"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 30"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG-13

What Else Can Go Wrong.... Besides Everything?
Let's Try This Again

       Wolfwood and Vash whipped their heads around to see Razlo attack, venting his rage. His weapons exploded, bringing a stream of death down upon the gang.

        “No!” Wolfwood yelled horrified as he saw the tips of Razlo’s guns flash in a continual burst. He didn’t need to look to know men were falling from their vehicles. A curtain of dust was being churned up to hang like an obscuring cloud over the area. He squinted as he caught glimpses of ghostlike figures running for the cars. At the sight he exhaled a breath he didn‘t realizing he had been holding.

        “Idiot! Don’t kill them!” Yelled Vash at Razlo, gun flashing in the sun as he shot all of the Double Fang’s bullets in mid-air, blowing them up before they could reach their intended targets. Wolfwood’s eyes widened at the sight. He knew Vash had taken them out individually but it looked like one burst with all of them exploding at once. With an effort he wrenched his attention back to the crazed man beside him to see his reaction.

        Razlo was beyond hearing or even caring that the rest of his ammo was being exploded in mid-air. His eyes were small pinpricks locked on the cars in front of him and he was gearing up to fire again.

        Wolfwood swore. Something drastic was called for. Flinging himself at the crazed manslayer while swinging his cross as if it weighed nothing, he brought it around in a wide arc to slam it into the assassin’s side. He was hoping to knock Razlo to the ground and was surprised when he only tripped to the side off-balance.

        However, one goal was accomplished immediately which was that the shooting stopped as the assassin stumbled a few steps away from Wolfwood. Upon recovering his balance Razlo speared the preacher with a look of frenzied hate and madness. Wolfwood met the look with narrowed silver-gray eyes gleaming, letting the crazed being know that no amount of frothing at the mouth could make him back down.

        Wolfwood could tell Razlo craved nothing more than to respond to the attack and was even swinging his guns to bear on the priest while sinking into a crouch. Wolfwood tensed, preparing himself for the strike while holding the cross punisher as a shield in front of him. He could see the killer was on the verge of cutting loose when suddenly, without warning from one breath to another, Razlo lost interest and turned his attention back to the cars noticing that the tight formation that the vehicles had earlier was lost and they were now circling the foursome in an erratic fashion.

        It took a stunned second for it to sink in before Wolfwood realized that Razlo was not going to shoot him. Instead the assassin was lifting the Double Fangs to aim at the gang members again.

        “I said NO!” Wolfwood shouted and again launched through the air at him weapon raised high bringing it back and around behind the killer.

        While the priest was being kept busy with Levio/Razlo, Vash sorted through an immense amount of information. Rapidly it was being processed, the situation with Razlo, watching where the bullets were going, who was doing most of the shooting, who was not, which bandits were the most aggressive, and then, the little black box being held in the hands of his niece. That last bit of information made him frown. He knew it was the reason that Levio had been displaced by his internal malevolent twin who now was in control.

        Vash gritted his teeth. An unpredictable Razlo was one of the last things they needed at this point in time. He looked over his shoulder and yelled at his niece, “stop him!”

        “I cannot stop him. He can only be guided, not totally controlled. He will stop when the threat to me is eradicated.” She responded, unable to believe they wanted to stop such an efficient killing machine, especially when they were being insulted by the attack of these despicable creatures. They should be thanking her instead of yelling at her. She wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was helping.

        In the meantime, Wolfwood and Razlo were using their guns in the same manner as sword-wielding knights of old. The clash of metal upon metal rang out over the noise of the circling cars. Finally, in a quick movement, Wolfwood flipped his cross punisher out, away from his body. It appeared that the priest was wide open for the attack and Razlo’s eyes gleamed wildly at the opportunity.

        Lunging forward on the balls of his feet, his arm was cocked back he was ready for a fatal strike when he realized that the priest had tricked him. Wolfwood snapped his wrist and the long end of the cross came swinging back in a blurring motion around Razlo catching him behind a knee. With another twist of the priest’s wrist the weapon flipped back and after repositioning his handhold, he brought the cross down in a hammering strike on one of the Double Fangs. The minister in black wasn’t being gentle and it was possible that the blow could break all the bones in the hand and wrist. However, in Wolfwood’s opinion, if that was what hit took to incapacitate the creature then he didn‘t feel even the least bit guilty.

        Broken pieces of one Double Fang went flying through the air along with an enraged cry.

        As soon as he could stand upright again, Razlo supported his arm carefully knowing that the hand dangling from it was useless in the protection of his mistress. Eyes burning with wrath at the priest’s interference Razlo, quick as a striking scorpion, whipped his other weapon around to punch the black-haired irritant in the ribs. He was hoping to break bones and was disappointed when he didn’t hear the snap of ribs breaking.

        Even as Wolfwood fell to one knee gasping for breath he was calculating what kind of blow it would take to incapacitate the assassin. The priest was afraid he was going to be forced to shoot Razlo in order to render him harmless. He also knew there was going to be one impressive bruise popping up later, but for now he was glad that nothing was broken and he could still fight.

        A wary eye watched Razlo pull his arm back with the intent of another strike. Wolfwood wondered why the man didn’t just shoot him since that would be an easier kill. He held that thought until he happened to look up into the twisted features of the killer and saw his answer in the twisted features and snarling teeth.

        The double-inhabited man was beyond thinking lucidly. His only objective was to maim and destroy in as painful a way as possible. Hearing shots he looked up for a split second to catch the Brother intercepting the bullets heading toward them. A sneer crossed his lips, it was a child’s game for one of their kind. He turned back to his downed prey.

        That split second was all Wolfwood needed. As the arm moved back to the apex of the arch, the priest moved with speed he didn’t realize he had in him and leaped straight at the killer while thrusting his cross punisher in front of him. Razlo’s descending arm stopped with a jolt when the cross punisher caught his gun in the middle of the split. Wolfwood jerked sideways and Razlo‘s arm went flying out leaving his torso unprotected. In mid-swing the priest yelled and automatically jerked his arm back to his side. Sweat broke out over his brow while his vision went blurry from the screaming pain of his injury.

        Assuming the preacher wanted to shoot him in the chest, Razlo swiveled his body low, following his arm in a tight, quick spin until the gun was once again leveled in the priest’s direction. Thinking that he had the black-haired man at a disadvantage Razlo hesitated a moment to wait for the realization to dawn upon the clergyman that he was a dead man. Then he would pull the trigger. Insanity smiled in anticipation but what he saw in front of him was not a man with eyes widening in fear of the inevitable. Rather, eyes the color of gray steel met his own, unflinching and hard. This was not the kind of reaction he was used to getting. Razlo was puzzled, but not for long.

        Wolfwood jerked back freeing the assassin’s weapon while repositioning the punisher. He looked up at Razlo’s face and was relieved to see that the assassin didn’t have a clue as to what he was planning on doing next. It was an odd angle but with a grunting snarl he managed to direct the end of his cross toward the remaining Double Fang. It took some careful balancing and strength to hold his cross over his arm in this manner and with the balance being off as it was he had to exert more strength to hold it in place. This time, though, he was ready for the piercing pain stabbing his side. Clenching his teeth, he hissed through the pinching ache and continued his assault.

        If Razlo had the presence of mind, all he needed to do to ward off the coming attack would be to shove on the priest’s chest with a finger. Wolfwood hated being this lopsided and open for a return strike but it was the only way he could think of when standing so close to his opponent while wielding such a large weapon. His cross punisher wasn’t intended for hand to hand combat, but hopefully his awkward stance would distract the killer. Rarely did an attack from such an unbalanced position work out for the attacker. It was a good thing for him that the Razlo wasn’t thinking clearly.

        With his weapon at such an awkward slant, the pain in Wolfwood’s side began screaming from the abuse. It was going to be tricky but he wasn’t going to be given a second chance; this was the only shot he would be allowed. The priest saw the understanding beginning to dawn on Razlo’s face in sudden realization at what the black-suited preacher was about to do. Unlike the armed psychotic, Wolfwood didn’t intend to wait for any realization of peril to register. With a heartfelt, but quick, prayer he pulled the trigger.

        The Double Fang blew apart with pieces flying up and away out of Razlo’s hand.

        Seeing the bloodlust unabated in the killer‘s eyes Wolfwood, with a twist of his wrist, flipped the cross punisher around and slammed the end of the short arm into Razlo’s face as hard as he could. The man jerked from blow that could have easily broken any normal human’s nose and jaw. The killer merely shook his head and turned crazed eyes on him. He lurched to the side before straightening and coming toward the priest.

        Seeing the death glare aimed at him, Wolfwood tried to stand up straight but was unable to. Blood was running down the psycho-slayer’s face but he ignored it. Wolfwood smashed the same end into his face again while wondering why the assassin didn‘t try to deflect the blow, he had to have seen it coming. However, the priest wasn’t about to argue with the results. This time Razlo dropped to the ground like a stone before struggling to sit up.

        Good Lord, he’s only groggy! What’s it going to take to keep this guy down?

        Supported by an elbow the slayer braced himself before reaching into his jacket with his still operative hand for a gun he had tucked away there after losing his last one, the one Vash had tossed away.

        Wolfwood was hunched over and leaning on the cross punisher while panting in small breaths trying to suck in as much oxygen at a time as his aching ribs would let him. He knew this time he wouldn’t have time to react before the killer pulled the trigger.

        Before Razlo could draw the gun free a shadow appeared and sliced the ground between the two men. The assassin snarled as he looked up to see who dared to disturb his kill.

        It was Vash, as dark as any shadow of the night. The trench coat’s tails fluttered around the outlaw’s legs while his arms hung down at his side, silver colt glinting in his hand. As always it was hard to tell what the outlaw was thinking behind those lenses as he peered down at the two of them.

        “Have you played this one out yet?”

        “I fold. My hand‘s trash.” Wolfwood cast a look at Razlo who started to lean forward in the attempt to get back on his feet.

        “Then deal me in.”

        In one swift, unseen move Vash was suddenly standing behind Razlo, bringing the butt of his gun down on the back of the psychotic killer’s head. This time Razlo crumpled sideways to the ground unconscious.

        Wolfwood looked up to see a hand proffered in his direction. Gratefully he took it and groaned all the way up. Unable to stand up straight he stooped over to one side panting while placing a light hand to his wounded side. Finally he was able to get enough breath to groan out a breathy “thanks.”

        “Your cross is no good in a wrestling match.”

        Vash was gone by the time Wolfwood raised his head to look at him. He heard the recognizable sound of the infamous colt being fired in the background. Vash was shooting bullets so close together it sounded like one long report. That too was familiar.

        Wolfwood leaned the arm of his good side against the car door so he could watch the Humanoid Typhoon at work. It was a thing of beauty to behold. Not that he would ever say so to Vash of course.

        Vash never stopped moving as he darted and ducked, weaving his way among the moving cars even as a couple of them were starting to pull away. By this time most of the bandits had quit shooting. Those few that were still trying to shoot the black-clad, white-haired freak were finding that he was long gone by the time they pulled the trigger.

        At one point, Wolfwood’s mouth dropped open as he watched Vash throw his body in a sideways spinning movement high up in the air over one car. Fanning out in a circle around his twisting body the tails of the black coat gave the impression of slicing the air as he passed over the gaping faces of the would-be robbers. When he was gone the stunned gang looked down to see that, without a scratch on them, their weapons were shot cleanly from their hands. Then they swore and grabbed at their stinging hands.

        Finally, someone yelled an order to retreat. Although Wolfwood squinted, he couldn’t tell through the haze hanging in the air who it was that had shouted. Wounded men frantically scrambled from where they were to jump aboard the nearest car to them before they were left stranded with these demons in black. Not all the men wanted to withdraw and one car circled back around, obviously they thought that now the rest of the cars were gone they could take on the black twirling fiend themselves and win.

        While Vash was preoccupied in proving to the stubborn lot how wrong they were, Wolfwood’s eyes drifted over the ground until coming to a huddle of cloth in the near distance. He lifted his gaze to notice that most of the cars were departing, leaving these two behind. His eyes sank back to the small mound and his expression saddened as his gaze rested on them. It was inevitable that there should be fatalities, but he was unprepared for the wrenching in his chest as he watched the fluttering of clothes in the breeze, the only thing that showed any life. Once upon a time he could have looked upon the sight of dead bodies without flinching, with cold eyes and a hard heart, emotions buried so deep they might as well have been dead. Not any more. Despite the sadness washing through him, he wouldn‘t have traded what he was feeling now with the way he used to deal with human tragedy. It was better to feel than to be one of the emotionally dead.

        With care he leaned the cross punisher against the car and limped his way around back to unload one of the shovels. There were two of them hooked to the side of the truck bed. Gingerly he reached up, grimacing, as he lifted one off of the hooks. He laid it on the bed of the truck so he could use the arm not tucked against his aching side to rummage around in a small valise lashed with a small strap to the side. Fortunately he found the prayer book he was hunting for near the top.

        Slipping the book into a pocket he grabbed the shovel and started toward the two men. There was a chance they could still be alive but he doubted it.

        Wolfwood wondered how he was going to manage to dig graves with a hurt side but that didn’t stop him from making his way toward them. When he came up to the two bodies he saw they were sprawled out on the sand close to each other. Dropping the shovel he managed, with grunts of pain, to slowly lower himself to one knee. Gently he turned one man over and then the other. Even before he felt for a pulse he knew they were dead. He wasn’t surprised when he didn’t find one on either man.

        After checking he propped his forearm on his thigh to study the men. From appearance alone, neither appeared noteworthy. Each one was scruffy and grizzled, dressed in worn-out clothes, but at one point in time, they were someone’s little boys. That was all that mattered to the priest. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his prayer book and flipped to the appropriate page. He glanced at the men before looking back down to the page again to read a short crossover-blessing for them saving the longer, more formal one for later.

        Carefully placing his book to one side he unbuttoned his suit jacket, wincing with a hiss of pain as he barely managed to slide it off his shoulders. He tossed it next to his prayer book before reaching for the handle of the shovel using the tool to haul himself up and to support his weight once he was standing. No matter how carefully he moved it was painful. The priest tried to stand as straight as he could but found it impossible. Hunched to one side, with one shoulder drooping, was as erect as he could get. Awkwardly and slowly he began scooping out a grave, holding the shovel one-handed. He had dug only a few scoops and he was already covered in sweat. He gave the small hole a grimace, at the rate he was going it would be a long while before he was able to finish even a shallow grave.

        “We don’t have time for this you know.” Remarked Vash softly, coming to stand beside the priest noting his flushed and sweating face.

        Wolfwood jerked, startled by Vash’s unexpected presence. Slowly he straightened up as far as he could.

        Pausing from his efforts to look over at the outlaw, Wolfwood was already panting for breath. Without expression he saw the shovel resting on Vash’s shoulder. Before Wolfwood could say a word, Vash swung the shovel down and jabbed it into the ground. Letting go of the handle, straightened and began to unfasten the many clasps of his black coat and in scant seconds he shrugged out of his long duster. With an unfathomable glance at the priest, he tossed it to land next to the black jacket.

        “I know,” Wolfwood replied, before resuming his digging.

        Neither man spoke until the two graves were finished. When Wolfwood moved to follow Vash as he started toward the fallen men, Vash halted him with an outstretched arm. Shaking his head he said, “No, you are in no shape and I shouldn’t have let you do as much as you did.”

        Vash gave the priest a firm look before crossing over and crouching down on his haunches beside the older of the two men. He looked at their faces and for the first time in ages, tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. Such a pathetic waste. Shaking his head, he turned to say something to Wolfwood and happened to look up in time to see a stubborn expression settle over the priest‘s face.

        “I can still kick your ass Needle Noggin,” Wolfwood reminded him.

        “Don‘t doubt it at all.”

        The priest glared in suspicion at the Typhoon, searching for any trace of humor in the crouching outlaw’s expression.

        With a sigh Vash requested, “Nicholas, I can carry them and you can’t, so just let me okay?”

        Wolfwood studied the face of his friend and then gave a short nod. It wasn’t the request that decided him; it was the first time he could recall in a very long time that Vash used his first name. Instead of replying to that or Vash’s comment, he asked, “So, how’s Sleeping Deadly?”

        “His jaw should be broken but it’s not.”

        Without a grunt or sign of effort, Vash picked up the first man and quickly crossed the distance to the shallow depression. Gently he laid the man down.

        “I hit him as hard as I could,... both times.” Mused Wolfwood as he watched.

        “He’s not normal.” Vash went back for the other man.

        “There are a million things I could say in response to that but I will restrain myself.”

        “Well, whatever he is, he’s going to be out for quite a while.”

        “Good!“ Wolfwood shook his head in amazement; once again he had come close to meeting his Maker. “God smiles on the feeble-minded, children, and poor wandering priests.”

        “You hope so.”

        “Connections pal, it’s all about connections.” The small smile on his face faded as he looked back down at the graves, now occupied.

        Vash didn’t respond as he began filling them in. Wolfwood didn’t say a word as he watched as the outlaw work until finally, he patted the last shovel-full of dirt on the mound of the remaining grave.

        When he saw that Vash was finished, he began gathering stones with one hand. As soon as Vash saw what he was doing, he began helping also. Once there were two good-sized piles Wolfwood arranged the stones over each grave in the shape of a cross.

        “That’ll have to do, there’s nothing here to use as a headstone.” He wiped the soil from his hand on his thigh and then lifted a forearm to mop the sweat off his brow. Vash was doing the same.

        Vash straightened while Wolfwood reached over, with a grunt to pick up his black leather prayer book. Forgetting himself he tried to straighten but stifled a groan and crumpled, hunching again as the pain grabbed his side with an iron fist. Damn but he hit hard! Rifling through the pages he stopped when he found the place he was looking for. Both men bowed their head as the priest read the prayer for consigning the souls of the dead men into the hands and care of Almighty God.

        There was a brief silence with each man lost in his own thoughts for a moment. Vash looked up to see Wolfwood give him a nod indicating the service was over. Before the priest could reach down for his jacket, Vash was there before him scooping up both coats. He handed the black jacket to his friend who thanked him. The outlaw knew Wolfwood had to be sore if he didn’t protest the kindness.

        After they put away the tools, which was actually Vash putting them away while Wolfwood watched, they went to stand next to Razlo who hadn’t even twitched in their absence. Looking down at him and then at each other they knew that they were going to have touch him. Vash in particular since he knew he was going to be the one doing the lifting.

        Vash shot a look over at Tessla. She was still in her spot, arms crossed tightly in front of her with her head turned away staring off into the distance as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Not expecting anything different Vash returned to the matter at hand.

        He started to bend down when he noticed Wolfwood was stepping closer, ready to bend over to help. Vash immediately straightened back up and glared into the priest‘s eyes.

        “Whoa, what do you think you’re doing?”

        “Lending a hand. Do I look helpless to you?” Wolfwood gave him a warning look.

        Vash, in no mood to cater to the priest’s pride or ego snapped out, “Yes. Yes you do!”

        “Just because I have a little....” Wolfwood started but stopped as Tessla approached them. She came up and stood next to the priest, staring up at him with eyes wide and blank. Wolfwood shifted uneasily until she turned her pupil-less gaze to her uncle, who was frowning down at her, and then back up at the priest again.

        “Vash friend, you are injured.” She wasn’t asking.

        The priest cast a questioning look at Vash who merely shrugged.

        Turning his attention back to the plant girl he composed himself and answered in a polite tone, not knowing why he bothered.

        “Yes, that hulking manservant of yours was a wee bit rough at one point. Even though I am injured in the side, thankfully, no bones were brooo... AhhhhaaHH! GOD HAVE MERCY!!! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!!!” He yelled, for Tessla was running the fingers of one hand over his hurt ribs. He jumped back but couldn’t outdistance her hand for she was as quick as Vash was.

        “I am not as capable or as skillful as your friend is. I watched her and I believe I can be of assistance even if I am not of her expertise yet.”

        Wolfwood didn’t know why but he went ahead and endured her touch.

        Vash looked down at his niece with raised eyebrows completely taken by surprise. Wolfwood was feeling none too serene himself and watched her with doubt-filled eyes.

        Tessla closed her eyes and a little crease appeared between her brows as she concentrated. It didn’t feel at all like when Rinnah merged minds with him but Wolfwood did feel a tickling sensation running up and down his side. When she was through Tessla opened her eyes and took a hasty step back from the priest as if recalling that he was a lowly human.

        Stretching his arm up and waving it around in small circles, Wolfwood was pleased to note that he was able to lift it much higher then he could earlier. Only a lingering stiffness was left but at least he could straighten up almost all the way now.

        “Thanks shorty! Hey! Raising my arm now doesn’t take my breath away. There’s still some tenderness but it‘s bearable.” He looked down at the girl to see that she had her eyes fixed on him. “You did pretty good. I didn’t know plants could do that.”

        “A few can. But most can’t.” Vash said with a piercing look at his niece, “that I know of anyway.”

        She looked up at him and then at the priest before turning to walk back to the car.

        Looking at the fallen assassin at their feet, Vash stated, “I guess you can help now...”

        “Ow, ow, ow, my side, my side... oh the pain, the agony!” Then grinned at the expression on Vash’s face before reaching down to grab the legs behind the knees.

        “You should be on stage.” Remarked the outlaw.

        “All the world is a stage my friend. Haven’t you heard that before?”

        Vash grunted.

        Together, with Vash lifting Razlo’s torso, they picked the killer up. Vash blinked in astonishment and saw the same expression mirrored in Wolfwood’s eyes.

        “He’s heavier than he looks.” The priest said, his voice showing the strain.

        “I think he must have lead parts inside of him.”

        “I swear, he must weigh as much as this truck!” Wolfwood managed to puff out. It was too difficult to try and talk while carrying the weight of the man that he was beginning to think was part cyborg.

        They moved toward the vehicle with their burden hanging heavy between them.

        They hefted Razlo up with a grunt and dropped him into the back seat with a whoosh of expelled air before propping him up in the corner. He slowly slumped down in place, head loosely rolling to the side. Both men took a moment to wipe their brow. Even with his side almost healed, Wolfwood found he was winded from the effort of lifting Razlo’s limp body.

        He must eat ball bearings for breakfast and metal pipes for dinner. Wolfwood thought as he caught his breath. I wonder if a magnet would stick to him?

        “It would be a stroke of luck if he stayed this way the whole trip.” Observed Wolfwood as he peered down at the killer. “Or change back to his other self.”

        “You’re forgetting that we don’t have that kind of luck.”

        Tessla watched the whole affair with an air of indifference although the concern came through as she inclined closer to evaluate Razlo’s condition for herself. Satisfied with what she saw she sat back up.

        Wolfwood immediately turned his attention to his cross punisher. Taking a cloth he began polishing it even as he searched it for any dings or scratches.

        “I just had this thing worked on! If I show on his doorstep so soon between maintenance checks, he is going to have my hide!” Grumbled Wolfwood softly, already focused on his weapon.

        While the wielder of the cross punisher occupied himself with gun care Vash walked around the truck to stand next to his niece who refused to look up at him or acknowledge his presence in any way.

        Leaning his hands on the edge of her door he said in a voice that brooked no disobedience, “Give me that control!”

        “Vash uncle...”

        “Now!” He held out his prosthetic hand in front of her face. “I don’t know what a child like you is doing with something like this.”

        “I am not a child!” She shouted back into his face, half rising up out of her seat. For the first time, Vash noticed the violet sparkles in her eyes that were whirling in agitation from her anger and nearly forgot what he was going to say. With an internal grin he knew that some genetic material had been passed to the little plant.

        “No, you are worse. You are a spoiled, willful, and selfish child! You have no right to control and manipulate another person like that! Now give it to me!”

        Tessla was shocked speechless. No one ever talked to her like that before and in the last twenty-four hours she had been rebuked twice and in none-too-gentle tones either.

        Without an inkling of what to say she reluctantly dug into her pocket for the control device that allowed Razlo to the surface. Holding it out to Vash a stab of hatred for her uncle flashed through her. Then she leveled an equally heated glance at the back of the priest who acted like he didn’t have a clue as to what was going on behind him. She decided that she hated all adults. They were so bossy and domineering!

        Seeing the look on her face Vash correctly guessed the emotion but ignored it. Instead he crushed the box in his hand and watched as the pieces fell through his fingers to the ground.

        Wolfwood gave his cross one last swipe before beginning the complex process of wrapping the large traveling cloth around his weapon before winding the black straps around it.

        “Why don’t you cut the little squirt some slack there Vash? She can’t help acting all evil-like from time to time. Just remember who raised her.”

        Reaching for his door handle, Vash answered, “She can be a tin-plated god in her own little world as long as it doesn’t involve me,” and then considering, added, “And doesn’t hurt anyone else either.”

        Vash climbed in behind the wheel but didn’t start the engine. Instead he waited, watching the priest swaddle his precious weapon while impatiently drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. When it came to taking care of the cross punisher the priest was meticulous to the point of being obsessive. Vash knew the first chance Wolfwood got the priest would want to strip every piece down, clean and polish all the surfaces and innards.

        Finally Wolfwood was assured he had done all that could be done for the time being and lifted the cross gun into the back. After strapping it in carefully he gave it a final loving pat before turning and climbing in the passenger seat.

        With a long-suffering sigh, Vash pushed his glasses up before starting the engine.

        As the truck growled to life Vash had only one thought in his head, ‘find Knives‘. This time the desire to do damage to his brother’s person was absent. Pinching the bridge of his nose he could admit the truth. He didn’t want his brother dead anymore, maybe hurt or suffering, but not dead. What he wanted was to get their friends back and to drop off this vexing pain in the neck to his twin with very clear instructions. He should either keep a more watchful eye on her or shove her into a bulb for safekeeping, for everyone else’s safekeeping if not her own.

        He ran a hand through his hair, leave it to Knives to screw up fatherhood. Seeing Knives in this light was thought provoking, to say the least. A half-smile crept over his lips.

        “What a workout. I could live without this kind of excitement,” said the priest as he slouched down in his seat and closed his eyes, but not before throwing a solemn look in the direction of the two mounds.

        Taking a quick look in the rearview mirror at his niece, he found her curved into a surly, pouting ball radiating disgust and hostility at the back of her uncle’s head. That’s what he liked to see, the normal sullen expression of disgruntled youth. Everything was back to normal. The way life should be. Vash’s eyes rolled. This is going to be a long trip.

Things Could Be Worse

       Knives looked up from his console to watch the slow bobbing of the figure floating in the middle of the experimental globe. Instead of waiting for his wandering twin to be captured he made the decision to test it out on the alien half-plant. So far everything was exceeding expectation, but then, he never had any doubts about it, after all, it was his invention.

        Numerous times she had awakened and his plant engineers had administered the newly invented engel suppressant along with a plant cytogene inhibitor that had never been used on any of his kind before. It was a concoction invented specifically for her, or rather, what they were guessing about her. It really was a wonder it didn’t kill her.

        For the first several hours they wanted her asleep so the globe and the cherub life-support body could integrate with her own unique biology without hindrance. They couldn’t keep doing this indefinitely though, there were bound to be some repercussions if too much of the new drug was administered. Nevertheless they didn’t expect her to keep waking up this often. He was told that the sedatives should have kept her asleep for days. What a stubborn female. Even after such a great output of energy her recuperative ability was quicker than even his or Vash’s.

        One hand crossed his waist to cup his elbow while the other clasped his chin in thought. His conclusion was that the off-worlder was a regenerator. Theoretically it was possible that any one of his siblings could be one too, but the sad fact was that none of them were. As far as he had been able to figure out, his kind had been created for one purpose, to be a power source. This stranger was the first regenerator he had come across in his many years. It opened a whole host of questions. The one that was uppermost in his mind was how to bring this new genetic makeup into his plant family; it would be a useful trait to possess.

        His eyes flicked down to the readings on the screen in front of him, then to the 3-D bio-scan hanging in the air above him. Right now he didn’t have time to waste with questions. They would have to wait for a future date.

        A cool smile curved his lips. The new bulb was working out better than expected. The climate within was cautiously and carefully being adjusted for the sensitive cherub life-support that had been attached to her back earlier. If all went well more would be attached on a daily basis. His team had, at first, worried whether she was too weak to take the surgery until he assured them she would be fine and after watching her bobbing around in her new home their fears were laid to rest.

        Earlier, when she was on the stretcher and he was still secretly concerned about her health, she started to revive. He had stared, unbelieving as her eyes fluttered open and then she scanned the worried faces surrounding her until she found his. She studied him for a few seconds through half-closed lids before gesturing for him to bend down close. When he was near her face she reached up with a languid hand to take hold of his collar and draw him even closer. Speaking softly, she whispered into his ear so that only he could hear. All the technicians on his team automatically leaned in as they saw the growing frown of irritation on his face. Then she laughed without sound as her eyes drifted shut while he straightened and shot the knot around him a wrathful look.

        His medical team knew that look and took a collective step back. Still, they shot him anxious looks while wondering what she had said to him.

        Knives studied the hybrid. Since she was recovering at such a fantastic rate he decided to have them go ahead and do the surgery. He sure wasn’t about to tell them she had requested that a pepperoni pizza (hold the anchovies) be delivered and not to forget the lemonade, preferably spiked.

        He shook his head and ordered the teams to get the operating room prepared and his team scrambled to carry out his order.

        The preliminary reports showed the bulb accommodating her individual and unique genetic makeup. Tomorrow he would order them to start growing more seed spores in the plant vats for those of his sisters near death... and also for his beloved brother. Plant sisters would no longer be subjected to those human-tainted, shoddily made globes. The skin along his arms rippled with the rise of hostility before he noticed and calmed himself.

        With his head bent, he leaned both arms on the console in front of him just managing to quell the sharp blades trying to rise from his skin in response to the churning agitation within. He was unaware that his hands had clenched into fists against the surface of the console while gritting his teeth as he fought with himself.

        Finally he was able to master himself and restrain the aggression after recalling the encouraging new developments. He now had the ability to bring his ailing kind back to their full glory and have plant-friendly homes waiting for them. The victorious flush flooding through him laid to rest the last of the turmoil within. This was a good day for his kind while things were looking worse and worse for the oppressors. With a widening, feral grin he contemplated the destruction of all human life.

        Once again in control, he pulled the normal aloof indifference about him like an invisible cloak and raised his head. Every few seconds his face and shoulders were bathed in the glow of the bright green light rapidly flashing across the screen in front of him.

        Soon he came back to awareness and noticed the data stream was changing for the first time that day. The data stream was stuttering, with increasing gaps between segments as if the cognitive and creative analysis computers were becoming confused. With a growing frown he studied the readouts. Scanning the room he took in the quiet bustle and hushed voices of his staff. None of them were allowed to use this terminal when Knives was around.

        He straightened, becoming lost in thought as he tried to make sense of the data flow and the conclusions it was trying to form and failing. Doing something he was loathe to do, and that was to set aside his logic to use that sense humans termed ‘intuition‘. He didn’t like it but it was telling him that the problem could be boiled down to one simple statement: ‘like us, but not‘. It was attempting to list the chemical, hormonal, and physiological differences but each time a composite would start scrolling down the page the screen stuttered to a halt and go blank. Then it would give off a soft beep indicating an ‘error’ message before falling back to a safe standby mode for a few seconds before making another attempt. It was if something was hampering the process. It was most irritating. What could possibly be getting in the way and causing this?

        He looked up and out the glass window separating the medical rooms from the rest of the cavern. Again he watched her float, black head sagging down as she gently drifted, her hanging limbs stirring as if by a slight breeze. He knew it was the result of the intermingling pressures and conditions of various energy fluxes colliding as the bulb continued to sort out the best environment for the occupant who was also the bulb’s newly acquired nerve center. The plant-grown globe was constantly making infinitesimal adjustments for the half-plant, quicker and more aware than the crude machines the humans used in the old bulbs.

        As it was, he dared not fill the globe with the exact atmosphere as that of a plant angel. He wasn’t even sure what the best setting would be for the half-plant. This called for patience and letting the instincts of the plant-bulb do what it was created for. Even the little bit of annoying humanity the she-plant carried would soon be factored in and adapted to. For the first several hours after the operation he had not left his console. However the hybrid showed no sigh of rejecting the implants attached to her back, in fact, she was healing so fast that the few stitches used were already absorbed.

        The male plant scrubbed a hand over his face as the fatigue washed over him. Knives knew he would have to sleep soon, even plants were not immune to the need for rest and he had already gone without sleep for over twenty-four hours now. Shaking aside the weariness, he concentrated again on the numbers which were being to blur in front of him. He clenched a fist and gave in. Turning, he strode toward the coffee machine in the corner. With ill-grace he grabbed one of the mugs and poured himself a cup of the foul concoction that had been brewing for who knew how many hours. He took a sip and made a face. It was as foul as it smelled but he forced himself to drink the whole mug before setting it to the side and returning to his console.

        With a heavy sigh he rubbed his eyes a thumb and forefinger trying to relieve the pressure that had been growing there behind them throughout the day. He promised himself that he would return to his suite tonight and let the technicians watch over the healing half-plant for the night. Then allowing himself a tight satisfied smirk, he entertained the welcome he expected to find there.

Insects and Treasure

       This is going to take some getting used to!

        Meryl’s revolving thoughts couldn’t seem to keep from coming back to the morning’s activities and every time she did her face turned a flaming red. Then she would yank her wandering thoughts back to the task at hand and feel the skin of her neck and face slowly turn back to normal. Too bad it wouldn’t stay that way but annoyingly, it announced her thoughts. She was sure she must present quite a picture to people as they approached her from down the hall. Meryl bit the edge of her bottom lip; sure she must look like a human warning beacon, red then white, red, white, and then red again.

        A noise sounded next to her and she glanced down at the child holding her hand. Melanie stubbornly refused to be carried this morning. Of all days to decide to exert her independence! Meryl quelled the strong urge of impatience. What she would like to do was grab her daughter up to her and stride with quick steps down the halls. That, however, could cause comment especially when she needed to act like her normal self. That meant she needed Melanie to keep waving and smiling at everyone they passed. She knew no one would likely suspect that the plant toddler’s mommy was planning a break out. Rather, she looked like what she was, a doting mother on the way to the geo rec room so her child could play. A doting, scheming mother with a plan up her sleeve, she told herself.

        It took a long time but when they were finally at the door Melanie wanted up so she could push the button that opened the door. Meryl sighed but bent down to indulge her. Lifting her daughter up so she could reach the button, the little plant squealed and slapped it a multitude of times before Meryl pulled her away. The door opened a fraction of an inch before rapidly closing. Then it performed the action over and over again, as many times as the child had punched the button.

        “Okay, you’ve had your fun.” Meryl set her daughter on her hip and touched the button once with a light tap of her finger and waited for the door to open and stay open.

        The raven-haired woman stepped into the room designated the arboretum of the geo plant, which was situated next to the rec area. It was dedicated to growing rare and exotic fauna and flora from Earth. It was where Zazie visited the insects, also from Earth as she had a particular fondness for honeybees.

        While Meryl gazed at Zazie she thought back to her after-lunch visit with Milly. She grinned as she called to mind the grimace on the guards’ faces when they saw her coming again. As often as she was down there she was sure the guards wished she would set up housekeeping next door.

        It was at the last visit while Milly was explaining more about the black stone and they were putting their thoughts together that they both realized something at the same time. When the stone was put into operation not only were the plant angels, Knives, Tessla, and Vash going to be affected, but Melanie was too. Meryl wasn’t pleased that Tessla was going to be affected but at least she was now considered an adult. Melanie, however was still a baby. The trap that the half-breed set would knock them all out for a while but what would the effect be on a baby, one with some human mixed in her. Meryl didn’t know and neither did Milly but they both agreed that they wouldn’t proceed with their plan unless they knew for certain that Melanie wouldn’t be affected. Right now, the escape plan was put on the back burner awaiting the outcome of this impromptu meeting. Some instinct told her to seek out Zazie.

        To her credit, and so like her that it brought a smile of affection to Meryl’s face, Milly adamantly refused to talk any more about using the black stone if it meant that Melanie’s well-being would be threatened. Maybe, just maybe, Zazie might have a suggestion and that is why the impression popped into her head. There was no logical explanation for it but now that it was lodged there she knew it wouldn’t leave until she could talk with Zazie about the problem.

        Meryl watched as what looked like a cloud, from where she stood, floated about Zazie. She knew it really wasn’t one but was made up of many different kinds of insects.

        What people didn’t know about the girl was that the hive entity, now known as Zazie, had known of the two male plants as soon as they crashed on the planet. The hive had even contacted and communicated with the twins. When the two brothers had a falling out, with Vash leaving to go his own way, Zazie had chosen to stay with Knives. Zazie was more comfortable with the plants at the time then he was with humans.

        The only other two who might be able to answer her questions, one was Dr. Conrad who was dead, and the other was Knives and she wouldn’t ask him for obvious reasons.

        The need to know was urgent and immediate. The time to put the plan into action was now, while Knives was preoccupied with inducting the new plant angel into the family and she was pretty sure she knew who it was being installed. Since she couldn’t do anything about that right now, she shifted her thoughts back to Zazie.

        Lately Meryl thought she could sense a shift in the hive creature’s attitude. Zazie had started out with the same outlook as Knives, that humans were pretty much worthless and not worthy of being understood. Slowly that had changed with the birth of Tessla and her adolescent months and now with Melanie as well. If Meryl had to guess, she would say that Zazie wasn’t for plants any more than she was for humans. To her they were both an alien species intruding on her world. Either way it went Zazie was going to end up sharing with someone.

        Meryl couldn’t even begin to guess what Zazie thought of all the transformation that both species wanted in order to prepare the planet to their precise specifications. What was the opinion of one who had survived for so long without plants or humans?

        She took several more steps inside the room to watch Zazie’s interaction with her... friends? Or did she consider them family?

        The hive girl was standing still as statue on a rise, near an old pin oak. She was wearing a sleeveless blue top with black pants with the ends tucked into ankle boots. Her long hair fell like liquid sunlight over her shoulders to flow down to the small of her back. One slender arm was extended into the air, slightly raised in front of her. Scraps of shimmering colors flitted above her head and shoulders. Sometimes they darted close enough to land before swooping away with a jerk of pumping wings.

        Time as humans knew and measured it held no meaning for the hive collective. For Zazie, time was measured in the change taking place over thousands of years. Changes, that was Zazie’s measurement and she had been alive for many, many Changes.

        Lifting a finger higher, she coaxed the shy dancing colors to land on her raised finger. They stayed for a few flaps of the wing before rising and weaving in the air with the others.

        Taking Melanie’s hand Meryl started to climb the hill and stopped when they were halfway up. She couldn’t take her eyes off the cloud of butterflies and the alternate buzzing honeybees... and what was that? If she squinted, she was just able to zero in on a lone bumblebee. She knew what it was but had never seen one outside of schoolbooks.

        Zazie’s insect friends informed her that strangers were approaching. She pulled her many parts together into a whole consciousness and turned to see that her visitor’s were Meryl and Melanie.

        It was with an effort that Meryl was able to wrench her eyes off the fat body of the clumsy black and yellow striped bee to look at Zazie.

        “Beautiful, are they not?”

        Meryl could only nod, awed by the sight.

        On the other hand, Melanie was not awed. She pulled her hand free from Meryl’s and started up the hill toward her favorite babysitter.

        “Saassseeeee!” She squealed.

        Zazie looked down and smiled, coming down the incline to meet the child. Upon reaching her, she scooped the girl up into her arms and stuck her nose against the soft, sensitive skin of Melanie’s neck causing the girl to squirm and giggle.

        Meryl laughed with them. The sight of her daughter enjoying herself always brought a light-hearted smile to her face. Meryl knew then that somehow Zazie would have some way to help her.

Things Could Be Better

       Rinnah’s hearing came back first and curiously, everything sounded like she was hearing it from underwater. Woozily she directed a heart-felt curse at Knives and his busy little boy scouts. She knew they were drugging her every time she came within a stone’s throw of regaining consciousness. She wasn’t sure how many times now or for how many hours this had been going on for but she, for one, was getting tired of it.

        So with that thought in mind, it was with surprise she realized that this awakening was being allowed to proceed. Usually by the time she could put together a coherent thought a smell surrounded her pushing her down into darkness once again. Flipping researchers!

        For the moment the mere opening of her eyelids was a physical impossibility. When she was finally able to crack open an eyelid the world appeared all wrong, hazy and indistinct. It was too difficult to try and figure out what it was that was so wrong so she closed her eye and let her other senses supply her with information. Besides, it was a wonderful floating sensation this feeling of being weightless making her want to curl up and take a nap.

        Wait a minute! Floating? As in zero-gees kind of floating? Melting star holes! Her eyelids tried to wrench open. Were they in orbit around the planet? Had they taken her up during one of her unconscious periods? She tried to glance around but a wave of sleepiness washed over her. It was a struggle to keep her eyelids open as they felt like they had weights attached to them.

        No stranger to the experience of g-floating, she was aware that it wasn’t the result of being drugged and neither was she hallucinating. This was the real thing.

        Despite her alarm she had to fight with the temptation to give herself over the siren’s call of total, peaceful bliss. Just when she was losing the battle and ready to succumb to the cloying arms of imposed tranquility, Milly’s smiling face flashed through her mind. Like ducking one’s head into a bucket of ice water Rinnah’s foggy thoughts vanished completely, leaving her clear of mind.

        Realizing that her thinking processes, in slow increments, were becoming sharper and clearer, it was apparent that the drug had been discontinued. She didn’t doubt that someone; somewhere, knew she was awake. Taking a moment to peer around at her surroundings she frowned in confusion. With a scowl she noted that, for some reason, her eyesight was affected as everything was looking a bit on the blurry side. Yet, it didn’t have the feel of a being on a starship. The certain vibrating sensation in her bones that she associated with space travel was missing.

        “Master, the subject has opened her eyes.”

        It was an unnecessary observation to Rinnah’s way of thinking. A better one would be this: the ‘subject’ is ready to kick your arse around the stable yard!

        She looked downward and saw Knives glaring in irritation at one of the technicians next to him who was busily scribbling on a data pad. Looking up in time to see the look on Knives’ face he lowered his head and took a few steps back. Evidently having the obvious stated to him was not the way to win the male plant’s favor. She watched with interest as the young man slipped away off to the side to hide behind a knot of other technicians. Noticing that every eye was on her she quirked an eyebrow up in annoyance. Were they staring at her and if so, why?

        She noticed that she was the sole object of their attention. However, the hybrid was slowly becoming aware of something more important, things were a bit airy in her neck of the woods. It started out small, a niggling suspicion that all was not as if should be. There was an ever so slight breeze brushing up against the skin on her face, her arms, her feet, her legs, and her belly... hold the phone! Something was definitely out of kilter and she had a sinking feeling she knew what it was.

        Mentally readying herself she puffed out her cheeks and blew out a slow hissing breath. As if she didn’t have a care in the world, she looked down. A couple of things were apparent to her right away. One, she was indeed floating but that particular piece of data was lower on her priority list, much lower. What now took first place as importantant, and of far greater magnitude to her than floating, was the state of her dress, or rather, the lack thereof. I’m naked as jaybird. Not that I have ever seen a jaybird wearing clothes, or even a jaybird for that matter of fact. My experience with birds is very limited. I have never seen a bird, any bird, wearing clothes before, none of my acquaintance at any rate. They just don’t run in my circle. Besides, birds aren’t in the habit of wearing clothes, except maybe penguins that come with their own built-in suits. Rinnah clamped down on the nervous tirade and the giggles that were threatening to escape, knowing that if even one got out then a flood would follow. If she was going to go around the bend, she wanted to do it quietly, without fanfare.

        Clutching the sides of her head as the sound of different voices collided wildly, she wasn’t alone in her mind! She looked down as saw the knot of men looking back up at her. No they weren‘t the ones she was hearing within the walls of her cranium crowding in on her thoughts. Flaming Crap on a stick! Somehow all the little plant voices were buzzing in the background of her mind and she couldn’t lock them out. SHUT UP! She yelled at them, but it didn’t do any good. Either they couldn’t hear her or they weren‘t intimidated by her snarling shout. This did not bode well!

        Curse their hollow souls! She seethed with gritted teeth.

        Rinnah slammed her eyelids shut. Granna, along with all of the respectable women of her family line were no doubt spinning in their graves fast enough to change the rotation of the earth. As clear as day she could hear their combined voices in her head saying, “Rinnah child, put some clothes on right this instant! Going around naked as a jaybird, whatever is that girl thinking? Has she lost all her senses?” She doubted she would be able to comply at the moment, but promised all the ghosts in her head that she would work on it when the opportunity presented itself.

        She would have been angry except for the fact she knew she was blushing furiously all the way down to her toenails. Adding to her agony was the realization that all the eyes in the place were male. It didn’t matter that they only saw her as a specimen in one of Knives’ science projects. Of the many brazen offenses she had committed over her life going around nude was not one of them. Everything in Rinnah wanted to immediately cross her arms in front of her chest to alleviate the vulnerable feeling. Instead she closed her eyes and forced herself to keep a relaxed posture with arms and legs dangling. The one thing she couldn’t do was to keep the gooseflesh from forming all over her skin even though she wasn‘t cold.

        I hope he has medical insurance because he is going to need it.

        This was a violation on so many levels she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to put into words how she felt about it. Sure, other plant angels didn’t have a stitch on them, but they started out life that way, they were used to being naked as the aforementioned jaybirds. Unlike them, she had been raised in a civilized manner by well-behaved and cultured people. Even if in her case the family felt she lacked a certain decorum she still knew the difference between good manners and rudeness, although this went way beyond mere disrespect. Her raising had been filled with love, correction, and wisdom. She knew that she was a human being of worth and value, even if she wasn’t exactly all human. Rinnah had known love all her life and the indisputable fact that that she was highly thought of and precious to her family. She consoled herself with mental image of Knives as a child carrying around a blankie while sucking his thumb. She knew it was juvenile of her but frankly she didn’t care; it felt good to picture him that way. Not only that, she was going to put a hurt on Knives he would not soon forget.

        “Why is she smiling Master?”

        “How should I know?” Snapped Knives as he watched her with suspicion.

        He didn’t like it when people who should have been bemoaning their fate smiled as if they knew something he didn‘t. She had only been in his hands for less than twenty-four hours but already he knew that she was not to be trusted at all and even less so when she was content looking. Warily he watched her; it almost seemed,... he cupped the lower half of his face in thought... as if the hybrid was pleased about something.

        Now that she was calmer and able to think clearly, it was obvious to Rinnah that Knives was driving home the message that he considered her a mere tool. He hadn’t been speaking metaphorically when he said that, he had meant every word of it. She was valuable, yes, but a tool nonetheless. Deep within it was one more incident added to the long tally of wrongs done her by this wicked plant since she had arrived on this planet. I am done. This is it! This is the proverbial last straw! No more Miss Make-Nice-Nice in the sandbox.

        About then she became aware of a sensation beginning to take precedence over her indignation and anger. There was a right wicked itch developing between her shoulder blades that it was beyond her reach. Peachy. Just want I need is an itch in the one place that is nearly inaccessible.

        “Master, now that the subject is awake what are your wishes?”

        This time it was an older man with a graying beard and mustache but hair still a jet black color, came up to Knives to ask him the question.

        “Oh I know what you did you no-good, worthless, piece of slime...” Rinnah stopped. No one was paying her any attention. She frowned as she studied them, wondering why. Her voice was working just fine now and she could hear them, why couldn’t they hear her? Oh the joys of being a potted plant.

        Gah! The itch! She reached over her shoulder and scratched the growing prickling sensation that was starting to radiate upward. With a sigh of relief she could feel the prickle subsiding as her fingernails ripped at the spot. Then she noticed something as the tips of her finger bumped into something solid. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She was touching something that shouldn’t be there.

        Odd. What was that? She pushed her arm back as far as it would go. It seemed to be... Nah. It couldn’t be. Wait a minute. She prodded it. It was very strange, it felt like something.... Was... Attached... To.... Her back! Shock froze her limbs. Oh, he didn’t! He couldn’t have! I will kill him! I will freaking, bloody, straight on, paint him lime green and kill him!

        Realization rushed in; she was imprisoned in was the globe grown especially for Vash.

        “I‘m a-twitter with special feelings!” She spat out not caring if anyone heard her or not. “With homicide being at the forefront of the line!” With a murderous glare, Rinnah stared at Knives, wishing with all her heart for enough explosives to blow him and his cute little tree fort into atomic waste. It was that or that he would get audited by a particularly tiny little bureaucrat with a tiny bow tie and a matching tiny little soul to deliver him straight to a tiny little prison cell. Serve him right!

        All of a sudden she was moving. Something was pulling her toward the front of the globe. When she was almost flush with the glass she came to a halt. Putting out her hands she found the surface of the globe to be warm and not the cold of glass that she was expecting.

        Having climbed the stairs of the platform that surrounded the base of the globe Knives was much closer, still she was a head higher than the male plant but much too close to the male plant for her liking. It was easy to see the satisfied smirk on his face. The hybrid knew right then that he was the one responsible for manipulating the grav-free units situated under the globe to move her closer. She narrowed her eyes in anger at him, contemplating administrating her own brand of revenge when she got free, starting with ripping the lips off his face. She gave him the finger. That was a good start but the first thing that needed to be done was....

        .... Getting that itch between her shoulder blades scratched!

        Escape and grandiose plans of revenge were quickly forgotten. Rinnah spun in place as she wrenched her arms around trying to get at the raging itch.

        She heard a crackling static and then Knives’ voice. He was talking into a small speaker a little lower than his mouth so that he had to bend a little to talk into it. It was a small screen, barely noticeable which was why she had overlooked it before this. Besides, she had been a little occupied in desperate quest to hold onto her sanity at the time. Now it was this infernal itch.

        “Don’t scratch or we will have to put you under again.”

        Muttering to herself, she replied, “I’d like to put you under, you grinning goblin, like six feet under.... Aaahh!”

        Arching her spine outward she spun and rammed her back into the glass, in her frenzy, smashing the thing there against the wall of the globe over and over again.

        Another kind of pain screamed at her, not one originating from her body but communicated along her nervous system. If it didn’t hurt so badly she would have wondered how she was able to feel another’s physical pain along her nerve endings. Instead what she did was slam up against the side of the globe again to flatten the deformed thing that they had attached to her. Unbelievably, it squealed a high-pitched scream which echoed through her mind like fingernails on a blackboard. At the first shriek of pain, she heard the growing alarm and horror from the other plant angels also screaming for her to stop and behave herself. Just for that she slammed the swollen bodies against the wall again.

        Rinnah had only one goal in mind, to get the thing on her back to stop the itching that was turning into a raging burning between her shoulder blades now. Better yet, if she could just get the thing her off back would be an even better goal. The sack of human-looking legs and arms could scream all it wanted to but she was not going to live the rest of her life like this!

        Her actions caused an agitated thrashing behind her and an alarm sounded. She could hear Knives and the others yelling but didn’t bother to sort it out. Oh yes, that helped the itching even as pain of the blob was being communicated to her. The hybrid hissed knowing that her nervous system was being integrated with that... overgrown humanoid tick on her back.

        The man next to Knives spoke, “We dare not can administer the engel-suppressant at this stage, it will most-likely damage the cherub life-support body, as it has already become a part of her.”

        “Well think of something and be quick about it! We cannot allow her to become damaged!” Knives ordered in a harsh voice.

        The doctor looked up at the thrashing cherub bodies knowing that something would have to be done and soon before the hybrid harmed the bodies any further. Fingering the beard of his chin, he offered, “We have something that will help with the itch Master, but with her metabolism it may make her agitated.”

        Knives pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “Wonderful.”

        Then dropping his hand with a sigh he turned to the doctor and nodded his permission. Receiving the go-ahead the bearded doctor hurried away to speak something to an attentive technician standing by a row of buttons attached to a myriad of bottles each holding a different colored liquid. After conferring together for a moment, he gestured while the technician nodded. Then he reached over and began pushing a few buttons and turning a few knobs. Once he did this, both of them faced back to look expectantly at her.

        Knives looked up and said, “You should begin to feel some relief from the itching.”

        He was correct. The burning sensation in the middle of her back was fading giving her a blessed relief from the most powerful itching sensation she didn‘t think was possible to experience. She turned and palmed her side of the globe and gave Knives a cheeky, if weary, half-grin.

        “Thanks Knives, you are a true humanitarian and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Really...” She tapped her chest with a forefinger and then gave him a wink, “From right here.”

        The flash of anger in his eyes made Rinnah chuckle. With an experienced move she spun herself so that her back was facing him. It was the closest she could get to having privacy. She needed to get control of the burning rage that was threatening to consume her. For once in her life, she needed to let the logical side of her be in control. She made a face, thinking that it would be a first if she could even find an analytical, logical side of herself. There was a good chance it didn’t exist and she may have to come up with one on the spur of the moment. She shook her head, the movement making her slowly bob up and down. Where’s a fairy godmother when you need one?

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Chapter 31
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