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Cultural Exchange - Part 9

Its a good thing these things have rollers, or I'd have to take them apart again. I just hope that they'll fit through the door. Silly me. Of course they'll fit. I got the cabinets in here, didn't I? Three big units; 3mx1.5mx.5m. Specs say you gotta have at least three comps to be spaceworthy. They want a back-up and a dedicated diagnostic comp running all the time for zero down-time. Fine. I'll give 'em what they want then. Just wait until Fred sees my way of getting around that when we need more 'umph' from the damn thing. That's one problem solved. A piece of pie. At least next to what he wanted me to solve anyways. One step at a time.

I have no idea how to 'fix' that problem either. I can't figure humans out, much less doggies. Don't really want to. I like machines better. No surprises; they just do what they're designed for and that's that. If they break, ya fix 'em. If you can't fix 'em, ya cannibalize them for parts or puff them out an airlock. Simple.

But Roary's different. How can I tell if she's all right? She seems to be doing everything that she's suppose to do. What if I'm the one that's broken? I don't even know what people want me to do half the time. What if I'm the one that needs to be puffed...?

Bullshit to that! When its my time, I'm taking as many with me as I can. ...until then, there's work to do.

There. That's all done. All three cabinets are bolted safe and secure. Just have to run clean power and finish with the network cables....

"Aren't you coming out tonight Mr. James?"

She stood in the passageway innocently. I just gawked at Roary. She was dressed beautifully. She was wearing a knee-length kimono made of blue silk with hand embroidered designs of birds soaring up and down her sleeves. They were blue also with touches of black and grey. I wouldn't be able to afford to pay for anything like that with 4 months of checks saved up.

"Why are you wearing that thing?"

I meant to say 'What a beautiful dress' but something got lost in the translation. Even with aliens I can't seem to talk to chicks.

"I just wanted to make a good impression. Did I do wrong?"

"You didn't need to do that for me..."

"I did not do it for you. I am doing this for myself. I am doing it for my people. I am like your ghidzueghi fekedz...am-bass-a-door. Everyone I meet will judge my people when they look at me. You are foolish to not understand that. So far I am performing poorly."

Poorly? Her? She's one of the best drive engineers I've even seen. Better than me, anyhow. I'm not so conceited to not admit it.

"What makes you say that? I've got no complaints. And I know Mr. Stracker likes you."

"You and he are different. That is why my Lord Azzdzafodh chose you both."

"But others hate me and so hate my people. I am trying hard but they still hate me, so I must be performing poorly. Even you think so, often."

"That's not true. My reports concerning you always speak in glowing terms."

"Then why do you always avoid me?"

Why did she have to ask me that right when I was inchng my way back to the safety of my stateroom? If I can just get inside and shut the door...But she followed me in. I can't just shove her back out now, not without proving her right.

My room is embarrassingly messy. Books and magazines flow across the floor and unmade bed. The sheets are tumbling off like a small waterfall. It often looks worse, but I had to have space to work on the computer racks. You can't even see the top of my desk. I notice her glance up at the poster over my bed and cock her head sideways.

I have a poster of the Chundley Cannons. The best lacrosse team on New Haven. Even have an autographed stick from Randy Velischek , after they won the championship for the second time in a row. Not all of my memories are bad....just most of them.

In short, my stateroom looks like a twelve year old boy lives in it. The only thing to tip ya off that its mine is the skin-vids and the tech manuals on the shelf. I start to cringe inside. Can't let her know... She starts talking.

"You obviously don't understand what its like to have to be perfect all the time. I know that everyone is watching me and waiting for me to make mistakes."

"That's your problem. Always so afraid of making a mistake that whenever you don't know exactly what to do...you do nothing and expect your 'leader' to bail you out. And then cry like a babe when he won't"

"That's not fair."

"Why not? Its true isn't it? Your daddy must be exhausted from changing your diapers by now huh?"

"At least he worked hard and protected me. And he wasn't a dirty slob like you!"

She stooped and picked up some dirty laundry while she spoke. Started to throw it in a pile on the foot of my bed. I slapped it out of her hand so it'd drop to the floor again. I rummaged around for a clean t-shirt. Nope...not this one.

"I don't need you and I didn't ask for you to pick up after me!"

My voice was on fire. It hurt to keep it in as much as I was. She was taken aback by my strike and attitude. Too bad. You're in my world now.

"Then you can stay being a disgusting little monkey boy for all I care."

"That's right! I am a monkey boy... I sleep and I eat. What I can't eat, I screw and what I can't screw, I piss on. I shit on monkeys underneath me and dodge turds from monkeys above my head... And do you know what??? DOGS ARE JUST THE EFFIN' SAME!!!"

Roary was shaking. I didn't know if it was from anger or fright, and right then, I just didn't care. Must've been both because her ears were flat on her head and I could almost see the words on her tongue straining to be let loose, yet she said nothing.

Before she turned away I found a t-shirt that passed the sniff test and took my old dirty one off. My back was to her, but I heard her breath catch in her throat. I've heard that sound dozens of times; every time a woman sees my naked back, they make that sound. I don't pay for their fake pity. But a patchwork of pink-white scars, like a demented child's scribblings covers my back from my shoulders to my thighs. I generally don't like to talk about; I hate talking about it, but now I guess I'll make an exception...and still I'll hate saying anything.

"So I don't understand about being perfect all the time????? LOOK AT MY BACK!!!"

I was worked up and yelling now. I didn't even look over my shoulder to see if she obeyed me.

"Ever since I was 5 years old and my parents made me an orphan, until I signed up with the scouts, I was bounced from foster home to foster home. And at every home, I was treated either like a slave, or a plaything. And in every home, I was beaten unless I did EXACTLY what I was told! I had to be perfect for thirteen fuckin' years or bleed.!"

I stopped yelling and turned as I pulled the clean shirt over my shoulders and down my sides. She stared at me but turned away after a few seconds. Still shaking and clinching her little fists.

"So you had better NEVER talk about perfection to me EVER again...DO YOU UNDERSTAND!!!?"

She made a small 'huff' sound and backed out past the door, then turned and scurried back down the ladder to her own room. Friedrich popped his head out from his cabin. His face was half covered with shaving cream. He shot my an angry look like I had screwed up again.

"Tonight! Don't fuck with me!"

I yelled and his head shook like he couldn't believe his ears at the stupidity of it all as he slowly closed his door again. Godammit! Who the hell invented goddam doors that can't be slammed!? After it shut, I kicked it.

Ten minutes. Obsessive-compulsive bastard. Couldn't stop unitl he was done and looking perfect...pfft. I paced for all of that time, kicking things and wearing a track on my deck while waiting for him to come over. I knew he would eventually.

knock knock

"What in hell's wrong with you?!?"

"You know exactly what's wrong with me! And you still think I can 'fix' it? I haven't been able to 'fix' it in 38 years! Why did you think I'd 'magically' get along with her?"

Fred glanced around.

"Can't you keep it down? She's right under our feet and can probably hear us."

I purposefully screamed at the deck. Did I mention that I have the emotional maturity of an eleven year old?


That felt good, but the fires going out of me. Soon there'll only be embers ready to flare up again. They're gonna smolder for a long time, I think. I gotta talk 'em out.

"I can't do this. I've had it."

He grabbed my shoulders and held them. Going to shake some sense into me I bet. I don't think so. I shoved him away.

"Five years. It was five years before I ever let you know about my past. And you're like a brother to me. But she comes along and ...I can't do this."

I start pacing again. Fred just listens.

"You take care of her. I'll just stay with the ship. I don't need anyone. I'm tired."

"Fine...Its the second overtime and you cry and run off the field...Tuvi won't learn whatever it is she's suppose to learn and our mission fails...they win. Thanks."

He picks up a red and black thing off the floor and starts out. Great. Now I alienate my best friend too. And once again , I am alone. The lie won't sate me this time. I don't want to be alone. Not like this....

"Or you can buck up, go in and win anyways...your choice."

Fred paused at the door and tossed the shirt he had picked up to me. He paused and gave me a little smile and closed the door behind him.

I held the jersey up...The Cannon's red and black. The championship game, the one when Teppo Magner , 'the great one' autographed it for me. One of the only good things in my youth. He didn't give up and the team won. Maybe I won't give up either.

I knew Fred had just manipulated me again, very crudely this time, but I didn't care. When he does it, it makes me feel like I belong.

I put on my jersey and went down the ladder to the ramp. I passed Roary's door.

"Come on sweetheart, or you're gonna be left behind...We're going to dinner!"

Log entry 19834, Friedrich Stracker: I think Ishmael James is getting too close to the subject...

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