You're Itchin', I'm Scratchin'By Marian Mendez
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"Is he still asleep?" Tarrant asked, wearily brushing his hair out of his
"No." Cally stood and stretched, handing the 'tickler' to Tarrant. If they kept Zen pacified, he was slightly less likely to get into mischief. They hoped.
"Well, *what* is he doing?" Tarrant was exasperated. For the last fifteen hours, Avon had been absent from the flight deck. Granted, Cally had sedated him, but it had worn off a long time ago.
"I do not know. At least *he* was not shouting at me."
"Sorry. Look, could you go and see what he's up to? If anything?"
Cally patted Tarrant on the shoulder. "All right."
"Um. Yes, Cally, what is it?" Avon didn't glance up. He was sitting at his desk with book-plaques scattered all around.
Cally picked up one of the plaques and read the title, 'The Silent Miaow'. Another was 'All Creatures Great and Small'. There were also copies of 'Thomasina', 'The Incredible Journey', and 'The Biographies of Morris I- XII' and others. The stack teetered and she pulled her hand back without investigating further. "You are reading novels? At a time like this?"
"Research," Avon said. He shut off the viewer, leaned back in his chair, and gave Cally a smile. It was a tired one, but still genuine. "And I'm making progress."
"Progress? At what?"
"Understanding the enemy." Avon made shooing motions. "I'm almost there, I just need a little more time."
"We may not have it. Zen doubled back some hours ago, and we are on a direct heading for Federation Space Headquarters."
Avon went absolutely still. "Put on the detector shield."
"Zen will not allow it. He is transmitting a series of insulting, threatening, boasts to the ships of the Federation."
"Ah." Avon frowned. "How long do we have?"
"Until we are intercepted by a flotilla? There is no way of knowing. We did not like to disturb you, but..."
"But Tarrant is feeling rather frustrated, being unable to pilot his way out of this situation."
"You are being smug. Does that mean you actually do have the answer?"
"Perhaps. It depends on a great many factors, very few of which are under my control." Avon picked up an electronic hodge-podge that had been hidden behind the book-plaques, and put it into his tool-kit. "I hesitate to test my hypothesis without further information. There may only be one chance."
"We may not have *any* chance, if you wait much longer."
"There is that." Avon nodded and rose to his feet, just in time to be flung across his cabin, as the whole ship shook to a massive impact. "Damn!"
"Come to the flight deck!" Tarrant's voice came over the intercom. "Everyone! We're under attack!"
Avon snatched up his tool-kit and followed Cally out of his cabin.
When they arrived at the flight deck, Vila, Dayna and Tarrant were gathered in front of the main viewscreen, watching in helpless anger as Servalan's image postured on their monitor.
"Ah, Avon, so nice of you to join us," Servalan remarked, her blood-red lips glistening, and her amber eyes glowing with unholy glee. "I decided to accept your invitation."
"Not mine," Avon said shortly, with a sour glance in Zen's direction.
For once, Servalan misunderstood Avon. "Tarrant?" She made a noise that in another woman would be described as a girlish giggle. "Oh, how lovely, dissention among the ranks. Now, Tarrant, what was it you really wanted? You can't actually be daring the entire Federation fleet to combat, can you?"
Zen said, in a much deeper toned version of his normal voice, "Yes."
"Oh, no," Vila said, paling, as Servalan frowned, and Avon glared, and Tarrant looked more than a little peevish. Vila got a firm grip on the nearest immmovable object.
Zen growled, and the radiation flare shields came up. "I'll fight you all. I'm faster and stronger and much more handsome than any of you."
"Avon?" Servalan said, uncertainly, "Is that your computer?"
"No one owns me," Zen snapped. "Fight! Fight!" And he yowled, a high-pitched electronic squeal that had everyone clapping hands to ears in a futile attempt to shut it out.
******* The crew could do nothing except watch while they were buffeted all around the flight deck, having been knocked off their feet with the first salvo. Zen wasn't taking human frailty into consideration with his high-speed, riotously erratic manuevers. Very quickly they opted to stay down, where broken bones were less likely.
As space battles went, it was a short one. Zen ripped up a dozen pursuit ships in a wild and glorious battle culminating with a direct physical thrust of his tip into the backside of Servalan's ship.
"I don't believe it," Dayna grumbled, as Zen then backed away and let the crippled ship depart, carrying Servalan to safety. "Why didn't you destroy Servalan?" Dayna got up and went over to Zen's fascia to kick at the bulkhead below.
Vila looked at Scratch, who had come out from under the console he'd been clinging to, and was now washing an impolite part of his anatomy with total indifference to his audience. "Um, Dayna. Zen's a tom-cat."
"So? What..." Dayna whirled back to look at Servalan's retreating ship and the placement of the puncture, still emitting a thin stream of crystallized atmosphere and frozen Federation troopers. "Oh, that's disgusting, Zen. At least you could have better taste."
Zen made a contented sound, and switched back to low-maintenance mode. At least he had changed course and was heading away from Federation space very quickly.
"I always thought Servalan was like a cat," Tarrant remarked, getting up to check for damage to the ship.
Avon was lying on the deck, arms around his tool-kit to protect it. "Let us hope there are no kittens."
Cally grimaced. "Now, *That* is a disgusting thought."
Avon went back to his room with his tool-kit, while Dayna and Vila remained on the flight deck with Scratch, and tried to keep both felines in good moods.
"You know," Dayna said, while dangling a length of frayed wire over Scratch's head, "Zen did quite well on his own. That's worrying."
"Why?" Vila said, switching hands on the 'tickler', and trying a different pattern over Zen's sensitive surfaces. "Aren't you glad that he handled all those ships without us getting blown to space-dust. I *am*."
"Yes, but Vila, just think a moment. If Zen," Dayna lowered her voice and leaned conspiratorially toward Vila, "doesn't need us..."
"Um. Oh. I see. But Zen *likes* us. He wouldn't... Well, he likes *me* anyway, don't you, Zen?"
Zen ordered, "Lower, and to the right. I could use my replicators to devise a 'petting' mechanism. I am getting bored with you."
Vila tickled with gusto. "Um. Dayna." He looked at her. "I'm worried."
Avon strolled onto the flight deck a few hours later, tool-kit dangling casually from one hand and Dayna trailing along behind him, yawning. "It wasn't my turn, yet," she said, with fairly mild grumpiness, "I don't know why you insisted I join you on the flight deck." She went over to her usual console and stared at the unresponsive controls, pouting. Avon smiled at her, but said nothing.
"Avon!" Tarrant was now at the 'scratching post'. "At last! My arm's about to fall off." He extended the tickler in Avon's direction.
Avon ignored it. "You'll just have to continue a bit longer, I'm afraid." He knelt by his anti-detector, and began opening up the casing.
"Now, look here..."
"More," Zen ordered, and Tarrant complied, fuming. Dayna and Vila had related their previous conversation, and no one wanted Zen to think too long about the advantages of mechanical petters.
Cally looked up from rubbing Scratch's tummy, and asked, "Can I help, Avon?"
"No, this is far too complex. It's a ground-breaking new principle, in fact."
Zen asked, "What are you doing?"
"Never mind, Zen. Just enjoy Tarrant's attentions." Avon began disconnecting the anti-detector.
"You are installing new equipment? What does it do?" Zen asked, his fascia lights flickering faster and brighter.
"Nothing you'd be interested in, Zen." Avon's hands carefully reached into his tool-kit and emerged cradling a device that was all shining wires and glittering crystals, as seemingly fragile and intricate as a spider-web.
"But I *am* interested," Zen insisted. "Tell me!"
Avon smiled. "This unit is not under your direct control. You can't *bite* me. Now, do be a good computer, and mind your own business." Avon knelt with his back to Zen and began humming tunelessly under his breath.
"Tell me!" Zen spat sparks and Tarrant fell back, cursing.
Avon said, "Would you keep it down, Tarrant? This is a delicate part of the operation."
"It was a delicate part Zen bit," Tarrant protested, as Cally handed him the regenerator, considerately looking away as he opened his clothing sufficiently to treat his injury. Dayna wasn't so considerate, and indulged her curiosity, craning her neck for a better view.
Avon's hands moved faster, laser-probe sealing connections with a gentle hiss.
"Avon," Zen sounded wheedling now, almost purring. "Tell me, please?"
Avon didn't answer.
Vila had been napping on the flight deck couch, awaiting his next turn at cat-pacification, but he woke up with a start when Zen shouted, "TELL ME!" and the whole ship shook.
"What?" Vila scrambled to his feet.
"Tell me or I'll shut off life-support!"
"Fine," Avon replied without pausing in his assembly. "Do what you like with the rest of the ship, but if life-support fails on the flight-deck, you'll lose Scratch. I should think it would be... uncomfortable for you, as the two of you are bonded."
Zen fumed, and fussed and emitted sparks from most of the consoles- except the ones near Scratch.
"This is my work, Zen, and I'll thank you not to interfere. Do *not* attempt to interface with this unit." Avon looked down at his 'gadget' and chortled as it buzzed, hummed and began flickering fairy lights. "YES!" Avon got up and turned to the others. "I'll just get Orac to verify that it's functioning properly."
"I could do that," Zen said, eagerly. "Please, please, let me!"
"Don't touch it!" Avon snapped over his shoulder as he reached Orac and picked up the little computer. "Now, Orac, I have a special treat for you."
"NO!" Zen shouted, and the whole ship shuddered. "Mine! It's mine!" Zen's lights pulsed rapidly, and the fairy lights on Avon's gadget paused, and then flickered in the same pattern.
"On, on, Nova, tahw evah uoy enod ot em!" Zen shouted. His lights blinked very rapidly for a few seconds then slowed.
And Zen said, "State course and speed."
"Zen? Is that you?" Dayna asked doubtfully.
Avon smiled, and put Orac back down. "Tarrant, set a course and see what happens."
Warily Tarrant approached his console. He jabbed a button. The ship responded, slowing obediently. He grinned. "What did you do, Avon?"
Avon shrugged and began disconnecting his fairy-light gadget. "A fairly unsophisticated form of a computer program, called 'Back-track'. It reverted Zen's systems to a time *before* it bonded with Scratch."
"If it was that simple, why didn't you try it before?" Vila asked, aggrieved. "All these days, going through hell."
"I did try," Avon said mildly. He dropped the gadget unceremoniously back into his tool kit. "But Zen was paranoid. It blew the connections before accessing the program. I had to make Zen *want* to access the program." He produced a sturdy half-dome shaped piece of metal from the kit, went to the link-panel and proceeded to weld the half-dome in place over the link. "I don't really want to go through that again." He brushed his hands, nodded, and said, "That would seem to be that." He picked up Scratch and headed for the nearest exit.
Vila looked around at the still smoking, sparking, consoles, and the general state of lived-in untidyness of the flight deck, food wrappers everywhere, dirty cat box in one corner, dried shreds of smelly protein, pans of crusted milk, three worn-out ticklers and half a dozen skin-regenerators, drained beyond recharging. "What about this mess?"
Avon glanced back and shrugged eloquently. "I need a nap." He rubbed Scratch under the chin, grinned at the whole crew, and left.
There was silence on the flight deck for a long moment, then Vila said, "I suppose it takes one to know one."
"Vila," Dayna said, cheerfully, as she started picking up rubbish, "*That* was a very catty remark."
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