(Warning this story contains extraterrestrials, readers discretion is advised)

Chapter 1

Betaís Plea

They stood side-by-side, holding hands, anxiously waiting for what he had perceived as bad news. Vincent had been Below all day as usual, but when he had entered the basement of his home, through the hidden tunnel entrance, the communicator Sher-Kan had given him had chirped. He took it out of one of the many pockets of his cloak and awkwardly flipped it open to hear Sher-Kanís anxious voice.

"Vincent, thank the two moons! We need to speak to you right away. Weíll beam down directly."

The connection through the tiny device was broken, but he opened the bond with his birth father wide sensing fear, weariness, anxiety and an overpowering feeling of doom before the elder beingís shields snapped the emotions off. He headed up the stairs taking them two at a time, his arrival at the vestibule coinciding with Catherine who was just coming home from work. Quickly kissing her, he told her of the impending arrival. She felt his concern and hurried after him to the library where his parents had transported out some months ago.

They didnít have long to wait before two beams of sparkling light preceded the two beings that stood before them now. Catherine couldnít contain the gasp upon seeing Sher-Kan and Emily. They had both lost weight, Sher-Kanís glossy coat, so like Vincentís was dull and matted in spots; Emily had dark circles under her eyes. They both looked stooped as if they carried some great weight on their shoulders.

Catherine moved to embrace Emily being careful not to squeeze too hard, she seemed so frail; not at all like the strong, robust farm woman she had been when she had left Earth to accompany Sher-Kan back to Beta. Vincent too was aghast at the condition of his parents, when he embraced his birth father he attempted to probe their bond deeper, but the elderís shields were now firmly in place. Emilyís feelings however were easy to read and as he embraced her he delved deep into them and found a weariness that went to her very core and an over whelming sense of fearÖ for him.

Catherine broke the silence, urging them to sit down. They sat huddled together on the couch, the very picture of misery; whatever was wrong they obviously did not wish to burden the young couple with it.

"Whatever has happened," she said, "itís best just to tell us, whatever it is weíll deal with it." She too had felt their reticence and taking Vincentís hand pulled him down to the couch opposite the despondent pair waiting for an explanation.

Sher-Kan looked up at his son and bond-daughter, "I want you to know that if there was any way of avoiding this, any way at all, we would have done it." Focusing on Vincent alone he added, "You are our last hope of saving the Betazed race."

Vincent and Catherine were stunned. Obviously there was something very wrong on Beta. They waited with growing trepidation for him to continue.

Sher-Kan lowered his eyes, drawing strength from the sight of Emilyís hands entwined in his; he stared at them now as he went on.

"A short time ago one of our exploratory expeditions returned from a planet in a system on the outskirts of a section of space we had recently charted. They brought back with them samples of indigenous plant life. A colleague of mine, a close friend, had asked me to assist him with cataloging the specimens. When I went to his lab I found him in poor health, which is rare for us. He told me he had made an appointment to see a healer and until then he wanted to work. As we went through the samples I noticed that his breathing was becoming increasingly labored and he was sweating profusely. When I approached him to offer some healing assistance he backed away as if he didnít know me. I called for an emergency healer and again attempted to approach him, he collapsed to the floor unconscious. When I tried to apply some healing support I found that his internal systems were being attacked by a virus. I managed to keep him alive until the healer arrived. He was then beamed directly to the healers quarantine lab, but it was too late the virus had already spread."

"Everyone one on board that ship had it. They had gone through the regular decontamination routine, but the virus went undetected, something from the survey planet had infected them. Everyone that came into contact with a crewmember was affected and it spread exponentially from there. I had gone home and was contacted there that my colleague had died and that if I began to exhibit signs of illness to call the healers immediately. A short while later the symptoms started. Your mother called, but the virus had spread rapidly and the healers had their hands full. The worse cases were being put into stasis chambers in hopes they would be cured if and when a cure was found. The healers were working frantically to identify the virus and find an antidote. The Federation had been contacted and stasis equipment was being sent in from all over, they said they would get to me as soon as they could. In the meantime Beta had been put on quarantine, no one was to leave and no one was to come in."

"My health disintegrated rapidly, I became delusional, I knew I was dying and the only thing I could think of was you my son."

He looked at Vincent with such abject sorrow and then tears started slowly tracing their way down his face.

"In my delusion I wanted to be close to you, to my only child. The only thing I had of yours was the blood sample I had taken the last time I was here. Only a small portion of it had been used to verify your existence to the Council. The rest of it I had kept it in my lab in the small stasis field I used for volatile samples. I took it and put it in a hypo spray, injecting myself with it."

He began sobbing now and Vincent left the couch he had been sharing with Catherine and sat next to his father. He put an arm around his heaving shoulders and hugged him tightly.

Emily continued the story, "I found him on the lab floor with the hypo spray half empty. He was much too heavy for me to lift or drag to a more comfortable place so I covered him with a blanket and lay down beside him pillowing his head. I couldnít believe I was going to lose him! I railed against God, cursing him for allowing this to happen and I cried and cried. Finally I must have slept, the next thing I knew a healer was shaking me awake. Sher-Kan was already awake and looking much better, the healer was peppering him with questions about his symptoms making sure he did indeed have the virus. He took blood samples showing that it was still in his system but was being destroyed by an unknown agent. The healer was beside himself with excitement and took us on a direct beam in to the healerís lab. The scientists there pored over Sher-Kan subjecting him with every test they could think of trying to identify what was destroying the virus. Finally we realized must have been something in your blood," she looked at Vincent, tears welling up in her eyes, "that was the key. They took some of what was left in the hypo spray and injected it into a patient who immediately showed signs of improvement

Catherine took all this in and began to worry. Shooting Vincent a quick look she saw that he had realized the same thing. They now began to understand why the older couple was so upset. They turned their attention back to Emily.

"They couldnít isolate what it was in your blood that attacked the virus. They took some of my blood and Sher-Kanís to see if they could produce yours, but they couldnít there is something distinctly different, completely unique and the worst part is they canít duplicate or synthesis it." She took a shuddering breath and dropped her head. Sher-Kan had gotten a hold of himself and spoke the words Catherine had been dreading.

"Vincent, the Council is asking you to come to Beta. Believe me I wish I had died rather than subject you to this ordeal. As your sire I would tell you not to go, but as a citizen of Beta I beg you to help our people."

So there it was, instead of being able to rejoice in Sher-Kanís escape from death they had to persuade their only child to travel to a place far from the world he called his home and the people that were his family to help a race of beings that until only a short while ago he didnít even know existed.

Vincent looked at Catherineís horrified face and got up from the couch. Crossing over to the table he picked up the phone and punched the intercom button.

"Yes, Vincent is that you?" Fatherís voice came through the receiver.

"Yes Father, Sher-Kan and Emily are here, we need your council. Would you come over and perhaps bring the Bishop as well?

From the tone of Vincentís voice Father could tell this was serious. "Jack is here with me now, weíll leave immediately."

As Father hung up the phone he looked across at his friend. "Trouble?" The Bishop inquired.

"Sher-Kan and Emily are over there and from the sound of it they didnít bring good news. Vincent wants us over there."

"Well then letís put a good foot under us and get going." The Bishop picked up his walking stick and they left the chamber.

Vincent hung up the phone and turned back to his parents. "How many have died?

Sher-Kan raised his tear-wet face to meet his sonís calm blue eyes. "Hundreds," he whispered painfully. "There arenít enough stasis chambers and the healers are stretched thin. Thereís really nothing they can do for those afflicted other than to ease the pain a little."

Vincent was afraid to ask, but he had to know. "And your friend, Bartok?"

"Thank the two moons, he was off planet on a geological survey. When he came back he stayed on the moon base until he was asked to bring us here."

Vincent was slowly pacing the room; Catherine knew he was filling in time waiting for Father to arrive.

Suddenly he stopped and asked, "Do I have relatives on Beta?" He didnít know why he hadnít asked the question when he and Sher-Kan first met, it just never occurred to him until now.

"Yes actually I have a sister. Itís rare that a couple have more than one child, but my parents had two and my sister has two. So you have an aunt, a bond-uncle and a niece and nephew."

"Are they ill?"

"Last I heard they were not, but that could have changed at this point I donít know. Everyone was instructed to stay in their homes, not have any contact with others, but if the virus is airborne they could have contracted it by now. In a matter of days our whole way of life has changed, we are fortunate that most of our systems are automated, we are not crippled, but our freedom of movement has been sharply curtailed. It is something we are not used to and something, Iím sure we will never take for granted again."

Vincent went back to pacing but stopped when he felt Fatherís presence close by. He went out to the hall to meet the two men coming up the stairs. Father could tell from the look on Vincentís face that all was not well. When he entered the room he was appalled at Sher-Kan and Emilyís physical condition. He immediately went into doctor mode and crossed the room to Emily who had stood up to greet him. After giving her a hug he put his hand to her forehead and then took her wrist to check her pulse.

"Jacob, Iím fine really, just tired, please donít fuss so."

"Tired, thatís an understatement youíre worn out." Looking at Sher-Kan he asked, "What has been going on? The two of you look as though youíve been through an epidemic."

The look of shock on their faces brought him up short. "Is that what this is all about?" He looked quickly at Vincent, their eyes held for a moment before Vincentís slid away. The Bishop greeted everyone then pulled chairs over and pushed Father into one.

"Here sit yourself down and be prepared to listen, obviously they have something to tell us." He made himself comfortable and looked at Sher-Kan expectantly.

Sher-Kan told his tale again and at the end of it Father jumped up and began furiously pacing back and forth.

"So you want to take Vincent back with you and bleed him dry? How many do you think he can save? Thereís only so much blood in him and obviously if you take it all youíll kill him; this is utterly insane!"

Sher-Kan stood as well. "No you donít understand, theyíll only take what he can safely give so no harm will come to him."

"Then why does he have to go with you? Take it now and go." Then it dawned on him, he turned slowly to face Sher-Kan "youíre going to milk himÖ like a cow, youíll take what he can give and then wait for his system to replenish itself and take more, thatís why you want him with you." He began pacing again, gesturing wildly with his arms.

"Even if you take the maximum amount, what would that be say four pints, five maximum, how many doses could that be? It would take at least a week for his system to replenish that loss, it would take months for him to give enough blood to make any difference."

The Bishop grabbed Fatherís arm as he was making another pass around the room.

"Jacob, we are talking about an entire planet full of people, they need help and Vincent is the only one that can provide that help. Iím sure theyíve thought this through and have a plan for saving as many as they can. PleaseÖ sit down and listen."

Father looked at him and resignedly resumed his seat. Sher-Kan sat as well.

"Youíre quite right Jack, they have thought it out and if all goes as planned no harm will come to Vincent, but they do need to get as much blood as possible. If Vincent returns with us the healers will evaluate his health and determine how much blood they can safely harvest. I believe our bodies contain a higher volume of blood than a humanís does so they will probably be able to take more than five pints. They will inject the smallest amount needed to kill the virus in those afflicted. There was only half a hyposray full after I injected myself and most of that went to testing so the dose the test patient received must have been very small. After taking Vincentís blood the strongest healers we have will support and boost his systems, pouring their healing energies into him to help his body restore the loss at an accelerated rate."

Father stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Whatís their estimated time frame between one harvesting and another?"

Sher-Kan hung his head; they barely heard his reply, "daily."

Father jumped out of his chair shouting, "Daily?! Are they crazy? No oneís body can support that kind of loss!" He pointed a finger at him. "Youíre going to kill him!"

Again the Bishop intervened. "Jacob, they wouldnít kill the only means of curing a pandemic, be reasonable."

Father turned on him still shouting, "Reasonable? Reasonable! Is it reasonable to have my son fly through space to some place heís never been, to help some people heís never seen, away from his family and friends for possibly months and to have him bled dry everyday, do you call that reasonable?"

Sher-Kan laid a hand on Fatherís shoulder. "Believe me when I tell you I wish I had died rather than to have Vincent go through this."

"Enough!" Vincentís voice drew their attention, "I have no choice." He turned to Sher-Kan. "I will go back with you and do what I can."

Catherine jumped up. "WE will go back with you." Her tone implied that she would not be argued with and Vincent gave her a grateful look. He nodded, taking her hands and looking deep into her eyes he repeated.

"WeÖ will go back with you."

"Vincent, you canít be serious." Father sputtered.

"What would you have me do Father turn my back on people who need me? You raised me better than that. If you were in my place wouldnít you do the same thing?"

Father hung his head defeated; Vincent was right he would do exactly the same thing.

In the ensuing silence Catherine let go of Vincentís hands with a squeeze and going over to the phone punched in a number.

"Hi Joe, itís Cathy."

"Cathy, whatís up?"

"I need to take some time off."

"Youíre kidding me right? Weíve got so much stuff on the docket we could use two more people not one less."

"Joe, if I have to quit I will." He heard the resolve in her voice.

"Now, now letís not be hasty here we can work this out. When do you need to go?"

"Right now, tonight."

"Tonight!" Even the non-Betazeds could hear him. "Youíre not sick or something? I mean youíre ok right?"

"Iím fine Joe I just need to go away to help some people. I donít know how long Iíll be gone and you wonít be able to reach me."

"Well when you say how long what do you mean a couple of days, weeks, what?

"Could be a couple of months, I really donít know?"

"A couple of months," he sighed resignedly. "Ok, yeah, sure we can work around you somehowÖ.Iíll figure it out you just take care of yourself and if thereís anything I can doÖyou knowÖlet me know."

"Thanks Joe, I will"

She hung up the phone and punched in another number.

"Hi Jen."

"Cathy, hi."

"Listen Jen I need you to come over here right away."

"Sure. Is anything wrong?"

"Iíll tell you when you get here."

When she hung up she looked at Vincent, he nodded admiring her efficiency. She gave him a tremulous smile and walking over to Emily took her hand, tugging her up off the couch.

"Come on, help me pack"

Emily gave her a grateful half smile. Packing would be a welcome distraction from the horrible feelings of guilt she was having for disrupting the younger coupleís lives, no matter how great the cause.

As the two women went up stairs the Bishop cleared his throat.

"Well I donít know about you folks, but I could use a cup of coffee. Anybody else?"

Vincent caught the wink the Bishop had thrown at him.

"Why donít we all go down to the kitchen and get something to drink?" Vincent suggested. "We canít leave until Jenny gets here so we may as well continue this discussion over some refreshments."

Vincent led the way to the kitchen and put the kettle on, the rest settled around the kitchen table. As the Bishop thought, the trip down the stairs and the less formal surroundings gave Father the chance to calm down and look at matters a little more objectively.

"Sher-Kan, I want to apologize for my outburst, I didnít mean to imply that you didnít have Vincentís best interests at heart. Itís just that weíve never been parted for any length of time and not to be able to be there for him is a hard thing to accept on the spur of the moment."

"Believe me Jacob I fully understand your concerns they are mine as well, but I promise you I will let no harm come to him, he will return to you."

Vincent brought the tea and coffee to the table and sat down, sipping his tea thoughtfully.

"Where will Catherine and I be housed?"

"Originally they wanted you to stay in the installation the healers have on Rama, one of our two moons, but I told them I wanted you to stay with your mother and me on my estate. The least we can offer you in your time with us is family and sunshine. They werenít happy about it, but they finally saw it my way. After your evaluation they will come every morning and take your blood, then the strongest healers we have will boost and support your internal systems. The rest of the day and night will be yours to roam around the estate or do whatever you please until the next morning when it will start all over again."

Father interjected at this point, "You make it sound like heíll have the energy to go about a normal day, I assure you were it a human you were doing this to he would most probably be flat on his back."

"I wonít deny that that could be very well how Vincent will feel, but given the shape he is in he may bounce back better than you think. But my estate is large and contains many amenities; if he finds walking too much he could lie in the gardens. At least he wouldnít be in a cold medical facility, I donít think I could bear that for him."

"No nor could I, at least I can think of him being outside in the daytime without need to worry about someone seeing him as he would here." Father chuckled, "itís ironic that here if he were seen he would be captured and most probably be taken to a lab for testing and now heís going to a planet full of people who look like him and heíll still be taken to a lab and tested."

The Bishop shook his head then looked at Vincent "no matter where you go youíre a unique individual."

The front door opened then and they heard Jenny call out.

"Cathy, Iím here."

"Upstairs Jen, weíre in the bedroom."

While the men had been talking Catherine and Emily had been feverously packing everything Catherine could think of. They were going to be gone for a long time and she wanted some of their possessions to go with them to give them a feeling of home. She packed the small photo album Jenny had made of their wedding reception; she felt their big wedding album would be too bulky plus if anything happened to it sheíd be devastated. She added some of the things the children Below had made for them and one of the quilts Mary had given them. Emily had assured her that they could take whatever they wanted room was not a consideration the ship that was waiting for them had plenty of cargo space. As Jenny came into the room and greeted them Catherine left the rest of the packing to Emily while she steered her friend into the office. As she pulled out her checkbook she explained to Jen what was going on.

"Oh my God, I dreamt this, well not exactly this, but I kept seeing people that looked like Sher-Kan dying, it was awful."

"Did you dream about Vincent?"

" I kept getting the feeling that he was there but he was ok, it was like he was the only one that was ok, I couldnít figure it out; now it makes sense."

"I hope your dream is right. Look I donít know how long weíll be gone, but if you could come by and bring the paper and mail in that would really be great."

"No problem I can swing by everyday on my way home from work"

"Iíll sign some checks so you can pay the bills when they come in, thereís plenty of money in the checking account and if you catch wind that they need something Below donít even hesitate just get it for them, ok?" She looked at her friend anxiously it was starting to sink in that she would be leaving her home for an extended amount of time.

"Cathy, donít worry Iíll take care of everything, the house will be the least of your worries you just take care of yourself and Vincent."

Catherine gave her friend a hug, tears glistening in her eyes, "Jen youíre the greatest, Iíll miss you."

"Iíll miss you too, just make sure you come back"

Catherine dashed the tears from her face and preceded Jen back to the bedroom.

"I think I packed everything you pulled out, can you think of anything else?" Emily asked.

Catherine looked around the room again shaking her head missing it already, "no I donít think so, I suppose if weíve forgotten something we can get it on Beta."

Emily gave her the first real smile since arriving. "Beta is going to be a real culture shock, believe me, their technology is so much more advanced than ours itís taken me quite awhile to get used to it all."

Catherine picked up the bedroom phone and buzzed around until she found Vincent

"Weíre all packed unless thereís something specific you wanted?"

"Iím sure you packed everything weíll need, weíll come right up."

As Vincent entered the bedroom he eyed the numerous suitcases Catherine had waiting giving her a bemused looked. She shrugged her shoulders, "well we are going to be gone a month or more."

He smiled at her then turned to Sher-Kan, "Do we need to take these down to the library?"

"No we can beam out right from here" he began pulling the suitcases into a pile, Vincent bent to help him. Then Sher-Kan placed a locator on the top and pulled out his communicator.

"Bartok here," came a disembodied voice.

"Itís Sher-Kan, Vincent has agreed to accompany us," the relief in his voice was evident. "Iíve place a locator on their luggage you can beam it up whenever youíre ready."

They heard the word "energizing" and the luggage was engulfed in a sparkling beam of light for a moment and then was gone.

Catherine took a deep breath; shortly it would be she and Vincent leaving in a beam of light. Vincent felt her spike of apprehension and took her hand, looking deeply into her eyes he asked, "Are you ready Catherine?"

She calmed and smiled at him, "yes," she spoke softly.

There were hugs and kisses all around. When Vincent said goodbye to Father the old man took his sonís head in both hands and pulled it toward him to kiss his brow. He stared intently into his blue eyes, "Come back to me, Vincent."

Vincent took his Fatherís shoulders, gripping them tightly, "I will Father, I promise." The two hugged not wanting to let go of each other until Catherine laid her hand on Vincentís arm. He pulled away and planted a kiss on the old manís temple. "Tell everyone goodbye."

Father sniffed, "I will, son. Take care. I love you."

In a voice rough with emotion Vincent said, "I love you too."

The Bishop pronounced a blessing on the four wishing them Godspeed and safe journey. They stood close to Sher-Kan as he spoke again into the communicator, "four to beam up," and they too were engulfed in the light. Their journey had begun.