Chapter 17

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“Bella, no.” Jasper spit out. “It’s not like that. You’re thinking in human terms. Sire might be a better word for it. Maker or progenitor. It would be less—”

“Icky.” Bella shuddered. “That would mean Carlisle is Esme’s father, and that’s just … I don’t even want to think about it.” She ran her hands through her hair and turned to McCoy. “Why don’t you go get some more venom from somebody? You know about vampires.”

“It’s one of our highest laws that we not interfere with other species or beings,” Leonard explained. “Unless there’s another volunteer, we’re to leave them alone—keep their secret. They are observed, even though they are surprisingly good at hiding themselves, but there’s no interference. It’s like a world within a world.”

“But … but they kill people!” Bella jumped up from the cot, arms spread wide.

“As highly as we think of ourselves, humans are no more worthy of life than any other life form. Except for bacteria and viruses that cause disease.” McCoy raised one derisive brow. “We kill them all the time. Even where and when I’m from, people still eat pigs and chickens. I’ve been known to enjoy a nice, medium rare piece of cow on occasion. What beings do on other planets would really curl your hair.” He sighed and shook his head sadly. “Even in my time, humans kill more humans than the vampires apparently do. People are murdered, others just disappear. Are those the acts of vampires or of other humans? Some vampires allegedly perform a service of a sort—depending on how you look at it. There are those who take it upon themselves to be vigilantes and go after criminals. Or that’s what Garrett said.” He ran his hand over his head.

Jasper drummed his fingers on the table and tilted his head slightly. “One can’t choose another’s morality or decide another’s culture is wrong even if it might not agree with your own or meet with your approval. As long as they don’t try to force their views on you—right, Bella?”

Guardedly, Bella narrowed her eyes at him. “Or morals ingrained in the time period they were human?”  She dropped onto the cot again and flipped her hair to her back.

That was a sore spot with Bella. McCoy couldn’t blame her. Uncomfortably, he cleared his throat. “Anyway, a substitute for human blood is being developed. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. It can be used in an emergency, but you can’t replace a human’s total blood volume with it. They still need real blood. As much as we’ve learned, there’s still so much more.”

“So that’s not the right food for Garrett?” Bella absently braided a strand of hair, lost in thought. “What does he eat?”

“Donated blood,” Jasper answered. “Drinking from a container can’t be very satisfying, though it would be better than animal blood. Human drinkers feed less often than animal drinkers. Even in the future, I doubt there’s room on the starships for herds of animals to feed him.”

“And less humans eat meat,” McCoy supplied. “Then there’s the problem of housing the animals, feeding them, cleaning up the waste …”

“Bodies and poop,” Bella interjected thoughtfully. “And if his favorite is mountain lions, like somebody I know, I don’t think people would go for that.”

The disparaging look shared between Bella and Jasper made McCoy feel he was missing the joke, so he just grinned and nodded at her. “Precisely.”

“There is the challenge of the hunt—thrill of the chase. The biting into the flesh.” Jasper’s wistful gaze drifted to the ceiling as Leonard’s eyes widened. “We seem to require it. Maybe it’s a need for the physicality of it. Though it says in the report Garrett had opportunity to fight and spar with others. Humans wouldn’t have survived it.”

“Er, if you think about it, it’s really no different than humans or others participating in sports or other games of competition. People still love their football.” Regaining his composure, McCoy clasped his hands in his lap. “His training partners could have been robots or aliens. It doesn’t specify. That part of the report is classified.”

“Almost like he’s a secret weapon.” Bella bolted upright. “They’re not using him as a weapon are they?”

“Bella, I don’t know where he’s stationed or what ship he may be on. It doesn’t even say specifically what he does, but his picture shows him wearing Operations red. He could be in security, tactical, engineering … I doubt he’s being used as a weapon.” McCoy shrugged. “He’d be a good tactician. He thinks as fast as a computer, but he has the mind of a human that can make intuitive leaps that no computer is capable of. The human mind has the gift of taking seemingly unrelated bits of information, somehow combine them, and come up with near miraculous solutions to problems. That’s a touch of magic that can’t be recreated. Hunches can’t be programmed.” McCoy raised a finger proudly in the air and gave them a self-satisfied smile. “Machines still can’t beat the human mind.”

“Even when the mind has been altered, or perhaps influenced or overtaken, by an unknown virus?” Jasper asked.

“Even still. The vampire virus didn’t ensure that you were able to survive long enough to create and nurture offspring that would be able to adapt to or survive your environment, it ensured the success of each individual. In a nutshell—if you have the potential to live for several thousand years or longer, and there’s nothing out there that’s more dangerous than you are, there’s no real need for offspring to fill the niche your species inhabits. And who’s to say the common cold virus, which we still haven’t eradicated, hasn’t done the same thing?” McCoy wasn’t going to let Jasper deflate his mood. Technology might solve a lot of problems, but the human mind came up with the technology to begin with—not without its own snags and glitches. They advanced even further with a little help from the Vulcans and other races. Of course, humans shared their knowledge with others, benefitting everyone.

Bella’s hands dropped to her knees. “Until something else comes along that’s bigger and badder than earth vampires.” Jerking one shoulder up, she said, “So far, that isn’t a problem. That we know of. And who knows what sort of predator may have been hunting the vampires on the planet they came from? Maybe they were the equivalent of chickens or cows here on earth.”

“Chickens, Bella? Really?” Jasper crossed his arms and cocked his head to the side, acting like he was insulted. “Reducing us to a mere chicken nugget? Way to make me feel small and insignificant.”

“With the inflated sense of importance some vampires have,” Bella batted her eyes at him, “being knocked down a peg or two isn’t a bad thing.” She smiled widely and waggled her head at him. “The big baddies could all be dead. Their planet could have exploded and tiny little pieces of it ended up here. If any of the vampire-eating monsters … regenerated we probably would have noticed by now.”

McCoy slapped his knees and started unwrapping the blankets from around his body. “On that cheery note, I think I’ll make another trip out to the facilities.” He was hardly embarrassed at all that time.

“Okay. I’ll make you some more soup.” Bella hopped up from the cot and went to the cupboard above the table, reaching over Jasper. Finding another can, she frowned. “This one doesn’t have a pop top.” She pinched the rim of the can and proceeded to peel it away from the can, opening it.

McCoy just stared at her, his borrowed coat only halfway on. After everything he’d read, he really had to stop being astounded by her strength.

Bella poured the gelatinous mass into a small saucepan and turned to go to the wood stove. “Leonard, are you okay? You should take a lantern. It’s still dark.”

Dazedly, he nodded and shrugged the coat up over his shoulders.

“I should get to a store and pick up some more food for you.” After adding a bit of water, she set the pot on the wood stove. “It wouldn’t be right to use up all the MREs, and I really think you should eat more.”

Sighing, McCoy just nodded at her as he zipped the coat, tugged the hood more tightly around his head, and took the offered lantern. Bracing himself for the frigid blast, he went through the door as quickly as he could, slamming it behind him. After that foray into the frozen wastes, he knew he’d need a nap. It just seemed to zap all the strength right out of him. He probably should eat a little more. Getting lost in space and time had dampened his appetite.

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