Free Outland by Alan Dean Foster

Book: Outland by Alan Dean Foster Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alan Dean Foster
appropriately charged.
    Pressing the nozzle hard against his inner thigh, he pulled the trigger. A burst of air forced the vial's contents into his leg.
    He leaned back and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. After a few minutes he returned the gun to its drawer and slid the compartment shut.
    Opening another compartment he selected a shirt. Whistling blithely, he began to get dressed.
    It was night in O'Niel's quarters. It was also quiet. He liked the night, a familiar old friend who never surprised him no matter where he was stationed. The quiet was different, a reflection of the hole in his heart.
    He was sitting on the couch, which obediently gave support in the right places to his slightly softening frame. I'm a lot like the couch, he thought. Tough framework, flexible, fully capable of handling several people simultaneously, yet getting soft around the middle.
    The analogy was not unique. O'Niel was a man used to regarding people as furniture, objects that occupied space in rooms and chambers.
    He considered some of his newer acquaintances, diverting his mind from other, less pleasant thoughts in the silent room to an old mental game.
    Montone, his first Sergeant: now there was a man a lot like a newly refurbished chair. Bright and shiny, very efficient tool yet untested. Paint could hide a lot. Eventually he'd have to dig a little or he'd never know just how dependable Montone was.
    Sheppard . . . Sheppard reminded him of a big desk. One that looked like sturdy old oak. Solid and immovable, ready to take whatever was dumped on it. Only he suspected that a lot of Sheppard was veneer. Strip that away and you were likely to find not oak underneath, but wood pulp held together with glue. Cheap.
    Dr. Lazarus . . . now there was a real antique, and no veneer. Beaten up, a little worm-eaten, unattractive on the outside, but well-made. Maybe. Furniture like that was hard to figure from a single look. It might hold a horse, might collapse under the slightest real pressure. And the nails stuck out of the woodwork at odd angles. If you weren't careful, you might get jabbed.
    A knock sounded at the door. He shifted his feet on the small, shiny coffee table and tried to rouse himself from his self-imposed lethargy, with little success.
    Hell with it, he thought disconsolately. There was no one in the apartment to be polite for.
    "It's open."
    Montone entered, carrying a large tray filled with covered plates. He set the tray down on the coffee table, forcing O'Niel to move his feet.
    "I don't know what you like to eat, so I brought a little of everything. Some of it actually tastes different from the rest."
    O'Niel looked at the food containers and tried to smile thankfully at the sergeant. The expression that resulted was not as encouraging as he'd intended.
    Montone sounded honestly concerned as he sat down in the chair across from O'Niel.
    "Listen, you have to eat something. If nothing else, it helps kill the monotony. I'm an expert on that. Always got ribbed, about my name. Mind if I join you? Thanks," he finished before O'Niel had a chance to reply.
    Montone rose, walked into the kitchenette area and hunted through the cabinets until he found a glass which might have seemed like an unwarranted luxury to a stranger. It wasn't.
    A couple of the first engineers sent to build the mine had spent their spare time working up a small, automated glass-making facility. Io had plenty of raw material. The glass was one of the few items of household use that was produced locally.
    Returning, Montone sat down opposite O'Niel again and started taking the covers off the food.
    "There's chocolate cake for dessert, except you can't have any until you finish all your meat."
    O'Niel smiled in spite of himself. He knew that Montone was on his own off-time. He didn't have to be here.
    "I know how you feel," the sergeant was telling him sincerely. "I do."
    O'Niel just stared at him.
    "Think I'm just saying that?" He leaned forward, picked at the food as

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