Darius came into the Hub after his midnight exploration of the city. It was raining outside, but rain never bothered him. It just made him glisten interestingly. So Dougal Drummond noted as he came from making coffee for himself and saw his Undead colleague standing there. His dark hair was wet and so was his pale face. Excess water still ran off his long leather coat.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking down at the puddle that collected by his feet. “I will fetch a mop, at once.”
Dougal suppressed a laugh. Darius was the embodiment of everything filmmakers imagined a classic vampire to be: tall, handsome, perfectly poised, with that hint of eastern Europe in his accent and more than a touch of barely suppressed sexuality. And he wanted to fetch a mop to deal with a wet patch on the floor.
“Even the children of the night have to obey the Health and Safety Executive these days,” Darius said with a wry smile that revealed his sharp incisors. “I liked the bit about barely suppressed sexuality, though.”
“I...” Dougal was disconcerted. Of course, he knew that Darius could read minds. But he usually didn’t.
“Hard to miss it when I am the subject of the thought,” he replied as he hung up his leather coat to reveal an all black ensemble of shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, and tight fitting trousers that was still sensual. “I am sorry, it was rude of me. I will not do it again.”
“Darius,” Dougal responded. “You are the most self-effacing vampire in the history of the Undead. You don’t have to apologise for being what you are. And my thoughts were hardly appropriate with my own husband asleep on the sofa over in the corner.”
Darius hadn’t even noticed Sandy McCoy in the rest area. Of course, he very often came and spent the night here with Dougal when he was on the graveyard shift. He kept him company in the small hours when there was nothing to do except take a look on the monitors at whatever alien entity was being held in their custody suite tonight.
“It’s a well known fact that gay men like window shopping,” he answered. “I am not offended. Besides, it is flattering to be admired in that way. Two or three decades ago I might have responded by inviting you and your lover for a three way session in my crypt. But...” He sighed, though not unhappily. “I am spoken for, too. Can you imagine that? A vampire who wants to settle down and be domestic...”
“I never imagined it before,” Dougal admitted. “But I’m not sure Shona is into domestic... Even though she’s.... I assumed you weren’t exactly going to start house-hunting for properties close to day care...”
“We’re not. But... I am in a unique position for one of my kind. I am going to be a father. And Shona still wants to have sex with me. We have a relationship that is mutually satisfying, even if it doesn’t quite fit any conventional definition of family.”
“And God bless the both of you,” Dougal told him.
“I somehow doubt He would.” Darius laughed softly. “But thank you for the thought. Is there anything for me to do here, by the way? Or is it a quiet night.”
“You could take a look at the prisoner. He looks ok on the monitor, but it doesn’t hurt to have a proper one on one with them now and again.”
“No problem. What did Doctor Harper say we were doing with this one?”
“Holding it until the Hut-Teq Correction Guards arrive to take it back to the penal planet it escaped from. They should be here by teatime tomorrow. If they’re as ugly as that one, it will be an interesting hand over.”
Darius laughed and turned towards the lift down to the custody suite. Eight floors down, and along a corridor he was right underneath Glasgow’s central station. He was the only one of the Torchwood team who knew that without looking at the blueprints. He could feel the outside world above the Hub in his bones. After midnight, the station was quiet, but when he was down here in the day the buzz of humanity high above his head gave him a thrill he would not be able to explain to his colleagues.
The prisoner certainly was ugly. It was humanoid in its skeletal structure and the number of limbs and heads. But it would never pass for Human except on a very dark night. The hairless head had bony protrusions all over the back of the skull and one especially elongated one in the middle of its forehead. The eyes were as black as its coal coloured, leathery skin, sunk back in the sockets. It had no nose, only a pair of flaring nostrils and the mouth, when it opened it to let out an angry roaring sound, was a gaping void.
Darius wasn’t exactly scared of it, but he tried to make sure it was still alive and in no danger of escaping from the cell without it noticing him. He could usually move silently and if he didn’t want to be seen he had a way of projecting something like a personal perception filter around himself. If a person wasn’t expecting to see him they probably wouldn’t. It came in useful when he was in places with too many mirrors, apart from anything else.
But the prisoner knew he was there straight away and turned its ugly head towards him.
“You are even more unnatural than I am,” it said, opening its mouth to a wide ‘o’ but not actually forming the words with movement of the lips. The sound simply came out of the orifice.
“Even so, I am of this world. You are not,” he replied. “You will be taken back to where you belong soon enough.”
“Don’t think you are safe simply because my physical form is incarcerated,” the prisoner responded. “I am the Nightmare King. Even you, unnatural creature with no beating heart, no breath in your body... even you are at my mercy.”
Darius turned away. His mission was to ensure that the prisoner was safe and alive. He had no need to engage in conversation with it.
It roared much louder than before and Darius felt a pain in the back of his neck as if he had been struck. He staggered several paces, dazed, before he recovered. He looked around at the prisoner. It was standing in the middle of the cell, behind the transparent aluminium wall. Its dark eyes bore into him and he felt as if those eyes alone were capable of dealing the physical blow he had felt.
“Even you, unnatural creature, have to sleep,” the prisoner said to him before he stepped through the security door and locked it behind him.
“Darius, are you all right?” Dougal’s voice came through the communicator in his ear. “I was watching on the monitor. Did that thing do something to you?”
“No,” he answered. “At least I don’t think so. I thought... but it couldn’t. Not really. I’m all right. I’m going to my room, and then I’ll be in the deep archive for a few hours.”
Dougal said goodnight to him. Darius went back to the lift. His ‘crypt’ as everyone referred to his quarters was three floors above the custody suite. If there was a hierarchy of importance according to depth within the Hub complex, living accommodation for a vampire was considered more valuable than cells for alien prisoners.
Not many of his colleagues had actually been in his room, and there was no CCTV in it, although there was a sensor that registered lifesigns, as there was in every part of the huge underground complex. He knew they speculated sometimes about whether he slept in a coffin.
He didn’t. He had a bed like anybody else. He had a dressing table and a wardrobe. He had a small collection of personal possessions, including some very old photographs and a set of miniature portraits that predated the invention of the camera. He had never told anyone who the people were in the pictures. If anyone had asked, he had no objection to doing so. But nobody had ever asked, not even Jack Harkness back when the two of them had been a hot item.
Then again, he had never asked about any of the people Jack kept pictures of among his private possessions. They both suffered from an interesting lack of curiosity about each other.
Shona had never asked. Their relationship had never really been about conversation.
She was in his bed, now. She had not, in any way, ‘moved in’. They were still two individuals with separate lives and separate homes. They had only two things in common. Sex and the unexpected result of the sex in the baby Shona was now expecting.
He touched her gently and felt, in his mind, the growing foetus. It was still very small. She didn’t look pregnant, yet. She dressed in the same androgynous semi-military clothes as she always did, and she didn’t talk about her pregnancy to anyone other than Owen, who was keeping a very close eye on her progress. Darius wasn’t party to those conversations. He didn’t know if there was anything worrying her. Owen wouldn’t be able to tell him even if there was.
Everything seemed to be all right. He kissed her on the cheek and slipped out of his clothes. She stirred as he slid between the sheets and they kissed more passionately. The sex that was the overriding raison d’être of their relationship was always good at any time. He lost himself in her for a long while.
“I’m still on duty,” he said after lying in her arms afterwards, his body warmed by the transferred heat from hers. “Got a pile of stuff to sort in the archive.”
“Suits me,” Shona answered. “More room in the bed. Bring me coffee in the morning.”
He laughed and got up from the bed. He put his clothes back on and went to the fridge. There was no Human food in there, only bottles of mineral water and bags of blood that he bought on the black market through a contact at one of the hospitals. Shona still expected him to bite her in the heat of their passion, but he didn’t feed from her now. She needed her strength for the kudikis. He sipped the chilled blood. It wasn’t the same as fresh, but it would have to do. There was nobody else in Glasgow he felt close enough with to ask to do such an intimate thing.
He didn’t used to care about that, either. He always enjoyed vampire/Human swing parties where he would enjoy both sex and blood from different partners. He used to know the places in all the major cities of Europe where women and men would let him pay for both. He knew places where both women and men would pay him to have sex with them and bite down on their jugulars at the same time.
Most of those places were gone now. Inner cities were gentrified and the old brothels and drinking dens swept away. The new brothels and drinking dens that replaced them didn’t cater for his sort like they used to do.
But he managed.
He put the empty plastic pouch in the bin along with a tissue he used to wipe his mouth, then he turned and slipped quietly out of the room.
Shona watched him go through half closed eyes then went to sleep. She always said she wouldn’t watch him eat, but it didn’t gross her out as much as she expected. He was her man, take him or leave him, and it went with the territory.
She was in that stage where she was not quite asleep but not fully awake, when she felt that she was not alone in the room. She reached for her pistol under the pillow before sitting up and switching on the bedside light in one move.
She lowered the pistol and stared at the man who stood by her bedside.
“Uncle Alasdair!” she gasped. “How... no... it can’t be you. Not looking like that. You’re old... you’re retired.... You’re not...”
The man who stared back at her with barely concealed disdain was in his mid fifties and had more or less kept his figure from younger days. He was wearing army uniform with a general staff badge on his peaked cap but the ensignia of U.N.I.T on his jacket along with the rank of Brigadier. He had a military moustache, and a military bearing to him.
Shona only just remembered him looking like that when she was a very young girl. He seemed to get older very quickly after her father, his brother, died. She saw him far less after that, though he had been her one and only guest at her passing out parade. He had smiled gruffly and said he was proud of her.
But he didn’t look proud now. He looked angry.
“Call yourself a soldier,” he said. “You’re a disgrace to the uniform. Your father was right. You don’t have what it takes. A girl never could. Even in uniform they’re only good for office duties. The pretence that a female could be any use in combat is destroying the good name of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.”
“Uncle...” Shona began. “That’s not true. I haven’t disgraced anything. I have fought well. I have done my duty.”
“Conduct unbecoming an officer. You’ve let yourself get knocked up by the first man you found. Not even a man. An abomination. You ought to have blown his head off with that pistol. And failing that... you ought to have blown your own head off for letting the side down so appallingly. To think a relative of mine would act so shamefully.”
“No,” she protested. “It isn’t like that. Darius is a good man. I didn’t mean to... but I’m not... I’m still doing my duty. I will do so after the child is born. I’m not weak. I am a soldier. I know my duty.”
“You’re a weak woman. Your father was right. I told him you could do it. I put my faith in you even when he didn’t. But I was wrong. You have let me down.”
“No!” she cried out in anger and frustration. “No, I haven’t. I haven’t, uncle... I mean... sir... I haven’t. I’m a good soldier. I know my duty.”
“Your duty is to end this, right now. Put that gun to your head and pull the trigger. End your worthless life, now.”
Shona turned the pistol towards her own temple. Her finger trembled against the trigger. She sobbed. She actually sobbed. Her uncle was right. She was weak. She didn’t deserve to live.
“No!” She screamed and turned the gun on the figure standing in front of her instead. She fired three times. The first two bullets went straight through him and he didn’t even blink, just kept up that disdainful look.
The third bullet didn’t hit anything other than the far wall of the bedroom. Shona stared at the empty space where he had been standing then burst into tears. Maybe it was something to do with her hormones being fucked up by pregnancy, but she cried as she hadn’t cried since she was a girl, a very young girl at that. It wasn’t because of what was said to her, because she still didn’t think it was true. It was because the words had been said by something that looked like somebody who’s opinion of her she valued above anyone else’s on this entire planet. The thought of her uncle Alasdair looking at her like that and saying such things to her cut deep into her thick-skinned military soul and exposed the vulnerable part of her within.
Then she stopped crying. She stood up and examined the wall where three bullets were lodged. None of them had come in contact with any other solid object before they hit the plaster. They certainly didn’t pass through anything organic.
“Stupid cow,” she murmured to herself. “Letting a nightmare get to you.”
She turned and stepped into the shower. She washed her body in warm water and then stepped out. She dried herself and dressed in her semi-combat style clothes and training shoes. It was nearly three o’clock. It would be dawn in an hour and a bit. A long run along the banks of the Clyde would blow away all these soft ideas.
She was thankful this was one room in the complex that didn’t have CCTV. Nobody witnessed her stupidity. If Darius said anything about the bullets she could just tell him to fuck off and mind his own business.
Dougal and Sandy had indulged in some extra-curricular activity at the same time Darius and Shona had. Afterwards as Sandy turned over on the sofa and drifted back to sleep, Dougal pixilated nearly half an hour of footage from the main Hub security camera which would have gone down well on certain x-rated amateur video websites. Then he returned to his work classifying something like a hundred and fifty UFO sightings in the mid-Lowthian and Central areas of Scotland in the past week. Classifying them, that is, as nutcases and conspiracy theorists, deluded pissheads, genuine mistakes, deliberate hoaxes and a very small section of real alien incursions into Earth’s atmosphere. This part of Scotland was second only to South Wales for all five categories of UFO reports.
It was just after Shona Stewart had passed through the Hub to go out for her very early morning run that Dougal was disturbed in his work by Sandy having a very vocal and upsetting nightmare. He was screaming out loud in protest about something that he imagined was happening to him, begging somebody to stop doing it to him, crying pitifully and screaming as if in acute pain.
Dougal left his desk and went to his lover’s side at once. He tried to wake him, but he seemed too deeply in the nightmare that was gripping him. He screamed again almost as if he thought Dougal was the one who was hurting him and then his body started to spasm painfully. Dougal acted quickly. He put Sandy into the recovery position for somebody having a tonic-clonic seizure and cleared his airway. When he vomited involuntarily he made sure all the stuff came out of his mouth and then moved his head away from it. He was aware that other bodily functions had happened involuntarily, too. But the important thing was making sure the seizure passed without him coming to further harm.
It did pass, and Sandy slowly regained consciousness. He opened his eyes and then screwed them up again against the bright Hub lights. He groaned and complained of the mother of all headaches before he became aware of other problems with his body and cried with embarrassment.
“It’s ok,” Dougal assured him. “Come on, try to stand up. Come down to the changing room and get a shower while I find you some clean clothes.
The operation took a good three quarters of an hour, including mopping the floor where he had lain. Finally, Sandy came and sat in the Hub rest area with a cup of coffee and two Annadin Extra for the headache. Dougal assured him again that he wasn’t to blame for what had happened.
“I puked, pissed and shat myself at the same time?” he asked, his face burning with embarrassment. “In my sleep... I’ve never... not even after a hard night at the pub. And I haven’t done one of those since before I met you.”
“You had some kind of bad nightmare,” Dougal told him. “Something that caused you to have a real seizure.”
“I’ve had that nightmare before,” Sandy admitted. “But never like that. It was never so real as this. I never actually had the symptoms.”
“Oh,” Dougal gripped his lover’s hand tightly. “Oh, sweetheart...”
He knew which nightmare Sandy meant. It was the one where he relived the worst fortnight of his entire life.
He had been seventeen when he admitted to his parents that he was gay. That was twelve years after homosexuality was legalised in Scotland, but changing the law didn’t change attitudes overnight. His Kirk elder father had beaten him black and blue while his mother cried. The Minister had come to the house and talked to him sternly, reminding him of what the bible said about abominations, and urged him to resist the works of Satan. When he had refused he had been told in no uncertain terms that he was no longer welcome at the Kirk.
Then his parents had made some drastic arrangements. He had been taken to an ‘Institute’ just outside Paisley where a man called Doctor Arunden promised radical treatment to cure the homosexual disease in young men.
The ‘radical’ treatment had consisted of anti-depressants by the bucketload, freezing cold showers, isolation in a padded room and daily electric shock treatments. Sandy had several times gone into tonic-clonic seizures as a result of the ECT and only survived because Doctor Arunden really did have some actual medical training and knew how to revive him. But on those occasions, far from having a warm shower and clean clothes followed by coffee and headache tablets, he had been taken back to his lonely room and left on the bed still covered in vomit, excrement and urine and locked in for several hours.
He had only escaped the endless hell by finally telling Doctor Arunden that he was ‘cured’ and faking an embarrassing test of his reactions to various types of pornography. His parents joyfully came to fetch him home, promising that everything would be all right, now.
Sandy had packed his bags and left home the next day, staying in a young men’s homeless shelter until his A’level results came out and he knew he was accepted at Glasgow University. He claimed a hardship grant as an independent adult student and took every part time job he could spare the time for. He joined the university’s LGBT society. He slowly became a stronger person who even managed to speak to his father briefly at his mother’s funeral. He got on with his life. But every now and then he was haunted by that memory.
Except never, before, had that memory come back to him in such a terrible way. Even talking about it was distressing. He still felt humiliated about the physical aspects of it, especially in front of his lover.
“I love you, no matter what,” Dougal promised him. “I’ll always love you. Even when you’re eighty years old and you shite the bed every night. I’ll love you and I’ll look after you. That’s what it’s all about.”
“Do you think,” Sandy asked, touching Dougal’s face tenderly. “Those nanogenes of yours... will they keep you looking gorgeous like this... will you be my toy boy when I’m a decrepit old man?”
“I don’t know. That’s one of the things we still have to figure out about me. Be interesting finding out. I promise, though... I won’t leave you for a younger model.”
Sandy smiled. Dougal kissed him tenderly. Shona Stewart came in from her run and gave them a disgusted look as she passed by and went to the female changing room to shower. When she came back she poured herself coffee and made lightly buttered toast for herself and ate it while the computer at her workstation powered up after a night in hibernation mode. It was an early start for her, but otherwise perfectly normal.
That slanderer of the name of vampire, Bram Stoker, had remarked in his novel that there was a change of atmosphere at the coming of dawn. Even deep in the archive, Darius felt it. He didn’t sleep all day and come out at nightfall as Stoker and others assumed. Safe underground he was often at work with his colleagues during the day as well. But he always felt a little weary at dawn. He finished what he was doing in the archive and went back to his room. He noticed that Shona was up already. Dawn had the opposite effect on her. She was probably on an early morning run. Owen had assured her that a moderate physical exercise regime would not be harmful to the baby and she continued to run several miles every morning even though she wasn’t permitted to bench press and lift weights any more.
He got into the bed. The sheets were redolent of their earlier passion. He smiled as he remembered the heat of sex and the warmth of sharing the bed with a living being and didn’t mind that it was cold now. He closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep.
But sleep didn’t come as easily as it should. He jerked awake suddenly, aware of a presence in the room.
There was no light on, but he could see the man standing above him. He was tall, broad-shouldered. He was dressed in the clothes of a nobleman of Lithuania’s feudal society of the late eighteenth century. He held himself erect like his portrait all the time. That was how Darius always remembered him. An erect man. And that was not a double-entendre of any kind.
Not when the phrase was applied to his father. Darius often wondered how such a stoic and unloving man ever managed to have sexual intercourse with his mother often enough to produce him and his siblings. He must have considered it a necessary but distasteful duty like the dispensing of justice as the magistrate of the township.
“Tevas...” he whispered. “Father... why... why do you trouble me in this place and time?”
“Do not call me father,” the man replied. “You are not my sunus. I have no son. Not any more. He is dead... He died shamefully of wanton excesses, unnatural urges and sinful lust. You... are not my child. You are no flesh and blood of mine. You are an abomination against God who takes the same form as the man once called Darius Petkus.”
“Father,” Darius repeated. “I am still that man. I have all the memories of the Human I once was... the child who looked to you for love and found only coldness, the youth who hoped for your approval and found only criticism and disdain... the man who grew tired of trying to live up to your exacting standards.... but still your son... still your flesh....”
“No, you ARE an abomination, filth... I should have killed you when I had a chance... when I knew what you had become. It was a weakness on my part. Your mother, foolish, sentimental, weak woman, would not have your body desecrated. I was unable to ensure that you would not walk Undead and continue your filthy existence. I should have overruled her. I should have struck your head from your body and cut out your black heart the very night you were brought back to us in your coffin.”
“And it would not have been an act of mercy to me, would it, tevelis,” Darius answered, using the form of the word ‘father’ that translated into English as ‘daddy’ with more than a hint of bitter sarcasm. “You would have shed no tears for me. I disappointed you long before I was turned. I think, perhaps, the very day I was born.”
“At least I had the satisfaction of destroying that nest of fiends you associated with,” Nikolaos Petkus said with a curl of his lip that told of his contempt. “Those two unholy brothers... I brought their filthy lives to an end with this very sword arm.”
“You killed Danukas and Mykolas!” Darius’s eyes reddened with anger as he remembered the cold pre-dawn, more than a century ago now, when he had sought the sanctuary of two Human friends who had taken him into their fold. The Paulikas brothers were immigrants from the same part of Lithuania as he was. They had met in Victorian London and found themselves to be soul mates. They were both willing to let him feed on them, and both were his lovers, too. But that morning, he found them dead. They had been beheaded and their hearts cut out, the prescribed way of sending a vampire to his final rest. But they weren’t vampires. They were merely Humans who associated with vampires. His unbeating heart had ached with grief for them.
“But it couldn’t be you,” he added. “That was a hundred years after I was turned. You... you were long dead. I saw your grave... before I left our home. It isn’t... you are not my father. You’re...”
His eyes burned now and his skin turned a grey hue. His fangs elongated and his voice when he spoke again was a barely Human roar. He launched himself at the thing that had taken the form of his father, claw-like fingernails digging into the neck as he snapped it.
It was twenty minutes later that he picked himself up from the floor. His head felt as if he was coming down from a narcotic high such as he used to experience in his most hedonistic Human days. Drugs had no effect on him now. They depended on a beating heart and blood circulation and he had neither. But he knew this feeling well enough. It happened when he gave into his vampire urges. It used to happen a lot when he was younger, when he was starved into submission by the vampire who turned him. Later, he learnt to control himself and the full rage only rarely enveloped him.
He turned on the light and looked around his room, carefully. There was no mutilated body to be seen. He hadn’t killed anyone in his rage. He was relieved.
But if there was nobody there, what had happened? Was it just a dream? It felt too real, too palpable for that. His reaction had been too extreme. He had plenty of nightmares, after all. His long Undead existence contained hundreds of memories that haunted him. His father’s rejection of him even before he had become a vampire, and the death of his two friends were just two reasons for unsettled sleep. But he had never had the rage come upon him that way before.
Knowing it could disturbed him. What if Shona had been with him when it overwhelmed him? He could have killed her without even knowing it. Was he becoming a danger to the people he cared about?
Then he saw the bullet holes in the wall. And he remembered the taunt of the creature in the cell.
“Even you, unnatural creature, have to sleep.”
He turned and ran from his room, up to the Hub where Shona was working and Dougal was sitting with Sandy in the rest area. Everything seemed normal here. For a moment he wondered if he was letting his imagination run riot. But his imagination didn’t need to be coloured by things that weren’t there. He had enough things that were there to contend with.
“Did... anyone else... have a bad dream tonight?” he asked.
“Sandy, Shona and Darius all have unnaturally raised levels of adrenaline and serotonin in their bloodstreams,” Dougal told Owen by video link to his apartment. They had agreed that neither he nor Toshiko, and certainly not the children, should come near the Hub until they knew what had affected three of the four people who were there overnight.
“Serotonin is the hormone that triggers sleep,” Owen pointed out. “Adrenaline keeps the body active. The two are usually mutually exclusive. Darius is right. It’s something abnormal. And I don’t think we need to look much further than the creature we have locked in our cells. Fucking alien doing a Freddie Kruger on us.”
“Why wasn’t I affected?” Dougal asked.
“You’re the only one who hasn’t been to sleep yet,” Owen reminded him. “You probably ARE affected. The bastard put something into Darius when he felt something hit him in the cells, and he passed it on to all of you.”
“Shit,” Dougal swore. “I was the first to see Darius after that incident. It must have got into me... and then... Sandy... we were... indulging on the sofa...”
“I wish you wouldn’t do that. The rest of us have to sit there, afterwards,” Owen told him. “But, yes... you infected Sandy and he went back to sleep. Darius infected Shona who also slept. Then he himself went to bed...”
“If I sleep...” Dougal shook his head. “I’ve died about eighty times in the past couple of years. Sometimes bloody painfully. I don’t need to have realistic dreams about that. What if it kills me... what if I kill somebody else.”
“Won’t happen,” Owen promised. “We know what to expect. When you’re ready to sleep, we’ll be monitoring you. But first we need to run some tests on you. Go down to the medical room. Sandy can operate the body scanner. I need to know what your body chemicals look like before you sleep. Send the results to me right away.”
Dougal did just that. The body scanner in the medical room, enhanced with alien technology, was easy to use even for an amateur like Sandy and it gave instant reports on the condition of Dougal’s body. Owen took rather longer to study them and extrapolate a theory.
“It’s only infectious before you sleep,” he concluded. “That means we’ve already beaten the little bastard. We caught it last night before it had any contact with any other humans. Darius was the first person it had a chance to infect. The Torchwood Hub is pretty much isolated already. The only person who left it overnight was Shona when she went running, but she had already had her nightmare experience and wasn’t infectious. Nobody else has come in or left the Hub. You’re the only one left who carries the ‘live’ infection.”
“You’re sure?” Dougal asked. “So... this won’t happen to Sandy again... or Shona and Darius?”
“The nightmares induced by the creature are so intense, they release so many hormones, so much emotion, there’s nothing left,” Owen assured him. “None of those who’ve slept already are infected, now.”
“So, I’ve got to go to sleep and have a dangerously vivid nightmare in order to ensure the infection is stopped right here in the Hub?”
He didn’t want to do it. The thought of what might be induced by his nightmares filled him with apprehension. But there really was no choice. He couldn’t risk leaving the Hub until he did. They were lucky with Shona. If he went out into the streets of Glasgow now he could give any number of people bad dreams. And they, in their turn, could infect everyone they know. Within a very short time it could spread exponentially. Glasgow had a train station, bus depot, airport. The infection could be global in a few days. And these dreams were dangerous. People could kill their loved ones in the middle of the delusion, or go into the same kind of seizures as Sandy with nobody around to stop them suffocating.
He couldn’t risk that just to avoid some temporary unpleasantness for himself. Besides, he was getting more and more tired, now. He couldn’t stop himself falling asleep very soon.
They put him in the padded room. It was the safest place. He couldn’t harm anyone else there, and there was very little he could do to harm himself. But the room was packed with monitors that would record everything that happened to him.
“You’ll be all right,” Sandy promised him. He was the last to leave the room. He kissed him lovingly and promised it would be all over soon.
Dougal lay down on the soft floor and closed his eyes. Waves of sleep overwhelmed him as he curled up in a foetal position and waited for the inevitable.
In the Hub, his friends watched anxiously as the serotonin and adrenaline in his bloodstream both raised dramatically. They saw his body thrashing about on the closed circuit pictures of the padded cell. They heard his screams of agony. They saw his heart rate and respiration increase to dangerous levels.
They saw what nobody had witnessed the first three times – a slight rise in nitrogen levels in the room as something like black fog was expelled from his mouth. Then Dougal’s lifesigns all stopped abruptly as he died. Sandy yelped unhappily. He knew as well as any of them that Dougal should be all right. Even so, it still scared him to see it happen. He ran back to the padded room. Darius and Shona watched from the Hub. Owen watched anxiously through a live feed while maintaining video contact with them all. It seemed agonisingly long before Sandy burst into the padded room and bent to hold Dougal in his arms, cradling his still body until he felt the systolic jolt and the deep intake of breath that came with his renewed life.
“Oh %#@....!” Darius swore an old Lithuanian swearword as he turned from the padded cell monitor to the one watching the Nightmare King in his cell. There was something clearly wrong with the creature. He turned and ran down to the custody suite.
He looked at the creature behind the transparent aluminium cell door. It was hunched in the corner. Its skin was suppurating and it looked as if it was dissolving slowly.
It raised its head and looked at Darius. It rasped a few weak but incoherent words.
“Ah!” Darius said. “We’ve beaten you after all. You thought to feed on the tortures of millions infected through us. But we’ve stopped it. Dougal was the last. And we were too few to sustain you! You’re dying!”
The creature tried again to speak, but it was wasting away too fast. Darius watched impassively as the face dissolved away a bit more. There were no eyes left and the mouth slowly fused into the blank head shape. He kept watching until the humanoid began to look like a well sucked sweet that only vaguely retained its original shape and then dissolved altogether into a puddle of noxious liquid. He noted grimly that the duty of cleaning up the mess would probably fall to him. His vampire life was certainly not a glamorous one.
“Get samples for analysis,” Owen told him when he reported what had happened. “Otherwise, case closed. Dougal was the last carrier of the infection. I’ll be in the office in half an hour or so to give everyone a quick once over, just in case. But I think we got off lightly. If any of you had gone home to sleep, if you’d come into contact with anyone outside the Hub before you did, we’d have an epidemic of dangerously real nightmares by now.”
“All in a night’s work, then,” Dougal said, hugging a cup of strong coffee that was helping to dispel the after effects of his experience.
“What was your nightmare?” Darius asked him. “Just out of interest.”
“I dreamt I was on fire,” Dougal answered. “My whole body was a Human torch, and everything I touched was catching fire. Everything, every ONE, around me was burning because of me. I was in agony. I felt my skin being burnt away until raw flesh and bone was being scorched, and I was still alive, still feeling every last awful moment of it...”
“Has that happened to you?” Darius asked. “Was one of your deaths by fire?”
“Yes,” he answered. “But when it happened that time it was faster. I didn’t feel it as much as this. This was so drawn out and painful... and it felt so very real.”
“Gordon McLeish burnt alive in the Hub two years ago,” Owen pointed out. “In the very room we all work in. It was rebuilt, of course. But I wonder if you somehow picked up a resonance of that event.”
“Anything is possible around here,” Dougal conceded. “But since the Nightmare King can’t infect anyone else, now, I think I’ll go and lie down on that sofa and get some proper sleep. I’m bloody knackered, still.”