Part 2

by Jill Weber (MFCarpet at aol.com)

BZZZ... rppt... BRAPT... zhing WAH WAH WAH!

Hunter jerked upright. "STOP! Enough! Ďm Ďwake already," he grumped into the comm mike. He slumped back into his seat when memory kicked in. He sighed and wished for a handful of aspirin and something to wash it down with.

"Dwayne?" Joís voice was uncertain.

"If you dialed a wrong number, I will glory stomp you," grumbled Hunter.

There was a long pause on the other side and Hunter could imagine his crew exchanging worried looks.

"Dwayne, howís the oxygen in there?"

"Itís a joke, okay?" he sighed.

"Since when did he have a sense of humor?" Mack grumbled.

"Maybe we do have a wrong number," Jo responded.

Hunter managed a faint smile. Not that his crew could see him. The video pickups were still out. "I do too have a sense of humor, I put up with you, donít I?"

Big Guy gave a lurch, which set didnít do Hunterís head any good at all. After a few moments to orient himself, he decided that Big Guy was being dragged on his right side. "So, whatís my status?"

There was hemming and hawing on the other end of the mike, which Hunter interpreted as being bad news. "I take it Slate and Garthís experiment didnít pan out," he said. Then he added. "Duh."

"So far, Slateís stumped," Jo confessed. "She and Garth and Thorton have tried everything short of a nuclear missile."

"Theyíve tried cold, heat, acid...." Mack recited.

"Every form of radiation on the spectrum," Jo said.

Hunter cleared his throat. "What about water?" he asked dryly. As he spoke he methodically went through his reboot sequences to see if he could power up any of his instruments. Something dripped onto his arm and he scowled at it. Then he looked up at where Big Guy's right arm should have been connected and scowled at the line of gunk that was creeping in through the breach.

"They tried high pressure fire hoses," Mack said. "Not to mention steam and ice... oh, that would come under heat and cold, wouldnít it?"

"They also tried smothering it in C02," Jo said. "Apparently it doesnít need oxygen." She paused. "Speaking of C02, how are the levels in your cockpit?"

Hunter tapped the gauges that measured this sort of thing and shook his head. This, he decided, was a stupid reaction. The crew couldnít see his head gesture and it started his headache up again. "I canít tell," he said. "The gauges arenít functioning." He took a tentative breath. "The airís pretty smoky, though," he added. "Smells like fried insulation."

"Wonderful. Any more happy news?" Mack inquired.

"The gunk is leaking in," Hunter said obligingly.

Mackís reply was not printable.

"Have you tried sonics?" Hunter asked.

"Yep," Mack said: "Sonics, ultrasonics, subsonics..."

"Okaaaay, so what havenít you tried?"

Jo sighed. "Weíre out of ideas, Lieutenant," she said.

"Thatís why we decided to disrupt your beauty sleep," Mack added. "We were hoping that youíd have some really clever idea."

"I suppose asking nicely is out of the question," Hunter sighed.

"It doesnít seem to have a central nervous system, Lieutenant," Slateís calm voice broke in.

Hunter was surprised at how much better he felt just hearing her. "So, no chance of opening up any meaningful dialogue?" Hunter remembered the time when Slate actually had been able to talk the "monster" into releasing him. Of course, the "monster" had actually been a bunch of Slateís creations, and they hadnít really been bad. Theyíd just been... jealous.

"Iím afraid not," Slate said regretfully. "How are you holding up?" she added.

"Oh, Iíve been in worse jams," Hunter said mildly. He paused, then added. "Canít think of any offhand, but there must have been something."

There was a long pause.

"I have a strange sense of humor, Doc," Hunter added. "Get used to it."

"Iíve noticed," Slate responded with a touch of irony. "Itís just that youíve given me an idea."

"Oh, good. What'd I say?"

"Itís this negotiation business," Slate said. "So far, all our efforts have been directed at destroying the monster, or forcing it to release Big Guy. Maybe we need to try a gentler approach."

"You just said it was too stupid to negotiate with," Mack said.

"That doesnít mean it canít be coaxed," Garth jumped into the conversation here.

"How?" Jo asked.

"All living organisms have basic needs," Slate said. "And Iíd be willing to bet that this creature is looking for food."

"So, what do big blobs of jelly eat?" Hunter asked.

"Peanut butter?" Mack suggested.

Hunter could almost hear icy glares converging on Mackís head. Or maybe it was just some icy bits of blob dripping down his neck.

"Mack...." growled Jo.

"Hey, just trying to live down to the Lieutenantís example," Mack protested.

"Itís passed over quite a bit of plant life in its travels," Slate said. "Including some vegetable gardens. Apparently, it hasnít ingested anything. This, combined with its attraction to movement, seems to suggest that this thing is carnivorous."

Hunter felt like heíd been punched in the gut. Panic blossomed in his chest and threatened to overwhelm him. He took a deep breath and yanked his emotions back under control. After a minute or two to regain control of his voice, he cleared his throat and said: "Oh, guys, did I mention that Big Guy is leaking and this stuff is getting all over me?"

On to Part 3!

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