Julius Nix Finds A Plant, part 2

The maintenance tunnels of Port Station were in need of maintenance. The guide lights were dim, if present at all, and bits of debris and whatever else managed to fit through a vent scattered the floor at regular intervals. Julius made his way through one of the tunnels under the Religious Sector slowly, flashlight in hand, looking for anything that might explain his client's insistence that something glowing was living down here.


He was headed toward the Athee garden, or at least he hoped he was. The job Jerry had been sent down here to do in the first place was to find out what was screwing with the greenhouse's water recycling. In the two days he'd been able to work glow-free, Jerry had spotted some green stuff on the ceiling along the pipes and figured he'd found the culprit, but hadn't been able to clear it out. Something about special equipment? He'd gotten a little sidetracked and Julius had lost track of the conversation, but the important thing was that the glowing stuff came back before Jerry had a chance to finish his work.


So here Julius was, holding a flashlight in a tunnel and looking around like an idiot because he wasn't sure if he was supposed to have gone left or right at that last junction…


He turned his flashlight off. If something glowing was down here, he'd be able to find it better in the dark, right?


"No, Julius, you fucking idiot," he answered his own question with a grumble. "Now you just can't see anything."


A guide light flickered on and off again in its death throes, casting the tunnel in pale amber for a moment before plunging back into darkness. Julius flicked his flashlight back on with a sigh and moved forward.


"I'm amazed any work actually gets done down here," Julius muttered. "Maintenance crew deserves a raise. And better funding."


Fortunately, it didn't take much longer before the flickering pale amber on the ground was joined by a glowing yellow-green overhead. Julius turned off his flashlight. The yellow-green shape reminded him of the purple vines on the wall of Father Dominic's office, but larger and, well, glowing, with a couple long leafless tendrils extended down. Jerry had been right.


The tendrils glistened in the dark, like they were covered with water condensation. "You're probably what's messing with the Athee water recycling, huh?" Julius wondered as he reached up.


The vine's tendril wrapped around his wrist as soon as he touched it. 


"Whoa, ok," Julius tried to pull his hand back and found he was stuck, "serves me right I guess…" 


The vine tightened, sliding up the sleeve of his jacket. 


"Nope, we are not that friendly— fuck!"


Julius's skin started to prickle under the vine, growing into a burning sensation. Julius pulled, but the vine wasn't going anywhere. He pulled out a pocket tool and started hacking at the tendril as the burning worsened, pulling as hard as he could the whole time until finally the vine snapped.


Julius leaped back and peeled the tendril from his arm with a hiss of pain. He pulled out his flashlight to survey the damage.


"Oh. Oh shit."


A winding line of red, raw skin wrapped around his lower arm, a painful prickling persisting as the vine's residue kept slowly eating away. It seemed like it should be hurting a lot more than it was, but he didn't have time to think of that. He needed medical attention, fast.


Fortunately, he was friends with someone in Sector Green-Five who could help.


"Hope he's back from his appointment," Julius muttered as he made his way out of the maintenance tunnels and back to the Catholic church.




Father Dominic was immediately concerned when he saw Julius at his door, and just as quickly upset.


“What in heaven happened now?” he demanded with a gesture to Julius's arm.


Julius followed him inside, “I found the glowy thing.”


“And, what, stuck your arm down its throat?”


Julius was defensive, taken aback by the priest's harshness, “It grabbed me! I wasn’t expecting a fucking vine to grab me!”


Father Dominic turned to stare at him, “A vine?" He waved away Julius's explanation as he entered his office and pointed to the chair, "No, sit, remove your coat if you can, I’ll be right back.”


Julius managed to get his coat off, stifling a cry as he failed to keep the sleeve from brushing his arm. The pain had been worsening as he walked, whether because the wound was getting worse or some numbing agent was wearing off he wasn't sure. He was bleeding now, though, so maybe both.


Father Dominic returned, wooden box in hand. "Look away, please," he said as he kneeled by the chair.


Julius shook his head, "I want to see what you’re doing this time."


Father Dominic frowned, "Last time, you said you were 'freaked out.'"


"Yeah, because it was weird, but now I wanna know what you do."


"It would be best if you didn’t look," the priest bit, annoyed.


Julius was annoyed right back, "A glowing vine just tried to eat me on a space station! What the hell are you so worried about me seeing?"


Father Dominic's feathers sharpened, then wilted as he sighed. His voice was quiet. "Don’t move."


Julius couldn't help but feel a little guilty at how suddenly dejected he looked, but was baffled by where it came from. What could be so bad?


Father Dominic set the box beside him on the floor, opening it to reveal some sort of pale salve. He gently took Julius's arm and brushed his fingers over the pooled blood on his skin. Julius softly cursed, pained. 


"I'm sorry," the Slanae said, his voice thicker, a little distant. "I should have used water, but… old habits. This will hurt for a moment." 


He spread the salve over his hands before wrapping them around Julius's arm. 


The pressure hurt a lot, but Julius barely registered it was there. He was too distracted watching his friend.


Father Dominic's eyes were closed, an expression of sheer relief on his face. His skin, which had never quite been the right color during his recovery, was returning to its healthy plum-black hue. His feathers slowly puffed out, the copper shining. 


Julius's eyes widened. "Oh."


Father Dominic opened his eyes, but wouldn't meet Julius's. "I’m going to have to take more in order to counter the effects of the enzymes still eating at your skin. I imagine it will be uncomfortable."


"Go for it," Julius said, morbidly fascinated. It wasn't just the fact that the priest was absorbing his blood that held his attention— it looked like Father Dominic was trying very hard not to enjoy it. He wasn't succeeding.


When he let go, the wound was covered in a "bandage" of dark charcoal.


Julius stared. "Wow."


Father Dominic was silent.


"You look like you’re feeling better," Julius said.


Father Dominic blinked in surprise. "Yes. Much."


"So, the ‘certain organic compounds’ you usually eat is… blood."


The priest glanced away, tense. "Not just blood, but that one is a favorite."


"Did you," Julius shifted awkwardly, "when you patched me up after those nuns knocked me around and you put your whole hand on my head, were you… tasting me?"


"I was treating your wound, but absorbing your blood was involved. It's the only way to shed the thin layers necessary to bandage the wound securely."


Julius blinked. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. Finally, he gestured to his arm, "You cleaned the wound by absorbing the blood around it, and then bandaged it with pieces of your own skin? That's the black stuff?"


"I used an antiseptic as well, I'm not barbaric," Father Dominic huffed as he closed the lid on the box of salve.


Julius leaned back as he processed this. "No wonder you didn't want me to look… what?"


Father Dominic was staring at him, momentarily speechless. "I suppose I'm waiting for the part where you leave in disgust."


Julius was surprised. "Does that happen a lot?"


"I try not to let anyone know." Father Dominic looked supremely uncomfortable. "Once, a parishioner realized the reason I never drank during the social hour after the service was I was 'drinking through my fingers,' as you describe it, which caused some fascination and amusement among the parish. That was odd, but acceptable. When someone curious started researching my species, they discovered we keep livestock much like humans do… except we don't need them to be dead to use them for food."


Julius scoffed, "Bet that caused a panic."


"It caused unrest. Most people thought the person spreading the information was being xenophobic and should have simply asked me anything they wanted to know, given me a chance to provide context. However, there were more than a few that found the idea disturbing and stopped coming. Of course, my parish is always in constant flux, with workers being transferred to other stations, retiring planetside, travelers who are only here for a short time and stop by for a service—"


"But rumors have a funny way of persisting," Julius finished the thought.


"Yes." He seemed to realize Julius was not, in fact, going to run away, and relaxed a little.  "A fact you know far too well, I was saddened to learn."


Julius smiled. "Tell you what, you intimidate the people who insult me into an apology, I punch the ones who insult you in the face."


Father Dominic laughed a little, surprised. "Please do not. I appreciate the intention, but I wouldn't want you committing a violent act for my sake."


Julius shrugged with a grin. "If you say so, but no promises."


Father Dominic nodded once. "Did I take too much? Was it unpleasant?"


Julius shook his head, kinda touched he was so worried. "Nah. A little woozy, but some juice and a cookie and I’ll be fine."


"Some… what?"


"That’s a thing when humans give blood, juice to rehydrate and a cookie to restore your blood sugar levels."


The priest's brow furrowed. "Give blood to whom?"


"Seriously? Hospitals, blood banks? Not every human donates, but some do. If someone needs a transfusion, it’s gotta come from somewhere."


Father Dominic looked stunned. "Yes of course. I never had a reason to think about it."


"You should ask your parishioners for donations instead of relying on that supplement powder," Julius joked.


"Absolutely not," the priest's feathers puffed as he quickly stood up.


"Holy shit, that's what you were thinking isn't it!" Julius laughed.


"I am not doing such a thing." He picked up the box of salve and paused. He looked torn. "I’m afraid I don’t have anything you could eat, but I can make some tea."


Julius dialed it back a few notches for an encouraging smile and a polite, "Tea would be great. Thanks."


Father Dominic left the room. He'd never seen him so flustered, Julius mused as he examined his arm. Granted, it wasn't like he knew him well. This was just so different from the collected calm he'd seen before. 


Julius kind of hated that Father Dominic had to rely on what was obviously an inferior substitute for food, just because of alien (to the Slanae) social norms. No, he really hated it. Hell, he could snack on Julius anytime as far as he was concerned— and he was never ever saying that sentence out loud, even if it was true.


"Tell me about this vine that attacked you so ferociously," Father Dominic said as he entered with the tea tray.


Julius followed the conversation shift. "Glowed. It was on the ceiling, with some tendrils hanging down, and when I touched it it grabbed me. Looked like it was wet, probably messing up the Athee garden water circulation."


"Or the plant exudes a sap that enables it to keep a stronger hold on its prey," Father Dominic suggested as he poured.


Julius blinked. "That's a thing?"


"It is for a few species on my planet, and several on Earth." 


"I've only been to Earth once, back when I was a kid, and never made a habit of studying the flora."


His friend smiled a little and stirred a hefty spoonful of sugar into a cup before handing it to Julius. "One of the human priests back home was an avid gardener, and brought a few Earth species with him—contained in pots and kept indoors, so as not to affect the environment, of course. I was rather fascinated. My point is that carnivorous plants exist on many worlds. Some of them are also illegal to transport through this station."


"Aha." Julius grinned. "Then I guess the first thing to do is figure out if this is one of them."


"I'll pull up a list of illegal plants from the Athee homeworld, as it was under their garden here." He activated his desk, holographic interface displaying with a flicker. "Then we can go back to where you saw it and confirm if it's a match, if necessary."




"You clearly can't be trusted not to touch glowing alien life forms," Father Dominic teased.


"I didn't know plants could eat people!"


"It could have been poisonous, rather than carnivorous."


Julius hid his face in his hand. "I didn't think of that." He looked up and tried to defend himself, "You try growing up under a dome and see how much plant life you get exposed to. I mean, there were gardens, but it's not like I ever had a reason to go there."


"I can't imagine," Father Dominic kindly interrupted his rambling with a smile. "Is the tea helping?"


"I'm not as woozy as I was," Julius said between sips. "Thanks."


"Of course." Father Dominic manipulated his desk's interface, quickly scrolling through documents and pictures. "What do you know of the Athee religion?"


Julius shrugged. "Ancestor worship, fond of plants."


"The plants are the ancestors, or at least hold their spirits," Father Dominic corrected, then shook his head. "I confess, every time I have tried to discuss theology with my neighbors, I haven't had much success." He paused to magnify a picture, "Ah. Is this what you saw in the tunnels?"


"No, that's too orange."


"Could it be the same species in a different color?"


"I don't think so, it's too… webby? There were just a few tendrils hanging down on this one."


Father Dominic brought up a different picture. "This?"


"Maybe? Thicker and, you know, glowing."


"Hm." He sorted through a few pictures, "This species can grow to be quite large. This is what it looks like while luring prey."


Julius pointed, "Yep, that's it."


"You're positive?"


"Absolutely. Don't even need to double check, unless this thing's got a look-alike cousin."


"Not that I've found. Are you recovered enough to walk?"


Julius appreciated the concern, but also had the unpleasant impression that it was rooted in some serious misinformation. "I'm fine, honest. You didn't take that much."


Father Dominic seemed reassured. "Good. Shall we, then?"


Julius shrugged, "Sure. Let's go to the garden."