress shirt flapping behind him like a white flag.
Chase had watched as more people thundered by, less like humans than like panicky stampeded animals. "Hey! Hey!" he yelled, but nothing had stopped them, and after a moment he shook his head, ducked back into his cabin and grabbed his medical satchel. It hadn't been until he'd reached the ferry's load of escape pods, deep in the little ship's belly bay, that he'd seen any pirates. And when he did see them, and their guns, he knew it was already much too late.
So here he is, one animal among many in what was a cargo bay and is now a ... livestock pen. There were ranches outside Chase's hometown; he'd worked one for a summer, as a kid. He knows a trapped herd when he sees one, and he's in one now, part of it.
From the far edge of the crowd a man's voice rises, and Chase looks over. Two of the raiders, big guys, huge guys, dressed like the rest of their boarding party in what appears to be a mismatched grab-bag of military combat gear and plundered armor, are hauling away a woman, suspended between them like a tall sack of grain. She is silent, presumably because of the pistol pressing against her right ear.
"No," a man cries out, and Chase is going to assume it's her husband or boyfriend. His face is red and he looks both helpless and furious at the same time. "No," he says again, and "What the hell do you think you're doing?" and "Take your hands off her!" and Chase has heard every one of these indignant statements before, except never in real life.
And some of the other men in the crowd are starting to mutter, because by now everyone's done the math and there are only twenty pirates here in the bay and over two hundred passengers and crew.
"Let her go!" the woman's significant other says, and then he does step forward, and that's when one of the men who's been dragging the woman away turns just slightly and shoots him.
The zhhh-pop! of the electron gun is extremely loud in the bay; a woman screams and at first Chase thinks it's the woman still in the grip of the two raiders but it's not, it's somebody else.
The guy who'd stepped forward stands there for a half-second more, staring at the big red hole in his chest. His legs fold up, and he sinks to the floor and lies still, face down.
"Todd?" the captive woman says. "Todd?" And then she is screaming, and she keeps screaming as the pirate holsters his pistol and he and his buddy drag her out of sight, behind a stack of pods.
"Oh, God," someone is saying, over and over. "Oh God oh god oh god oh -- "
Chase feels as if he's outside his own body, watching a plot play itself out on a very bad dramarama. He sees his right foot move, then his left, and suddenly he's back, looking down the barrel of what must be the biggest fucking gun in the galaxy. One of the pirates is studying him, bright blue eyes calm over the rim of the pistol's muzzle.
"Do you want to be a hero too?" the man asks. His tone is curious, conversational, as if inquiring whether Chase wants dizhan or mayo on his sandwich.
"I'm a doctor," Chase says, and finds to his complete surprise that his voice is steady. "That man needs help."
"That idiot's beyond help," the pirate replies. "As you'll be, if you don't get the fuck back."
From behind the pod-stack, the woman's screams have died away to moans, interspersed with distinctly male grunts of exertion.
"Now her, you might be able to help," the pirate says thoughtfully. "But only if you don't do something stupid." The gun barrel hasn't wavered. Whoever had been praying in the crowd of prisoners starts again.
Chase steps back, and begins to pray, too -- silently, to himself.
They've culled out the old ones, Chase notices, and the sick. Dividing the herd, they're segregating people who look to be fifty or older into a separate group, along with those in autochairs, women with babies or toddlers, anyone with a limp, a persistent cough, a runny nose.
The woman behind the pod-stacks has been quiet for a while now; more members of the pirate band have gone back there and returned wearing an ugly, self-satisfied smirk on their faces. Chase feels sick to his stomach but there's nothing he can do. He can only hope there'll be enough of her left to save when this ordeal is over. In the meantime, he's been forced to sit with the other prisoners, watching while the raiders go about their larcenous business.
They're too efficient, too orderly to be doing this at random. They had to have downloaded the passenger manifest, because they've gone straight for the most profitable cabins -- luggage, small microdevices, and even liberated credsticks are being carried away, through the belly bay to the new hatch that's been cut at the end of the compartment. There's a tubeway, Chase has realized, an embarkation channel leading to the pirates' vessel.
Go away, Chase thinks. Take your loot and go back to your own ship and leave us the hell alone.
The raiders pay no attention to Chase's attempts at telepathy; instead, a few of them are busy conferring while the rest continue to guard the huddled passengers and crew. Chase's gunman is among them.
He's Chase's height, olive-skinned with dark hair shorn close to the scalp, and Chase finds himself wondering if those blue eyes that had regarded him so curiously are natural or a gene-job. The man's dressed a little differently than his fellow murderers -- a long black duster that he occasionally sweeps aside in order to pull a palm-sized ethertab from a pocket.
Scheduling. Logistics. Got everything planned down to the minute.
And as if on cue, the man separates himself from the small group and raises both hands like an orchestra conductor.
"All right, folks," he says, his voice pitched just loud enough to command attention. "Now then. If you wonderful people in this section -- "
His hands describe a vague circle in the air. The circle includes Chase's group.
" -- would please stand up and proceed -- in an orderly fashion, thank you -- through the docking channel there, I can assure you things will get sorted out quickly."
It takes a moment for the meaning of the pirate's words to sink in, but when it does a collective murmur of shock and disbelief rises from the group.
"No!" -- "They're taking us with them!" -- "We're being kidnapped!" -- "Why?" -- "No! Please, no!"
"Ladies and gentlemen." The pirate commander's voice cuts through the panicked babble. "Ladies and gentlemen. I would advise you not to give us any trouble." An eyebrow quirks upward and he lays one hand on the grip of his gun. "Otherwise, I can assure you that for every one of you who resists, I will have two of them -- " He indicates the other group, the elderly and the children who stare back helplessly -- "I will have two of them shot." A woman in Chase's group begins to sob, and the pirate smiles.
"I'm so glad we understand each other," he says. "Now get up and get moving."
The prisoners shuffle to their feet, dazed and numb. Chase stands up also, slinging his medical satchel over his shoulder. He swallows hard.
"What about her?"
The man in the duster turns around and stares, and for a moment Chase thinks he's about to be killed where he stands.
"What about who?" the pirate says at last.
"The ... her." Chase points his chin in the direction of the pod-stack. "She's obviously ... injured. You said I could look after her."
The pirate continues to stare, and the small hairs at the nape of Chase's neck prickle.
"So I did," the pirate murmurs, and sketches a negligent gesture toward the guard nearest Chase. "Take him back there," he says, and Chase grunts as a strong hand grips his bicep and pulls him out of the crowd.
"You want to see so much," his escort says. "Go ahead."
Behind him, Chase can hear a long, drawn-out sigh rising from multiple throats, and then the sound of scuffing feet, a hopeless mob of prisoners on the move. The sound fades as Chase and his guard turn the corner.
The woman is dead.
She's lying on her back, her legs spread, long sleep-tunic rucked up around her waist. In these darker shadows behind the stack of 'scape pods, it's hard to make out all the details, and for once Chase doesn't want to see. It's not that he hasn't encountered dead people before -- he's a doctor, and long before that there was his mother ... he buries that thought, quickly. He's just never witnessed a murder.
Crime scene, he tells himself. Just like on 'Orbit Force,' only without the cops' laser-trip boundary.
Chase's escort shifts from one foot to the other. The blastrifle he's got slung from his shoulder points casually at Chase's midsection.
Buy a little time, Chase thinks. Maybe the captain of this scow had time to send an SOS.
He crouches beside the woman, puts two fingers to her carotid, and almost recoils at the shock of her chilly skin. There's no pulse, but he pretends to count anyway as his eyes adjust to the darkness and he begins to look her over.
The woman's arms are stretched above her head, thin and strangely white; one of her killers tied her wrists together, and her hands are clenched into useless fists. Her right eye is open, staring sightlessly up at Chase, the left is bruised, swollen shut where someone had punched her repeatedly. And the skin that's not bruised and reddened ... is also white.
The dim light and Chase's barely-restrained panic had obscured it at first, but now he sees. She is pale all over, unnaturally so, washed out beyond any natural pallor of death.
Two more pairs of boots appear in Chase's line of sight. He ignores them, trying to make sense of the body before him. He lays one hand against her right cheek; it's cold and clammy, just like the skin on her neck where he found no pulse. But she can't have been dead for more than thirty minutes, at most. She's chilled down much too fast --
The seed of an idea is growing in the back of Chase's head, but it's an impossible, crazy idea ...
... but he needs to know, because even the beds of her fingernails are white. He works his hands beneath her body, mutters "sorry," and rolls her onto her side.
Her buttocks are pale, as is her lower back. No livor mortis -- no post mortem pooling of blood.
The floor is gritty with dirt, swiped clean in a few spots from her struggles -- but dry.
"This is impossible," Chase whispers. "The blood -- where's the blood?"
He pulls his hands away, and the dead woman slumps back over, her head rolling gently to one side. The skin on her neck stretches smooth, and Chase's breath catches in his throat.
Puncture wounds. And lacerations. Tiny things, clean as scalpel cuts, evenly spaced across the woman's neck. And shoulders. And --
Chase allows his gaze to drift downward, and now that he's looking for them, he sees them everywhere. Marks on the insides of her thighs, over the femoral artery. He looks up. On the insides of her arms -- brachial.
"No," Chase murmurs. "No. That's not real. Not real." He tries to rise, but doesn't seem to have enough strength in his legs to lever himself up. "That's just stories. Tales the ... the priests tell." He looks up at his captors, frantically going from face to face as if begging them to disagree.
They don't; instead, they're all looking at him with varying degrees of amusement.
All three of the vampires.
"Whatta ya think, Mister Malapart?" one of them drawls.
The blue-eyed creature grins. "I think I'm gonna keep this one for myself," he says. The grin disappears. "Stun him. Time for us to go."
Chase's numbness breaks then, and he scrambles to his feet to run.
He barely gets two steps before the blue burst of a stun gun surrounds him, and he falls a long way into darkness.
The air in the converted cargo hold is hot and fetid; too many people squeezed into too small a space, with too few toilets to handle the volume. Twice a day the hatch in the ceiling opens, and the vampires winch down cases of bottled water and cartons of Total Nutro bars to their human captives. The big loading door at the far end of the hold has remained locked. By Chase's reckoning, they've been here for three days.
He'd awakened in this prison, sick and nauseated, his head cradled in the lap of some woman he'd never seen before. On his neck he had a choker, some kind of thin metal ring that none of the other captives seemed to be wearing. Apparently, what was meant by "keep this one for myself" was, "put a cow-collar on him and put him in with the herd."
The woman who'd served as his pillow had no idea about that. A few other things, she could tell him. The pirates had destroyed the ferry, she'd said. Loaded up their plunder, cut the airlock, and left the little passenger ship to crumple in on itself as its atmosphere vented into space. Everyone the raiders hadn't taken had died there. She'd heard it from another woman, who'd heard it from one of the first-class business passengers, who'd heard it from the First Officer, who'd --
Chase had stopped listening at that point, and when the ceiling hatch had opened, he'd staggered to his feet and helped distribute food and water.
Rumors had periodically swept through the crowd, on an ever-changing network of whispers. Chase had heard everything -- they were going to be held for ransom, they were part of a new vid-reality show, their kidnappers were slavers, they were all going to be sacrificed to some devil-god on a backwater planet. Privately, Chase thinks the last two rumors are closest to the truth, but he keeps his mouth shut, not wanting to contribute to the maelstrom of misinformation. Their captors, for their part, weren't answering any questions.
By the time the loading door swings open, one man has died from a heart attack, a second has succumbed to heat stroke, and there've been at least two nervous breakdowns.
A fourteen-year-old boy has broken his right arm after falling off one of the massive cargo crates his friends had hoisted him onto. Chase has set the bone as best he could, and has carefully failed to mention that the monsters will likely kill the kid rather than treat him. No reason to annihilate what little hope they still have.
The rush of fresh air through the open door causes more than a few people to weep with relief, and Chase himself squeezes his eyes shut for a moment and murmurs a quick prayer before he gets wearily to his feet. He's only gotten a few feet beyond the door, though, and is shuffling down the corridor on the other side when the two vampires who'd watched in amusement as he'd tried to diagnose the dead woman grab his arms and hustle him out of line.
"Hey," Chase says, then "hey!" but neither vampire pays any attention as they haul him down a side hall, away from the stream of stumbling, dazed captives.
"Shut up," one of the monsters rumbles, and Chase shuts up. It's too hard to talk anyway with his face pressed into a wall like this.
His escorts hold him there; Chase tries to protest, to turn around as one of them yanks his medical satchel from his shoulder, but he's shoved back and Chase hears it thump onto the floor. Then his arms are being pulled behind him, cold metal encircles his wrists and there's a sharp double-snick! as his hands are cuffed. Only then is he spun around, his guards still keeping a tight grip on his arms.
The blue-eyed vampire smiles at him.
"Excellent," Mister Malapart says. His smile widens; Chase gasps as what appears to be the needle-like tips of fangs appear and then slide back. "I can't wait to taste you."
This time, at least they didn't knock him out to transport him. It's one thing, Chase imagines, to lug an inert body from one spaceship's hold to the other's; quite another thing to get that same sack of dead weight off a ship, through a spaceport with its trams and gates, and finally down to the surface of whatever the hell planet this is.
And then into the barn where he is now, alone except for the thin, long-haired girl who keeps rambling on at him.
"His name's Dizzy," the girl says.
"Is it now?" Chase doesn't look around, continuing instead to search every inch of his cell ... his stall ... his cage for some weak point, some possible point of escape. There's not much searching to do; the pen is only about two meters wide by maybe four meters deep, a virtual fenced-in hallway, with the strong metal bars curving inward to an arch at the top.
"Well, really his name's Diston. Diston Morela Malapart. But I call him Dizzy. He's a very powerful man," the girl observes brightly.
Chase sighs and stands up. "He's a vampire," he says.
The girl is silent, and Chase goes back to inspecting his tiny prison.
They'd brought him here in some kind of courier car, out of the busy station where no one had spared them a second glance, out here to this pretty farmland with an imposing mansion and this tidy little barn with tidy little pens out back. The vampires had held him still while they'd stripped him, taking everything off except that metal collar, then shoved him into this cage and locked the door behind him.
Chase shakes his head, places a hand in the small of his back and stretches, trying to ease out the tension. He turns around, looking again at the furnishings of his prison.
A toilet, set against the back wall. A tiny shower stall, no curtain. A mattress, stuffed with what feels and sounds like straw, on the floor. A shallow metal pan, filled with what looks and smells like dog kibble.
Chase looks up, startled. The girl laughs.
"Vee-chow," she says again. "It's what they call us. That's what the 'v' is for."
Chase regards her for a moment. She's just a kid, looks to be about sixteen or seventeen. A captive like himself, caged in a pen across the barn's center aisle, she's also naked, which is why Chase has tried so far to avoid looking at her.
"I don't understand," he says at last.
She bends down, picks up a kibble chunk from her own pan.
"V for vulgaris," she says. "That's what we are. Vulgaris. The common race. Two-legged animals that they use." She puts the kibble in her mouth, chews and swallows. "Some big company here makes this stuff. It's not bad. You should try it." She smiles. "Dizzy probably owns the company that makes it. He owns lots of stuff."
"Like you?" Chase regrets the words the instant they're out of his mouth, but the girl doesn't seem to mind.
"And you," she replies. "And the guy who was here before you -- Disto shipped him out the day before you got here."
Chase stares at her. "Where? Where did he send him?"
"I don't know," the girl says. "Besides, what difference does it make? People like Disto run this world, and people like us ... "
She falls silent, and Chase looks up again from where he's been testing the cage bars. The girl is staring off into space, a blank expression on her face as if she's forgotten what she was going to say next. He comes to the door of his pen, grips the bars there.
"What's your name?" he asks gently. "My name's -- "
"No!" The girl whirls around; her thin shoulders hunch together. "I don't have a name, and you don't either! Not anymore." She takes a few steps further into her own pen. "So don't you dare go telling me things."
Oh, good job, Robert, Chase thinks. Upset your already-traumatized fellow prisoner, the only one who might be able to help get you out of this mess.
"Hey," he begins awkwardly. "Hey, look, I didn't mean ... I'm ... oh, bloody hell, I have to call you something, so just for now your name is ... uh ... Birdie." He hesitates; the girl hasn't turned around but it looks as if her shoulders lose just a bit of their tension. He clears his throat. "Is that okay? I mean, I know it's not your real name. It's just until we get out of here, all right?"
The girl -- Birdie -- turns around then, and Chase breathes a silent sigh of relief.
"It's all right," she says softly. "But I still don't want to know your name."
It's the next afternoon before Malapart appears, striding through the shafts of sunlight that stream in from the high windows of this barn. The light doesn't burn him, no matter what the folktales say. It sparks on his dark hair and makes those blue eyes glitter as he looks through the bars, grinning.
"You have no right," is all Chase can think to say. "You have no right."
"Are you so sure?" the vampire says. "Are you really?" He passes a mag-key over the lock on the door, slides it open, and then suddenly he's there, inside the pen, close enough for Chase to hit, to punch, to grab hold and choke the fucking life out of this goddamn monster, if only he could touch him. But he's moving too fast, faster than any human, like a whip cobra Chase saw one time at the zoo when he was just a little kid, and the vampire's left hand lashes out like that striking snake and something stings on the side of Chase's neck.
"Ow!" Chase yells, clapping his palm to his throat and fuck, the vampire's already out of the pen, grinning at him.
Chase inspects his fingers; no blood, but the monster definitely got him with ... something. His neck feels hot, and that warmth is creeping steadily down his right shoulder and into his arm.
"You fuck," Chase snarls.
"Like that?" the vampire laughs. "You'll like it even more in a minute or two." He bows in mock invitation. "Door's open. Come on out."
Trap! Chase's brain screams. Don't do it! But damn it, Chase is tired of this. He was supposed to be in Port Saint John two days ago, starting his first fellowship, and instead he's naked, caged, and being tormented by a goddamn folktale.
"Your collar," says Birdie in a small, small voice. "Don't," but Chase does.
The blast of lightning coils around his neck when his right foot touches the threshold. He's only distantly aware of the animal-like howl coming from his throat; he stumbles backwards, hands clutching at his head, and suddenly the floor is coming up to meet him, very fast.
"I'd suggest you lie on your bedding instead of the floorboards," the vampire says. It sounds like his voice is coming from a million miles away.
"Uh," Chase mumbles. The explosion of pain is ebbing away almost as quickly as it had struck, and after a moment he manages to raise himself on his elbows. He's landed next to his mattress; he crawls halfway onto it and turns onto his back. He tries to raise his hand to rub at his eyes but his arm doesn't want to move.
"What?" he says. His tongue feels thick, numb in his mouth.
"What what?" A shadow falls over him. The vampire is standing beside him; Chase attempts to kick out at him but now his legs won't move either. Curiously enough, his brain seems to accept this without panicking.
"Wha ... wha'd you ... " Chase licks at his lips. "Drug'd me," he whispers.
The vampire crouches next to him. "Yes," he says. "I bet you'd like to know what it is."
"Um," Chase murmurs.
"It's called different things on different worlds," the creature says. He sits all the way down, arranges himself comfortably. "Magic carpet, heavengate, softskull, nuvo-heroin, rocking chair."
The words penetrate Chase's brain in a slow blur, but oh shit, he knows one of those names.
"Dictive," he whispers.
"Addictive?" The vampire smiles a little. "Yes, very. But you won't have that problem."
Chase can't seem to turn his head, but he can still hear Birdie.
"Disto, bite me, too? Please, Dizzy."
"Shut up," the vampire says absently, and she does. He reaches out, traces a long finger down Chase's ribcage. "What does it feel like?"
Chase stares at the ceiling. The arching cage bars seem to glow with an unearthly fire. "Pretty," he whispers.
The vampire chuckles, then uncrosses his legs and clambers over Chase to lie full-length on the mattress, his head supported in his right hand. He leans in, takes a deep breath, inhaling Chase's scent. His breath is hot on Chase's neck.
"Mmmmmm," the vampire murmurs, and nuzzles at Chase's throat.
"No," Chase whispers.
"No?" Chase feels warm fingers on his jaw, turning his head ever so slightly.
"Please." Chase's throat feels full; he's floating on a blood-warm ocean of calm, and after all he's been through, that should feel good, but still there are tears prickling behind his eyelids. He draws in a breath that sounds like a sob. "Don't kill me."
"Why would I kill you?" The creature's voice is right in his ear.
"B'cause. Because. You ... you're a vampire."
"Everybody's got to be something," the vampire says softly, and bites him.
Chase's back arches; he tries to scream but nothing comes out. The vampire clamps down hard -- Chase can feel the fangs in his throat, his blood pumping into the creature's mouth. He tries desperately to twist away, but his muscles won't obey, and the vampire presses closer, throwing an arm across Chase's chest, a leg across his thighs, holding him down easily.
From some distance away, he can hear Birdie start up again.
"Mister Diston? Disto, bite me too. Please."
Damned, Chase thinks as the pressure at his throat grows. I'm damned, by God and all His angels. He tries to scream again but all that emerges is a feeble croak.
The vampire feeds for a long time.
It doesn't hurt at all.