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Not a Hound

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When the Will found it crouched under an end table, he took it for some deformed kind of hound: blue, hairless, all wrinkles, with pointy ears that doubled the size of its head. A large but manageable armful, he figured – a pet, surely. It stared out at him with huge, unblinking yellow eyes.

The Will took a step closer to the animal. It tensed even further, which he wouldn’t have thought possible, and then its upper lip curled back in a hiss, displaying pointy white canines fit to shred a man’s arm. He pulled his heartbreaker out of its holster, and then considered further and brandished a knife with his other hand. Not that that’d help him much if it turned out the thing spit acid or was fixing to explode, but odds were he wouldn’t run into two biogenetic bombs in one month, right?

“Hey, dog,” he said.

The thing’s huge yellow eyes got even bigger. Throatily, like a crone speaking through five layers of phlegm, it said, “Lying.”

Okay, then. “Not a dog,” the Will ventured. The animal didn’t move another muscle, just stared. The Will took another step closer, then another, stunner and knife clear and at the ready. “I’m not gonna hurt you.” The thing eyed him with what The Will would swear was suspicion, and then it made a soft, mournful noise in the back of its throat. Now he was close enough to see it was wearing a collar: some heavy, impractical thing crusted with rhinestones.

“You belong to these people here?” He spared another glance for Mr. Mercury, who already was slumping in decomposition in the manner of his kind, and good riddance. “They’re dead now. For what that’s worth.” He was almost to the end table now. The thing grumbled at him, but it didn’t hiss again or give him another look at those formidible teeth.

Now was the moment of decision. Holster the stunner or the knife? Finally the Will huffed a sigh, put them both away, and crouched. “You tear my throat out now, the Stalk’s gonna laugh over my dumb dead body.”

“Lying,” the thing said again disinterestedly, all its attention focused laser-like on the Will’s hand as it approached.

When the Will could finally rest his fingers on top of the animal’s head, he realized it was trembling. “You’re safe,” he told it, slipping a finger down to scritch behind its ear. “You’re all right.”

“Lying,” it said.

Hell.

The Will slid his hands around its belly. One minute he was lifting it out from under the end table, and the next minute, the thing yowled sharp enough to split a man’s eardrum. It twisted in his grasp, claws extending like scimiters from its paws. The Will tripped backwards trying to keep his face out of the way and landed flat on his back on a squelchy patch of carpet, the animal now firmly affixed to his shoulder.

Some combination of the animal’s yowl and the Will’s own shout of surprise brought the Stalk stamping into the room. She took one look and began to laugh. The animal hissed at her. “I told you,” he said to it.

“Was the big bad kitty too much for you?” The Stalk asked, bending closer. Her entire body was spattered with green blood – Mrs. Mercury’s, no doubt.

“It’s a what?” Gingerly, The Will worked himself upright, shifting his hands under it, since its claws were still embedded in his shoulder. He wondered if they were even capable of coming loose. Maybe they detached from the paws. Given how humored the Stalk was, he concluded they weren’t poisonous. Probably.

The Stalk made no move to help him. “It’s a lying cat. Or the start of one.”

“And a lying cat is what?” Carefully, he began trying to extract a paw from his arm. The claws came out with the paw. Good.

“Transversal grows them for the financially overendowed. They know when you’re lying. Very handy feature in a bodyguard.”

“Bodyguard?” He worked the second paw free. “Kind of puny.”

“That one’s a baby. Probably not even six months old.”

The Will leaned back to the give the cat a once-over. The teeth and nails were dangerous enough, even now. Hell knew what fool would cross it as an adult. He could see the value, he supposed.

“You’re not taking that thing with you,” the Stalk said.

“You just said it was worth something.” Carefully, cat secured in his arms but no longer attached to them, the Will rose to his feet. “I bet I can get Gorex to take it.”

After a kiss from the Stalk, sweet with the promise of later, the Will headed back to his ship, cat and all. Inside, he jimmied its collar off – and by the weight of those rhinestones, he was starting to wonder if they weren’t the real thing – and opened one of his rare, precious cans of sausages. He dumped the sausages on a plate and set the them on the floor. “Don’t get used to them,” he warned the cat. “They’re too heavy to keep many of on board, and anyway, you won’t be here long.” The cat looked up from its plate to eye him suspiciously.

“You are worth beaucoup bucks, animal. I’m gonna sell you and live in style for a little while.”

“Lying,” the cat said comfortably, and bent down to lick its paw.

END