Chapter 8

Tournament

After the initial crises was over and Vincent had given his blood for, what he calculated, to be approximately three weeks Earth time, the healers informed father and son that their blood would no longer be required. The patients that had gotten the first batch of vaccine were now providing what was needed and Vincent and Sher-Kan could take a well-deserved vacation from blood harvesting. Catherine and Emily were elated that their men folk would no longer be comatose for a better part of the day.

Upon hearing the good news Sher-Kan had slapped his hands together, rubbing them briskly. "Now we can start making plans for a tournament."

Emily laughed at him and in an aside to Catherine whispered; "youíd think there wasnít anything else in this world that was better than a good sword fight."

Catherine laughed thinking about all the sports fans on Earth that were just as wrapped up their sports as Sher-Kan was in his.

He and Vincent had been sparing together every night, but neither had the energy to do it for very long. As they got their strength back, however, the bouts became longer and more intense. They were well matched and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Sher-Kan knew Vincent was an excellent swordsman and couldnít wait to show him off to his friends and colleagues.

Soon after High Councilor Kristr made a worldwide announcement proclaiming the quarantine over they set a date and sent out invitations.

When tournament day came there arrived with it a multitude of people, this was the first post-pandemic event and everyone was eager to get out and see each other. Sixty-four combatants had signed up to fight with more than twice that figure in spectators; the salle was crammed to overflowing. Sher-Kan was well pleased with the turn out and proudly introduced Vincent and Catherine to as many as he could before the first matches were announced.

Vincent could tell that those he met were shocked not only because this was the first theyíd known about Sher-Kan having a son, but by his appearance as well. A human looking at him and another Betazed would say they were the same, but a native of Beta would see the differences. He thought it was the color of his eyes that seemed to disconcert them the most, the great majority of those he met just stared at them then would look away only to stare again as if affirming what they had seen wasnít a fluke of the lighting in the room.

When Bartok entered the room he dispensed with the formal greeting and gave Vincent a great bear hug, after the quarantine had been lifted he had been a regular at the estate. He had come to like the young couple very much and he was not one to hide his feelings.

On the other hand when Sh-ra and her family arrived there was a very formal greeting with icy politeness followed by a strained silence. After the incident involving Taka, Sher-Kanís relationship with his sister had been strained. He had always felt Taka, as the second child, had been pampered and out of control, but he like the rest had indulged her. The attack she had spearheaded on his estate, and on himself and Vincent, was intolerable. She had stepped over the line and Sher-Kan felt that her parents had not taken a hard enough stand with her.

Taka had not greeted her uncle at all and glared at Vincent as she stalked after her parents. Her brother Tarkish, however, was openly intrigued and began asking them questions about Earth until his father Tarn, pulled him away to sign in for the competition.

The abilities of all the fighters were logged into the computer, which made the initial pairings, matching skill levels as closely as possible. Vincent being an unknown was paired with the least skilled of the group. As the call to arms echoed through the salle the spectators made themselves comfortable on the wall ledges. Catherine was amazed at the ease with which the guests leaped up to them. She, Emily and Sher-Kan availed themselves of the bleachers sitting up high on the top seat so they could view all six rings. Sher-Kan had elected not to participate much preferring to watch his sonís matches.

A bell chimed signaling the beginning of the match, the first six pairs of fighters bowed to each other and assumed the en garde position. Most of the fighters knew each other from previous tournaments and they sailed right into the fray. Vincentís opponent, however, was warily stalking around him feinting here and there tested Vincentís ability. After Vincent had watched the younger Betazed for a while, assessing him, he parried one of the feints and executed a riposte striking his opponent in the chest. The computer declared him dead and Vincent won the match. Catherine whooped appreciatively and regaled him with bravos.

As there were initially 32 pairs of fighters and only six rings Vincent was able to view some of the matches. He noticed his cousin, Taka, had quickly taken out her first opponent and was waiting, like him, for her next pairing. She was watching also, but made sure she was as far away from him as she could get. After the 32 pairs were whittled down to 32 winners the computer again matched the fighters.

Vincent won his next three fights easily although the fighters got progressively better.

He stepped over to the bleachers to watch the conclusion of the other matches, shyly acknowledging the congratulations of his parents and wife as well as a few others who had come to respect his abilities with the sword. His father pulled him aside to access the fighters that remained. All were excellent and all male with the exception of Taka who had also made it into the final rounds.

For his next fight Vincent drew the stoutest Betazed he had seen so far; named Vesr, a favorite of his fathers and by his account an excellent swordsman. Vincent would definitely have to be on his mettle with this one. They warily circled around each other looking for an opening. Vincent stopped circling and began to sway from side to side, transferring his weight from one foot to the other, assessing Vesrís balance and stance. Suddenly Vesr launched a backhanded downward sweep. Vincent blocked, circling his opponents blade up and around in an attempt to break his hold and fling the sword away as he had done in his first sparring match with Sher-Kan. But Vesr was wary of that move and countered it. Vesr lunged. Vincent parried. Vesr swung his sword in a round, high swing, which Vincent swept aside. Vesr swung again and as his blade connected and slid down Vincentís, he leaned into it, shoving Vincent backward, nearly pushing him out of the circle. Vincent regained his balance and using his greater weight pushed Vesr away nearly taking him off his feet. Vincent followed his advantage with a series of rapid strokes. He executed a feint and got in a full-bodied blow on Vesrís side. It gave Vincent the first score of the match. In a burst of desperation Vesr unleashed a storm of blows putting Vincent on the defensive. As he was forced around the ring Vincent suddenly switch his sword to his left hand completely disconcerting Vesr who had never fought a southpaw. He was so unnerved that Vincent got in a killing blow and won the match.

Now only two fighters remained, Vincent and his cousin Taka. After a brief rest period the two remaining combatants took their place in the center circle closest to the bleachers. Sher-Kan watched proudly as Vincent took up the ready stance across from Taka. Suddenly Taka reached for something on her harness and a shimmer encased the two. Catherine hadnít seen this for any of the other fights and turned, startled to see Sher-Kanís look of horror.

"What is it? Whatís happened?" She asked confused by his and otherís reactions around her.

"Takaís turned on a personal force field, it nullifies the protective field around the suits and it prevents Vincent from quitting the ring," he explained in a shaky voice.

Emily too became alarmed at Sher-Kanís demeanor suddenly fearing for Vincentís safety.

Vincent had moved away from Taka sensing that something was not right, as he backed into the edge of the force field it sparked and hissed where he had touched it and he felt a strong electric shock. Catherine felt the pain lance through their bond and became enraged. "Why is she doing this?" She demanded of Sher-Kan. "For what purpose?"

"Sheís issued a challenge to the death," he replied "it hasnít been used since I can remember, but itís an old law that every Betazed has the right to evoke. I donít know what her motives are," he added bleakly.

"Well stop it! Turn the field off and let him go!" She clutched at Sher-Kanís arm. "Turn it off so he can get away from her!"

"I canít Catherine, no one can but Taka."

She was stunned. How could this be? These people were so advanced. How could they not be able to turn off one of their own devices?

Emily ran to where Sh-ra stood as stunned as everyone else.

"Sh-ra youíre her mother, talk to her, make her stop whatever it is that sheís planning. Make her stop it right now do you hear me!" Emilyís voice took on a hysterical tone.

Sh-ra held out her hands helplessly. "I donít know what sheís up to, she didnít mention anything about this." She looked over Emilyís shoulder at her brother imploringly. "Sheís always been like this, unpredictable. I donít know what to do."

As they spoke Taka had circled around Vincent, taking his measure. She proved she was a formidable swordsman just by ending up as one of the finalists. She was sure she would come out of this match triumphant with Vincent dead at her feet. She began a series of attacks at him, which he managed to parry. Vincent had felt Catherineís rising panic and knew Taka did not mean for him to come out of this alive, but he was loath to harm her in any way. He decided he would stall for time hoping someone would be able to bring down the field.

Suddenly Taka launched an attack of blistering speed, which Vincent managed to block. He backed away from her trying to put some distance between them, but was careful not to touch the force field. Taka followed swiftly, her sword arcing towards Vincentís face. He leaped to the side, her blade narrowly missing his cheek. Back and forth the blades clashed with enough force to produce sparks. She viciously lunged at his chest. He whirled, easily deflecting the blow, but still on the defensive he didnít follow up with an attack of his own.

Catherine watched horrified, she understood he was stalling for time, but Sher-Kan had said the field couldnít be brought down, Vincent had to fight back to save himself. She marshaled her strength and sent it through the bond willing him to fight. She felt his resistance and redoubled her efforts wishing the blood rage on him, wanting the warrior to take him over. He was resisting her; he did not want to harm his cousin no matter what her intent. Meanwhile Sher-Kan and Bartok were frantically trying to figure out a way to jam the field.

Taka attacked again slashing left and right forcing Vincent to jump back right into the field, he was shocked so badly that he flung himself forward right into Takaís blade, she swung at his chest cutting through the suit and to the skin below, blood poured out and Catherine felt the pain of it. Frantically she tried to think of some way to help him. Finally, in desperation, she threw herself against her side of the force field causing sparks to fly all around her body. The shock of it sent her reeling. She slumped to the floor fighting to remain conscience. Taka spared a disdainful sneer as she flicked a glance at the pitiful human writhing on the floor.

As Vincent felt Catherineís pain he threw his head back and roared; the blood rage surged up, consuming him with the need to protect his mate.

Very few modern-day Betazeds had ever witnessed a blood rage before let alone experienced one. They had removed themselves so far from their warrior roots that the blood rage for them was a thing of the past, a part of history, almost a myth. Not so for Vincent, he had experienced it far too often for his taste and was acutely in tune with it. He felt the red curtain rise up in him presenting Taka with the fierce warrior of Betaís ancient past. He issued a roaring challenge that was deafening. Snarling he advanced on her.

Taka froze, shocked by Vincentís sudden transformation, but after her initial surprise her lips curled up in triumph thinking that he was out of control and no match for her cool cunning. Using two hands she brought her sword up over her head and swung it downward fully confident that she would split him in half. As quick as lightening Vincent sidestepped the blow, and attacked with a fury that put Taka on the defensive for the first time. Vincentís sword became a blur, a metal curtain that Taka was unable to penetrate. In desperation she lunged at him presenting him with an opening, but instead of bringing his blade down in a killing blow he used the fist, that was wrapped around the pommel of his sword, and punched her unprotected chin. The force of the blow flung her off her feet and into the field surrounding them sending showers of sparks everywhere. She hung there for a moment, spread-eagle, then fell heavily forward, smashing the force field generator on her harness. The field disappeared as a stunned Taka lay face down on the floor. The breath had been knocked out of her and her head rang violently.

Vincent threw down his sword and straddled her prone body. As she started to lose consciousness she felt his heavy weight pinning her down. She attempted to struggle, but it was useless her body would not respond and blackness was engulfing her. He threw his head back and roared in triumph, the victorious warrior. Brutally grabbing her mane, he jerked her head up and back exposing her throat, and with claws extended was about to rip it out when he stopped, the training that the Bishop and Isaac had given him asserted itself and began to wash away the red haze of the blood rage. He was about to lower his arm when he was suddenly tackled from the side. He landed on his back with Catherine on top of him gripping his shoulders, shaking him.

"Vincent, Vincent come out of it please!" She sent calm reassurance through the bond that she was safe, she willed the red haze away with all the love she possessed for him. When she saw him smiling at her she hugged him fiercely, then realized she felt a sticky wetness coming through her shirt. She pulled back from him seeing the precious blood that had save a planets people drip to the floor from the gapping wound in his chest. His eyes had closed and his breath came in ragged gasps.

"No!" She screamed hysterically it wasnít fair he had come all this way to save these people and now his own cousin had tried to kill him.

"Vincent, you canít leave me," she implored. "I wonít let you, if you die then I die, I wonít live without you," she sobbed.

Emily stood to Vincentís other side a look of horror on her face, tears coursing down her cheeks. She couldnít lose her only child, the son that she had just so recently come to know. Before she could kneel down beside him Sher-Kan had her in his arms and she turned to sob into his chest his own face a mask of pain and sorrow.

Suddenly Briur was opposite Catherine laying his hands over the wound in the pose that had become so familiar to her. She felt a push from behind and moved to Vincentís head taking it gently into her lap as Darer took her place and added his hands and strength to Briurís. She bent her head over her husbandís calling to him over and over again imploring him to stay with her.

He heard her as if from a great distance, but kept his mind on marshalling his healing power into staunching the wound. When he felt the familiar healing strength of Briur and Darer he let go trusting them completely and opened his eyes. Catherine had burrowed her face into his neck under his chin and was sobbing uncontrollably

"Catherine," he whispered.

When there was no response he carefully raised his hand to stoke the back of her head.

"Beloved, Iím all right."

She lifted her tear stained face unbelief written clearly there.

"Truly." He said smiling reassuringly at her.

She looked at Briur and Darer both nodded in agreement, when she looked down at his chest the wound was closed as if it had never been. She smiled gratefully at the two healers then turned back to her husband kissing him deeply, affirming that he was indeed all right.

When he moved to rise Sher-Kan was there to help him. Holding tightly to Catherineís hand he embraced his father and then his mother, now tears of joy and relief running down her face. As a group they turned to see Taka being helped up by Sh-ra, Tarn and the healers that had aided her. Sher-Kan rounded on her in fury. She had never seen her uncle so roused and shrank back against her mother.

"What was the meaning of this?" He bellowed at her.

Taking a deep breath she straighten defiantly, shaking her mother off.

"Youíve made our family a laughing stock by mating with an off-worlder and bringing a half-breed here." She spoke the word with disgust looking at Vincent as if he were something vile that she had just stepped in. "And when I thought about him inheriting what was rightfully mine, what had been promised to me all my life; when I thought about him living here with his Earther mate it made my stomach turn. I had the right to challenge him and if I killed him your estate would be mine, if I didnít then I would be dead and I would rather be dead than to live with this abomination on our world!"

Sher-Kan shook with rage. "That half-breed, as you call him, saved your life and the life of everyone on this planet who was afflicted with the disease."

At that the entire room erupted; it was generally thought that the healers had come up with a cure. Just the few that had been in Takaís group knew that Sher-Kan had something to do with it, and obviously no one had realized it was his son that had provided the means for the cure.

The roar of "silence" filled the room and echoed back from the walls. High Counselor Kristr stepped to Sher-Kanís side holding up his arms in an effort to get everyoneís attention. As the crowd complied he glared at Taka, she had always been a hot head and had been tolerated, but today she had gone too far he would have to do something about her. He dismissed that thought concentrating on the moment at hand and addressed the assemblage.

"Sher-Kan is right if it werenít for his son most of you here would be dead right now. When it was discovered that a sample of Vincentís blood had cured the disease in Sher-Kan I immediately sent him to Earth to try and persuade his son to come to Beta. When Vincent heard of our need he answered our call without a second thought, unflinchingly giving six pints of blood a day in order to save as many of us as possible." At that a murmur went through the crowd even the uninformed knew that that was an inordinate amount to lose on a daily basis.

"We have a great deal to thank Vincent for and I for one think that if every progeny of a Betazed/ Human union were like him I would welcome a great many more of them." The hall erupted in roars of agreement and appreciation. Vincent bowed his head in acknowledgement, and then raised his hand to speak. When there was silence once more he addressed himself to Taka.

"My father told me of my birthright and I refused it, my home, my friends, my family are on Earth and I will never willingly live anywhere else. The estate is yours, I donít want it."

Taka glared at him. "It is not for you to decide, cousin," she spate the word out. "It is our law that the property of the parent go to the first born, it is yours by law."

"But as you so succinctly pointed out I am not of this world so your laws do not bind me." Vincent shot back.

Catherine squeezed his hand encouragingly he had made a valid point.

Everyone looked to Kristr for a decision; he lowered his head in thought. In these times it was so seldom that a couple had a second child that the question of property ownership hardly ever hardly ever arose. And wasnít it Sher-Kan who had always told her he was happy he had a niece to leave his land to. Of course the whole point would be moot, when Taka became bonded she would live with her bond-mate on his estate. But then after this display of her intemperance who would want her. Round and round his thoughts went, racing through different scenarios. The one thing he didnít want to do was set a precedent here. Finally lifting his head he looked at Vincent.

"What Taka says is true the first born inherits and so it shall stand, upon his death you will inherit Sher-Kanís estate." Vincent began to protest but Kristr held up his hand. "However since you will not be in residence Taka will hold it as caretaker against the day that your first born may wish to live here."

Catherine could see how Kristr had come to lead here, his solution seemed amiable to both parties. Sher-Kan was pleased that the property would stay in his line of descendants.  The law was upheld, Taka would have the estate, but Vincent did not lose his birthright.  Very clever, very clever indeed.

As they watched Taka being escorted out of the salle by her parents Vincent drew Catherine into his embrace, whispering in her ear, "I think itís time we go home."

She nodded, "I couldnít agree with you more."

 

10/23/06

www.stanford.edu/group/virus/uda/

www.aboutflu.net/killer-flu/preparing-for-a-flu-pandemic/

http://health2k.state.nv.us/administration/Influenzapanflu.htm

http://science.howstuffworks.com/virus-human2.htm

www.molvray.com/sf/exobio/astron.htm

www.calormen.com/Star_Trek/FAQs/transport-faq.htm

http://preconception.com/resources/articles/spermallergy.htm