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Divide and Conquer or Plan 9 From Andromeda

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 2 of 22

The voice came again, "Remove kill-thing. Put in opening."

Reluctantly, Jenna pried Avon's fingers from his gun, and deposited it in the hole that magically appeared. "Remove other thing. Put in opening." An Orac-sized hole appeared.

Apparently, Avon had made the aliens suspicious of human technology. She stared at the computer. That contrary box was their only hope. She couldn't just dump it down the alien equivalent of an incinerator chute. "Orac," she muttered as she bent over the computer, "you've got to do something. Save us." She shoved the computer into the life-pod.

"Remove other thing. Put in opening," the expressionless voice repeated.

"I can't," Jenna said, kneeling beside Avon. "Its power source is unstable. It's already been bounced around too much. It could explode, destroying this whole ship, and everything on it. The life-pod has no power left; just set it adrift before it blows up."

There was a noticeable pause, then the opening in the alien ship leading to the life-pod's interior sealed. There was a sense of motion, confirmed by the view through the transparent area of bulkhead. "I guess that means you agree." She knelt to examine Avon. There was blood all over his face and upper body but she thought it was mainly from a superficial scalp wound. He also had a lump on the back of his head the size of a quok-hen's egg. All of his limbs bent in the right places, he was breathing a little faster than normal, she thought, and he appeared a bit gray. She hadn't the faintest idea what to do for him, or even if she should do anything.

The clank of a life-pod's hatch opening was a welcome distraction from the problem. As was the disheveled figure who stumbled out of the pod. "Jenna?"

"Cally, thank the gods." Jenna got to her feet, and steadied the other woman for a moment before Cally pulled away.

"What happened?" Cally asked, glancing around, taking in Avon but making no move toward him. "This is an alien vessel, is it not?" Her hand snaked down to her gun.

"Remove kill-thing. Put in opening," came the order Jenna expected.

"You might as well," Jenna said. "Our hosts make the air. I gather they don't need it themselves."

"Is there anyone else here?" Cally asked, turning to survey the empty corridor.

"All of us," Jenna said gloomily. "A clean sweep. So far they haven't tried to hurt us, even after Avon blasted one of them to jelly."

"Do you think we might negotiate our freedom, then?"

Jenna said,"Or Ac- cept captivity, Zen wait for a chance."

"Yes, I see."

"Remove kill-thing. Put in opening."

Cally dropped her weapon into the opening, her face grim. "I hope this is not a mistake, Jenna."

"So do I." Jenna gave one last, longing look at the freedom of space before turning to help Cally carry Avon back to the others.

Blake was pacing when they returned. He whirled, relief turning instantly to concern. "Avon?" Awkwardly, because of the arm immobilized against his chest, he helped the women lower Avon to the deck. He knelt and felt for a pulse, getting his fingers bloody in the process.

Vila looked ill. "He's dead, isn't he?"

"No, he is not," Cally snapped, short-tempered because of her own aching head and the desperate situation. "But he needs medical attention."

Vila shrugged, then winced and clutched his wounded arm tighter. "There isn't any. They expect us to mend ourselves." His voice rose. "My arm's broken and they call it a calcium disconnection. I don't think they even have bones. They ..."

The alien voice said, "Avon specimen life-end?"

Blake pulled Avon up against himself, protectively. "No! We'll take care of him."

Cally nodded. "Surely you can at least provide food, water and bandages." Jenna had already given her the gist of their previous conversations, so she hadn't very high expectations.

"Water is known. Food, also. What is bandage?"

"Would it help if we provided a sample?" Blake asked, fingering the light-weight healing pad that covered his shoulder wound.

"No, Blake!" Jenna said quickly, "You can't. You'll open it up again."

Unperturbed, the alien answered Blake, "Study bandage, make bandage."

"Help me, Cally," Blake said.

"Don't be stupid, Blake," Jenna said, harshly. "Avon won't thank you if you kill yourself for him."

"We're not leaving any time soon. Even if our friends let us go, we haven't got a ship at the moment." Blake gave Jenna a significant stare. Liberator needed time to repair itself; they needed time to heal and to figure out how to contact the ship, preferably before they escaped. Somehow. "No sense in antagonizing our hosts. And I don't feel like simply sitting here and watching Avon die. Do you?" He tugged one-handed at the edge of the pad until Cally stopped him and began peeling it off herself, rolling it neatly as it came loose. Liberator's advanced medical unit had begun the healing, but he needed at least another day under treatment. The new skin covering the injury was barely set, baby-soft and even more delicate.

"How about me?" Vila asked. "I'm no use with a broken arm, am I?"

"You weren't any use before," Jenna said, then walked to the other side of the small chamber, as far as she could get from all of them.

"It is a simple fracture," Cally said to the room at large, as Blake had addressed the unseen aliens, "We could splint it. I need three or four thin, flat, rigid pieces of material to bind around the arm to keep the bone straight while it heals."

Their captor did not reply, but when they fed the bandage into the inevitable hole that appeared- this time in a vertical surface, the voice said, "Put Vila -specimen undamaged arm in opening. Study. Make splint."

"NO!" Vila yelled, and curled up into a ball. "You'll chop it off! Or burn it up. Or eat it."

Blake and Cally tried to get him to do it, but their persuasion was half-hearted. Neither of them were absolutely sure he wasn't right. Jenna didn't even try.

Some time passed in silence. The voice made no remarks, and they didn't feel up to conversation among themselves. What was there to say? Avon remained unconscious and the rest of them tried to find the least uncomfortable position to sit on the hard, cold deck.

Their teleport bracelets chimed; loud. "Information. Liberator has been boarded."

"Zen!" Blake shouted, "Locate our signals, follow us..."

"Blake!" Vila interrupted, scrambling to his feet.This opening was large, door-size and growing. It stopped just short of three metres in height. A tentacle appeared, followed swiftly by a 'body' that filled the doorway. A glittering translucent blue-green color flowed in patches over its clear 'skin', with blobs of orange and purple dimly visible floating inside. Tentacles, pseudopods, and bulges appeared seemingly at random in the jelly-like mass. It slopped toward them with remarkable speed for such an ungainly object, reaching Blake first and removing his bracelet roughly. Tentacles spread out, snatching Avon's bracelet and reaching for the others.

"Zen!" Jenna yelled into her bracelet, just before it was taken. "We're prisoners. Teleport us once you're in range."

Zen informed her calmly, "Teleport operation is not a function of this unit."

"Help, Zen!" Vila screamed, as his attempt to hide behind Blake failed and his bracelet was ripped off- fortunately from his unimpaired arm.

Cally dodged for a few seconds longer, but had no chance to talk to Zen before her bracelet was lost to the alien.

It deposited the bracelets into a disposal aperture and then it stopped moving. They stared at it, wondering what was next. Part of the alien's 'skin' vibrated, producing sound: producing speech,"Specimens needed. Not talk to others. Not leave." A particularly large bulge formed, turning white. The bulge separated from the alien and fell to the deck. "Bandages," it said. It moved to one side, leaving the white mass behind.

"Yech," Vila said. "It just belched them up." His knees were shaking and he was turning a bit green himself. He could still feel the cool, slippery tentacle that had grabbed him. He swallowed, trying not to be sick, trying not to think about it.

"Check it, Cally," Blake said, while continuing to try to make eye contact with a creature that had no head, or any features of any sort. He couldn't even tell if it had a front and back.

"It seems all right, Blake," Cally replied. "Not exactly like our healing pads, but it should be adequate." She returned with the white stuff, which turned out to be a pile of separate pieces of different dimensions. Even though hostilities seemed to have ended, she made no move to tend either Blake or Avon. She couldn't sense anything from the alien, not even the background 'noise' she picked up from most animal life.

"Do you make the air the same way?" Jenna asked. It felt strange to carry on a casual conversation with something that looked like engine dredgings, but it seemed to be waiting for something. Better talk than action, in this case.

"Buds make."

"Buds? What are buds?" Blake asked. He was slowly maneuvering close to the thing, trying to decide if it had a vulnerable spot, and if it did, what good the knowledge would do him.

"Ones who do not divide. Ones who stay one."

Cally figured it out first. "Sterile members of your race? They can not reproduce?"

"Yes. Buds work. Buds not work, Buds life-end. Avon- specimen kill Bud. Avon-specimen kill Divider, Avon-specimen life-end."

Blake's head went up, as he understood the threat. Apparently, Avon had killed the equivalent of a slave, some member of their society that had little value. Otherwise, he would be dead now.

"Are you a bud?" Vila asked.

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