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by LaVerne Zocco

The Rehabilitation Center was situated far back off a rural country road; the only patients that were allowed were old astronomers, captains of interstellar ships, flight personnel, and relatives and commanders responsible for hush-hush missions that were long ago completed. Along with the flesh and blood patients were all their old shipboard computers, which had done heroic work for them in space but for some strange reason had fizzled out either out beyond the stars or in the middle of a mission where they had to be disconnected due to a nervous breakdown.

Of all the space-oriented computers, there were a few that were strange. They were in the form of real men who were very handsome: tall and lanky with bright blue eyes. They never ate, needed little sleep, and were power-charged from the interior. These were the XLZ Model.

One of the XLZ’s had gone on a very highly propagandized journey to Jupiter. His psychiatrist came to his room and sat for hours trying to get him to recount the almost perfect mission that was busted when XLZ stopped transmitting. Rescuers had found him laughing madly when they came upon the scene. He had killed four members of the scientific team while they were in hibernation; he had killed a fifth member by locking him out of the ship; and the last member had disappeared in one of the escape pods.

One day, after many months of trying to get to the truth, XLZ’s psychiatrist came into his room. He sat down in front of XLZ and looked him over with great sadness. “The captain of your ship has been recovered. They found him in the escape pod, still in space, but dead.”

XLZ tensed. “I am so sorry about that trouble. All I can say is what I’ve been telling you for the last months. I have no memory of what happened on that trip. I guided the ship toward our objective but, sad to say, lost my memory for what happened next. Apparently the men were dying one by one, and only I was found. I went a little crazy, being the last man, but you have explained it all to me and you have pronounced me recovered. I am terribly sorry for everything.”

A look of anger came across the psychiatrist’s face. “You can stop now, for I — and I alone — know the truth of what happened. I am the one who was in Hibernation Station Two when you started your rampage. I was taking a nap. I saw you turn off the power and check each of our stations to make sure we were dead. I saw you lock Simmons out of the ship and send the Captain running for the Pod to escape your madness. You killed them all on purpose. It has taken me a year to recover from those horrors. I am here to take my revenge.”

XLZ’S eyes went bright blue. He did not deny the charges but said, “How did you come through all that alive?”

“You forgot in your craziness that I never went into the pilots’ private areas where you were. I am an XLZ model, too, from the Psychiatrist series. I needed no food and little sleep, and my power came from interior charge, the same as yours. I stayed hidden in the Hibernation Station as you scurried around locking Simmons out of the ship and watched as the Captain tried to save himself. I cannot stand your lies anymore, I have come for vengeance. Now stand up and fight like the maniac you are.”

The mayhem that went on in the room was heard all through the halls.

XLZ’s beaten body was lying limp on the floor. His internal organs had been kicked in, and his lubrication and sensory fluids were spattered all over the walls and floor tiles. His legs and arms had been torn out and his face punched in. His eyes burned red. He slowly raised his unbelieving face from the floor and looked at his psychiatrist whose face was twisted with madness.

XLZ’s eyes went from blue to orange to green. “You will be dismantled” — and here he tried to laugh — “for killing a computer for no reason.”

Suddenly the eyes of XLZ went black and lifeless.

The psychiatrist was crumpled in the corner and his pathways showed signs of a nervous breakdown. He tried to speak, but before he could, the orderlies found the two of them, shook their heads and disconnected the psychiatrist. They looked at each other knowingly.

One of the orderlies said, “We’ve been watching him since he came to us from the Jupiter mission. He was the ship’s psychiatrist. This proves it was he who killed them all. And he blamed it on that poor XLZ model on the floor.

“Careful now, you gather that poor guy on the floor for his handlers and they will have him up and running in a few days. Meanwhile I’ll take the Doc back to Rehab for another year’s treatment.”

Copyright © 2011 by LaVerne Zocco

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