Tadik roused out of pleasant dream in which he played with Braidie in the garden of the family home, running around the lawn chasing a big red ball. He tried to stretch but hurt too much. Then he realised where he was and that someone was sitting beside him, holding his hand and squeezing it gently. He opened his eyes and found D'vork sitting close to his bed, with an expression of amusement on his rugged race. Tadik blinked at him, wondering what had made D'vork smile. "What's up?"
"It's obvious you don't have much control over your ability to heal yourself yet."D'vork pointed to Tadik's stump. "You didn't really think things out, did you?"
Tadik raised his stump to look at it and saw a new type of dressing on it; much lighter and leaving the scar at the end exposed. "Okay, what?"
D'vork touched the scar and Tadik flinched, expecting it to hurt as before. D'vork said, "You wanted to grow your arm back and it seems to be working; what you didn't do was make room for it and to grow new skin cells. What you felt was a nail trying to break through your existing skin. You also started at the wrong end of the problem; you should have started by creating a new elbow at the end of your upper arm."
"So what difference does that make?"
"At the moment your new hand is growing at the end of your upper arm and not at the end of the new bones of the lower arm. Left as it is, there is nowhere for it to grow; if it isn't attended to it will become deformed and your stump will give you a lot of pain. After you have rested a couple of hours, Inmahn will to do a little work on your stump so that there will be space to grow the elbow first between your stump and the hand. In the meantime, stop willing it to grow any further. Just concentrate on making more skin cells, okay? That will prevent the tightness you're feeling. You have to adjust the skin and flesh as well as the hand."
Tadik gazed into D'vork's eyes and deep inside he saw a hint of something his lover didn't want to tell him, but Tadik was too tired to demand an explanation. He had ten days of doing nothing but wait so he'd be patient. When D'vork left to attend to other duties, Tadik studied his stump and marvelled at what he had done, He had actually grown a new hand! Wow! How cool was that?
D'vork found Plumser Otrall sitting at the new com control, typing away at a report. The Quastorian glanced over his shoulder and gave D'vork a welcoming smile. "Captain, I was hoping you might come to see me. I am informing Sir Jeffus of our change of destination. Have you anything to add about Tadik's condition?"
"Only that he's getting ahead of himself with this healing project."D'vork explained the new problem to Otrall who requested that he be allowed to visit the boy.
"You're a busy officer and can't sit with him all the time, so I'd like to offer myself as a distraction while he's in the medical bay."
D'vork agreed but warned Otrall not to tire Tadik too much, and to leave him alone if he wished to sleep. Otrall stayed at the com for another ten minutes before closing it down, telling his faithful security chief standing outside his quarters that he would be going to visit the medical bay.
"In that case, Excellency, may I have a word with you?"
"Of course, come in for a moment."Otrall turned away and heard the chief step inside and close the door. When he turned to ask the chief what he wanted to talk about, his eyes widened with shock.
"There you are; all done."
Tadik watched as Inmahn strapped the last of the dressings into place on his stump. It felt a little weird, having a clear plastic air dressing that he could see through; then he remembered the dressing he had on his leg when he was a kid. He studied his stump and wondered how the hand would develop and appear through the end of it; but that was up to him wasn't it?
"Now listen to me, young man,"Inmahn said in a stern voice, "you must promise not to go poking around and disturbing anything, and no more growing things. There'll be plenty of time for that when we get to Gpuchk. You've still got a lot of damage from the Towdak poison to cope with. Reserve your energy for that for the time being. Now, do you feel like having a visitor? The Captain is busy now but the Quastorian Ambassador has offered to keep you company for a while. He's a well travelled man; I'm sure he has some amazing stories to entertain you with. He has strict orders to let you sleep if you feel tired."
Tadik liked the idea of having some company and Inmahn let the ambassador in. Otrall hurried to the bed with a broad smile. "Hello, my boy; how are you feeling now?"
"Fine. How are you?"
Otrall's smile faded a bit. "I'd feel better if we were headed for Quastor but strange things do happen from time to time and upset the best laid plans. That is life, my boy, as you will learn as you grow older. Now, here is something to cheer you up."Out of a deep pocket, Otrall produced a container filled with of tiny berries. Tadik recognized them as rare papuberries, a rare native Quastorian delicacy. He had only tried them once and his mouth watered at the memory. "Oh, wow! Thanks Ambassador."
"Call me Plumser; we're friends aren't we?"Plumser came close to place the container on the treatment table beside Tadik's bed, and Tadik caught a whiff of something not very nice. Plumser took a berry out of the container and popped it into Tadik's waiting mouth, and the thought of Quastorian hygiene not being as good as a human's went out of his mind as he bit down and the sweet lemony flavour of the fruit filled his mouth. Plumser laughed and fed him another. After eating five of these rich fruit, Tadik decided he would leave the rest for later. Plumser nodded and sat back in the chair Inmahn had left by the bed. "They were my son's favourite fruit."Tadik watched tears fill Plumser's eyes. "He would have been your age if he had lived."
"What happened to him?"
"Oh, it's a long story. He did something he wasn't supposed to. He was ten earth years old at the time. Some friends persuaded him to try and fly my new hovercar and he lost control. They were all killed. But let's not talk of tragedy; let's talk about you getting better. You have a long way to go before you are fully recovered; you've had a bad time of it."
"I'll be okay, but thanks for caring."
"How would I not care; you saved my life and those of my men. I hold you in great esteem. You're a very brave young man and I'm honoured to know you."
Tadik smiled at him and reached for another berry, and another till he had eaten all but the last one which dropped from suddenly numb fingers and rolled off the bed. Something buzzed in his head and Plumser's face lost its shape, and the smell returned; this time a lot stronger. Towdak! Why hadn't he recognized it before?
"Not long now, Earthling."Plumser's voice sounded more gravelly than usual. "Just relax and let things happen."
The emergency alarm pulsed throughout the ship with shrill urgency, and caught D'vork deep in the bowels of the ship, carrying out his customary inspection of the hydroponics labs. At the same time, his comm bleeped. Seeing it was bleeping red he knew the alarm had been activated in the medical bay. Swearing under his breath he transported himself to Medical and hurried to Tadik's room where he found Inmahn and three other orderlies bent over the bed. He thrust an orderly to one side and stared down at the boy; still and hardly breathing as Inmahn held an oxygen mask over his face. D'vork grabbed Inmahn's arm. "What's happened? What's wrong with him?"
Inmahn glanced up at him. "He's been poisoned."
"Again? How can you be sure? How did it happen?"
"I'm not sure how, Captain, but my preliminary tests confirm a poison of some sort was administered within the last hour. I've sent a blood sample to the lab; I should have the results very soon."
"So who's been in here that had access to him?"
"Only the orderlies and I'll vouch for all of them. The only other person allowed in was Ambassador Otrall, with your express permission I believe."
Inmahn moved in front of him to check Tadik's pupils and D'vork stepped back to give him more room. He stepped on something wet and slipped. An orderly caught him in time and he looked down to see what he had trodden on. Seeing a smear of red, he lifted his leg up to check the sole of his boot."What is this?"
Inmahn glanced down, grabbed a tissue from the bedside table and carefully wiped the red mush off. Lifting the tissue to his nose, he sniffed at it. "Papuberry and something else I don't recognize!"
D'vork and the android stared at each other and a growl erupted from deep within D'vork's throat. "Plumser Otrall!"Minutes later he and his personal security team materialised outside Otrall's quarters. Once Otrall's guards got over the shock of their arrival they barred the door.
D'vork nodded to a senior guard he did not recognise. "I want to see the Ambassador, now"
The guard shook his head. "Sorry Captain, the Ambassador is not to be disturbed."
"You heard the alarm. There is an emergency and you will open that door or I'll have my men open it for you."
The Quastorian guards sneered at him and moved to make a closer wall in front of Otrall's door, and D'vork finally lost his patience. He raised his right hand, a signal for his men to take action, and charged, his animal genes coming into play. No one could ever mistake the threat of a group of Gpuchkians with bared teeth and their features pulled into an angry bearlike snarl. The Quastorians reacted instinctively, raising their weapons but were unprepared for the speed of the attack. With a roar, D'vork grabbed the senior guard and threw him to one side while his team dealt with the rest of them. As soon as the dazed guards had been relieved of their weapons, D'vork hauled the senior guard towards the door and slammed him into it. Holding him there, he growled into his ear, "Open the door before I have you stripped and turned into my lunch."
Shaking, the guard inserted the correct code into the door lock. The door slid open and D'vork threw the guard into the chamber. Stepping over him, D'vork looked round the outer reception room and finding it empty continued into the private lounge. What he saw made him shout for assistance. Using his comm he ordered emergency medical staff to attend. Otrall lay on the floor, his face ashen, eyes staring in horror at something only he could see. D'vork checked his pulse and found it racing far beyond a normal Quastorian heartbeat.
D'vork gazed round at the assembled people sitting round the ship's conference table. Otrall's deputy, Vessy Towk sat beside him as acting head of the Quastorian delegation. It had taken Otrall over three hours to recover sufficiently enough to tell them anything about the attack. Almost completely paralysed and still in shock, he had at first answered D'vork's gentle questions with one slow blink of an eyelid for yes, and two for no. Then in the last half hour he had regained his speech enough to tell his story in an almost inaudible whisper. He had watched, helpless, as his chief security guard morphed into a hideous creature before his shocked eyes. The creature had grabbed him by the throat before he could scream a warning, and the last thing he remembered was the creature breathing into his mouth. Had he ever seen a creature like that before? No. Would he remember it? Yes.
D'vork straightened up in his chair and addressed those gathered at the table. "So here is what we are dealing with. Something alien is on board this ship with the intention of killing Tadik, and invading anyone to fulfil his purpose. Tadik Versont is stable, thanks to the swift action of Inmahn and the medical team but he is in a coma and we cannot ask him for information."D'vork's gaze shifted to Vessy who looked decidedly uncomfortable. "You have my sympathy, Councillor Towk, and I know you would prefer to be with the Ambassador at this time, but we must deal with this as an emergency of great import which concerns every person or living being on this ship; your cooperation is vital. We must all be alert, and I expect your men to be most vigilant at all times. Is that understood?"
Vessy Towk's jowls wobbled as he nodded his agreement. "I have already told our men that they are once again under your command, Captain. We want to find out the identity of the Ambassador's attacker as much as you do. Just tell us what to do and we will do it."
"That's just it, Vessy; I have no idea what to do, hard as it is to admit it. Never in my lifetime or that of my father has Gpuchk had to deal with shape-shifters or beings that will inhabit another body for whatever reason; and I am certain planet Earth has not had such visitations of their kind either."
Towk nodded thoughtfully, a frown puckering the skin between his wide set eyes. "I wish I could say the same about my own home planet of Quastor, Captain, but our archives have a few instances of such sightings in centuries past. If you will allow me, I will investigate the archives myself. With your permission I will use the new consul in the Ambassador's quarters; it has a direct link with Quastor. It may take a little time to access the archives but I will be as quick as possible."
"Thank you, Councillor; I appreciate any help I can get. Meanwhile I will go and see if Inmahn has any way of identifying our visitor. He has the ability to see others differently, having laser sight."D'vork smiled softly. "It almost reminds me of that old series of comics in the archives on Earth, about someone called Superman who had the ability to see what humans couldn't. The rest of you gentlemen, return to your posts and inform your officers and men that they are all to stay on duty till this alien is apprehended. Commander U'lac, I need to be free to move to any part of the ship at a second's notice so you have command of the ship."
In respect of Councillor Towk's greater age, D'vork offered him transport to the Ambassador's suite by the use of his own wrist comm. With his hands gripping the Quastorian's shoulders, they soon stood outside Otrall's lounge where he bade the Councillor farewell and headed for the medical bay. He had been away from Tadik for far too long, although he knew Inmahn would have called him if the boy's condition had changed in any way. But relying on Inmahn wasn't the same as being there himself, especially when Tadik woke up. The boy would need his assurance, and his deepest love. Outside the medical bay he glanced down to check his state of dress, and shock registered that he still wore the stained and crumpled uniform from his earlier encounter with the Quastorian guard. It would not do to present himself to his lover looking like a battle scarred survivor. He smiled and tapped his wrist comm. Had he delayed for a few seconds he would have seen a shimmer of darkness reaching out towards him from a few feet away.
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