Part 3

by Jill Weber (MFCarpet at aol.com)

There was a shocked pause on the other end of the line. Then Garth blurted: "Your suitís been breached?" The black manís voice grew heated, but faint. Hunter deduced that heíd turned away from the mike.

"Why didnít you tell us?" Garth demanded.

Mack responded defensively: "Well, we were...."

Jo responded angrily: "Garth, kiss my...."

"Language!" Hunter barked.

"....burrito," Jo finished sulkily.

".... getting to it," Mack finished. After a long pause, that Hunter guessed involved a lot of glaring and dirty looks between the Pit Crew, Mack added: "Getting around to telling you, that is, not kissing Joís burrito."

Obviously the crew was stressing. Time to apply some of his famous Hunter charm. "I hate to interrupt so charming an intellectual debate, but would you half-wits spend less time bickering and more time working!?" OK, so the famous Hunter charm was AWOL. Obviously, his crewmates werenít the only ones who were stressing.

There was dead silence on the other end for a while. Then Slate asked tentatively, "Lieutenant? Is your oxygen supply adequate?"

Hunter sighed. "Sorry," he said. "I donít know whatís gotten into me. Itís not like Iíve never been swallowed by a giant gelatinous mass before." This still sounded sarcastic to him, but he decided that nothing he could say now would change that.

There was a sigh from over the comm. "Címon, guys," Garth said in a conciliatory tone. "Weíd better get him out of there before he gets all sarcastic on us."

Obviously, he wasnít the only one who thought he sounded sarcastic, Hunter thought.

Slate cleared her throat, apparently not sure how to handle the banter/flak that was flying around. "Iím open to suggestions as to what to try to feed it," she said. Now her voice faded. "Except peanut butter," she added, more or less offline.

Ah, so Slate did know how to handle the flak.

"What about Joís burrito?" Garth suggested.

"Hey, I was gonna eat that," Jo protested. "What about my coffee? That stuff sure as shootiní isnít any good for drinking."

"Speaking of shooting, whereís the kid?" Hunter asked.

"He and Thorton are scouting your blobby friend," Mack said.

"Iíve supplied them with a battery of testing equipment to see if any of our attacks have done any damage," Slate added. She sounded faintly apologetic. "I suppose we should have told you that sooner."

Hunter shrugged, then sighed when he realized that gestures were useless when his audience couldnít see him. "Donít worry about it, Doc. So, what about feeding Blobby?"

"Coffee is plant-based," Slate said thoughtfully. "The meat in the burrito might be more to the creature's taste." She was silent for a few minutes, then added: "Jo, I really donít think you should eat that burrito."

While his crew and Slate brainstormed, Hunter worked on getting something other than the radio on line. His first priority, under the circumstances, was to make sure his life support was operating. Knowing his location would be nice, too. And he really wanted a peek at what was going on outside the "friendly confines" of his cockpit.

"Havenít you ever heard of Green Burritos, Doc?" was Joís muffled reply.

"Yes, but theyíre not supposed to be THAT shade of green," Slate pointed out.

"Now, thereís a thought," Mack said. "How about trying poison on the creature?"

"We tried every poison that is deemed environmentally safe," Garth said.

"How come you didnít tell us that?" Jo demanded.

"Um," Garth said.

"Thought so," Jo muttered.

"There seems to be a lot of sidetracks for this conversation," Mack said. "Why donít we concentrate on getting the lieutenant out of there? I donít want a new C.O.; I just got this one broken in."

Dwayneís eyebrows went up at that, but he was too busy to think of a sufficiently cutting reply. Although the Big Guyís cockpit was ífriendlyí, it was still confining and difficult to work it, especially with the added disadvantage of having an adhesive carnivore dripping all over him. Being dragged along sideways was not helping matters any.

"Speaking of Joís burrito, how about some biological warfare?" Mack threw in. "See what a good dose of botulism will do."

"Sorry," Gen. Thortonís gruff voice broke in at this junction. "We canít take the risk that the slug would mutate it into something detrimental to the general population."

"Yes, sir," Mack sighed. "Dang, now what?"

"I have mixed news for you," Thorton said.

Hunterís immediate thought was: Dwayne = toast

"The good news is that Donovanís new toy apparently works as advertised," Thorton continued.

HunterĎs next thought was: Dwayne = burnt toast

Thorton took a deep breath.

Dwayne = charred toast

"The bad news is that the blob is heading directly towards an area thatís packed with evacuees," Thorton said apologetically.

Dwayne = guy who sticks fork into toaster to remove bread Hunter thought, then he said. "So, youíre going to try Donovanís toy again?"

"Iím afraid so, Lieutenant," Thorton said. "It seems to be our best bet at stopping that thing."

"Sir," protested Slate. "I think youíre more likely to destroy Big Guy than the blob."

"Do you have a viable alternative?" Thorton demanded.

"Our thought was trying to bribe it with food," Slate replied.

"Iím sorry, Doctor, but I fail to see how that will stop this creature," Thorton said.

"Well, we were thinking more along the lines of luring it out of the city," Mack said. "And hoping that it will drop that inedible chunk of titanium somewhere along the line."

"Very well," Thorton said after a few minutes to think this over. He sounded relieved. "So, what were you planning to try to feed it?"

"Ground meat," Slate said.

"You mean that thingís carnivorous?" Thorton asked in dismay.

"Yes, sir," Hunter said. "That seems to be the best guess here." Moving carefully, he detached a strand from his arm and flicked it away.

"Howís your suit holding up?" Thorton asked.

"Itís not; the stuff is coming in through the arm sockets," Hunter said calmly.

Thorton sighed and said: "Good luck, Lieutenant."

"Thank you, sir," said Hunter, who then went back to planning an end run around luck, which had been flat out nasty to him all day.

"Weíll get to work on that right away." Slate said.

"Thanks, Doc," Hunter said gratefully.

Dwayne only kept half an ear on the radio while he worked on getting his systems functional. "Donít need the arm guns," he muttered to the blob. "Theyíre gone. Might as well beef up power to the thrusters. Assuming, of course, that they arenít, well, jammed." If Blobby dropped him, he wanted to be able to get Big Guyís titanium tush out of the line of fire ASAP.

He unbuckled his restraints and found he could move about the cockpit, even with the gunk all over the floor. Or actually, what would have been the side, had Big Guy been upright.

It wasnít easy working in the dim light and at an angle, but Hunter had spent so much time in the Big Guyís cockpit that he managed to get several systems up and running. "Iíve got to get out more," he muttered to himself.

He knew when Slateís plan started working when Big Guy gave a tremendous lurch. Several more lurches followed. Hunter would have been thrown, if his feet hadnít been jammed to the surface he was currently walking on. He grabbed the pilotís chair with one hand and finished a few connections with the other.

"The thing has changed directions," Thorton said, as satisfied as if heíd come up with this plan.

So Iíve noticed, Hunter thought. "Good," Hunter said. "So, where am I headed now?"

"More or less back the way you headed," Thorton said.

"Good," Hunter said again. He made a final connection just as Big Guy started shuddering. "Whoa, whatís that?" Hunter asked.

Before anybody could answer, Big Guy jerked around ninety degrees. This time, the gunk wasnít enough to keep Hunterís feet glued to the floor and he fell against the back of the pilotís chair.

"Iíve hit some turbulence. I guess Big Guy is now face down," Dwayne deduced out loud as he scrambled into his seat and secured his straps.

"Looks like," Garth replied. "Howíre you doing?"

"Backup systems online," Hunter said. "I seem to have everything but outside visual and weapons."

"You might want those weapons," Thorton said dryly.

Duh Hunter thought. "Yes, sir," Hunter said.

Suddenly the shuddering stepped up tempo. "Guys? Slate? Whatís goiní on? I feel like IĎm in an earthquake!"

"Iíve got a bad feeling about this!" Mack blurted.

But by now the tremors were so bad that Hunter felt like he was being pounded by a jackhammer and he couldnít find the breath to reply.

Big Guyís hull was groaning and twisting and what indicators werenít going red were just going dark.

"Lieutenant?" Jo called. "Hull integrity dropping!"

Hunter couldnít even think. All he could do was brace himself against the console and grit his teeth. Slate, this was NOT one of your better ideas! he thought, just before there was a tremendous SCREAM of tearing metal, followed by a tremendous CRASH.

Then silence.


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