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Cultural Exchange - Part 7

Well, this has certainly been a fun 3 weeks. I felt like it'd never end. We spent a week terminating power cables and running conduit, then we busted our asses working on drive installation at the hull tech hanger, and finally, we spent a week hooking everything back up. It's worth it though. Soon, we should be able to power the whole shebang up. And then... Bye-bye.

Didn't think I'd survive. Between the strut incident and Fred's paranoia, this past 3 weeks have been hell. First, in addition to our normal workload, Mr. Stracker decided that there might be some more sabotagey, and had us all going over every nut and washer on the boat, making sure it was to proper torque specs. Whenever I yelled that its a waste of time, he'd calmly and infuriatingly remind me of his effing 7 week seniority. Bastard. But I had the last laugh....didn't find nothing wrong. Of course that just pissed him off, so he ordered us to do pressure tests and hull integrity checks on the whole ship; space by space...sometimes during the workday. My ears are still a-poppin'. When one of the fuel voids failed, he was actually happy and said it was proof of foul play until Roary found a hardened and pinched access panel gasket. Nothing suspicious 'bout that...could happen to anybody and usually does. It wasn't even to the tanks, just access to pumps and pipes...from the inside. Fred then sulked for 2 days.

The strut incident was especially bad. From the moment that the tow-trac hooked up to the nose gear, until they put her back at her berth, Kugi's boys didn't let up. They were embarrassed something awful and somehow blamed us instead of their own incompetence. Never did find out who installed it. They stuck together and covered each other's ass. Not that I blamed them for that. They were a crew just as surely as me, Fred and Roary were a crew. I'd do the same thing myself, if I were in their boots.

But I could blame them, loud and often for other things. Like wrenches dropped from the gantry crane over our heads and toolbags tossed in the walkway just as you passed and hydraulic oil spilt where your workin'.

Fine. I'll just buck up and take it with a gritted grin and "that's ok...you can't help it.".. cuz' you're an asshole. Of course I didn't actually say that last bit. First swinger goes through the wringer...pokey time. I can't get sent to the cage when I want to fly free, now can I?

But, then, they made Roary cry.

Three juniors had corralled Roary off to one side, aft of the newly bolted-down j-drive. The youngest of them, a tall, lanky kid with short greasy hair and barely-past-puberty stubble on his chin, was merely chatting in her direction while she ran some calibrations. The other two porky dorks smiled like morons at a dirty joke as if they knew it was funny but didn't really get it. I couldn't hear what she was being told, but knowing the look on the punks' faces, it must've been nasty.

My little engineer kept working and tried to ignore them even though she was upset by what was being said. I wonder how long before she cracks...after all, she's just a pup. I just hope she remembers what I had told her about swinging first. She laid her ears back and her lip quivered. She couldn't finish her task, her hands were shaking too much and she dropped her tweaker onto the deck. Poise, girl, poise.

The skinny ringleader made a pantomime of attaching something to a chubby cohort's throat and leaned down to whisper in Roary's ear. He started jerking his hips obscenely then stood up and laughed. They all laughed. But not Roary. She whimpered and ran out of the drive compartment and forward to her stateroom. Sigh....

Of course, you realize that this means war...

I ambled over to the three and stooped to pick up the dropped tool. They weren't laughing now. I guess the fact that I was a sniffer along the border before they were even born forces some sort of respect, or at least deference, from these young kiddoes.

Sorry. What was that? Insubordination?

I have the power to take them directly to mast and maybe even the pokey. They know it, too. Seniority does have some privileges, you know.

"Tsk, tsk..."

I let the words drip from my mouth like hot battery acid. Its not that I have a special liking for her, but nobody fucks with my wrench except me. Certainly not these baby first-year degreasers. Its a territory thing.

"Attempted rape. And not even the same species, too. What will your mothers say?"

This is too easy. Deer caught in the headlights. One of the toadies looks to make a break for it. Too late, Mister Horvath (ID tags sure are convenient). Once the local gals learn these guys like it doggie-style...literally....well, they'll probably stay virgins for quite some time. Of course the look of fear in their eyes tells me they already have considered that. And nothing is more fearsome to boys this age than celibacy.

"We didn't do nothing!"

"Yeah! We were just offering to help her..."

Ooo. The alpha male speaks. His fart-catcher's voice trails off to silence even as sweat beads on his ruddy face. These boys need to learn a little humility. I am proud that I am able to help them learn.

"I am sure that you will be able to tell Senior Administrator everything. I understand that he is most fair in these matters. I just hope his superiors will be just as forgiving. You do know that she is here by SecDipCom's orders...Diplomatic branch? No? Pity."

OK, I made that part up, but rookies are so gullible that I couldn't resist. But its close enough to the truth for my purposes. I made a big show of taking names and id numbers from them for the incident report. Gosh they're so dejected. Good. Now get off my ship.

Sheesh, she folds like a dirty napkin and I get stuck with the paperwork.

"Where's Tuvi?"

My 7 week superiority partner, eternally at the lunch table, was clueless as to what had happened earlier that day. He waited for my answer and watched me from over the screen of his terminal. He was doing paperwork too. Mine was finished at least, even if it wasn't as important as the parts lists and spec updates and other 'gotta-record-it-in-case-we-get-sued' forms. I just grunted disgustedly and tossed the incident reports down over his keyboard. He's smart enough to glom the answer to his question after he reads one. Then I start to ramble...

"Were we out along the border too long?. I mean, we didn't go native or nothing, but is it me or were we ever this biased against the Gvegh before our tour?"

He kept reading as he answered me..

"The Vargr always raid our ships you know. A lot of people have a good reason to hate them."

"Yeah, corsairs. And they hinder traders far less than human pirates."

"You know the reason...its because they're different."

And with that statement, he signed all three reports for processing. Another reason to doubt my own humanity. And another reason to have a strong dislike for most people. They are close-minded imbeciles. Vargr and not different from us except for their wrapping. I didn't think so anyways. Maybe there's something wrong with me...

On my way back to the j-drive room, I passed Roary's door....awful quiet in there. Hope she's ok. Maybe I had better check on her. Knock, knock. No answer.

"Roary? Are you ok? Can I come in?"

I surprised myself with how much concern I had in my voice. Why not? She's a good kid and nice to work with. Damn good engineer too. I can already see that she knows more than both me'n'Fred put together on how ship's systems work. So of course, I'm concerned. Still only silence. I was starting to get antsy when the lock-light went green; she had unlocked the door.

She just sat there on the edge of her bed and looked at me. She had her hands on her lap and appeared for all the world like a schoolkid waiting to see the principal. But the look in her eyes made it seem as if she were a principal waiting to see a schoolkid. I wish she wouldn't do that. I am already pretty self-conscious as it is. I start thinking that I'm going to screw up.

Nice stateroom. She had done it up nice in what little time we've had for such things. I wish mine was so neat and cozy. Don't know where she got the houseplants, but they made the walls seem a little less stark and gave the small cabin a light airy feel. I oughta get some except they'd probably die. Hers have flowers, mine would be dead...I wish she'd stop looking at me like that.

Roary had a set of bookshelves with a few books whose titles I couldn't read, but she also had a couple of simple books in Galanglic, including 2 dictionaries. Polished sculpted bookends, of a rich blue-veined stone, held them in place. There on the middle shelf were 3 hand-carved wooden dolls; a large male Vargr, a short female and a young girl. A cool level voice came from the bed.

"They are my family. My uncle carved them for me when I went to the college."

I didn't know what to say, so I stayed silent.

"Why didn't you stop them?"

The question didn't really catch me off guard. She knew that I had been watching, yet I had done nothing to help her. Where I had once felt the shadows of melancholy cover me as I thought about families and loneliness and lost youth, now I felt shame. She was my crewmate. I was obligated to come to her side. She was a young female and chivalry demanded that I come to her aide. Such is the cost of knowledge....

"I had to know how you worked under pressure; how tough you were. If you couldn't handle the words of idiots, then you won't be able to handle the heat of a firefight much less anything else of any seriousness."

She just kept studying me. What does she want from me? I was suppose to be testing her, so why am I fidgeting?

"I accepted you as my leader here. You were suppose to protect me."

"No! I , no we, are suppose to get this ship running, for us. I don't want to be your leader. Especially if that means following you around to keep you out of trouble; I got my own problems, chickie! I don't have time to baby you. I gotta do that sort of thing to myself, and that's enough of a job for me!"

Great...now I made her cry...

How do I get into these kind of predicaments? It all comes from dealing with other people. I wish I didn't have to deal with anyone...I want to be alone....do ya hear? I like to be alone! I just gotta keep repeating that to myself over and over until I believe it.

Rortuvu doesn't like it. There must be something wrong with me....

I step close and put my hand on her shoulder and my hand sorta hugged her as good as it could. She wouldn't even look me in the eye now. A big tear leaked from her and rolled down her snout. I left her and walked up to lock myself into my own cabin.

Never again...

As long as you are part of our crew, I will protect you, I promise.

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