ISS – American Conglomerate Officers’ Mess Hall – Morning
Katherine stepped into the officers’ dining hall and looked around the busy room. Various Marine officers sat in groups at tables while enlisted personnel handled the various mess duties.
“Katie!” a voice called to her.
She turned toward the voice, and after making her way through the room, she joined Captain Darby at his table in the corner.
“Good morning, Trent,” Katherine said, taking the seat that Darby held out for her. She appeared relieved that he didn’t offer any display of affection in the public mess.
“Hey, baby,” he said, retaking his own seat. He motioned to one of the enlisted men standing by the serving table. “Private, get my lady here something to eat,” he ordered. “Sharp, now.”
“Aye, Skip,” the Marine said and moved off.
Darby looked at Katherine, who seemed extremely uncomfortable. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “The mess doesn’t offer much beyond reconstituted eggs and soy bacon for breakfast. Otherwise, I would have asked what you preferred. I’ll admit, though, it’s better than the rations we were stuck with on Mars.”
“It was tough?” she asked.
“Not so bad,” he shrugged, “but it was far from sweet duty. The terra-forming effort is slow, but progress is being made. We did good work there, Katie. I’m proud of that.”
“You should be,” she told Trent as the Marine private returned from the serving line and placed a tray full of food in front of her. Even with her Slayer metabolism, it didn’t appear as if she could even put a dent in the offering. “Any clue where your next assignment will be?” she asked.
“I’m hoping for D.C.,” he answered. “I applied for an adjunct position with the Corps’ Extraterrestrial Affairs Office under Brigadier General Howe. With my Mars experience and likely promotion to major, I don’t see why they should turn me down.”
“I’m happy for you, Trent,” Katherine said. “All of your hard work is finally paying off for you.”
“You mean all of our hard work, Katie,” he said happily. “I’ll apply for family housing at Quantico as soon as we get planet-side, and you can join me there. After that, we can take our time to look for off-base accommodations.”
“I’ve got a nice place in Cleveland,” Katherine said, staring down at her uneaten food.
“That’s great!” Darby said. “But there’s no reason you can’t request a transfer to wherever I’m assigned.”
Katherine sighed, and Darby finally seemed to notice her mood. “Katie?” he asked. “What’s wrong? All of our work – all of our plans for our future – all of our dreams – they’re about to come true.”
Katherine looked up him, her eyes reflecting her pain. “I can’t marry you, Trent,” she said softly. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh,” Darby said, his confident posture deflating a bit. “Well, we don’t have to get married right away, you know. We can wait, even until after you’re deactivated if you want.”
“That’s not it, Trent,” Katherine said. “There’s…there’s someone else.”
Darby’s eyes flashed angrily, and he looked away, clenching his jaw repeatedly. After several long moments, he turned back to Katherine, who had her head ducked. “Who?” he asked with a deep breath. “Who is he? What’s his name?”
Katherine lifted her head and met his gaze, a glint of defiance in her eyes. “It’s not a guy, Trent,” Katherine announced.
Darby sat back in his chair with an astounded look on his face. A few seconds later, realization came over his face, and then his anger returned. “It’s Colonel Rosenberg, isn’t it?” he accused. “I thought she looked at me kind of strange last night, but I just figured she was being as tight-assed as the rest of the Council. Jesus Christ, Katie, you’re sleeping with your watcher? How could you?”
“Jo’s not my watcher,” Katherine said. “We work together, yes, but not in that capacity.”
“It’s still not right, Katie,” Darby hissed. “She’s a watcher, you’re a slayer. Some things are just not done.”
“It’s already done,” she said firmly. “I’m sorry, Trent. I never meant for this to happen. Until I met Jo, I was happy to wait for your return.”
“Look, it’s not too late for us,” Darby said desperately. “We can still work this out. We can’t just throw it all away because you had a fling.”
“What I have with Jo is more than just a fling, Trent,” Katherine said, her eyes softening as she spoke of the redheaded watcher. “She’s special. And…there’s something between us. It…it wasn’t something I was looking for, certainly not while waiting for you, but it’s just…powerful. And it’s totally different from what you and I had.”
“Katie…please,” Darby pleaded, but Katherine just shook her head. Darby dropped his gaze.
“I’m sorry, Trent. I never meant to hurt you. I just…fell in love,” she said. Her face creased into a frown as she watched Darby trying to control himself. “Can we…I mean, I’d like us to remain friends.”
Trent slowly raised his eyes. There was so much anger clouding them that even Katherine looked apprehensive. Finally, the captain stood up, grabbed Katherine’s still untouched tray of food, and flung it across the room, causing it to crash against the wall, leaving a glob of cold eggs and ersatz bacon sticking to the mess. Without another word, Trent turned sharply on his heels and left the suddenly silent room.
Katherine glanced around the room and then sighed. “That went well,” she said sarcastically to no one in particular.
ISS – Conference Room – Late afternoon
“Hey Jo. Where’s Katie?” the miniature Willowgram asked when Jocasta activated the mobile emitter.
“Patrolling,” Jocasta said shortly as she worked at the computer terminal. “I’m interfacing your emitter to the station’s computers. We need to find out how the station was infested.”
“Okay,” Willowgram said. “Accessing now.”
“Check the transport records. Look to see if any of the Council’s protocols for preventing demon stowaways were bypassed. That’s always been the most vulnerable point.”
“I’m on it,” Willowgram replied. “It’ll take me a few minutes to organize and analyze the transport reports, though.”
“Thanks, Willow,” Jocasta said before turning back to work at her terminal.
After a moment, Willowgram glanced over at Jocasta and casually said, “Katie must be really busy, I expected to see her.”
“She had some things to take care of today,” Jocasta said. As Jocasta talked, Willowgram’s eyes traced the tense line of the watcher’s jaw. Not noticing Willow’s perusal of her, Jocasta continued, “And I needed to review these reports Alan gave us. With the size of the station, we can’t expect to just run into some vamp by chance.”
“And yet Katie’s patrolling,” Willowgram pointed out.
“That’s what Slayers do,” Jocasta said brusquely.
“Jo,” Willow said, and the tone of the hologram’s voice caused Jocasta to finally turn toward her. “What’s going on?” Willowgram asked.
“It’s a personal issue,” Jocasta replied, turning right back to her terminal to avoid looking at Willowgram.
“Listen, Jo,” Willow said, causing Jocasta to reluctantly turn back. “I want you to know how much I appreciate what you did for me. Your standing up to the Command Council on my behalf is something I’ll never forget. Not that I could forget it, I mean, everything pretty much gets stored permanently once I’m exposed to it, but…if I could forget it, I wouldn’t…not for a very long time.” Willow paused and then added, “I consider you a friend, just like I consider Katie a friend. So if you two are having problems, and if there’s anything I can do to help, I want you know that I’m here for you, for both of you. Even if you just need someone to talk to.”
Jocasta’s expression finally softened, and she smiled at the hologram. “Thanks, Willow,” she said. “I appreciate that. I’m sure Katie does, too.”
“Good,” Willowgram said happily, and then her gaze turned inward. “Data analysis complete,” she announced.
Jocasta’s terminal suddenly changed to display an electronic report. “Hmmm,” Jocasta said as her eyes quickly scanned the report. “Looks like no one signed off on the clearance before this Hubris transport was allowed to depart.
Willowgram switched the display to another report. “It seems as if the control officer in charge of clearing the transport was suddenly taken ill.”
“So…with emergency medics all over the bay, a vampire could have smuggled itself onboard without being noticed,” Jocasta concluded.
“And in the excitement, no one would have thought to complete the check,” Willowgram said.
“Is this the only breach of the Council’s procedures?” Jocasta asked.
“Yes,” Willowgram answered.
“Is there any evidence that the control officer was not ill?”
“Negative,” Willowgram said. “He later died at the hospital, and the listed cause of death was acute myocardial infarction. His assistant at Hubris has already been promoted to replace him.”
“Did he have any history of coronary disease?” Jocasta asked.
“Negative,” Willowgram said again. “But the autopsy report indicated that he used tobacco products and was overweight.”
“So there’s no evidence that it was an unnatural death,” Jocasta said. “And no proof that the infestation was anything except accidental.”
“Correct,” Willowgram said. “I will keep looking, though.”
“Thanks, Willow,” Jocasta said. “I’ll file our report and send it to Giles immediately. Perhaps it’s not too late for him to find out if that poor man’s heart attack was caused by a poison that could mimic the symptoms.”
“Good idea,” Willowgram said.
Jocasta had just sent her report over the Council’s secure channel when the door to the conference room opened, and Katherine entered.
“Hi, guys,” the slayer said with false cheer.
“Hi, Katie!” Willowgram beamed.
“How’d it go?” Jocasta asked flatly.
Katherine frowned. “I covered every millimeter of the district where the Marine corporal was found,” she reported. “Nothing. Not even a twinge from my spidey sense.”
“You didn’t use magic, did you?” Jocasta asked, suddenly concerned.
“No,” Katherine replied. “With so many civilians around, I didn’t think it was a good idea.”
“Okay, good,” Jocasta said with relief in her voice. “Willow and I discovered a possible breach on a Hubris transport that could have allowed a vamp access to the station.”
“And if we assume that only a single demon stowed away on just this one transport,” Willowgram extrapolated, “you could be dealing with a nest anywhere from twelve to fifteen vampires strong.”
Katherine nodded in acknowledgment but remained silent. She looked down at her hands and then back at Jocasta. Jocasta refused to make eye contact, looking away instead. Katherine moved closer and said softly, “Jo, can we talk? Please?”
“We’ve got work to do,” Jocasta said, turning back to her terminal. “We still need to find the nest.”
Katherine looked at Willowgram and said, “Willow, do you mind?”
“Not at all, Katie,” Willowgram said with a wry smile. “I could use a break.”
“Thanks,” Katherine said.
When Willow turned off her emitter and blipped away, Jocasta eyed Katherine with dismay. “That was rude,” she said.
“Not as rude as you’re being,” Katherine countered. Then she took a deep breath and said, “Jo, I broke it off with Trent this morning. It’s over.”
“Well…good, that’s…good,” she said. “How did he take it?”
“Not well,” Katherine sighed. “I don’t blame him. It’s not easy spending three years away from home on a dangerous mission only to come home and find the one you thought was waiting is in love with another woman.”
Jocasta scowled and said spitefully, “I’m sure he’ll get over it.”
Katherine looked at the watcher sharply. “Is that why you’re so upset? Because Trent’s a ‘he’?”
“What?” Jocasta said, clearly shocked. “I can’t believe you asked me that!”
“Are you sure?” Katherine said, anger clear in her voice. “I’ve got news for you, Jo. I’m not 100% gay.”
“I’ve got news for you, too,” Jocasta said, coming to stand nose to nose with the slayer. “I’m not either, but at least I’m honest!”
Katherine’s eyes reflected her hurt, and the same expression in Jocasta’s eyes as well. “Why are we doing this?” she asked, her voice breaking.
Before Jocasta could answer, the door opened up to reveal Captain Darby. “Oh, joy,” she muttered under her breath.
“Colonel Rosenberg,” the captain said coldly, his stance at attention. “There’s been another attack.”
ISS – Maintenance Deck – Short time later
Captain Darby led the two women as they entered a cavernous chamber that seemed to extend for miles. Katherine held back, obviously protecting Jocasta’s back. While Darby carried a Corps-issued percussion rifle and Katherine a simple wooden stake, Jocasta held a data pad.
“This section allows access to every part of the AC’s sector of the station,” Jocasta said to Katherine, looking at the pad. “The vamps probably use it the way they use the sewer systems on Earth.”
“Wow,” Darby said with sarcasm dripping from his voice. “Guess that’s what the Council pays you the big bucks for…such profound wisdom.”
Jocasta’s green eyes darkened as she looked at Darby. “Is that rifle necessary, Captain?” Jocasta asked. “In case you haven’t noticed, we are on a space station with a vacuum outside. We don’t need any decompression accidents, do we?”
“I can handle my weapon,” Darby said defensively.
“After three years on a deep space mission, I’m sure you can,” Jocasta said with a sneer.
“Jo, please,” Katherine said, placing a hand on Jocasta’s arm.
“Jo, huh?” Darby said, his eyes burning. “Guess that makes you the man, eh Colonel?”
“Listen Draby…” Jocasta began.
“That’s Darby,” the Marine replied.
“Why are you here anyway? This is Council business.”
“Collins was my best squad leader,” Darby said. “And I was the one that had to give her the coup de grace when she ‘woke up’ on the autopsy table. That makes it my business and Marine business.”
“Let him stay, Jo,” Katherine said. “If Willow’s prediction on the number of vamps is accurate, we can use his help.”
“Fine,” Jocasta said. “But just remember that in supernatural matters, Council jurisdiction takes precedence. Obey my orders, or I will beat you to death with a shovel.”
Darby opened his mouth to say something when Katherine interrupted. “Guys, over here,” she said as she pointed to a storage locker that was half open. When Katherine pulled the door open all the way, a body fell out and crashed to the deck.
Jocasta let out a sharp gasp, and Darby looked at her with contempt.
“Afraid of a little dead body, Colonel?” he asked.
“Only if it wasn’t yours, Captain,” she replied as she moved forward to kneel next to the corpse.
“Vampire,” she said after gently turning the young man’s neck to reveal the telltale puncture wounds.
“And yet another astute observation,” Darby commented under his breath.
“I’m surprised you can even use a word like ‘astute’ in a sentence, Draby,” Jocasta said as she removed a laser scalpel from her equipment bag.
“What are you doing?” Darby asked, too curious to comment on Jocasta’s deliberate mispronunciation of his name.
“Watchers know their duty, Captain,” Jocasta said before activating the scalpel. “Just like Marines.”
“Jesus,” Darby said, his face whitening as Jocasta neatly severed the corpse’s head from its body while Katherine grimly looked on.
“Katie, check the other lockers for more bodies,” Jocasta ordered.
“All right,” Katherine said and moved off.
“Want to give me a hand here?” Jocasta said to Darby. The captain hurried forward to help Jocasta move the corpse into a body bag she’d taken from her equipment bag.
“Collins, she…” Darby began. “She turned to dust after I…”
“She’d already risen,” Jocasta explained as he trailed off.
“Then how do you know this guy was turned?” Darby asked, accusation in his voice. “Or are watchers in the habit of desecrating corpses?”
“Yes,” Jocasta said simply as she sealed the bag. “Believe it or not, Darby, we do it out of mercy.”
“Mercy” he said in disbelief as they both stood up again. “You watchers are just as much ghouls as the demons you fight.”
“When a vampire kills a human,” Jocasta stated as if lecturing a schoolchild, “then the soul is replaced by the spirit of a demon, which animates the body. As long as the body exists, the soul is trapped on another plane – a purgatory, if you will. By preventing the demon from animating the body, we grant a measure of peace to the poor trapped soul and allow it to move on to the next level.”
“Still seems cruel to me,” Darby insisted.
“Like I said, it’s a watcher’s duty,” Jocasta said before walking away to find Katherine. After a moment, Darby followed.
The Slayer had found, and taken care of, three more corpses. Jocasta took out more body bags, and together they properly stowed the bodies.
“Think we got them all?” Katherine asked.
“Let’s hope so,” Jocasta said. “I’ll ask Alan to have this area flooded with ultraviolet radiation. That will take care of any vamps that haven’t risen yet. With the bloodlust on them, they won’t be able to keep from coming out to hunt. When they do…poof.”
“So much for mercy,” Darby muttered under his breath as he and Katherine stacked the last body to the side. He wiped his hands on his fatigue pants. “What now?”
Katherine walked a few feet away and looked around, her brow furrowed in intense concentration. When she spotted an airlock near the storage area, she asked Jocasta, “What’s that lead to?”
“Outside,” Jocasta said, consulting her pad. “This area allows access to maintenance pods twenty through thirty-five. Are you sensing something?”
“Yes,” Katherine replied. “Definitely vamps.”
“Outside?” Darby asked incredulously. “In zero-g?”
“Does the station’s gravity extend to the outside areas of the station?” Katherine asked.
“Not normally, no,” Jocasta read from her pad. “It costs too much to run the generators, but the field can be initialized when maintenance workers need it.”
“So if we turn it on and they are outside, then we’d alert them to our presence?” Katherine said.
“Right,” Jocasta said.
She looked at Katherine and lifted her eyebrow thoughtfully. Suddenly, the watcher opened a storage locker near the airlock, pulled out an EVA suit, and started to strip. With a quick grin, Katherine began to copy her actions.
“What are you doing?” Darby asked, astonished.
“Going after the vamps,” Jocasta said casually. “Coming?”
Darby’s jaw hung open as he watched the two women. When he finally shut his mouth, he angrily pulled a third suit from the locker.
“You’re forgetting your MAG, Jo,” Katherine reminded her before the watcher could don the ventilation under-suit.
“Oh gods, do I have to?” Jocasta said, rolling her eyes as she looked at the diaper-like garment.
“Yes, you have to. Regulations, you know,” Katherine said, and Jocasta reluctantly pulled it on.
Within minutes, the three were suited up and ready to exit the station. Jocasta entered proper codes into the airlock’s control. They stepped through, and the heavy door closed behind them to begin the cycle to give them access to the exterior of the station.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – Same time
Giles handed a data pad to Veronica Wyndam-Pryce, who was sitting on the other side of his desk. The woman quickly read the pad and then looked up.
“So Jo believes that the infestation could have been deliberate?” she asked the chairman.
“As do I,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s no way to prove it.”
“What about Jo’s suspicions that the control officer might have been murdered?”
“Again, no proof,” he sighed. “The man’s body has already been cremated, and the toxicology samples taken during the autopsy revealed nothing. However, as Jo points out, there are substances that leave little or no trace, so anything is possible.”
“And, of course, Hubris allocates enormous amounts of funding to exactly those kinds of bio-organic research projects,” Veronica noted.
“Exactly,” Giles said.
“What can we do, Giles?”
“Without solid evidence, I can’t take any major action against them,” he said. “However, the Council does wield considerable power, and there are a number of steps I can take to prevent this from happening again.”
Veronica’s eyes shone as if she were just joining Giles in his thoughts. “And at the same time, it would allow us to keep an eye on what they’re up to over there.”
“Exactly,” Giles smiled in agreement.
ISS – External Hull – Minutes later
The vast emptiness of space extended outward, making the small section of the huge station on which the three space walkers were standing seem tiny and insignificant. Jocasta looked around as if assessing the station’s position and then pressed some keys on her suit’s data panel.
“What is it, Jo?” Katherine asked, her voice carrying the faint metallic ring that was courtesy of the communications array.
“Look at how this portion of the station blocks the sun and even the reflection from the Earth,” Jocasta pointed out.
“So?” Darby said, sounding as if Jocasta was wasting his time. “Got news for you, Watcher…give it some time, and the station will swing around, and those vamps will be dust.”
“I don’t think so,” Jocasta said, examining her data once again. “I believe the station has grown so huge that this area is constantly protected from the UV radiation.”
“Giving the vamps the perfect place to nest,” Katherine said.
“Yep,” Jocasta said. Darby tried not to look impressed. “Your spidey sense kicking in yet, Katie?” Jocasta asked.
Katherine looked around and then finally nodded. “This way,” she said, leading them along the structure jutting from the station’s hull.
The other two followed the slayer, their magnetic boots holding them to the hull, making their movements awkward and jerky. Finally, Katherine held up one suit-clad arm indicating that they should stop. As a group, they peered around the edge of the structure.
Close by, they saw at least a dozen vampires. Some were resting. Others were talking. All looked dangerous.
End of Act Three