a Serial in Seven Parts
By CJ Alexander
No, it mustn’t happen again, but of course, it does. The rumor mill goes into high gear after three more crew members are found in their quarters after failing to report for duty, white like snow. Cold like ice. Bite marks on their necks.
Once again I summon the Security Chief to my conference room.
“Sit down, Chief.” He plops wearily into the chair. “Report.”
“Captain, most of the crew are afraid to enter their quarters. They’ve been congregating in the lounges, the observation deck, and the conservatory. They take group showers in the gym locker room instead of their own. Even the most peaceful ones have picked fights, just so they can get some safe sleep in the brig.” He pauses. I knew this, but it stings, hearing him say it.
“Security teams have been posted in the habitat corridors, but so far they’ve seen nothing suspicious. Then the next morning, there’s always another body…”
“What can we do?”
He sighs. “I recommend we double up on night watch. Each security officer pairs with one non-security crew member. Just until we find the killer, Captain.”
“Do it,” I say.
* * *
Major Thom Anderson is a big, burly fellow. Afraid of nothing and no-one, he’s been watching over the less well-conditioned crew members, trailing them to and from duty, meals, and their quarters. When they stare at him, he winks, trying to soothe nerves. But the crew is wary of everyone, and they can’t help but wonder if Thom’s the maniac responsible for the killing spree. That patch over his eye…creepy. He cracks his knuckles, he picks his teeth, and he hitches up his trousers…His good eye seems to gleam with malice. Where is security? Oh. He IS security.
The next morning, another crew member fails to report for duty. A man this time, drained of blood. It’s Thom Anderson.
* * *
The following week, five more crew members are found dead. Same telltale bite marks. I am literally white with fright, pale even by vampire standards. I’ve begun to entertain the unlikely possibility that I’ve developed a case of amnesia or that I may somehow have become schizophrenic, and that I myself am the culprit behind all those drained bodies. What if! What if! What if my mentally ill alter-ego should kill my own grandchildren? The very thought turns my stomach. So I make an appointment with the ship’s psychologist, Margo Malone.
“What can I do for you, Captain?” By all that’s unholy, she smells so delicious I can barely contain my bloodlust. Her scrumptious carotid artery blood pulses in plain view, like a neon sign that invites me to Eat! Eat! I cross and uncross my legs and arms. I dare not smile. I hope I’m not salivating. Finally, my fangs retract.
“Counselor, have you noticed anything odd or uncharacteristic in my demeanor lately?”
She shakes her head. “Captain, it would be unusual if you appeared to be as jolly as ever, given the current situation aboard the ship. But you’ve been appropriately distraught, and actually you appear quite haggard and drawn. Have you been sleeping well, sir? Eating properly?”
I stare into her eyes. Is she taunting, testing me? No, of course she isn’t, I’m just paranoid. I suppress a chuckle. Imagine that, a paranoid possibly schizophrenic starving out-of-control vampire in charge of the well-being and safety of a hundred or so human space travellers. Am I eating properly?
“I’ve been fasting, Margo. We’re far from any sign of habitable planets and I’m concerned about running out of food. Who knows how long we’ll be hurtling through this blackness before we finally find someplace to start farming?”
“Well, sir, we have seeds, and Hydroponics is still thriving.”
“I’m more carnivore than vegetarian, Counsellor.”
“So I’m told. But Captain, there’s protein in vegetables, you know. You need to eat, and regain your strength. That’s an order, Captain.” She smiles kindly and I try to, too. Then I follow her orders, fixing my right eye on her left eye. I murmur, “Margo….Margo…” a rhythmic chant to render her compliant. Her eyes glaze over, the curtains of her lids droop gracefully, her lashes flutter like fringe on pink cheeks. I brush her hair aside, then drink and drink and drink.
To be continued