"Commander of Engineering: Life Support Nisha Tirracha" it read clearly on the chestplate of her environment suit. She didn't feel quite so commanding at the moment. The smell of long-unwashed Felinzi sweat didn't help, either.
"Relax, T'Nisha," Captain Sinta was saying calmly. "Don has cleared you of all responsibility in the matter. There was nothing you could have done. We've simply had an accident."
"An accident." The words rang hollowly in her imagination. "An accident." People could have died during "an accident." The fact that everyone was still alive despite life support failure was a sign of the remarkable engineering that went into Pendorian starships and people. The entire crew was surviving either in isolated environments or in suits at the moment, moving through a ship that had had to been evacuated to prevent the excessively corrosive atmosphere that had spewed out of her life support mechanisms. No Pendorian ship had ever had a failure of nanotech on this scale, releasing raw chlorine into ship's hallways and then, not ten minutes later, depriving the vessel of hull integrity all in the same blow. It ached in her bones to know just how bad the situation was.
"We've located a small, inhabited moon some four light years away. We should be there in a matter of hours and with some luck should be able to negotiate a supply to replenish our atmosphere long enough to make the trip back to a refit facility," Sinta continued, addressing the staff meeting. They were all in their individual crew cabins, some still breathing air slowly going stale, others using individual replenishers. She wasn't sure what some of them were doing for food.
T'Nisha listened with only half interest, sure that her career as a starship engineer had ended only hours earlier. It didn't matter how the AI saw the situation. She was the one responsible for life support when life support failed, and on her record that would go.
It made her want to stay behind on whatever world they found for resupply and never talk to the folks back home ever again. She felt uncomfortable even walking out of her cabin, although thus far everyone who had spoken to her had generally seemed unconcerned. They were all alive, they said, and they were Pendorians; nothing could faze them. This was just another bump in life to be dealt with.
She really wondered how true that was.
"The star is listed in the charts as RB plus twelve slash plus nineteen," Executive Officer Korav began his report. "The local owner has named it Miskatta. We are dealing with a singular owner of a mineral-dense moon. Gravity is 0.79 Pendorian normal acceleration. Atmosphere is a very unfriendly sort of methane mixture gunk. The owner's name is Achmed Feladel Ibaid-- I'm hoping I pronounced that right-- who from what I can tell about his history is the oldest and most successful recipient of Native Genetic Restoration and has not, to our knowledge, upgraded beyond NGR."
"You mean we're dealing with a true human down there?"
"I think so," Korav replied. "Nothing else to indicate that we aren't. He's probably the oldest-- possibly only-- H. Sap. left in the entire galaxy."
"Amazing. T'Nisha, you are assigned to the away team as engineering specialist." Surprised, T'Nisha turned to stare at the screen, but Sinta waved her hand and said "Don't argue with me, Tenny. You're the best person we've got on Life Support. Korav, how's this human living?"
"The planet is officially registered as an animal preserve. According to the records I've got Ibaid has entirely plated over a mountain rift-- I'm talking about nearly a hundred square kilometers-- and is growing a large and extensive wildlife preserve underneath it. Back when it meant something, we would have said that this human had money, and lots of it."
"There must be tools down there, construction and maintenance. We'll negotiate with him for the help we need. He's probably a hermit with his history and will probably be glad to be rid of us. He never has to actually face-to-face us, just tell us where the equipment is. We'll work out compensation if that's what he needs."
"Yes, sir," Korav said, making a note on the PADD before him. "Contact should be in several hours."
"Then let's make ready."
"Contact, Captain," the communications officer announced. "We're getting a video signal."
"Put it on, please," Sinta said, rising from her centauroid bench and stretching her forelegs slightly. She adjusted the front of her uniform (a gesture peculiarly referred to as "picarding") and smoothed out the fur on her ears. The screen cleared.
The name of the human she was expecting to see on the screen did not prepare her for a mundanely Caucasian male of predictably indeterminate age. He bowed deeply, a gesture found usually in the Empire, and greeted her in a language she did not recognize. The marquee display in her eyes informed her that he had, indeed, said hello in Nihongo, the language of the Empire. She bowed in reply as well as she was able. "I am Captain Hylis Sinta of the Pendorian Starship Mire Pandragono. We are in distress and desperately request assistance."
To Sinta's eyes Ibaid appeared to be getting younger even as he spoke. "I will provide whatever assistance is necessary to repair your vessel. I am pleased to have visitors, despite the circumstances, and will provide quartering for those personnel you have who will require pause on my world's surface."
Sinta was surprised by the offer. She had expected something far more reluctant and, perhaps, suspicious. "We will have to land a vessel to provide transport capability."
"Nonsense," Sinta replied. "I have several SDisk stations available within my domain. Has the technology changed so much that seventh century SDisks are incompatible with your current generation?"
Now Sinta began to grow suspicious. Few, if any, humans had access to SDisks four centuries ago. But she still needed her ship fixed and the offer couldn't have come at a better time. "Not at all. If you will provide two codes, one for transport of personnel and a larger one for the transport of equipment, we will be grateful. We want to discuss the terms of compensation."
Ibaid held up a hand. "None is necessary. Your presence enlightens the body of a man older than you could know. There is one stipulation, however."
"Yes." Ibaid actually looked uncomfortable for a moment. "I'm afraid that everyone who enters my domain will need submit to a physical examination. Most of it will be a simple walk through a sensor array, however at the end there is one minuscule invasive procedure, a drawing of a blood smear. Is this objectionable to your people as a rule?"
Sinta thought for a moment. "Not as a rule; individuals may object on their own basis, and they will be excused from ground operations. I'm sure you understand." She wondered what in the cause of Spin would make blood sampling a necessity?
"I do. I am sorry but I have a large array of rare Terran animals here and to have them infected with some new obscure infection would be most distressing."
That, in part, made sense, especially if the equipment he was using was somewhat antiquated. Sinta nodded. "I understand," she said. "Thank you."
T'Nisha blinked uncomfortably as she SDisked onto the personnel transport station. As the first of the people to transport down, she was expected to present an in-person diplomatic face to Ibaid. "Sir," she said gently. There was no one to be seen.
"Come, walk through the hallway," Ibaid's voice said softly. She walked down the light-green colored path and at the end there was a small palm-sized table with a handprint colored in it. "Please put your hand on the glass and wait."
She did as she was told, thinking that this guy was more than a little eccentric as she did so. There was a brief pain in her center finger. "Ouch!"
"I am sorry," Ibaid's voice said softly. "But it is necessary. Please step to your left."
She did so and walked through what had been an apparently illusory door into a comfortable greeting room. The man she had seen on the video screen stood before her, looking comfortable in a long, slack bodysuit that was an extravagance of cloth without being an extravagance of thread as well. He apparently preferred black as his favorite color, and she had to admit that for a human it went well with his equally black hair and eyes. He wore slippers, also black. He reached out a hand. "I'm sad for the circumstances of this meeting, but I am pleased that you've arrived," he said, smiling. "How are you called?"
"Nisha Tirracha," she said. "The standard form of address is T'Nisha. My friends call me Tenny."
"T'Nisha is adequate," Ibaid replied. "Please, call me Ibaid. 'Achmed' is very unwieldy in your musical tongue.'"
"Ibaid, then," T'Nisha replied, smiling. "Thank you so much for allowing us this opportunity. We were in great distress."
Ibaid examined her carefully. "From the way you say that, it sounds as if you feel you bear some blame for the distress."
T'Nisha wondered if her feelings were truly that obvious on her face. Especially since this human probably hadn't had that much exposure to Pendorians. Maybe he was just a natural empath. She was told that happened occasionally among their kind. "It was a failure of life support and I am chief of life support."
"Ah, I see. And were you to blame?"
"The records say no. It was still my responsibility."
"And so you feel you deserve some blame," Ibaid said. "Please, do not let that melancholy interfere with your work." A door behind Ibaid opened and a tall, human woman dressed in an exceptionally enhancing suit of blue shimmercloth walked in bearing a tray. "I'm afraid I don't have much food appropriate to your kind; my diet is a bit... unusual."
"I thought you lived here alone," T'Nisha said.
"Robots." Even as he said it she noticed the slight vegetable scent of SAE plastics. "I am the only sentient here." He took the glass offered from the tray, a large round mug of metal. T'Nisha could not see the contents as Ibaid drank from it.
He placed it back down and said, "Thank you." The robot bowed visibly and walked out, never even noticing T'Nisha's presence. "Now then, would you please invite the rest of your team to join us and we will see to the maintenance of your vessel."
T'Nisha nodded. As she turned away to address her commlink, something peculiar tickled her nose. It took several seconds to recognize the feelings that the scent aroused within her, and when she did she almost looked up with shock. The sensations were both sexual and shameful, combative and horrifying. For seconds afterwards her civilized and feline natures warred bitterly. She had encountered this only a few times before; she regarded her felinity as something of a weakness because it was so strong. And what he had been drinking aroused the felinity in all its strength.
She just bet Ibaid's diet was peculiar.
That cup had been full of blood.
"We have full hull integrity and can start refilling the ship with real air again," T'Nisha reported.
"Great," Captain Sinta smiled. "See, I told you you could do it. So how long before we're interstellar ready?"
"Tomorrow or so," T'Nisha replied. "Ibaid's been just wonderful in getting us the hardware we need. We've been running his mechanical replicators at full speed for nearly thirty hours now."
"Then we'll see you when you get back. Sinta out."
"Goodnight, Captain," T'Nisha said as the PADD went blank. "Don?" she asked softly, addressing the AI.
"What can you tell me about Ibaid?"
"Achmed Feladel Ibaid exists only as a footnote in human history. He was a wealthy controller of real estate in the late 2500's Terran. He was born the same year NGR became available to the populace of Terra by law and waited until he was practically on his deathbed to take NGR. His particular NGR was so successful that he bought a set of hardware necessary for the therapy, a starship, and with a star to sail by founded the animal reserve he purportedly has on the planet you now accompany him with. Much of the work done was performed by Pendorian contractors."
"Why hasn't he taken either Pendorian sequencing or been retrofitted for Saman?"
"Isn't NGR dangerous compared to the others?"
"Very. The failure rate is nearly four percent."
"What does he have in his animal preserve?"
"How did he come to have SDisks on his premises?"
"I can't. I simply have nothing to work with."
T'Nisha sighed. "Is there any biological condition known to humans that would require one to consume blood?"
"There once were rare congenital digestive failures, and blood frequently was cited as having an adequate nutritional density, especially in cases of iron absorption deficiency, to compensate and make survival possible for sufferers. However, no case of this disease has existed since the late in the second century."
"Two centuries before Ibaid was born."
"Yes. Why? Do you believe that Ibaid consumes blood?"
"Yes," T'Nisha replied, relating what she saw the first time she had stepped off the SDisk.
"Peculiar," Don replied. "The human stomach is not, in fact, tolerant towards the density of blood, and those who drank it frequently diluted it with something else, such as milk, water, or even urine. "
"None of which was in the glass I saw him drink from."
"Would you like to know what I was drinking?" The voice made her snap her head around so fast her neck hurt. Ibaid was standing inside the room; despite her sensitive hearing he had managed to sneak up on her. "Come, I want to show you something."
Her heart beat a little faster as he beckoned to her. But a peculiar calm settled over her as well, and she rose, walking towards him. "I want you to understand that I mean you no harm."
"I don't know that."
"If I hurt you, beautiful T'Nisha, your people would burn me from my home like a diseased rat." He smiled tiredly. "That, by the way, is an analogy I know all to well."
"What are you?"
"Come," he said, holding out his hand. She took it.
He led her down several flights of stairs. "This is the lowest level of my home. You will see soon what my home is." He opened the door and led her out onto a wide balcony. A railing ran the length of it, and beyond it she could see only air. "Go," he said. "Look."
She walked to the balcony and, as he had invited, looked down.
Below them, almost half a kilometer down, monsters walked the lands. Enormous creatures, some nearly a hundred meters long, lumbered through a thick, dense underbrush. "Dinosaurs?" she asked.
"One of the few things from the Earth who are older than I am," he nodded. "I used to be a monster, like them. The kind that haunted men's dreams." He nodded downwards, towards the jungle. "Now I am not even a legend."
"What are you now?"
"Someone with a very bad deal on his hands," Ibaid smiled. "I believe I am actually older than your beloved Shardik, perhaps by as much as three hundred years." T'Nisha turned to look at him. That variability of age that seemed to wave across his features with the ebb and flow of the single day she had known him now made him look impossibly old. "I am a vampire."
"I don't know the word."
"You see what I mean? T'Nisha, even as far back as Earth's year 2000, the legend of the vampire frightened children and adults alike. Especially when the human immunodeficiency syndrome heralded an entire new generation of blood-borne diseases, the concept of someone who lived by the drinking and sharing of blood gave many a person a chill. When Stoker immortalized us-- hah!-- in his dreadful book, he was attempting to offend the sensibilities of his generation. With sex being a forbidden subject in his age, the intimacy of someone who seduced sleeping women, penetrated their bodies and drank their blood allowed him to write something obscene without being censored. He made his readers shiver."
T'Nisha was staring at him in confusion. "Ah, I see you are not comprehending. Look up Bram Stoker, Dracula, in your library. Or any of a dozen other vampire stories that came afterwards." He looked down at the enormous expanse of vegetation. "Look, two baryonyx running!" he said. T'Nisha noticed the two creatures he was pointing at, large, ferocious-looking monsters. "Aren't they beautiful?" He smiled.
"I don't know much about them."
"One need not know much about something to appreciate it's loveliness. I feel that way about you, for example." He smiled as she turned to him again, her eyes wide. "You look surprised."
"That's... ah... not a compliment I'm used to hearing."
"Ah, but it's true."
"I still don't know what you are."
"Go," he said gently, "and read. I'm sure your friend Don can suggest some excellent cinema that covers the subject adequately." He bowed to her and then said, "I must go now."
"On the morrow, then," he smiled, and walked away, leaving her to clutch her PADD to her chest and wonder. She stared down at the great preserve below.
She made her report to Sinta and signed off. Reluctantly, she turned to the ensign who was loading the last of the repaired life support modules into transport cubes for SDisking back to the ship and said, "I'm going to speak to our host one last time. Can you handle this without me?"
The ensign acknowledged that he could without problem. She thanked him and walked over to the SDisk. "Ibaid's please."
She blinked into the long green hallway and walked its length without problem. She had been careful to ensure that she wore no silver. Her faith, if she had any, was ensconced in the ring-and-star symbol of Pendor and she didn't really feel as if that related to any higher power. She carried no stakes or mallets, no "holy water" (whatever that was), and no garlic. He was nowhere to be seen. "Ibaid?" No answer. She made her way down to the observation deck where they had parted the day before and repeated her call. "Ibaid?"
"I am here," he replied, addressing her from the door she had just walked through. "Did you have an interesting night?"
Slightly frightened, she nodded. "I watched several vampire videos, including some pseudo-documentaries from the late 20th century Terra. Are you... really... a vampire?"
He nodded. "I was born in Greece in the year 1478. I have been alive for all that time, a child wandering the face of Earth in the very darkness."
"You have never seen the sun?"
"I saw it many times when I was a child, before my eighteenth birthday and my encounter with a man named Korolis. He gave me his blood to drink as he drank my own. It was perhaps the most powerful moment of my life, and certainly the last moment of my living existence."
"Then you really believe you are... dead?"
He walked up to her, fast. It was almost as if he flew across the floor. "Are you afraid?"
"Yes," she admitted.
"Good." He wore that day dark breeches of leather and a wide, soft shirt. He tore open the shirt and exposed his pale, hairless skin to her eyes. Reaching down, he seized her hand and pressed it above his heart. "Feel."
The skin felt cool to the touch, not the normal bodily warmth she expected from a human. But more than that, she felt almost nothing beneath it. A soft murmur, perhaps, but not the powerful thud-thud-thud that was a human heart in full force. "There is no life in this body, T'Nisha, except what I consume from the lives of others."
"How... how do you live?"
"I grow dinosaurs, T'Nisha, because they can afford to miss a little blood here and there." He smiled. "I have microSDisks implanted in the larger ones when they are young. You could say I get my sustenance fresh from the tap. There are other animals down there that I take for other reasons. Carnivores are much sweeter than herbivores, for example. Tyrannosaurus Rex is my favorite of the saurids, but I also have bear and sabre tooth tiger for variation."
"Is that why took the blood samples from us when we arrived? You wanted to grow it in your laboratory and have some... variation?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "That does not work for me, and I don't know why. There is more to my... condition then the sheer physical value of blood. There is the power of it when it comes from a living creature, when it comes from something that feels life, pleasure and pain and everything in between." He smiled. "I am sorry, T'Nisha, but I was merely assessing your value as one would assess cattle."
A cold chill wafted over T'Nisha again as she listened to his words. "And what did you find?"
"Your value as cattle is, to me, nothing. You have so much crap in your very cells that drinking from you would probably make me more ill than it was worth." He turned away from her and leaned against the bar that lined the wall. "Damn your creator and all he has made!" He turned back. "I have not had a visitor in so very long, T'Nisha, and I am not nearly as dead a man as I sometimes think. My lusts, both human and undead, are very much intact. And when a face as exotically inhuman as your own, when the scent of blood as especially alive as your own, reaches my senses I cannot deny it. But I must, because I can neither afford the pain of your worthless blood nor the wrath of your homeworld. Because both could easily destroy me.
"When I was born blood was a cheap and common substance. Men spilled it from each other for the price of cheap ale or perhaps an even cheaper harlot. I drank freely from commoners and noblemen, not caring at all for their little lives. They were cattle and I was wolf.
"Then blood became dear amongst the more common people. The pleasures and privacies afforded nobility became the realm of commoners and I could no longer afford to feed as I once did. Perhaps I am a little embarrassed to admit that it was more pragmatism than conscience that led me to prey only upon the dregs and scum of society. Then your people came with your supersciences and your nanotech, and in a generation I was reduced once more to drinking the blood of cattle and fodder to stay alive." He turned away, grasping the railing and looking down. "I am alone, unfeared and unloved. You do not even know what I am anymore. The universe has grown up and has no need of evil like mine.
"Perhaps even more maddening, T'Nisha, is that all that I might have once offered is now the realm of the everyday. The pleasures of violating and reforming the flesh are yours to explore with the casualness of children choosing a hairstyle. My mastery over the elements is easier for you than for me now, thanks to your machines. And of all my offers, even your immortality is more sure than mine. What people once would bargain with their very souls you give away freely."
He turned to face her; only now did she see how pale and smooth the skin of his face was, how white and unmarked. Red streaks descended from his eyes, like tears made of blood. Then she smelled them and understood; that's what they were. He was only body and blood, and blood had to do for tears. "And to add insult to indignity, T'Nisha, I am presented with thousands of new additions to those who bear souls, and I cannot touch any of them. Their rules are absolute, their power inescapable. Worse than that, their blood is an antagonist on its own, unpalatable, unusable, and so, so tempting." He turned away again. "Please, leave me, T'Nisha."
"I have no nanotech in my blood."
"Of course you do. I took the sample myself and tested it."
She shook her head. "We have a self-destruct mechanism in all our nanotech. There are specific and general keys; a general key causes all of it to just disassemble instantly. I took it last night. By morning I had brightly colored urine and was just biological. No nanochine at all."
He stared at her, his dark eyes conveying an open sense of disbelief. "Why have you done this?"
"If you've studied us long enough, Ibaid, then you know that we're also... adventurers. You're a kind of adventure to me."
He brushed his hand along her muzzle, the back of his hand tickling her whiskers. "Are you sure you aren't seeking to alleviate the guilt you told me you felt three days ago?"
"Ah, yes. Your days are longer, I forget. Are you sure?"
She looked down into the verdant garden he grew. "No. You said when we landed that you wanted no compensation for our help. I still want to give you something, Ibaid, if only myself."
"You could end up giving your life."
"You can do it without killing me, right? That's a matter of self control, right?"
"I don't know if I could... control myself that much, lovely T'Nisha. I do not want to kill you." His lips twisted into a saddened smile. "Your gorget is not nanotech. You do have one, right?"
She nodded, her hand unconsciously reaching up to feel the hardened cords buried within her neck that protected her jugular vein and carotid artery.
"If I wanted to, there are other places sufficient to my needs."
"I want you to."
"As do I. But if I kill you--"
"Nothing will happen," she said rapidly. "I've ordered Don to tell them that I'm staying if that happens. If I'm not back on the ship in ten hours, they leave without me."
"You would do this..."
"To make one very lonely man happy." She nodded. "Yes. If only for yesterday's compliment."
"A compliment is a cheap compensation to risk one's life over."
"I'll take it."
"Then, come." He held out his hand. She took it, rubbing her palm against his momentarily to feel the coolness of him. He led her up the stairs and through his greeting room down a long hallway paneled and floored entirely in a rich, dark wood. At the end he opened a door. "I'm afraid my bedroom is going to be a bit of a disappointment. I may be dead, but the idea of sleeping in a coffin seems ghoulish, even to me." He closed the door behind them. "Indeed, the most modern of conveniences."
"A gravity bed?" she said, recognizing the padded circular bed sunk into the floor.
"Exactly. Come, join me." He stepped over the circular region and lifted into the air. The lights dimmed, making the dark, wooden decor seem to fade even further into the distance. She repeated his motion and soon they drifted close to one another. She reached out, and he seized her arm and pulled them together. "The fields would have done that eventually," he said softly. "They're programmed for that." His hands brushed against the fur along her arms, caressing her. "You know, I gave up owning cats centuries ago. They were too tempting."
"Am I... too tempting?"
"We will find out." A dark shadow passed over his expression, his eyebrows furrowing in anger. "I will be right back."
"I must do something first. Bed, release me alone." He drifted away from her, towards the ground. "I will return in a short while." He smiled awkwardly. "While I'm gone, please, undress. The bed will obey your commands, the door is not locked. I never thought to share it with anyone, and I never feared visitors." With that he walked through the door and was gone.
She stared at the door for a moment, then decided she may as well do as he had requested and began removing her clothing, throwing each article outside the field and watching it fall to the floor. When she had her shirt and slacks off she began a massive scratching campaign to get at the itch that always seemed to come from wearing her clothes for too long. She ran her hands over her body, touching her thighs, belly, breasts and arms in an attempt to get under the fur and grant herself surcease from the tickling itch.
He walked through the door while she was in mid-scratch, carrying a peculiar, flattened cylinder that was distended slightly at one end. "What's that?"
"This is a bota, or wineskin," he said as he joined her. She reached out a hand for him again, and again they were face to face. This time he was not cool to the touch, but warm instead. Warmer than she, even. "What... what did you do?"
"I sacrificed one of my prize animals, a cheetah, and drank her. I wanted to be sated when I came to you, of both blood and life, so that the temptation to kill you would not be so strong." He held the wineskin up. "This is the blood left of her."
"I... I don't know what to say."
"Say nothing, then," he said. As he spoke, the scent of blood filled the air surrounding her, evoking her animal nature to full strength once again. Her heart pounded as she stared into those eyes that seemed to burn at her. He descended to kiss her.
Mouth met muzzle, and tongue met tongue. She released a muffled moan as she explored his mouth with her tongue, swiping up every smear of blood she could find in him that remained of the cheetah. She tasted his predation on her own lips as they kissed, wrestled, and clasped one another in the center of the room. His hand caressed her sides, then found her breasts and grasped them roughly. She moaned again, her own hands caressing his chest, feeling the heat of the cheetah's death emanating from within him. Her hands descended further, touching his groin, finding his erection there. "Ibaid," she gasped.
"Give me... Give me that." She reached out for the bota and he handed it to her. She opened the cap and poured some of the blood into her hands, cupping them carefully to keep it from floating away in the weightlessness. "Now, take it back." He retrieved it and put the cap back on. She reached down again, opening her hands only enough to admit the head of his cock between her palms. She pushed back, smearing the blood along the length of his shaft, coating it in bright red. Then she reached back up and with her bloody palms grabbed his sides, pushing him up and herself down. With slow, careful grace she kissed her way down his body, struck only now by how pale he was, made obvious in the contrast between the white of his skin and the red of her pawprints.
Her muzzle became even with his cock, and she leaned forward, tongue first, to taste it, to take it into her muzzle. It slowly fitted its way into her mouth and nestled daringly at the back of her throat. Her tongue slathered on the blood it tasted the entire length of the way, and as her glands coated his shaft in another kind of wetness she began stroking back and forth, slowly.
"T'Nisha!" he gasped. Her fingers found his testicles and pawed them gently as she sucked on his sex. Her tongue probed around his not entirely drawn foreskin, tasting the cheetah blood that had crept underneath it when she had stroked him with her hands.
His cock throbbed urgently in his mouth. "T'Nisha, beloved cat, it has been too long since my needs have been met! If you continue..."
She understood what he meant and eased away slowly, drinking a single drop of blood, his vampiric blood, from the tip of his cock as she did so. Climbing until they were face-to-face again, they kissed once more, and it was his turn to kiss her rapaciously, his tongue licking at her mouth to drink up the blood she had collected.
Each had their own reasons for being thrilled; she knew he was driven by a lust he would call ancient, evil, and occult, and she herself felt the demands of her feline ancestors, like the cheetah whose blood they had both drunk, in the presence of that blood.
"Ibaid," she whispered. "Will you... ?"
"Yes," he replied, smiling, his eyes twinkling. "I will. But first, something else." He took the blood from the wineskin again and smeared more on his erect penis. Then he pulled her hips close to his and directed his erection into her. They slid together, the blood only assisting her wetness. She felt his hardness slide into her, felt the heat of his cock penetrating her. She threw her head back and yowled softly.
He began a slow, rhythmic back and forth, his hands tight upon her hips. She could not control her mewling, the hard feline purr punctuated by a sharp "Rrao!" with every strike of his cock against her cervix. She gripped his shoulders, her mind tumbling, fascinated one second by the play of light and shadow on the bloodstains against his skin, the next lost in the pleasures of his thrusting cock. "Ibaid!" she gasped.
"Yes, T'Nisha!" His thrusting grew more demanding, one hand wrapped about the base of her tail to hold her steady. The urgencies of his desires became obvious as he began pulling against her with more force, until finally he let out a solid roar that was unlike anything she had ever heard before. It filled her, frightened her, made her come even as he did. And she felt, through the throbbing waves of ecstasy, the burning of his ejaculation, which she knew was, like his tears, red blood.
She gripped him, her claws sunk into his shoulders as they floated, quietly, in the center of the room. He slowly pulled his cock from within her and there they remained, holding onto one another. "Oh, T'Nisha," he groaned. "Thank you."
She tightened her grip on him, pulling him close to her, laying her head on his shoulder. Before her muzzle a trickle of blood flowed from his shoulder where her claws had held them together during their lovemaking. She licked at it, tasting it. It made her dizzy, it hinted at pleasures she did not want to know. And she admitted that to herself.
But that admission did not dampen her wish to know the limits he could take her to and leave her alive. That, she truly wished for. "Ibaid, are you ready?"
He slowly pushed down, repeating the gesture she had started with. "I am," he said softly. He paused at her breasts, kissing one gently, taking it between his teeth. She felt his breath over her aureole and shuddered softly, wondering if her nerve would fail her.
His mouth slid down further, caressing the fur of her belly until he hovered before her mound. He pulled the bota off his arm again and poured more into his hand. He slathered some directly onto her cunt and then, in the same circular motion, licked the remainder off his hand. The smell alone made her dizzy. But when she felt his mouth close with her mound and his tongue flicker over her hood she knew she would go insane with pleasure. The lip of his mouth pressed against the lips of her cunt, and his tongue sucked the bloods of a cheetah and a vampire from her vagina. His tongue caressed her labia, then flickered over her clitoris. The maddening waves of pleasure pulsed through her belly, reached up and threatened to strangle all her thought. Her hands tied themselves in knots in his long hair, holding him between her legs.
His tongue danced over and around her clitoris, the lack of rhythm frustrating her even as the insistent pressure conspired to push her over the edge. His hands gripped her thighs, his own talons sunk into her flesh the way she had clawed his biceps. She felt her second climax building within her, an undeniable explosion. "Ibaid..." It released, flashing through her. "Now! Now! Nowrrrrr...." The explosion of tension wiped her mind bare of everything but the rapture filling her every cell, a rapture enhanced as his teeth sank into her thigh, penetrating her flesh and drawing her blood from her veins. The ecstasy went on and on, transporting her away as she felt him drink her life from her. The threat of death held no fear for her if it could feel like this! Her body went limp as she moaned and mewled as she allowed his pleasure to wash over and accentuate hers, enravishing her soul. Even as the world grew dim, she felt there could be nothing more pleasurable in all the universe.
Then there was nothing more at all.
A steady beeping sound caught her ear. She wondered what it was; certainly it didn't belong in her bedroom, whatever it was. She opened her eyes, feeling vaguely ill as she did so, and looked around. "Hey, this isn't my bed."
"No," a voice that brought back memories said. "It isn't."
"Ibaid... am I... ?"
Sitting on the edge of the bed, he shook his head. "You are not dead, lovely T'Nisha." He looked away. "I... I found that, in the end, I could never have taken your life. You are too precious to me, too giving for me to wish taken away from the world." He smiled gently. "Maybe I am not a monster anymore."
She touched his face gently with her hand, noticing the needle buried in the crux of her elbow. It distracted her from what she was about to say. "I thought you said you couldn't use my blood if you grew it from a vat," she replied.
"That does not mean I don't have the resources to do so. I have animals that get into fights sometimes, and sometimes I wish to save my more favored ones. I have extensive medical facilities."
"Oh." She returned to her thoughts at hand. "Ibaid, you are not a monster. You were forced to grow up because of maturity itself just like the rest of the universe. You were what you were then, and now you are what you are now."
He nodded. "So you say. We must get you back to your ship. They leave in less than two of your hours. And I must get some rest."
She pulled him down to her and kissed his lips. He replied gently, and behind it all she felt an enormous sadness buried within him. "I'm sorry," she said.
"No," he responded. "Do not. I have tasted your sex and your soul, T'Nisha, and there is nothing to regret. You still have both, and both were long-missed and beloved gifts to me still. Please, I beg you, do not regret."
"I've made you lonely again. When you have taught me so much."
"You have given me surcease, as well, for a short while. You have given me memories that will last forever." He hugged her close to him, and once again she felt the coolness of his body and the softness of his skin. "I have your uniform. There is a shower there. If you know the legend, then you know that running water discomfits me, so forgive me if I do not join you."
She nodded and slowly climbed out of bed. "Um, the IV?"
"Ah, yes. Sorry." He reached up and pulled the tape off, sliding the needle out slowly. He bent down to the crux of her elbow and licked it gently, cleaning off the blood that flowed slowly. "You do not heal so fast without your nanochine. For some reason, I can stop blood flows."
"It's a survival mechanism; it hides the effects of what you do."
He nodded. "That may be it. Go, wash. I will have your uniform pressed while you do." He smiled. "There is a soap in there suited to--" he gestured to her chest and thighs-- "that sort of stain."
She nodded and left him, reluctant at the end to release his fingertips as she walked into the washroom.
The Mire Pandragono pulled out of orbit on schedule. T'Nisha sat at her console, reading displays efficiently and carefully, making sure that the starship's life support was still functioning at full. A hand touched her shoulder and she turned to see Captain Sinta looking at her. "Tenny, can we talk?"
"Sure," she replied. "What's up?"
"Can you tell me what happened down there? I mean, all of sudden my sullen Engineering Specialist walks into sickbay, has all of her nanotech countered, invokes privacy, disappears for ten hours, then comes back and has the entire nanotech suite reinstalled. What the Hell did you do down there?"
"Curiosity gets the better of Ssphynx too, Sin."
"Dammit, Tenny, don't play cute with me. I'm worried about you."
T'Nisha placed her paw on Sinta's shoulder. "Trust me, I'm fine. I had a long... talk with Ibaid." A smile crept across her muzzle, and another mirrored it on Sinta's. "And I discovered something."
"I want to live." Sinta's ears flickered in surprise. "I mean it. I was sure, when we went into crisis, that my career as an engineer was over. I felt depressed."
"You're less than a hundred!"
"People less than fifty have committed suicide before, Sin. I found, in talking to this unbelievably old human, that I wanted to live. I wanted to be myself. And that I had a life to be in. Right here."
"But you won't talk about what you and he did?"
She shook her head. "I... I can't. I promised him."
"I guess that's going to be good enough for me." Sinta stood and walked back to the center of the room. "Navigation, do we have the coordinates for Pin centered in our flight path?"
"Engineering, how are our drives?"
"You can have a hundred and four percent if you want it, Captain."
"Well then. Give me three/four on my mark." She paused for a moment, then pointed her hand, two fingers forward, towards the main viewscreen. "Mark."