by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2247)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continum

Return to Part Five of Hotel California - The Barbarian

Images of a place he’d been before met his opening eyes. He couldn’t remember, it all seemed so hazy, so unreal. A grotto, dark, cold, black sky and glittering stars of ice. The ground felt hard beneath his back, but his hands and arms pushed him to a sitting position with strength and calm. When he tried to place things, it all faded into dimly recalled shadows, but to simply perceive was clear and crisp, the sharpness of a knife’s edge.

He rose, steady, assured, his black eyes surveying with piercing caution. He felt no chill other than the one within him. He took a deep, slow breath and didn’t feel the air. Silently he began to glide from the grotto, disturbing not even the shadows, in search of warmth and life.


Double moons were both at full, casting soft, silvery light over the encampment. Tents and wagons formed a circle around a blazing campfire. The woman danced there, eyes flashing heat and promise, her skirt swirling about her thighs, the chains at her waist and on her bare ankles jingling with a steady rhythm. Her golden hair fell to her waist like a whirlwind about her. Full red lips smiled with challenge and invitation as she whirled from the clutching hands of the men who watched her.

He stood just at the edge of the firelight, the night at his back like a cloak. She flickered before him, the flame of a candle, till she curled around herself in a graceful conclusion. There was a shower of copper coins and she scrambled to pick her appreciation from the dirt.

She drew near, and he casually tossed a gold sovereign in front of her. On her knees, she stared, then her gaze swept slowly upward, her face an oval illustration of beauty and desire, both provocative and greedy.

“For your dance,” he said, and at his voice, all was covered in a sensual darkness. She smiled, rising, and stepped toward him, her lithe figure exquisite and enticing. She tossed her hair back and met his eyes with bold allure.

“For your coin,” she offered.

He smiled without smiling and turned, his manner beckoning her to follow. She stuck the coins into a secret fold of her skirt and walked behind him into the shadows.


The smell of life was sweet to him. It filled him with delight and longing. It would pleasure and feed and warm the chill that had begun to ache inside him. He would let its nearness build the urgency from his dark calm, let the animal be aroused to the hungry intensity that drove his existence.

She was beautiful, he would see that she did not forget this night. He stopped in the midst of a moonlit field and turned back to her. He spoke her name and it was but the sigh of the wind on a storm-threatened night, calling, forewarning:


“What, again?!” Kevin complained.

“Why is it always us?” Jilla demanded, her voice trembling.

“You said it was random, Kevin!” Ruth accused.

She shuddered, hesitating only a moment. Then she flung away her clothing, racing to his arms, her hands and lips eager. She moaned in a frenzy born of long practice and furious need.

He enjoyed her for a moment, then put her away from him, his hands entangled in the swirls of her hair. He turned her face to his. Her lips parted in moist expectation, her eyes closing with erotic bliss. His thumbs gently stroked her temples, and after a minute, her eyes opened again curiously.

He let his gaze call to her, deep pools of icy ebony fire, commanding, mesmerizing. Her eyes grew wide, tinged with fear yet compelled by his need. The caress of her temples continued, as sensual as the demand in his eyes. That sensuality grew, more harsh, more lustful. Her breath quickened, terror rising through her, dissolving in the passionate control of his gaze. He saw the knowledge growing in her eyes, the revulsion as she realized what he was, then, too, the fascination. The sweetness of her warmth enticed him, the craving intensifying with each touch of her breath on his lips. Need sharpened and his eyes took on the coal glow of the summons, his fingers tightening against her face. She almost gasped with the final realization, but the violet eyes were swept clean with his imperial insistence. Velvet yielding and acceptance composed her features into calm anticipation. She slowly turned her head, eyes lowered, fully aware and fully consenting.

The thrill of coming satiation surged through him and the fierce patience gave way. His lips parted, his throat anxious, burning for the taste of her. Moonlight glinted for an eternity on razor incisors and he pulled the hair from her soft, golden-cream throat and pierced it with lustful urgency.

Flushed, shivering, Ruth swallowed hard, then lashed out, reaching across Jilla to strike Sulu’s arm with vicious annoyance. He jumped, crying “Ouch!”, then turned in his theater seat to face her.

“You bit me!” she accused.

He rubbed his arm indignantly, but his eyes were fixed on hers, an odd mixture of amusement, chagrin and longing, seeking understanding and forgiveness – and continuation.

He drank deeply of her, the life flowing into him with the rhythm of her heart. Searing, filling warmth, life feeding the hunger. So sweet, so full and thick and sating! His ears were roaring with the headiness, yet he could still hear her moans of passion, the sighs of pleasure that escaped her lips. Good, yes, that she be pleased by his taking. Know the erotica of my dark seizure, he silently told her. Let the waves wash over you, feel the twin penetration of your flesh. I feed from you, golden one, that I may live and be warmed through you. I will not drain you this night. Your taste is too sweet, too rich. No, many nights of feasting will you provide and many nights of this most base, elemental of unions will we enjoy.


“He brings another.”

A whisper of darkness flickered through the moonlit towers. The stone and metal spires gleamed with the night’s radiance, reflecting some impending, silent expectancy, patient omens to demonic calculation. The walls within were smooth and chill; there was no earthly fire that could warm them. They caught and returned the dim illumination of candles and torches with cold distortion, the dull surface smeared with the icy glow.

The woman passed her hand over a shimmering patch of silver and it faded to the metallic opacity of the surrounding walls. She turned, her skin as wintry as the light, the deep shades of velvet blood and burgundy cascading down pale shoulders. The rich velvet of her skirt moved about her without the smallest rustle of sound. Her eyes were piercing flickers of a pale emerald as her whispered voice carried, clear and bitter through the towering edifice.

He brings another!

At the appearance of the burgundy-haired woman, Jilla buried her head against Sulu’s chest.

A figure hurried down the corridor to her, a young, reddish-haired, attractive young man, his face lean and drawn, yet with the look of one grown used to horror.

“Mistress?” he began.

“Do you hear what I say?” the woman shouted, though her voice was still only an echo. The young man trembled.

“He – brings another,” he repeated.

Go!” she commanded. “Bring him to me! And put his slut in the vaults below!”

“Mistress, He will order that she be given rooms of…”

“Do you serve him or me?” the woman shrieked, her eyes blazing with ghastly fury. The man cowered, shaking with fear and dread as she advanced toward him.

“You, always, Mistress…” he faltered.

“Or do you wish to become another of my pets?”

Sulu winced, then caught Ruth’s questioning eyes over Jilla’s hair. He shook his head savagely.

An image flashed through the man’s mind, one of the other who lay chained in the Mistress’ quarters, slavishly worshipping the silver demon, growing weaker and more pale as she fed. He saw the dark, fear-filled eyes and imagined his own, pleading yet echoing with her passion and promises.

“No, please, Mistress, I do as You bid,” he stammered, then turned and fled lest she change her mind.

She stared after him, then turned and again passed her hand over the wall. The metallic surface shimmered and dissolved again into the window that glowed with the pale moonlight.


The girl had not revived from her swoon as he stepped into the entry hall of the great tower. The beasts at his heel fell back at a glance from him, and he fixed his gaze on the young man, giving him both permission to approach and guarantee of safety.

“Handle her gently, Kevin,” he intoned softly. “And take her to a comfortable suite, despite what Our Bitch has told you.”

Kevin bowed, shivering, knowing he would not obey. “Yes, Master,” he said, then continued. “Mistress wishes…”

With the nonchalant wave of one arm, the beasts vanished into the darkness, and their master padded silently toward the chamber stairs. Even the candles leapt in fear at his presence, and Kevin hid his face until he was certain the shadow had passed from sight. Then he looked at the girl who had been placed in his arms.

She was a golden beauty. The feeding had taken her color, yet still she was beautiful. Golden silk reached nearly to the floor, her willowy body was still warm with life, bare breasts rising and falling with mortal breath. Her loins were smooth, her belly gently rounded and quivering with human fear and being. Helpless rage flowed inside him. That one so perfect should endure His obscenities was a blasphemy beyond endurance! Yet there was the proof; twin wounds in the delicate flesh of her throat. A wild thought raced through him. Could he put her outside of this foul place, keep her from His vile affection?

No, the beasts would tear her beauty to mangled shreds.

But would that not be better than the hellish fate that awaits her?

He stared at her for long seconds, until he thought his heart would break. He could not allow her destruction, even if it meant his own. With aching, terrified determination, he stepped toward the doorway.

“I love you,” Kevin whispered, and it was Ruth’s turn to wince as Sulu gave her a questioning glance.


“You give your servants dangerous orders.”

The silver woman turned, well aware of the presence of the dark one long before he spoke. She met his ebony ice with flames of emerald.

“You allow yourself dangerous courses,” she countered.

“I feed where I will,” he thundered quietly. “As do you.”

“But I make pets, not brides!” she replied, her voice a sibilant hiss. He strode to her, the elegant, finely manicured hand lightly grasping her jaw. Her head pulled back, her lips parting to reveal the sharp, gleaming ivory of her teeth.

“Is it competition you fear, sweet Jilla?” he asked. The blaze in her eyes softened.

“And should I not, my love?”

He smiled, his own incisors glistening pearl. His eyes sparkled with ebony opalescence. “You are my first, sweet. There is no one who can replace you, however many I shall add. You hold special for me. I do not forget it, nor should you.”

She retuned his smile, pressing the chill of her pale cheek against the fresh warmth of his chest. His arms came about her shoulders as her fingers idly yet swiftly played at opening his shirt. He felt the scratch of sharp nails and looked down at her, meeting her hungry, burning gaze.

“Is there love for me this night, Sulu?” she whispered, seductive and sensual.

He laughed, a hollow, hell-born sound of depravity and demonic mirth. His own sharp-nailed fingers held open the edges of his shirt, and his voice was lustful and thick with obdurate desire. “Drink well, my darling, and deeply,” he said.

With eager urgency, she slashed her forefinger across his chest. He moaned with the sudden pleasure as her greedy lips fastened on the jagged wound. His fingers tangled in her hair, savagely caressing the delicate points of her ears, harshly keeping her pressed against him. His being throbbed with the passion of her heady feeding. He closed his eyes, losing himself in the ecstasy of the flow, feeling the warmth he had taken such a short time ago being transferred to her, filling her as he had been filled. It was nearly as sating to give as to receive…

The reverie was rudely interrupted by the sharp baying of his beasts in the courtyard below the tower. With a snarl of anger, he flung the woman away from him, hurling her to the floor across the room.

“Your servant, my sweet!” he hissed, his eyes flashing. She looked up at him, her mouth a scarlet gash in the silver features. “I will be obeyed!” He turned and started out the door, his roar echoing from the icy walls. “You will tend to him, Jilla, as you should have!”

She cowered at his tone, yet hissed her rage after him.


The door was open, the beasts began to growl in menace. The girl’s violet eyes snapped open as Kevin kicked at the lead animal. It yelped, then howled. The girl screamed, and the other beasts took to baying. She clutched at Kevin’s arms.

“I have to,” he sobbed, in both pain and fear. “Do you want to go back to…”

“You will cease!” A cold harsh voice rang from the darkness of the stairway. Weeping, Kevin froze as the beasts stopped their hideous warnings.

“Igor, go out and commit seppuku,” Sulu chuckled, trying to lighten the mood and bring them back from the intensity of the cinema.

“Yeth, Mathter,” Kevin replied with a heavy, lisping accent.

“Whose fantasy is this?” Jilla asked, her voice soft with uncertainty and confused dread.

“I may be a carnivore, but it isn’t mine,” Ruth replied, then scowled at Kevin. “And you keep out of it. I know what I want.”

He strode across the entry hall and grabbed the boy by the collar. He jerked him from the doorway, pulling the girl from his arms. He spoke soothingly to his pets, then gently shut the door, turning to Kevin, who was cringing in a corner.

“Go to your mistress,” he ordered sharply.

The boy whimpered and the Master's eyes became horribly glowing coals of obsidian. “Go!” he snapped. Kevin raced to the stairway, trembling, and stumbled into the shadows.

The girl stared, her eyes wide and frightened, huddling against the wall, trying to cover her nakedness. He spoke softly to her, reaching out his hand.

“Come,” he said. “Do not fear. You are yet weak and must rest and regain strength and health.” His eyes called to her, gleaming with the memory of the pleasure. She shivered, and her hand went to her throat. He smiled for but a second. “Yes, remember,” he murmured. “You will know it again, Come, Ruth.”

She took his hand, stood, and as if in a daze, let him enfold her in his arms


Kevin approached the quarters of the Mistress, sick with dread. Was it at last to happen, what he had feared so long? She had promised, never, as long as he obeyed. Would it not have pleased Her to have the golden one torn and useless to Him?

He prayed to a god he could no longer believe in and lifted his hand to knock on the heavy, metal door. A sound stopped him, a low moan of anticipation, then the Mistress’ voice, sweet and enticing.

“Soon, my love, soon. Why must you be so anxious? Deny me not the pleasure of you now, for we shall have eternity.” Her tone rose with vehement promise. “Eternity, to feed and feast and lie together! Eternity, my love!”

Jilla gasped, shrinking against Sulu in horror, squeezing her eyes tightly shut.

Kevin choked as the whispered answer echoed Her desire.


He dared not disturb Her now. He crouched before the door and waited. The sounds of pleasure and gratification grew, and long minutes passed before the final sigh faded into silence. Still, he waited, until he was certain She had finished, then he knocked hesitantly, softly.

“Come,” she said.

He entered, bowing, eyes lowered, not wishing to see the pale, half-dead wreck of a man that was her companion. She lay on rich, ebony velvets, her face flushed with warmth and life, the lips full, nearly bursting with the fresh new blood in her. She was languid, sleepy now, he knew, and glutted. A wave of relief washed over him. She would feed no more this night.

“Mistress,” he began, “the Master said…”

She laughed lightly. “Ignore the Master, Kevin,” she breathed. “There will soon be nothing he can do here.” She laughed again, and Kevin stole a glance at the wall. “You are observant, as always,” she went on in a tone colder and more deadly. “Go now, and keep to your chambers under pain of my wrath!”

“Yes, Mistress.” He hurried out the door, forbidding himself to contemplate the meaning of her words.


Dawn was fast approaching. Sulu laid Ruth gently back on the satin coverlet, arranging her hair into a pillow of gold. He touched his lips softly to hers. “Sleep, there are many nights awaiting us,” he whispered, then silently left her for the safety of his sepulcher.


She awoke with a start and a small cry of fear. Her neck was stiff and sore and she felt weak and dizzy. Nightmares crowded her thoughts, swirling in shades of sensual terror. Or were they night visions? She remembered the man, the gold piece – how cold he was! Sweet God, it can’t be! Her fingers flew to her throat, to the two, small wounds there. She gasped and gagged, doubling up on the bed. Her nakedness startled her for a moment, until she recalled the eagerness with which she had run to him. Him! She shuddered, the fear and horror mixing with dark, heady desire. She wanted him, loathed the wanting, yet wanted still.

‘But you must do more. You must show them your power. You must make them know it, and fear it, and want it, and fear the wanting, and, my pet, you must make them want the fear.’

Sulu’s thoughts echoed the terror, and he closed his eyes, desperate to shut out the cinema’s revelation of his secret horror.

Eyes of jet burned in her memory, searing and erotic, the sharp pain and ghastly excitement, the passion that forced the moans of need from deep in her being…

She cried out again. Sweet God, no!

In a frenzy of panic, she rose from the bed, hurriedly searching for something with which to cover herself. There was a gown of the palest peach silk in the wardrobe and she grabbed it, pulling it on. She ran to the door, twisting the knob, and almost burst into grateful sobs as it turned, the door swinging open on silent hinges.

Out into the chill corridor she raced, not knowing where to go, trusting her instincts to help her escape from the horrors that she knew waited. The candlelight reflected in smears of light against the metal walls, cold and foreboding. The terror built ever greater inside her – she had no way of knowing if the sun was gone. Is there no end to this hallway? There, a door! Pray God it’s open!

She flung herself at it, pushing with fevered strength. It, too, opened silently.

A soft groan and the heavy clank of chain reached her ear. She raised her head, tossing the waterfall of gold away from her face and her eyes were met with a sight pathetic and horrible and heart-stopping.

A man looked up at her, the dulled eyes sunken in a face pale and wan. His body, now weak and emaciated, had the lines of once-powerful elegance and lean strength. The hands were long-fingered, the wrists chained to the wall. All that remained of his clothing were dark satin breeches. The faded olive chest and arms were bare, and at his throat, just under the scraggly line of beard, were two horribly fresh wounds.

She stared, letting herself fall into the misery and shame of the dark eyes. She knew she could share his fate. Sudden pain and sympathy raged inside her, growing with a sorrowful communion, filling her eyes with soft tears. There must be a God to take pity on him! she cried silently, and the tears escaped, falling in drops of mercy on the cold floor.

The voice that spoke was low and hoarse, halting tones of hope.

“No one has ever shed tears for me, Lady,” the man said.

“Sure and for the love of God…” Kevin groaned.

“Shut up!” Ruth hissed.

“My name is Ruth,” she stammered.

“Leave this place then, Ruth,” he continued. “There is no hope for me. I crave too much the foul kiss of the silver one.”

No, I will not allow it! she thought. Surely there must be a way to save this poor, brave man! He spoke again, as though reading her thoughts.

“No, dear Ruth. Even were I free of these chains, I cannot be free of the desire. Go now, before She wakes and comes to feed and finds you here.”

His words put the fear in her anew, and her mind yearned to flee, yet still her heart bid her stay. He saw her hesitation and his voice trembled in its agony.

“Do you not understand? It is a need, it cannot be ignored. And it is not finished!” The fire and urgency that leapt into his eyes seared her, and she turned and fled.

“Damn it,” Ruth sighed tightly. Sulu tried to grin at her.

“Blew it again, huh, Spike?” he whispered, then flinched as her hand stopped inches from his face.


Where is she!?” Sulu thundered, and his voice set the beasts to howling in terror.

“Do I keep track of your sluts?” Jilla shrieked back.

He whirled, preparing to leave the dark crypt and she hurried after him, taunting. “You must leave your brides beautiful, mustn’t you?!” she screamed. “No chains to keep them from wandering, it might mar their sweet, warm flesh!”

With fury he turned back, grasping her shoulders in a bone-crushing grip. “Be thankful I took such care with you, or you would find precious little to sate your appetites!” he snarled, and threw her away from him. She rose, again coming after him.

“I know how to handle sustenance, Sulu,” she hissed. “If you have forgotten, you’d best prepare for a swift end!”

His eyes turned colder than the coldest ice, and his voice was a whisper of lethal intensity. “Do you threaten me, my sweet?” he asked.

She drew back, but her words were not cautious. “I warn, my love,” she replied.

“Then take heed to it yourself,” he snapped, and walked away from her. She followed, at a distance, and heard his voice as he reached the entry to the tower. “And as you have not seen fit to deal with your servant, I shall. Immediately.”

Jilla bit back a snarl as he disappeared, then her lips drew into a chilling, diabolical smile, and she hurried to her rooms.


Even before the door flew open, Kevin knew. He scurried in mortal terror to the farthest corner of his small chamber, hiding his face.

“Come, Kevin,” came the silky, deadly tones of darkness, only thinly veiling the malevolent anger.

“Master, I was told…” Kevin began, trembling, not daring to look up.

“I care not what you were told!” was the roaring answer. “You will come with me, to your Mistress’ bed.” The tone softened into a wicked taunt. “Surely that is what you’ve been waiting for, is it not, Kevin? To feel her lips, her final, eternal kiss?” The laughter was hollow, as of a wind through ancient trees, dry, soulless, horribly amused. Kevin cowered, the tears of panic building in his eyes. An icy hand with a grip of steel pulled him to his feet. “Come.” It was an imperious command, and Kevin sobbed as he stumbled along behind his Master’s long, silent strides.

“Please stop this,” Jilla murmured, her voice shaking.

“We should have about fifteen minutes ago,” Ruth added nervously.

“Except you didn’t think so fifteen minutes ago,” Kevin rejoined acidly.

“Okay, Kevin, cut it out,” Sulu growled.

“Sulu, I want to stop this,” Jilla said again.


“It is time, my love,” Jilla whispered, releasing the man from his chains. “But we must hurry. He will try to stop us.”

The man’s eyes were locked onto hers, dull, empty of all but her promise and the will to obey. He reached for her, caressing the iciness of her body, tense with anticipatory hunger. Long-nailed fingers pressed against his jaw, urging, fondling, turning his head with relentless need. He followed her guidance willingly. She licked her lips, anxious and greedy, her breath soft against his throat. So bitter, yet so warm, a strong familiar scent of life and need. They were both caught in a heady shudder as her teeth reentered the deep wounds.

She drank deeply, swiftly. No pleasant feed; this time to drain, to take all the life yet not kill. To bind him to her, to bring him to the passion that drove her, to make him one with her. Be mine, my love! she thought. You are strong, stronger than He! You will rise and feed and cast Him away from us! It is to you I will belong, with you I will find the perfection of damnation!

The flow was slacking, the warmth of his flesh nearly gone. A moment more, then you will know eternity! He fell back, away from her, and she forced herself to ignore the languor that was rapidly taking her. You are sated, it said, rest and enjoy.

He is to be mine! she told it, and opened her eyes. The gash was quickly torn in her palm, and she pressed it savagely to his lips.

“Spock,” she whispered, “kah if farr!

“Zehara, get her out of this!” Ruth cried urgently. Jilla was transfixed, staring at the screen, caught, her eyes horribly bright, right hand clutching her left wrist. Ruth turned to Sulu, “Do something!”

“I can’t,” Sulu whispered.

She felt his lips move, then open, eagerly receiving what she had taken from him. Slowly at first, then stronger, more powerful, turning from obedience to demand. She stroked his temple, conveying to him all the wonder and beauty of the night; its delicious chill and summoning darkness, its power and black desire. Her own thoughts began to fade with the weakness as he drank more and more deeply. No, it must stop, he cannot glut himself this first feed. He must be aware and strong, for Sulu will come.

She pulled her hand away, replacing it with her lips. He snarled angrily and tried to throw her off, but he was not yet used to his new state, and she prevailed. When he calmed, she drew away. Quickly and softly she gave to him, orienting him, leading him to the depths of what he now could feel. She gave him knowledge of his power, his strength and mastery and completion, seeing the carnal egoism that would make him survive growing within him, replacing mortal concern and emotion. He accepted all she gave, he grew dark and darker still with the erotic, ghastly wisdom of their kind. The change altered him utterly and he Became. When the door burst open, he stood beside her, tall, proud and irredeemable.


Kevin stared from the doorway, his presence immediately forgotten. The Master was locked in an intense and furious battle of wills with the Mistress’ new one. The fledgling was strong, impossibly so. How could he have had to the time to Become? Or had the Mistress given him to the undeath yesterday? No, She had been sated, She could not have returned to the peak necessary for the changing. How could it be?

Sulu’s eyes burned with malicious fury. You dare to challenge me, my sweet? And with one so young? Your wits have left you, or you yearn for destruction. Either way, destruction is what you will receive.

He was surprised at the power, but he was still Master. He called on all the force within him, bending the fledgling to his will, taking him from the persuasion of the silver one. She felt the loss, he knew, and smiled at the fear that was growing in her. I will win, my sweet, he taunted. I always win. Haven’t you yet learned it? A pity, you were so lovely. But you will be replaced now, as you thought to replace me. Your – pet, is it? – will not aid you, and I will have the golden one.

No words were spoken, yet Kevin heard all, and understood only one thing. The Master had not yet taken the golden one to him. There was yet a chance to save her – and himself. If he could only summon the courage…

A silver-tipped spear rested in the hands of a sculpted god, and he seized it.

Sulu fell as the spear pierced him, shooting through him, searing between Jilla’s breasts. She screamed as Kevin fell to his knees with hysterical laughter, disturbing the abrupt piles of dust. He didn’t notice the swift movement of the fledgling until he felt the grip of cold steel and the touch of lips at his throat.

Jilla screamed and Sulu cried out in shock and agony, drowning out Ruth’s shriek.

God, somebody stop this!”


Ruth woke with a start, shivering with more than the cold. The howling had stopped, but the terror was still icy around her. She was frantic, almost mad with fear. For a night and a day she had hidden in the darkest corner of the darkest hall she could find, praying that sleep would not betray her. She had found the door, but the howling, snapping beasts had driven her back in horror. Yet now, she wished she had gone to them. Silent, deep foreboding filled her, and she knew she would be found. Her mind was numb with the agony of fear that consumed her, yet with each thought of the monster came the thrill of need, the power of his embrace and the hellish pleasure at the touch of his lips. For she knew she was not to be a feast. He wanted to make her his. He wanted her soul.

She wept in fear, despair taking her. What were the horrible screams she had heard, two that were sounds straight from hell, one a life-crushing shriek of mortal terror? Why had the beasts, who had bayed and snarled so viciously, suddenly fallen so deathly silent? Where was a light and a morning to end this horror? She nearly screamed with the anguish of her own hysteria.

“Ruth,” a soft voice said, and she jumped, sobbing with sudden panic. A hand reached out to her, long-fingered, caressing her hair, and she turned, eyes wide and tear-filled. The face was still drawn, still pale, but the eyes glowed with being and knowledge. The wrists still bore the marks of the cuffs that had held him, his arms and chest still bare. He held out his arms, smiling faintly, and she burst into sobs of relief, collapsing into his strong embrace, her wet cheek barely noticing the chill of his skin. He stroked her, soothingly, comforting the fear.

“It is over,” he murmured. “It is over and they are gone, Hush Ruth, my love, my sweet…” His hands were gently sweeping the golden strands from her throat, almost unnoticeably turning her head. She sighed, holding to him, smiling, raising her eyes to him.

Her screams echoed through the spires and towers with the gleam of ivory from his lips.


“For god’s sake, Kevin, help her!” Sulu hissed frantically as Ruth’s scream echoed through the theater. Kevin was sitting, numbed, trembling and Sulu shook him. “Kevin!

The blue eyes focused, and he shuddered and Sulu pushed him toward Ruth, then turned back to Jilla’s silent weeping. He knelt in front of her, speaking her name quietly, firmly, holding her head, forcing her to look at him. He’d seen nothing more of the cinema after his screen image’s death. Ruth’s scream had brought him back. But Jilla was still caught in the bloody vampiric ritual, held by the horrible perversion of the thing most sacred to her, the terrible, brutal expression of her damnation. Sulu could hear Kevin’s shaky voice trying to calm Ruth, heard him telling her it was all right, just a fantasy, apologizing for it even though it hadn’t been his fault. Any more than it’s mine, or Jilla’s or Ruth’s, Sulu told himself savagely. But the thing knew, it saw deeper than…

He heard Ruth’s deep, shuddering exhale and knew she’d be all right. Then she said, “Jilla!” and he felt her moving beside him.

“I can’t get her out of it,” he said.

“Damn it, Jilla, it’s not you!” Ruth cried, and Sulu could almost feel the telepathic thunder that accompanied the words. Jilla blinked, then began shaking. Sulu pulled her into his arms, Ruth and Kevin joining him to huddle around her protectively. Each comforted her, soothing her away from the nightmare, and when she burst into audible sobs, Sulu sighed in relief. This kind of madness he could deal with.

He held her gently, calmed her, letting her cry until she got her tears under control. Gradually he gave way to Ruth, knowing Jilla couldn’t express this particular anguish to him, and sat back in his theater seat.

“You go through that a lot?” Kevin whispered uneasily.

“No,” Sulu answered, “but she does, inside, all the time.”

It was several minutes before Ruth and Jilla stood. "Okay?” Kevin asked.

“Okay,” Ruth replied. Jilla nodded, moving quickly into Sulu’s arms.

“Let’s get the hell out of here before we get stuck in another one,” Sulu said.

“Hell yes!” Ruth agreed heartily. They walked swiftly to the exit, into the bright sun of a Darius afternoon.


“Where to?” Kevin asked as he slid his arm around Ruth’s waist.

“I could use a drink,” Sulu muttered.

“Several,” Ruth returned. “And a couple dozen hits of Rigellian.”

“Ah, a real leave,” Kevin sighed, and there were the beginnings of laughter. The first bar they came to was called Nebula and it was the one they went into.

“Why are all colony worlds so pretentious?” Ruth asked with a credible show of innocence. The ripple of laughter was easier. They walked into the dimly lit smoke and noise and found a booth. A waitress took their orders: two pipes of the best Rigellian, one saurian brandy - after the server apologized for not having heard of ycasan, the Antari wine - one flask of sake and several shots of Irish whiskey. Jilla had to be persuaded to order a glass of wine – burgundy, of course.

The drinks were downed almost immediately – except for Jilla’s wine, though she did take several sips – and it was only after one full pipe had been shared between three of them and the second lit that they began to talk.

“That was more than a psychocin,” Sulu said. “It was playing for us, to us, on our personal fears and desires.”

“But how?” Jilla asked hesitantly. “Kevin said it was supposed to be random.”

“It is,” Kevin insisted. “There are supposed to be regular thematic frames that people just drop into, just harmless stereotypes. But this…” He shrugged. “I can’t explain it.”

“Do you suppose everyone saw what we did?” Ruth wondered.

“I don’t know that either,” Kevin replied. “No one was reacting to our reactions. And it’s supposed to be random; other people should’ve been showing up.”

“Well, the characters were us from the get go,” Sulu commented. “That’s not supposed to happen either…” His voice trailed off and he glanced down at the pipe. “Strong stuff,” he said.

“I don’t feel very well,” Jilla said suddenly.

“Me neither,” Kevin added.

“Well what do you expect with all that whiskey,” Ruth returned.

“I had no…” Jilla began, then stopped, her eyes closing.

“Hon, are you all right?” Sulu asked, then put a hand to his forehead. “Damn!” he whispered. “Some sake.”

“No, some smoke,” Ruth rejoined, “because I feel it too….”

It was the last thing any of them remembered.


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