Wolf in Wool Wolf in Wool
Alicia Ann Fox

The shuttle lurched as it fought the gravity of Malodaar, and Kerr Avon hissed angrily as he was thrown against a storage compartment. Inside that compartment, Vila Restal tensed, slamming his back against the bulkhead. Sweat poured down his face, and helpless tears, as he tried unsuccessfully to steady his ragged breathing and shrink into himself more than he had already.

He's going to get me. He's going to get me. Oh God, where is he? Get me and get it over. No, don't get me. I want to live. I'm miserable but I want to live. I WANT TO LIVE. I MUST LIVE--

Suddenly it was all very clear. Clear as a water-jewel. The murky ice encasing Vila's brain splintered away, leaving a pale burning sense of self and purpose that had been obscured, before. Finally, he thought, relieved. Carefully, yet quickly, he relaxed his muscles, tensed, relaxed again. Quietly he pulled the long, thin glass-impregnated wooden knife from the inner layer of his boot and held it in his right hand, bracing his left against the door of the cramped compartment. His heart beat slowly and steadily, his vision had become supernaturally clear in the buttery-red lighting. He could smell the rich stifling smell of lubricants.

When he heard heavy boots at the proper distance, he flung the door outward into Avon's body and followed it, landing on his feet, sure and balanced, the knife held outstretched, his left hand ready to grab.

Avon stumbled to his feet, gun pointed upward. His eyes grew wide with astonishment then, but he trained the gun deliberately on Vila's navel.

Vila grinned crookedly, his knife hand circling. "More than you bargained for, Kerr Avon?" His voice was startlingly loud and briskly competent. Avon's eyes flicked to the knife and in that instant, Vila knocked the gun aside and plunged the knife upward under the ribcage. Avon collapsed with a small sound and Vila withdrew the knife with a practiced motion, letting the body hit the floor. He wiped the knife on Avon's expensive studded leather jacket and put it back into its hiding place, musing that he now remembered why he'd always carried it. Pity he hadn't remembered three years ago, but that wasn't his fault.

Vila sighed delicately and carried the sagging awkward corpse to the airlock, tossed it in with enough force to make his back twinge, and let the pressure door go shut with a sucking sound. A small crooked grin crossed his face as he cycled the lock. "Crazy rebel bastard. Never did know his head from his knickers. Should've run with the cash in the first place."

Jauntily, Vila went to the shuttle's tiny flight deck, where earlier in the day Avon and the ghastly dissolute creature Vila-the-Delta-grade-thief had exchanged companionable remarks. The newly risen Vila noted cheerily that he was done with all of that business, and now could get on with his favorite occupation.

He removed the activator key from Orac without bothering to speak to the eccentric computer, and competently began readying the shuttle to dock with Scorpio. It certainly was a good thing to know how to pilot a spacecraft again, Vila decided, since he wouldn't be able to keep any of Scorpio's crew, even for such menial duties.

Docking was accomplished smoothly. The airlock cycled and Vila stepped through, carrying the gun he'd retrieved from the cargo area. Only three and the bounties are for me!he thought cheerily as he shot Tarrant and Dayna first under the ribcage and second in the throat. He grinned his crooked grin again and daintily stepped over the sprawled figures, nudging Dayna's head aside with his boot. Her eyeshadow left a pink smear on the toe and he frowned, but had to ignore it because Soolin, the mercenary gunfighter, still remained to be found.

Soolin was absurdly fast with a gun, he remembered. He was not, so he tossed the gun onto Tarrant's body and pulled the gold chain from his own neck. Soolin would've heard the shots, of course. Silly of him to have done that so precipitously, but he'd wasted so much time as the thief that, frankly, he couldn't have stopped himself. He shook his head slightly, ruefully, and crept the few steps to Scorpio's flight deck on ant-quiet feet.

Soolin had to be there, since it was the only area of the ship that was pressurized in flight. She waited for him between the two rows of flight consoles, clip gun balanced professionally in her hand, eyes ready for anything.

Except, unfortunately, the sight of Vila wearing a self-satisfied smirk. "Vila?" she questioned, her smoothness disturbed. "Has Egrorian done something to you? You swore to me you couldn't be conditioned."

Vila advanced, hands in his pockets, appearing as harmless as Soolin had always known him to be. He smiled. "I was wrong. They did manage to condition me once. Conditioned me to believe that I couldn't be conditioned, and sent me on my merry, merry way." Merrily he began to sing, a song whose only words were "Death, death, death!" to put her off-balance, and then kicked Soolin's gun from her hand. "You can't cage the big bad wolf," he admonished as he used the neckchain as a garrote until he could pick up Soolin's gun and finish the job.

He paused. "Bounties first, the someone else to kill. For pay? Hmmnn. That could grow stale, and I'd better keep those Feds off their balance."

Manually he disengaged the shuttle, with Orac inside. "They will rue the day they tried to condition Restal the Dealer of Death...." And he laughed a self-satisfied laugh.

the end