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A Choice Cut of Fool

By Kathy Hintze
Page 3 of 5

"Avon, there's something else. The feeling I had when he came back from Keezarn, it's here. I can feel it now."

"Where is it, Cally?" He stared hard at the cringing thief but saw nothing.

"It is there, surrounding Vila. Avon, what do we do?"

A very good question, he thought to himself. Obviously, he had to do something, but how did one fight something intangible and invisible?

"I don't know," he advised, without turning to look at her. Vila's cries had softened now to sobs, he had to be nearing exhaustion. "Has there been any fluctuation in the 'aura'?"

"None that I can sense. It seems to have gotten stronger, in fact."

"And Vila weaker."

"You think it is draining him?"

"I'm not certain. I think we should withdraw and consult Orac."

"But Avon, we can't leave him like this."

"I did not say we would, Cally." Avon turned to face her. "But our presence here might harm him more." He took her gently by the arm and steered her to the doorway.

#

Vila heard the door slide shut and dared to peek out from under his arms. Alone, he was alone. The horrible monsters were gone. Vila started to relax, then caught himself. They might come back. He hurried to the door, popped open the panel containing the locking device and set about jamming it.

"There, that's that," he sighed after a few seconds of poking about. "No way anything will get in now. I'm safe."

#

+INFORMATION+ Zen intoned on the flight deck a few seconds after Vila's alteration to his locking panel. +LOCKING MECHANISM ON CABIN OCCUPIED BY VILA RESTAL HAS MALFUNCTIONED. REPAIRS WILL REQUIRE ONE HOUR AND FIFTEEN MINUTES.+

"Damn, I might have known he'd do that," Avon muttered to himself.

"But you didn't, did you, Avon?" Tarrant responded.

"Not now, Tarrant," Cally ordered, stepping between the two men. "You can kill each other after we've helped Vila."

"Don't you mean if, Cally?" Dayna put in.

Such questions are pointless in view of what I have just learned, Orac spoke up.

"Well?" Avon demanded.

It is my belief that the person in question is suffering from extreme stress.

"Caused by?" Avon asked.

Unknown, but certainly the mounting pressures present aboard this ship will have contributed to it.

"What do we suggest we do about them?" Tarrant inquired.

The answer is quite simple. Locate a planet of suitable safety and leave him there.

"No," Cally protested. "We will not discard Vila."

"No, Cally," Avon agreed. "We will not. There is another reason for Vila's condition, Orac. Find it and do it quickly."

He switched on the intercom. "Vila, can you hear me?"

#

An angry growl came from the intercom in Vila's rooms, garbled horrible noises which sent him scurrying back to the safety of his bed. "Go away," he cried.

"Vila, it's Avon. Listen to my voice. Vila. Listen!"

The growl became more intense, terrifying Vila more. He whimpered, pulling the coverlet up around himself for protection. "Please," he pleaded. "Please go away."

#

"It's no use, Avon," Tarrant spoke up. "He doesn't recognize you."

"Maybe you should try, Tarrant," Cally suggested. "And you, too, Dayna?"

Avon opened his mouth to veto her suggestion, but didn't follow through. Something had to be done to free Vila from his predicament.

"Vila, it's Tarrant. Can you hear me?"

#

A voice spoke from the intercom, a young voice, almost childlike. "Vila, it's Tarrant. Can you hear me?" it said.

"Tarrant? You'd better look out. There's monsters loose on board. They might come after you, too."

"Vila, there are no monsters," Dayna's voice came through the intercom now. She sounded juvenile, too.

"Are so monsters," Vila argued back. "Two of then were in my room, uh, cabin just a few minutes ago. Horrible things."

"Vila, Avon and Cally were just in your cabin. They were your monsters!" Tarrant went on.

"Avon and Cally? No, they...monsters were here."

"Vila, this is Avon. What do you hear?"

"You see," Vila exclaimed. "One of the monsters is listening in. I can hear him growling."

"That was Avon, Vila," Tarrant explained. "He asked you a question. You answered it for him."

"It really was Avon?" Vila asked after a few seconds.

"Yes, Vila, it really was."

"What's going on? Why did I see...Oh, no. No, stay back, please stay back." The thief's scream sent everyone running from the flight deck toward his cabin.

#

The door had been most effectively jammed by Vila. Even Zen's auto repair circuits were having trouble ascertaining the problem and remedying it. From within, Vila's screams were increasing.

"What the hell is in there?" Tarrant exclaimed.

"We don't know," Avon replied, his eyes darkening at Vila's cries.

"Whatever it is, we've got to destroy it before it kills Vila," Dayna stated.

"If it can be destroyed," Cally amended. "Avon, the essence is...." The cries from within ceased abruptly, cutting her off.

"Call him, Tarrant," Avon ordered.

"Vila? Vila, it's Tarrant again. Can you hear me?"

+AUTO REPAIR CIRCUITS HAVE NOW REPAIRED LOCKING MECHANISM+ Zen announced, startling everyone. The door slid open.

#

For an instant, all they could do was stare in horror at the carnage in the room. There was blood everywhere and yet no body. Where was Vila? What had happened to him?

The door to the bathroom moved slightly, then a bit more until it was wide enough to allow a battered and slashed Vila Restal to slip through and fall to the floor.

Cally started forward immediately, but was stopped by Avon's quick grasp at her arm.

Something else was exiting the bathroom. A gleaming white shape which slithered across Vila's body towards them. There was no distinct outline or form to the creature. Rather, it appeared like an immense amoeba, its nucleus pulsing a bright red as it moved towards them.

*More food* it sang aloud. *More...* It stopped. *Food and yet not food.* It turned itself slightly, looking as if it were studying first Vila, then the others. *That one, food. Not much, though. Need more.*

"What is it talking about?" Dayna asked with a shudder. The creature immediately took a step towards her, then stopped again.

*Food?* It sounded almost pathetic in its query.

"Cally, can you communicate with it?"

"No, I've been trying since it first began speaking."

"What do we do, Avon?" Tarrant whispered.

Avon didn't have a clue, but one thing was for certain. They had to get Vila out of the cabin. "Cally, try to contact Vila."

To see if he is alive. Cally knew as she nodded. Vila, can you hear me? Vila, it's Cally.

The thief did not respond, but lay perfectly still. The creature, however, did. It slid back until it again covered Vila's body. A predator protecting its kill.

*Stop,* it snarled. *My food, not yours.*

"It can receive your thoughts, it seems, Cally," Avon spoke up.

Leave our friend alone, Cally snapped.

*Not friend,* the creature returned with an equal mental fierceness. *My food.*

He is not food, Cally persisted. He is our friend. He is a human being. You are hurting him.

The creature pulsed a little, sending a little aura of light over Vila's body. *Food not hurt. Go away. Mine!*

"Damn it, Avon," Tarrant exclaimed. "We've got to do something."

"No one is stopping you, Tarrant," Avon replied. "If you have a suggestion, let's hear it."

"Please, no more!" Vila's anguished cry put an end to the argument and brought everyone's attention back to him. The creature had engulfed him again and tiny flashes of light struck Vila time and again, each one opening a new wound on his body.

"At least we know he's alive," Dayna murmured.

"So it would seem," Avon agreed. "But he won't be for long at the rate that thing is hacking at him."

"Avon, what about if one of us distracts it, while the rest grab Vila?"

Avon stared at Tarrant as if he were a total imbecile. "Are you that fond of suicide, Tarrant?"

"Of course not," the young man protested. "But it's a chance." He gestured to Vila, whose cries were growing weaker. "He hasn't much time left."

Indeed, Vila looked as if he were being physically diminished with each passing moment. His moans were barely audible.

*Good food,* the creature exclaimed in delight, slicing at Vila again and drawing a feeble groan.

Stop that, Cally demanded.

*Go away. Find own food.*

"Avon, it is a chance!" Tarrant insisted.

"A chance at getting yourself or one of us killed. No, Tarrant, I think not. Dayna, fetch Orac. I need his assistance on this." Dayna sped off. "Cally, continue harassing the beast. Whatever you do, don't let him concentrate fully on Vila or it will finish him."

"Ah, good," he smiled as Dayna came hurrying up the corridor. "What kept you?"

"Avon!" Dayna all but dumped Orac into Avon's arms.

"Gently, Dayna. Damage him and we're all finished." He activated the computer. "Orac, I've something for you to study."

Study? What are you... From the flickering of its lights, the computer had evidently detected the creature. My word, Orac exclaimed. Fascinating. Simply fascinating.

"Avon, something's happening," Cally advised. "The creature is leaving Vila."

Indeed it was, but it was headed directly for them! *Food?* it called. *Food?*

What? Orac sputtered. Most assuredly not.

The being paused on the threshold, the nucleus swirling in a myriad of reds. *Not food?*

Of course not, Orac snapped back.

The creature gave an audible sigh and started back for Vila.

"Orac, do something!" Tarrant exclaimed. "Keep it away from Vila!"

How exactly am I to do that? the computer demanded.

"What is it?" Avon snapped.

I...am not sure at this time. Further study...

"Time is of the essence," Avon advised coldly. "I want to know what it is and how to destroy it, Orac. Now!"

I cannot comply with such a demand, Orac retorted in an equally cold voice.

"You'll do it, Orac," Dayna threatened, "Or we'll tell that little monster that you are 'food'."

Orac sputtered and gasped at that but set about securing the information it needed. Meanwhile, the beast had returned to its 'food'. This time, there were no protests of any kind from Vila. The thief was either dying or very close to it. "Come on, Orac," Avon muttered. "Come on."

Very well, the computer announced. The creature which is currently occupying Vila Restal's cabin is a form of parasitic life.

"Tell us something we didn't already know," Dayna mumbled. "How do we kill it?"

My suggestion would be to use the vacuum of space. Seal the room and evacuate the air from it.

"Vila is in there, too," Cally protested.

Vila Restal's life signs are nearly extinguished, Orac replied matter-of-factly. Once the creature has finished him, it will proceed to another of your party. The computer's lights flickered for a moment. Most interesting. The creature feeds on pain and fear, converting the emotions into actual protoplasm. This creates a field of exploration to be dealt with.

"How do we kill it, Orac?" Avon cracked.

I have already told you, the computer exclaimed.

"I think you had an excellent idea, Dayna," Avon went on. "Here, creature, here's more 'food'." He shoved Orac quickly into the room.

*Food!* the beast cried happily and slid over and around Orac.

Here now, I'm not food, the computer snapped and sent a violent electrical shock through the creature's membrane. That did nothing but excite it, however.

*Good food,* it told Avon. *Take old thing. Not good. All gone now.*

"Do we trust it?" Tarrant asked Avon.

"We don't have a choice, do we?" came the reply. Tarrant hurried into the room and pulled Vila over his shoulders and ran back out.

"The medical unit, Tarrant, quickly," Cally ordered.

Avon, meanwhile, sealed the cabin. "Zen, evacuate the air from Vila's cabin immediately."

+CONFIRMED.+

For a few brief moments, there was nothing; then a terrible keening began which nearly shattered Avon and Dayna's eardrums. The sound continued for several minutes, then gradually faded away.

"Do you think it's gone?" Dayna asked Avon.

+THE ONE CALLED ORAC WISHES TO ADVISE THAT HE IS GREATLY IRRITATED ThAT YOU HAVE INTERRUPTED HIS STUDY OF THE PARASITE+ Zen suddenly informed them.

"I'd say that means it's gone," Avon chuckled. "Pressurize the cabin, Zen."

+CONFIRMED.+

#


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